Saturday, October 29, 2011

Breast Cancer Journey - Off Season Training

I usually avoid traveling to the east side of Hwy 101 into Santa Rosa or Rohnert Park like the plague. I save up errands and appointments so I only have to go in every week or two. This week was an anomaly for sure, but all for a good cause ~ my future health!

I met with my Oncologist on Monday ~ reports are good, the tumor removed was about half the size they anticipated. I have positive estrogen receptors so it has been suggested that I start a regimen of Anastrozole to help lower estrogen levels ~ as if menopause wasn't enough! One of the possible side effect is hot flashes ~ Geeze Louise, I made it all the way through menopause with one night sweat and no hot flashes, so I'm hoping that whatever my body knew then it remembers now! Due to a long list of other potential side effects I've asked if I can start when I'm done with radiation. I should hear back in a couple of days. I don't want to hammer my body with too much all at once. Tuesday was a follow up mammogram to see if there were any residual calcifications. Report back from radiologist was that films were clean and clear. Oh Yeah!

Wednesday off to the Rohnert Park Cancer Center (RPCC) to meet with my Radiation Therapist and discuss preliminary treatment plan: five days a week for four weeks. We've got it worked out so I'll be done about a week before we take off on our 25th wedding anniversary adventure (destination pending ~ we keep getting new ideas).  

I got Thursday off and didn't leave the property except to attend a concert at Studio E with singers/songwriters Tom Russell and Thad Beckman. It was an amazing evening full of laughter and outstanding music dedicated to my late friend Trisha and shared with family and friends.

Friday took me back to RPCC for a CT scan, to document my treatment plan, design positioning devices to keep me in same position for each session and tattoo my skin for positioning accuracy (we're talking four blue freckles here, nothing major). I met with nursing staff for patient education and got more homework. On Nov 9th they'll do a Sim Verification or dry run and perhaps my first treatment.

Trisha's Bobcat ~ Cherry Camp Vineyard 2009

For anyone who knows me, Bobcats hold a special place in my life. As I walked into my Radiation Therapist's office and sat down I looked up at the calendar on the wall ~ there looking back at me was a Bobcat and the words of William Wordsworth "Let nature be your teacher". I no longer question these experiences, I just know my husband, friends and spirit guides have my back and are with me for the duration of this journey.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oh If You Could Smell My Kitchen

We came in from the garden Wednesday afternoon expecting to sit down and watch the World Series, but Game 6 was called on account of foul weather. I went out to my studio to work, but after about half an hour the aroma from the kitchen drew me back into the house. Rod had decided that it was a good night for Pizza and I don't mean take out. We're talking homemade from scratch sourdough (thank you Nancy) with herbs and ingredients right out of the garden.

The Aroma Generator - Onions, Garlic, Oreganos, Tomatillos, Sun Gold and Heirloom tomatoes gently simmering for sauce.

I checked back in about half an hour later and the sauce was beginning to take shape - color magnifico red.

Thursday is the day the waste management trucks come to pick up recycle, garbage and yard waste. They won't come to the top of the hill so we all wheel the carts down to one place on Wednesday night. This time the men of the ridge top and the three kids took off all at the same time so the gang found out about Rod's pizza making on the walk. Neither family was available to join us so he promised them each a pizza. They'll be delivered today "Meals on Heels" for reheat and eat!

Ingredients on hand from the garden: zucchini and crookneck squash, Asian pear, red bell pepper and herbs. Add to that asparagus, crimini mushrooms, mozzarella fresca, Parmesan and goat feta cheeses in various combinations.

Pizza #1 disappeared shortly after it emerged from the oven!

Pizza #2

Pizza #3 

We'll have to tape Game 6 tonight cause we're heading out to one of our great local music venues called Studio E to see Tom Russell and Thad Beckman. If you ever get a chance to see them in your neck of the woods, don't hesitate.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How's Your Addition?

What do you get when you add up 64+6+4+4.5? You're saying 78.5 of course. These are not random numbers, but rather the combined ages of the "Top of the Hill Gang" which includes my husband Rod the Kid Magnet and our three adorable neighbors. 

