Monday, May 23, 2011

The End

Yeeeikes! I posted some pretty complainey stuff in the last post and then disappeared into thin air for a couple of months! Makes me wonder why I was posting about my Carac experience at all in the first place. I guess I was trying to be as useful and helpful as other bloggers were to me about the subject. But, it's no good when suddenly there is a 2 month silence and the posts that ARE there are not that inspirational. Can I get an "A" for trying at least? The good news is that I finished up the chemotherapy a little early. It was brutal, but in the end, it was doable.

The result has been baby soft skin on my face and oddly, it has returned to the prepubescent oily state it once was when I was only 13 or so. I did lose some of the wrinkles, all of the dark spots, all of the rough spots, and it seems that all is well for now. I actually don't think about it or dwell on it at all. If I have to do the chemo again, then so be it.

For now, summer is nigh and after great amounts of thought, I will not be staying out of the sun. For me there is no life out of the sun, and I refuse to hike in a big floppy hat. So, I have found industrial strength sunscreen and that is the plan.

Please don't fret if you have to go a round of Carac. It is very difficult, but you can do it. You will be cancer free and everybody will say you look 10 years younger. You CAN do it! :-)

Into life I merrily go!

Paix - Jen

Jennifer Bunker CRS GRI
Utah Real Estate Broker

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Carac Days 7 - 13 BRAVERY

Boy, I've been a bad blogger. Honestly, I wanted to wait to blog until I had something positive to report, little bursts of hope that future readers would glom onto, as I have done on so many other blogs and forums.

But I couldn't muster the positive. Can't find it. There isn't much I'm afraid.

My case seems to be going along exactly as the other photojournalists/bloggers have reported. Each day seems exponentially worse than the last, and this makes thinking about going all the way to the end (28 days) a sheer impossibility. You can officially call me the poster child for the "take it day by day" mentality.

I am getting ready to apply Carac on day 13. As with all of the other days, I try to find something else to do first that would be less painful, like a root canal or the removal of my spleen with a butter knife and no anesthesia. I fiddle and diddle around until I finally get the guts to get in the shower, around noon each day.

My face is basically red over the entire surface, with the exception of next to my hairline. I am surprised that I even have lesions under my chin. I have some scabbing already in the very worst areas - underneath my eyes on the apples of my cheeks, my chin, above my eyebrows (whole forehead, really) and my entire nose. To put Carac on these places is an act of bravery that is only matched by the feeling that I had when I was being wheeled in the OR for my mastectomy ("MUST BE BRAVE AND JUST DO IT"). Here's the thing though, I only had to do that once. This is putting chemicals on open, increasingly angry wounds again and again and again and again and again. Did I say, again and again? I would take another mastectomy over this any day of the week.

Seems as if there is an blow torch that blows directly onto my face right before and for 3 hours or so after the Carac application. This, while akin to a first degree burn IMHO, is tolerable. What continues to be intolerable, what is the insanity maker, is the constant millions of sharp, knife-like, electrical pricks that barage me from the inside of my skin. In. Tol. Er. A. Ble. Period. I spend my day micro-focused on trying to survive this.

So, the positive is that once ice is applied after 2 hours of Carac pricking living hell, the nerves do seem to settle down enough to be bearable. I find that I can talk (not too much as face movement appears to excite the nerves and then I am back to icing) and eat small bites. I get up in the morning and do some cooking while I feel pretty good, so I think I have actually gained weight. Oh well.

Others around me have noticed that I go from normal to cranky in .02. I won't deny this. I truly feel for anybody in chronic pain. I don't think I could do it. My hat's off to you who manage to make it through that on a daily basis.

I find breathing and meditating helps, ala Lamaze. I find rocking myself gives me something to do while the insane prickling is going on. Sometimes I yell out, but curb that when the kids are around so I don't alarm them too much.

Each day, as I apply Carac to my bone dry, peeling, cracking, scabby skin, I ask myself, "Can I do this one more day? Can I do this just one more time, tomorrow?" If I decide that I CAN get through it one more time, I then commit to one more day ONLY. Thinking about 16 more days isn't doable. Only one day at a time, peeps.

"Lemonade from Lemons" Girl is struggling. Off to the shower ------>

XOXO Jen (Yes, I do realize that I am very very lucky).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Carac Days 3 - 6, ICE PACK!!!!

Day 3 went fine, with minor burning and itching, along with minor headache and eye swelling.

Day 4 was a killer. I put the Carac on and 15 minutes later my face felt like white-hot fireworks were going off under my skin, with the small pieces of ash searing into the under layers of my dermis. It was all I could do not to claw my face off, the feeling was was "itching" crossed with pain that was truly miserable. I ended up rocking myself in a fetal position in order not to scratch at my face, counting every second to the end of the two hours when I could put something on it.

15 minutes before the end of the two hours, I remembered I had left my Clobetasol prescription at the pharmacy but not filled it. The Derm had told me that was for itching and redness. I got in the car and drove like an insane person to the pharmacy. I purchased the steroid and put it on my face in the parking lot. The searing pain that ripped through my face was a welcome relief from the insane "itching" I had just experienced.

Back at home I read on Google that different nerves convey the itch urge than the nerves that convey pain signals. I learned that the "itching" system always forces an instinctive scratching response, where the pain system compels the person to keep their hand away from the stimulus. It claimed that cold water will settle the twitching itch nerves. It was here that I got the brainstorm to put an ice pack to the itching. After about an hour the itching completely stopped.

Day five and day six, I was never far from my ice pack. That is going to make all of the difference from what I can tell. That, and the Clobetasol.

Today is day six and I am beginning to see the red spots emerge. I am somewhat surprised to find that there is more activity on my left side, the side that is next to the driver's side window. I seem to have them everywhere, including my eyebrows, hairline, along my chin line, and especially my temples. I have worn bangs all of my life so I thought my forehead would be exempt, but that is the area that has the most "firework" activity.

I am sleeping okay and wake up feeling good. I take a shower and put the cream on at about 1:00. p.m. I deal with the fireworks for two hours as well as a headache and some dizziness. I find that if I can nap after applying the ice that makes the evening bearable.

