Three weeks later...


I lost three weeks? I had three weeks. I know they were there. I know I did things, saw people, had fun, laughed, ate, slept, finished treatments, wrapped presents, worked... worked... worked... worked... worked... worked.... worked... (aha! I see a trend).

Somehow along the line I lost track of time and space and who knows what else. It's nice to be back.

Christmas at the Canyon was amazing. Awakening. A virtual winter wonderland. So much needed after burning myself into the ground the weeks prior. It was too much. Too much at a time when too much was going on. And, it's nice to be back. It's more than nice. It's essential.

For my body, for my mind, for my healing, for my world.

I'm starting to believe that the Canyon heals me. Maybe I just want to believe that the Canyon heals me.

Perhaps the magic that seems to enter my body, fill my mind and my soul and my heart and reminds me, even though it's not that I forget - exactly where I am and why I am and who I wake up with each and every day. It's pretty amazing.

I know I am such a skeptic about spirituality and a higher being at times, but out there I felt some kind of something. Some kind of energy. There was something watching over me. I know there are a lot of people watching over me - or perhaps I choose to believe.

It's going to be a good 2009. I'm going to be strong and healthy and vibrant and better.
Stage IV and Stable...
all else is sub-bullets.
There is so much to look forward to.

Still moving...

Still shaking. Still kicking ass and taking names.
Still a bit surrounded in the surreal, and ready to put it all behind us.

Five round downs as of yesterday - halfway home. Today should have been the sixth, but we got the call on the way over that the machine was down. How dare the machine be down. Doesn't it know I have healing to do? Life to live? Things to get on with?

I felt good today - better than yesterday, even though I felt fine yesterday too. I don't love the effects of the steroids and the antibiotics, and the slight feeling of being a bit muted that comes with it. The feeling that I'll miss something, that something will pass me by while I am feeling unaware.

We met with Dr. Rads yesterday - and it was a good visit. Seems that everything is moving right along. I need a haircut. I need to take care of this small bit of nonsense before it sneaks up on me in the middle of the night and my seasonal migratory hair ends up on my pillow in the morning.

I fluctuate between seeing the same person in the mirror I always have, or at least the one I saw a couple of weeks ago - and this person that is looking back at me through eyes that have seen too many things change too quickly. What I realize though, is that I'm certain much of it is in my head. It's only to be expected.

It's surreal - as though I am in an alternate existence at times - while at the same time, things aren't really changing. The strange thing is, I haven't really struggled to make sense of it all, I'm just doing what I know how to do. Be. Live.

I felt very optimistic for the future this morning. Optimistic for the next step - as though I won't be mired in this space forever. Herceptin treatment tomorrow, one more round of radiation. Moving on towards the Canyon...

How I can't wait for the respite of the Canyon...

Four down...

Six more to go.
Kicking ass and taking names so far...
I'm feeling strong, feeling good... feeling like I can take on the world.
Not feeling anything too unusual, safe for the annoying goiter that is now molting and probably causing me more strife than the damn radiation.

I've decided that it's a stylish time of year for neck wraps (whatever works).
Food tastes like food, my body feels mostly like my body, and aside from a bit of jittery-ness that I might be occassionally experiencing from these steroids, all seems to be going along smoothly.

The temperature in my office feels good right now - I am loving the new soft blanket on the bed, even though the dog has apparently taken quite a liking to it, too - and the crisp air feels great in the morning on our walks. There was another shooting star this morning...

Today, behind the mask, I was on the Mogollon Rim with Greg and the puppies... swaying in his arms as the campfire crackled, listening to music, feeling the wind on our faces and the heat from the fire. Willing the radiation beams to work their magic and healing.

And now, for a weekend off, and life to look forward to.

Three down... seven to go

And thankfully, not much more to tell...

It's an interesting experience, this whirlwind of zaps and antibiotics and steroids and work and life and holidays approaching and I tell you, it's not all that unusual.

I keep trying to get a feel for things, to gauge what I might react to, or how my reactions might be different than the norm, but save for a momentary lapse of disorientation yesterday which might have been due to the fact that I was hungry, thirsty, or just a little off kilter - all has been seeming remarkably stable.

I love remarkably stable. Now, let's get these damn scans back to remarkably stable in a few weeks time...

The radiation itself is a breeze - we enter our super secret patient pass code (which I'm sure all of Banner Desert knows of), I scan my card into the reader in the waiting room, and a few minutes later I am unceremoniously announced to come down the hall. They give me the squishy ring to hold onto whilst I am laying on the table, strap on my most beauteous honeycomb mask, and apparently leave the room. I hear whatever song is playing in the background, attempt to insert my own soundtrack, and escape to someplace in my mind, which today happened to be swimming through the water at Havasupai Falls to the place behind the waterfall.

I hear the buzzing, I see the flashes of light changing behind my eyes. I will the radiation to work with every ounce of my being. I smell a faintly foreign smell that I can't identify, and before I know it, the noises stop, the people enter the room, my mask is being unsnapped, someone tells me that I did great and that they'll see me tomorrow, and I head back out the door for re-entry into the world...

We were walking yesterday morning and I was feeling very optimistic about my ability to sail through these treatments and put them behind me once again. And then a falling star shot across the sky. I didn't see it, but Greg did - perhaps it was an omen...

So long as I can walk, and feel the wind on my face... so long as I can laugh and hear my voice ringing in my ears... so long as I can smile and feel the muscles of my face stretch into a long as I can can love, and have the love beside me of the one I've been waiting for this whole time... one way or another, it will be just fine.

And... we're off...

One zap down, nine more to go...

Yesterday should have been the first round, but wouldn't you know it, I ended up with some weird-ass bite or blemish or something that I aggravated on the side of my neck and long story short... cellulitis. So, by the time we went in to see Dr. Rads, he felt that it was more important to get me on immediate antibiotics to treat the goiter (not really) on my neck before starting the radiation. So, after forming the face mask for the radiation, which consisted of something that leaves honeycomb-like marks on my face and keeps me attached the the table during treatment, he sent me off with a prescription for Keflex that could treat a horse and explicit instructions that if the infection gets worse, more swollen, or if I have a change in body temperature, to admit myself to the ER.

After an uneventful night, five antibiotic pills, and about half a dozen temperature takings later, I found myself alive, well, having avoided the ER, and back in Dr. Rads' office where he seemed to be pleased with the progress of the infection. (Not without the explicit instruction to make sure and keep an eye on it or else.)

So, to treatment I went. They let Greg come back and observe this time - which I have to believe was a bit reassuring as he'd have an image in his mind of exactly what I'd be receiving on a daily basis. They hooked me up to the table, did some simulations to make sure I was lined up correctly, and a few minutes, a handful of beeps and buzzes and flashes later, they told me I was free to go. Apparently, from Greg's vantage point, it looked like something out of a science fiction movie. It felt a bit like something from a science fiction movie, but as I heard the noises and the subtle changes in shading from behind my closed eyes, I willed with all my being those rays to zap me. To heal me. To kill whatever was inside. To wipe out the lesions and let me continue our dance.

I was off the table in about 15 minutes, and have been told that subsequent treatments will be even shorter, since they had to do the simulation this time. So far, compared to chemo, this is a walk in the park...

As Greg said, I've never been a very good host to things of this nature that aren't supposed to be there... it's time to continue with annihilating this beast. It's got nowhere to hide now...

Gloves laced tightly... love in my life... holidays approaching... I've got too much living to do.

Play ball.

Here we go again..

The short version...I went for that follow up PET scan on November 13 - the day before we left to do the 3-Day in Arizona (I still have to finish chronicling the experiences...)

We knew I was coming back to results on Wednesday and I hoped to have the same 'miracle patient' reaction from my oncologist this time around. Not quite yet. While there were absolutely no areas of hypermetabolic uptake, there were two small 'attenuated' areas in the brain that the scan report interpreted as 'can not rule out metastases'. So, my oncologist sent me for a brain MRI to rule out the mets. At the same time, something showed up that has been showing up on the last couple of PETs. A few spots in the bone that looked to be 'evident of treated metastatic bone disease'. My oncologist has never been convinced that there were bone mets, and in any case, the treated disease was never a cause for concern. However, he ordered a total body bone scan anyhow. I've been doing pretty good... I know this whole disease charts an uncertain course, and that just because I have been fortunate enough to be NED for a while, doesn't mean that it will stay that way... one can only dream.

So, I finally got in with the oncologist last Wednesday. The good news is that the bone scan came out clean. The brain MRI did not. Apparently there is a smattering of sub-centimeter foci on the brain...

Ironic that the chemo worked so well on the rest of the disease that there is nothing left, but that damn blood-brain barrier worked, too...He got me immediately into a radiation oncologist, who we like very much, and I start today with 10 rounds of whole brain radiation (WBR).

