Friday, August 31, 2012


This has been another busy week of appointments.  I met with my oncologist on Monday.  He was extremely nice and drew lots of pictures for me, which as a visual learner is much appreciated.  We made a plan to begin chemotherapy on September 11th - although that might change since I have an appointment with the dentist the day before.  I hope I can make it work.  I want to get started.

I also met with my surgeons who were also super knowledgeable and compassionate.  At this point, I am beginning with Neoadjuvant chemotherapy - so I won't be seeing my surgeons again for a while.  My cancer is triple positive - Estrogen positive, Progesterone positive, and Her2 positive.  The positive thing about this is that there are targeted ways of treating this kind of cancer.  Of course, this means that I will have a port for a year so doctors can give me Herceptin- and I will be taking Tamoxifen for the next five years.  But at this point, knowing that I will be around to take something for five years feels like a blessing.

I have seen a lot lately about sleep and breast cancer in particular.  My mother even called me to tell me she saw a clip on the news about the connection between a lack of sleep and breast cancer.  This of course is of significance because I hate sleeping.  I find it to be such a waste of time.  Of course, I would love sleeping if I could do it from about 2am till about 10am... but it is hard to hold down a regular job and not be somewhere earlier than noon.  So, my normal schedule involves going to bed around 1am and waking up at 6am.  Five hours a night has always felt like plenty.  Sure, I get tired at around 2 or 3pm, but I look around my office and it seems like everyone is tired around 2 or 3pm.  And I get so much done in the wee hours of the night!  I can paint, read, write, plan, without my beautiful little ones expressing every need imaginable.  The studies do show that the correlation is only in post menopausal women, so perhaps this isn't the reason for my own breast cancer.  But just to be safe, I probably should get more sleep.  I hate cancer.

A big problem with trying to make changes around sleep now is that worrying about cancer keeps me up at night.  It is in the stillness that my mind wanders.  My dark thoughts are given a stage to wreak havoc on my psyche.  I lay listening to my partner's breath.  I move from side to side trying to find the elusive comfortable position that will allow me to peacefully fall asleep.  I focus on my own breath and remind myself of all of the techniques I have taught my own clients for the past fifteen years, but come up empty.  My brain is moving fast and furious- and although I try, stopping it feels impossible.

So, I thought perhaps tonight before I go to bed, I would draw a picture of what is going on in my mind. Of course this drawing only scratches the surface.   I drew myself without hair- because I am trying to acclimate myself to this soon to be reality.  My daughter has already started drawing me without hair as she prepares herself.  (Maybe I will share some of her artwork later).  So here is my latest attempt to heal.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Three weeks since diagnosis

It is hard to believe it has only been three weeks.  Three weeks of having my life turned upside down.  On the positive side, I still cry a little every day- but it doesn't feel as overwhelming as it did before.  Not sure if I am getting used to it, or just getting better at denying it.  Whatever the case, I am liking it.

The biggest thing I did this week was to go to my first support group.  I sat in my car watching women with scarves enter the building and wondering if I had the courage to join them.  As a therapist, I have facilitated many a group in my life- but haven't been a participant.  I knew it would make it real.  I was terrified.  But I summoned all of the courage I had to get out of my car and follow them.  It was such a healing event.  To be surrounded by women who knew what I was up against, who were sad for me but didn't pity me, who were full of knowledge and experience.  In a matter of two hours,  I felt like perhaps breast cancer wasn't going to end me- but was rather going to open me up to a life that I couldn't have imagined... and not a bad one.  I loved these women I met.  Strong, funny, empathic, smart and connected.  And I was going to be one of them.  When the group was over, we gathered outside the door.  They were helping each other with hints around how to lessen the burns of radiation.  They turned to me and I thanked them all for making my journey seem manageable.  They all smiled and hoped I would come back to the next group.  Everyone hugged and we went our separate ways.  And I left smiling.  I can't wait to go back in a couple of weeks.

