Working On The List

Number Two on my Life Celebration List is – Be More Active.  Under that heading I’ve listed a few things (though I hope to add more later). Hike up Pike’s Peak is the first thing on the list.  I plan to go up in August of this year when they do the annual ascent. I figure it would be best to go when there will already be medical personnel on hand.  All the walking I’ve been doing for the Rocky Mountain Avon Walk is also good training for the ascent.  However, I realized that I needed to start taking steeper walks and thought that tackling The Manitou Springs Incline would be good training.

I knew I couldn’t do it alone, but my husband is on a profile and not allowed to hike at the moment. Fortunately, a good friend, Marken Orser, a captain from Tony’s former unit, offered to go with me.   It’s a good thing he did.  After seeing the Incline in person, if I’d been alone, I’d have simply got back in the car, returned home and crawled into bed with a book.

Manitou Springs Incline

It doesn’t look that steep in the photo, but it is.  According to various websites the vertical gain is 2100 feet.  Trust me my legs can attest to how steep this hike is.  Though I would have loved to have hiked this with my husband, upon reflection I think it’s probably a good idea he was not with me the first time I tackled this climb.  Marken was very patient and encouraging – as Tony would have been.  However, I know myself pretty well. It would have been like it was in the delivery room, no matter how patient and encouraging Tony would have been, I would have been very cranky with him.

It took us a while – 2 hours and 40 minutes – provided I recorded the time correctly. My pedometer app on my iPhone kept shutting off and I was breathing so hard  when  we reached the bottom of Barr Trail that I’m not sure I heard Marken correctly.  I know if he had been hiking it with his beautiful wife Christy he would have finished much faster.  So I’m very appreciative of his patience.

The advice he gave me was to just walk a few steps, take a break if needed and then take a few more steps.  It reminded me of the advice the surgeon gave me about my cancer treatment.  You just have to keep going.  It’s not about how fast you complete the journey, but simply about completing the journey.  My advice for conquering the Incline (and for dealing with cancer) is to keep looking forward and don’t look back.  I’m not sure I would describe myself as afraid of heights, but I was concerned that if I looked back on my hike, it would make me dizzy and then I’d have been stuck right there partway up – unable to go up or back down.   So, I just kept looking toward the goal (the summit) until I reached it.

That’s my goal with the cancer. I’m going to keep looking forward to reaching the summit of being cancer free.  The first benchmark (rest stop) to that goal will be a clear mammogram in October.  The next bench mark (rest stop)  will be a clear mammogram in five years.    Continued clear mammograms will be like reaching the summit of the Incline and then continuing on up Pike’s Peak.

What’s your summit?

Looking down from the top of the Incline.

Me at the top of the Incline.

Support Group

Tonight I finally had an opportunity to attend a breast cancer support group meeting.

I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure I’d fit in.  Even though I know it’s silly, a part of me feels as though because my cancer was a relatively “innocent cancer” and my treatment was “easy” compared to what it could have been, I have nothing to complain about and therefore no need for a support group.  I have no business being in the room with women who have had to endure mastectomies and/or chemo on top of radiation.

Now don’t yell at me.  I know it’s silly. I think it’s what is called survivor’s guilt (which is a topic of a  future support group meeting.)  I often feel as though I don’t fit in – no matter what I’m doing, whether it be at school, in a group of Army wives, or a motorcycle poker run for breast cancer.  Why would a cancer support group be any different? (In case you were wondering, a healthy self esteem has never been one of my strong suits.  And yes the cancer just made it even lower.)

So, I was prepared to go to this meeting and hide in the corner – my seat of choice at most new events. And when I walked in, my first thought was indeed ” I did not belong!” As I looked around the room at the other women there I noticed  most of them seemed to be  in various stages of chemo treatment, with various stages of hair loss.  As I stood in  line waiting for my turn to sign in, I couldn’t help but over hear the conversations about unilateral/bilateral mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries.  So  I stood there will my full head of hair and both my original breasts (even if one of them is still mis-shapened and swollen) my stomach sinking, wondering if there was  I way I could just sneak out.

Then a nice young woman, with a ball cap over her just beginning to grow in hair, turned to me, introduced herself and the other ladies standing in line. The women next to her invited me to sit at their table.  So I took a deep breath, smiled and thought “well, just maybe.”

Maybe I should add a section to my Life Celebration List – do more things outside my comfort zone. But that’s a discussion for another post.  I’m glad I went even though tonight’s topic – breast cancer genetics – was one on which I’ve already done quite a bit of research. I still learned a few things, but the best part was being with the other survivors.  The positive energy in the room was amazing.  Everyone was in different stages of treatment – some just beginning others celebrating many years of survival.  Next month, the topic will be Sharing and Support – a chance for us to share our stories and offer support for others. And though I’m still feeling survivor’s guilt – a support group meeting will be the perfect time to find out how others have dealt with that. I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel this way.

There’s another reason I’m glad I went tonight.  Since the radiation treatments ended I’ve been struggling to figure out what is normal for me.  I do the monthly self exams – no – I do the daily self exams – that may be TMI, but I don’t want to be caught off guard.  The problem is that I have no idea what is normal.  Nothing feels as it did before the surgeries. That’s to be expected, but I just don’t know what I should be concerned about and what is no big deal.  I thought the swelling would go away after radiation, but it hasn’t. My BCN (breast care navigator) was there tonight. She took one look at me and told me I needed to contact the surgeon.  Apparently, if she can see how lopsided I am with my clothes on, then something is not as it should be.  So here we go with yet another doctor’s appointment.

It’s not as though I thought it was over the day I rang the bell on my last day of radiation.  After all, as the surgeon said on my first visit with him, it’s a marathon, not a speed race.

