Staffords for the Cure...

Each year when we start fundraising for the 3-Day, I continue to be amazed at the kindness of strangers. No, the fundraising hasn't started yet (although that time will come soon enough) and this time, this isn't about me. Sort of.

One of my closest friends, Jill, and her daughter Lily did the Sacramento Race for the Cure in 2006. Lily was just 6 then, and she wanted to win. Jill explained to Lily that it wasn't really THAT kind of a race, but Lily was determined to do it anyhow. And they did.

That was before I started my second tour of duty.

This year, Jill's has said that the walk has become a lot more personal for her because of my experience this time around. She's recruited the whole family to walk this year with her, as well as some members of the art group she's been working with.

That being said, this is my shameless plug to help them reach their donation goal.

Vox Sacramento Race for the Cure Team!

Know what, Lily? I'm going to win, too.
We've all heard the adage, right? It's sort of silly, when you think about it though. Is the thinking that if you're healthy, you can probably face anything? And truly, what on earth does this mean?

I find that now that I've put the restraining order on all things cancer and chemo, I seem to have less to write about. While it may seem like this renewed health has sapped my creativity, I think my lack of interesting things to say is really more of a lack of things to bitch about. Not that I bitched much anyhow... I suppose it depends on who you ask and on which day.

Today I decided to see if I was ready for mascara. After pushing my face as close as possible to the mirror and giving my eyelids a couple of half-hearted swipes with the wand, resulting in a couple of clumps of black below my eyes and about half a dozen eyelashes that miraculously appeared, I resigned myself to the fact that it just wasn't time yet. Out came the q-tip to rescue my few and humble eyelashes from unnecessary goop. Perhaps next week.

I did, however, thankfully decide that it was time to shave my armpits. Spot on, with that decision.

I have a couple of very close friends who are going through some challenging times right now. One was recently betrayed by someone she decided to trust and let into her life. Another is struggling with trying desperately to find the balance of her own happiness in juxtaposition with that of her family's while struggling with the chance that these two could be polar opposites. Yet another, after the trials and tribulation of in-vitro and a difficult pregnancy carrying triplets, recently gave birth, extremely prematurely. She lost one of her babies, and the other two tiny lives continue to fight. How does one say "congratulations" and "I'm so sorry" at the same time? It's so difficult to know that people you love are hurting, and in the big picture, there's not a damn thing you can do other than let them know you care. Sometimes it just doesn't seem like enough.

The irony of it all is that I made the comment, "Me? I've got it easy with this cancer stuff." It certainly feels that way sometimes.

It was a beautiful morning - warm enough to hike comfortably yet cool enough to enjoy the bite of the morning air. It was the first morning that sunrise finally came before 7:00 am (OK, so it was 6:59 exactly) and the first weekday morning as long as I can remember that we ventured up Telegraph Pass. It was a strangely quiet morning on the trail and we didn't see another soul on the entire hike down. The morning gave me yet another chance to take a minute to reflect on how fortunate I truly am these days. Sure, I have another PET coming up in March. And the truth is, I'm scared to death. I don't want this respite to end, and I know I'll take it hard if it has to. Then again, that's all the air time I'm going to give it until the scan is scheduled and I'm waiting for results. At least, that's my plan.

In the meanwhile? I'm going to enjoy the weather as much as I can as it's currently the type of weather people move out here for. I'm going to look forward to seeing the wildflowers for the first time on our Superstition Mountains hike this weekend.

I'm going to continue to be thankful in ways I can't express for finding the right love at the right time. That in and of itself is no small feat.
And right now? At least I have my health...

Chemo Angels

A week or so ago, Aly asked a question on behalf of her friend whos sister was starting chemo in the near future. Her friend wanted to send her sister a care package and was looking for suggestions on what the best things might be to make things better.

