Shaken, Not Stirred: The Gift of Cancer


Surgery happens Wednesday at noon.

I’m having a double mastectomy and the removal of most of my lymph nodes on my right side. Then there’s the partial reconstruction of my breasts. Somewhere in the middle of all of this cutting and stitching there will also be the insertion of my port, which will be used for the soon-to-come chemotherapy. Altogether I will be in surgery around six hours, and in the hospital for about two days.

Yep. Good times ahead.

Now that my anxiety has eased (I always do better when I have time to process big things) I find myself contemplating one of the counterintuitive aspects of cancer: that there is good that comes from cancer.

(My warning for this post is simply that I will be mushy, hokey and completely sentimental. Jump out now or deal with it.)

I know I am blessed. I am surrounded near and far by an incredible army of love warriors who protect my family and me and I have never taken it for granted. These are people who are each special in their own way. Their lives are filled with challenges and busy-ness and yet they have taken the time and effort to reach out and hug me in so many different ways.

One of the frustrations I often hear from those closest to me is that they wish they could help me. They feel helpless in the face of my diagnosis and treatment. My husband. My kid. My closest friends. My siblings and parents and other family. They have ALL said this to me recently.

I tell each of them that this is bullshit, that they are not helpless in helping me. I know that what they really mean is that they want to fix me, and they can’t. It’s up to my doctors, myself and God to fix me. Doctors have the skill and experience. I have the faith and the follow-through. And God, well God has all of fix-it power.

But that doesn’t make my loved ones helpless. Not. At. All.

Maybe they can’t wield the scalpel or write the prescriptions, but these incredible people are in my life every day listening to me, cheering me up and on, making sure I never fall so low with my fear and worry that I forget the absolute joy found in a simple smile.

Sometimes their love is delivered in a card, or a text or quick phone call. Sometimes, like with my husband, it’s taking me to every single stinking doctor appointment–and there are so many now I’ve lost count–without complaint. And when he holds me when I get scared and need to cry, telling me that I will be okay because there’s no way I’m going to leave him alone with our 15-year-old, I know I’m loved.

Love is having my small staff from our magazine work hard to take as much off of my plate as possible so I don’t have to put what little energy I have into making sure our magazine still publishes, all while sending me cute, funny, snarky texts and messages to make sure I keep laughing.

Then there are my close friends’ kids, who I watched grow up and become amazing adults, sending me gifts and flowers to cheer my day.

And then my daughter, who insists that she will stay with me overnight in the hospital because I shouldn’t be left alone, even though I know I will be drooling in my sleep all night from just getting out of surgery.

My New York sister wants to fly to Northern California to cook up a storm with my other sister (NY sis is a chef) and then drive it all down to me for my recovery. I’m holding that option for chemo days.

Love is when my co-workers stick their heads in my office door every day to check on how I’m doing, and then they give me hugs, lots of hugs. A few of them have been suddenly drafted to hold my hand as I’ve received bad news over the phone, which seems to happen while I’m at work more often than not, and then they thank me for allowing them to be with me!

Support is the family made up of teachers, administrators and staff at my daughter’s high school who constantly check on her, listen to her, hug her, give her the gift of grace when she needs more time to finish an assignment because she spent the day and night before caring for me, and then they do the same for me.

It’s my doctors praying with me at appointments and surgeries, asking for God’s helping hand for both me and them. It’s all of them telling me over and over that I will be okay, that this will not kill me. At this point, even if it’s not 100 percent true, I don’t want to know, because when everything is darkest, THIS is what keeps the light shining for me.

It’s Samantha’s cheer team putting together a recovery care-package for me to use and enjoy in the coming weeks, with special love notes from her coaches. It’s a staff member at school creating a locket with Sam’s input for me to wear with love. It’s all of my mom friends who are transporting her to and from her crazy schedule needs because we’re tied up at doctors.

Love comes to me in the form of messages, likes and emoticons on Facebook that never stop and always encourage. Then there are my oldest and some of my dearest friends too far to help in person who send me funny memes and jokes and videos almost every day. And what about those people in my life who are sicker, or poorer, or sadder than I am who still take the time to tell me that everything will be okay, and mean it?

