Monday, November 30, 2009

Update - just back from the ENT

So...the verdict is still out on whether I have an infection -- ENT doc, Dr.V (who is very cool, I might add), says that it doesn't APPEAR to be one (I only have one out of three of the signs of a typical ear infection), but he said it COULD be the start of a sinus infection based on my symptoms and the redness he observed in my ear so they're all over me like flies on....well, you know. It also could be that the mucus in my salivary glands (from the chemo, and they're still swollen) could be backing up into the eustacian tube causing these symptoms and that could also lead to an infection. And a third, yet remote, possibility is that this could be the beginning stages of hearing loss brought on by the chemo I'm on (Carboplatin in particular) b/c it's a known side effect which unfortunately would be just in case I have a hearing test scheduled for Wednesday -- if they detect hearing loss they'll look at modifying the dose of my last chemo or something like that -- so now the prayer list expands to include stable hearing so I can get the full current dose of chemo for the last round. If I was to guess which of the three possibilities we're dealing with - I would guess the back up into the eustacian tube - b/c I have no other sinus infection type symptoms - no congestion or runny nose, no headache issue except a very brief piercing/jarring feeling when I stand up quickly, and I also haven't noticed any hearing loss, thankfully. So what we're doing about this right now is starting me on a high powered decongestant to see if that clears things up and if I still have symptoms in a couple days they'll get me in for a CT scan of my sinuses to look for possible infection because they'll want to treat it asap if there is one there. As a bonus, the ENT said he did not feel any angry or swollen lymph glands in my neck - that only the salivary glands were swollen - loved hearing that. I was due to have a boobie inflation appointment at 4 pm at UCLA today but when I called to inform them I was heading to the ENT to investigate the ear issue they said I needed to reschedule that because they don't want to take a chance at doing the inflation while there could be an active infection in my body so now I have to go there on Friday instead. My husband often tells me I'm too chatty sometimes - often sharing more details than is necessary - but I laugh at him and tell him that my chattiness and TMI sharing habit has actually saved me numerous times - today it saved me a roundtrip to/from UCLA (that's 80 miles roundtrip during rushhour in L.A.) and a possible unnecessary new health problem. So - listen up folks - there's really no such thing as TMI when you're dealing with your health and your doctors and nurses -- tell them everything because that's the only way they can help keep you on the right path. I wonder if any of you are thinking why in the world I would go in for another inflation when I've already declared I'm not doing anymore of those. Well, I MIGHT do an inflation if the doctor looks at me and says he needs more room to work to turn these puppies into masterpieces in January...but if he doesn't need anymore room to do that then I won't do any inflating because I'm fine with their current size or smaller. I'm really going in to have him tell me what he can do to fix the divets and stuff from my scars and other imperfections during my surgery in January -- because hearing what he can fix will make it a bit easier to appreciate the discomfort and unattractive appearance of these expanders.

Ut oh....possible infection ;/

The past few days I've noticed my ears feeling pressurized. Not painful or sore at all, just strange. The past 36+ hours I've been hearing waves crashing in my head, like waves at the beach, minus the beautiful scenery haha. Again, no pain or soreness at all. Yesterday, whenever I stood up quickly from a seated position my head felt funny - like a quick headache blast that would last for just a few seconds then things would seem normal again (or normal with some beach waves swishing around LOL). This morning when I went in to get my Neupogen shot from the nurse I mentioned the orchestra of ocean waves I've been hearing and next thing I know I am being shuffled into an examination room to see the doctor. Doc looked in my right ear and said "hmmm this one is severely packed with wax"...and then he switched to the left said and said "'s red...could be infected." He started to write a prescription for antibiotics but then stopped and said he wants me to see an ENT today to have them look at it to confirm infection because if it isn't he doesn't want me on antibiotics, and to have the right ear cleaned out. He said I need to be seen today so we can catch this early before it becomes dangerous (infection during chemo = not good) and that if I can't be seen today we'd resort to antibiotics. I have an appointment with the ENT at 1 pm. Fingers crossed and prayers being said that this ear thing is no big deal. I trust all will be OK but the word "infection" is a bit scary when you're on chemo.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ever so thankful!

