Befriending Dragons

Turn Scary Into Attainable


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Taking Flight a.k.a. The Data Dragon’s Life After Microsoft

Taking flight like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon

Taking flight like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon

Life is a journey – we can choose to fly through it with our wings spread to catch and channel the winds, or we can let the winds pummel us to the ground. I choose to take flight, enjoy the journey, and land on my feet. Then take off again. Even when the flight happens because of an unexpected push from the nice, comfy nest, it’s possible to spread our wings and take off in the direction we choose. Especially when you’ve decided you’re a Data Dragon. Yes, that’s me. Cindy the Data Dragon.

Wha...? Huh?

Wha…? Huh?

What am I talking about? One of those life changing events that sneaks up on you sometimes.

Last Thursday I got a very unexpected call and I got to experience hearing the words “you’ve been laid off” for the first time ever. It was effective the same day, at least as far as job elimination. I am a Microsoft employee until September 15, my options are wide open after that.

I could choose to sit around and feel sorry for myself, ask countless “why me” and “why now” questions. What I did instead is remember that I am likely in a far better position than many of the other 13,000 people laid off the same day. And remember that now I don’t have to wonder and worry about the remaining Microsoft layoffs that are expected. And remember that this opens up many wonderful opportunities. And remember all the friends, co-workers, and customers who instantly offered support (thanks Sean, Terry, and Linda for the coffee followed by the much stronger drink and the rest of you for all the calls, emails, and IMs). And thank those same folks for the job leads, introductions, and recommendations on LinkedIn that immediately started pouring in – keep them coming! The Data Dragon chooses to concentrate on the good things, dive into making sense of things, and move on to new and better things. (Yes, Murshed, I again referred to myself in the 3rd person).

So now what?

I am going camping this week, I plan to make time for getting out of town again for a few days or weeks before the end of September (SLC ComicCon anyone?), and I am going to get my beautiful back yard back under control and add more colorful things growing in it. I am going to take my time finding the right Big Data job, not just any job.

Connect with me on Skype (cindygross@outlook.com), follow me on Twitter (SQLCindy | Cindygross), and send pics of you toasting the Data Dragon and her beautiful future!

Don’t stand in my way, the Data Dragon is taking flight and looking forward to all the wonderful things in my future!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!


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Taking it Easy with Radiation

When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer I quickly found out that I was going to have things relatively easy. In less than three weeks from my diagnosis I had a lumpectomy which removed a very small, low-grade tumor and almost certainly removed every trace of the cancer. This past Monday I started the radiation that will make sure any lingering microscopic cancer cells are gone from my left breast. Two small, neat scars from the surgery are the extent of my side effects so far. I might possibly have a little bit of mild short term fatigue from the radiation towards the end of treatment. I’ve had one week of radiation so that means I have 5 more weeks, 5 days a week, to go. The first five weeks they treat my entire left breast – they created the plan to be very directed and avoid my heart and lungs. The last week has a “boost” that focuses radiation just on the area where the .9cm tumor was. I see the radiation oncologist, Dr. Kuhn, every Tuesday right after the radiation treatment so she can make sure the treatment is going well.

Green Boots

My beautiful green boots!

On the first day of treatment I wore my green cowboy boots. Everyone from radiation check-in to the radiation techs raved about the boots. As a bonus they match the green hospital gowns they have us change into. It’s nice to have something positive to think about because walking past a waiting room full of people waiting for chemo treatments on my way to the elevator down to radiation can be a bit depressing. I feel guilty about having it so much easier than they do.

Radiation Room

The purple section rotates and is where the radiation comes from

The daily treatment is very fast and easy. Before my first treatment they put three freckle sized tattoos, literal pin pricks of blue ink, on my body. Every weekday morning at 9am I go in, lay face-up on a table, and put my hands on the handles behind my head (see the green circle on the picture). They move the sheet under me to get the laser on the ceiling to line up with the three tattoos so the radiation is directed at the correct area. Then the entire machine rotates – the section circled in purple ends up at an angle about a foot above my right side, facing the inside of my left breast. I hear some whirring noises for about a minute – that’s the radiation being dispensed. Then it rotates to be even with my left side, the radiation tech shifts the table a bit, and the machine whirrs again for about a minute. That’s it. I get changed from my hospital gown into my clothes and go home. Fast, easy, painless. It’s amazingly simple and the techs are very friendly and answer all my questions.

