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Archive for the ‘Exersise and Cancer’ category

In retrospect, this should never have happened to me. No history of breast cancer in my family that I know of. I was healthy, had a healthy diet, exercised regularly, wasn’t terribly overweight, didn’t smoke, drank in moderation. In fact I was the epitome of moderation; I never binged on anything. Well, I did eat a whole can of ripe olives one time when I was in college. I guess that could be called binging. And I may have had a few too many beers in my younger, wilder days.

But here I am with cancer like so many other women. And what did I do wrong? I thumbed my nose at fate. I was invincible. I couldn’t get cancer, could I? Well I did. And my mistake was that I let it go too long. Oh, I’m not the only one to do this. There are thousands who are in the same predicament as I am in. But it almost killed me.

I guess the big question is why do we do this to ourselves with so many warnings from the media, the medical community? When I was in my twenties, I had a suspicious area on my left breast and it was not malignant. I had a history of fibrous breasts. And then several years ago I had another suspicious area in my right breast and I thought that must be similar to what I had had years ago and I disregarded it. I now shake my head and wonder; what was I thinking? And then I felt a mass a year ago and did nothing. What was I thinking then? Well, this is what I thought. I was frightened of what was going to happen to me; of the chemo treatments, the surgery, my breast being removed, the radiation and its effects on my body. I didn’t want to go through this. I thought by eating herbs and cutting back on certain foods that I could avoid the inevitable. My immune system was robust and it could fight it. But I was wrong. And I nearly lost my life because of it.

If I had taken care of the small cancer when it was first detected, I would not have had to go through all of this. But I didn’t. Oh yes, we can all look back and say, I should have, could have …but here I am today after the battle for my life, and so far I am winning. But it has been a battle.  Fortunately, with the treatments and maybe with my hard work, I am going to live. And I think having a positive attitude helps as well.

I guess some of us will never learn. There will always be the skeptics out there, those who think it won’t happen to them. But I say to them, with all of the junk we are putting into our bodies, it is likely that it will happen. The toxic chemicals are in the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat and the materials used for our homes and furniture. There is no escaping. One in eight women in the United States will have breast cancer. And then there are all of the other areas of your body that can become cancerous. So my advice to all, is to be ever vigilant. Eat organic, cut down on sugar, detox and cleanse your body regularly. Be mindful of the chemicals in your cleaning products, clothing and furnishings in your home.  If you smoke, stop. If you drink more than two glasses of alcohol a day, stop. Be mindful of everything you put into your body and everything in your environment. And you may be able to escape.

But then someone will tell you about the grandfather who smoked all of his life, drank whiskey every day and lived to be 100. He had to be one tough guy. But then none of us are going to live forever.

I’ve always been happy with my body, even in the last few years when I started to gain some weight. As a young teen and into my adult years, I had an athletic body with small breasts and that was fine with me. Big breasts in my mind just got in the way. I would see large breasted women struggling with bras to support their breasts and feeling the weight on their shoulders. And running with large breasts is definitely a problem. I will have to admit that there was one positive aspect to having larger breasts; men were attracted to them. But the men those women attracted didn’t always have their best interest at heart. So I always said to myself  that if they didn’t like my body so be it; hopefully they were attracted to my mind and my fun loving personality.

Now that I only have one breast, I am constantly looking at other women, thinking how fortunate they are to have two. I notice how they fill out their tight knit tops with a little cleavage showing. They bounce a little when they walk and look so feminine.  The human female breast is symbolic of femininity in our society. The larger breasted woman is looked upon as being more sexy, and also more nurturing and motherly.

I admit, I must have a jealous streak in me because I recall when I was going through chemo and I was pretty sick, I would see healthy women on television and wish that I could be healthy like they were. I looked at their hair and wished I had that healthy head of hair again and longed to have eyebrows, eyelashes and fingernails that weren’t multicolored with black and yellow streaks and misshapen from the chemo treatments. But I did know that much of this was temporary; my hair would grow back and my body would become healthy and vibrant again. It would take some time, but it would happen.  My breast, however is gone forever. As much I will it to happen it will never return to my body.

Then I have to remember there are thousands of women who have had mastectomies, some losing both of their breasts; I am not alone in this. And if I have to choose my between my breast or my life, I’ll take my life. It’s okay. It really is.

And then last week I was shopping at Costco, my favorite store these days, and I saw a man loading his car with things he had just bought and he had only one arm. It could be worse. I have all of my limbs and I will be healthy again. And then I can have reconstruction if I choose. So the bottom line is, my breast is gone, but I have my life and that is the best that could happen.

Spring has come to the desert and the palo verde trees are blooming in all of their yellow glory looking like candles in the desert, along with the grease wood, the brittle bush and the ocotillo with its flaming spires of red flowers. The perennials are repairing, the bougainvillea and other plants that were frozen in the last hard frost in January, sending up new shoots of life, declaring their survival.

