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Boomer

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My name is Boomer, and let me sing you the song of my people…

I am hungry!
Feed me!
Why won’t you feed me more kibble?
Feed me!
I thought you loved me?
My bowl is empty
My heart is empty
I love food
Feed me!
Kibble is the best
I will sit for you
I will give you paw
I will even lay down
For food
I will sit pretty
I will stay
I will come
For food
I am hungry!

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January 19, 2014

January 19, 2014

Yesterday I went for a six-mile run around North Park’s loop around the lake. I brought my little point-and-shoot camera with me during my run so I could capture all these winter beauty scenes. This time last year, I would have laughed hysterically at the thought of me running in the dead of winter, nonetheless running six miles. So much can happen in a year, and I can feel 2014 will be the year of more change.

If you are a young, single woman just diagnosed with breast cancer.

This letter is targeted toward a young woman in her 20s or 30s – someone who isn’t married or has kids.  Someone like me.

To a young woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer,

I am so very sorry.  I wish I could tell you that everything is going to be okay, but I don’t know that.  Nobody knows, and I wish I could assail you with all the platitudes in the world, as if they could actually take shape and wrap you in a warm blanket, but that’s never helped anyone.  If you are looking for platitudes, then I am the wrong blogger for you.  (I truly believe that our language when it comes to cancer has become so superfluous and hyperbolic, veering drastically away from cancer’s reality.  I told the Boyfriend after hearing how I am such a “fighter” for the twelfth time that: “If one more person says I’m a fighter, I am going to straight up fight them.  Seriously, I will drop the damn gloves and take a swing.”)

Nothing breaks my heart than hearing how another young woman joined the cancer club, where we are the minority.  According to the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2013-2014, the median age for breast cancer between 2006 and 2010 is 61.  We’re a part of a club that is comprised of women the ages of our mothers, aunts and grandmothers.    The Young Survival Coalition’s website states:

In 2009, the American Cancer Society predicted more than 190,000 new cases of breast cancer in women. They estimated that roughly 18,600 of these women would be younger than 45.

The amazing Gilda Radner said it best:

Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to.

Cancer in young women is so rare, but after you’re diagnosed, it seems to be something you hear about a lot more often.  Having cancer when it seems like most of your friends are getting married or having children can be one heart ache after another.  You’re in the hospital getting tests or scans, and you’re surrounded by those 15 to 20 years older than you.

My advice to any young woman who has been diagnosed with some type of breast cancer:

1.) Do not google your disease because typically, if you go looking for trouble, you’ll end up finding it.  Googling is not your friend when you are diagnosed with cancer.    If you are going to google, please take the advice from Andrew Griffith’s advice:

Google wisely. Google (and Wikipedia) are a reflex. Don’t fight it. However, when looking at suggested links, go for more reliable sources. Any national cancer (e.g. American Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Society) or health agency (e.g., National Cancer Institute), major cancer centre (e.g., MD Anderson and others), and any specific cancer organization (in my case, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and LLS Canada).

The internet can be the Wild Wild West, and anybody with internet access can post their crack-pot theories about cancer.  (“You can cure cancer with eating nothing but carrots!” or “.)  If you’re going to look for information, go to reputable websites.   A great source for information can be other women currently going through treatment or who recently went through treatment.  One place to find a great source of information would be the BreastCancer.org’s message boards.   You can find someone your age, or someone with your type of breast cancer, or another patient who lives nearby.

This is another great resource for information – the #BCSM community is amazing.  You will never find another group of individuals more passionate and focused not only on research, or awareness for the rarely talked about breast cancers, but helping other women (and also men) going through treatment.   If you have a twitter account, browse through the #bcsm hash tag, and you will be guided however you need.  If someone doesn’t know the answer, they may know someone who may know the answer.  I’ve befriended many people from the #BCSM community and my life has been the better for it.

Definitely, always and forever, take the advice of your medical team.  If you have any questions of something you have learned or come across, the best person to ask is your doctor.

