It’s Not All About The Pink Bras…Meet Claudia

Meet Claudia

I met Claudia through this blog. I want to thank her for allowing me to share this letter that she wrote to her gynecologist after her doctor missed obvious signs of breast cancer. Claudia is incredibly strong and brave for sharing these pictures of herself in the hope of saving another woman from going through a similar experience. Thank you Claudia for your friendship and for your generosity.

Dear Doctor,

It has been one year since I was diagnosed with Stage 3A breast cancer. I had a tumor measuring 9 centimeters. Ductal and lobular carcinoma, invasive, advanced disease, as you must surely know as a physician. Since then, I have endured a very sad and hard path in my life.

I lost my breasts, lost both of my nipples, lost my hair, and I can’t have estrogen circulating in my body.  As a gynecologist, you know what that does to me physically, and emotionally.

What does breast cancer treatments look like

Claudia sent this picture of herself with this letter to her gynecologist. Her doctor never responded.

I’m not sure if you forgot about it or not but I wanted to remind you of our last conversation.

You were my first line of defense against breast cancer. Here are the facts: one out of eight women will get some kind of breast cancer. Women who have fibrocystic or dense breast tissue have a higher chance of being diagnosed with it. Also, lobular cancer is very hard to detect. Knowing these three things should have made you think twice after reading my last mammogram report and after you personally examined me with your experienced hands.

I had a fat pocket that grew under my armpit and the only reason it grew there was because the tumor had pushed it out. I found out too late because you did nothing about it when I brought it to your attention.

My left nipple was leaking and turning inward, your words were, “It must be because you jog, because of the rubbing on your nipples, your brain thinks you are lactating.”

Burns from radiation treatment

Burns from Radiation Treatment

Well, my nipple was leaking because I had breast cancer. My nipple turned inward because I had breast cancer and that mass under my armpit was due to breast cancer.

You have two girls. Can you imagine if this happened to one of them or to you for that matter? Can you imagine losing your hair, losing your breasts?  How about watching your mom, dad, husband, young kids, and friends see you go through this suffering and not able to do anything about it?

Tamoxifen may save my life but let me tell you something, it numbs me. The side effects take away my quality of life.

I am grieving right now. I don’t know if I will live for two or twenty years. How do you think I feel having to do tests every three months, PET scans every six months and then every day of my life hanging onto the thought that at any time cancer could come back?

Although this is not a blame game, many times my thoughts go to you. I do blame you for your lack of care and attention. Be happy that I am not reaching you through lawyers.

After the mastectomy before reconstruction.

After the mastectomy, before reconstruction.

Pay more attention to your patients, teach them what to look for, educate them on breast cancer, or any other cancer related to your specialty. You made an oath as a doctor, have you forgotten what that really means?

Maybe I couldn’t have avoided the cancer. But you could have helped me avoid it being detected at stage 3.

Claudia Degomme, your ex-patient.

Degomme Family

The Degomme Family

Note: Claudia was smart, she followed her intuition and sought a second opinion when her doctor told her that her symptoms were nothing to worry about. Her best friend who is also a doctor provided the answers she needed to save her life. Here in Claudia’s words are what happened next.

Anaisys came with her family to dinner on a Saturday. Something was telling me that there was something wrong with my left breast because my nipple started to leak a little and it was going inward, even though the mammogram had come back CLEAR. 
I asked Anaisys to take a look and she noticed a dimpling in my breast’s skin and she said that was typical of a tumor. She did not say much more, I guess not to scare me, but she told me afterwards that she feared I had a tumor. So she herself made the call to the breast surgeon and made an appointment for me. Monday I was at the doctor’s office at 9 a.m. with my husband, not knowing that soon I was going to go through the hardest, saddest, craziest ride of my life. 
 Claudia and Anaisys

Claudia and her supportive, loving husband Yvan.

Claudia and her supportive, loving husband Yvan.

Deepak, Oprah…Help!

Oprah and Deepak

An excerpt from my manuscript.

The job-protected portion of my short-term disability was running out, my employer wanted me to come back to work or step aside so they could hire someone else to fill my position. I was in no condition to consider going back to work, and I was devastated when my employer denied my request for an extension of my job protected leave.

I was in the middle of treatment and I had to face walking away from a position that I had held for over 11 years. I negotiated with myself six ways to Sunday trying to figure out a way to maintain my position and continue my life-saving treatments. My doctors, co-workers, family and friends cautioned me to not go back to work, but I struggled really hard and for a long time over this decision. In the end I had to prioritize my health over my wealth. I notified my employer and their insurance company that I would not be able to return to work. They placed me on long-term disability and made arrangements to pick up their company car, computer, printer, etc.

