Befriending Dragons

Turn Scary Into Attainable


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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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Curing Cancer with Donations

It’s natural to want to donate to something, to offer to help “fix things” when someone is sick or injured. But how do you pick who gets your time or money? Do you give to a local charity? One of the big names? Something directly related to and as specific as possible to the illness? Something general? I don’t think there’s any one good answer. Before you donate to anything, check them out on an independent site like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. Make sure you search on the exact name as there are many look-a-like groups and some of them are completely bogus or donate just a tiny fraction of what they raise to their supposed cause.

KeepCalmAndFightCancer

Since my breast cancer diagnosis a few weeks ago I have relied heavily on a handful of sites. The big medical ones are the Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute. The first two do accept donations. I also got some great BRCA information from FORCE aka Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. Another organization that has been incredibly helpful is Caring Bridge. They allow me to keep everyone updated from a central location. They rely on donations to help power the servers and run their website. From my past political experience (and as a Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest board member) I can highly recommend Planned Parenthood as a group to support in the fight against breast cancer. They provide funding for many women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get a mammogram or other health screenings. Idaho is dead last in breast cancer screenings so that is clearly an area for improvement here. Again, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest can help as they offer funding for Idaho women who need screening.

One group I do NOT directly support is Susan G. Komen. Not only did they recently falsely claim a long disproven link between abortion and breast cancer but they have some questionable practices related to prosecuting other groups that use “for the Cure” in their own fundraising efforts. They did quickly restore their funding to Planned Parenthood but the damage they did with their misinformation is long lasting.

There are other groups out there that aren’t doing research or treatment but that add a lot to the lives of those fighting cancer. For example, there are groups that provide free house cleaning for people going through chemo or other debilitating treatments, free scarves, hats, or wigs for people with hair loss from chemo, and low cost or free get-aways like weekends at a cabin or fishing trips. Many of these groups are too small to be rated by the charity rating organizations so find something local and ask around.

I won’t tell you who to donate to, but I do suggest you do your research and choose something you really care about. It seems likely you’ll have more impact with a donation to a smaller organization. Right now I’m thinking I may be donating more to the groups that provide screening and offer support during and after diagnosis and treatment. You may also want to think about a random act of kindness to someone in need.