Sunday, September 8, 2013

Alive and Well

Cancer Banter has been dormant for nearly two year. Of course, that's a good thing. Cancer, treatment and recovery now seem like things from the distant past.

These days, when I make a new friend, I don't immediately divulge my status as a "cancer survivor." (Not that I ever use that expression.)  But recently, after divulging my past as a patient to a new friend,  I received an email that made reference to my "life changing experience."

That phrase always makes me pause and think about how my life has changed post-remission.

I started thinking about this few months ago at a party. An old friend gushed, "You must wake up every morning so grateful to be alive." At first, I considered lying and telling her what she wanted to hear. But, instead, I looked her straight in the eye and said, "Oh, hell no."  The initial "I'm lucky to be alive" euphoria wore off a long time ago, and now I have to remind myself to be grateful for each day.

Shortly after I finished my treatment in November 2007, I blogged about my fearless new take on life.  I plunged into life with a new-found intensity.  During this brave new period, I attended a toddler's birthday party and noticed a guest inching away as I spoke. Then she sheepishly muttered, "You certainly are intense." Note to self: Take it down a notch before attending a toddler party.

But, like my lucky-to-be-alive attitude, my intrepid lease on life slipped away. After a front-car-seat on one of life's most challenging thrill rides, the cancer coaster, and a brief post-coaster high,  I was ready to play it safe.

The Silver Bullet
A year ago at Knott's Berry Farm, I looked up at the menacing coasters and thought about the thrill rides I've been on as a patient and a parent: up, down, sideways, round and round and upside down. The next thing I knew, I was waiting in line with flocks of middle school students for the Silver Bullet, described on the website as an "aggressive thrill." And, in spite of my nonstop screams, the ride was more exhilarating than frightening.

When my boyfriend insisted that we sit in the front car for Montezooma's Revenge, I reluctantly agreed. And, much to my surprise, I loved it.

So, after a few rides, both real and metaphorically, I have this advice:

  • Contemplate the course and mentally rehearse the scariest sequences.
  • Go with the flow. You can either bounce like a greenhorn trotting on a horse or flow like the Silver Surfer.
  • Remember that almost everything is temporary.  
  • Enjoy the ride. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to Pole Dancing

Friend Anna helps hold down Puss while I prepare the needle.
A bag of fluids on a makeshift IV pole brings me back to my pole dancing days.

There's nothing quite like a feeling of accomplishment. I felt that when I first mastered the art of dancing with my two-left-wheeled IV pole partner when I was a patient at the City of Hope.

And I felt it more recently when I found myself in the reverse role of caretaker. My aging and cantankerous cat Puss needed fluids administered through the skin on her back. Each time I prepared to pierce her flesh, I repeated my new mantra, "It's only skin. It's only skin." When I managed to jab the needle and then hold her still for five minutes (with the help of my friend Anna), I felt a sense of relief. The second time, when I did the deed solo, I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment.

Now I'm about to do another fear-inducing act with a pole. A new friend who's organizing a fund raiser for Be the Match has asked me to do the pole dancing skit that I created three years ago for The Big C. And, just like I knew that poking the cat with a needle was for a good cause, I'm going to shed my fear because 100% of the evening's proceeds will assist with adding new potential bone marrow donors to the Be the Match registry.

I hope you'll join me on Friday, August 26, for a fun evening of wine tasting, appetizers, a silent auction, music, a beautiful and historic Pasadena venue and, of course, some pole dancing.

You may purchase tickets online at

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Feeling Guilty?

I've been suffering
from blogging guilt, gardening guilt and grapefruit guilt. At least there's a cure for the last one. Read all about it at Open Mouth, Insert Fork.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

She's Back!

It's been more than six months since I last posted on Cancer Banter. If anyone is still reading, you may have assumed one of three things: I was a) dead b) alive but sickly or c) alive and well.

I'm happy to report that the answer is "c," alive and well. After a year of non-stop colds, flus and pneumonia, punctuated with stomach ailments and plummeting weight, and culminating in a fractured hip and the death of my father, I'm back. Back to my goal weight, back to my old (before cancer) energy level and as close to feeling as "normal" as it gets.

But enough about me.

I'd like to introduce you to Jeanne, the Assertive Cancer Patient. She's taught me how to be assertive without being obnoxious, how to be your own best advocate, how to question everyone and everything, how to make arrangements for your own end-of-life hospice care and, most important, how to embrace life whether you have six months or sixty years to live. I'm proud to count her as a friend.

