Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Did It!

I guess the third time is a charm, because for the first time since I started participating in the Komen Connecticut Walk For The Cure back in 2009, I made my fundraising goal!

I would like to thank dear friends Elyce Siegel, Allison, Trish, Dawn, Molly, Karen, Jill Bowman and one fabulous ex-boyfriend, Ray Dunlap. I couldn't have done it without you! I feel so good about raising money to a cause so near and dear to my heart. I walk this Saturday, June 4th.

Look for pictures to be posted soon. Thank you Komen Connecticut for making it so easy for my friends to donate on Facebook. For any of you breast cancer survivors who have never participated in a Komen Walk, I highly recommend it. You will feel an incredible sense of sisterhood as well as gratitude that you are doing something. Just do it!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why It's Never Too Late

Why It's Never Too Late
By Robin Black
O, The Oprah Magazine November 2010 Issue

Dear fellow late-bloomer, I thought you could use some advice. I know I would have benefited from some along the way, but back when I most needed it, there wasn't much to be found. I earned my MFA in writing in 2005, when I was 43 years old and, much to my distress, the phrase "young emerging artist" seemed to be everywhere. There were prizes for young emerging artists; there were words of wisdom for young emerging artists; there were lists of the most exciting young emerging artists to watch. Anxious to find my peers, I did an online search—only to be told: "Your search for middle-aged emerging artists has yielded no results."

Clearly the search engines weren't looking hard enough. Because as you and I both know, there are plenty of us out here—along with the middle-aged emerging doctors, nurses, professors, jewelry designers, yoga instructors, cupcake masters, and more: an entire civilization's worth of people who for one reason or another got off to a late start. And I'm not going to sugarcoat that for you. We are late. For me the original dream of publishing a book by age 25 became 30, then 40, then 45—until reality stepped in with its final answer: book by 50. Am I glad about that? Let's just say it took some readjusting.

The point is, there are challenges to changing your life radically when you've already done a bit of living. The first challenge, of course, is actually to do it—whatever it is. In the past few years, more women than I can count have told me that they too have thought of embarking on new careers, often first careers, in their 30s, 40s, or 50s—even their 60s—but can't bring themselves to act on their dreams. "Nobody would take me seriously," they say. Or "I can't compete with all those young people." Or "Are you crazy? I have a mortgage."

I wish I could say that those concerns aren't real, but unfortunately they often are. I remember when I started writing, just before I turned 40, how unseriously many people took my pursuit. Time after time I would work up the nerve to say, "I've recently started writing," and time after time the response would be a patronizing, "Oh, that's nice," or a little smile and a subject change.

It turns out that beginning a new career in midlife requires you to take yourself seriously enough that your confidence won't be shattered if other people don't. This is especially true if you've been a stay-at-home mother for any length of time. Sure, everyone talks a good game about full-time mothers being no less capable or interesting than women who seek careers, but tell someone you've spent the past 15 years caring for your children, and you can almost see them docking your IQ.

Here, though, is where we late bloomers have an advantage: One of the great things about getting older is that other people's opinions have less power over us than they once did. I work with a physical therapist who recently told me, "When I turned 40, I stopped worrying about offending other people. When I turned 50, I started enjoying offending other people." In many ways this is the best time to do something that others might view with skepticism, and to risk a little ridicule that might once have been unendurable.

As for competing with young people—well, again, it would be nice to say that it isn't an issue, that we're all on a level playing field, but in the vast majority of careers that just isn't the case. You might think publishing would be age-blind. After all, as a literary agent once reminded me, writers use their minds, not their bodies. "You aren't tennis players," she said. "You aren't models." But publishing involves selling, and youth sells; even in my field there are a surprising number of career-enhancing accolades available only to the young, like the New Yorker's list of 20 Under 40 and the National Book Foundation's annual 5-Under-35 Award. I could spend hours grinding my teeth over the unfairness of that, but what would be the point? I already know life is unfair.

Financial concerns, alas, aren't so easy to brush off. Many late bloomers are shouldering entire families financially—which is why many find themselves juggling an old career alongside an emerging new one, eking out hidden minutes from already overfull days. Among my graduate school classmates were teachers, lawyers, newspaper reporters; in their "spare time," they were writers, too. Somehow the fear of never having done the thing they felt most drawn to outweighed the difficulties of doing it.

That doesn't mean it's easy to overcome every obstacle. In those of us whose professional accomplishments didn't come with youth, there is often an ancient well of insecurity—a reservoir of fear deep enough to have kept us from pursuing our dream careers in the first place. I know this firsthand. While I was still in college, my mother became the first woman dean of Columbia Law School, which at the time was front-page news. (She even got to be a clue on Jeopardy!. The ultimate prize of fame!) My father had a long, distinguished career as a legal academic and civil rights advocate, including having been one of the lawyers responsible for the winning brief in the landmark school desegration case, Brown v. Board of Education. Throughout my youth, when I wasn't hearing from young women what an inspiration my mother must be to me, the rest of the world was looking at my father and noting what big shoes I had to fill.

