Befriending Dragons

Turn Scary Into Attainable


16 Comments

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!


1 Comment

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.


2 Comments

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.


3 Comments

No Coffee? Just Because of Surgery? Geez.

Friday I had a fun filled day starting with NO COFFEE. Oh, and a lot of poking and prodding and a little surgery. Less than a month after getting my breast cancer diagnosis I had a 1.3 cm lump (about the size of the tip of my index finger) removed from my left breast. I really appreciate all of my extremely supportive friends who have been helping me stay upbeat and positive throughout this whole process! Just a bit of daily radiation starting in a month or so and then this pesky cancer thing is all gone!

I was on vacation all of last week so having to get up for the alarm on Friday was a bit rough. But not having any coffee was the hardest part. Nothing to eat or drink after midnight – just like a Gremlin.

Sean and Rich dropped me off at St. Luke’s for a morning of appointments – I didn’t see the point in anyone hanging around when they couldn’t go in with me anywhere so I requested that no one show up before the surgery itself.

I went through admitting and they took me through the back corridors to the breast cancer center. There I waited well past my scheduled appointment time because the patient ahead of me was running late. Eventually they got me into the ultrasound waiting room where Bri, the same tech who did the ultrasound for my biopsy, was waiting. She gave me a hospital gown to change into but let me keep my yoga pants on for the morning’s appointments. She found the tumor and the metal clip they had inserted during the biopsy with the ultrasound and a new radiologist came in – she just moved to Boise from Seattle. WP_20130906_007Bri told her how I had watched the needle go in for the biopsy and watched every step of the biopsy needle sucking out the tissue. The radiologist used the ultrasound images to mark the desired spot (see the big black area in the images) then she inserted a thin wire down to where the clip is – this shows the surgeon where to cut.

WP_20130906_010They showed me on the ultrasound image how the wire was different “colors” every centimeter to help the surgeon judge the size and get all of the tumor. Each surgeon apparently has a favorite out of the hundreds of types of possible wires and this is the type that my surgeon Dr. Szentes prefers. The nurse measured twice to verify that the wire was sticking out by 14 cm, another double check that they had the wire inserted correctly in the right place. They coiled the end of the wire up and taped it down with gauze.

Next I went across the hall and had a couple of mammograms taken to verify that the wire was indeed in the right place. They handed me a copy of the films, told me I wouldn’t remember the next time they took mammograms right after the surgery, and sent me back to the ultrasound room. There they cleaned me up, put on more secure wrappings over the wire, and sent me to the next appointment.

Finding the sentinel nodes with nuclear medicine was the next step which took about an hour. I wrote about that in Nuclear Blue. Because they had scheduled two hours just in case I needed it and it took less than an hour at this point I was almost back on schedule –maybe 15-20 minutes late.

They sent me over to pre-op to wait. On the way to my bed the nurse grabbed me a warm blanket from the heater (130 degrees) and had me cover up as soon as I changed into the surgical gown. A few minutes later she replaced it with another, freshly warmed blanket.

WP_20130906_033

Next a nurse came in and put a catheter in my arm – no needle yet. WP_20130906_036

At this point they said I could have visitors. Linda came in first. Then Krista came in and stayed while they had me sign consent forms and the surgeon put his initials on my breast to make sure he cut into the correct one. I asked him if he could take any gory pictures for my blog and he agreed to get me a copy of the tumor picture. If any of the sentinel nodes were especially odd he would have a pic taken of that as well.

Then they gave me the happy meds. Apparently Carol came in after that but I don’t remember this and have no idea why I stuck my tongue out….

1265771_10201806955318566_2039068539_o     V__B046

The next thing I remember is the recovery nurse talking to me and Kate standing next to my bed. I immediately asked for coffee. After all, it was getting late in the day and I hadn’t had any yet! I was also hungry and had vanilla pudding (much better than chocolate!) and graham crackers. They also gave me a Vicodin and checked my vital signs. Dr. Szentes came in with a great gift – a very high quality glossy picture of the tumor! Oh, and the news that everything looked fine. They can’t say anything for sure until the final pathology report is back on Tuesday but the preliminary results look great. They got the whole thing with “clear margins” and the lymph nodes appear healthy. Because the lymph nodes (he took 2) looked so normal he didn’t take a picture of them.WP_20130906_039

It wasn’t very long before they let me get up and get dressed. I felt perfectly fine – not at all dizzy or light headed. But for some reason I couldn’t walk in a straight line. The nurse said that a lack of balance was normal after anesthesia. They wheeled me down to the main entrance and I got into Kate’s car with no problems. We drove through the pharmacy and picked up more Vicodin then headed to Starbucks – the hospital coffee just wasn’t sufficient. I ordered a heavenly pumpkin spice latte and we headed home. I was now walking in a straight line and felt great. Linda brought me soup and Carol, Emily, Kate, Linda, and Lucy stayed to play cards while we ate cheese and crackers.

While everyone left fairly early so I could rest (Sean and Rich stayed overnight in case I needed anything) I couldn’t sleep until after 2a. Emily loaned me a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks so I got a really good start on reading that (I finished it Sunday night) and surfed the inter-webs. Saturday Terry and Linda took me on an excursion to Art in the Park where I bought too many earrings and ate roasted corn on the cob. When I got home it had been 24 hours since surgery so I was able to remove the outer dressing (only steri-strips are left and they stay on for two weeks) and take a shower. I went to bed early Saturday and slept 11 hours! Sunday I took it easy. Kate took me to breakfast and there was a short excursion with Carol involving a wheel barrow…. While I took Vicodin Saturday I was down to Tylenol on Sunday and expect to be pain-killer free Monday.

I figure if my biggest concerns were waiting all day for my first coffee and not being able to take a shower the next morning then things must be going pretty darn good! I look forward to healing up and getting back to a normal life. I am sending out a huge THANK YOU to all of my friends – I really appreciate your support!

Study: Quality of life for breast cancer survivors similar to that of women who never had the disease
Read more:
http://medcitynews.com/2013/09/study-quality-of-life-for-breast-cancer-survivors-similar-to-that-of-women-who-never-had-the-disease/#ixzz2eNO04SQp