21 August 2010

A Strange Meeting

Darren and I met about ten years ago, at a party where we each were promoting our respective businesses. It was a networking event of sorts and I was in full gear. The room was packed! But, you could not have missed Darren if you tried. He was striking -- tall and lean for a rugby player, he had a wide, welcoming smile and a very compelling Irish brogue. Upon hello and name exchanges, I quickly handed him a flier to an event I was hosting. Without skipping a beat, he handed me a flier to his, but with a couple of drink tickets and an invitation to get in for free. Wow! (Why didn't I think of that?). By happenstance, both of our events were on the same evening and we were contending for business form the very same crowd of which we were part. We were competitors! But really, even at that, he had managed to charm me and I never really thought him "the enemy." So for years we vied for the same business almost always, until he and his business partners decided to deviate from their current business and do something else. That was when Darren began to be a really successful and noted businessman in our city. His business grew by leaps and bounds, but never had he changed from the Darren that I had met years back.

Still charming and impish, still welcoming and unassuming, still tall and strong. What a great success story! He came here from Ireland a few years before this success, taking a chance and couch-surfing at friends homes for about a year. To then see him owning several enterprises in the city and being featured in local magazine's "Society Page" as one of the city's eligible bachelors was quite a fete! On any given night, you can see him walking on his street with the biggest, scariest pit ball -- Sam in stride with him. He and Sam were so popular in their neighborhood that local merchants always had a treat for Sam whenever they walked by. They were quite the pair to behold. If you didn't know that Darren and his pit bull were the biggest sweethearts, you'd walk the other way if you happened by them in an alley.

On my second chemo session last year, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw Darren walking down the hallway at Dr. T's chemo treatment clinic. Sure, we hadn't seen each other in years and I'd heard rumors that he was ill. But I also heard that he'd gotten well subsequently. So to see him in a chemo clinic was quite shocking. I didn't know what to do with myself. Both of us being as private as we were, I wanted to give him his space (as I didn't know what treatment he could be undergoing). But also, I wanted my own space. The last person I wanted to see in the clinic was a business colleague (we were sort of friends too). So, I quickly put my head down behind a book, raised the book high and "hid" from Darren.

Well, son-on-a-gun, if he didn't plop himself down at the chemo chair immediately to my left. Argh! Still, I kept the book in front of my face, but it would have really looked funny if I moved the book to the left of my face. I just hoped he wouldn't turn to see me. Riiiiiiiiiight! "C!" he exclaimed! "Wat in de world are ye doin' here?" he continued in his charming Irish brogue. And there it was. We had to face each others...business competitors and colleagues sitting side-by-side in a chemo clinic. "If someone 'ad toold me years ago, dat you 'an me would be meetin' in a plece lak dis, I would've punched dem in da mouth!" he said, smiling weakly and winking. And my! How strange is life. Darren's younger than me (by at least 10 years), strong, fit, never smoked...but...

Darren had lung cancer. He looked emaciated and tired. His strong rugby build was gone. But he still had his hair. Certainly, it was hard to process this vision of the former "force to be reckoned with." He said that they thought the chemo had worked, but subsequently, his oncologist discovered that it hadn't. And so the cancer had metathesised to more areas in his body. He was in the clinic for a Neulasta shot, as his immune system had gone awry. He told me that at this juncture, his oncologist didn't have anymore solutions to his cancer.

I begged him to go see my Dr. T (who is in the same practice group as his oncologist). I told him how amazing Dr. T was. He urged him to find a new, alternate route. He nodded "okay" But, he seemed resigned. After his shot, he gave me a peck on the forehead, wished me all the best, and left.

Last night, at Relay for Life, I lit a Luminaria for Darren. He passed away a year ago this month. He was young, strong, fit and never smoked a cigarette in his life. Yet lung cancer took his life.

Cancer is an equal opportunity killer.

13 July 2010

Relay for Life? Or Celebrate Life?

After I went into remission, a very urgent need came to be that I needed to do something about the cancer experience. The core of my belief system is that everything happens for a reason. And, cancer is a big THING! I cannot let the experience or the lesson go to waste. All of that must be put into something good. I had great intentions. I was going to make a difference for those touched by cancer! Although, I was wisely counseled by my boyfriend and my brother that I should probably take things in stride and put it in first gear and take some time to heal and regroup, before any major undertaking. Well, of course it turned out that it was wise advice. I had just about enough energy to go to work daily and maintain the rhythm of the once-interrupted life. It takes time to put things back together, I suppose. Life certainly did not stop or slow down, just because I had to. So, it turned out that it was the best advice.

And now, I finally have my bearings. So, I took some time to research how I could get involved and give back. There are a lot of choices. But, in the end, I chose The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, in keeping with my former post and a belief that we are all in this together. Yes. There are different kinds of cancer, including mine. But, I wanted to support the organization that helps all cancer. And the American Cancer Society was the best choice for this. I also liked Relay for Life because of its communal character -- camping for 24 hours with your "team," amongst other teams.

So, this was quite an an important decision for me. It was sort of a "coming out" to my community at large -- many of whom did not know I was sick at all. It was also a chance for me to involve my friends and family with cancer, at last! I had my reservations and trepidations about all of this. But I was done keeping my cancer under a bushel. It was time to share. I've had a year to have to almost all to myself. But, the world doesn't benefit from that. Does it? Only in my "coming out" and sharing the experience with others will it do anyone else any good. Time to get over my introvertedness and time to let go! I was not doing anyone any good by keeping all of this under wraps.
Still and all, it took about a couple of weeks of clicking on Relay for Life's website to read up on what it involved to be a Team Captain and to raise funds as well as organize a team for the event. I had to talk myself into committing to it -- being a team captain and assembling a team for the event, with the help of my friends and community of course. And what a "coming out" party it was going to be! We were going to "camp" for 24 hours while raising money for the cause. Brilliant!

Last night, as I put the final touches in the Evite for Relay for Life, I got a phone call from one of my very good friends to discuss another very good friend's bridal shower/bachelorette party. The date and venue was set. All I needed to do was post my response to the event's Evite. Done! Am there with bells on and all that. Of course!

BUT. . . (you guessed it!)

The aforementioned shower/bachelorette party is the same day as Relay for Life! (May I just say that I was mildly annoyed and discouraged? After all that thought and self-prodding to finally do something AND involve everyone else, someone had the nerve to get married!)

Momentary quandary: Should I go through with the commitment to myself and the powers that be to do Relay for Life? Or, should I be a good friend and attend said bridal shower/bachelorette party? Herein lies the rub: The very community that I wanted to finally open up to and involve in my cancer journey will be a the bridal shower. So, really, in the larger (or smaller) scheme of things, what was more important?

Yes. I had (definitely) grand and (perhaps) honorable intentions in doing Relay for Life with my community of friends and family. But really, do gestures of gratitude or reason have to be that grand in order to count? Or, is being there for a good friend during a very important occasion of her life, as grand as being at Relay for Life? Here, the old adage rings true. Charity begins at home. In this instance, I didn't have to make a big splash to make a difference. I am blessed to be alive to share in this wonderful time of her life. There are currently over 200 teams registered to participate in my city's Relay for Life. But my girlfriend only has only a few of us with whom to celebrate her impending marriage.

There wasn't a quandary after all.

08 July 2010


Around this time last year, I was coming away from a big, happy remission party that my friends had given for me. Friends flew in from far and wide, there was an abundance of food and good cheer, and everyone was happy that I had "conquered cancer!" What a celebration!

But I remember being at that party and watching my friends "celebrate me," and feeling as if I were watching a movie, in slow motion with no sound. Yes. I was there. Yes, I was hugging and kissing and cavorting with them. But it felt as if I wasn't there -- as if I was on the outside looking in.

The thing was, even though I was relieved, I couldn't relate to everyone's euphoria and celebration. I was pre-occupied with overwhelming feelings of alienation and void within. My life over the past few months had been seriously regimented with an intensely focused goal -- kill those cancer cells! Mission accomplished! I had entered remission and I should've have been dancing at the rafters. But I wasn't. Well, externally, I was. I had to -- for everyone else's sake.

Inside, I was dutifully grateful, as if by rote. But I was also lost and dreadful, and somehow numb. My gratitude was not as overarching as everyone else's. What was in the forefront were my feelings of dread and estrangement. Yes. I was relieved. But more than that, I felt lost and in flux. What an ingrate, right? How many people would want to be in my place and be in remission? Fortunate! That's what I was and that's the way I should've felt. To no avail.

Why then was I in this state of being? Why wasn't I shouting through the rooftops with joy like everyone else? Why did I feel empty and gray?

