BY GUEST BLOGGER | MAY 3, 2013
"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." George Bernard Shaw
When cancer happens to us it's common to feel completely out of control. We go from our "normal" lives to something we reluctantly call the "new normal." The problem is that it doesn't feel normal at all because we are changed suddenly and forever.
I got a glimpse into the emotional trauma caused by sudden, catastrophic change as a trial attorney. Almost every accident victim I spoke with was overwhelmed by it, "I was going along fine and, all of a sudden, my entire life changed completely in a split second." I didn't relate then, but years later when I heard "You have cancer," I completely got it.
In truth, we feel out of control as we rocket through the diagnostic and treatment phases of cancer because we have little control. This is the nature of the beast. For the first six and a half months of my cancer journey (from mammogram to mastectomy), I white knuckled every decision, test, doctor's appointment and surgery.
It was only after my mastectomy that things began to slow down enough for me to begin the clean-up work that follows every emotional hurricane. For me, healing required accepting change and working through issues such as body image, mortality, stress, loss, loneliness and anger. As I did so I discovered the creative power of reinventing myself.
Although I had no control over the many sudden, traumatic changes cancer dealt me, when it comes to reinventing me, I have a lot of input. I can find little ways every day to live with mindful awareness. I can practice yoga and let uplifted feet lead to an uplifted heart. I can make small, healthy changes in my diet. I can savor moments of gratitude and cherish every opportunity to give back.
The following are the six tools you need to find your creative power of reinvention:
1. Resilience: The reason we're all still here and upright is because we're resilient. Nurture your resilience on a daily basis. (Read "Six Truths I've Learned About Resilience.")
2. Grief: No one gets hit by a bus and reinvents herself the next day. Grieving is the process of coming to accept the "new normal." It's painful, but it's a vital step in reinventing yourself.
3. Gratitude: I firmly believe that gratitude is the single most important building block of reinvention. Without gratitude, there is no hope. With gratitude, anything is possible because we know how very blessed we truly already are.
4. Support: Speak up, tell your story, share! If you want to find support you have to communicate. The beauty of finding others who "get it" is the strength they give you to reinvent yourself.
5. Small Successes: Make small stabs at reinvention to achieve small successes. As you do, you get bolder and can stomach more risk. You can do it!
6. Carefully Chosen Words: Reinvention is self-inflicted change and change is scary. That's why, even when you're excited to reinvent yourself, you're also anxious. Instead of scaring yourself unnecessarily, why not change your words and thus your approach. If you break out in a sweat every time you say, "I'm going back to work," try saying, "I'm excited to find new opportunities to (fill in the blank.)"
Reinvention also takes time and, most importantly, permission. We can reinvent ourselves and take back control over the "new normal." We can take what we've learned from our struggles and use our creative power to reinvent ourselves. When we decide "WhereWeGoNow," our reinvented selves create inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy!
Debbie Woodbury is the author and founder of WhereWeGoNow, an interactive community for cancer survivors creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy. Debbie is a blogger at The Huffington Post, an inspirational speaker, a support volunteer with The Cancer Hope Network, a member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, a patient educator with the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project, a wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer. You can also find Debbie on Twitter and Facebook.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | AUGUST 17, 2012
When Jon Garinn, the managing editor of CURE, had asked me why I was interested in the health industry, I wasn't sure what to say. I was sitting in the conference room with him and another editor, with two additional editors on a conference call. This was my interview.
I wasn't sure what to say. Except for that my dad is a physician and he hoped that I would be one myself one day. I even went to a school well-known for its pre-med program (I was not a science major). At that point I was pretty sure I lost my chance at this internship. Yet somehow it worked out and as I conclude my internship here at CURE, I can say that I am confidently able to move forward with my career in journalism. And I would not have obtained this sense of confidence without my experience here at CURE.
With no science background, I had taken a plunge into the world of cancer. All of a sudden I had to learn how to distinguish between generic and brand names of drugs (this made dinner fun with dad), and I had to research whether chickpeas are a soy-based food, because they may contain potential cancer-fighting properties.
The fact-checking process proved to be suffocating at times, yet Jon was kind enough to guide me along. It is the investigation process of journalism and is especially important in topics dealing with someone's well-being.
Jon always reminded me that CURE magazine is advocacy journalism, meaning they keep the reader informed on everything cancer--from new drugs passed by the FDA to studies showing chocolate potentially prevented colon cancer. And they achieve this through story telling.
