Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Dreams

This is what my soul looks like.

This is who I am in my dreams.

I run all wild and free
through fields of lupines and columbines
and dusty canyons of amber
under blazing skies
of October light
and starry nights
like a map in the sky.

This is who I am in my dreams.

God's vision of me
the beauty
and the majesty
where I am all
original parts
as created.

Wild and free
in a place
where there is no such thing
as cancer.





get cancer

and die.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kimberly, My Buffalo Soldier

A couple months after I was diagnosed and in the Valley of chemo, I happened upon a website that became a huge resource to me as I dealt with breast cancer.  It's called Y-Me, and during the summer of 2010, I visited that site every day, primarily participating in the Forums, or message boards.

How comforting, to be a newbie in Cancer Camp, and be able to talk online to other women from all over the country who were also facing a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  We talked about everything, from hair loss to boob loss, nothing was off limits.  For the first time, I did not feel like I was alone in this, and it was so helpful to be able to ask questions and get tips and real life wisdom from women who had been there done that!

It was a pivotal point for me, and for my blog.

One of the first Sisters who stepped forward to embrace me was Kimberly, from Buffalo, New York.  [Not to be confused with the other wonderful Kim's in my life who I have also mentioned on this blog - Kimberly from ACS, and Kim from Vallejo Relay!]  The Kimberly I refer to now was a Sister on the Y-Me forums, who replied to my posts there, and we exchanged several personal messages over my year in Cancer Camp.

At the ripe old age of 38, Kimberly had discovered a lump in her right breast, the day after her birthday in 2009.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer nine days later.  She and I did the same type of chemo, five months of it, a combination of 4 rounds of AC and 12 rounds of Taxol. We both had port problems.  We both decided to have a bilateral or double mastectomy, even though we had cancer in only one breast.  We were strangers who had a strong connection, united by our irreverent faithfulness and humor and desire to savor every single day.

In August of 2010, I was so inspired by her and what she wrote to me, I wanted to share it with all of you, and so I wrote a blog post about her.  

August 11, 2010

This is an excerpt from that post, where I had asked Kimberly how do you stay hopeful, what do you fear and grieve?  This was her reply.

Optimism and hope come from a place in my soul, that no doubt is connected to faith. I have never been overly religious, do not go to church every week, but always had a private spiritual connection with God. I am Roman Catholic - but also believe in angels and saints and signs and the power of prayer.

When you go through cancer, you hold your faith near. I always believed; but now I KNOW. 

I have put my life in God's hands now. It's easier that way. It has given me the opportunity to continue to live each day as it comes and enjoy life's small miracles. The laughter of my nieces and nephews, family and friends, sunrises and sunsets, and to truly appreciate and understand what is important in this life. It is a gift. There is a beauty and freedom that comes from living life this way. This journey has also solidified my marriage. If we can weather this storm and come out the other side - truly appreciating and loving each other - what a beautiful gift for our marriage and life. There is NOTHING we can't get through.

In my private moments, I grieve feeling "invincible" and assuming I will live until I am 89. I have moments that when I look at my scars, I think, "What the hell just happened to me?" The dark side of cancer is that if you let it, it will steal your soul. 

The physical symptoms of cancer are treatable. Almost prescriptive. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. But - the emotional and psychological toll is never really discussed by your doctors. And shouldn't be - as they are not qualified psychologists. They treat symptoms of disease. But, cancer makes you look over your shoulder. Cancer tries to invade your peace. And not just yours, but tries to steal it from your family too. Perhaps what I am most upset about - is the worry it has put on my husband. There are times when I look at him, the emotional toll and fear of losing me is there. I have accepted my disease and will fight it.......but, sometimes I can see fear and sadness in his eyes. 
Each day when I get out of bed - I smile. I have another day! What will I do with it today? Who can I help? Who can I make smile? You have the choice everyday how you will live with cancer. Each morning, I choose to live. I choose not to feel sorry for myself. I choose to laugh. And if the darkness of cancer tries to steal that from me - a few tearful moments, then on with my day. I will NOT let cancer take away my peace. It will NOT take away my soul, or faith, or love. Fuck you cancer. 

Just prior to my surgery, she sent this:

Best wishes on your upcoming BLM - you will do just fine. It takes a little time getting used to them being gone, but they are dangerous and killing you

Congrats on finishing chemo my friend - you did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I hated chemo, I hated losing my hair and boobs.  Kimberly helped me see it differently.  "That shit is going to save your life" and those boobs have to go!  That was the first time I thought of it like that, and later thought of Kimberly when I found this fabulous T-shirt online.

In the painful days after my bilateral, and when I got the pathology report that the chemo had not completely obliterated the cancer as I had hoped, she had this to say:

I feel the same way you do when I hear news that is disheartening; I take a day to "process." That's what I call the "curl up on the couch, eat dark chocolate, watch Lifetime Movie Network movies, snuggle with my doggies and kitties, and call some of my best breast cancer survivor friends - but ignore all other calls" day. It is totally cool that you do that. We are all entitled to feel a little sorry for ourselves. We deserve it. WE JUST HAD FUCKING CANCER.

