Cat-astrophe

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Pardon the pun, but it was too easy. (go ahead and groan).  Due to a series of unfortunate events, beginning with my cancer treatments and continuing on with a missing cat (i.e. hiding) the day they were scheduled to go to the Humane Society to be spayed (who showed up for dinner that night once the spaying of the other females was all done 😦 ), we found ourselves with a pregnant momma cat recently. I figured she was getting close to her due date, because of her fairly rotund middle and I came home from work one day last week to the sounds of insistent teeny mews coming from somewhere in the garage. After a quick search, I found momma and three babies in a half opened cardboard box that had a bunch of my old office stuff in it. After checking on her quickly, I left her alone to her panting, as it was obvious she was still in labor and would prefer the privacy.

imageI checked on her several times that evening and even up until bedtime when it was clear that she was done laboring, there were only 3 kittens.

 

The next morning I checked again and momma seemed a little unsettled, but all three kittens were there with her and moving, so I left her alone again. When I got home from work that evening, I heard the insistent little mews again and when I checked in the box, momma seemed upset, and as I tried to count kittens I realized there was only 1. Uh-oh. I reached in the box as far as I could and realized that some of the kittens had slid down into the edges of the box underneath some of the folders that were in there. 😦

Tim and I were able to carefully pull momma out, gently retrieve the three kittens I could reach and then when we began to examine the contents of the box, it was an ugly sight. There were two additional kittens that were “trapped” for too long. One had very obviously been dead for a while and the other, also dead, was very cold but no rigor mortis yet. I believe it had very recently died. :/ I tried massaging it and rubbing it gently, but it was too late. Later when Tim went to dispose of the dead kittens and the box, he found two more dead kittens in it! Ugh! So, momma had a total of 7 kittens, only three of which survived. 😥image

 

Of the final three, one was very vigorous and feeding on momma, and one was moving about a fair bit, but felt cold to the touch and couldn’t latch on to momma. The third appeared near death- it was very cold and not moving much at all. I warmed up #2 until it was able to latch on to its mother, and then carried #3 into the house with me. I sat with it in my hands and gently massaged it until it was completely warmed up and started trying to suckle on my hand. Then I took it back out to its momma and it crawled right up on her to suckle.

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And finally, here they are a few days later- looking fattened and happily warm. So, we had a catastrophe, but since we didn’t really need anymore cats as it was, maybe God’s hand was in it to reduce the size of momma cat’s litter to a more manageable size.image

As fun as kittens are, I’ll be glad when she is done nursing so I can get her into the Humane Society for her special appointment 😉

 

[one small note – Those people who might make comments about why we didn’t get our cats spayed before this, etc. – you’ve obviously never had cancer, nor had to be a caretaker of a person with cancer or you would understand what daily life was like for us for the past year. In addition, we live in the country and take care of all of our animals- planned or not. So, if you were thinking about leaving any snarky comments about the subject, button up and mind your own business. Thanks 😉 ]

France Got a Haircut (The People of Jenison)

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So, France got a haircut the other day. It really changed his looks. More like an American male now, rather than that European look he usually has going. But I can’t change his name now.

There’s an interesting mix of people who come into Jenison when I’m there to run each morning. I realized recently when I was telling my husband about these people that I take after my Dad – he had nicknames for people when he didn’t know their name. I’ve done the same for my fellow Jenisonites.

What is it about France that makes him look European to me? Honestly, I’m not really sure, except suffice it to say that he wears long legged running tights and a sweatshirt or long sleeve t-shirt tucked in when he runs. It just smells of “stylish” and European. Anyway, he’s France to me.

I’ve already talked about Paul and the ROTC kids in an earlier post.

There’s also Official. He confused me for a while – I would see him one day wearing his t-shirt that says “Official” on the back and he was always walking. The next day he would be wearing a reflector belt and he would run a few laps then walk. Of course since I only ever saw him from the back as I either ran past him or when he ran past me, it took a few weeks for me to realize that these were two different people whom I’d morphed into an amalgam. They look alike from the back but definitely not from the front. Oops.