It was an interesting question, because the nature of chemo combined with each person's reaction and random, erratic aversions or cravings are so unpredictable. However, it gave me a chance to think about all the things I had received during the past six months that made me smile and once again, be thankful for how fortunate I am to have so many people that love me and were thinking of me so often. The "believe" necklace I wore to chemo each Wednesday until the clasp on the chain broke... the eye mask with gel inside that you put in the refrigerator that I used all the time and even took with me on vacation... the Life is Good frame that now sits on my nightstand... the tiny silver boxing gloves that hang around my neck with the believe charm on a thin silver chain... the keychain-sized pink Everlast boxing glove that hangs on my bulletin board at work, a constant reminder to stay laced. That just scratches the surface of small things I have received that have made a difference, and I know there are times that I can't have possibly expressed my gratitude to the people who gave them to me and how much each thing means to me.

And then, there were my Chemo Angels. My angels that made sure there was something waiting for me each Wednesday for 20 weeks straight, even when they were out of town. It was nothing short of amazing to me. I wouldn't know how on earth to begin to say thank you for arrangements of flowers, for homemade ice cream, for chocolates, for running socks and the perfect grey t-shirt with a pink ribbon, for wine and wine glasses to celebrate with, for a frame that says Believe yet remains empty waiting for the perfect photo to fill it, for a basket of Bath and Body Works freshwater cucumber lotions, for coffee and coffee mugs that say 'Yes, Dear', for an edible fruit arrangement, for a bracelet with a charm that reads 'Believe', for salsa and blue chips, for Life is Good lounge pants and the most comfortable long sleeved shirt, for a gift certificate for a pedicure that I have yet to use, for a gift certificate to a restaurant that was much enjoyed, for winter penguin kitchen towels and a penguin potholder, for homemade Christmas cookies that I ate too many of - even when everything tasted like sawdust, for a beautiful diamond teardrop pendant necklace that was so over and above necessary for my last chemo treatment before surgery, and for the Wednesday treats I probably forgot to mention. I simply can't seem to find the words to say thank you to my chemo angels for their endless generosity and love, for walking 60 miles alongside us, for the love of one brother for another, and for their tireless effort to remind us that we were never, ever alone.

Battle on, friend.

It's kind of a grey day today and although I have piles and piles of work to do, I've decided I can take a minute or two for me this morning. I was thinking in the shower this morning about how I had so many things I wanted to say, so many thoughts I wanted to capture, and by the time I sit down to write them, too many of them have escaped. I suppose that's the nature of life though.

Wednesday I had my tri-weekly Herceptin infusion. We were sitting in the waiting room and I thought of Stan. I mentioned to Greg that we hadn't seen Stan and his wife Darlene since before the holidays, probably early December. I know I've mentioned Stan before but he's a very difficult person to describe. Stan has been battling his cancer off and on for about nine years now. We met him early on in the weekly treatments - probably in late August or early September. He went out of his way to introduce himself to us - to everyone that made eye contact more or less - and was never short of questions, quips, or jokes. He knew each one of the nurses by name, and something about them not pertaining to the chemo suite. He remembered something about us, about everyone he spoke with, and always something that he could poke fun at. And Stan got away with it. I remember him telling one woman she must have been around in prehistoric times, and asking another one to bring a ham once he found out she worked for Honey Baked. By the time her infusion was over, he had various people in the chemo suite committed to bringing the side dishes, too. The day I ended up shaving my head, Stan was asking various people if they had wigs on, then started telling everyone we were all going to make a trip to Suzy's Wigs that day. Stan came out when we started walking the 3 Day, as the route passed very near his house, and held a sign that said "Hi Jen!" We had no idea he was out there until he told us a couple weeks later that he stood out by the lake and looked for us. We never saw him, but he was there.
Stan somehow managed to pull off asking people questions that most would gasp at. Perhaps it was the environment coupled with his personality. Perhaps he just knew who he could joke with and who he couldn't, but when Stan was in the infusion suite, there was always laughter. Much needed laughter, which was sometimes a stark contrast to some of the people in there that seemed like they were just waiting to die. Not Stan. Ever. Someone once had the nerve to complain that there was too much noise, too much laughter. I wish I had heard who said it - I would have given them a piece of my mind.

