People Say the Darndest Things

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Life with MBC. There is so much that is misunderstood, unclear, and even unbelievable. For those of you new to this, MBC is metastatic breast cancer, or stage IV breast cancer. Once breast cancer takes up in a distant organ it becomes deadly. It takes the lives of over 40,500 Americans each year. And even if we don’t die from it, we die with it.

I truly believe that most people are well intended, and I don’t fault them for what they don’t know. So while I know others rant about the insensitivity (because the reminders truly can hurt), I thought I’d dispel some myths and offer some better options – at least for me.

Breast cancer is curable. Really, it’s not. Let me repeat that: breast cancer is not curable. More

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Uber Me This

IMG_0056Uber has been on my radar for at least a year – probably longer. The first time I used this crowd-sourcing, ride-sharing service was last spring, on the way to the airport with a colleague. While it was convenient and easy, I still harbored suspicions about regulations, safety and whatever other excuses cropped up. Fast forward to a girl’s night out a few months ago. We were going to a nearby “Paint and Sip,” with particular interest in the sipping. Neither of us were enthusiastic about driving – and then I remembered Uber! It was a great choice – everyone got home safe and sound. More

Miss You Already…. (Spoilers)

Since I first came to hear and understand the challenges of living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), the most central theme has been awareness. From accurate and specific awareness can flow better reserach, greater understanding, expanded support, and so much more. But without true awareness of the complex and weighty challenges faced by MBC patients, the world can hide behind pink and patients remain in the closet. 

Enter Miss You Already, a soon-to-be-released film by director Catherine Hardwicke and staring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette. I think it’s a MUST SEE – not just for breast cancer patients, but for everyone…. 

Miss You Already tells the story of best friends – one unable to get pregnant, the other a mother of two young children diagnosed with TNBC which eventually spreads to her brain. We can all surmise the ending.

As we, the MBC community, focus our efforts on reaching well beyond our own numbers and our inner circles, sitting at the heart of a big screen Hollywood movie is a critical opportunity to help the public understand what it’s like from our side. And there was every chance it could have been a diaster, with more pink fluff, more happy endings, more sugar-coated bullshit. It’s not that, not at all!

In the years I have been dealing with MBC, I’ve never before felt that my story was being told. This time, it’s exactly my story – evidence that we are being heard, noticed, at last. Like Toni Collette’s character, I was first diagnosed as a young mother. I expereinced similar strainded relationships, discomfort, the idiosyncrasies and ironies, the profound ways it changes your life and your relationships, and the fight to find the “new normal.” Writer, director, actors – they have undertaken an incredible effort to remain true to the patient experience, and they have executed it brilliantly. 

Is it perfect? No…but it addresses countless minutia that could only be familiar to those who have walked in our shoes. I am honored to have been invited to preview the film, and hope you will check it out!

Opening Thursday at a theater near you…I give it 5 Kleneexs. Let’s see if we can give it a stronger opening than 007!

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Self Care?

I dread even writing the words. I resist, deny, justify, ignore, and try to learn the lesson over and over again. I had lunch with a friend recently and we were talking about my trip to Italy. I shared my realization of how much work just caring for myself canbe – walking 2-3 hours a day, getting to my writing, cooking healthy food – that’s a full time job!

“You learned this before,” she says.

Of course, she’s right. In fact, I’ve learned it many times before. And I know I’m not alone in this. Raise your hand if you are POSITIVE you would put your oxygen mask on first when sitting next to a small child…. I think I would, but at the risk of watching my child pass out, I can’t say I’m certain. Thankfully we’re past that age. We’re getting to the age where it’s more likely he’ll have to put my mask on me.

Which begs the question: Why is self care so hard? Is it a male/female thing? A motherhood thing?Why is the line between self-care and selfish blurry? Why does caring for others come naturally, but caring for ourselves require reminders and negotiations and, sometimes, very loud wake-up calls? More

Dear Ms. Robach

An open letter to Good Morning America News Anchor and breast cancer “survivor,” 

Ms. Amy Robach

 

Dear Ms. Robach,

What a journey you have had recently. From what I read in the press, save the persistent chemobrain, you are feeling well. Congratulations! I am quite familiar with the challenges of treatment and surgery, and getting back to everyday life. It looks like nothing can hold you back!

It ends up we have quite a bit in common.

  • Like you, I was diagnosed young and on my first mammogram, when I was 35 years old.
  • Like you, I opted for bilateral mastectomy in hopes that my lobular disease might not occur in the healthy breast also. (You know, of course, that bilateral disease is most common in lobular breast cancer, which is what I have.)
  • Like you I underwent chemotherapy and tamoxifen (5 years was the standard back then).
  • Like you, chemobrain persists.

It seems we have some differences as well. More

When Faith Falters

faithFor as long as I can remember my primary identity has been grounded in Jewish community. From summer camp to youth group, that is where I first felt I belonged. So much so that I went on to minor in Judaic Studies in college and focus on Jewish Communal Service in graduate school. Most of my 25-year career has been spent serving the Jewish people, and I have always felt lucky for the chance.