Reflector Belt, as might be expected, wears a reflector belt. Why he wears this to run on an indoor track, I’ve not yet figured out. We chatted one morning on the walk into the track about why the main doors to the track are locked requiring us to walk completely around the entire building to get to the one unlocked door. He told me that for a while, MSU thought it was a good partnership with one of the local high schools to allow them to use the indoor track to get ready for track season before the weather allowed them to do much outdoors – even though officially Jenison use is restricted to only students and employees of MSU (as most MSU facilities are). This led to other area high schools starting to use the facilities also.

Apparently, some local parents then thought it was a good idea to start dropping their kids off there without supervision. Even very young children!  Of course, tragedy of the commons can predict what happened, but I’ll tell you anyway. It became a free-for-all. Some of the kids that were being dropped off there starting using sidewalk chalk on the flooring and vandalizing and destroying some of the equipment that was in there. Needless to say, MSU had to lock the entire facility every night now so that no one can get in after hours. It should be enough to have the signs that say “For use by students, faculty and staff only”, but I guess only locking it works when people have that entitlement mentality and have no respect for common property. 😦 Sad.

There’s a couple that comes in together. I call them the Professor and his Wife. She told me her husband used to run with his colleague every morning. For 35 years. Then this past year, his colleague retired. He felt a little lost without his running partner, so now he bribes her every morning with a trip to Bake-n-Cakes, after which they come to Jenison where she walks around the track while he runs. Sometimes he runs outside, but only if someone else is there in Jenison. Once he sees that I’m there and she won’t be alone, he waves at me and then takes off outdoors. Not sure what he’ll do when the mornings get warm enough for me to run outside again without triggering my asthma. Anyway, I’m really quite blown away by the Professor’s story. Thirty-five years – just imagine that for a minute.

And then of course, I have to tell you about my boys. It’s a group of 9 guys who all come in together. Some are tall and skinny, some are heavy, some obviously fit, and some not so fit. They run, do pushups and situps and most especially, they encourage each other. 🙂 I love it. The “fit” ones will jog slowly alongside the heavy ones as they try to keep going around the track. At first they pretty much kept to themselves, but I worked on them over time. 😀 I greeted them every morning with a “good morning gentleman”, and I commented sometimes when I ran alongside one of them – like “you guys are awesome how you support each other that way”. After a few days, several of them started greeting me and wishing me a good day, or even giving me a “keep it up!” call of encouragement.  Like I said, they’re my boys. 😉 They haven’t come recently though, and I miss that daily interaction.

A few weeks ago, I thought about what nickname someone might give me and I puzzled over that for a while. Old lady with short gray hair? The slow lady with one boob? And then I remembered an incident from a couple of years ago when I was running at the IM East indoor track regularly. There were a lot of students that would come in the morning, especially after the 1st of the year when everyone makes their New Year’s resolutions 🙂

One day, I was trundling (Yes, this is a completely made-up word. It’s one of my super powers 😉 and if you saw me run you would immediately understand the definition I’ve come up with for it.) along and noticed two girls that were running alongside me. They’d run a few laps really fast, then walk for a while to catch their breath, then run some more. They were both holding their hands in a “thumbs up” signal and laughing. Then I realized they were looking slyly over at me as they laughed. And I looked down and realized that I was running with both of my thumbs in an up position.

You can imagine the shock I felt that someone would so openly make fun of me like that, but I recognized that they were just immature kids with not much real life experience. Quite often my stance is to protect someone else from being bullied or teased, but this time I was actually the victim. I didn’t say a word to them – just continued on past them and a minute later, I heard them coming up alongside me as they switched from walking to running again. So, I sped up. They sped up again, and so did I.

Each time they would start to come alongside me, I would speed up again. At that time, I was running 4 miles a day and averaging 10:45 minutes per mile for that distance. So, yeah, that’s slow. I’ll never be a racer. But I had tons of stamina. 🙂 At one point, I heard them starting to whistle as they tried to suck in enough air to keep going that speed, and when one of the girls started grunting, I turned around and smiled at them as I pushed myself just a little faster. They stopped to walk then, and as I looked back at them, they scowled at me. So of course I smiled again 😉 I continued to run at that pace for at least another several laps before stopping. So, I may run funny, girls, but I beat you. 😀

Anyway, I decided the other day that if someone had to describe me they would probably call me “Thumbs Up”.  Because I still run with my thumbs up, no matter how hard I’ve tried to change that since being made fun of. (yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition 😉 )

But that would be a pretty good nickname, don’t you think? I’m okay with being the Thumbs Up girl.

