Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

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.

1619122_10201382459189266_1501939646_n (2)

 

A Tribute to Erica August 3, 2012

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:25 pm

20130126-212756.jpgI honestly can’t remember the first time I met Erica. Seriously. It’s only because we were so young when we first met. I was maybe five years old, she a year older. We were on the same softball team, and her dad taught me and many others how to play the sport. The CATS, that was our team name. What I do remember ever since I’ve known Erica, is her smile and laugh. She was always the pillar of optimism and fun, and an even better athlete. As we grew up, she may have gotten older, but she never changed. Everyone that ever met Erica feels the same way. Go ahead, ask them. There was just something about her. We were cheerleaders together and spent many weekends traveling to sporting events. After high school, I didn’t hear much about her only because I moved away. It happened with almost everyone I knew growing up, until the invention of the internet and then Facebook.

She graduated high school in 1992. She then went on to study and graduate from Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. She married her love Kendrell, and has two boys – one who will graduate high school this year and the youngest will start kindergarten. She became a teacher and continued to share her happiness. For the past twenty years, she lived her life, as we all do.

She was one of those that were slow to get on Facebook, this past January to be exact. She turned 38 on May 5th. I reconnected with her soon after. See, Erica was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her treatment was complicated due to her living with Lupus. She was only able to receive one round of chemotherapy. But, as with some treatment, more complications arose. She developed a blood clot in her leg and treatment had to cease. She remained in the hospital where they put stints in both of her kidneys, drained fluid out of her abdomen. Her blood levels were so low that she required blood transfusions. The community came to her aid. They held blood drives, several in fact, to give her what she required. Hoping that it would all make her better, she was scheduled to be transferred to MD Anderson by the end of the month although her family was fighting to get her there sooner. As her dear friend Christy put it, sometimes all we get is 38 years. She held on as long as she could, but those that loved her most knew that when there was no laughter left, that her time come was coming to an end.

Erica passed away last week. Tomorrow, she is being laid to rest. When you read her Facebook page, it’s filled with the same sentiments that I mention above:
“Your smile and laughter will be truly missed!!!”
“I will never forge that big smile and loving personality!!!!!! I love you friend!!!!!”
“Thanks for putting a smile on my son’s face everyday at school. We will truly miss you!!! You were such a loving person.”
“Oh how I will miss my friend Erica!!! Our hearts will always be filled with love and great memories that we shared together.”
“Words can not express how I feel right now. I’ve been crying and smiling all day. Crying bcuz I will miss my friend Erica so very much! But as I sit and think about her I can’t help but to smile. She has touched so many with her energetic personality and bright smile. I love you dearly Erica and will miss u so very much.”
“I will always cherish the time I’ve spent with you. Such a beautiful and loving person. I will miss you, your smile, and your laugh.”
“One of the hardest parts of life is saying goodbye to a dear friend. Erica you were like a ray of sunlight to all the lives you touched..always supportive and willing to assist.”
The time we have is precious. Erica lived the best she knew how, by giving laughter and love to everyone she came in contact with. Nothing hurts more than losing someone who deserves to have everything, including living a long life. As I’ve said before, cancer knows no prejudice. It doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman, a grown up or a child, black or white, or even if you are an amazing person who’s done nothing more laugh and love.

So my wish for all of you this weekend is to take time to be thankful. Whatever your beliefs, we are all here on borrowed time, and it’s what we make of it that matters. Nothing else. Be kind to one another, volunteer, give blood, donate goods. And if you can’t think of anything to do for others, simply smile, because it does in fact go a long way.

Erica Joseph-Rapp (May 5, 1974 – July 28, 2012)

A wife, mother, daughter, sister, and dear friend.

20130126-212751.jpg

 

 

EVERYONE KNOWS CANCER April 11, 2012

Filed under: cancer,in memorium — Bad Right Breast @ 8:15 pm

When people ask how the girls are dealing with mommy having cancer, I simply say, ‘Great,’ which is true. They are getting through this, I feel, solely because they’ve been able to see that cancer isn’t a death sentence, or ‘DOOM’ as they’re learning from the Ewok movies. The response is often, ‘well, it’s not.’ My reply every time is that it IS for some. I don’t want my experience or what I say to demean anyone’s story. We are all different, unique individuals that unfortunately (and at the same time fortunately) travel through separate journeys in life. Even though I may have the exact same disease as some, how our bodies react to treatment may not be the same. This disease comes in MANY different forms. It doesn’t care if you’re a woman or a man. It doesn’t care if you’re white, Hispanic or black. It even doesn’t care how old you are.

