After a year’s hiatus from blogging about my cancer journey, I’m baaaack!
Maybe I got too busy to keep writing. Maybe I ran out of things to write about. Maybe I just wanted to put it all behind me and move on.
Whatever the reason, I’ve got the writing bug again, so I decided to create a real blog – woo!
I entered my past blogs (from CaringBridge) backdated in their chronological order. Many people wrote beautiful and uplifting comments (and I’m a Words of Affirmation gal!) that I couldn’t carry over, so feel free to repost them! 🙂
One thing that I think motivated me to finally do this is that I experience a significant milestone yesterday – I was able to donate platelets once again. I had to wait for at least a year post-chemo to donate, and I was worried that my platelet count wouldn’t be high enough to donate, but I did it! My iron count was 13.4, and I gave a triple donation!!
They were so sweet at Bloodsource too – they brought me balloons that said “Welcome Back” and passed out Oreos to everyone to celebrate!
I used to give whole blood every couple months until my Father-in-Law, Clarence Gray, became dependent on platelets to ward off the effects of leukemia in his last years. Platelets (and God) were literally keeping him alive.
So I decided to try giving platelets instead of blood, and discovered it had many benefits:
I wasn’t as tired after donating
It felt like it was a tribute to Tina’s beloved dad
Turns out, I’m a platelet rock star, with an exceptionally high count and able to give triple donations!
My foray back into platelet donation was a big milestone for me and got me reflecting on my journey. So here I am back, wanting to share more.
I may not write about cancer all the time now, but I definitely draw inspiration from my journey, which affects just about everything I do in the aftermath.
Halloween is a holiday I feel like I’ve only been able to embrace since becoming middle-aged. Because we did NOT celebrate The Devil’s Holiday growing up – no, no.
The first time I remember going trick-or-treating was when I was maybe 10, and I talked my mom into letting me go with a neighbor friend, Sue Leach, because we were going to “Trick-or-Treat for Unicef” to raise money for third world countries. Of course, we took our candy bags “just in case.” We were dressed the same – as black cats (which was a little scary-ish but also…just an animal, so Mom allowed it), and it was sooooo fun (and a little frightening at the Fugates because I was convinced their mom was a witch!).
Our family celebrated Halloween in “Christian-approved” ways. We got to dress up every year for school, we played a game of finding candy around the house like Easter eggs, and of course we went to the Halloween Harvest Festivals (by the way, that’s fooling nobody) at the church. So there was SOME fun around Halloween, but nothing scary was allowed. I had to be a princess, doll, nurse or Biblical character – nothing satanic like a witch, ghost (not even the Holy Ghost) or superhero (unless it was Jesus).
So now, because I was so deprived as a child, I think I go overboard. I dress up every year, and I decorate for Halloween as much or maybe more than I do for Christmas. I have witches and ghosts and severed hands and all things “of the devil.” I even have a haunted basement, people! What is wrong with me??
Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein
My recent costumes
And it’s not like I “learned from that experience” and made my parenting so much different. Nope, I did all that shiz too. Sorry kids! But my daughter, who should have followed in my footsteps of becoming obsessed with Halloween and dressing up? No, my grandson’s costume for two years in a row is a sheet with 2 eyeholes – how did I fail?
Our next door neighbor, Lucy, who’s 4, also loves everything Halloween, or everything “spooky” as she calls it. She frequently comes over and wants to see if I have put out anything new – “Do you have any new skelekens?” she asks, and while she’s scared of the basement, she still wants to go down there every time she visits. Yep, I can relate.
I love thriller and horror movies for the same reason. Not cheap horror movies where everyone gets killed for no reason at all, but the “Saw” series? Yes, please. American Horror Story, Psycho, and everything Stephen King – I can’t get enough! Mind-bending suspense and scariness that makes me clutch all my pearls.
But truly, the scariest part about Halloween? The candy! Snickers, Almond Joy and Butterfingers – get thee behind me, Satan!! The amounts of sugar we consume during the week of Halloween is truly frightening. That’s what Christians should be against, since I’m guessing there’s more in the Bible about gluttony than about Halloween-ish things, like: “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony” (Proverbs 23:2). And in Job, one of the characteristics of a person from whom God has withdrawn a blessing is that “his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh.” Holy Biblical Literalist Hypocrites, Batman – I bet you never had to memorize those verses in Sunday School!
If you’re not yet spiritually mature in the area of Halloween and all things scary, I’m not sure how I can help you, but I’ll pray that you can overcome your fears or hangups or whatever is causing you to reject God’s Shekinah Glory that is Halloween.
But seriously, for freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery that says Halloween and demonic things like trick-or-treating are devil-worshipping, Satan-channeling evil activities that will send us straight to hell. (I think that’s from The Message.)