I approve. image

Things are okay. image

I got this. image

Thumbs up! 😀

My Giving Key

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I almost didn’t finish my run yesterday morning. Just before I hit 2 miles I lost all my energy and felt like I could barely lift my legs. The bottom of my feet, and especially my heel started hurting really badly. I know why – I had a very stressful day at work the day before and so I didn’t sleep very well that night. I had dreamed all night of the work that I needed to get done the next day. But I kept going around the track – one step, then another. Trying to breathe, to focus on something other than how incredibly tired I was. Almost there, three more laps, keep going.

I ended up finishing my run. 🙂 I kept reminding myself that I can do this and that I have strength.

The same thing happened this morning. I slept terribly last night with lots of restless dreams and leg cramps. 😦 So in my run today, I felt the same drag right around 2 miles, but again, I persevered. I was able to finish it yesterday, I told myself, so I know I can do it today, too.

I have strength. I’m not sure I was inherently born with as much strength as I believe I possess today. Much of it has come from life along the way. Especially from this past year, from the support of my family and friends, and even complete strangers.

The Giving Key necklace that my beautiful new niece gave me for Christmas reminds me of that. Strength. Someone at work asked me the other day about the meaning of the key I was wearing, so I thought I’d share about it here.

The Giving Keys is a company which was founded by someone who was wearing an old hotel key as a necklace during her concerts. She decided it would be cool to engrave old unused keys with inspirational messages.  From the website : in a way, we are all like these keys – unique, flawed, scarred, and sometimes discarded by others – she wanted these keys to have their purpose renewed over and over again.

Pretty cool idea, but it gets better. She met a homeless couple and decided that The Giving Keys could be more than just inspirational, it could be actionable as well. She and the homeless couple together founded the company with the intent to provide people a transition out of homelessness. There are stories about some of the people they’ve employed over the years and how this second chance has changed their lives.  It’s really pretty awesome and I am grateful to my niece for having given me this Giving Key necklace so that I could feel like I’m a part of it as well.

If you’re ever looking for a gift to give to someone who seems to have everything, or someone who needs some inspiration, go to The Giving Keys and help others in the process!

In the meantime, last night I purchased a new pair of running shoes. My feet did not hurt today like they did yesterday, even though I was still just as weak and tired. 😀

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I continue to struggle with some anemia, and dehydration is always a threat, especially now that I’m running. Even though I’ve been focusing on drinking cup after cup of water every day, and trying to eat a diet high in iron, I still have that tell-tale pounding in my ears (a symptom of both anemia and dehydration). I just have to keep working at it. I saw my surgical oncologist today for my first post-cancer treatment 3 month checkup – all looks good so far.

I am now running 2 miles plus 2 laps each day. I’m slow, but I don’t care. I’m running.

Side effects #1,428 – 1,431… but who’s counting?

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I started running a mile a day the Monday after I finished radiation treatments (Feb 1)- like I promised myself I would. After four days I ran just under a 13 minute mile which for me is within my “normal” range when I’m in really bad shape. Hard to believe that a week before I was still doing cancer treatments. But when I’m running it’s very noticeable to me because of the side effects.