I opted not even to try. There are doubtless children who would have responded to the same situation with focused, intense ambition, either to carry on the family legacy or to best it. Not me. I had a baby at 25 and left the world of professional accomplishment alone.

I suspect that lots of people who reach middle age with ambitions they've never even tried to fulfill have similar stories. If not parents with intimidating careers, then parents who insisted on standards they feared they couldn't meet; or parents who seemed perpetually disappointed in them; or households in which achievement was given less attention than failure. For many of us, early career decisions were equal parts running toward and running away. And if you are in that category, as I am, then as you contemplate embarking on a new career, you not only have to face down the issues we all do as the years pass; you also have to confront some powerful old inner demons. For me that was a process that included therapy over many years, but therapy isn't the only route. I have friends who meditated their way past fear.

No matter your method, it's hard to imagine that ridding yourself of paralyzing inhibitions can be anything but good. Which brings me back to my first piece of advice, the most important one: Do it. Whatever it is. If you have a dream, go ahead, take the risks, and make whatever sacrifices you possibly can. Endure the funny looks. Ignore the ridicule if ridicule comes. Expect some unfairness along the way, and kick up a fuss about it if kicking and fussing feel productive. Whatever you do, keep moving forward.

Many people have said to me, "Better late than never, huh?" and I suppose there's truth in that. But think about yourself as a very young woman, then think about who you are now. Maybe it's more a case of better late than early. Maybe, after all, it's not even that late. Think about who you want to be ten years from now. Then get to work.

Robin Black's story collection, If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, has been short-listed for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

Find Your Calling

As America bid farewell to the Oprah Show this past week, many of us were struck by her parting words of advice. She said simply: Find Your Calling. It was a haunting call to action for many--especially for us baby boomers who are staring at retirement with no money saved right in the face. Yeah right Oprah, how are we gonna pull off a career change, go back to school, take a pay cut, get the kids through college, when we don't even have a plan in place to retire comfortably!

But that's when you realize if not now, when? None of us are getting any younger. Somehow, some way, we all have to take the time to steer back to that inner flame still flickering inside. It's that dream you never fullfilled. For me, it's so clear and simple. Writing. It is something I have loved doing for as long as I can remember. When I write, I am in a pure, joyous space. I feel closer to being in a zen state than when I try to meditate. I am completely in the moment.

So like the millions of other people that took Oprah's last words to heart, I am sorting out what baby steps I have to take to make a dream come true. As breast cancer survivors, I believe Oprah's words of wisdom take on even more weight. We've been given a second chance at life. Let's not waste it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Managing Arimidex Side Effects

I met with Dr. Pronovost yesterday and came clean about the fact that I not consistent about taking the medication I am supposed to take for the next three years--Arimidex. She looked me straight in the eye and said: "I know it's tough, but the reason we want you to take it is because if there's any microscopic cancer cells floating around in your system, the Arimidex will devour those cells like a Pac Man." Well that was a powerful visual.

So I trolled through the internet and found this piece from a woman who has been successful managing her side effects.

I have been on Arimidex for 2 1/2 years. I was also worried about side effects. None of the side effects that I have experience have been that serious. Each person is different and you may not have any of the many side effects listed. I have some of the "typical" side effects... ie elevated cholesteral and osteopenia (bone loss). My cholesterol was already slightly elevated before starting the Arimidex so am not sure the Arimidex is to blame. I do take a Statin, and it has been effective in bringing the cholesterol level down. I might mention that I take Co-Q-10, which can help reduce statin side effects. My cholesterol is monitored (Lipid Panel) every 6 months. I also have had some bone loss... now have mild osteopenia (before starting it was normal).

I am trying to do the best I can to prevent further loss (Vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6 rich foods and supplements) and to avoid taking Fosemax. The more of these vitamins/minerals you can get from foods the better (I try to get 2000 of Calcium, 2000 of Vitamin D, and 750 of Magnesium, and 25 of Vitamin B, but dosage should be worked out with your Doc, in case any reason you should not take these amounts). Again, get as much of these amounts from your diet as possible (I would not take 2000 calcium as supplement... research has shown possible heart side effects. I try to get 1000-1500 from food and supplement to get the rest). There are several diet programs that can help you estimate how much dietary intake you are getting of these, so you can figure out how much you need to supplement.

I've not had any bone/joint pain, fatigue, liver problems. Bone density done every 2 years. Liver enzymes done every 6 months. By the way, I have heard that the bone/joint pain, if it occurs, is soon after you start on the med. Good luck with the Arimidex! In my opinion, it is worth the risk!

