10.11.17

As I sit here and type this, Doris Day’s Que Sera, Sera is replaying in my head over and over. I distinctly remember my mom singing that song to me (as I do for Nora & Peter) when I was a little girl. It’s always stuck with me and I feel like it’s been my anthem for life over the past few years.

Which brings me to the point of this post. It’s hard to believe that 10.11.12 was FIVE years ago. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.

Thankfully, I’m happy to report that my latest test results indicate that I’m still NED (no evidence of disease). Wahoo! Happy 5-year cancerversary to me!

As most of you know, making it 5 years without a recurrence or distant metastasis for a triple negative-er is a really big deal. At this point (assuming the scientific literature out there is still accurate) my rate of recurrence drops significantly. Metastasis could still rear it’s ugly head one day, but I’ve learned to embrace the Que, Sera, Sera part of life!

Does this mean that I’ll rest on my laurels and go back to “normal” life? No my friends, there is no such thing as “normal” life anymore – just the new normal – which includes exercise (ugh.), self-care (read: switching to non-toxic make-up, personal care products, laundry detergent, household cleaning items, and trying to eat “clean” while balancing ALL of that against just living my life and enjoying myself!) and continued check ups with Garrett every 3 to 4 months.

But seriously, as shitty as things have been, they’ve been equally as amazing. I wouldn’t trade a thing about the past 5 years because I’ve grown so much as a person. Of course, I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody, but for me, it was (and is) a profound experience. I’ve met so many beautiful souls along the way. Without my community, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So I thank all of you who have been there for me and my family — holding space for us and holding us in your hearts and prayers when we needed it most. I hope to return the favor as many times over as I can.

For now though, I’ll happily continue cruisin’ along in this lane. It’s not a bad lane to be in…

xoxo,
Andrea

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Photo Credit: Piece of Heart Photography

 

Pinktober – Enough with the Pinkwashing

It’s that time of year again. Thought I’d throw a little information your way to help you navigate all of the pink washing that’s a’comin’

1 in 8 women will get breast cancer. 30% of those initially diagnosed with early stage disease will go on to become metastatic (aka Stage IV). 4% of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are Stage IV at initial diagnosis. 113 people die from Stage IV metastatic breast cancer (MBC) each day in the US. There is no cure for Stage IV and only 2-5% of research funding goes to MBC.

What we need is to find a cure for this disease. We don’t need pink mugs, pink scarves and/or pink ribbon keychains.

While some women live for years with Stage IV disease, others do not. Their collective voices aren’t always able to be strong as they’re enduring treatment while simultaneously trying to live life.

It’s up to US to make their voices heard. To demand money be directed toward finding a cure and supporting actual individuals living with metastatic disease.

This year I’ve lost 2 friends to MBC, and their deaths should mean something. I have another 5 friends who are living with MBC and I fear 2 of them will die before long. This is scary and so sad.

Please do me (and every other person you know who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer) a favor, and don’t get sucked into the pink washing. Please ask where the funds for pink products are going. Please research those organizations to see if any of that money actually goes toward patients or research.

I’ll make it easy for you. Below is a list of 4 organizations I think you should give your money and time to, if you’re so inclined. Just skip the rest of the noise….

Breast Cancer Action
Breast Cancer Action is not your average breast cancer organization. We’re fiercely independent and refuse corporate funding from any company that profits from or contributes to breast cancer. That means we can ALWAYS put women’s health first.

We’re focused on achieving health justice for all women living with and at risk of breast cancer. Radical and compassionate, we never shy away from the hard truths. We tell it like it is about breast cancer: 40,000 women die of this devastating disease every year, and we don’t have nearly enough to show for the billions of dollars raised in the name of breast cancer.

BCAction was founded in 1990 by a handful of women who were living with and dying from breast cancer and who demanded answers about their disease. Today, BCAction is a national grassroots organization with members across the country. Together we’re challenging the status quo and working to address and end the breast cancer epidemic.

Metavivor
METAvivor is the only organization in the US that exclusively funds MBC research through a scientific peer-review process. We award research grants to individuals with a clinical or other doctoral degree who are actively engaged in areas of metastatic breast cancer research, and whose proposals show distinct promise in making a difference for the stage 4 breast cancer community.

Our mission is to transition metastatic breast cancer from a terminal diagnosis to a chronic, manageable disease with a decent quality of life.

100% of proceeds from every fundraiser (after event expenses) goes into our research grants.