A friend of mine told me that she used to tell her kids that they couldn’t trick-or-treat at the Christians’ and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ houses because they believe all the make-believe stuff is real. That makes me giggle, but I’m sorry, is that really what we want the rest of the world to think? Be IN the world but not of it.
Nothing is quite so remarkable as the change that takes place in the autumn. Where not so long ago we were surrounded by bushes and trees resplendent in their summer greens, we are now living in a world of jumbled hues of orange and gold and rust. Where just days ago the lawn around the house was a well-vacuumed carpet of grass, clipped and tidy, it is now virtually covered over with fallen dried leaves.
Autumn lingers like pleasant memories from a good friend’s visit, like the fresh-scrubbed oxygen that a thunderstorm leaves behind. It is a time of change, when every morning brings new colors, new smells, and an altered vista. It is a time when even as the pace of change quickens in the natural world, the pace of man slows. It is the season of meandering strolls through multihued glens, through the melancholy fluttering of leaves falling to the ground.
Autumn is a time of introspection, when the sniff of drying foliage and loam slow the mind to consider days past, the highs and lows of a life. Every season has its own beauty, but autumn, like spring, brings with it a mood. If spring exults in new life, autumn examines the old; if spring is the anticipation of tomorrow, autumn is a meditation on yesterday.
So much of life is process; so much of it is just paying attention. What good is our stumbling if we never look back to understand why we tripped? What good is a victory if it doesn’t leave us more humble? What good is life itself if tomorrow doesn’t find us better than we were the day before? In the magnificent untidiness of our life-walk, it is necessary to pause beneath the drifting, dying leaves of autumn and examine the grace just spent. I want to learn to pay better attention: to listen, to observe, to learn.
Nature never stands still; it is always moving, pressing into the next day. Today’s tree will be taller tomorrow—or it will be fallen, lying dead and rotting in last year’s leaves. Today’s grass, luxuriously pliant and green, will tomorrow be brittle and parched, brown and sharp to the touch. The fawn that accompanies his mother today will next year be taller and on his own—or he may become a hunter’s trophy.
Time never stops. Season passes into season, change inevitably comes. As I gaze out my window, into the trees of Land Park that each day put on new clothes, I feel a sense of urgency. What have I accomplished today? The days continue to tick by; what am I doing that will yield eternal results? The person I pass on the street today will tomorrow be older—or dead. What have I done today so that his tomorrow will be something more than just his being one day older?
Have I been kind to those around me, or have I been impatient and rude? Do I expect everyone to be perfect? Or do I allow for the imperfections everyone else permits me? Will the world be better—or larger—tomorrow, because of something I’ve done today? Have I filled up each day using the gifts God has graciously entrusted to me? Have I used them or have I squandered them?
Some young plants and trees still need to be watered in the autumn. They ask for deep-rooted sustenance to carry them through the dormancy of winter. As I fill the old galvanized bucket with water and carry it to the base of the small tree newly planted in the yard, I notice a few drops leaking from the bottom edge, trailing a glistening path of drips through the drying leaves that carpet the grass.
And I realize that when we are born, we are each given a bucketful of days. God fills our bucket to overflowing, pouring into it, as well, all God’s goodness and blessings, gifts and opportunities. As time passes, the days drip out, one by one, until, at our earthly end, the bucket is dry. Our days have run out. Our gifts and opportunities have reached their end. No more. Each of us begins with a bucketful of days. But only God knows how many days are in our bucket. Will we spend them well?
I’m a breast cancer survivor. I should be wearing pink head to toe, right? Especially in October – officially designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I kind of hate pink. First of all, It’s one of my least favorite colors, but secondly, I think it’s become so overused, mundane and even nauseating in relation to breast cancer.
It seems that “pink” and “breast cancer” (along with a lot of other great causes) have merely helped entrepreneurs to make a buck by appealing to our emotions. Take, for example, the popular Lokai bracelets.
Unlike the silicone bands (a la Livestrong) for $1, these strands of colored silicone beads are $18 per bracelet, one dollar going to the organization of your choice. Yes, they’re cool (I actually kind of want one, but not in pink), but why not just donate $18 to your charity of choice? If $1 of every $18 purchase goes to breast cancer orgs (your choice is Susan G. Komen or BCRF), then a full $17 goes to the company’s founder, Steven Izen, who is undoubtedly a billionaire by now!
But I’m even more disgusted by repulsive corporate partnerships that engage in “Pinkwashing” (or, as I like to call it – Breast Cancer prostituted for profit) which happens when a company or organization claims to care about breast cancer by promoting pink ribbon products, while at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease. Pinkwashing is when “cause marketing” loses sight of “the cause” and is more about the bottom line – profits.
