Thursday, October 7, 2010

Great Marketing Gimics

Since I know that it really raises breast cancer awareness I won't complain too much, but you can find just about anything from a appliances to tampons with that pink ribbon on display this month.  If you are making an effort to purchase these things thinking you are giving back to the cause, make sure that they are actually donating a fair amount back to some reputable organization. mmm-k?!

Speaking of marketing....wouldn't it be great if the medical community worked the same way?  If you were handed your cancer diagnosis along with a consumer reports magazine of all the local doctors in the area, their brag sheet and then patient reviews?  I think I may have found my billion dollar idea!
I have always said that I felt very blessed to have had the medical team that I did.  I was fortunate enough to have friends of friends that connected me with my oncologist Dr. Medgyesy here in Fort Collins.  When I was first handed my diagnosis from my GP (general practitioner) it became a whirlwind of decisions that needed to be made yesterday and referrals to whom ever could fit me in first.  Now, I am not saying that my GP didn't have my best interests at heart but I had no personal experience with cancer so was just doing as I was told.  My first appointment was set up with the brand new doctor at the local surgeons office because he had the openings and could get me in the fastest.  He was to prepare me for surgery ASAP to get my tumor removed.  Of course the first thing I did was google the doctor and found out that he had no real specialty or prolonged experience with the needs that I had and was, as I said, fresh out of med school.   
I was lucky enough to have a dear friend, Courtnee, who was friends with a NP (nurse practioner) at Front Range Cancer Center.  After expressing my concerns with being overwhelmed and not knowing what to do with Courtnee she immediately called her friend the NP, Lisa, who recommended that I come and speak with an oncologist before making any big decisions.  Dr. Medgyesy offered to stay after her normal schedule the following day to see me.  After looking at my scans and charts she recommended that instead of doing surgery right away that we do Neo Adjuvent chemotherapy (chemo before surgery) because the tumor was growing very close to my chest wall.  It was her opinion that if we did not do this then there was risk of having to also remove parts of my chest wall to get all of the tumor.  She took the time to sit with us and explain the pros and cons of each situation and then give her opinion as to treatment.  In the end it was left up to me.  I ended up choosing to do the Neo Adjuvent Chemo and do surgery afterwords.  After meeting with her I also decided to call around and look online for a surgeon that would better fit my needs as a patient.  I was going to need a general surgeon fairly quickly to put in my port.  This is used for administering chemo and other drugs and also drawing blood samples rather than having to start an IV or get poked every day.  I found my surgeon Dr. Chiavetta here locally too that was wonderful through other patient recommendations and online research.
Through my entire cancer process I was under the care of lots of different doctors but more importantly lots of different opinions.  I saw 5 surgeons to consult about reconstruction between here and Salt Lake City.  I believe it is very important to obtain opinions from several docs and be able to choose the one that is right for you.  I also believe that getting several opinions to weigh your options is very beneficial.  Any good doctor will not be offended or threatened by you getting a 2nd, 3rd, 4th opinion.   

Lesson Learned:
Doctors work for you and not the other way around.  Don't be afraid to take charge of your health care and do your homework about your situation.  Any doctor that has issues with you getting 2nd opinions is not the right doctor for you.  Don't be afraid to ask questions and question what is going on with your care.  You are the best advocate for your care and you know your body better than anyone else.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Day 1

So we have officially entered breast cancer awareness month. Let the pink ribbons explode upon retailers everywhere. Personally I couldn't be any more aware of this disease, but if it hasn't been forced upon you or your family, as it was mine, it is a good thing to be reminded of.  Enter...the purpose of this blog.

I think of everything in life is a learning experience.  Learning is sometimes fun, sometimes painful. For better or for worse, lessons are learned and we are all the wiser for the experiences that life forces upon us.  Cancer was one of the experiences that my life forced upon me.  I have learned a lot of things from this disease.  
I recently received an email from Komen and in the subject line it read "I think about this disease everyday". Then I thought..hmmm, me too!  I wondered how many other people, like myself, could say these exact same words. Say them, and really mean them. I think there are a great number of us that can unfortunately. Not only us cancer patients, but the people that love us as well. I think it is safe to say that millions and millions of people are affected by this disease, and not only this disease but cancer itself.

I saw a story on the news yesterday about a women here in Colorado that has been faking cancer for several years and has swindled her friends, neighbors, etc. out of money to support her drug habit. You can read about this piece of work here if you are so inclined. I was infuriated and personally offended after hearing this story, as I am sure many people were. On the news I saw them interview one of her neighbors. The neighbor said that she was not sorry that she had offered her help and that she would offer the same help to her again if she found out they were in need of it.  I have to say I would not have been so nice.  Just hearing the report I was yelling at the TV and I wasn't even personally involved.  Maybe I should pray to be more forgiving?

Besides reminding myself to pray to be a better made me think about all of the people that were so kind to me during my fight with cancer. So, so many people offering to help in whatever ways they were able. I was overwhelmed with how many people reached out to help me and my family. People brought in meals, sent cards, paid bills, left money, cleaned my house, took care of my kids, took me to appointments, gave me massages, held my head over the toilet, helped me walk and recover after surgery, shaved their heads, listened to me cry and whine, held my hand, I named it - they did it.
Here is a story related from my blog shortly after I lost my hair:

Jon and I were able to go out to eat at the Egg and I with the twins the other day. We went to go pay our bill and someone at the restaurant paid our bill and gave the waitress a note to give to me that said "A good deed had been done today in loving memory of my mother. Good luck to you ~ a friend" Of course I was in tears the rest of the time there and the whole way home. It is unreal to think about all the many women that this disease has impacted.

