Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cilantro Shake the how & the why


Sarma's Cilantro Shake Ingredients

  • Pink Grapefruit
  • Cucumber
  • Cilantro
  • Lime
  • Pineapple
  • Agave Nectar or stevia
  • Vanilla Extract
  • BIG pinch of Cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

In a blender, (Vitamix if you have one) throw a pink peeled grapefruit, peeled cucumber, lots and lots and lots of cilantro - like half a bunch, a lime, some pineapple, agave nectar or stevia, vanilla extract, BIG pinch of cinnamon, and pinch of salt.

More Love for Cilantro
Free radicals are everywhere - in the water we drink, food we eat, and in the air we breathe. The main defense to free radicals (coming from pollution, x-rays, radiation, chemicals, heavy metals) are antioxidants. Cilantro leaves are rich in calcium, iron, carotenes, and vitamin C, which it happens are great antioxidants. A Japanese investigator, Yoshiaki Omura, has made the revolutionary discovery that cilantro can mobilize mercury and other toxic metals from the central nervous system if large enough amounts are consumed daily. Reuters reports that cilantro contains a chemical which has been found to kill the Salmonella bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

The heavy metal detox capabilities of cilantro should also make it of great use in the treatment of depression, Alzheimer's disease, lack of concentration and other related disorders. In other words, this herb can apparently help to keep you happy, focused, and sane!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Raw food products taste testing

I can’t wait to get my Charlie Trotter & Roxanne Klein “Raw” cookbook! I’m getting bored already with the strict raw/ juicing.
Last night I went to the Glendale Whole Foods Market to find Hemp milk & found a couple of previously unknown items to try.
I was somewhat put off because most of the raw/organic/ gluten-free/ vegan/ live products on the shelves weren’t very colorful. Lots of neutral browns.
I guess I have been eating lots of colorful food.

I bought the Hemp Bliss milk (Manitoba Harvest), because I have been dreaming up a couple of raw recipes of my own and I need a creamy texture. I miss cheese.
As soon as I poured the hemp milk into a glass, I was disappointed. Beige.
The texture was not creamy; it was pretty light almost like water, but not bad. The flavor, which the label described as “improved” was nothing to even write about. I’m not impressed and I won’t be drinking this by the glass. I could taste a hemp seed flavor, but it tasted a little stale. It’s really, really good for you though.
After yoga this morning, I tried it with the Sprouted Cinnamon Cereal (Lydia’s Organics), which is a bunch of shades of beige and light brown. The Hemp Bliss provided a liquid that matched the colors in the cereal and just the slightest hint of stale hemp seed.
The cereal had a nice crunchy texture that I immediately loved after all the juice. The flavor was nutty, but pretty bland, even though the label said there was cinnamon in there. I added cinnamon and made the whole thing so much better.
I’m thinking next time to add berries, more berries than cereal.

Later, I’m planning to make a sprouted black bean & corn salad. I’ll write the recipe and share it if it’s any good.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Feeling clean, really clean

Detoxing is pretty enlightening. I've done shorter detoxes before, feeling that like everything else my body needs to be deep cleaned every so often.

Obviously I don't live like this all the time - I am not a person who keeps her house spotless all the time, either!

Some of the noticeable changes:

  • As mentioned in previous posts, I have lots of energy.
  • My joints are more flexible.
  • My senses seem sharper. My already acute sense of smell is even better, which is not always a good thing.
  • I can read without my glasses.
  • My skin looks clearer, brighter & the little capillaries in my face are smaller and lighter.
  • There is no redness in my eyes.
  • I’m not having any wild mood swings.
  • I’m pooping about an hour after every meal, just like a new puppy. So yeah, feeling really clean inside.
  • My waist is getting smaller & I am finally seeing muscle definition on my abs & arms.
  • Best for last: I think the tumor is shrinking. I never did buy calipers to measure it exactly, but I have been feeling it everyday since I found it. I visualize several times a day the moment when I feel for it and can’t feel it.

Do not let either the medical authorities or the politicians mislead you. Find out what the facts are, and make your own decisions about how to live a happy life and how to work for a better world.
Linus Pauling, two time Nobel laureate (Chemistry and Peace)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Week three of the detox

I feel really good, lots of energy, which kind of goes against conventional wisdom, considering I am eating nothing! I miss meat. Damon made a steak last night and it smelled amazing.I got over the sugar a week ago, but now I am craving meat!

I have to keep repeating my mantra, “Consider the alternative.”
I can’t say for sure, but I think the tumor has shrunk. I can say for sure that I have shrunk. Two inches off my waist since I started three weeks ago. My amazing pilates teacher is noticing how much more pliable I am as a result of getting the toxins out.

Here is a taste of what I’m doing on a daily basis:

THE FOOD PROGRAM (From Dr. Richard Schultze’s Incureables program)

Drink at least one gallon of liquid a day. That's eight 16-ounce servings. Liquids should only be distilled or purified water, D-tox Tea, herbal teas (non-caffeine) and organic fruit and organic vegetable juices.