Simply put, cancer is not easy to understand. The world of cancer is convoluted and overwhelming. CURE's goal is to make it less so, and more human and tolerable. It puts the humanity in science.
With my final year of graduate school about to start, I can't help but wonder where I will eventually land. There will be different roads I will come across, and I'm fortunate to have had a chance with CURE. It's a house full of passionate people who are deeply committed to their readers, and I will miss them very much!
Sahar Mehdi, a journalism graduate student at the University of North Texas, is a summer editorial intern with CURE.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | JULY 30, 2012
You can feel the momentum building in the pancreatic cancer scientific community and it's an exciting time in the movement to defeat pancreatic cancer. For the first time, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) hosted a Special Conference devoted to the disease, entitled Pancreatic Cancer: Progress and Challenges. The meeting took place June 18-21, 2012, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the US. The five-year relative survival rate is a mere six percent, due to inadequate diagnostic tools and ineffective treatment options. Historically, the disease has been woefully underfunded and understudied.
A major goal of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is to double the survival rate for pancreatic cancer by 2020. A critical part of this effort is to advance research in the field, by bringing in more scientists to study the disease, increasing and improving the results generated and creating more opportunities for researchers to work together. The combination of more research, more researchers and more collaboration will accelerate progress towards a better understanding of the disease, and ultimately lead to improved clinical outcomes.
In the interest of convening the scientific community, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network proudly served as the lead supporter of this AACR Pancreatic Cancer Special Conference.
The AACR describes their special conferences as presenting "unique opportunities to interact with the world's leading experts and discuss the latest findings in rapidly developing areas of cancer research." Indeed, this meeting featured a variety of attendees, including world renowned authorities in the field, early-career faculty members just launching their research endeavors, trainees at the graduate student and postdoctoral fellowship level, and survivors and community members hungry for progress in this devastating disease.
Excitingly, over 450 people registered for this meeting. In stark contrast, a Think Tank that took place in late 1999 involved only 60 scientists. It is exciting to witness the increased interest by the scientific community in this disease. A recurring theme throughout the meeting in Lake Tahoe was comments marveling at the "quantity" and "quality" of science being presented.
As testament to the caliber of research, the AACR issued 12 press releases related to results announced at the meeting. There was also a press conference where four of the scientific presentations were featured. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's summaries of the meeting highlights with links to the AACR press releases can be found here.
The broad range of topics discussed at the meeting ranged from work conducted towards improving the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, potential ways to prevent the disease, understanding progression and spread, and explaining the role of the complex types of tissue and cells that typically surround pancreatic tumors.
Overall, this AACR Special Conference was a critical milestone for the pancreatic cancer research community. Each session was jam-packed with both attendees and information. Because of our enhanced knowledge about the basic scientific features of pancreatic cancer, we are poised to translate these findings into clinical benefit for patients. We will continue to work closely with the research community and intensify our efforts to meet our goal of doubling the survival rate of pancreatic cancer by the year 2020.
Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, is the president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. You can learn more at pancan.org.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | APRIL 12, 2012
CURE invited Dennis M. Abbott, DDS, founder and CEO of Dental Oncology Professionals of North Texas, to explain the risks and management of dry mouth during cancer treatment.
"Sometimes my mouth gets so dry that I wake up with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. It's been so bad that I've had to get a drink of water to get it unstuck!" - B.D., Mesquite, TX
Dry mouth. Xerostomia. Hyposalivation. Cotton mouth. Call it what you will...but very few people really understand what a severely dry mouth is all about better than someone battling cancer.
Dry mouth is a common unwanted companion for many oncology treatments. For patients undergoing chemotherapy, xerostomia is a pharmacological side effect of the cytotoxic drugs used to combat the cancer. In head and neck radiation therapy, hyposalivation is a direct effect of ionizing radiation administration on the salivary glands. At best, dry mouth is annoying; but in severe cases, the potential effects of xerostomia on teeth and soft tissues of the mouth can be devastating for years.
The story begins with spit, or saliva. Under normal conditions, the average human produces about one liter of saliva per day. Saliva functions as a protector of the oral cavity. It keeps the tissue moist. It neutralizes the acidic by-products of intraoral bacteria. It begins the digestion process, by moistening what we eat and breaking down starchy foods. It lubricates the moving parts of the mouth allowing us to smile and speak. In short, saliva is a big deal...and it is greatly missed when it's gone!
A loss of saliva can lead to a host of problems: difficulty chewing or swallowing; changes in taste; nutritional compromise; intolerance to oral medications, such as pills and capsules; increased susceptibility to dental decay; higher risk for oral infections; increased likelihood of injury to oral tissues; and an inability to wear dentures or partials.
