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 December 2001
Running With the Olympic Torch to Mark the End of Chemo
December 7, 2001
Ta da: The chemotherapy experience is over. I had my last session on Monday, and it was strangely anticlimatic and a little bittersweet. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than ready to be over with chemo, and was very happy to have it end. The nurses gave me a certificate of completion, which I showed on TV that night, but I had to say goodbye to Nona, my friend, who’s dealing with her tumor growing again. That was tough. There were tears and a strange sense of almost “survivor guilt.” Not that she’s not going to survive, but that I’m done with chemo, and she has to have it indefinitely. Then, I come to find out that her high temperatures meant she had to go into the hospital, where she’s been all week. I joked with her that I leave her for a day and she goes in the hospital. After my chemo, I went straight to the pool and swam 1,200 meters (not as far as it sounds). At work, we celebrated with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Warm, of course. That’s my kind of celebrating, really. Remember all those side effects I said I was avoiding week after week? Well, they seem to be appearing now. It’s a good thing the chemo is over: Two toes on my right foot are numb, my eyes are tearing, my face is a little swollen, and my endurance is gone. Even my usual four-mile run is leaving me winded. Now, I’m having to put steroid drops in my eyes for a month to reduce the swelling and, hopefully, stave off any permanent tearing. Dr. Dave says in two weeks the drugs will be out of my system, and life really will be back to normal, at least for a while. I’m going to put off Tamoxifen until after the new year. I also met with a lymphedema specialist. She gave me instructions on how to do massage and exercises to prevent lymphedema from happening. She also took a look at some road rash I got when a dog knocked me off my bike last week, and she said that if I were prone to lymphedema, that would have been enough to set it off. Yikes! I think I am going to get what’s called a compression sleeve, which puts pressure on the arm to reduce the risk of lymphedema. I’ll use it when I fly. So, Friday, I run with the Olympic torch. It will be for the second time, because I was chosen to run before the Summer Games in 1996. I am really excited to run, blessed to be chosen for the second time. I was bummed out, though, to get e-mails from two people who said I should not be allowed to run. One woman’s reason was that I had done it before and should have declined. The other simply said someone less well-known should have my number instead. I figured I would address the issue in case other people are thinking the same thing. First of all, I didn’t take anyone’s place. I went through the selection process like everyone else and was chosen through the Salt Lake City Olympic folks. If I had not been chosen this way, my station, being an NBC affiliate, and carrying the Olympics, would have chosen me. So, that spot, which would have been mine, was left open for someone else. Also, I see my running this year as a symbolic victory over cancer, not just for me, but for anyone who’s ever had to fight a disease that could kill. I see the Olympics as the ultimate goal for athletes: It’s the result of hard work, dedication, and love of sport and competition — and life. The fact that I am well enough to run as a part of the Olympic celebration could give a lot of hope to people who haven’t finished their chemotherapy or radiation or surgery or whatever challenge they have in front of them. For me, it marks the end of a terrible chapter and the beginning of the rest of my life. That it’s happening in the same week chemo ends is an exclamation point. Enough of that. It’s been a cool week. I got to cover President Bush when he was in town Tuesday. I met with my surgeon Thursday, and he says everything is fine. The torch run is Friday, and I’m going skiing Saturday. These are the times I looked forward to when I was in the midst of Adriamycin-Cytoxan. Life is good.