Second option; consume only 100% organic (Vegan) Vegetarian raw food and organic fruit and vegetable juice. Raw means no cooked food. This includes all vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, and soaked and sprouted beans and grains. Try to eat fresh organic produce that is grown locally and in season. If you choose to eat raw food you must take at least one day a week and juice fast.

Everybody must consume a combination of at least 8 to 16 ounces of fresh organic carrot, apple and parsley juice daily.

Absolutely NO animal flesh, eggs, milk or milk products (cheese, yogurt, butter). No cooked foods (bread, pasta, baked potatoes, tofu, etc.) NO alcohol, coffee, black tea or sugar.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oficially no longer depressed!

It's a little tough to change from eating the way I usually do and drinking wine with dinner, but the alternative is my incentive.

It sucked enough hearing the diagnosis, but the "plan" was even worse because I know about the side effects. The proposed plan goes something like this: surgery to remove the tumor and a good sized margin of healthy tissue around it, (which would then require removal of the implant for lack of skin) followed by radiation 5 times a week for six weeks. I am unclear about how long I would have to wait and heal before reconstruction.
I am feeling like the kid from Minnesota. I really don't want to take the poison.

Reconstruction sounds mighty complicated, as well.
The Latissimus Dorsi Flap procedure, involves an oval section of skin, fat, and latissimus dorsi muscle being detached and slid around through a tunnel under the skin to the breast area. Blood vessels remain attached whenever possible. The tissue is shaped into a natural-looking breast and sewn into place. If blood vessels have been cut, they are reattached by microscopic surgery to blood vessels in the chest area.
Latissimus dorsi muscle swung forward to create a new breast.

Many breast surgeons like this procedure because the flap is easily slipped around front, through a short tunnel in the skin, and put into position. Generally this procedure produces excellent results with few complications. However, the skin on your back has a different color and texture than breast skin. Also, removing the latissimus dorsi results in some back asymmetry (unevenness in the appearance of your back). Usually, though, back function and strength aren't affected.

New statistical prognoisis: 50% chance of recurrence.
I asked Dr. Funk (who I love, if you couldn't already tell) "What if I do nothing at all?"
She said I would have 5 -10 years good years then start feeling some pain after the cancer had spread to my bones.
No offense to mathematicians and doctors, but Damon & I both feel the percentages the doctors quote are all bullshit anyway. Quoting numerical statistics doesn’t take into account individual unique circumstances, or the patient taking action to fight the cancer. After all, the radical mastectomies were supposed to be a 92% guarantee against recurrence.
I am going to stick to this natural plan for 3 months (I did this for 1 month in 2002 and shrunk my tumor by 1/2) and see what I can do to the tumor. I am strong willed and believe my body is resilient.

Quite frankly, I think 10 good years sounds better than a year of hell followed by permanent, irreversible side effects including but not limited to: the fleecing of our finances, lymphadema, scarring, moving muscles and skin from my back to my front (to reconstruct for the second time). That's like replacing a front quarter panel with a tail fin on a 1961 Cadillac.

I feel really good. I do not plan on going anywhere, at least until my suite in hell is ready.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I feel great

Since we got the news that the lump is cancer, everyone asks me how I’m feeling.
I feel great.
It makes no sense to me that I have a disease, but I feel fine. I feel like a fraud because I feel so good and have told everybody I have cancer. In fact, I may actually be in denial myself. Unless I feel for the lump, I really don’t feel any symptoms.
If there is an adverse effect to report it's mental. I feel compelled to read about cancer, cancer treatments, what happens in advanced stages. It can be intensely depressing. One of these days I will get tired of it and read a novel.

There are fatalistic thoughts hanging around in my consciousness as well, “Maybe I should write myself one of those convenience checks the credit card company sends me every month”.
Until I was diagnosed in 2002, I never, ever thought about my mortality except to think that for all the adventures I’ve had, I ought to be dead already. Since that cancer diagnosis happened though, I am constantly aware of my mortality.
I recently saw a Sundance show with Quentin Tarantino, who said he’d always felt invincible because he knew there was something he was supposed to do in his time on this Earth. He did lots of crazy things, knowing he wouldn’t die until he’d done what ever that was he was put here to do. He said he began to think he was mortal again after ‘Reservoir Dogs’.

In reading about cancer symptoms, it seems most of the symptoms come from the tumor growing and pressing on nearby organs or nerves, sometimes the tumor releases toxins that produce feelings of tiredness or sickness. Since my tumor is pressing only on a silicone implant and my skin, which because of the mastectomy really has no sensation, as you know it, I don’t feel any discomfort. The rosebud tattoos I got where my nipples used to be were truly the first painless tattoos I’ve ever received!

