Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

No Regrets…Despite the Tsunami November 5, 2018

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:00 am

You know how life can run away from you?  That no matter what, there just is never enough time?  Whether it be in a day, week, or even lifetime.  And no matter how many times you say, “I’ll call/visit tomorrow, or next week,” and you don’t, it seems you never learn.  I mean, we all get bogged down with our own life in our own ways.  For me it sometimes feels like a tsunami, and I have to do everything in my power to muster through.  When I come out on the other side, I begrudgingly have to play catch up on what I missed.  I’m lucky if it’s a deadline for the girls, late on a bill payment, or not able to join in a harvest at the garden.  And then there are times that I find out I missed something that I’ll never have the chance of getting back.

Friday, I found out that a friend had passed away the week prior and I didn’t even know.  I mean, I knew she was in the hospital again, but thought it was just like all the times before.  That she had gotten a little sicker, needed a boost, and would be back out walking among us, as she’s done over and over again.  The last I talked to her in person was a month ago, and she said in passing as we were picking up our kids from school, “I might need another transplant.”  To Sam (name change to respect the privacy of the family) this wasn’t out of the ordinary – the transplant or the out-of-the-blue one-liner.  Our talks had been like this for the past four years – so busy we barely had time to catch each other up on what was important in our own care or what our kids needed.  Those check-ins where you quickly say, “My doctor appointment is tomorrow,” for the sole purpose of sharing your anxiety with someone who truly understands, and nothing more.  Or “check out Gilda’s Club, it’s a god-sent.”  I knew I needed to send her a text soon, but didn’t, well, because I was in the midst of my tsunami.

Our kids have gone to school together since 2nd grade.  Soon after we met, she told me that she read my blog and that ironically we went through the exact same type of cancer, treatment, and recovery, but a year apart.  We even joked about how our breasts could be nearly the same.  She became a pillar of strength and support within her community, especially among women who can easily feel ashamed by simply having cancer.  She was an advocate for cancer care, and freely told her story so that others could know that they weren’t alone in their fight.  But Sam also epitomized the word, “warrior.”  As a single mom, she showed her child such strength amidst a humble endurance, that in turn  taught every person in her presence just what bravery was.

Last fall, after suffering pain at the nape of her neck and in her gums, she had a bone marrow biopsy which proved positive for Leukemia.  After months in the hospital, which included 24/7 week-long chemo treatments and eventually a bone marrow transplant, she was told there was nothing they could do.  She walked out of that hospital and into another where she joined a research study that extended her life so she could celebrate her 35th birthday this past September.  That’s right, 35.  My younger sister’s age.

I know it’s ridiculous to feel guilty about not connecting with her just one more time.  Just like it’s ridiculous to feel guilty that it was her and not me.  But just like the fear of cancer returning is real, so is the guilt – all of it.  No matter how much you try to say, “There’s always tomorrow,” sometimes there isn’t, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  That’s it.  Sometimes, there’s simply nothing you can do.  It is, what it is.   And I fucking hate that phrase, more than all of the cancer fighting cliches, this cliche of life is my all-time least favorite.  I don’t think anything ‘is what it is.’  I think ‘it is WHAT YOU MAKE IT.’  Of course there are things that are out of our control, and it’s when you feel completely helpless that you fall into a deep sadness that’s hard to overcome, sometimes leading to its own tsunami.  So to admit that it is, in fact, what it is, well, it sucks.

But for Sam…even during her last stay in the hospital, she was grateful for all of the care despite not being able to get a good night’s sleep.  She kept her faith in God despite being tested over and over.  She always smiled amid the tubes and needles.  I can rest easier knowing that she’s at peace, that her family and child no longer need to see her suffer behind her glowing joy for life.  Sam truly made her life into what she wanted, despite the most extreme challenges.

Nothing like a little cancer to put your life into perspective again, and again, and again. The constant reminder to live with no regrets…despite your tsunami.