At night I splash water on my face and cover that with Stevens Cream. That causes more major itching and takes another hour of ice. But I figure it is worth it to get some hydration going on overnight.

I can't imagine 22 more days of this, but I find that a day by day attitude makes it doable.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Carac Chemo - Day Two

Am applying the cream around noon because my work starts getting demanding about 7:00 a.m. and I just can't seem to squeeze the application session in any sooner. The process is fairly straightforward. I wash my face first, then wait 10 minutes as told, presumably to let the water totally leave my skin. I am using Dove bar soap to wash with because that is what my sensitive and picky skin is used to. I also have some Eucerin sensitive wash that I was going to try until I read on the CSL forum that brand has ingredients that actually encourage skin tumor growth. So, no bueno, at least until I get desperate enough for that kind of relief. (The whole arsenal is in the picture).

The chemo cream itself rubs right into the skin, so I am finding that I have to pay close attention and even make a game plan about how to apply it so that I don't get too much in one spot, or miss other spots. I read where somebody used petroleum jelly to cover and protect eye corners, lips corners, nostrils, and sides of the nose, so I apply that first with a modified q-tip. This system seems to be working okay so far. I can see the spots on my cheeks, nose, and chin where I am going to have trouble, but I'm also applying right to the hair line and down a little under my chin because if I am here and doing this now, I am going to get it right.

After the application my skin feels very dry, like I need lotion on my face after a long day at the beach. There is no real redness yet. I wait the required 2 hours and then apply Steven's Softening Cream, and then apply again a couple more times until bedtime. So far so good there, 2 thumbs up. I am happy that 2 of my 28 days went well and my mindset is 1/14th down, 13/14th's to go.

I had diarrhea both days within 3 hours of application. This doesn't surprise me as this is always how my stomach reacts to emotional upset or invasion of something new. I napped a few hours today as well, and just general feel more tired than usual. Nothing too terrible so far.

The worst part of this has been what this has done to my girls. Throwing a monkey wrench into their lives hardly describes it. Sara is trying to rearrange her schedule so she can come to Utah for a few days. Liz works a crushing workload of three jobs and is trying to get ready for a major showing at the SLC library, so she is completely bogged down. I would rather have them with me through this but accept that I must do this mostly on my own this time.

I was thinking today that when the three of us are together, I would give them some instructions on some things that I want done at the end of my life, as well as tell them some things about their mama that they don't know. The last time I tried the "end of my life" instructions it was soundly rejected by them. I finally just wrote them an instructive note and put it before the first page of my trust so they would know what to do when the time comes. There is nothing like the feeling that the end is nearer than not, but not being able to talk about it with anybody because all they want to do is poo poo it away. It's lonely and I have asked my angels for somebody to talk to about end of life issues and decisions that I have a gut feeling need to be made. It is not a scary feeling knowing this needs to be done now, but what is scary is trying to get everything in order before you can no longer do it. I will definitely look out for counsel on that point.

It was a better day emotionally. I met a wonderful couple this morning at a listing appointment. I appreciated staying busy before "chemo time" and thanked my angels for my new friendship there. Working is how I deal with stress, and I believe all of my clients to be heaven sent for keeping me engaged and for believing in me. I remember last time, some very special people to me who live in Colorado but occasionally come to Utah in search for a ranch at which to retire, called me the week of my mastectomy. They wanted spend a day looking at ranches and the only day available was the day before my surgery. I explained what was going on to them and he said, "Good! We'll get you out working hard for 8 hours because that is exactly what you need that day!" I am eternally grateful for their no-nonsense attitude and for keeping me busy and laughing on that day. Sometimes it's just the little things that matter so much.

Well I really blabbered on this time. It's nice to post somewhere where no one reads what I say. I can really say what I am thinking without fear of reprimand because it's not always pretty.

Paix :-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Carac Chemo - Day One

I've done everything I can think of to prepare myself for what is to come. At this point my blog will just become a diary with the goal of paying forward the enormous amount of help and consolation I have received from other blogs and forums.

I've decided to do my chemo in the mornings rather than evenings. After the application, you have to wait 2 hours before applying any kind of cream or soothing lotion. I consider these 2 hours "hell time" and since I already have chronic insomnia, I don't want to add "hell time" to the insomnia drama. Better to do it in the morning and then stay as busy as possible.

Yesterday I descended into despair. I texted my kids that I didn't think I could do it. I sat at my desk and sobbed huge heaving sobs, not just for the chemo and the cancer, but for the whole situation in general. Huge tears dropped loudly onto my desk calendar as I despaired away on many issues. Like with any good cry, I felt better afterward having purged a lot of toxins that have been interfering with the process of getting my game face on.
As with the cancer I had before, my game face is on, but slightly ajar and not secured fastened. I am just keeping a brave face for my kids and the people around me who unanimously agree that I should fight this like a warrior. I don't really feel like fighting, and I don't feel like a warrior.

So I do what I have to do to keep the peace between how I feel inside and what the outside world thinks I should feel. It is a lonely place.
The key is to stay busy. I am busy with real estate, and my clients have been exceptionally understanding. Today I am going to stock up on my meds, get more hair clips to keep hair out of my face, get lots of water, do some cleaning, sign up for and arrange my yarns so I can knit. I've decided to make the best of my 6 week downtime and am actually excited to investigate some advanced social media tools I haven't had time to explore.

"My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return. – Maya Angelou"

Peace. Until tomorrow ... J

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Google: The Best Frenemy a Cancer Chick Ever Had

What is it about Google? Its allure is more tempting than a gallon of butter brickle ice cream after a really crappy day.

Like most people, I Google everything, even spellings of words that I am unsure of. Google is the exciting and enticing world of "others" at your finger tips.

But for a person grappling with cancer or other medical issues, it can be the biggest mixture of SOB/godsend/head trip/insomnia-maker there ever was. It got to my core the last cancer, but this time I am a smart veteran. I particularly love the forums where real people share real experiences and great tips with others who are about to embark on the same experience the poster just finished.

The problem is many of them could be saying things are aren't accurate or true. You have to decide, am I reading a friend or an enemy? You can't really know. Common sense prevails. Reader beware.