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners
A science-based advocacy organization that works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation.

BAYS
Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS) is a support and action group for young women in the SF Bay Area who are living with breast cancer.

Through monthly support group meetings, an online network, and community-building events, BAYS members share information, experiences, and resources. Our goal is to break the isolation of living with breast cancer by providing a community built on compassion, understanding, hope, and inspiration.

Life’s Difficult Lesson

5.1.2017

We all die. That’s the one universal truth, I suppose. Nobody approaches this topic better than my friend Janet (see all my links below to her talk, music video and article). I met her through BAYS and boy am I glad I did. She is a spitfire and she is wise. She is a bright light and she is intense emotion. She is alive and she is dying. She is a contradiction. She is…..well, she just is.

Janet’s been metastatic for many years. She’s enjoyed periods of non-treatment and periods of intense treatment on and off for 10 years.  The first time Janet and I hung out one on one a few years ago, we talked about her reality. She’s the first Stage 4 metastatic person I’ve ever been close to. She told me that she’ll be in treatment for the rest of her life until the treatment simply stops working or she decides to stop treating.  Plain and simple. Black and white.

See, that’s what I adore about her. No bullshit. When she paid me a surprise visit early on during my bedrest stay with Peter. She didn’t mince words. A pediatrician herself, she knew the shit we were up against. I told her some of my naive thoughts, and she calmly, yet gently brought me back to earth. Preparing me for the potentially devastating outcomes that might’ve been for Peter. I’m so grateful to have someone like that in my life. A straight shooter who cares and comforts at the same time. Perhaps its the cancer club that makes us this way? I dunno. But it’s a sisterhood beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Now, it’s my time to be there for Janet.  She’s at a crossroads and her treatment is diminishing her quality of life — which until this point — has been exceptional. When I sat with her at her house last week, she shook her head and told me “This isn’t living. How I feel — this sick and weak– this isn’t a life.” I read between the lines, but she went on to be very clear. She’s seriously contemplating stopping any further treatment. Chemo isn’t working. Isn’t going to extend her life measurably and is making her feel like shit. Rendering her useless on the couch all.day.long. For someone who scales mountains on the regular — she is down and out.

In the non-cancer world, we’ve all been conditioned (for some odd reason) to rally and cheer and champion someone who is dying. “keep fighting” “don’t give up” “you got this” “are you sure?” “just a little while longer” “keep going”.

Now that I live in the cancer world, I intrinsically know that when someone tells me they’re done — I get it. It’s not something to decide on a whim. It was extremely heart wrenching for me to just nod my head at my friend, blinking back my own tears, while holding her hand and telling her it’s ok if she wants to stop treatment. Make her *feel* my support for her decision. Don’t put her in position to comfort me. Don’t put her in position to defend her decision. Selfishly, of course, I want her here on earth as long as possible. But realistically, at what cost to her? It’s not worth it. I love my friend and I want what she wants. Only she knows what’s best for her. I’m just here to support and love her.

Oddly, when Janet visited me in the hospital when I was on bedrest with Peter. I remember making a joke that “surely this penance will buy me out of any cancer recurrence or metastasis, right?!” I went on to say that if I were to get cancer again, I wouldn’t have the strength to enter treatment again. Having been knee-deep into bedrest at that point I was physically and emotionally spent.  I was tapped out. Janet didn’t say what most would….. “oh don’t worry, you won’t get cancer again!” She didn’t shy away from it. She simply said “you’ll find the reserves to do it. you just will.”

Knowing that’s how Janet approaches life. I fully respect her decision to be done. I know she found her reserves and she’s tapped them to the max. Damn, has she ever lived. I am truly honored and privileged to know her and hug her and love her. I will continue to do so for as long as I can.

Below are links of Janet’s speech, music video and an article about her. Janet I LOVE you and insist on celebrating your great, big, bold life NOW.

Living in the Shadow of Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Last weekend was my 3-year cancerversary. With each year that passes, my cancer experience moves a little bit further away from me, yet at the same time, it cozies up to me even more.

