Thursday, December 29, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

I tumbled in.
Petticoat after pinafore after golden locks.
I tumbled in.

I am stuck in here now.
Down the rabbit hole.

I can't find my way out.
Do I nibble the mushroom?
Do I devour the mushroom?
Which is it?
Which way is out?

I am waiting again.
In limbo.
The clock ticks,
the hours pass,
I am nowhere.
Stuck in here.

I lost count of
what day it is,
no sense of
how many days
I've been stuck in here,
away from you.

Are you looking for me?
Can you hear me calling
from down here?

Everything turned upside down again.
A tea party on the ceiling.
Only six days away from moving on,
only six days away from rebuilding a body scarred and altered
by cancer.
Everything turned upside down again.

I wait.
Not for my planned date with a wizard with a scalpel,
and my grand return
as some new variation of me.
Once again,
life had other plans for me.
I've stood him up.

I wait.
For an MRI to confirm or rule out
some nasty problem in my neck,
that has me popping pain meds like mints,
in my bed,
not happy
or dreaming.

I tumbled into this hole,
and down down I go,
from home,

and you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Dear Reader,

I deeply thank you for your support, comments, encouragement, prayers and friendship.  This blog and all who visit here continues to bless me every day.

I hope your holiday was peaceful and meaningful, surrounded by the people you love.

And if you are a newbie, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, there there now Sister, there there now.

There is life after cancer,
there is hopefulness despite cancer,
love will always trump cancer.

Keep going.

Good is on its way.

God is near.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Duncle Dody

Uncle Jody and Me

There are moments, after losing a touchstone in your life, that you feel lost, as if even though you are right where you were, nothing seems familiar.

It was not that long ago I was enjoying Thanksgiving weekend, anticipating all of our usual traditions that weekend - turkey sandwiches, choosing a tree, fussing at Husband as he arranged the lights on the tree, and all of the excessive decorating of the house and yard.

I was looking forward to all the rituals of Christmas that are my favorites, like writing Christmas cards, baking peanut butter thumbprint cookies, tissue paper and wrapping paper and gift bags, setting up the nativity (I always kiss Baby Jesus) and sprinkling fake sparkling snow over "Snow World," our Christmas village.

You would think after Cancer Camp, I would not be surprised how your life can turn on a dime, but even when you realize how much is not in your control, there are still some things you can never really anticipate or prepare for, and they knock the wind out of you, and shake you out like the leaves on our now bare tree in the front yard.

On the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, I couldn't sleep, thinking about everything, my year of living dangerously, my year of living gratefully, all the angels and blessings in my life.  That night, which was early Sunday morning, I wrote a poem from my bed, and posted it here, all about "While There Is Time Left."  If there is anything this blog stands for, because there are many things, mostly I have hoped to wake you from your slumber, so you can be present and accounted for in your life, and love love love.

I did not know as I wrote that poem that my Duncle Dody was already gone, found earlier that day on the floor of his San Francisco flat, his reading glasses and yellow rubber clogs nearby, his beloved Dachsies standing guard.  He was already gone.  Although we had just chatted on Thanksgiving Day before I went to work, it was painful to realize that was our last conversation, the last time I would hear him say "I love you Deb" and I would say "I love you Duncle."

One day you're making lists and checking them twice, and the next day, you are claiming the body of somebody you really loved at the morgue.

These last weeks since his death have been difficult, grieving as well as the massive project of closing out his haven, which was filled beyond your imagination with all kinds of things he collected over the years.

It's hard real hard, closing a man's life for him, going through cupboards and drawers and files, handling things that were precious and mundane.  It's hard not to feel like a trespasser when you must go into the secret places.

My Uncle was a passionate collector, some might say a hoarder, and it's made me face my own tendencies to hold on to things, too many things, possessions and psychic baggage and  sometimes people that should have been let go of a long time ago. I hope you never have to clear out the home of some bunny you really loved, and yet it has been very sobering to me, another wake up call in a season of wake up calls that won't seem to end - Simplify, your treasures are your relationships, purge, recycle, donate, and only surround yourself with just a few of the things that you really really love. This is my new mantra - etched onto my heart now:

Let Go Debbie, Let Go, Love Hard, and Travel Light.

He was all kinds of things to me, the last story teller of my Mother's childhood, and a huge supporter of me and my blog.  He would often send me emails with not just a comment or two about one of my posts, but a whole letter applauding me for my candor and bravery and transparancy and humor.  He would often remark "Your Mama would be so proud of you, so proud of you.

He was a great great cheerleader to have on my team, and his late night phone calls, frequent emails and hysterical humor about my "tits" will be sorely missed.

As I get closer to my reconstruction surgery, only three weeks away now, it's hard for me to imagine him not being there, as I knew he would be every day, sneaking in chocolates.

There is a little girl, still inside me somewhere, who is running around all crazy and wild and wailing for my Duncle Dody, and I can't find him.

I know I am blessed in this blessed time of year, but it's very hard making Christmas with such a heavy heart.

I pray for lightness.

Joseph Jody Berke
September 27, 1944 – November 26, 2011

Jody Berke, dancer, singer, actor, choreographer and costumer has passed away at his home, with his beloved boys, two Dachsie’s, Guido and Vinnie, by his side.  

