Category Archives: Northern Virginia

Breast Cancer Awareness | Middle School Style

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So apparently my sweet girl and some of her friends decided that they would all wear pink today. Because breast cancer.

Probably everyone reading this knows I’m not much into pink for the sake of pink. Another thing I’m not into? Crushing the good intentions of an eleven year old with my anti-pinkwashing angst.

And so (I hope) I made the best of the situation and explained awareness without action is a little empty once everyone is already aware. Since middle schoolers don’t need to head out for an annual mammogram, we decided to look for something that middle schoolers could do. We brainstormed some ideas of things kids could do if they knew someone with breast cancer or if a friend’s mom had breast cancer. We talked about it Wednesday, but then I didn’t prompt at all when she was making the poster last night. Things like “bring them dinner,” “watch their kids” and “talk about things you would normally talk about” were on her list of how to be a good friend in a tough time. Part of me hated helping her make that giant pink ribbon. But if I learned one thing last October, it’s that the pink is already there, I might as well make it work. So today, bedecked in the fluffy pink skirt that I made for her years ago along with pink leggings and pink fringe boots, she shared a poster with her homeroom class to help them understand how to help a friend whose family has been affected by cancer. And I couldn’t be prouder.

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Big Week | CURE Magazine and Scary Mommy

run lipstick chemo jamie holloway cure magazine scary mommy

I know this probably isn’t news to those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, but in case social media’s just not your thing, I thought I’d put an update here, too…

Monday my first post went live on the CURE Magazine’s online community! CURE Magazine is resource for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. You can pick up a copy in an oncologist’s office, and they offer free subscriptions if you fill out the included subscription card. I’m not in the print version (yet! One can always dream!) but they approached me a few weeks ago to contribute to the online community of writers, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Being part of this publication means that people who truly understand my point of view or might benefit from my experiences will be the primary audience, and that’s huge! The piece that I wrote for them this week is a brand new piece– The Indignity of Breast Cancer. Though I’ve never been to New Orleans in March, it’s a little story about how I’ve earned more than 100 pair of Mardi Gras beads the good old fashioned way! (And why I’m totally ok with that.)

Wednesday I was featured on Scary Mommy, a collective blog that’s described as “A parenting website for imperfect parents” and “is intended for people who have a sense of humor, an appreciation for sarcasm, and wear panties that don’t easily get in a wad.” Sometimes irreverent but always funny, I enjoy reading so much of what they feature. They picked up my post from a couple weeks ago– “Ten Things Breast Cancer Taught Me” and republished it this week with a really cheesy stock photo of ladies wearing pink shirts. But still, they published it! Though they may not be my target cancer-y audience, they have a huge readership, so being featured on their site was super cool!

I’ve posted links on the right– the blue CURE Magazine logo will take you to my community page, so as I post more there, it should link to a list of all my articles there. And even though there’s just one Scary Mommy post, I’ll probably leave their signature crown up forever because it’s so cool! If you haven’t read them already, check them out!

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Three Years and Counting | The Great Post-Chemo Pixie Growout

run lipstick chemopost chemo pixie growout

It’s been a while since we had a hair post, no? Since it’s been three years this week since my diagnosis, I thought it might be fun to see how my hair has changed each October…

  • October 2012: That’s how my hair looked when I was diagnosed. Gorgeous, right? I know they were all just being nice, but at one point I thought I was going to cause physical harm to the super sweet nurse who must have been the twelfth medical professional that week to tell me that my hair was beautiful. It was all I could do not to remind them that I was there because I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I mean, they all got that it was about to fall out, right?
  • October, 2013: Just six months of growth after chemo and it was so dark and stylish! Instead of words like beautiful, people now told me that I looked strong and fierce. Man, I loved that hair, and I loved being strong and fierce! It’s funny how people assume things about your personality because of the way you choose to wear your hair. (And I loved feeling like I could pull off such dark lipstick–that Nars 413BLKR, was a go to back then!)
  • October 2014: I snapped this before heading off to a conference on 3D mammography. That was admittedly the start of a rough hair year. I had to fight the weather girl vibe on a daily basis and eventually went to a flat-ironed spiky look most days to avoid the over rounded coif that my hair apparently prefers.
  • October 2015: The light at the end of the tunnel! I’m pretty sure I had my hair like this once on purpose! It’s still a little short to get into a ponytail without too many little clips holding in stray pieces, but it’s pretty much a normal hairstyle for me now. I don’t hate it every minute of the day, and that’s major progress. It’s lightened up, too, thanks to time spent outside with the kiddos and my running buddies.

