Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chemo Round 3 Vlog Digest...

Chemo Round 3 Day 9

Chemo Round 3 Day 6: Stiff but hopeful

Chemo Round 3 Day 3 Part I

Chemo Round 3 Day 3 Part II

Chemo Round 3 Day 1 Part I

Chemo Round 3 Day 1 Part II

Organizing My Life's Timeline... on Facebook

Recently, Facebook upgraded/downgraded their format (up or down depending on how you feel), and now you have the option of displaying a Timeline. In classic form, events are marked in a running timeline from birth until the present. Facebook has tried to automatically take status updates and photos that were uploaded/posted to the timeline, but of course, there are some photos that may have been from events much earlier in life that need to have their dates updated.

While waiting for some emails from work, I decided to hop onto Facebook and start going through my albums, updating photos with places, dates and defining "life events." In so doing, I ran across photos from the first LIVESTRONG Challenge I participated in - the 2010 Philadelphia LIVESTRONG Bike Ride. Some of those photos were tagged with the name, "Ryan Weiss," my friend whom I was supposed to meet at the Challenge, but he'd just left the hospital and was unable to attend. Sadly, Ryan passed not long after thanks to a tumor that came back with a vengeance. It was the first time that I'd seen Lance in person, it was my first time riding in a peloton of that size, and my first taste of what the LIVESTRONG organization was capable of doing.

As I click through photo after photo in my Facebook album, I'm struck by the final photo, with the caption, "I gots me a secret LIVESTRONG admirer."

As I've blogged about in the past, the yellow roses are handed out to cancer survivors as they cross the finish line. Survivors go through a designated chute so that they can receive this honor and an extra special welcome. In August of 2010, I did not go through the Survivors Only chute, as I was riding in honor of my friend, Ryan Weiss, and I had not had cancer. So I thought.

But, as you can see in the photo above, when I returned to my bike after, what had been a most wet afternoon, someone had very purposefully woven a yellow Survivor rose in my front wheel. And, I highly doubt that they could have gotten my bike mixed up with someone elses. My bike has bright purple tires and brake/shifter cables, deep purple water bottle cages, and "I Ride For" stickers for Ryan and my grandmother up and down the frame.

At the time, if course, I was tickled by the idea that someone wanted to give me a rose. Was it from an admirer? A LIVESTRONG friend who was a Survivor but hadn't had the chance to say goodbye? Someone who thought my bike was cool?

But, now, part of me wonders, "What could this person have known or sensed that I didn't? Do Survivors somehow have a magical 'cancer detector,' and were somehow warning me of what was to come one year later?"

There has been no question that, in many ways, the universe was sending me many messages over the past year, and, looking at this photo, perhaps this was the first visual 'sign' that I was destined to earn a rose.

Without question, I would not have gotten that fateful mammogram last June had it not been for LIVESTRONG.

For that, I ask that you consider making a donation to LIVESTRONG.

To do so, simply go to http://laf.convio.net/goto/RicaRocksAustin2012 and click on "Donate to Rica!" on the left. If you need to mail in your donation, just click on "Read More" towards the bottom of the screen and then you'll see a link for a printable form.

I hope to bring in 100 donations for LIVESTRONG by end of day Sunday, 12/25/2011 in my effort to raise $25,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Donations of any size are very welcome.

Thank you and happy holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Giving Back to Crickett's Answer for Cancer - Join me!


I am teaming together & raise money for Crickett's Answer for Cancer & the fast growing number of women who benefit from this non-profit organization!

Want to know why? The wig in the photo was granted to me by Crickett's Answer for Cancer. I'm not just a supporter, I'm a client. And now it's time for me to give back.

Shop online at www.marykay.com/ricamendes

  • 20% of EVERY order (excluding tax) will go to CAC
  • Shipping is FREE on orders $50 or more!
  • EVERY order comes with a Re-usable shopping bag

In order to participate, simply place a “CAC” after your name on your order, and 20% will automatically go to CAC, except for our signature Good Housekeeping seal approved Miracle Set starting at $90, for which $25 will be donated!

~ All products are 100% satisfaction guaranteed ~

~ For any questions to customize your order, simply e-mail me at Rica Mendes, ricamendes@marykay.com, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about any products, or about your skin or color preferences.

Gift sets are also available!

This will run through December 31, 2012!

Interested in joining my team or learning more about this amazing business opportunity? If you hear my story and allow me and my director to chat with you, I will donate $1 to CAC! Decide to join my team? I will donate $18 to CAC for every new team member that is introduced to me through CAC!

For more information email or call Rica Mendes at 914-384-3648 or CAC’s co-founder, Bonnie Julius, at 717-843-7903.

Crickett’s Answer for Cancer is a 501 (c) (3) breast cancer non-profit, providing cost-free wigs, mastectomy & lymphedema products, & pampering services nationwide to women with breast cancer, & was founded in memory of Crickett J. Julius, a vibrant, loving young woman who passed away at age 39 just 4 months after diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. Her mom, Bonnie Julius, & cousin, Carole Trone, are committed to helping women facing the breast cancer diagnosis with dignity, hope, and keeping their identity & self-esteem.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Random thoughts as I go through Round 3...

The other day, I had my appointment with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Nordberg. The good news is that not only did I get the all clear for chemo on Friday, but we were able to "do a fill" on the left implant, so now the temporary boobs are the same size. Small victories. I'll get to that in a moment.

While I was in his chair, he commented on the wigs I wear - I think I'd worn a different look each time I've come into his office. He remarked that I had an unusually upbeat approach to my cancer, and I told him that, quite frankly, the whole thing was so ridiculous, so it was very hard to take it seriously. Of course, there are moments of terror, depression, etc. But then I sit back and think about how stupid the whole thing is. And I said there are two ways to approach cancer: Either you can get depressed, fearful, scared and get so overwhelmed at what a terrifying ordeal it is, or you can treat it like your own personal fart joke - something so absurd that you can't help but embrace it, temporarily, and then rid yourself of it as soon as possible.

For example, you can't help but smile when you realize that...
In fact, this iddy biddy cactus
has more "hair' than I do.
  • Chemo (if you lose your hair) makes you look like a dog with a bad case of mange. Any treatment that can do that to you is G-d's sick sense of humor rearing its ugly head.
  • Cancer does not make you immune to stupid people. Though it should.
  • Cancer turns you into a 4-year old child with the flu.
  • I've evolved into a cactus. I get potted, I'm left with only a few spikes coming out of my top, and they are sharp and off-putting.
  • Some mornings I wake up and wonder if G-d, or my body, has used a Magic 8-Ball to determine how the day will go just for giggles. That's how predictable cancer is.
  • All of a sudden, body parts are addressed as things that can be disposable. And I don't mean like the obvious things like "breasts," "testicles," etc and other body parts that identify the cancer. I mean things like nipples, eyebrows, finger nails, etc.
  • You can tell when you're dehydrated, not because you feel thirsty, but because you can see how sunken-in your temples get when you look in the mirror.
  • When watching a hospital program on television, you no longer wince, in fact, you laugh at the feeble whimpering the mock-patients express when getting a single needle stick, thinking, "Wimps... "
Anyway, I'm sure more of these little odd observations will arise as I continue this journey... Feel free to share any other gems you've come across along your way.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Help Me Get 100 Donations Benefiting LIVESTRONG for the Holidays


Before you put away that checkbook (actual or virtual) for the holidays, give a gift that will help impact 28 million worldwide living with cancer, in memory of those whose time ran out before they could beat the disease, and in honor of those actively in the fight, like me.

Dedicate your donation to someone you know and love, and I will hang a bib in their honor and send you a picture of that bib hanging in Austin.