I still remember that day.  It was cold and snowing, and I am always freezing, but with no hair it gets really cold.  I had a stocking cap on, but my head was getting so itchy from wearing it.  I realized soon after shaving my head that it was constantly irritated.  I had been messing with it most of the way through our meal and finally just took it off.  I always hated the looks and stares from everyone.  I could just feel everyone in the room looking at me and was so uncomfortable.  It was a bad day on top of all the hat drama because I was feeling horrible.  As soon as the waitress gave us that note I was in tears and cried until we got home.  I couldn't believe that a total stranger would have done something so kind for me.  The stranger really lifted my spirits that day and I will never forget that. I will be forever indebted to those who so generously gave of themselves for my benefit during that time.  I hope that I will be able to do the same for others when the opportunity presents itself.

Lesson learned:
An act of kindness, no matter how small you might think it is, can really make a big difference to the person on the receiving end.  When in doubt, it is always better to act then stand by and wait for someone else to.  You'll never regret being kind and loving. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Baskin Robbins Fundraiser

On Friday night we had our team fundraiser at Baskin Robbins. It was a great success with the help from all of you. Here are some snap shots of the evening. We made $190 in tips that go straight to relay plus our cut of the sales. We love you and thank you for your support.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Je m'appelle Claude!

C'est Claude
I love this picture!!  She was beautiful bald, wasn't she?

Claude is French.  I love to hear her speak, and I wish that I could speak french.  I took 3 years of french in high school and still can't even carry on a conversation.  You've just read about the extent of what I can say in French :-)
Claude was the very first survivor and the very first person that I met at treatment.  I met her on my first treatment day.  She gave me her phone number and that is the first thing that was written down in my 'treatment journal'.  I kept a journal of all my treatments, drugs I was taking, side effects and other misc things.  Claude's name and number is at the top of the first page.  She was there from the beginning of my cancer experience.  She introduced me to Hope Lives! and the services that they provide to local women in our community.  She was the first survivor that I had a conversation with about the reconstruction process.  I believe she was in the middle of her reconstruction process when I met her.  There are so many different options out there, it is a bit overwhelming.  I was grateful to the network of survivors that I met during my experience that helped me prepare for what was still ahead and become more knowledgeable about the process and options available.
She hosted one of our survivor's girls nights a few years ago and it was a blast.  We need to arrange another one of these!! 
It is always a great time with Claude!

I relay for you Claude.  Love you lady!

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
Give a little, to what has taken a lot

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Scariest Chemo Day Ever

This is what I wrote on my blog on Sept 21st 2006...

"I did chemo after my Dr. Appointment today. Everything was going fine until I started my Taxol, which is the actual chemo drug. Since it was my 3rd time getting this they put it on regular flow and it usually takes about an hour. I was laying down in the recliner for about 10 min and started to feel funny. All at once I felt hot in my abdomen and and it moved quickly up my abdomen into my chest and to my throat. By the time I sat up and looked at my mom on the one side of me and said "Something isn't right," and turned my head to the other side to tell the nurse, my chest and throat got very tight and I couldn't breathe. The 3 nurses all rushed over shut the IV line and shot me up with a steroid and a bunch of benedryl. It worked quickly but there was about 10 or so seconds there where I couldn't catch my breath. It was VERY SCARY! I thought I was going to pass out. They put some saline through me and waited about a half hour before starting on it again. They start it back up but at about 1/2 the speed. I waited about 20 min and then the hot feeling came over me again. I didn't have the breathing problem that time, but they did the same things again. I had to stop and wait another 1/2 hour and then start the taxol again at about 1/2 that speed. Luckily the 3rd time was a charm and worked okay but we ended up being at chemo from 10:00am to 4:30pm. Long day! I feel horrible tonight too. My chest still hurts and my lower back hurts. I am a total medicine head from all the benedryl I am on."

Have you ever felt like you were drowning?  That day I felt like I was drowning, but I wasn't underwater.  I was in a room connected to an IV that was feeding my body poison.  I lost control of my body.  I could not breathe.  My insides felt like they were on fire and my heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest.  I. could. not. breathe.  It was hands down the scariest experience ever.  I was looking at my mom's face as she stood by helplessly and all she could do was hold my hand.  I was staring wide eyed at the 3 nurses that rushed over to my side shouting things like turn off the drip, get this, get that, hold on, it will just be a few seconds more, take a deep breath, stay calm.  I can tell you from experience that when someone tells you to stay calm, that is the last thing you are going to be doing.  Especially when you can't breathe.  Those 10 seconds felt like an eternity and slowly I was able to catch my breathe a little more and a little more. 
That was a long day.  Even after being feed what seemed to be the maximum dosage of Benedryl, I was wide awake the rest of the day.  It's never good to be the center of attention in a room full of patients sitting in recliners being fed their chemo meds.  There were several times that I had seen patients being taken from our treatment room across the street to the hospital and thankfully I was never one of those patients.  Chemo is truly a love/hate relationship.  You love it because it is saving your life, but hate it for what it is doing to your life in the short term.  You truly live a day at a time. 

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
Give a little, to what has taken a lot

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I'm in Pain!

This last week the fence in our blew over in the strong winds.  On Friday night we had to dig up the old fence post that was attached to a ton of concrete so we could re do the post and pour new concrete.   Jon and I spent over an hour digging up the old concrete.  Well really Jon did most of the digging and I just helped as much as I could.  We ended up having to enlist the neighbor's help (Thanks Brad!) and then pull the big chunk of concrete out with the truck. 
So fast forward to Sunday.  I can barley move my arm much the less lift anything without throbbing pain through my arm and chest.  I feel like someone smacked me with an open hand right above my chest.  From all the surgeries and the reconstruction I have been through my pec muscle and the tendon or whatever it is in your armpit that connects your pec muscle with your arm have never been the same.  That tendon sicks out of my pec and armpit like a rubber band.  Even after all the endless physical therapy that I have done, it still hurts whenever I do anything physical with that area.  Whenever we ride the four wheelers in the summer it is always a few hours and then I am done for the day.  I guess I need to be doing something more regular as far as strength training, but dang it hurts. 
It amazes me how much my body has been through and still seems to work fairly well for the most part.  It's painful days like this that remind me that I am not the same person I used to be.  I cannot do whatever I want without expecting to pay for it the next day, or for days later in this case.  I cannot go out and swing on the monkey bars with my kids.  I cannot do heavy lifting.
I can take lots of advil though and I can enjoy spending another Mother's day with my family. 