2.) If you think you may want to have a child later down the road, please tell your doctor and get a recommendation for a great fertility specialist.  When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, sometimes you live minute by minute.  Hour by hour.  But you should look ahead and talk with a fertility specialist about your options because cancer treatment may take those options from you.   I discussed cancer and fertility a couple of months earlier.

3.) Lastly, this is something I wish I had done when I was first diagnosed – get thee to a counselor.  Don’t pass go.  Don’t collect $200.  Find help.  Find someone, like a therapist, or a support group, and take care of your mental health.  I made the mistake of thinking, “Oh I can handle this,” but I got so overwhelmed after my fifth surgery (i.e., the tissue expander exchange surgery) that I just collapsed.  To say it was bad would be the understatement of the year.  I could barely function either at work or in my personal relationships.  With the love and encouragement of my friends (one of who researched nearby therapists and found the one I still go to a year later), I went to a therapist and was able to learn how to deal with my post-cancer anxiety and depression.

I should have seen a therapist sooner, like as soon as I was diagnosed.  I truly believe that if I had, I may not have sunken so low after my fifth surgery.

Going through active treatment, you feel strangely safe and secure, even though you are living day-to-day in a passive role.  Every day, you are doing something to fight cancer.   Chemo kills all the bad cells!  Radiation zaps the cells!  Surgery removes the cells!  It’s a lot to process, to say the least.   Mental health is often overlooked while you’re going through treatment since the primary focus is on your physical being.

Depression and anxiety is so common after a cancer diagnosis.  Without the safety and security that active treatment gives you, you feel lost.  Alone.  Consumed with the thoughts: “What if it comes back?”  The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute website has great advice on how to cope with this fear:

Be informed.
Learning about your cancer, understanding what you can do for your health now, and finding out about the services available to you can give you a greater sense of control. Some studies even suggest that people who are well informed about their illness and treatment are more likely to follow their treatment plans and recover from cancer more quickly than those who are not.

Express feelings of fear, anger, or sadness.
Being open and dealing with their emotions helps many people feel less worried. People have found that when they express strong feelings like anger or sadness, they are more able to let go of these feelings. Some sort out their feelings by talking to friends or family, other cancer survivors, or a counselor. Of course, if you prefer not to discuss your cancer with others, you should feel free not to. You can still sort out your feelings by thinking about them or writing them down on paper.

Please, please please take good care of your mental health while you go through treatment.  If it’s online or in person, make time.   Asking for or seeking help when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer isn’t a sign of weakness.  It shows a real sign of strength.  Take care and be kind to yourself.

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Shame on you, Guardian US

Last night, the Guardian published a hit piece on Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman who blogs and tweets about living with metastatic breast cancer. This is Lisa.

Unfollow

 

 

According to Lisa’s About Me page on her blog, she was originally diagnosed with Stage 2, Grade 3 breast cancer in October 2006. Six years later, Lisa learned that her cancer had metastasized to her bones, meaning she has Stage 4 breast cancer. Even though she underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and the removal of her ovaries and Fallopian tubes. This woman did pretty much everything to reduce her risk of recurrence, and the cancer returned. Besides blogging, Lisa tweets about her health and treatment. As the picture above shows, as of January 2014, she has over 7,800 followers. I am one of those followers. I follow many women in the #bcsm (breast cancer social media) community.

 

When I heard about Emma G. Keller’s piece regarding Lisa and tweeting, I was livid. When I read this op-ed of Ms. Keller’s, I felt my blood pressure sky rocket. First, the headline and subheading were offensive:

 

LisaAdams

 

First, comparing a woman’s Twitter account to taking selfies at a funeral is just nonsensical and downright offensive. Lisa isn’t holding up her smartphone and taking cheesy pictures of herself in inappropriate places. She is telling her story and letting her readers know what is happening in her life and health.

 

Bitch, this is a selfie.

 

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This made me livid:

She has been scrupulous about keeping track of her seven year decline. Her journey began with six month routine postpartum checkup after the birth of her third child. You can read all about the details of her disease and treatment on her blog right up until about this morning, which is when she posted her latest entry, only a few hours after the previous one.