Often, patients find the consequences of dry mouth annoying; while sometimes, they can be devastating. Some may even become emotionally depressed after not being able to carry on with what had previously been daily routine activities such as eating and tasting food.
From a dental health perspective, severe dry mouth can be very damaging to the teeth and increase the risk of intraoral infections. Teeth in a dry mouth are especially susceptible to decay at the gum line. A cavity at this location can be especially problematic since decay does not have to travel far to infect the center of the tooth, leading to a dental abscess. Likewise, a patient with diminished saliva has an increased risk for intraoral bacterial, viral or fungal infections that can become a systemic health problem if the patient has mouth sores, as in mucositis.
The solution comes by first identifying the problem. Like many areas in medicine, there are several ways to manage dry mouth. A dental oncologist, a dentist that specializes in oral medicine as it relates to cancer care, can help decide which is right. Treatment can range from systemic medication to mouth rinses or topically applied intraoral gels. A neutral rinse can be made by combining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1 quart water. This simple mouth rinse can be used to moisturize the mouth by following the directions to swish and spit. Again, a dental oncologist can determine which method of management is best for you.
Fluoride is an essential element for management of dry mouth. Carrier trays for localized delivery of fluoride make it possible to get the tooth-strengthening gel right where it needs to be. Patients with dry mouth must commit to meticulous oral hygiene including brushing and flossing two to three times a day, regular use of prescription-strength fluoride, and professional dental cleanings at least once every three months. When dental restorations are required, the dentist can even choose a fluoridecontaining filling material.
Food choices often change when dry mouth is a factor. Frequent consumption of highly acidic foods should be avoided as this can be harmful to tooth enamel and increase the risk of decay. Foods that are high in sugar and sticky foods must also be controlled. When these foods are enjoyed, a proper dental hygiene regimen should immediately follow to minimize the time these damaging foods have contact with the teeth.
Understanding the risk and seeing dry mouth as more than just an inconvenience is a big part of the battle. Knowing there are healthcare professionals who understand the struggle and can help manage not only the xerostomia but also the treat any infection or pain that might arise should encourage patients facing dry mouth to ask questions and seek help. So, when spit doesn't happen...call your dentist or dental oncologist.
Dennis M. Abbott, DDS, is the founder and CEO of Dental Oncology Professionals of North Texas, an oral medicine practice dedicated to meeting the unique dental and oral health needs of patients battling cancer. In addition to private practice, he is a member of the dental oncology medical staff at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center and Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Abbott has conducted studies focusing on bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw and xerostomia in patients with cancer.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | JANUARY 18, 2012
Silence like a cancer grows...and in this light, taking silence to task, Hannah, my 15-year old daughter and I presented an assembly this fall at her school on "The Face of Cancer." It was Hannah's tale to be told. I followed her lead. It was also the first time I really heard her full view of what she experienced during those initial calamitous days.
She has already launched the "Cancer Team" for students whose lives have been affected by cancer or who simply want to become involved in providing resources and support. She organized a walk for breast cancer for Baystate Health Foundation, Rays of Hope, bringing in nearly $4,550 with her classmates. There are now over 50 members and she is thinking of taking such an initiative national. I am sure she will. She was brave and courageous. Standing in the Chapel, before the entire school population of nearly 700 students, faculty and staff, she was proud and radiant.
We recognize that not everyone is comfortable with any of this. None of us really are. Many were moved. Some were a bit shaken. Cancer, or any disease, illness or trauma is a deeply personal, private matter. There are no "rules" for managing this sort of event. But we believe no good comes of silence when you are fighting something so deadly and devastating and if by raising the awareness and consciousness of those around us we can help demystify, encourage understanding and the need for more resources, including research and support, then all the better.
"Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced."
November 7, 2011
Hannah Rose Green and Mark Richard Green
Nothfield Mount Hermon School, Mass.
Hannah: Good morning NMH. I am here today to introduce you to an amazing person, my dad. He is like me in a lot of ways; he has been my main role model since I can remember. He has a way of making friends with just a single sentence, maybe because he's always smiling, always optimistic, and constantly cracking jokes. He's also extremely active, and has more energy than any other middle aged man I've ever met. But he's not just my role model, he's also my best friend. I could never ask for a better father and friend.
Mark: There are moments in life that are completely out of our control. Some are minor disasters and others are of epic proportions. There is a particularly unstable glass shelf in our medicine cabinet, loaded with various items which from time to time comes loose, sending everything sliding and crashing to the sink below and you find yourself watching helplessly as the whole bathroom falls to pieces.
