Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Poof.

My friends keep dying.

Smattered between the 50% off holiday spam emails, are updates from caregivers telling me about loss after loss. Then the upside, the lucky ones if you can call us that, they're coming to me with notices of recurrences, and declines, and paralyzations, and sadness. It's surgeries, and radiation, with chemo complaints. It's all heavy. It's always heavy.

So much sadness.

I am not a timely communicator anymore. I've come to dread my phone, and my computer. I hesitate to connect. I'm a conduit for information, this blog, but it's not without an obvious toll.

Thank you for being patient with my lack of responses to emails, to texts, and unfortunately, I don't see an improvement in my behavior, for clear reasons. I don't want to get swallowed by the sadness, so I must protect myself. That means cutting away on many occasions. Or for long periods of time. And it often means everyone, not just cancer related.

I was blindsided by this diagnosis, and have managed because I've methodically taken one step after the other. I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm just doing the best that I can, in the situation I'm in. I have zero capability to disconnect, or compartmentalize. I just don't have that talent. And for a girl lacking in the department, this muddled, cancer vortex, can completely disintegrate the heart at the soul of the girl.

I want to know what's going on with my friends, I want to fix it all, I want the hurt to go away for everyone. But's not fixable. Not by my hands. So, instead, I grieve like they do, and wish things were different.

Just after Christmas, my longest running brain tumor friend passed away. She and I had the same diagnosis. Even a very similar pathology. The difference? The location of the tumor. I had no idea she was dangerously close to death. And that's what it is in my world. One minute they're here, and the next they're gone. Poof. We're a highly vulnerable bunch.

My friend's lives are sifting through the slats of my fingertips.

I don't write much these days because it would be much the same thing. If I write, I feel, and sometimes, the only thing I want to feel is my love for Dan. And I cling to it tightly. He's my safe place, my lair, my battery charger; my blanket, and my umbrella. He's the halls that reverberate my laughter.

To all of you, to those who will read this, and for those who might not, I love you all. I think about everyone often, I pray for people, and send them love from my heart to theirs. I might not call or text much, or respond even, to your messages, but I love you no less. I'm just doing the best that I can.

So I'll have a good cry for M, and then I will wash my face, put on some layers, and walk that last Christmas gift down to the post office for a tardy mail.

I'm not sure when I'll write again. (Thank you for understanding.)

With love,
Jess

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Biggest Medical Asset

I have something that will help the cancer patient in your life, something that has been helping me for years. Why didn't I think of sharing this sooner? I've eluded to it, even directly recommended it, but I've never included (that I can remember) a true description with photos. I've been sharing this info one-on-one with patients and caregivers, but for whatever reason, it didn't occur to me to officially write something on how I stay organized in the wild wild world of cancer.

Any large accordion style briefcase will do. The more slots, the better.
Spring for heavy duty, this thing will take a beating with the amount of use it will get.
I get copies of every medical record, and I carry this with me to all of my appointments.
I have saved many a headache, and lots of time, during meetings
because I have my own copies of my various pathologies, radiology reports, etc.
This is a mini case that has its own slot in the big case.
It holds every single one of my MRI and F18-Dopa PET scan disks.
I'm able to pull out any disk that I need, in a matter of seconds.
It's astounding how helpful these disks have been in appointments.
It has been common, in my experience, that new doctor appointments often
 do not receive my records in a timely fashion. By carrying all of my document and disks with me,
I don't get held up with delays or partial information from my doctors,
because I'm able to provide the data for review and assessment.

This briefcase has been worth its weight in mom's cookies. Recently, at a new neuro-oncologists's meeting, the doctor even asked what I do for a living. I replied, "This." He responded by saying, "Want a job?" For a woman who has disabilities, who struggles with epilepsy, exhaustion, the uncertainty of surgeries, treatments like radiation and chemo constantly looming - let alone all of the other off-label, technically experimental, medicines - this housebound woman often feels inadequate, less worthy, low functioning, and non-contributing. I struggle with those emotions on a daily basis. To have someone of authority, like a doctor, give me such a beautiful compliment, it was priceless. I'll bet that doctor has no idea how powerful his words were and continue to be.

This briefcase system is brilliant! I was skeptical at first, but it has truly brought me much more insight, and opportunities. Once you set it up, all you have to do is keep it current. It's also a great spot to put new research, and copies of your med lists, etc. If you have something similar, or if you have any ideas to add to the conversation, please comment below. I am where I am today because of tricks from patients/caregivers. I learned about this concept from others, it had never crossed my mind to put my hard copies in a briefcase. I thought my file system was sufficient. But it wasn't. Having all the documents at hand in appointments, or brainstorming sessions, has been paramount.

Why Reinvent the Wheel? Copy This System!
  • Call/fax/go to the medical records department and request copies of every single document (and continue to do so for every additional appointment).
  • Buy an accordion briefcase and disk case.
    • Create an ongoing timeline of medical appointments. 
    • Create an ongoing list of medications. While on those drugs, note side effects, etc.
    • Do the same thing for supplements, and various treatments you try.
  • Print up new copies of updated documents and bring them to appointments.
I had the opportunity to head to San Francisco, to check out the biotech company, Notable Labs in Dec of 2014. While touring the facility, there happened to be a prominent researcher who studies my type of tumor. I was introduced, and he asked me what type of tumor I had. I responded, "Diffuse astrocytoma, would you be interested in reading my pathology?" His eyes grew wide, and stood to reach the printout. When he saw my mutations, and nuances of the tumor pathology, he asked me if I had ever done chemo. Before I could get the word, "No" across my lips, he boomed, "GOOD." This guy wrote some of the most influential papers in my cancer world, and here he was reviewing my medical decisions. That affirmation, was vindicating, and had I not been carrying my pathology report, I wouldn't have received a free, spur of the moment, evaluation (by the guy who coauthored a paper on hypermutations in LGG). You never know who you're going to run into. Be prepared.

I am forever grateful to those who turned me on to the idea. I hope that their kindness lives on, through me, and helps you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Lauren Taylor Illustration

Look what came in the mail, from the brilliantly gifted illustrator, Lauren Taylor!  (Click on her name and explore her website.)

This image, this moment, I remember it like it was yesterday, and yet, in the same thread, it feels like several lifetimes ago.

Earlier today, when I was cooking dinner, a wave of shock, and gratitude came over me. You'd think I'd get used to his love, but it still surprises me. Like a stupid cliche, but it's not stupid, and it's not a cliche, it's my life. I was thinking about how deep my love for Dan is, and how mutual the bond. If I never get to fulfill my dream of being a mother, or if I never fulfill my dream of further education, or even a fence around our property, I am and have been loved by a man that treats me kindly, who cherishes me, who hears me, who fulfills my every need, and so much more. I could never have dreamed of a love like this, because I had no concept of the enormity.

Oh, to have a piece of art to celebrate the most profound aspect of my life, the bond with his soul. What an honor for Lauren to gift us this. I am in complete awe of this young woman. I think you might be too, if you check out her amazing YouTube videos. Get to know her a little, she's dynamic, and full of compassion - let alone talented.