Every day is thanksgiving for me now. I give thanks every night, to God, for the countless blessings He has bestowed upon me and my little family. I am blessed with the most wonderful husband who adores and cares for me and our son - I love him so very much. We have the most amazing little boy who fills our lives with joy and wonder - even when he keeps me up at night, he fills me with hope about the future. We have incredibly generous and caring family and friends who love and support us. I have an amazing employer that provides outstanding benefits, flexibility, and the most compassionate colleagues and management team who genuinely care about me and help me focus on getting well. I have an amazing team of brilliant doctors and nurses at UCLA who treat me with respect and compassion, answer my questions, laugh at my jokes, and reassure me when I'm feeling scared and uncertain. We are so fortunate and grateful for our wonderful home which is located in the most amazing neighborhood filled with fantastic neighbor friends whom we love and appreciate so very much. The list goes on and on...I am thankful for so very much, each and every day. Life is precious and I appreciate every second of it. We spent our Thanksgiving Day with my wonderful in-laws in Orange County. It was a gorgeous day here in southern CA - in the mid-80's! We drove down to my sister-in-law's house where we had a FANTASTIC organic Thanksgiving feast with Dottie (my sister-in-law), Bob (my brother-in-law), Kim (my niece), and Grace (my mother-in-law). We even brought Hunter along (our golden retriever) to play with their dog who is also named Hunter :). It was so wonderful spending the afternoon with them, getting caught up, eating a fabulous meal (Dottie - it was so yummy!!), and watching Cooper run around like the energizer bunny exploring everything in sight. He loved running around their back yard and playing with the dogs. He especially loved it when Kim took out her acoustic guitar after dinner and let him play with it. Thank you so much, Dottie, Bob, Kim, and Grace, for making our Thanksgiving extra special this year! I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving Day and were able to reflect upon and appreciate the many blessings in each of your lives, this day and every day. Love, Julie

Cycle 7, part B, complete! 7 down, 1 to go!

This past Tuesday I received chemo cycle #7, part b. Thankfully, my WBC and platelet numbers were good...but I'm now I was able to finish the cycle and am thrilled (and yet also terrified) to say that I have just one more chemo cycle to go! Wow! I'm excited to be nearing the end of this chapter knowing that I'm closer to being done with treatment, but terrified of being without the chemo which I view as a critical source of protection. I won't miss the daily shots in the patootie (neupogen) haha. It'll be great to get my hair back but I've said it before and will say it again - hair and other cosmetic side effects to all this craziness means nothing to me - living, and for a very long time, is what matters to me. I feel pretty good for having been through 7 chemo cycles - other than being super exhausted and losing my breath very quickly - probably because of the anemia. I received a shot for the anemia - but I can't remember what it was called and so far I still feel out of breath so I'm not sure when it's supposed to kick in or how it's supposed to help. I'll need to ask about that - it's so unlike me to not know ahead of time but I trust my doctors and nurses so I'm not concerned, more curious and wondering what I should be watching for (if anything) for side effects, benefits, etc. I realized today that I still have the eye twitch - have had it for a while now but I guess I just got used to it when it decided to stick around for a while. My salivary glands are still swollen, but not painful. My entire body is sore from head to toe - feels like I've been working out, even though I haven't been. My skin is really dry flaky so I have to be careful and keep my hands moisturized - mainly my left hand - to avoid cracking which could lead to infection, which could lead to lymphedema -- something I'll always have to pay attention to (forever). My left arm and hand quickly falls asleep and goes numb if I am laying on it even in the slightest bit while sleeping, so I have to really try to stay on my right side - again, due to having so many lymph nodes removed. Sleeping has improved, even though the hot flashes continue - they're not waking me up quite as much as they did before - or perhaps they are and I'm able to get back to sleep right away. So there it is...cycle #7 :). Thank you, God, for the liquid gold cure juice! Thank you, God, for giving me the strength and spirit needed to receive this treatment successfully and to tolerate the side effects so well. Thank you, God, for the most amazing family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, nurses, doctors, and all those you've placed into my life to help me get through this and for those whom I am supposed to help. I am so grateful to Him for all He has given me. Love, Julie

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cycle 7, part A, day 3: A pain in the neck