And it is worth it.  Everyday it's worth it.  I am lucky to be here.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
Give a little, to what has taken a lot

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Don't Mess with Texas!

Meet the Lloyd Family
Wow, Adrian!  You are one lucky fella!  Your girls are gorgeous!
I met Debbie in the middle of my treatment and towards the beginning of hers.  We were connected through Hope Lives! when she sent out a inquiry about other woman that were doing the same chemo protocol she would be doing.  Debbie and I had the exact same medical plan from chemo to surgery.  We also saw the same amazing oncologist, Diana Medgeyesy.
She is one of my girls!  She's a Texas girl.  She has watched several members of her family fight cancer and tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which is the hereditary breast cancer gene.

Debbie is an awesome!  We talked about all the crap that goes along with cancer and did all the crap that goes along with cancer right next to each other.  We even got our new "girls" around them same time, right Debbie? The old ones were trying to kill us.
In Oct of 2007 we had the opportunity to participate in the Hope Lives Gala and fundraiser and also be featured in the the local magazine STYLE.
What a fun experience!  We were both honored as survivors and were treated like queens for the day.

Debbie continues to volunteer for Hope Lives! and worked with the models at the gala this last year.  
 She is an amazing lady!

I relay for you Debbie!

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
  Give a little, to what has taken a lot

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The best of craigslist Cancer Rant

One of my favorite cartoons...

 I never read this until after I was done with my treatment.  My husband found it on the best of craigslist and I am unsure who the original author was. 
I laughed most of the way through it because I could relate with almost everything she said.  Then I cried because I could relate to what she said. (Thanks for letting me cry Vicki) 
This is not a fun club to be a part of but we do take care of our own.  

 The Cancer Rant
Portland Craigslist Oct 2007
 In February of this year I was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkins Lymphoma. I went through eight months of chemotherapy, everything looks really good, and now I am just waiting for my post-chemo scans to indicate remission. I am finally done with chemo. Woop woop. This is very good news for me. I’m real happy about it and I am excited to get on with my life.
I was a good cancer patient…no, a great cancer patient. I was tough. I didn’t curl up in a ball and hide, I faced it, I sucked it up, and got through it. I’m not looking for a medal, I just want to preface what I am going to say with the fact that I am not whiny or self-pitying, and that I realize that I am not the only one who’s had to deal with this crap, and that there’s worse things that could have happened to me. I have a wonderful family and caring friends that have formed a very lovely support system for me. I cannot thank them enough for all their help and love.
That said, here’s my rant…This goes out to everyone I know – friends, family, co-workers, doctors, nurses, radiologists, technicians, friends of friends, exes, and others…

1. There is no “good” kind of cancer. Yes, this kind of cancer at my stage has an 80-85% survival rate. That’s great, I am happy about that – really, I am, but that doesn’t make it “good” or any “better” than any other kind of cancer. Cancer is a scary thing, the treatment is excruciating, and at the end of the day, if you happen to get “lucky” and be one of the 15-20% that don’t survive, that statistic turns from a “good” one to a not-so-great one. Really. That’s like one out of five. Can you think of five friends? Picture them. If one of them up and died would you consider it a “good” number of them? I didn’t think so. So please, don’t tell me I got the “good” kind of cancer – don’t even suggest it. Don’t even say, “Well, at least you didn’t get _________ cancer, that would really suck.” Uh, hello, this pretty much REALLY sucks. Next time you get cancer I’ll ask you if you think the kind you got is “good”.

2. Don’t tell me things I don’t want to hear. For some reason, it occurred several times that when I told someone what I was going through (which is kinda awkward anyway), they would say something to the effect of “OH, my (mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, insert any other relative or even remote acquaintance here) just died last year of cancer.” Or “Right, my (insert distant relative here) died of Hodgkin’s.” What the hell?? I have been diagnosed with a terrible disease and am undergoing intensive and debilitating treatment, and you’re going to tell me about someone dying? What? Seriously? It’s better just to not chime in here. Again, next time you get cancer, I’ll try this line out on you and you can let me know what you think.

3. DO NOT ask me about my hair. With the kind of chemo I had, my hair started falling out around treatment #3, slowly at first, then lots at a time until I finally, and very sadly, shaved my head. THAT WAS REALLY HARD TO DO. It’s about a lot of things…it’s about vanity and feeling ugly, it’s about the stigma of being sick and that being obvious to the world, it’s about knowing or not who you are without your hair/eyelashes/eyebrows, it’s complicated. And, I take ownership of the fact that some of that is really superficial stuff – but it’s very real and it’s emotional. So, comments like “How’s your hair doing?” “Wow, it’s really thinning out!” “So is your hair just coming out in handfuls?” and “Is that a wig?” are not helpful and WILL make me cry. If you think this is stupid or oversensitive, let me say it again: next time you get cancer let me know how this goes.

4. Don’t tell me it’s going to be ok. Bottom line is this – I know I want everything to be ok, and I know you want everything to be ok – you wouldn’t be my friend/involved family member if that weren’t the case. Unfortunately, we BOTH know that it just might not be ok. We BOTH know that there exists the possibility that it’s not going to be ok and that the disease isn’t going to respond, or is going to come back, and that even if I am tough and brave, it could kill me. I have had to deal with that idea since the word “cancer” came out of the doctor’s mouth. In that moment, and in the hours and days to come, I knew that it could happen that everything was not going to be ok. If I didn’t know that, cancer wouldn’t be such a big deal. If that weren’t a possibility, we wouldn’t have shed tears when we heard the news. So, for my sake, don’t say that line. I know it’s the first thing that comes to mind, and I know you mean it well, but try something else that actually means something, like: “Whenever you need anything I’ll be there” or “This is going to be rough but I’m here for you” or “I’m on my way over with a last season’s Top Model” or even just “Give ‘em hell, sista”. I know you may not get it, but next time you get cancer we’ll share profound understanding when I tell you that I know it may not be ok and that I know that’s real scary.