I guess I have to count it a win that I was happy with my hair in three out of four pictures… I’m on my way back to the first ‘do. If I ever make it, please don’t tell me that it’s “so 2012.” I think my family would still love for me to get back to the old pre-cancer me for a while, and I’m finally close enough that it seems possible. I just hope they don’t totally revolt when I decide I’ve had enough of the blow outs and curling iron and chop it all off for the 2013 look. But who am I kidding? At that point, they can revolt if they want. Because the next time a huge pile of my hair ends up on the floor, it will be by my choosing, and I think I’ve earned the right to pick my own hairstyle!

Thanks to Sally Brewer for the 2013 picture and Crystal Hardin for capturing the 2012 image just two days before Dragan shaved my head.

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On Remembering and Carrying On | September 11

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I wanted to go for a run downtown yesterday. Really, I wanted to park near the Pentagon and run across the Memorial Bridge onto the mall. But, figuring that security around the Pentagon would be crazy, I decided that wouldn’t be the best plan. My second choice was to park in Rosslyn and do a similar route coming back through Georgetown and the Key Bridge. But since I couldn’t find anyone who could spend the morning with me, and frankly, I had other things I should be doing, too, I settled and headed out on my normal neighborhood loop.

I’m sure there has been a cloudy September 11 since 2001. Yet I feel like every year, I look up to a bright blue, cloudless sky and think how amazing it is that every year, the sky looks just the same. In 2001, I headed into the lab super early every morning, so by the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was finished with my morning’s work in the tissue culture room and came out to see the image on my labmate’s computer screen.  After a brief chat, we carried on with our work, but gathered back around the computer as word filtered down the halls that the second tower had been hit. I fielded the call of a friend who was supposed to be relaxing after defending her thesis the day before but was instead frantically looking for the work number of a friend who worked in the World Trade Center.  Finally, I remember running across the hall to stand next to the desk that would eventually be mine to look out the window into that crystal blue sky, watching smoke rise from the Pentagon before we were eventually sent home.

Somehow, every year on September 11, I feel compelled to run. Because I can. This year I wanted to go downtown, run past the same skyline I saw looking out that window. I wanted to run across the Key Bridge, remembering the fully armed National Guard troops who welcomed me across for weeks as our city struggled to return to normal. I was a little disappointed to “just” be running my normal loop. Yet as I ran the lovely wooded trail along the interstate, I could see the flags placed on the overpasses every year by the Arlington County Fire Department in memory of that day.  I saw the cherry blossom-themed sign pointing towards downtown.  Crossing over the interstate as I headed home, I could hear the hum of traffic and the rumble as a metro train passed under me.  The sky and the flag, so beautiful. The traffic, so blissfully normal. The day will not be forgotten, yet we have carried on.

And as for that run downtown, there’s always next year. (At which point my St. Louis Cardinals-loving eight year old would tell me I sound like a Cubs fan!)

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Gettin’ My Groove Back | Running After Cancer

run may 2015

I managed to run all through chemo. I didn’t go as fast, or as far, or nearly as frequently as when I was in top shape, but I had cancer. So I was winning. Then surgeries started creeping in, and I LOVE my plastic surgeon, but he’s a stickler about limiting activity after surgery. The six week ban on anything that causes you to bounce or break into a sweat probably isn’t necessary, but he wants to ensure the best outcome possible. When it comes to plastic surgery, I’m all for a good outcome, so I obliged.

