Friday, December 30, 2011


As I frantically try to organize some fun to ring in the new year, I am reminded of what I did or did not do last year at this time and why.  I remember the fog of fatigue and nausea that rolled me into 2011.  I remember the brain scan in January, the metastasis scare in February, the mastectomy in March, the biopsy in April, the last day of radiation in May, and finally the summer of recovery that led to the most glorious fall.    

My reflections reminded me of my favorite houseplant.  In college I started the plant from a cutting from home, and it moved with me from the dorms to apartments, from upstairs to downstairs, from North Carolina to Wisconsin.  But when the plant and I finally moved back to Iowa in April 2009, I mistakenly thought it would be okay on the porch overnight.  It froze.  It died.

Just when I was about to throw it out, I saw something amazing.    

It was growing again!  From the center of death and decay sprang a tiny, vibrant leaf.  Over the past two and a half years, this single leaf has given rise to my old favorite plant. 

I feel like the beginning of 2011 was the center of my death and decay.  But look what has sprung forth this year in my life:  from activism (three state proclamations in support of IBC awareness) to career accomplishments (five accepted publications) to family joys (two potty-trained darlings)!  I have overcome the trauma almost as effectively as my houseplant.

Here's to the end of a trying yet remarkable year.  Happy 2012 to all of you!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The stockings were hung at last

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told that I had 18 weeks of chemotherapy before the mastectomy, it was clear that I was going to have a lot of time on my hands.  But not the kind of time that I can do whatever I want, like study microbes or bake cookies.  The kind of time in which I'm trying to take my mind off of the nausea or waiting to be called back into an exam room at any minute.  This kind of time begs for a craft project.  So I decided to start a Christmas stocking for my then 1-year-old daughter, Eleanor.  

I had started a needlepoint stocking for my first daughter when she was one, but I didn't finish it before Nori was born.  So like any self-respecting twenty-something, I passed it off to my mom to finish.  I found needlepoint to be tedious and slow, so for Eleanor's stocking I opted for a felt applique model, hoping it would be faster.  It may have been faster if I had bought a stocking of normal dimensions.  But oh no.  What I neglected to notice when I purchased Nori's felt stocking was that the finished dimensions were to be over two feet long by at least a foot wide.  

The gargantuan proportions and exquisite detail made for hours upon hours of cutting and stitching and sequin-ing.  I worked on this dang stocking during most visits to the Oncology office.  And it took me until Thanksgiving to finish it.  It really is a beautiful stocking.  I wonder if it will always make me nauseous, or if that's a temporary phenomenon.

The very day I finished Eleanor's stocking, I received a parcel in the mail from my mother, containing Azalea's unfinished stocking.  All of the needlepoint was done (huzzah!  Thanks, mom!), but the complicated assembly remained.  Initially I was disappointed to have so much work left to do on this stocking, but when I held up Azalea's meager stocking to Eleanor's behemoth I was grateful to have the chance to do some equilibrating.  

I returned to my friendly felt and used more needlepoint to attach the stocking face onto the felt.  I then sewed hundreds of white sequins (snow) around the needlepoint  before sewing on a felt back.  It's still not done, with some holly berries and a jingle bell waiting to adorn, but it was done enough for this year.  

And at last, at the ripe old ages of 2 and 4, my daughters had some stockings for Santa to fill with chocolates, pens, clementines, and socks.      
Eleanor's nauseating stocking is on the left, Azalea's needlepointed nightmare is on the right.
I hope that those of you who celebrate Christmas had a fantastic holiday!  For us, it was the best Christmas ever.  But last Christmas was not a hard act to follow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

IBC awareness shirts are in!

This post may seem trivial, but I decided that it's important since I don't want my dad to end up with a hundred pink t-shirts in a box in his basement.  Besides, bloggers are allowed an administrative post from time to time, right?

Just in time for the holidays, we now have women's sizes of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) awareness long-sleeved shirts in stock.  They are pictured on the right, although the blog title has been corrected on the Women's sizes.  A few weeks ago I had a poll on the sidebar, so if you voiced interest in a shirt now is the time to stake your claim.  Feel free to claim one even if you didn't vote--we can always print more.  Please email me at "30carnations (at) gmail (dot) com" with your mailing address and order, and I'll send you a shirt.  In return, please send $20 to my dad (I'll email you his address).  

Profits will be donated to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Foundation in support of raising awareness of IBC.  Thank you for your support!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bye bye, Scaffold of a Person

Long-time followers will note that I haven't been updating my Scaffold of a Person lately.  I started Scaffold of a person about a month after starting this blog, as a way to introduce my various loved ones to each other and give me the opportunity to honor them publicly.  The idea came about after I spent an afternoon with a new friend and I was too sick to come up with a respectable conversation topic based on the few details I knew about his life.  I called these few details his scaffold.  I then got to thinking about the scaffolds I'd build for everyone else in my life and decided to post them on the blog periodically.

I set up a spot on the blog and wrote a few sentences about someone that was on my mind at the time.  I decided not to make it a page on the blog that would have permanent memory, but rather a temporary gadget in which an individual's scaffold would hold brief literary form before disappearing forever.  I thought that this model was true to the very definition of a scaffold, and how it changes with time.  It was a lot of fun for me, and many of the folks I scaffolded were tickled about it.

However, this rather bohemian model for lack of scaffold retention is not without consequence.  Considering that one of the side effects of cancer treatment is temporary impairment of brain function, it is not surprising that I have no idea who have I and have not scaffolded.

My solution is to discontinue the Scaffold of a Person.  This is because I don't want to twice scaffold a friend I haven't seen in 10 years if I failed to scaffold my mother, for example.  Although I've forgotten just about anything that happened between Oct. 2010 and June 2011 (turns out that's not such a bad thing), I'm sure each of you are very clear whether or not you were appropriately scaffolded.