EASTSIDE STORIES

EASTSIDE STORIES on YOUTH

EASTSIDE STORIES on HOME

Monday, October 24, 2016

UCLA Tumor Board Results

Dang it if brain tumor life isn't confusing. At least in my world! I can't be the only one who has these types of yoyo results. I mean, it's better to have differing results than a truly horrible, obvious situation. The ups and downs, though are insane. 



If you don't want to watch the whole video (3 min 44 sec), the short is: tumor is growing, albeit slowly. (Think millimeters.) I believe the two treatments I added in the past two months, are helping - who knows, maybe the tumor had grown more in the interim, and now they're even shrinking it? Who knows! I rule out nothing.

My neurosurgeon at UCLA offered a brain surgery to remove whatever she can, or she said she is "comfortable" waiting 2-3 months for another stealth (pre-op) MRI. I opted for the latter, and agreed that if I had furthering symptoms, I would move up the scan.

Some people might think I'm crazy to push-off brain surgery, since I have a growing tumor in my brain, but there are inherent risks involved. Remember when I had to learn how to walk, talk, read - learn the alphabet again?! I do. We will never know for sure if the decisions that we make are the best ones, but a decision is what we have before us. For now, we try to do the least invasive approach. If that isn't enough, we will evolve as we always have.

It's confusing because the symptoms of my seizures are the same symptoms that tumor growth would cause. The main take away right now is that it's important for me to stay the course on exactly what I'm doing treatment-wise, and perhaps even add a few non-toxic, whole body health boosting things. And I really need to lower my stress levels. They directly cause extra seizures, and that makes diagnosing possible tumor growth, very difficult.

With all that being said, I should go to bed. I have a big day planned with a bunch of friends tomorrow. We're doing a nature hike in an old growth forest. I'm so excited! I'll be sure to hug some trees for all of ya. ;-)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Half of the MRI Results (Swedish vs UCLA)

Basic update about our current and upcoming results for treatment.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New Neurosurgeon, New MRI Scheduled


Just snuck and took a video in my first neurosurgeon's apppointmet at Swedish, in Seattle. At the end of the video you can see a slice of my brain, which includes the brain tumor. Yuuuuck!!! It's gross. Every. Time. I. See. It. The image is from back in April, so it's not even current.

On this Thursday, I have a MRI and cerebral fluid scan to evaluate the growth, and see how much blood is going to the tumor. The fluid scan tracks the metabolic activity which requires more blood than regular tissue.

Will meet with a new neurooncologist after the scan. Then I will upload my images to UCLA's system and hope I get in for next Wednesday's tumor board. It's frustrating that they only review cases once a week. If there's a backlog it can take weeks, even a month, to get results on treatment recommendations.

Big day today, but an even bigger one on Thurs. Fingers crossed that all of my little issues are treatment effects, not tumor growth. I believe in miracles. And in my opinion, it only takes one to change your life.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Introduction to My YouTube Vlog

I'm getting lazy in my old age, and resorting to video blogs to keep in touch.

Okay, I was just cracking a joke, but truth is, I'm having a harder and harder time expressing myself with written words. I can't even think straight these days. I'm truly bone tired, and that's why I barely write anymore.

Please note: My YouTube channel will have all the videos, but the BLOG will have all the various posts: video, written, guest, etc.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Back-To-Back Seizures (Kinda)

Well toots. I had another seizure on Saturday. That's a fast turnaround since I just had a seizure a few weeks ago. Never a good sign.

I was playing with my nephew, who had just finished his peewee football game. His older brother was suited up on the field.


We were swinging on tree branches, between practicing touchdown dances, when all of a sudden I felt the seizure coming on. I looked at my eight year old nephew, who didn't even know what a seizure was, and by the tone of my voice, he knew something was very wrong. I told him, with my bug eyes, to get Dan. I slowly followed, pulling pills out of my purse. There was so much excitement, the fans cheering for the players on the field, kids throwing balls, girls taking SnapChats with their friends, laughter, yells. There was nowhere quiet to go.

I put a pill in my mouth and chewed it, hoping it would seep under my tongue and enter my blood system fast. Dan came to me, pulling off my coat since I had lost control of my torso. I always overheat when there's seizure activity, so it's important for me to get cool as soon as possible. He gently rocked me down to the ground, supporting my neck. He then ran to get water, and ice, and a few people started to ask if we needed the trainer, or a medical professional. I was able to tell them it was nothing to worry about, that I'm epileptic, and will be fine in a minute. A big fear of mine is being put in an ambulance, and being placed in the hospital, but we were able to avoid that issue. I don't know what I would have done without Dan.

As the shaking and twitching waned, the emotional release of the seizure loosened tears that streamed down the side of my face. I was so relieved that it didn't turn into a grand mal. I was actually thrilled that I had managed the episode in a calm way. That it was relatively under the radar, and aside from the throbbing headache, I was able to take a group picture right before we snuck out. I was out of it - I don't even remember taking the photo, but I'll never pass on the opportunity to commemorate outings with my sweet little nephews whom I absolutely adore.


I hope that I didn't scare them. I ended up with a droopy face for several hours. It was fine if I was toothy smiling, but the half-assed smile was the dead giveaway.


I have to say that this seizure episode will not stop me from running around getting crazy with these cuties. However, I might need to spend a few minutes prepping them for a future episode so that they know what's happening, and that it isn't anything to fear. If I explain it the right way, with a nice coloring of humor, they might even think it's kinda cool. Usually, life is all about how you handle it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Post Seizure Update

I'm back! I took a hiatus, had to get back on my feet. The seizure was a doozy, although, it wasn't a grand mal so I'm grateful for that.

It all went down because I borrowed my mom's carpet shampooer, and I used her noxious cleaner. (Our house is normally a low chemical zone - I'm a baking soda, vinegar, organic, kinda girl.) A few minutes into the cleaning, I started getting lightheaded. I didn't realize in that moment that I was already in the seizure. Somehow I grabbed my medicine, and a phone, even though I don't recall making a point to do so. I wandered out to get fresh air, I felt like I was shuffling through a chemical cloud. The smell of the cleaner was so overwhelming that my brain felt like it was choking.

I went to a semi-shaded area of the yard, and although it took a long time of staring at the phone, not understanding how to work it, I was eventually able to hit redial which was my parent's work number. At that point, of progression, all I could say was, "It's happening! It's happening! Get Dan. Get Dan." I was unable to hang up the phone, and could hear them scrambling to find their cell phones. I could hear their panic, their dialog. Then I heard the dead dial tone beeping. I remember closing my eyes, and for the first time during a seizure, I started praying. I prayed to the rhythm of the beeping. "Thank you for my life. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my life." All in all, it wasn't a short episode, but by the time I realized that it was okay to relinquish control, that I was fooling myself by trying to command a different outcome, I just stared up through the semiopaque leaves, observing the rays of sunshine between, while tears streamed down the sides of my face.

