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Coming up on the third year anniversary of my diagnosis for breast cancer. It was September of 2010 that I discovered the lump in my breast and went to my doctor and the rest is history. I recently visited my oncologist and had a mammogram on my left breast and everything looks good. But what else would I expect. The days after the diagnosis are somewhat of a blur to me now. I certainly remember all that happened, but it seems so far away now. I do recall after I found out that I had cancer, I was fearful. Fearful of any thing that I put into my body and I restricted my diet and with the no sugar, no dairy. And when I started chemo I could not tolerate caffeine and so I cut that from my diet as well. But I don’t live like that today. I eat a moderate diet of fish, chicken and lots of veges, and I have found that I am a fruity; I love fresh fruit of all kinds. And I love my ice cream. So my life is back to normal and I am loving it.

I had said that I would have reconstruction as soon as I could which would have been last year. But you know, I haven’t had time to do that. I am doing all of the things that I put off for so many years and that includes traveling. I went to Italy last year. And this year I will be traveling in the fall to Africa. I have always wanted to see the beautiful animals in their natural habitat.

I told my son, Alan that I will be traveling until I can’t travel anymore.

And all is well. I visited my breast surgeon and had my yearly mammogram on my left breast (my one and only breast) and I am still clear of cancer. But once you have had cancer, it is always lurking and you do think about the possibility of it coming back. When you think about these cancers cells that start out to be small and insignificant, but if left untreated and are allowed to gather a force, can kill the host, you.

It has been two years since I was diagnosed; September of 2010. And one year since I had my last cancer treatment. My doctor told me that I can consider myself cancer free from the time of the surgery which was April of 2011. It seems so long ago now and so much has happened since that time.

I am still optimistic and also thankful for every day of my life. I try to exercise almost every day and when I do I breath in the fresh air and think how fortunate I am to be still walking on earth. And I am reasonably healthy. Although my son says that I am elderly now, which I dispute. I don’t think elderly people climb mountains, lift weights and lead the kind of active life that I do.

I am planning more trips. I will be going to Africa in October of next year to see the wild animals in their natural habitat. And there might be another trip tucked in between. So life is what I had hoped it would be at this stage for me.

No more rain in my life. I am enjoying life like I never have before. I have to say that I am the happiest that I have been in a long, long time. I can only think of one time when I was happier and that was right after my son was born and I was euphoric then. But this is a different kind of happiness. I am at peace with myself and the world. I have wonderful friends and a great family and life is good. Along with the fact that I am financially secure. Oh, I don’t live large but I have what I need for my retirement years.

But who’s retiring. Not me. I have a new career. I am now a travel writer and I have my first article being published this month. And I just returned from a trip to Italy. I spent a week in a writing workshop, Italy in Other Words. We stayed in a 12th century hilltop town in Abruzzo Italy and it was wonderful. We spent each morning learning more about our craft of writing and then the afternoons in cultural immersion, learning about the people and the history of the area. We ate the local foods, dining every night from eight until midnight, Italian style; pasta, legumes, lamb and pork and wonderful wines from the area. And we attended demonstrations of local craftsmen, pasta making, weaving, ceramics.

After my week in the workshop I went back to Rome, what a beautiful city and took the train to Florence, Italy. I stayed in a convent B&B near the Duomo. I walked the city, went to the museums and learned more about the history of the renaissance, saw beautiful paintings and sculpture of that period, including Michelangelo’s David. I ate wonderful food again, including gelato every afternoon. There is a gelato store on every corner in Florence much like Starbucks in the United States.

After two weeks in Italy I came home to my furry children and was glad to be home again, but also happy that I had the opportunity to see a beautiful country. I fell in love with Italy and I will have to return.

It’s been a year since I finished my chemo therapy treatment. I think back to those five months and how awful I felt most of the time, yet I kept trudging on and basically had a lot of energy. But I’m glad it’s over. And now, getting through the next five years cancer free is the goal. Do I think about the cancer coming back? I do. I wince a little when I have any ache or pain I can’t identify. But I refuse to dwell on it. I am moving on with my life and I am going to do the things that I have always wanted to do. Hence, I am planning my trip to Italy in May. I am attending a writer’s workshop and I will be there on my birthday. What a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday.

So how am I feeling? Pretty good. I am still not fully recovered. I have tingling in my fingertips and toes from the Taxol. My sinuses are not back to normal and my digestive system has been giving me fits. But basically, I am good to go these days. And I do go. I am working out at least four days a week. And I am eating, everything; ice cream, chocolate, drinking beer and wine, strong black coffee. And of course I have gained back most of the weight I had lost over the last year. But hey, life is to enjoy. I liked being skinny but I like eating more.

My hair is back, same color, not curly like people said.  Now I wish I were bald; it was easier. I have to style it, wash it, cut it. What a pain. Now only if I could grow back a breast. But that is not to be. Not this year anyway. My doctor says I can get a new one next year. I’ve gotten used to being lop sided so who knows.