Doing the detox and the supplements is really giving me an energy boost. I got up two hours earlier than usual this morning and did yoga! The difficulty comes in social situations. I had to say “no” to a dear friend’s birthday celebration, because I know myself well enough to know I can’t just say no. I love a good cocktail or five with friends.
I am happy enough eating raw fruits and veggies, but I have no will power when Damon cooks. Fine food and wine have been a big pleasure in my life, a big part of what drew me to my husband & I feel angry sometimes that cancer is having me choose to change my lifestyle.
I keep telling myself that this drastic change is only for three months, but in the back of my head, I know this may be a more permanent thing. This is a choice I am making myself.

Choice A. Helplessly submitting to the best that modern medicine has to offer- and I do mean submitting, from what I’ve seen those treatments are torture.

Choice B.
Taking my life into my own hands and feeling powerful and proactive – the fact that natural therapy doesn’t hurt is a big plus, too. I’m a total wuss.

No matter what, I always feel grateful to have such wonderful friends and family who understand why I am not going out for cocktails. I appreciate when friends ask how I’m doing; it lets me know they care. I am most appreciative when my friends & family get the non-verbal cues that I just don’t want to talk about it today and back off. It takes a lot to deal with a cancer diagnosis and it isn’t going anywhere right away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why cleanse the liver?


As I type this I am drinking Dr. Schulze's Detox tea. Mmmmm, tastes like dirt. I successfully shrank my tumor in 2002 to 1/2 its size before the lumpectomy, and I am determined to shrink this one. I am not opposed to surgically removing the cancer, but I really want to make the whole process less complicated.

I have been following the story of the Minnesota family who prefer natural therapy to chemo. The news media tells part of the story, I feel sorry for the parents who are being painted as religious fanatical child abusers. The family has recently hired a lawyer to speak to the media for them, which is likely a good thing, since being in a heightened emotional state never helps anybody speak to the press. Attorney Calvin P. Johnson, issued a statement "by way of clarification and hopefully to aid your understanding of the procedural nuances in the Danny Hauser case."
  • The first and foremost important principle is: It is a violation of spiritual law to invade the consciousness of another without their consent.
  • This is a case of Love vs. Power. Love gives. Power takes.
  • The state does not have a right to take.
  • A parent's love and affection is a positive social right we all share.
  • The court compelled Colleen Hauser to make a decision between three chemotherapy providers. Apparently, she didn't like the list.
  • The court was forcing her to decide.
  • The decision for treatment cannot be forced.
  • Anthony and Colleen Hauser share Danny's viewpoint: They do not approve of chemotherapy. Under the circumstances of this case, chemotherapy constitutes assault and torture when given to a young man who believes that it will kill him.

I know we don’t understand the whole story, but I believe Colleen Hauser does want to cure her son; she just doesn’t want to use conventional methods. If you’ve ever spent any time around someone undergoing chemotherapy, you will understand exactly why the Hausers are so against it. I would hate to watch my child suffer the treatment. The clincher for me is that there is no cure for cancer at this time. If chemo were a 100% cure, then it would be worth it. My personal feeling is that it is barbaric to pump poison into a person who is already battling a disease.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This story is all about choices

I feel strongly that we ought to have choices in our medical care, for one Minnesota family, the court is taking away those choices.

Those choices should include alternative treatments if we so choose. Especially when medical treatments are so outrageously expensive.

Minnesota boy who refuses chemo says he’ll fight doctors

Restraints might be used on 13-year-old
MINNEAPOLIS – A 13-year-old boy’s vow to resist chemotherapy by punching or kicking anyone who tries to force it on him will present doctors with a tough task if they can’t change his mind.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Feels good to be out of that funk!

Thanks to my family and friends for hanging in there during the last week while I was feeling so dark and moody. I've been doing loads of research on breast cancer, survivors, alternative healing, and something started to really strike home with me.

Many of the women who had undergone the standard radiation and chemotherapy treatments looked a lot like my Aunt & sister did, like the life was being sucked right out of them. Even harder to take was that many of these photos were on tribute pages. On the other hand, just do an internet image search using words like “beat cancer, alternative, natural”, and you will see images of healthy looking people.

Saturday night, Andi Beltramo Shay, in town for a few days took me out to Planet RAW in Santa Monica for dinner and told me the inspiring story of her mother, who took her health into her own hands after her breast cancer returned after the conventional medicine "cure".

I’ve known Andi for a long time, she has inspired me over the years by being a fearless, independent woman who doesn’t give a damn what other people think about her. Andi was the first person to introduce me to Dr. Schultze’s book “There Are No Incurable Diseases”, when she herself found a lump in her breast. Andi did the detox program outlined in the book and her tumor began to shrink, and finally disappeared.

