Thursday, March 29, 2012


A little more than three months out from chemo, and my hair is slowly (but surely) making an appearance. I'm just grateful I have eyebrows again. Those things are not easy to draw.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


For the last three days, I've spent about 25 minutes a day being zapped by this machine:
On Day 1, the technician (who's an electrical engineer) spoke to me through the intercom.

"Just keep holding still," she said, after about an eternity of inactivity. "My computer's not talking to the machine."

You've got to be kidding me, I thought. I was certain radioactive lasers were about to turn me into swiss cheese. My heart was pounding in my throat, ready to leap right out before the machine could go ballistic on it. Did that count as holding still? I held my breath, just in case.

It's getting less scary by the day. Only 22 treatments left.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I'd thought meetings weren't for me, that they'd be too full of sad stories. In the support group I belong to online, I sometimes hesitate to check the status updates because I can't handle the sadness. One woman posted that she wasn't getting reconstruction because she's stage IV, so she figured what was the point? My brain just doesn't compute that kind of logic. Honestly, it's probably another one of my avoidance coping strategies. But when a woman I knew passed away last week, lost her life to this damn disease, I felt compelled to attend my first young survival meeting. 

I knew this woman's passing away wasn't about me, but when I heard the news I still felt like I'd been punched in the gut. I know we all have different stories; everybody's disease blueprint is unique. I know how incredibly lucky I am that I had such a rapid and complete response to chemo. I know that my story isn't her story.

And yet, we are all wrapped up in this together, and so when one of us loses our battle, the rest of our hearts break just a little. 

I spent a solid half hour driving to the hospital on the other side of town where the meeting was being held, but I was so hesitant about attending that when I pulled up to the complex at five after the hour, I considered turning around to head home because I was late. Another bald woman rushing up to the building's entrance gave me the guilty nudge I needed to head inside. We rode the elevator up to the second floor together in silence. 

As soon as I walked into the meeting room, I felt silly for wearing my wig and prosthetic boobs. But the room was full and by then it was too late to take them off. About a dozen women - half of them either bald or with short buzz cuts - sat around the room, laughing and engaged in conversations with each other. The meeting started with just a quick welcome to the two of us who were new.

A pretty brunette thanked everyone for helping raise money at a comedy show in memory of her best friend, who died at age 33 after a 5-year battle with breast cancer. Not even five minutes into the meeting and I was the one crying. I apologized as I told the group about the woman I'd known, how she left five children behind. 

"We've all been there," the director said as she handed me a box of Kleenex. 

We had a guest speaker at the meeting, an author who'd written about her journey and spoke about what got her through her battle. A couple of things struck me about her: she was really funny, describing all of the physical changes she'd been through - most of us had been through - since being diagnosed, and she was most certainly not a victim of this disease. None of these women were.

By the end of the meeting, I had taken my wig off (to a room of cheers) to show a woman who'd just started chemo what I look like just three months after chemo. I promised her it wasn't that bad.

The truth is, more and more of us are getting through this, figuring out what it means to be survivors, shoring each other up and cheering each other on - even when it's scary, even when some of us don't make it. Being surrounded by this much strength was much more cathartic than I'd expected. I really need to stop expecting the worst.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I got my first tattoos last week: three pinhead-sized dots around my bra-line. The technicians will use them to line me up under the radiation machine, to ensure they're zapping the same areas each visit. How's that for technology? Primitive, you say? Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

Between the new ink, my buzz cut and my new boyish body, I feel like I have an alternate hipster-punk persona. As my sister-in-law said, I just need a motorcycle and some jackboots to complete the look. She also joked that tequila would have helped. I pointed out that I got my tattoos at 8:00 in the morning. Plus, I don't remember the last time I washed anything down with a shot of tequila (not at 8 a.m., anyway.)

The tattoos were just part of the process to begin my radiation plan, which required a quick CT scan. As I laid there half-naked on the sliding table, my deflated "boobs" exposed, my radiation oncologist came in to check on me.

He advised me that I won't be able to shave or wear deodorant under my right arm during the course of radiation because it could irritate the skin enough to remove it. That did me in. I can handle the scars on my chest, recovering from surgery, being bald and eyebrow-less (although I'm happy to say my hair is getting thicker every day now). I can handle tattoos on my torso. I can handle a lot of things (who knows? maybe even tequila at sunrise). But not shaving my armpits or wearing deodorant for six weeks? Bleck. It's better than having a gaping wound under my arm, but only slightly.

