Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Mommy is Your Boo-Boo all Better?"

Today I got to watch my oldest son graduate from Pre-K. It was thefirst of what I am assuming are going to be a lot of graduations. The best part of today was the fact that I actually got to see it.

When I first heard my diagnosis I was pretty scared. But it wasn't until about the 50th phone call that I realized cancer could potentially = dying. During the initial stages of my diagnosis, I got the impression that my cancer was pretty straight forward and "treatable". But really, I had CANCER. Cancer kills people every day. It hit me, during a conversation I was having with a very close friend that I may actually die. I know we are all going to die someday but I could potentially be dying. How could that be? I was only 38, had finally found the man I loved and respected who loved and respected me back and had two very little children. I couldn't die now, I was just getting started.

I remember saying to my dearest friend, that she would have to look out for my children and Tim. How would they manage? Who would take care of them? How was this actually happening to me? That question I asked myself several times a day. I am a good person, why me? What had I done wrong. But then I would suck it up put on my happy face and lo
ok at my children, play with them, hold them, feed them, and clean them. I pushed forward through every day because of them.

My biggest fear was that they wouldn't remember me if I were to die. How could they? They were so young. I remember lying on my couch, shortly before my first surgery. My mother was here and we talked about how the kids would remember me. I don't know how many of you know my mother but she is a photographer and a damn good one. Within about a week or so she had made two books, one for Wyatt and one for Nate, titled "The Story of Us". It was and is perfect.

Leaving my children the morning of my surgery was heart wrenching. The thought of never seeing them again or them never seeing me again was unbearable. I truly felt my heart ache as the car pulled away. They had appeared to have no clue what was about to happen. I had brought a picture of them with me into the hospital, I vaguely remember bringing into the operating room with me. But do remember telling Dr. Menassah I was doing this for them and would get through it for them.

When I woke up from the surgery I was happy to know I was actually still alive. With the exception of the boobs, I was in one piece. I had a lot of fear about having a stroke during the surgery, not sure why that was what I was worried about but it was. When it was time for me to come home about two days later, we had decided that my mother and aunt would take the boys back to Long Island, while I got through those first few days. They knew I had a boo-boo but didn't know how bad it actually was.

When the kids came home we had a plan in place because I couldn't lift them and Nate was still in his crib. How bad did that suck! Couldn't even lift my own children. I figured out ways to do it. I would sit in my comfy chair and Tim would put them on my lap. I would get down on the floor with them. But it wasn't the same. I felt half full, half empty and very pathetic. But if you came to my house you would never see it. I would put on my happy face and charming personality and make you feel very comfortable.

"Mommy is your boo-boo all better?" Was a common question in my house. "Can you lift me now?" usually followed. It is amazing to imagine what goes through an almost 3 year old and a 2 year old's mind. To this day, Nate will still bring up that time when I couldn't lift him because of my boo boo's. If that is the only thing he remembers I am happy about that. For me it is the mortality or immortality that I still keep locked inside. I have seen a lot of people die in my 40 years. Some have been old, some have been young but NEVER did I imagine I would be faced with the thought of dying.

This is dedicated to my children, Wyatt and Nate, who gave me the strength to get up every day and put on my happy face even when I didn't really feel like being happy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Long Version of the Story

Who really wants to go for a mammogram. Before I got pregnant with Wyatt, someone suggested, (I think it was my mother), that I go for a "baseline" mammogram. I was in my early thirties but had a family history of Breast Cancer. How bad could it really be? I remember asking my mother and she described it to me as if I were lying down on the driveway and having your breast be run over by a car. Perfect image in my head to start the adventure. So some time in 2005 I went. It really wasn't half as bad as my mom made it out to be.

Life went on and I had Wyatt, I breast fed him for 10 months. The beginning was awful, it hurt and my nipples were raw and raging. At one point I even got mastitis and poor Tim had to "milk" it out of me. That is when I knew I truly met the man of my dreams :). Then came Nate and I nursed him as well again not so comfortable but I did it anyway. When I was all done with the breast feeding, I figured I should go back for another mammogram to check up on the girls. You are supposed to wait some period of time after you stop nursing, so I did and about 9 months later I went back. This time to a new place. I remember sitting outside the office on the phone with Carlene trying to calm her nerves about her own issues at the time. So there I went into the office, took my shirt off, had some lovely nurse lift my boob onto a cold slab and then proceed to squish it. Sounds fun right?

I left there with no worries just a regular day at the doctor. Unfortunately I got a call to come back because they thought they saw something. So I did and they told me not to worry, wasn't anything to bad and come back in a year. REALITY - if I listened to them I would probably be DEAD or close to it.