As is my body after a long siege of being subjected to harsh chemicals that have lain waste to my cells for the last five months. It has been two weeks now since my last treatment and I can feel some return to normalcy as my cells repair themselves in preparation for the battle ahead, to maintain a cancer free body.

I was diagnosed eight months ago, eight long months of battling these cancer cells that were trying to take over and win. When I started this journey, I couldn’t see the end of it. I didn’t think this time would ever come. But here I am, ready for the next phase, the surgery. I haven’t missed a beat: I have been right on schedule all the way. The doctors were amazed. But then when I started this project, I knew that I had to win. The alternative was not acceptable to me.

So I can feel my body slowly healing. My sinuses have been bleeding for two months now and that has stopped. The tingling in my hands and feet is beginning to diminish and as my nails grow out, they will again be smooth and healthy as they once were. My other bodily functions are back on track, namely my digestive system. And my hair is growing. I have one half inch of fuzz all over my head, less in the front. Not enough so that I can go without my scarves or a wig in public; I actually look like a little old man. But it will continue to grow and I look forward to the day when I can go to my hair dresser and have it styled in an attractive way.

The weight loss is a good thing for me. I weighed 135 pounds when I started this. I thought of myself as Rubenesque and was accepting my curves and flab hanging over my bra. I had large breasts for the first time in my life. My dress size had changed as well, from a size six to ten. But I am now back down to a better weight for my body, 120 pounds and size six. I will have to say that I like myself better at this weight. So you see something good has come from this. Although I don’t recommend this diet.

I have a vision of myself in the aftermath of this event as leaner, stronger and with more purpose in my life. Although I wasn’t lacking in that area before. I think this has been a wake up call to do the things I had put aside, the traveling and the writing. I have stronger ties with my family and friends than I ever had before.  I had always been so independent, not wanting to ask for help and now I see that we all need help at times in our lives. And asking for help strengthens the bonds.

February 21 – I ran in the rain today. It was a special day. When I started out, I looked at the dark clouds advancing from the west and put on my rain jacket heading out the door. The wind was whipping the palm trees, fronds and debris were falling around me everywhere. I started to have second thoughts about this adventure but I kept on going across the intersection and up the hill that leads to the edge of the mountain preserve. By this time the wind had slowed and there was a steady, heavy rain falling. The drops hit my face and the hood of my jacket and the fresh air filled my lungs as I worked my way up the hill. Water was running all around me, down the sides of the hills and into the street. It made me feel so alive.

When I first found out that I had cancer, my first reaction was why me? I eat right, exercise, and in general take care of myself. And there is little history of cancer in my family; my maternal grandmother did die of colon cancer at age eighty-five; she seldom ate any fiber. But there it was, the reality soon hit me and I did what I always do when faced with a problem, I took action. Then when I first started my chemo therapy, I felt so sick for the first few days and wondered if I would get through this.  I worried every day that my body was being attacked by not only the cancer but, also the chemicals being put into my body to kill the cancer.  And so again I took action to make sure that I kept my body as healthy as possible by taking my supplements, eating good healthy food and getting my daily exercise. Even on the days that I had chemo, as shaky as I was, I would go for my two mile walk and when I returned, I felt so much better.

Then, when I looked at healthy people, I was jealous. I wanted to be that healthy person. I wanted to feel normal and not be sick. And then I decided that I would do that. I would try to lead as normal a life as I could while enduring the chemo therapy and then when this was all over I would be that healthy person again. I was also envious of people who carried a little weight. I lost ten pounds in the the first two months of chemo therapy, and not because of being sick, but due to my radical diet change, no sugar, low fat diet. I vowed that I would not have that gaunt look that some cancer patients get. So I started packing in the food, six meals a day and so far I’ve been able to maintain a reasonable weight. And needless to say, I am envious of women with hair, although my hair will grow back in time.

The idea here is to live as normal a life as you can while treating your cancer. And you have to work at it. The side effects are always present, the nausea at first, the dry mouth, hair loss, and now the tingling in my hands and toes, bleeding from the nasal passages. But these side effects have not been as severe as they could have been and I am always finding ways to overcome them. Biotene mouth wash for dry mouth, saline nasal spray for the nasal passages. And I do have my wig that I wear when I go out. There is always a way.

Then there is the social impact on your life. I decided that I should no longer attend group meetings, due to the risk of getting sick with my immune system being compromised.  This is a major problem if you are taking chemo. If you become ill, you cannot continue the therapy until you are well again and this gives the cancer a head start again with your immune system weakened, to wreak havoc and set you back in your treatment. Fortunately I’m not totally isolated. I have many friends who are always looking in on me, calling and there for me to take me to my treatments. The highlight of my week is grocery shopping, whoopee, going to Costco and even visiting the mall occasionally on a week day morning when the crowds are light.  Getting out to walk, climbing my mountain and working out, help me to feel refreshed and relieve the stress. Just feeling the sun and the wind on my face makes me know that I am alive and spurs me on to fight this battle with all that I have.