Of particular interest, I found a forum that had 1,450 posts to a Carac discussion board starting in 2006. I stayed up all night after my diagnosis reading each post to the end of the thread. I learned a ton of tricks which I believe will save me from inordinate pain and possible insanity during my Carac chemo run. Those voices, many from the distant past who have long ago moved past their own Carac experience and back into life, soothed like no other could. What a gift.

Some of them went beyond that and did something truly extraordinary. They photo blogged their experience. They put down the real "meat" (pun intended!) of the situation, no makeup, swollen bloody faces ... daring to look as ugly as they have ever looked ... to the world. I am going to try to do the same, if for no other reason to inspire someone to move forward through this scary experience like these people did me.

No promises, vanity may prevail. Here are two of my favorites. If you are squeamish, don't do it.

1) Just forehead:

2) Whole Face, view in IE only:

Two days until I start. There is less depression today because there is a lot to do.

Paix - Jen

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Round Two: Let's Get Ready to Ruuummmmble!

Here we are, back in the ring for cancer, round 2. This time it's skin, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and its baby sister, actinic keratosis (AK). The similarities between the this cancer experience and the last one are eerie, but this time I am a veteran. I am stronger, smarter and even more resilient. Breast cancer one was a good teacher, and I was a good student.

Last time I was trying to figure it out. This time, I'm in charge. I won't make the same mistakes, maybe different ones. But I'll learn from those, too.

It's the same roller coaster though - shock - disbelief - anger - depression (lots of that) - self pep talks - friends who care - belief that it's all good. Then shock - disbelief .... around and around.

Other things are the same. The amount of sleep to be had is an inverse relationship to the time spent on Google researching. I have another really crappy doctor. Oddly, I haven't thought of Kris Carr in a long time, but when I woke up this morning she was on GMA pushing her new nutrition book which is actually just what I need now. Odder still, my Oncologist's office called just after that to check up on how things were going.

Some things are different. My health insurance bagged me after the breast cancer, turns out they don't like people who actually get sick, weird. So this time I have no insurance. Also I decided to make my cancer public, unlike last time I kept it quiet. I need the support this time. Last time the answer was to lop off a body part, this time the answer is a long, brutally painful round of chemo. I may decide to photo-document the chemo process here as there is nothing else like it that I can find on the Internet anywhere. I already took my "before" picture. What's to come after the "before" can barely be described. I don't know that I could get through it without having some purpose to it all.

Ding Ding, let the fun begin.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Communication That Matters

I so badly want to sit down with another person who has cancer, look into their eyes and have a meaty, meaningful discussion about their experience. I am so sick of the platitudes and the nonsense things that some people and the media say about what is happening to us and how we should deal with it. Is there a real discussion out there?

Jennifer Bunker CRS GRI
Utah Real Estate Broker

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Problem With Pinkwashing and Other Corporately Sponsored Cancer Events

I want to briefly express my concern over a couple of issues. I've provided links that will help you do your own research, should you be interested:

Pinkwashing. Defined as a company who prominently displays the breast cancer pink ribbon all over their products and in advertising, and then sells products with one or more component in them that have been linked to cancer. This is why I personally place little personal importance in the ever-present pink ribbon campaign. Somehow, corporations have managed to take a once-good idea and twist it around for their own financial gain based upon an emotional trigger. This REALLY irritates me.

I wanted to provide that brief definition of pinkwashing because I will discuss pinkwashing in a future post. Here is some more in-depth information about the concept in case you are interested:

* A good blog entry on the subject by Anne Landman (scroll down a bit once you get there)

* Think Before You Pink - watchdog organization started in 2002

* A "Pinkwashing" Google search for more information

Another concern
. Big
deal walks (and other events) like the Susan G. Komen "3-Day for the Cure." Again, a great idea that I am wondering about. Has it become overly corporately directed as well? I have avoided these events in the past because I am not sure where the money raised is going, or what percentage goes where. Can Google help me find this information out? Yes, of course. Today I am musing over my general concern about this type of bigger-than-life stuff that goes on in raising money for "cures" but in reality may provide profit streams for something other than research or a cure. Because of my hesitation over this, in the past I have avoided these types of events and instead chosen to donate my money to a place where I know FOR SURE the money goes directly to the cause I want.

A related example: The Jerry Lewis Telethons. Now, please understand that I do not know anything about these. They seem to have been doing good work for decades. But common sense begs the question, "These telethons have raised 1.6 billion dollars since their inception in 1966 (43 years ago) towards finding a cure for Muscular Dystrophy. Is there some kind of cure or progress in sight in 2010? Where is all that money going anyway?" C'mon, I'm just asking! Aren't you wondering, too?

According to Google, the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon debate rages on, make your own conclusions

* Susan G Komen Wiki

* Susan G Koman Spending Scores High Marks -

* Google Susan G Komen

The reason for this blog post? Next post: After much thinking and research, I've overcome my hesitations and decided to participate in a Susan G Komen 3-Day.

Peace and love, Jen

Jennifer Bunker CRS GRI
Utah Real Estate Broker

Secrets of the Sick Kid

Been thinking lately about extending an apology to a group of people who I admire and respect very much, the South Ogden City Planning Commission.

In December 2007, I went through an interview process and to my delight, was appointed to serve on the Commission by Mayor Garwood for a 4-year stint starting in February of 2008.

It was just a couple of months after the appointment that I learned I had breast cancer. A lot of "stuff" happens to a person when you learn that, not the least of which is the process of telling your friends, family, colleagues and clients the news.

As I have blogged before, this was excruciatingly difficult for me. I ended up hoping that people would tell other people, thereby sparing me the duty of having to inform others of the situation. I really despised that part of cancer, but there was one other part I hated even more. After the news got out, everywhere I went, I was now the "sick kid."

People want to be kind and caring, and they are. I was blessed. But sometimes all I wanted was somewhere to go where my illness wasn't the focus. Somewhere where I was the same as everybody else, where my illness wasn't the start of every conversation, where if the subject of "boobs" came up, there wasn't a sudden awkward silence because mine were sick (or eventually absent).