As time goes on, you’d think I’d feel further removed from it, but I don’t. That’s the cruel thing about cancer, it’s the gift that keeps giving. I live in what feels like a constant fear of recurrence. Some days and weeks are better than others. But some stretches are really bad. Like a python winding its way around my body, tightening it’s grip on me, slowly squeezing the life out of me. To understand what I mean, let me explain a bit about my subtype of cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a subtype of breast cancer that lacks three important hormone receptors that are used as targets for cancer treatment. These receptors are important because they reveal where the cancer is most vulnerable and help determine how to best treat it. Since triple-negative breast cancers lack the presence of all three of these receptors, this subtype of breast cancer is more difficult to treat and more likely to recur. Triple-negative breast cancers have a relapse pattern that is very different from hormone-positive breast cancers: the risk of relapse is much higher for the first 3–5 years but drops sharply and substantially below that of hormone-positive breast cancers after that.

Doctors and researchers have yet to figure out what causes TNBC. So survivors like me undergo major surgeries and intense chemotherapy protocols in the hopes of killing the cancer and keeping it at bay forever.  Unfortunately, because our cancer is not hormone positive, we don’t get the mental safety net that is 5 to 10 years of hormone blockers. We don’t get to take a pill that we know is preventing our bodies from producing the hormone that causes our cancer.

PS – I know that taking tamoxifen (or something like it) is no walk in the park. I realize I sound a bit like a brat since I don’t have to deal with 10 years of hot flashes, mood swings, libido drain, inability to carry a pregnancy and a whole host of other crap. But please understand that having no ability to do anything to ensure my cancer doesn’t come back is a total mind fuck. All we’re told is that our survival rate will increase dramatically if we can make it to the 5-year mark.

I’ve no choice but to set my 5-year timer. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. Ugh.

In the months leading up to my cancerversary this year, I wasn’t feeling right. I was having a lot of trouble with my lungs, and a lot of swelling and pain around my ribs, implants and armpits. I put myself back into physical therapy to try and kick start my sluggish lymphatic system. But, the issues persisted. My lungs and my bones ached. And not in a “you have a new baby, all moms are exhausted” kind if way. No, no, they ached in a scary cancer kind of way.

I was winded, exhausted and becoming increasingly terrified I was having a recurrence or worse, mets. When I looked at my daughter, my brain wouldn’t allow me to see her grown up. It was protecting me from the possibility that I might not be here to see her fully grown up. The feelings were becoming crippling. I couldn’t fully enjoy caring for my daughter. I had to do something. Set my mind at ease once and for all.

So I got a PET scan 5 days before my cancerversary. I told very few people I was having the scan done because I was really scared the results wouldn’t be good.  I just had a premonition that my good fortune was running out. You see, I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a perfect, beautiful, healthy 9-month old daughter, who was born after cancer. I was blessed enough to be able to carry her to term and birth her into this world. It was the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to me. My life is back on track, right? I’m a new mom, with a new lease on life, right? Cancer is behind me, right? I survived this, right?

But why do I feel such dread and doom hanging over me?

This is what it’s like to live in the shadow of triple negative breast cancer. As I wait to make it to my arbitrary finish line where I might be able to breathe a bit easier, I wrestle with some serious PTSD.

Thankfully, the results of my scan came back clean. I’m still dancing with NED (No Evidence of Disease). Yay!

I feel like I’ve bought myself a few months without as much worry bubbling directly under the surface of my everyday life. Now, when I workout, I happily push my lungs to the point of burning because I know there are no tumors in them. When my joints and bones ache the next day, I don’t sweat it, because I know I don’t have bone mets.

Only 725 more days to go….. Wish me luck.

Hello, I Have Cancer….

I wrote this two years ago and just came across it in my draft posts. I added a little bit at the end to bring it up to date. Enjoy:

So I was watching the Tig Notaro Netflix documentary and I decided it was high time for me to write my own reflective story. So here goes:

Hello, I’m infertile.  I thought the very worst thing in my life was that I couldn’t get pregnant.  For years my husband and I tried. We tried the old fashioned way. We tried the least invasive way. We tried the middle of the road invasive way We tried the most invasive way, multiple times over. Yet no pregnancy and no baby.  I wept and I wept every single month that we failed to get pregnant. And I say “we” loosely.  When you struggle with infertility, it quickly becomes an “I” game, not a “we” game. I had to do all the shots, I had to take all the hormones I had to check my underwear everys single time I went to the bathroom praying that my period wouldn’t show her nasty face. Sure, my husband was also infertile in a way — but he wasn’t physically going through anything. It was all on my shoulders and I was failing, miserably.

And after three years of infertility treatments, including 10 IUI’s with and without injectables and 4 IVF rounds including a few frozen embryo transfers, we still were without a child.