Three months later, when I was in the shower feeling myself up, I felt something. It felt like a peeble. I asked Tim to take a feel and he happily did but was not so happy to feel the bump. I decided to wait until after the weekend (and my first Triathlon) to call the doctor. Monday morning I called Dr. Ghophrany, as I said in a previous post she was terrific. She got me in to have a sonogram, which led to a biopsy.

I remember after the sonogram sitting in this little changing room all alone thinking ,"No FUCKING way, are you kidding me!" Then bursting into tears. The radiologist was walking by at that moment and consoled me. Actually gave me a hug, told me a friend of his was going through it with his wife and that I was going to be ok. REALLY, how did he know. But it was a nice gesture and he did get me in super fast for a biopsy.

Then for the biopsy. I really wanted Tim in the room but the radiologist said it wasn't a great idea. I guess he gets a little stage fright. Can't say that was to fun. Having some man stick a large needle into your boob, and dig around to get a piece. I was a little black and blue from that.

Two days later, I was waiting to hear from Dr. Ghophrany. And at the end of my day, at work, 6 pm on June 4, 2009, I got a call from her. She didn't sound so happy and came right out and gave me the news. She assured me we were going to take care of this and gave me her cell phone number just in case I needed anything.

My mother and aunt were at my house because I was supposed to be flying to Florida to celebrate my sister Ashley's baby shower. So coming home to them was not so fun. The look on both of their faces will stay with me forever. Tim was his calm self (but not for long, will have to save that for another post). After making a ton of calls, at about 9 pm on thursday night I called Dr. Ghoprany on her personal cell phone. She immediatey hung up with me and I sent Tim to CVS to pick up my first ever prescription of Zanax. It was just what I needed to get me through the night and next 6 or so months.

That monday I met with my breast surgeon, Dr. Manasseh. I had gotten a lot of advice both wanted and unwanted about how many doctors I needed to see. When I met her I knew I only needed to see one and Tim felt the same way. I would describe her a a "typical New Yorker". She used her hands a lot when she talked. Was skinny and looked like she could have been 10 years younger than me. Turns out she was only 2 years younger. She gave us the only option she thought, mastectomy. My cancer was the kind that starts in your milk ducts but seeped out. So that wasn't really good. Funny thing though is when I first got the news the only option that I could think of for me was doing both of them. Like I have said before - who needs them anyway. I really just didn't want to first look lop sided and second ever have to go through it again. For me it was the only option. She gave me a list of plastic surgeons and I happen to know one on the list. That leads me to Dr. Passaretti.

Tim came with me to my appointment, it was in Darien CT. When we arrived at the office to meet the receptionist, I wasn't sure I was in the right place for a mastectomy. The woman behind the desk was very pretty (looked like maybe she had some work done, her boobs were beautiful). They put us in a room and in walked Dr. P, in his three piece suit looking very fancy. He also looked ten years younger than me and very cute! I was asked to put on a gown, open in the front. When he came in he started to "exam" me. Felt a little more like getting to second base but he was going to make them better than ever. He explained the process. First Dr. Manasseh would remove all the breast tissue, if you have a weak stomach you should probably skip this part. She would remove my nipples (which sucked for me anyway during breast feeding), then scoop out the rest, like scooping ice cream. Then Dr. P would step in and place expanders in. Following that I would have to make a visit to his very fancy office to get filled. Yep, filled. Each week he would take a giagantic needle, place it in the filling spot and push in saline, until I was as big as I wanted. I could have gone DD but thought I would stay at my regular size a C for all of you who don't know me. I even got to see pictures of other women and his nurse, who herself was beautiful with fake boobs, showed me some pictures of women who came out even better than the ones in the book.

My decision was made. Dr. Manasseh would be the breast surgeon and Dr. Passaretti would be the plastic surgeon. I didn't need to go for any second opinions and really didn't want to be bothered. I had the cancer and I wanted it out. I had tried to call Slone Kettering, which is an amazing cancer hospital, but they wanted so much information and could not get me in for weeks. I just wanted it OUT of my body. I didn't want to wait and I did not want to be touched by any more people than I really needed to. I am not a shy person but how many hands did I really need on the girls to tell me they were coming off!! Between the two of them I felt confident they would get the job done. But I was really not so happy this job had to be done.

Dr. Manasseh and Dr. Passaretti knew each other and I did not have to do any of the "planning" piece. The first time they called me with a date it was about a month out. After one phone call to Dr. Manasseh she arranged for it to be the following Friday. I was so relieved that this was going to happen sooner than later.

Even though it was such devastating news I kept calm. I had my moments but for the most part I wanted it over. I knew at the end of the day being alive and watching my children grow was more important than my boobs. For that week in between my diagnosis and the surgery I had spoken to so many of my friends. Some came to visit, some called. All of them in shock of what was happening and I took it as my job to keep them calm. Not so easy when your trying to keep yourself calm!