First - when I was diagnosed with cancer, Auntie Mame told me that my illness was but a detour; and that life will go on after I beat cancer. She meant it. I believed it wholeheartedly. And because of that. . .

Second - the months ensuing were intensely laser-focused on one thing: cancer. I was surrounded by the most competent people and together, we marched to the drum of beating cancer. I lived and breathed it. It was my sole purpose of being. There was nothing else.

Third - because of the above, everything had a sense of urgency and (if you will) sensationalism. My family, friends, and colleagues were panicked and frantic. All eyes were intensely on me: Dr. T and his team, my family and friends, my colleagues. Although I fought hard to be at arms' length with family and friends, it still felt like I was very much in the limelight. Herein lies the rub: Eventually, I bought into it! I got used to the attention, even if it was unwelcome, many times. Kris Carr was right! Cancer is crazy and (yes!) sexy!

Now, I use "sexy" in the loosest way possible; sexy like in "interesting" or "attractive" and yes, even "sensationalistic." But definitely, more on the "interesting" bent. Cancer is sexy that way. And because it is, people gravitate towards it -- people gravitated toward me. For a few months, I was the cause celebre, all due to the fact that I had cancer -- phone calls, cards, people flying in from everywhere to visit, prayers, tears, gifts, parties, you name it. What was particularly welcome was the care that I received from my oncology team. I felt as if in a protective cocoon of medical care. I'd gotten used to it.

So, as intensely as attention and care was showered on me during my period of illness was as quickly as all of that disappeared once my remission was declared. After the party, there I was, left in the cold and facing the abyss that was life without cancer. Silence. . . that was what I was left with, after the party, the fuss and the doctor visits had stopped.

Last - After I went into remission, I started believing that cancer wasn't just a detour. Rather, it was a divine push of the "reset" button. Everything happens for a reason. I believe that. And so, of course, I questioned why I got sick and then was spared afterwards. There had to be a reason. And I had to repurpose my life. New beginnings. There had to be something bigger out there. What was it?

After all the concentrated attention lavished on me, so much so that sometimes I couldn't even breath, I was left with myself -- to figure out why my life was on out "reset."

If there was ever a time I really felt alienated from my waking life, it was then. Somehow, I felt I didn't belong to the cancer community anymore because I was in remission. But, at the same time, I felt I didn't belong to the other comuunities who hadn't been ill with cancer either. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything. I was facing this foggy abyss and I didn't know how deep or wide it was. But I had to try. I had to take steps to repurpose my life -- quickly! Life's too short, afterall. And so, I tried . . . for a year. . .

Last weekend, the same friends got together for a party at the same place around the same time. Only, it wasn't my remission party, it was 4th of July get-together. It seemed to me as though everyone had changed: babies born, couples married, friends almost graduating from school, kids getting older, and friends being pregnant. A good friend asked how I was doing. Me? Fine, I guess. Nothing's changed. I'm still in remission. Am still in the same job. Still have the same aches and pains. Have I discovered the "reason" why I got sick? Have I discovered my new purpose? Had I done anything significant over the past year except suriving cancer? No. I had nothing to report. An immense feeling of disppointment overcame me. I am now, where I was last year -- still feeling alienated and somehow lost. No progress.

What I didn't realize was how spent I was. Having put all of my energy into overcoming my illness, I was bereft of direction or will to do anything else, despite the internal pressure to grandly rebirth myself ala "Phoenix rising from the ashes!" Little did I know that the ashes would weigh me down for while and blur everything. And, so after a year of walking around in circles (it seems), I am back in the same place, with my hands up in the air still asking "Now what?"

I spent most of the 4th of July in tears, discouraged.

But today, even feeling like I am where I was last year, I renew my commitment to keep at it. But it's another year and it deserves a new commitment. So what if I still don't know why? or when? or how? What's important is that I'm still here walking, albeit in circles and stopping from time to time asking "Now what?" But, I'm here and I'd like to turn a new page. Perhaps by doing so, I'll find that "passage" and read the answers. Maybe someday, I'll find a way to the clearing. But none of that will happen until I press the button myself (not the universe, not the divine, not cancer nor anyone else) . And so . . . .

Here I go. . .


25 June 2010

Someone Up There Has a Sense of Humor

I like astrology, not in the "weekly horoscopes" type astrology, or even as a basis to predict my future. Rather, I'm a huge fan of zodiac characteristic profiling. It's pretty spot on, in my humble opinion. Most Libra's I know are people pleasers, wanting a balance in their environment. Leo's and Aries are pretty strong-minded and stubborn. Virgo's are pretty solid, salt of the earth people. I am a proud Pisces -- pretty fluid and goes with the flow for the most part. Look up the standard character description of a Pisces and you pretty much have pegged me (well, as much as you can peg "water"). I was a March baby, born on St. Patty's Day and I love, love, love, love being a Pisces.

A year ago today (June 25, 2009), dear Dr. T said these magic words "Well, your CA-125 score is 7 and I'm happy to tell you that you are in remission." He said it! He said "REMISSION" on June 25, 2009, the day I was given a "second go" on life! So, today's my first [second] birthday!

I cannot believe a year's since passed. It is at once so near and yet so far. It's fresh, still. But, it seems like a long time ago. I haven't forgotten. But it seems the world has, or at least the world around me has. And I wish I could forget like they could. But, I know that it'll be with me for a while, because Dr. T made very clear that I was in remission and not cured. Nonetheless, I am happy to have a second birthday. I'm happy to be here watching World Cup re-runs. I'm happy to have silly arguments with my daughter. I'm happy to be getting frustrated at work. I'm happy to wake up every day, even though getting out of bed is painful on all levels. Yes. I'm happy that it's been a year and I'm still fine. I'm blessed to be alive, no matter how grumpy I get. I'm happy it has not reared its ugly head at all.

It? What's "it?" Why, cancer, of course!

But guess what? When I looked up what Zodiac sign corresponds with my June 25 "birthday," I was amused when I found out it was "Cancer!" That's when I had a good chuckle with the powers that be! Someone has a sense of humor up there.

And, I'm glad to laugh about it. Now, please pass me a piece of that wonderful [Cancer] birthday cake.


15 June 2010

Carpe Diem

To the Virgins, to make much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he 's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he 's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

~ Robert Herrick

02 June 2010

How Do You Process It . . . ?

. . .when you find out that your oldest and dearest friend died in her sleep on the morning after you come back from a weekend of camping fun with other friends?

Two Sundays ago, that's just what happened. My friend Rose died in her sleep at the age of 49. I'm in a daze and I don't know if it's sunk in. Yes. I went to her family's rosary for her the evening after they found her dead in her bed. Surreal, altough very real, as I helplessly watched her three children cry with pain for their mother. Marie the oldest, who was 5 when I first met her now has 3 of her own was the one who seemed like she couldn't handle her mother's death at all. Jessica was born two months after my oldest son was born. To me, she's still a baby at 23. Bt she too has a son. And she was there, on the floor, wearing her mother's watch trying to hold on to anything...anything. And then Rose's youngest at 16, John was trying to be strong because "I have to take care of my sisters now" he whispered to me. It tore me asunder to watch them fall apart in front of their mother's picture.

Rose and I "grew" up together. We had babies together and saw each other through rough waters with men. As time went on, we headed our separate paths. She got sick and I got sick. She had diabetes and I had cancer. Neither of us wanted to let the other know that we were each were very sick. In March, Rose and her daughter Jessica attended my daughter's 21st birthday dinner. I was glad to see her after all these years. She was glad to see me. In two minutees, we were thick as thieves again, comparing notes (with a lot of that old humor) about our maladies. Just like the good old days. Like we never missed a beat.

When she was hugging me good bye, she looked at me intently and said "Never again, C. Let's not let time pass this long before seeing each other again." I agreed. That was the last time I saw her.

I've been trying to process this for the past two weeks. I've been trying to forget. I've been hoping to wake up one day and find out it was just a dream. I just don't want it to be true. It just doesn't seem right. I survived her. All her older siblings survived her. She was so young. She was so needed. She was so loved.

I should be very sad. Or very angry. But I don't know how to feel.

Many times, I"m sad. Very sad.

I don't understand.

It's just not fair.

