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 March, 2002.
The Spectre of Death of a Chemo Room Friend
March 9, 2002
I’ve been catching up on everything I didn’t do when I was in Salt Lake City. There’s a lot to catch up on when you’re out of town for two weeks. One of the things I did was call Nona, my friend from the Monday chemo group, and the news wasn’t good. Her husband died of emphysema about a month or a month-and-a-half ago. While I was gone, Nona went into the hospital. Her tumor has started growing again; the chemo isn’t helping anymore. When I called, she was meeting with a hospice chaplain. She said all the doctors can do now is make her comfortable. It makes me feel like I have a heavy weight on my chest. I knew there was always this possibility, but still, it’s a reminder of our mortality.
Like I’ve said before, even though I’ve had cancer, I never really have considered death an option. This news is an ugly reminder that it’s always out there. Meanwhile, I keep plugging away at getting my strength, endurance, and speed back. I ran the Run for the Pines 5k last weekend, and got a respectable time. I was really happy. At many points during and after chemo, I wasn’t sure I would ever be fast again. Now, I’m starting to suspect I might be. I’ve also started training with long bike rides, getting ready for Lance Armstrong’s Ride for the Roses. Five weeks to go. We went out for 53 miles last Sunday in the hills and winds of Windermere. We’ll do 60 miles this weekend. It will take just under four hours, hopefully. The coolest thing happened last week. I got an e-mail from Joni Rodgers, the author of “Bald in the Land of Big Hair.” I wrote about that book right after my cancer diagnosis. I said it was a wonderful, optimistic, but realistic description of what Joni Rodgers went through with cancer. Well, Joni was apparently surfing the Web, found this diary, and decided to write. She said hello and best wishes, and she just made my day. What a great surprise. Tomorrow, I’m going to Supercross out at the Daytona International Speedway. I haven’t been over for Bike Week since I was a night reporter, so this should be lots of fun. Maybe I’ll come back with a new tattoo.
Training for Ride for the Roses and Still Obsessing about Side Effects
March 14, 2002
It was a two-wheel weekend for me last weekend: Supercross at the Daytona International Speedway was actually lots of fun. But fighting the crowds in Daytona for Bike Week was not so fun. It took us about 90 minutes to get to Daytona, and of course that’s exactly the time I decided I needed to use the bathroom. That meant another 20 minutes in line at the Hess. The races themselves were really fun, even for me, who was fairly clueless. The training continued Sunday for my Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses. We went out and rode 60 miles. That’s the farthest I’ve ever ridden my bike, and I felt pretty good. We left a lot of the hills out though. That was a good benchmark for us. The Leukemia Society Team in Training coach, Z, said that if we can do 60 miles we can do the century, 100 miles, so we’re feeling pretty good. Have I mentioned who’s riding with me? My friend, Giti, from here in Orlando and I are heading out. We’re training together too, and very excited about that. Also, my first boyfriend (not counting Mark B., in 4th grade who gave me my first Dr. Seuss book), Curtis Jones, is going. He’s actually a testicular cancer survivor — cancer-free for four years. I also have a friend, a former reporter with whom I worked in Waco, Texas, who lives and works in Austin. She said she’s only going to ride 20 miles. We’ll see if we can change her mind. I’m going skiing in Colorado for a few days this weekend. I can’t get enough of the cold weather, I suppose. I’m looking forward to it. There’s supposed to be lots of snow. Now, when I fly, I wear a compression sleeve on the arm that’s on the side of the surgery. The sleeve lessens the chance that lymphedema might develop. Altitude reportedly can aggravate the condition. I was curious about the sleeve. It looks like support hose for your arm, basically. Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers wears one to protect his elbow. His is black. It’s too bad they don’t make these sleeves in fashion colors. 🙂 I’ve now been taking Tamoxifen for nine weeks, and I still haven’t noticed any significant side effects. I’m vigilant about keeping track of that too. Also, thanks for the good advice on how to keep track of whether or not I’ve taken the Tamoxifen every day. About a dozen people told me to go get those daily pill dispensers from the drug store. Duh. That’s a great idea. Now, if I could just remember to do that.