When I'm in a seizure, I never know how bad it will get. I've had all sorts: absence, petite mal, semi-partial, grand mal. Depending on if I'm able to get my medicine and ice water, or a little sugar, it can escalate quite quickly.

They always start in my right hand, and climb through the right side of my body. As it spreads, there are checkpoints in my mind, that signal different levels of severity that I recognize in those moments. I will think to myself, as I'm trapped, unable to control my body, "Oh no, it's spread. Oh is that my right leg? Shit. Shit. How bad is it going to get? Is this going to crossover? Am going to have another grand mal? Should I try to roll on my side so I don't choke if I vomit?" And sometimes, like this last episode, I couldn't move my body at all to roll, to protect myself. I had to submit to the reality that everything was out of my hands. In times like that all I can do is hope that I won't wake up in the hospital, which has happened.

One boundary is my right shoulder. If the seizure spreads past my shoulder I know it will spread down my whole right torso, and right leg. If it makes it up to my clavicle area, I know it will go all the way to the right side of my face and then skull. For me that's a 4.5 out of 5 alert, with a 5 being a grand mal. Those are the whole body attacks - both sides, and I lose consciousness. Fortunately, I've only had two, and by fabulous miracle, I didn't pee my pants either time, which is quite common for those types of convulsions. So, I'm at a 100% dry pant success rate. Small but happy victory!

I did not lose consciousness with this seizure, however I did blackout for the hours afterward. I don't remember Dan taking me to bed, or whether or not I woke up and talked with him about what happened. Maybe I even slept all the way into and through the night, I have no idea.

Seizures are so crazy. It's as if my body gets possessed. I have no control. In those moments, I feel like I'm a puppet. It manifests as a physical aberration, and can end with a total brain fry, loss of consciousness even vomiting, urination, defecation, and injury. So far, I've been able to have Dan drop my pants so I didn't wet myself. I've vomited during/after the seizure, and have yet to poop myself, and hope I never will. It's all quite unpredictable, and I don't assume anything.

Legally, at this point, I could drive, but I'm too scared to do so. I've been walking or jogging when I needed to get stuff, or to meet people, or graciously they come to me, and Dan just picked up a bicycle pump for my tires, so I'll be on my own set of wheels very soon. Don't worry, I'll start slow and be careful to not induce a seizure while riding. I actually didn't ride a bike for a few years after I started having seizures because the movement was seizure inducing. Once I decided to say screw it, I can't live in fear, we joked that we were going to put adult training wheels on as an added security measure. We never did, but I like that we still have the option if needed.

When you're living with active epilepsy, you have to find creative ways to continue to live your life and have fun doing it! The last two weeks have been good to be homebound, I've moved all of our furniture, we switched bedrooms, I've gotten creative with my cooking because I couldn't just get to the store whenever I wanted, or at all unless Dan was around. It's amazing how lucky we are to be mobile. I'm soon to be beach-cruising around Edmonds, rain or shine. I'll have to plan extra hours to do the same thing, like get to the grocery store, or added time to get to appointments. I'll need to learn how to attach my bike to the front of the metro bus bike rack, which is intimidating, but not the end of the world. It certainly won't stop me!


This is a whole new world of adventure. I may have dialed back on speed, but a forced change of pace may just be what I needed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Message From Dan

Hello everyone, this is Dan.

Earlier this afternoon Jess had a seizure. It was different then her normal seizures as it came on with no aura or preceding affects. She attempted to call me but was unable to use the phone until things had passed and luckily I was not too far away and got home quick to find her laying, unable to move, in the yard. She has been going non stop for the last few weeks and I feel this has put a strain on her. She always wants to answer every text, email, comment, and no human could possibly withstand that pressure. She is slowly getting better as we speak from napping, but needs to rest as much as possible. So, with that said, I am instituting a technological blackout. Most of you will remember me doing this in the past, but in case there is someone newer or does not remember, Jess will be refraining from blogging, texting, calling, emailing until she is feeling better. Or until she sneaks behind my back to do it anyway:). Jess wanted to make sure I wrote something so everyone would understand why she is not returning your messages. We have a good friend in town tomorrow, all the way from Texas, to cheer on the Seahawks vs Cowboys preseason game, and knowing her, I can't stop her from attending if I tried - however, it's imperative that she get as much rest between now and then. She's heartbroken that her running steak of no seizures has to start over, and scared that this seizure came with no aura, no forewarning. She thanks you for your patience, and is embarrassed to have to explain this situation. Thank you for your cooperation, and if you want to send her well wishes, feel free to do so on the blog. Also, even though you want to reach out in this moment with an email, text, or call, please hold off. The growing list of emails/texts/etc. will just stress her more. A comment on the blog is fine, but but other forms of contact put more of a strain of responsibility at this time. Thank you for understanding. I just want to protect her, Dan

After I carried her back into the house.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Katie "Crush" Campbell 1983-2016

This is a hard post to write.

There is the concept of death, and actual death, and there is a vast difference between the two.

Saturday evening, I was munching on corn chips, sipping on a margarita, listening to old stories at Dan's 20th high school reunion, when a friend shared that Crush had died. My pulse raced, everything froze, I went deaf, time stopped. In a split second I recorded that I was living, but more importantly, I alive, a luxury she no longer enjoyed. Shocked, I quietly excused myself, weaving through the hall to the bathroom for privacy. I sobbed unabashedly, not caring about the strange women who pretended not to see me. I cried for Crush because she had so much more life to live. I cried for her husband, and friends, and family. I cried for those who love her. 

If you're new to the blog, Katie "Crush" Campbell is a buddy that I met at a young adult cancer camp, First Descents. After rock climbing in Moab, UT, we kept in contact for the past two years, leaning on each other, laughing, supporting. We started a YouTube series this past year, Cancer Convos with Crush & Coconuts. It was short lived, and fun when we started, but it was emotionally exhausting, and eventually it fizzled out. We wanted to inspire and share the nuances of life as a young adult cancer patient - a world most don't see. But, with our rigorous health demands, we simply couldn't maintain. And, even though the series ended, we remained friends, with the final text message arriving just Friday night, several hours before her death. 


I really don't have anything eloquent to say, nothing to make this heartbreak any easier. I'm numb now. Confused. I think I'll always be at a loss about death; I can't even try to understand the concept. 

I recognize the world that I live in. I know that I am in a subgroup of the population that is at a much higher risk of death. That death is expected, but, somehow, that doesn't make it any easier.

I mourn for my friend Crush. I mourn for her soulmate Andrew, who graciously sent a personal email to me to make sure I was aware. I can't imagine his grief, his pain. 

Crush had a sense of urgency the whole time I knew her, but I never got the feeling that it stemmed from diagnosis, but rather her diagnosis only intensified it. She made things happen. She had an expanded world view, she had seen suffering and cared about the human condition. I have no doubt that she would have continued to change the world, given the chance. 