He began his theatrical career at the age of seven, as a singer-dancer on Johnny Olsen’s “Kids and Company”, and also made appearances on “Startime” with Connie Francis, and “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends.”  He often appeared with his sister Nancy, who was later known as a sought after performer in the nightclub circuit of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

In his late teens, Berke danced his way across the country as a cast member of the national tour of “Coco” with Katherine Hepburn.  He also toured with Carol Channing in the Broadway production of “Hello Dolly” for two and a half years.  Other Broadway cast credits include “Cabaret”, “Lil’ Abner” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

In between theatre jobs throughout the 1960’s, Berke worked in a variety of administrative jobs in theatre organizations such as the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers (SSDC).  In the 1970’s, Berke turned to theatrical costuming as a side profession and assisted designers in productions of “The Inquest,” “Child’s Play,” “Forty Carats,” and “George M.”  

He spent three summers in Paris during the mid-70’s designing costumes for the Burlington Mills TV campaign starring Petula Clark that featured dancers from the Lido and Folies Bergere in huge production numbers.

His film credits as a costumer include “Splash,” “Godfather II,” “Zelig,” “Table for Five,” “Paradise Alley,” “Star Trek VI,” “The Parent Trap,” “Rainmaker,” and “Forrest Gump.”  He also worked as a dresser on “Saturday Night Live,” and years later for several productions of the San Francisco Opera.

John Candy and Uncle Jody

Berke was born into a theatrical family.  His father, Joe “Whitey” Berke, was a musician and vocalist with his own trio.  His aunt, Emma Mascolo, was a booking agent with the Independent Booking Office out of New York.  His sister, Sandra Berke Jordan, was a well know film costumer in Hollywood and the former Business Agent for The Motion Picture Costumers’ Local 705.  His sister, Nancy Diane Charles, was a musician/vocalist.

Uncle Jody and my Mama, born only 13 months apart.

Affectionately known as “The Mayor of Linden Street,” Jody and his beloved Dachsies, Guido and Vinnie, lived in Hayes Valley for twenty years.  He lived his life with flare and style, and was an avid cook and collector of all things epicurean.  He had previously owned and operated a catering company and cooking school aptly named “Eatie Gourmet” and occasionally still catered many lovely parties.

Jody was a passionate and active volunteer for PAWS, SF and his local neighborhood association of Hayes Valley residents.  The “Boys,” as Jody called them, were featured in a PAWS photo shoot, and walked the runway as models in a PAWS fashion show.

He was a fixture in the Hayes, often seen about the neighborhood with the Boys in the basket of his bike, or being pulled in their wagon.  He was loved and talented, funny and generous, and will be greatly missed by all.

I love you Duncle.  Hit the road Jack. XOXOXO

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

56 Days

I am grieving, missing my beloved Duncle Dody, mentioned often here on the blog. I have lost my biggest cheerleader, and my favorite Uncle who was my favorite Aunt. I am writing a post for him, and in the midst of that, received a comment I could not let go by.

From sweet Kimberly, regarding her friend whose Mom just passed on Sunday, only 56 days after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

56 days.


Tell me Dear Reader,

what would you do differently tomorrow if you only had 56 days left?

What would you do with your 56 days?

Lord help me live every day, as if there were only 56 left.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

While There Is Time Left

While there is time left

Hold nothing back.
Give everything.
Lose everything.
To everything you love.

While there is time left
Say I'm sorry.
Say I love you.
Say you matter.
Say I need you.
Say I see you.

Take a deep breath,
The roses are blooming.
Pant in their sweetness
Till it fills your lungs.

Take a good look
The sun is rising.
Another perfect day
Given you.
Do not squander it.
Every step is precious.

Enough of your tinkering
And talking
And scheming.
Create it. Build it.
While there is time left.

Stand in the
Center of the storm,
And unchanged,
And even when
Your heart is breaking,

Stand in the wreckage
And the glory of your sacred life
and say

This is who I am.

While there is time left.

While there is time left.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Got This

I did something for me today.  I let go of something that was hurting me and did not serve.  I chose me.

This is no small thing and took me 53 years and a cancer diagnosis and treatment to get it, but I've got it now.

It's ok, stand back everybody, I got this.

I got this.

Life is too short to constantly second guess where you stand with somebody you really love, and it takes great courage in your life to let it go,

to make room for what really loves you and seeks you and needs you like air and water.

I cleared a space today.
I made room.
I stopped the chase for what eluded me.

I stand still and quiet, at peace, I'm not running anymore, I am still and open with arms outstretched.

I see the abundance and love all around me.  It washes over me, wave after wave.

I am so blessed.

I am so blessed to have been lead to this place.

I loved you,


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

11/22/11, The Year of Living Gratefully

That number sounds lucky, doesn't it?  It is lucky.  It's my birthday, and I'm here.

Did you know that when you tell people you would not give it back, not a day of fear, uncertainty, pain and grief, people look at you like you're crazy when you say you would not give it back.

That's where I am now.  What an amazing and blessed place to be.

Oh I'm crazy alright.  Crazy good.

I would not give it back.

