Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I made the progression to full buzz cut yesterday. It was time. I had washed my hair and couldn't get a comb through it without clumps coming out, so I wrapped a handkerchief around my head and called the salon for their first opening. It was time, but I still can't get used to my reflection in the mirror. Observation number one: my head is much smaller than I expected it to be.
It's still 105 degrees in Phoenix, so no need to worry about covering up for warmth's sake anytime soon. If anything, I should be nervous about getting a sunburn. I literally don't think this skin has ever seen the light of day.

Observation number two: there are some really pretty scarves out there. UVA/UVB protection and fashion accessory all in one. This means that getting ready for the day just got about thirty minutes faster - always a plus for a working mom!

And speaking of moms, my mom suggested I add antennae and go as a bug for Halloween. I just might. Buzzzzz, indeed.

Friday, September 23, 2011


My goddaughter Grace turned seven this week. Her mom, Alana, has been one of my closest and dearest friends since we were camp counselors together when we were sixteen. When I called to wish Grace a happy birthday, Alana and I got to chatting.

"I have to tell you what I overheard in the car the other day," she said. She had been driving Grace and four of her girlfriends home for a slumber party that night for Grace's birthday. Grace and her friends attend Catholic school, and they were discussing their prayers in the backseat.

"Girls," said Grace. "Listen. My Aunt Jen has breast cancer, in her boobies, and I pray for her every day."

"My grandpa died of cancer," said another girl.

"No. This is different. My Aunt Jen is strong, and she is brave, and she is going to beat this."

"What's cancer?" asked another girl.

Alana said her ears perked up then. How would Grace explain this one?

"Cancer is this awful, devilish MOLD that grows inside your body and eats the good parts." Pretty decent explanation for a seven year old. She gets it.

"Ewwwww!" the other girls squealed. "She has moldy boobies?!"

Well, yes, but technically only the right one, and chemo is working on eradicating that mold problem.

Monday, September 19, 2011


This was my husband's status update on Facebook today: ‎5am wake-up call by a 6 month old with a serious case of the Mondays, a championship caliber blow-out on the way to daycare, and the wifey at the doctors testing for a leaky chemo port - all by 8:30am. This is not what I call a good start to the week.

Luckily, my chemo port is working just fine. My oncologist sent me to have it tested because I felt some burning around the site as the nurses were flushing it with saline after my Herceptin treatment last Friday - like you would expect if you poured salt in a wound. Problem is, I'm not supposed to feel anything. To test the port, they inject a dye agent into it, then take x-rays to see where the dye goes. On mine, the fluid went straight into my heart, just like it's supposed to; there were no leaks. The doctors blamed the pain I felt on residual tenderness from when the port was placed 2.5 weeks ago.

And our little guy went to bed at 5 this evening. He fell asleep in my arms in our rocking chair, and I snoozed for a little bit with him softly snoring on my chest. This came after he had another, more minor-caliber, blow-out at daycare (he's working on setting the record for number of outfit changes in a day). And he still hasn't kicked the sniffles that hit him two weeks ago. I blame teething.

To top our Monday off, I spiked a low-grade fever around 6 o'clock, but two Tylenol and two liters of water later, and it appears to have subsided. Just in case, Chris has me checking my temp every hour (which is about how often I have to pee now, anyway).

Good news is, it's almost Tuesday.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


My hair started falling out in earnest yesterday. Quinn and I were playing on the floor after daycare, when I picked him up for a hug. He leaned in - mouth wide open, drool spilling out - and grabbed on tightly to my hair to pull my face in for a kiss. I love his snuggles. And I knew as it was happening what I would find in his little fist.

Earlier in the day, my scalp had started hurting, like I wore it too tightly in a ponytail and the hair was having trouble lying flat again. A nurse at the infusion center explained that it's the hair follicles dying. Fine, as long as the cancer is dying, too. I am fascinated by how easily my hair comes out when I pull at it now, but I'm trying to be gentle and not tug on it too much, so I can keep what I have just a little bit longer. And my legs? They are almost as smooth as a baby's butt (almost). Bonus: no need to shave anytime soon.