Here are some examples that make my WTF-ometer go off:
Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “Buckets for the Cure” campaign. For every pink bucket of fried chicken sold, KFC donated 50 cents to Susan G. Komen. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know that fast food, and especially fried food, are a well-known cause of many diseases, including cancer.
Komen partnered with the Coca-Cola Company promoting FUZE tea. With 31 grams of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (likely genetically modified), sucralose, and preservatives, all packaged in a BPA-rich plastic bottle. In fact, Komen receives generous donations from many companies who use BPA – linked to breast cancer tumor growth – in their products (Coca-Cola, General Mills, 3M).
Bobbi Brown Pinks with Purpose Lip Color Duo, which retails for $45, donates $17 of that to BRCF. The problem? According to EWG, this product’s ingredients causes the following: biochemical or cellular level changes, endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, bioaccumulation, cancer, enhanced skin absorption, ecotoxicology allergies/immunotoxicity, and developmental/reproductive toxicity. So go ahead and buy it, with your $17 going to breast cancer research, but just hope it doesn’t contribute to your own cancer risk when you use it!
This Clinique lotion will donate $10 of every bottle sold to benefit breast cancer research, but it contains the artificial dyes Yellow 5, 6 and Red 33 (why?) which are known carcinogens with effects such as organ toxicity, allergic reactions, hyperactivity, asthma, migraines and more.
Though not technically pinkwashing, the following companies deserve runner-up status:
Dansko shoe company marketed clogs with pink ribbons on them and consumers logically assumed the purchase of clogs correlated to how much money would be donated to breast cancer research. But that was not the case. In fact, Dansko had a set donation of $25,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure no matter how many clogs they sold.
American Express ran a campaign that claimed “every dollar counts,” even though no matter how much customers spent they donated exactly one penny per transaction.
And…just for kicks:
Breast cancer kills thousands of women every year, and companies rake in profits during October by commercializing this disease.
It would be wonderful to think that these breast cancer organizations could point people toward organic, hormone-free food and products that don’t cause cancer, but unfortunately, there’s no big-money in that (although it feels like there should be since I’ll grant you that the “healthy” versions cost a thousand times more than the cancer-causing versions).
So let’s stop talking so much about breast cancer awareness. I’m pretty sure everyone knows about breast cancer already. It’s estimated that 1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer in their lifetime. I’m also pretty sure that a football player wearing pink shoes brings nothing to the party, but only lines the pockets of Nike and the NFL (a 49ers Breast Cancer Awareness Hoodie, retails for $74.95, but only $6.01 goes toward breast cancer research.)
Let’s focus on prevention! Let’s talk more (and raise money for) education about junk food, chronic sunburn, cigarette smoking, artificial hormones, BPA in plastics, artificial dyes, flavors and fragrances that have all been linked to cancer.
Perhaps in the very beginning, the pink ribbon had good intentions. It was about still feeling beautiful and feminine after a devastating illness and having hope that a “cure” will one day be discovered.
However, it has become what many now recognize as nothing more than a greed-driven marketing campaign that, in many cases, does more to cause breast cancer than it does to prevent it.
Warning: this post contains explicit language. If you are reading this aloud to your young children – why? If you would like the bleeped-out version, too bad.
Fuck you, Cancer.
You stole so much from me, and then you took my friend Carrie. Carrie Lynne Ladd passed away from peritoneal cancer on April 8, 2018. Carrie was Tina’s best friend, co-worker of 27 years, and one-quarter of our foursome who, along with Carrie’s partner Natalie, we vacationed with, tried new restaurants with, hung out with.
Carrie called me “Little Sprout.” ‘How’s it going, Little Sprout?’ ‘What are you doing today, Little Sprout?’ These are the words I hear still, every time I think about her. What I wouldn’t give to hear that again. Fuck you, cancer.
I will soon have lived longer than my friend who was 21 months older than me. This doesn’t make any sense. The universe is off course. Fuck you, cancer.
She was burned up at 1800 degrees – I don’t know why I know that, but hearing it hit me hard. I don’t like picturing it, but I do. Seeing her ashes hit me hard too. How can all the essence of one’s life be reduced to the contents of a hot chocolate canister? It’s not, of course. I know it’s just the physical shell in there, but it still hits me hard. Fuck you, cancer.
Okay, so all the Fuck Yous, right? Cancer is such an asshole!
But my question is WHY? Why does cancer get to kill so haphazardly? Is it just a big cosmic game of whack-a-mole where some escape and some don’t? Why can’t cancer take all the shitty people in the world? The child molesters, rapists and murderers? Why Carrie? It almost seems beyond random – as if the Universe chose her for being such an amazing person. Fuck you, cancer.
#FuckCancer – it’s a great hashtag, T-shirt design, even a nonprofit committed to working for early detection and prevention of cancer. All that is good and fine, and how I personally feel most of the time.
