All Clear

The best results I could hope for are in!

-Mammogram for lefty: no sign of disease (I passed, it’s clear) but we weren’t too worried about that

-X-Ray: clear, nothing on or wrong with the bones, particularly the ribs

-CT Scan: clear, no sign of disease in chest or abdomen

Chemo is done and there’s no cancer!  Yay!  This feels so weird.  But good weird!

We still don’t know what’s wrong with my ribs (muscular possibly) and I’ve been to the chiropractor and for acupuncture and massage.  Hopefully, that will clear it up.  Otherwise, maybe it will just disappear as mysteriously as it appeared.  I feel better knowing that it does not appear to be cancer rearing its ugly head again.

I’m happy to be walking away from this–albeit, slowly, cautiously and with glances over my shoulder–and on to the rest of life.

Like a job promotion (check)…

And a wedding (3 months to go)…

And maybe a big Christmas present!

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Bittersweet

The title… I know…

What’s she gonna write?

I shall explain.

Today is a great day: today I finished chemo!

After a year and two months of constant injections, needles, hair loss, nausea, red devil, “peeing it out” I’m finally done with it.  It is such a victory to finally get to this day.  I have counted down every chemo injection to reach this point at last.

I cried and I triumphed.  I laughed and I fought.  I gave up vacationing and travel.  I embraced the couch with vigor.  I napped like a champ.  I watched almost every episode of Law and Order; SVU.  I put my dreams and career on hold.  I did not throw up!  I read books.  I stayed inside.  I stayed away from crowds.  I did not eat sushi, raw eggs or lunch meats.  I cried and I survived and I thanked God for every friend, family member and supporter along the way.  I slowed down. I mellowed out.  I got engaged.  I started to figure out where my life should go.  I decided this cancer thing would be a SMALL part of my life and then I’d move on.

And I finished chemo.

The thing is, with cancer, ya know, is you can never get too comfortable…

About three weeks ago, I noticed a constant pain in my ribs and I let my nurses know during that chemo.  I thought it was just my scar and scar tissue had built up.  Then in the last week, I noticed a constant pain in my ribs on my back.  Both areas still hurt but there’s no bruise.  It’s persistent and consistent.  There are a great many things it could be.

But on Saturday, when I went to bed, the worst case scenario came to me like a freight train:

…What if it’s bone cancer?

Under the horribly-available-likely-useless-at-least-it’s-something guide of Google, I checked briefly what that might look like and yes, my symptoms (constant pain, worse at night, etc) combined with my previous health dilemma (read: “breast cancer”) mean it is a very real possibility.

Can’t I catch a break????

Before you get too worried, I don’t know what it is yet.

Once the potential for a second cancer settled in on my mind, and my mind kept spinning it around and around like a sock in a dryer, the tears welled up and rolled down.

You see, my self preservation button often automatically tries to determine the worst case scenario so that I am prepared for any diagnosis.  If it turns out to be broken ribs, then that would be better than cancer.  ANYTHING would be better than cancer (well, almost).

Can I go through this again?  Can I do surgery and chemo and pills and feeling awful and and and…

And then I try to stop.  I wake my fiance and he reassures me.  I go to sleep.  I go to work and I push it out of my mind.  I try to think about it as little as possible.  I pet me dog.  I eat good food (chicken wings!).  I try to live and I try to not fall apart.

And I go to my last day of chemotherapy.

I tell my nurses that I’m happy to be on my last round but that I’m worried about my new pains.  They schedule an x-ray and a CT scan.  It could be anything.  It could be from doing too much activity.  It could be hairline fractures on bones weakened by radiation.  It could be from free-diving at work and putting pressure on my lungs and therefore my ribs.  It could be.

But what if…

We tell ourselves to “be positive” and “think happy thoughts” and “say no to negativity” (bumper sticker?!) and I’m trying, I really am.  But I’m also very cautious.  I want desperately to jump for joy at being done with chemo but this discovery and realization is weighing me down.  I feel like I’m disappointing everyone that has been gunning for me all these months.  And I also feel like my body is letting me down.  Again.  I’m stuck in this disappointment sandwich, and it sucks.

