Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"I was sure..."

It seems it's too early to retire the One-Boob Diva in me. I was sure in 2012 when my second set of scans -- CT and bone -- came back with negative results for cancer that I had beat this thing. I moved ahead with an oophorectomy (getting my ovaries out), I got reconstruction surgery and a prophylactic mastectomy at the same time. I had done everything medically that I was supposed to do to fight this damn cancer. I was sure I had. But I was wrong. What started as cramps and pain in my left leg and lower back six weeks ago turns out to be a "recurrence" of my ER+ breast cancer in my spine. Three places to be exact: two sclerotic lesions on the T12 vertebrae and one lytic lesion in my lumbar area (can't remember exactly which bone). The good news: we caught it early; the CT shows my organs are fine; there's medicine that I can take that's quite effective; my oncologist is very positive; and so is everyone around me.

But, I was sure... And now I'm struggling to find my positive, inner diva. I'm scared. I'm scared shitless. I'm terrified. And I'm fucking mad. I had just gotten to that point when I trusted my body again. I had just gotten to that point when cancer wasn't a word that popped into my head on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. I had just gotten to the point when I could look beyond six months, a year and plan... anything. I had just gotten to the point when finally I could use vacation days for vacations and not for doctor visits and to recover from a procedure. I had just gotten to a point when I truly believed I could make it to 97 and peacefully die in my sleep. And now, I'm back to fighting for my life. I'm back to wondering if I should be planning trips next year or should I be writing Alyssa notes about her future milestones and recording myself so she doesn't forget me as she grows up? There... that's it: my worst nightmare. The thing that breaks my heart into ten thousand little pieces every time it creeps into my consciousness.

But I can't ever be sure. No one can ever be sure. I shouldn't have been so sure. No one knows when, where or how their lives will turn out, or end. But I know that I can't live mine afraid. There was a period in late 2010 -- while I waited to hear about my treatment plan -- that I couldn't process anything. I knew I wanted surgery first, right away because I wanted this tumor out of me. But that's all I knew I wanted. During that time, while I waited, I was petrified. I was so scared that I couldn't even decide on what to do for the coming weekend. I couldn't bring myself to plan Christmas or New Year, let alone what to do next summer. I was frozen. And I think I'm there again. I think I'm petrified. But that's when I let cancer win a bit of my soul. And I can't have that. I can't ever be sure of a lot of things in my life. But I am sure that Alyssa and Dennis need me. I have a responsibility to be a Mommy, a wife, a best friend, a daughter, a friend, a colleague, and even a stranger who might say the right thing at the right time to someone who really needed to hear something profound, or just really normal from a fellow human being. I am sure that I have to dig deep and be amazing, even if I'm scared. Because I have no choice. I am sure that I will fight. I am the One-Boob Diva. I did this before and I will do it again. 

There will be bad days. There will be days when I will need positivity from others to lift me up and lighten my load. That's what I learned last time. And I'm sure that this time, that immense amount of love, light and prayers will carry me through the tough days again. And I will come out on the other side whole again. Of that, I am sure.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I'm Still Here

Today my friends and family met for a rainy day brunch to celebrate with me... "Tata to cancer!" It was blissfully perfect in every way. As Alyssa and I walked through the restaurant to the outdoor covered patio, I spied through the windows my friend Abby and her husband Eliot who was carrying their two year old, Ruby. Abby, who organized the brunch, was pulling a pink balloon out from a bunch she had brought and handed one to Ruby who smiled happily. Another friend, Joanne was standing nearby with her girls, Zoe and Zaya, and Alyssa ran to them and they started showing each other their umbrellas and giggling in the rain. I saw my friend Cicely talking with Alyssa's godparents, Jennifer and Adam and catching up. Work friends Judy and Abby C. chatted away with Dennis' cousin, Gene and girlfriend, Marie. Friends Jordan and Joanna, carrying their one year old, Penelope were greeting Dennis who had walked in after me. Then Katya, Dennis' aunt arrived with son Misha who went looking for Alyssa. And friends Becky, Andre and daughter Harper came in to drop off flowers and give me hugs. There was a lot of food, a lot of laughter, a lot of kids running around, and a lot of light drizzling rain. So normal, so perfect.