First came trying to breathe. Then we cried. Miracle patient, or normal human being, this weekend we did what we do best... continue to live our lives.

I am comforted by many facts... by the fact that I was asymptomatic when they caught it. By the fact that the rest of the scans are completely clean. By the fact that the original mets responded very well to the treatments. This is what I have to depend on. It sucks. It simply sucks. But I will fight and scream and kick and live with every ounce of my being for as long as I have.

This is two weeks - and a little more baldness - and then we go on with the business of living, whether or not the scenery has changed.We have no choice in what we are dealt, but we have a choice in how we deal with it. And although Greg and I have, and will continue to have, the hard, scary times...I will never give up the fight.

So, I lace them up again, and continue to fight. I'm trusting what they tell me, and I'm going to battle through. I'm strangely comforted at the fact that it doesn't involve chemo and compromise to my immune system, my strength, or my daily activities. Perhaps I am misguided, but until I know otherwise, this is how I choose to approach it. I hope to dance with NED once again - but first I hope that this is simply controlled and stabilized. And I'm still counting on the rest of those 50 happy years.

Time to take the first step towards conquering the world... again.

Why I Walk....

Laced tightly... ready to roll...

Day two...

Day two found us waking up much more refreshed and much less achy than we anticipated being. I'm not certain if I felt really, really good this year or if it was the fact that I felt really, really crappy last year, in retrospect. Whatever the case, it was a new day, and we headed off to see the world.
Day two took us through our very own 'hood most of the day. We were continually impressed by the outpouring of support from the community... the amazing people at the cheering stations...the impromptu cheering stations that surfaced...
Between Steph and Michelle, and the Spitza family, not to mention the kindness of strangers along the way, we were feeling pretty loved. It's a good thing, too... Day Two is always the longest day. Yet again, full of laughter - of stories - of memories being made - of preparing to speak that night...

I was ready. We had perfected my speech, and I was ready. By the time we did one last run-through, it was under control. Still, the small matter of not only speaking in front of 2000 people, but managing to keep it together without bursting into a weepy mess of tears still loomed large.

Somehow we managed to not only get through it, but be truly amazing. I'm still surprised that I didn't fall apart during Greg's intro, but somehow I made it - somehow we both did - and the celebrity that followed the rest of that night and the next day, I wasn't quite prepared for.

Day One...

Started off bright and early with the alarm going off at o'dark thirty. We had told Scott that he didn't need to set one, and he soon found out that our grind-and-brew coffee maker sounds like the Luftwaffe is landing on his head...

Not surprisingly, we picked up a new honorary teammate in front of the restrooms before closing ceremonies. Kristi was a solo walker - the rest of her team had either fallen off the face of the earth or fallen ill in some shape or form. We immediately took Kristi and her Dirt'y Girl t-shirt in. One of her first tasks as honorary team member was to take a picture of all of us, which sounded simple enough - until we noticed that she had the camera accidentally pointing towards her own face... hilarity ensued, and we got a couple of great photos with lots of teeth out of the escapade.

After an interview with Channel 3 news and the remainder of opening ceremonies the walking began...

Soon after our departure, we were greeted by Stan (of chemo room fame) and Darlene.
He's back on chemo after a brief respite. His latest scan showed that it has spread everywhere, and for the first time in the 10 years that he's been battling, Stan is in pain. Dr. Cav is trying a new cocktail, a different combination of drugs he has already tried, in the hopes that this one may take. They're also looking into clinical trials. We saw them yesterday at the oncologist's office and were talking a bit about the state of things. Stan expressed his feelings of frustration - that every weekend, everywhere there is a race, a walk, a climb, a pancake breakfast to raise funds toward research for various cancers but yet, where is the cure. I suppose it comes from a different perspective, when all you can remember is chemo after chemo and the knowledge that after a while, there are no more chemo cocktails left to try, even though the funds toward research is providing for better therapies, fewer side effects, better long-term outcomes. Still, WHERE IS THE CURE?

Back to last Friday... we were walking, and talking with people around us. It was late in the day, and nearing 18 miles of walking. Everyone was getting tired and a guy with a group behind us was joking that they are walking to find the cure, and wouldn't it be great if we just could walk around the corner and "LOOK! There it IS! WE FOUND IT!! Phew, we can stop walking now..."

Wouldn't it be great....

Three days, one blister, amazing experience...

We're back from another three days of walking and thinking and laughing and dreaming. Of hopes and of aches and of memories and of inspiration. Each of my experiences has been so different, even though they have all been filled with a common goal, and common themes. This year was no exception.

How can one find the words to describe it? How do you come back from three days like we just spent, and while you try to convey the message to someone that wasn't there - there are some things that even photographs can't quite capture.

I lay in bed last night, trying to fall asleep, and smiling at the things that were running through my head. Who knew that peanut butter and jelly on crimped white bread was the breakfast of champions? Short sheets and streakers and former Olympian tent neighbors. Scott's shvoogie patrol and permanent spot in the medical tent and funky tights - always making sure to eat, drink, scratch, and pee. We learned the correct pronunciation of Moushey (Mow-SHAY) and took on a new teammate for next year. Searching for tiny rum bottles in convenience stores without luck. Broccoli after-effects and hording Biofreeze. Savoring the once-a-year deliciousness of Tecate and Cornnuts - as mentioned, some things you simply can't explain. A moment of silence on the Mill Avenue Bridge. Luminaries on a chilly Sunday morning. Remembering those not with us, and loving the ones that were. Greg summed it up on Friday morning...
You cry a little at the beginning, you cry a lot at the end, and along the way you meet the most amazing people and hear the most amazing stories.

This year, that rang true more than ever - and it will take more than this one entry to talk about some of them. The brother and sister who had lost their mother last year. The 35 year survivor that was diagnosed at 28. Alissa, in the shower line, who had just reached the 5-year mark. Barry, walking every event, with his inspiration being that he was simply part of the human race. The Scottsdale firefighter who sees my truck every day. Michael from the MotoCrew who may get an entry of his own. The woman that turned 66 on Sunday and who was a 22 year survivor. The Gear and Tent crew member who gave me an angel last year and who this year told me it had all come full circle. Mostly, the amazing people I had the opportunity to spend three days of my life with. There are so many more stories to tell.

Yesterday, I think we were having a bit of "day after Christmas" let-down. You experience what we have for three days, and then you come back and are sort of... regular again. It's dissipating slowly this morning and I look forward to sharing some of the stories in entries to come.

Meanwhile, I have been mostly distracted from the fact that in a couple of hours I'll find out whether or not my stay of execution has been extended through 2009. I feel good. I feel strong. I know that isn't always a harbinger of the fact that there is nothing growing inside. In a couple of hours, I'll know for certain. Either way, whatever that paper says, whether or not I'm still a miracle patient - we'll deal with it.

We always do.

She never stopped smiling

One day closer to the weekend, and none too soon, at that.

I realized it's been exactly two weeks since I last wrote. It's not that I haven't had things on my mind - mostly while walking in the desert, or in the times before I fall asleep - but it's getting those thoughts to form words, and words to form an entry that is the trouble.

She's gone. Renee's sister Michele died yesterday morning. She was surrounded by her family for the last couple of hours. They talked about the best times they had together, and Renee said she started smiling and just never stopped. She was able to say good bye. How the HELL do you say goodbye...

I'm heartbroken for Renee's loss. For Michele's husband's loss, for her kids' loss. For her parents and her friends and everyone whose life she touched. I didn't even know this woman, but I know that cancer took her too soon. It's always too damn soon. I find myself thinking, "at least she wasn't hanging on, in pain" but is that just my way of trying to make sense of the senseless?

How does this happen? It was only about eight weeks since Renee told us about her sister's diagnosis. I have to remember that we don't know how long it was growing inside. We don't know so many factors. All we know is that she's gone.

I have to make a conscious effort not to insert myself into her story, because it's not my story. It's not my outcome. It's not my diagnosis. Yet the nagging voice in my head that I try to stifle is a subtle reminder that the whole situation hits pretty close to home. As much of a realist as I am, I just can't let myself think of a time when I could hear the words, "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do." I like to think that there always HAS to be something, but the truth is, there isn't always something. But that doesn't apply to me right now.

This morning while hiking we saw this older couple that we often pass on the trail. Greg commented to them that they are able to sleep in a little now that it's getting light later. She responded something about being able to adjust to the clock. I smiled, as I love seeing these two in the morning, still hiking, still vibrant. They've got to be in their 70s. And then I got choked up at the reality of the fact that there's a good chance that I may never have the chance to retire. I couldn't let myself stay in that place in my mind very long. The fleeting thought was enough.