So, towards this end, I never told the other Commissioners that I was struggling with cancer. I stubbornly attended the monthly meetings in various points of disarray. I was truly a hot mess that year ... often disheveled, distant, muddled, medicated ... but I was always there. And I wasn't the sick kid. I wasn't the sick kid because they didn't know that I was sick.

I can't tell you how much it means to me that I was able to keep a sense of "normalcy" in that one special place. Now that I have blogged this, I'll have to fess up to the Commissioners at the next meeting. I don't know how they will react. Probably with disbelief and disappointment that I didn't confide in them. I hope that I can make them understand how much it meant to me not to.

I didn't like being the sick kid. To me, that is a state of mind that I didn't subscribe to. I was the well kid who was taking on a temporary health project. But I believe that others unknowingly can contribute to making you "sick" by thinking of you that way and I didn't want that. I am
forever grateful to the SOCPL for giving me a place to continue to be the oddly disheveled WELL kid.

Peace and love, Jen

Jennifer Bunker CRS GRI
Utah Real Estate Broker

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dear Mom, Today Senator Kennedy Died of Cancer

Dear Mom -

One of your favorite people, Senator Ted Kennedy, died today of cancer. Even though it's been twenty three years since cancer took you off this planet, a Kennedy's passing always makes my mind wander back to our days together and the memories of your love for the Kennedy family and ideals.

I remember that day in 1968 when Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I was a 7-year-old sleeping in my quiet room in our little house on Arkansas Avenue in Denver. You came in quietly sobbing and sat on the edge of my bed. I woke up to the feel of you pulling me up into your arms, felt you cry quietly into my my hair as you held me tight.

You were beyond broken-hearted. You told me then about the man who you had so believed in, had campaigned endlessly for, and how his life had ended that day.
I remember clearly that you believed in the same ideals that the Kennedy's believed in, and how you tirelessly worked towards those same goals as a young woman and mother. You were sure then that my hopes and dreams depended upon the world changing into a better place for everybody.

Mom, you died so long ago that these memories are the only things that I have left of you. I cling to them looking for all the sweetness I can squeeze out of them, hoping to know just a little piece of the long ago heart and soul that you were. My sadness today is that we could have been so good together now, if you were still here.

Tears spill down my face as I think simultaneously about how much I miss your wisdom, friendship, and wit, but also how grateful I feel that today I have survived the cancer that ultimately killed you and Senator Kennedy. I have so much now, Mom, and I am so very grateful. But I don't have you. I feel as though when one of the Kennedy's passes, a little bit more of you passes from me too. Like the whole era of you is slipping away from me.

But I go on, because I have to and because I want to. I have been a strong and able matriarch for many years now. I know you see your granddaughters and they are the lights of your life as they are mine. "You did good!" I hear you say, "WE did good!" You were there too, next to me, through the good and the bad of escorting these two amazing human beings to adulthood. We did it despite cancer, and we did it together Mom, even if you were on the other side. I have the relationship with them that I yearn for with you. I almost have it all.

Today in particular, with the passing of Senator Kennedy, the little girl in me yearns to turn back the hands of time so that I could feel your reassuring arms around me again. I worry about the world for my children and grandchildren just as you did. I don't know how it will all turn out. But I do know you are there and cancer will never break our amazing bond.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I miss you. I love you and am so thankful for you. I will see you again in time, when I am ready.

I Love you, Jen

(The picture is of my 3-year-old Mom, Carolyn Mason Storke Mueser, in 1940)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way to My Cancerversary

I guess you could say that I'm feeling a little more experienced at cancer than I was last year. I feel as though I've hit my 20's in my cancer life ... sort of quieted down, less drama driven, more mature and reflective.

Like the dating rule which stipulates, "spend at least 4 seasons with someone before you even consider settling down," I have found that spending for seasons with cancer and its aftermath has given me a more peaceful perspective than I had befo
re cancer.

I have always been one to live in the moment. After all, there is no point rehashing the past or worrying about the future. But when cancer moved in, the first thing my mind did was go right to the end, or at least what I envisioned *might* be the end ... an end due to cancer.

Like anybody first diagnosed with a potentially debilitating disease, you don't know much. This leaves lots of room the for m
ind to go nuts. Mine did. Did yours? This was the worst part.

But then, you get information, you have your surgeries, you talk with your professionals, you Google, and mostly, you figure out how to get on with life.

Now that 4 seasons have come and gone, I know a few things; I can make this life work no matter what.
I know that cause I just did it. For a year.

I have said, and I still maintain, that cancer made me stronger, more determined, more focused, happier, more loving, more accepting, and way less resistant. I would not be the person today without it. More importantly, I would not have gotten to know many of my life heroes, my friends and inspirations.

And so, one year later as I move into my 5th season, I am as grateful and as peaceful as I ever was.

Paix and love, Jennifer

Monday, July 6, 2009

Friendships Are The Cornerstones of Our Lives

A dear friend emailed me after reading a few posts from this blog and apologized to me for initially saying "I'm so sorry" to me after hearing that I had cancer. He did this because several posts below, I went on a cranky rant about the things that people say to you when you have cancer.

Let me just say that it was my goal when I started this blog to honestly
express my feelings and to record my journey for my girls. I never really thought that anybody else would read this. I told my kids that I would be as absolutely honest as possible no matter what. And I was.

Sometimes I look back at some of my blog entries below and it is all I can do to not erase them because certainly they do not show me at my best.
However, for as dense as I am, I can learn. And I have.

Now that I am a year out, I have a new stance on "the things that peo
ple say" when they learn you have cancer. And that is ...

... People are doing the best that they can. No matter what words they use, they are saying, "I am shocked, I need to process this, I am concerned for you, and I don't want you to die." They are just loving in whatever way they can at the time. And guess what? That is good enough for me. Others around us need time and space to journey through their own feelings of shock and fear about our cancer. Cancer people would do well to remember that their disease is not always just about THEM. It's about everybody around them, especially their close community of friends and family.