5. Don’t comment about my weight. Ok, here’s something that I didn’t know before I started this. Chemotherapy is NOT a weight loss plan – YES, they have indeed discontinued all the fringe benefits from the cancer card membership. Turns out, they give you steroids that make you hungry all the damned time. And, you feel like complete shit and don’t even have enough energy to walk up the stairs, much less to exercise. In the beginning when I was still trying to figure out how to deal with crappy side effects like constant vomiting, painful mouth sores, etc, I lost weight because I just literally couldn’t eat. But once I got that under control, the hunger would come on, and man, I can eat a lot. I was in pretty good shape (at the gym five days a week, healthy foods, etc) when all this started and now I have gained weight and am up a pants size. The once-muscle has turned into mushy fat and I’m not happy about it, but during treatment there was just no fix. So, the “wow, you’ve put a couple on, haven’t you?” or “I thought you lose weight on chemo” comments are not helpful and again, will make me cry. Next time you get cancer, see how you feel when I tell you to “hit the gym.”

6. Chemotherapy sucks. I think everyone knows that – I don’t know what the first thing is that pops into your head when you read that word, but I would venture to guess that it’s not something warm and smiley. It sucks, it really sucks. You vomit, are nauseated (which is so much worse than vomiting) all the time, you get terrible headaches, you can’t sleep, you get sores in your mouth and chronic yeast infections, you get seriously seriously constipated, your brain malfunctions and you can’t remember how to get to the bus stop or where you normally leave the toothpaste, your whole body hurts, your toenails fall off (really? Yeah) and now they give you shots to stimulate white blood cell production (at least in my case) that cause relentless, incapacitating pain that made you simply want to give up on living just to make it stop. Ok, I said it, chemotherapy sucks – and I am really good at being tough and not letting everyone know all the crappy stuff that’s happening to me at once, but you know it sucks. So, no, I am not interested in hearing you whine about a cold you think you’re getting, your scratchy throat, your eye/ear/sinus infection, your sleepiness, your headache, etc. I know you really don’t feel good, but c’mon man, suck it up – or at least go tell someone else who doesn’t have cancer. Next time you get it, you’ll drop kick the jerk that spends ten minutes talking about how bad their hangover is.

7. It’s a REALLY long road. Eight months is a long time to be sick. It just is, and I KNOW (I really know) that it gets old. In the beginning everyone called all the time, offered to go to chemo with me, sent lots of e-mails, came over to visit when I was sick….but after the months drag on it’s like people get sick of it. I understand that – ‘cause I got pretty sick of it too. I got sick of calling in to work, not doing anything fun, not seeing anyone….even just answering the damned “How are you feeling?” question….I felt like it was better to lie and say “fine” than to say how I really felt because people kind of don’t know how to react or don’t want to hear it. I have a wonderful husband and mother who took exceptional care of me, even when they needed a break, even when it got old, even when they got sick of hearing me say I felt like shit. They did that because they knew I needed them. I needed other people too, I needed girlfriends to just come over with a movie or a dvd of a funny tv show, or to call me on the days they knew I had treatment, or to just call when they hadn’t heard from me in days. Some did and some didn’t. You know who you are and why you didn’t. Maybe you didn’t feel comfortable or maybe you were too “busy.” Regardless, I love you, and I will do it for you the next time you get cancer.

I really, really hope you never get cancer. I mean that for everyone – even if you’re a jerk, even if you write to me and rant meaningless crap about my rant, even if you really deserve to have something nasty happen to you – I hope you don’t get cancer. It’s awful. I’m not one of those “I’m a survivor!” types, I’m not one of those in-your-face super tough post-cancer freaks, I’m really normal and I will get over this. That said, if you do get cancer or if your friend or (insert any relative here) gets cancer, you can bet your bottom dollar that if/when I hear about it I’ll be on your/their doorstep with a big teary welcome to the cancer club hug and a mop and bucket to clean the floors, or popcorn and a DVD for the kids, or dinner so you/they don’t have to make it, or whatever it takes, for as long as it takes – and you won’t have to ask for it, and you won’t have to say thanks, because we’ll both just know. It’s a special club and we take care of our own.

I know for the most part people mean well when they inquire or comment on your situation, and in no way mean to hurt feelings, but some things are just better left not commented on.  Being on the other side of the fence as the friend/relative/caregiver/etc is not an easy role to play and I respect that.  I know that there were many times that people didn't know what to say to me so just didn't say anything.  I am grateful for friends that did take the time to call and comment, even if it was in a situation described above, because I know that you loved me and truly did care about my situation, and in no way meant to hurt or offend.  I do hope that this may be enlightening for some, on the things to stay away from saying or perhaps be sensitive to.  I couldn't be more grateful to those of you in my life that were there with me through this journey or are here with me on my current plight for Relay.  I hope that through my Relay efforts we can welcome less of you to this club, even though the company in this club couldn't be better.  Love to all! 
Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
  Give a little, to what has taken a lot

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Old" Judy

This is the lovely Judy. Isn't she beautiful?

I think this is a lovely picture of her.  

I met Judy through an online support group I started for survivors in our community.  She came to a dinner that I organized with her daughter.  This is the first time I met Judy.

She is a riot.  Always a fun time with Judy around.  There was a time shortly after she joined the group that another Judy joined the message board.  From then on she referred to herself as "Old" Judy.  
This is how I remember Judy.

