In April 2001, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. I was a news anchor for WESH-TV, and there was no way I’d be able to hide the soon-to-be bald head, freakishly pale skin, and weight loss of chemotherapy…. or the repeated multiple days I’d miss from work. I also didn’t want to push my autobiography on the 6 pm news. So to share may story and try to dispel rumors and fear, I wrote this diary. These days it would be called a blog. I was ahead of my time. 🙂 I am republishing them, mostly unedited, in hopes of inspiring and informing a new decade of cancer patients and their families. Here’s April, 2002.
What a Difference a Year Makes
April 5, 2002
I have passed the first benchmark after cancer treatment. On Thursday, I went for my first three-month check, after the chemotherapy. Good news: Everything is fine. It was a blood test, where Dr. Dave looks for anomalies. I was a little concerned before I went in, but not too much. Worrying doesn’t really help anything. I’ve found that it’s a waste of time and energy. Anyway, it was great to see all the nurses at the office. It’s been, well, three months since I’ve seen them last. They all look the same (great), but they said I look different and that my color is better. Isn’t that funny? I never noticed that I looked different, but I must have been pale or something. Now that I’m in the clear for this month, I don’t have to go back until July. There’s nothing like a clean bill of health before I head to Austin, Texas, for the Ride for the Roses. Friday night is the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. I’ll be running at UCF after the 11 p.m. news. I’ve done the relay for three years or so, but this year, obviously, will be different. I am skipping the Survivors’ Lap. I figure every lap I do, whenever I do it, is my survivor’s lap. It’s interesting to note that from last year’s relay to this year’s relay, I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, had surgery, two rounds of chemo and Tamoxifen. How much can change in a year? It also seems like such a long time since I was consumed with learning more about lymphedema and Tamoxifen side effects. Time has really flown. I’m almost a year from the day of my diagnosis now. It’s like a countdown. Too bad I can’t count my first year of survivorship from the day of diagnosis. Then I would have a year down already! I had lunch with my friend, Meral, who is coming up on six years in the clear since her breast cancer. She is fabulous: She’s a personal trainer and spin instructor, and she looks better than ever. Her continued good health is a great motivator and goal for me. By this time next week, I’ll be in Austin for the Lance Armstrong ride. At this time last year, I was in Boston for the marathon, about to find out about the breast cancer. What a difference a year makes!
The Cancer Warrior is Born, and I Don’t Even Realize it Yet
April 12, 2002
It’s off to Austin, Texas now: We went on our last training ride Thursday, so we’re as ready as we’ll be. The ride begins on Sunday at 8 a.m. Dave Marsh looked up the weather, and it’s already in the 90s in Austin. Yikes. I am still so excited about this Ride for the Roses. For me, it’s such a powerful statement of survival and endurance. As you may or may not remember, this is also the one-year mark from the Boston Marathon, and nearly the one-year mark from my cancer diagnosis. It’s incredible how much has happened in a year. And at the same time, I feel like nothing has really happened. If it weren’t for a couple of big scars and some curly, short hair, there would be no physical reminder of the cancer experience at all. Amazing. Last Friday, I ran for about an hour at the Relay for Life at UCF. What an awesome event. I hear that event alone raised more than $200,000 for the American Cancer Society. There were so many people out there, even at 1 a.m. I’ve run this event for at least four years, but this year, I felt like I should thank everyone I met. Friday, I’m going to talk to a group of about 50 women who are participating in the Avon three-day Breast Cancer Walk. They each raised nearly $2,000 for the fight against breast cancer. I haven’t really figured out exactly what I’ll talk about. As usual, I’ll just do the stream of consciousness presentation and say thanks. I haven’t been speaking about my experience with breast cancer very often. Last year, I made a vow not to be the poster girl for breast cancer, and I’m trying to be vigilant about that. It just feels weird to talk about it to big groups of people. I’ll help out in other ways. Besides, it’s hardly the most interesting part of my life to me! (Challenging, yes. Interesting, no.) 🙂 Well, next time I write, I’ll be back from my first century ride. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll at least be able to meet (and get a picture with) Lance Armstrong. He is my hero!
