Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A new friend. a new inspiration: fighting inflammatory breast cancer

I had dinner last night with a woman who, according to all the statistics, should have been getting her meal through an IV at a Hospice center.
Instead, she was scooping up cheese and beef with tortilla chips from a platter shared with a friend at Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Ashley has inflammatory breast cancer, the deadliest of breast cancers and among the most deadly of all cancers.
She was diagnosed in May and, by then, it was already in her lungs, bones and liver.
She is married and has two children, a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old.
About the same time she was diagnosed, I'd had a scare.
A red circle, following the pattern of my veins on my breast, appeared out of nowhere.
My OB said that if it progressed any further at all, even the tiniest bit, he was sending me to an oncologist because it wasn't an infection and the only explanation he could find was inflammatory breast cancer.
The redness diminished with the help of Motrin and disappeared, thank God.
But in that short time, I'd done enough research to be scared when I met Ashely last night.
I'd learned that IBC generally appears as discoloration (red, pink, orange or general darkness) or irritation on the skin of the breast; spots that are warm top the touch; thickness of breast skin with an orange-peel-like texture; swelling of one breast; or nipple retraction. Sometimes, it's painful, but not always.
Most women simply figure it will go away.
By the time they see a doctor, it's too late.
"Stage doesn't matter with inflammatory breast cancer," Ashely said.
And it's true.
The disease spreads like wildfire. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer has spread so far that chances of survival are slim. About 40 percent of women with IBC survive five years, according to The American Cancer Society. That compares with 87 percent for all breast cancers combined.
Yet there she was.
Scooping cheese and beef with tortilla chips.
Laughing with friends, new and old.
Saved, so far, by research and awareness.
Ashely just finished round five of chemo. She has been drained of estrogen because this type of cancer feeds on it. She takes a drug that rebuilds her bone tissues as chemo destroys it. She will have her uterus and ovaries removed in a few weeks as a preventative measure.
A recent scan showed no discernible spots in her lungs. The masses in her liver and breasts had shrunk. They couldn't see the bone tissue because of the drug, but the doctors believe chemo is working on that too.
She's had a new scan on Wednesday and was still waiting for those results.
Ashley is living, and she is improving.
Against the odds.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Ashely and another friend, my neighbor Kristy, persuaded me to demand an MRI instead of a mammogram this next time around because of my extensive family history of breast cancer (My grandmother died of it and my mother and sister are survivors) and because of the fact that, so far, I've had two scares.
After meeting Ashley, I've decided I will do that.
Like I said, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But why wait.
Even just a few days.
I am going to take charge.
How about you?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Big Purple Mommy

For the past few months, I struggled to breathe.
I was under water and I'd lost my focus.
I couldn't find the surface and I was running out of air.
I was dying.
As a writer.
Okay, so maybe that's a little dramatic.
But that's how it felt.
Like the daily duties of life, the needs of everyone in my life, the needs of the household, mine own less glamorous needs (dental visits and doctor visits and a glass of red wine at the end of the night) were closing in around me.
Confusing me.
I had lost my focus.
I couldn't find my laptop.
I couldn't breathe.
I couldn't figure out how or when to write.
I thought maybe I was getting too old, wearing down, losing my creativity, losing my mind.
Then I saw it.
Sitting right there on the bookshelf in the basement across from my desk.
Big Purple Mommy by Coleen Hubbard.
And I remembered the last time Coleen Hubbard saved me from drowning.
We were living in Arizona.
My older kids were 18 months old and almost three.
I had written a few chapters of my novel, but not much.
I just couldn't seem to figure out how to write any more.
Somehow, I stumbled upon her book.
I read it and, a few days later, hired a sitter.
Two actually.
They were sisters (Thank you Andrea and Amanda!) and they insisted on coming together.
Two days a week for four hours a day, I sat in a study room in the local l library and wrote, finally completing the first draft within a few months.
I went back to teaching as an adjunct when I finished, something else I enjoyed, and I didn't worry about my writing. I knew it needed a rest, I knew I need some distance from my novel and I knew my creativity would come back.
We moved, we settled into our home in Cincinnati and I picked up the novel again a few years ago and revised it.
It felt good.
And it was all because of Coleen Hubbard's book.
Big Purple Mommy is all about balancing creativity and motherhood. She helped me realize, with lots of testimony from other creative moms, that I needed to, first, give myself a break when my kids were young, and second, make a huge effort to carve out time for creative work without guilt.
I did that and I was happy.
I began rereading the book again the other day.
And I found myself in its pages.
I'd lost my focus because the twins have stopped napping and because the twins are 2.5 years old. But time will pass, they will get older and they will be less demanding on a minute-by-minute basis. I will not lose my creativity during that time because stuff is always swirling in my head.
If anything, I might just mature as a writer because of it.
The twins will start going to a sitter three days a week for three hours each time next week.
I'll need some of that time to do ordinary things I can't do when they are around--clean, doctor appointments, run errands--but at least one of those days will be mine, all mine.
And I will write.
Thank you Coleen.
Thank you Big Purple Mommy.
For rescuing me again.