Then - after my processing day - I snap out of it, as you will. You and I are alike. We bounce back. We cry and laugh and laugh. You'll be fine. I love you. Maybe wine will help?????????? Wish I didn't live half way across the country: I'd be at your door with wine and taking vicodin;) 

I cannot say enough about what our correspondence did for me, at a time when I needed so badly for someone to really understand what I was going through, and needed help navigating this thing.  Kimberly was one of those beaming lights on my path.  How strange, to have someone so important on your journey, and yet you've never heard their voice, never seen their face.  It was the beginning of many friendships made, and what I affectionately called "The Sacred Order of the Sisterhood of Cancerous Breasts."

When I first started the blog it was a way to talk myself through it, leave some kind of legacy for my boys to know me in a different way, just in case the worst came true.  I was also hoping it would help somebody somewhere out there.  With the help of many Sisters on the Y-Me forums, readership of my blog exploded late summer of 2010.  So many Sisters, like Kimberly, arrived to help me.  For the first time, I realized how much my blog helped the Sisters who follow me, by chronicling diagnosis and treatment, its losses, the grueling challenges, what kept me going and moving into survivorship.

Every Sister fighting breast cancer needs other Sisters to cheer her, comfort her, hold her hand, wipe away tears, and raise her up when hopefulness is grounded by the reality of cancer.  I loved getting Kimberly's messages and praise, it meant a lot coming from her.  She was one tough cookie.

I am so proud of you Girl, you looked the Devil in the face and made him run.

1 in 8 of U.S. women will face that Devil in their lifetime, and despite all our advances in early diagnosis and treatment, 40,000 die every year.  We all do our best to take care of ourselves and remain hopeful, but the truth is, this shit and what can happen is real.  

With a heavy heart I am devastated to tell you that my Sister Kimberly passed away last Sunday night, at the age of 40, two years and four months after her diagnosis.

Kimberly, you will never know how much you helped this girl with the muck of Cancer Camp.  Oh how your sense of humor and hopefulness was good good medicine for me.  You also helped me realize the power and importance of my blog, and giving a voice to this shit.  You showed me by example how all of us Sisters who have walked in this Valley need to stick together, and reclaim what cancer can never take from us.  Just ahead of me on the path, you reached for me, and in doing so, inspired me to reach behind for Sisters who follow after me.  

Kimberly, my Buffalo Soldier, I will never forget you, I love you, you changed me, you inspired me and made me laugh my ass off.  In this year's ACS Relay for Life, serving as a Hero of Hope, you are MY HERO honey.

You are my HERO.

When I walk in and speak at Relay's, I will wear your memory on my heart, and light a luminary to honor you.  I bow to you Sister.

Thank you thank you thank you for how you lived and loved and spoke and moved through this world, and how every day you were committed to fight back and reclaim your life and happiness and well being.  Thank you for how you empowered other Sisters to live as you did, "the beauty and the freedom" of savoring each day with gratitude, never taking for granted all the small miracles.

Peace to you my Sister.

It is my hope your family knows what a blessing and light you were to all of us Sisters.

I carry you with me Kimberly
my Buffalo Soldier
and will look for you
in the stars.

2/23/12 Update

For those of you interested, many of you "Sisters" that Kimberly touched, you can also visit the Canisius college tribute to her, and finally see her beautiful face with her Husband Matt.

Cancer stings. Love is the salve.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Calling All Sisters! Calling All Angels!

Hello to all my Sistahs of the Sacred Order of the Cancerous Breasts!  I need your help, and here's why.

On the evening of Friday, January 13th, a five alarm fire gutted an historic building in downtown Fairfield, California, displacing several businesses with offices there.  One office in particular was very important to me.  It was the local office of the American Cancer Society and staff.

I have mentioned my friend Kimberly on the blog many times, she is the Associate Coordinator for this office.  She knew me before I ever knew her, when shortly after my diagnosis Husband called this ACS office to inquire about pink ribbon pins.  He wanted family and friends to wear them and send photos to me on Mother's Day.  Kimberly was such a huge help to Husband, and that was the beginning of our relationship with ACS.

We had many phone conversations, and she continues to be a HUGE SUPPORTER of me and my blog.  I was so happy when I finally met Kimberly in person, when I went to her office to choose my free wig provided by ACS.  With Kimberly's help and encouragement, I was brave enough to choose a red one.  Here I am in it:

My whole life I've been a blond, but I figured what the hell, let's give her a go.  Well, my red wig and me in it was a favorite.  I felt NAUGHTY putting it on, and with everything I was going through, how FABULOUS to feel sexy!  I always thought blonds get a lot of attention and I've had my fair share, but lemme tell you, you ain't lived till you've been a redhead.  Red heads got it goin on, and EVERYWHERE I went in that red thang I got flirted with, hit up, and compliments.  I'm talking at the grocery store! It was crazy.  Anyway, my red wig was chosen from two huge cupboards full of wigs at the Fairfield office, and I felt great in it.