Truth be told Rod is really a 6 year old trapped in the body of a grey beard. So lose the 4 in 64. Age matters not when it comes a fertile imagination, a sense of play and why not do something creative instead of chores. The four of them built this dude while I was out running errands.

The straw from summer mowing is kept in a large pile just outside the garden for our composting bins. The four of them took the garden cart down to the pasture to bring up enough to stuff the shirt, head and pants. When they started moving straw they uncovered a whole new world of bugs and from what I hear got temporarily sidetracked on another learning adventure. Kids, dirt and bugs are a magical combination.

Once back up to the yard, Rod built the frame and the kids did all the stuffing. The face is an old canvas clothes pin bucket that had outlived it's prime.

The funny part is that we all do a double take when we drive in. Our scarecrow looks a little like Rod cause this is his usual gardening outfit, less the hay of course.

Power to the child in all of us!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Choose Your Attitude

I've always had a positive attitude: it could be genes, it could be growing up in a small town, or the shear luck of the draw. Whatever the reason my outlook on life is a key ingredient of my well being.

Life continually throws us challenges but how we choose to grow from the experiences are the important lessons. I lost my parents when they were in their 70's ~ far too young. Little did they know that the lifestyles sold to them as healthy in their youth would be their downfall. They were not of the generation who chose to question authority and trusted the family doctor without a second thought. What I learned is that we have to be our own advocates and take responsibility for our well being.

I've lost close friends to disease and accidents, beloved pets when I made the choice to let them go with dignity. I've faced medical challanges for 20 years and have recently been dealing with breast cancer. Each experience has helped me grow, made me wiser and taught me how to deal with adversity. I've learned that exercise and changes in diet are the best things you can do for yourself at any age. But probably the most important lesson is that life is short: do what makes you happy, start work on your bucket list, keep people in your life who love you for who you are and make you laugh.

This brings me to a conversation with my surgeon when I had my stitches removed last week. Much of the information given to you regarding surgery and recovery tells you to rest and don't do much. I told her it wasn't my style to sit around and I was off and running (albeit carefully and with some common sense) on autumn projects around the house and at a neighbor's the day after my surgeries.

She said to me "Your big picture perspective, positive outlook and sense of humor play a huge part in your overall health and healing". She drew a box in the air and then made a small box in the lower corner of that square. "You have chosen to perceive your cancer as only a small part of your life experience, it will never rule you. Unfortunately many patients choose to let cancer become their life, they become victims of their diagnosis rather than taking on the challenge and looking ahead".

No one said life would be easy, or fighting a life threatening disease would be a cake walk. I just want to encourage anyone dealing with cancer to remember your friends, family and a army of survivors have your back and are there for you. Call in the troops!

This morning's Press Democrat has a great article about cancer survivor Nina Sibert. Her cancer and treatments were far more radical than mine, but her outlook is very similar. Please read and share it. I hope to meet her someday. Here is the link:

Now go outside and enjoy your day!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Breast Cancer Journey ~ Bottom of the Ninth ~ Grand Slam

D Day Part Deux, Thursday October 6th

We awoke to thunder, lightening, rain, then sun and the news that one of our gang of "Usual Suspects" is moving home from out East. It was gonna be a good day, even with surgery scheduled around 3pm.

After reading the initial pathology report my surgeon suggested that we create a larger margin of clear tissue where the tumor was removed from my left breast. Just a little added insurance. There were no "wasp on steroids stings" (radio tracer injection) or wire guidelines this time. She had been down this trail just last week so it was a pretty simple procedure.

It's kept cool in the admittance room where you wait to get wheeled into surgery. They have you put on a huge, double layered soft paper gown/tent that ties in back and has a series of strange little vent holes in it. Much to my delight I learned there is a heat pump and hose that hooks into one of the vents and blows hot air into the gown to keep you toasty. I need one of these for watching TV in this winter! I was home by late afternoon with an appetite (18 hours with no food) and very little discomfort.