For a little while in November, Stan was quieter. He told us it was because of that complaint but we later found out that he had gotten news that wasn't too good and that the chemo he had been on wasn't working. A couple weeks later, Stan was back to his old jovial self. Dr. C had switched his treatment and the new regimen seemed to be keeping the demon at bay. This past Wednesday, shortly after we were talking about them, Stan and Darlene walked in. We gave them hugs and they immediately asked how my January surgery had gone. They admired my new growth of hair and showed genuine happiness when we told them that I had been given a bit of reprieve. They asked if we were doing the Climb to Conquer Cancer this weekend as they had seen an article in the paper and thought of us (which we are) and told us of their first grandchild's impending arrival. My name was called, and we said we'd see them on the other side.

They came back to the infusion suite a little while later, but were sitting on the opposite side of the room. Greg had stepped out to take a call and Darlene had come over to where I was sitting, in search of a padded chair, and stopped for a minute to talk to me, and to Helen and Larry who were to my right. I asked how things were going and she shook her head. "Not so good. Dr. C started another chemo and it's been really hard on Stan. It's one that he took a while back, but they thought he might benefit from it again. The PET scan showed that things hadn't stopped spreading. Fifteen months straight we've been here this time. That's the longest stretch yet. If this one doesn't work, that's it... there's nothing else we haven't tried. " My heart was in my throat and I was at a complete loss for words other than, "this really just sucks, doesn't it..." I knew if I said more, I'd tear up, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. By the time Greg came back, he knew there was something wrong. I couldn't say much other than that Stan wasn't doing too well and I'd tell him later. I refused to cry.

All I kept thinking is that I am so incredibly fortunate that even though I have to deal with this, I am only at the beginning of the laundry list of things there are to try and keep this demon at bay. I have options upon options, and I am at the point where if we try something and it doesn't work, there is always another one. Those words "that's it" were so haunting to me. I can't imagine hearing that I've run out of options, and I can't imagine, as a spouse, knowing that your companion, the love of your life, has run out of options. "That's it?"
That CAN'T be it.

Greg later walked over to talk to both of them as the nurse was unhooking my IV. He told me that Stan said that for the first time in nine years, last week he got sick. However, he told me they spoke of options. Of clinical trials, of MD Anderson, of Tucson Medical, of holistic treatments... even if this regimen didn't work, that WASN'T it. Not for Stan. Battle on, friend.

It shook me up though, and I thought about it for quite some time afterwards. I thought about how he had touched our lives, how many times he made us laugh, and how many other people's lives he must have touched along his journey. We know so little about the people we share an infusion suite with, yet so many of us share a common goal and a similar battle. I suppose that fact in and of itself, sometimes, is enough.

Before I fell asleep that night, I said a prayer for Stan. And for Darlene. And for the strength and love they have in one another. I said a prayer of thanks for all the options I have and for my health and mostly, for the fact that I never could have gotten to where I am now without the love and support of the person sleeping beside me. I think it could take me the rest of my life to try and find the words of thanks and gratitude for him simply being who he is and loving me the way he does, day after day. I still don't know if I do this prayer thing right, or if it's just a feeling. Or mostly, if there's anyone listening. Whatever the case, I'll continue to give it a shot...

Matters of the heart

Valentine's Day is supposed to be about matters of the heart. Never mind that I find it to be mostly a Hallmark holiday manufactured for who knows what reason. Me? I prefer to give olives and enjoy sushi on any given Thursday. So it goes.

In any case, I find it slightly ironic that on the day that is supposed to concern matters of the heart I received the results of my MUGA scan. Turns out that my LVEF (Left Ventricular Ejection Fraction) is well above normal.