 

 

17 years ago today… September 11, 2018

Filed under: breast self exams,cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 6:45 am

17 years ago today…it was a Tuesday morning, just like today.  Not gloomy or rainy like today, but incredibly sunny with clear skies.   I left our tiny apartment downtown, like every weekday morning for the past 3 months, and traveled to my office in Times Square.  Just an ordinary day.  I was sitting at my desk, when a co-worker came in to say that a plane hit the World Trade Center.  I tried to load the news station online, but all I could see was a smoking tower.  He went downstairs to the Broadway League, and called up – another plane.  Then minutes later…a tower fell, then the other.  We scrambled to connect with all of the actors we were to be transporting to Connecticut that day, one of which was my best friend.  I tried to contact my family in Louisiana, only to touch base with my dad for a couple of minutes.  We all tried to make sense out of the unknown, afraid of staying and of leaving.

It wouldn’t be until hours later when I met up with my then fiance in the Village, and we slowly made our decent back to our apartment downtown.  The smoke billowing above all other buildings was our target direction.  The weeks following included walking miles to and from that apartment.  No subway service, three police blockades, proving that we lived there every time we encountered a group of armed officers with machine guns.  Each step closer to what we called home smelled like another world.  The smell for months afterwards is something that I will never forget.  I don’t have to close my eyes to remember that smell.  Who knows what it was.  Well, we all know what is was, but couldn’t think about it.  We were just trying to get by.  To survive.

10 years later I would be diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.  Extremely aggressive, estrogen receptive.  15 tumors, 8 out of 24 lymph nodes testing positive, on the verge of spreading throughout my entire body.  Complete double mastectomy, 4.5 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation.  I tested negative for all of the possible cancer genes, and am told to blame it on just dumb luck.

But what if my dumb luck was more than just finding the disease that knows no prejudice on a whim, a mere self-exam.  What if it was because I walked towards that billowing cloud of smoke day in and day out.  That’s right.  Several weeks ago, I was told that I’m eligible for 9/11 compensation due to my cancer.  And foolishness ensues, given that I shredded all of my paperwork this past summer in the midst of a full on purge.  That’s right, it’s all gone.

Ironically, I now work mere blocks away from the new World Trade Center.  I see it standing over me every time I leave my office building, sometimes several times a day.  It’s my new reminder.  For the past 6 years, since I’ve been told I was cancer-free, I’ve pondered.  What if I didn’t smoke during my college years?  Do I drink too much? (I dismissed that one before the thought barely formed, as I sip my 2nd cocktail of the evening.)  Could I have done something differently so that I didn’t put my family through that year of hell?

As you can imagine, I’ve been contemplating the past couple of weeks on how far I want to go with this.  The PTSD of my diagnosis, treatment and recovery is real, and comes back in waves, a constant rollercoaster.  Survivor guilt is real in more ways than one.  And now, it’s a whole new type of PTSD…and guilt.  So today, I will remember.  I will remember all of the victims, living and deceased.  I will never forget, as it’s a part of me, and forever will be.

Then we’ll all wake up tomorrow and start all over again.

 

 

5 years ago this week…i started chemo and i still despise the color PINK… October 30, 2016

Filed under: cancer,in memorium,Tamoxifen — Bad Right Breast @ 10:19 pm

Five years ago this week, I started chemotherapy for my Stage 3b Breast Cancer (diagnosed less than three months prior). For those of you that don’t know, here’s a quick summary…

I felt a lump, got a mammogram & ultrasound, 2 out of 4 biopsies positive for cancer (including one in the lymph node); scans proved cancer no where else and I tested negative for cancer gene, however I opted for double mastectomy. Pathology reports confirmed 15 tumors in the right breast, none in the left, and 8 out of 24 lymph nodes removed were cancerous.  Within four weeks, I’d started the harshest of chemos (including the Red Devil), and continued for a total of six sessions over four and a half months.  Then I would have six tattoos mark the areas in which I’d receive radiation five days a week, for six weeks straight.  Ten months after it all started, I was cancer free.