20 May 2010

The United Colors of Cancer

Until I was diagnosed with cancer, I'd always associated color pink with cancer. There was a time of year when pink surfaced everywhere, it seemed. Yoplait would start its pink cup covers drive and I diligently collected my Yoplait tops and sent them in so that donations may be made for cancer. Little pink tents would pop up at stores everywhere asking for donations to cancer. I contributed to several girlfriends' efforts for the Avon Walk and the Race for the Cure, all that while thinking "[the color] pink = cancer." It is a credit to those who have worked so hard to further breast cancer awareness and research that pink has generally become the trigger color for cancer awareness for most people who are uneducated about it. Breast cancer awareness has opened eyes and hearts everywhere to the awful existence and effects of cancer. And it is absolutely impressive, the breadth that breast cancer awareness has reached. I never would have thought I'd see the day when big, manly NFL players would wear something pink on game day to raise breast cancer awareness. Such a manly gesture for a feminine problem. In my humble opinion, our common psyche has equated the color pink to cancer awareness.

Last week, while my my daughter and I were watching TV a new Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial came on. It featured several people holding pink buckets of chicken. One woman said, "I'm doing it for my sister;" a man declared "I'm doing it for my wife;" and a little boy ended the commercial saying "I'm doing it for my mom." Afterwards, the male announcer declared that KFC was donating a portion of their chicken sales to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The commercial ended with an announcement that the fried chicken purveyor was donating a portion of it's chicken sales to the Susan G. Comen Foundation. At which time, my daugher turned to me and said "Well, I'm going to get a bucket and wrap it in teal and say 'I'm doing this for my mom.'" It took a few seconds for that to register. So much so that my daughter saw the puzzled look on my face. To which she addressed "Mom! Teal is the color for ovarian cancer!" Duh! But of course! How could I have missed that? Easy! To this day, I still equate cancer awareness with the color pink. So, I wasn't I wasn't thinking teal chicken buckets at all, even though I've been dubbed a "teal warrior" for having survived ovarian cancer.

But, because I am now an ovarian cancer survivor, should I shed pink for teal and put my efforts toward ovarian cancer research instead of my tiny donations and efforts towards breast cancer awareness and research? Do I owe that to my "tribe" now? It seems as though there's a prevailing sense that one should be loyal to one's "tribe" and advance research and awareness for their sort of cancer. And rightfully so! I wouldn't want to inflict ovarian cancer on anyone. So yes! I want a cure for it and am keenly aware that my efforts and donations will help that cause. But, ideally, what I really want and wish for is equal funding for all types of cancer and not just ovarian cancer (just because that's the cancer from which I'm in remission). I want everyone to have a fair shake at cancer research and awareness, no matter how obscure the cancer.

I wish there were a United Nations for cancer -- each cancer represented, but a united front to eradicate the disease altogether. While I understand and appreciate that each cancer behaves differently, I am also aware that financial backing or publicity and coverage for certain cancer research is not as abundant as that breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example. I just wish that each of the other cancers represented by the ribbons above had the same backing and support -- the same resources like Susan G. Comen Foundation for breast cancer research and awareness. If everyone pooled resources together and cross-referenced each other's work, then I believe there's strength in numbers and unity of purpose. -- much like that of Stand Up To Cancer's mission statement:

". . .to accelerate groundbreaking cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives. SU2C's goal is to bring together the best and the brightest in the cancer community, encouraging collaboration instead of competition. By galvanizing the entertainment industry, SU2C creates awareness and builds broad public support for this effort. This is where the end of cancer begins."

Kudos to organizations like this and the American Cancer Society! There is strength in numbers, certainly. And I believe in that. I do stand in steadfast support for my sisters who have been affected by breast cancer and ovarian cancer. But, I am equally hopeful and supportive for all my brethren who have been affected by cancer -- whatever kind or color it is. It may sound naive, but in this case, cancer is cancer and together, we must eradicate it -- all of it.

(Does this make me a cancer socialist?)

09 May 2010

Sheep in Wolf's Clothing (aka Never Judge a Book By It's Cover)

Confession: Sometimes, I can be such an elitist snob! See, I have this thing about "mass thinking." It turns me off. I'm not fashionable or hip. I just know what I like and that's that. Pop radio lost its luster for me decades ago. And it's rare that I would run to the theaters to check out a blockbuster. And, based on what I'd heard, read and seen about it, Eat, Pray, Love had suffered snotty my judgment, thereby being relegated to the "Seemingly Spiritual-But-Actually Self-indulgent-Psychic dump-Oprah Book Club-Feel Good Lite-Chick-Lit" category. No, mam! I wasn't going to succumb to mass female hysteria surrounding this New York Times best-seller. I dismissed it.
Years after the celebrity of the book subsided, it somehow, found its way to my bookshelf. After my friend, Lisa, found out was sick, she gifted me with said book. Her note said "I hope it brings you as much joy as it did me." I thanked her kindly and promptly shelved it -- there to gather dust for a few months. I forgot about it.

Little did I know that this unfairly pre-judged book, I had taken for granted was going to play a major role in my life last year. Somehow, as I approached the end of my chemotherapy treatment, a heavy weight of sadness and loneliness had gripped me. I wrestled with feelings of helplessness, desperation, and hopelessness and all sorts of resources through different cancer resource organizations. I joined chat boards, read literature, and talked to some folks about it. Nothing helped. Nothing, until the eve of my last chemo. I was sleepless and sad. I wanted someone to talk to, but it was too late in the evening. After tossing and turning in bed and exhausting all the possibilities on cable TV, I started perusing my bookshelf for anything that would jump out at me. Anything! And there she was, lying face at eye level in my bookshelf. "Pasta, prayer beads, and flower petals. Hmmmm.." So, I started reading. What did I have to lose? And that was the night, Elizabeth Gilbert's book rescued me from my seemingly endless wheel of loneliness. Eat, Pray, Love had kept kept me company for the next few weeks, giving me reason to read, feel, eat, pray, love and move on. Liz Gilbert was like the best friend I needed at the time. What a god-send!

But, what could a sucessful 30-year-old author, going through a divorce and travelling to find the divine (courtesy of a $200,000 advance she got from her publisher to write Eat, Pray, Love) have anything to say to me? We couldn't be any more differently situated! I'd sorted through my divorce years ago. I've never felt the absence of the divine in my life, no matter what I'd gone through. And I certainly did not have the $200,000, to spend on a year travelling to exotic places to "find the balance between pleasure and the divine." Why then was I so enamoured of this woman and her journey to find herself through food in Italy, the divine in India, and love in Bali?

The answer was embarassingly simple. She spoke my language and she spoke to my heart. The pain and loneliness that I couldn't articulate properly to anyone else was salved by her book. It didn't matter much that our individual situations couldn't be any further apart. At a certain juncture, I think that struggle is universal -- whatever form it takes. And, better yet, redemption and triumph are equally as universal. And as I struggled through my own crisis, Elizabeth Gilbert was a comforting "friend" to have. What an invaluable treasure her book was to me! (And to think, I had dismissed her and her book based on my own literary prejudices.) Eat, Pray, Love gave me comfort, laughter, tears, wisdom and kinship. For as long as I read the book, I did not feel so alone, even though the "conversation" was only one way. That was exactly what I needed. Yes. No I felt that no one could understand my struggle then. BUT, I understood hers. And that was what I needed!

Who knew, eh? Something (and someone) I had dismissed because of my snobby prejudices ended up soothing my soul and saving my sanity. Humble pie eaten in generous proportions, thank you very much!

And so, to Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert, my gratitude for being a brilliant, inspiring, and encouraging "friend" albeit only for a few weeks. Thank you for Eat(ing), Pray(ing) and Love(ing) and nurturing my soul.

30 April 2010

YAY again!

My hero and friend Ms. B just came back from her oncology appointment. She's graduated from CT scans every six months to yearly scans. YAY!!!

29 April 2010

Zen and The Art of Visualization

Visualization. It was strongly recommended to me by most everyone as a tool I could use to fight cancer. "If you can visualize it, you can manifest it." Of course! It made sense. There was no better time to practice mind over matter. I believed it. This was a good opportunity to flex my mental muscles. And, from all that I had been told and I had read, it became obvious that visualization not only an enhancement, but rather, a necessity to get me through the hurdle of chemotherapy and overcome cancer.

For my first visualization, I went for the aggressive and violent. Usually, I was restless on the eve of chemo. And as I lay awake during that long night ahead I would visualize the following scenario to to prepare myself my first few chemo sessions. It's like a a football team does before a championship game -- lots yelling and noise (in my head of course).