I went from the Year of Living Dangerously, to the Year of Living Gratefully.

I would not give it back.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I would ever like to do it again, and I sure as hell would never wish it on you.

I'm just saying that who'd a thunk that God and the Universe would conspire to send me down a path that would change my life forever,

and send a thousand Angels and moments of grace that would completely change my heart and my mind about what happened to me.

Who'd a thunk I would ever say

I would not give it back.

It was a good day today, my 53rd birthday.

I made a wish as I blew out a single candle on a red velvet cupcake.

I don't even know where to begin to tell you all the things I am so grateful for, and all the Angels on my path who mean so much to me,

so let me just say

today and everyday,

I am grateful




Monday, November 14, 2011

It's Never Too Late to Start Your Day Over

Hey cool, real cool, sharing this comment here, you would not see it unless you went into my blog post from last May, (the one about "Half empty, half full") cause the comments are attached to whichever post they were commented on.  You might remember a quote I used by Sherry Hochman, it was one of my favorites, and said it all about Cancer Camp.

Every day is a good day, even when it sucks.

So, here's the comment recently posted -

Hi! I hope you are doing well! This is Sherry Hochman and I just wanted to say how cool it is to find my quote on your page :) I am always amazed at the journey that little quote has had. Happy Holidays! ~ Sherry

Whee hee, I LOVE IT, that full circle thing, she wrote it, I used it, now she finds me!  This has been one of the absolute joys of this blog, all those full circle moments.  Thank you so much Sherry, and yes, Happy Holidays!  Honey, EV-ER-EEEE SINGLE DAY IS A HOLIDAY AFTER A CANCER DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT.  Ev-er-eeee single day.

Hello Heavy Metal Mama, about the neuropathy, this is not a simple answer, and everyone is different, but yes, I still have neuropathy that continues, but interestingly enough, it was recently suggested I may have tarsal tunnel in the right foot, and that could be what's causing the continued numbness and swelling, that is not in the left foot.  Taxol could have pushed over the edge a pre-existing nerve compression problem.  I'm going to see a podiatrist and find out more about this tarsal tunnel thang.

At it's worst, my neuropathy included both hands and feet, and some major eye twitching.  Honey I'm talking shut my eyelids kind of twitches!  As the months passed, and I got farther and farther out from finishing chemo, slow and steady improvements were made.  Much much better.  I still get the occasional blip where my hands freeze, not such a good thing when you work as a server in a Napa Valley restaurant and hold several crystal wine glasses or flutes in one hand several times during the night shift.  The other night, I was holding six, tucking them between fingers as we servers do (thank you Salvador for teaching me this), and I felt as if my hand was freezing and my fingers could no longer clench the stems.  I had to walk over to a counter and let two of them drop from my hand.  Thankfully, they did not break, and thankfully, my hands worked the rest of the night.

Sometimes when opening several bottles of wine over the course of a shift, my hands get very stiff.  All in all though, my neuropathy is dramatically better, and I'm beginning to believe the exaggerated problem in the right foot is some other issue.  My plastic surgeon suggested I consider tarsal tunnel surgery, basically going into my ankle, and loosening the sheath that covers the nerves.  I'm thinkin about it, but not even gonna consider it till sometime after my big surgery.

So, for you newbies, you newly diagnosed who may need Taxol as part of your chemo regimen, yes, expect some neuropathy, but for many of the woman I personally know who had it, the neuropathy was mild, and/or was gone by the time they finished Taxol.  I just happened to be one of those people extremely sensitive to the stuff.  Queen of the Glitch, remember?

Just a reminder, my reconstructive surgery is scheduled for January 4th.  Only a couple months till I get to retire my mastectomy bra and prostheses!  Whee hee!  I will be trying to post as often as I can before surgery and after, giving you as often as I can a day by day to the recovery from a DIEP procedure.  Stay tuned.  Need a refresher about what a DIEP is?  It's where during one surgery, I get a tummy tuck and the tummy tissue is used to reconstruct new breasts.

Flopsy and Mopsy, the sequel.

Hello Tara, met at Sephora today, thank you thank you thank you for all the love and gifts you showered on a stranger today!  It's not everyday someone tells you there is a glowing aura of golden light around you, like an Angel!  Wow!

Sparkle, sparkle, my light is only brighter cause all of you believed in me and kept me going when I thought I could do no more.

Read this sign today hanging in the most fabulous boutique.  It said "It's never too late to start your day over."



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Choose Me

Hello Dear Reader.

Did you think I forgot about you?  I didn't.

I come here every day, and I can see you are still reading, even though I haven't posted lately.  I keep logging in to write, so many things to tell you about, and then I don't know where to start or which is important to tell you.

Then I realized, if I keep over thinking this thing, to make it matter, I will stay stuck, and not write.

So here I am, letting you know,
I'm still here,
and have a lot on my mind,
but it's all swirling around in my head,
like a tornado,
and I just need to reach in
and grab a piece out of that chaos,
and share it with you.

Ok, reaching in,
and grabbing,
got it,
got it,

I am one year and a half out from my breast cancer diagnosis, and one year out from bilateral mastectomy last October.