Over our raw, vegan dinner, she told me of her mother being diagnosed for the first time, being treated with chemotherapy, getting sick & losing her hair only to have the cancer come back again. During the second go around she did the radiation therapy, again getting sick and feeling the financial wallop.
She went back for so many surgeries (about 7 or 8) , the second time she had breast (and lymph node) cancer she received radiation treatment and it turned out that the technician was applying it to the wrong area! Andi's Mother tried to correct him by telling him that his was applying
it incorrectly, but he just snapped at her, saying that he knew what he was doing.
After that horror she decided to go the alternative healing route, which was obviously a success as she had been given four months to live.
She began to read everything she got her hands on about manifesting health by changing diet. She changed her diet, put herself on a pretty intense regimen and in time went back to her doctors who thought she’d been treated by another medical facility. Her doctors were astounded when she told them she’d healed herself. Her cancer was gone! That was in the early nineties and she is still alive today.
Choosing to go outside the conventional treatment box may take more courage than blindly following doctors’ orders in that doing so demands faith in your own ability to heal and taking responsibility for your health. I have begun to realize that our culture has us trained to do exactly the opposite of taking responsibility. We look to doctors to cure us, we look to politicians to pass laws to protect us, and we look to lawyers to sue tobacco companies when we get cancer from smoking. I am not in any way advocating blaming the people who are sick, I am advocating we start looking at the ways in which we can empower ourselves to really thrive.
I am not saying we should not use conventional medicine, I am saying we shouldn’t rule out alternative or Eastern medicine just because the industry that makes money off our disease says so.

Throughout my life, I have made a point to listen to my inner voice. The times when I didn’t I was sorry. Last week when I was thinking abut the course of treatment outlined by my doctor, my inner voice was screaming at me not to take the poison treatment. I’m not finished researching and asking questions, but I have already started Dr. Schultze’s program, it can’t hurt, and I feel that is the most positive distinction. Herbal, nutritional and Eastern medicine doesn’t hurt.

Barb & I at Revlon Run/WalkLA

I am so lucky to have a sister like Barb! The Revlon event was truly inspiring to witness.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Barb, Anne, Mike & Chris at the Revlon Run/ Walk

Saturday, May 9, my sister Barb, her friends Anne, Mike & Chris walked in the 16th Annual Entertainment Industry Foundation REVLON Run/Walk for Women Los Angeles.
The Shadow & I went downtown to meet up with them and get some photos. Having lived and worked in Downtown Los Angeles, I knew where to find free parking.
Car parked and locked, Shadow & I headed to where the streets were blocked off. Two blocks away, my eyes began to tear up at the sight of the estimated 50,000 participants from all walks of life, united by the common dream of finding a cure for women’s cancers.
Barb & I had earlier agreed to keep in touch by mobile phone, so I called to see where they were on the route, then I walked up to the corner of McClintock and Jefferson to intercept them and get some shots.

The Revlon Run/Walk is Los Angeles’ biggest fundraiser for women’s cancers – distributing nearly $55 million over the past 15 years.

I saw so many people carrying signs or wearing shirts commemorating the lives of their beloved mothers, sisters, aunts and friends lost to women's cancers. Barb wore her Bowling For Boobies 2008 t shirt and had printed some cards with the BUSTED Foundation website to pass out to other participants. I hope one day the BUSTED foundation fundraising events will grow to such a grand scale!

My sister Barb will be wearing this sign at the REVLON run/walk

The top photos are of my Godmother Isabel and my youngest sister Beverly who died at 36.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Full Moon

My moods have been all over the place this week, but then I am a Moonchild and we are notoriously temperamental. The full Moon never fails to light up my soul, and so after the stressful week of tests and thinking way too much about what amount of slicing and dicing I want to let the doctors do to me, I decided to take The Shadow (also born under the sign of the Moon) for a really long walk.
We walked down our usual streets around our house and then kept walking sunset becoming twilight and then the glorious full Moon rising. We discovered some really cool pockets of architecture from 1930’s California bungalows to Spanish style stucco to really dilapidated Craftsmen complete with bars over the windows to the quietly upscale homes around the Occidental campus.
The evening was so warm, with a light breeze carrying the smells of the ‘hood, carne asada, marijuana smoke, Jasmine flowers, it reminded me of the years I lived in San Francisco’s Mission District – except the sidewalk didn’t smell like pee.
The warm weather brings everybody out, the diversity that is Eagle Rock, runners, people dining on MIA Sushi’s patio, guys hanging out in front of Evil Or Sacred Tattoos, smokers burning cigarettes in front of Barrio Fiesta, teenagers rolling down the sidewalk, one on a skateboard, one pushing a shopping cart with another one in the cart, sports fans yelling at the flat screen at The Bucket, me & my Shadow.