She was a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.  She was from Nebraska and cheered for the cornhuskers.  I learned that she loved ham salad and extra large kleenex. ha!  Judy I know, you're laughing.  To know Judy is to love Judy.  Judy posted this funny story on a survivor's writers group she belonged to:

"I've Seen the Future--Now I Want My Money Back
Can we stop time, please? I want it to be at least a month ago.

This morning I got a glimpse of my future, and it is not a good look for me.

Picture me this morning; lying on an ambulance cart, wearing a really old nightgown with one of Joe's holy (full of wholes) undershirt over it, with oatmeal stains from earlier breakfast on it. No front partial teeth in. Funny little hair sprouting into stick-out lumps all over my fat steroidal head. Now picture several absolutely adorable young EMT's hovering around me.

I was so miserable anyway, a little attractiveness could have gone along way in saving me.

I am now tucked in for the nite at a hospital in Loveland CO, in the section attended by hospice nurses. Thanks to wonderful drugs, and good nursing, I can breathe again!

A really have a hilarious story for you all. Nurses had each been asking if my cough was bringing up anything. Finally, I coughed up something of substance and saved it in a Kleenex to show a nurse. The next one that came in got a nice view of it, as I asked her if she thought the color in it came from blood? She did not scream and run from the room, but I then did see her name tag --- not "Nurse" but rather "Volunteer".

Love to you all, and if for some reason I don't write for a worrisome length, you can contact my daughter and she will fill you in.

I dearly love you all, and treasure the time we have spent together here;

Judith Warren Vasiliauskas “Judy V” passed away on 12/6/09, after a courageous battle with breast cancer.

 She was my friend, and I loved her, and I still do.  I love that she made everyone around her feel special and loved.  I love that she loved life. I love that she found humor in situations that most people would not.

I love and miss you dearly my friend.  I know you are in a better place and free of the pain that you knew in this world.   But we still miss you.  I relay for you Judy.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
give a little, to what has taken a lot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why I Relay By: Michelle Sims

Today's guest blogger is Michelle Sims. Michelle has been a dear friend of mine for many years and this will be her 3rd year participating in relay with me. She is designs T-shirts and at the bottom of her post there is a link to her T-shirt shop where a portion of the proceeds from the cancer shirts will be donated back to our relay team. I am also posting a few pictures of my favorite shirts below her link. There are shirts for all different types of cancer, not just breast cancer. Love you Michelle!
In July of 2003 my life changed. Not just my life, but the lives of my entire family. My mom had been sick off and on for several months. Repeat trips to the doctors had brought no answers. One day my brother had come home to find her lying on the couch. This wasn’t new since for the last few days she had hardly left the couch for feeling so bad. The difference this day was her coloring. She had a distinct grey pallor and my brother feared the worst. He woke her and they went to the hospital. That hospital trip finally brought answers. She was in complete kidney failure. Further testing showed that the kidney failure had been caused by Multiple Myeloma. CANCER! I remember the sadness and overwhelming fear that over took me when my dad called to tell me the terrible news. The part that amazed me was my mother’s strength and desire to fight. It was to be a tough battle. With the kidney failure came kidney dialysis, 4 hours a day, 3 times a week. This meant ports, surgeries, hours of each week lost in a clinic, and complete total exhaustion. The Multiple Myeloma meant chemotherapy, losing her hair, sickness, nausea, and more exhaustion. Our pre-planned family trip to visit that month was saddened by the fact that mom (and grandma) was in the hospital the whole time. In August, I made another trip down for a weekend. Mom was well into her chemo now and her hair was starting to fall out. Through tears, I shaved my mother’s head and went with her and a friend to choose a wig. It was hard to see her like this, but she continued to amaze me with her strength and desire to fight.

Mom fought for almost 3 years. She didn’t let the cancer get her down and she found ways to continue her life despite being tied to dialysis. Through her research she found a method called peritoneal dialysis that gave her the freedom to do her dialysis on her own and at home. This cut her tie to the clinic and allowed her the flexibility to travel. She visited me here in Colorado several times, she visited shortly after my youngest son was born, she traveled to Hawaii, she even took a cruise to Alaska with my dad and her siblings and parents.

It was during one of her trips here that things changed for the worst. Mom and dad were here to visit us for Thanksgiving of 2005 and for Tiffany’s baptism which was that Saturday. On Thanksgiving morning she had to go in for dialysis. (She had recently returned to clinical dialysis when her peritoneal dialysis port fell out and could not be replaced) During her treatment, she passed out. She was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and spent a few hours while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. They ended up sending her home with no defined reason for her passing out. That evening we had Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws. Mom wasn’t feeling well so dad took her back to our house to rest after she ate. A little bit later, I got a call that mom was being taken from my house in an ambulance again. She had gone unconscious again. It was determined in the hospital that she was probably having mild heart attacks. Her weekend trip turned into two weeks in the cardiac ICU here. During that time she had 9 episodes of cardiac arrest and a defibrillator put in. Once she stabilized she was sent to my home for a few days to recover a bit more and then she returned home. When I put her on the plane to go home to Las Vegas, I feared it might be the last time I would see her alive.

This was the beginning of the end. She had fought long and hard and never ever gave up, but in the end her body just couldn’t take any more. It was just 3 ½ months later that I got the call from my dad that mom was once again in the hospital and this time, he didn’t think she was going to make it. I hopped on a plane and spent a very short amount of time with my mom on the evening I arrived. The next morning upon our arrival in the hospital, we were informed that during the night things had changed. She was now brain dead. We gathered the family and with each one of us holding some part of her, we had the doctor turn off the machines keeping her alive. It was just a short minute or two until her heart stopped beating. It was the saddest experience of my life so far but also one of the most spiritual. I don’t think we are ever closer to heaven than we are at the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. She passed from this life to the next. She was no longer in pain. No more suffering. She had moved on, but it left the rest of us here to mourn the loss of her in our lives. I have 34 years of memories of her. I have all that she taught me and all that she helped me to be. The saddest part for me is that some of my children don’t even remember much about her. It is only though pictures and the stories that I tell that she can remain in their hearts, but I will always be sure they know her.