In reflecting back, I think my irritation about the things that well-meaning people would say to me was more about how these interchanges often required that I step up and take care of the speaker. "I'm so sorry" is indicating that the person is fearful about what you've just shared. It was hard for me, as a long-time Mom, to not immediately step in to console, or try make things okay for everybody else about my own sickness. As a result, I spent a lot of time consoling others. And that was wearing to the point where I often avoided events like REALTOR gatherings and meetings. I was tired anyway, so going to an event like that would have resulted in a LOT of care taking on my part. Exhausting!

So, what's the lesson? Cancer hurts and baffles everybody. Cancer is about everybody, not just the patient. Everybody involved is entitled to have the feelings that they have about the situation. We can all love and care and empathize and nurture everybody else involved in the situation and that is awesome. People will get cranky. They will say dumb things. So what? At least they come in love, and that ultimately is what we are called to do. Who cares what form wonderful, marvelous, amazing LOVE comes in, just so long as it's there?

If your eyes are here, know that I love you very, very much. Paix - Jen

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Bionic Woman? Will We Build Her Better Than Before?

A friend just Twittered me to ask if my Doctor's appointment yesterday resulted in plans to "take stuff out, put stuff in, or move stuff around."

Pretty accurate actually, on all three counts.
My one year "cancerversary" came and went uneventfully enough. But recent events have had me thinking that it might be time to revisit the idea of breast reconstruction.

For those not in the know, I had my left breast removed last year in August when biopsy results were unclear about what kind of cancer I had or how far it had spread. It
was very difficult and messy to decide between having an amputation vs having a lumpectomy. The lumpectomy would have required follow-up radiation for 8-weeks, but the mastectomy did not require any further treatment, assuming the cancer was contained in the breast (it turned out that it was).

I remember vividly in 1984 when my Mom was being treated with radiation for her cancer. It caused her misery beyond description. Think about having a very painful burn, and then being burned again and again on top of that burn. That
was no good and definitely not for me. So, I chose amputation instead. I wasn't at peace with the decision and was questioning myself even as I was being rolled into the operating room.

One year later, I am okay with the decision (what's the alternative, to not be okay with it?) However, now a messy new decision has arisen. Breast reconstruction.
My less astute friends ask, "What's to decide? Get a new rack!" Oh how I wish it were that easy.

Not being a plasticky surgery kind of a gal who is not really okay with putting foreign substances into my body, this was a hard one. I learned in this year that there were "flap" procedures where you could have your own body tissue moved and molded into a new breast. I even heard that would result in a tummy tuck as well. Welllll okay, that was interesting and required taking in no foreign objects, so I looked into. Tummy tuck was definitely an inducement.

Several hundred Internet viewings later, I decided not to go that way. I didn't like the resulting look and I didn't want to sacrifice any other perfectly good body part for the cause. (I learned that the "tummy tuck" wasn't truly that, and that abdominal muscles would be removed and relocated. Definitely not for me.)

So, armed with this info and a million questions, we (the cancer army of angels who stick by my side) went to see
Dr. Kristina Cheng, a highly recommend plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist in Salt Lake City yesterday.

Of course, I was terrified to go. And for no good reason, by the way. Just cancer saying, "Ha ha! I got you BEFORE when you weren't expecting me and I'll get you AGAIN! ::: Evil Cackle ::::" For my uncancered readers, that is how cancer keeps a hold of you forever, even if it isn't in your body any more.

So with more than a little fear in tow, I showed at my appointed time with Dr. Cheng. I liked her right away. She listened, which is key. In fact, I was there for over two hours exchanging information with her about my health, my desires, an
d her recommendations. Turns out, I am getting what I knew would be right for me all along. After the struggle I had last summer, that was totally awesome.

For the squeamish, this is where you end. Trust me.

If you feel that you must go on from here, I'll show you in picture form what I have chosen to have done and what will happen next to me.

I'll be receiving a silicone implant placed into the left side, underneath the muscle. This is not enough to hold the implant in (because I have no breast tissue there, only skin) so my surgeon will be laying in a cellular mesh that will hold the implant firmly in place. This tissue is made from human protein material, and the plan is that my body will accept it as its own (hopefully).

On the other side, I will get a smaller saline implant into my good breast. This is simply to match what is
going to happen on the left side. Since we don't really know what it all will look like, Dr. Cheng says I will be in surgery several hours while she fixes, prods and pokes to make them as symmetrical as possible. That is the last surgery (hopefully) and will take place in February 2010.

The first surgery will be in October when an expander will be surgically placed underneath my left side skin. Then at one week intervals, the Dr. will increase the amount of fluid in the expander by 50 cc's or so. She will do this by shoving a needle through my skin and into the expander itself. Sounds fun, huh? She promises it doesn't hurt too much.

The skin stretches and grows accordingly until there is room for the implant. That will take from October to February, although between you and me, I will make that a lot shorter because I have races I want to run next spring.

I did a lot of research on this topic because many women chose not to do any reconstructio
n, but instead to remain with one breast and a prosthetic, which is what I use now. Actually, that works out surprisingly well as long as I am on constant "bra patrol" making sure the thing doesn't move everywhere. It's been okay, but working out is harder, swimming is simply not an option, I had to sacrifice many of my shirts and tops, and many activities in my previous life are not a option when you are "one breasted."

So, I am doing what I never thought I would do ... buying a new rack. It certainly seems painful, and after looking at endless pictures, I now know that the result is generally not symmetrical, or even pretty. But like
my dear friend Jill once said, "Do it and at least you'll look fantastic in a sweater." That is actually what swayed me. True story.

So now everybody asks, "What size are you going to be?" Tempting question for this lifelong double A-er. Probably a really chubby B. Not any bigger because just today I s
aw a woman jogging while trying desperately to keep her chubby C's from bouncing all over. Meh, don't want that. So chubby B's it is. I suspect any bigger would interfere with my golf swing anyway.

The Doctor, tactfully alluding to my ... ahem ... age, said "We will try to get some of the droop of your other breast into the new one." To which I said, "Droop is not in the picture, sister. Make 'em nice!" To which she said, "Will do." Hey if I'm going to pay for it and go through the pain, I'd better get something to show for it, right? (And by the way, a Federal Law requires that breast reconstruction be covered by insurance after mastectomy due to cancer. SWEET.)