The shitty mood I’ve been nursing all week was washed away by the life all around, the full Moon and I started to think everything would be OK no matter what comes. I’ve been feeling like I have to hurry up and make some decisions about treating this cancer and feeling so conflicted. There are some things I really want to do in the coming months that surgery, radiation or a combination will totally get in the way of.
Tonight I decided I should allow myself a little slack and take my time. I plan to have some more conversation with my doctors, to continue the Dr. Schultze detox and nutrition and most importantly, I will keep a positive outlook. The walk filled me with love for the beauty that is life and reminded me that I am not alone, plenty of other people have their own battles, and it’s part of life. I have been focusing too much on my inner turmoil, twisting my gut into a knot about a future that doesn’t even exist except in my mind.

The Shadow is having a nap on the cool tile floor at my feet. In this moment I am really happy and what more can I ask for? I most likely will have more anger that I have to deal with cancer again and I will probably feel sorry for myself again, but right now life is beautiful.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This is the machine I was in

To the left is a 3D image from the CD I got today from the MRI technicians at Cedars Sinai. Weird to think that is my body. Not being a radiologist, I can't read anything into the pictures, but I do appreciate the technology. Images in the viewer can be rotated and manipulated in what seems like endless combinations.

Since I can't see the troublesome tumor, I decided to play with the pretty pictures.
Tomorrow I have an early appointment for a body scan. Dr. Applebaum assured me it won’t be as confining as the MRI, but the photos I’ve seen online certainly look like the same metal tube.
The last few days have had me feeling angry and somewhat in denial of what I have to deal with here. I guess I am starting to accept the reality as what it is, and I don’t feel as bad. I had a great conversation with someone early today who told me not to even worry about the cancer, because the end of the world is coming in two years. A reminder that life is a delicate thing, anything can happen at any time to completely shake up our notions of safety and security.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

MRI Wednesday

I'll be going to the S. Mark Taper Imaging Center for a breast MRI. I had this same procedure in 2004 before the mastectomies. At the time I had no idea really of what to expect. Having been previously very healthy, my fear of hospitals and test procedures was because it was all so foreign to me. The experience I’d had with hospitals and specifically cancer treatments were centered on my Godmother and little sister who both died of breast cancer after lots of treatment and in the case of my Godmother, a long battle with breast cancer.

I recall the MRI was scheduled early morning, not my best time of day anyway. I had no idea how small the tube is that they put you in for the test. I remember laughing because I was told to lie face down on the table, and the attendant put 2 coffee filters (that’s what they looked like to me) in the depressions that allow the breasts to hang down.

Breast imaging is very sensitive to motion. I was told even the slightest movement could cause errors, and that I should make myself comfortable and lay motionless for the approximately 60 minutes. The technician added to my fears when she told me how to signal her if I needed to come out right away in case I felt my tattoos burning. Apparently, some older components of tattoo inks could be pulled out of the skin by the magnet!
I lay down on the table as instructed and the attendant slid the table into the tube. I thought of the sickbay aboard the Starship Enterprise and wished the technician could just wave a Tricorder over me and I would be healed. My husband sat outside the tube, but I couldn’t see him for the bright light shining in. I felt terrified and claustrophobic, trying to relax and be still while crying my eyes out. I didn’t feel anything, but heard thumping noises that seemed to surround me and grew increasingly loud. I lay there crying for what seemed like the longest hour of my life.
I think the only way I was able to keep still was the idea that I’d have to do the whole thing over again if the image was blurred. I felt completely drained after I got up from that table, but no so much that I didn’t notice the valves nearby labeled N2O (Nitrous Oxide).
I’m not so terrified this time, I know what to expect and I asked my Dr. for some Valium to take before I go in. I know it will be uncomfortable, I still get claustrophobic even in an elevator, but I’m anxious to get the tests done.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Culture of fear

I want to show my appreciation to everyone who voiced concerns about my decision to post the information about my cancer. While I appreciate your concern, I was careful not to post the pages containing any more information about me than you can already find on the internet. My patient number is not my social security number. The numbers are blurred now just to ease your minds.

That we live in a culture of fear is undeniable. Turn on any news program and you are being fed more reasons to be afraid of the world you live in. Personally, I feel this is a shame. I would much rather focus on the beauty of the experiences this world has to offer than the danger. If I lived in fear, I would not be able to function at all. I would have missed out on many of the most incredible learning experiences of my life and I would be totally freaking out right now, thinking about what I have to do in the near future to deal with this disease.