There are yummy meals left on our doorstep, flowers filling our home with beauty and prayers lifting our lives to God’s care. Some of those prayers were offered when two prayer quilts were made for me recently, by members of different churches in two different states. I look at each yarn tied and know that someone, some stranger, took the time and effort from his or her day to wish me and mine well.

It’s the BatGirl cape that a once-casual and now forever-friend from Facebook made for me because she knows how much I love BatGirl. I draw a lot of strength from BatGirl–it’s a kid thing for me. When things were bad in my home growing up, I would become BatGirl and protect the world. Now BatGirl protects me.

It’s all of these moments and hundreds more I’ve had over the past 58 days that I would never trade for anything.

Not even my cancer.

Not even my cancer.

We’ve cried a lot over the last weeks, but it’s not always been from pain and fear. Many of these tears, maybe even most of them, have been cried with joy and humility. I don’t get it, why all of these people take the time to love me and mine. But I also know that I don’t have to get it. I just have to say thank you and mean it. And I do. People are amazing. I can never repay what we’ve received. All I can ever hope to do is pay it forward.

Shaken, Not Stirred: The Path-Port of Dread


Life is cray cray here.

I haven’t written because things are changing so quickly. There has been no time to process and disseminate one issue before another arises. So please, forgive the length of this post as I try to catch up here.

When last we left our cancer-ridden heroine, I was contemplating the meaning of pain in the aftermath of my first lumpectomy. While boob-life has not been easy since, I’m happy to say that remains my most pain-ridden moment to date.

Every surgery/procedure has an epilogue called The Pathology Report. I’m learning quickly that the Path-Port is really the next-steps Bible for cancer, more so than any other lab report to come out of treatments, because it’s dealing with Bob & the Bobettes. The doctor cuts them out of me and the white-coated folks take over, aiming their microscopes and stains on B&B to learn more about these invaders. I like to think of the Path-Port as an alien autopsy, Hangar 51-style.

So the Path-Port from the first lumpectomy came in right after my last post, and it wasn’t good. Remember those margins I talked about? The doctors want clear (cancer-free) areas around the tumors that they cut out. Well, my margins were not clear and I needed to go in again. In fact my margins showed more small Bobettes that weren’t showing anywhere in all of the other tests and scans I’d had to that moment.

And this very point, that I had things growing in my boob that were not easily found, led to the second revelation of the now Dreaded Path-Port. If I had so many small satellite malignant tumors lurking and growing in the breast, it was still possible for one or more of them to spread to other parts of my body. These would still be too small to track (needle in a haystack-style) which would make them even more dangerous in the future. The only real option for ensuring that I would not have a problem with these potential “colonists” (my wonderful doctor’s word, not mine) would be to have chemotherapy.

Chemo is a blow. While I completely understood and agreed with the problem and solution, Stephen and I reeled with the news.

Chemo is what sick people get. Really sick people. Emotionally, I still hadn’t absorbed that I was really sick. I felt good, I couldn’t feel lumps and I was told and I believe (still) that I will be cured. So how could I be considered sick, with something as major, as deadly, as cancer?

And if I wasn’t really sick, there was nothing for me to be afraid of. That’s right folks, I had not felt any real fear during any of this. I had yet to be afraid.

Chemo stripped away my emotional innocence, and my arrogance, because I was now afraid. Very afraid.


Still my fear wasn’t coming from a fear of dying—they keep saying I will be fine­. My fear is of becoming so sick that I actually would feel like I had cancer. To me that’s the main side effect of chemotherapy—feeling like big crap. Big Crap. BIG, BIG CRAP.

(Not doing chemo when it was recommended was never an option. My maternal grandmother, my only female relative to have breast cancer, died from it because she opted NOT to have chemo or radiation after her mastectomy. She died two years later when it spread to her brain. Not pretty.)

On Sept. 2, Stephen, Samantha and I were back at the Aspen Surgery Center having a second lumpectomy, knowing that chemotherapy and radiation would be my protocol after. This surgery was much simpler, because the only good news from the Path-Port was that my two sentinel lymph nodes—which act as the primary conduit to spreading cancer throughout the body—were clean. So we didn’t need to take more lymph nodes, only go into the breast again for the margins. And I didn’t need to become the Borg again, because we weren’t working with a large main tumor, but with small Bobettes. No wires, no dyes, woohoo!!