Every day further away from November 24, 2010 is another day I'm still here. In the first days since hearing my diagnosis I couldn't picture my future. I was frozen and couldn't imagine the days that lay ahead of me. I wasn't sure I would still be around. On a cool, misty September day -- lazy, gray, and full of love almost three years later, I am grateful beyond words that I'm still here.

I am grateful to have seen friends' babies come into this world, friends and family's children celebrate birthday after birthday, relationships blossom, careers flux and flourish, friendships grow deeper, sunrises, sunsets, clouds move across the sky, and seasons change. Some days have been better than others. But no matter how hard it's been, I have been blessed to have been so loved, so cared for, and supported by all of you who have stood by me to make sure that I'm still here. Today it's easy for me to see my future: the days ahead are filled with you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, August 16, 2013

The One-Boob Diva's Swan Song

Three years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 36. Four years married to my best friend. Mommy to my then 17 month old daughter. On December 17, 2010 my 5 cm tumor and my right breast, along with nearly all my lymph nodes, were removed by one of the best surgeons at the University of Chicago. That day, the One-Boob Diva was born.

I started this blog because I needed an outlet. I also needed a place to put my thoughts on cancer and separate it from the rest of my life. I am many things -- a mom, a wife, daughter, friend, cousin, colleague, and survivor. I am cancer-free. I survived chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries. I'm still here. And so today, this post is a sort of eulogy to the One-Boob Diva.

On Monday, Aug. 19, I go back to work. I go back to my normal life. For the past thirteen weeks, I've been on hiatus. I've been recovering from breast reconstruction surgery. I have been listening to my body and taking care of it, pampering it like I've never done before. I nap when I'm sleepy, I sit and rest (quite often, lounge) when I'm tired. I've been living in the moment and not stressing for the past thirteen weeks. I'm not saying that when I go back to my normal schedule, I'll be stressed out. It's just that I've learned how to live better this summer and I will take that with me going forward. I am whole again. With the help of a long line of doctors, a lot of family and friends, and a huge heap of faith and love... I am whole again.

I can't describe how low, how desperate, how scared, and how lost I was on the day I heard my diagnosis. Partly, it's because it's hard to remember, and partly because I don't want to go back. What I do remember is that from that moment on I felt like I had lost a part of me; or specifically that something inside me was taken away -- forcibly. And the night I woke up from my mastectomy and saw that my right breast was no longer there... Well, it was done. Cancer had taken it. I loved that boob. So did my husband. And so did Alyssa as a newborn baby. It was the only one she would latch on to. I had a relationship with that boob, and cancer took it away. And it threatened to take my left at some far off point in time -- maybe. And my ovaries too. And because that word -- "maybe" -- was too much of a threat to my future sanity, and the number of sunrises and sunsets I would get to spend with Alyssa and Dennis, my ovaries and my left boob would have to go too.

So cancer fucking sucked. It took my right boob first, then my ability to have more babies. It pumped chemicals into my system and gave me more radiation than a lifetime of tanning could ever have done. I continue to experience side effects from all my treatments -- nothing debilitating, but surely nothing I'd be experiencing at my age sans cancer. I know I've put up a good fight, and smiled through it all. But it sure took a lot from me.

What cancer didn't do is take away my sense of humor and my love for people. My faith is intact, as is my optimism. Cancer also introduced me to a handful of geniuses: my team of doctors. They are my heroes. They saved my life. They are my breast surgeon, Dr. Asha Chhablani; my oncologist, Dr. Suzanne Conzen; my radiation oncologist, Dr. Steven Chmura; my gynecological oncologist, Dr. Diane Yamada; and my plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. David Song. I'll say it again. They saved my life. I am whole again because of five very talented individuals who are at the top of their fields. They treated me, not just as a patient, but recognized all the other things I am -- mother, wife, daughter, friend, colleague. That's their genius -- from the onset, even when I didn't feel it, they always saw me whole.

And that's what I came to realize this summer. I am physically whole again. Two gorgeous boobs (if I do say so), a flat tummy, and good health. So technically, the One-Boob Diva is no more... literally. But she'll live on because that spirit lives in me. And that spirit had always been whole. It had always been intact and complete. That spirit was never beaten back by cancer. That spirit that rose above it all and vowed not to let cancer kill me is what my doctors saw. It's what helped me get through treatment. It's what wakes me up every day, for another sunrise and takes me through to the next sunset.