We know the chemicals the body produces in response to fear can be toxic, especially in prolonged doses. Panic, hysteria and shutting oneself off from the world is just not the way I want to live. I have had people tell me I am courageous. I don’t feel particularly courageous; I just don’t want to close off the possibility of life. I know I have a limited time to be here and I want to make the most of it. I know I can’t do that by hiding in my house or panicking or crying.
I have chosen not to take the safest road through my life, and as a result have had many exciting and colorful experiences, I'd never ever trade for a safety net.
I am creating this blog to share my experiences and emotions around dealing with cancer and the medical establishment. I hope to give someone else who is beginning her own journey an idea of what to expect, what possibilities are available and some of these blogs will simply be me venting.
I know the feeling of helplessness that occurs when one is presented with the news that someone you know has cancer. You want to do something, but there really isn’t much you can do. Please know that I appreciate it and if I do need something you will most likely read about it here. Know also that I am not afraid of my identity being stolen. Like a cancer diagnosis, if that were to happen, I would take whatever steps necessary to deal with the situation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's cancer

I want to chill out and look at all my options for KILLING the cancer. WTF? I did a pretty radical treatment already, which was supposed to leave me with only 8% - 10% chance of recurrence.
I'm pretty pissed off about the recurrence and somewhat resigned to think cancer is the way I am supposed to die. Maybe I should not mess with Mother Nature.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'll know if it's cancer tomorrow

Dr. Funk did a needle biopsy today, She took two core samples (the size of a grain of rice each) of the mass and we looked at it on the ultrasound. I have to go back at 4.45 tomorrow to see what the lab said.
I was more nervous about the needle biopsy procedure than getting the results. It's the whole getting poked with needles thing. I am so squeamish.
I can get tattooed for hours, but poke me with a big fat needle and I get all queasy.
I couldn't eat today because of my nerves, so tonight I was starving, so Damon took me out for a porno burrito. I was able to eat 1/3 of it and I am as stuffed as a tortilla at El Atacor #11. Ghetto comfort food.

Once you've had cancer, it's always looming

The first entry in this blog goes into some detail about my experiences and emotions around the time of my first breast cancer diagnosis and the surgeries that followed. Those things are much easier for me to write about than the financial hit that takes even longer to recover from. For me personally, there are a lot of intense feelings surrounding my ability to take care of my responsibilities.
Coming off the pain medication after those surgeries felt like swimming up from deep murky water, the light got brighter and reality became sharper. When I saw the medical bills piling up, I really wanted to dive back down into those comfortable Percocet depths.

I have a great deal of fear and shame around not being able to pay my own way in the world. I’ve always had immense pride about my credit rating, always paid bills as soon as they landed in my mailbox. I never wanted to depend on anyone else to help me make ends meet, more the opposite, I was proud to be able to give a hand up to someone else who might need it.
Of all the things I had to confront in facing my cancer (my mortality, the disfiguring surgery) the hardest by far was facing the fact that I would have to reach out for help financially. I had to admit to myself and then to the world that I was not capable of taking care of my own medical responsibilities. This is still very challenging for me to admit, it has taken me about an hour, four espressos, and a couple of procrastination breaks to write this down.

At the time of my diagnosis, my husband and I were planning our wedding and had been saving toward a down payment on a house. Saving money is something I like to do and something I have always been good at. Saving toward what is likely the single biggest purchase of one’s life takes time, but I am patient.

I had to put my plans on hold and turn my attention to driving to Cedars Sinai for doctor visits, around town for consultations, phone calls to my insurance company to verify coverage and I also wrote a living will. I did what needed to be done to remove the cancer, and I felt proactive, involved and positive for the most part.
I am a control oriented person and I felt within my comfort zone after lots of research, I felt I knew more than I ever wanted to about breast cancer and the treatment options. I found excellent doctors, and I was feeling optimistic about the potential outcome.
Until the medical bills were more than I could pay with what my husband and I had in our checking accounts, more than what we had left over after household bills, until we had to look at each other and decide to use our savings, until even that was not enough. I hadn’t thought death would be an easier choice until I saw how incredibly quickly all of our money was spent. Death looked like a real option when I had to pay for groceries on a credit card because there was no money left in our checking account. I felt like a burden on my husband and friends and I felt ashamed and like I was somehow not good enough because I didn’t have the money to pay for my medical treatment. I felt like I was foolish for choosing medical care beyond my means, as if truly excellent care is a privilege that I did not deserve.

Six years later, I am glad to have made the choices in care that I did, happy to be well and so immeasurably grateful to have had the support network that I do. Still, six years later, my husband and I have not recovered from the financial hit. Our savings remains depleted and I have come to terms with the fact that we may never own a house.
Time has passed, my life has gone on and while I am happier than ever, a dark cloud looms in the distance of my consciousness. Until I had a cancer diagnosis, my yearly check ups were a routine. Now, I wait with a knot in my gut for a call a week after the checkup. The call where the nurse tells me that I have to come in to discuss the test results. They will never tell you over the phone that some thing looks suspicious, but they might as well. Being told that you have to come in to talk about the results is never a good sign.

Last night I attended a dinner at my husband’s restaurant, five courses paired with five outstanding wines from the Barnett Vineyards in Napa. I slept only about four hours because this afternoon I will go to Dr. Kristi Funk’s new Pink Lotus Breast Center for a needle biopsy on a new lump in my reconstructed left breast. The familiar nervous feeling in my stomach will likely be with me until next week when all the test results are in.