What does this mean? My heart is strong and full of hope and I can continue to ride the wave of non-toxicity (Herceptin) without immediate fear of congestive heart failure.

Today? I have no hat on.

Behind the Roadrunner

What I must remember is not to be laced so tightly that I forget to exhale and everything inside comes out with a WHOOOOOOOOOOOOSH when I finally do. It works so much better when I breathe in and breathe out on a regular basis. When I stop to turn my face to the sun, it reminds me of where I need to be headed. I have a Magnetic Poetry calendar hanging beside my desk at work and just yesterday, while waiting for the server to re-boot, I formed the following thought:

it is essential to imagine my future and live as if I always feel the sun

How incredibly appropriate, yet easily overlooked when not a conscious effort. Today, I reminded myself to look back on something I had written a few weeks ago regarding exhaling. I find I've fallen back into roadrunner mode at times and I must remember to take a breath and look at the sun. At the same time, I can't ever let myself hide behind the roadrunner to mask the fear. It's easy that way, but I've done so well so far, and need to continue to utilize what I learned the first time around and what most of the time, I know. LIVE.

I read an article in our local paper the other morning regarding a seminar helping cancer survivors get on with life. Thankfully, I was reminded of its existence this afternoon.

"There are a lot of emotional issues after treatment," says Jamie Sellar, program director at the Wellness Community in Phoenix and a counselor participating in the seminar. "There's stress, doubt, anxiety, fear, depression - regardless of whether the doctor is telling them that they're cancer-free. Every ache or pain, they wonder if the cancer has returned."

Well, DUH. On most given days. Sometimes, only sometimes, even the eternal optimist forgets. I suppose those are the times when I need to take two steps back and listen to... me. Ironic, isn't it? The seminar focuses on social and emotional support systems (check, check), exercise (check), finding joy (check), nutrition (check), and life beyond cancer (check - with the occasional hiccup). So, yeah. Here I am, thankful for the reminder that maybe, just maybe... most of the time, even when I feel like I am living TOO much as if I am not dealing with this, maybe, just maybe, I'm doing it right. Maybe.

It's much easier said than done, being mindful of and understanding what goes on in my head - which doesn't make sense, even to me sometimes - while at the same time accepting that these cancer-related fears exist and learning how to either express them or work through them.

Nobody said it was easy...

Shadow Race
Every time I've raced my shadow
When the sun was at my back,
It always ran ahead of me,
Always go the best of me.
But every time I've raced my shadow
When my face was toward the sun,
I won.

- Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic

Angels and Hairwaves

There were a couple of instances this weekend that I recall thinking, "I have to remember this moment." That, in and of itself was pretty cool, and as I feared I of course have forgotten a couple of said moments. At least for right now. As far as the ones I do remember, I suppose I had better write them down before I forget.

Angels. We were driving down to Tubac on Saturday morning. I'm pretty sure we were on our way out to Larry and Jan's as I think Greg and I were the only ones in the car. The new Jack Johnson album was playing, and I looked up into the sun directly to the south. It was shining brightly and seemed to have a unique glow around it. Perhaps it was the contrast of the cloudless sky. I found myself lost, all of the sudden, and while looking into the sun I had this vision of myself dancing. I had my arms in the air, and I was spinning, almost as if in slow motion - as if I were dancing in the rain - in white flowing clothing. The whole scene had this ethereal and peaceful, yet joyous quality. It could have been a couple of seconds or a couple of minutes later, but I found myself riding along, looking at the sun, and listening to Jack sing once again. I recall thinking that I wanted to remember that moment...