I've found myself a bit frustrated at the whole state of some things. Frustrated that nobody can seem to figure out what causes most cancers, or how to cure then. Frustrated that yet another person I work with has been diagnosed, and today went in for her lumpectomy. Frustrated about the fact that Tina is left feeling mutilated and like a freak without hair, eyelashes, a breast - because I know that feeling. Frustrated that Andrea's cancer came back. That Tom was diagnosed with colon cancer. That Renee's sister died. Frustrated sometimes because I have managed to become this shining example of the fact that Stage IV, NED can exist, that people can actually both survive and thrive with metastatic disease...
What happens if one of these PET scans comes back showing a spot? I'll be absolutely crushed. Not only that, but I'll feel like I just stole hope from too many people that were counting on me to shatter the myths.

I suppose I'll cross that bridge when and if I come to it.

The thing is? I know in the big picture I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I have a great husband, a nice house, a decent job, friends and family who love me, two pretty cute - albeit ridiculous - dogs, the energy to hike and walk and live. Who really cares about unruly hair, or chemo-stained veins, or nails that need to be covered with polish because they are still kind of ugly, or the fading scars on my abdomen that will mostly likely be permanently slightly mangled up, or the stent from my eye that crawls out my nose, or the fact that I'm just not as young and pretty as I used to be. As much as I hate to admit it, every now and then the trivial many make the slightest bit of difference. Maybe that means I'm human. I guess the good part is that it means I'm still alive.

I still don't get God's plan. I'm starting to believe that I'm not supposed to.

Godspeed, Michele - you'll be in good company up there.

God's plan?

Every now and then I am blindsided with the reality of the fact that I dodged not only a bullet, but a cannonball. Right now, I'm feeling pretty damn fortunate to be here, to be healthy, to have the world in my hands, hair on my head again, and love in my life. I don't know why that is the case, I don't think I'm supposed to know why that is the case, and I can't ever forget that it could change in an instant.

We saw Renee in late September to hand off the shirts for screen printing for the 3-Day. She told us then that her sister had been diagnosed with liver cancer and that she was waiting to hear more news. A couple of days later, she updated us with the news was that it was Stage 4 cancer on her colon and liver and they were planning to do a PET scan to see if the cancer has spread anywhere else. She was going to start chemo in early October and Renee told us the doctor said she had five years at best.

Of course, my initial reaction was that this cancer stuff simply sucks. However, knowing Renee, and hearing that her sister has a very similar personality was reassuring. Typical me, I reiterated my belief in the fact that the mental drive to fight works wonders, and that I despise the fact that any doctor gives a timeline for longevity because it's so inaccurate. I told her that as we've learned, every statistic has a bell curve, and if I listened to the statistics, who knows if I'm supposed to be here today. That's one thing we've always loved and appreciated about Dr. C - while he's never minced words or sugar coated anything, but not once has he ever put a duration on life expectancy.

And on we went.

Last night I got an email from Barb, followed by an email from Renee this morning. Her sister went to the oncologist on Monday and was told that the PET showed that her entire liver was compromised and that there is nothing else they can do for her as her liver is shutting down, which is irreversible. She was told that she probably has a couple of weeks left. Renee is headed out to see her, knowing that she could likely have to say goodbye.

Whoa... whoa. Wait a minute. This isn't supposed to happen. I repeat:

Silly me, living in my own world, thinks that all Stage IV cancer patients can fight. All Stage IV cancer patients can achieve NED status. All Stage IV cancer patients can win battles.

Can't they??? Damn it, CAN'T THEY???

I go through my day as if I'm not even affected most times. I wake up - we go for our walk or hike. I have my coffee and smoothie. I go to the gym. I go to work. I come home. I watch baseball. I eat. I love. I laugh. I'm not in the hospital, I've never been in the hospital for more than an outpatient procedure. I don't have to have regularly scheduled procedures for draining of fluid in my abdomen, or my lungs. I'm not on my umpteenth round of different cocktails of chemo. Instead, I'm continually building strength, building hope, falling down and picking myself back up, thriving...

And all of a sudden I realize - HOLY SHIT. I am not the rule, I am the exception. People die. People like ME die. The cancer spreads and it's not always able to be surgically removed or or zapped away. Why I am I so fortunate to have the quality of life that I do? More importantly, why am I so fortunate to still be here at all?

So many of us believe that God has a plan. That we don't exactly know what that plan is, but that there is one. I fluctuate on this theory. Assuming that it's valid, however, I've questioned numerous times how cancer fits into this mysterious plan for me and while supposedly none of us are given more than we can handle, why I have had to handle so much. Is it because I can? Is it like when I started the chemo and once my body was handling it so well, Dr. C not only kept me going weekly instead of having every three weeks off, but also upped the dosage? Is that part of the reason I am where I am today? That it's more dependent on science, rather than God?

Then I realize - maybe it's not that I have been given the cancer, but that once I dealt with it, I have been given the opportunity to live. Maybe, as I've been told, part of this mystery plan for me is to go out and inspire and shine a light on the world - or little parts of it. Perhaps I am meant to be a conduit by which people - even one single person - can look at the world a little differently, or hold their loved one a little tighter, or make decisions that they can be proud of, or realize there is more to life than the grind they endure every day, or plan a romantic evening, or take that trip of a lifetime before the opportunity slips away, or remember to savor that one perfect moment when they wake up in the morning and it's a new day.

I've been going about my business as if it was never up for discussion that I would persevere. Today? I realize that I still have no idea why I was fortunate enough dodge the bullet but I am so thankful that I managed to duck at the right time.


Grand Canyon winter
Inhale the cool mountain air
Exhale the demon

Each scan will bring a new reason for wanting it to be clean. Whether it be the first one, or the second one, or the Canyon or the next anniversary - there really will never be a "better" time than another for it to come back less than flawless.

Meanwhile, I can't still spend time living from scan to scan. Imagine what I'd miss in the meanwhile.

Sometimes I feel as though I did too good of a job breaking out of the fortress that I had built around myself. I think that sometimes, in some ways I've turned into what a friend referred to as the fragile flower, when speaking of her own experiences. The hearty, vibrant bloom with an exterior that betrays the fact that inside - ironically, in what's called the "ovary" - are pieces that need to be treated gently and with extra care. Most times, I feel that it would best suit me to find the middle ground between the glimpses of fragility and re-growing some of that elephant's hide.

The rest of the time, I just keep going, living, loving, breathing.
It's still what I do.

Miracle patient
Love hope strength treatment believe
Continue to thrive

Awareness of awareness...

Ironically, aside from the recent media blitz, there hasn't been a lot of cancer conversation these days. It's been a welcome respite. The irony of that is that we're right in the throes of Pink-tober, and Sunday is this year's Race for the Cure. For the first time since 2000, aside from they year I was out of town, I'm not running. At this point, we're planning on going down there and walking it. In many ways, I'm looking forward to that, as the run always stressed me out so unnecessarily. This way, we can just be amongst the masses, and I'm not racing against my own personal time clock and running into the same wall year after year - chemo or not. In other ways, I'm a bit apprehensive at being lost and overwhelmed in the sea of pink. But Sa and Liz went to Great Adventure and walked last year. Mom and Sa walked in NYC this year. Shel runs every year in NYC and this year did fundraising, too - with my picture on her homepage. Greg ran last year with a crumpled up knee - not to mention all that he does on a daily basis for me, with me, in support of me. This year, I can show up and walk and attempt not to get lost in the crowd.

I realize that the "one in eight" statistic pertains to a woman's risk of getting breast cancer during her lifetime. I've always comforted myself with the somewhat ludicrous thought that I have this force-field around me that will shield most of the people I love from being afflicted, since I've already taken the bullet. So far, it's worked. So far...

Then again, there's the woman from my office who I have befriended since her diagnosis. She's home this week recovering from her mastectomy, after enduring 6 rounds of A/C-Taxotere. There's the other unknown person that a co-worker said has been diagnosed but isn't ready to share the diagnosis with the world yet. There's the 34-year-old woman from YSC that I've corresponded with in regards to her training and fundraising for her first 3-Day in San Diego. She was just coming up on her first year after diagnosis, and instead of hearing good news, she found out her early-stage cancer with no node involvement is now metastatic. These people must have been outside the boundaries of my force field...

It's an interesting time of year... Breast Cancer Awareness.

I have seen paraphernalia in various places with the slogan
F*ck Awareness: Find a Cure.

Intrinsically, I don't disagree - there is absolutely nothing more important than finding a cure. A cure is vital. And truthfully, my eternally optimistic mind believes that it's feasible. I still believe in a world, one day, without breast cancer. I have to. But, we need that damn cure. Too many people have seen this beast take too many loved ones. Too many strong people have been incapacitated, either temporarily or long term. Unfortunately, it returns to haunt far too many people that had put it behind them - myself included. A cure is the ultimate goal.

The catch there is that a cure takes money. Research, development, clinical trials leading to the cure take tons and tons and buckets and truckloads of money. Without the bombardment of awareness that this breast cancer beast is such a problem, how the hell will we raise the money to fund the research to find the cure?