There are two things that happened today that make it clear to me how precarious a situation this is:

One was when I was asking about scheduling to get my port out soon (before the wedding) and my nurse said we should wait to schedule that once I finished my x-ray (today, done) and CT scan (Friday).  Like, I might need to use my port again…

And two was what my favorite nurse, Annette, said as I was leaving and she realized I was going to cry, “I wish I could tell you not worry…”  But she can’t.  Because once you have cancer and you fight it and you beat it away, you always remember in the back of your mind that it can come back.

Cancer is an awful thing.  When it’s not physically strenuous, it’s mentally taxing.  It’s a constant roller coaster of the worst series of emotions.  No one wants to think about the very real and tangible possibility of illness or death.

I wanted to keep this to myself but I couldn’t hold on to it; it was drowning me.  You have all been so amazing and supportive.  You are all so excited–as am I–to see chemo end, but I felt like it’s kind of a lie.  True, it’s over, but I’m so preoccupied with this other thing that I figured you deserve to know.

I believe that knowledge is power.  The obvious take from that is that if you learn, you’re more intelligent, desirable, skilled, capable, powerful.  But it works in another way.  This bit of knowledge above is spread to you, and while it may not be good knowledge, it allows you to help me.  It’s the power of a thousand hands and five hundred hearts.

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might

Aloha friends and family!

This is a very special installment of my blog (and… as always… over-due!).

Some of you may not know this but I am a huge fan of reality TV, especially Bravo and E!  I love the show “Giuliana & Bill.”  Love it.  Because they are cool and Giuliana is funny and Bill is such a good guy.  But also because a few years ago just before my diagnosis, Ms. Rancic went through her own battles with fertility and then breast cancer and she broadcast it on TV for all to see and learn.  I am so thankful to her for doing that because she made cancer understandable; the made it something we can talk about and not just quietly behind closed doors.  She looked at the world and said, yup, this is happening to me and I’m gonna be the one to tell the truth of it all… the unsexy moments and the beautiful ones too.  Bad ass!

As I was watching E! news today, the universe intervened.  On came a news bit about a very cool web site and special opportunity for women with breast and/or ovarian cancer created by Giuliana Rancic.  It’s called Fab-U-Wish by Bright Pink.

http://www.brightpink.org/ive-been-diagnosed/fab-u-wish/

I seized the opportunity (before I forgot to do it or lost the guts to do it) and I went to the web site.  I wrote the essay but that wasn’t enough to show I wanted it.  To do that, I went the next step and made the YouTube video.  Face time is important in this day and age; we can all hide behind a computer or a cell phone or a piece of paper but when you have to record and listen to yourself and share it with others, it impresses on those around you that you mean business.  That you want it.

And I mean business!  I want it!

Here’s my video, I hope it works.  And for those of you that may be surprised by my request because I’m a science nerd who wears ugly work shorts, t-shirts and flip flops all day every day, just remember, I’m secretly a glamorous and girly woman inside (who watches reality TV); I just need the opportunity to show that side of me!

The Tough Conversations We Have

Just a word of warning, should you choose to proceed: this blog post will be somewhat graphic and cover the content of reproduction in scientific, biological and emotional facets.  But I assure you, whether you’re male or female, single, dating or married, with or without children, this will pertain to you–or someone you love–somehow.

I realize that yet another great expanse of time has gone by since the last post, and I can go through all the lines of why that is (work, work, work, wedding planning, family in town, I’m lazy, it’s not as exciting to write when the potential for vomit has decreased…) but the truth is, I just don’t want to write this blog.

I promised to be honest because I know that every human faces their own struggles in life and somewhere along the lines this site and one or many of the posts will pertain to you–we can all connect on so many levels and in so many ways.  Yet this topic is just so tragically difficult for me.  It is fraught with confusion and decisions that must be made which quite literally are life or death: my life or death or the chance to create another life.  So many “or’s,” when do I get the “and’s”?  My life and another one.