I am happy to report my new perky boobs and nipples look better than ever. In another post I will go through the whole surgery part. But for now I thank Dr. Manasseh for getting the yucky stuff out and Dr. Passaretti for putting the good ones in.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


When we are born, some of us have hair some of us do not. Some heads are very round, some bumpy, big foreheads, little ears, big ears, all colors and textures. As we grow so does are hair. We either like it or we don't. When I was in high school all I wanted was curly hairs. So I went to the salon and got curly hair. I kept it long, cut it short, at one point one side was short and the other long (even have pictures some where to prove it). The color of my hair started as dirty blond, turned a little browner naturally and then came the hair dye. First at sleep away camp I used a little Jolen lip bleach, with a touch of lemon. Turned out it works well to get blond, my only problem was the application was sloppy and I looked like a skunk. Rosewood was my second, it was a brown with a hint of red. My best friend Carlene, applied it to my hair while we roasted on the roof of our apartment. When I moved to NYC after college I really needed a change so I went black. NOT a good idea, had to have it stripped out of my hair to get my real color back. Then came the short pixie cut with bleach blond. So as you can see I am all for hair change. EXCEPT when it is not by choice!!!!
When Dr. Lo told me my hair was going to fall out from the Chemo I was pissed but didn't let it get to me. All I knew was I didn't want to see it actually fall out. He told me I would have two weeks from the first treatment before it actually started. Luckly that was perfect time for Wyatt's 3rd birthday party.

The problem was I had long hair and didn't want to freak out the kids either. I decided a gradual change of length over a short period of time was best for me. I called around cause who wants to pay $100 for a short cut when two weeks later it was going to fall out.

Salon Wayne in Stamford CT gave me the best price for the first cut. Maritza was the stylist and she did a great job. The next time I went in, about a week later, I asked her to buzz it but leave about an 1". Wasn't so bad, it was the GI Jane look. Finally the day after Wyatt's birthday it I pulled out a bunch and that was it. I went to Maritza and she buzzed it right off. THANK G-D I had a great head, very round and no bumps!

I decided not to wear a wig but chose bandanas instead. My kids didn't even realize there was anything wrong just the fact that now both Mommy and Daddy had no hair. The thing I did need was an indoor hat. For all you baldies out there I now know what it feels like to be bald and cold! My hair grew back quicker, thicker and curly. I totally appreciated it more than ever!

This blog post is dedicated to Maritza at Salon Wayne in Stamford who very graciously helped me during this time!! She is a very special woman!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Survive 2 TRI again

So my first triathlon was 4 days prior to my diagnosis. It was a great experience and I did it because I wanted to get back in shape after having my babies. I did not have any special training plan, just went out each week and swam, biked and ran as often as I could. I did pretty good finishing the 2009 Ironclad Sprint Triathlon in Glen Cove NY, my hometown n 2 hours and 2 minutes.

Immediately after my treatments were over I was given the opportunity to get back in shape with a "free for cancer patients" program at a place called KT Health and Fitness. It was provided by Stamford Hospital's Bennett Cancer Center and was an amazing start to my recovery. My trainer, Brian, provided me with the support, encourage and strength training I needed to get back in shape.

After I was done with the three months, three times a week of free training, I signed up for a masters swim class at our local JCC. There I was able to build on my swimming skills and towards the end of the class we did a mock triathlon which was great. After having my last surgery in May of 2010 and feeling all banged up again I needed a new goal. So again I took a swim class and got back to the gym.

This year I signed up for 4 triathlons in honor of my four months of chemotherapy to raise money for Stamford Hospital's Bennett Cancer Center in hope that I can do for others which what was done for me.

So on June 5th, 2011 I completed my second triathlon. Two years and one day later I was back and faster than ever. The swim was scarier than I thought and I had to roll over and do the back stroke to catch my breathe. I realized I was pretty quick in this position so I stayed like that for a while until I felt confident and flipped over. Finished that leg in 20 minutes 56 seconds. Then for the bike; I changed pretty quick out of my wetsuit and threw on my gear. I felt pretty good and was riding with some guy who kept trying to pass me but in the end I left him. Finished that in 49 minutes and 43 seconds. Then I entered the transition area and Tim had already completed his race so he grabbed my bike as I put on my running shoes and off I went. Felt pretty good except for the fact I had to go to the bathroom. Lucky for me Ridgefield CT has ALOT of trees. Finished that in 29 minutes 37 seconds. My fastest run yet. As I got towards the finish line I was sure Tim would be there but he didn't anticipate my speed :) and went to get the camera, missing me run through the finish. My final time was 1 hour 45 minutes and a few seconds I can't remember. It was a great day and I felt great and continue to feel great.