My life was changing before my eyes and there was nothing I could do about it. I was no longer in control, and I didn’t have an exit strategy from my career. I cried a lot over this, it was devastating for me. For over 20 years my career had provided for me and it was the one thing that I could (somewhat) control. As a cancer patient, I felt like I had no control, no power. I had to endure the treatments or risk death. Now two huge aspects of my life; my health and my career were out of my control. I became very depressed. I had trouble sleeping and couldn’t eat. I realized that a huge portion of my identity was tied to my career and my ability to earn. For half of my life my focus had been on my career and now my focus had to be on my health. My ego was in my way and I had to learn to let it go. I turned to the one person I knew who could help me let go of my ego; Oprah.

“We need to subscribe to OWN.” I told Joe. “I need Oprah right now.”

Joe, being the loving, sweet, generous man that he is, picked up the phone and called the cable company. He ordered OWN right on the spot. I set out to see what shows I could find to nourish my soul and get my ego in check. Thankfully Oprah had it covered. Between Super Soul Sunday and her catalog of shows on the topic of spiritual growth, I could learn another way to deal with my ego and my sadness because of it. The ego is a funny thing and it is so powerful. But once you get a handle on your own ego and understand its toxic effects, it is liberating to be able to let it go. I learned that when I am fearful because I have a disease that recurred multiple times or jealous because my friends and family are living normal lives, or perhaps irritated because my fears have been triggered it is always my ego rearing her ugly head and doing so because I am frightened. Being able to recognize it was the first step in being able to corral it.

Ego after Cancer

Our egos and fears get in the way of our true selves and I was embarking on a mission to get-to-know me, the inner me. I was vulnerable, raw and open to learning a new way to cope. What I learned changed my emotional outlook on the aspects of my life that I could not control. By calling out my ego I could control and humble it. I learned that I could recognize fear and deal with it head on. Not dealing with fear head on gave it power and I needed to disarm it so I could simply breathe. I learned that allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the most courageous act there is. And I finally learned how to meditate thanks to Deepak Chopra.

Thank you Oprah, you, your programming and your guests became my spiritual guides, and I plan to thank you in person someday when you invite me to your show to talk about this book. Just putting it out there, creating a new reality for myself, letting my dreams float through the universe, and allowing my ego to quietly sit on the sidelines as this journey unfolds.

Discussion points for readers with cancer: What has cancer taken from you? What tools do you use to cope with these loses?

Prosthetic Breast, Seriously?!

prosthetic breast 1

Part one of my sagas.

The word prosthetic to me sounds old, broken, missing, braced, fake or injured. It gets stuck on my tongue and I don’t like it. I don’t like the way the word sounds, and I don’t like saying it. What is it supposed to mean anyway, a good aesthetic? Does that mean without a prosthesis, I don’t look good, that I am unpleasing to the eye? Crap that is a lot to digest since I have endured 16+ surgeries trying to look “normal.” Still after all of those surgeries, my body rejected the implant, twice.
prosthetic breast

I don’t want a prosthetic breast, although my mom points out that an implant is a prosthesis. Technically she is correct, but for this article I am referring to an external device. I don’t want one because I don’t intend to remain in my current physically unpleasing to the eye state of being. I plan to be fully reconstructed and I have a wonderful and talented plastic surgeon who agrees with that plan. However, in the short-term, until my body can fully heal from the complications of so many surgeries and radiation treatments, I have a missing accessory. One would not be able to stop themselves from staring at my single perfectly augmented breast compared to the empty, hollowness on my right side. I have come up with a temporary solution; gauze (still healing) and cup type inserts that are removable from my bikinis. These breast shaped pads work great, but they sometimes become dislodged from the shelf-bra camisoles that I wear; I’m still too sore for a regular bra. When they become lose they land somewhere in my armpit or in the center of my chest, which is definitely not pro-aesthetic!