We all know that breaking a habit is far easier than starting a new one, so at the end of each six-week doctor imposed hiatus, it took a while to get back into the groove of a regular morning run. And then as soon as I’d gotten back in the swing of things, I’d need another surgery. Training interrupted by surgery has kind of been my go-to excuse for the last two years. But just this week I realized that my most recent surgery was in June of last year. That means I’m almost a year surgery-free! Which is awesome. But also, that fact makes my go-to, perfectly respectable excuse completely pathetic. There’s no reason I should be sleeping in far more days than I’m getting out for a run.

Enter the plan to get back my groove. It is a multi-pronged approach:

  • Run with a friend: Accountability helps. And so does companionship. Last week I made Emma Clare run with me before Turner’s baseball game. I have a neighborhood friend who I run with before the kids head to school– our plan is twice a week. (When life doesn’t get in the way.) And then Sally and I have decided to resurrect our chemo runs, meeting in Old Town once a week or after a shopping outing, and have even added a third friend to that mix.
  • Make a goal: I’m completely out if I don’t set myself a goal. But with a (reasonable) goal, I’m a fierce competitor. So I’ve got a couple of friends in on it, and we’re doing a minimum of three runs a week and reporting back. I kind of wanted a mileage goal for myself, too. I decided on a May marathon– not that I’m going to run a marathon at the end of May (ha!) but that I’ll run a total of 26.2 miles in the month of May.  I’m off to a pretty strong start, though, so I am thinking I might need to up that goal…
  • Power through: This is the hardest. The weather yesterday morning was perfect for a run, the trails were packed, and the trees were lovely. And my run was abysmal. I’m not fast, so it doesn’t bother me to get passed. But yesterday, I got passed by a guy running in a cotton tee and dockers. (Hard to tell myself that he passed me because he puts in a lot of miles when he’s running in a pair of chinos.) Also, I got passed by a woman at least twenty years my senior, who, based on the fact that both knees were taped and she had a terrible gait, was running in a significant amount of pain. Hard to keep going after grandma limps by. The one lucky break? One of the top candidates for neighborhood gazelle joined the path quite a bit ahead of me, so she can keep saying with conviction that she’s sure I’m not that much slower than her. Nevertheless, I finished the run and was determined today would be a better day.  I had actually set up two running dates. First one got cancelled last minute because my partner’s dog hid one of her shoes. She never did find it! Second one cancelled due to that partner’s stomach bug. (Apparently, it’s not a great thing to be my running partner!) Thankfully, though, I powered through and went out solo. The music was great (thanks, Spotify!) and I spent some time thinking through a phone call I have later today.

So after a few false starts, I managed to make it a respectable week. What about you– how do you get your groove back and restart a cast off habit?

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Happy Birthday to Me | NARS Lip Pencils from Sephora

 

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My birthday is in December– quite frankly, I can’t believe that I’m 38. That just sounds older than I feel. Not that I’m obsessing about it at all, but some nice presents surely make it better!  I do love shopping at Nordstrom, but when it comes to cosmetics, I’m starting to become a Sephora convert.  They have a similar generous return policy, and they have a beauty insiders club that lets you earn points for really nice rewards– smaller sizes of some of their best products– things I actually want!  But best of all are the annual birthday gifts.  I discovered several of the products that I now love and faithfully buy that way– Watts Up highlighter by Benefit and Sugar Fresh lip balm are probably my favorite birthday gifts.  Until this year.

I’m a huge fan of NARS cosmetics– they are highly pigmented and deliver deep, lasting color.  The velvet matte pencil in Cruella is the red lip color I’ve been looking for– a bold red with just enough depth so that it’s not obnoxiously bright.  The satin lip pencil in Rikugien is more of a neutral, glossy color that’s a great everyday staple.  Two new lip colors– a perfect red and a glossy neutral– make me a pretty happy birthday girl.  Happy birthday to me indeed!

*This is the 2015 birthday gift– even though I was celebrating my 2014 birthday, it was January before I made it in to Sephora. Having noticed my love for NARS, the sales associate let me choose, and of course I went home with this one!

