Another personal essay published February 23 on Curetoday.com. Even though cancer treatment is behind me ... hopefully forever ... I've learned that sharing my story and voicing many of those feelings and fears that cancer patients know is truly helpful for others and healing for me. So I've begun sharing and writing about my treatment based on journal entries that have remained private until now. I watched the warm water rinse away the long hair that clung between my fingers and wrapped around my hands and wrists. I ran my hands through hair and rinsed away the hair again. And again. And again. It was time. My oncology nurse had prepared me for this moment. “I will bet my last paycheck you will lose your hair”, he said. “Make sure you procure protection for your head from the cold and sun.” Which was good advice. Hair turns out to be surprisingly practical. But his advice didn’t touch my worst fears. My hair was soft and fine and honey blonde. Now that beautiful hair would be gone, replaced by the scarves and hats that are a symbol of sickness. My bald head would scream “CANCER” like a neon sign, flashing “Sick person, right here”. Strangers would look at me and see a disease. But I wasn’t a diseased sick person. I was healthy and strong and fit and capable and attractive. At least I was until this breast cancer came out of nowhere. I hated the idea of the world seeing anything else. A request to my friends yielded a cascade of gift certificates and hats and scarves. A trip to the wig shop became an adventure as we tried on dozens of wigs. And as we laughed and experimented it occurred to me that I could become anyone I wanted. Perhaps a platinum blonde Marilyn Monroe? Or sexy
CURE Magazine published my essay: Marathons: Coming to terms with a post-cancer Reality. You can read the published article here. CURE is a magazine most cancer patients come across at some point during their treatment ... They print a physical magazine quarterly and copies are widely available at cancer centers and doctor's offices ... And patients and their loved ones spend a lot of time in waiting rooms reading magazines. Subscriptions are free by signing up online at their website. And they have extensive content online at www.curetoday.com and social media. I'm excited this article was published by CURE because they have such a strong audience of cancer patients, caregivers and families. I hope it will help others avoid my mistakes. The text of the article printed in CURE is below: ---------------------------- Marathons "I'm signing up for a half marathon this spring. Who's with me?" My heart sank as I read this on my young friend's Facebook page ... a friend still in the early stages of breast cancer treatment with months of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation ahead of her. I recognized this trap. Before breast cancer, I was an amateur athlete ... never the fastest or the strongest but I found joy in testing my physical strength and endurance. I biked across the US and India and completed triathlons and runs. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and enduring a year of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, I had set an ambitious goal for the one-year anniversary of the end of my treatment: to bike 10,000 miles over three months in Asia and spectacularly thumb my nose at the cancer that had stopped me cold and left my body broken. And why not? The media and the Internet promote glorious stories of cancer patients completing near-impossible physical feats. And I took this message to heart. I was a survivor.
Medical oncologists have finally turned their attention to the hundreds of thousands of women who survived their breast cancer. The American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncologists released new guidelines to help primary care doctors and oncologists monitor and treat their patients properly after breast cancer treatment ends. At last there is a comprehensive document that provides detailed diagnosis and treatment information for the myriad of side effects breast cancer treatment leaves in its wake. I encourage every breast cancer patient to sit down with these guidelines and a big cup of coffee (you'll need it - they are a dense read) and a highlighter. Then take a copy in with you to your next appointment with your primary care doc or oncologist and ask questions. And if you have a friend struggling with any post-treatment side effects, sending them this document could be invaluable to help them identify and get care they need. When my active breast cancer treatment ended in fall 2012, I transitioned from over 100 medical appointments in a year to being released on my own recognizance with a brand new, completely alien and malfunctioning body. During treatment and for the next two years, side effects from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation kept popping up like the moles that tear up your newly planted lawn. Identifying what was "normal", what was treatable, and what might be a serious - or even a deadly indication of the cancer returning - was a mystery. I Googled symptoms. I trolled online blogs for information. I called my oncology nurses with questions. I spent many hours and a lot of money seeking relief, seeking out physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists and anyone else who might be able to get my post-treatment alien-inhabited body back to something remotely active, pain-free and normal. Many breast