And then there are the dogs, my constant companions. I don’t know what I’d do without them. They make me laugh with their cute little antics and they are always by my side. They are always upbeat and wanting to play and they try to get me to play with them even on my worst days. When I was sick at first, I had to tell them that I was not feeling well, but they knew. My weimaranar jumped on the bed and looked down at me, her ears hanging in a sad way as if to say, “What’s wrong with you mom. This is not like you”. I take them on walks and to the dog park where they can run and have fun like they’ve always done and I can meet with the people that I know there and we talk, mostly about our dogs.

What I am trying to say is that I try to lead as normal a life a possible with a very serious, potentially life threatening disease. Once you are diagnosed with cancer, it is a part of your life forever. You will have to be ever vigilant the rest of your life, even if and when it goes into remission. But it is possible to maintain normalcy in your life even when faced with this disease. I maintain my friendships and try not to talk about cancer all of the time. I keep my daily and weekly routine. I clean my house and work in the garden just as did before I knew about my cancer. And I think that is healing in itself.

Being diagnosed with cancer must bring about a feeling of helplessness for many. The feeling that this scourge is growing in your body, can overtake your healthy cells and if not taken care of, can take you down and kill you. That indeed has to be a scary thing to imagine. And we all know that cancer has killed many people over the years. I have lost two dear friends to cancer in the last couple of years. You can’t dismiss it.

On the other hand you can have some measure of control and prevail. You have the power. Firstly in being ever vigilant, getting tested on an annual basis, especially if you are over a certain age. The mammogram every year, the colonoscopy every ten years starting at age fifty and for men testing for prostate cancer is essential. Being aware of changes to your body, any lumps or abnormal bleeding in any area are warninging signs that tell you to visit your doctor immediately.

And then with a healthy lifestyle you can prevent this disease from every happening. The cancer cells are ever present and ready for the opportunity to start growing and take over. If your immune system is weakened, due to the flue or you’ve had surgery, this is a time to be even more careful. With diet, eat more leafy greens and fresh fruits. Juicing is a fine way of introducing concentrated levels of antioxidants into your body. Also, keep your body as alkaline as possible. Cancer loves and acid environment. Cut back on sugar and alcohol. Stop smoking. I’ve read that eating dairy products in excess can exacerbate breast cancer. Cut down on dairy or take it out of your diet altogether. Get some kind of exercise every day. Free weights for building strong muscles and bones and aerobic exercise for the heart and lungs. Keeping these organs healthy and  strong will help to prevent the cancer from ever taking hold.

And then if by chance you get cancer, don’t panic, take control. You can overcome. When I was first diagnosed, the first thing that I did was go to the Internet and do my research on remedies and treatments. Although I really wanted to try the natural cures, I felt that they have not always been successful, whereas the traditional treatments with chemotherapy and surgery have had success over the years. And chemotherapy has become more effective and easier to tolerate. But then along with the chemotherapy, I have incorporated natural means of keeping my body healthy during the treatment. I take herbals and vitamins every day; vitamin C and E, a multivitamin, B-12, fish oil, magnesium, vitamin D for my bones and milk thistle for my liver. I also take flax oil. I hydrate, drinking eight glasses of water every day to keep my kidneys and bladder healthy and take acidophiles to keep my digestive track healthy. I exercise every day; walking two to four miles or climbing my little mountain near my home or working out at the YMCA. This keeps my heart and lungs healthy as well as my bones.

I have been in treatment for three months at this point and my doctors are just amazed at my progress and my blood levels are always good, my white cells and my iron, when I go for me weekly treatments of Taxol. I know that I will come through this and be healthier than I was before. And I am certainly wiser.

I am glad that I had, note the word HAD, a very healthy body when I started this treatment. I will come through it easier.

I am glad for the science and research that has gone into the treatment making it possible for me to beat this dread disease.  Many thousands of people before me have had to be the guinea pigs so that this treatment could be perfected. It isn’t perfect and I hope they do find a cure and a more natural way, but this is pretty much what we have at this point and we know for the most part it works.

I am glad for family, my son and his wife, who are being so supportive even at a distance. It is difficult for all of us.

I am glad for the many friends who are there for me on a daily basis, some calling me asking if they can take me to an appointment, staying the night with me when I don’t want to be alone.

I am glad for living in a warm and sunny climate while going through cancer treatment.

I am glad that I am a writer and can devote my full time to getting well again. It would be difficult to be working 9-5 job right now as I have done for many years.