I flew through that second surgery, and landed back at work and active the following week, thinking all was good. Yep. I was done with surgery. No worries at all. They got the Bobettes out of me. In fact, Dr. B basically performed a partial mastectomy this time to ensure that she had clear margins. (Stephen remembers her saying that she took a big chunk out of me this time because she didn’t want me on her table again—which we found very amusing and reassuring. None of us wanted me on her table again either.)

Samantha, Stephen and I attended Chemo School. Yes, that is what it’s called. We were told I’d be on a four three-week cycles of TC. TC is the cocktail they chose for me. I would have many other things to help me survive the chemo, like anti-nausea meds, steroids, Neulasta (to increase my white cell count to help fight of nasty bugs) and more. While the TC guarantees me losing my hair, it’s a good all-around chemo for us to use as a proactive measure. Twelve weeks and I should be able to work through most of those days.

We scheduled the start in early October, after the Simi Valley Relay for Life on Oct. 1 and 2, for which I had taken over as team captain for a friend who wouldn’t be there for the event. We were set and I was starting to do my research into surviving and thriving during chemo and using cold caps to save my hair. (More on that in a later post.) I was intent that I would be the best, most functional chemo patient possible.

I’d forgotten about the second Path-Port. Completely, totally forgotten. I was so focused on our next steps and planning as much as I could that when Dr. B called me last Thursday, I figured it was just a follow up.

Instead I found myself shaking and crying in an empty office with a dear, dear co-worker holding my hand while Dr. B went over Path-Port: The Sequel.

My margins were not clear. They found more microscopic tumors and cancer cells, and some slightly larger ones. This time I would need a mastectomy. They would need to take my breast. Take. My. Breast.

I couldn’t breathe. Here I thought I’d gotten around needing to lose my breast and two surgeries later it was bye-bye boob.


It’s a little hard to put solid words to such strong emotions, but I’m going to try and ask you to bear with me in this. And do know that I’m past needing reassurance about my womanhood, identity, usefulness of my boobs and all of those other things we hope will sound reassuring. I am okay at this point, but I had to process this all first, and that’s what you get here—my process, and it’s intimate.



For some women, from what I’ve been told, their boobs are not necessarily an appreciated portion of their sexuality. (Yes, I’m finally venturing into the world of sex here.) That’s not the case for me. I have always appreciated the sensations that come with happy boobs. (My daughter is now running around in circles, clamping hands over her ears and screaming, “Stop talking now!” Okay, Dear. Enough said.) There is a very sad part of me that says losing one or both of my boobs is like a lower-version of castration. I am without those sensations forever more. That’s a loss. A very personal loss. One that I have NEVER heard anyone put words to. And I think we don’t talk about it because the bigger concern is living, and with the close second concern possibly being gracious, well-mannered ladies in the process. Obviously I agree with the first part (I am now afraid that I will die, just in case you were wondering when that emotion was going to final arrive) or I would not be moving forward. As for the second, judge me as you will.

But, I certainly don’t have to like it.


The other change that comes with Path-Port: Part Deux is with my chemo. Now that we’re seriously concerned because we really don’t know what the hell is happening in my boob, we need to get more aggressive with my chemo. What was 12 weeks total of TC will now likely become 8 weeks of AC (which I’m told could make me fetal-curl-crying-for-mommy) followed by 12 weeks of T. All of these acronyms and the order and combinations in which they appear are for specific chemo drugs. But I really hate science and I’m getting tired of my forced indoctrination, so I’ll let the very curious research these solo. It’s all very searchable on the Net.

Wrapping an overly long update here, I’ll say that my surgery is scheduled for next week. Chemo will start 3-4 weeks after. And radiation is still on the table. I will post later about reconstruction and options and what they all mean, but for now me, my family/friends and my doctors are committed to and confident with the approach of cutting the damn cancer out of me and poisoning what’s left. And at the end of it all, I will be okay. They still say this. I will live. I will thrive and I’ll have some perky new boobs to go with my renewed life. Amen.