Crush was able to sneak off a book toward the end, which she felt was her legacy. It's available on Amazon. I believe that her contributions, which are many, will connect her spirit to souls all over the world. She was/is one of the most determined, disciplined, curious, joyful, thought provoking people I've ever known. 

Katie "Crush" Campbell, Katie Crushes Cancer



Monday, August 22, 2016

A Letter From Dad

My dad emailed yesterday, after calling in tears. He is deeply moved by all of the generosity, and compassion, and felt compelled to share his feelings on the blog. I love him so much, and am happy to oblige!


Hi Jess, 

Humility to a new level!

Greetings to one and all, my daughter has graciously allowed me to interject some thoughts on her blog. This is prompted by the results of the GoFundMe (instigated by some wonderful friends of my little Cricket).

Bonnie and I just returned from an arduous trip. It was difficult, but full of beauty. The goal was to procure medicine for Jessica in another country, a country that is extremely poor. The beautiful souls we met, who helped us, did it with joy in their hearts, but not much more.

Then, when we returned, we witnessed what has happened with Jessica's GoFundMe and I about fainted. As I scrolled down the donation list, I could not hold back my tears. I know that many who will read this don't know me, so let me give some background. I spent a year in Vietnam 1966 and then tested the hippie world for a few years before a stint in a vegetarian lifestyle. On to logging, trucking cross country, then to Alaska and working on the oilfield in the Arctic for 14 years. I was not a man prone to tears, but in the last two weeks, I have probably drained 4 or 5 gallons of them. It's been a good cleansing, but has reached a point where I am having trouble shutting it down.

My first 36 years were defined by the fact that I was a great consumer of spirits. From that haze, I have been a very selfish and arrogant individual for a large portion of my 70 years. So through the travails of my daughter over the last 6 and 1/3 years and the incredible patience and forbearance of my beautiful and generous wife, I am finally learning to change. 

I thank all of you for helping "my little girl". I cannot express the gratitude and love that I feel; you have left me as a pool of Jello. There are so many of you generous, loving, and wonderful souls. I need you to know that if there is ever something I can do to help you, it would be an honor.

Also one last thing - Claire-Darth-Kendrick-Kat-Isabel (stars of My Last Days) - I could never thank you enough for sharing your unbelievable stories and your sweet spirits. And Jessica, how such a wonderful and beautiful young lady can be related to me, I do not know. You have all inspired me to be true and genuine going forward. The six stories that are shared by "My Last Days" on The CW Network has filled me gratitude. 

God Bless all of you (God being of your flavor) mine being JC.

Love and hugs to all of you,
Bobaloo








Saturday, August 20, 2016

Extended Version Episode Online Now

Oh my god, what an emotional 24 hours. We watched our episode (and Kendrick's too!) last night, and even on the third time, yep, I cried. Then, this morning when we watched the longer version on the website, and you guessed it. Cried again. But it's so lovely!!! From the music, the editing, reliving that beautiful wedding, uuuuuugh, it gets me every time. I am so filled with gratitude to everyone, for all of the help that we continue to receive.

The other day Dan and I were driving, in a rush, and we had no traffic, and I was telling him that I feel like the luckiest person in the world. I feel like everything always works out, or that no matter what, we can find fun in any situation. Gold dust floats around our life, maybe it's dancing angels overhead - I hope so, I like the mental image. I don't know how we have been this blessed. Dan smiled as I was laughing in amazement of our continued fortune, and then he said, "You're right, except for that small brain tumor thing." And I almost wet my pants. Hahaha! Oh right. That.

I've embedded the full version of our episode below (last night's was an 18 minute clip), the full one is 35 minutes. If you would like to use a link to watch in a larger window (which makes a lot of sense), you can click HERE. The longer version helps fill in the backstory, and ongoing details. I love watching everyone, their faces when they show up to the "birthday" party, and the intimate interviews with my parents and Dan. Those are the tearjerkers. What a lovely life I get to live, surrounded by these beautiful souls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Premier


I could not be more proud to be a part of this series! I CAN NOT WAIT for you to see these souls, their stories, this amazingness. I am exhausted, my brain is killing me. We were up visiting with everyone from the premier until just past midnight. So I drugged myself and woke up at noon. That's laughable in itself! I never do that! My head has been splitting since I woke up, so I'm still in bed trying to see what I can take to not make my head feel like it's gelatinizing. I don't think I even made sense when with what I just wrote. The pressure in my head brings me back to the three different surgery experiences. Frick if I'm not losing my mind in pain.

Enough of my complaining. You guys, Justin & his dad Sam Baldoni, Ahmed and Farhoud and the whole Wayfarer family who produced this series have been so gracious. This experience has been more than a dream, more than a gift, more than we could ever have asked for. They produced these stories with pure grace, and truth, showcasing our individual stories perfectly. You will be uplifted, and inspired by these people. I can't even believe, I am not worthy, that I am included in this caliber of humans. Please share the information about this series, watching their stories has completely changed my life!!! I want that for you too!!!

I had reservations, very nervous as the premier and airing of the show neared, unsure if it would depict us accurately, but of the 18 minutes that I've seen so far, it is better than I could have anticipated. Just beautiful. The first episodes air on the CW tonight at 9:00 pm, then again at the same time tomorrow and my episode will be Friday night. I. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

We have a viewing party tonight in Santa Monica, which should show the full episodes, I believe, while you all will be able to watch the first two episodes. That should be Darth Vader, and Claire. I swear, you will LOVE it!!


Okay, Jess, shut it down and rest. Love you all, and thank you for spreading the word. Although the name My Last Days suck, it does not depict these souls whatsoever - you will be happily surprised. Justin did not disappoint!!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Can't Mask My Surprise

Always a fan of multi-tasking, Dan just caught me watering the garden with a charcoal mask on. 

In my mind I look like a supermodel.
Pictures like this royally remind me I'm just a regular model.
 
But, I'm in a rush! I have to finish the chores and get packed for a 4 am wake-up. The My Last Days 2 premier in LA is tomorrow!!!! Cripes. That snuck up too fast! We need to scream down to the airport in the morning, and jet off like we're some sort of big deal.

Clearly, looking fly comes easy, so it should be fine. 

This is going to be one hell of an adventure! It's very gracious of Wayfarer to fly us down, put us up, and introduce us all. Let's hope my cold continues to subside. At this point I sound like a two-pack-a-day-er. 



I'll keep up with Instagram updates and try to do a blog post if able.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bus Bacteria Bad. Brain Bacteria Good.

Hey Guys,

What is it about summer that causes it to go faster, and faster, and faster, until you lose your mind? Or get sick. I get sick every few years, and never in the summer, but lucky me, that's exactly what just happened. I must have licked my fingers after touching things on the city bus or something. (Gross!) But life doesn't stop when you get sick - kinda like cancer.

I'm busy with gloriously fun things like promoting the MLD docu-series with interviews, corresponding with tumor patients/caregivers, and visiting with out-of-town friends, all peppered with doctor appointments.