I did what I thought I could not do, walked out of Cancer Camp as a survivor, and learned how to live with the me I am now after cancer treatment.

I did what I thought I could not do.

My reconstruction surgery was scheduled for October 26th, but is now postponed until January 4th.  I had to get used to the idea, no new boobs for Christmas, but I'm there now, and very happy I'll be home this Halloween night, handing out candy to trick or treaters, as I love to do, and not laid up in a hospital bed.

My 25th wedding anniversary was this last week, and the same day my son Batman turned 21 and celebrated royally, and the day after was the one year anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy, and I was present and accounted for.  Still here, oh praise, oh praise, to celebrate all of it.

I have been on so many journeys within this journey.

They all keep bringing me back to the same startling glorious place.

With or without hair,
with or without boobs,

or cancer free,

or crawling,

I would not give it back, even if I could.

Even if you waved a magic wand over me,
and said you could take away
every day of fear and sorrow,
pain and uncertainty,
chemo days,
bald days,
scary scary nights,
I would not give it back, even if I could.

When I went to Grace Community Church, to speak as a survivor for their special service on breast cancer awareness, I thought God had a plan.  Sending me there to deliver a gift.

I was all wrong.  God had other plans for me.  I was brought there to receive.

There was a survivor who spoke just before me.

Hello Sister Lee.

With her simple and sweet and heartfelt testimony as a 13 year survivor, she captivated the room.

She said something that just about knocked me out of my chair, and absolutely changed my life forever.

She said she used to ask "Why God, Why?  Why me?  Why me?"

As time went on, and she realized all that was brought into her life since her cancer diagnosis, the grace and abundance and good.

Now she says, raising her hand,

"Choose me Lord.  Choose me."

Wow.  Wow.

Every single day I am growing in the spirit so eloquently described by Sister Lee, the message God arranged to have delivered to me, on a Sunday morning in a gospel church with the warmest folks and best music ever.

Choose me Lord.

Choose me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

If You Do Only One Thing - Breast Cancer Awareness Month

There are all kinds of things you can do to take better care of yourself, and cut your cancer risk dramatically, like eating more whole foods with an emphasis on all kinds of colorful fruit and vegetables, exercise, and managing stress.

If you only do ONE THING, then do this -

Click on this link to read all about Vitamin D3, and getting your Vitamin D blood serum levels checked.

There are several recent studies that link higher Vitamin D levels with a dramatic decrease in breast cancer, and several other types of cancer.

At my appointment with my oncologist next month (I'm still on an every three months cycle), I'm going to ask that my Vitamin D blood serum level is checked.  Dr. Mercola recommends for those with cancer or heart disease, the blood serum level should be 70-100 ng/ml.

I'll be curious to see what mine is, and will report back to you.

Go get you some Vitamin D3, today!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Radiation

Underneath my left arm pit - signs of radiation.

You walk into a room that is basically a cement vault.  The door into the vault is a 4,000 lb. door.  The whole point is to keep the radiation in so that nobody gets exposed to that.  Well, nobody but me, and it's aimed directly at what's left of my left breast and under my arm to radiate lymph nodes too.  I had seven nodes removed under that arm, you can see the scar in my armpit.  All but one were positive for cancer.

The whole point of radiation is to kill and burn any residual cancer cells that may still be lurking after chemo and surgery.

Your skin burns too.  It swells and puffs and weeps and turns red, just like a burn.  I was lucky, my skin held up very well until almost the end of 6 1/2 weeks of daily radiation.  The last week was really hard, and even weeks after you complete radiation, you are still burning.

This is what it looks like when your breast cancer is not detected early.

I tell you this because it is my solemn prayer and mission that you will understand the difference in treatment and survival when breast cancer is detected early.

Just do it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making the Turn

They say the universe keeps sending you what you need to learn, until you learn it.

I guess I need more practice making the turn, when the bend in the road comes up, the one that requires turning left when I thought fur shizl I'd be turning right.

Make the turn.

Be flexible and resilient.

Yes, you can have a plan, but as you receive new information along the way, you have to be willing to make new decisions based on the new information.

I always tend to think life moves in a straight line progression, and this is never the case.  I always tend to think if I keep making the next right decision, that will lead to the next one and the next one, and progress will be made.  I always think I know where this is heading, or where I'll end up, or how things will go, and somehow I attach myself to an expected outcome.

I attach myself like a pitbull to an expected outcome.

Obviously, a huge huge part of Cancer Camp and even post Camp, and life in general, is all about not resisting the flow, staying open, soft, fluid, wet.

Rigid and stubborn is dry, like a desert.

I keep having to learn this again and again and again.

It shakes me out every time.

I am a creature of habit.
I don't like surprises.
I like plans.

That first day, realizing my reconstruction surgery was not going to take place as planned, was brutal.  I felt lost.  I felt five years old.  I felt scared.  Not again, I thought.  Not again.

Just last year, TWO WEEKS PRIOR to my bilateral mastectomy and planned IMMEDIATE RECONSTRUCTION, all during the same surgery, I found out it wasn't gonna happen.  I was not going to wake up with new boobs.

Now this is pretty damned ironic that my surgery this time WAS SCHEDULED FOR THE SAME DAY AS LAST YEAR.