On a side note, my 33rd birthday was this week. On Tuesday morning, I awoke to forty-six new Facebook messages, and the posts continued pouring in throughout the day. My best friends all posted photos of themselves (and their kids) wearing pink bracelets in support of my fight. My dad flew into town from Texas for the occasion. I got flowers delivered and cards in the mail. I am so far behind on emails because my inbox was flooded with notes from well-wishers and happy birthday-ers. My brother, sister-in-law and mom gave me a collection of hats and scarves for me to wear once my hair is gone. And Chris and I went to bed at about 9:15 that night, laughing at ourselves because there were so many birthdays past when we didn't even start getting ready to go out until 9 o'clock. But you know what? We got a full 8.5 hours of sleep that night, with only a quick middle-of-the-night feeding of our drool-Bug. It was a really good birthday, as far as birthdays go.

And then yesterday, Chris told me, "Oh, we have something at the house tonight at 6, for your birthday."

"Do I have to clean up? Are people coming over?"

"Not physically," he said.

"Are you having a seance?" my dad joked when I told him Chris had something up his sleeve.

I was curious, but I had no idea how blown away I was about to be.

Just after 6, Chris sat me down in front of our computer, and then started a slideshow put together by my eight best girlfriends from college (yes, eight; we are a lucky and tight-knit group). The slideshow opened with a video of two of my friends in a beauty shop, telling me what they were about to do. And then it cut to the photos - from Amman, Jordan; Boston; NYC; San Francisco; Baltimore; and Washington, DC. These eight women collectively cut off what I'm guessing was about 75 inches of their hair to show their solidarity with me as I go through treatment. I was choked up and crying as I watched. When the slideshow was done, the screen faded to black, and then there they were, live and on-screen via Skype, showing off their new, short hair-dos and wishing me a happy birthday from around the country.

Have I mentioned how lucky I am? My friends are some incredible and beautiful women - with or without their hair.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Like the first trimester...

I have been asked a number of times over the last week what chemo feels like. Granted, I've only been through one round of this, so I'm no expert. I also know full well that my experience might change pretty drastically as the drugs accumulate in my system over the next few months. But I wanted to go ahead and address the question now to say this: it wasn't as bad as I expected.

My answer to other moms is that the chemo side effects felt like the first trimester of pregnancy. And I had a pretty easy pregnancy. For the rest of you, it's kind of like a low-grade hangover. Yes, I said it: being pregnant is like being hungover. (And you don't even get to drink!) Slight nausea? Check. Fatigue like you pulled an all-nighter (but you're not 22 anymore)? Check. Metallic taste in your mouth? Yup, that too. Then there's the forgetfulness, which I used to blame on "pregnancy brain" and then "mommy brain." Now it's "chemo brain." I'm starting to think maybe it's just me... Nah, couldn't be.

I have chemo on Fridays, once every three weeks. On the Saturdays following chemo, I go in for a shot of something called Neulasta that boosts my blood counts. It causes bone marrow to go into overdrive, and so spurs production of white blood cells so that my immune system isn't quite so pitiful. One of the side effects from that drug is bone pain. My worst day last week was Thursday, when the bone pain hit. It felt like labor, which I guess is fitting, considering I'd just been feeling like I was pregnant.

The nurses recommend a combination of antihistamines and Aleve to lessen the bone pain. I thought I was in the clear on that particular side effect since it didn't hit me until five days after the shot. And then it was radiating deep tooth-jarring pain in my pelvis and rib cage for a full day, despite the Claritin, despite the Aleve. Good news according to the chat rooms out there, though: apparently this pain tends not to recur with subsequent Neulasta shots. I really, really hope that is the case for me.