Sounds rather macabre doesn’t it? Not a party one would willing attend. But if you have cancer and want to live to tell about it, it is a necessary evil. And so I have decided to turn an unpleasant event into a tolerable one. For two months I attended one of these parties every two weeks and each time, knowing how I would feel afterward, I decided that I would just relax and go with it. And every time I met interesting people, going through similar experiences as I am and they too were making the best of it.

In my doctor’s office there are two chemo rooms with eight big, comfy, overstuffed recliner chairs covered in brown Naugahyde. They are positioned against the wall but facing toward the center of the room. Each chair, station has a metal pole to hold the bags of meds and another small chair for the family, support person to use. Most people bring someone with them; a family member or a friend.
When I went for my first treatment, I went alone, driving myself to and from the office. But then my son came to visit and was with me for my second treatment and I decided it is much better to someone with you. So now I have friends taking me each time and it is definitely comforting to have them there. Sometimes they don’t sit with me the two to three hours that it takes and that is okay. I wouldn’t expect them to. But they are there and especially for the drive home when I can be a little unstable from the drugs they give me.

I have met some extraordinary people from all walks of life. One time there was a young woman who has breast cancer and she was getting her chemotherapy and then had to go on to work afterward. She works a full time job in a machine shop retrofitting aircraft parts; a man’s job.  I asked her how she was able to carry on with the work and the chemotherapy and she said she just did it. She felt like crap most of the time but didn’t have a choice. What a brave person she is. No doubt she is forced to work as she would not have health insurance if she quit her job. What a sad situation that I am sure many people are dealing with. And I talked to others, one woman with lung cancer, and the cancer had spread throughout her body, but she was hopeful that she would come through this. Her daughter, who quit her job to take care of her was with her. So brave these people are.

So we laugh and talk about our bald heads and our wigs and funny hats. One time the nurse brought around some little knit caps that some kind person had knit for cancer patients. She said it was going to be cold next week and we might need them. She let us pick out the ones we liked. I said that we should have a hat fashion show and everyone laughed.

Yes, it’s a bad situation and I would rather not be here. But this too will pass and while I am about it, I will make the best of it. And, you know, it hasn’t been as bad as i thought it would be. I would rather be doing other things to be sure. Like climbing mountains, skiing, traveling. But there will be a time for these activities. This is just a small blip on my radar screen and I will come out a better, stronger person, I know. Just eleven more sessions to go. Yea.

I had my first chemo treatment last week and my oncologist said that I will  be loosing my hair soon. So, since my hair was fairly long, I decided to get it cut, minimizing the amount of hair I’ll find on my pillow one of these days. I’ll have to say that it hurt. I am the kind of person that gets attached to things and I was attached to my long hair; I’ve had it a long time. But the hair was going to go anyway so along with some other things in my life right now, I had little choice. I decided to go to Super Cuts in a little plaza on Twentieth Street. When I told the stylist what we were doing, I thought she might be somewhat dismayed but as it turns out she had recently cut a relative’s (I think it was a relative)  for just the same reason.

So we cut away, saving my long tresses in a pony tail to match to the new wig I will be getting tomorrow. It’s called a hair prosthesis by the way, not a wig. I told her that I was sorry the hair style that she put a lot of time and effort into, wasn’t going to last too long. But she was okay with that.

So a bald person I’ll soon be. I haven’t been bald since I was a baby and then I wasn’t totally bald. There might be new possibilities here. Maybe I’ll like it that way. It is the style for some people. And I always have to remember that my hair will grow again and this will be but a memory.

Team Matters

You’ve heard the term it takes a village, regarding raising a child. To fight cancer, it takes a team. And putting together the right team can be a daunting task, but if it isn’t the right team, try again, go for a second and even third opinion if necessary. Most likely you will start with your PCP, when you notice something just isn’t right in your breast area and he or she will then send you for a mammogram and sonogram and then if there are abnormalities, will recommend a surgeon. This could be a breast surgeon or someone who does general surgery. I preferred a breast surgeon. And he or she is the pivotal person who should be the director in this show. The breast surgeon will then likely send you for more tests to determine what type of cancer you have and what stage it is in. After this is done he/she will talk to you about a plan for cure and recommend an oncologist for you to work with.  It is important that you have a good rapport with this doctor as you will be spending a lot of time with him or her. And it is also important that the oncologist works well with your breast surgeon. If at any time things don’t seem quite right, or they’re not moving fast enough or you are not getting the answers you need, see another doctor. It is important that you have complete confidence in your team

You might also add others to the team, a nutritionist, acupuncturist and anyone you think can help get you trough this and to recovery. I did check out an alternative medicine, homeopathic and was not impressed. Sometimes this is a gut level decision. But do get in put from as many sources as you can. I go on line and sometimes these doctors are rated. Also talk to people your friends. They may have had an experience that can help you.