After I finished breast-feeding Curtis, my B cup breasts shrank to AA (which really means negative A in the bra sizing world. Why does a DD mean larger than D, but AA mean smaller than A?). I was spending a lot of time on our boat and in bathing suits, and I didn’t want to go out and buy all new smaller cupped bikinis, so I purchased the chicken cutlet looking breast inserts that some women wear to enhance their cup size. They are made of a silicone type gel and they are pretty heavy in weight. They worked fine to fill up my bathing suit tops, until the day I left them in while water skiing. I took a nasty spill that day, and those cutlets flew out of my top and were floating on top of the lake. My friends in the boat had a good hysterical fit of laughter as they were pointing to the fake boobies bobbing up and down in the water while I tried to swim after them to retrieve them. I laughed too, I don’t know why I thought those things would stay in place, and I was slightly embarrassed that my secrets were out and floating on top of the wake for all to see. I hated wearing the cutlets, they were hot and sweaty and obviously prone to fall out because of my active lifestyle. I immediately went out and bought all new bathing suits and sold the cutlets at a garage sale, those suckers were expensive, so I knew someone would buy them. I learned to embrace my small breasts, dress accordingly, and never ever considered augmentation until I was faced with reconstruction post-mastectomy. I quickly warmed up to the idea of insurance paid implants; I think they are the silver lining common denominator for breast cancer survivors or those having a prophylactic mastectomy.

So now I am planning an annual family trip to Puerto Vallarta, and I am wondering how I am going to navigate resort wear with only one breast. I decided it was time to go for a prosthetic fitting. Fitting, the word should be used to describe Kim Kardashian with a flock of stylists pinning her outfits on her in a way that shows off her spectacular curves. That’s the kind of fitting I want, not one for a fake external boob.

prosthetic breast 6

When I lost my hair from chemo, I would only wear wigs if I were going out in public. I wore them mainly to make other people feel comfortable around me. I didn’t want my cancer to be the center of attention and by wearing a wig I could blend in. People around me were more comfortable without ever even knowing that I was making them feel more comfortable. I on the other hand was not physically comfortable; wigs are hot, sweaty, and itchy, just like the cutlets. So mainly I would wear a baseball cap or a beanie type hat more often than wearing wigs for jaunts to the doctors for treatments or to the store or gym. I was able to continue to work out at the gym during my off weeks of chemo and would just throw on a baseball cap. I drew a lot of stares, but eventually people got used to seeing me at the gym with my bald head under a baseball cap, or I simply got used to the stares. However, I’m not prepared for people staring at my chest and trying to put together the pieces of my life in their minds, especially in a bathing suit.
prosthetic breast 4

I called the local cancer resource center and asked them if there was a place in town that sold breast prosthesis. The center gave me three names: a prosthetic business, a pharmacy, and a lingerie store. I called the prosthetic company versus the lingerie store, I already knew what the lingerie store sold; cutlets. I couldn’t imagine that a pharmacy would be a good place to try on fake boobs for size so I didn’t even write that phone number down. The lady who picked up the phone was kind and told me that my insurance would pay for the visit and for the prosthetic, good news, so I set up an appointment for the following Tuesday.

“It’s no big deal,” said my mom who wears a prosthesis after her own mastectomy decades before. She had widespread early stage breast cancer, had a unilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, and fortunately her breast cancer has not returned like mine did. “See look at mine,” she said as she pulled it out of her bra and waved it at me. I laughed as I dodged it. She uses a prosthetic to create symmetry; reconstructive surgeries are far more sophisticated now than they were 25+ years ago. My mom is obviously comfortable with not only saying the word, but showing me the device. “It’s quite comfortable and look here at this area, it absorbs the sweat,” she was saying and pointing. I looked more out of the corner of my eye than dead onto it, I didn’t want to interact too much with my mom’s prosthetic breast. I didn’t want to face my own need.

prosthetic breast 2

We had a good laugh at the whole thing; sitting outside on the deck drinking Chardonnay with the sun on our chests as we shared our battle scars with each other. Anyone could have driven by and seen us, but we didn’t care because we were not alone in our suffering and we could laugh at our circumstance.

Next week,part two, after the fitting, which by the way seems like a very formal process. NOT looking forward to it. Not at all…

prosthetic breast 3 prosthetic breast 5

New Day, New Doctor, New Hope

Switching doctors
You have heard the saying “It takes a village.” This holds true for cancer patients; it takes a huge team of doctors to treat a person with cancer. It is an often confusing process for the patient; one doctor prescribes a medication and then sends you to a different physician for a drug to counteract the side-effects of the first one. One doctor has an opinion and the next has a different view point. Medicine is not as black and white as one would think, there are too many variables. I consider myself a very informed patient; 20+ years in the pharmaceutical industry taught me how to research, read, and understand studies. I have also had a lot of training on effective communication with physicians. These skills come in handy as a patient.

From the beginning I wasn’t connecting with the oncologist that I was originally referred to following my first diagnosis of breast cancer. She was defensive and condescending during our interactions. Was it because I came to all of our appointments with my black leather notebook filled with my own research and lots of questions for her? Or was it that she had other things on her mind, like her own fiscal health? Either way, I stayed five years and three diagnoses too long.

