Important Things | Coffee

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I was talking on the phone to my mom one morning last week and when she asked my plans for the day, I told her I was meeting a friend for coffee.  She remarked that I sure do meet people for coffee an awful lot.  (Sally brought along her camera when we had coffee with Maria Jose last week, there are more pictures here.)

I was talking to someone else today and they commented that something like cancer puts things in perspective, makes you realize the important things.  It occurred to me, coffee has become one of those important things.  I wasn’t always a coffee drinker, it’s only been the last two or three years that I’ve enjoyed my morning coffee.  Even now, I do enjoy my coffee, but I’m more of a social drinker. And that’s what is really important to me.

Before last year, I still had a preschooler, and time to myself was limited, precious, and usually filled with a busy to-do list.  So with Turner in kindergarten last year, in theory, I did have more time for coffee.  Sally and I joke that cancer made me popular, though.  I had coffee with a few brand new friends and with some old friends who I would have likely met up with regardless. I also got to know better some friends who reached out to me during my treatment.  That time was so special to me, it was fun to spend time with friends old and new, and it was a brilliant distraction. An hour or two (plus the time to get myself ready and back home) pretty much filled my morning but still left me with the afternoon to nap.  Much more fun chatting with a friend than dwelling on cancer and my own mortality.

If I’ve learned one thing from last year, it’s that I have been blessed with countless wonderful friends.  I don’t even have the words to express what they all mean to me. I do love the coffee, but it’s not so much the coffee that’s important, it’s the friend behind the second cup that really matters.  And while the cancer and those blissfully long naps are behind me, I’m not willing to give up my coffee dates.

New Hair | New Earrings

then and now blue dress

Sally took the picture on the left two years ago when our families vacationed together at the beach.  The picture on the right was taken this summer in Old Town. I really do love that dress! Emma Clare saw the older one recently and remarked that it hardly looked like me.  “I sure had a lot of hair there, didn’t I?” Her reply, “Well, yeah.  And you look a lot younger.” Thanks kid.  Anyway, I thought I’d use the two side by side to demonstrate how my taste in earrings has changed.  I stopped wearing the big hoop earrings as soon as I shaved my head– with a scarf tied around my head, I felt like a pirate.  No thank you.  I still held onto my other favorite big earrings, though, I think the fact that the scarf I usually wore had a long tail made it still feel like I had long hair. Now, though, my hair is decidedly short.  Every once in a while I try the big earrings again, and I just don’t feel like they’re right.  So now, I tend to favor chunky studs– Kate Spade makes several different pair that I love and are actually pretty reasonable. Plus, now that they’re so popular, there are a lot of knock offs around! I think I’ve got two or three pair of Kate Spade studs and a couple from covet, a favorite local boutique. I want them to be big enough to be seen, but not big enough to fall past my earlobes. I’ve got enough basics to keep me happy, but now I’m on the lookout for something new.


Hopefully just one last IV for me for a very long time

I was back at the plastic surgeon’s office today, for my second pre-op appointment.  My surgery isn’t scheduled until after school starts, but he likes to do the pre-op appointments early to be sure I’ve had time to ask any questions and get everything I need.  I came away with two more scripts– heavy duty antibiotics to prevent infection after the surgery and more lovely percocet (which I probably won’t need).  He explained to me that this surgery is much less invasive and all the trauma has already been done, so it should be a pretty easy recovery.  The mastectomy involved cutting, moving, and stretching of muscle, and that hurts.  But this surgery will literally be a swap out, so no new cutting or stretching.  I also got a pamphlet for medical grade compression gear, we’re talking gear so tight it requires multiple sets of hooks and eyes just so you can zip it up.  So if your spanx just aren’t cutting it and you want something even stronger, I can totally hook you up.

The Power of Lipstick

This weekend an article on the transforming power of lipstick popped up on twitter, and of course, I had to read it immediately! The author was in a rush out the door, but stopped to quickly apply some lipstick and was amazed at how much better she felt about how she looked.  She polled some of her blogger friends, including my friend Maria Jose, the Very Busy Mama, on their favorite transforming lipstick. It’s been pretty important to how I feel about how I look, so I wanted to add my own homage to the transforming power of lipstick.

As I read, I had a hard time thinking of a single favorite lipstick.  I re-read the post, and the word transforming sort of jumped off the page, and then I knew.  Of course, my mainstay through chemo, the lipstick that went on after I tied a scarf around my bald head to announce to the world that I was the healthiest cancer patient they’d ever seen: Dubonnet by MAC.  Now that’s a transforming lipstick.