 

Seven year decline? What the hell is this horseshit? She had early stage breast cancer, went through treatment, and then she was in remission until October 2012. There was no decline. For a journalist, shouldn’t you do something called fact checking? How about interviewing Lisa or those who know her?

 

This is my favorite part:

 

As her condition declined, her tweets amped up both in frequency and intensity. I couldn’t stop reading – I even set up a dedicated @adamslisa column in Tweetdeck – but I felt embarrassed at my voyeurism. Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience? Is there such a thing as TMI? Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies? Why am I so obsessed?

 

I have a guess as to why she is so obsessed, and it’s a fact she doesn’t reveal in her hit piece on Lisa. Ms. Keller was diagnosed with DCIS in 2012.

But no, I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 5 January. Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, or DCIS as it’s known, is the fastest growing form of breast cancer today, thanks to new developments in mammography. But at Stage 0, level 1, it’s also the smallest, earliest form. (This is a cancer that, until recently, was known as “pre-cancer”.)

 

(I don’t know what she’s talking about when she says level. Maybe she means grade? This also demonstrates how little she apparently knows about breast cancer.)

 

You know what I find unethical? A woman who describes her bout with cancer as “my 40 day breast cancer” casting any negative light on a woman who will have breast cancer for the rest of her life. I suspect Ms. Keller is projecting her own fears that her DCIS diagnosis created in her. She asks why is she so obsessed? I don’t know, Emma – why don’t you unfollow Lisa and any other Twitter users with metastatic breast cancer if you can’t handle the reality they present?

 

I get it. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma in 2010, and my biggest fear is a distant recurrence. When I feel a weird, unfamiliar back pain, I briefly wonder, “Is this a sign of mets?” That horrible nagging thought rarely leaves my side. Despite this fear and my anxiety about breast cancer, why do I keep following Lisa or Jada or Phyllis or Annie or Jude? Or why did I follow Jen Smith, who recently passed away from metastatic breast cancer?

 

I don’t think these (mostly) women with metastatic breast cancer should be ignored. Their voices should be the loudest in the breast cancer discourse, not those like Ms. Keller. They are the ones who live in three month increments, living life from scan to scan. They should be blogging, giving interviews and tweeting all they want. Instead of telling them to be quiet, let’s tell them to shout louder. Maybe, then, the ignorant (not rude, the real definition of ignorant) folks will actually listen. We need to be #fearlessfriends, allies to them, not trying to silence or shame them into being quiet. It’s bad enough that the month of October is basically a FU to those living with metastatic breast cancer. They should never be shamed into being quiet.

 

Ms. Keller, instead of obsessing over someone’s Twitter, maybe you should deal with the fact that there is no cure for breast cancer. Educate yourself. Your cells went rogue on you, and there is no guarantee that these cells won’t attack again. Since Lisa’s Twitter is creating too much anxiety or obsession or whatever this was, here’s a novel idea: hit this button.

 

Unfollow

 

It’s really not that hard.

 

You need to redeem yourself, Ms. Keller. Right now, you’re the writer who published a hit piece about a woman currently hospitalized from the disease I bet still gives you nightmares. Shame on you. Lisa should be concentrating 100 percent on her, not have to waste any energy on someone like you.a

Running

When I was in middle school and high school, I played sports but I was never good at them.  I probably would go as far as to say I stunk.  Pretty sure my family members who went to my softball games would also agree.  As soon as I turned 16 and could find a part-time job, I said good-bye to softball and began working at the local amusement park.

In an effort to get back into pre-cancer shape, at the recommendation of two dear friends, I joined this couch to 5K training group.  I had been pushing myself on the treadmill at my local gym in summer 2013.  Every time I pushed myself faster or longer, I felt so proud of myself, also fighting the urge to high-five other people at the gym.

High five me!  Come on, man!   I had breast cancer, and I’m recovering from months of reconstruction.  This is HUGE.