Have you ever thought to yourself I don’t think this is the right doctor for me? If you have, you were probably right. There is a large continuum of skill and competency in any industry, even those that practice medicine. What? That’s right, I said it, there are some terrible doctors practicing medicine. I saw this first hand over the two decades that I was in “the business”; most doctors were good, some were mediocre, and a few were down right bad.

I should have followed my gut; I should have switched oncologists a long time ago. Why didn’t I? For the same reasons as most; we are indoctrinated to believe that doctors are the all-knowing, ultra-educated, experts on health and medicine. That’s all fine and dandy, after all, they do possess a lot of education and training, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will be good doctors or click with every one of their patients.

Just in case you have never received permission to challenge your doctors or seek a new one if the one you are seeing isn’t working for you, let me be the first to offer you that permission. If it doesn’t sound right, feel right, or the person makes you feel uncomfortable in anyway, request your records and get the hell out. Find a doctor that works for you, not just for their own bottom line. Medicine is commerce and one should have their eyes wide open on this knowledge, and never forget the patient is the customer. I have seen the same scenario play out over and over again in doctor’s offices; the doctor is kind, calm, and happy, so is their staff. Then they move into a new building, take on a huge mortgage and they become anxious, rushed, and snarky, and so does their staff. Doctor’s in private practice work hard to cover their overhead and Medicare and the insurance companies pay less and less each year for services rendered. Couple that with a patient who has a disease and wants compassion, time with their doctor, answers to their questions, a plan to get healthy or stave off disease, and it can be like water and oil.

So what do you do? You get personal references from friends, family, acquaintances, or on-line (healthgrades.com is an on-line service where you can gain valuable information and reviews on doctors). Listen to your gut, and make a move if necessary. People stay longer than they want to with their hair dressers and their doctors because they don’t want to make anyone feel uneasy. When I lost my hair from chemotherapy; I thought to myself that was the perfect time for me to switch hair stylists. I loved the stylist that I had been going to forever, but I thought he was charging me way too much and sometimes he seemed distracted and I left his chair with a bad pixie cut, however, it took me being bald to make a change.

So on my last uncomfortable visit to my oncologist, I said enough is enough. I requested my records and got the hell out. I asked my breast friends who they saw and a particular doctor’s name kept coming up. With a little help from a dear friend who happens to be a physician, I was able to get an immediate appointment with this oncologist that I was courting. Right off the bat I liked him. He said the one thing I had been longing to hear, “It’s hard to believe this right now Trina, because you have been in the thick of this disease for so long, but soon you will have all of this behind you, you will be cured, reconstructed and you will go on to live a long and healthy life just like the rest of us.” Hope. He gave me hope. Hope that I would be whole and healthy. Hope that I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable with any part of my health care village.Hope that I had found the right doctor for me. This hope was worth any uneasy feelings that came with a break-up.
New HopeNew Doctor

No Fear

This is what I know for sure. After three diagnosis of breast cancer, I don’t fear much anymore.

It has been said that there are two psychological houses that humans approach each and every situation from; the house of love or the house of fear. If you approach life with love then you are compassionate, forgiving, loving, giving to others, altruistic, kind, empathetic, ready to serve, possess inner peace, forgiving, and you don’t lead with your ego. If you live in the house of fear, then you lead with your ego, constantly beating on your chest to prove that you are right, you are angry, hurt, snarky, rude, demanding, and unforgiving. The truth is not many humans achieve living in the house of love at all times, that is what makes us human, we possess a myriad of emotions and learning to control and direct them for the good of yourself and others is a very hard thing to do. It takes practice, discipline, willingness, and hard work.

So what is it that we are afraid of in this house of fear? I say we fear not being loved. Which let’s face it is a fascinating concept; we act in fear because we are afraid we won’t be loved, instead of acting through love where love has no fear. I know, I know… I am starting to lose myself here. It is a complex, yet simple theory.

So back to my lack of fear, when I say I don’t fear much, that doesn’t mean that I don’t visit the house of fear, it just means that I have stopped living life in fear of all things big and small. I am not afraid to take a risk, to say what I mean to say, to stand up for what is right, to show up and be counted, to take a leap, to try a new hair color, to learn a new trick, to mend a fence, or to tear one down if it no longer serves me well. No fear. I don’t have time to be afraid. Do you?