Life looks more beautiful, wine tastes more delicious, and love feels more precious from my perspective. I am well aware of the tenuous nature of life. I am one positive biopsy, one strange new lump, one mutated cell away from plunging back in to the deep murky waters of surgeries, pain meds and medical bills. Cancer often comes back.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Go-Go's covered this great Rolling Stones song .

I have the honor to count among my very best friends Jane Wiedlin, one of The Go-Go's. When I was recovering form the double mastectomies, Jane was living in Costa Rica, but she came to stay with me and be my nurse, Jane occupies a really special place in my heart.
Last night I drove Miss Jane down to The Grove in Anahiem and hung out to watch the show. I have been in a reflective mood lately, for many reasons. Standing backstage watching the performance, I looked at the crowd of people dancing and singing along, clearly enjoying all that the Go-Go's bring to a live performance, and it struck me that we had somehow transformed from baby fat and punk rock to middle age!
I realize everyone struggles at times with the idea of growing old, and I had to bust out laughing when the Go-Go's closed the show with their cover of The Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper".
Later in the dressing room I asked who's brilliant idea it was to close with that song, but I didn't get an answer.
The opening line "What a drag it is getting old..." was one example of the Go-Go's still speaking with humor for their generation and in that moment all of us in that room were united.
Part of why I am writing this blog is so that someone else may see that she is not alone in her yo-yoing emotions during and after cancer.
All living things age and die, so in this particular moment of ennui, I remind myself to celebrate the life I have.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another Doctor I became interested in

After the lumpectomy in 2002, I began to read about alternative treatments in addition to the generally accepted medical course. Specifically, I became interested in the role of vitamins and nutrition in healing my body.
I read "There Are No Incurable Diseases" by Dr. Richard Schulze, I decided I would try some of Dr. Schulze's detox programs, since they focus on getting more high quality vitamins into your system. I want to stress I did this in addition to the standard medical treatment and surgery I was getting from Dr. Funk and Dr. Aronowitz.
The program was not difficult. The most labor intensive aspect is the amount of fresh vegetables and fruits to be juiced every day. Bottled juices are not acceptable and juicing right before you drink is preferable.
I love the taste of fresh juices, so the only problem I really encountered had to do with breaking my sugar and fat cravings, but after about three days, I noticed a pretty dramatic increase in my energy and mood. After only two weeks, other people were commenting to me about the glow in my skin. I was feeling really good, which was important considering the fear I was facing on a daily basis.
I continued to get a lot of fresh juices into my diet even after I had completed the detox cleanse and I honestly feel I healed faster after the much more invasive and dramatic mastectomies than I did after the lumpectomy.
Six years later, I still use my juicer regularly and make sure I do a detox cleanse once a year.
I use a Waring extraction juicer I bought for around $60.00 at Costco. I really like it. It easily juiced just about everything, with the exception of wheatgrass. I also got a Citrus attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer since I really, really love citrus juice. I'm not pitching these products, just telling you what I used and what works well for me.

Some history

On Friday May 2nd, 2003, I was diagnosed with intraductal and infiltrating duct carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. Two weeks later I walked in to Cedars Sinai to have the tumor removed. It was terrifying. More terrifying than being South of Market during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. I’ve lived an adventurous life, daring far from the safe and narrow, but one unexplored area remained, the surgery, medical procedure, hospital experience. Couple the unknown with the loss of my younger sister Beverly and dearly loved Godmother , Aunt Isabel a few years prior, both from breast cancer. My unease with the available treatments magnified by having seen my sister and aunt fighting valiantly till their deaths, suffering slowly, watching helplessly as they faded from once vital women to small gray, skeletal bedridden creatures.

And now it was my turn. On June 2nd, I checked in to the Cedars Sinai breast center in Los Angeles, I had family members with me but they were told they’d have to wait while I was prepped for surgery. I put on the hospital gown, having left my jewelry behind as instructed, got onto the rolling bed in a large, very cold room with several other beds, separated by a curtain. I knew there were other people in the room, patients and attendants, yet I felt profoundly alone. I was crying, I prayed, surprised I still remembered the Hail Marys from my childhood. Lying there, freezing in my thin cotton hospital gown, with a sheet to cover me, needles in my arm, I stared at the ceiling, asking myself why I needed to go through this. It’s not as if I need to come out stronger. I’m already strong. Did I somehow need to test my strength? May be it was nothing spiritual at all, but simply my genetic code, my body a biological organism simply running it’s program.

The anesthesiologist came to turn on the drugs that would suppress my consciousness, and I could feel myself slipping into a blank, flat, cold sleep.