    • my armpit got extremely tender and sore (They warned me about this ahead of time. The radiation, as you would expect, causes extremely bad sunburn. It damages your skin. Of course the benefits of reducing cancer recurrence outweighs the risks of it causing skin issues, including melanoma. They had told me not to do anything that would require me to swing my arm against my chest and armpit on that side during radiation. So I promised myself I would start running as soon as radiation was over. Then at my last appointment they told me to wait another 2 weeks, but I decided not to wait. I’d already waited so long- since last April when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Now, I get it. I dried myself slightly non-gently after my shower that first week and it inflamed my armpit scar so badly that it still hurt nearly a week later. Each day that I ran (with my arm dragging against my armpit and chest area with each step), it got more sore. My husband was horrified when he saw what it looked like.) 😮
    • my bra and running shirt no longer fit correctly (After a lap or two, I found my bra slid over towards the “still have a breast side” and caused my strap to keep sliding down. It also caused my shirt to spin on my body. For someone who has extreme sensitivity issues to anything that is slightly out of place, it can seem like torture. I am slowly adjusting.) :/
    • I feel, sit, stand, walk, run lopsided. This goes along with what’s listed above. Things don’t seem to fit correctly anymore (which is understandable), and I find my self looking down to see if I am standing twisted (sometimes I am…). I am working on my posture to be certain I am not hunching.
    • I am tired. I am tired. I am tired.

While I’m running around the track, all of the above things go through my mind. I think I’ve decided I will never wear a prosthetic. I wonder how many other people out there are hiding the fact that they had breast cancer and survived. I want people to know when they see me that you can survive this too. Of course when I’m running here at Jenison it’s full of young ROTC kids who wouldn’t notice the chest of a 49 year old gray-haired woman who’s running around the track with them, but of course it’s on my mind the entire time- I feel the pain, the discomfort, the lopsidedness. I felt self-conscious at first, but then I reminded myself not to care what others think. They don’t know my story and if they judge without knowing it, well that’s on them. I’m a warrior, I tell myself.

Yesterday, as I was running my last lap, one of the ROTC captains told me “You’ve got this! Keep it up!” as I ran past him. It reminded me that I have more people supporting me than I even realize. Wow.

As I run, I also think about all I’ve been through in the past year and wonder where I’ll be a year from now. My life was irrevocably changed that day last April when I first found the lump. For the better maybe. I mean I’m much more aware of what is important in life and I am learning how to live better, I think.

That first week I ran one mile a day. I tried not to time myself, but instead to focus on not stopping until I’d run one mile. The first day, I had some chest tightness. I sort of expected that. I’d been fairly sedentary for many months, and I knew that the chemo can affect your heart and the surgery had affected my chest wall for sure. But I did it. The first week I ran 5 miles. Last week, I added a lap. So I ran one mile plus one lap each day, except Friday (which I took off of work to help my husband prepare for our weekend trip so that he and my 10 year old son could take their Tang Soo Do black belt test, also known as Cho Dan test- but that’s a story for another time). This week, I’ve run one mile and two laps each day. I’m not fast, I’m not pretty, but I’m running without stopping. Good enough for me for now.

I almost didn’t run that 2nd Monday, thinking I needed to let my armpit heal over a long weekend. But I’m glad I went, because that was the day I met Paul.

Paul says he is 68 and he is built like my husband – very tall and fit. I had seen him at Jenison each day before we officially met. He runs for a while then does sets of chin ups on a bar near the track. My first contact with him was simply a smile. That camaraderie type of – hey, we’re both here trying our hardest to get/stay fit. The day we first officially met, he was sitting at the first aid table where he usually rests between sets of chin ups. He was wearing what appeared to be work clothes. You know, the “maintenance worker” type work clothes. It made me think he might be an employee of the Athletic Department or Physical Plant and that he came in here to exercise each day before he started work.

And that day, in my opinion, he was looking a bit forlorn. As I started to stretch out before my run, he told me his problem. “I got all the way here and realized I forgot my workout bag that has my clothes in it!” Then he went on to explain that if he went all the way home to get them, he wouldn’t have time to get his workout in. I thought maybe he had to get to work, but then he told me he was retired.

His time crunch? He wanted to get home in time to see his daughter off to work like he does every morning. He explained that she was an adult who was living with him after having graduated college. Every morning, he drives into Jenison to get his workout in and then he always makes sure he gets home before she leaves for work to tell her good bye.  And in case you’re wondering, she does not travel long distance for work or go overnight somewhere where he might miss her. He simply finds it important to tell her good bye each morning before she goes off to work for the day. He finds value in being there with the people he loves, even if it’s just for the small simple moments, like wishing someone a good day before they head out of the house.