I'm not sleeping well because of headaches, which is a constant reminder of the fact that my brain tumor is growing again. I'm fine during the day, I'm so busy that I can't even keep up, but at night, as soon as I'm vertical, the pressure in my head grows intense. It's come to the point where I am back to relying on headache medicine. I hate having to do that. I'm grateful that my seizures have remained stable, though, which feels like a Christmas miracle.

I like to think that the headaches are because I'm doing too much, trying to conquer too many things, maybe I'm not organized enough, anything but the mass of rogue cells multiplying in the folds of my brain.

Last weekend I turned 36, and although birthday goals are a newer thing for me, I have it in my head that I want to live past age 40, and not be sporting a wheelchair/walker while I enjoy my cake (although decorating those items sound kind of awesome). That fear is based off of my horrible luck with brain surgeries. Granted the most recent one healed pretty well, but man if that second brain surgery didn't give me a run for my money.

Good God, I'm in a morbid mood. Must be the fever.

That doesn't mean I don't want to live a long life - obviously I do - I just want to make baby goals, which feel sustainable.

A famous Bonnie Birthday cake. Delish!

I'm scared for this next brain surgery, and unsure if I will do it at UCLA like my previous one. If I have to endure a 4th brain surgery, I want to make it count. Originally, the back-to-back brain surgeries in 2010 were at University of Washington in Seattle, then I wanted to do the clinical trial using dendtric cell therapy for diffuse astrocytoma which was at UCLA, so I headed down there. You may remember that after the surgery, I was told my tumor didn't meet the parameters of the trial (my tumor tissue was too integrated with healthy tissue). That forced me to Germany trying to get my own dendritic cell therapy. There aren't many clinical trials for my type of tumor, or grade, so we are forced to get worse before we can hope to get better. That's the system that I'm in. It sucks. So I need to continue my search for possible brain surgeons that are offering more than just a surgery. I want try something innovative, something more. I'm not sure if I'll find anything, but I kind of want someone to put bacteria in my brain.

Okay, I still have two more phone meetings tonight and I lost my voice, so before I lose all ability to think I'd better wrap this up. I do have more exciting news, though. Danny and I are being flown down to LA next week for the premier, and a showing of My Last Days. We get to go see everyone who filmed, and meet the rest of the folks that were featured. I can't wait! I mean, I can wait because I want to be healthy. Otherwise I might have to show up in a bubble so that I don't infect anyone. I will now power down my brain for a quick quiet moment. Sending everyone love, and thank you as always for loving and supporting us!


Thursday, July 28, 2016

We All Need A Wizard

Dang it, why are there so many cool people out there? I just finished an interview with Refinery29, about the TV show, My Last Days. Yes, that is the horrible name chosen to document six different people diagnosed with a terminal illness, one of which is my story. It makes my body retch to even type it. I physically hate the title, with a palpable rancor, but I understand they're trying to gain the biggest viewing potential, and that potential could help people. It's all about pulling people in, about shock value. It's the world we live in. I just don't believe I'm in my last days. I don't describe myself as terminal, although that's exactly what I've been told. That I will die of this. But I know so much more than I used to. I know that a cancer diagnosis is a hopscotch of jumps, just to find a new treatment to outlive each phase. There are no guarantees in life, and that means we don't know what our life has in store, for example, when we will die.

So, anyway, the production company set us up with a public relations agency that's helping us understand the marketing/promotion process which includes doing an interview or two. Back to my point, I was partnered with one of the PR peeps, and she is a true wizard - one of those spirits that you instantly connect with. The Refinery29 interview this morning held the typical questions, When were you diagnosed? How has this impacted your life? My wizard had addressed all of us subjects in a recent conference call and one specific point resonated with me. I started thinking about what I want my message to be. If I can sum up my goal in discussing my cancer journey, what is my ultimate point? And in a conversation with my wizard, I finally figured it out.

Some people have to talk things out to solve their problems, others need quiet solitude. I tend to need to write. And prompting really helps. So, in talking to my wizard, I evolved. And that is what's really cool about people. Those folks that encourage, and engage, and spur us to harness our passion. And after free writing the email below, errors and all, I realized, in the most concise form as of yet, my true goal.

Good morning [Wizard]! Sorry for the delay.

I would love your input on this interview. I'm excited for this opportunity, but it definitely has me thinking about what I want to get across. And it's not as simple as I thought it would be. The message on my blog is about people taking control of their health, that we as patients are so much more - we're medical consumers. That we have control over the doctors and medical centers that we choose and that we deserve respect. That doctors are not rated equal, that not all centers can offer the same treatments. That you have to protect yourself, and advocate for your rights. That no one has more of a vested interested in their health then you. To not let anyone dictate when you are out of options, when you're going to die. I have no idea how the show will be edited, what they will focus on after several days of filming, my fear is that it will be more about my husband and my love story, which is glorious and magical, and unique, but I want to help people protect themselves. In 1970 1 in 30 would be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, now in 2012 it is 1 in 3 for women and 1 in 2 for men. And survival rates are still dismal for most cancers. We have to prepare ourselves to be independent thinkers. Sometimes we need to hear that it's okay to ask tough questions, demand the best care, to not be afraid to ask more of our doctors. I'm not as interested in my own story, but maybe that's just because I'm so used to it.

Just writing this has helped me find my own direction, what I'm really passionate about. God, the things I've learned. I wish I could help people more. Just even the fact that when I don't understand test results, and my doctor's explanation isn't enough (as they are not trained in medical readings of scans), I will cyber-stalk the name on the report of a scan and cold contact them to get more answers on my scans. And the medical readers are always incredibly gracious, and I get better explanations of what's going on in my body. Or I'll research a new treatment, and again find the email address of the head researcher and cold contact them with questions about dosing, or side effects. Most of the time I get responses and enter in wonderful conversations. I then gain more resources as the researchers become colleagues, I can ask them further questions about related research. Sometimes I never hear back, and that's okay too - but I figure, what will it hurt? Might as well give it a shot.

I dream of a day when patients are treated with respect, not pitted, not talked down to, that we start to get treated like customers, because we are. We are paying customers with our medical, whether it's out of pocket, or paid for by our insurance. We should have more control.

Okay, that was one hell of a diatribe, and that was me trying to be minimal. Sometimes patients just need to hear that it's okay to question, to demand more, to realize that we're getting shoved into boxes with antiquated treatments. That we deserver personalized care based on our specific pathology. Nothing will change until we demand it.

Jess

In talking with others, those souls who provide a safe haven, a pure understanding and curiosity of another's plight, we are able to open further. To share the seed of our truth. And if you're really lucky, they not only nurture what's been planted, they rejoice as you flourish. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, the things that I've learned and continue to learn, it will help others find their truth. To not be afraid of the answers, of going out on a limb to find their best health.

I continue to be blessed by people that pop into my life, making everything I do more fun, more authentic, and I cherish them.

I feel more connected to others every day, and in that, I feel more alive.