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Me and Ibuprofen? It’s Complicated | Pain Relief after Breast Cancer

ibuprofenI woke up the other morning with a headache. Back in the day, I’d have groaned about it while I walked to the kitchen, popped a few ibuprofen, and then I’d get on with my day. But now? Well, it’s complicated.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve always had the occasional headache, only rarely would they last after I took a few ibuprofen. The last time I saw my oncologist, she asked about headaches and I told her that I have them occasionally. Of course, she asked whether they went away when I took ibuprofen, and I had to admit that I don’t really take it any more. I knew she wanted to know because a headache that is controlled by over the counter meds doesn’t indicate a scan-worthy concern.

So why won’t I take ibuprofen? It’s not because I’m anti-meds. Of course, I know they can be misused and abused, but I’ve always been one to (responsibly, of course) embrace whatever the pharmaceutical industry can give me. (Narcotics, an ambien, and an epidural made for a nearly blissful birth experience!) But since I had cancer, I hesitate to take something even as mundane as ibuprofen.  Not because I’m tired of taking pills and just don’t want to anymore. Though I think that’s a pretty reasonable reaction.  But once she had asked, I had to admit the reason out loud.  I want to feel the pain.  Not because I want to suffer.  But because I want to know just how much my head hurt, and for how long.  I feel like if it’s the start of a problem, I want to know right away.  Of course, my oncologist told me what I knew deep down. I should take the meds.  What I need to worry about is pain that can’t be controlled by the meds or that lasts for a couple of weeks.

So the other morning when I woke up with a headache? A quick check of my P-tracker (yes, there’s an app for that) told me that it was most certainly a PMS headache– something I’ve dealt with since long before I had breast cancer.  So I took a deep breath, told myself not to worry about it, and swallowed my ibuprofen. And what do you know? The headache went away.

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Two Years and Counting | Post-chemo Pixie Grow Out

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We all have dates that we remember.  Some very important, some rather mundane.  I could never remember dates for history class.  But I’ve got a slew of dates floating around in my head.  March 8– my first date with Clay.  May 1– the day I had to finally send in the acceptance to the University of Illinois (it was not my first choice for college, but I couldn’t get the scholarship support to go elsewhere.) July 18– my first best friend’s birthday, and we haven’t lived in the same town since first grade.  October 5– the day I found out I had breast cancer.  February 1– my last day of chemo.

Wow, that was a lot of writing to get to the “it’s been two years since my last day of chemo” line.  But, there you have it.  Two years from completely bald to Rapunzel-like hair.  I was shocked last week when someone compared my hair to Rapunzel’s– I was thinking of the long blond braid that reached to the base of the tower.  Apparently in Tangled, her hair is cut at the end of the movie, and as it turns out, my newest style looks very much like hers.  (Like how I tried for a concerned, wide-eyed stare just like hers?)  And here, I thought growing out my hair would take forever.  All I needed was two years to get hair just like Rapunzel’s.

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On Being Med-Free | Tamoxifen and Long Term Breast Cancer Treatment

run lipstick chemo tamoxifen breast cancer

Forgive the old picture, but I don’t have any current pics of my meds.  Because I don’t have any meds.  Which is sort of a blessing and a curse.  It’s great that I don’t have to remember to fill a prescription and remember to take a daily pill.  It’s really great that I don’t have to deal with side effects.  What’s not so great, you may be wondering? I’m not actively doing anything to help prevent a recurrence.  If you know someone who’s had breast cancer and finished her treatment, odds are good that she’s taking a pill every day for the next five or ten years, and so it’s an obvious question to wonder why I’m not.