Sounds pretty easy when I put it into as few words possible, but of course, as you can imagine, it was anything but.  I didn’t mind losing ALL of my hair (and yes, the carpet does indeed match the drapes).  I didn’t mind the stares when I looked like cancer, but didn’t feel sick at all.  I didn’t mind the ‘down’ days after chemo, in which my friends made sure my family had meals provided for them.  I didn’t even mind getting new boobs, in fact, it’s one of the perks – pun intended.

I know the feeling when someone you know gets cancer, and you want to do anything you can to help.  Believe me when I tell you, that if you let me know you’re getting a mammogram or biopsy, I will be that pushy person that will ask and make sure you’ve covered all of your tracks.  But this is only because I’ve been there.  And I’m one of the fortunate ones that came out unscathed.  (Well, except for the Estrogen blocker I’ve got to take for another six years, which throws me into pre-menopause, but whenever I feel a mood swing come on, I just remind myself of my perky boobs.  Did I tell you I don’t need to wear a bra?  See, now you wish you had cancer too.)

But when folks who haven’t been through it, learn that a friend or loved one has cancer, it’s different.  You want to help anyway that you can or know how.  And no circumstance is the same.  I mean, what are you supposed to do, right?   It’s at this moment where I must confess that I hate the color pink and everything it stands for – awareness, i.e. marketing and sponsorship dollars for corporations.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  When my own mother, sister, and multiple friends ran/walked in my name, it meant the world to me. But with the millions raised each year, less than half of that actually goes to research or helping those with breast cancer directly.  Read for yourself at a couple of articles below (there are MANY more out there, for sure):

My favorite two organizations that I’ve supported, and have received tremendous support from are Breast Cancer Action (which also has a project called Think Before You Pink, which answers a lot of your ‘pink’ questions) and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (who does indeed have a ‘pink’ store, but their money is guaranteed to research and grants).

(By the way, if you truly want to know the history of the pink ribbon, research Charlotte Haley, who passed away in 2014, and watch the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. to get the closest insider’s look on the pink industry.)

But to show you the positive side…when I wrote about my mental side effects from Tamoxifen, the estrogen blocker, a college friend messaged me that her father was the creator of this drug in which I cursed.  It took all the courage within me to email him, and after several exchanges (in which he shared how the drug got passed through the senate and to the public, their research, and homeopathic remedies to the various side effects), he shared his newest creation – curing cancer without any surgery, pain, stitches or recovery.  Check the story on his local news channel a year ago HERE and his Ted Talk HERE.

I’m saying this last one, because there is research, new procedures, techniques.  Not all treatments fit each person, just like every ribbon isn’t the color pink.  The only way this disease  can be fought is if we stop treating every patient the same, and instead treat the individual person.  We are each unique creatures, whose bodies react differently to every circumstance.  I go in tomorrow morning for yet another check-up.  Vitals will be checked, blood will be drawn, and questions about my body will be asked.  I’ll wait to receive a call only ‘if’ there’s bad news.  I’ll see new and familiar folks.  I’ll walk past the infusion suite where I received my chemo.  I’ll see faces that look and don’t look like cancer.  It always brings back the biggest concoction of emotions.

And 8 hours later, I’ll be celebrating Halloween with my girls, friends and Graham.  Life goes on…for me and I’m grateful.  But I wish all of that money that went to corporate pockets instead could have saved the 40,000 lives from this past year, who don’t have moments like these anymore.  And I bet you, somewhere in their closet or on their dresser is the color pink.  And what good has it done?

 

 

No More Mangoes April 25, 2016

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:23 pm

victor 1victor 2For as long as my girls can remember, almost every time they’ve gone to the garden (our community oasis in West Harlem) they received a mango. Victor, an 80 year old retired postman of Puerto Rican descent, would see them coming and plan his delivery. We never knew where he got the mango (grocery store, home or off the back of the truck – the latter is the most likely), but he’d stride over with the biggest grin, chuckling quietly to himself along the way, as if he was the only one on the inside of a joke. He’d tenderly tap one of the girls on the shoulder, and she turned around as he’d present the mango in slow motion as if it were a delicate flower. Seeing the girls’ eyes brighten and mouths water at the site would bring him more joy than you ever thought imaginable.