Jessica Oldwyn wedding photos
From our episode on My Last Days

Friday, July 15, 2016

In All The B's

*Written somewhere over the midwest, as I flew home from NYC late last night.*

I never anticipated growing up. I mean, who does, or we would choose to wear sunscreen at age 4, and I've never seen a child apply SPF by choice. When you get this crazy diagnosis it's like living in an alternative universe; you're instantly catapulted into the raw threads of life. You're 29 and 99, all at once, wondering where your life went.

My favorite part of cancer is that there's people whom I've fallen in love with. They're kind, they're gracious, they're real, and explosively smart. They're honest, we quip, tease, and I can't believe that somehow my life collided with theirs. I know that I would have crossed paths with other people in my sliding doors life, and they would have been deep, and knowing, encompassing, challenging, hilarious, so I know you don't have to be a cancer patient, or caregiver, to be "enlightened" - yuck, I don't even like that word in the context. I'm swirled with people of all backgrounds, different histories, and the longer I live, the happier I am - if that's possible. Who would pick cancer? Not me. And I'm not convinced that I needed to get cancer to meet these souls. We could have met when we were in a shared taxi, at a resort, on a hiking trail, in a public bathroom. I mean, come on, you guys know me - a person is just a friend I haven't met yet.

I'm expected to do another brain surgery in Oct, and that was put off from May. I kinda want to point out what a bad girl I am, but it's not that simple. I needed proof to make sure that when they saw into my skull again, for the 4th time, it's necessary. I now know 7 different patients who had brain surgeries for recurrence, and it was in fact necrosis, inflammation, or slowly growing scar tissue. Crazy!! No spank you. (Granted, over the past several years, I've probably talked to hundreds of patients and caregivers - so it's not exactly common.)

I should have already gone under the knife, and I know from experience that I should be panicked; I could have already lost my crap. But you know what, we will die when we die. Ya, sure, duh, if you love those around you, you don't want to let go, and I don't know what has changed, why I'm chill, but who cares, all I know is that I will live my life not in fear. And more than ever, I'm not focusing on what I do not have. We are out of treatment money, yet I have never been more at peace. How weird! I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Maybe I won't even look at any horses.

I'm literally flying home from NYC as I type, no treatment rendered. A risk from international treatment issues. My point is that I was listening to a couple (just a few) survivors complaining about the fact that we did not get our most recent treatment on time. Not all, but several, were pissed because they had vacations scheduled. Weeks off. Do they not see the projects we drive by on our way to the clinic? Every time I blow through South Jamaica, Queens, on my way to and from treatment, I think about all those apartments, those high rises. Statistically, there are people in the projects that I pass and I doubt they're getting any cancer care, in fact any medical care, and when I hear those complaints I'm floored. It's not my role to teach people, to change others, but man is it eye opening. Fuck you guys, seriously, what does it take for people to realize how gifted we are? I'm not saying we can't complain about circumstances in life, but know your audience. Put things in perspective.

We are the privileged. Yes, my treatment was delayed by several days. No I wasn't able to stay or come back. Everything is a give and take. 

Am I scared? Bheh. No. Yes. Sure, but not really. My fear is to leave Danny. I'm convinced that if I die before him, I'll haunt him in the bees, the butterflies, the bats, the butterscotch candy he sucks on. In the burkenstocks the person next to him is wearing. He will see me in the laminate countertop on the ferries as he heads back to our home island. In the whip of the wind against his face as he gets into his truck for work in the morning. He'll see a red summer dress and think about my silliness. Is silliness even enough to accurately describe? He'll see a goober dancing so ridiculously in the grocery store that I hope he'll dance with them to not leave them hanging. 

But worse would be if he left me. That would be unbearable.

See, I have it easy. :)

A photo from my First Descents kayaking & camping trip earlier this week.
No need for a filter, life is stunning as is.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Half-Assed Update

Hi Friends,

Sorry for the long hiatus. To say it's been a crazy month would be an understatement. 

I've been on a few treatment wild goose chases, and some strong leads. I have about an 85-90% lock on my new protocol, pending any changes. (And there's always changes.) I can't get my fingers on everything immediately, but I'm headed back to NYC next week for a previously unscheduled treatment and meeting to address a few ideas. 

It's been a highly stressful time, but I'm still having a lot of fun. It IS summertime, after all. 

I've wanted to do an update, but things were up in the air. And, I don't really have the time to emote, or the energy to write just to write. It's been taxing, and when I wasn't scrambling, contacting doctors, radiologists, researchers, patients, I needed to decompress so that I could wake up and do it all over again.

I have no clue if this new protocol will be enough to stop the tumor growth - oh wait, I think I haven't even told you that the tumor is, by all consensus from every single one of my doctors, clearly growing again. Crap in the pants is about how I feel about it. 

I keep wanting this tumor life to be over, to not live in limbo, but oh well. It is what it is. I hadn't said anything on the blog - at least I don't think I did - but Dan and I had started the process (very premature stages) of getting approved to adopt foster children. Because I had been stable for over a year, it was a legitimate possibility. But I keep learning that my life is not really my own, and I don't have the luxury of planning. I realize typing this out that I may sound sad, but I'm not. It's just a fact. 

Each recurrence I am reminded that I need to just be grateful to be alive, to be here in this moment. That fact has to be enough for this life. Good thing I've been doing a damn good job of it. I'm still just as social, still walking with my group as much as I can, jogging, gardening, doing weekend trips with friends. It's not that bad to live in the moment, to tell you the truth. Maybe it's like those crazy fools that are adrenaline junkies. I'm not to that level, but I can appreciate their hunger.


Our lucky Independence Day jelly in FH. Those whispy little stingers. Just like life, beauty always comes with a price.

Also, I want you guys to know that when I run into people at the grocery store, or the coffee shop, and people introduce themselves, or say hello after years of not seeing each other, and they tell me they follow the blog, and that they care about me, about us, it's about the most gracious and heartwarming thing. In those moments I just want to reach out and hug people. And sometimes I do, and other times I don't want to freak them out. So thank you, for caring, and for telling me. It makes me feel incredible!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Abbreviated 18f-DOPA PET Results

It's a long story, and I'm pretty pooped, but here's a basic overview. The "scan was concerning for active disease". It really isn't the biggest deal, it could have quadrupled in size. There's still questions surrounding imaging possibly being effected by treatments - not likely, but I won't rule it out, I'm always hopeful. We're trying to decide what our next step is (stopping treatment, skipping treatment, adding treatment, etc.). I'm surprisingly pleased with the results. It's not the best news. As our neurosurgeon says, "It's trending toward recurrence"(there are two "nodules" they're watching). She wanted surgery, but we asked for a little more time. I'm not ready for the risk. I'm too scared. If the area is worse in October, we will revisit our options which include the usual suspects: surgery, radiation, chemo, or a combination.