I miss my mom every single day. I don’t know how many times I have picked up the phone to call her. She was my best friend. She was the one I called with all of my good news and she was the one who lifted me up when I was having a bad day.

Over the first year after her passing, I had good days and many bad days. I decided I needed to do something to honor her in some way.

Shortly after mom’s passing one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is now a 4 year survivor and is the one who introduced me to Relay For Life. When I heard about Relay I knew that this was one of the best ways I could honor my mother. Now I do what I can to help our Relay team to raise money in the fight against cancer. I walk the track with my friends; some cancer survivors themselves and others who have also lost loved ones. We walk together. We share our stories. We share our memories. We cry and support one another.

I relay for my mom. I relay for my grandmother who died of brain cancer in 1990. I relay for my friend Eliza. I relay for my friends who have also lost loved ones. But, I also relay for my children in hopes that through our efforts, cures can be found, so they will not have to worry about cancer affecting their lives.

If you want o help my cause check out my Cancer T-Shirt shop at A portion of proceeds from sales in the cancer shop will be donated to my Relay For Life team.

To read more about why Nikki does Relay and to donate to Michelle's Relay for Life Efforts Please click here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why I support Relay: By Heather Janssen

The next guest writer on the blog is super star Heather Janssen, who I blogged about a few posts ago. Here we are at race for the cure in '08. Heather was still in treatment, and it was a phenomenal experience. I would highly recommend it!

You never realize how much cancer has robbed from you until you look back at the way things were. The grief can be overwhelming when you stop the whirlwind of “normal” life and realize, not only did you lose a lot of the moments every old lady in the grocery store says to “treasure,” but that you lost the na├»ve assumption that there would be endless moments to have.
When I was first diagnosed, I began my own “relay” of trying to pack a lifetime of memories and shared experiences with my family into the few short months I thought I had. Never mind that I knew that a few months of camping trips, bike rides and story-times together would never, ever begin to make up for my four daughters losing their mom. I was determined to try anyway.
As the months have now turned to years and I’m still around (and still a slacker mom, after all, come to find out,) what remains is twofold: 1) a sense of urgency to make every moment “count.” And 2) immense guilt that I can’t live at that high-octane frenzy for very long before growing too weary and giving up. So I live in this bizarre half-world (populated by wierdos like Eliza) where I’m known to go all manic sometimes out of fear that the cancer is going to come back; where there are days when I really just don’t make the most of every moment, because I’m too tired; where, while we look normal, we who live on the planet feel like we’ve got an extra limb or two, or a third eye because we’re removed and apart due to the cancer schmancer. While it’s lonely here, please don’t visit. I don’t want to share this hazy netherworld with anyone else. It’s too dark, too scary, too tragic. Plus, you have to have a third eye or one enormous bicep, and we’d feel bad that you took it literally, the whole weirdo thing.
I support Relay because those of us pummeled by cancer need the freedom and hope to create a new normal within the confines of this universe--one that will, sadly, never be quite as carefree and naive as life before cancer, but hopefully full and vibrant once again. And hopefully full of bizarre aliens for us to laugh and point at.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
give a little, to what has taken a lot

Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I Relay By: Nikki Schaefer

Mrs. Nikki Schaefer is the first guest writer on the blog.  She is my neighbor and participated in relay with us for the first time last year.  It was a blast!

I am truly the luckiest person to have such awesome friends.  I don't know what I would do without them!

 I knew this girl in high school……we didn’t run in the same crowd, nor were we the same age. I only knew her through a mutual friend….she was a cheerleader, a nice and friendly girl - I didn’t know much else other than her name, Eliza Mondy. Of course, I graduated and moved on about my life and didn’t see her again. My sister went to high school a few years later and was a cheerleader - guess who was her coach?? The same girl from high school that I knew, or lack there-of would be a better phrase. Once again, I didn’t get to know her much at all…just the occasional hello at games and parades, etc.

One day several years ago I saw a girl outside her house, down the street from mine, guess who it was - that beautiful, blond, cheerleader from high school. I saw that she had three small children about the same age as my own. Why the heck didn’t I go down and say hello?? Fear, embarrassment, judgment, I honestly have no idea what was stopping me. Let me just say, I soon became regretful that I didn’t go down and say hello. I often saw them outside and never stopped. One day I noticed she had shaved all of her long blond hair. I immediately knew why she had done that….I was sick to my stomach. I had heard from another neighbor that she had breast cancer. She had three small children and was too young to have breast cancer, right? At this point I felt like it was the worst possible time to stop by and say hello. “Would she think I was being nosy? Would she be mad at me for not coming over before? Would it be too awkward for both of us? What would I say?” Maybe I was ashamed for not greeting my neighbor in the beginning, maybe I was embarrassed for not being a mature adult, or maybe I didn’t know what to say. Every day that I would see her outside I felt terrible. It was only when my daughter noticed a girl down the street that she could play with one summer day. I said ok….and I let her take me down there…pathetic, right, letting my daughter introduce me to her new friend. I had so many questions for Eliza, but knew it wasn’t the right time to ask them. Instead we caught up on the past years and talked about our kids and families. I knew it would all work out one day – and it sure did!