The hardest parts are getting there on time each day and not being able to wear deodorant or antiperspirant. I have to use their hospital grade lotion and increase my protein intake but otherwise my life is very normal. Everything is easy and my great circle of friends has been incredibly supportive! I’m very lucky and happy to be getting on with my life!


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Diagnosis – Those First Moments of Breast Cancer

I wrote this Reader’s Opinion for the “Pink Edition” of the Idaho Statesman October 2, 2013 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month:

Do something. Anything. Make the cancer go away. What will I have to endure – will they chop off my breasts, make me ingest toxic drugs, poke me and prod me and stick me with needles and run me through machines? Quick; learn the difference between an MRI and an ultrasound and a mammogram – what does each really do, what does each detect, what kinds of false positives and false negatives might occur with each. This isn’t happening, it’s really a mistake. The test results aren’t really mine. Are they?

Keep Calm and Fight Cancer

Keep Calm and Fight Cancer

Deep breath. Of course it’s my diagnosis. And it’s mine to deal with. I can either panic (been there, done that – just a few seconds ago) and wallow in fear and pain or I can deal with it and move past it. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice, I guess I’ll deal with it.    It.    The breast cancer. I can fight it. I will fight it like a girl – proud and strong. I’ll overcome it. And I did. The cancer is gone. A little lumpectomy – done. A few weeks of radiation just in case there’s a microscopic cancer cell or two left over – coming in a few weeks with few expected side effects. Genetic testing – negative for the common breast and ovarian cancer causing mutations including BRCA. What a relief. I’m cured and I still have breasts that look pretty much like they did before. I’m done. I survived.

I took that fearsome cancer dragon and I turned it into something to live with. I didn’t do it alone. I have a great circle of friends who went with me to the biopsy and doctor appointments and pre-op and post-op…. They sent positive thoughts and showed they cared and they also knew when I just needed to be alone. I have a highly trained surgeon and oncologists and lab techs and nurses and even a nurse navigator assigned by the hospital. I work for a company that provides me with great insurance so I don’t have to worry about paying for all this wonderful medical care and the frequent screenings I will have in the future.

I am so lucky in so many ways. They caught my cancer early, I have wonderful friends, I asked questions and went back for additional screening after the initial false negative, and I have access to medical care many in this country can’t afford – though many more will get the care they need as more and more ObamaCare provisions are enacted.

You too can be lucky – take charge of your own life. Ask questions, take action, and be your own best advocate. Schedule your mammogram. Fight like a girl. Love your friends. Ask questions. Befriend your dragons. Help someone in need. Thank those who help you. Do, be, live, love, grow, change. And never give up.


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The Princess and the Cancer Pea

The Princess's backyard

The Princess’s backyard

Once upon a time there was a princess in Boise, ID. We know she is a princess because she has so many advantages. She works for a Fortune 50 company that provides excellent health care and whose culture encourages strong support of employees as they go through hard times. She owns a nice house in the foothills that is way bigger than she needs and is great for parties – and since she works from home she feels she can justify the extra space. She has wonderful, extremely supportive friends around the world who will do (have done!) just about anything for her. She gets to speak her mind freely and does often freely share her opinions. She has shoes and bicycles and rafts and coats and boots and clothes and friends for just about any specific activity she likes to do. And when she wants to go on an adventure or buy something nice she just does it. She lives in a city often ranked top 10 for outdoor activities and adventures and can walk or ride into the foothills or along the Boise River a very short distance from her house. The princess is writing this blog on her patio as she looks out on her gorgeous, tree-covered hillside of a backyard. This princess lives a wonderful, charmed life.

So what could go wrong in this perfect, Camelot world?

That little cancer pea…. And thank goodness it was only pea size when they found it! Because this princess has great health care she didn’t hesitate to ask for an MRI and go to the High Risk Breast Clinic after the initial two sets of mammograms plus an ultrasound said that the shadow on the first mammogram wasn’t really anything to worry about. Because the princess knew her insurance would cover just about any reasonable health care advised by a doctor she asked for the expensive genetic testing and spent three hours at the High Risk Breast Clinic talking to a genetic counselor, a surgeon, and an oncologist about her lifetime risk of breast cancer and how her mom’s two breast cancers (the 2nd one was terminal) affected the princess’s own risk. They told her to lose 10 pounds, exercise more, get screened twice a year, and take Tamoxifen. The princess not only lives in a country that can offer the best health care in the world if you can afford it, she is also lucky enough to have a job that gives her the insurance that means she can get that excellent care when she needs it. Because of that high quality of care and her great health care insurance the princess had breast cancer surgery and she is now cured. She won’t even have much scarring and her breast doesn’t really look any different than it did before. How great is that?!