I was also the recipient of many cute hats all lovingly made by Kimberly's Mom, Norma, which were also part of the huge stock of hats, scarves and wigs available to any cancer patient at the office.  Here's a photo of me in one of the hats:

Ain't I cute?  Thank you Norma.

This local office was also where I signed up for an ACS "Look Good, Feel Better" class.  I just can't say enough about how much it helped me to have this resource at a time when it was so desperately needed.

This is where you come in Sisters.  Everything was lost in the fire.  Not just all the resource materials.  All the wigs and scarves, all the hats made by Norma.  All of them.  Destroyed.  Norma has been very busy making hats to replenish inventory - 30 hats in the past three weeks!

Have you been holding on to some of your old breast cancer accoutrement?  Have you thankfully graduated from Cancer Camp and that stuff is just taking up space in your closet?Why not send it as a Valentine this year to my local ACS office.  They really need donations, it's so easy.  I plan on donating my cache of wigs and scarves (I'm still wearing the hats, thank you very much Mama).

Will you join me?

Even if you aren't a breast cancer survivor, but have a wig, hat or scarf you'd like to donate for a cancer patient who really needs it, please send it in.  Here is their temporary address while they look for new office space:

Ms. Kimberly O'Gorman
American Cancer Society
5055 Business Center Drive, Suite 108
PMB 359
Fairfield, CA  94534

Thank you so much, Sisters gotta stick together right?  Get in that closet!  Donate today!

Pay it forward Baby!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Boobless Blues

Well, I found my pony, and climbed back on, facing backwards at first, but I've turned myself around, and we are on our way again.

Giddy up.  Yee haw.

So where were we?

Last thing I remember it was Thanksgiving, and I was feeling so good physically and mentally and then BAM.

Got the wind knocked out of me,
and my sails,
fell overboard,
barely kept my head above water,
gasping for air and desperate for hopefulness,
and finally
washed up on shore,
spitting sand,
and then,

my pony nudged me,
and here I am again.

Let me remind you who I am.

My name is Debbie, and my pen name is writergirldreams.  I am a wife and a mother, a sister, daughter, friend, aunt,

and now

a breast cancer survivor, activist and blogger.

Oh honey,
when my reconstruction got sacked again,
I went.

You see, the thing is, I didn't realize, until it wasn't going to happen again, how much I've needed it to happen.

I remember right before my bilateral surgery, when my then plastic surgeon was put on a limited schedule because she was pregnant with twins.  I was devastated that I was not going to have immediate reconstruction as planned, i.e. go to sleep, lose my fat bunnies, wake up with my new fake bunnies.

I was devastated.  I did not think I could do it.  I did not think I could.

But I did.  Uh huh.  I did.  I survived that first look after coming out of the fog of anesthesia, when I lifted the sheet and for the first time since I was a little girl, I could see my tummy and toes because my chest was as flat as a kitchen counter.

Oh that was hard hard hard.

I've lived almost one year and four months in this altered body, and I've done the best I could, taking the hits as they came, but I did not realize how much it was still affecting me long after cancer camp ended.

I finished cancer treatment a year ago.  A year ago.  Let me say that again.  A year ago.

Every day though, I still look at and live with the me that is the "after cancer" me.  I realized I still feel as if I am in cancer camp, still seeing myself as cancer girl.

There are constant reminders.
A small area of speckling on my neck just below my left ear, souvenirs from radiation.
My port scar.
My drain scars.
My half moon scar in my left arm pit where lymph nodes were removed.
My short hair when my whole life I've been a long hair girl.
Right foot toes that did not wake up.

Mostly though,
two flat deflated pancakes of breasts, where once two fat lovable huggable squeezable kissable bunnies lived.  My bunnies.

For almost a year and a half, every time I get dressed, I adjust prostheses in a mastectomy bra, fold up the pancakes inside the bra, and adjust my memory foam bust line.

Every morning.

And every night, I take them off.

I miss boobs.
I miss their bounce.
I miss their jiggle when I giggle.
I miss cute bras and lingerie, and having boobies to dress up,
and dress down.
The perfect girly accessories.
I miss them.

I will never have my old ones back, they had to go so I could live, and I can live with that.
I've been in this chrysalis too too long.  It is choking me now and got me tied in knots, and it won't feel like I've graduated from cancer camp until I've completed this last journey.

I am scheduled again for my reconstruction surgery on March 28th, 2012.

Click click.

That was me,
making that little clicking sound,
to tell pony,
let's go Baby,
get me there.

Get me there.
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