Victor Benitez passed away this past Friday at the age of 85, on Earth Day, succumbed to brain cancer. It progressed more rapidly than anyone could have imagined, having only been diagnosed in February. He returned to NYC with his family at the forefront, no other place they’d rather be. In my last talks with Victor, he remembered me telling him years ago how I’d rather go through cancer over and over again than to ever have to watch a loved one fight it. That it’s the caregivers, the family and friends, who can only watch and wait, that it’s the hardest on. He understood this. He may have not been able to express his gratitude for it, but he was forever thankful.

For those who were fortunate enough to know him, your heart is broken, but you also have a smile on your face because you know that’s what he would have wanted. Always so full of life, and ready to throw a handshake and a hug to each and every person he came into contact with. You could feel the warmth emanating from the shake of his head or the wave of his hand from hundreds of feet away. And that laugh….oh that laugh! When he laughed it was the deepest of belly laughs and you couldn’t help but join in, even if you didn’t understand what he said that got it all started.  For those that never knew him, it is his presence every weekend at the garden and in the park they will miss most. Knowing that Papi won’t be around, well …it’s just not going to be the same each summer without him.

Jenny & VictorHe was a husband who thought the world of his wife.  He was a father who loved his children dearly.  He was a grandfather who doted on all of his grand-kids and the kids of others.  And he was a dear friend to hundreds.   When I told my girls about Mr. Victor’s passing, the first thing they said, in unison albeit, was, ‘No more mangoes?’  Then it sunk in.  We won’t see that smile any longer, won’t see that giant hand wave from afar, won’t get another bear hug and won’t hear that laugh that tickled our insides.  But we know that where he is now, he isn’t suffering, nor is he in pain.  He is where we all know him best, behind the wheel of his heavenly gator, driving around until his heart is content.  As for us?  Well, I know that many things will remind us of Victor, but for me?  It’s the mango, that simple.   As I close my eyes, all I need to do is say the word and I’m reminded.   And I smile.

Photo courtesy of Basia Nikonorow

 

Two years and counting May 17, 2014

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 9:01 am

20140601-205844.jpgIt’s only fitting that my birthday and cancer free anniversary are days apart from one another.  A celebration of my birth followed by a celebration of overcoming the possibility of death, back to back reminders of how grateful I am for life.  But it never was put into perspective quite as much as being told you have cancer, then Stage3 cancer, and on the verge of spreading.  If I had waited another year, month or maybe even week, my outcome might have been so incredibly different.  Yet, this year has brought about more questioning, not only about my own life, but about so much more.

It’s been hard, to say the least, to lose someone to cancer, and a bit more surreal if you’ve survived it. Each year brings about another loss. Whether it be someone who has been fighting it for years or someone who discovered it too late. Questions like, why me? What makes my life more worthy than someone else’s? Did they get the same treatment? Did they ask the right questions? Questions that have no answers, yet constantly are asked with every reminder that I’m still here and they aren’t.

Then there’s side effects. My right arm had 24 lymph nodes removed (8 were cancerous), parts of a system that are taken for granted but without them, can throw your entire body and livelihood out of whack. The scar tissue damage from the lymph node removal tightens up over and over again if I go days without stretching and tearing the tissue on a consistent basis. I have to wear a tightly fitted sleeve every time I fly to keep the water retention down. But a flight over 4 hours makes my entire arm down to my fingertips painfully balloon up so much that only being patient for more than 24 hours eases the discomfort (and elephant man effect). Then there’s my boobs. Ahhhh, my boobs. While they do look amazing, the right one (always and forever the right one) hasn’t quite settled into the implant and is much tougher than the left. Luckily one can only tell if you stare at me while naked or try to feel me up. And luckily Graham’s always a bit preoccupied …… that’s another blog ……. so it’s not a problem. Now that it’s summer again, I run into the problem with forever looking ‘cold,’ but again – not really a problem. And I never felt like I was sick or had cancer, so the extent of any other side effect is merely mental.