I wanted to do an art piece around support.  There is an art directive I use with my clients where I have them trace their hand and then extend each finger in their drawing to create a multitude of branches.  On each branch, they make leaves and fill the leaves with things that will support them on their journey.  I talk about how everyone has bad things happen to them.  Happiness isn't about living a life without struggle.  It is learning how to cope when things are hard and not losing sight of all of the things we have to be grateful for.  Each leaf represents the people, places, activities, coping strategies, and internal strengths that I am connected to that will help me to heal.  The more leaves you have on your tree, the better off you are.  I have a beautiful tree full of leaves, and for that I am grateful.

Plus- my PET scan came back and there is no additional cancer.  I know everything is going to be okay.
If anyone out there makes a tree of support, I would love to see it.
Much love,

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two crazy weeks

August third I was told over the phone that the samples they took are in fact cancer.  I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, my husband's anxious face as I sat speechless and then I can remember crying.  The kind of crying that is uncontrollable.  How can this be?  This can't be.  This isn't true... but it was.  I have cancer.
I wish I could say that I noticed a lump and hurriedly went to the doctors to get it checked out- and luckily, my quick thinking helped me to catch it early.  But in fact, I didn't notice anything.  I have been dreadful at taking care of myself.  Ironic, considering I work as a therapist and it is my occupation to be a caregiver.  So, it had been a couple of years since my last annual.  At 44, I should have had a mammogram when I turned forty- but I didn't.  I have been either pregnant or nursing for the last four years, and the thought of a mammogram seemed uncomfortable so I decided against it.  When a woman that I know was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I decided I needed to go to the doctor.  Of course I would be fine, but I should go.
The doctor found the lump.  I told her I have always been lumpy- and if I came in with a lump every time I felt one, I would be here every other week.  She was still concerned and asked that I go in for a mammogram as soon as possible.
I am a busy woman.   I work forty hours a week, teach at two universities, supervise amazing interns, try to make art whenever possible, and have two children five and under.  I told her I would go as soon as I could.  My son was having surgery the following week, so I decided to go once his surgery was behind me.  I can really only worry about one thing at a time after all.
My little one was quite the trooper- and his tonsillectomy was a success.  So now, mammogram.  I was scheduled for the next day, August 1st.   One mammogram- back to the waiting room, "please don't get dressed yet."  Another mammogram - back to the waiting room, "please don't get dressed, next will be an ultrasound".  Ultrasound with a request to biopsy immediately.  I said yes... and suddenly realized that things were looking serious.
Since the phone call on August third, the days have been a blur of tests, meetings with oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, second opinions, and daily disclosures to those I love.  I feel like a lunatic.  Laughing, crying, angry, despondent.  Incredulous.
At this time, what I know is I have breast cancer.  They have found several tumors through out the left breast and one tumor in the lymph node.  MRI scan shows no cancer in the right breast.  My cancer appears to be Estrogen positive, Progesterone negative.  Her2 status in unknown at this time.
This week is the PET scan and we will find out if it has progressed anywhere else.  I am terrified, but trying hard to stay positive and hopeful.  I have to fight this.  I don't have any other choice.
When I was 37, I struggled with infertility and worked on an artist journal throughout my ordeal to help me cope.  I knew I needed to do the same for this.  I also know that I want to do something with this that is meaningful to me.  So, here I am.  I am a licensed marriage family therapist and board certified art therapist about to take you on my journey of healing this thing that has invaded my body. 
The picture below is from my artist journal around infertility.  It was one of those days when I needed to give myself a pep talk.  I am having another one of those days.

"I have been holding on to this story of being unlucky and damaged for too long.  when  I look at all my small frame has endured in 38 years - how can I not be in awe of my courage, my strength, my tenacity and will.  I am a survivor and  I can do anything I set my mind to.  I am blessed with love, beauty, truth, and creativity.  I am powerful."