I only vaguely remember coming to, everything was fuzzy and I no longer felt the cold. I felt heavy and slow, as if I were under a thick gel. I knew I’d made it through the operation. My sister Barb was there, I was so glad to see her. My feeling of vulnerability at that moment was prevalent and having her there was comforting. Barb gave me a feeling of security when I needed it like never before. Small actions can make a huge difference. I felt weak, it was hard to move, I wasn’t aware yet of pain. My sister helped me get into my own pajamas and I was wheeled out to the car in a wheelchair. Even in my drugged state I noticed a dramatic change in the woman who’d walked into these same doors 2 hours earlier.

I remember being in the car, being driven home, I remember them talking to me, but it seemed like I was in a tunnel, I couldn’t see properly, and the conversation had an echoey faraway quality. Finally I was relieved to be home in my own bed, and I thought I was holding my own in the conversation, but was told my speech was slow and slurred. I have no idea how long I was home before I became aware of the pain, but it made itself known. It was intense, internal, hot. I didn’t like the Vicodin haze, but it did take away the pain, so I continued to take the pills. The next week is really hazy, coming off the anesthesia and taking Vicodin every 4 hours. I slept a lot. I felt restless, but unable to focus from the drugs, so I’d let it wear off to see if the pain was bearable so I could read or write or something, anything, but the pain was still there and still too intense, and then I’d have to wait for the drugs to take effect. I tried that several times before I finally hit a time when it was not so bad.

I couldn’t wait to get back to my life that was going so well, that I loved so much.

The bills began to arrive, from 10 different entities, my surgeon, her assistant (whom I’d never even met, and who I learned was not a preferred provider for my health plan), the anesthesiologist, the hospital, radiology, the lab, you name it, they’re billing me. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the adversarial relationship between hospitals, doctors and the insurance company, I learned that there are many necessary procedures that the insurance company won’t pay for, leaving the patient holding the bag after the fact, I learned that my deductible which on paper is $2,500.00 per year, is actually a $5,000.00 per year maximum out of pocket expense. My 2 hour procedure cost $35,000.00.

I was glad I had kept my insurance, which I'd had for over 10 years. I'd never had occasion to use it and had been thinking it was a huge waste of money, only a month before, I'd considered dropping it. I put one of my two cars up for sale, cashed in my U.S. Treasury bonds, left to me by my aunt, and began to dip into the savings account I’d started with my new husband towards a down payment on our first house.

On November 19, 2003, a breast MRI caught a some suspicious looking areas in my left breast and one just beneath the surface of my right nipple. The cancer profile was filled in by a PET scan, mammogram and ultrasound. I met with Dr. Kristi Funk (my surgeon), and consulted 2 other doctors to decide what would be the the best course of action to take. We decided the radical bilateral mastectomy would be the best plan to avoid future recurrence. Dr. Funk described the skin-sparing mastectomy, where she would cut a circle around my aureola to remove my nipples, and then make a line straight down from the center of the nipple, opening up the skin to remove all the breast tissue, ducts and every thing. Since I had opted out of radiation treatment, and would have a procedure known as a skin-sparing mastectomy, I would be able to have a reconstruction right away - performed immediately by Dr. Joel Aronowitz. I am grateful for that technology, because I think if I woke up and had only scars and pain where my breasts used to be I might not want to live. It’s not that I am defined by my breasts, or that I am my breasts, but that I was already feeling pretty depressed. I’ve prided myself on having a sparkling credit rating, on being a responsible person who pays her own way in the world. The tests I needed added more to my already daunting pile of debt, and now I would be adding to that another surgery. As a self employed individual, I pay my own health insurance premiums 100%, I have no paid sick leave or even vacation days. I felt as though I were running trying to catch up to where I’d left off in May, and falling farther and further behind. Then my insurance company sent me a letter to say not only would my premiums go up each month, but my maximum out of pocket deductible would be going from $5,000.00 to $7,500.00 in 2004. I felt my dreams of ever owning a home were gone, and I felt paralyzed by the fear of bankruptcy, and the confrontation with my own mortality.

I thought about spending the rest of my savings, maxing out my credit cards and doing all the things I have wanted to but didn’t have the opportunity yet, and then letting the cancer run it’s course and take my life.

I decided to fight this battle. I have so much life yet to live. My life is filled with love, treasured friends, some spanning more than 20 years, the cancer in my family has helped us mend bridges I thought were burned forever. Most days I’m not ready to wave goodbye.

Friends have stepped up to help in the fund raising effort, relatives have found strength we didn’t know was there, I’ve learned that I’m surrounded by women who’ve survived beast cancer and are in a position to and want to help me survive. I can feel the walls of cynicism falling away and I have hope for humanity. The caring, helping hand that you have outstretched to me has allowed me to shift my focus from my internal struggle, to focus outside myself, to the future.

The struggle is never over. Once cancer has entered your life it is always lurking. I have been inspired to reach out to other women and help them survive, navigate the confusing medical world and to raise money to help with the costs of simply moving on with life after cancer.

Let me remind you once again to do those things you’ve always wanted to do, to treasure your life, friends and family. Make sure they know you love them.

Call someone right now and tell them.