Cancer sizes compared to produce - this princess had a pea sized tumor

Cancer sizes compared to produce – this princess had a pea sized tumor

Because of that great health care plan, when the surgeon suggested that maybe another ultrasound was needed and maybe they should just go ahead and do a biopsy guided by that ultrasound she didn’t hesitate – she had no fear of the testing costs or any difficult decisions based on whether she could afford any suggested future care. And that may have saved her life. At the very least it made the whole cancer thing less scary. If the princess had no insurance or had insurance that was more costly or she couldn’t afford even minor copays and deductibles like so many people in this country they might not have found the cancer until next year’s mammogram. Statistically the tumor might have doubled in size twice in the next year – from .9cm to 3-4cm. It might have gone from totally non-aggressive and incapable of spreading to other parts of her body to something that was about to or already had escaped into her lymph nodes or blood stream. She might have not just breast cancer but also bone cancer or something else hard to cure and painful. But this princess had great health care and she is cured and that is wonderful for her!

Ultrasound images

Ultrasound images

But for many in this country, with the type of insurance so many people in the United States have (or don’t have), they might never have had the 2nd mammogram and biopsy this year and might not have their next mammogram on the advised schedule. So that tumor might have doubled in size again and again and again…. Once you are considered high risk (and the princess was given an estimated 36% lifetime risk of breast cancer – almost triple the norm) you are often put on a schedule to have an MRI then six months later a mammogram then six months later an MRI – rinse and repeat. After her cancer diagnosis this is now a forever-more schedule for the rest of her life unless she decides to have a preventative double mastectomy. But not all insurance will cover that screening MRI. It’s expensive and some insurance carriers will refuse to cover it, especially if you’re only borderline high risk or had a mastectomy (the princess had a lumpectomy). The princess heard that some high risk women save up so they can get an MRI every 3-4 years, paying totally out of their own pocket, and they just can’t afford to get the once a year MRI that their doctor recommends.

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA aka ObamaCare) takes great strides forward because it requires that a screening/preventative mammogram be covered by your insurance for free, it doesn’t require subsequent follow-up care such as a 2nd mammogram in the same year to be free. In her case the princess had to pay several hundred dollars for the 2nd mammogram/first ultrasound and doesn’t yet know the total costs for the second ultrasound, ultrasound-guided biopsy, nurse navigator, surgery, pathology reports, radiation, and follow-up care. But since her maximum out of pocket for any given year is small she has probably already paid every health care expense she will have to pay this year. And how wonderful is that? But how many people in this country have that luxury?

Stand Up for Women's HealthThe Affordable Care Act also means that the princess is guaranteed that her past breast cancer won’t keep her from getting health insurance if she changes jobs in the future. Pre-existing conditions can no longer be used as an excuse for insurance companies to avoid covering the people who may need the insurance the most. There are also state and national laws that prevent health insurance companies and employers from using the results of genetic testing to discriminate against the princess and other Americans in health insurance and employment decisions – but they don’t prevent life insurance discrimination.

For most people health care insurance in general will be cheaper and more comprehensive with the new health care exchanges ObamaCare has created. In some states that really care about their inhabitants Medicaid expansion also covers and subsidizes even more people. So if you don’t have insurance or need better insurance now is the time to do your research and get covered! If you still can’t afford breast cancer screenings and treatment go to your local Planned Parenthood clinic for help. They provide funding for screenings and health care of all kinds for men, women, and children. As a proud board member of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest I encourage you to support women and women’s health care (and men’s too!) by supporting Planned Parenthood!

The princess wants you to think long and hard about your health, your health care, your friends, and your insurance. Fight like a girl at all times! Think about all the wonderful things ObamaCare is doing and will continue to do to improve the overall health of Americans. Make your mammogram appointments and keep them! Encourage your friends to do the same. Get to know your own breasts, how they look and feel at various times of the month, and tell your doctor if anything changes. Think about what your own health and life are worth and be willing to pay for care when needed. Speak up and ask lots of questions – challenge health care providers and insurance companies if needed. Be supportive of your friends and ask them for help when you need it. Don’t fall for pink-washed products and research any charities before you donate to them. Take charge of your life so you too can have a wonderful, charmed life like the princess!Fight Like A Girl - Sister Wives

Read more about the princess on http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/cindygross and http://befriendingdragons.com. She also tweets as CindyGross and SQLCindy.