It was very interesting to hear his story. He’d gone to school somewhere in the East (New York maybe? My stupid chemo brain doesn’t allow me to remember details for very long unfortunately.) 😦 He said he had a Master’s degree and had lived here in East Lansing for years, finally retiring. He said he had spent a lot of time here working out with his son, who had now long since graduated and gone on to his adult life. He was telling me about his back issues. That it frustrated him to have been so fit for so many years and then to struggle now sometimes with back pain to where these last few weeks he had to really push himself to just run a few laps. I explained how my husband had also struggled with back issues and that a trip to a physical therapist had done wonders for him. I also told him about the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine that my husband uses to control pain when he does have an issue. The machine basically stimulates the nerve that is causing your pain and according to my husband it works to block your brain from feeling the pain.

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And I encouraged him to see his doctor to get a referral to a back specialist, rather than continuing to suffer and get more physically degraded each day he couldn’t do his full workout. He asked about me and I explained that I had just started back to running after fighting off breast cancer. He called me “one tough lady” which sounded so incredibly like my husband that I had to smile. 🙂

Though Paul and I share nothing more than a “good morning” and a smile, or “run a half mile for me today, Gina” or  “did you see your doctor yet, Paul?”, it’s the fact that we connected – that we take the little bit of time each morning to share encouragement, that makes his friendship valuable to me. Again, he finds value in being there for someone even if it’s just a small simple moment. I’m learning from people like him how to value my life better. How to see the beauty and pleasure in the small things. It’s always there, I just don’t always remember to look. I’m working on that.

So far, in 2016, I’ve run over 13 miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but I am proud of that accomplishment. There were times when I didn’t know for sure if I’d see 2016. I am 13 miles into 2016. And 13 miles into the rest of my life.

Challenging myself

I’ve decided to challenge myself to run The Hard Cider Run that’s coming up at Uncle John’s Cider Mill on May 21.

Hard Cider RunHard Cider Run

 

I haven’t been able to run since I first found the lump in April. There was no way I could have run during chemo, recovery from the mastectomy, and now radiation- as they won’t allow me to do any activity that would make my arm rub against the side of my chest (so no rowing machine, no running, etc). I thought about skirting the rules and doing it anyway, but each day my chest and armpit gets a little more tender, so I decided it would be best to wait. 😦  My last radiation treatment (assuming no delays) should be January 26th, so it’s only a couple more weeks.

Right now I am carrying a lot of extra weight from not being able to be very active all this time, and I am sure my asthma will flare up. But I’m not challenging myself to run fast or place like the last run I did a couple years ago (I placed 4th in my age class in that one 🙂 ) My challenge is just to run it. For me it will be one of those “getting back to normal” things. Being me.

Of course, my normal has changed. My life and body has forever been changed by cancer, but I am gravitating towards my new normal. The post-cancer me. That’s the one thing cancer gives you, its “free” gift – a long hard look at your life and who you’ve become. I’ve learned a lot about just letting things be. I get anxious about things so much, and I’ve finally come to some peace with that. I still worry, but I find ways to calm myself and put it into perspective. Another gift from cancer – perspective. Does what is bothering you really matter in the whole scheme of things?

I’ve had people tell me that before when I was anxious, and it never worked for me back then. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m worried about, so putting it in perspective seems impossible. What I’ve done instead is put the fact that I have anxiety in perspective. Worrying = time and energy wasted. That’s enough now to help me release the anxiety (sometimes it requires a little exercise too but that’s okay 😉 ). Like I’ve said before, worrying in May didn’t change that I had cancer – it just caused me a lot of sleepless nights and distracted days. If my life threatening illness ever turns into a terminal one, God forbid, I certainly don’t want to have wasted my precious time sitting around worrying about something that I can’t change.

So instead, I try to spend my time enjoying my life, enjoying my family and friends. I’m working on doing a lot less complaining (except for gripes about feeling crappy and sore… sorry, I’m working on that too!).  I play with my kids, read to them, write. Things that I used to feel too busy or stressed to do. I had too many other things that needed doing. Not anymore 🙂

Anyway, back to my original point. After my daily radiation treatments end, I am going to start building back up my running. Obviously, I’ll be slow and have to do short runs, and build up slowly, but it will be good for me both physically and mentally.