The Soprano's on Spring Break at The Jersey Shore - The scene was a loud, out-of-control spring break party, consisting of rowdiest, rudest, and most destructive juvenile versions Tony Soprano and his cronies, along with with the cast of the Jersey Shore and their friends, dialed up to level 11! They're all blind drunk, cavorting, carousing, and causing all kinds of havoc and damage everywhere. They're out of control, disrespectful and inconsiderate. But mostly, they're aggressive and destructive, paying no mind to their surroundings and breaking everything in sight. Fights amongst each other would break out and they would pick fights with anyone that got in their way. All of this was their idea of fun. Meantime, things are breaking and others are getting hurt. This place where they're partying and destroying is my body and the obnoxious revellers are the cancer cells wreaking havoc in my body! They're destroying my body with wanton abandon! My body's a wreck of a place --broken, ugly, dirty. But the revellers keep going...louder and more destructive. My body's deteriorating and they keep destroying.
UNTIL . . . (to the tune of Wagner's Ride of theValkyries)

Over the horizon, helicopters and fighter planes fly into sight. Tanks shake the ground beneath as they approach the party. Legions of armed men on foot march synchronously toward the revellers. At the forefront, riding in a top down army jeep is General Dr. T - commander of the anti-cancer armed forces! With an unyielding look of determination as he gazes at the destructive revellers, he raises his hand and signals "FIRE!" Bombs drop at the rowdy destroyers. Canons fire from behind Dr. T! A rain of bullets from the army's AK 47's blanket the party. The revellers are surrounded. Trapped. Firepower (Carboplatin and Taxol) destroys them. Dr. T's anti-cancer armed forces dominate and the cancer (partiers) are destroyed!

(End Visualization )

Pretty violent, eh? This took me by surprise. I abhor violence. I do anything to avoid conflict. I hate war. Then why this scenario to visualize? Perhaps it's the cancer to go away as quickly as possible. Or maybe it was even because I was really deeply angry at the whole situation and wanted to do some serious damage on that culprit cancer! Most definitely, it was a reflection of the rage and anger that was brewing within me.

As I settled into my chemo routine later on, my visualization changed from the aggressive and violent to the silent but lethal. Rather than visualizing rowdy revellers being destroyed by firepower during war, I turned to an imagery that had terrified me as a child:

The Green Fog of Death Creeping Through Egypt - Yes. It's the scene of the First Passover from Cecile de Mille's "The Ten Commandments." Moses had relayed God's final demand to the Pharaoh to "Let my people go!" The Pharaoh was unmoved. So, God sent the final plague. The Angel of Death (in the form of a dark green fog creeping throughout Egypt) was sent to kill all the first-borns in Egypt. The Jews were spared because they had the blood of the lamb on their doors. But, no other first born was spared. The green fog of death represented chemotherapy coursing through my veins (which would be represented by the streets of Egypt) and all the first borns killed in the land were the cancer cells. Inasmuch as ovarian cancer was the silent killer, Carbo-taxol was even quieter, but more lethal, thank goodness!

(End Second Visualization)

It was at once a provocative and terrifying scene, when I saw it as a child on TV. Being the first born in my family, I'd always feared the green fog of death would come for me one day. It's really ironic that such childhood terror would be of such service to me as an adult. This visualization suited me better. There were no explosions or gunfire; and definitely no blood spilled. There was just the quiet, seemingly cold and deadly creep of the green fog of death killing with no violence. This suited my nature more -- quiet but lethal.


In the final analysis, I found myself using neither visualizations at all. Somehow, instead of visualizing, things evolved into awareness and presence -- being in the moment during chemo infusion. I started to think of myself as an active and vital part of Dr. T's cancer team. Each person in the team had a role to play, Dr. T being the captain. But everyone needed to do their bit order for the team to beat my cancer. Dr. T provided the analysis and treatment plan, his nurses at the chemo lab executed the plan, and I had to be there READY AND PRESENT for this treatment. This way, I was participating in my treatment. I was there. I showed up, READY for my role in "the fight." This was better than any visualization I could muster. Being aware and in the moment (eyes open and all, even though I have rolling veins and I hate needles) when I was infused me Carbo-Taxol gave me a huge feeling of control. Both my visualizations portrayed me as sort of just a place where things happened or to whom things happened. But when I showed up, alert and present, I participated by being ready emotionally, mentally and physically. I made sure that I concentrated on what was going on, as if to "cheer on" Carbo-Taxol. I wanted to feel the chemotherapy coursing through my veins because I knew that it was on its way to destroy the cancer cells that were destroying me. It sounds new-agey, but it's true. I was zen about it -- zen in the sense of being hyper-aware of what was happening in my body at the moment. It was a meditation of sorts. Granted the Benadryl would lull me to sleep in the 4.5 hours that I sat for my Carboplatin therapy. But I would awaken again, once they changed bags and gave me the Taxol for the last hour of treatment, again meditating on the chemo coursing through my veins, being aware and present, knowing that the chemo was doing its bit to get rid of the cancer in my body. And I focused on that.

(And this was one of the reasons why I chose to go to my chemo sessions unaccompanied. I wanted to be alone with my treatment.)

Now, this post is certainly not meant to diss visualization. I merely wanted to point out the power of mind over matter. I absolutely respect and appreciate its value. It works! The mind is a powerful thing! And you can you use it to your advantage however you can -- whether through visualization or meditation, or another method. You just have to find what fits you. There is no one way because there is no limit to the power of your mind.

21 April 2010


Today was my three month check-in with my oncologist. My CA-125 level is at 7!

Happy dance!

14 April 2010

Fuel Up!

The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started. - Norman Cousins


Hope comes in many forms and is found in many places. To some, hope can be found in churches; amongst encouraging loved ones; in seeing the sun rise after a long hard night; in hearing the laughter of children at play; seeing a marathon runner cross the finish line; in a song; or in hearing the testimony of a survivor. Hope can be found most anywhere at any given time -- there for the taking. It is an optimist's bright guide and a pragmatist's best companiion.

I am more pragmatic than optimistic. And while it's true that one needs to be at least a little optimistic when fighting something like cancer, I think that, in my case, it's more important to be pragmatic. See, I'm not wired to be optimistic even though faith and hope are the foundation of my existence. Even though I don't look at the world through rose-colored glasses or sing "the sun will come out tomorrow," I do believe that everything happens for a reason -- good or bad. Nothing is in vain. It all goes towards the "big pot of purpose" Although many times, I don't know what the reason is, I have absolute faith that there is always a reason. This keeps me sane and grounded. Life moves, albeit sometimes in mysterious ways. If you don't move with it, you'll get left behind, perhaps stagnate and eventually atrophy. Hope is the the fuel that enables movement, especially when moving is the hardest. And when you're saddled with a heavy load like having to fight cancer, you need to get to your nearest hope fueling station and fill up!

My hope fueling station is nestled in the second floor of a mid-sized office building in the middle of the city. Hope was dispensed from a large room at the end of a long and cold hallway, flanked on either side by offices. The door opened to a rather gray and sterile reception area, always full of people either waiting for their turn to go beyond the reception area for their turn or waiting for someone else who is inside. Once seen, one of the two receptionists quickly greeted me cordially and bade me sit until my name was called. I always sat in the the chair right nearest to the large bowl of hard candy that seemed always to be full -- lots of peppermint and fruit variety, a very cheery addition to the room. This was the waiting room at my oncologist's chemotherapy clinic, where I went for treatment once every three weeks. Yes. This was where I fueled up on hope!

Different people have differing opinions about chemotherapy. In reality, it is poison that kills fast growing cells in your body. So, yes. It does harm to your body. And a lot of cancer patients and survivors resent that -- as well they should. The immediate side effects alone are enough to banish this treatment to hell and back. BUT, it IS a necessary evil, isn't it?

Perhaps I'm crazy to say this, but I deemed Carbolplatin and Taxol as healing infusions. I absolutely looked forward to chemo every three weeks because I believed that with every IV infusion, more cancer cells were being killed by the chemotherapy. So, what if my liver suffered, or my hair fell out, or I was fatigued, or I was bleeding incessantly after treatment? I sat in those chemo chairs always with anticipation and with a smile. "Give me chemo, please!" was the look on my face. I never thought those IV's were poison at all. I thought of them as medicine that will make me better. Chemotherapy gave me hope -- enough hope to weather the nausea, fevers, headaches and everything else in between. And no matter if it was poison for other cells in my body, I didn't dwell on that. I was just always glad to have the infusion. It's the pragmatist in me.

Whatever I needed to get rid of those cancer cells was all well and GOOD -- not poison! "Dwell on the good it is doing, rather than the damage it is wreaking," I told myself. Because the little energy I had was better spent on "accentuating the positive" as the old song said. And because of that, chemo served as hope rather than poison. I believe that attitude helped immensely in my bout with cancer. Hope comes in all shapes and sizes. Mine just happened to be in the form of Carbo-Taxol chemotherapy.

So, here's to hope, where ever and however you may find it! Hang on to it and reach for the sky!