Hannah: This past summer, on a beautiful August day, the medicine cabinet fell. I came home from the pool to find my dad very sick. His eyes wouldn't focus, his speech was slurred and slow, and he couldn't walk straight. I knew something definitely was wrong when he didn't touch his dinner. He said he was having a migraine, and went to his room to sleep. A few hours later, he came to tell me he had just thrown up and that my step mom was going to take him to the hospital. "He just has heat exhaustion," my step mom assured me. She said that there was no reason for me to come, because they would probably end up waiting in the ER all night for him to get an IV stuck in his arm and sent home. So, I went to my mom's to get some sleep.
But I didn't sleep at all that at night, I was so worried about my dad. I waited all night for a text message from my step mom to tell me that my dad was fine. That message never came.
Mark: Once I arrived at the emergency room, I was given a CT scan and within 20 minutes the doctor delivered the news. I had a golf ball-size tumor and it was serious. What happened next was like riding on an awful carnival ride. The feeling of shock and bewilderment we will never forget. Was the Dr. kidding? Surely he was just kidding...
I was immediately transported by ambulance an hour north to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Hospital. All I recall was the muffled sounds, the darkness, the whir of the tires speeding up the highway.
Hannah: My mom delivered the news the next morning. She told me the doctors believed his illness could be attributed to something inside his head. I almost started laughing. Something in his head? I remembered a time when I was little, when my dad would stick pretzels in his nose to make me and my sister laugh. What'd he do, get pretzels lost in his brain? I thought. "Mom what are you talking about?" I asked.
She answered with a word that changed my life. A word I would hear a million times in the days to come, and a word I still think about every day, and will think about forever: "A tumor."
All I remember after that is uncontrollable crying, for hours, up until we drove up to the hospital to visit my dad, when my mom told me I needed to be strong for him. I was so scared to see him. It meant that the tumor was real and that I was not stuck in some crazy nightmare.
He was heavily medicated, because the tumor was putting pressure on his brain, causing him immense agony. He faded in and out of consciousness. When he was awake, he would vomit, cry, and ramble drunkenly about rainbows and unicorns. When he was asleep, he would curl into a crumpled ball, pale and weak.
Mark: I was stuck in a car crash which never seemed to end. I awoke, groggily, to a cacophonous riot of hospital machines, telephones, pagers, and people speaking softly and sometimes loudly, bright lights, a blur of sound and movement, and most painfully, the look of shock, fear and worry washing over my family. All I could do was think of my two daughters. I didn't want to die. Not now. I'm not ready, I thought. The pressure on my brain was expanding. I was told later I had less than a week to live before the tumor, with no room left to expand, would have herniated into my brain stem, killing me instantly.
The tears welling up in Hannah's eyes as she looked on with confusion and fear were the most devastating. I thought of Libby, away at camp, not knowing any of this. "What was happening to my dad?" Hannah seemed to be saying without even speaking.
Hannah: In the 10 hours I spent at the hospital that day, I watched my dad decline from bad to worse. He needed more medication every hour, woke up less, and became paler, more delirious, and more uncomfortable. The only part of his body that had any color was his neck, where the bleeding from his brain was pooling. I understood then that if that tumor was not removed as soon as possible, my dad would not be alive much longer. The surgery was moved to the next morning. Saying goodbye was the hardest. I begged to sleep at the hospital, but neither the doctors nor my family would allow it. I was positive that if I left, it would be the last kiss goodnight I would ever share with my father.
Mark: But, I did make it through the night, and at 6 the next morning my skull was opened up, the tumor removed, titanium screws and plates inserted, and sewn back up.
Hannah: His surgery finished with no complications, and I was rushed into the recovery room to visit him. My dad was awake and ready to party. He was cracking jokes to the staff, and to the other patients, trying to make friends and have fun.
I remember this as one of the happiest moments of my life. The trials of the past day were over, and my dad and my life were both almost back to normal. Until, a few hours later, when the doctor returned with the diagnosis of the tumor.
Mark: Stage 3 brain cancer. Anaplastic ependymoma, to be specific. An already rare cancer, it occurs over 95 percent of the time in children. Not much information for the doctors to work with. What the doctors do know is that the cancer is incurable and is a lifelong diagnosis. They said despite all efforts to radiate it, the tumor will eventually grow back, and could be operated on again, but not radiated again. There is no other treatment, save for experimental trials for which I will be eligible when the tumor returns. We didn't know when the tumor will come back. It could be in a year, it could be in 5, 10 years or more.