Hair. We were sushi rock stars this past Saturday. After a long day in Tubac and driving back and forth, we decided that sushi would be the ideal meal for the evening. We headed to Sakana, and it proved to be a fortuitous choice, because for some reason, we were treated like rock stars. As far as sushi bar rock stars go. The sushi chef that was attending to us noticed and commented on my Red Sox hat, and it was all smooth sailing from there. We got a fabulous plate of assorted sashimi including a bluefin toro and a fiji albacore that we might not have ordered otherwise. While waiting for our next ordered items, he handed us something... I still don't know what it was, but it was spicy and delicious, and on the house. After indulging on the rest of our ordered items, the waiter brought us a halved tangerine topped with whipped cream. They were all simple additions to an otherwise nice night, but they did not go unnoticed. Anyhow... somewhere between the unagi and the tangerines, I had the following hair-related thought: it's growing. We all know this, but I still find myself surprised when looking in the mirror that there seems to be more and more each day. To be expected, right? When I first shaved my head this time, I was very self-conscious, even when I still had the full complement of eyelashes. I felt, as I always have, that if nobody could see it, I could go on feeling strong as long as I looked strong. I equated the baldness with the outside world's perception of sickness. I know I've mentioned this before, and I also know that most of the time it's not quite accurate. After time, I learned to live with it, and while I was always covered up when out in the world, with the 3-Day being the exception, I struggled to come to terms with the fact that in my mind, baldness=sickness. Probably because back in December, I felt... sick. I kept going nonetheless, but I felt like I looked. Back to my original thought...these days, my strength is almost back and my hair is growing. I find myself not always wanting to be under a baseball cap because I find myself equating the re-growth of hair with healing and life. I realized that the fuzz signified strength to me and that if people were to see it, I assume they would perceive the same. Healing. Life. Coming out the other end of an ordeal, and still smiling. I am not embarrassed anymore, when people ask how my hair is growing, or when Greg tells me to show people my hair. I find myself whipping off my hat and proudly grinning. This doesn't mean that I'm waltzing around the office all fuzzy headed quite yet, but in a couple of weeks, I will be.

Aha! I remember another thought.
Mt. Whitney. Six months ago yesterday, I was standing on top of the world. My hair was still long, I was strong and unflappable, and I had accomplished something that not many people do - never mind the fact that it was two days after my second chemo treatment. I had no idea what I'd feel like 18 weeks from then, and it was the farthest thing from my mind. I wish I could have captured and bottled the feeling of standing up there, hugging Greg, and crying tears of elation and accomplishment. I remember holding the "Cancer Schmancer" sign he had made for me... stretching my arms out as far as they would go, feeling the wind at nearly 14,497' whipping through my hair, and knowing that there was no way in the world I was going to let the cancer get the best of me. I'm not sure I've ever felt that invincible, and while I know that invincible is just a feeling and not a reality, I knew at that moment that I was going to win, and that the person that hiked every step of the way beside me wouldn't let me down. These past six months haven't always been easy, but I've kept climbing uphill, even when I had to stop every three steps to catch my breath. Just over a month from today we'll be at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I'll see the Colorado River up close for the first time. I'll make it in, and I'll make it back out, and I can't wait. And I'll dip my toes into the frigid water and stand there proudly with my re-growth of hair, knowing that once again, I can conquer the uphill ahead of me. I'll probably cry, as I tend to do sometimes, and then I'll laugh, and together, we'll hike out to the rim with thoughts of the well-deserved beer waiting in the El Tovar Lodge at the other end.

Yet, lest I forget, always human.

I AM the Queen of Lashes....

Well, you asked for photos...

They look pretty much like this, my eyelashes.

Especially after a few glasses of wine.
And maybe a few months.

More importantly, who knew that chemo would make me sprout rhinestones???

This could be a moneymaker...

Here. They. COME!

I leaned in as closely as I could to the mirror, turning my head so I didn't bump my nose into the glass again, but I needed a better look. I saw something there. Something that might not have been there before. Could it be? OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD, it WAS! The following conversation ensued...

"LOOK! LOOK! An EYELASH!!! Do you see it? Do you see it?? Right THERE, on the bottom right!"