To back us up a little bit… I am in a committed relationship to Mr. Sean Sultan and we will be married in Maui on October 27th.  We are registered on Amazon.  Oh, there’s that east coast sarcasm again!  And, well, while we love our dog Scupper very much and hope to have twenty more on a huge property like Cesar Milan, I’d also like to produce a small human (yes, a baby) as well.  Just one.  Once upon a time maybe I wanted more but I think I’ve bartered and pleaded my way down to just please let us have one.

Pre-cancer, I was happy to assume these things would be determined in time and that I would not have to be in a rush to determine when and how a family would appear in our lives.  We were happily gliding on the dating-get-married-when-we’re-ready-maybe-buy-a-house-some-day-talk-about-the-kids-thing-later cloud.  And then, of course, we all know what happened.  Cancer was dumped in our laps and with the threat of chemo potentially taking away any and all chances for kids, we had to look at things abruptly and make some harsh decisions.

You see, friends, chemo forces the body to go into survival mode and while many of you know this means no more hair shall grow and the stomach lining shall remove itself with dramatic force (as the body purifies itself of all toxins and focuses all minute energy gleaned from the small amounts of food that make it in and stay in on survival), it also means that that if we aint usin’ it, we losin’ it.  To spell it out for you: this body is unfit for babies and thus shall not have a menstrual cycle.  Depending on a woman’s age, my period would come back or be gone forever.  How I wish the Doctors had a better answer for me there!

I started chemo in June, had an IUD (ladies know what that is; guys, you can google that for your knowledge) placed around that time and had my last period in July.  As much as we all think PMS and menstruation sucks and is annoying–painful, inconvenient, requires us to buy embarrassing boxes of materials and unusual amounts of cookies while the Safeway guy tries to pretend he hasn’t noticed…–it is kind of wonderful to know that as a woman we hold the best of the power of progeny.  Like, if we really wanted, we could create an entire HUMAN BEING (and I don’t mean to discount men on this, but really, how hard is it convince a man–ok, ok, some men–to… donate… if a lady was really set on this?).  So, I was pretty bummed to say bye to Aunt Flo because, truth be told, I felt a little less than.  I felt like that whole mystery-of-life opportunity was taken away from me and my fate of its return was unknown.  That coupled with my hair loss made me feel like less of a woman (thank God for nail polish and lip gloss!).

Fast forward to October and the end of really-super-tough chemo.  I fall into a holding pattern as I watch my hair slowly start to re-grow, my mouth hurts less, my stomach realizes that I will no longer be torturing is.  And all that time I’m just waiting for one more pre-chemo thing to come back.  And it doesn’t.

Until April.  (Oh, how you all held your breath on that one!)

And it came back with a vengeance!  It lasted an entire month.  But that makes sense, right?  I mean my body went on pause for nine months, it had a lot to say after that.  I hated it and I loved it all at the same time for everything it meant.  I could maybe have kids!  But it’s very frightening to have a period for a month and (gross part) a very heavy one at that.  I didn’t think a human being could lose that much blood and survive (you wanted honesty… I warned you!).

Of course, since cancer has made me a hypochondriac in some ways, I called my OB/GYN and went right in.  I will take a moment right here to tell you that I do not accept anything less than getting seen and/or tested within two or three days anymore.  None of the “machine’s broken” or “we’re all booked.”  Oh, hell no; refer me out, fix the machine, make time but I am coming in to be seen by a Doctor!  Shit, I got a life to live and damned if anyone is going to tell me my priorities aren’t important.

I ended up with a wonderful gynecologist Dr. Rogers, who is very kind and sweet and understanding.  I had blood work done and everything was normal and then I had my uterus looked at (enough said).  And she determined that the uterine lining was indeed very thick and that this much bleeding was normal after so long, that I could let it run its course which should be one to two more weeks (a little less than 4 weeks total).  If it got worse I was to call right away.  The other option, which is normally used, is progesterone by birth control pills to chemically balance everything but that is not something a hormonally-based cancer can handle so I had to stay clear of that.