We have all had cancer in our lives, whether it be a family member, friend, co-worker, or self. Tell me one person that doesn’t know ANYONE who’s had cancer and I’ll give them the luckiest person in the world award. And if I’m your first, I’d love to give you a bear hug and apologize for breaking your cancer virginity. For everyone else, try listing all of the individuals in your life that have been affected by cancer. When you come from a large family, it’s inevitable that someone will have cancer. For me, because of my gene testing, the list is long, and I’m able to go back to my ‘great’ relatives. How, after all of this, I still DON’T have a cancer gene, I may never know. So I start with those that have passed away:

  • Joseph Macaluso (maternal grandfather) – 8 years remission from kidney cancer, died of kidney and colon cancer at age 83
  • Ada Brown (paternal grandmother) – died 49 from subdural hematoma while battling breast and lung cancer
  • Elvis Brown (paternal grandfather) – died at 62 from throat cancer
  • Rosemary (maternal great aunt) – died at 48 from ovarian cancer
  • Blanche (paternal great aunt) – died at 54 from breast cancer
  • Gertrude (paternal great aunt) – died at 58 from breast cancer
  • Mom’s first cousin- died mid 50’s from throat cancer
  • Edith (paternal great aunt) – 35 years remission breast cancer, died of a heart attack
  • William (paternal great uncle) – died at 71 from mouth cancer
  • Billie Joe (paternal first cousin) – breast cancer at 36, remission until 41, died at 46 from breast and spinal cancer
  • Anna (maternal great aunt) – 17 years remission breast cancer until 78, died of a bad heart
  • Mike Rokich (Husband’s grandfather) – died 1999 of prostate cancer

Friends, co-workers and loved ones outside of family that have passed:

  • Michelle – college classmate, died in 2004 at the age of 29 of colon cancer
  • Edgar – childhood friend and high school classmate, died 2005 at age 29 of Lymphoma
  • John – high school friend, survived testicular and brain cancer, died 2007 at the age of 31 of lung cancer
  • Anne – Husband’s co-worker, died Jan2012 of lung and brain cancer
  • Judy – dear friend, died Jan 2012 at age of 67 of ovarian cancer
  • Kelly – college accompanist, died March 2012 of Intestinal Cancer

20130126-211745.jpg

On that somber note, you’d think that we’d feel completely powerless. Then think about survivors you know:

  • Dolly (maternal great aunt) – 6 year survivor colon cancer, currently 90
  • Kathleen (mom’s twin sister) – 13 year survivor breast cancer
  • Barbara (business associate) – 12 year survivor brain cancer
  • Steve (Husband’s uncle) – 3 year survivor prostate cancer
  • Tiffany (college friend) – 16 year survivor ovarian cancer
  • Brianna (college friend) – 8 year survivor Metastatic Thyroid Cancer
  • Amanda (college friend) – 7 year survivor Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (diagnosed while 34 weeks pregnant)
  • Grace (daughter of high school friends, 12 years old) – 6 year survivor of brain cancer
  • Anna (friend of the twins, 5 years old) – 3 year survivor of brain cancer

20130126-211738.jpg

Now, think about those currently fighting:

  • I count myself – 36 years old
  • Joyce (father’s sister-in-law) – breast cancer
  • Jamie (4th cousin, cuz in Louisiana you know them) – thyroid cancer
  • Brett (college mentor and advisor) – prostate cancer
  • David (business associate) – terminal blood cancer
  • Libby – 6 years old battling kidney cancer

20130126-211732.jpg

And this is just what I remember. I know there are others that I’m leaving off – a friend’s mother, someone’s sibling, and more. To that, I send my deepest apologies. It’s a disease that affects everyone. You just never know in what capacity. They could have survived, been a caretaker, seen a loved one die, or watch a child battle through. So since I look like cancer, I’m more aware. When I catch someone’s glance, I have to force myself to smile. I never know what cancer has done to them. I know I’m getting through this, but I’ve seen dozens in the hospital struggling, wondering how many times they’ve been there before. Wondering if I’ll return.

I go home each day, passing my neighbors, a Puerto Rican family that has lived with cancer for decades. The youngest in the family is a bright fourteen year old girl with a beautiful smile. I’ve seen her grow from a lively six year old into a young lady, all the while never knowing just how she has been affected by cancer until I was diagnosed. She’s seen her grandfather and uncle die from it. She’s seen her grandmother, whom she lives with, go through two remissions. Now, she’s witnessing her aunt, who has gone through three remissions, die from it. The aunt has had to move in with the family, and sleeps in the same room with her. During the day she sees me living through it as if it’s no big deal, and at night she witnesses her aunt painfully fading away because of it.

Then I hear of the kids. Little Anna was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. But now looking at her, the spirited 5 year old that she is, you would never guess. Jennifer, Anna’s mom, has become a dear friend. Anna has to return to the hospital often for scans and follow-ups. Even though her treatment was at such a young age, she is starting to form memories of it all, seeing other kids living through their various diagnoses and treatments.

And dear Libby, battling at this moment. Six years old, 2 major surgeries in a week and months of treatment. A six year old should be learning how to jump rope, scale the monkey bars or even get lost in a book, NOT develop a fear of life vs. death. It’s not fair. I know all of the adages: “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” “This too shall pass.” “It could always be worse.” In the end, it still simply sucks. Sucks that this happens to anyone, let alone a child, in any capacity.

So when there’s nothing to say, when no words can express the confusion or anger, when all you want to do is just beat the crap out of something, we’re still left with cancer. We’re still left with a disease that robs us of time, happiness, memories and loved ones, even as a survivor you’re robbed of the energy spent fighting. Coming out of it, there is only perspective. You look at things differently. You make sure that at no point do you have any regrets. And not that you may feel an Ewok DOOM, but that you make sure you’ve taken advantage of every opportunity before you. Because in the end, yes, it could always be worse. But wouldn’t the saying be better received if it were “it could always be better.” and it actually was?