Photography by Sally Brewer Photography

Lipstick: Dubbonet by MAC

Beware the internet

Googling (wigs, not medical info!) while at my first chemo treatment

I know it seems strange, me being here on the internet and all, telling you to stay off the internet.  The internet is a wonderful place– I can quickly find information, do some shopping, converse with old friends.  But there is a danger, too.  Anyone can put anything they want on the internet.  So when it comes to important things, health information, say, I’d steer clear of the internet.  Granted, there will be times when you have a question and can’t ask the doctor, or don’t want to trouble her, or you think it’s not important. First of all, bother your doctor!  Making sure you are healthy, that you understand what you need to do, what you need to look for– that’s her job.  But if you’re tempted to look online before the office opens, there are a few thing you should consider.

  • Consider the source: If I’m Googling for something medical, I’m not even clicking on the link if the address isn’t from a reputable source.  I’m talking something like Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, or NIH. Since I have a science background, I’ll sometimes read an article from a scientific publication, but those can be a little heavy for people who aren’t accustomed to reading such literature.  Plus, any treatments they are studying are likely to be years away from use in the clinical setting, so they’re not all that applicable to someone looking for timely information.
  • Consider the publication date: Even if it looks like a super reputable source, if it’s five years old, the information isn’t really going to be helpful.  Treatments have changed so much in the past few years, and so have the support meds.  Times change, treatments change, experiences change.
  • Stay off the chat groups and blogs: Yep, I’ll say it again.  When you’ve heard one person’s story, you’ve heard one person’s story. So many people who are compelled to share their stories online have had a bad experience. They seem angry, they seem bitter. I’m not going to tell someone how to feel, but I don’t think that feeling angry makes the situation any better, and if you’re trying to keep a positive attitude, you don’t want to hang out with bitter people.  Garbage in, garbage out.

Just this week I was thinking about something that I’d “looked up” right away after hearing about it, but realized that it was in the pre-internet days, and I wondered how I did it.  It’s hard to imagine needing to find information and not being able to find it almost immediately with a few taps of your fingers.  But when it comes to really important health information, think before you Google.  Check the source, the date, and the attitude. If any of the three seem hinky, move on.  There are plenty of other places to get your information.  Like your doctor.

Again, thankful

kiddos hollowaynov2012

I’ve written about being thankful before, but once again tonight, I am feeling so very thankful.  I talked tonight to a sweet friend– she has a good friend whose four year old is in the hospital, fighting cancer.  As we chatted, I kept thinking of these beautiful faces.  Of what it would be like to watch them, in the hospital, fighting for their lives.  I am so very thankful that I was the one to have cancer. I’m thankful that I’ve come this through quickly and as strong as ever.  Stronger than ever, really.  But mostly, I’m thankful that these precious children are healthy, happy, goofy, strong.  (Even when Sally asked them to be serious, Turner could hardly hold a straight face!  Emma Clare, ever the model, gave a great blue steel look!)  So tonight I pray.  A prayer of strength for a mother facing her worst nightmare, a prayer of healing for her sweet little one.  And a prayer of thanksgiving for these two healthy goofballs.

There’s no crying in cancer

sweet kiss

Not surprisingly, when I asked my surgeon to repeat herself and heard the words “invasive breast cancer” for the second time, I began to feel tears well up in my eyes. Clay had gone to the bus stop to pick up the kids, so I had a few minutes to myself. And I cried. Some. But I knew they were coming home, and I didn’t want to be a mess when the kids walked in. Since I’d had a minor surgery that morning, I knew they’d be worried about me and would want to give me a hug. I was so glad to have a few minutes to gain my composure. There were a few tears when I told Clay, then we talked about the next steps. Not the next year. Just the next week and the next months of treatment. From that time on, there were very few tears. From me, anyway.

I remember the first time I had a young friend diagnosed with breast cancer. Oh, how I cried. We weren’t really close friends, more acquaintances, frankly. But her daughter was close to Emma Clare’s age, and I was probably a bit over dramatic. I immediately began thinking of all the things I wanted to tell Emma Clare, to teach her, to do with her. And I cried that this friend might not get to do all those things with her daughter. I cried for her, but really I cried for myself.

