At the end of last year, I made the difficult decision to stop all active advocacy in the Metastatic Community. In February, I officially resigned as METUP’s President. I haven’t disappeared completely, I am still available for individuals that need advice or help. I feel I will be more effective that way.
I threw myself into advocacy because I felt it was the right thing to do. My intention was to try to make meaningful change for those that may come after I’m gone. I diversified my activities. If it felt right, I would say yes when asked to take part in something new. I’m not someone who craves attention or wants any recognition. I’ve always preferred to be in the background; part of the scenery if you will. That didn’t always happen. I allowed myself to be out of my comfort zone a few times in group projects and while I am thankful for those experiences, I promise you, I hated every minute of it.
I, unfortunately, allowed my mental health to suffer because of my advocacy. I didn’t want the deaths of the men and women I knew to be in vain. I felt an overwhelming responsibility to keep going while my physical health was reasonably good. Meanwhile, I felt like a fraud. Who’s going to take me seriously when I’m still here after 8 yrs? I certainly don’t look sick, hell I wouldn’t even believe I had cancer so how can expect strangers to? Add a healthy dose of survivor guilt and top it off with a global pandemic that cuts us all off from socialization. I was low. I was unhappy.
Advocacy has changed so much. There is less and less that feeling of: “how are WE going to fix this” and a whole lot more in-fighting, cattiness, and “you’re doing it wrong.” There are these pockets of small groups that want nothing to do with each other for the stupidest reasons. I can only imagine how it looks from the outside but from the inside, it feels like there is this constant unofficial fight to be the top dog of advocacy.
It all changed when Beth Caldwell died. She truly was the matriarch of the community. The sad thing is there is still so much more to be done: pharmaceutical price gouging, restructuring clinical trials, research disparity but the center of attention right now is the systematic discrediting of a fellow MBC patient. I can hear Beth’s voice asking: “Who’s life is that going to save?”
In the past, I have tried to help. I’ve taken it upon myself and tried to be a voice of reason. We are more powerful & effective when we all work together, aren’t we? The fire I once had in my belly was gone. It isn’t empowering to me anymore. I cannot be around people that have these other agendas that have nothing to do with advocacy while boasting how awesome they are. In my experience, if you have to keep repeating your perceived status, it’s not as awesome as you think and no more than what others have/are doing. Any respect you may have had is been decimated by your own words and actions.
I’ve given MBC advocacy all I had. I’m proud of all the things I have done and I don’t regret any of it. I made incredible friendships because of it. Now, it’s time for me to focus on my family and the people I love the most in this world. I am turning my attention to the future. More specifically my Granddaughter: Piper Olivia who will enter this world in January. I am not going to squander this amazing gift the universe has bestowed on our family.
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May was a BUSY month! So many amazing milestones were reached I’m still not sure if they all happened. Every day I look at all the pictures taken over the last month & I thank the universe for allowing me to be a small part of it all.
It all began with double graduations from the University of Rochester for my son & his fiancee. We weren’t sure what would happen thanks to Covid-19 until a few months prior. It wasn’t exactly ideal but what matters was I saw them both in their caps & gowns, heard their names called & what every parent dreams of; watching them both walk the stage to receive their degrees. Well, degree covers. There were five ceremonies in all spread out over three days. The big commencement & two-degree major ceremonies for each of them. All streamed live for parents and loved ones to see.
Immediately after the pomp and circumstances, we switched into wedding mode. They chose to get married in my daughter-in-law’s home state of Oregon. I don’t know how they planned the wedding while attending their last year of college AND working. All the while not even sure it would all happen due to all the restrictions and rules for the pandemic. If it weren’t for her parents, it would have been a nightmare for both of them. When it comes to inlaws, Adam won the lottery.
They had a beautiful day weather-wise. Their ceremony and reception took place outside. Making for an ideal setting. Clear blue skies and warm temperatures all day. Actually, it was damn hot.
If it had been a contest of who cried more, Adam won. Hands down. It filled my heart to see all the emotions he was experiencing. There was no doubt just how much in love he is. The bride was stunning. She glowed with happiness as her father walked her down the aisle.
After the ceremony, there was a lovely dinner, toasts to the bride and groom, something called The Shoe Game that involved all the wedding guests and llamas. Yes, llamas.
When I returned home, I was given the all-important task of babysitting their five cats and dog. That week I was literally a cat herder. No easy task I might add.
The newlywed’s honeymooned at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. They had a fun and relaxing time. I won’t lie, I was a lil bit jealous.
When I began this blog, my biggest goal was to see Adam graduate from high school. If someone had told me I’d be there for that and so much more milestones in his life I would have laughed and laughed. I never let myself hope for anything beyond the one goal I would set for myself. I was too afraid of hoping for things I’d never be part of. Cancer forces one to not look too far into the future no matter how optimistic. I don’t say this to put anyone off or to be a downer. I say it because of how grateful I am. I must acknowledge how incredibly lucky and appreciative I am.
Which brings me to share, with gratitude this last bit…
Just in case anyone doesn’t understand the photo above, these should do the trick!
I’m going to be a *gulp* GRANDMOTHER!!
Truth be told, I’ve known for a while. This has been the HARDEST secret to keep. Those that know me, understand how physically painful this was. I was SWORN to secrecy until other family members were told. Nothing is worse than finding out about important life events than on the internet. So, how long have I known, you ask?
I have a magical new goal!
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Most mornings, I am the first one awake. I like that. I have a routine that I follow. I go into the kitchen, turn on the Keurig, put hazelnut creamer in my coffee mug, and while the coffee is brewing, I prepare Bella’s breakfast. The first of her several small meals throughout the day. I grab my coffee, my meds, an “after breakfast” cookie for Bella, and head for the couch. While I check my phone to see what I missed overnight, Bella & her full belly snuggles up next to me & falls asleep.
This quiet time is my favorite time of the day. The only sounds that I hear are the clock’s ticking on the dining room wall, the soft whooshing of the traffic below us & Bella snoring. It’s peaceful & relaxing. My Twitter feed is full of tweets about what’s going on in the world & updates from friends sprinkled in between them.
It’s ironic how the brain triggers the memory of events that happened in the past. Songs, smells, places, reading a book, or specific dates. It happens even when we don’t mean to or even want to, depending on the memory it triggers. That happened to me this morning. Not just one memory, but two.
These memories are both exceptional, each in its own way. They are separated by fifteen years. I can recall every last detail of each memory. When I think of them, it’s as if I am back in that moment again. I hear the sounds, what was happening around me, and who was there with me. I even experience the feeling as if it’s happening for the first time. I don’t always remember them in the order in which they occurred. However, one always triggers the other. It’s like being in a time machine but without the “Back to the Future” Delorean. Does this happen to everyone?
This morning it happened backward. My memory placed me back in one of the many waiting rooms at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan. I was waiting for the nurse to call me for the first of four scans I was having. I was sitting in an armless chair; the bright sun came through the windows on my left. Above me, in the corner of the room, the TV was on. Good Morning America was on. A couple won a contest to be married, live on their show. The hook was that John Legend would also be there to serenade them with his wildly popular love song: “All of Me.” Later that afternoon, I would be in the exam room sitting next to my Oncologist and, on the other, my husband. She read the results of my PET scan. It was the first one I had after I started treatment and the first time I heard: No Evidence of Disease. I was confused. My doctor put her hand on mine, looked me dead in the eyes, and said, “The cancer is not detectable. The Aromatase Inhibitor is working. This is the best possible news.” It took a minute to sink in. I cried & laughed at the same time. That was seven years ago.
I will always be grateful for that memory. It’s probably the only positive, happy experience I’ve had living with cancer. I had hope again. Hope that cancer had taken from me. That feeling is what triggers my next significant memory. It was a snowy day in 1999. I had the ultrasound that every expectant parent looks forward to. I saw my son, for the first time, cramped in my belly. He looked so chill. The tech pointed out his tiny little finger buds, his spine, his legs. She was reassuring that all was well. Did I want her to tell me the sex? she asked me, YES, I wanted to know. She moved the wand back and forth over my stomach. “There it is,” she said. “You’re having a boy” The rest of the story can be read Here
As I sit here remembering these two events, I think about what’s to come this month. My son & future daughter-in-law are graduating from college. They will have commencement ceremonies this year. While the No Visitor policy is still in place, I’ll be watching the live feeds. The following week I will have fully realize a dream I never imagined I would have the honor to attend; my son’s wedding. I am so looking forward to watching his bride walk down the aisle to exchange their vows.
I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all of this. When did he grow up? Most parents who get to this point in their children’s lives want to turn back time to when their kids were little. I honestly don’t. I cherish this time right now as he builds his life with his soon-to-be wife. They both have accomplished a lot in the last four years. I couldn’t have imagined a better future for my little pup.
At the last minute, I chose to have my PET scan last Friday. I wasn’t going to do any significant medical stuff this month as I didn’t want anything to put a cloud over these monuments occasions, but in the end, I knowledge is power. I didn’t post anything about it or the “look at me; I’m having a scan” picture on social media. Many of my friends are dealing with their health that it just didn’t feel right. I realize it shouldn’t stop me from talking about what’s happening with my own health. It’s separate, but I guess I’m becoming more empathetic now that I’m in my 50’s. Is this what happened to the Grinch?
May 2021 will be the most fantastic month. I am going to take in every second & enjoy it to the fullest. I feel so, so fortunate, and I thank the universe for keeping me No Evidence of Disease for now.
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Today I am grateful. I’m grateful every day, really, but today I am especially thankful. The people responsible for my gratitude should be acknowledged and adequately thanked, so I dedicate this blog to all of them.
The Early Years
I am grateful for my parents and that romantic night they had (I’m taking some creative liberties here, but you get where I was going) that resulted in me.
I was fortunate to have had a privileged childhood because my father worked his ass off, and my mom ran the house and raised my brother and me. We were monsters.
I am grateful to have had a close relationship with my mother’s parents growing up. I learned an innumerable cornucopia of life lessons that could have only come from them.
I’m grateful I was raised with all of the traditions of my Italian heritage of cooking, holidays, always using my hands when speaking, and swearing.
I’m fortunate to have an older brother. No, I am.
Even though he teased me relentlessly when we were growing up, we did have some fun times, and he’s there when it matters. He and my sister-in-law have given me two nephews I am super proud of.
I’m grateful to my dad for bringing a puppy home to us kids knowing full well he was the one that was going to need a dog house. While my mom was none too happy for a long time, Pepper survived four homes, two states, and getting hit by a car. 13 long years in all.
I am grateful to all of the friends I had growing up. I couldn’t tell you where most of them are or what they’re doing, but each one played a part, even a small part in shaping who I am now. I also have some cool memories. I don’t know how I didn’t get arrested with some of them.
I’m grateful for having had piano lessons as a kid. On my ninth birthday, my folks bought me a piano. Remember, I said I had a privileged childhood? I took lessons on and off through high school. I can’t play much now. Sorry, mom & dad, that was an expensive piece of furniture to display framed photos.
I was fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity of a good education. My parents chose private schools for most of our education. They weren’t uppity boarding school private schools (no offense to boarding school alum). I’m talking about Catholic school. Yes, the rumors are true, BUT that doesn’t include me. I was a nerd.
I’m grateful for my parents teaching me that life isn’t a series of handouts. If you want something, you work for it. There were chores to do, then babysitting until I was old enough to get a” real” job. A MALL JOB. Every sixteen-year-olds dream job. Mine was to work at Baskin and Robin; sadly, I ended up at Macy’s.
I didn’t know it at the time, and I sure didn’t feel it; however, I am grateful now that my family and I moved across the country when I was 17. California to NY. It was devastating then, but it had a massive impact on pulling me out of my shell and shaping the course of my life.
There are no words for the gratitude I have for whatever power or force is responsible for trusting me with the outspoken and stubborn child I have. I mean that in the most loving way, only a mother could. Raising a child on your own is challenging. When that child is (at times) smarter than you (and knows it), make sure you have wine available. The moment I knew I was doing a rockstar job as a mom was when my son shouted those three little words and went stomping into his room,” I hate you!” I Love you too, kiddo.
I am grateful for all of the amazingly fantastic teachers my son had throughout the years. Most memorable to me are Mrs. Moore in PreK, Sr Pat in 3rd Grade, and Mrs. Feller, who taught him four years of Latin. I know there are so many more. I don’t mean to leave anyone out. These three are the teachers I immediately recall; however, I do mean all of you. Except one. Who shall be known as Voldemort. Don’t ask, please. I’m serious.
I am so fortunate to know some outstanding individuals who I keep within my inner circle. I met Jennifer as a senior in my” new” high school in NY. She was spunky, sarcastic, witty, and smart AF. She still is, but imagine all of those qualities the way fine wine will age to perfection, and that’s Jennifer now. One little reason why I adore her so goes back to that August in 2013. The night before my first ever PET scan, I received a call that the machine was down. I had to be rescheduled; they don’t know when. Jennifer wasn’t having any of that. She pulled all the strings she had, made calls, and went straight to the top. The top of what, I have no idea, but it worked. I was the first person in that machine the next morning. I adore Jennifer.
I’m grateful for my pup, Bella. She’s a source of comfort, she’s my snuggle buddy, my secret keeper, snack taster, walking partner, and little spoon to my big spoon every night.
I am grateful for my extended family, my in-laws. They are supportive. They call to check on us, are always available at the drop of a hat, and generous to a fault. My step-sons are a trip. They put on a tough exterior, so you don’t see how much they care. Most recently, the youngest wouldn’t book a trip he was looking forward to taking until my scan results came back. He would only go if the news were good. It was, and he went. I LOVE my sister-in-law. She’s my comic relief; every family function is even better.
I am grateful for my FUTURE DAUGHTER IN LAW! That’s right. My son asked, and she said yes!! I am so happy for both of them. She has a generous heart, and she’s hard-working. She loves Adam and makes him happy. I can’t ask for more than that. Bring on 2021!
The Hard Stuff
I am grateful beyond words for my Primary Care Physician. Without her keen attention to the results of my tests; the clues she found could have otherwise been overlooked, I certainly would be dead and wouldn’t be writing this blog. While this may seem contradictory considering my current diagnosis, Dr. P saved my life in 2013.
I am grateful to have access to excellent medical care, especially at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. My oncologist there, Dr. Modi, is the best. She listens, she’s calming, she’s honest but not scary. I love seeing her. I shouldn’t because – cancer, but I do.
It’s not always roses and rainbows even in the best of marriages. Throw in a serious illness and you’ve just upped the stress factor by about 100 levels. Anyone who says otherwise is a damn liar. Most of our marriage has been in the shadow of cancer. It’s been trying at times but my hubs has always made sure even after that final diagnosis that the best medical care was available to me. He never complained, in fact, he insisted we travel to Manhatten so I could become a patient at Sloan Kettering. He still found time for us to get away when we could (still does) and he always tried to make me laugh even when I REALLY don’t want to. His sister asks me all the time how I ‘put up with him’ but really he puts up with me most of the time. I am grateful for him every day.
I am thankful for my friends that stayed. The friends that didn’t leave or ghost me after cancer became part of the dialogue. There’s a huge adjustment that happens when you are dealing with a serious illness. An even bigger one when that illness isn’t ever going to go away. No one realizes that until it happens to them or it’s happening around you. Just like marriage or babies- there aren’t “how-to” step by step manuals. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” does NOT count. That’s crap too. It glosses. I digress. I’m trying to say that I wasn’t the easiest person to be around that first year. Thank you for sticking it out.
I am grateful for the radiation oncologist that treated my bone metastasis. Instead of putting me through a month’s worth of treatments, the plan was five days for each spot after careful mapping and tattoo placement.
I am tremendously grateful to the first oncologist I had locally (I’m on my third one, not by choice) that not only listened to me but also HEARD me when I kept pushing for breast surgery to remove the tumor that was still present. I was not a candidate because I’m Stage 4. Ultimately I met with an angel of a surgeon who understood my logic and worked out a compromise. I had the surgery and am very thankful to Dr. O.
I’m thankful for my Gastroenterologist. Even though every single test came back negative and had no explanation for why I felt so shitty or why I kept losing weight, he referred me to a surgeon who removed my gallbladder. While it appeared normal on all the tests, it was acutely inflamed. That was the problem all along.
I am so grateful to have met and gotten to know so many extraordinary and remarkable people from all over the country and the world. Please understand, I am not now nor will ever be thankful for cancer. I’d give that shit back in a hot minute. I consider the men and women I have met along the way being gifts for the shit hand life forced onto me. They have all changed my life for the better. Far too many to mention by name.
All of the advocacy opportunities have been unlike anything else. It makes me feel like I am doing something to make all of this not so shitty for the next person. Going to conferences, taking part in protests, lobbying, and even organizing a social media blitz – it all makes me feel productive. I am so grateful for that.
This is the longest blog ever. Hopefully, you’ve made it this far and not fallen asleep. I’m just about done.
I am the most grateful and overwhelmed that I am celebrating my 50th birthday tomorrow, even though it’s during this pandemic and most things are still closed. My birthday falls on a Thursday this year. I bring up the day of the week because I was born on a Thursday, and I think that my 50th falling on the same day of the week as I was born is pretty neat. I used to have a mug that had the “Mondays Child” Nursery Rhyme on it. I loved that mug. It was then I learned that I was a Thursday’s child, and I had far to go. It’s not so corny anymore.
It’s a little bit poetic when you think about it; I should be dead. I should have died in 2016 according to the statistics. That’s IF you believe statistics. I’m not special. I’m not doing anything different than anyone else has done. It’s 75% luck. The other 25% is because of the treatment plan I’m on that has been working for the last 5 yrs. I wouldn’t be taking these medications if it hadn’t been for the researchers working to find the CDK/4 Inhibitor who then ran the clinical trials that resulted in Ibrance. That 25% is saving my life right now. It shouldn’t be. It should have stopped working, but it’s still saving my life.
Remember gratitude; always be grateful.
I’m leaving this song from Sia “Saved My Life” that inspired this blog below. Sia is and always will be my music God.
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Like so many, I had high hopes for 2020. Super high hopes actually and not just because of the obvious this upcoming November. Hubs and I have birthday’s six months apart with mine being the first. A fact he is quite happy to remind me of every . chance . he . gets. There were plans in the works for an epic vacation. But I’ll come back to this in a bit.
Last month, was my PET/CT. It was scheduled at Sloan Kettering. The days leading up to when we had to leave, I kept in contact with the hospital. It was still early on but NYC had already been given ‘stay at home’ orders. Restaurants and non-essential businesses were closed. There was some chatter about closing the city completely. That never happened of course so we were good to go. I’m not going to lie, the drive to the city was a little creepy. Any other time it would be an absolute miracle as the usual traffic and back-ups on the bridges was nonexistent. The hotel was a ghost town. I am pretty sure we were the only guests staying on the property. There was no going out to dinner or walking around the city. It was TV and room service. The streets were noticeably absent of the normal crowds of people as we drove to Sloan the next day. I had the scan and we drove home.
I am very happy to report that I am good for another 6 months as my results were stable – again.
Soon after, we all started hearing phrases like ‘social distancing,’ and ‘flatten the curve’ and we were all told to stay home. We were quarantined at home for 14 days because we had been in NYC. Neither of us had symptoms or were sick at all but we stayed inside in case we were asymptomatic. I have only gone out into the world one other time – for treatment. Otherwise, I have been home, watching the news, looking outside, keeping in touch with friends and family online or by phone. As much as I like to be home and I do like to be home; I want to runway like a prisoner planning a prison break and never come back. Seriously, as soon as the world opens up again and I can go where I want, I may disappear forever. There is something about being told you have to stay put that all of a sudden makes you want to do ANYTHING but that. Even my pup Bella is completely fed up. She’s beginning to look at me funny; almost like she’s plotting something sinister for some night when I am sleeping.
It feels like we are all living in a real-life version of the movie thriller Pandemic. Except it’s a lot less exciting and a whole lot more annoying. It makes me long for 2019 a little bit.
Back to the trip that never was. This year we both turn the big 5-0 and we’ve been planning on taking an epic trip for the last year. A destination that has been on both of our bucket lists – Rome. (Yes, I know) So, OF COURSE, days, before we were going to book the trip the entire country of Italy, became locked down. (Thank you novel virus)
I am making a prediction that we will still be on lockdown by the time my birthday rolls around next month. That completely bums me out. I hope I’m not right. I don’t normally make a big deal about birthdays but I admit that I was looking forward to being quite annoying about it. Balloons, streamers, a big over the top cake. I was going to cash in on all the years I was all – ‘Meh’ about it. I am trying to focus on the bright side of turning 50 during a pandemic – I have additional time to plan an even BIGGER epic extravaganza!
On a related note, I am now a proud member of AARP! Yup, that’s right, I said it. I used to get annoyed when an unsolicited email would find it’s way into my inbox, however the other day, I went to their site (on my own) and became a card-carrying member. I have to admit that it’s not at all what I imagined it was going to be. I won’t officially be able to take part in their benefits until my actual birthday but I already have my eye on a few things I plan on taking advantage of. I am gifting myself Vision Insurance for my birthday! SO EXCITED. It’s the little things, isn’t it?
Aside from becoming a missing person once the world opens back up, the very first thing I plan on doing is going to the salon. I may be turning 50 but I sure as hell will NOT be keeping these gray hairs and LOOK older than I am. Also, I have been making a complete disaster out of my bangs. Every pair of scissors should be hidden from me until this whole thing is over. I am not even kidding.
Wash your hands, Stay inside and above all Stay healthy.
I should be sleeping. It’s 2:33am. I have to be up in four hours.
I am in Albany as part of a campaign for New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act. The campaign, 50 Reasons by Compassion & Choices, highlights 50 stories of real people and their reasons why they support the bill. Its genius. The people included aren’t just terminally ill patients; they are members of the clergy, doctors, caregivers, loved ones. They all have personal stories; reasons that provide their perspective.
Today is my day to share my reason.
Normally, I can do this with my eyes closed. I’ve been coming to Albany and have been involved in this advocacy for years. I’ve blogged about it in the past. My reasons then were very clear. I didn’t want my son to see me actively dying, lying in bed for who knows how long and remember me that way. I was working hard to create special memories for him. I wasn’t going to have the end of my life strip that all away. While that’s still true, he’s much older now. There is another reason that has moved to the top of my list.
(This is the most unnerving coincidence – I know God is laughing)
Exactly one year ago, I published a blog What The Fuck Is The Reason. My dear friend Melissa died the night before from metastatic breast cancer. I had sat with her family, her best friend Chrysta, and watched countless others come and go as they checked on her or said their goodbye’s. There were a few nights I stayed with her Aunt and close family friends so Melissa wasn’t alone.
Melissa lingered for nine days. There were times she was in pain but unable to communicate beyond calling out. She was visibly restless, and fluid was building up in her lungs. It was incredibly frustrating for those of us sitting there bearing witness. We were mad. We were upset. We felt helpless. I can’t fathom how Melissa felt being trapped in a body shutting down and not being able to communicate what she needed.
Death is not how it is in the movies or on TV. It’s not a natural, peaceful, falling asleep death. If you’ve never sat bedside for anyone while they died and thought that’s what it was like – you’re greatly mistaken. Cancer patients who have been on pain medications for a long time have it the worst. There is a level of tolerance that develops. A false understanding exists that with the right ”formula” of morphine, any pain can be managed. That may be true for some, but not everyone. The line between palliative coma and death is razor-thin.
Those days and nights I spent in Melissa’s hospital room gutted me; not to mention how it impacted her family, those that loved her and her sweet daughter. I don’t ever want to be trapped in my body like that. To put my loved ones through that. Those nights reinforced to me how important it is that there be Medical Aid in Dying laws in every State. Everyone with a terminal illness should have access to this option if they want it.
It’s not a religious issue – It’s a personal choice.
It’s not suicide (OMG It’s NOT) – I want to live. Cancer has other plans.
I think I always knew about the correlation in dates between yesterday/today and last year. I just never let my mind REALLY go there until it forced me. Always the middle of the night. Thanks, brain. While it will be familiar, it will also be different as I see staffers and lawmakers. The tears I know will come will be about Melissa.
I’m livin’ the dream, Melissa.
Livin it for you babe.
Two hours until I have to be up…..
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