She also found something else.

Because when can I ever just get through one thing–cancer–and let the universe finally say, “ok, that’s it, we just wanted you to pass that ONE challenge test and you did it all and now we’re done.”

Each of my ovaries has a cyst.

Holyshitareyoufuckingkiddingme?  ENOUGH ALREADY, UNIVERSE!  I PLAN TO HAVE CHILDREN.  STOP TRYING TO TELL ME NO.  I’VE DONE EVERYTHING YOU WANT, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE ME BE?

So I had an ultrasound to look at the uterus, ovaries and cysts (which involved drinking 48 ounces of water, and feeling like I would pee the table, just so my bladder was full and they could see the cysts better; f-ing tests…).  Then I got the results.

This was the phone message from Dr. Rogers: “Everything looks normal!  Have a good day!”

WTF?  When are newly-occurring cysts on the ovaries of a breast cancer patient who wants to have kids NORMAL?

After a long game of phone tag, reassurance from my chemo nurse (still every three weeks until July) that cysts are normal, I finally spoke with my doctor.  “Your cysts are 2.4 cm and 2.6 cm which is a little bigger than usual.  Call us when you get your period next and we’ll be able to look at them and tell more from there.”

That’s not the same as “normal”!  Normal is a terrible word, Doctors.  Normal is a joke.  Cast it from your vocabulary.  Stupid normal.

Where are we at now?

I’m awaiting a call from my oncologist to hear if there is a potential correlation between Tamoxifen and ovarian cysts (lord knows I’d love to stop taking that crap BUT it’s potentially improving my chances of survival).

I’m awaiting the triumphant return of Aunt Flo for round 2 post-chemo (BUT cysts on the ovaries can mean irregular cycles and thus the calendar will be useless in determining when this will be).

And I still don’t know what’s going to happen with having kids.  I thought I had made great strides with my oncologist when he had told me new studies indicate that tamoxifen is effective for 7 years, instead of the previous 5 years, and I had nearly cried and said, “but I want kids!” to which he finally replied that yes, well, life does go on and that chemo was my best bet; tamoxifen was just an added benefit.  I thought we were finally edging away from drugs-drugs-must-take-drugs-through-all-your-best-reproductive-years and towards a happy have-a-baby-sooner scenario.  Yet here we go again.  All the ups-and-downs of this particular part of cancer are the hardest part.  I would do chemo over and over if I was just given the chance to have a child and be alive to see that child grow up.  But to have to choose…

Every Doctor says the obvious choice is my life, that that is most important.  Because if I’m not around I won’t get to see that child grow up.  But as a scientist, this absolutely baffles me.  That line of logic is completely backwards.  All living things–for the most part–are programmed to do three things: 1) eat; 2) seek shelter; 3) reproduce.  That’s how extinction is avoided!  To tell me that my survival is more important that producing a child goes against what I believe to be one of the reasons I exist.  I think they call that maternal instinct… though it may be an extreme analysis of it.  🙂

I think about this every day.  Most of the time I stay busy with work and wedding things or reading and watching tv and hanging with my boys.  But I always come back to this drive and desire to have a family; it’s what I should be focusing on at my age.  I’m just waiting to take the next steps and see what the medical community has to say and see what my body has to say and see what time has to say.  I’m trying to finish chemo (July) and take a much-needed vacation (September) and plan a wedding (October) and fuel a career (always).  But through it all, there’s always the baby question…

And the answer isn’t here yet.

Because if the answer is that I can’t have kids, well, then, I’m too stubborn to listen.  And the universe should know that by now 😉

Your Check Engine Light is On

Remember that time you knew a girl who was 28 and diagnosed with cancer?

Remember how she found a lump and realized something was off and then went to the Doctor, who confirmed her worst fears?

It may not have been a fun day, week, month or year but it was a necessary situation; you are responsible for your health.  You are your number one advocate.  As much as we would like all Doctors to be omnipotent, they honestly can’t know it all about every little symptom and ailment and weird rash.  And they don’t check on you 24/7; but you do.