I realized that I have always been whole. And I will always be a diva.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, June 17, 2013


Day before Thanksgiving, 2010. It's cancer. You never forget what it's like to hear those words; where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with.

December 23, 2010. One week after my mastectomy. Sitting in my breast surgeon's office around 3pm. It's stage III-C. And the only thing my brain computed was how close the number 3 is to 4. I went home and cried as hard as the day I heard the word "cancer."

December 23, 2010, 6:30pm. Sobbing at home. The phone rings and it's my breast surgeon. My scans came back clear. No signs of cancer. It's suddenly become the best Christmas ever. And if you knew my surgeon, she's as stoic as they come. On the phone, I could hear her beaming. She just had to call me before she left for the holidays.

What follows is a year -- 2011 -- that takes a toll on my body and tests my spirit. Hair falling out; shaving my head. Physical therapy; no more lymph nodes in my right arm; no more lifting more than ten pounds with my right arm... for the rest of my life. Chemo. IV in my arm every week. Changes in how I taste food. Black, blue, brittle nails. Loss of energy. No hair -- everywhere. The feeling that people, complete strangers, are looking at me and that they know. Thinking that I'm being pitied. The horror of death before my daughter is old enough to remember me. The terror of her growing up without me. Numbness in my fingers and toes. I'm unable to hold a pencil for very long, an ice cream cone, or my phone. Aches and pains everywhere, especially the Mondays after chemo. Endless doctor appointments -- I'm up to three doctors now. Massive amounts of green tea can indeed make you feel better when you're in chemo. It helps too to have a supportive and upbeat oncologist. Radiation. Skin burnt. Energy gone. Daily. Monday to Friday. Thirty-three sessions. My skin looks horrible. It starts to peel, itch, sting. But thankfully my hair is growing back. Sometimes I don't recognize the face looking back at me in the mirror. I'm exhausted. I remember this. Thankfully my radiation oncologist warned me I needed to rest. I remember being exhausted. Yet, I push on. I have a two year old. An amazing husband. A career. A life. I'm alive. My biggest fear: not waking up.

2012: The biggest thing this year -- it's official, Alyssa is an only child. My ovaries are gone. No more pregnancies. No more babies. Alyssa is the one. The perfect one. She's all we need.

January 2013: After all you've been through, you're finally mine. Those were my plastic surgeon's words when we met in his office. It's time for reconstruction surgery. Rebuilding my right breast, removing the left and rebuilding that too, and a tummy tuck because the tissue to reconstruct needs to come from somewhere. It's a big surgery. Bigger than the mastectomy. It's 8-10 hours long. Take that in for a second: 8-10 hours long. That's how long Dennis and the three godmothers to Alyssa waited at the hospital. Three teams of doctors, four days in ICU. My biggest fear: that I wouldn't wake up.

Summer 2013: I woke up. I'm healing. The One-Boobed Diva is alive in spirit -- I will always be a diva but now, physically, I'm starting to feel whole again. I'm still alive. Still no signs of cancer. No more mammograms for the rest of my life. I've dramatically lessened the chances of cancer in my left breast. I'm doing what I can so the cancer I had -- the one they cut out of me almost three years ago -- never returns. I am a survivor. I woke up.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


This is a letter I wrote to a close friend on a day weeks ago that I was feeling very vulnerable and the clouds seemed to weigh heavy in my world. She's a mom to young children and I knew she would understand my desperation that day...

Hi --

I'm struggling today to stay focused. I feel silly, almost ridiculous that I'm feeling frazzled and upset the way I am, and my hope is that by typing the words and seeing my feelings on the page that it will snap me out of this wave of sadness and worry that I'm getting swept away on today. Roger Ebert. I know, right? Everyone is talking about him and as they talk about his life, inextricably they are talking about his death and battle and loss to cancer. And every time someone "loses their fight to cancer" I'm always on edge -- sometimes more so than others. I can never really tell what triggers it. Yesterday, I read an essay Ebert wrote himself a year or two ago in his memoir. There's a part there at the end where he quotes someone else and they have described cancer, MS, any debilitating and mostly incurable disease as the "celestial train to death and that dying of old age is like getting there on foot." Those words were so powerful to me yesterday and I have been thinking about them since... mostly because Ebert says in his memoir that he's at peace going by the celestial train and not on foot, which seems dreary (and I paraphrase here for him). That pisses me off because my initial reaction was -- and maintains to be so -- "Well, that's easy for you to say because you don't have children." As always, when I'm confronted with my mortality, my mind and heart always turn to Alyssa first. And I am pissed off, mad, slighted, supremely betrayed that I have been given a ticket for this celestial train ride at such a young age and with such a young child. I don't want this ticket; I don't want this ride. I'm an environmentalist for crying out loud -- I want to walk to my death!