There were some stomach "issues" beyond the nausea, but nothing prescription-strength Imodium and Pepto couldn't alleviate, and my appeitite remains as strong as ever, which I'm taking as a good sign. I will say that the stress of the first couple of weeks post-diagnosis was enough to knock off the last several pounds, so I can fit in my pre-pregnancy jeans once again. It's about the last thing I care about, though, and not quite the way I envisioned losing the last bit of baby weight. But if all I have to endure five more times is a hangover that lasts a week (oh, and the hair falling out), I've totally got this chemo thing in the bag.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chemo Cut

In anticipation of it all falling out, I took a preemptive strike and chopped my hair today. Cutting it somehow felt empowering, like I'm in control of how cancer makes me look. Selfishly, I didn't want to have to clean the shower drain of big clumps of really long strands of hair. It's enough as it is after a normal shampoo, let alone what chemo is about to do to my do. I joked with Chris, though, that I'll probably be the one chemo patient who doesn't lose her hair. How ironic would that be?

I'm going to donate the hair to a group called Wigs for Kids ( I hope they can put it to good use.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Walking Murphy's Law

I had a nickname in college, handed down lovingly despite its ominous undertones: Wimmel, or WML, short for Walking Murphy's Law. Make no mistake: I don't believe that I have a dark cloud following me, or even that if something bad is going to happen, it will necessarily happen to me. And I don't think my dear friend who coined this nickname believes that, either. It's just that, if there's a particularly challenging way for something to get done, that route tends to be the one I stumble across.

As an undergraduate, for example, I might have been the only History major also attempting (miserably) to be pre-med. There is a reason normal people don't try to do 6-hour organic chem labs and write 30-page papers in the same weekend. Since I'm a lawyer now, I'll let you conclude which one matched my skill-set better. Actually, let me illustrate a bit more: we were supposed to be distilling oil out of cloves (my T.A. might have been a bit of a hippy, and I can't for the life of me remember what chemical reaction I was supposed to be learning, let alone how it was going to make me a stellar pediatrician). I forgot one little alligator clamp, and my whole distillery came crashing down as soon as things started to boil. A few hundred dollars worth of lab equipment later, and my T.A. told me to just PLEASE go home and use someone else's results. Chemistry, you made me cry so often, yet I kept returning for your wily ways.

Glutton for punishment that I am, when I was in law school I decided to continue to work full-time and go to school at night, to "try to save money." I can hear Chris laughing now at how well that worked out, considering my loans are our second mortgage. After the first year of working 8-5, then hoofing it up to the law school for class from 6-10 four nights a week, spending all (well, most) of my time on the weekends studying, I decided I couldn't do that for four years. Instead, I decided I'd only work part-time, but I figured that would give me time to join law review. Have I mentioned I like a challenge?

The summer I graduated from law school was the same summer I moved across the country, studied for the bar exam, tried to find a job (in 2008, when the economy was tanking, and tanking especially hard in Arizona), and planned our wedding. And you know what? I passed the bar, got a job (although that one didn't last), and the wedding was exactly as I'd imagined, right down to those prickly pear margaritas. Despite my two left feet, we even executed our first dance pretty close to perfectly, thanks to my husband counting out the steps to me. Oh? You thought those were sweet nothings he was whispering? Have you met my husband?

All of this to say that it should come as no surprise to any of you that our little Bug came down with a bug of his own this weekend, my first weekend post-chemo, when my immune system is at its lowest and I'm supposed to avoid infection...well, like the plague. I'm doing what I can to help - making the middle-of-the-night bottles, staying awake while Chris feeds and rocks our crying babe back to sleep, but I feel useless.

The nurses at the infusion center have reassured me that, so long as he isn't running a fever and I continue to feel okay, I don't have anything to worry about. (Just in case, Chris bought me a couple of SARS masks to wear around the house. Bug thinks they're for playing peak-a-boo.)

I know we'll get through this - chemo, cancer AND Bug's cold, but then I might need a break from challenges for a minute. And I'm going to need some cuddles from a certain 6-month-old in the meantime.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I have cancer, but I might also be the most fortunate girl I know. (Hear me out.) I am floored and humbled by the amount of love that has come our way in the last week and a half. I already knew I had a pretty superb group of friends and family, but you guys have gone all out. Flowers and chocolates and visits planned and meals organized and babysitting offers abound. I am so grateful for each of you.