This is your reminder, folks, to all of you who made a new years resolution to take better care of yourself: I’m checking in to make sure you’re following through.  Did you sign up for that gym membership?  Did you get that constant headache checked out?  I know in my house there are a few people (hm, Sean?) who have avoided the constant maintenance of being a human.

It would be so much easier if, like our cars, humans came with a check engine light to let us know when maintenance is needed.

But we don’t.

To avoid it all, we have to do the things that are not our favorites: eating veggies over fast food, going to the gym or getting some kind of exercise; making time for sleep; getting the weird aches and pains checked out even when our lives are constantly “too busy.”

I once prioritized my life by family, friends, job, vacations, etc.  Do you see that no where in there was “HEALTH”?

And then one day health became my only concern.  Because if it didn’t become number one on the list, none of that other stuff would be available.  Health or death.  Hmmm, decisions that make themselves.

There are some of you out there who have this nagging health concern that either you are too embarrassed about, too busy for or you think it’s “not really that bad, yet” but it’s been going on for months.  Chances are if you tell your Doctor, there’s an easy fix.  Or maybe it’s not so easy but it could make your life easier or better.  Or, I’ll see you one more, it could just save your life.

Cause, yeah, no one likes going to the Doctor.  I mean, unless you plan to be a med student and you like to geek out with the doc or you’re a hypochondriac and you need constant reassurance and someone to talk shop with you might like it.  All the rest of us hate being poked and prodded, being stuck with needles, being asked to lift an arm or cough.  When the eye doctor says “this or this” and “one or two” and he goes really fast, I feel like I am doomed to fail an unfair test; I get stressed out on trying to ace my eye test.  Or try having freckles and going to the dermitologist: I always get in trouble there!  Do they think I had any hand in the formation of my freckles, should I have stayed inside and fully covered at all times for my whole life?!

Since Sean is now my fiance, he has basically signed his life over into my hands for use in creative writing; in this case, he will be the example of what not to do.  He hasn’t been to the dentist in years nor the skin doctor.  And with his fair, red irish skin and history of skin cancer, he needs to go regularly.  But no one wants to go to a place that is going to have a strong likelihood of giving bad news and/or costing a lot of money for that bad news.

“Ignorance is bliss” is not just a clever saying, it’s true.  But it doesn’t buy you years of life.  Doing the things we hate buys us the years.  When you die, you can’t take all that money you saved by not going to the Doctor with you!

So call the Doctor and make that appointment, no dillydallying.  Even if you put it on the calendar for a month from now, and you have to ask for favors at work to get the day off, at least you’re taking what little control of your life each person can have.

As for me, things are…

Well, things are up and down still.  I have chemo every three weeks until the end of July and I hope to get my port out by September because Sean and I are getting married in late October.  I still struggle with Tamoxifen, a drug I take daily that causes unrelenting hot flashes and night sweats and insomnia.  To counteract it, I still take a light sleep aid but am advised to get off it sooner rather than later.  It’s a catch-22: every night that I skip taking it, I have a restless night of sleep with whacky dreams and constant waking up (and then I’m exhausted at work); the next day I must choose between sticking to it and another restless night or breaking down and taking a pill to ensure I can sleep. This past week I made it three awful nights without taking anything and was exhausted by the end of it; my day off was wasted sleeping and resting all day since I was too tired and crabby to do anything useful or fun.  It makes work and wedding planning that much more stressful; life is challenging without adding lack of sleep to the mix.

I want so much to stop taking this pill and reclaim my sleep but there’s always that nagging thought that my chances of long term survival depend on me taking that drug for five years.  Not one, not two: five.  I’ve heard from women who have been on Tamoxifen and have still had cancer come back.  So how do I determine if it’s really worth it for me?  If I don’t take it, I’m a quitter and I could die; if I do take it, I wont be getting a normal nights sleep for five years.  It’s a big gamble with both choices not so great.

Friends and family (especially mom and Sean), if I’m crabby to you on the phone or in person just remember that I don’t sleep like the average human and chances are I’m exhausted.  Just cut me some slack on a few things.