Who out there remembers those "Garbage Pail Kids" trading cards? Specifically Armpit Britt? That's the vision I've got for myself at the end of radiation. I'll be a vision, I'm sure.

And no word yet on when radiation will start; they're still working on my plan. I'm told it should be any day now. I guess I'll take it as a good sign that they don't seem to be in any major rush to get this done. Since I'm in no major rush to braid my armpit hair, we're on the same page.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Dear Quinn-Bug,

You turned one year old this week. And oh what a year it's been! Like the saying goes about the month in which you were born, you came into our lives like a lion, roaring to be heard. Everyday now you have something new to tell us. Yes, that's right - you're already starting to form words. "Baba" for bottle, "ge" for blankie, "ki ka" for the cats, and "dada" for you-know-who. I asked you to say Mama yesterday, and you responded DADA! But you gave me a big snuggle, so it's okay.

You're always pointing at the world around you now, wanting to know everything's name (or demanding that we bring it to you to examine, usually by seeing if it fits in your mouth). You're testing your independence, throwing your food and tupperware containers and your spoon over the side of your highchair when you've had enough. We either need to break you of that habit or adopt a dog to lick up the mess.

You are walking running all over the place now, usually carrying a toy in each hand. You plow through any obstacle in your way, including the cats. At least you're good at falling down - always on your butt or with your arms outstretched to brace you. You scratched your face on a branch the other day, and I freaked out, worrying about whether you were okay. You? You barely noticed. Didn't let it slow you down a bit.

And that's probably because you were outside. Like your Dad, outside is your favorite place to be, and you'd spend all day out there if we'd let you. We might if there were ever clouds in the sky or some semblance of shade to protect you from the blazing Arizona sun.

It's hard to believe that a year has passed since we brought you home from the hospital, scared out of our minds that we'd break you, exhausted already, hopelessly in love. You've made our family complete, and it just keeps getting better. You are pure joy. I dare anyone to spend any time around you and not feel it radiating from you. It's as if you swallowed a light bulb.

This time last year, we had no idea what was in store for us. Along the way, someone remarked to me that they couldn't imagine going through cancer with a baby at home; I couldn't imagine going through it without you. I hope you never remember your Mama sick, but I hope you always know what strength you gave me - continue to give me - through this journey.

I hope you know your Mama loves everything about you.

Happy FIRST Birthday!

Friday, March 2, 2012


Before my mastectomy, I had to get an EKG to test my heart, to make sure it would be strong enough for surgery. As I waited in the hospital lobby, I flipped through a Good Housekeeping magazine from last summer, with Michael J. Fox on the cover; the feature article was about the actor turning 50. In his interview, he said that there's a motto in acting that he applies to his life: "Don't act the end."

I find myself thinking of that motto a lot lately, as I adjust to life in remission, as I try to find my new normal. The pain of surgery is gone now, and at six weeks post-op, I've resumed most daily activities. What I'm struggling with now is getting beyond mere survival, getting to a point where I'm not constantly looking over my shoulder for the boogeyman, getting back to life.

In the day-to-day grind of just-get-me-through-this that I've felt so much of the last six months, there has been a cement block of guilt weighing down on me for what I've missed, or haven't had the energy for, or haven't appreciated (or even written down in his baby book) so far in my son's life. I hate it that there were so many days I felt relief at the end of the day, simply because Quinn had fallen asleep and I didn't have the energy to keep up. It's a terrible feeling, not being able to enjoy your days because you are too busy trying to survive them.

And then there's the fear that still rears its ugly head - less often now, but still ugly. A friend recently asked me how I live with that fear without letting it get in the way of all the good moments. I admitted that some nights I find myself crying just giving Quinn a bath, watching him splash and giggle and play with his plastic bath toys. Our lives are so fragile. And then I try to push that fear aside, to let it allow me to appreciate each moment with him even more than I might have before cancer.

In the Good Housekeeping article, Michael J. Fox explained his motto this way: if you know a bus is closing in on you as you stand in the middle of the road, there's still a lot of space to fill between where you are and the moment that bus hits you. In other words, don't act like you've been hit by the bus until it happens.

I'm two and a half months out from chemo now. My hair is returning, slowly. Life goes on, and yet, the axle around which my life spins has been knocked off-kilter. I'm trying to find my new center of gravity, and it's a strange, unbalanced space to occupy. I no longer feel like that bus is closing in on me. And although there are no guarantees in this life, between now and when that bus does someday hit, I have a lot of enjoying my days to get to.