The people who have designed the F*ck Awareness: Find a Cure shirts aren't simply bitter, they are expressing their sentiments that awareness and early detection is great and all, but we need to reach beyond that. They are the ones, like me, for whom the awareness horse is already out of the barn and have become, like I have - experts on everything they never wanted to know. One woman told me,

"I want people to understand that my time is limited; I bite my fingernails nervously waiting for my treatments to fail me; I want to live to be 40, but I can't count on it. I think that merits an F-Bomb."
This is the same woman who has the following quote in her profile:

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
It's not bitterness, it's frustration about the type of awareness that is needed and the fact that the term "awareness" doesn't necessary express what people REALLY need to be aware of - the fact that this is some serious shit. Not the people need to "know their bodies" early detection kind of awareness. I was detected early too. We need to spread the awareness that this is killing people. That it's not all pink and ribbons and pretty. I don't love that many people are aware of it only on a superficial level, and as much as the pink blenders, and ped-eggs, and toenail clippers, and ear hair trimmers make me cringe, they generate money. Maybe that is looking at it from a "sell out" perspective. I don't know. What I do know, is that I want that elusive cure, too. It's not about "saving the boobies", it's about saving the LIVES.

Komen for the Cure has a rally-cry of "I AM the cure!" It makes me cringe, and I'm sure I'll hear it Sunday.
I am not the cure. We're still waiting, and we need one.

I want to live to be 40, too. I'm counting on it. I realize how fortunate I am to be riding the wave right now. I'm all too aware that Stage IV, NED is an anomaly. I know that each scan could show that it's back. Many times it does deserve a whole string of F-bombs.

Dr. C ordered another quarterly scan. I suppose I had this idea that I would make it through until the end of the year without a scan and by default, be guaranteed to make it through both Thanksgiving and Christmas without any type of treatment, or treatment-related maladies. He wants to scan in November. Yes, I knew it was three months. I don't know why I thought maybe he'd let it slide. In the big picture? I'm grateful that he is so proactive with regards to scanning. In the small picture, just the inkling of a thought that I might not make it below the rim this year brought tears to my eyes. Realistically, I can't rely on the "what I don't know won't hurt me" concept in this case. So, when EVDI called, I scheduled the exam. Ironically, I'll find out the results after returning from the 3-Day. Greg has already promised me that we'll just find out even sooner that I'm still healthy. He was right the last time...

"I'm proud to be your doctor."
We actually heard that the other day. How many times does a patient hear that? Dr. C isn't one to blow smoke though - for the eight years I've known him, he never has been one to sugar-coat much of anything. I forget, sometimes, that my continued "remarkable" response is a victory for him, too. I can't imagine, as an oncologist, how difficult it must be to have to face patients upon patients and have to tell them that whatever the cocktail they had been taking simply isn't working anymore. I hope to be his ray of hope in an often dark world for as long as possible.

I'm still going to taste Thanksgiving. I'm still going below the rim. I'm still going to savor our bottle of Paul Hobbs on Christmas Eve. From what I hear, it's simply NOT up for discussion.


CURE is a quarterly magazine that we had first picked up at Desert Oncology during a particularly long wait. They offer complimentary subscriptions to patients, survivors, and caregivers and we have found many of the articles to be interesting - and straightforward.

Back in early April, I got a wild hair and decided to make an attempt to take some these random ramblings and do something productive with them. Encouraged by a handful of suggestions and one particularly pushy... er... enthusiastic friend (thank you, Bella) that I should make something more of some of these writings, I submitted a handful of entries to a couple of magazines, including CURE.

After not hearing anything for months, I received an email from CURE that they wanted to include my submission in their Fall issue. In disbelief, I signed their contract, sent it back, and not long after, received my small (but IMPORTANT!) check in the mail. Sure, I should have framed it, but I chose to do the boring thing with it, and stuff it in the bank. I didn't mention this to too many people - I'm not quite sure why - perhaps I wanted to see it in print to make sure it was reality.

We haven't received the hard copy yet, although I'm certain it's on its way - but the issue went live online today.

My First Byline!

First, perhaps only, but either way, pretty cool stuff...

Running to Stand Still

That time of year is coming. The pink is starting to take over the world, Komen is going full bore with the outreach, and I find myself in the juxtaposition of wanting to spread awareness and being very wary of getting myself "pinked-out". I think it's been a struggle for me, always, to find my way and fit in with the "survivors", even though I was originally diagnosed as Stage 1. The "survivors" shown on the literature, the brochures, the commercials - those smiling long-haired people that never seemed to miss a beat - whether or not I looked like them, I always had to wonder. Seven years later, all of a sudden I'm diagnosed with Stage IV, and as we know, there is no Stage V. A year past diagnosis, I find myself fortunately NED, but I also know that once you get to Stage IV it's not a case of "I had breast cancer", it's a case of "I am living with breast cancer".

The Breast Cancer 3-Day is approaching and for some reason, this event just feels different for me than the others. Different in a good way. Maybe because I don't have to wear my survivor stripes until closing ceremonies - aside from last year when there was no hiding baldness. I suppose I'm getting older when I don't hear "How old ARE you??" or the sympathetic clucking from the old ladies, or the questioning stares when I pick up my pink tee shirt. Then again, it hasn't completely stopped. Yes, I'm young, but those out there are so much younger nowadays.

It's hard to digest. It's unbelievable at times. I've been sporadically frequenting a pretty incredible website Young Survival Coalition and I have seen some incredible stories of perseverance, survival, support, and encouragement. I don't know if it's an unusual trend, but lately, people die. At an alarming rate. And they are dying younger and younger. They leave behind husbands and children, siblings and parents, friends who have held their hands until their last breath. Too many of them die, and it's always too damn soon. Always. At times, it's excruciating to read over there - another memorial, another funeral, another life cut short by the spread of breast cancer. Many times I have to step away for a while, lest I forget that the website is not only a microcosm of the population of breast cancer survivors, but a microcosm of YOUNG breast cancer survivors as well. These people's lives are huge, but they are a pebble on the side of the mountain when the view is 30,000 feet. It's hard to remember that fact when nearly a dozen have passed on since the beginning of the year.

Me, I have constantly struggled with the concept of "survivor" from day one. What made me different than anyone else? The thing is I suppose that by virtue of the simple fact that I am able to wake up each morning, I am a survivor. To me, survival simply means "life" for however long I have it. I also know that I fought my little heart out and am incredibly fortunate to currently be "Stage IV, disease free". I've actually been told that people have read about it in books, and they are reassured to know that it actually exists. Does that mean that those who fought and lost their battles had any less valiant fights? Of course not. I also know that my situation could change in the blink of an eye - but hell if I'm going to wait around for that to happen.

I'm at an interesting crossroads, and in many ways, it's time to step back from the cancer being such a huge element in my life. It's time to focus on the things that I have the chance to treasure right now. The fact that it is finally getting cooler and the true beautiful weather is just around the corner - which means long hikes, holidays approaching, the Grand Canyon at Christmas with the privilege of both energy AND hair. It's time focus on things at home, and freelance work, and getting my body even stronger. I sent off my wig the other day to someone from YSC who will need it in the near future. I simply can't hang onto it assuming that I'll need it again one day.

I think it may always be a challenge for me to stand up and say, "HEY, look at me. I'm a survivor" but over the past year, and encouraged by many around me - not the least of which is the person I share my life with - I have sucked it up and stood up and have allowed myself to share my journey and be a face, at times, of someone living with this on a daily basis. Most of the time, there IS no face to the Stage IV patient and no distinction from the "smiling survivor" in the ads. The irony is, it's that time of year, and this is the time when it's most important to make an impact.

I've been told that what I do just might remind someone to do a self-exam, or to motivate someone else to walk next year—and add invaluable funds to help find a cure. What I do just might help someone currently fighting the battle to dig a little deeper, and wage the war with new-found courage. What I need to do is put a face to Stage IV and say to everyone who has just been diagnosed, whether DCIS or Stage IV but still scared - to those who have been left behind and had to say goodbye to the love of their life, to their mother, to their child, to their sibling - it can be done and not everyone dies from this. Perhaps my presence will remind someone that their efforts are not in vain.

Hope. I'm simply not convinced that there won't be a cure one day. And we need one so god damned badly. Unfortunately, I know that one day is not today, and chanting "I am the cure" just seems ludicrous. I am not the cure. Research is the cure. Development is the cure. But yes, I do have a dream of a world where there is a cure.

Is that overly optimistic? Maybe. Personally, I can't stop and lose hope or belief in the fact that I am going to live as long as possible, because even if it's a pie-in-the-sky hope, it's mine. And yes, I am Stage IV. And living. I don't join in the chants, I don't attend the rallies, I don't drink all the Kool-Aid, but hell yes, I am a reluctant champion. Even more so, now - and for so many more reasons.