So, I am planning to run The Hard Cider Run on May 21st this year and I would love it if anyone wants to join me 🙂 I won’t be running fast, but I’ll be running, which is something I couldn’t even consider for the past 8 months. I’ll be the one wearing the “Cancer is a big fat Doodiehead” shirt (assuming it’s long enough to cover my rear 😀 )

doodie

 

 

Why is there a urinal in the women’s restroom?

I am back to work. Because I have been in and out of the office so much, I have a ton of work that had been hanging out waiting for me to take it up again. Therefore, I am very busy and running around             like crazy most days.

The bathroom at my end of the building was temporarily closed for a while today for some maintenance work. So as I was running from one meeting to the other, I decided to quickly use the restroom at the other end of the building.

I ran in, set my notebook and phone on the sink counter and turned to see that the stall doors and walls were brown. Well, I’ve been accused by my husband of not noticing things, and I tell you – I can usually tell that something is different, I just can’t determine what things used to be like. So, I figured maybe they’d done some renovation in here since the last time I’d used the bathroom at this end.

And then I noticed the extra sink on the wall. It was really tall. It was… well, a urinal. And I admit, it took me a second of wondering why they would bother to add a urinal to the women’s restroom before I realized that the shoes that I could see under the stall door were men’s shoes… That’s when I remembered that the bathrooms at one end  were true mirrors of the bathrooms at the other end, so the men’s room on the right at one end was on the left on the other end. 😐

Luckily I was able to grab my stuff and get out the door before 1) stall guy finished his business and came out, and 2) another man entered the bathroom. Luckily, the hall was empty as I did my red-faced dash out the door and into the actual women’s restroom next door!

image Yikes!

Future architects, take note. It would be really nice if when you have bathrooms at both ends of the building that you make the women’s room always on the same side of the men’s room so both ends match. I had a similar issue back in 1985 (also at MSU) at one of the classrooms on campus. Unfortunately that time, I noticed the urinal immediately because there was a man standing there using it at the time. Not sure who was more embarrassed between the two of us 😀

So, I am on Day 11 of my radiation treatments. Other than being inconvenient (I go every weekday), they are not too terrible. The worst part is having to lay absolutely still on that hard flat uncomfortable surface for so long. Some days my armpit and shoulder are so uncomfortable, it feels like I just may not make it through without moving that day. That’s when I have to force myself to try to meditate. I try to take my mind elsewhere and relax as much as possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes I just lay there near tears waiting for the torture to end. The last few days, with the cold temperatures outside, my skin has been super dry, leading to many minutes of trying to lay there still and not scratch the 1,001 itches that only appear when I know I am not supposed to move.

I am just starting to get to the point in my treatments (almost halfway through) that I am expected to see many side effects. I am already fatigued (of course I am always that) and pretty much since Day 5, my chest and armpit are increasingly tender and sore. They had warned that the radiation would inflame the healing tissue and nerves, causing spasms and shooting pains.

It is certainly not as bad as post-surgery, and so far I only have a little “pinkness” (like a sunburn) but as I said the tenderness is increasing with each treatment. Still I think back on how I felt even just a couple weeks ago – the pain, the stiffness, and discomfort from the surgery and I remember how far I’ve come. A long, long way.

The Power of Positivity

So, I met with Dr. Herman, my radiation oncologist for a pre-radiation therapy consultation last week. He told me that my response to the chemo was fabulous. I knew that my medical oncologist had said something similar, but I also knew that the lump in my breast had immediately shrunk considerably through the first 4 rounds of chemo, then although it had gotten flatter, it stayed fairly consistently the same size during the last 4 rounds. This of course, caused me concern, as many people I know had their cancer nearly completely disappear from the chemo. Which left me wondering how the doctors knew they were removing the “cancer-part” of the breast when they got to the surgery. Previous mammograms? Best guess?