A week ago I attended a memorial service for a 17-year-old boy who died tragically in a car accident. He went to the same high school as my son, they played little league together when they were young and I have known his mother professionally for 21 years. The entire high school and their parents were at this memorial, we are a small, tight knit community and to lose one of our children had a ripple effect that enveloped us all. There is no greater a test on this earth than the one that was set before his parents.

Alex Maier

Alex Maier, a fearless hero to me.

We stood in silence in the stands of the football stadium, where Alex was a star soccer player. You could have heard a pin drop as Alex’s parents walked through the two rows of soccer players to the white chairs that were set out for them in front of a stage where large pictures of their son smiling for his senior photo sat on easels. They sat down at first, but then his mother, father, and sister, stood back up and turned around and faced all of us standing there for them and for their son. With their arms wrapped around each other for support, they stood looking at us looking at them, acknowledging all of us with love and appreciation. They were thanking us for showing up, for showing support, for sharing love with them. They did not exhibit fear at that moment, only strength, grace and gratitude.

Alex was a giver, unbeknownst to his parents he had signed up to be an organ donor when he applied for his driver’s license. He saved 6 lives with his generous gift and gave many more the chance to heal with tissue donations. I am a recipient of donor tissue. I have received this gift from a stranger during a reconstructive surgery. I quietly vowed to Alex that I would live in service of others, working hard to live in the house of love and to be forever fearless.

What do you fear? And are you a registered organ/tissue donor?

organ tissue donor

Slightly Carbonated Coconut Cottage Cheese

 

I have to admit that I am stumbling towards enlightenment when it comes to super foods and supplements to support my immune system. I know they are vital to the well-being of my fragile immune system and to my long recovery ahead. I have had too many surgeries and too many treatments for breast cancer not to know that I am utterly screwed if I don’t take concrete measures to improve the way my body handles carcinogens.  I have been discovering and trying all kinds of juicing, powders and supplements, and I have learned some interesting things, some the hard way.

Over the summer, Joe planted a wonderfully abundant organic garden and we juiced daily from its bounty and drank our nutrients. Juicing fruits and vegetables accomplishes two extremely important functions; the first is that you are able to consume a lot more nutrients by taking pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing them to an eight-ounce glass of juice that is packed full of super-nutrients that our bodies need to be optimally healthy. Secondly, by juicing you free up the nutrients from the fiber that it is attached to. For example, if you eat a carrot, the body may absorb 10-30% of the beta-carotene, the rest of the beta-carotene is attached to the fiber of the vegetable and eliminated unabsorbed by the body. If you juice that same carrot and separate the nutrient from the fiber, your body can absorb 100% of the beta-carotene from that same carrot. 

It is November now and the summer garden is long gone, so I searched for an alternative. A dear friend of mine who works in holistic healing brought over a green powder that consists of freeze-dried nutrients, even more potent than what we could juice from the garden. The directions said to mix 1-3 tablespoons into water and drink. I took out a small glass placed the recommended amount in, added about a half cup of water and stirred like crazy. The powder and the water were not mixing too well together and I was afraid I would end up with a big patch of unmixed powder in my mouth. I stirred and stirred, I was ready to take the plunge. Holy cow it was nasty tasting, and I was right to fear the pockets of powder. I looked at Joe and shook my head, “I don’t know how compliant I am going to be with this,” I said.

The next day I decided to mix the green powder with some organic pear nectar. I figured the nectar was thick enough to handle the powder and the sweetness should be able to help with the taste a little bit. That did work and I mixed a palatable shot that I could swallow really quickly in just a couple of gulps. “I believe in the power of these super-nutrients” became my mantra as I got through the week supply that my friend had dropped off. I called her for the source; I needed more of this stuff. My appetite is a mess from the pain medications and trauma from two surgeries back to back, and I need to continue to offer my body nutrient-dense foods. She gave me the name and number of the guy who delivers this stuff right to your door. She also kept telling me that I need to drink his coconut probiotic concoction to promote healing and keep my digestive system in tip-top condition; which is also a mess from the pain medications and prolonged use of antibiotics because of the infection.

So I called Rob the green powder guy and he was at my door within an hour with a pound of the powder and a mason jar full of coconut probiotic sludge. $95 for the two, not cheap, but that’s a lot of nutrients right?

After he left I went into the kitchen to pour myself the recommended starting dose of ½ cup of the sludge. It smelled like coconut but had chunks like cottage cheese in it. I got out a spoon and tried to stir the chunks into the liquid, but that didn’t make them smaller, nor did pressing the chunks into the side of the glass with the back of a spoon. So I decided I would just take a swig and be done with it. What hit my taste buds was a slightly carbonated coconut cottage cheese drink and I thought I was going to projectile vomit the whole mouthful right onto the kitchen counter. Rob had sold me on the benefits of the probiotic and I was financially invested in this, so the sludge was going down. I stirred and drank, stirred and drank, then followed it with a shot of pear nectar with green powder. The whole thing was exhausting so I went back to bed. 