And I have been bowled over by the response from nearly complete strangers who have heard my story because of my resourceful and caring network of friends and family. A woman - a friend of my sister-in-law - whom we'd never met before brought us dinner just because she'd been through breast cancer herself, with kids, and understands that I clearly don't have time to brush my hair right now let alone plan meals. A friend of a friend of one of my best friends happens to be a former breast cancer researcher (and current mom of 3) and married to a radiologist in the area. They sent me an email offering resources and second opinions and shoulders to cry on if I need. And I have become email buddies with a college friend's cousin's wife, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 12 weeks pregnant, decided to keep the baby and receive chemo during pregnancy, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl just one week after our Bug was born. She just finished radiation treatments and is celebrating in Paris. And she introduced me to a group called the Young Survivors Coalition, which has been a godsend when my mind is racing and I'm having a panic attack that I might not be able to do this. The women of YSC reassure me that I absolutely can; they have the practical tips and battle scars to prove it.

What astounds me the most is how MANY women have been through this terrible, terrifying disease. The official statistic is that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives, and it typically strikes around age 60. Of the dozen or so women who have shared their stories with me since I started this crazy journey, though, exactly 3 were over the age of 50 when they were diagnosed.

Breast cancer tends to be very aggressive in younger women, as is the case with mine. What was just an annoying bump I thought might be a blocked milk duct grew to be a 4.7 cm tumor and spread to at least a couple of lymph nodes in just a few short months. I had a little soreness in my breasts, but what nursing mother doesn't? It is sheer, forehead-smacking craziness to me that I can feel as WELL as I do and be diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Another friend's cousin who was diagnosed in April said she felt the same shock at her doctor's office. "What do you mean, CANCER? I just ran 10 miles last weekend," she told me she said at the time.

This is not a club I would have ever chosen to join, if we had a choice about such things. I would much rather spend the next year keeping my breasts and my newly-highlighted hair and enjoying every minute of watching my little guy learn to crawl, walk, eat yogurt on his own. I would rather not have to skip the anniversary trip Chris and I had planned to Mexico in October, so that I can sit in a chair for 4 hours receiving chemo. I would rather be sure that we'll be able to have another child if we want down the road. But now that I've been reluctantly inducted into this group of women, I am so humbled by their strength, humor, vulnerability, courage and WARMTH that I can't imagine a better cancer to get, so to speak. To my friends and family who have encouraged me and introduced me to these incredibly strong survivors, THANK YOU. I hope sometime soon I can be that source of reassurance and strength for some other young woman going through this hell. And then I hope we find a cure so we can all stop going through it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Two Weeks

Two weeks ago today I was preliminarily diagnosed with breast cancer. At an earlier consult with my OB/GYN about an annoying but only slightly painful lump in my breast that just wouldn't go away no matter how often I nursed, he reassured me it was probably nothing but asked if I wanted to see someone else about it. "Yeah, I think I do," were the smartest words I've ever spoken. Thinking it was just a cyst I could have removed after I'd finished breast-feeding, he sent me to "the best breast surgeon I know."

I sat in Dr. Liu's office on the afternoon of the 19th, avoiding all the information on the walls about breast cancer because that just didn't apply to me...and it was some scary stuff. I picked up a Redbook instead. After a quick exam, she asked if I had time to go straight over to an imaging lab for an ultrasound. I called Chris at home to make sure he had enough milk to keep Bug from reaching total meltdown status for another hour or so. Yep, he assured me. We didn't suspect a thing.

At the radiology center, they quickly took me in for a mammogram. I will spare you most of the details, but boobs are not meant to be pancakes. Nor should they ever place stickers on you to mark where they want to image. Those stickers have to be removed, and...OUCH!

Next they took me in for an ultrasound, and I kid you not: it wasn't until the radiologist came in and took over from the radiology tech that I could tell there was something wrong. She noted the "calcifications" and "silvery sheen" and told me she was "pretty concerned" by what she saw.

"How concerned?" I asked.

"I'm very concerned," she said. "This looks like cancer."