Throughout this journey there have been many times where I've felt something and have kept it to myself for fear that 1) stating it would lead to a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy, 2) it would unnecessarily worry those that love me , and 3) it would make me look like a bonafide, paranoid, hypochondriac. When I say "felt something", I mean it quite literally - like a pain or a bump or a swollen something or other. And, when I say I keep it to myself, I mean I don't talk about it much with anyone other than Bob (my hubby) until I get to my doctor and tell him and have him check it out - not that I would ever let something go uninvestigated because frankly from here til my dying day I'll be harassing my doctors about every little thing I feel so I hope they're ready for their new patient stalker. LOL Several times over the past months it's been the glands in my neck and throat. They have felt enlarged, swollen, and sore at various points. The big fear is that the c-word would be lurking in my lymph nodes/glands trying to march its way toward my brain or something crazy like that. For those of you who have never had cancer, these are the images and thoughts that occasionally pervade the mind of someone who has had it (it sucks). Each time I mention it to Dr.B he puts my chart and his pen down and takes hold of my neck and feels around and tells me everything feels normal and OK and I breathe a huge sigh of least until the next strange feeling or pain or whatever. A few times now I've felt like the glands directly under my lower jaw were not right - thickened and sore and sometimes it really bothers me for a few days to the point where it really begins to freak me out. So today when I went in for my neupogen shot I mentioned it, and they also happened to notice my temp was slightly elevated at 99.2 so they had Dr.B come talk to me and check me out. He felt around my neck and jaw line again and said that my salivary glands are swollen. That it is NOT my lymph glands (huge relief) and that it's a side effect of the chemo since it affects bodily fluids such as mucus and saliva, causing it to thicken and then it can start to clog the glands and can even cause an infection. He told me to take an Aleve and to drink more water and start sucking on sugar-free lozenges to help thin out the saliva. He said that if it becomes more painful (right now just sore) and/or if my temp stays above normal then to call in because they'll have to start antibiotics to fight what could be an infection. Apparently this is pretty common when you've been on chemo for a while. Another thing that's common is the all over aches and pains I'm experiencing - thankfully they're muscle aches/pains and not in the bone - well, except for the headache part which is skull bone pain from the neupogen (as that is the site that it seems to always want to produce the WBC in my bone marrow) but that only lasts about a day or two after the first shot in the series and then it lets up. But the muscle pain is a cumulative effect of chemo which tends to really start to annoy at about the 4th cycle or later - for me it really seemed to kick in and annoy me after cycle 6. Mine is sort of all over but the sites that bother me the most are my back, shoulders and back of my ribcage. I think it's time to go get a massage. :) So far, cycle 7, part a has been OK - a bit of nausea (not intolerable), swollen sallivary glands, and all over aches and pains, and ongoing fatigue, a touch of anemia. Again, all manageable. I had another great meeting of warriors today at UCLA where I attend a weekly support group for anyone in treatment for breast cancer. I almost said "women in treatment" but then had to backspace over it and say "anyone" because when I first joined the group there was a man there and we all know men can and do get breast cancer too. Feel your man's boobies, ladies! I was 30 minutes late arriving to the meeting because of student protests taking place on campus that caused traffic and parking snafus all over the place...I circled the parking garage for over 20 minutes before finally finding a spot...that's after navigating a packed freeway backed up near campus because students took to the streets and caused on/off ramp closures. ;/ I don't blame them (students) since their tuition is being raised by 32% - ugh! But I anyway, once I was finally there it felt great to be surrounded by women who understand and can relate to all the crazy feelings and fears I encounter along this journey. I wouldn't wish this on anyone but I sure am glad to not be alone in it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chemo cycle 7, part a - received :)