About a half hour later my stomach started to gurgle really loudly, and churned. I had a war going on inside my digestive tract and I was crossing my fingers that I was going to come out of this without a rapid elimination of all of these expensive, hard to get down nutrients. I sipped water and my stomach finally calmed. Phew.

The next day, Joe, being the smoothie king that he is, offered to blend the sludge into a tasty mid-day snack for me. The smoothie he made tasted just like anything you could buy at Jamba Juice and I was thrilled, I could live with this. He offered to incorporate the green powder, but I didn’t want to take the chance of ruining a perfectly good smoothie so I took the pear nectar shot separately.

After about a couple of weeks of taking these supplements I can feel real energy returning to my body, and my breast is healing from surgery. Joe also said that my skin looks really good which is a plus, but that could also be because another good friend turned me onto her anti-aging creams, but I will write about that another time.

For a great documentary on the benefits of juicing check out “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” By Joe Cross.

http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/trailer.html

Thanksgiving: An American Tradition of Gratitude

 On the 4th Thursday of every November Americans gather with their friends and families to give thanks, and to indulge on turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Here a list of of things that I am thankful for this year, I encourage you to come up with your own list.

Vatican City, Rome

  • After completing chemo therapy in December, Joe and I took a celebratory trip to Italy in January. I was sick, bald, and nowhere close to recovered from the poisons my body endured, but my will was strong and I refused to wait another day to get on with my life. We visited; Rome, Florence, Perugia, Bologna, and Venice. It was magical and I loved every minute of it.
  • I am most thankful for all of the love and support that I have received from my friends and family this year. I sit in awe of the kindness that people have shown to me, everything from messages on-line, phone calls, cards, flowers, meals, visits, prayers, vitamins, rides to treatment, fund-raisers for cancer research and treatment, books, or a shoulder to cry on, my friends and family really stepped up and were there for me. I truly could not have made it through this year without this love and support, and I am humbled by it.

    Dirty Girls of Del Norte

    Trina and Reina after the ACS walk

  • I am grateful for Joe. Joe co-founded Jamba Juice, he carved out a hugely successful career for himself and when he was able to retire at age 40, he took on the monumental task of taking care of me, our (collective) three kids and our household while I battled cancer. He works tirelessly and never ever complains, instead, I hear him singing while he works. He has done an amazing job keeping it all together for us, and he does so in a loving way; I have learned a lot from him.
  • I absolutely love the maturity that my 16-year-old son Curtis demonstrated this year. Watching him blossom into a young man is such a joy  for me. He is my only child, and my illness has been incredibly hard on him. We have grown even closer over this past year and I treasure the intimate bond that I share with him. He inspires me to keep fighting every day.

    Curtis Junior Year

  • I am beyond grateful that I am cancer free today. After three breast cancer diagnosis, chemo, 2 rounds of radiation and 15 surgeries, I will always remain cautiously optimistic that the cancer won’t return, however, it is something I live with every day. What I have learned is that recurrent cancer is a host problem, meaning my body lacks the ability to effectively trap and eliminate carcinogens. I have spent this past year learning how I can support my immune system so that I may have a better chance of the cancer not returning again. Admittedly I became a little obsessed with reading the obituaries and when I saw a woman’s obit talking about how “she bravely fought cancer for x years but finally succumbed” I get very scared. Will this too be my fate? I am grateful it wasn’t my fate in 2012!
  • You know I have to mention my dog Dash, I will always be grateful for her sweet disposition and presence in my life. What a blessing this creature is to me.

    Dash

  • I am grateful that I got to see my dear friend Smith’s daughter Natalie get married. Being able to share this event with them fueled my body, and nourished my soul. Life is short, RSVP yes! to everything you can.

    RSVP – YES to everything!

  • I am grateful that I found the courage to write my story. My one book has turned into three and though not published yet, they soon will be! I have received feedback from people around the world that my story has touched; I am honored to be able to share it. I began writing because I was afraid that I would die of cancer before my son truly knew who his mom, the woman, the person was. He is not ready to read my story yet, but I am grateful that I did this for him and for me.
  • I am grateful for the lessons that I have learned this year; facing my own mortality has taught me so much about living.