October 26th.

I took it as an omen, a sign, a good sign.

Then bam.  Down she goes like Humpty Dumpty.  Server down.

For awhile there I was closed, like a little clam, with no boobs.

No, I am staying shut, I am not letting in anything that will keep me from THE PLAN even if the new information received obviously needs to change the plan.  Nope.  No how.  No way.  I'm staying shut.

With each day,
I have opened slightly,
and see just a little bit more
all the benefits to my surgery taking place in January.

It's hard though.

It's real hard sometimes,


and making the turn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - This is What It Looks Like

When cancer happens, it happens to the whole family.  This flashback is from May of 2010, when two weeks into chemo my hair started coming out in huge clumps, my scalp hurt like hell, and we knew, the hair had to go.

can i leave you with this image? a twelve year old boy positions his desk chair in front of my bathroom mirror. places a towel down for me to make this impromptu barber's chair more comfortable. i sit. gently he uses the electric clippers to buzz his mom's head. i look at our reflection in the mirror. he's not my baby anymore. i never dreamed this would be his rite of passage. gently manly shaving his mom's head. he was very careful and meticulous about it. important work for him. he would pat and blow on my head to check his work.

It's going to take the rest of my life to thank my Husband and sons for all their support, concern and care through every step of Cancer Camp.

Thank you thank you thank you to all the caregivers out there who walk this path with us, hug us when we cry or hurt, make us laugh when we are so scared, and love us more than what cancer could ever take from us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness - Grace Community Church

If you are in the area, come on out this Sunday where I will be the Survivor Speaker for this special program on Breast Cancer Awareness sponsored by Grace Community Church.

If you are in the Bay area, and looking for a guest speaker for your event, you may request me through the ACS Heroes of Hope website.

I'm cute and I'm funny.

and I not only talk the talk, I walked the walk Baby.

Still walkin it.

but feeling better today, cause I threw up my hands and said "I give" as in

I give all of this to you God.

Tell me what to do.
Tell me where to go.
Tell me what to say.

I give.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Door Number Three

Well if there's anything I learned during Cancer Camp, it's that just when you think you've got a plan and you know what to expect and how everything is going to go, along comes

Door Number Three.

The wild card least expected whole new game plan Door.

I hate Door Number Three, I admit it, and yes I've learned to expect the unexpected.

Doesn't mean I have to like it.  Doesn't mean I can't stomp around and throw a fit, in my head of course, cause I'm too courteous to throw a real hiss fit, but I can hiss like a rattler, in my head.

Expect the unexpected.

Despite all my advanced and rigorous training while in Cancer Camp, sometimes I still forget.  I'm just going along trying to make the next right decision in a constantly changing plethora of possibilities, I settle in to a decision, I gear up for the plan, and


Door Number Three.

I cried today.
I did a whole lot of crying today, when for various reasons, and mostly financial and how state disability benefits are determined and paid, my reconstruction surgery, scheduled for October 26, has now been pushed back to January 4.

I cried today.  I did a whole lot of crying today.

I am a creature of habit.  I like plans.  I don't like surprises.  and I sure as hell hate that feeling when the proverbial rug gets pulled out from under you, and you feel yourself falling and hitting the ground like a ton of bricks, and all your little plans and hopes are shattered like a dozen eggs underneath you.

I don't know if I am getting braver or more anxious, I don't know if I am a hero or a coward, I don't know if God and the universe are using closed doors as much as open doors to lead me in a particular direction.

I don't know.  I'm just tired of swimming upstream against the other plans somebody has for me.  I'm tired.

Expect the unexpected.  Let go of your assumptions and predicted outcomes.  Accept that life is often like a deck of cards thrown into the air, and you never know how they'll all land.  It's not for you to know.  It's a surprise.

Door Number Three.

Can you find a way in your life, when Door Number Three makes a guest appearance, and it always will when you least expect it, to be ok with that, to bend, and bounce back

like Tigger?

Bouncy bouncy bouncy.

See me cry and bounce?

Sometimes walking in faith involves crying and bouncing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Three Steps to Finding Breast Cancer Early

This is from an ACS flyer on finding breast cancer early.

Step 1 - Mammograms, annually at age 40, or if your family has a history of breast cancer, discuss with your doctor having a mammogram plus a breast MRI.

Step 2 - Breast exams by your doctor as part of your physical exam, annually if you are 40 or older, and at least every three years if you are in your 20's or 30's.

Step 3 - Breast self awareness - Know how your own breasts look and feel, and report any breast changes to your doctor without delay.  Breast self exams should usually start for women in their 20's.

Don't forget, usually by the time a woman discovers her own breast cancer, as in my case, it is already advanced.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Good Ol Mopsy

Aww, that's Mopsy, see her there, that big fat bunny?  Flopsy was the cancerous sister, but wherever Flopsy goes Mopsy goes too, so I chose what's called a prophylactic mastectomy on my right side, even though there were no signs of cancer there.

This self portrait was from my last chemo, at the end of five months.  I received my last infusion with a regular IV, because along the way, two ports in my chest failed, and right near the end, the PICC line in my arm failed too.