I forgot to post that I did indeed receive chemo cycle #7, part a, on Tuesday. My counts were great - WBC up to 7.3 - hasn't been that high since the very first couple of treatments. Platelets were over 250 and in the normal range, and the other numbers all looked pretty good for a gal that's had 6 rounds of chemo already. I am a bit anemic so they're awaiting insurance approval to give me a shot to remedy that and help me avoid a transfusion for that craziness. Speaking of insurance, mine has finally given in and paid for that breast MRI they were challenging. Lucky for them because the wrath of Julie is...well, they didn't want to go there haha. So I'm on day 2 of this cycle and here's how it's going so far...queasy but not horrible thanks to the anti-nausea meds which are taking the edge off - well that and ginger ale and toast. As has been the case previously, the first day of neupogen (today) brings forth a flush red tone over my face and neck. In the early cycles I thought this was due to the steroids and they did too...but it seems it's actually from the neulasta (back then) and the neupogen (now). I have the tell-tale bone pain back too - centralized in my skull, producing a headache and achy neck. Taking tylenol helped but not quite as much as an Advil or Aleve would do but I'm avoiding those drugs b/c of their effect on platelets since I have to have good numbers again next Tuesday to get part b of the chemo. I'm achy all over - back, neck, legs, arms - doc said that's typical for those that have been on chemo this long or longer. I'm OK with all of this - kind of makes me feel like it's working and doing its job. I'm not complaining at all. As I near the end of the chemo part of my journey, with just 1.5 cycles left, I am excited and nervous too. Excited to be another step closer to being done with cancer, but nervous and terrified that going off chemo would make me vulnerable again - it makes me feel protected right now. I'll need to work through that. The nerves are really working at regenerating under my armpits and while I welcome the return of some feeling - especially the left side where the numbness is insane from the lymph node dissection - the sharp pains and itchiness this process brings is not fun and makes me nervous. That, combined with the freaky dream I had the other night about finding another lump under my arm, just is driving me batty sometimes. I catch myself feeling my armpits frequently and at random times in random places - like the grocery store. I must look like a total weirdo standing in the produce department with a bald head and my hand under my armpit feeling for lumps that damn well better not exist. LOL This is yet another thing I'll have to work through. sigh. I put it all in God's hands. He will cure me and make me well and allow me to live to see my son get married and give me grandchildren. I believe in Him. I praise Him every night for the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I know He has given me the fighting spirit, the will and the resources to be my own best advocate, and put me in this place and time so that I would have the best support, the best healthcare providers, and the will to live and beat this disease. He has a plan for me and I'm ready to fulfill it, whatever it may be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PLEASE ACT NOW! This is outrageous!

PLEASE write to US Preventive Services at the link below to tell them their new mammogram guidelines are total bullshit. They want women to stop doing self exams and are saying mammograms should not be done until age 50 except for those with strong family history of breast cancer. This is absolutely outrageous and sure to result in countless unnecessary and premature deaths of millions of women if this new guideline is enforced. WELL... 85% or more of new breast cancer diagnoses are in women with NO family history of the disease - like me. Women in their 30's is the fastest growing age group being diagnosed - like me. Younger women diagnosed with breast cancer tend to have the most aggressive forms of the disease - like me (i.e., triple negative and HER2+). We need to demand a retraction of the new guideline. Please! You can express your outrage at the following link: Thank you.

Chemo cycle 7, part a, is scheduled for today

If my counts are good when I arrive this morning, I'll be getting chemo cycle 7, part a, today. It's hard to believe that this is the second to last chemo cycle. I've been so blessed and grateful that it's been so smooth and has flown by rather quickly. I hope and pray the remaining two cycles will go smoothly too.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sleep - my catch 22