Starting to Realize that Cancer Leaves Your Body, But Never Leaves Your Life
March 22, 2002
Skiing in Colorado was great: It was much colder than it usually is this time of year, but the snow was great. The short hair made life a lot easier out there too. There’s really no such thing as bad hair when it’s only a couple of inches long. Now, since it’s long enough to be a style and not just grown-out chemo hair, no one that I met out there had a clue that I had cancer. That was great. Although I have to believe they wondered about the Japanese woman with what looked like naturally curly hair. Maybe not. I had all these big plans to run and ride and swim while I was on vacation. But, of course, I did none of it. So now I’m in anxiety mode over whether I’ll be ready for my Lance Armstrong ride. I have one more very long 70-mile ride this weekend, then I’d better be ready. Wow. Did you see my Indiana University Hoosiers knock off number one seed Duke in the NCAA playoffs? What a great upset. I love the 10-point underdog knocking off the giant. It takes a lot of heart — just the kind of victory I love. It reminds me of when I was at IU and we won the championship. That would have been, let’s see, a few years ago. 🙂 Of course, it messes up my NCAA pool, but who cares? In the last few days, I’ve found out about 2 people I have met who have been diagnosed with cancer. One has breast cancer, and the other has brain cancer. Both of them are in their mid 20s. Can you believe that? I know I was diagnosed with cancer young, but these two are about 15 years younger than I am. I can’t imagine how I would have handled it, being that young. It just isn’t fair. In exactly two weeks, I go in for my first three-month checkup at Dr. Dave’s office. I have very mixed feelings about that. I’m not worried or afraid about it. Worrying is a waste of time and energy. And I’m sure the cancer was cut out and chemo’d successfully. But I am a little apprehensive because you never know. I remember talking to another friend of mine who’s five years clear, and she said even after all that time, she gets anxious before her checkups. I’ll just try to distract myself between now and then. Nothing like four hours on a bicycle to do that!
Cancerversary is Coming Up
March 29, 2002
I’m coming up on a year from my breast cancer diagnosis, and I find that very hard to believe. When I was first diagnosed, six months seemed to stretch before me forever. That’s how long I was supposed to get chemotherapy, but it turned out to be closer to seven months.
Now, it seems impossible that I went through all that treatment, those surgeries, and the recuperation in such a short time. All in all, though, it wasn’t a bad year. When people ask how I got through it, I tell them that I had way more good days than I did bad days, even in the Adriamycin-Cytoxan phase. (Boy does that seem like a long time ago. Thank goodness.) I spoke at the Maitland Rotary Club this week, and talked about WESH NewsChannel 2 and covering the Olympics, and I told funny stories about smaller markets where I’ve worked. Then, I finished talking, and everyone was still looking at me, and I said, “Oh, yeah, you probably want to hear about the cancer thing!” I had totally forgotten about it. Sometimes, short-term memory loss isn’t such a bad thing. Of course, a year gone by means it’s time for annual doctor check-ups and another mammogram and sonogram. I’m starting to get notices to call and make appointments. I went to my doctor this week, and so far, all is well. I hadn’t seen him since he wrote me the prescription to get last year’s mammogram. This year, I have a prescription for a mammogram from my surgeon. How times change. I find myself stalling about making the appointment for that. Don’t worry, I won’t stall for too long. Last year, I put off the appointment til after the Boston Marathon. This year, I think I’ll put it off until I return from the Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses. I expect a different result. Speaking of the Ride, Giti and I rode 72.6 miles last weekend through south Orange County and Lake County. I rode up the dreaded Sugarloaf Mountain and the nearly as-dreaded Buckhill Road. I went just under 6 mph, but I made it up Sugarloaf! That’ll make you stronger. People who don’t ride or run find it hard to believe the size of the hills we have here in Central Florida. Anyway, now I am confident I will be able to ride the whole Lance Armstrong ride in 6-plus hours, which is our goal. I’m considering the Cross Florida Ride now. That’s 170 miles from Cocoa to Tampa. That’s in May. I’m insane. Now I know I’m back to normal (whatever that is).