If you are anxious about getting a mammogram, let me just set you straight.  Early stage breast cancer is so treatable.  In fact, when it's found at Stage 0 or Stage 1, the five year survival rate is 100%.  Early stage breast cancer often requires a lumpectomy, and possibly some hormonal treatment, like Tamoxifen, but not necessarily chemo or radiation.  I am not minimizing how hard it is for anybody to receive a cancer diagnosis and treatment, but I assure you, if it's found early and after a lumpectomy, you can often return to work in a couple of weeks.

I spent almost one year in cancer treatment.

Do the math baby.

Early detection.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stinkin Pink

I admit it, although pink is one of my favorite colors, sometimes I get really tired of the whole stinkin pink thing during October Breast Cancer Awareness month.  

I know there are still some of you out there DESPITE HAVING A FRONT ROW SEAT to all my cancer shit and now preaching, who still have not scheduled a mammogram, and are way over due.

What's it gonna take?
I'll do whatever it takes.

See these?
I can't wait till I can retire them.
I'd burn 'em except they'd probably give off toxic fumes and give me cancer.

Lemme tell you, with all that I've been blessed, with all that arrived for me when cancer did, all the Angels on my path,

there are some things
I will never
get back.

More than just my boobs.
I will never be able to take back the day I had to sit my boys down,
the expression of utter grief and fear on their faces,
when Mom told them "I have breast cancer."

What's it gonna take?

Make no mistake about it, early detection saves lives.

Just do it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Not All Breast Cancer Survivors Wear Pink

Meet my new friend, Bob, fellow Hero of Hope 2012, who proudly represents Relay for Life Burbank.

Bob and I met at Summit, and I was so moved and touched and shocked by his story.

Bob and I have something in common, more than we are both cancer survivors.

Like me, Bob is a breast cancer survivor.

This is Bob's story:

I grew up in Burbank, California. I lived my whole life there, got married, raised my 2 sons there, worked for the City for 40 years. But my wife, Carol and I had always dreamed of living in the mountains, but never could quite break away from Burbank. Then finally June 30, 2009, we moved to our dream home in the mountains at Lake Gregory. 5,000 feet, pines trees, a lake, we could finally live our dream.

During the move it was hot and I took off my shirt. My wife looked at my left nipple and said “What is going on there?”  My left nipple was retracting. I said “I don’t know, I am getting fatter and older and everything is beginning to sag.”

Well after my wife urging me (nagging me) I finally called the Dr. and made an appointment. I showed him my left nipple and explained our concern.  He shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know, but don’t worry about it.”  A month later I went back to my Dr. for another issue, and he said to me “I was doing some inquiring and a retracting nipple is a sign of breast cancer.  Don’t worry about it, but I want you to have a mammogram."  Not so easy for us guys.

Well a lump was found, a needle biopsy was done, and on December 3, 2009, I heard those words that no one wants to hear:


Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  Yes, breast cancer, Yes I said breast cancer.

I am one of approximately 2300 men that are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

I am lucky the St. Joseph's Breast Center helped me get information on breast cancer, although every single bit of it referred to "her" and "she." Never "he" or "him." Yes there is still work to be done.

On January 12, 2010 I had a mastectomy of my left breast. That was followed by 4 rounds of Chemotherapy. Today I am cancer free!  I am a cancer survivor, that puts me into an exclusive club of amazing people that have beat this horrible disease.

I thank my friend Bob for sharing his story with me, so I could share it with you.  Although breast cancer among men is rare, (1 in 1000 lifetime risk, compared to 1 in 8 for women), who knew that some of the same signs for breast cancer that woman often overlook, like an inverted nipple, can also be a sign of breast cancer in a man.

Thank goodness for the loving "nagging" of Bob's wife Carol, that helped save her husband's life.  This is from the American Cancer Society's  web site,

The most recent American Cancer Society estimates for male breast cancer in the United States are for 2011:

  • About 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men
  • About 450 men will die from breast cancer
Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. The number of breast cancer cases in men relative to the population has been fairly stable over the last 30 years.
The prognosis (outlook) for men with breast cancer was once thought to be worse than that for women, but recent studies have not found this to be true. In fact, men and women with the same stage of breast cancer have a fairly similar outlook for survival.
Last Medical Review: 09/30/2011  Last Revised: 10/04/2011

What if Bob and Carol had ignored Bob's retracted nipple?

Breast Cancer Awareness.  It's for everybody.  She's and He's.

Thank you Bob, for your courage, infectious spirit and charming presence, it was a real honor and pleasure to meet you.  You set my inspiration on fire!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cancer Treatment - Are you People Trying to Save Me or Kill Me?

This is the self portrait I took of myself, the week I started chemo in May 2010.

This is my self portrait taken from the chemo chair, after receiving my last infusion, five months later in September of 2010.

Sometimes when I look back, I don't know how I did it, one year of cancer treatment.

It must have been all the Angels on my path, and some of them were furry.

1st round of chemo; my at home nursing staff
You schedule your mammogram yet?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Early Detection Saves Lives

This is me, in the chemo chair.  I spent five months in that chair, from May through September of 2010.

Did you know that if breast cancer is detected early, the five year survival rate is 98%.