After all the fanfare dies down

(although I'm not sure that fanfare is the correct descriptor...)
We look around, take a deep breath and exhale. Nod with satisfaction and take the first next steps into the future.

The future filled with just a little less trepidation, for a little while.

A little more hair product (OK, a LOT more), for a longer while.

And a little more hope, every now and then amplified by love and realization, for the longest while possible.

I don't know how or if this is so different from before, but somehow, maybe just a little, it is.

Reason #753 why I love my husband. Really.

Honey, I read what you wrote this morning and I really liked it.... now go fix your typos.

You know how sometimes one knows that they are EXACTLY where they are supposed to be???


finally comes to a screeching halt...

I'd been so good, at least on the outside. I told myself time and time again that I wouldn't succumb to the "what-ifs" this time around. I knew, since last Thursday, that someone out there knew the answers to my questions. Someone knew whether my life would be turned upside down again or whether my stay of execution would be extended. Someone knew whether the tears would be of happiness or of disappointment. That someone was not me.

So I waited. I waited through a weekend and through two days of work. I waited until I got in bed Tuesday night and Greg pulled me close and said, "It's all OK. I promise". How can one promise something like that? But he did. I wouldn't be the first time he knew something to be true before I did...I waited through our walk yesterday morning - for six miles I waited and didn't even mention it more than once. Or maybe twice. But who's counting at this point...

I waited on the way to the appointment, when my heart started to race and I held tightly to his comforting hand. I signed in, and asked the front desk person if I could see the scan - after all that waiting - and she said the doc hadn't signed off yet, so she couldn't let me see, or give me a copy, but that they would later. So, I waited. I waited on the way back, in the exam room, as the nurse Nancy took my blood pressure and heart rate which not surprisingly was a bit higher than normal. When I mentioned this, she said with a laugh, "of course its high - you're HERE." I responded that it probably also had something to do with the fact that I knew that scan results were clipped to that chart. She peeked, and said, "You can exhale now - it's a good one." The tears started to come, and Greg said, "See, I TOLD you. I promised it would be OK!" but still, I needed to wait and hear it from the doc himself.

He came bursting into the room after what seemed like half an hour (which was really probably closer to 10 minutes) and yes, he did burst into the room, waving the scan report. "GREAT, GREAT NEWS!!!" I actually, for the first time in eight years, got up and hugged him. He went over and emphatically shook Greg's hand, all the while saying that it was amazing. That I wouldn't see a better scan report anywhere in the world. That there was nothing. No evidence of cancer cells. No metabolic activity. Nothing.

He sat down on the examining table and talked with us for a while. He told us, repeatedly, how truly amazing this was, and that he wasn't blowing smoke or over-hyping his reaction. That it was really special, very unique, and that he rarely sees responses like this - ones he calls his "miracle patients". I can live with that moniker...

He told us how oncologists have to look at prognosis, and that there's a huge bell curve with the majority in the middle, but that every bell curve has a best case and worst case scenario, and I am by far on the best-case side. He said that it's patients like me who fall into this tiniest of segments. Ones with a strong will, a strong body, and a strong mind. Ones who take care of themselves, and keep active, and have a great support system. That if I was apathetic and overweight and didn't keep myself active, I would not have been where I was. Most importantly, that I had many years ahead of me. He said that all the additional factors that I have incorporated into my life and the fact that I am doing as well as I am is a success for him, because as an oncologist, this result embodies everything he believes in and works towards when treating a patient. In an occupation where one must see so many people declining at times, I can't help but think it must be somewhat uplifting and validating to have a miracle patient or two in the mix. Thank you, Dr. Cavalcant - I hope to continue being your miracle for many years to come...

So, we breathe deeply, we hike, we live, we love, and we look forward to those many more years ahead. I don't like to think of the fact that I flirted that closely with not being there at all, but suppose it's irrelevant since the fact of the matter is, I'm here, and I'll have plenty of hair in the Canyon this Christmas. Maybe we'll even hike to the river...

Tonight, tomorrow, each day - we celebrate life, not forgetting what we have overcome to get here. I know that living with Stage IV always charts an uncertain course, but right now I celebrate, I exhale, and I toast to life. I shyly hold up this victory as a beacon, in the hopes that someone somewhere will have hope, too. I am grateful for the efficacy of Herceptin and that we'll continue to happily do the campfire waltz with NED and not think about the day when he could choose to punch someone else's dance card. Most importantly of all I hug Greg tighter than ever because I know that so much of this success has to do with love and faith...

and I keep going - because it's what I do.

There are

two more days until my next PET scan. I've been so good, so far. Or so I think...

Then again, what I think might not always coincide with the impressions of the people that deal with me on a daily basis...

Two more sleeps until I wake up and head off to the machine first thing in the morning. I've been making sure to savor that one perfect moment in the morning when people start to stir in the bed and the tail starts to quietly thump against the floor and nothing in the world can touch us.

One more week (and a day) until I find out what the scan says and what lies in store and how much hair I'll have for Christmas. If I don't call ahead to find out what I know they will already know...

It's times like those that I keep replaying the voice in my head and the look in the eyes that told me, "You don't think I make reservations for next year to come back here alone, do you?" Of course not.

When I close my eyes and head up the trail or start to drift off to sleep at night and I think about what the scan will show, something in my heart tells me that this isn't the time for anything to return. Every now and then the fear of the unknown creeps silently in, often sneaking up on me when I am distracted, but I can't help but think that all will be clear once again. This next clear scan will get me through to the end of the year...

This year I get to walk 60 miles with hair on my head. This year I get to wrestle with curls and greys and ridiculousness rather than sweeping the hairs out of the sink that kept jumping ship. This year I have the choice whether or not to be anonymous if I want to. This year I might not want to.

This year I get to taste Thanksgiving dinner. This year I will be even more thankful than the one before for taste buds and health and family and friends and wine and music and dogs and love and faith. This year I will hope that nobody asks me what I'm thankful for, because I know I'm likely to cry.

This year I get to bundle up and hike into the canyon and fully enjoy that well-deserved beer after a day on the snowy trail. This year I get to savor the Paul Hobbs on Christmas Eve and have another moment to add to my cache of escapes to replay over and over in my mind.

This year I get to put another year behind me and continue facing future with whatever it will hold with the continuing knowledge that the castles in the air have the foundations under them that will allow us to take on even the unknown.

And thrive.

This year I will still always look forward to coming home at the end of the day. No matter what.

Bring on the noise, and keep it coming - God's got to be listening up there, somewhere. I've done my part, the best I know how, but I know my work is far from done...

Sometimes, something just gets you...

and even though you already know, you are reminded - once again - why you fought so damn hard to get here. Even though my style is typically along the lines Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots...I liked these words today.

Don’t give up
It’s just the weight of the world
When your heart’s heavy, I
I will lift it for you

Don’t give up
Because you want to be heard
If silence keeps you, I
I will break it for you

Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up
Because you are loved

Don’t give up
It’s just the hurt
That you hide
When you’re lost inside, I
I’ll be there to find you

Don’t give up
Because you want to burn bright
If darkness blinds you I
I will shine to guide you

Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up
Because you are loved

You are loved

Don’t give up
It's just the weight of the world

Don't give up
Everyone needs to be heard

You are loved

Wide eyed

Many of these entries are written in my mind along the trails. Many entries written in my mind never make it past the trails and into words.

This morning I realized that it was one year ago that we left for our Mt. Whitney trip. I left work the day before and told my boss,

"I'm off to conquer the world - one step at a time..."

And, conquer the world, I did. One step at a time.

As we all know, I could write volumes about the Whitney experience. One day I'll start to formulate the thoughts into words. Meanwhile, I smiled, as we came off the trail and prepared to cross the street over to the greenbelt this morning, because I thought of a photograph that Greg took on the top. I thought it was silly at first, but the more I looked at it, the more I smiled because even though it's not the best photo it managed to capture a split second of wide-eyed innocence and invincibility on film. Two days after my second round of chemo. Nearly 15,000 miles on top of the world.

Eight months, many infusions, and one surgery later that same expression was captured on film again. He somehow manages to see it each time.

Then again, I think he sees it far more often than it happens to be captured on film.

Yet, there she is. In the Canyon.

Still conquering the world, one step at at time...

Still full of hope. Still the wide-eyed eternal optimist, even when she gets skeptical, angry, or frustrated.

Still grateful for the love of my life, in my life.