Some background info While pregnant with my son, Cooper (16 months old), I developed a condition called "incompetent cervix" and was placed on bed rest at 16 weeks for the remainder of the pregnancy and given weekly injections of "17P", a form of progesterone to prevent preterm labor which I was high risk for. It worked, and I was able to carry Cooper to 35 weeks. He did great, spent no time in the NICU, came home with us, but we soon discovered that he had severe reflux (common for preemies) so he couldn't drink very much at a time and had to drink small amounts frequently. He also had to be elevated for 30 minutes after drinking/eating to prevent him from choking if/when he refluxed following a feeding. For the first several months he drank every 2 hours. At night, the reflux seemed to be worse and he would wake up every 45-90 minutes all night long, every night. He also was sick a lot with reflux related respiratory issues - hospitalized twice for pneumonia at 3 and 4 months old - and every cold became a respiratory infection. He was frequently on antibiotics, steroids, and steroidal inhalers in addition to the Prevacid which I'm sure just prolonged and contributed to the sleep issues. We couldn't sleep train him until after the reflux was gone because stress and crying aggravated the reflux - he didn't outgrow it until 10+ months. Bottom line, in the first year of his life, Cooper only slept through the night (meaning for more than 5-6 consecutive hours), just 3 times and since it was such a rarity that I was convinced/worried there was something wrong with him so I didn't even sleep more than the usual couple hours at a time on those nights. I was sleeping for periods of 45-120 minutes at a time, all night, nearly every night, for over a year. As soon as I'd approach deep sleep, I was woken up. Fast forward to June '09 (and through October) When I met with my two oncologists (separately) I told them about the extreme sleep deprivation I'd been enduring, and the hormone injections received during my pregnancy. They agreed that the sleep deprivation certainly would impact a person's immune system, and that it's possible for hormone injections to increase a person's risk and/or feed an existing cancer, but they each said that it's unlikely that the cancer I had would have just appeared within the past year - that typically it takes much longer for it to develop, grow and advance to the point where it was discovered. It would be nice to know what caused the cancer, or made me especially susceptible to it, but we may never know. However, I knew that in order for me to be strong, fight, get through treatment, and give myself a good shot at avoiding a recurrence, I'd need to get a lot more sleep than I had been getting. So we began sleep training with Cooper. We had great success thanks to help from Bob and my mom, and were on a great roll - not sleeping through the night but at least getting 3-4 hour stretches of sleep which was a great improvement. But every teething episode, cold, etc. put us back to square one so it's been very challenging to get the sleep I've needed - especially with Bob being away so much. Eventually we decided I'd take an occasional night away at a hotel when Bob was home so I could sleep through the night once in a while even if Cooper didn't - I've done that three times so far. In mid-October I resumed working part-time. Getting better/more sleep became even more critical but Cooper's molars were coming in and taking FOREVER to emerge, causing him a great deal of pain. During the day he walked around smacking his cheeks while yelling "owwww", and at night he woke crying every 1-2 hours. FINALLY, last week, the 4th molar emerged and Cooper began sleeping through the night - and has for 4 consecutive nights now :) (I pray that I'm not jinxing it by announcing this haha). FINALLY, I have been able to sleep for 4-6 consecutive hours at night before being woken by a hot flash, or by Cooper. Catch 22 For most of the year, I had not been dreaming - or if I was, I was not remembering any dreams. I can count on one hand the number of times I woke up remembering a dream within the past 16 months. With more sleep comes the return of dreams. Normally that'd be OK, you'd think - right? WRONG. Out of the five dreams I remember having, 3 of them have been cancer related. Not cool. And, all 3 of the dreams I remember having since just before my diagnosis have been about cancer. These are scary dreams and I don't like it. I know and believe that dreams are symbolic, making me even more unhappy about these dreams. I understand that we work through feelings and anxiety in our dreams, but I don't like the direction of these dreams as they are not relieving my anxiety and are instead adding to it. I can't even tell you how many times I was feeling my armpits throughout the day today because of a really upsetting dream I had last night. This really pisses me off. I just want to say that I think it's freakin' BS that now that I can finally sleep for a good span of the night, I'm having these scary dreams. I think we can all agree that I've been really positive and doing the right things - juggling aggressive treatment, leveraging both medical and holistic healing techniques, taking care of Cooper, working, and managing the household. I very rarely complain...right? So when the f*** will I catch a break from the BS? Don't I deserve restful sleep? I mean, really!? Seriously!? I want happy dreams, damnit! ****we now return to our regularly scheduled ass kicking program**** Hey cancer, you're not allowed in my body, nor my dreams! Beat it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chemo update: 6 down, 2 to go!

I can hardly believe that I've already had 6 chemo treatments and have just 2 more to go before this part of my journey is completed. Wow! I've been so fortunate and blessed to have had such a positive experience with chemotherapy. I thank God every day for many things, including giving me the strength and courage to see every treatment as a happy blessing which fills my body with loving "God-given liquid gold cure juice" as I like to call it. I have had many side effects but all of them have been manageable and none of them could ever stop me from wanting more treatment. I know this is not the case for many people, including several people that I know who have been through this, so I know how lucky I am and I am extremely grateful. Cycle 6 has been smoother than cycle 5, due to the changes that Dr.B implemented - a lower dose for starters, and a switch from neulasta to neupogen to keep my white blood cell count up. There isn't anything they could give me to keep my platelets up so we'll just have to see where they are when I arrive next Tuesday (17th) for cycle 7 part a. However, Dr.H, the holistic MD from UCLA has recommended a supplement for me to try for keeping my platelets up - it's called Astragalus - so I'm going to start taking that today. This will bring me to 16 pills a day just in supplements (and it will go up by a few when chemo and radiation are behind me)! This is from someone that wouldn't even take Tylenol for a headache til it was so bad that I was seeing spots. That's OK though - my life has changed in many ways since being diagnosed with cancer and although I would have preferred a different catalyst, I know these changes I'm making are positive and healthy and will make me stronger.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Giving & Receiving - a LONG post