If it's advanced, the five year survival rate is only 23%.

Did you know that by the time most women have discovered their own breast cancer, it's advanced?

Do the math Baby.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One in Eight

amiel_weisblum_pinkrib_sm.jpg, pink ribbon by Ameil Weisblum, not for commercial use.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

It is my hope and prayer,
I am the one
in your eight.

Self portrait, in bed, 1st round of chemo, five months to go

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Common but Often Overlooked Signs of Breast Cancer

breastcancerawareness.gif, by Melanie

So when you are doing all those self exams, looking for a lump or a pea or a kumquat or a gumball, did you know there are other signs of breast cancer that are commonly overlooked?

Any or all of these may signal breast cancer is present:

An itchy boob,
A red boob,
A scaly boob,
A swollen boob,
A thickening in your boob,
A dimple in your boob,
An inverted or even slightly retracted nipple.

Best advice?

In addition to your annual mammogram after the age of 40, and regular self exams mid-cycle, know the other common signs of breast cancer, 

and don't ignore them.

That was how I discovered my breast cancer, an itchy breast and a slight dimpling near my left nipple.

Diagnostics would go on to confirm what I already suspected.

Somethin just wasn't right.

Look at your body.  Listen to your body.

Take good good care of you.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Just Do It

cancerribbon4-holbert.gif, october Breast Cancer Awarness Month by Kateri Holbert

Now you know how much I love things that sparkle.  I am all about the sparkle.  Hand over the sparkle and nobody gets hurt.

Lemme tell you, as much as I like this little eye catcher,
there is nothing sparkly about breast cancer.


Breast cancer sucks.

What else can you do when something takes your hair,
takes your boobs,
and threatens to take your life?

You fight like a girl Baby.

Fight like a girl.

Today is the first of October, 
the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month,
and I am going to post every day,
just to get all up in your face so you will -

Schedule your mammogram,
Know your girls, i.e. your boobies,
Eat whole foods,
Manage your stress,
Invest in your connectedness to family and friends and whatever you love,
and make time
every day
to laugh louder than the crying
and know
God is near.

No more excuses.

Believe me, you don't want to go through all the shit I went through.

Come on now, when WAS your LAST MAMMOGRAM?  You know who you are.

Early detection.
Until there's a cure.

Get on that, will you?

Make the call on Monday and report back to me.

I'm little, but I'm stubborn and I'm feisty,

and I'm pissed strapping fake boobs on every day.

Just do it.

For gosh sakes,

Just do it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Heroes of Hope - My Peeps

If you are interested, here is the link for the California Heroes of Hope.  These people are absolutely incredible and if you are involved in Relay, please take advantage of this opportunity to have a "hero" from your area speak at your event.

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life - California Division: 2012 California Relay For Life Home

"Heroes" are available to speak at any part of your event and/or team meeting, but you don't have to be associated with the American Cancer Society to request one of us.  "Heroes" are available to speak to your local organization, church, school or any other event where you would like an inspiring survivor to speak about cancer, hope, faith and programs and services for cancer patients and their families.

I already got my first request!  Wheeeeeeeeeee!  A local church is doing a several part series on cancer, and one of the programs in the series will feature a cancer survivor.  That's me!  and thank you Kimberly from my local ACS for telling them about me.

I will be sharing more with you about the Heroes of Hope program, and all of the 2012 Heroes.

In the coming days though, my blog will switch its focus back to my upcoming reconstruction surgery.  It's a real cliff hanger!

Stay tuned!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Whoa, I don't even know where to start, I am still taking in all that I experienced at Relay Summit, California.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about the history of Relay for Life.  It's the American Cancer Society's largest fundraising event, and it all started in 1985 in Tacoma, Washington.  Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon wanted to raise money for his local chapter of American Cancer Society.  He decided to do it by running a 24 hour marathon around a high school track.  Dr. Klatt's friends, family and patients all showed up to support him, almost 300 of them, and watched as he ran and they pledged dollars to support him.

That first year he raised $27,000.

The next year, he got the whole community involved - 19 teams ran, and they raised $33,000.

Fast forward 26 years later, and Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's top fundraising event, taking place in cities all over our country, and is now even international.

In California alone, here are the stats for the 2011 Relay:

  • $31.7 Million raised
  • 427 Relay For Life events
  • 32,275 Cancer Survivors honored
  • 214,572 Participants
  • 16,960 Teams
As some of you know, I participating in my very first Relay last summer, and walked the Survivor's lap while still in chemo.  This year, I was the speaker at the Luminary Ceremony.  Here's a link if you'd like to listen to my Luminary speech at the Vallejo Relay, 2011.

I was asked to participate in RELAY SUMMIT, CALIFORNIA, which is a kickoff convention for Relay Teams, for next year's Relay.  It took place at the Hyatt in Garden Grove, right down the street from Disneyland.  I was there as one of thirty "Heroes of Hope" and we received our "hero" training this weekend, and participated in the general sessions at the conference.

Here's the link to the 2012 Heroes of Hope, including me!  Wheeeeeeeeee!!!!