Heart racing, mouth dry, adrenaline COURSING through my veins, I somehow drove the 2 miles home. It was the longest drive of my life.

After watching Chris' dad - my father-in-law - suffer through and ultimately fall victim to pancreatic cancer less than two years ago, I was consumed with guilt about the news I had to share. "WHAT?!?" was Chris' reaction. "Tell me exactly what they said." We were both crying as I told him about my appointments. "I can't believe we're fucking having this conversation."

We slowly shared the news with immediate family over the weekend and waited anxiously for my biopsies on Monday. 48 hours never felt soooo d r a w n out. I couldn't sleep; I imagined the worst. I was pissed off and scared out of my mind. When my surgeon called to follow up and reassure me that she would get me through this, I told her there simply was no other option.

On Wednesday the 24th, I got word that the tumor was malignant, which really wasn't a surprise but still took my breath away. There was also evidence of some cancerous activity in my axillary lymph node. My doctor might as well have reached through the phone and punched me in the gut. I felt the strong urge to cut this MONSTER out of my body myself, but I am clearly not qualified for that (thank you, organic chemistry). And more diagnostic tests were necessary - an MRI, something called a MUGA scan to test my heart, a PET/CT scan and another that I (get this) volunteered for called a PEM scan, which is essentially a 45 minute mammogram. Fun times.

You guys know the rest - CT and PET scans show some small hotspots elsewhere, suggesting that things have gone outside of my breast, but that they are still very small. Clearly this is more serious than if the cancer was contained, but at present the plan of attack remains the same as, for the most part, if the main tumor responds to chemo, the little spots will too.

Chris' cousin posted about me on her Facebook page this week. She wrote, "Our wonderful cousin who is 32 with a 6 month old son has been diagnosed with breast cancer..prayers and thoughts are going out to them as they fight this." I can still hardly believe that refers to me.


First round of chemotherapy today, and it lasted about 5 hours. Lying in bed this morning when the house was still quiet, in anticipation of our big day, Chris squeezed my hand and asked me how I felt.

"Strangely excited. Like the troops are about to land at Normandy," I said. We know how THAT turned out.

My buzz about the day lasted until the nurses administered benadryl (to prevent reactions to the chemo), and then I just felt loopy. Turns out "benadryl" is code for "night-night." Which maybe explains what happened with only about 20 minutes of treatment left.

Chris pointed at my shirt. "What's that?" I looked down; there was a big wet circle over my ta-ta. "Oh, my boob's just leaking." I'd still been nursing our son up until the diagnostic - and radioactive - tests this week, and my milk hasn't dried up yet. I've heard cabbage leaves help, but I'm not sure how I feel about walking around with a salad on my chest.

A few minutes later, my oncologist came over to ask how I was doing. "Fine, just leaking a bit," I said, not thinking that my PORT THAT ADMINISTERS MY CHEMO is embedded DIRECTLY above the culprit leaky boob. My doctor sprinted to get a nurse and nearly gave them both heart attacks as they returned to figure out how much chemo had been lost to the "leak." A light went off in my benadryl-fogged head and I realized they had misunderstood from whence the leak had sprung.

I really thought he'd run away because I'd embarrassed him by pointing out the silver-dollar sized wet spot on my shirt - because that makes total sense, that I'd made a breast cancer specialist blush by pointing at my breast. Benadryl, people, it's good stuff.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Phone Call

My amazing surgeon called tonight - on my chemotherapy-eve - to see how I was holding up. "Let's kick cancer's ass!" she said. I love having her on my team.

Surgery will be about a month after chemo ends, so sometime in late January. The extent of it depends on whether I test positive for the BRCA gene. Positive means a double mastectomy plus eventual removal of my ovaries, since the mutation is linked to increased likelihood for ovarian cancer as well.

Either way, because my tumor is slightly hormone-sensitive, I'll have to be on estrogen-suppressing medication long-term to prevent any recurrence. Side effects include early onset menopause. So I'll be a bald, possibly infertile and boob-less, post-menopausal woman at the ripe old age of 33. But I will have kicked cancer's ass, which is totally worth the trade.