Still determined to always keep buying green bananas - no matter how many times the blender needs to be replaced.

todavía estoy aquí (I am still here)

like a marred and tattered canvas - i stand
as if an unfortunate embodiment of an artist's satire
formerly known as youth and beauty

a road map of scars marks the long and winding roads of a journey
each one telling unspoken tales
and serving as a reminder of an uncertain future

the left breast - perfectly sized and eternally perky
nearly flawless but for the absent nipple
and the faded scar sweeping diagonally upwards

accompanied by tiny, nearly indiscernible circles
along the left side of the body where drains once existed
each mark whispering softly of a girl in her twenties

who had made mistakes - lost her way
and endeavored desperately to find meaning and hope
in what turned out to be the wrong places

the taut yet never impeccably flat abdomen seems a figment of the imagination
replaced by the still fresh marks left after removing traces of the demon
and the assurance of children never to be conceived

perpetual souvenirs of the ironically life-saving masses
that screamed for attention and started the whirlwind
that tested the body and soul once again

murmurs of a girl in the twilight of her thirties
who had taken the road less traveled still learning to heal scars deeper
than those able to be captured by a photograph or a paintbrush

untimely evolution of metabolism and elasticity
potentially unseen by observers
all too apparent to the soul that resides in the metamorphosis of the body

the alternate voice of these wordless tales spoken by the corporeal road map
tells of skin tougher than an ancient elephant's hide and
brass bound resolve to emerge the victor of each battle

only the closest observation exposes the eternal flame of hope
burning in the eyes that have seen more than they have ever wanted
sharing the quietly thunderous roar of faith and life and love with the willing beholder

Escapes of the mind

I'm reading this book, The Ice Man - Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. It's like a train wreck. They warned me it would be - all who read it before me. Warned me that I wouldn't like it - that my heart is too "good". It's morbidly fascinating so far - but some of the things I read simply make me want to cry. They find that pit in my stomach of dread and uneasiness and amazement that such a diabolical person actually existed.

I have to put the book down for a time. I've reached the end of Part I anyhow and as I lay back on the bed and close my eyes, I know that I'd rather be driving home from work and getting ready to walk in the door and looking forward to our Monday Salad than here in Tucson, biding my time until I have to flip the switch back on and be who they want me to be for the rest of the night. Thankfully, this time, at least it's not the first time that many of these people have seen me so the need to catch everyone up on the past year of my life is somewhat alleviated. Somewhat.

I close my eyes and hear the sounds of the Astros-Cubs game. The sounds of baseball are comforting me, and I let my mind drift away to the places that keep me going.

I can hear the sound of the ground squirrels running up and down the deck while sitting on the porch of the Western Cabin at the North Rim. I can feel the wind whispering over us as we sit on the deck and look out at the vastness in front of us, seeing the bolts of lighting at the South Rim across the chasm, sipping wine in the cool summer air.

I can feel the stinging spray of the water at Havasupai Falls. The welcome respite after the ten-mile hike. I struggle to catch my breath as I swim into the current and am overtaken with emotion at the fact that I have managed to swim to the waterfall and am clinging to the slippery rocks behind its crashing strength in front of us. We had no idea what was growing inside.

I can hear the crackling of the twigs beneath my feet as the canopy of trees towers overhead on the Groom Trail. Watching the dogs happily running along ahead of us. Stopping to take a deep breath. To take a picture. Because we knew we'd need to visit that place in our minds in the weeks to come.

I can smell the wet branches that started the campfire and close my eyes and turn my head to avoid the embers as I fan the flames and will the fire to come alive once again. I sit back and see the clear sky above me and watch the sun slowly rise from the east where a planetarium of stars shined the night before.

I am on top of Mt. Whitney after scrambling over the last stretch of moon-like rocks. Feeling my heart skip a beat and the lump forming in my throat as the tears fill my eyes and I know that I am untouchable. At least for that frozen point in time.

My eyes are closed and I bask in that perfect moment, nestled in bed, wrapped in his arms. I can feel his breath on the back of my neck and the warmth of his arm encircling my body. Unmarred by the sounds and chaos and confusion and constraints of the computers and the phones and uncertainty in the world around us. Peacefulness, simplicity, hope, destiny, love, faith, honesty, friendship, and trust. Health, knowing, living, thriving, and being. Slowly stirring and smiling and knowing that there is no other place that I am supposed to be at exactly that moment in time. And that the moment in time will replay itself again... and again... and again in the days and weeks and months and years to come - so long as we believe.

I hear the announcers in the distance. Five shutout innings for Moulder.

I smile and know that I can open my eyes and get ready for the evening that will soon enough turn into morning and find me traveling back to where I belong. Back to where my heart lives. And our kitchen - that sometimes we dance in. And baseball and love.

Ever thankful for the escapes that my minds saves for the times I need them most and knowing that the days ahead hold more sights, sounds, smells, touches and emotions to create and store away in the most valuable of caches in my heart.

My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet. - Gandhi

Living Art

We are living art, created to hang on, stand up, forbear, continue, and encourage others.
- Maya Angelou

So many times when I look in the mirror and see the changes my body, hair, and face have undergone I struggle to reconcile the marred and tattered canvas with the fact that each of the contours on this road map are battle scars of victory.

Eventually, slowly, I will learn to embrace the new colors and textures and lines as necessary parts of the ever-changing whole and the silent stories they tell about a long and winding journey.

Another year older

and 85 posts later, the story continues.

Thirty seven years behind me... who knows how many more ahead of me.

I have this magnetic poetry calendar on my wall here at work and before I left on Friday, I put the following words together:

I dream to live and grow through another birthday.

And, so I have. It was a nice weekend. A weekend of music and wine and sushi and indulgence. A weekend of friends and laughing and phone calls bearing birthday wishes. A weekend of one more year - of feeling a bit older but, as every year, surprised at the number of my age. I had always been sort of ambivalent about birthdays - or should I say, I never really wanted to hope for too much because when I was younger, since it was during the summer and school was out - more often than not, either I was away or people simply forgot. I think after time I learned not to hope for much so that I was always pleasantly surprised. As I got older - particularly for the past four birthdays, I began to like them more. The realization that it was perfectly OK to be the center of attention for a day began to make sense to me. The fact that someone was carefully selecting gifts that he knew I'd like or knew I wanted was pretty special to me. Now, I roll with it - wherever my birthday-type celebrations take me. Next year we'll be at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon again.

I tend to reminisce at times. I know that it doesn't really matter where I've been and that where I'm going is what makes all the difference - but sometimes I can't help but to look back and observe the path that got me here. I suppose that birthdays and anniversaries of diagnoses or events of that nature tend to bring that out in me. It's not that I get nostalgic, I think sometimes I like to realize how far I've come. And sometimes that realization makes me very emotional. I haven't decided whether or not that's OK, so I choose to believe that as long as I continue living and thriving and not looking back, it's acceptable.

This year for my birthday, my gift to myself (and to those around me, indirectly) was to not mention cancer or treatment the entire day. It got hard at one point when Esther asked me how I'd been feeling and such, but I quickly turned the conversation to other topics. I know she meant well - I hadn't seen her in a few weeks - and I had to make the quick decision whether to be perceived rude and say, "you know, I just don't want to talk about this today" or simply respond. I chose the latter - because it was just easier. But that was it. I think.

There are times that it crept into my mind. The fact that last year at this time we were ready to embark on the roller coaster ride of chemo and treatments and aftermath. Then again, we were also looking ahead at Mt. Whitney. I can't believe it's nearly been a year - but still, conquering Whitney keeps me going sometimes. The feeling of utter accomplishment - of faith in myself, in the world, in the people around me. Faith in my strength, in my ability to overcome, and in my relationship. I found God, for certain, on that trail. I found hope and love and life and invincibility.

I hope that one day I can put into words what I experienced on that trail. The experience of rising before the sun and quietly making coffee in a dark campsite. Of heading up the trail as the sun began to slowly rise and watching the terrain change with every step we took. Of realizing that we were above the tree line and that I wasn't experiencing altitude sickness. Of that last excruciating mile to the summit and the wave of tears that accompanied our success. I was overcome again on the way down - I think it was on the way down the 99 switchbacks. I looked up and realized what I had just done, what I had overcome, what I had to look forward to, and the person beside me. I knew that no matter how uncertain I had been about various things in the past that right there, on our way down Mt. Whitney - I had no doubts in the world. Every now and then it helps to go back to Whitney in my mind.

Next, Kilimanjaro.

Meanwhile it's the start of another year. The first of many that I will be succeeding on this journey. I wondered, in the days leading up to this weekend, if I would always be somewhat nostalgic and weepy around the time of my birthday, because if that was the case, it would really suck. After some serious thought I realized that no, it wouldn't always be this way, but only this year. The first year. The first of many years to come. With that realization, I also knew I had to give myself a minute or so to reflect and to grieve - to acknowledge the road behind me and to digest that it was just that, at this point - before willing myself to nod knowingly and turn my back and continue to walk into the future with my head held high and my conviction strong.

Last year at this time we did a lot of crying and praying and laughing and living and holding on very, very tightly.

And dreaming and hoping to be exactly where we are. Right now.