Hannah: The doctor hadn't even finished explaining before I was gone. I ran from the room, and cried on my mom's shoulder for a very long time. "He'll never see me graduate, never see me get a job, never walk me down the aisle, never meet his grandchildren." She didn't deny it like I wanted her to, but instead told me advice everyone should live by. "You can't live your life worrying about the future." It took me a long time to accept this, but it became easier when my dad returned home a few days later. He recovered quickly, and soon, his illness was almost forgotten.
Mark: Until several weeks later, I had a second brain surgery to remove the remnants of the tumor. At the end of this week, I will complete 33 treatments of radiation therapy to kill what they can of the cancerous tissue which remains. I will have, for the rest of my life, to monitor things with tests and MRI's. It is the emotional mountains which appear to be the steepest. Cancer is a sinister disease and will now always be lurking within.
Hannah: I was already back at NMH when my dad had the second surgery, and I felt enormous guilt for not being at home to support him. But I quickly realized that I was not alone. My story is one in over 11.7 million. The story I just told happens every day to countless families around the globe every day. In the time I've been talking, 4 people have died in US because of Cancer. And I can guarantee that every single person in this room will be affected by cancer at some point in their lifetime. And maybe some of you already have been.
This was my inspiration to start the Cancer Support Team. To support kids on campus who have been affected by cancer, and also to support cancer patients in every way we can. The cancer team has already raised almost $5,000 dollars for cancer, and this past weekend participated in a cancer walk in Greenfield.
There are a number of ways you can get involved in fighting cancer, and helping prevent any more of these stories from happening. Whether you want to commit to joining the 50 of us who are part of the cancer team, or make it a 1-time thing, there is a force in numbers.
This month, we will be selling t-shirts and also holding a haircutting event if you would like to donate your hair to cancer or even shave your head to show your support.
As most of you are aware, this month was breast cancer month. But tomorrow is the first day of November; I would like to bring attention to the most fatal cancer, lung cancer. The lung cancer color is white. Please show your support by participating in an all school white out. Thank you."
"In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life"
– Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons
Mark R. Green, 44, lives in the small New England village of Walpole, NH with his two daughters and partner Barb as well as Aiden, the floppy standard poodle, and Molly, the diminutive but fierce Yorkshire Terrier. His sister is an editor for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
He was diagnosed last year with stage 3 anaplastic ependymoma brain cancer and underwent two surgeries and completed 33 radiation treatments on 11/11/11.
He counts among his many hobbies a love of music, food, literature, writing, bicycling, skiing, kayaking, fishing, canoeing, hiking and travel. His recent brain surgeries and stage 3 brain cancer diagnosis has given him additional energy to pursue with passion the need to raise awareness of all things brain cancer and cancer in general: from funding needs to helping those with few resources gain the tools they need to cope with what is surely an illness which upsets the balance of life itself. His blog is http://moosevt.wordpress.com.
[Mark Green with his daughters Hannah (left) and Elizabeth]RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | JANUARY 17, 2012
Waiting ... more waiting.
The cushion of silence envelops all those waiting in this room marred only by the intrusion of names called, the sound of pens on paper filling out forms, a low buzz from the vending machines. There is solace in the quiet, and as I look around I wonder about all of those who are sharing this room, seeking refuge in months-old magazines and the steady ticking of time; the hushed whisper of communication barely audible. Ronnie is knee deep into a magazine. I check the date. February, 2010. No wonder it looks faded.
What brings the others to this room? My mind wanders. I spend my waiting time trying to guess. For some, there is no question. Others aren't so clear. An older gentleman and his wife. Without the tell-tale bracelet I would have never known which was the patient. They aren't smiling nor are they talking. Is it cancer? Or some other malady? They are called back, and I'll never know. An entire family surrounds a young woman in a wheelchair with a cast that encompasses the length of her leg. Another family enters and breaks the silence. The kids bounce about and there is a fit of coughing. Happily, there is a young mom-to-be with her husband by her side. They are smiling, about to embark on a journey of their own that brings back a flood of joyous memories. Their wait will end and begin with miracles.
The waiting room is difficult for me today. Time is almost standing still. I'm ready to be done with this part of my day and to go home to normal. The normal for my family that is normal to no others and yet so many others. My name is finally called, and I begin to focus on my own reason for being here. Simple enough. Ronnie squeezes my hand. He can sense my mood without sharing a syllable. This has become routine - another normal - in so many ways. We have a balance, and he somehow knows when talking will bring me to tears and silence will provide unspoken comfort. So, true to form, he sits by my side and offers what brings me that peace: a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold and the reassurance of knowing that he's beside me.