Apparently even my happy kitty socks couldn't save the day, but they made me and my TSA pat down lady happy, so there's that. Sorry that I won't be letting people know individually, but as you can imagine, it's overwhelming to reach out to all you lovely friends, I'd be on my phone for hours. I'm hoping to give a better explanation about the situation in the coming days.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Early Call

With a 1:30 am wake up call, I'm in bed and it's just past seven. It was easy to head to bed since I can't eat much anyway because of scan restrictions. No dairy, legumes, animal proteins, nuts, seeds, soy products - I can't even remember all the restrictions so I focused on what I could eat, which is fruit and veg. I'm not hungry though, just physically exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open because last night's sleep was terrible - wide awake until 3:00 am.

I had been fine for the last few weeks, my mental state has been a solid 8-10, but last night it hit me. It was inescapable. We have a scan in the morning that will show, with more than a 80% accuracy between necrosis, and recurrence or scar tissue. It's a brilliant tool to have, but one that leaves little doubt, and really no denial either. At first, I thought this could go two ways. Tumor or no tumor. Then I started reminding myself that I won't die of this tumor tomorrow, or next week, or even, heaven forbid this year. We're playing the long game. It's exhausting, but as you get to know the strategies, and learn from others, there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of different combinations of treatments. I'm certainly not at the end of my rope, even though, sometimes it feels that way. 

I don't really want to do the scan because I don't want to have brain cancer, but since I do, I might as well get some answers. I have no expectations; I have no premonitions. I have hopes that this blob has a maxSUV of under 3.0 (which to my understanding will not be considered recurrence), but there are factors out of our control, variables that I can't even pinpoint. 

So here I lay in bed, hoping for a quiet power. I hope for strength to get me through the days ahead. I will allow myself to laugh and have fun, even though on the inside I might feel like crying. If needed, I will permit myself that indulgence too. I hope for my friends that they are safe, and in this exact moment, are smiling. 

Results will be Monday, I will try to post them as soon as I am able. Thank you for the continued love, it's much appreciated, but above that it's needed too. Sometimes I can literally feel the hum of people's energy, and who knows maybe I'm just crazy, but I think it's real. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scan is Scheduled

We have our magical f-DOPA PET scan scheduled, and possibly the best part (other than the enhanced results) is that insurance appears to be covering it!

Our scan is on June 9th, at UCLA Medical Center. The results will be on Monday, June 13th.

Ha! Makes me laugh every single time.

I bounce from terrified, numb, then a little ambivalent, and finally total denial. That's when I get my good workouts in, though, during the denial phases - so there's always a silver lining. 

Also, you can't beat an excuse to spend time in Southern California! Time with family friends, and ocean breezes. We'll have three full days to relax, and visit, and laugh, and get our toes in the sand. Once the scan is done, it's just waiting for results from there, and there's nothing you can do about that. Might as well enjoy!

Start Now, The Creativity Journal by Kate Neckel

I haven't convinced myself that the tumor has been growing again, even though that's the most probable reality. I have only a few remote ideas about what I will do if I need to revisit my treatment choices, to reevaluate and add more, or overhaul everything. I have no idea what we will do. We're working on a multitude of choices, kind of like a triage, what is easy to add, what can we afford to add, what have we not looked into, what would be synergistic. I've been doing a lot of research, so please forgive me for the lack of communication on my end. If you have an emergency, please put it in the subject of your emails so that I can address it more timely. Otherwise, I'm going to keep chugging along, nose to the grindstone and all that. Thank you for your patience! 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Grit: The Best Four Letter Word

A girlfriend just introduced me to the concept of "grit". I knew the word well, although in my family it's termed sticktoitiveness, what I didn't know is that a curious woman is researching it. Angela Lee Duckworth has evolved into a scientist (she was corporate, then became a teacher, then went back to school to become a psychologist), and her work focuses on determining what is "grit". She did an amazing Ted Talk, sharing what she had learned, and at that time she didn't know if grit could be taught. Here's the cool part, one day, probably not too long after her Talk aired, Coach Carroll happened to turn on the tv to the Ted Talks, and listened to Angela. The subject so moved him, especially the part where she wasn't sure how to transfer or teach grit, that he immediately got in contact with her.

It was fateful that Coach caught Angela's Ted Talk (of all the days to turn on a Ted Talk, and for all the TT's out there, it had to be this one), but it was grit, that drove him to reach out. See, Coach has been living a gritty life, full of purpose, and drive. With strength, and humility, and he's been teaching it. 


So tonight, my girlfriend invited us to attend the Town Hall Meeting at Seattle University to listen to Angela and Coach talk about what it means to have grit, how you can foster it in yourselves, how we can nurture it in our children, and in those around us. And good God it was powerful. And it was just what I needed. 

You see, even though I'm not convinced I'm dealing with a recurrence, I still have cried quite a bit about this turn of events. At first, I thought to myself, I can't possibly handle a fourth brain surgery. Not all that pain again, not with the danger of my complications, the blood clot and dura mater hardening, the risk of dying. What if I lose my language or mobility like I did? The months of speech and physical therapy, my God, I can't go through that a second time, I don't have the energy. As those fears swooped in, I realized, I'm not really scared of a theoretical surgery, I'm bawling because of the freaking trauma I've endured. It was residual emotional pain that rides the waves of those memories. It's powerful, and traumatic. 

Listening to that Town Hall Meeting was moving. It was catalytic. It was comforting to hear that you can't lose grit, you may not always be in touch with it, but you can't lose it. And if you're gritty, that doesn't mean you don't need encouragement, or guidance, or best of all, coaching. Having grit doesn't mean you're infallible, that you have everything figured out, instead it means that when you get bumped, you don't let it deter you. That you continuously rise up to the challenges placed in your path. 

What I love about grit, is this concept that we can all be great. We can be gritty with our jobs, with our dreams and our daily lives, and for me it's especially true for cancer. It's about being passionate, about educating yourself, learning from your mistakes and evolving. It's connecting and absolutely never giving up - even when you're beaten, and exhausted, sad or scared. 

I like to think I have grit, but lately I had lost touch with Her. I learned tonight that even if you feel lost, grit can not escape you. That we all need coaching, support, and unconditional love, in order to truly be our greatest selves.

I think it's impossible to be your best self without learning from others. I have learned grit from all of you. You've helped support me in all ways, and that is why I am still here, why I've been successful thus far. It's easier to get back up when you have a hundred people reaching their hands down to you.

Today, as I drove to the gym, I started sobbing. I sat in my car for a few minutes, pulled myself together, then went in and worked out. Then I walked back to my car and before my door was even shut, I started sobbing again. I was embassed that it even happened, frustrated that I was still this emotional about everything. Then, tonight, while I was listening to Coach, and Angela, I realized that grit is in the every day. Grit is determination, and heart, along with effort, and perseverance. And, today, although sad, I refused to be defeated. So I guess Grit never left me, I just needed to pay attention to her.

Angela Lee Duckworth has written the book Grit, and also has a fabulous Ted Talk that you can watch here:


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

UCLA MRI Results: Surgery Needed

I finally received my secondary results from the MRI. Unfortunately, UCLA believes there has been interval progression, and they are recommending brain surgery. I don't know if I could stomach a fourth surgery, but before I can commit to that anyway, I've requested a f-DOPA pet scan to verify that it is indeed tumor growth. F-DOPA pet scans can differentiate between tumor cells vs scar tissue or inflammation.