What a difference a week makes...

I went for my follow up visit with Dr. Eye yesterday, and as I was walking through her offices, I had vague recollections of being there the week before. It wasn't after I was ushered out of the first exam room and into the second that I remembered being in two separate exam rooms last week. I do remember nearly walking out without my purse though...

The eyes seem to be healing up well, she says, and I've been cleared for any activities I was restricted from (whatever they may be). All in all, it was probably the least physically painful, yet most unnerving surgery I've experienced in the past year. Strange, isn't it? I still don't know if I just had a weird reaction to the anaesthesia, but I just didn't love the whole experience. Ah, well. It's over now.

I had a little flash this morning of feeling... I don't know... a bit off. I wouldn't call it feeling sorry for myself, because I really don't have time for that - just the "very small girl in a very big world" feeling, perhaps. It comes on suddenly, and it happens every few months. Thankfully, it typically dissipates quickly after the onset. I find myself lost in thought sometimes on the desert walks in the morning - composing thoughts or visions in my mind. By the time I usually get the time and the motivation to attempt to put thoughts into words, most of my vision has left the building.

I realize I think too much sometimes, and at this time of year, I typically have these bouts of wondering if there must be something more out there. Something I can love, yet make a living at while doing so. Not that I don't like the company I work for - they are incredible people, actually, and I realize how unusually fortunate I am to have found myself in a situation like this. Or should I say, to have made the choices that have resulted in this career path. Yet, the truth of the matter is, I'm not interested right now. That's not to say I won't still keep on keeping on, and doing what I have to do - but my general feeling right now about the line of work I'm in is a resounding "Meh." So it goes. I have a feeling it is directly related in certain ways to the Phoenix summers and the stifling heat that results in my mind searching for a way to head up north to cooler climes. It's oppressive at times, but as we observed this morning, the days are getting shorter - if only by minutes - and shorter days means that we are inching closer to the beautiful weather of the Arizona fall and winter. It kicks up this restless spirit in me though - the urge to go, see, do, plan... or at least dream. Dream of places to explore and experiences to have. Mountains to climb and life-list accomplishments to check off. Dreams that may never come to fruition. Then again... maybe they will.

When I opened up my email this morning, I noticed an interesting subject in the MedTrackAlert newsletter that shows up in my inbox periodically. Apparently, some researchers from Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston did a study showing that writing may ease cancer pain. Who knew? I've never been in much true "pain", per se, but this study found that "patients who were open about their emotions showed less pain and greater well-being over time than the rest of the study subjects." Guess I'd better stick around here a bit longer, or a least make more of an effort to continue writing.

I can't help but laugh about the fortuitous timing of this article - particularly when I happen to question myself this morning if the only way I could make an impact in the world was through something that had to do with cancer. Whether that is the case or not, and having the luxury of being in control of but a limited number of factors in relation to my general well-being, I think I had better continue avoiding meat and writing whenever possible. Easier said than done, at times.

Easier said than done when I'm feeling emotions that would be helpful to get out of my head and into words, but that usually encompass those emotions that I don't want others to know. The feelings of insecurity and of doubt. Of questioning and of not wanting to be a burden. Of looking at the world through foreign eyes, and realizing that cancer or no cancer - I can't change the world, and that I shouldn't want to because it's too heavy of a burden to bear, or a challenge to take on. About having faith in myself which will allow me to have faith in the world around me, in others, and in a spiritual entity.

But at the end of the day, if I close my eyes and empty myself of the silly things that I allow to filter in, I know that I must believe what I know in my heart to be true - on all fronts - and that I must continue to live and love and hope and dream as I have for the past year and live my dash for all it's worth.

We got into an interesting conversation about religion and God this past weekend with the most unlikely of people. Apparently, this is an underlying theme in my thoughts these days. During this conversation I, as always, stood by my belief that I simply can't comprehend the notion that there is but ONE single path to heaven, or whatever lies ahead of us after this earthly life has reached its end. One concept from that discussion stood out with regards to the fact that the underlying tenets involved are faith, hope, and love. Once we (individually) get to heaven, or whatever place comes next, we'll have no need faith or hope anymore - because those were practices and concepts that got us to the after-worldly place - and what remains, is love. With that, it is only if we learn how to love and be loved while on this earth that we will get to where we are going - after. It was an interesting concept to digest, and although there may or may not have been a different meaning behind the message, I feel that I chose to ponder this particular thought in my own context. I think it's something I've struggled to learn over time and at this point, have made some progress with. I also think it's something that will always be somewhat of a work in progress. Then again, maybe that's the point of it all - it's supposed to be.

It has been nearly a year since I laced up these gloves. They're still on tightly...

In lieu of eye drops...

For some reason, a handful of titles from my entries came crashing through my mind this morning. "In lieu of flowers, please send eye drops...", "All Things Considered", "So this experience has been fun and all..."

I suppose pieces of each of them apply today. I remember back in October when the tearing and twitching started, and how incredibly annoying it was. Little did I know it was only the beginning. The twitching finally stopped with the end of Taxotere, but the tearing, not so much. Hopefully this past Monday's procedure will have taken care of that. Yes, it's over. Just another thing behind me. It was a weird experience this time though, although I'm not quite certain why.

This past weekend's camping trip got unfortunately rained out, but that resourceful man of mine somehow found a dog-friendly place at the last minute in Bisbee where we spent a much-needed relaxing weekend in the mile-high city of southern Arizona - looking out over the Mule Mountains with at the sunrise, walking up and down and up and down most of the Bisbee 1000, breakfast outside with the pups where everyone seemed to have a pocket full of treats for them, spending the afternoon sitting on the covered patio watching the pouring rain while drinking wine, playing scrabble, and looking out over the city below us, enjoying a decadently delicious meal at Cafe Roka, and a few days of the lack of cell phones, computers, and television.

And then, Sunday night came, and with it, my last minute bout of the 'what-ifs'. The irreverent, nonsensical what ifs about everything from anesthesia to eyeballs, followed by the much needed reassurance that this surgery was the easy one. This was one that we didn't have to wait for results after. This one is the slam dunk. But still.

And then it was over, and before I knew it, they were pushing me out of the surgery center before I was even lucid enough to speak coherently. One eye patched, one eye swollen, and I was sent on my way. The good news was that the left eye went very smoothly. The right eye, not quite as much. The good news on that side though, is that she didn't need to use Jones tube, even though it was necessary to create a new tear duct. The whole things was a strange experience though. I can't quite put the words to it. I felt sort of 'out-of-body'. I was surprised that they had rushed me out of there so quickly... I never even got my ice chips...

The rest of Monday was a bit of a blur. I know I spent quite a bit of time in and out of sleep on the couch and I have a feeling I tried to do too much at one point or another. I felt very unbalanced, almost paranoid - perhaps I had a weird reaction to the anesthesia, but something just didn't feel right to me. I had strange dreams that night - I just wanted to cry - but there was no reason to. Tuesday brought the follow up visit with the surgeon, and a blood draw. I just felt an absolute mess. I looked in the mirror and I saw this hideous looking creature looking back at me and everything just felt so damn heavy. It was enough already. Simply enough. But the thing is, this was the easy one...

Wednesday I awoke to my right eye nearly swollen shut, followed by treatment day. By Thursday, thankfully, much of the swelling had subsided, and I think I had finally slept off or shaken off much of the rest of the funk I was mired in. Deep breath, battle on.

So, here I am - all things considered - sitting at my desk at work, eye makeup-less (the HORROR) and ready for the weekend. Already.

All things considered, not too much worse for the wear.

Tony Snow died. Tony Snow wasn't supposed to die. Greg told me about it this weekend, and it just hit me really hard for some reason. I didn't even follow him that closely, but I remember so clearly, back when I was first diagnosed, hearing his determination to beat it again.

“If cancer is merely a nuisance for a long period of time, that’s fine with me.”

And his statements about advancements in medicine - the fact that changes are happening every day, and if you get another two years it will buy you another ten. Tony Snow simply wasn't supposed to die. Then again, cancer isn't supposed to claim any one's life. We saw Stan and Darlene at chemo on Wednesday, and that's one of the first things he mentioned. Stan said that he had taken it pretty hard, surprisingly, and thought how fortunate he felt to still be here and fighting. Ironic, coming from a man who is going on his third five-years of battling off and on, but it made perfect sense. This morning I was talking to Tina, from my office, who is halfway through her treatments for breast cancer, and she mentioned Tony Snow, too. It seems a universal theme that his passing had a unique impact on cancer patients. Godspeed, Tony Snow.

With that, I'm also coming up on a year since the re-diagnosis. I've bought myself a year, and I'm just NOT freakin' ready to go anywhere yet. I can't believe it's been a year already. Waiting, at this time, to find out what the results of the liver biopsy would be. Hoping, hanging onto that slim scrap of unknown that maybe, just maybe...but we knew. We just didn't know what, or how much.