A stent replacement is no longer considered a battle. It's just a part of the journey. The list of what ifs that have forced me to sign on the bottom line barely make us blink. There is much more in the balance than what now seems like the improbable possibilities of a procedure like this. But for some reason I'm overly emotional. Will speaking my fears make them come true? Will whispering my hopes convince the world to share my optimism?
Somewhere, someday I'll discover why my mind doesn't always let me talk in a waiting room, even when I know that just writing the words or speaking them aloud won't change anything. Until then I will be thankful for that squeeze of the hand and be content with the quiet comfort of togetherness and the cushion of silence.
Suzanne Lindley has been living with metastatic colorectal cancer since 1998. She is the founder of YES, an organization for individuals living with metastatic liver tumors, and an advocate for C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | NOVEMBER 21, 2011
Wow. We were in corgi heaven.
When we arrived, there were puppies in the front yard to greet us, and basically just corgis everywhere. The owners brought Cane in the house to meet us and we fell in love instantly. He was 3 years old, beautiful, playful, funny and obsessed with his toy. We passed inspection, and it was agreed that we would be Cane's new forever family. We were so happy. As we started on the long five-hour drive home with Cane in the back of the car all the "what if" thoughts kept creeping into my head and I began questioning our decision. My husband Steve kept telling me everything would be fine.
You see, I was having an imaging scan the next day to see if my breast cancer had returned. I was initially diagnosed in January 2006 and had gone through the standard treatment: bilateral mastectomy, chemo, radiation and tamoxifen. It was discovered in one of my follow-up scans that I had kidney stones, which were thought to be the result of my chemotherapy treatments. They were not causing any problems, and due to their size we decided to just do the watch and wait approach. That meant a kidney CT scan every year, no big deal right? Well, my urologist informed me after my scan in April 2009 that something was showing up on my liver - definitely not what I was expecting to hear.
A few days later we learned everything was not fine and that my breast cancer had metastasized to my liver and numerous lymph nodes. We were shocked, scared, angry and just plain terrified. The first time I had a fear of the treatment more than dying; now I was stage 4 and I most likely will die from breast cancer. Then I started thinking about Cane and wondering if we did the right thing. Were we crazy bringing home a new dog into our home when I was going back into treatment? How would I have time for him? Would it be fair to him?
Well little did we know, but he would end up being the best thing we could have done. Right from the start he was such a comfort to both Steve and me. He was by my side every day and never expected anything from me other than love. He put a smile on my face even when I didn't feel like smiling. He got me up and moving for short walks or just outside to throw the ball for him. He seemed to know when I wasn't feeling well and that sometimes I just needed the comfort of his head resting on my lap.
After six months and a good response from my treatments, I was able to switch to a more tolerable treatment and I began feeling better and having more energy. Cane seemed to sense my improvement and with that we also saw a change in him. He was still his lovable, attentive self, but now he seemed to have a whole new attitude and was always raring to go at the drop of a hat. Cane is so amazing and such a joy to have around; he will always have a very special place in my heart.
But there is always more love to go around. We got another corgi in August 2010. Her name is Poppet, and she is the same age as Cane and lived with him in their previous home. She is a sweetie and makes our home complete. I believe both Cane and Poppet have enriched our lives and helped us to cope with the reality of my cancer and that treatments will now probably be a forever thing since I have metastatic cancer.
They are the best therapy I could ask for and I am happy to say that my last scan in July 2011 showed no evidence of disease. We are enjoying life to the fullest, and our corgis are with us every step of the way.
Gail and her two corgis, Poppet and Cane.
Gail Lemberger, 52, from Camarillo, Calif., is a wife and mother with a 27-year-old son. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in Jan. 2006 and then metastatic breast cancer in June 2009. She is a participant and volunteer at The Wellness Community Valley/Ventura.
Editor's note: Do you have a story of how a pet helped you heal? Submit a photo and brief description and we'll share your story with CURE readers <Submit your photo here>. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming article on how pets help us during and after a cancer diagnosis.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | SEPTEMBER 20, 2011
I am often surprised by how few people really understand how a career coach can help. With the recent recession, more and more people are hiring career coaches because they have lost their jobs or have gone through a life-altering situation such as surviving cancer.