I'm a giver. Always have been. Giving to others has always fulfilled me in ways that nothing else could. I've always wanted to be able to give more but life often got in the way so I would find an opportunity here or there and give - donate time, money, goods, etc to people in need, to friends and family members whom I love. I once moved cross country from Massachusetts to California to show a dying man whom I loved and respected (though hadn't known him all that well for very long) that I believed in him so much that I'd move (permanently) to be closer to him and help him fight cancer (sadly, he died 3 months later - that was 11 years ago). I'm a "big sister" and have been matched to my "little sister" since 2003 and I take her out as much as I can to fun places, out to eat, and I am available to her for support and friendship, keeping my word to her as a mentor. I sponsor friends, families and even strangers who seek support in fundraisers for worthy causes. I buy items at charity auctions - mostly things I don't even need (just ask my husband about a coral antique dresser now being used as Cooper's changing table in his room, or the many pieces of jewelry I've never worn but were purchased to fund a charity). I donate hundreds of dollars (even thousands in some years past) worth of goods each year to The Salvation Army, Goodwill, a local battered women's shelter, and the VA. I just sent a (very) small donation to the LA Regional Food Bank to buy 44 Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless, even though I am operating check to check right now with all the medical bills we're having to pay. I participate in community service events organized by my employer - renovating school buildings/yards, serving meals at the Boys and Girls Club each holiday season, served as a "cabinet member" for the United Way campaign at work, organizing team events to drive donations and service volunteerism, and allocating a sizable portion of my paycheck toward the charity to help "create pathways out of poverty". I always support the local school fundraisers and Girl Scouts too. I love to show my friends and family that I appreciate them by sending them tokens of love and recognition on special days - birthdays, holidays, etc. Sometimes flowers, cards, a gift basket or whatever. I especially love to give people things I've made for them - mainly handcrafted jewelry or accessories (I have a way with beads, I guess). Years ago I was addicted to cross-stitching/needlepoint and would craft things for people and have them framed professionally for holiday gifts. I have fun sending/giving people coupons for products I don't use but I know they do, or giving people things they need which I can no longer keep for myself (a win-win of course) - like when I moved out to California I knew I wouldn't be able to afford to buy a house for quite a while because of the home prices here so it didn't make sense to haul everything from my 4 bedroom CT home out to some dinky CA apartment and at the time my brother was engaged to be married and had mostly hand-me-down mix and match stuff so rather than sell all the stuff I wasn't planning to take to CA I gave it to him for them to use in their home/yard. I assure you, I am not bragging here - I'm no saint, believe me! I don't talk about this stuff very much to anyone (except the big sister part since I want others to become "bigs" too). I'm not even entirely comfortable posting what I've stated above but I feel that if I don't, then I'm not telling the whole picture of how I've come to this place of peace I feel today, right now. So I'll leave it there and hope you will understand, from reading on, how it fits in. I mention my history of giving because it occurred to me recently (during a support group meeting, actually) that giving to others makes me feel really good and that's how I ended up adapting a caregiver personality. It also has occurred to me many many times (since being diagnosed especially) that being cared for and receiving support and gifts feels wonderful too. In fact, the outpouring of love, support and gifts I have received since being diagnosed with breast cancer has been unbelievable to me. I am so grateful for every prayer, every card, every email and blog comment, and every beautiful token of hope and inspiration sent my way that it brings tears to my eyes every time I think about how fortunate I've been to have such generous and caring friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, even complete strangers. I'm not convinced I deserve it, but it feels amazing and I am truly grateful. I will readily admit that my independent personality often makes it challenging to accept offers of help, particularly from those whom I don't feel I've done anything for in order to deserve their help in return - and even if I had, I still always tend to manage on my own because I always have and because I usually can juggle a great many things. Things are different now, albeit temporarily, in that it's hard to manage on my own. I'm beyond exhausted from the treatments and chasing Cooper around when Bob