 Any donation is welcome - big or small. 

My goal? To have 100 donations by the end of Christmas Day - 1 for every mile I've pledged to ride in Austin, TX in 2012. I have no idea if I'll be able to do it, but that's my goal.

Remember, even though the fundraising is for my 2012 efforts, your donation will be tax deductible for 2011!

 http://laf.convio.net/site/TR?px=1006281&fr_id=1182&pg=personal

This fundraising drive ends December 26, 2011 at Midnight!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Absent friends

Annually, December 15 brings dread. It has since 1992. 20 years ago, at just about this time, there was an interruption in the universe that so many people were unaware of, but shattered life as I knew it. One man's poor choice in life ended my best friend's life. It wasn't in a flash, his demise was a drawn out circumstance. A series of poor decisions. One that could have been prevented a thousand ways.

He was a suicide survivor. He'd faced death and found a new life once he lived again. He discovered a new mission. His future was laying at his feet, and it was so ridiculously bright and full of light. He had a heart, a mind, a smile and a relationship and work ethic that inspired so many around him.

And, just like that, his light was snuffed out.

He didn't get to have a diagnosis. He didn't have the chance to consult with doctors. He didn't have the opportunity to have surgery. He wasn't lucky enough to have chemotherapy as a tool.

All he had time to do was to get hit head on by a drunk driver at an intersection, then sit in his car, legs pinned by a steering wheel, wait for emergency services, ask for help getting out, and, with one person's turned back, he and the car were gone in a flash.

As I've been fighting my fight, as grateful as I am for the support network that has emerged, largely out of the woodwork, I'm just as aware, and mournful, of absent friends. Those that I'd give anything, absolutely anything, to hold hands with, consult with, laugh with, and share with.

Aaron comes to mind immediately. I swore to myself I wouldn't forget what his laugh sounded like, but as time passes, I'm starting to have to sit down and think hard, and then, I struggle to remember. Then I remember his smile, which is marked indelibly in my mind, and his laugh makes me smile. I remember the first time we danced. I remember the close friend I had. The hugs and embraces, awkward and loving, we shared.

Aaron was my guardian. He made that abundantly clear, not only because he told me repeatedly, but because he showed that in his actions. Even after he was gone, his protection was apparent. He's still here, even though he's not. It's a curse and a blessing.

But when I close my eyes, it doesn't matter, because I can see his face, his smile, and I feel safe again, if only for that moment. I know his presence is here, keeping me safe.

Tomorrow, I go in for Round 3. I won't see him. I can't talk to him. But I know he'll be there, by my side, watching over everything. After 20 years, I know that much hasn't stopped.

Aaron is the one who taught me not only how to LIVE STRONG, but that I had to LIVE STRONG.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Single Parenting and Cancer

Parenting a 13-year old boy is a struggle for any parent. It's rough for a divorced mom when the father is absent and has been for years. Parenting a teen boy with learning challenges and an elementary school age girl with advanced academic abilities provides a challenge. Being a full-time working parent, let alone a single parent, is stressful. Throw all of that together, along with a couple of part-time jobs into the mix, and you're talking about a heart attack waiting to happen.

Now add cancer.

Welcome to my world.

As if my life weren't stressful enough, strictly based on being a divorced mom who is lucky to get the minimally state-allowed child support from the father who, for all intents and purposes, financially and emotionally, abandoned the children years ago, trying to handle my cancer diagnosis and treatment has been a trip.

Financial


Financially speaking, being a divorced mom of 2 kids age 9 and 13 is terrifying. The boy eats barrels of food, thank you very much adolescence. His growth spurts mean new clothes every other day. His shoes grow faster than I can keep track. Plus, a Tween girl's fashion demands are high, and difficult to resist the desire to indulge their mini-fashionista demands just to keep them quiet. Plus, she's outgrowing her wardrobe, which means a switch-over.

And, oh yes, like too many of us, I'm stuck with an upside down mortgage on a house with some big maintenance issues. Again, day-to-day under "normal" circumstances, not easy. But the cancer diagnosis and treatment, got me sidelined big time financially.

Fortunately, I have health insurance provided by my employer, although Connecti-I-Don't-Care doesn't really understand that the reason they exist is to actually pay necessary medical bills, not pre-approve procedures, tests etc and then slap me with a co-pay that equals the "retail" billing amount. So, aside from the frustrations of knowing that I'm going to have to fight that battle when dust settles a bit more, I don't have to panic about my immediate medical bills.

However, given the unpredictability of the bumps in the road cancer presents, and the various side effects of cancer, I'm finding it difficult to maintain regular in-office/on-site hours. This means a) I have to manage work-at-home time with in-office time at my day job, b) I haven't been able to be put on a schedule on the sales floor at the bike shop c) I can't book parties and work my Mary Kay business the way that I'd been hoping to this year (before the cancer, my secret hope was to become a Mary Kay Director by June 2012).

What does all of this mean? My income is significantly reduced. My income, before, just barely covered the bills and absolute necessities. I'm a frugal individual, and quite scrappy when it comes to being able to do things financially. I'm an exceptional bargain hunter, I work hard at re-purposing as much as I can, whenever possible, and, since I'm a good cook, I can take almost anything and make a really high quality meal.

But now? Oy vey. Income is not reliable, and without the reduced supplemental hours with the bike shop and the challenges I'm facing with my Mary Kay business, it's even harder to manage. I'm constantly looking for one-off gigs that I can do from home that doesn't interfere with my day job, nor is something I can't manage along with my treatment. It's a challenge.

It's a strange and difficult thing to have to seek supplemental funds. It's not impossible, but with this economy, it gets harder and harder. There are great organizations, like Patient Advocate Foundation, that have programs, like the PAF's Co-Pay Relief program. I know I'm applying. But be prepared for almost any grants, aid, etc to get a lot of information from doctors, request letters, etc. Sadly, there are a lot of people who will fake cancer for the attention, money, etc (as a fellow LIVESTRONG leader discovered as early as this morning!), and the organizations have to protect themselves. It's a hassle, but do understand, it's a necessary evil. I have to think that times have become absolutely that desperate that people have to resort to faking this disease.

But there are still "regular" bills. Mortgage, heat, gas, car maintenance, insurance, utilities, etc. And the state aid programs are problematic. Cancer does not mean you're disabled. You can't realistically look for work while you're in active treatment. You're home more, which means your budgets change. More electricity is used. And the income flow is reduced to a trickle. What do you do?

I'm still trying to figure that out.

Academically

There is no question that my kids' academics have suffered this year. I think it's inevitable. I do my best to keep that from happening, and there are some great days. But the organized chaos of my cancer journey is reflected in how they do/do not perform in class. As a parent, it's really hard to help them keep focused when, thanks to chemo and being pulled in 800 directions, you're having a hard enough time keeping yourself focused. And it's a fine line between using the cancer as an excuse vs a valid explanation to the situation. Yes, it's affecting the kids, but, no, that doesn't excuse the problems.

It's also difficult because I'm home more than usual, which means that the kids have me around more to help them, and I've been able to go to the school a bit more than usual, but at the same time, my availability isn't free enough that I can go in to do PTA-related programs, etc. If it's a "down" day, I am screwed. Which means the kids are screwed.

I'm also finding my son, specifically, is all over the place. If he has a great day at school, he's impossible at home. If he's had a challenging day at school, he's brilliantly wonderful at home. Not only is there zero balance, but he can't grasp the idea that it doesn't have to be one or the other - having brilliant days in both places, or even just good

My daughter, on the other hand, has gone from being diligent in getting her work done to being terribly scattered. She forgets things constantly. She's more distracted than ever. She'll use keeping me company, making me grilled cheese sandwiches and other care-taking tasks from doing her homework. That "just 5 minutes" too easily becomes a 1 hour procrastination exercise.