And this is where we go back to the science.  Remember when I explained about how my breast cancer is called triple negative? (Yep, if you look at that post, I used the same picture! Sorry!) Pathologists look at three main receptors when classifying breast tumors: ER, PR, and HER2.  Since my tumor didn’t have any of the three, I am considered “triple negative.” Tumors that express ER or PR are considered hormone responsive, and they make up 60-70% of newly diagnosed breast cancer cases.  These tumors use estrogen to grow, which means that shutting down their ability to use estrogen can shut down tumor growth.  No tumor growth means your tumor won’t kill you.  Obviously, hormone-targeted therapies have made a significant impact in the management of hormone responsive tumors.  There are several ways to manage hormone responsive tumors long term.  Tamoxifen is the most commonly known, and it acts as an anti-estrogen in the breast and effectively shuts down estrogen signalling.  Other drugs (raloxifene, toremifene, and fulvestrant) work in a similar manner.  Aromatase inhibitors halt the production of estrogen (letrozole, anastrazole, and exemestane) and can also be used to starve the tumor of estrogen.  (Fun fact– a woman’s body uses testosterone to make estrogen using an enzyme called an aromatase, so aromatase inhibitors prevent that conversion).  In premenopausal women, ovarian ablation (with drugs like gosserelin or leuprolide) can be used in conjunction with aromatase inhibitors, and have recently been shown to be very effective.  These treatment regimens are long term– five years used to be the standard, now some studies indicate ten years is even better– and are not always tolerated well.  Like any treatment, some women don’t have many side effects, but for some women, the treatment causes significant quality of life issues leading them to choose to stop treatment.  (This is certainly not a decision to be made without talking to your doctor! I’m just saying that it happens, good or bad…) Most women deal with some side effects that fall into the undesirable category, but are considered a reasonable trade off for the reduction in risk of recurrence.

All of that is to say that at least 60-70% of women treated for breast cancer benefit from long term hormonal treatment.  But for those of us without hormone responsive tumors, there is no reason to take the meds.  Our tumors don’t use the estrogen, so blocking it won’t help us.  And herein lies the blessing and the curse.  I don’t have to take daily meds and deal with the side effects, which is awesome.  But I’m also left in the position where there is no medication that I can take that will reduce my risk of recurrence, and that’s a little less awesome.  I’m just going to count on the fact that the chemo did its job and keep running, running, running.  (I do wish it would warm up, though.  It’s a little cold and icy to enjoy running right now!) I can’t take tamoxifen to help me, but exercise has been shown to reduce recurrence risk.  And so I will run.  As one triple-negative friend put it: “Running is my tamoxifen.”

For a more complete discussion on hormonal therapy for breast cancer, check out what this fact sheet from NCI (National Cancer Institute).  It’s complete and not overly technical.

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The Great Pixie Grow Out Continues… | Hair Growth After Chemo

post chemo pixie grow out run lipstick chemo

At this point in the great pixie grow out, my hair pretty much looks different every day.  This afternoon I pulled on my trusty smartwool beanie to head to the bus stop, and I decided it looked kind of cute. I mean, if it’s good enough for Tom Brady to wear to a press conference, I should be able to leave it on inside, too.  Mine’s not quite as vintage as his stocking hat, but since it’s the hat I bought what seems like another lifetime ago as I prepared to lose my hair, we’re going to go ahead and call it vintage.  It does look a bit cuter now with some wispy hair sticking out than when I had it pulled tight over my bald head, but it served me well then, and it’s still a handy little hat.

growing out a pixie run lipstick chemo

Since it really started growing, I have been getting my hair cut every 5-6 weeks because it gets so bulky, and I’ve always wanted my haircut to look intentional.  It would be a little longer if I’d have just never cut it, but I’ve really loved a lot of the styles that I’ve had along the way, and it never looked like an awkward grow-out phase.  But when I got my haircut just before Christmas, it was starting to get long enough that it wasn’t quite as bulky, and the haircut didn’t help the shape nearly as much.  And so I did something very brave. Or very stupid. I set my next haircut for 8 weeks. (Which is two weeks away.)  Yikes. Lately, I’m wearing it straight more than I’m sporting the polished weather girl coif, and occasionally I bust out the sprouty pigtails or the trusty bandana.  I have another new style that someone compared to a Disney princess (you’ll never guess!) that I”ll have to show off next week!  Stay tuned for more fun as the great pixie grow out saga continues…

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