    Joe’s garden nourishing my body

  • Yoga and meditation. They have changed my life and the way I handle stress. I recommend it to everyone. If you would like to take a look at meditation, Deepak Chopra is currently offering a free 21-day meditation challenge on the law of abundance. These are 15 minute guided meditation sessions that you can access by going to Oprah.com/Chopra.
  • I am grateful for my son’s tutor Sarah. She has become invaluable as he struggles to pass algebra. Today was his final; fingers crossed!
  • Our new kitchen appliances; cooking for three teenage boys is much more enjoyable with a nice range.
  • I am thankful for the continued benefits that I receive from a company that I have not been able to contribute to for over a year. I do not take for granted that they pay for my health insurance and that I still have an income because of their generous benefit program.
  • I am happy that my hair grew back. Bald is hard to pull off and wigs are hot and itchy!

    Venice, Italy

  • I am happy to have the tissue expander out of my body. I had a hard plastic “squeaky toy” in my chest wall for most of the year, and now it has been replaced by a soft implant. Unfortunately all of the radiation that I have had is slowing the healing time way down, but I have two gorgeous breasts and for that, I am grateful.
  • I am grateful for Oprah. The quality of the content that she airs literally saved my soul and I spent countless hours learning from her and her guests this past year.
  • I love the Mercedes I bought this year. I never talk about material possessions, because I really don’t care about them, but I really appreciate the quality of this car and the way it looks.
  • And lastly, I am grateful to YOU for reading all of this; YOU are touching my life one way or the other just by reading this, thank you.

    Indoor skydiving Curtis, James, Trina, Joe and Johnny

Radiation Therapy and a Dog Named Dash

Dash and I out for a walk

On the first day of radiation, the friendly medical assistant showed me into the dressing room, handed me a patient gown and a key to a locker dangling from a twisted piece of plastic in the shape of a bracelet. She showed me to a cupboard where there was a drawer labeled with my name on it. Seeing my name there in print amongst the names of the other patients made my heart sink. I wondered who these people were and what kind of cancer they had.

“Each day when you are done with your treatment, you can store your gown here to use again,” said the medical assistant. Then she escorted me to a chair to wait my turn for the blast of radiation coming from the huge machine inside the sterile room that the technicians fled from before hitting the kill button. There is no comfort in seeing the person who is administering your treatment for cancer protecting themselves from the same toxins. It makes you pause in wonderment and fear and made me want to flee with her.

The patient before me left the room and now it was my turn. My eyes darted from side to side and I broke out into a sweat as I was positioned on the table. While holding my arms overhead and tilting my chin away from my chest as I was instructed to do so, tears ran down my cheeks. I felt sad, scared and physically exposed with my breast out in the open. The machine began moving around me and made a low humming noise. A red light glowed in the corner of the room, sort of like a traffic light, warning the staff not to come in. A few moments later the machine stopped back in its original position. The technician came in and told me I could release my arms. “All done Trina,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”

This routine went on every day, and I continued to work around my treatment appointments. A few weeks into radiation, I became very fatigued. I had trouble doing the smallest of tasks and spent most of the evenings in bed after work. I would get up only long enough to try to gather up some dinner for my son. I decided I needed to take a short-term leave of absence from work so I could rest in between treatments. I just couldn’t do it all and I had a hard time admitting that to myself.

The weeks that followed were filled with daily trips to and from the clinic and lonely hours in bed. I decided I needed a full-time companion to keep me company and a dog was just the ticket. I was thumbing through a magazine when I saw an advertisement that featured a Dachshund. I fell in love with the adorable little creature in the pictures and tore out the page to show my son Curtis. “This is the kind of dog I want,” I told him. He just shook his head. If it wasn’t a big dog like the Golden Retriever his dad has, he couldn’t see the point.