We'd never know how high we are till we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to plan, our statures touch the sky. ~ Emily Dickinson

07 April 2010

An Armor of Scarves and Pencils

I've always admired women who have the courage to "rock the bald" (as my boyfriend put it). Persis Khambatta took my breath away in Star Trek. Melissa Etheridge's brave appearance at the Grammy's drove me to tears. I can't count the hours I'd been mesmerized by Sinead O' Connor, whom I can't think of as other than bald. And I sat in admiration as I talked to a young breast cancer patient at my oncologist's waiting room, resolved to "not care" that she was walking around bald, because she had worse things to worry about. Right on, sister!

That's all well and good for others. Brave women with hairless pates are so powerfully beautiful. Here's to breaking conventions of beauty! (You go, girls!) But not for me, thanks. All it took for me was my first gaze at my bald self. If I weren't in such shock, I would have probably been horrified. I felt so, so.... naked! There's something about being stripped (pardon the pun) of one's mane that leaves a certain feeling of being exposed and vulnerable. Gone was that hair behind which to hide or to frame oneself. And, if my reaction to my reflection in the mirror was of such potential horror, what more for others? I had cancer to deal with. Don't make me garner up more strength to endure unwanted gazes (whether imagined or real). . .please. . .

Thank goodness for the good folks at Look Good Feel Better! They anticipated that there would be a need to reinforce female cancer patients' self-image issues through make-up tips, hair/wig tips, and head wrapping tips. They have classes around the country. Or, if you can't make it out, they have tutorials on their website. Not only was there a make-up artist during the classes, there was also a wig/hair expert. It's an invaluable service! It also felt good to sit with about a dozen other women in various stages of chemo treatment. I wasn't alone. Plus, they sent you away with a "gift bag" chock-full of new make-up and skin care from the best brands in the country! Thank you, Look Good Feel Better!

After my class with Look Better folks, I played around with a wig and concluded that I wasn't a wig person after all, much as I'd have liked to have been. It just wasn't me and I would have felt more self-conscious about the baldness. So it was on to scarves. And with those, I wanted a form that most resembled hair (a hair bun?) and not just something tied around my head. I found this very helpful video on the basics of how to wrap a scarf on my head. She provided the basic mechanics and I came up with my own "formula." I started with these turbans as the base (so that the scarves had something to grip on to and also to serve as "cushion" for my head) and then wrapped two layers of scarves (one layer with one of these jersey (t-shirt) scarves and then another with these lovely scarves. The materials I chose with which to wrap my head were all of soft cotton -- very important for one's bald sensitive pate. Also, my wonderful daughter, who is a MAC make-up artist extra-ordinaire, taught me first-hand how to draw my eyebrows in and do my eye make up so that it's not the focal point of my face. All this comprised my armor of scarves and pencils that enabled me to navigate the outside world without exposing my head.

I've never been one to spend much time in primping. Fifteen minutes and I'm ready to go. But with all this wrapping and drawing, I had to add 30 to 45 minutes to my "primping" time. Not only was the wrapping and drawing taking time, I also had to allot time to figuring out what scarves to combine with the turban so that I'd know what to wear with them. Man, I needed a whole styling team, didn't I? It was quite the involved process, all to be done first thing in the morning. Not a good thing for someone who dreads mornings. Good times! But, I guess it was a price I had to pay for choosing to wear this armor of scarves.

Like to real armors, mine proved to be an inconvenience over time. The scarves gave me a gargantuan headache during the day. I guess I always wrapped my scarves extra-tightly around my head for fear of them coming undone. The headaches became so painful that I actually considered going without the scarves (just for a minuscule of a second though). Man! What a great feeling it was when I unwrapped my head at the end of the day at home! It was like a release. All the pressure on my head would be gone all at once and the headache disappeared in an instant. But the welts of my head from the scarves stayed through the entirety of the evening. Looking back, I don't know how I endured that every single day. I can only attribute to my attachment to hiding behind my armor or scarves and pencils. No one, but three people: my boyfriend, my daughter, and my brother, R-- had seen me bald during. These were the ones who loved me the most and therefore I trusted not to run in horror upon seeing me "naked" like that. Otherwise, I endured the armor headache or no.

What was the point of all of this? Well, first I hope that the information above about help regarding "beautifying" whilst ill with cancer can help someone else; and second, if you are reading this and are having self-image issues because of hair loss, it's okay. If you don't feel like being brave and want to hide behind an armor of your choice, please do so. See, when you're up against something as insidious and big as cancer, you need to be pragmatic. If what you need is to don a wig or wrap your head in scarves OR walk about bald, then that's what you should do. This is your battle. So, you should arm yourself they you deem fit. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Be gracious to yourself. Give yourself whatever works. There is no one one way of contending with this. You don't have to wrestle with self-image issues whilst wrestling with cancer. Do what feels right to you.

I'm glad to have found my armor of scarves and pencils. Who knew that the scarves of cotton and wax pencils would fortify me during my cancer bout? Strength comes in so many forms, even in the softest.

31 March 2010

To Be or Not to Be

This is nothing new. For most, something snaps when they're at "death's door," as it were. Suddenly, there's a sense of urgency to everything and bucket lists are made. My bucket list was short and simple. No, there was no jumping out of planes or swimming with dolphins. All I wanted was to do was to go forward the trip to Miami Beach that had been planned and confirmed long before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Was this wise? Foolish? Risky? Irresponsible? Did a cancer patient have any business being in Miami Beach, revelling in the sun?

What was I thinking, going at the onset of my chemotherapy treatment? I wasn't. I didn't want to think. I wanted to forget! For one week, I wanted to pretend I wasn't sick. I wanted to be vibrant, fabulous, and alive in Miami Beach, Florida! So, armed with my meds, suntan lotion, and flip flops, my boyfriend and I threw caution to the wind and headed for Miami Beach, two weeks after my first chemo session.

. . . Oh, but sometimes desire and intention overtakes ability and capacity . . .

Soon after landing Miami Beach, things went awry. That familiar pain on my left side and the swelling of the leg visited once more (Oh no! Blood clots!), accompanied by a blinding headache and profuse bleeding. Immediately, I regretted my being on vacation and being thousands of miles away from home and my doctors. So much for forgetting I was sick. And talk about feeling foolish, vulnerable and scared! So, instead of going out on that perfect balmy Florida night to start my carefree vacation, I hid under the sheets with fear and loathing that I had made the wrong decision after all.

. . . Although, ability and capacity CAN match up with desires and intentions . . .

During my phone consult with my oncologist the next day, the swelling on my left leg and the pain on my left side had subsided. Apparently, that long plane ride aggravated the swelling. But after being stretched in bed overnight, things got better. So, my doctor told me to not overdo anything and keep to my Coumadin and Lovenox therapy everyday. Okay. So, I wasn't going to die. That was that. Time to start forgetting and start partying like it's 1999 (well, actually, it was 2009)! No more fretting. When life deals you lemonade, sip mojitos!

. . . I denied cancer to dance and revel like I wasn't sick. . .

But, the irony of this all, of course, is that the very thing I was trying to get away from was with me throughout our vacation. I really couldn't get away from it, could I? Especially because, right on schedule, my hair started to fall out in big chunks! There was hair everywhere but my head. And really, there probably was no worse place for this to happen than in Miami Beach, where every woman (it seemed to me) was perfect and beautiful. I was warned about it and knew it was coming. But, nothing really prepared me for the reality of hair loss. Nothing! It was horrific. I felt like a deformed monster. Oh! And there was nothing like hair loss to snap me back from forgetting. There were times when I couldn't bring myself to get out of bed and face all the fabulous beautiful people of Miami Beach. Thankfully, I came prepared -- thanks to my boyfriend who bought me a chic short haircut before the trip, a fabulous cowboy hat plus a few scarves just for the occasion (He's got me!). So, with a little courage and disguise, I still managed to go and enjoy myself even though every morning, I hated what I saw in the mirror.

. . .Even though cancer insisted its presence, I kept covering it up to forget about it. . .

Though, on our last morning in Miami Beach, I woke my boyfriend up and told him it was time -- time to face cancer head on. No more forgetting. No more pretending it wasn't there. So, we walked hand-in-hand into a Supercuts right in the middle of Washington Avenue to have my head shaved.

23 March 2010

My Hero . . .

. . . is actually a "she." No. She's not faster than a speeding bullet, but when I flash the Ms. B signal, she's there quicker than the speed of sound. I don't think she has x-ray vision although I'm certain she's psychic. No. I have not seen her leap across tall buildings. But, she's whip smart, beautiful, diligent, wise, strong, big-hearted, gentle, immensely creative, absolutely emphatic, wickedly funny, loyal, kind, intuitive, and incredibly strong -- -- all packed in a petite sprite of a person that is Ms. B. Yep! She's all that and a bag of chips (well, maybe a bag of baby carrots instead, since we're trying to be healthy here).