My response:

A lot of women take pain relievers like Tylenol,  Aleve or Ibuprofen to combat joint pain. Many doctors advise NOT to take Ibuprofen because it interferes with Arimidex medication. They are told to take a Tylenol once in the morning and once at night or to just take an extra-strength Tylenol at night.  That's supposed to do the trick for joint pain.

They also report that the vitamin supplement glucosamine helps with joint pain. I am currently in a breast cancer survivor study to show how a combination of weight-training exercise twice a week an 30-minute walks five times a week combats the sider effects of estrogen-positive breast cancer drugs. I will be honest. I still wake up creaky after three months in the study. But the exercise helps me sleep better at night.

As a last resort, women report that switching from Arimidex to Femara helps alleviate joint paint. That's the only news I have to report so far.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Please Support My Walk To Cure Breast Cancer

As a way to express my gratitude as a three-year breast cancer survivor, I am once again participating in the Susan G. Komen Walk For The Cure on June 4th at Bushnell Park in Hartford, CT. Please donate whatever you can, $5, $10, $25 whatever, to this cause that is so near and dear to my heart.

Visit www.komenct.org. Click donate and plug my name in, Marcy Bruch, as a participant and my personal page will come up. You can also go straight to my personal page through this link:

http://transaction.komenct.org/site/TR?px=1385792&pg=personal&fr_id=1160&et=E5xtxIncne0gbiueCCv5iw..&s_tafId=6990

Thank you for your support.

Love, Marcy

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Joy of Pets

Part of my job requires me to knock on the doors of a lot of local businesses. Today I walked into a local boarding kennel for dogs, and was surprised that the owner had a play room full of rescued dogs from puppy mills throughout the country. To my delight, the on-duty attendant invited me into this play pen filled with dog beds and toys to socialize with these abused animals. I sat right in the middle of the pile of toys and treats and proceeded to woe these creatures to interact with me. Of the 10 dogs, one tiny chiwawa came up to me shivering and graciously welcomed my attention. Another one dropped a toy in front of me. The rest of them circled me warily.

The attendant informed me the entire batch of dogs had just been rescued from a puppy mill somewhere in Ohio. She went on to tell me the owner, Toni, was dedicated to welcoming these dogs from all over the country, rehabilitating them, potty training them and socializing them so that they become suitable for adoption. Like me, Toni is a breast cancer survivor. She began this adjunctive business as an addition to her core boarding facility because of her passion to save animals. And because, in her words, going through cancer wakes you up to what matters in life.

Toni pointed out that she will never become rich by rescuing these abused dogs, but her heart will always be full because she's doing something that makes a difference. I was so touched by her commitment to rescue these dogs, I volunteered my time to walk and socialize with the dogs a couple hours a week right on the spot.

I have always loved animals, and feel it's better to adopt a pet that's homeless. As proof, all three of my current cats have been rescued. I adopted my first cat from an eccentric woman in my old neighborhood who had some 20 cats. They were crawling in her car, they were sitting on the roof, they were everywhere! Since Oscar liked more attention then she was capable of giving him, she willingly let me have him. After all, when I started giving him food, he never bothered to return to her home. I got my second cat from a local cat shelter. Tigger was one of four kittens from a feral mother who gave birth to her litter in someone's garage. One kitten died from the rainly weather, but three made it. It broke my heart to see these three kittens shivering in a cage at the shelter. I would have liked to take all three, but I already had Oscar-Mango.

My third cat, Gypsy, was wandering homeless in my neighborhood and started sleeping in my garage during winter to stay warm. In summer I fed him and he slept right outside the door. By fall when it started to cold, I invited hime inside and he's been making himself at home ever since. I later found out he was thrown out of truck by a family who had way too many cats in a house they were evicted from some 15 miles away. That's why I named him Gypsy.

I feel good about adopting these beautiful animals and they truly enrich my life. I have volunteered for animal shelters before and I must confess, I get very emotional about taking care of homeless dogs. But if I don't step up to the plate, who will? The way I look at it, my free time is better spent walking a dog with no owner, than aimlessly wondering through stores buying stuff I don't need. Toni brought something to my attention. When you have had cancer, you've got to get your priorities in order. Give of yourself. Make a difference.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Scoop on Aromatase Inhibitors

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, my doctor sentenced me to three years on Arimidex medication. I am not happy about this, so I pulled this article from the website, www.breastcancer.org to give me more information on the good, bad and ugly of this medication. I would like to hear from other women currently taking aromatase inhibitors and how they are tolerating it. Let me know!

Aromatase inhibitors stop the production of estrogen in post-menopausal women. Aromatase inhibitors work by blocking the enzyme aromatase, which turns the hormone androgen into small amounts of estrogen in the body. This means that less estrogen is available to stimulate the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells.