The Torch Run and More Trying to Weasel out of Tamoxifen
December 14, 2001
I got to run with the Olympic torch last Friday, and it was very cool. Actually, it was much more than that. This year, because of many factors, the whole torch celebration was extra special. My leg of the run was on Princeton Street in Orlando, between the Science Center and 17-92. I wore a pink bandanna on my head for a couple of reasons. It was pink for breast cancer awareness (and victory over breast cancer). It was also to cover my blonde hair. 🙂 I knew the run would be over in a matter of minutes and seconds, and I was right. It was exhilarating, though. Our shuttle bus guide told us to remember that when we were running with the torch, we were the only one in the world doing it at that time. Pretty incredible. We ran alongside a support runner, a high school student, who’s there to help if we needed it. I let my support runner carry the torch for about a minute (or less) so he could be a torchbearer, too. The only problem was, when I handed him the torch, he got so excited, he started running really fast! I took that torch back. It was a good feeling, to let him be a torchbearer, too. The next morning, Kelly and I took off for Copper Mountain in Colorado for three days of skiing with friends from Philadelphia. We’d visited Lisa and Kevin during our Boston Marathon trip. It’s kind of ironic that they were the last friends we saw before I was diagnosed with cancer, and the first friends we celebrated with after chemotherapy ended. We had a great time. I was tired and not as strong as I usually am. I’m usually a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. skier (that’s how long the lifts are open), but this time I was done by a few runs after lunch. Still, I loved being in the mountains and wearing cold-weather clothes and hanging out with my groovy, trendy hair. Remember all those side effects I avoided during six months of chemo? Now that I’m done with everything, I’m getting even more side effects. My toes are numb on my right foot. My eyes are watering like crazy and I’m taking steroid eye drops to try to tame them. I had that metallic taste in my mouth the whole time I was in Colorado. Food didn’t taste good, and I was a little nauseated. I still consider myself incredibly lucky not to have suffered like many people do. I also am doing research on the Tamoxifen alternative that’s been in the news this week. It’s called an aromatase inhibitor. The drugs work like Tamoxifen and suppress estrogen, but they have fewer side effects. Dr. Dave said it might replace Tamoxifen eventually. He wants me to stay the course on Tamoxifen and maybe switch to the aromatase inhibitor later, if more studies prove it to be effective. I talked to Melinda, the clinical trial nurse, too, and she’s going to ask the trial directors about putting me on one of the aromatase inhibitors. I may be able to do it and stay in the clinical trial. I haven’t dropped this subject yet.
Skiing, Learning about Lymphedema, and Resignation for Tamoxifen
December 21, 2001
The ski trip was fab. There’s been a lot of snow in Colorado, and a lot of the ski runs were open with powder. My stamina wasn’t anything like it usually is. I’m usually one of the first on the mountain and the last off before the lifts close. But that was definitely not the case this time. My legs turned to noodles, and I was winded after a couple of hours. My arms got pretty tired of using the ski poles, too. All very unusual, for me. And the cold weather made my eyes tear like crazy, but we had a wonderful time. I love being in the mountains; it’s so beautiful and powerful. I really appreciated getting out there this year. It was great seeing Lisa and Kevin, too. We celebrated a lot of things, including their new baby. I was slightly concerned about the long flights, because of all I’ve read about the pressure in the plane leading to lymphedema. Nothing happened, though. I kept my arm elevated on and off. I was very nonchalant, of course. I went to see a lymphedema specialist when I came back from Colorado. She was really nice and full of information — not alarmist at all. She showed me some massage techniques that should help me prevent the condition. I also ordered a compression sleeve that I’ll wear on long flights from now on. It looks like the sleeve that Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) wore to protect his elbow during last year’s NBA season, except it’s beige. Kristy also told me to go on with my life, but just to be aware of my arm. If I notice any swelling (I haven’t, yet) then just back off from workouts, heavy weights, push-ups, whatever. I feel much better. I’ll find something else to stress about now. I’ve done some digging about the aromatase inhibitors, which I’d hoped I could take instead of Tamoxifen. It looks like no dice for me, not yet. The aromatase inhibitors have been tested on postmenopausal women. Dr. Dave said the news about the drugs last week was just from one study. He doesn’t want me to take aromatase inhibitors until there are more studies. So, it’s Tamoxifen for me (drat!), at least for a while. He said if there are good studies in a year or so, I can switch over. I’ll be watching the medical journals carefully. This year, Christmas is extra special for me. We put up decorations early and strung more lights than ever to make the house pretty. I haven’t complained once (well, maybe once) about shopping or preparing for the holidays. I feel lucky to be alive and thankful to have so many friends that I love close to me. Have a wonderful holiday. I’m going to New York City next week for a few days, so the journal will be a couple of days late! I’ll be thinking of you!