Let's Go, Mom!The first time I traveled with my Mom was in the late 90s. We joined a research project in Ecuador and Peru with Earthwatch where we lived in jungle research camp with no running water or electricity. We spent our days tromping around the rainforest catching butterflies and tagging them for a study. It was a life-changing trip that opened my eyes to real travel - with all the great stories that continue to thrive years after in the retelling without any need for embellishment. But mostly that trip opened my eyes to the fact that my mother was not just the mother seen through the eyes of a child. I realized that my Mom had some gumption.In Ecuador we climbed on the roof of the chicken bus when there was no room and it was too hot inside, heeding yells from the front to duck when the power lines or tree branches hung too low. We waded through mud up to our knees in search of elusive plants that fed our butterflies by day, and stood the same pants in the corner after the mud dried overnight. We joined the rest of our Earthwatch group hungrily eyeing the skinny live rooster tied up by the leg in front of the cookhouse - ready for a change from the rice and beans and wondering how much chicken we were going to get from that skinny bird.Before the first Mom trip, I had just ended one phase of my life and was finding my way into the next. After years of work-a-holic tendencies successfully navigating the high-stress yet so self-important political world in Washington, DC, I had fled to the West Coast and different life. And I was diligently perfecting the art of working intensely for a few months
Obligatory Leaning Tower of Pisa Cheesy PhotoSo much for easing into the riding.The first two days here in Lucca I've been out riding with friends for between 20 and 30 miles. Today ended up being a 65 mile day. I was planning to be doing between 30 and 40 miles a day this week ... but I'm riding with a group of friends and it's so easy to say, "Yes. Let's ride to the beach." We started out from Lucca this morning and road to Pisa to see the duomo and the leaning tower of Pisa. It was packed with tourists ... the best part was the bike ride there - beautiful and just so gratifying to ride in to a place where others are more limited by parking or train schedules to come and go.When we were done, we went back and decided to detour to the beach just south of Viareggio, which ended up more the doubling the mileage of the day. Beautiful riding, and a beautiful day. Castles and ruins of watchtowers on hilltops. Wildflower-lined one-lane roads - buttercups and red poppies and Queen Anne's lace. Earth colored homes. Broad fields of bright yellow blooming mustard. Yellow iris blooming along riverbanks. View from a hilltop castle in Nozzano on a rainy day rideBut a familiar problem for me ... I have a hard time not pushing too hard physically if the reward is good enough.One post-cancer challenge I have is lymphedema. Part of my breast cancer treatment included removing the lymph nodes under my arm. This has a long-term risk associated with this surgery of edema, or swelling, of the trunk and arm because the nodes that drain the lymph fluid (which is part of your immune system) have been removed.I have lymphedema in my trunk. It
Italy.Italy was where I traveled the first time I ventured away by myself for a weeks-long trip over 15 years ago. Italy was where I learned to use my travels as time to think through all the things in my life that my daily routine prevented. I scratched out my thoughts and revelations and ideas and “I wishes” in a battered notebook over quiet dinners or on train rides between the sites I’d always heard about but never visited.My first trip to Italy was defiant. I had quit a job that I’d grown to hate. I was searching for what was next. And I was bent on making up for lost time from working too much and holding myself back from doing the things I wanted – like travel.So I charged through the country determined to see everything on the “List”. Guidebook firmly in hand. Snapshots of all the important effigies. If I couldn't take a picture I would buy a postcard to put in the scrapbook – as if to document I had been there. I had been there. See? Quitting my job was worth it because I WAS HERE.That scrapbook disappeared years ago. What remained were the insights learned during hours of journaling. Life choices for the next decade sprung from that journey. I've now traveled to Italy cumulatively seven weeks in two separate trips. I've seen the monuments of Rome, the canals of Venice, the masterworks of Michelangelo, the black and white checkered Tuscan cathedrals, the ashen ruins of Pompey and Herculeum and the remnants of the Greeks in Paestum and Sicily. I've traveled with friends. I've traveled alone. I've met companions along the way.And now I’m back to Italy a third time for another five weeks. It’s fitting to come back now. I’m at another big