It's confusing to hear conflicting results from two different centers, but that's nothing new for me. At this point, I'm waiting for insurance to approve the scan. Next, we'll schedule the scan, and then we will review the results to see if we are dealing with a recurrence. Between now and then, we scramble for alternative plans for survival. I know that sounds alarmist, but I say it with tongue in cheek.

As always, I'll keep you abreast. (That word always makes me laugh, so I had to throw it in there.)


PS It's my brother's birthday today, so if you see him, please don't say anything until tomorrow! xo

Friday, May 6, 2016

Guest Blog Series - Anonymous

It's the first Friday of the month, and that means GUEST BLOGGER! I am loving reading other people's perspectives, their feelings, their experiences with their cancer and how it effects their daily life. When I received this article, I immediately started reading it aloud to Dan. We were both floored by her candidness, and her ability to get us chuckling in one minute, then nodding our heads in agreement, then cringing. Her writing is organic and true, and I love it. I'm very grateful to Anonymous and Lone Wolf for participating in the Guest Blog Series. 


Jess, the guest column idea looks like a good one. I was completely absorbed by Lone Wolf’s description of her experiences, partly because she writes well but mostly because she writes well about shared experiences. 

Take the “tell your friends or not” issue. When I was diagnosed, I wanted to keep a low profile but it seemed to be hard for my family and against the advice I was getting from the experts. “Let your friends in,” one writer urged. “Keeping a serious illness under wraps is like trying to keep a beach ball underwater,” another noted. True enough.


I ended up writing about my diagnosis and sending installments via email. Of course, once you start that, everybody knows – and they want to know more. Human nature is well-intentioned but it didn’t take me long to cringe at the eventually predictable conversations. Me: “Hey, how’re you doing?” Friend, “No the question is how are YOU doing?” There’s a certain look in the eye. It sets me apart. It makes me feel somehow targeted whether I feel like talking or not. Even whether I know who’s asking or not. Word gets around. Cancer is interesting. A grocery clerk at a local store invariably approaches me when I come in to ask how I’m doing. I have no idea who she is but I know the look and the sound of the voice. The cancer survivor has entered the store. (One of my sort-of friends announced at Market Place in a loud voice, “She’s a cancer survivor.” What gets into these people?) 

I’m doing very well right now but this has been an ordeal. Chemotherapy and radiation are not fun and all of us who go through the treatments know the peculiar fear. What is this stuff doing to me? After-effects aren’t pleasant either, but all of it has been manageable and I feel good about life in general, that is until I get into another conversation with one of our relatives who likes to tell me, “I would never put that poison in my body.” 


So far I am unfairly attacking my poor well-meaning friends/family but unfortunately there is no perfect formula for talking about cancer so I can’t adequately advise people when I would just like them to shut up. Just let me go back to being normal and benign. Try to forget everything I’ve told you. 

I have always been a hypochondriac but I am now beyond belief. Remember Veda in “My Girl?” She was so afflicted that she thought she had prostate cancer. I am just about that bad. Currently I’m certain that I have breast cancer, tongue cancer, and brain cancer but I have not (yet) seen an oncologist about any of these. “Riddled” with cancer as I’ve heard it said. I am tempted to go hunting for symptoms but the Internet is a terrible place to look for information. If you look for fatalities caused by hang nails and acne, you will find them. 

Then, too, sometimes the people who should know better, do not. I went to see a specialist in Bellingham about two weeks into this “journey” (“journey” is as popular as “survivor”) without realizing that she is a heartless witch. I asked for three things, a clear diagnosis, the options for treatment, and some hope. I got the first two but the third wasn’t in her repertoire. Instead of hope she gave me the odds – the odds against survival beyond a couple of years, the odds in favor of recurrence, the odds in favor of the grim reaper coming to call. I was stunned into silence – a rarity for me. 

So…here I am, feeling good, feeling smarter, loving my family and some of my friends more than ever, looking forward to summer, and gaining inspiration from others. Some of them are celebrities. Joan Lunden appeared bald on the covers of magazines, Angelina Jolie has undertaken extremely brave measures to assess in advance any cancer that might be genetically ready to pounce, and Jennifer Griffin, a tv news analyst, diagnosed in 2009, has conquered triple negative breast cancer. These women and many others keep my optimism intact. True for my admiration for Jess too although she resists the pedestal. 

Jennifer Griffin said this: “The problem is we all think we will live forever. Cancer stops you in your tracks and makes you think about how you want to live your life.” And that’s the truth. 


Anonymous



Friday, April 22, 2016

UW Results

As always, we have to confirm with UCLA, but the preliminary findings of my MRI is stable. The FLAIR signal in the tumor cavity is slightly increased. However there is no enhancement, and no new nodular area. There's a venus abnormality that they've been watching, but I'm not too concerned about it.

All-in-all a great scan. I had been terrified, even convinced that there would be a new lesion, since I've been eating horribly, including a 20 lb weight gain - pure sugar. I've always equated excess calories as food for the tumor so the fact that there isn't obvious tumor growth is a freaking miracle. Apparently diet isn't the end-all-be-all of cancer growth. (I'm sure it matters, but who knows how much, and for which cancers, and which people?)

I'm obviously relieved, and can now focus on treating myself well because I want to. I can exercise, and eat right, because it's fun, not because I'm scared and feel responsible. I had been punishing myself, even daring the cancer to come back and prove me right. I know that sounds disgusting, and selfish. I felt that when I get good results, when I succeed, I still watch my friends get sicker. So if I have a good scan, I lose. And if I have a bad scan, I lose. I lose either way. I feel guilty being "heathy", even though cancer has taken so much from me. From us. 

It's really hard to be fearless in this situation, and very hard to not get stuck. It's time for me to stop punishing myself for success, for my good fortune and hard work. I don't know how to manifest that, to forgive myself for being alive, for being able to mow the lawn just now. That guilt has no place, I realize it, but it's there nonetheless. 


On Wednesday, through the help of a girlfriend, I was able to take my nephew KC to We Day (http://www.weday.com) where I watched thousands of seventh grade world changers. The kids are fearless, they're kind, they're big thinkers and problem solvers. I'm going to try to harness their spirit and attitude to get outside of myself. When I get in a rut, when I feel paralyzed, I need to remind myself to find inspiration. It always helps. For being an extrovert, I can certainly disappear from friends, from family, I can get scared, and filled with denial and avoidance, and that's fine from time to time, but if we don't look out, and see what's around us, who needs help, how you can have a positive impact on those around you, then what's the point. 

I'm just really relieved about this first set of results, and grateful that I didn't shoot myself in the foot with diet and lifestyle choices. One of the saddest things that we can do in life is give up, or take our health for granted. I'm embarrassed to say that I feel like I kind of had. But not any longer. There's probably a fine line  between giving up and enjoying yourself, and one of these days I'm sure I'll figure it out.

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