I don't feel silly after all writing about my feelings, but I have not snapped out of my sadness. Unfortunately, I am very sad today. I'm worried as my surgery draws close. I crack jokes to cope with my biggest fear -- that I might not wake up. Or that if I do it's to bad news that the cancer is back. And I do think about this all the time -- that maybe not this year or the next five years, but what about when Alyssa is 11? Or 14? Or 16? Or 23? But I guess we never know -- none of us really know if we're carrying around tickets for that celestial train ride, right? And if I dig down deep and call on the ever-so-positive One Boob Diva that I am, maybe she'll tell me, "Hey, what if you were never given a ticket? What if you're meant to walk to the end of your life and see your great-grandchildren? It's just fate, the universe, something out there wanted you to take a detour so you could appreciate how great walking is?"

I think I just consoled myself. But I never know how long my inner sunshine lasts. Some days the clouds come and go. Anyway, at least outside the sun is shining. I might go for a walk in a bit or just sit in the sun on the deck. Maybe the external sunshine will crack through my very gray clouds.
Thanks for reading this.

...That was the end of the letter I wrote on April 5, 2013. The sunshine that broke the clouds later that day was a small joke a friend made by email. So wonderfully mundane.

And today, May 21, 2013 -- a week after my reconstruction surgery -- the surgery that puts me on the other side of my mountain (and still walking), I've heard of a wonderful, beautiful, young soul who's now in the clouds. His name is Zach Sobiech and he passed away yesterday from a rare cancer called osteosarcoma. And he wrote an amazing song, called clouds: http://youtu.be/7zxXAtmmLLc

To learn more about Zach and his beautiful life, watch this short film about him: http://youtu.be/9NjKgV65fpo and I hope you hear the message I heard -- that life is about living it; not worrying about what's next; it's about cherishing every day we get to wake up and be with the people we love. Walk, dance, dream and revel in both the sunshine and the clouds.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, January 28, 2013


Two years ago - give or take a day - I had my head shaved. With five months of chemo ahead of me, 33 radiation treatments, and one oophorectomy, this mountain I was going to conquer looked awfully steep.

I swore to myself that in a year or two I would be writing a post about how I had reached the plateau on my climb up my mountain. I would finally be at that place where treatment was behind me and reconstruction was ahead of me. And here I am, sitting here with an amazing view, feet dangling over the side of my ledge. I'm so high up I can barely remember what it looked like at the bottom of my abyss. Up here, the sky is clear, the sun is bright, the world is before me and if I look up, I can actually see the top of my mountain. That's my goal. To get there and go down the other side and live my life whole again. Whole physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Plateaus are a place to stop and rest - and for good reason: I'm exhausted! I can finally take time to marvel at the distance I've traveled and the challenges I've overcome. It's a place to look back at all the smiling, loving faces who have loved me, lifted me up and lit the way for me when I wanted to jump off a cliff. And lastly, it's a place to take stock of what really matters. That it's the journey, not the destination. Though for me it's been both. I can't wait to start back down. I can't wait to feel normal as normal for me can be.

I'm alive. I'm still here. It's really the only thing that matters. And I'll keep moving forward. Just like so many women before me. Thank you all for paving the way... I will forever owe my survival to you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Paula, Meredith, Kath, Joy, Marie

If I could list all the names of the wonderful women I know that have been touched by breast cancer... well, I'd never stop writing. But five women in particular, have been on my mind in the past month and I just have to write about them tonight.