She sounds too good to be true, doesn't she? If I didn't have the fortune of working next to her each and every day, I would say so too. But, I did, and I still do. Her presence in my life has had such a grounding effect on me. She alone truly understood what it was like to battle cancer. She was attuned to its very obvious side-effects to the very stealth effects of chemotherapy. Though cancer manifested itself very obviously, there are so many other subtle (yet very deep and significant ) side effects of cancer that escape the naked eye. And how absolutely invaluable it was for me to have Ms. B by my side to validate that what I was going through was legitimate, no matter how seemingly trivial. She perceived what no one else saw and heard what no one else heard.

This is not only because of her incredible capacity for empathy but also unfortunately because she had also had her own bout with Lymphoma about a year or so before I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. I didn't know her as well then. But, I remember watching her navigate her illness with so much resolve, strength and dignity. One could not help but admire her resilient courage and determined cadence. And while I had my boyfriend with whom to partner during my illness, Ms. B did not have her fiance by her side when she was sick (he's in another state because that's where his work has taken him). I often wondered how scary and lonely it must have been during those times when the " cancer goonies" visited you in the middle of the night (for example) and Ms. B didn't have him there to tell her that she was going to be okay. But, without fail, she was always there, at work, soldiering on, as if she weren't sick at all. She never wanted extra special dispensation, but was always gracious to accept help from us, her colleagues, her friends and her loved ones.

Ms. B "set the tone" for me. By example, she showed me how to fight, and fight well. It's as if she passed her "boxing gloves" on to me and then continued to cheer me on. My only regret now is that I wasn't able to be for her (during her illness) what she had been for me when I was sick. I wish I could have given to her even a fraction of all that she had given to to me. Absent that, it is my hope to "pay it forward" some day and be able to be for someone else what she was for me.

This post is but a minor tribute to my sister-in-arms and my amiga sympatico! The heavens had sent so many gifts when I was sick and certainly one of the most endearingly wonderful ones was (and still is) Ms. B -- my hero!

22 March 2010

Oh happy day!

It's not perfect. But it's a good start.

17 March 2010

What a Difference A Year Makes....

Following is my journal entry for March 17, 2009, a year ago today:

Happy damned birthday! Now whose bright idea was it to put cancer in a box and hand it to me as a birthday present, huh? Not funny!!!!!

Suffice it so say, I am not looking forward to what will be a very emotional day. Waking up bitter, cold and lonely does not help. But I have to put on a brave face for all my well-wishers. I wouldn't wish this heavy feeling on them. [WHY ME?!?]

Thank goodness I was greeted by C [my daughter] first thing this morning, bearing presents: lovely earrings and and beautiful silk flowers barrettes for the bandanas and hats. She's so thoughtful! And her birthday card....wow! I don't know if she's just saying that, or if she really meant it. She said that all she is, is because of me. And I don't know whether that's good or bad. She's a wonderful girl -- crazy sometimes, but absolutely awesome! And she hasn't had the easiest of lives, but she's managed to survive and be a great human being despite it all. She's a very strong-willed girl. Thank goodness!

Tonight, I'm having dinner with the kids. Hopefully that will go well. How can it not? It's dinner with C and J [my son]! Hopefully, J will be less angry at me this time. Poor thing.

God! I wish it were another birthday -- like my 30th or something. Well, that was a harsh birthday too, but at least I know what happened. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. And I"m scared today.

I'm scared I won't get well. I'm scared of the pain and the eventual strain this illness will put on my family, friends, and co-workers. I'm scared of the tension it will put on my relationship -- that it may buckle under this pressure. I'm scared I won't live to see my birthday next year. I'm just plain terrified! Ms. B was right. There's a certain feeling of loneliness and solitude about this cancer thing. And no matter how surrounded you are, you can't help but still feel alone and and exposed. I keep clicking my heels and saying "there's no place like home" and nothing happens. Boo!

Happy f*cken birthday, girl! Don't waste a wish today. Make it good.

What a difference a year makes! Last year, I was facing a terrifying prospect of dying. Today, it's as if it didn't happen. Well...yes. It did. But I'm thankful I can refer to it in the past tense. And I'm grateful that I can be here today, sharing the learnings of an extra-ordinary year.

It's a happy birthday indeed!

15 March 2010

The Office

No. This doesn't star Steve Carrell. This stars three amazing people, with whom I have the privilege of working and knowing. This is not only because they're all consummate professionals. But it's mostly because they are the most wonderful human beings: compassionate, unassuming, intelligent, helpful, kind, and considerate, generous, all with amazingly wicked sense of humor. They make it so that going to work was (and is) something I look forward to doing.

Structure and routine played a very important and positive role during my bout with cancer. And one of the important routines for me was going to work as much as possible at the time I was undergoing chemotherapy. It gave me something worthwhile to focus on during my waking hours; a sense of usefulness because it felt good to wake up every morning knowing I was contributing to a common good; and less of an opportunity to sit and wallow in cancer. And somehow, it empowered me to go on with the bout, each round.

It was also important that, at work, it would be "business as usual." I didn't want anyone to know that I was sick and wanted to go on as if nothing extra-ordinary was going on. Certainly, the notion of people asking and fussing at work was nothing I wanted I wanted to face. Fortunately for me, this was made possible by those three folks I mentioned above: My boss, N; his second in command, H, and my colleague and hallway neighbor, the wonderful Ms. B. We're a small team serving a huge purpose in national non-profit organization. We get along very well and work well together. Suffice it to say, this is the best place and the best group people I've ever worked with -- and I've been working for a long, long time!

When I was sick, they made sure that I never worried about work when I was out due to chemo. But, while I was at work, I was never made to feel somehow lacking because I was sick. They showed utmost care and concern without patronizing or smothering. They absolutely honored my request that we do not skip a beat because I was sick; that we do business as usual, as if cancer wasn't an issue. I was treated as normally as possible, and I couldn't thank them enough for this. And, because I didn't want my illness to be public, they were staunch protectors of that "secret." I most thankful for their effort in creating that space for me where I could just feel normal and not be sick. What an invaluable gift that was!

... and they cared (in so many little ways) like...

N would go to this tiny candy place every other weekend so that he could buy for me these organic ginger hard candies which were of tremendous help to my nausea. This was the only place they were available and he was always glad to go fetch them for me. H would faithfully come to my office every morning to see how I was and "mothered" (in a very good way) me by watching out for my fatigue level and being sure to remind me to rest or go home, if I didn't look well. And Ms. B, what can I say about her? She did everything from bring me scarves and hats for my head, to listen to me vent, to .... really everything else...seriously. She understood, when no one else could.

Everyone should be so fortunate to have such wonderful people to work with. I don't know how well I would have fared without the unwavering support and care that N, H, and Ms. B have generously given me all this time. I can say, without a doubt, that how well I fared during chemo has a direct correlation to how well these folks have cared for me and treated me during that time.

.....and for that, I will always be grateful.

10 March 2010

The Chemo R[egimen]hythm

Routine helps when you're faced with something as daunting as cancer. A sense of order and structure is immensely useful at this time. Leading a somewhat regimented life during my cancer treatment helped give a sense of order and control to the situation. To know what to expect when is empowering. It certainly helps in gaining control of the wheel, as it were. Who knew I would become a huge fan of the regimented life?

A year ago today, on March 11, 2009 Dr. T started my chemotherapy regimen of Carboplatin and Taxol, once every 3 weeks, for a duration of 8 sessions. He was hopeful that cancer would be treated in that time. If not, then all would be evaluated after 8 sessions.

That as a wee while -- 8 sessions -- 24 weeks. Having a set routine of things during this time helped trek unchartered territories. Who knew what was to happen, except that there was going to be chemo once in 3 weeks for 24 months? But, the structure and routine streamlined expectations and help prepare for the next steps. I'm not normally a "routines" type person. But I learned to appreciate it greatly during those times. It helped put a sense of order (and therefore, control) to things.

Chemo was consistently scheduled on a particular day of the week. Since I'd been told that all meds from chemo (including anti-nausea and Benadryl) would stay in my system 48 hours after chemo, I chose to have chemo scheduled either on Wednesdays or Thursdays. That way, I would only miss one day of work (chemo day) and could be functional for the rest of the week. That would leave the weekend to contend with the adverse side effects setting in after the meds wore off. This worked, I'm pleased to say. So, I highly recommend mid-week chemo sessions, if you don't want your work life too disrupted. In my case, I'm happy to say that I didn't miss a day of work due to post-chemo side-effects during my treatment. It was business as usual, just the way I wanted it.