Aromatase inhibitors can't stop the ovaries from making estrogen, so aromatase inhibitors only work in post-menopausal women.

There are three aromatase inhibitors:

Arimidex (chemical name: anastrozole)
Aromasin (chemical name: exemestane)
Femara (chemical name: letrozole)
Each is a pill, usually taken once a day. Arimidex is the only aromatase inhibitor available in generic form.

Benefits of aromatase inhibitors
A number of studies have compared aromatase inhibitors with tamoxifen to see which type of medicine was more effective in treating early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Based on the results, most doctors recommend that after initial treatment (surgery and possibly chemotherapy and radiation therapy):

an aromatase inhibitor is the best hormonal therapy to start with. When treating early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, aromatase inhibitors have more benefits and fewer serious side effects than tamoxifen.
switching to an aromatase inhibitor after taking tamoxifen for 2 to 3 years (for a total of 5 years of hormonal therapy) offers more benefits than 5 years of tamoxifen.
taking an aromatase inhibitor for 5 years after taking tamoxifen for 5 years continues to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, compared to no treatment after tamoxifen.
Side effects of aromatase inhibitors
Aromatase inhibitors tend to cause fewer serious side effects than tamoxifen, such as blood clots, stroke, and endometrial cancer. But aromatase inhibitors can cause more heart problems, more bone loss (osteoporosis), and more broken bones than tamoxifen, at least for the first few years of treatment. If you and your doctor are considering an aromatase inhibitor as part of your treatment plan, you may want to ask your doctor about having a bone density test to see if a bone strengthening medicine might be necessary while you're taking the aromatase inhibitor.

The most common side effects of aromatase inhibitors are joint stiffness or joint pain.

Joint pain from taking an aromatase inhibitor can be troubling. But a 2008 British study suggests that women who experienced joint pain while taking hormonal therapy medicine were less likely to have the breast cancer come back (recur). Knowing that this side effect might indicate a reduced risk of the cancer coming back may help some people stick with treatment despite the side effects.

If you're experiencing side effects from taking one aromatase inhibitor medicine, tell your doctor. You may be able to take a different medicine. Arimidex and Femara have similar chemical structures, while Aromasin has a different structure.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Today we give thanks to our mothers. Of course everyone has one, and if you are lucky enough to still have your mom alive, you will probably take her some place nice to eat and give her a card. If you're like me who's mom lives 2,000 miles away, you make sure she gets a card and a gift or flowers.

Yesterday my mom was bemoaning the fact that once again, because she lives in Florida and her kids and grandkids live in Connecticut, she would be spending Mother's Day without us. I didn't know what to say to that. I spent a week with her in Aruba last April, and I will be seeing mom for a good part of the summer. But it's tough to hop a plane for every little celebratory day.

Earlier, on Good Morning America, a survey said the key to happiness is a strong foundation of close relationships with family and friends. "That means it's important to get on that plane when your sister just had a baby, or attend that high school reunion," said the journalist. I'm proud to report I'm the first one to make a reservation when there's an upcoming wedding and I did attend my high school reunion last year. I get that it matters.

I also get that a card in the mail and a UPS-delievered package of perfume is a hollow consolation prize that can't take the place of spending a beautiful Spring day with your kids. What to do? I wish I were with my mom today.

It's on a day like this that I also realize the hole in my life for not being a mom. That's when I start treating my three cats like the kids I never had. A mom is someone who cares, nurtures, protects, and loves unconditionally. I do all of that for my pets. Call me crazy, but I feel being the adopted mom to three animals that were once homeless or rescued is better than being no mom at all. There's something joyous about being a mom, and in my own quirky way, I think I'm pretty good at the role.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ding Dong Bin Laden's Dead

Ever since last night the Wizard of Oz song "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" has been filling my head. I was in the midst of watching Donald Trump about to fire someone on Celebrity Apprentice when that ticker tape announcement started rolling at the bottom of the screen. My first thought was, oh great, we're about to have a nuclear attack. But as the news unfolded, we found out that Osama Bin Laden had been shot and killed.

The news immediately brought me back to the day I stood with binoculars on my penthouse terrace in Stamford, CT on September 11, 2001 watching the twin towers collapse before my very eyes. I had gone a date with a guy just the week before who happened to work in Tower 2. As luck would have it, he had to take the Path subway train for New Jersey a mere 30 minutes before the first plane had struck. He was stranded in New Jersey for three days, but that was a small price to pay.

I remember calling him numerous times on his cellphone and no one answered. I figured he was one of the casualties. But after a few days, he picked up the phone and recounted his harrowing story. For some countries in the world, this little song may appear as gloating. After all, how crass is it to be joyful over the death of anyone--good or bad? But for those of us who were personally effected by 9/11, who cares what anyone thinks! Retribution has been served.