And, the fact is, there really are days when I am too tired/unfocused to help the kids with their schoolwork. I can't pick up and run out to buy craft supplies at the 11th hour. I'm not always right around the corner from Staples so I can grab what they need on my way home. And I don't always have the funds available for random project materials.

Housework

Between the infection, surgical recovery, etc. I have to take it easy. And not just light housework, I can't even do light Pilates. And the fact is, when I tried to do housework and other activities, even modified, it proved to be too much and enabled a nasty infection and healing problem - hence 2 weeks in the hospital. I can't afford to have that happen again. There's no way.

This means very little activity in the house - I can cook a little, I can shop (though I still have to be careful and not push/carry too much), a little bit of laundry duty, and that's about it. This means the kids have to pick up the slack and really step it up. Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, etc - it's all on them.

There is no question they hate it.

But they have to do it.

And, frankly, I don't feel entirely badly about it, either. For the past couple of years, since we moved back into the house after all of the construction debacles, the kids have totally abused this home that I literally slaved over. They've consistently trashed the room that I built for them. They have shown little or no regard for any of their belongings and what I've had to do, and continue to have to do, for them to have. So, it's hard time that they learn how to take care of things around here. So, as unfair as it may seem, I see this as much as necessary because I can't do it as I do chores backed up from the past few years. Again, they can't use the "Our Mommy Has Cancer" routine with me to get out of this.

Hence, the earned title, "The Mean Mommy."

Emotionally

Draining. The stopper is out and everything is down the pipes drained. Cancer sucks the emotions and life out of you, anyway. It can strip you of so much of what you know and thought defined you. You are broken down to your bare bones, which is an emotional and psychological feat. You find yourself stripped and, as you go along the journey, dropping a lot of dead weight in the form of fair weather friends, unreliable time suckers, etc. And, when it comes to your children, there are days when, if you were spoken to or treated the way that they do, particularly as they enter their teen years, numerically and/or with their attitudes, you'd drop them like dead weights. But we can't.

No, that doesn't mean that I don't love my children. But, there are moments, when I simply do not like them. Every parent understands what I'm talking about. That flash when you think, "That's it. I'm locking them out of the house and they can sleep in the backyard with the raccoons and the squirrels for all I care. I'm done." But then you realize, it's not that you adore them that much, but that you can get into serious legal trouble if you did that. Kind of like when you contemplated stapling their clothing to the wall, with them still in them, to keep them still for 2 minutes and get something done. In theory? Yes, it would accomplish what you need, but the authorities frown upon that sort of thing.

My son is in your face about his wrath, at least, when it reaches a boiling point. He gets in my face. Not cool. Not because it shakes me to the core and I fall apart, but because that does nothing more than cause a surge of adrenaline inviting me to get back into his face and remind him that I'm bigger, meaner, and I'm the BBOC - Big Bitch On Campus. That's the stress that breaks me down. That energy burst and reaction.

And his passive aggressive nature of defying direct instruction, or popping on his iPod or staring you down instead of verbalizing responses are enough to make me want to strangle him. In the back of my mind, all I can hear is Cher yelling, "SNAP OUT OF IT!" and the sound of the satisfying slapping of Nicholas Cage.

My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that despite my son trying to help get things together, to take every opportunity to bug the bejeezus out of him and starting shoving/smacking contests. She doesn't understand the concept of, "No!" and "Leave him alone!" And, though she looks like a Disney character that should be herding small woodland creatures to do her bidding, she has zero concept of "pick things up/put things back after you use them." While she wouldn't litter outside, she'll just drop wrappers wherever she is. She leaves her hair brushes, clothing, socks, underwear EVERYWHERE. And then, when you ask her to follow up, or do her share of the chores, she immediately points at her brother, declaring, "IT'S NOT FAIR!" and whining.

I'm sure many of you are reading this and saying to yourself, "Nu? That's my everyday life." Well, it's mine, too. But when you factor in that you're not feeling well, it's not the normal situation where you can step in, and while they are asleep, clean up after them, etc. you have to depend on your kids to do the right thing. You can't let emotions and stress get in the way of your treatment, because it really can prohibit progress.

And, at the same time, you also have to be emotionally ready to handle when their fears and feelings of uncertainty about you hit them. Which compounds your own fears.

I'm going to talk about other emotions facing a single mom with cancer, later... and it may not be appropriate for all audiences. Yes, I'm going to go there. Yeah, I have needs. What of it? Wink...

You find you get a LOT of help & support at the very beginning, but then, I think, it gets "old" to the people around you. I know people are thinking, "Alright, already. You have cancer. But, come on, seriously? You're still not better? You still need help?"

The answer is, "Yes." A cancer patient needs help/support for a really long time.

It's hard enough to ask for, accept or know what kind of help you'll need in the best of circumstances.

 It's a rocky road. It's a scary road. And very few people in your life will be able to comprehend the kind of aid, help, support and assistance you'll need.

But when you're raising a family on your own, which is a path filled with obstacles already, it's virtually impossible.

So jazzed about this, have to share it! I LOVE repurposing within the cycling world!

NYC DOT Announces Commuter Biking has Doubled in the Last Four Years and Conversion of Parking Meters into Bike Racks to Meet Growing Demand for Bike Parking

Commuter bike riding nearly quadrupled in the last decade, growing 8% in the last year

175 decommissioned parking meter poles repurposed as bike racks, 6,000 more planned citywide


New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today announced a continued steady increase in commuter bike riding in New York City, with an 8% increase in bike riders counted at commuter locations this year compared to last year’s record number. According to counts of bike riders made at six commuter locations, bike riding has increased 102% compared to 2007 and by 289% compared to 2001. In that time, safety has increased for all street users, with fatalities at their lowest levels in the century that records have been kept, while serious bike injuries and fatalities have remain unchanged despite the near-quadrupling in bike riding. DOT also announced the installation of 175 of the city’s first parking meter bike racks, using an innovative design that allows hoop-shaped bike racks to be securely fastened to former parking meter poles. The City currently is reviewing responses to a Request for Proposals for a vendor to manufacture 6,000 additional racks to be installed at meters citywide to help meet the city’s growing demand for public bike parking.

“Our infrastructure needs to keep pace with new demands on city streets,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “By transforming obsolete parking meters into off-the-rack bike parking, we are recycling old facilities to meet this growing need.”

DOT estimates changes in bike riding through counts of bike riders at six commuter locations: the City’s four East River bridges, the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street and at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. An average of 18,846 cyclists per day was recorded this year, up from 17,491 in 2010; 9,327 in 2007; and 4,927 in 2001. The growth in commuter bike riding and increase in safety come as DOT has brought an unprecedented campaign to engineer safer streets citywide. In the last four years, the agency has added some 260 miles of bicycle lanes to streets in all five boroughs to enhance safety for all users, especially pedestrians. In its landmark Pedestrian Safety Report and Action Plan, DOT found that streets with bike lanes are 40% less deadly for pedestrians. The complete Commuter Cycling Indicator can be found at nyc.gov/dot.



175 decommissioned parking meter poles have had a hoop-shaped bike rack secured to it to provide new bike parking, eliminating the cost of removing the obsolete poles and installing an entirely new rack.

Made from galvanized, durable ductile iron, meter racks easily slide on to former parking meter posts that have had their heads removed following DOT’s installation of new, user-friendly muni meters. By taking advantage of already-installed infrastructure, the meter racks eliminate the cost of removing old posts combined with the cost of installing an entirely new bike rack. DOT completed initial installations this year, with 175 meter racks now complete on Columbus Avenue from 68th – 85th streets and Amsterdam Avenue from 66th -86th streets in Manhattan; on Seventh Avenue from Garfield to Fifth streets in Brooklyn; on 37th Avenue from 73rd-77th streets in Queens; and on Johnson Avenue in the Bronx.