Eliza has quickly become one of my closest friends and I love her with all my heart. Our daughters are best friends and our husbands have so much in common….it just works. I often regret that I didn’t go visit my neighbor sooner….I would have loved to be a part of her life and vice versa a LONG time ago. I feel badly, like what kind of “friend” I was not being….I wish I was able to help her during her fight with breast cancer. Enough with the depressing - woulda, shoulda and coulda… forward!! I look forward to so many more awesome memories with the Brock family!! Relay is just one of the wonderful things I can do to help celebrate the journey that Eliza has taken. Every time that I read her blog I tear up, just thinking how much courage she has makes me so proud to call her my friend. What an inspirational woman she is, an amazing friend, wife and mother! She does so much for everybody in her life and gives so much of herself….selflessly. Eliza is truly an amazing individual….and that is why I relay! To celebrate the survivors, honor those we have lost and help prevent the loss of other lives to cancer.

To read more about why Nikki does Relay and to donate to Nikki's Relay for Life Efforts Please click here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Because telling your kids the reality of life sucks...big time

This post's about this kid...

This post was taken from my personal blog from last October...

Last week I almost had a panic attack when talking to Alex. For those of you that don't know Alex, she is a talker. She will talk you head off with the most random questions. She reminds me of this kid in Home Alone, Mitch, the neighbor. Remember this part?

Mitch Murphy: Hi, I'm Mitch Murphy. I live across the street. You guys going out of town? We're going to Orlando, Florida. Well, actually, first we're going to Missouri to pick up my grandma. Did you know the McCallisters are going to France? Do you know if it's cold there? Do these vans get good gas mileage?
Airport Driver: Gee, kid, I don't know. Hit the road.
Mitch Murphy: [about the taxi-van] How fast does this thing go? Does it have automatic transmission? Does it have four-wheel drive?
Airport Driver: Look, I told you before, kid. Don't bother me. Now beat it.

Well that's my girl. Not satisfied with a one word answer and doesn't back down until she gets what she's looking for. Miss Alex has always been curious about my mastectomy scar on my chest. Asking questions about how I got it and where it came from. I have always tried to explain things to her in a way she could understand but not freak her out. So a few nights ago I was making dinner and....

Alex: How's the cut on your chest today mom?
Me: Fine honey, it doesn't hurt.
Alex: But that's from cancer. Right mom?
Me: Yeah it is.
Alex: I hope that I don't get cancer because that hurts, huh?
Me: Not anymore, I hope you don't get cancer either.
Alex: Yeah, because people die when they get cancer don't they?
Me: Sometimes people do, but I was lucky.
Alex: But kids can't get cancer, can they?
Me: Uh.... (obviously I had not prepared myself for the conversation veering off the road in this direction) Well....some kids do get cancer honey, but not breast cancer like mommy.
Alex: Kids get cancer?!? (um, she hadn't thought she'd get this answer either) Kids die from cancer? Will I get cancer?
Me: Uh.... Well.....(here's where I am panicking. I didn't want to lie to her but didn't really want to divulge the horrible truth of the matter to my 5 year old) Well.....Honey! Can you help Alex with her question.
(enter Jon aka the hero)
Jon: Well Alex some kids do get cancer and some kids do die from cancer, but you won't get cancer honey.

And that was that.  She actually dropped it. I couldn't believe it. Maybe she saw the crazy, freaked out face I was wearing. The reality is that people, even kids, do get cancer and do die from it. This conversation has followed me through the last few days and I hope she doesn't revisit this subject for a long while. I don't like explaining to my children the horrible reality of this disease. I am positive that I will continue to try and raise money and advocate for cancer awareness forever.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
 give a little, to what has taken a lot

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To how it used to be

In the midst of being sick, I didn't realize it but I was missing it.  I wasn't working, just focusing on me, but that meant I wasn't focusing on my kids.  They were still practically babies at the time.  I was diagnosed on the twins 2nd birthday, and Olivia was 4.  Looking back, cancer took my focus on my kids away.  I feel as though I missed out on a year of their lives.  I wasn't able to focus on them or enjoy them.  Just me.  Just keep me healthy and getting through my challenges day by day.  I often thought through my treatments that I wanted my old life back.  The life where I was able to run around with my kids, to participate with them in play dates and other various activities.  Things I wasn't able to do with them because of the cancer.  I have very minimal energy and felt sick most of the time.  If it wasn't one side effect it was another.  But those nasty drugs and horrible side effects kept me alive and allowed me to enjoy today with them, even if I did miss out on a lot of yesterdays.  
After my cancer treatments and before I started the reconstructive surgery process my sister Toni had purchesed this awesome video software.  For one of her first projects she had found a collection of videos she had of my kids with Jon and I or with her and her husband.  They were all of the spring and summer before my diagnosis.  She sent it to me and I posted it on my blog in September of 2007.
I always felt that it was appropriate that it was set to Used, by Daughtry.  Here is Toni's magnificent creation.  She's so awesome!  Thanks Toner!

I relay because I think all of us as survivors would like to get things back to the way they were before cancer.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
 to give a little, to what has taken a lot

Monday, April 26, 2010

Here's to You Mrs. Robinson!

Meet Mrs. Robinson.

She's a teacher so it is the P.C. title, right? I love that song, by the way, a true classic.
But back to her.... She recently celebrated her 3 years of being cancer free with normal blood work. We're going to be counting these for years to come together and it is going to be awesome! Shari's younger brother and I were in the same graduating class in high school and she coached cheerleading at our rival school Thompson Valley so I had known who Shari was for a long time, I didn't truly get to know her until she was diagnosed with breast cancer right after Christmas of 2006. I had been diagnosed the August before, and Olivia attended the same preschool as her daughter. We connected through our preschool.
Since then we have stayed in touch through our treatments, surgeries and support groups. Here is a group of us at one of our survivor dinners at PF Changs. All sporting the 'butch' hair cut. Yeah for hair!
Most recently we have been able to see each other every week with her being Olivia's cheer coach. She was also able to celebrate being a survivor by participating in the survivor fashion show at the Hope Lives! Gala this last October. You can read her story (and Jennifer's story from the previous post) from the October 2009 issue of Style here. I was able to attend that awesome event and here she is working the runway!