I am working hard on many projects and it seems like I don’t accomplish anything, but I guess I do. And I am spending time with friends and my dogs. I have a follow up with my doctor next week. We’ll see what he says.

Life is a gift and I intend to enjoy it.

You are through with the treatments, your tests show the cancer is gone, so what now? The life that you lived for a year or more is changing again. No more driving to appointments, chemo therapy, radiation.  That’s the good news. But now you are sitting at your breakfast table, wondering what your life is about after cancer.

During your treatment all of the attention was on you. The nurses, technicians and doctors were all concerned about your well being. All of your friends and family had gathered around and were sending you emails, get well cards, little gifts and calling to find out how you were doing. But now the many people that had been in your life are all but gone with the exception of the good friends and family.

You had defined your life around cancer; you were a cancer patient. So what are you now? A Cancer patient in remission? A cured cancer patient? How do you take the C word out of your life? It’s not easy. During your days and months of cancer it was so easy to say to people, I am a cancer patient. I have breast cancer and most would respond with sympathy. But now your friends and family might even be tired of hearing it. You hopefully are doing well. You are not the weak person that they thought you might be and you survived. You are strong. And they have problems too.

I can remember talking with a friend  not long ago who was having severe financial problems, had lost her job and was about to lose her home. And I said to her, but you don’t have cancer. And that was true. But to that person, life was just as precarious as was yours. Her survival was as much in jeopardy in their mind as was yours. But that was the thought, wasn’t it? Especially with good friends and family who were facing the possibility that you could no longer be with them And now, your longevity is secured, it’s just another day and life goes on.

So what now? You can stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with life. Yes, you did that, we all do. And we love getting the attention. But now it’s time to move on from cancer. What have you always wanted to do with your life that you have been putting off? Going back to school? Traveling, if you have the money. And if you don’t have the money find a way to make more money so that you can do those things that you have been yearning for. Volunteering? You’ve come through this cancer in fine form, how can you help others do the same?

Speaking personally, now that I have my life back again, I am looking at all of the things that I said I would do “next year” and making sure that I put them on my calendar. I may not get to all of them but I’m going to try. I am also cleaning out the excess in my life, and getting rid of the unimportant things, both ethereal and  material. Cleaning closets, getting rid of clothes that I no longer wear, donating them to thrift shops so that others can enjoy them. I am looking at what is important and what is not and believe me when little problems crop up, I say to myself, don’t sweat the small stuff, because it’s all small in the scheme of things. Everything can be solved and will be one way or another. And sometimes we have control and sometimes not and we have to face that.

I am making sure that I continue in a healthy lifestyle. Keeping up with my exercise program, eating healthy foods. I am also filtering the information that comes to me and trying to only listening to that which is a benefit. Hard to do with so much flying through the airwaves, social media and network news. I sometimes get forty emails a day and that has to stop. It takes time to sort through all of them. And I am taking the time each day to think about how fortunate I am to be alive and well. And now I had better do something constructive with my life herein out.

Has cancer been a life changer? In some ways. I have to say I would rather not have gone there, but I didn’t have have that choice. Am I a better person because of it? Well, maybe. I thought I was doing fairly well before I was diagnosed. But I do think I am doing a better job of getting my priorities in order.  And I found out that I have many friends and people who care and that has been a revelation for me.  Is cancer still in my life? Yes, but no longer on the forefront. I am not a cancer patient. I am a survivor.

First, I must say, there is no “after cancer”. Once you have it, it will always be with you for the rest of your life. Those are the facts. But then cancer is with everyone; the cells are perennially in our bodies; they just don’t run rampant in a normal healthy body where the immune system keeps them at bay and doesn’t allow them to take over. And once they try to take over, the battle begins for your body to prevail in such a way that you can again regain your health.

But this doesn’t mean that you need to live in fear of the cancer returning after you have either cured it or gone into remission.

It has been nearly six months since my last radiation treatment. That, along with the surgery and chemotherapy has, for the time being removed the cancerous cells from my body. And if all is well, I am hoping that the cancer will not return. I will have to say that I have gone back to leading a nearly normal life. I have some leftover side effects, especially from the Taxol. My toes and fingers are still a little numb on the tips, although my nails are growing back again and look pretty good, especially on my hands. I also have constant sinus drainage which is causing a cough. During the Taxol treatment, my nose would fill up with blood and I had to use saline solution every day to keep my sinuses open. And my digestive tract is still a little out of whack. I have lower abdominal pain and gas and sometimes diarrhea. But nothing that keeps me from my daily activities.

I am no longer on the strict diet that I was practicing during cancer treatment. I eat pretty much everything now, cheese, ice cream, chocolate, I have a cup of coffee every morning and I love it. After being deprived of some of my favorite foods during cancer treatment, when I started eating those foods again, it was like being in heaven. The chocolate tasted so good as did the ice cream, it was like tasting them for the first time. I savor my morning coffee and I have an occasional beer and glass of wine.