The new meter rack’s design is based on the standard “Hoop” rack designed by Ian Mahaffy and Maarten De Greeve, which was selected as the winner of a DOT and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum-sponsored competition in 2008. The design also reflects time-tested methods pioneered by DOT to secure the racks to the poles in a way that improves durability, reduces the need for maintenance and helps to prevent theft and vandalism.

Through its CityRacks program, the DOT has installed more than 13,000 city bicycle racks citywide to date, providing parking for more than 26,000 bicycles, most of which were installed within the last four years, and with a record 2,700 racks installed in the last fiscal year. New Yorkers can also request rack installations at nyc.gov/dot.

For more information, visit nyc.gov/dot.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Wow, this round isn't treating you well, is it?"

You know it's bad when you walk into your doctor's office, and the first staff member that meets you takes one look at you and says, "Wow, this round isn't treating you well, is it?" First thing in the morning, I had my Neulesta shot at Dr. Tepler's office yesterday. There was a mix up when I left Friday after my chemo with scheduling my follow up shot, so it was delayed. My daughter, who was still sick, was with me, and Diane, the nurse, came out to bring me to the back. She put one arm around my shoulders, pulled me in, looked me in the eye and said, "Wow, this round isn't treating you well, is it?" I smiled and said, "No, how'd you know?" She sat me down and told me she could see it in my face.

Despite wearing my wig, my Mary Kay, etc, the exhaustion I'd been experiencing all weekend came through. I looked stiff, my eyes were red, and I guess it was just apparent through my smiles and jokes. I shook my head and she asked me to tell her what was going on.

I told her about the pain after the Aloxi, and the fact that there was still green swelling on my right hand. Even before the Neulesta shot, which is notorious for making bones ache, my joints felt terrible. I was bloated, with heartburn, so tired, and experiencing blurry vision. I felt scrambled and run down. I had no focus. I was just off.

The Neulesta shot done, and I went out to the reception area to book my follow up with Dr. Tepler. Bonnie, the scheduler, looked at me smiling at the desk and said, "This round isn't treating you well, is it?" I looked around - was I wearing a billboard? I was smiling. I was giggling. I was trying.

My daughter had wandered off a bit waiting for me and she came back to get me. I realized that time had dragged on, and I didn't have enough time before my appointment with Dr. Nordberg for a fill to go back to the office, so we headed to the hospital cafeteria. I had to get in touch with the anesthesiologist to get the name of the protocol he used on me (paravertebral block) because a friend of mine wanted to know for her mother. Sure enough, as we're sitting at the table, Dr. Park, the anesthesiologist, walked into the cafeteria. We had a quick chat, which included, "I hope you're feeling better," even though I hadn't said I wasn't feeling well.

After a small excursion, we headed back to the Jeanne S. Rich building to Dr. Nordberg's office and sat in the waiting area. Theresa, Dr. Nordberg's assistant, was out, so he was handling his own front desk duties. Dr. Nordberg came out to call me in, took a look at me and said, "Wow, this round isn't treating you well, is it?"

I was now suspicious that I was being punked. But, without much ado, Dr. Nordberg declared that there would be no fills, as he wanted to see me feeling better. I was a bit disappointed, as with every week without a fill, that delays the final reconstruction a bit, but I've learned not to expect any of this process to stick to any kind of timeline.

So, the bottom line? I guess this round isn't treating me well.


Monday, November 28, 2011

The Rainbow Connection

Yesterday, I promised to take the kids to see "The Muppets," after spending much of the day curled up on the sofa watching Star Wars on SyFy network. It was a slow day. A slothy day. I haven't been feeling great with this round of chemo. Of course, there was a mix up with the oncologist and my Neulesta shot. I was told Friday that I'd get a call with the time to come in Sunday morning. Of course, they meant to say Saturday morning, and no one had called. What's the significance? Well, there are a few issues: 1) This isn't the first time there was a scheduling oversight that was chemo related. 2) The Neulesta shot, which boosts immunity to prevent infection and other complications while your resistance is as its lowest, is supposed to be administered within 24 hours of the chemo and 3) My daughter had the sniffles. So, late yesterday afternoon, just as "Return of the Jedi" was starting, I had to pile the grublings into the car to drive them to the pediatric urgent care center to spend $50 to get an ointment for my daughter's rash and to get the doctor to essentially confirm that she has the sniffles. The fun part? The rash prevents her from using hand sanitizer, as it burns, which creates some difficulty making sure she's "sterile" enough to be around me while I am going through chemo. Even more fun? She wouldn't be able to go to school the next day.

Since I'd clearly been exposed to her for hours on end, with this sniffle and rash, it seemed like it didn't matter anymore if I exposed myself to more grublings at "The Muppets," so, as planned, we went to Clearview Cinemas in Mount Kisco for the 6:45 pm show. We sat down, and, it was somewhat comforting to know that the reason the screen seemed so small isn't because I've outgrown the mystique of watching the Muppets on the big screen, but because they have slashed the screen sizes. I was pleasantly surprised by a greeting by an usher - kudos to the Mt. Kisco Cinema crew! - and the movie began.

Now, as someone tapped into pop culture, marketing, etc, I know as well as anyone that part of the reason this movie is going to be successful is that not only does it entertain kids, but it will appeal to those of us who grew up with the Muppets. It will play on our sentimentality, especially since our generation seems to still think that it was just yesterday we were watching "The Muppet Show" in our footie pajamas sitting on the floor of our living rooms on Thursday night. I anticipated being taken back to that time. I looked forward to having the feeling that I was joining my kids as one of their peers and getting lost into the magic of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.

Here's what I wasn't expecting: A complete melt down during interactions between Kermit & Miss Piggy, nor was I expecting the weeping session that followed "The Rainbow Connection."

There are certain groups of friends, brought together by various circumstances, that you envision will be cohesive, unified and together forever. High school classes, camp friends, work groups, etc. There are so many circumstances in life that bring people together, but we've all experienced those few that just "click" with us in such a way that a family is formed, rather than born, without any genetic ties. Just like The Muppets - a collection of critters and monsters from all walks of life - we assumed, as innocent children, that even long after we stopped watching The Muppets in turn to watch The Cosby Show, FRIENDS, and other shows, that they would carry one as one happy family, just for another generation. But we never imagined they'd break up. Who on earth would have ever conceived of the idea that Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog wouldn't speak for decades?

And so, as I'm watching this clearly painful rift between Kermit and Piggy, my heart broke, thinking of friendships damaged, a family I always thought was impenetrable split, in my mind, and missing people that should still be in my life.

As if that weren't difficult enough to sit through, while the child in me was still enthralled by The Muppet Magic, those first strums of the banjo brought the water works back. Not only was I reflecting on this particular friendship, for which this song has meaning, but I started listening to the lyrics. Listening really hard. And, as I sat back in my seat, feeling the itching of my short, red wig against my scalp, feeling achy from the chemo, and getting frustrated with some of the blurriness I'd been experiencing since my last round of chemo on Friday, I realized that I wasn't sure there was still a Rainbow Connection anymore. I never thought that Kermit doubted the rainbow, but was just questioning its mystique. But, as I fight cancer, as I feel like I'm losing control, and definitely not like an innocent child anymore, I found myself questioning anything and everything magical. I was questioning hope. Can there be any? Is it worth it?

WWKD? What Would Kermit Do?