I'm posting some links now, and I am telling you, they are hard to look at. None of these pictures is me, but I literally do look just like the before pictures. We all do. It is interesting and something that nearly all of you will likely come across eventually in your wives, sisters, mothers, friends and lovers. Might as well get your first look now.

It's simultaneously
very difficult for me to put such personal information forward to strangers and at the same time kind of freeing. This is *MY* reality. Know I am SO grateful to be alive and living this reality. Thank you for living it with me.

This blog post is dedicated to Lori Stauffer Wood and her Mom, Pat Stauffer, who died from cancer this past weekend.

Love life like there's no tomorrow people, have no more
resistance to what is good, get your mammos, and I love you from the bottom of my heart - Jen

1. Mastectomy
before and after pictures. WARNING! Clicking this will bring up breasts! LOL

2. A great "picture documentary" of what I'm going to be doing, as demonstrated over several months time by a brave young lady who had a double mastectomy 2 months after getting engaged. She wanted to be "whole" again for her wedding. Her story is so inspiring.

. Most Doctors Do Not Talk About Mastectomy Options (Mine didn't, I had to Google everything. The state of women's health care in Utah is atrocious. But that is another post.)

4. The bottom picture is of a friend from my favorite forum, Crazy Sexy Life. She had a double mastectomy and chose not to reconstruct. She is a hero of mine. Bless you Deb for the open and honest picture. I am busy spreading the word ... AN EARLY DETECTION MAMMO SAVED MY LIFE. Hear it. Do it.

UPDATE: After all of that talk and then more research, I didn't do the reconstruction and have no immediate plans in the future to do so.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

One Year Cancerversary: Love, Life, Lessons

June 6th hasn't ever been that great of a day for me. It's the day in 1986 that cancer finally killed my beautiful, vibrant, witty, intelligent mother. It didn't get her without a fight, but it did get her. And it got a piece of me along with her.

Fast forward to June 6th last year. I was sitting in the waiting room of an outpatient surgical clinic in Ogden. I was there because only a week before a spot had come up on a routine mammogram of my left breast.

That had happened many times before, and as I sat in the waiting room for my turn to get my biopsy, I wasn’t worried. I took my daughter Sara's hand in mine and enjoyed a rare moment of quiet with her.

As I sat reflecting, I was somewhat startled to realize suddenly that the day was the anniversary of my Mom's death. Almost instantly afterwards, the thought came to me that I was the same age that she was when she died of cancer.

And it was then that I knew. I came crashing into my being with all the certainty as if the building around me had just collapsed. I knew, I just KNEW, that I had cancer.

There are really no words to describe the icy fear that shoots through you when it becomes a reality that you might die. I looked at my beautiful daughter sitting next to me and as the terrifying fear sank in all around me, I suspected our lives were about to go on one hell of a roller coaster ride.

And I was right. I was so right.

I had the biopsy and a few days later I got the news that I did indeed have cancer. Although we find it difficult to schedule time together in the daytime hours, my girls happened to be standing behind me when I got the news on the phone. I could only imagine the silent looks that they exchanged with each other as they heard my voice say, "It IS malignant? What kind? How big is it? Has it spread? What are my options?"

I wish that I had something profound to say right here about the whole experience. I really don't. But I did learn that cancer, like anything else in life, is an able teacher. Oh, and the miracles, the miracles.

Lessons learned:

The conventional medical establishment, the staff, and the process get an F-. The lack of compassion, basic competence, and even working office systems is so shocking you never could have convinced me if I hadn't experienced it myself.

Cancer never leaves your head. Once you have cancer, you always have cancer. Going to the doctor for the simplest things is traumatic now and often I need somebody to go with me to hold my hand.The things that people say. Everybody means well and that is the good news. But let me share a quick tip. Don't, I repeat DON'T launch into a story about how your great Aunt Mildred had the same thing and bla bla bla. DON'T say, "Oh my God I am so sorry." People with cancer don't want to hear your stories and they aren't sorry so you shouldn't be either. "What can I do for you now?" is a great thing to say.

I spent a few days contemplating dying. This was before I knew conclusively that my cancer was in one place only and that I would recover fully. That took 3 months to find out. That was a wicked 3 months. Ever looked death in the face? You know it if you have.

I began to notice the most amazing vibrant details in things. I became more peaceful, more plugged into now. I stopped working so hard and allowed myself to feel all the emotions. I took afternoon naps if I needed the time alone or the rest. I got a housekeeper and yard people to do things I was too weak to do. I noticed the insides of flowers and the soul in people's eyes. I still do all of that - treasured gifts that cancer gave to me.

I had never been a good one for amputation. As it turns out, my choices were to remove my breast or to go through a series of chemo and/or radiation lasting for months. It was a very, very difficult decision, but I finally chose amputation. I just wanted my life back. A few days before my surgery, I Goggled "Mastectomy pictures" and let me tell you, a massive freak-out ensued. I had doubts about my decision even as I was being wheeled into the operating room. For the first time in my life, I was not confident about what to do. Yet it had to be done because there was no more time to wait. I learned that ...

Cancer is messy. To a person who ties up ends neatly and normally has all her ducks in a row, that is was a hard one. But I learned that it is indeed survivable, even pleasurable, to leave some things undone now and again, and instead go out and enjoy the world.

It was difficult being a cancer patient AND a Mom. A Mom's instinct is to make everything okay for your kids. But I knew I couldn't make it okay for my daughters. And so, the cancer patient not only suffers, but they get to watch their sun and moon suffer too. It was very difficult to be the patient. However, I do know it was a gift to my kids that they were there, nurtured me back to health, and watched me survive a battle with the beast. I couldn't have done it without them, but to this day I RAGE inside that cancer hurt and scared them so much.

I underestimated my clients. I was afraid to tell anybody that I was battling cancer because I was afraid that they would think I was weak and sick, fire me as their listing agent, and find someone else. Eventually I had to come clean to each one of them for various reasons. I could not believe how kind and caring everybody was. My clients Bill and Nancy came into town a few days before my mastectomy to look at ranches. When they heard what was going on with me, they were supportive, and yet still expected me to work hard for them. I so appreciated that, that when I got home I cried with relief. All I really wanted was to get my life back. My clients who trusted me throughout were critical to my rapid recovery. I knew you needed me to heal and get back to work for you. Thank you so very much.