The evening before chemo, my boyfriend would come and get me from my place and I'd spend the night at his so he could drive me to chemo in the morning. We would usually eat something decadent or nice (mostly to indulge me) that evening. Nothing fancy. Hydrate!

Chemo day, my boyfriend would drive me to Dr. T's office where I would first make a stop to see the phlebotomist for blood work, then a 15 minute check-in with the good doctor to see how I was doing. And then off I would go for chemo treatment for the next 5-hours. After the drip was done, I was always given a Nulasta shot. Then, I would call my boyfriend to come pick me up and take me back to my place where my daughter would be waiting for me. I would spend the rest of the week with at my place with my daughter and also go to work.

Weekend right after chemo, I would pack up and go to my boyfriend's to spend the weekend and be "miserable" after the meds wore off and the chemo side effects were in full force.

Week after chemo, I would feel a bit flu'ish and fatigued, but I still managed at work, although by the end of the week, I would like someone just beat me to a pulp. Thank goodness for weekends! Weekdays would be spent at my place with my daughter and weekends at my boyfriend's.

Second week after chemo, I would feel good -- as if nothing had happened. Outside of the long-standing chemo side effects like neuropathy, I would feel normal. Ring the bell! Next round!

This would be my structured life for the months ensuing. And I did not mind it. As a matter of fact, in concert with my oncologist, I created it. Who knew that at this juncture of my life, I would finally succumb to a regimented one? Having been brought up in in a strict and disciplined life, my knee jerk reaction to the notion of structure and routine, was to stay as far away from it as much as possible. It's ironic that regiment would help give my life back to me. To make it palatable though, I referred to it as rhythm. It's the same thing, but at least I could dance to rhythm.

Believe it or not, I actually looked forward to dancing to this 3-week rhythm. And, as unpleasant as the side effects were, it was a rhythm that I'd grown to anticipate and, dare I say, like. Because although chemo was poison and for me, it was ironicaly "good" because it was getting rid of my cancer. And I would go through any routine, structure, discipline, pattern, or regiment to effect that.

So, to those of you who are still in a chemo regimen, I encourage you to dance to the rhythm of your soon-to-be wellness. Kick up your heels and show cancer some moves!

09 March 2010


Please allow this brief detour from the narrative to recognize that March is Ovarian Cancer Action Month across the pond. I know it's in September over here in the U.S. But, it's never too early to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. Here's some useful information about detection. It's one of those "creepers" so just pay attention to your body. Even though mine was discovered at Stage IV, I'm still so fortunate that it got caught early enough so that I am now in remission. It's too late for regrets, but it's never too late for awareness.

Spread the word....

08 March 2010

He's Got Me

Titles are insufficient sometimes. And certainly, "boyfriend" does not do justice to mine. I mean, yes, he's a friend (the best!). But he's no boy. He's a man. Manfriend? (Uhm...no. Let's shelf that one.). Actually, "partner" is a better term, but it's so blah and cowboy'ish. I just keep hearing John Wayne in my head saying "Howdy, pardner!" Though we're not in business together, we are in the truest sense, partners. Still, the word just doesn't ring my bell. But, let's not get trapped in a cycle of semantics here. It doesn't do him justice, but "what's in a name?" as the Bard wrote. All told, he is my friend, cohort, consort, comfort, partner, playmate, my "blanket" counselor, cuddler, schlepper, comic relief, intellectual challenge, all around safe place, my very own Wesley (but not the "dreaded Pirate Roberts), my protector, and lots more I couldn't even think of at the moment. And there's no no one word for that. Is there? So please indulge me as I revert to "boyfriend," insufficient though it might be.

I thought this would be the easiest of posts to write. How difficult can it be to talk about one's relationship and one's boyfriend? The thing is, this post does not attest to who he is in totality, or to our relationship as a whole (that would require a whole other blog). What I want to show here is how absolutely key his role was during my bout with cancer. That although Dr. T and his team were responsible for the medical aspect of my healing, my boyfriend was there to help me sort out everything else. Afterall, I only saw my medical team once every three weeks. Then, there was the everyday life to contend with -- the aftermath of chemo, as it were. And during those times, my boyfriend was the partner with whom to walk that road. He took to the task no questions asked, only with lots of willingness and love.

He took a huge weight off me. One of the things I was really concerned about was the burden cancer would put on my daughter. I did not want her saddled with looking after me, while she was working full time and going to college full time. I know she would have nursed me, without question. But, it was the last thing I wanted for her. It was bad enough for her to contend with the fact that her mother's really ill, let alone be charged with my care as well. My boyfriend did not even need to hear this concern articulated. Immediately, he just took on the role of my caretaker, lifting the responsibility off my daughter. My "awful" post-chemo days were usually spent under his care. What a burden lifted off my daugther and off me! I'd like to say too that it is a testament to who he is that my daughter felt absolutely confident and secure that I was being properly looked after.

He respected and understood my personal boundaries. There's a thin line between being always there for someone and smothering them with your presence. My boyfriend walks that line beautifully. He has great respect for my personal space and boundaries and trusts my judgement about that. But he's also sensitive to those times when I couldn't articulate a need. He just knew when and where to be there for me. Truly, he understands boundaries and allowed (and provided for) me the space to be whatever and whomever I want to be. He never imposed on me his deep desire to help, more than I allowed him. And certainly, he was quick to accept his role in the whole scheme of my healing, no questions asked--just a readiness to be where I needed him to be.

He created a safe place where I could exhale. When I was sick, I had this self-imposed need to maintain my composure, thereby setting the tone on how my illness would be deemed by others. I wanted to demonstrate control by maintaining a positive, energetic and "can-do" attitude for my family and loved ones. That way, they would all stop worrying and not be pained with the burden of cancer. As Nurse J said, "set the tone." And that, I certainly did. But, there were times when I didn't feel like being a "teal warrior" or I felt too scared to be positive. Yes, there were times when I would succumb and cry that I couldn't do it. During those times, I knew that I could go to my boyfriend and fall apart. He created a safe place for me in which to collapse. He listened and did not judge, because he knew that I just needed to do that. It didn't mean that I had given up. It just meant that I needed to exhale from time to time -- take a load off. And that was just fine. My boyfriend made a space for me to "just be" -- whatever that was: silly, angry, childish, preachy, quiet, restless....anything. Having that space when I was sick was key to recharging so that I would be ready for the next rounds. It was invaluable!

He took "romance" to the next level. What woman hasn't gone crazy over the prospect of losing her hair? Or having dry, ashen skin? Or looking generally sick? Or not having eyebrows or eyelashes? It's maddening! And it doesn't get any better when reality strikes. I certainly couldn't look at myself in the mirror and reflect back a beautiful, desirable woman. But my boyfriend, never looked at me like that. He always made me feel like the most beautiful, desirable and loved woman. In his presence, I never felt bald or not feminine, though my reflection in the mirror betrayed that. A bouquet of flowers, a surpise picnic on a Sunday, something sparkly to wear, breakfast in bed...these are all well-accepted gestures of romance (some of which I have been privileged to receive) But, I think that all gets trumped by my boyfriend's shaving my head every weekend and looking at me as if I were the most beautiful woman there is. Now, that's romantic!

Above and beyond. I know that the words "to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer..." are exclusive to the marriage vow. But I would like to borrow them for purposes of this post. Yes. He and I have had our fun, health, and "richness." But, last year was a scary time of sickness and poorness for me. And my boyfriend was there to "have and to hold" me through it all with unfaltered reliability and love. Indeed, I count myself fortunate to have him as a "partner" with whom to travel the road behind and the road ahead. That road would have been steeper, colder, darker and lonelier without him.

Thank you, babe!

05 March 2010

Telling Hurt More Than Hearing

It was bad enough to hear that I had cancer. But it's worse to have to tell others about it. The prospect of "sharing" my cancer was the last thing I wanted to do. I was arrested by a slew of emotions that almost muted me.

First, I felt immense guilt -- guilt that I had let my nearest and dearest down, particularly my children, parents and siblings. Had I made better choices in my life, I wouldn't have to be telling them about this bad news and therefore causing them pain and worry. Cancer was my fault and the burden was on me to sort it out, not theirs.

There was also a lot of anger at myself because I thought I had failed my children. How dare I put them in this position! They're young adults just on the verge of starting their own lives. But, with my cancer, they were going to be noosed with caring for a very sick mother. What a burden to give them! Parents are supposed to set their children free, not hold them back. Never mind living with the threat of losing one's mother. No child deserves that. Shame on me! I would have done anything to spare them all that pain of that fear. Anything!