No, I was one of the lovers and the dreamers. I always was. But, wow, it was a scary moment when I started questioning the hope that I always thought was inherent in me.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Snuggies

You know it's one of those days when you're bundled up in a Snuggie. Not to knock the Snuggie - I think it's one of those things that many of us could never imagine owning, but once we do, we "get it." Yes, it's the modern day equivalent to a moo moo, but it's like a fuzzy hug when you feel like poo.

My friend, Robyn, got me one from an online special. It has monkeys on it. And it arrived in the mail today.

It couldn't have arrived on a better day.

This round of chemo is not treating me well. First, the Aloxi reaction, then, I have to wonder, it's effectiveness was compromised by the reaction, because I've been feeling so rundown and off. I haven't been nauseous to the point that I couldn't eat - I haven't really been hungry today, though when the kids ate near me, I wanted to eat with them. But I've just been off.

So, it's been me, the Snuggie, the cats, the kids, the TV and the sofa. And I've moved maybe 3 inches all day.

Deadly sin of the day? Sloth.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chemo Round 1 ends tonight. Chemo Round 2 starts tomorrow morning...

And that's why I'm thankful. Bizarre, isn't it? But it's one more step to beating the crap out of cancer, and moving on with my life. Every delay has meant keeping me from finishing off my chemo treatment. Which delays my reconstruction surgery. Which delays my hormone treatment. Which delays my 5-year of being safe. Which delays my ability to say that I am officially cancer-free.

Here's what else I'm thankful for...

  1. My Valkyrie knit hat by my cousin, Adina
  2. For the first time in my life, we had a conflict-free family Thanksgiving. And I wasn't even drunk, nor did I have a significant other at the table to distract me
  3. The morning steroids I had to take for chemo that got me zipping around the house like a maniac to get the turkey done, clean the house in order to make up for the fact that the cleaning lady didn't make it yesterday
  4. The strength that it took for me not to kill the children this morning
  5. Shower-free cleansers stolen from the hospital on a morning when I wasn't able to take a shower this morning
  6. My Aunt Susie's rendition of my grandmother's potato kugel
  7. My son's pumpkin pies (thought he gets a negative point for having eating a quarter of the pie tonight when he was supposed to be washing dishes, which I discovered he ate when he was on his way to bed)
  8. My mother's rendition of my grandmother apfelkuchen
  9. The wine my uncle brought in abundance
  10. Scented soy candles
  11. Southern Living's accessory line that makes me look professional
  12. My nickname - Martha Jewart
  13. Vacuum cleaners
  14. My father washing the dishes
And, now, for your video-watching pleasure...

And, just for you... one of the more humiliating moments in my Thanksgiving life...
video

Friday, November 18, 2011

The latest and greatest: Hospital release, long weekend, new look, planning 2012


To cover what wasn't covered in the video persay...

It's been a long week. Of not much of anything. Sure, things started off with a bang with my friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah - it was a wonderful affair, a great reprieve from being in the hospital (though, my only regret was that I couldn't have alcohol thanks to the antibiotics, damn it). It was especially cool to see the mythical city of Vineland, which Billy had talked about for years. It was far from what I'd imagined, but an interesting place. It was a bit like Oberlin times 10, a bit of the "wrong side of the tracks," a dash of Eastchester, mixed with a Southern/Midwest twist.

I have to send a BIG kudos to the Joyce family, for finding that perfect balance between made-from-the-heart, handmade affair with professionally catered and semi-formal reception. Everything had a personal touch - everything - and yet, the amount of food was incredible, the decor was so much fun, and the DJ was great (and I'm not a big fan of your typical Bat Mitzvah DJs and games). THANK YOU, again, for a wonderful time! My only regret? I missed the majority of the service as we got a late start driving down to Vineland, and we got terribly stuck on the GWB to boot (I hate that stupid bridge).

The next morning, we had a farewell breakfast with the Joyce family, and then we stopped by my friend Lisa's house. We thought we were stopping by for a quick cup of coffee and maybe a nosh, but we walked into her husband, Scott's, birthday party. To make things even more exciting? Our kids got along smashingly. Instead of 2 sets of siblings, they acted like 3 brothers and 2 sisters. It was awesome.

I knew it was going to be a week of recovery at home after the hospital stay and the New Jersey trip, but what ensued was unexpected. I was quite content doing nothing but lying still for 99% of the day. I didn't clean. I didn't do laundry. I didn't do dishes. I resisted the urge to say, "Screw the stitches, I'm cleaning this damned house and doing what I always do," and I sat still. I stressed, yes. I cried and yelled at the kids, yes. I asked my doctor to put me back into the hospital.

But I didn't take part in any activity that would strain the surgical wounds, or encourage an infection.

Yesterday, however, was my big day out. I had a doctor's appointment in the morning. Dr. Nordberg agreed that things look really good, that it looks like the infection has cleared, the swelling is reduced, and the draining is at a place where we could remove the drain, but, we're keeping it in to make sure that we don't have a repeat of the seroma. The target drain removal date is Monday, which allows for chemo to continue next week. I decided that while I was in the building, I'd run over to Dr. Tepler's office to make an appointment for my chemo session next week, as I had a hunch there wouldn't be a lot of available appointments. Sure enough, there was one opening on Friday. That visit led to returning the art supplies to the art enrichment program at the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital, which became a 15 minute chit chat. Then, it was a restock the refrigerator after the Snoctober Storm Blackout session at Fairway Market, which led to lunch with My Rock. Talk about a good man, after 2 weeks of free lunches at the hospital (I was allowed 2 guest trays a day, so he would come every day for lunch to visit me, though I think it really was the turkey sandwiches and brownies), he offered to meet me at Fairway during his lunch break to treat me to lunch, finish pushing the now fully-loaded cart around, and then to load my car so I didn't have to lift anything heavy.

After that, I went to the Hair Bow to pick up some wig stands, which evolved into me trying on wigs and finding my final, spunky wig - so now, I have a complete hair wardrobe to suit every mood and situation I find myself in: My professional wig, my sexy night out wig, my errand-running hat-friendly wig and now, my fiery badass wig. It's shorter than I'd ever cut my real hair, it's a fierce red (Molly Ringwald red), shaggy, highlighted, and just so much fun!

I had to pick up my Madone from Danny's Cycles, and the new wig (which, yes, I wore out of the store because I looked so fierce), really confused the guys there. I had a nice conversation with Dave, the mechanic, who is my rock star, and then I was off to Regina's house to pick up the product from a holiday fair on Friday night. I was greeted by a very pleasant surprise - I knew that I had been named Miss Go Give for our Mary Kay unit in 2011, and I'd been given my certificate. What I didn't know is that I was also given a diamond necklace for the honor! Talk about a pleasant surprise!

Of course, Starbucks was having their 2-for-1 holiday latte giveaway, so I made a pit stop for two gingerbread lattes to celebrate, dropped of the tongue at my mother's house I picked up at Fairway, and then got home. I was thrilled for a night in, when My Rock called again, asking to stop by. That was a welcome intrusion to the evening, until my daughter pointed out that the painting class for cancer fighters and their families was happening at the Bennett Cancer Center. So, instead of the nice steak, green bean and yam dinner I had planned, we cracked open a couple of cans of soup, cup up the cornbread, and shared a quickie soup and bread dinner with My Rock, kicked him out, and then hustled to Stamford Hospital.

Fortunately, I was able to finish my two paintings (photos to come soon), and the kids did a couple of paintings, as well.

So what have I learned from all of this?