My neighbors were unbelievably kind to me.

I did not like being the “sick kid.” I serve on the South Ogden Planning Commission and I never admitted to them that I was battling cancer or that I was having surgeries. I just wanted one place where I could go and be as “normal” as everybody else there.

I still wonder today what happened to my breast. Morbid, maybe, but that breast fed my babies and was an active part of my life for 48 years. Did they throw it away after they tested it? Why would they not offer you your own body part back? Like in cremated form? It was a good breast and it didn't deserve to end up in the garbage out back.

I lost friends over cancer. Yes, I did. Don't know why. Maybe they couldn’t handle it. But I made so many more that it was worth the trade.

I recovered and I am okay. My scar is 10 inches straight across my chest, just like what you see on Google. Everybody says the surgeon did a good job. It is what it is. I am planning on several reconstructive surgeries this summer and expect to do well through those and be fine.

I saved the best for last, and this will make me cry as I type it. I found early on, a forum called Crazy Sexy Life where people of all ages from all across the world hung out and discussed their cancer and all issues related to it openly and honestly and with words of such strength and truth and integrity that it was hard to imagine it was real. I became a part of that community and literally those people held onto me for dear life as I rode the choppy and bewildering waters of cancer. My love and gratitude to my friends there can never be overstated. I love you guys more than you would ever know. You see, YOU are the gift that cancer brought to me. You funny, goofy, caring, loving, wise, silly people. Please live for a long time for me, and I will for you. I love you, I love you, I love you.

So, happy one-year cancerversary to me. I miss you Mom. I'm hanging in there for the both of us now.

Have an awesome day. I’m going to.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

But ... I Just Came Here For My Itchy Ears!

So, I was putting some days between me and my little cancer experience and feeling pretty good about things overall. Business has been great and keeping me fully occupied. The girls and I took a trip to New York City where I attended an Internet Marketing Conference and they played all through the city in the daytime, then we went out at night and had fun. I was beginning to think about getting a reconstruction, but when I heard about the magnitude of the surgeries and the time frame they took, I knew I would have to ponder it for a while and that's what I was doing. So, life was going along fine.

One day last month I woke up with itchy ears. I normally don't have ear issues, but when it got worse, I took them to see my Physician's Assistant, Laura Colvin. While there I mentioned the ever growing bump over my rib cage. She examined it and was surprised to see that it was the size of a goose egg. I told her that I have to sit slumped sideways sometimes because the thing is so uncomfortable. She also took a look at my latest bloodwork, and the pathology from my surgery. There was a lot if silence as she read the volumes of papers.

I left with stuff for my ears and an appointment to see an Oncology Specialist in Salt Lake City. Now here's the thing. If you are a cancer survivor, and you aren't expecting that kind of outcome from a simple doctor's visit, that is devastating. This where you realize that cancer never leaves you. It's the head games mostly. And there's other people. Do you tell people - the ones that will start to worry all over again, the ones who had cancer through my experience, the ones who stood by my side every step of the way? Their disappointment is no less than mine. The problem is, WE ALL THOUGHT WE WERE DONE WITH THIS!

Two weeks flew by and I was driving to SLC for my appointment. I became more and more terrified as I went. I wouldn't let anybody go with me, because you see, then cancer wins. It wins because it has scared you and all your loved ones again, and again they are taking time off from their lives to sit in the waiting room with you, waiting.

I was mad, too, because I've braved my way through some amazingly scary situations in life including going to DC to testify before a Senate Subcommittee, telling our Governor his community plan stunk, heading mutli-national grassroots groups of very powerful people, been a firefighter, etc., but that day cancer turned me and my courage into a blithering wreck. It's the not knowing that really gets you. And on that drive to Salt Lake, when cancer snuck in and stole my bravado, I felt as though I was truly stripped of the very things that make me me.

I pulled myself together and found the office near Salt Lake Regional Hospital. My new Oncologist was a woman my age. I liked her right away. We did a major work-up and my tests will be back May 7th at which time I'll see her again. She didn't know what my lump is, but her attention was instead on my disastrous liver situation. Even though my cancer was estrogen positive, I can't take Tamoxifen because my failing liver can't process it. This leaves me vulnerable to getting cancer again, both in the other breast and in my ovaries. She looked right at me and and said, "If your genetic tests come back positive for BRCA 1 & 2, you'll need to have to have your other breast and your ovaries removed. Further, if we can't somehow figure out what to do about this liver situation, you have at most 10 years to live."

Hey, pretty cool info for a girl who just went to get her ears checked. NOT!

You see, this is what I mean by "cancer never goes away." Even if you don't "have" it any more, you still "have" it. You have the emotional, physical, and medical repercussions as your most constant companions. Your friends and family go through an endless roller coaster until finally they get so sick of it they can't stand it any more. Cancer carves you up and is completely unapologetic about the scars it leaves behind. Cancer stole my family, leaving me the matriarch on my mother's side of the family by the time I was 25 years old.

I cried on the way home and then threw a pretty rockin' pitty party for one for a few days. But if you know me, you know I came back to the light knowing that I am so lucky to have all of you, a beautiful day outside, clients who are kind and care about me, little flowers coming up through the snow, and of course my wondrous kids and handsome dogs.

Cancer strips away all the trash and leaves just the raw truth of who you are, what your dreams are, and in some cases, that you'd better HURRY UP and get those dreams accomplished. That's not bad, because as we know there is no such thing as "bad", only things that happen and how we choose to react to them. It is all good and I will stand by that concept that until my dying day.

The sun just peeked through my window reminding me that my day has begun and that I need to get to work! I feel great, fantastic actually, and by May 7th, I will be standing ready for whatever comes my way next. Cancer (or my dumb liver) will not win over me, or my bravado, or my life.

Paix to all - Jen

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fear-based Thinking is Highly Overrated

I use this term, "fear-based thinking" a lot in my writings and my daily verbiage, so I got to thinking that it might be good to get it down as a precursor to something else I want to discuss in a later blog post.