It has been six months; half a year since I last wrote an entry. It's been a while. Six months ago I reached the end of my radiation treatments. I'm still on medication that I'll be on for four more years. I'm still going to the hospital regularly, but the visits are few and far between. My life has gone back to normal, for the most part. I was on leave for six weeks, came back to work, got promoted and started anew at my awesome job. As the days wore on, life became more and more about my daughter, my husband, my family, my friends, my hobbies... and me. That also means it became less and less and less about cancer. Life goes on. And as it does for me, so it does for others I know...

Paula. My dear friend, who is celebrating this year, 10 years in remission. 10 years cancer free. I am inspired by you; and grateful to you for being there for me two January's ago when I chose to shave my head before my hair fell out. You took me out while I was in chemo and needed a change of pace. We spent all night sipping coffee at the Starbucks inside the Barnes & Noble. I still remember. I'm grateful that you were texting with me during my first mammogram this year. You made me laugh when I was screaming in terror inside, as they asked to take more pictures. Then you celebrated with me when the results were negative. The same celebration you've been having year after year now, for the past 10 years. I look to you and think... I can be like her. I will celebrate 10 years too. And more.

Meredith. A new friend who seems to be living a parallel life to mine. I call you friend now because there's no other word to describe you... even though we haven't met in person yet. I know people that you know. You know people that I know. They've been telling us for the past year that we should know each other. And now we do... thanks to you... because you reached out. You are roughly my age, you have kids too. You were diagnosed less than two months after I was. You were in chemo the days I was in chemo. You must've been exhausted the same days I was exhausted. You were in radiation the same days I was in radiation. You must've been burnt and peeling and itchy the same days I was going through it all too. It was you who said in one email that you were finding yourself thinking less and less about cancer as the diagnosis and treatments got further and further away. I know in my heart that when you read this, you will know exactly what I felt when I started writing; that you will know exactly why I was compelled to write this today. I'm looking forward to meeting you too.

Kath. I loved seeing you last week at the social media workshop. I loved walking into the room, standing behind you and realizing that I knew who that woman was standing in front of me hanging up her coat. I loved sitting next to you in a very ordinary, everyday, work endeavor - knowing that we had something more in common than having had breast cancer. When I met you, you had been diagnosed already. You were going through chemo, in fact. I confess- I couldn't wrap my head around it back then. I look back now and I realize I could've been... should've been a better friend, neighbor to you. And yet, the day I was diagnosed, you were one of the first people I called. And you called me back right away. I will never forget that. I will NEVER FORGET THAT. You are amazing. I've watched you live your life... get up everyday... achieve your goals. You taught me to not be afraid of what was to come. And you were right- the hardest part was the beginning; the not knowing.

Joy. My high school friend. When you wrote me last year to tell me you had been diagnosed, my heart sank. I had hoped, prayed that I would be the only other person I would ever know to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I know that couldn't possibly happen. But to hear about someone in my own high school class... that was hard to hear. And yet, you gave me the opportunity to turn around and comfort you, the same way so many other caring women comforted me. I was able to... pay it forward. I've followed you on Facebook and watched you handle every step of your treatment with the same grace and strength I knew you to have even back in our high school days. You are gorgeous- in mind, body and spirit - through the treatments and now as you move forward.

Marie. You came up to me today at the hospital. I was sitting waiting for my ovarian suppression shot. I was busily typing away on my phone, working since there was nothing else to do. I thought I recognized you when I first walked in, but when you didn't respond I thought I was mistaken. But then you got up and walked over. We shared a waiting room for many days last summer, waiting for our daily radiation treatments. I think I finished before you, or maybe it was the other way. It's all fuzzy now. But I do remember other names, faces from that waiting room - Margo, Cleo, Mary... and you. You looked great today. But there was something else. I know you were happy to see me; to reconnect. But when you told me you were there because your husband had more treatments, you looked sad. I'm sorry. I'm sorry that it goes on for you, and for your husband. But he and you are in my prayers. And I'm overwhelmed by how often you've thought about me, prayed for me. You are the reason why I'm writing this blogpost tonight. You have compelled me to reconnect... not with the cancer that I'm fighting... but with the inspiring silver lining that came with it. And that is you.

It's you, Marie. And you, Joy. You, Kath. You, Meredith. And you, Paula. And it's all the wonderful women and men who have come to my rescue, and continue to rescue me as I wake up everyday, grateful and amazed that I'm still here.