And boy is it ever mental. Will it come back? Do I really need to go to that check up? Has that mole gotten bigger? Have I always felt this way in my back? Is this headache because of stress or is there a tumor? And then there’s the mental side effects from the Tamoxifen. Luckily, I’ve learned how to cope with those, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So yes, another year cancer free. I’m grateful. Your life never turns out exactly how you planned. Surprises are always bound to turn up along the way. It’s only how you deal with those surprises that defines who you are. Several years ago I was that same bossy boots brown that overstepped boundaries, took control, and had a hot temper. And in some ways I am still that person. (Just ask my husband) But now I’m learning to care a little less about things that truly don’t matter and care more about people who do. Today is yet another reminder to put my priorities in place. And another day to give thanks, especially when others can’t.

 

 

Saying Farewell… February 28, 2014

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 1:27 pm

Screen shot 2014-02-28 at 12.35.40 PM

Sometimes when a person dies, the people that make up her life won’t fully understand her impact until after she’s gone.  But in Amy’s case, each and every individual that met her, instantly knew exactly how special she really was.  I posted the blog on Tuesday for my dear friend Mia Laudato, in honor of her best friend, Amy Furman Ames, a woman I thought was absolutely remarkable, simply through the facebook messages and postings we shared over the course of several months.  I knew that people loved her, but it’s amazing to see the impact in numbers.  Within 24 hours, over 10,000 people read and shared it.   (ps – my highest posting before this was 335).  People around the world are being inspired by her greatness.   Right now, less than 3 days later, that number is now over 16,500, and has reached over 60 countries.  I mean, I don’t even think I ever heard of Liechtenshtein, Oman, or Azerbaijan.  But someone there is now inspired by a woman so great, words can no longer express.  She is literally wrapping her arms around the world in her greatness. Even now, she never ceases to amaze me.

Her family and friends have now laid her to rest, but their time celebrating this wonderful woman hasn’t ceased.  She will forever live on each person she encountered – guaranteed.  Unfortunately, it takes something as horrible as losing such an angel to make us realize what is truly important in life.  Material things no longer matter.  We’ll lose sight of this in months to come, but something will happen that will remind you of Amy, and you will be reminded to put your priorities in place.  We never know how long we are here.  And even worse, things can change with the blink of an eye.  If you were to leave today with just one thing, leave with this.  Live your life as great and tremendous as you possibly can.  Make a difference to each and every person you come in contact with.  As with Amy, a little goes a long way.

If you want to do something more, Amy’s brother Scott posted this in the online facebook group:

“Many have asked about organizations that they could donate to in memory of my sister. Amy had many causes that were close to her heart – way too many to list. Please don’t feel restricted by this suggested group below:

Breast Cancer Research Foundation
https://donations.bcrfcure.org/donate-now

Gina McReynolds Foundation
http://www.teamgina.org/donate-now

Buoniconti Fund
http://www.thebuonicontifund.com/page.aspx?pid=511

Notices of donations can be sent to Amy’s mother:

Yvette Katz
256 Sayre Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540

Some have also also asked if there is anything they can do to assist her son, Jacob. I have set up a 529 education savings plan that anyone can make contributions to. If that interests you, please send me a private message or email containing your full name and email address. (It may take me a few days to respond to these, but I promise to get back to everybody.)”

To Amy:  Goodbye, hot mama.  I’ll see you in tonight’s sunset, tomorrow’s sunrise and in the kindness of a stranger.