  • I am a neat freak trapped in a slob's body.
  • Hiding from mess makes things all better.
  • It's worth paying someone else to clean your house so you can get what you need to get done done, especially when you suck at it in the first place.
  • It's especially worth paying someone else to do it when you can't.
  • When the doctors tell you to stay put and rest, do it. Otherwise, you're facing 11 days in the hospital and going under the knife.
  • My base temperature has dropped to the high 96-low 97 range for no particular reason.
  • I look like Charlie Brown when I don't shave down the few hairs that refuse to yield to the chemo.
  • I don't always look like Jabba the Hut with a short haircut (though I'm not convinced enough to cut my real hair that short. I'll just keep the wig for future reference).
  • My Rock is possibly the most incredible man I've met. Ever. And I think I'm the only person who can make him blush.
  • Fairway Market rocks. Duck and steak in chimichurri sauce for $7.99 a pound at their hot buffet. Who else does that?
  • Diamonds make the day that much better.
  • Being a good team player and giving from the heart really does get recognized by people.
  • You really can drink 2 Venti Gingerbread Lattes in one sitting. Just make sure there is a bathroom nearby about an hour later, because it goes right through you.
  • Painting is fun. I'd forgotten that.
So, what's next while I'm homebound today? Aside from work, I'm putting together the calendar of 2012 LIVESTRONG Events, the sponsorship plans for local business to get on board and kick off 2012 fundraising, and preparing for tomorrow's EFTA Promoter's Meeting, where I expect the ROCK the RIDGE to become an EFTA NECS points-qualifying race!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Video Updates, including today's trip to the operating room...

Chemo Day 39


Chemo Day 41


Chemo Day 42: Unplanned trip to the operating room

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Triumph... and paying the piper with the help of some friends. (With friends like them, who needs enemies?)

The LIVESTRONG Challenge changes you. It just does. On an emotional level, a physical level, and dare I saw, on a molecular level. The experience, the Challenge itself, the people, and every moment become indelible.

For me, this year, it was a mix of emotions. I was exhilarated that we'd achieved Ride for the Roses status. We'd met that goal, still leaving the goal of Yellow Jersey for the future - it's not often that you can achieve a huge goal and still have a further goal within the same genre, but LIVESTRONG sets many bars to reach. Along with all the amazing dinners, receptions, experiences, and swag comes the opportunity to challenge yourself in both the ride and the 5k run.

I am not a runner. I can proudly say that I never have been. Yes, I can sprint, at least I used to, in basketball. Such is the life of a forward - you have to sprint from one end of the court. I always prided myself on always being the first to be where I needed to be, much to the surprise of other players, as I was typically twice their size. But that was as far as I would go, and that did my knees in years ago, along with too many years of advanced ballet too young.

I decided to do the 5k. I knew I wouldn't be running all of it - forget training for the run, I hadn't managed to train for the bike ride. I had no business "running" it. But, I wanted to run some of it. So, I brought my only sneakers, my Reebok Reetones (yes, the ones that were recalled), got a firm sports bra (LIVESTRONG, of course) to wear under my t-shirt, and got ready. I was going to walk all of it except the last bit to the finish line.
But the adrenaline got to me at the start, and I decided that I had superwoman powers, and I decided to run. I turned to my kids and said, "Ok, let's go." And they both started whining. I reminded my daughter that she's the one who decided to participate in the 5k in the first place, long before we got the complimentary entries. And I reminded my son that he kept wanting to do triathlons, so a 5k was nothing. My son and I started to jog, and my daughter just pouted and walked. I told my son to go ahead, and I let her catch up to me. So we walked together and enjoyed the walk. We did silly walks uphill on Congress, we stopped to see the sights and pose for pictures. Until my son was back in sight and we were on a flat going downhill. And then it was game on. I jogged a bit, and then went back to walking. I encouraged my son to continue so he could had me my rose at the finish line.

Just as I was turning a corner, my son's iPod that he loaned me played, "Fix You." As the melody turned to a driving beat, I upped my pace. I ran for the remainder of the song. I meant to fast-forward through the next song, and somehow, I ended up locking the song that forced me to run into a repeated loop. So, at this point, everytime the beat picked up, I started running. The words of the song struck me, as I passed some LIVESTRONG staffers that had been sending words of encouragement through my treatment were on the course and started cheering me on. I couldn't stop running in front of them, and I started crying a bit.

My son was a good couple of blocks ahead, jogging, and my daughter was starting to catch up again. She stopped and gave me a flower, and the music turned from mellow to driving, and she ran with me, as we sang out loud together. I got through another few blocks, and then, I could see the finish line in the distance. As the song started over again, I told my daughter I was going to run the rest of the way. She pouted, and said she couldn't, so I kissed her and told her I'd meet her at the end.

And I ran. And it hurt. But I kept moving forward. My run became a jog as the reality of the incline of the bridge came into sight. This was an incline I would suffer riding up, let alone running up. But I pressed forward, and as I did, the tears became more frequent. I saw my son cross the finish line and move over to where the volunteers were with the roses. He was in place, now all I had to do was to reach him.

I started to hear the announcers, see the black-shirted staff members come into view, and Doug Ulman's figure up ahead. And then I saw the split - between the masses and the survivors. I started to weep. I was in disbelief this was happening. I was running in a 5k. I would have to go through the survivor chute, not the general chute. I'd be getting my first yellow rose - a prize and a symbol that I really had cancer. Doug Ulman greeted me as I tried to run, and I don't even think I responded - I was blubbering and sobbing. I saw my son, who had my rose reached out. I passed by all the other volunteers, and, with one hand, I took the rose, and with the other, wrapped my arm around my son, hugged him, and started to cry uncontrollably, as he moved me across the finish line. It was over. I had done it. I got my first yellow rose. And I ran in a 5k.

The next day was the bike ride. Again, I didn't want to anger my still-healing wounds from my double mastectomy. Not that I felt much of anything other than tightness and some swelling, but my doctor kept telling me I was healing. Fellow survivors kept telling me I was healing. So, I had purchased another serious sports bra. It compressed, provided support, nothing moved when I moved. I kind of overdid things on the 5k, though.

My legs weren't "there," as we say in cycling. I didn't have my legs. I struggled on every incline, not just the big first uphill that declared several casualties, sidelining us and forcing us to walk. Every incline hurt. I didn't have my groove. As much as it felt from the waist up that I hadn't accomplished much, my legs weren't happy, and it seemed that this year the course was hillier than the year prior. And, I found the tightness in my chest made it more and more difficult for me to breathe. I kept trying to breath into my back, as my pilates instructor had advised me to do. But it wasn't happening. I wasn't getting enough air. I had to stop.

Over the next day or two, I'd noticed that my left breast was still a bit pink and slightly swollen, but it wasn't alarmingly different from the right.

But it was on the trip home, as American Airlines directed us all over the Chicago Airport from gate to gate, running all around with bags, a regular bra, and after a long, extended flight from Austin, that my left breast started feeling really sore. By the time we arrived in Newark, it was clearly inflamed. It was now a bright pink, and I could see that my shirt was being pulled to the left thanks to the swelling. By the next morning, it was almost a full cup size larger than my right.

I went to Dr. Nordberg, my plastic surgeon, to look at the redness and swelling and to see if I was still on course with Round 2 of chemo. Instead, chemo was postponed and I was sent for a sonogram. The sonogram showed nothing more than edema - it was just swollen - with no obvious source. We determined that I'd possibly overdone things a bit in Austin, and that the entire American Airlines debacle had sealed the fate of the irritation, literally blowing it up out of proportion. I was put on a rest program, no pilates, no nothing. Just light movement/work, no housework or anything strenuous.