Both of my friends, who ran marathons and half-marathons, kept encouraging me to keep running but go beyond the treadmill.  Since they obviously knew what they were talking about, I listened and I’m glad I did.   Six months later, I just ran 5.5 miles on New Year’s Day with a group of runners, and I made good time.  Running to me is an individualized sport.  I’m at the point where I’m not trying to win in my age group.  I just want to improve my own time.  Sure, winning would be nice, but finishing the race is all that matters.

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Running has been the last step I needed to take for my recovery from breast cancer.  I am in the best shape of my life, and I’m not talking about post-cancer shape.  Right now, I am in the best shape of my pre- and post-cancer life.  I can run over 5 miles three times a week, which is definitely not something I could have said in 2009 or 2010.  Sure, I was thin and probably 10 pounds lighter than I am, but I was in awful shape.

Not anymore.

On top of the physical benefits, the mental benefits have been greater.  When I’m running, I’m not worrying about my job, my family, my relationship or what I have to do at home to keep it from turning into a pigsty.  While running, I think about my body, like where my arms are, bringing my knees up higher, making sure my hips are pulled in and my butt isn’t sticking out.  Running, for me, is like meditation.  My brain takes a breather while my body is being pushed to its limits.

Running also helps to reduce my risk of developing a new breast cancer or developing a distance recurrence (i.e., metastatic breast cancer).  Research after research shows that physical activity can lower your risk of breast cancer.  Sadly, nothing helps you prevent cancer, and I definitely do not believe that women who go on to develop a new breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer never exercised.  (Sorry health nuts, even healthy, in-shape people develop breast cancer.)  When it comes to cancer, we just don’t know.  The best we can do is lower our risk.

Recently, an October 2013 New York Times article published a piece regarding how walking may lower breast cancer risk:

Meanwhile, those few women who were the most active, sweating vigorously for up to 10 hours each week, realized an even greater benefit, with 25 percent less risk of developing breast cancer than those women who exercised the least.

A 25 percent risk reduction isn’t nothing to sneeze at, no sir.

A June 2012 Time piece discussed similar results and numbers.

For the study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compared 1,500 women with breast cancer to more than 1,550 women without breast cancer who were part of the ongoing “Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project” that looked at environmental causes of the disease.

The researchers found that women who exercised during their reproductive years or following menopause reduced their risk of developing breast cancer. The greatest risk reduction was found in women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week (or two hours each day for five days), but a woman’s risk was reduced for all levels of exercise intensity, even light. Exercise appeared to reduce the risk of hormone receptor positive breast cancers, which are the most commonly diagnosed tumors among U.S. women.

That article mentioned “hormone receptor positive breast cancer,” as the most commonly diagnosed tumors.  Indeed, New York Times specified that er+ (the type of breast cancer I had) consisted of approximately 75 percent of breast cancer diagnoses.

I came across this Washington Post article written by a woman who also went through breast cancer treatment.  Elizabeth H. MacGregor wrote:

There was virtually nothing I could control about the nightmare of my cancer, I thought. But give me one thing that I can take charge of, that I can do — that I love to do — and I’m going to ride as if my life depends on it.

Ding, ding, ding.  That’s it, at least for me.  When it came to my cancer treatment, I had little to no control of what happened to me and what I had to endure.  Ms. MacGregor again wrote:

Some women are empowered by a cancer diagnosis, but I was not. I only felt vulnerable. While I trusted the medical professionals caring for me and the treatments I received, I found my role to be unsettlingly passive. Cycling allowed me to be an active participant in my treatment; it gave me agency in my recovery.

I took my doctors’ advice, and I underwent the treatment they suggested in an “unsettlingly passive” role.  Sure, I could have said no or kept looking for a doctor who would eventually tell me what I wanted them to tell me.  I went the conventional route with the conventional treatment, and I have no regrets.  The control aspect has come after treatment, and running is something I can control.  I decide whether or not I put my running shoes on.

While I don’t know if I’ll ever go through cancer treatment again, I at least know I’m making it harder for breast cancer to catch me.