 

Amy and her Army February 25, 2014

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 10:39 pm

I only just read the news less than an hour ago, and immediately began to cry.  Instantly aware, my twins ask simultaneously, “Why are you crying?” I couldn’t form the words.  How do you explain to a couple of five year olds that you’re crying for someone you’ve never met, and really barely even knew.  “A friend of a friend passed away this afternoon,” is all I could muster.

I admit I never would have known who she was.  One of my high school summer stock friends, whom I truly love with all my heart – Mia Laudato, reached out to me less than a year ago.  It starts for me there.  One of her best friends, Amy Furman Ames, has just been diagnosed with, you’ve guessed it, breast cancer.  She’s weeks away from turning 40, has a dear son just entering double digits, and she is beyond beautiful gorgeous with an amazing smile that never wears away.  Amy and I message each other over the course of several months.  She reads my blogs, I tell her stories about constipation problems.  You know, the normal cancer talk.  She makes my Mia smile, so I know she’s a special person.  We keep in touch through the summer, but the fall and now winter season isn’t so kind to her.

I’ve said it many times before.  Cancer knows no prejudice.  And EVERY PERSON’s experience with cancer is different.  It’s make-up, diagnosis, treatment, reaction to treatment and recovery.  I know this.  I say it all the time.  Based on the sheer fact that all of our genetic make-up is unique, our cancer is unique.  My story isn’t your mom’s story, your brothers, or even yours.  And it for damn sure isn’t Amy’s.  Amy’s story is truly beyond unbelievable, just as unbelievable as the woman and life she embodies.

The best thing Mia could have done for her best friend is create a private group ‘Amy’s Army’ for each person who has been touched in someway by this incredible creature to help her and her family fight through this.  And boy did she ever fight.  Ready?  Here’s her whirlwind told along the way by her brother:  diagnosed with breast cancer less than a year ago.  After numerous consultations &  chemo treatments, she has a mastectomy in early November with no cancer found in the lymph nodes. Less than a month later while still recovering from the surgery, Amy has a series of seizures, in which they discover she has brain cancer.  Days later, a second surgery removes the brain tumor.  Recovery is slow but steady, and she fights every step of the way.  Weeks later, she suffers from headaches and told that the area where the brain tumor was removed is now inflamed and possibly infected.  But when they go in for a 3rd surgery (in which they were prepared to permanently remove a piece of her skull), they find a 2nd larger tumor has now grown in the site of the first.  Stereotactic (focused) radiation treatment, the only type of treatment, is moved up.  She suffers temporary paralysis on one side, continued seizures, feeding tube inserted.  Starts to recover once again, moving back and forth from the ICU to hospice to a step-down facility, back to hospice.  Seems so simple putting it down into words, but this goes on all over the course of several months.

But at the same time, each and every person that visits this astounding being while in the hospital, says the same exact thing – she’s upbeat, happy, smiling, full of life, making jokes, so positive.  Two weeks ago, she is having visitors try on her fabulous wigs.  Never would you have thought that this was a woman fighting for her life.  A woman whose story told over and over again reads the same by each person who encounters her.  She is the epitome of beauty, inside and out.

Another factor I mention about cancer, is that EVERYONE knows cancer.  Either a family member, loved one, friend, child, sibling, or even yourself has gone through cancer.  When I’d take the subway and ‘look’ like cancer (you know, that bald, sickly look, with no eyebrows, the no eyebrows really did it), I’d get stares.  And soon realizing, that because I ‘looked’ like cancer, I reminded people of their cancer.  I say this for Amy’s caretakers.  Her mother, brother, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and countless more.  Amy’s story is now their story.

Amy passed away this afternoon, very peacefully and in no pain, with her family by her side.  Their lives will never be the same.  And yes, FUCK cancer for taking an irreplaceable person from them.  If any of them could have taken her pain away, I know they would have without hesitation.  Just as my Penelope climbs in my lap, wipes away my tears, and says, ‘I’m sorry your friend of a friend died.  That really stinks.’  Yes, sweetie.  It certainly does.

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