Next race June 26 in Stamford CT. It is an Olympic size so the swim is .9 miles, bike is 25 and run is 6.2. Not sure how it will go but if I can SURVIVE cancer, I can SURVIVE 2 TRI!!!!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Who Needs Them Anyway!

So, as I said in my story, I was diagnosed with stage 2 Breast Cancer. It all happened so fast and my GYN, Dr. Ghophrany was an amazing quarterback to get the game going. She scheduled and arranged my first appointments within a day of my first communication with her. I met with my breast surgeon, Dr. Menassah, and then my plastic surgeon, Dr. Passaretti. They all worked together so well all I really needed to do was show up for my big day. On June 12, 2009 I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Boobs, I thought, who needs them anyway. And people out there are "dying" for fake ones anyway, why should I die because of the real ones.
The surgery went as expected and I really was relived to be the one in the operating room out cold and not in the waiting room with my mother, aunt, father and his wife, and my father-in-law and his wife, and Tim and thankful for him his best friend Jason.

When I woke up I was even surprised to see that my boobs were still there. Dr.P does amazing work. No nipples at that point but full boobs.

The hospital stay was pretty uneventful with the exception of one panic attack.
My amazing support system was there for every moment (with the exception of the panic attack! Which was my own fault. Shouldn't have tried to be the tough gal. My memories of those days are a little blurry from the morphine but I remember my mother, aunt, Tim, father, and Hillary (one of my closest friends) visiting me. I also remember the shocking moment I was being wheeled out to see my two best friends, Carlene and Pam running frantically out in front of the hospital looking for me. For a few brief seconds I thought the morphine was still kicking in. Being home was good but difficult. I couldn't lift my children and Nate was only 17 months old. He was still in his crib I couldn't lift him out for six weeks. I think not being able to lift him and be the strong mom that I once was, was the most difficult piece. And again, my support system was unbelievable. Every morning someone would come help out. My friends husband, Brad even came one morning some time between the hours of 6:30 and 7, donuts in hand. The community that we had just moved to made us feel as though we had lived here for years.
Then we had those silly drains, for two weeks I had a holster (I used a belt under my shirt and pinned my drains to them). It was absolutely breath-taking to get them out. LITERALLY!!!

Six weeks seemed to go by so fast. The next step meeting Dr.Lo my oncologist. Such a nice man, very positive but occasionally I wanted to knock him out for that. I remember sitting in his office thinking alright they took the boobs, really what else. Boy, the what else was a lot. He told me I was going to get EIGHT chemotherapy treatments. Just to ensure the cancer cells be zapped. Great I thought, how bad can a little chemo be. Well, then he told me my hair would fall out. Really that to. Oh and then after the 4 months (8 treatments of chemo) I would need to meet with the radiation oncologist to get 30 days of radiation. But not to worry, I would be done by the new year. 2010 HERE I COME.
It was a crazy time but boy did I have support. It came from every angle you could think. Meal after meal, package after package, popcorn, flowers, plants, babysitting, daycare, house cleaning, food shopping, gift cards, grants to pay bills and our mortgage. The people never gave up. One day I will list everyone's name that helped out but I think I would use up to much internet space. We even had friends from New Jersey drive down to give us a meal and friends in Colorado offer to order in meals for us. CRAZINESS and KINDNESS!
What I want to do is provide information for everyone who knows someone that needs help. I know first hand what was the most helpful during those first days and throughout the process. My hope is to help make it easier for the next person. Lets just say to pay if forward.

How Do I do it

I am often asked how do I do it. With my two little boys and one big one (Tim, my awesome husband), my days are packed full. My days begin with getting my children ready for "school" (toddler programs with extended daycare). I drop them off and am running to my first client. I am an Occupational Therapist and work with children four days a week. After my work day is over I pick up my boys, do some kind of activity with them, get dinner ready and anxiously wait for Tim to get home. Then the hand off. Tim is my biggest supporter and source of strength. When I need a boost he is always there to give it no matter what it is. When he gets home and he takes over. Most days that is when I am off to work out - run, swim, bike, yoga, strength, what ever I need to do he supports me in getting it done.

My goal in life is to live a long time!

The Short Version of the Story

My story: 7 years ago I met the man of my dreams. We got married in March of 2005 bought our first home, a one bedroom apartment in NYC. We had our first child Wyatt, in August of 2006. Our second boy, Nate came in 2008. We moved to Stamford CT a few months after that and in 2009 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer. Oh I forgot to mention just before I was diagnosed I did my first ever sprint triathlon just four days before the "big news". It was a long road but two years later, practically to the day, I completed my second sprint triathlon and I am not stopping!!!

My mantra- Taken from Melissa Ethridge's song, I just added a few words "I Swim,Bike, Run for Life".

My hope - Is that I can help educate and encourage other women to take their health in their own hands and stay happy and healthy. Life is way to short.