On a side note, Sean and I (ok, mostly I) are planning our wedding for October 27, 2013 in Maui!  Something to look forward to 🙂

Now, call your Doctor and choose water over that soda.

(P.S. Sean did make one wonderful health choice: he gave up soda!)

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“I like your haircut!”

“I like your haircut.”

I’ve gotten that a few times from acquaintances and guests who don’t know the whole story behind my “haircut.”

What to say?  Usually, I just say thanks; but simultaneously, a flood of silly-non-grumpy snarky comments come through my head (because, you know, that’s the way my brain works!).

“Thanks… cancer did it.”

“Can’t wait for it to grow back.”

“I had no choice!”

“Oh, yeah, I went Britney crazy.  Shaved it all off.  Can I order a smoothie?”

“Thanks!  My stylists are Cancer and Chemo.”

There’s always a little one second delay as these responses float through my mind.  And then I smile, and go with the simple, “thanks.”  Because these are people who don’t know me as a cancer survivor and sometimes that kind of anonymity is nice.  They may see my tattoo later and put it all together or hear a wisp of conversation about it but for that moment when they see my hair, they just think I woke up one day and said, “to hell with long hair!  Too much maintenance!”  And that I willingly chopped it all off.

People that see me intermittently are amazed and excited when they see my hair growing in.  I can almost hear the, “phew, she’s not sick anymore” go through their minds.  Like, woohoo, close call but we’re in the clear now.  These people have wonderful big smiles on their faces.

The people that see me frequently can’t even remember that I once had long hair!  The absence and subsequent growth is so every day that it’s just part of life.  I’ve had a few folks tell me they saw pictures on Facebook of long hair (just a few months ago, that was!) and they didn’t recognize me!  The short spunky no fuss hair matches the don’t mess with me attitude, for now.  My hair will continue to grow in–and I will continue to let it, and not cut it–and the personality will continue to fit.  And pretty soon (well, more like in a few years since my hair grows so slow) it will look just as before.  And cancer will be a distant memory…

I am still on chemo every three weeks until August and then I hope to get my port out.  This chemo is a breeze–no side effects and it only takes an hour at the oncologist!

I started the oral medication Tamoxifen that I will likely take every day for five years and I am happy to report that side effects are minimal! The night sweats slash hot flashes and insomnia are no where near as bad as they were with the chemo drug Taxol.  THANK GOD!

I’m in smooth sailing territory and as the Doctors report, I’m cured.  Cool.  I like that sound of that.

I feel like I have lived a lifetime in the last ten months; that diagnosis in March feels like it happened twenty years ago.  My, how time flies.

I am back to work full time and feeling good.  I’m back to being busy while still getting massages and pedicures, playing with the dog, reading, hiking, snorkeling and playing with friends.

I see hundreds of people a day come out on the boats and through the programs I teach as a whale and environmental naturalist guide. And I have seen and continue to see every kind of personality combination and then some.  I look at people a little differently now; I’ve always been empathetic and intuitively perceptive towards peoples’ needs (I even got high scores in the “caring” category during annual reviews at my work!) but now I look at these people and take a moment to remember that there is so much more depth to what that person and each of us experience in life.  For the moment I interact with them, it may just be such a small moment.  But life it a culmination of all those small moments.

And as Ellen says, be kind to one another.

‘Tis the Season!

Aloha friends, family, loved ones, associates, people of all shapes and sizes!

It’s the season of love and family, food and gifts, and the season of thanks and new beginnings.  It has been a rocky road, this 2012, but it’s ending in an up-swing.  And for that I thank you all.

First and foremost: Santa has already made good on my request… I have a head of hair, new eyelashes and new brows growing in!  I look less like an alien (just less, right brothers?!); and also less “sick.”  My hair grows so slow, and I should know… I stare at it a lot in the bathroom mirror willing it to be long again.  I shall just have to see what Miss Anne Hathaway does to hers as she grows it out since she is a few inches ahead of me.  So trendy, the styles to come!