It was the worst kind of hell a person could be asked to live through.  I was working full-time at a very demanding start-up company.  I was juggling my personal hell with my professional goals.  It was horrible. I was miserable. I thought it was the very worst thing that could ever happen to me in my whole entire life. And then I was diagnosed with cancer.

If I could go back and whisper in my own ear, here’s what I would tell myself.

Andrea, hold tight to Paul even though you’re mad that he doesn’t feel “in the mood” and your ovulation window is closing. Hold tight to him because you can’t have a baby anyway. Hold tight to him and love him purely. You are about to find out that having a baby the old fashioned way isn’t an option for you. So hold on to this connection as long as you can. Nobody really talks about it, but having sex “on demand” is horrid — it can break a couple in half quickly. So hold tight to this loving man who appreciates you and your body, even though it hasn’t yielded a baby.

Andrea, you’re now 8 months into your fertility journey. Keep your head held high. You’re doing the right thing. It sucks to have to give yourself shots and that you cringe every time a friend posts her ultrasound to Facebook announcing her pregancy. Remember, she doesn’t know what you’re struggling with infertility because you’re intent on keeping it a secret from the world.

Andrea, why are you still keeping this a secret? It’s now been 3 years since you started this journey. your medical expenses have topped out over $100,000 and you’ve given yourself over 1,000 shots to the belly. Don’t you think it’s time to share this complete fucking hell with somebody?

Andrea, don’t you feel so much better now that you’ve told your family what you’ve been struggling with. Honestly, this has been the WORST thing imaginable. But it’s been really nice to have their support. You feel a new sense of energy and sticktuitivness, Ready to conquer the next hurdle.

Then you feel the lump. You talk to Paul about it but try to brush it off. You talk to your fertility nurse about it and try to brush it off.  Then the lump persists. You can’t ignore it. You go to the doctor and she fells it and orders some follow-up tests. Still, in your mind, you brush it off. What.could.be.worse.than.3.years.of.infertility?

Breast cancer.  It was laughable to me when it happened. Fucking hilarious. Seriously, for real?

After all that’d I’d been through, I got cancer. Wow.just.wow.

Andrea, just hold on a little while longer. 2 more years. You can do it. You can handle having your breasts amputated. You can handle surgical recovery. You can handle chemotherapy. You can handle your body being reduced to a lump of shit with no muscle definition or endurance. You can handle testing your marriage, yet again. You can handle it all.

Andrea, you can handle it all — but you will have your moments. You will have those times when you dont want to be the superhero. When you don’t want to smile through the tears. When you dont feel like asking another person how THEY feel. When you want to be selfish and cry. and weep. and weep. and weep. and wallow.

Andrea, your beloved dog will die unexpectedly just as you are feeling like yourself after chemo is finally done. This will knock you an on your ass. You will question everything that you thought you understood in this world. You will become angry. More angry than when you found out you had cancer, You will be sad. So sad. Sadder than when you couldn’t have a baby month after month after month.

You truly thought you’d been dealt the worst of the worst. First the infertilty, then the cancer, then your fucking dog died. What next? How much lower can you go?

Andrea, you will look up through your tear-drenched eyes and see the love that your husband has for you. You will realize he is all you need in this world. Baby, no baby. Dog, No dog, Cancer, no cancer. He is your salvation. Stop taking him for granted. He is incredible. Look no further. He’s been at your side the whole time. Quietly and not so quietly rooting for you. Whether you know it or not. He’s been your biggest fan.

Andrea, you’ll get the type of cancer that’s incerdibly aggressive — BUT it’s the kind with no aftercare for 10 years. You can hop yourself up full of hormoes and still carry a pregnancy.

Andrea, you will become pregnant and enjoy every single second of it, including the birth.

Andrea, all of your wishes and dreams WILL come true and you will be happier than you could’ve ever imganined. You will want to bottle the emotions because they’re like crack. You could make a fortune selling this feeling to other people.

You are one lucky son of a gun. What a long strange trip it’s been.

Post script – you get pregnant for a second time and almost lose the baby at 22 weeks. Life seems likes it’s at another all time low.

Andrea, hang in there. After an emergency surgery and nearly 8 weeks of hospital bedrest, you’ll get to go home and serve another 7 weeks of bedrest. But at the end of the day, you’ll get a second baby who is perfect.

In the end, you’ll end up with a daughter and a son. They are perfect in every way.

Andrea, your marriage is still intact and strong. Hopefully the shit show the past 7 years will become a distant memory very soon…..

xoxo.
Me