First off, it is important to note that a career coach does not find you a job. This means that he or she does not get on the phone and make calls for you to find job openings and usually cannot influence a hiring manager to interview you. In other words, a career coach does not perform the functions of a recruiter or headhunter.
However, there are so many things that a career coach can do to assist you in your job search or, if need be, change careers.
A coach can help you bolster or rebuild your confidence. As a cancer survivor, you have dealt with one of the most serious challenges of all – your health. All of your energy has been focused on your treatment, constant scans and doctors' visits and getting healthy. Because of this, it's likely that you have paid less attention to your career or professional development. This may cause you to feel insecure about your abilities and the value that you can bring to a new employer or even your existing employer after a leave of absence.
Once your career coach learns about you and your work history and achievements, they can remind you of these accomplishments and help you to articulate the value you bring to an employer on paper and in an interview.
Surviving cancer often changes your life priorities dramatically, including deciding what kind of work you choose to do moving forward. A career coach can help you with your overall career strategy as well as your job search planning. Hiring a professional to help you look at the big picture is very useful because you will be introduced to different perspectives that you may not have thought of on your own. It's also possible that you haven't looked for a job in a long time and many aspects of the job search have changed, such as using LinkedIn and the way you write your resume.
A career coach can advise you on some of the most common issues cancer survivors face, such as how to handle questions about time gaps on your resume as well as potentially illegal or inappropriate questions you may be asked during an interview.
Networking with people is the number one method for uncovering job opportunities, yet it can be an awkward skill to learn. A career coach can teach you the elements of effective networking, including how to meet new people and what to say to them, networking etiquette and different ways to cultivate relationships and follow-through to reap results. Your coach can share their contacts with you as well.
Interviewing for a job can be nerve-wracking, and a skilled career coach can actually conduct a mock interview with you while helping you to come up with great responses to tough interview questions such as, "Tell me about yourself" or "What would your last manager say your biggest weaknesses are?"
As you can see, the list of topics that a career coach can give you advice about is endless. Equally as important is the support you receive and an objective sounding board that you have with a career coach.
Julie Jansen is a career coach in the greater New York City area. In addition to private career coaching services (juliejansen.net), she also serves as a pro bono career coach on cancerandcareers.org. Cancer and Careers is a non-profit resource that offers help balancing work and cancer during or after cancer treatment.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | SEPTEMBER 16, 2011
It is surreal to be spending a weekend at the Emmys and on the red carpet. It's also incredible to be a guest at Debbie Durkin's ECO Emmy Celebrity Chateau. It's a special event where I am fortunate to be sharing hope and awareness that it is possible to live with advanced cancer. Today is my 13th cancerversary.
I learned on this day 13 years ago that not only did I have colon cancer at the age of 31, but that it had already spread to my liver. My life and the lives of those around me were forever changed.
At times it seems like those words came only yesterday. In reality 4,742 days, 113,808 hours, 13 different chemotherapy agents (mixed, matched and revisited), three clinical trials, radiation (external, internal and targeted), Sir-spheres, vertebroplasty and Cyberknife have crossed my path since then. My children have spent more than half of their lives living in the shadow of cancer. Ronnie and I have shared more years with cancer than we have without. So this anniversary is not just mine. It is theirs as well.
Thirteen years with cancer may sound dismal to some. Our lives, however, are rich. We have discovered strength through vulnerability. We have learned to meet and overcome challenges without flinching. Dreams have come to fruition in the midst of chaos and fear; with a diagnosis that means dying is inevitable and living long unlikely. Time together - that wasn't supposed to be - has been forever etched with cherished milestones and treasured memories.
We carefully watched our children grow; their progress joyfully carved into a doorframe. Childhood friends matured with them and we witnessed their progress, too, and cheered the growth. We marveled at their accomplishments. Winters turned to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall, and then the cycle began again. Wonder filled our days. Moonlit rides, camping trips, picnics and fun brought vitality to the gloom of cancer. Growing pains came and went. Empty nest syndrome took over. Then a three-year-old bundle of love refilled the nest and reminded us once again that life is full of surprises!
Friends and a special angel or two touched our lives, many that without cancer we would have never met. Others have been by our side through thick and thin, reaching out like a beacon in the dark. Help also came from organizations such as Colon Cancer Alliance, Fight Colorectal Cancer, American Cancer Society and LiveSTRONG where I met survivors and discovered the importance of self-advocacy. Without the support and guidance of both, I wouldn't be here today.