When I was in chemo therapy, I had to do everything in my power to help the treatment to work. I needed to keep my body as healthy as I could during that time. And I think it worked. Now, however, the cancer is gone, and I can lead a normal life again. And being that it was diagnosed as being caused by hormones, I just need to make sure that I eat natural foods, and I am taking a breast cancer inhibitor, Anastrozil, which will keep the cancer from returning.

I am also making sure that I do my follow up appointments with my doctors. And I have four of those and have added another due to some scar tissue on my right lung, we think due to the radiation treatments. So I have been back to see my breast surgeon and my radiation doctor. I had a follow up CT scan and mammogram of my left breast and I am clear. And I will have to have these tests periodically for the next several years. If the cancer does return we want to catch it early and treat it so that it doesn’t get away from us. One thing is clear to me; cancer in your body is there to kill you. It means to take over and kill your good cells, get into your vital organs and has the potential to bring about your demise, if you let it.

But I am not going to worry about it. I am carrying on with my life in a grand manor. The one thing that I have learned over the past year is that I must not put things off any longer. Tomorrow may never come, so I have to do as much as I can today. The trips I want to take, spending time with friends and family, I must seize the opportunity. I traveled to Washington state in September and climbed part way up Mount Rainier and hiked Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. I then traveled to San Francisco and spent the weekend with my son and his wife. We did the zip line in the red woods and then the next day hiked eight and one half miles in Point Reyes.

In November, I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to help a friend celebrate her fiftieth birthday along with fourteen of her goods friends and family. We snorkeled and did the zip line in the canopy, hung out on the beach, drank margaritas and generally had a wonderful time. I am living my life.

And I am I whipping this body back into shape. I work out at least five days a week and I am seeing the results. I do a body pump class on Tuesday and Thursday, Yoga on Wednesday, I climb my mountain on Friday and run/jog four miles on Saturday. Whew, I’m tired thinking about it. But I feel that this will help to keep my organs healthy and keep the cancer from returning. Plus, it allows me to eat almost anything and not gain weight.

Needless to say, I’m not spending my days worrying about whether the cancer returns or not. If it does, I will deal with it. I have such a feeling of well being right now. My emotional stability is better than it has ever been in my entire life. Albeit, I am having some trouble getting motivated to do my writing and the work that I have to do. But that will come. This is a time for me to heal, to get my energy back, get my body healthy again and I am allowing myself to do that. It is a good time in my life.

I look at where I was a year ago, just starting on the strong chemo treatments and how far I have come and I am amazed. And I look back too and think that, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was told that certain things would happen to me, like my fingernails would fall off. during the Taxol treatment. Well, they didn’t. I came through this time in the best way possible. Partly due to my diligence in working out and eating healthy and partly due to having wonderful doctors, a great support group and family behind me. Would I want to do this again? No. I am done with cancer, hopefully and now I can get my life back and do the things I have been wanting to do for years. Life is good.

______________________________________________________________

Mountain Lady

Hanging on - Zip line in the canopy, Mexico

The rope bridge - Zip line, Mexico

I have come full circle. It has been a little over a year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Of course it was a terrifying time for me and my family as well. I wasn’t sure whether I should get my affairs in order or plan for the long life I had expected to live. I decided to plan for the long life and throw everything I could at this cancer and come out the winner and that is what I did. But it wasn’t a given that I and my doctors would prevail. I had a particularly virulent type of cancer and it was stage three. With this type of cancer, it could have easily spread to my vital organs and then the battle would have been more difficult, if not impossible. And it had already spread to my lymph nodes in my right arm. But fortunately with a plan to shrink the tumors first, hit them with chemo therapy, which we did for five months, then surgery to remove the breast and lymph nodes and after that thirty five days of radiation, I was deemed to be cancer free for the moment.

When we started this process, of course I said to myself, I don’t have time for this. I could be at this for a year or more and this is not a pleasant way to spend ones time. But then as my doctors laid out the plan, I thought, no we can get this done in a year and then I can move on with my life. And we actually accomplished it in under a year. I completed my last radiation treatment on July 8th of 2011 and I had been diagnosed September 9, 2010.

I ran the Race last year not really knowing what the outcome of my cancer treatment would be, but I vowed that I would come back a year later as a true survivor. Today I waited at the start line talking with other women who belong to this special club, about our illness, our cures and our intrepid spirit to prevail against a disease that can kill.  My friend Sheryl came along to cheer me on and take photos. When the race started, I didn’t even know if I would be strong enough to run the distance. It has been a tough year with roller coaster ups and downs, visits to the emergency room a couple of times and many days of just wanting to sleep and tell the world that I needed to opt out for awhile. Last year when I ran I was pretty strong as I had not started chemo or any treatment yet. We were still in the testing phase. So as I started to jog, I said to myself that I would keep a slow pace and do what I could do and if I had to walk, that was okay.  And I prevailed again; I ran (jogged) the whole distance and felt pretty good afterwards. But then this is only a 5k, 3.1 miles. For some, however it is a marathon.

On the course

I finished