I also found another famous twin with my hair style and glasses… Christoph Waltz from Django promoting his movie on Live with Kelly and Michael!

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I got a new tattoo (my second real one… it’s a lot more common 1) “these days”, and 2) in Hawaii where everyone runs around half-naked and covered in colorful, usually meaningful, art work).  Mine is a key (to Sean’s heart… he has a locked up heart tattoo) with a whale tail (a Hawaiian humpback of course!) surrounded by a pink ribbon.  It’s on my wrist where I can cover it for work.  But if I don’t have to, I leave it out.  I’ve gone back to work on the boats and between the tattoo and the new hair, I have had some questions from some very curious women (so far it’s always been women, the observant sisterhood they tend to be).  I had someone outright ask, “What kind of cancer?” and later another woman said, “Ah, I saw your tattoo…” and I even got, “So, what’s the story behind your hair?”

All of these questions are just fine by me because isn’t this cancer something we can all relate to and should be talking about more?  I find a lot of women that ask have either had some kind of cancer themselves or have been a care-taker.  The woman that asked about my tattoo was on the boat for a photo safari with her thirteen year old son who had been battling leukemia–mainly via chemo–for 3 and 1/2 years.  He got the clean bill of health blessing and so his family brought him to Maui for his first real vacation since he’s been diagnosed.  I may meet thousands of people in my line of work (tourism) and everyone has a story.  It’s what we’re here for, this living thing!

I completed radiation in mid-December and have been dealing with the after-effects of that.  Basically, imagine the worst sunburn you’ve ever had, on the softer skin of, say, your armpit.  Now imagine sitting in the sun all day for five straight days after that without wearing sunscreen.  That’s kind of how it works, or at least you can imagine how skin looks and feels after that!  The actual radiation zaps are quick and invisible; much of the redness, irritation and itchiness comes later.  Mine was deemed red enough to warrant a prescription for burn cream.  I hug with my left arm only these days.  And it is healing and fading.

I mentioned earlier that I am back to work, I am.  I also juggle unemployment insurance and work, at least through the end of December.  I started back at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua as a naturalist at the Ambassadors of the Environment Program (tomorrow is my first “big” day) and have been nannying some.  I hope to be back full time to work in January, spread between my multiple jobs; and remembering to take days off.  I do function best with my calendar in hand and staying busy.

Sean and I are starting to think about an official vacation in May or June or July.  I haven’t been “home” to Massachusetts and New Hampshire in three years and I’ve never been to Chicago (where he is from).  Ah, it sounds so nice.  Even though we live in paradise–Maui–we still need to take vacations!

Chemo continues on through August, once every three weeks for a light dose of “easy stuff.”  I also have in my possession the drug Tamoxifen.  A drug that I have yet to start since it will give me the lovely side effects of hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia and can be most difficult for the first three months.  My goal is just that: make it through the first three months and then reassess.  Ultimately, I need to take it for five years (five years of hot flashes starting at age 29?  Tell me, ladies, is that fair?!  I would still not, then, be excused from hot flashes later in life; unfortunately, there’s no “quota” that I can finish early!).  Research shows that 2 years of this drug is great for cancer-free survival; 5 years is awesome; and ten years is no different survivorship-wise than five.  I’ll take five over ten any day!

I’m also, technically, “cured.”  I’m set free from the majority of treatment and on to monitoring and life.  I will get a blood test soon to make sure my body is bouncing back from chemo and radiation.  And more tests eventually to keep an eye on things, making sure those little cancer cells don’t pop up somewhere new.

Most importantly, Sean and I celebrated our engagement at a party thrown by our awesome friends, Ashleigh and Thomas and Gene and Leigh.  We had so many wonderful people come and share in delicious food, lots of wine and say such beautiful things.  It was an emotional time but probably one of those nights that will stand out for the rest of my life, not just because of the significance of the event but because after all I and we have been through, life still felt “normal,” and normal in the best sense that word can be used: life was moving onward and upward with hundreds of hands holding us and pushing us up.

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