Lance Armstrong Foundation Ride for the Roses
April 19, 2002
The Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses was fantastic: It was the most uplifting, exciting, positive weekend — not just for cancer survivors, but for all 8,000 people who went to Austin, Texas. When we arrived, we got settled in, then went straight to the ride expo, where we had to pick up our packets and registration. We listened to Lance and two other elite athletes, who had survived cancer, talk about their experiences. Then I got to meet Lance Armstrong: It was only for a few seconds, but it was a highlight of the weekend. I had just long enough to tell him that I was celebrating my one year since diagnosis by riding this century ride, and he said that this must be my Oct. 2. That’s the day he uses to mark his survivorship. You get a real sense of peace and strength just from being around him. I can see why he’s so charismatic. I got to meet his mom too. She was also very nice. Before the ride, as we were waiting to head out, Robin Williams chatted the crowd up. He apparently is a big cyclist and a friend of Lance. He was hilarious. He was making all these comments about the riders. At one point, he started speaking French, and people were cracking up. They would have cracked up more if they had realized what he was saying. My six years of high school and college French helped me translate his commentary as this: One and two. How are you? Fine. Yes. No. Yes, yes, yes. The ride was hard, long, hilly, windy (headwind, of course), challenging, fun, and so much more. It took us about 6½ hours to finish the course, including rest stops. The cruel part of it was that it was really 102 miles. I guess it’s hard to measure exactly. Giti, Linda, and I stuck together for most of the ride. There were times that it got hard for me in the middle, but I got a second wind and finished strong. We stopped at one field and took a picture with the longhorns. I wanted us to make the “hook ’em Horns” hand signal… Then, the guy who was taking the picture told us it was the thumb and pinky extended. I knew he was wrong. That’s “shaka, hang ten.” I stuck to my guns, but check out Linda and Giti. Mixed messages from this picture. We should have known better than to listen to the guy. He was from Nashville. One of the cool things about the ride was that I wore a patch on the back of my jersey that said “Survivor.” So many riders rode up and congratulated me and were so encouraging about me having the strength to ride 100 miles. I don’t know how many survivors rode the whole 100 (you could also ride 20, 40, or 70), but I didn’t see many. When we crossed the finish line, a girl ran after me and gave me a red rose. Ride for the Roses. I wanted to cry. It was a perfect way for me to mark a year of survivorship. I can’t wait until next year.
Death of a Friend
April 26, 2002
Again, life is a series of highs and lows: Last week was the Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses. This week, my friend from the chemo room, Nona Costello, died. She had canceled lunch with me a little over a week ago. Then, Saturday, her sister called me, and I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. She said that Nona had slipped into a coma that afternoon, but the hospice doctor told her that Nona could still hear people. She held the phone up to Nona’s ear, and I got to say goodbye and tell her that she’s special. Maybe you saw the big obituary in the Orlando Sentinel. It’s weird because even though I knew she had been deteriorating, the last time I saw her, she looked good and healthy. It’s kind of like a reminder of our mortality — mine in particular. Now, every cancer death is a little more personal, almost a reminder that I need to be thankful for every day. Thursday night, I got to see my second opinion oncologist for the first time since exactly a year ago. She works at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. It was fantastic seeing her. So much has happened since I saw her last: She never even saw me with no hair! It felt great to tell her I’m fine and finished with my treatment. She’ll be back for a big oncologists’ meeting here in a couple of weeks. I also had the last of my reconstructive surgery done on Monday. In and out of the hospital in four hours — piece of cake. The most annoying part is having to cut back on the running and biking for three (OK, two) days. I played with the idea of not even finishing the reconstruction because it’s all cosmetic now. But I can’t stand leaving a job unfinished (part of my occasionally obsessive personality, I suppose), so I went in. It made for a couple of nights of restless sleep because my cats tend to launch themselves off me in the middle of the night for no reason sometimes. I was afraid they would launch off the surgery site. That would be a rude awakening.