Jeanne has incurable, metastatic breast cancer. A year ago she and her doctors concluded that she had come to the end of her treatment options. That's a euphemism for "that's all folks." Enter T-DM1 - a miraculous new drug available in a clinical trial. Jeanne was lucky enough (or perhaps plucky enough) to enroll in the trial and, for the first time in more than a dozen years, is in remission.

But here's the catch. Jeanne must travel from Seattle to Southern California every three weeks to participate in the clinical trial at a hospital in Highlands. The travel schedule has taken a toll on her physically, emotionally and financially.

The drug will be available at a clinic near Jeanne in September, but, in the meantime, she must make four more trips to Southern Cal to receive this life-extending drug. She has managed to raise more than $3,200 in the last few weeks, but she needs just a few hundred dollars more to finance the trips.

Can you spare $10, $20 or more to help make this happen? She's fought for and won the privilege of staying in the trial. She's fought for and won the ability to receive the drug in Seattle in September. Let's not let her have to fight to raise the money necessary for travel expenses.

Click HERE to contribute to Jeanne's Travel Fund.

For every $20 donated, you will be eligible for a drawing for this beautiful Chinese swan necklace created by Jeanne.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

When Patient Fatigue Sets In

I'll never forget my first day as a wide-eyed freshman at a small university in South Carolina. When I learned that one of my roomies was a senior, I gushed, "Oh, it must be so sad to know that this is your last year." "Believe me," she replied. "When the time comes, you're ready."

Fast forward a few decades to a post-stem-cell-transplant visit to the City of Hope. I was slowly (and reluctantly) weaning my way from three to one visit per week. When I learned that a fellow patient was there for her annual appointment, I felt like a college freshman all over again. I couldn't imagine a stretch of 52 weeks without an appointment any more than I could imagine leaving dorm life behind.

Funny how three more years as a student and a patient changes your perspective. By the time I hit my junior year, I was plagued with student fatigue. You know the drill - when you think you're going to scream if you have to write one more paper or attend one more lecture or eat one more meal in the cafeteria.

Now I have patient fatigue, but not the kind that comes from massive doses of chemo. I'm simply tired of being a patient. If I have to take one more test or see one more specialist or endure one more procedure or . . . you get the idea.

Unlike my early days as a student or patient, I'm not as willing to do research or ask questions, and that's too bad. I'm still beating myself up over a City of Hope visit in August. My doctor and I celebrated the good news of clean, cancer-free scans and pondered the bad news of continued weight loss (I tipped the scales at 106 that day) and a host of GI problems. When it came time to discuss the results of my bone density scan, the doctor commented that my bones were thin. I didn't bother to ask the obvious follow-up question: "How thin?"

Six weeks later, I broke my hip, an event that led me to once again ask, "How thin?"

Last week I got the answer to that question with a printout of my bone density exam. "Osteosporosis" was the headline. The results indicated that I was eight times more likely to break a hip than my counterparts with normal scans.

Would this knowledge have prevented my broken hip? I doubt it. But it does make me think twice about wearing slippery socks on hardwood floors (although my accident happened with bare feet). And it does remind me that, in spite of patient fatigue, it's important to pay attention in class.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is there a story in you?

Greetings, Cancer Banter readers! It's been a long time (thank heavens) since I've needed to post here in my role as Susan's "cancer correspondent."

With Smooky's permission, I'm posting today about a blog that may be of interest to writers who read Cancer Banter. The Rose City Sisters flash fiction blog presents short-short stories of up to 1,000 words. There's a catch: each story might have a connection to Pasadena. (In spite of our name, male writers are welcome.)

Susan took the fiction plunge last year and wrote "The Fourth Possibility," which starts:  

Miranda thought the Japanese word sounded like what it meant—hot and humid. She escaped the mushiatsui life when she moved from sultry South Carolina to Southern California, but there was no escaping the steamy, suffocating heat of Sado Island, Japan, in August. (Read the rest here.)

My most recent story is about a woman with a very peculiar superpower.  This week we have a darkly comic Thanksgiving story—in list form. (Illustrated with a nearly obscene photo of a raw turducken wrapped in bacon.)

If you're a writer who's up for the challenge of telling a very short story, please read our story submission guidelines. If you know writers, share this blog post with them. The Rose City Sisters blog is accepting submissions.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

19 Steps

I've made great progress since my hospital stair-climbing meltdown. Thanks to the help of a top-notch physical therapist, I'm now going up and down the staircase with confidence and ease. Here's a video of the technique.

And, of course, I had real motivation to make the climb: my own bed and a hot shower. Gives new meaning to bed, bath and beyond.