Friday I was supposed to relax and take it easy. Needless to say, sitting still is not one of my strong suits unless I'm totally enthralled in a book or at a music venue. Rod has gotten really creative, short of tying me down, with keeping me put. After breakfast he emptied our overstuffed piggy bank on the counter and said "sit, sort and count ~ right arm only". That kept me out of trouble for a little while.

He's pretty sweet for a tough guy. He's been fixing me fabulous meals and doing the dishes. How often is that going to happen? This morning he made us designer pancakes. I got a pony and a redwood tree and he made himself a dinosaur.

Just in, hot off the wire:

We've hit a grand slam out of the park ~ I just talked to my Breast Care Coordinator about an hour ago and the news is that my margins are clean. Game 1 is in the win column, but it's important to not lose sight of the fact this is an ongoing series, kind of like the playoffs. Once I talk to my oncologist on October 24th I'll find out more about my post-season training schedule of radiation therapy. 

That said: just a reminder to never lose your sense of humor, always question authority, dance in the kitchen and walk in the rain. Let your mind out for a run around the block.

Rain Couple

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dew Drop Inn

A foggy autumn morning drifts in without a warning

 I cannot see across the pasture
But spiders have begun to gather

Strings of pearl strung about the yard
and a little sun on the liquid amber

Like four aces to a gambler
we have a stunning visual card

Go outside and play
live each day
as if it was your last
tomorrow is only the future
and yesterday is just the past

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Breast Cancer Journey - Top of the Ninth

A little rain today, the air smells fresh and I'm on one of my inexplicable tears about the house: cleaning out drawers, rearranging my studio, switching pictures on the walls and delivering a Jeep load of cool stuff to our VNA Hospice Thrift Store.

I'll bet you're saying to yourself "What is she thinking she just had surgery on Wednesday?" Well the first couple of days I took care to keep my left arm close to my body. I'm mostly a "pullover shirt" kind of girl but I inherited some beautiful button up shirts, so like Napoleon (wrong arm, but you get the picture) I was able to tuck my left hand in between the buttons and be good, at least for a couple of days. 

I have felt really good, none of the side effects listed as possibilities ever showed up. For me it has been therapeutic to be doing what I've been doing, albeit very carefully. Ye olde sports bra was the best discovery of the journey: it applied pressure, shielded me from ice packs, protected the area from arm movement and kept my tatas from dancing around on my daily walks.

The highlight of my Saturday was a long hot shower ~ four days is a long time for this Pisces to be out of water, but I did okay. Camping has educated me on the art of the sponge bath. There are stitches and steristrips holding the incisions closed and then a huge patch of sterile gauze for cushioning and protection. The stitches and steristrips stay in place and you remove the pad to shower. The part they don't tell you about is that the tape to keep that pad in place is seriously akin to duct tape - Everyone should have a roll in their toolkit!  Ouchamaymucho!

Update: My surgeon called this afternoon to say that my lymph nodes and vascular system are clean as a whistle which is excellent, cool beans, and just plain outstanding news. 

However, though the pathology report doesn't come out and say it directly, she said there is some concern that the margin, the extra area around the tumor that is removed, was not clean, that some of the cancer cells could be at large. We talked about it and decided the best approach is to go back into the incision and remove additional tissue. Since I already have an appointment on Thursday we'll take care of it then. Get to skip the dreaded radio-tracer bee sting and needle localization and go directly pass go to surgery for a gentle sleep and a little more tuck and roll.

I will still need to follow up with radiation in a month or two, but feel I have been dealt an amazing hand. I owe a lot to the women who took this journey before me, including my mother and a number of friends. I stand strong with my sisters around the world who are now on the same journey. Remember attitude is everything and don't hesitate to ask questions or get a second opinion.

A Promise to Pay it Forward: 10% of all my Etsy and craft fair sales this fall will be donated to Susan G. Komen For the Cure. Their website at has a lot of helpful information and ways to get involved.