Still, living with terminal cancer had lonely moments. It became a personal goal to make sure that others in a situation like mine knew that there were options, support and hope – to know that they weren't alone. This prompted me to start YES! Beat Liver Tumors. What began as a small group of friends has blossomed to close a huge void for thousands that are affected by liver tumors. We inspire, encourage and share hope. We celebrate and laugh together, curse and cry together. We have comforted each other through losses and buoyed one another through victories. Together, we have learned how important it is to embrace each moment as it comes.
Every breath is a blessing. My blessings have been abundant... 13 years of precious time. Today we are celebrating my approximately 136,510,200 unexpected blessings of breath!
Suzanne Lindley has been living with metastatic colorectal cancer since 1998. She is the founder of YES, an organization for individuals living with metastatic liver tumors, and an advocate for C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition.RELATED POSTS
BY GUEST BLOGGER | AUGUST 29, 2011
September 1, 2009
It is my oldest son's first day of kindergarten, or really his first hour of kindergarten. My husband and I are taking him to be "oriented" to his classroom in anticipation for the real start tomorrow, sans parents. Given there is no separation involved in this orienting hour, I am aghast when tears begin spilling from my eyes, striping my cheeks. "We have made it to kindergarten," I tell myself. I take a deep breath and wipe my eyes.
My son, Harry, and I walk hand in hand down the corridor as kids and parents bustle about, the enthusiasm and excitement palpable. The 1600's brick school house is quintessential New England and quintessential kindergarten. Its large wooden windows are cracked a little, just enough to waif in the nippy fall air. The classroom walls are laden with 5-year-old art, its shelves lined with bottles of Elmer's glue, small red and white milk cartons and colored plastic trays. Memories of kindergarten 35 years ago come flooding back.
"Mom, are you staying with me today?" Harry asks for the third time of the day.
"Yes, honey, Mommy is not going anywhere." I shudder at the irony of the words.
My husband, having arrived by separate car, spots us coming down the hall and notices my tears. He gives me a nod that suggests he understands my typical mother-letting-go-of-son emotions. What I cannot utter, for fear of dissolving in front of my son, husband and a multitude of composed parents, is that my tears are not about letting go of my son as he enters kindergarten, but of complete joy and gratitude for being able to let him go. I had played this very scene over and over again in my mind, praying every day, all day, that I would be blessed to act it out. Here I am. Alive and cancer-free after my lymphoma diagnosis two years ago. Thank you, God.
I drive 30 miles north to glorious New Castle Island, NH, to pick up my nephews, Brad and Adam, for some back-to-school shopping. Adam is starting his freshman year of college and Brad his junior year. As they approach the car, I am struck by their stature, each over six feet tall.
"Are you registered for all your classes?" I ask Brad as we drive toward the department store.
"Yup," he replies as he checks his email on his BlackBerry.
"Don't forget to go to Health Services to check on your health care coverage, you have a doctor's appointment next week. We need to make sure you are still covered by your school insurance."
"Yeah, will do," he replies as his thumbs move quickly across his phone's keyboard. As we enter the department store, we separate. I head for the toddlers and boys section and they head to mens. I watch them go, remembering with a familiar ache when my sister and I would shop for them in toddlers and boys.
We leave the department store, exhausted and hungry, with carts overflowing with bedding, towels, and speakers – all later to be housed in dorm rooms.
"I'm starving," says Adam as he surfs on his iPod.
"How about Flatbreads," suggests Brad.
"Sweet," replies Adam, and I steer the car in the direction of the local pizzeria.
"How did Harry like his first day of kindergarten?" Brad asked as the waitress brings the large chicken and artichoke pizza, small white, and large garden salad. Man, can they eat.
We talk about Harry's teacher, the school bus and his new found ability to run faster in his brand new Nikes. I'm careful not to mention my tears.
"Thanks so much, Kit," Brad says as we finish every last bite of food.
"Yeah, Kit, thank you for everything," echoes Adam.
"Of course," I say as I raise my glass to them. It is hard to believe it is exactly five years ago today that my sister died of breast cancer. "Your mom would be so proud of the two of you starting school. And, I know she'd want us to be together tonight. I love you both so much."
For the second time of the day, my eyes well with tears, as her sons' eyes, no longer scanning their Blackberry and iPod, lock mine. My heart swells with love, loss and deep gratitude for being alive to share in their first day of school, too.
Kit E. Haber, PsyD, is a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor and a carrier of the BRAC1 gene. She aspires to share her stories of loss and challenge through writing in order to help others move forward through similar experiences. She resides in Saint Augustine, Fla., with her husband and three young sons. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and executive coach and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.RELATED POSTS