Maybe the devil we knew was better than the devil we didn't.
Now, the devil is at bay.

I look back on that time - I was so healthy, so invincible, so on top of the world, and so ready to put this speed bump behind us and commence with living the rest of our lives. Since then I've been through, seen, done, and experienced so much. Yet, I'm the same person. But in some ways, I'm looking at the world through slightly different eyes. Maybe we all do.

I've already been through one round of my worst fears coming to realization, and I know that there's no guarantees that it won't happen again. It's been four months since NED came to be a part of our lives, and I'm not ready, nor will we ever be - to let him go. It's also time for another scan in another month. Again, as I breathe, I need to remember that not every ache and pain means bone mets and each time I am tired does not mean that it's back. It's not my time for that yet. Not that it will ever be - but not now. Especially not now.

Back to Tony Snow - he said, “Anybody who does not believe that thoughts and prayers make a difference, they’re just wrong.” I'm proof positive of that. I remember, just over a year ago, when I learned that for the first time.

I've often been reminded of the adage, "We plan, God laughs." One never really does know where our paths will take us or what lies on the other side. I've had my struggles with organized religion and I think I always will, but I have come to believe that prayer, in whatever shape or form it takes, works. I think that was part of my challenge the other day - I felt some sort of disconnect with everything, including God. I had been finding him on the trails, in the drops of rain, in the smell of the wet desert and suddenly, I couldn't seem to grasp the connection with something higher. I struggled with this, with the fact that I wasn't sure I knew how to pray, and that I felt it was important that someone, something hear me. It's out there - whatever it is, it's out there. I hope that he, it, whatever hears when I say prayers of thanks, too.

I still like to picture the scene that Greg described from It's a Wonderful Life about God being bombarded with prayers. It worked once - bring on the noise again, and keep it coming...

It's HOT.

It's been a long time between blog-worthy thoughts and entries. It's been a long time between miscellaneous rambling musings or revelations. At least I have been enjoying this "nice lady" status. The unfortunate part is, if not for cancer, I apparently don't have much to say. But that's not true now, is it...

Last time I thought to write, I was SO ready for the long weekend. Ironic, since we just got back from 'vacation' early last week, but I think we needed a couple of days to recoup as the beginning part of it was planes, trains, and automobiles of sorts. All in all, it was very good though - even though I had a bit of day-after-Christmas feeling after I got back here after seeing a couple of my best friends for the first time in entirely too long. I just missed them - even more so after seeing them. We had a good time though - full of baseball and subways and food and walking and being tourists and checking out rooftop bars and seeing family. It was nice. Chaotic, but nice. And, nice to be back home in Phoenix in our house with those silly dogs, actually.

Except, it's hot. I know it's coming every year, but still, it's hot.

It was a great 4th of July weekend. A really, really nice weekend full of friends and relaxing and sushi and drinks and gelato and alone time and appreciating and living and... yeah. It was pretty great. Dare I say that I sometimes even 'forget' what I'm dealing with on a daily basis? I suppose I'm not dealing with it on a daily basis any longer though - at least not right now. For as long as it lasts.

I got into a conversation a couple of weeks ago in reaction to a question posed: "Does anyone really ever wake up completely happy?"

Every day? No way.

EVER? Yes.

Yeah, I can say with conviction that there are times when I have woken up completely happy. The argument might be made that as long as Stage IV cancer is on my rap sheet it might seem impossible. The thing is, I'm not sure whether I've been able to experience those moments of complete happiness in spite of the cancer, or because of it. Perhaps since I look at the world through these eyes, I am able to let things go more easily, or appreciate things more, or allow myself the opportunity to be completely happy, as it is. It's the strangest times that I get these feelings, too - most often in the quiet moments right after waking up - the mornings without the alarm, of course. It's always early, the sun is usually just starting to rise, and I find myself wrapped up in the arms of the person I am supposed to be with and it's a very overwhelming feeling. I know that one person's happiness is not contingent upon the other at their side, but it's such an enormous thing to come from a place wondering if there could possibly be anyone out there that one is simply 'supposed to meet' and having the courage and the faith not to let that opportunity pass me by when I had it. I get reflective at times, about the mistakes I've made and things I would have done differently. Every now and then I get disappointed in myself for wasting so much time now that I have found myself faced with the potential of mortality. Sliding doors is all it is, and anyone can Monday-morning quarterback - it's simply a waste of time. I tend to fall back on the belief that there is very little coincedence and that I have to be thankful about that leap of faith because as a whole the result is even greater than I had imagined it would be.

Next step? Eye surgery - thanks to chemo resulting in the lovely side effect of blocked tear ducts. The fun never seems to stop. I have kept my pre-surgery anxiety in check. The EKG is done, the clearance is signed, the bloodwork is done, and the prescriptions have been delivered to Walgreens. A few reminders of faith and reassurance, coupled with a weekend of camping on the Mogollon Rim and perhaps one of those completely happy mornings should get me through until next Monday breathing easily. By this time next week, hopefully my eyes won't be dripping any longer.

Another damn surgery. (Deep breath)

Today? I'm thankful for small favors like not having to spend this coming Sunday night on the crapper with the pre-surgery cleanse.

And that I look forward to coming home at the end of each day.

And for dogs with soft ears.
And baseball season.

And for him ----> most of all.

12 years ago...

Well, I've apparently been spending too much time as a "nice lady" (although there might be some speculation there) and less time as a patient-type-person and consequently, haven't had much to say. I think, in this case, not much is a good thing. Very good. Next, on to the eye surgery...

Before that, we're headed back east tomorrow for a few days. It's the first time in four years that I'll be seeing some of my best friends that I've known for 25+ years. I was thinking, as we were walking this morning, when the last time I was back there at all, and realized that it was over five years ago. Man, how things were different. I stumbled upon some journal entries I had written back in 2003 and 2004 and I was amazed, yet not at all, at how some of them reflected how miserable I was at times. They spoke of my feeling as if I was starting to come out of the fog and break out of the shell I had bound myself in. They spoke of feeling invisible and hating the invisible-ness while wanting to disappear even more at times. They spoke of inadequacy and lack of self-worth yet an underlying knowledge that there simply HAD to be more out there. The only things I spoke of that made me happy were running, and reading, and having time alone with the pups. It was a time of change - of changing jobs, of finding myself, of re-discovering my soul and of coming out of the gray, dead zone I was mired in, and sinking. It's ironic though, that I haven't seen these friends since this process began, in earnest. I know they have shared with me over the phone the transformations they have seen take place in my personality and my outlook on life, but nobody has seen me in person. I don't look that much difference on the outside, save for the ridiculous hairdo and the smattering of eyelashes, but I have a feeling the physical changes are more apparent in my aura and demeanor in general. We'll see.

Tomorrow at this time we'll be on the plane, and getting ready for a couple of whirlwind days of friends and family and catching up and adjusting followed by a couple of days in the City to relax and enjoy and explore. And see the Red Legs beat the Yankees in the final season at Yankee Stadium. I wasn't entirely looking forward to this trip for a while, but the closer it gets, the more I find myself looking forward to it for many reasons. I think, anymore, I look forward to all the trips that we have taken or are going to take that I feel the way I do now - healthy and alive and strong and on a good day, even kind of cute. What a stark contrast to last Christmas in the Canyon, or flu-ish in San Francisco. I have to make sure not to get in that over-excited "I have to do everything RIGHTNOW' mode though. Although, I did get discouraged for a fleeting moment the other day trying to be realistic and realizing that many of the trips I want to take and the places I want to see may never be reality. Unless we make them so. That's neither here nor there, though.

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. An absolutely amazing golf tournament in which we raised over $11,000 for our team's 3-Day fundraising. We worked our asses off and inspired and impressed and amazed. We, together, manage to show the world that cancer isn't all gloom and doom, but instead a world filled with hope, friends, and love.

How about that.

Going back to the thoughts I had earlier about my journey to get to where I am now, every now and then I find myself struck by the thought that I know I am so fortunate to have had the sense to have chosen the path I did, after a while. This past weekend marked 12 years that I've been here in Phoenix. TWELVE years. I think that's longer than I've ever lived anywhere in my life. Amidst all the things that I have no recollection of between then and now, I remember so clearly arriving in Phoenix. Which was actually arriving in Vegas for the Midnight Sevens tournament, then driving to Phoenix the following day. It was hot. So bloody hot. I remember walking around a couple of days later, not knowing what the hell I was doing in this place that looked as if it was made of kitty litter and hating it, yet not ready to go back from whence I came. I stayed. I learned. I made a lot of bad decisions. I made some good ones. I found a career, strange as it may be. And I finally allowed my path to take me to the place where I know I am supposed to be.

Hi. We always knew I'd get here eventually, didn't we.