"Um... honey, I see something. I can't really tell what it is."

(jamming my face back as close to the mirror as possible and wiping my eyes repeatedly to make sure whatever I see isn't actually dirt)
"What do you mean you don't know what it is. It's an EYELASH!!! They're coming! They're coming!"

"That's good, sweetie. An eyelash."(looking at me as if I've lost my mind)

"But you don't underSTAND!! Once one comes, there will be more. MORE EYELASHES! They're finally COMING!"

(racing back to the mirror and bumping my nose again, but making sure I am as close as possible) "Ohmygodohmygod there's ANOTHER ONE! Look, look, there's one on the top right, too! And wait! THERE'S ONE ON THE LEFT!!! They're coming, I tell you, they're COMING!!"

"Uh, huh... that's really great. Miso, Nala, your Jen's eyelashes are coming..."

Scene change to two dogs curled up in very small balls on the bed. Totally uninterested. Oh well. I bet they'd be more interested if my eyelashes (all THREE of them) smelled like peanut butter. All I know is that this morning, I spied three very small beginnings of what appears to be eyelashes. Stay tuned, this could get exciting...

Just another day...

I've realized lately that I simply don't seem to have much to write about these days. I wondered if I had become boring (which I guess everyone gets, sometimes) or if now that I'm riding the non-toxic wave, I just don't have much of interest to say. Maybe instead I'm busier living and breathing. Maybe I've managed to throw myself more into my work now that I don't feel like I've been run over every morning. Perhaps now that I'm not waiting for the next chemo, or an impending surgery, or some new scan results, and instead simply waiting for my hair to grow and some eyelashes to sprout, things aren't weighing quite as heavily on my mind.

Maybe, just maybe, it's just another day in the life. Holy crap, what an incredible feeling. It's simply another day. Another day without pain, another day without dread or fear, another day in another week that I don't have to go in for treatment. At least for now. Just another day. Another day to laugh, another day to eat something I probably shouldn't yet be able to savor and taste whatever it is I shouldn't be eating, and another day to peer in the mirror and search for some semblance of an eyelash. Another day to be thankful for, another day to wake up in the arms of the person I was absolutely supposed to meet, and another day to complain about the silly gray dog jumping up and climbing down and up and down and up and down from the bed all night. Another day to live, another day to learn, and another day to love. I know there will be times when I'll get caught up in the trivial many when I should be focusing on the vital few, but among the vital few is the fact that I'm not certain if any day is "just" another day anymore.

I know I look at things through different eyes sometimes. There are battles that aren't worth choosing, frustrations that aren't given energy, and annoyances that aren't worth paying any mind to. It's not easy, sometimes, but I know that this journey has affected the way I look at life and things around me. Even differently than the last time I fought this battle. Aside from the fact that I've had to fight harder in some ways this time around, I had so many advantages and tools at my disposal. I had so many people in my corner - sending prayers, offering strength, sharing love. I had the chance to use my Monday-morning quarterback lessons from last time. Particularly what did NOT work when dealing with and coping with the crap I was dealt. Among those lessons I learned, and actually opted to utilize this time, was the ability to let people in. Just another day feeling anything but alone.

What continues to be amazing to me is the fact that I see subtle ways in which my recurrence of cancer has profoundly affected the lives of others. Then again, especially in the one closest to me, I'm not sure how you can live as closely as you can to this and not have it profoundly affect your life. When complimented by others, I have heard my voice saying so many times, "I haven't done much more than simply show up." I suppose the thing is, simply showing up and managing to persevere, managing to push through the worst of the worst, managing to have a smile in spite of it all - to those on the outside, I suppose it's something huge. Then again, maybe it was.

Now, for however long a respite I have, whether 8 weeks, 8 years, or a lifetime, I'm going to do my damndest to wrap my arms around the world, no matter how fast it spins, and continue to hang on. Today? Just another day to be grateful for.