While Jewish peoplehood and Jewish faith are not the same things, I’ve generally taken my faith for granted. I work in a synagogue, after all.

When I was first diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer I felt the warm embrace of both the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. My community could not have possibly been more supportive and I never bothered to think through the distinctions. My connection to them was synonymous with my connection to God. I was grateful for the many prayer groups across the county who held me close, to the strangers who would never know more than my name, but petitioned God on my behalf anyway. And our faith seemingly prevailed. Despite the unpleasantness of chemo and a long, long surgical recovery, I was “cured” and able to leave breast cancer behind me, stronger for the experience.

Today, as a metastatic patient from whom mortality cannot be hidden, I’m less sure. My faith’s teachings are admittedly vague on the subject on afterlife, favoring a focus on what we can and must do in this life over speculation about the next one. We have this time, it seems to say – make the most of it. Enjoy it, but do good things, too. Not because you’ll get credit for it later, but because it’s the right way to be. So after all these years of serving the Jewish community, of trying to do good things, what’s left? I understand I may not die of breast cancer, but I will unquestionably die with it. And as each treatment fails me, my faith is a bit more compromised.

Are God and heaven and hell just human constructs designed to make us feel better, safer, about the mystery that is dying? Are they real in the absence of evidence, in the same way that we can’t see or capture the wind? Or perhaps they exist only for those who have faith. I don’t believe my faith will heal me, as much as I wish it could. Wonderful, saintly people have died of illness, and evil people have lived long and prospered. It’s impossible for me to believe in an interventionist God in a world like that.

Ultimately I believe, with rare exceptions that range from Hitler to the Dalai Lama (yeah, don’t see those two in the same category very often, do you?), that we mostly try to be good, and we succeed and we fail and we go on. I have friends, mostly Christian, who urge me to have faith. I understand why – from their perspective faith is the key to heaven. From mine, if there is one, it is good deeds. And I guess I believe that actions do speak louder than words…

But it begs the question of faith. As the lives of some many fellow bloggers and twitter friends are prematurely stolen from us, as my own health falters, do I have faith?

I remember when my mother in law was diagnosed with mesothelioma. In the months before she died we would have long conversations of faith. She had, once, believed in life after death, and had a notion of it being good. As her death approached however, just when she probably needed it most, her faith was gone, or at least well masked. She came to believe in nothing. I’ve always hoped in her final days, when she no longer had the strength to talk on the phone, that she found what she needed.

Which has me wondering what I need. Would this path be easier if I were a true, unquestioning believer? Would I find comfort in “knowing” what to expect after I die? Perhaps, if I could ever really move from thinking to knowing, a move the skeptic in me is likely to never make. In the end, it always takes me back to the very beginning. Within hours of being diagnosed the first time my anger at what this would mean for my loved ones burst forth. Never mind me, I’ve done bad things in my life. We all have. But to make my loved ones suffer for my actions, the unanswerable question always remained: what could Zach, at the tender age of three, have done to deserve this. That, in the end, confounds my faith; I have not found a way to put my trust in an unjust God.

I figure I have lots of time yet to work this one out…

Third Line Therapy

Mphotoemories of another angst-filled day of sitting in bed waiting for the side effects of my first round of chemo playing tug-of-war with what I know must happen, I ask John to bring me my pills.

“The new ones?” he asks.

“I guess,” I grudgingly respond. Really, this is me? Really?

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TRANGST

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We’re familiar already with the term SCANXIETY – the persistent anxiety that surrounds PET, CT, Bone, MRI and whatever other scans they can throw at us. It pertains to the test itself, and to the wait — the hours or days it takes to get our results. But as I await the shipment of my new meds from the speciality pharmacy, I think we need coin a new phrase, TRANGST, perhaps? The angst that surrounds the change to any new treatment protocol, with it’s unknown side effect and unknown impact.

And that is where I sit today…

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The Measure of Time

CalendarLast week saw yet another CT scan and, unfortunately, some progression: albeit slowly, my cancer is growing again. And so I am now looking at my third-line treatment. I must admit, its all a little surreal. I was going to be that girl who got years on each successive therapy, denying to odds and beating down the doors of a ripe old age. Strike that – I AM going to be that girl, just not the way I planned.

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#BCNext

We are constantly confronted by “breast cancer marketing,” the barrage of pink, from funding free mammograms and research, to supporting individuals with cancer, some of whom can’t even afford child care and transportation to treatment. We range from those with strong family histories, whether BRCA positive or not, to those enduring treatment, to long-time survivors with metastatic breast cancer, to those we have loved and lost. We are each the face of breast cancer.

In America, and I presume elsewhere, there is a great divide between those of us on the ground, living with and dying from cancer – and the other side of breast cancer, those who make funding decisions and allocations of both donated and allocated dollars, private, public and NGO.

If you could have their ear for a moment, if you could tell them what YOU think, what YOU see, what YOUR breast cancer priority is? What if your voice, combined with others like you, like me, could help influence our future?

Comment below or tweet to #BCNext to join the dialogue and spread the word! Let your voice ring out!

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