I just can't in good conscious continue scaffolding.  I want to be an equal opportunity blogger.  I suppose I could accept nominations for an individual to scaffold, but only if you are sure that I didn't scaffold them previously.  

My apologies to those of you who will miss Scaffold of a Person, and to those of you I should have scaffolded.  I blame my poor record-keeping, and, that's right, cancer.     

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fitness and Cancer: Why It's Important to Stay Healthy

I was recently contacted by cancer survivor David Haas of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog about guest posting on my blog.  We have similar philosophies about the importance of support networks and physical fitness to fighting cancer.  I started this blog to keep my support network at arm's reach throughout my cancer treatment.  My favorite forms of exercise are walking, biking, and yoga, and even on my sickest days I found someone to lean on to walk me down the block and back.  Love and movement are powerful medicines.  Call on your friends or family to help you get a dose of each.   

Everyone agrees that exercise and a proper diet are important for maintaining overall health. Staying fit reduces a person's risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and improves muscular strength and endurance. This is even more important for people dealing with cancer. Whether they have just been diagnosed or are in remission, staying fit means responding to treatment better, increased energy levels, and a higher quality of life. Unfortunately, exercise is likely not to top the priority list of a cancer patient. The effects of cancer, and cancer therapy, may leave a person with little energy or desire to exercise.

For active people, daily exercise and a healthy diet may already be habit. They may need to modify their exercise routines to fit their new needs, but can maintain normal activity. People who are less active may find it difficult to focus on fitness, especially if they have recently been diagnosed with cancer, but should consult their doctor and develop an exercise regimen and healthy diet.

Any cancer patient knows that treatment is heavily taxing on the body making it difficult to find the energy to exercise. However, poor fitness and obesity are connected to complications during treatment, increased risk of recurrence, and higher mortality during and after treatment. Fit patients respond better to treatment and cope better with the side effects of cancer therapy. There is also a growing body of evidence that indicates exercise and a healthy diet can actually prevent cancer. For cancer survivors, exercise and a healthy diet can help keep cancer in remission. For sufferers of lung cancer or mesothelioma, exercise can mean being able to maintain daily functionality. Light aerobic exercise maintains and increases lung capacity leading to increased oxygen levels.

While the main focus of cancer treatment is on survivability, doctors are paying more attention to improving quality of life. Exercise and a healthy diet contribute significantly to increased energy levels and positive outlook, helping cancer patients to cope with the rigors of treatment. Post-treatment, cancer survivors should continue to focus on staying fit. Daily exercise and a balanced diet will help the body recover and prevent cancer from recurring.

Thank you so much, David.  You have inspired me to make a new page where I have collected posts related to my exercise and cancer experiences.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hasta la vista, baby

On Friday I met with Dr. Oncologist for what was called my Survivorship meeting.  This meeting occurred exactly one month after my last herceptin treatment.  We reviewed all of the bodily changes that have occurred since the discovery of inflammatory breast cancer in October 2010.  We also discussed the (or what should be my) primary concerns moving forward:  the possibilities of recurrent cancer, heart problems, and lymphedema.  (Note:  I don't have heart problems, but any heart that has been through what my heart has now been through should be scrutinized and carefully maintained, apparently.)

These possible problems are just that--possibilities.  I have none of these problems today, and I probably won't wake up with these problems tomorrow.  So I'm just going to go about my life as usual; turns out I'm really really good at going about my life as usual.  Dr. Oncologist has only four instructions for me to follow to try to maintain today's health status:  no smoking, no drinking alcohol, keeping the body mass index (BMI) below 25, and exercising.  These things should be no problem for me, although when I mentioned my new fondness of yoga and she said that that isn't the kind of exercise she's talking about.  She means the type of exercise that gets my heart rate up.  I guess I'd better find a way to start biking to work again.    

Also at the survivorship meeting I met with the outreach nurse, who gave me 12 CD's full of tips for cancer survivors.  I'll be sure to play those at our next house party.  She also gave me a spiral-bound booklet of written tips for the survivor.  These tips include many what-to-expect-when-you're-surviving tidbits like pre-menopausal symptoms, months of lingering fatigue, and emotional difficulties.  Um, thanks, but this information would have been useful yesterday (in July).  I physically and emotionally processed the bulk of my cancer treatment recovery and survivorship issues months ago.  The booklet probably could have been useful at some point, but its delivery was poorly timed.

Needless to say, I am not suffering any cancer treatment separation anxiety.  I have read that some patients are very sad to be done visiting the place that saved their lives, where they now have lots of friends and a fixed routine.  They also get nervous that now they are back on their own with their bodies and are expected to find a recurrent cancer all by themselves.  Maybe my separation from cancer treatment is too recent, or conversely maybe I went through this months ago when I was done with the hard cancer treatments, but currently I am not suffering any of these emotions at all.  Indeed, when I walked out of my last herceptin treatment a month ago, I don't think I've ever held my head higher.  I waved at the receptionists, all on their phones with actual cancer patients, and I strutted out of there, no longer a cancer patient.

So I'm officially a survivor now.  I will miss my clinic cancer friends, but I'll still see them around.  Indeed, I still get to go in every three months for PET scans, but eventually that will be every 4 months, and then every 6 months, until finally I just have a PET scan once per year.  Like getting my eyes checked.  

It's been a long time since I posted a song.  I don't know why I haven't posted songs lately; I still love music.  But this post is begging for a song.  Only one song, really.  In this song, I think the "I" is me, and the "you" is the oncology waiting room.  Hasta la vista, baby.              

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Cancer can suck it.