But by the time I had to start telling people that I had cancer, I’d had time to process the information. I’d had time to cry my tears and find my composure. It’s funny, but no one tells you that once you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re likely to be hugging a lot of crying people and comforting them. They haven’t had the time to process, and they can’t do a thing about it. They’re stuck with the emotional impact and utter helplessness. Sure, I was affected on an emotional level. I’m not a robot. But I had things to do, appointments to make and show up for, schedules to organize. I didn’t really have time to sit and cry.

Honestly, after that first day, I only really remember crying three times. Once, I was just so tired, I wasn’t sleeping well, and it was more about the fatigue. I cried when we told the kids. There’s something about a five year old’s first reaction being, “So, you’re going to die?” that will bring tears to a momma’s eyes. I had decided to be very honest with them, but that wasn’t a thought I was going to let them entertain, so I quickly answered with, “Oh, no,” before telling them what my treatment would likely entail. Besides the kids, most people were far to afraid to ask anything so honest, and we stuck to logistics for the most part. I had that down cold, no hint of emotion there. But I remember one day really early on, before I’d even talked with the oncologist, Sally had come with me to an appointment and we only had time to grab a quick lunch before she had to head back to her kiddos. We ate at Chick-fil-A, I can remember which table. And I remember her words, half question, half statement. “But it’s treatable.” My friend wanted to know if I would die. And the quick answer I found to reassure my kiddos just wouldn’t come. I fought tears as I cobbled together every positive statement I could think of. We found it early, it seems small, I’m young and healthy… A few tears, a deep breath, and then I moved on with the conversation. Not because there’s anything wrong with crying. But because I just had to.

Just a conventional girl

run lipstick chemo meds breast cancer northern virginia

For a while, I felt like every other person I spoke with wanted to know when I thought my hair would grow back. I must have answered that question a hundred times. Now I’ve got hair, so that standard question has disappeared. Lately, one question I’m starting to hear more frequently has to do with conventional medicine versus more un-conventional methods of treatment.

I should start with a disclaimer. I’m a scientist. So is my husband. He even did a post-doctoral fellowship with the FDA years ago. We have a pretty healthy respect for “big pharma” and the processes that regulate the development and vetting of drugs. I’ve always worried about herbal and other supplements. While I doubt that they will be as effective as conventional treatment, I don’t worry because I don’t think they couldn’t possibly work. More, I worry that they can work. And they’re not regulated with the same stringency as things that are classified as drugs. Plus, some people feel embarrassed about wanting to use them, or they think their doctor won’t approve of something non-traditional, and so don’t want to tell their doctors. That’s probably my biggest worry—some vitamin and herbal supplements can interact with other drugs, and an oncologist is the best judge of what could put your treatment, or your health, at risk.

I realize it’s easy for me to tout the conventional route. I mean, it worked for me, right? Not only did I make it to my surgery without any hint of remaining tumor, but the chemo didn’t really bother me all that much, either. Would my perspective be different if it hadn’t been so easy and effective? Maybe. I do remember buying a bottle of Evening Primrose Oil to help bring on labor as my due date approached when I was pregnant with Turner. Though I only bought it as the result of an unsolicited suggestion at an OB appointment. (And for the record, it didn’t work.) Desperate times call for desperate measures. I get that.

But still, I have to think that if something considered “non-traditional” was really that effective, the company that makes it would get it into trials so that it could be considered standard of care. That’s how they make money, after all. So for me, I think I’d stick with the traditional, regulated, vetted drugs. At least at first.

Who needs armpits?



When we told the kids that I had cancer, they were of course worried that I would die.  Being scientists, we opted not to tell the kids I had cancer because of some “icky yucky germs” like one children’s book we’d been given suggested. (Seriously?) Instead, I explained to them that cancer cells grow out of control, they don’t stop when they’re supposed to like normal cells.  I told them that people can die from cancer, when the cancer cells are in a part of your body that you need to live and the cancer takes over so that part can’t do its job. They didn’t need to worry, though, I didn’t need my breasts to survive, the doctors could do surgery and take the breast tissue out and I’d be fine, no cancer, and it wouldn’t change the way my body worked.

Last night I was wearing a tank top.  When I stretched, the kids noticed the scar that’s in my armpit from where they sampled my lymph nodes.  They asked about it, and I told them that’s where the doctors checked to make sure that there wasn’t any cancer, and reassured them that there wasn’t.

Turner’s response: “Oh, because you don’t need your armpit.”

I guess he thinks the doctors removed my armpit.