But let me tell you how Carrie lived with cancer. While there’s no denying Carrie was a fighter, she also had a peace and acceptance about the disease that grew, shrunk and grew again in her body. I learned from her that there is something peaceful about accepting one’s circumstances – about accepting that you are probably going to die from cancer. Though Carrie’s decision to stop chemo was a jolt to us, it was a logical and timely decision for her – why continue to put toxins in your body if they are not doing their job? So she accepted it with grace.
And acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. It just means she came to terms with her circumstances and recalculated … just as my GPS regularly does when I take a route other than the one initially intended. That decision brought Carrie some peace. It brought her new direction and focus. And that was the right choice for her. Because peace is less stressful and more sustainable than war, and love is more powerful than hate.
Every cancer patient has to find their own way through the labyrinth of emotions, medications, decisions, uncertainty, turmoil. Carrie and I took different paths – physically and emotionally. And I’m still angry at cancer. I still hate; I have not made peace.
In April, it was time for my annual mammogram, so in usual fashion, I procrastinated a couple months and finally made an appointment. This was my second mammogram since my cancer/chemo/ reconstruction/ reduction, so I really didn’t think much of it…at first.
I went in, did all the things (and I only have to do half a mammogram these days, so it’s only half-horrible now!) and went home – no problem. Then the call came. “We need you to come back in because there are some abnormalities we’re seeing and we need to take a second look.” Holy crap.
Now, I typically have to go back every single time I get a mammogram because I’ve had “dense tissue” in my breasts all my life, but this time the announcement rocked me to my core. I didn’t really talk about my fear to anybody because this was a normal thing for me – I was just going in for a second mammogram – same ol’ same ol’. But I had a hard time sleeping, I started crying spontaneously a couple times (this usually happens in the shower) and I had a hard time focusing. Clearly, I’m no longer very spiritually mature in the area of second mammograms!
I did the second mammogram – even tighter and squishier than the first – and went back to the waiting room while the technician (who was so sweet and made the process as easy as possible) spoke with the doctor. She came back a billion hours later to say they needed a couple more shots, so I endured a few more even-more-painful boob squishes and went back to the waiting room a third time with a cold sweat now breaking out, my anxiety on a bender. When she came back, she asked me to come into the room again and sit down (cue the shakes), where she told me…everything looked clear and I was free to go. Whaaaa? I just about melted into my chair.
Relieved, but still experiencing PTSD (or PTCD, as I’m terming it) symptoms – flashbacks, distress, fear, inability to focus, shaking, sweating, numbness – I drove home and collapsed into bed, crying like a baby.
Cancer is a horrible disease that ravages the body, but it’s also an insidious mind-fuck, which took me by surprise this time. So I’m working through my PTCD day by day, year by year. Will my mammograms bring flashbacks every year? I’m thinking maybe so…but I’ll be a little more prepared after this year’s experience.
The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage. -Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness
So to recap the last year, here’s what has happened:
In October 2016, we had the unforgettable experience of taking grandson Loren to Disneyland. We love going as adults, but there’s something magical about going with a child!
November 2016, I turned 50. Tina, against her better judgment, threw me an amazing party (with lots of help!) to celebrate. It was a unique experience for me to see all my worlds come together – I had my family there, my friends from Sacramento, my colleagues from work, my Vistage confidants, my church family (including both Pastors) and my neighbors all together in one house.
In December, we spent a beautiful white Christmas with my family in Lake Tahoe.
In January, I traveled to Ashland for the birth of my second grandbaby. When I got the call that Brie was in active labor, I hopped in my car and sped up I5 as fast as I could…only to wait a week while she went in and out of labor, and I finally went home because I needed to get back to work!
Then in February, Genevieve Oreta Brown made her entrance.
After needing to borrow cars to go to Tahoe and Ashland in the winter weather, I traded in my cute little (impractical) Miata for an all-wheel-drive, automatic transmission (because I would not be able to use my left arm for a while after reconstruction) Audi A4 with enough room in the back seat for 2 car seats.
Breast reconstruction: Diep Flap Procedure (more on this in my previous post):
In April, we visited the grandbabies again for Easter:
Loren helped make Easter cookies!
I got permission from my surgeon to be able to hold Genevieve if I sat down and someone handed her to me!
In May, we went to Disneyland (our happy place) again:
In June, we got Loren for a whole week!
Then (still in June) I had my right breast reduction (so that they would match).
In July, we went to Sisters, OR to spend time with the family at my brother’s vacation home – it was fabulous!
And I went to the Gray Family Reunion in North Carolina (for the first time)!
In August and September, we helped move my parents and Mama Ladd into new homes – 7 weekends in a row! Thankfully, there was lots of help, including these two:
Then in October, we went to Ashland for Loren’s 6th birthday (and Stace’s 31st).
Which brings us to November 2017. More to come soon!