I did what I could to keep to that. For a week, I kept low. However, then the freak snowstorm hit. I was taking it easy, lounging on my sofa, working on my blog for the Journal News, going over some stuff for Danny's and for my full-time job, and the power went out. For 2 nights, the kids and I cowered under the covers of my bed as we watched the temperature indoors plummet from 68 degrees to just over 40 degrees on Monday afternoon. I was feeling sicker and sicker. I developed a fever, just over 99 degrees, by Sunday night. I kept calling NYSEG, pled for help from NYSEG, etc, for someplace to go other than a warming shelter. This wasn't snob appeal, but I knew that my immune system was already suppressed from the chemo, and again with whatever irritation was developing in my breast - I couldn't afford to be in big crowds for an extended period of time of folks that also may be sick. Something as simple as a cold or a flu could prove to be really problematic. I kept trying to get a hold of NYSEG to explain this, but they kept blowing me off. I asked if they could at least contribute towards a hotel, as they clearly weren't reacting responsibly. They didn't even reply.

I saw the redness in my breast get even worse, and now, there was discomfort. I saw Dr. Nordberg again, after the kids, cats and I relocated Monday night to my aunt and uncle's house in Hamden, CT, for what was going to be a check-in to see if I could proceed with chemo. Instead, I was admitted to the hospital. A second sonogram revealed big pockets of infection around the base of my left breast.

I've been in the hospital since, on an antibiotic cocktail prescribed by Dr. Adler-Klein, the infectious disease guru of Stamford Hospital, that can only be administered via IV. It's likely I won't be released until at least Monday, depending on how the infection is doing. It's plateaued, in my opinion, from the other day.

One drug, in particular, leaves a horrible aftertaste, plaguing the back of my tongue, as though I have terrible chronic halitosis and I haven't brushed my teeth for days. Fortunately, no one can smell that.

But, just like American Airlines and NYSEG, that made what was a surmountable mole hill into an infectious mountain, I'm left with a bitter taste in the mouth.
NYSEG, this one is for YOU!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chemo Day Catch up...

Chemo Day 36


Chemo Day 37



Chemo Day 38

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chemo Day 35: In the hospital...

Yes, I've been admitted to the hospital. Nothing like a good infection to turn your boob pink.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I Am Living Strong.

When my oncologist, Dr. Isadore Tepler, told me that my Oncotype test indicated that I scored a 21, my heart sunk. If I had scored an 18, the Jewish number standing for life, and only 3 points away from my score, I would have been able to avoid the recommendation for chemotherapy. However, as it stood, the 21 was far enough over the line, and into the “Maybe Chemo Will Help” category, plus given my age, health and cancer, that he said that if it were his own wife, he’d suggest chemotherapy. The good news was that the Taxotere-Cytoxen combination meant very few side effects. In fact, there was only one guaranteed side effect: Absolute hair loss. Complete baldness.

I’d be a hairless, 2-legged, tail-less cat.

As if this stupid cancer weren’t content with taking my breasts, it had to strip me with the last visible sign of femininity I had left – my long, curly ash blonde hair. The irony? My hair hadn’t been in such good health for years. After having highlighted it for some time, I’d decided to let the highlights grow out. Imagine my surprise when simply by going out in the sun, the highlights re-appeared on their own. Sure, there were a few grays up front, nothing that a little hair color couldn’t cover up with ease in my bathroom. But other than that, there weren’t split ends, my hair developed a lovely, natural curl, and I was saving tons of money to boot.

“But I’ve heard there are chemotherapies out there that can spare my hair. Can’t we use those?”

“Sure. There’s one that will give you a 50% chance of keeping your hair.”

“Great. Sign me up.”

“Absolutely. So, instead of 4-5 rounds every 3 weeks for a total of 12 weeks of treatment, we’ll set up twice as frequent, longer rounds for several months.”

“But I can keep my hair?”

“Like I said, you have a 50/50 chance of that. Oh. Did I mention that you’ll be nauseous, in pain, throwing up constantly, and you’ll probably lose your hair anyway?”

“But… “

“Rica, trust me on this. It’s not worth it. And while I’d heard of the statistics, I have only seen a small handful of my patients keep their hair. And the toll on your body of the other option, known as the ‘Red Devil.’ Is brutal. I won’t administer it. You can go to New York City for it, but it’s not the responsible thing to do and I won’t do it. Hair will grow back. Pain won’t be permanent, but you’ll be miserable. Please reconsider.”

I sat, thought about it, and said, “OK, doc, when do we start.”

Maybe it’s because I was able to somehow justify the double mastectomy as merely a severe boob job, or because I was cocky from dodging the radiation bullet, but something about losing my hair meant, to me, that this was really cancer. This was it. The Big “C.” I couldn’t hide behind the swelling from the reconstruction to mask the fact that my breasts were almost cube-like rocks inside of saggy, empty skin balloons. Even looking at the scars, and the dropping skin, I knew that the solution was within a few weeks.

“What about the polar cap? The oncologist at Dana Farber mentioned something about that.”

“You mean that dry ice thing you wear on your head?”
“Yes.”

“It’s medieval. And I’ve never seen it work.”

“Ok. But have you had patients try it? Was there any success?”

“Yes, I’ve had patients try it. And by round three, they all quit and said it was more painful than it was worth. And it didn’t’ always work anyway. Rica, face it. You’re going to lose your hair. But that only means it’s working.”

I tried. I tried to find out a way to avoid looking like a cue ball. To look like I had cancer. To do what I chickened out of years ago at Oberlin when my friend Callan & I decided we’d shave our heads like Sinéad O’Connor. Callan went ahead with it, and she looked lovely. I chickened out and just went with burgundy hair dye instead. I was terrified that I had a bad “bald head.” For me, you have to have a long, swanlike neck, very round head, lovely décolletage and big, bold eyes to be able to carry it off. I, at the moment, had none of those. I was quite sure that the back of my head sloped back terribly, as my hair always flattened out back there. I had a couple of bumps from sebaceous cysts. My neck is thick and stocky, and, with the lack of exercise, my clavicle was filled with fatty tissue. I was no Callan.

I did know one thing – I hated cancer. I hated this cancer for doing this to me. And I was starting to feel terribly helpless. I wanted to do something.

I went home and started Tweeting about it, at a ridiculously early morning hour. My friend, @twowitwowoo is a breast cancer survivor, and she direct messaged me that when she did it, she got people to sponsor her to shave her head.

I immediately hopped onto Facebook. I was desperate to reach the Ride for the Roses fundraising status for the LIVESTRONG Challenge. I was a couple of thousand dollars away. This was perfect.

I created an event, “Donate to Support Rica’s Head Shaving,” scheduled from mid-September through October 16 – the day of the bike ride in Austin. For $18, a swipe of the clippers would be dedicated to the sponsor. For $50, for those who would be present, you’d be able to shear me yourself. My kids created a poster to take with them when they fundraised at Scotts Corner Market that had my picture with the headline, “Our Mommy is Shaving her Head on 10/16… Ask us Why!” They raised a few hundred dollars over a weekend. By the time October 16 came, I’d raised well over $1,300 and we passed the Ride for the Roses White Jersey Incentive Status, which meant we had V.I.P. access to events, ground transportation, reduced travel arrangements, an invitation to an exclusive “Welcome to Texas Dinner.” And the kids would be treated as my guests and enjoy the same amenities.

That left one thing: To shave my head.

As my video blog entry on Day 13 showed, my hair started shedding. Dr. Tepler had told me it wouldn’t happen until between Round 2 & Round 3. My “chemo buddy,” however, told her it would happen on Day 17. On Day 13, as I was videotaping my blog, I ran my fingers through my hair, and clumps, small, came out. This wasn’t just innocent shedding anymore, this was just the beginning.

Soon after I set up that event, the Gannett had reached out to me to write for their Breast Cancer Awareness October Blog, which I happily did. When I explained to Mary, the editor, what I was planning, she reached across her desk and handed me a Norelco clipper set. There were no barriers left.