No parent wants to survive their children. Neither does a parent ever want to see their children suffering. This was nothing that my 77-year-old mother, living thousands of miles away from me, should have endured. Certainly, once she heard about my illness, I knew that the only thing she would have wanted to do was run to my side and care for me, without regard to her own health limitations. But, alas! She was incapable of doing that. What torture for her!

Then, there was the feeling of being damaged and somehow inadequate causing me to feel sorry for myself. And because I already did, I wanted no one else to feel sorry for me, especially not my healthy, vibrant and very lively friends and family. One drop of "I'm sorry," and I would have lost all form composure and a never-ending pity party would have ensued (no cover charge at the door!). No thanks. What I wanted was to still be seen as "normal" and not someone sick with cancer. But if I told, then...

Last, there's also the "sensationalism" of cancer. It's not as if I just had this hang nail or my appendix removed. It was that I had cancer, the "killer!" And for an introverted person like me, the prospect of being attached to such a sensational disease as cancer was unsavory. "So and so has cancer!!" And then one becomes a spectacle (sort of like the bottle neck at the highway when there's an accident). I just couldn't stand the thought of the all the fussing and the gawking.

This was true particularly at work. I thought that if my workplace knew I had cancer, it would be disruptive. I didn't want anyone asking or checking on me. You know those folks who wouldn't even give you the time of day and then suddenly they're all over you because you have cancer? I didn't want that. Business as usual, folks. Please move on, nothing to see here. Go back to your desks.

If I had my way, I would've just "disappeared" for the 6 months of planned chemo treatment and not told anyone; then re-appeared later, as if nothing had happened. [Sure, why not? Pigs have wings, right?] But of course, the reality was that I was going nowhere for no time. And I had to face up to the fact that I couldn't keep my illness to myself. In the end, the chips fell where they did and most of my fears were not unfounded.

But even now, a year hence, I still feel the same as I did then. I still want to have spared my family (especially my children) and loved ones the pain of cancer. I still resent the spectacle that is cancer. And even though I fought the good fight and am in now remission, I still can't help but feel damaged and inadequate sometimes.

But, no matter. Here I am today -- still telling. Because the hope is that in the telling, someone else's pain might be alleviated.

03 March 2010

Trust the Process

Art by Claudia Packer

From Kaylin Marie's blog following is a beautifully brilliant quote by Rainer Maria Rilke (from Letters to a Young Poet):

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

01 March 2010

The Line in the Sand

One of the most important lessons I learned when I was sick last year was that of setting personal boundaries.

I was born and raised in very old-fashioned patrician home in the Philippines. My nouveau-Victorian upbringing meant a "proper and gracious lady" was only to "be seen, but not heard." Respecting other people's boundaries was definitely ingrained in me; but I never was taught that the same was due me. To assert oneself was not feminine and was certainly vulgar. A proper Filipina lady was always soft and demure.

Although I was a very immature 19-year-old (I may as well have been 12) when my father brought us here to the U.S. to get a proper American education, my education went far beyond the walls of academia. Quickly, I assimilated and embraced the American/Western/modern way (much to my father's dismay). One of the most stunning and attractive learnings for me was that of personal freedom. And from that I found out about personal space and boundaries. I was floored by the discovery that I was equally entitled to my own freedoms and boundaries as others were. Sadly, although I quickly embraced all of this intellectually, I struggled with it for years in practice. Like my mother (and her mother before her), I was raised to be a "pleaser" and would rather avoid conflict at the cost of personal freedoms.

That struggle came to an end during my bout with cancer. Not surprisingly, after I got word to my family and friends that I was sick, they all wanted immediately to rush to my side to help -- drive me to and from chemo, keep me company during chemo, go with me to doctor's appointments, stay with me after chemo, cook for me, shop for me, clean the house, keep me company, care for me, or whatever else needed to be done. What an amazing and wonderful, people I have in my life! And though I was grateful for their help, I did the unconventional thing and gently said "thank you, no" to most of them. I was grateful. But, cancer was an deeply personal and private experience for me. And I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted only a small number of people to know about my illness and an even smaller group to be intimately involved in my battle with it. To maintain a sense of control of the situation, I needed to surrender control to only a handful of others. I had to do it. It was my cancer. And as such, I felt very strongly that I should have been able to regulate how and when assistance would be needed.

Though I had read many testimonies of how good it is to surround oneself with a community during times like these and to let people help lift your burden and carry you through it, I was overwhelmed by the notion. I wanted to focus on healing. The help and the community would have distracted me. To be frank, I also didn't want to deal with the politics of who's helping when and how. Those were all too complicated of issues for me to handle then.

It was my natural instinct to just succumb to my loved ones' supplications to help. I wanted to make them okay with the situation. And I knew that all of them would have felt better if I let them help and and participate in my healing. But that would have been to my detriment, no matter how well-meaning they all were. Because even though I would have made them feel better, I would not have felt right. What I wanted was entirely different. And the lesson was, no matter how unconventional or even perhaps gauche, ultimately, it was my cancer. And I needed to fight it the way I wanted to -- with as much personal space as I possibly could have gotten.

So, I drew a line in the sand and asserted my my personal space with the help of a very few people, who watched over it diligently. No, everyone else was not the enemy. It wasn't like that. It was more about preserving a space which I could breath, focus and get to the task at hand --getting well. They understood where I was coming from and they respected that. The sense of control that they gave me was an immense boost to me in beating the cancer. But most importantly, my own assertion of personal boundaries and space, ultimately fueled my resolve.

27 February 2010

Auntie Mame [Everyone Should Have One]

My love of old Hollywood movies stems from a childhood tradition of watching them on TV with my mom on lazy weekend afternoons. She was particularly enamored of those that were made in the 1940's and 50's. Auntie Mame was a certain favorite in our house. She was bigger than life, independent, confident, eccentric, and wise. I've always wanted my own Auntie Mame.

She came to me, at last, in the person of Barb S., the director of the Women's Health Center at the hospital. With her deep and smoky voice on the phone, she pretty much gave me no choice but to meet with her prior to my first chemo session. It was imperative, according to her. No if's, but's, or maybe's. "Because," she insisted in that cordial Auntie Mame sort of way "all that you will need to know about chemo, I will tell you. You need to know what to expect so that you are prepared. That's my job." So, I eeked in an hour to see her prior to my first chemo session on March 11, 2009.

I was nervous and sort of out of body on my first chemo day. I did not know what to expect, except all that I read from the literature my oncologist gave me, plus the hours upon hours of research I did on the internet. My head was stuffed with too much information I couldn't process anymore. All I could remember was that I was at once not looking forward to the chemo and being impatient for it to commence. Altogether, it was going to be an awful experience. Period. So, in that state, I walked into Barb's well-appointed office -- so warm and inviting, peppered with health books, mementos and dog pictures -- everywhere!

It was uncanny how Barb oozed Auntie Mame (save the cigarette holder of course). She greeted me not with a handshake but with a big bear hug. Being in her presence was like being immersed in warm bath water with bath salts. She was soothing and assuring -- and bubbly. Barb has some heavy-duty creds to back up that genial hug. She's a licensed nurse practitioner specializing in women's health issues and has been in the business of aiding women with cancer for the past 20 years! So, the information she had for me was both practical and academic.

My one-hour meeting with her was the most informative meeting I'd had to date, considering I'd been meeting with doctors, nurses, and all other kinds of health care professionals for weeks. She was chock full of practical information, all of which (in retrospect) was spot on -- from which day I was going to feel bad after chemo, to how many weeks after chemo I will feel normal again, or to when my hair was going to start falling off (how? etc.), and when I was going to lose my eyebrows, and more!

But that's not all. More importantly, she addressed an issue that I was too crazed to even think about: how chemo was going to affect my appearance in the next few months. Yup! What do you do when your hair starts falling out? Or, how about when your eyebrows disappear? Wig? Or scarves? What about your skin? Will you break out? To the naked eye, it may just be about vanity. But, as Barb put it, when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you get better. Simple. Yes. But very much taken for granted. She said that I may not have at that point thought it was of import. But it will be. So, she enrolled me in a make-over class and set up me up with a wig consultant, complete with free wig of my choosing. Bless her.

Barb stood out because of her unique was her approach and attitude. Although all of it was serious stuff, she had a certain lightness about it all -- much like Auntie Mame. "This is not the end, honey. This is but a detour. Give it all your energy so that you can go on with your life in a little bit" she said with a smile that could light up a whole room. In what then was sometimes a gray and cold existence, Auntie [Barb] Mame came and gave it light and color.

"Life is a banquet--and some poor suckers are starving to death."