On Saturday Curtis and his friend wanted to hang out at the pier in Pismo Beach and asked if I could drive them there. I thought it would be a good opportunity to walk the beach and clear my head while they hung out so I agreed. As I was coming up the beach Curtis was yelling to me from the top of the pier. “I found our dog Mom, come quick,” he shouted. He excitedly lead me to the local pet store just off the main drag, all the way I protested that there was no way I was buying a dog today. Behind the glass barrier was a red miniature Wiener dog with the most precious face I had ever seen. The clerk brought the puppy out and handed her to me. She immediately wrapped her head and neck around mine and snuggled up to my chest. She clung there in desperation as if she was willing me to take her home. I was instantly hooked. There was no way I was leaving this store without her. I bought all the puppy supplies that the clerk recommended and a $1000 later, I walked out with the newest member of our family. I named her Dash. I thought it was a fun play on words for the breed and her long body reminded me of a dash mark. That first night at home I placed Dash on the floor at the foot of my bed in the kennel that the clerk said I would need in order to train her. She whined a little and seemed scared and restless. I kept popping up from my pillow to look at her every time she moved in the night. Neither of us got a good night sleep. The next night I decided she would sleep on the bed with me. She was so small and timid and I wanted to protect her from falling off of the bed so I built a wall of pillows around her to encapsulate her. She still wasn’t settled with this arrangement. On the third night Joe was there with us. She curled up onto Joe’s chest and rested her head into his neck. She stayed like that all night and it was love at first sight for those two. From then on Dash would snuggle with us throughout the night. She burrows under the covers to keep warm, and her body next to mine is like a hot water bottle. Her calm loving spirit coupled with her timid personality made her the perfect companion for me while I was resting in bed. During the day we would take long walks together and then rush back to the comfort of our bed exhausted from the outing. This sweet little creature became one of the greatest loves of my life, and my emotional savior.

Its Official; Donald Trump is Trying to Kill Me

Ready for surgery, Oct. 19, 2012

Donald Trump said he had a big announcement to make that would change the election. He put out teasers on Twitter and challenged people to tune it at noon EST today for his big announcement. I fancy myself as someone who likes to stay informed; I have been watching the debates and following the press, so I tuned in to see what Trump had to say. In a video post lasting 2 minutes and 45 seconds Donald Trump put out a hit on my life and tried to blackmail the President of the United States.

In essence he said that he would withhold a $5 million dollar donation to the American Cancer Society (or a charity of the President’s choice, but he specifically named the ACS) unless Obama releases his college and passport applications by 5 pm on October 31st. What?!? Does that sound like blackmail to you?

So Trump has the ability to donate $5 million to the American Cancer Society and he is going to withhold those life-saving funds unless the President does what he wants him to do. I’m no expert on blackmail, but this stinks up a storm to me. I am also no expert on vetting the President, but I am pretty sure where the President was born is a dead issue. To go a step further, Mr. Moneybags is publicly campaigning for Romney and the end of Obamacare. I don’t want to state the obvious, but, I will probably die if Obama doesn’t get re-elected. Why? Because I am a 3 time breast cancer survivor and the insurance companies don’t want to insure me.  Under Obama, insurance companies will have to insure me. Who do you think I am voting for? We all have our personal reasons for who we are going to vote for, and I would never try to persuade someone to vote a certain way solely for my benefit, but what Trump did today was disgusting. Utterly disgusting!

I Have Breast Cancer

“Questions?” asked the surgeon. “Do you have any questions?”

“No.” I whispered into the phone.

“We will need to schedule another surgery to do the lumpectomy and I will give you a referral to see a radiation oncologist. Martha from my office will call you tomorrow. Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” she said.

I sat in my car on the side of the road with my head against the steering wheel for a long time. My mind was racing and my heart was pounding, I started to shake. I breathed in slowly through my nose and exhaled loudly through my mouth. I had to keep it together so I could drive home. I practiced square breathing techniques to keep from hyperventilating; breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, exhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, breathe in…I sat on the side of the road trying to digest the fact that I have breast cancer. I closed my eyes and shook my head from side to side; son-of-a-bitch I thought. After a few moments of feeling really sorry for myself, I dug deep and found some strength. I lifted my chin as high up in the air as it would go and took a deep breath in and on the exhale I said out loud “OK.”

”OK”  became my personal mantra. As if to say to myself; “OK, you can do this.”

“OK, everything is going to be alright.” “OK, you can get through this.” “OK, you are strong.” “OK, I have faith in you.” “OK, you will beat this.” “OK, I accept this.” Joe says he hears me saying “OK” to myself around the house all of the time, as if I am psyching myself up for something. This mantra has become an unconscious behavior for me now, borne out of my will to be strong and to survive.

I drove home knowing that my family would be waiting for me and waiting for the results from the pathology report. I had to deliver this news. I had to say it out loud. I have breast cancer.

I walked into my house through the garage door and into the kitchen where my mom and Gene sat watching the evening news. They turned to look at me with expectant faces and without saying a word they knew what I was about to tell them. I braced myself on the counter, “Its cancer” I said. “Oh no!”, my mother cried and jumped up to wrap her arms around me. I didn’t feel like crying as I received her hug, instead I again raised my chin as high in the air as it would go and declared that I would beat this thing and everything would be OK.

Sculpture Garden, Friday Harbor, WA