Fear-based thinking is a way of life. A lifestyle. It is a choice. Many have it as their default because they are unaware there is another choice. I lived that way for a long time myself.

Several things in my life made me aware of the concept of fear-based thinking around the mid-90s. At that time, I was taking a series of Sociology classes at Weber State University. I learned that one basic foundation of Sociological thinking is that upon birth, man (and many animals) are helpless babies and therefore necessarily must belong to a group of others in order to survive.

Therefore, it follows that by taking on the practices and beliefs of the group you are born into is critical as to whether you survive or not. To what degree you soak in the group's norms is also good indication as to what degree you will thrive within the group. We all begin to learn this groovy survival stuff on day one of our lives.

Certainly, in the early days of man, if one person detracted from the safety or common beliefs of the group, they might be expunged from the group and left to fend for themselves in the wild. This would mean certain death of course.

Today's society is really no different. Newborn babies quickly learn which caretakers they are 100% dependant upon and nature makes sure that they direct the entirety of their efforts towards endearing themselves with these people. This of course, ensures their short- and long-term care and therefore survival within the group. The cuter or more interactive the baby, the more positive feedback they receive, which in turn teaches the baby which actions get him what he wants. Soon enough, he learns to fall into step with behaviors and belief systems the caretaking group approves of.

Fear-based thinking evolves from this. It is formed at the root of our deepest desire for survival. It is a physiological reaction. We are taught and we believe that if we make our choices to "go along" with our groups (parents, siblings, neighborhood, schoolmates, church beliefs, political beliefs) that we will not be cast out of these groups, and certainly be loved and thrive within them.

Hence, we carry a subconscious sociological fear that keeps us, to varying degrees, in tow with what society deems is right and wrong. Cross that line, and you will be ostracized, disinvited, head to jail, or put another way, be somehow isolated from your groups. Instinctively, we do not want that scary ultimatum. As a result, we spend our entire lives working towards the approval of our groups. This is what keeps most of us humans in line.

I took this concept and applied it to my own life by asking, ""What things am I doing to please my parents, spouse, friends, church group, classmates, fellow volunteers, and colleagues that don't REALLY resonate with my own truth? What actions am I choosing from a subconscious fear that I will be excluded from the groups if I don't follow the unwritten "rules" of the group?""

The answer was, a lot. This was the beginning of a new lifestyle for me away from fear-based thinking and towards living my own truth, or what I term, "love-based thinking."

Many of us are shifting in this direction, towards love-based thinking. And just in time, too.

My recent experience with cancer gave me a wide variety of examples to use to illustrate fear-based thinking. There is a lot of "automatic" fear-based thinking out there. People reacting before they think DEEPLY through an issue for themselves, deciding how the issue resonates with their own personal truth. People who react one way because that is how they have learned how to react from their groups, or their subconscious fear of being separated from the group.

For example, after learning I had cancer, I took a couple of days to grapple with the idea that I might die. That was a new one to me, and it was a trying test of all that I believed on a faith level. I worked through the initial fear, then thought about practical matters (i.e. must finish up the paperwork on my Living Trust) and then was able to regain a stable mindset, back to love-based thinking. Being momentarily afraid to die was a teaching journey for me, but at the end I returned to my own truth a little wiser for the trip.

However, I quickly grew to absolutely hate sharing with others that I was going through a cancer situation, for I learned that would quickly attract instinctive fear-based thinking from many people outside of my family group.

"Oh my God! I am so sorry!!!" was the most common response. If you think about this response, it is a response based in fear. Fear that the responder has from previous cancer experience, or fear they have for the fear that they assume I have, or from many possibe places. The response actually has nothing to do with the person who has the cancer, and therefore becomes an instant energy drain because it turns the table for the responder to need reassurance. It happens all the time that way, because people are so instinctually filled with fear that we just don't seem able to respond any other way. Let me tell you, it was exhausting fending off other people's fear all day long!

One relative, who I barely know said, "I am just devastated." Well, certainly. My cancer has big ramifications for her own health genetically. Of course she was devastated. She is a fear-based thinker and fear quickly became inflamed when cancer came too close to her. Many people fearfully made my cancer all about themselves. This was exhausting also, because it took some measures from me to actually reassure these people that I wasn't coming to cancer with a fear-based attitude and therefore there was no need for them to do it either.

Every person has the right to react to things in their own way, according to their own paradigm. But fear-based thinking will turn a conversation instantly into a discussion about the responder's fear even if the participants are unaware of it. A love-based reaction would be along the lines of, "How are you managing this new thing?" or "How can I help you?" or "How has your life changed?" or "What things have you been learning from this new experience?" or "What coping mechanisms are you using?" or "What can I bring you?" or "What are you finding is the most comforting right now?" or "How do you feel about (fill in the blank)" etc. These are reaffirming the notion that fear doesn't have to be part of the mix when you get cancer, or at any other time. It's another learning experience which can be shared lovingly and positively with other members of the group.

I think the thing about cancer that feels so scary to everybody and sending them spiraling into fear-based thinking is that it is our perception that cancer could potentially take the afflicted person away from the group. The very thing that at our most instinctive levels, we don't want. It scares everybody all around. "Oh look, somebody is about to be taken from the group. That is not good!" Instinctive Reaction 101, herd style. I had some friends who I didn't hear from after they learned I had cancer. The prospect of possible separation of a group member from the group was just too much for them to deal with, so they didn't deal with it at all. Understandable, when you are a fear-based thinker.

Now I'm not knocking anyone from coming from a place of fear. But I do want to point out that is a choice. Human beings have the capability to think past their fear-based reactions to ANY event, and make anything they want a total love-in. It is a choice. In fact, it is a lifestyle. The saying, "It's all good" came from this. It is totally true. It is all good if you choose to overcome your instinctual reaction and instead apply love as best you can as often as you can.

Choosing love over fear is what we are here to awaken to, in my spiritual opinion. If everybody on the planet made honest efforts to make choices in love and not fear (also called lack, jealousy, or any other negative emotion) then our planet would be in perfect peace and harmony much more often.

Never be afraid to stand up and defend your truth, even if you have to stand alone. Get off autopilot. Step back from the herd. Think about it. And then choose love.

Love, Jen