is away, I'm not getting enough sleep, etc. The new challenges and limitations I face each day and the frustrations they bring are an example of what I discuss with my breast cancer support group. Last week we were discussing who we get help from, how it makes us feel, whether we are surprised by who has (or hasn't) stepped forward to help, how our relationships have changed (if at all) by our new needs for help, or simply due to being diagnosed with cancer, etc. From the responses we shared, it seemed as though every woman in the room was a classic caregiver personality - caregiver of others (not of self). Our very wise therapist/facilitator reminded us that the feeling we get from helping others is the feeling others get when they offer to and follow through with helping us (duh!). The lightbulb went on that I need to allow (even force) myself to ask for help from others more often - giving them the opportunity to give to me when I am in need. As if that realization wasn't big enough, with a challenge attached, the therapist offered me great advice in response to a story I told about a recent interaction with a loved one that has repeatedly upset me over the years. She suggested that I serve as my own best caregiver and do for myself that which nourishes me, fills me with hope and love the way I would to do for others when caring for them, and detach myself from those who create stress and pain for me. You probably recall that I have mentioned I'm a fan of Bernie Siegel, MD. Bernie believes in and promotes the mind-body connection. He encourages people to spend time doing what they love so that time passes by without them noticing because that is when we're fulfilled and in a state of unity with our Creator. He teaches patients that our bodies have a very real physiological response to the "live" (or "die") messages we send to it. I want to send very strong "live" messages to my body so I am working on figuring out what makes me feel good, how to take better care of myself - in the same quality fashion I would apply myself if/when caring for others, and to ask for help from someone each week who can help me get some important healing needs met somehow. Anywho...while reflecting on these goals, I realized that I needed to make good on an earlier promise made to myself to get moving - walking actually - every day, whenever possible - and to bring along positive inspirational messages in the form of audio books or meditations on my iPod to remind me daily of the beauty, wonder and miracles in my life and to help me focus on healing and wellness. So far, so good. Tonight I asked my friend Cindy if she would watch Cooper for a couple of hours on Sunday so I can go to church and focus on the message and she agreed to help - thank you, Cindy!! My other friend, Michelle, who happens to also be my chemo nurse at the cancer center, is helping me by giving me my weekend shots of neupogen so I don't have to inject myself. Thank you, Michelle!! And, my friend Tara has been so great helping me get evening walks in on days when I wasn't able to get out earlier in the day with the iPod. Thank you, Tara!! As for the other goal - finding and doing what fulfills me - this circles me back into what I could do for others simply because of how good it makes me feel to help others. Thus, I'm on a giving mission. Inspired by a women I saw interviewed last month on NBC's Today show - Cami Walker - who wrote a book called "29 Gifts" on how a month of giving can change your life (and did change hers). I haven't read the book yet but the day I saw the interview I decided I would spend at least 29 days giving to others. I was in a down trodden slump for a short time recently until I saw this interview and began this project. I was really feeling down about my situation and scared about my future. I'm not saying that I'm not scared anymore - but that since I started focusing on giving to others I have found a renewed sense of hope and joy that I happily cling to. I mentioned on FaceBook recently that I was doing this project and one of my online friends, Patti, went out and bought the book for me! I received it today with the most beautiful note attached, along with a fantastic piece of artwork by her very sweet daughter. Thank you so much, Patti!

I've been deliberately giving gifts away since the week before Halloween. I will eventually post the list of gifts given out but for now, the bottom line is this - giving to others over this past week has helped me tremendously. It's helped me feel good, feel hopeful and feel like I'm making a difference by making people smile and feel appreciated. It's helped me get out of a scary funk I was in that could have sent the wrong messages to my body, and now I'm sending the right messages to it. So, if you want to feel really good, start giving - today. Just find little gifts - things, time, messages, etc...with no attachments or conditions...and give to strangers. You will be amazed at how wonderful it feels for both the giver and receiver every time.

Thank you for "listening" - having your eyes/ears here is truly a gift to me.