The One Breasted Warrior

One breasted warriorI’m still fighting. It hurts physically and emotionally. I am not getting any closer to complete healing or a body that has all of it’s parts in place. I remain hopeful though, hopeful that the cancer does not return. My foolish, vain self marched into the plastic surgeon’s office recently and  boldly stated that I would like to discuss my options for making another run at reconstruction. I haven’t  stopped worrying or crying since that bold move.

“We need to find the root cause of the chronic pain in your chest.” stated the surgeon. “It is most likely necrosis of the bone from radiation. I can order an MRI and we can see what is going on in there. If it’s nothing than we can start with a scar revision, then blah, blah, blah…” He continued.

MRI? That picks up cancer too I thought. Is he looking for cancer? Why do these doctors want to continuously look for cancer in my body?

I had two MRI’s done the following week on two separate days, double the stress. One was to check the left breast that still remains with it’s small but perfectly proportioned implant. The other MRI was to look at my right chest and ribs where nothing remains but skin tact down onto my bones and pain that never stops. Wearing a bra and a prosthesis is an act of a warrior. It is like my shield as I go out into the world trying to fit in with the normal breasted women. It is incredibly painful to wear this shield as it hits right where all of the pain is concentrated. I  dig for a warriors courage just to get dressed for work in the morning. By the end of the day that bra must come off immediately and I greet my son and his friends with one breast. Most are too polite to stare, but they all hug me sideways, as if they are afraid to hurt me or confirm what they see through touch.

The MRI’s came back inconclusive. “There is something on your ribs but we are not sure if it is injury or metastatic bone cancer.” Said the surgeon. “I am going to have the Tumor Board review your case and make a recommendation. Don’t worry, it’s probably nothing.”

How many times have I heard that? “Don’t worry, it’s probably nothing.” News flash to my team of doctors, it has always been something when you go poking around looking for cancer in me. I cringe when I hear those words.

The “Board” recommended a PET scan. Where in the fuck is my warrior Xanax?!

The last time I had a PET scan was right before I started chemo therapy a couple of years ago. This time, I merely went to the plastic surgeon and inquired about reconstruction and now I am having a contrast dye put into an IV that is hanging out of my arm. The tears rolled freely down my face as I was positioned into the machine. “Are you okay?” Asked the tall, dark, handsome technician as he handed me a tissue and waited patiently for me to stop crying so he could start the test. I dug deep for my warrior strength and fell still and quiet while the machine hummed around me searching for cells that are ruining my life and trying to kill me.

The results were sent to the Tumor Board and they recommended a biopsy of my ribs.

I called my oncologist and pretty much said what the fuck?! “I don’t think there is anything to be worried about,” he said. I couldn’t breath. I walked outside of the hospital where I was at work to continue the conversation but my legs were starting to go numb from panic.

“Let me have another radiologist take a look at the films.” He offered. “I will be in touch, don’t worry Trina.”

One breasted warrior 1

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The SCAR Project – A Look at Breast Amputees

Barbie (1) Courtesy of David Jay Bridgette. Courtesy of David Jay Elisa. Courtesy of David Jay There are many variables that go into a woman’s ability or willingness to have reconstruction following a mastectomy. I have had a successful reconstruction and then I had two failures. I know that adds up to three, but all of that activity was on the same breast. Like I said, a lot of variables…

The pain can be both physical and emotional, just look into some of these women’s eyes. I personally can’t stop thinking about the breast that I lost because the area where it used to be hurts all of the time. There is a possibility that more surgeries could alleviate the pain and maybe even put me back together again. However there is also the possibility that the surgeries could fail and I could end up worse off than I am now.

I began to wonder if there were other women like me out there who were struggling with the aftermath of breast cancer treatments and the realities of what it does to our bodies and our personalities? I also wondered if there was anyone out there who was willing to talk about and expose the shockingly raw realities of breast cancer? Lets cut the crap with the pink ribbons and the movie star smiles and have a game of show and tell.

Courtesy of David JayI came across The SCAR Project by fashion photographer David Jay. Two things impressed me right away; the first being that David is a man. The second is that he started an awareness campaign to shed light on what women really look like following a mastectomy, and encouraged them to feel empowered, instead of  ashamed. It’s somewhat of an oxymoron; a man empowering women to feel beautiful because of her disfigured breasts. Breasts are the quintessential symbol of femininity, and men have made it abundantly clear to us women how much they love perfect breasts. So much so, that we women have spent billions of dollars to augment our breasts to make their appearance desirable to men. And then to top it off, we oblige societies love affair with breasts by parading them around like balloons on Thanksgiving Day . Jolene and Kyle. Courtesy of David Jay

But what happens when the breasts need to be amputated to save your life? What if reconstruction is not wanted, not possible or not available because the woman doesn’t have insurance? For most of us women a part of our sexuality and confidence is lost with those mastectomized breasts. David found that by photographing women for the SCAR Project helped them to reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, and some of the power that they had been robbed of.

Kristen. Courtesy of David JayTo me, these pictures represent a small shift in society’s acceptance of a tribe of scarred, breastless and one breasted women. Since 1 and 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, this tribe that I currently belong to is growing. Exposure will help women like me to accept what we might not be able to change. Perhaps fashion designers will make a bra for women with one breast so we don’t have to wear an external device to appear “normal.” What if not having breasts or having one breast becomes acceptable? What if it is seen as a badge of honor and strength? What if we could tone down our obsession with breasts just a little bit? I appreciate David for helping us to see this through a different lense. Jill. Courtesy of David Jay

Please check out the SCAR Project at http://thescarproject.org/ for more photos and information.

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

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.