Friday night, October 14 was the Welcome to Texas Dinner for Ride for the Roses achievers, according to the agenda, at a “secret location.” My kids were convinced it would be at Lance Armstrong’s residence. I laughed at them, assuring them Lance wouldn’t be so foolish as to invite 300 perfect strangers to his home, and that, perhaps, it was at Juan Pelota’s Ranch – a ranch he’d purchased and hosted many public events, like mountain-bike races. We learned, however, that he’d sold the ranch, which encouraged the kids to think it would be in Lance’s backyard.

Inconceivable.

As we boarded the white buses, we were joined by Chris Brewer, Chief Operations Officer, friend of Lance’s, all-around good guy and cancer survivor. My daughter sat next to him in the front, and, as soon as the doors closed, Chris said, “Ok. Y’all want to know the secret location? We’re going to Lance’s house.” Inconceivable! The kids were right!

"Can Lance be my new Daddy?"
Though the clumps of hair falling from my head were growing, I opted out of wearing a wig. I wanted to let my hair have its last hurrah. But as the evening went on in Lance’s yard, I found larger clumps of hair falling into my hands and onto my clothing. As the evening progressed, I must have discreetly dropped at least 4 or 5 sizeable hairballs on the grass or into napkins and into my purse. Later on, we had the chance to meet Lance and speak to him. He remembered meeting me a month earlier at Gracie Mansion where I told him about my chemo treatments. He asked how I was doing with Round 1, and I explained by apologizing for the clumps of hair he may find in his grass the next morning. He smiled, knowingly, took my hand and said, “It’s ok. I understand. It’s all good.” He asked if I was still going to shave my head, as when we met at Gracie Mansion, I’d told him about the shaving, and he remarked that he’d heard about it. I nodded, and he said, “More power to you.”

During the next day’s 5k run, the back of my neck itched, as the gentle brush of the t-shirt’s collar was enough to rub the hairs out of the back of my head and onto my nape. Taking my backpack on and off drew more follicle casualties. That night was the Fundraising Awards Dinner, and, after I got dressed and passed a mirror in the lobby (I’d opted out of “styling” or washing my hair, as I was afraid I wouldn’t have any hair left for the night), I noticed a bald patch forming along the part of my hair. I dodged into the gift shop and bought a hairband to try and Trumpify the patch by arranging and securing some comb overs. I prayed that the headband itself wouldn’t cause more damage.

At the dinner, the Team RadioShack riders that were there for the weekend were dining a couple of tables away. My son, Zachary, endeared himself to champions Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer (both bald) and Ben King. At the end of the evening, he went to Chris Horner and asked if he’d be willing to come between 7 and 7:30 to the start point, where our team, Team CCC, would be starting with Team RadioShack and Lance, and help shave my head. Chris looked at me, and Zach explained why we were shaving my head. He looked at me with sympathy, and I responded, “Actually, Chris, it’s because I’m such a huge fan, I decided to get your haircut.” We hugged, he said he’d try to make it, but couldn’t make any promises, but that he was there in spirit.

The next morning, I prepared the Norelco Shaver as a matador does his swords, dagger and cape. I ceremoniously unplugged the Norelco, laid out all the parts onto a towel, and packed it away. I looked in the mirror and tied my hair back into a pony tail. I didn’t care, at this point, if any hairs loosened. They were tied tightly in the ponytail – they weren’t going anywhere. I packed a LIVESTRONG bandana in my backpack to keep my head covered under my helmet to protect the newly exposed skin from rubbing and sunburn. We got kitted up and headed to the busses taking us to Dripping Springs. En route, a couple of people, and the kids, asked me if I was ready, etc, and I told them I was. I was sure that I was going to burst into uncontrollable tears as I had during the video blog from Day 13. But it had to be done. Just as we went on the bus, I could feel that eerie sense of the “chills” creeping across my head, which was a predictor of the next set of hairs to loosen. It was like the burps of gas in the Fire Swap in “The Princess Bride” preceding the bursts of fire from the ground.

We arrived, and we rushed to the Ride for the Roses V.I.P. tent to get our bikes, grab some food, and zip over to the Start/Finish line. My friend, Laurens, fellow breast cancer and bald survivor, was there and helped us carry our stuff to the Start/Finish line. My dear friend, and fellow LIVESTRONG Leader, who’d been my cyber-teddy bear throughout the ordeal was there, and he followed us to the Start/Finish point. Chris Brewer was there prepping to ride, and we invited him to join us. He bowed out, and advised me that he wasn’t sure it was a good idea and not to cause a scene. I promised that I wouldn’t, that I’d do it discreetly, but that Doug Ulman, the CEO, was aware of it, and even said, if he was early enough, he’d join us. Chris watched from afar, as a couple of Team CCC friends came around with Erik and the kids, and we took out the clippers. Liz Kreutz, the sports photographer responsible for some of the most recognizable portraits of Lance, and the sole photographer of the book “Comeback 2.0” asked if she could document the process. I was flattered, and said, “Of course!”

With that, I reached into my bag and got the clippers. Erik, being the tallest present, held the pony tail, and the buzz of the clippers began. Before I knew it, as I was nervously cracking jokes, I felt the clipper guards running along the back of my neck. It seemed like nothing was happening, as no weight was lifting, and that the hair felt like it was getting tangled, not cut. I asked if everything was ok, and Erik assured me it was coming along. A blonde woman approached with a video camera and microphone and asked what was going on. I explained to her what was happening, and she asked if she could interview me. As the clippers buzzed, I got miked, and she asked her questions. I noticed a videographer was also videotaping the experience, in addition to the lady in the crowd manning my camera. (Sadly, she neglected to record the first half.)

More friends came by and helped. As I started to feel the breeze against the back of my neck as I’d never experienced before, the kids asked if they could have a turn. I kneeled down so that my daughter and son could take a whack at their old lady. They enjoyed themselves way too much. What I didn’t realize was, as I bent down, Erik was still holding my ponytail, which essentially just lifted off my scalp with ne’er a tug. If there was any doubt that the end was near, that sealed the deal. The kids and Erik continued to shave me down as closely to the skin as possible so I didn’t look like a Guernsey cow, with dark, stubbly and white, bare skin patches. It was time for our team photo, so I grabbed the ponytail, shoved it into my Ziploc baggy and handed it to Laurens, who kindly checked our bags. Chris Horner wheeled up to me and said, “I’m so sorry I missed it – we were tied up over there!” and gave me a big, warm hug. I smiled, told him, “No worries,” and took our places. We took our photos, and mounted up.

Not a tear was shed.




Or watch a local news report... http://austin.ynn.com/content/280949/livestrong-challenge-continues-with-bike-ride-through-hill-country

(You can also see us start the ride at the head of the pack on the left-hand side in this news clip: http://www.kvue.com/news/Lance-Armstrong-is-celebrating-15-years-of-being-cancer-free-131960548.html)

From LIVESTRONG's Twitter Account - http://yfrog.com/h79xdcyjAs LIVESTRONG Tweeted later, “This is #LSCAustin” - LIVESTRONG Challenge Austin - and shared a photograph of the event. And it was. Between not wanting to let down Chris Brewer, and the outpouring of support, with the excitement of the ride and being where I was – yards away from Lance, and all these notables, and fellow survivors and fighters, many of which had it much worse than I did, I felt empowered. I felt strong. It was as though I’d just given cancer a swift kick to the “Pelotas" by taking my hair myself, and not letting chemotherapy slowly, and cruelly, strip my head. And my children joined the fight with me – hands-on. It was a strong message to others, and a strong embrace for me.

Game on, Cancer. Game on.