She had participated in relay for several years before she was diagnosed with school.  The first year I participated in relay she was the survivor chair and gave an amazing and inspirational speech.
I hate what cancer has put me through, but without that experience I would not be the person I am today.  I would not have been part of the cancer club, and would not have been able to experience these friendships. 

So, here's to you Mrs. Robinson and years more of celebrating our normal blood work! 

I relay for you Shari!
Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
 give a little, to what has taken a lot

Thursday, April 22, 2010

She's a Star

One of my dear friends was made a star today on channel 2's Everyday show.
She is  
a phenomenal writer, 
a wife,  
a mother of 4 darling girls (one of which has the same name as me, which I LOVE), 
a fighter, 
a warrior, 
a survivor.
She was diagnosed in May 2008 with stage four breast cancer.  She had received my name and information from a few different people in the month after she was diagnosed and I had received a few calls about her at the same time.  Both of us young, mothers, and breast cancer patients.  I suppose it was fate that we were to meet, and I am so glad that we did.  Anytime you are around Heather you are guaranteed to have great conversation and most of the time a lot of laughs.  What an awesome combination.  Both of us being very busy mothers we aren't able to connect very often but when we do, it is always wonderful.  I love that she is so open and honest with things that she experiences and she isn't afraid to just put it out there.  She is the editor in chief of get born magazine, the uncensored voice of motherhood and "bore it all" on the cover of her spring issue.  

She was asked to be a guest on the Everyday show on channel 2 this morning and was a star!  Here is her interview from this morning.

She is amazing and I am blessed to know her and call her a friend.
I relay for you Heather.  

 Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cancer Stranger & Radiation

I was at the check out at King Soopers yesterday and looked over and saw the woman checking out next to me.  She was probably in her mid 30's.  She had a buzz cut and workout clothes on, and a tank top with a zip up sweater over top.  I could see the top corner of a red square that looked similar to a sun burn.  But with radiation burns it is a VERY defined line.  Just seeing this woman in the store, it was painfully obvious what she was currently dealing with and it took me right back to the time when I was dealing with that as well.  Ours eyes met for a brief few seconds and I offered her a warm smile and she smiled back.  I wanted to talk to her and tell her to keep fighting, but she was in an obvious hurry and rushed out of the store.    
I remember during my radiation treatment remembering when I used to tan and put a heart sticker on my tummy.  I would tan with the sticker on and then you could see how tan you got over several sessions because the area where the heart was, was still your normal white skin color rather than tan.  Much like that, the radiation area is a huge square area that covered me from my sternum to under my arm.  It eventually turned into a tan square that I had for a long time.  I want to say a little less than a year.    Overall, radiation was more of an inconvenience to me compared to what I had just been through with chemo and surgery but still not anything I would ever want to experience for a second time.  Going in 5 days a week at the same time for 6-ish weeks.  Every. Day. Bleh. 
The one thing that I do have to see that was a product of my radiation treatment was my radiation tattoos.  They permanently brand you with tats so that every treatment you do they can line up the radiation machine in the same spot, thus the perfect square radiation burn.  It's amazing how precise it is.  The first time you go in for radiation treatment they tattoo black dots on you.  I have 3.  Two that were on my sternum and one under my arm.  After all the reconstruction I have had done, the two that were in line with each other on my sternum at one point, are nowhere near each other.  Good thing for elasticity in the skin!  
I was the queen of loose fitting shirts.  Again, like a sunburn.  Don't touch, rub, look.... or for that matter even think about looking at my burn.  It hurts!
I never really took any pictures of my burns but I do remember that I had JUST finished my radiation treatment right before I participated in my first relay for life.  Here's a picture of me and Jennifer doing the survivor lap.  I hated my hair this length.  Still too short to even do anything with it, just look at those crazy cowlicks all over my head!
Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I've got friends in low places

Low places being the chemo room.  The very one where I felt like a 5 year old in a room full of 95 year olds.
Isn't if funny how you can find the good in even the worst situations?  
These are my chemo girls.  Karen and Laine
Breast cancer for all 3 of us.  We were all lucky enough to have treatment on the same day.  
The first "cycle" of chemo I did it required me to be on Benedryl while having the chemo drip.  This made me very sleepy so I napped for a lot of the time I was there.  The first couple of times I went to chemo I remembered hearing (through my medicated coma, ha!) a group of ladies that came in together that always seemed to be having fun and laughing.  Laine's mother came to quite a few of her treatments with her and those ladies both have a really bubbly and fun personality.  After the first few treatments I did a better job of staying awake and was able to get to know Laine and Karen.  I remember my first conversation with Lanie.  She told me that this was not her first, but instead her second battle with breast cancer.  I was floored.  She had cancer in one breast, and this time got it on the other side.  She had tested positive for the BRCA gene.  This is the hereditary breast cancer gene.  
During her first diagnosis she underwent a stem cell rescue.  Which if you have never heard of this, wow, it is quite the ordeal.  You can read about it here.  You are your own stem cell donor.  They give you high doses of chemo therapy and then transplant your stem cells.  I imagine that my mouth was on the floor during this whole conversation.  This lady has been through the ringer.  Despite everything she has been through she has a contagious positive attitude and always seems to lift others up that are around her.
It was always a good time when all 3 of us ended up there at the same time.  Here we are about 1/2 way through treatment.
  They both had some really fun wigs.  Laine had one that was pink that I loved!  
The 3 of us attended the Hope Lives! gala the following October after we were all growing our hair back and here we are all together again.
I am happy to report that all 3 of us are doing great.  Laine continues to amaze me with all the efforts she puts into volunteering at Hope Lives! and gave an amazing speech at this year's gala.  I wish I saw more of her these days.  I miss you woman!
These are truly some of the good things that have come out of this bad situation.
I relay for you Laine and Karen!

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts