Sunday, October 28, 2007

Behind the Covering is a Woman Like Me

First Lady, Laura Bush has just completed a trip to the middle east where her mission was to raise awareness of breast cancer among Arab women. We may be inundated with awareness campaigns here in America, but they all had a beginning and they have saved countless numbers of lives.

Former First Lady Betty Ford was the first to bring the words "breast cancer" out of a whisper and into the limelight. Because of her brave steps in revealing her illness to the country and the world, other women became aware that they, too, might one day get breast cancer. So word started to spread, the media covered it more openly. Mammograms were discussed as a routine procedure instead of just a test after the fact.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan also developed breast cancer. This shed more light and more urgency on the problem. The next thing the nation knew a beloved television character added her struggle with breast cancer to the storyline of her hit show. When Miss Ellie of "Dallas" underwent her mastectomy, breast cancer was now in our living rooms.

Breast cancer was no longer being whispered. It was being talked about openly. Betty Rollins wrote "First, You Cry" and it became a national best seller. Nancy Brinker founded the Susan B. Komen Foundation in honor of her sister's courageous fight with breast cancer.

Today, breast cancer screening is the norm. Because of these brave women, it is not hidden in the shadows any longer. In years past, the treatment of breast cancer was brutal. Radical mastectomies were performed while women were undergoing biopsies. They would sign off on a procedure that might alter them profoundly before they even knew if they had cancer. While still under anesthesia, if the frozen tissue sample of the tumor came back from the pathology lab as positive, the surgeon would continue the surgery and perform the radical mastectomy. The way she knew if she had breast cancer was if she woke up to find she was missing a breast.

With the advent of the women's movement and the brave women who stepped forward with their own cancer battles, the face of breast cancer treatment changed forever. We are now partners in our care. We have a voice. We have choices. And we are living longer and surviving this disease because we are screened early.

Mrs. Bush wants this to be the case in the Arab world as well. She recently stated on television that she always felt that the coverings that Arab women wear were somehow closing themselves off to her and the outside world. She said that one woman she spoke with said to her, "I may be covered in black, but inside I am transparent."

Inside those coverings are women just like us. They need us to help them get breast cancer screening done early so they, too, have a fighting chance, just like us.

Most breast cancer that is detected in Arab women is only found when it is late stage and too late for any intervention that will prolong a woman's life. We know better. We know what a difference early detection makes.

There is one thing about this disease that will always hold true, it knows no boundaries. It strikes all colors, races, nationalities and income groups. The best and only chance we have right now is early detection. That should be available to every woman on the planet.

I applaud our First Lady for bringing this to the forefront. And I will find a way to support her cause because we are all sisters in this fight whether we live in Denver or Dubai.

No more secrets. No more shame. No more hiding. No Surrender. Go Laura!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Friend Carrie

In June of 2005 I started helping out a group of women who were newly diagnosed. I just popped into their discussion on a breast cancer site and offered them some "oldtimer" advice on how to get through chemo. They are an exceptional group of sisters. Their strength taught me a lot and actually helped me two years later when I was rediagnosed.

I want to tell you about one woman.

I received and email from a woman named Carrie that simply stated, "I am frightened for my sister. She is having a really hard time with chemo. Is there any encouragement that you help me give her?"

And we have been emailing each other ever since.

She got her sister through the darkest depths of her treatment. Even when her sister wanted to just be left alone. They have a beautiful bond. They are sisters and friends and they are wonderful. Every pain Denise felt, Carrie felt. Carrie fought Denise's doctors for her when Denise was too sick to fight them. She made sure she got the right meds and ate something because she was getting so weak from the chemo. Carrie relentlessly thought up ways to cheer her sister up, even if Denise didn't particularly feel like being cheered up, Carrie was going to try, no matter what...

Denise once said, "There is nothing like laying in bed, sick from chemo, and you feel like the devil himself is trying to pull your eyes out of your head and your sister sits on the bed and reads you a poem..."

Those are my girls!

Cancer has touched their family too many times. Carrie has been the cheerleader, information gatherer, support system and prayer warrior for not just her own family, but for all the sisters she met through the breast cancer support forums she frequented to learn ways to help Denise.

She is one of those people who are really angels that try to pretend they are just regular folks. But if you knew Carrie like the Sisterhood knows Carrie, you would have caught a glimpse of her wings from time to time too.

Here is where I just don't get it. It is times like these that I want to say "Hey, God? Are you kidding? Not her. NOT CARRIE."

Unfortunately, it is Carrie's turn. She was diagnosed and she sees the oncologist tomorrow and is most likely going to get a bilateral mastectomy in the near future. It is not fair. It just isn't right.

But, she has been given a great chance to beat the Beast because she found her cancer at an incredibly early stage. And for that, God, I am thankful to you.

The Sisterhood always had Carrie as our civilian ringer out there fighting the good fight for us and praying for us and whether we liked it or not reading us poems... and now she is one of us.

This post is a salute to my friend and my sister. And it is a request too.
Please say a prayer, or send healing white light, or whatever it takes to let the heavens know that we want Carrie to go through this journey as painlessly and as free from worry as she has fought to help us go through ours.

If ever there was a time for Karma, this is it.

Carrie, all of us in our circle of friends love you and are here for you and may all the love you have given come back to you tenfold.

I am also sending Denise a book of poetry. Karma works both ways you know.

Love you,
g

Saturday, October 20, 2007

REASONS TO SMILE



Sisters in Ohio who makes strides for breast cancer and canines who care!!!

Thank You Carrie, Denise and Ellie!!!!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pay No Attention To That Person Behind the Pink Curtain


Breast cancer awareness month and a white hot primary election season heating up. There almost isn't any room for Anna Nicole Smith stories anymore. What do they all have in common? When examined closely, none of them are what they appear to be.

First up, the news from Iowa today. It seems the political candidates are now going door to door to drum up votes. Now I ask you, just who do they think they are sneaking up on? Let's see, there are about 4 SUV's in their motorcades, three buses of press, satellite trucks parked and pointing their huge dishes to report this spontaneous moment, and then the candidates themselves, looking all casual and nonchalant, like a paper boy simply comin' 'round to collect this week's fee.

Second, has anyone noticed the amazing drop in new breast cancer diagnoses this month?* The last time I checked, which would have been around May, the number of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the US is between 250,000 and 275,000. The mortality was around 40,000 per year. This month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the number of newly diagnosed women is being reported as 170,000. Is this a typo? It can't be because I have seen it in at least three different places.

I know there was a decrease in new cases and some felt it was because of women stopping hormone replacement therapy. But some doctors are worried there was a decrease because women have stopped getting as many mammograms as they used to so their cases have not been reported yet. How can that possibly be?

To the outside world that has never been touched by breast cancer, it has become so commonplace now that folks not directly touched by it are desensitized. After all, haven't all those pink things made it not such a big deal anymore? Why get a mammogram? Women don't die from that anymore, right? They get cured. Right?

Sorry to say, NO. Get your mammograms early, by at least age 35. Because breast cancer isn't under control. The Beast is not a nonchalant candidate taking a stroll on a Saturday afternoon dropping by on the off chance you may be home and all it wants to do is ask for your vote.

It comes with crowds. Medical teams who do all sorts of things to you. It comes with satellite dishes. Huge, friggin machines that probe you, zap you and leaves effects that stay long after the visit is over.

If there are people who read this blog who do not have breast cancer and who do believe that the Pink has cured us, stop believing that. If you are a woman, arm yourself now. Because the best chance you are ever going to get is early detection. It is a matter of life and death.

Tonight a dear sister and I were writing emails to each other. She has breast cancer too. We were talking about how many names we have crossed out of our address books and marked them "deceased." It is happening all the time, every day, every hour, every fifteen minutes. We are losing an entire generation of really great women. Women you would have wanted to know. Women who had a lot to offer and who had too much love left to give to be taken away so soon.

In a round about way, what I am trying to say to everyone, but most especially those who have never been touched by this miserable beast from hell, nothing is as it appears. Like the candidate who spontaneously rings your doorbell for the heck of it, PINK has not put an end to this disease.

Please: Give your money to the research labs that are holding the keys that will open the door to our cure. We can't lose any more moms, sisters, daughters, wives, lovers or friends. Don't just buy something pink. Take the money and put it towards a CURE. So pink can become a pretty color again, and not code for a nice way to say ladies are dying.

*UPDATE: The NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE RELEASED THE FOLLOWING ON MONDAY, 15 October:
New breast cancer diagnoses are dropping about 3.5 percent a year, a previously reported decline due either to women shunning postmenopausal hormone therapy or to fewer getting mammograms.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Perky Police

One upon a time I was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I could run. I could lift. I could take on an Elliptical trainer like nobody's business. I sailed. The real kind of sailing that is a sport where you are pulling lines and maneuvering all over the boat. I was especially proud of my arms. I was strong but they looked slender.

Sure there were days when I would be lazy and I knew it had been awhile since I hit the gym and I would see a girl jogging and feel guilty.

This has all changed.

I am not allowed to use my arms anymore they tell me. If I do it will go on my permanent record or something. I have been told I cannot even mow my own lawn. Imagine! Of course I didn't follow that rule and wound up with a ruptured tissue expander and my punishment was a helpful visit from my dad. The morning of my surgery to replace said ruptured expander, my dad came down to "mow" my lawn. He really didn't want me to have to cut my lawn again. So he cut it short. Really short. By the time we came back home, Tiger Woods was practicing his short game in the back yard. When he cut my lawn on August 27th so I wouldn't have to cut it, I didn't realize he meant I wouldn't have to cut it- ever again.

Next year I will start from scratch. I am hopeful that the rules I am living under will be lifted by then. I cannot be trusted to follow rules. So they better be.

But my forced idleness has made me feel like I am supposed to be sick. I know that being in chemo I am supposed TO BE SICK. But I will be damned if I am going to act like it. However, when they start imposing house arrest on top of it, I get a bit cranky. And I think I should confess something to you all right now. I should get it off my chest for once and for all.

You know those girls who I mentioned jogging by who made me feel guilty I hadn't hit the gym? They aren't disciplined athletes to me anymore. They have become my nemesis. Their perky shiny ponytails bobbing from under their baseball caps and their slender but strong arms keeping pace with their relentless running fills me with disdain. The nerve. Running on the streets like that! Don't they know there are bald people under house arrest with brownfields for front lawns? Have they no shame? What crust!

Yes, I plan on speaking to someone about this. I know. This isn't healthy. But heavens to Betsy! Flash your perfect health someplace else, will ya? There are people trying to finish chemo here... trying to get their eyelashes to grow back... trying to remember what it is like to be perky!

I need someone to share my grief with. So tomorrow at 9 AM I am taking Mr. Fluffy in for a shave. I have had just about enough of him flaunting his fluffy 'do in my face too.


When even your front lawn is bald, you have to do something.