Dr. Herman explained it. The large lump left in my breast after chemo was mostly scar tissue. According to my pathology report, the actual cancer that was left at the time of my mastectomy only measured 7 mm. If you remember, my lump when discovered was 4.5 X 5.5 cm. Large enough, even though it hadn’t spread outside my breast, to make it a Stage 2 just due to sheer size. According to the doctor, that is a phenomenal reduction from chemo for lobular cancer. And he explained that most of the lump that could still be felt after chemo was just scar tissue. Wow. And – yay!

They set me up for a “simulation” in which I lay on a moveable bed (similar to the MRI, but this time on my back) and they did all sorts of measurements and simulations. I spent an hour laying on this hard surface with my left arm crooked above my head, in excruciating shoulder and armpit pain, while they put electrical tape on me, marked me with a permanent marker, moved me in and out of the x-ray chamber over and over, and then finally tattooed little dots on me in 5 different places. This is to ensure that each time I come in for the radiation treatment, I am laying in the exact same way, so that the radiation goes where it’s supposed to. So, after swearing I would never get a nasty tattoo, I now have 5 of them, permanent ones. :/ Ah, well, so goes life.

I could refuse radiation if I wanted to, but since I am a worrier, I chose to continue with it. The worst case scenario without radiation therapy would be an approximate 8% chance of cancer recurring in what is left of the tissue and scar around my breast, although he said with my response to the chemo, he felt that chance was much lower for me than that worst case. By having the radiation therapy, it would reduce my chance of recurrence to less than 1%. For me, that big of a reduction is worth the side effects and possible issues of having radiation.

Each time something like this is revealed to me – like the Grade being downgraded to a 2, and this realization that what I thought was still cancer not responding to chemo, was instead simply scar tissue and that my response to chemo had been phenomenal – these things have given me that extra boost of positivity that I need to keep moving forward to feeling more human.

Quite a few months ago, I ran into my friend Ellen. She also had breast cancer, 11 years ago. I remember praying for her and worrying about her and her family, and yet I never thought much about how she always walked around with a smile on her face. I just figured maybe she had a low stage cancer, and a high chance of cure, so she didn’t have to worry. When we talked that day a few months ago, she told me that she actually was diagnosed at Stage 3. That she had now been cancer free for 11 years and had never once considered what her family would do without her.

She said that she set goals. Her first goal was to see her son graduate high school. She wasn’t sure at the time (as any cancer patient can tell you) that she would make it that far, but she decided she would never think about what would happen if she didn’t. She simply set out to live at least that long. He graduated a couple years ago, and she told me she set another goal at that time – to see her son graduate from college. She said that once that happened, she would set out to see him happily married, then grandchildren, and so on. All with a smile on her face and encouragement for others along the way.

I’ve mentioned my friend Bev. She wanted to be there for her boys. She is now 20 years cancer-free.

At work, I have a co-worker who always wears a head band or ribbon around her head. It never occurred to me why until one day, sick from chemo and proudly displaying my bald head “badge of honor”, I ran into her in the stairway and she told me her story. She’d been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor when she was fairly newly married. Her husband lived across the country for his job temporarily, and they missed each other terribly.

The doctors put her into a trial cancer treatment, in which they took a sample from the cancerous tumor and created “antibodies” for it, which they then injected into her to fight the cancer. She also had radiation treatment to her brain, which left her with permanent hair loss in a band around her head (hair ribbon mystery solved!). Her husband moved home to help her through the treatments and she said she was never happier than having him there with her finally.

And of all the people in this research trial- she was the only one who was cured. Completely. She has been cancer free now for 13 or 14 years (she can’t remember without looking it up- she said she had so stopped worrying about cancer that she had actually forgotten how long ago it was).  The doctors attributed it to her attitude. They even encouraged her to write a book to help others- about how to remain happy and positive while fighting cancer. She told me that she was just so happy to be with her husband all the time that she couldn’t help but be positive.

There is a great power in positivity. I am starting to feel it more and more. I have funky short hair, but I have hair again now. My shoulder and chest aches, but I’m alive. I am tired all the time, but I am alive. I am alive!