Whoa, when they tell you RELAY SUMMIT is life changing, they ain't kidding!  There is nothing like being in a Grand Ballroom with almost 1,000 people from all over California, all fired up about RELAY.  We had incredible guest speakers, and then broke out into workshops, which for us "heroes" was some great training on public speaking.

This is from the RELAY FOR LIFE web page, and is a great explanation about RELAY today.

What is Relay For Life Today?

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is a life-changing event that gives everyone in communities across the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease. At Relay, teams of people camp out at a local high school, park, or fairground and take turns walking or running around a track or path. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event. Because cancer never sleeps, Relays are overnight events up to 24 hours in length.

What Happens at Relay For Life Events?

Although every Relay For Life is different, there are certain traditions at all Relays, no matter where they are held. These traditions help participants celebrate, remember, and fight back.

Celebrate – The Survivors Lap

Relay starts with a Survivors Lap – a inspirational time when survivors are invited to circle the track together and help everyone celebrate the victories we’ve achieved over cancer. The Survivors Lap is an emotional example of how Relay participants are ensuring that more lives are saved each year – like those of each individual on the track. We also recognize and celebrate caregivers at Relay For Life. These individuals give their time, love, and support to friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers who face cancer. At Relay, people understand the frustrations and joys of being a caregiver, since the effects of cancer reach far beyond just the person diagnosed.

Remember – The Luminaria Ceremony

After dark, we honor people who have been touched by cancer and remember loved ones lost to the disease during the Luminaria Ceremony. Candles are lit inside bags filled with sand, each one bearing the name of a person touched by cancer, and participants often walk a lap in silence. As people take time to remember, those who have walked alongside others battling cancer can grieve and find healing. This is a time that truly highlights the importance of defeating this disease.

Fight Back – The Fight Back Ceremony

Last, there is a Fight Back Ceremony, where we make a personal commitment to save lives by taking up the fight against cancer. That personal commitment may be to do something as simple as getting a screening test, quitting smoking, or talking to elected officials about cancer. By taking action, people are personally taking steps to save lives and fight back against a disease that takes too much.
One of the things I really enjoyed at Summit was learning about all the things that the American Cancer Society does with all the money raised.  This is also from their web page:

Get Well- Patient Services: If you are diagnosed with cancer, where can you turn for help? The American Cancer Society offers many free programs for patients and survivors, including rides to and from treatment; the Cancer Survivors Network for support; beauty products for patients to help them restore their self-confidence after debilitating treatment; and more.

Stay Well- Education and Prevention: The American Cancer Society provides free educational programs and support services to help improve the quality of life for all cancer patients and their families, including prevention and early detection initiatives like the Great American Health ChallengeTell A Friend; our toll-free 24 hour information line 1-800-ACS-2345 and Web site
Find cancer information.

Find Cures- Funding Research: The American Cancer Society is the largest source of private, nonprofit cancer research funds in the United States, second only to the federal government. The Society has had a hand in virtually every major cancer breakthrough of the past half-century. With your help, we can continue on this path.
Learn more about research

At select Relay For Life events, you can personally participate in research that could help identify factors that cause or prevent cancer . Learn more about the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3.
Learn more about CPS-3 

Fight Back- Advocacy: The American Cancer Society Action Network (ACS CAN) is the Society's nonprofit, nonpartisan sister organization that consists of a grassroots network of volunteers working on the local, state, and federal levels to pass meaningful legislation. ACS CAN advocates for stronger public health laws to fight cancer and achieve equal access to quality health care for all people.
 Learn more about advocacy 

This organization is like no other in doing everything they can for cancer peeps like me, as well as funding vital research that influences how we diagnose and treat cancer.

Mostly though, there are research labs all over the country, who have received funding from ACS, and some day, one of those will find a CURE.

I will have more to tell you about RELAY SUMMIT and my experience there, but today I just wanted to share with you all about Relay and more about where all your dollars go.

Thank you thank you thank you to all the generous friends and family and coworkers and Sisters met through my blog, who supported me in the 2011 Relay.

I am so humbled and honored to be a Hero of Hope for 2012, and if any of you local to me are involved in Relay, please let your Event Chair know about me.  I would be happy to speak at your events in the coming Relay season.  Just go to the Heroes of Hope link in this post, and you can request me online!

If your group, church or organization is interested in having me speak, you may also request me through the Hero of Hope program.  It's not just for ACS people, anyone may request a "hero" to speak, and I'm telling you, these people are absolutely incredible, funny and inspirational with a capital I.  They are UH MAZE ING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They have me on fire, and ready to serve, cause

Hope is unstoppable.

Hope > cancer.

I am so blessed to have this opportunity to pay forward all the love and support, encouragement and comfort that came to me on my cancer journey.

Oh, one more important thang.

If you or someone you know needs somebody to talk to about anything cancer related, the ACS has a 24 hour hotline, staffed by cancer specialists.  Here is the number:


You aren't alone.

and of course,

you got me Baby.

Thank you thank you Dear Reader for all your love and support and presence here on my blog all about my cancer journey and finding the sacred in my ordinary.  I am just shy of 14,000 visits to my blog since I started it on Mother's Day 2010, a month after my diagnosis.  Wow.

Peace to all who come here.  Thank you.

writergirl (Debbie)

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