I Know Someone With Cancer by Sue Barraclough

I Know Someone With Cancer

Previously posted at Mrs. Archer’s Book Notes.

A non-fiction book about  cancer, it’s causes, how it affects people, and what the reader  can do to be a good friend to someone living with cancer.

What I liked about the book:  Large text, nice graphics and terms easy for young readers to understand. It addresses a tough topic in a kid friendly manner without “talking down” to the reader.  In addition to a table of contents the author has included a glossary, index, and books/websites for additional information.

What I didn’t like about the book: This is an excellent resource.  There wasn’t anything about the book I did not like.

Recommended for 1st Grade and up.

Mrs. Archer’s Rating: 5 of 5!

>Celebrating Life

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The finished product.

Yesterday was the 4 week anniversary of my having completed radiation.  What better way to celebrate than by marking an item of my Life Celebration list?

As you know I’ve written up a Life Celebration List (I’m sure you remember my aversion to calling it a Bucket List) of things I’ve always wanted to do but put off for one reason or another.

Some people, Joel Osteen is one I think, say that you should look for the positive in what comes your way. While finding something positive about having been diagnosed with cancer is an extremely difficult thing to do (even the most positive upbeat person would have difficulty making lemonade/lemon pie with those lemons) there are three positives that come quickly to mind.

First, I found out just how much I am loved.  My sense of self worth is not always what it should be, but the love and support of all my family and friends over the last several months have made me see things differently.

Second, I’ve come to the conclusion that while it is ok to be afraid (life is scary),  it’s not ok to let fear rule your life. Sometimes, fear is just a bully that you have to stand up to – sometimes just standing up to your fear is enough to make it go away.  I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m a Texas sized wimp, but my goal is to stand up to that bully and keep going. Many of the things on my Life Celebration List are things that I always wanted to do, but was too afraid or too convinced that I just couldn’t do them. I’m not going to lie to you.  There are things on the list, that I’m not too sure I can accomplish – but I’m going to try anyway.

Third, I have a better appreciation for life.  Oh, don’t start calling me Pollyanna. I know life is not easy. For  many people life is very hard.  Despite all of the whining I’ve done about the negative things that have happened,  I am very well aware that my life is very good. Still, it is not easy to see around the negative things, but if you spend too much time dwelling on them, you give them more importance.  I don’t want the negatives in my life to take precedence over the positives.   I don’t want to miss my blessings because I got too caught up with my burdens.

All pontificating aside, let’s talk about the tattoo – the first thing on my list.  I’m sure that my friends from my college, high school, and early Army wife days might be a little astonished.  The words tattoo and Beverly were not something I ever thought you would find in the same sentence.  I was raised to believe that ladies did not get tattoos. Of course the person who pounded that into my young brain, drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney, cussed like a sailor, and couldn’t find the word fidelity in the dictionary with a road map.  She was, perhaps, not the best person to define what a lady does and does not do.  And then there was that whole needle thing.  I guess that’s one more thing you can chalk up to the cancer treatment – a better tolerance for needles.  Oh, I still break out in a cold sweat when I see one, but the urge to scream is not quite as great.

It HURT – well it stung very badly. And it’s not an experience I want to repeat.  I’ve been told that I picked one of the more sensitive spots to get a tattoo.  But really, the ankle was the only spot. I wanted a spot where I could easily show it off and easily cover it up.  I don’t know if I will have many more opportunities to wear strapless ball gowns, but just in case I do, I don’t want any tattoos peaking out of the necklines.

This was the picture I downloaded for the artist to work from.

It’s BIG – much bigger than I thought it would be. It’s much bigger than the one in the photo I downloaded as a sample.   Or maybe my foot is just smaller than I thought. One thing I know,  unlike Meg in Little Women, I do not have an attractive foot.  Yikes, the pictures of my foot are almost as scary as the needle.

Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to do this if Tony hadn’t held my hand (and if I hadn’t had a book to read). On the other hand I might not have even considered getting one if it hadn’t been for Tony. It took almost 20 years and a cancer diagnoses to convince me to even consider it.  I hope I didn’t embarrass him by being too wimpy.

Getting ready. Do I look worried?

The tattoo artis was awesome. 

It’s been a long rambling post. But what I hope you will take away from it is this – regardless of what’s going on in your life – take time to Celebrate Life.  It’s much better than the alternative.

On to the next thing on the list – hiking Pike’s Peak or learning to ride a motorcycle, shoot a gun, ballroom dance – you get the idea.  So, how do you celebrate life?

>The Goodbye Cancer Garden – Book Review

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Telling family members you have cancer is not an easy task.  Telling small children is even harder.  The Goodbye Cancer Garden  by Jane Matthies is a beautifully illustrated and heartwarming story about a very difficult topic.


Summary:  After Mom and Dad tell Janie and Jeffrey that Mom has Cancer, the whole family goes to the doctor to ask questions. “Is Mom better yet?” Jeffrey asked. “Not yet,” she said. “But we’re working very hard to make her better-probably by pumpkin time.” That gave Janie an idea…the family plants a vegetable garden. As the garden grows, Mom’s treatment progresses…surgery, chemo, head-shaving and other side effects, radiation…and when it’s all done, there are healthy pumpkins and a healthly Mom!


I personally liked the way this story focused on the positive without taking away the seriousness of the situation.  This is a good resource for providing reassurance for young children (and maybe old ones like me) facing a similar situation.  



>Moving On!

>It’s been almost a month since my last radiation treatment and I think things are finally moving towards some sense of normalcy.

The sunburn is gone.  There is still some strange coloring, but no more burn.  No one is truly symmetrical, but I still seem a little more lopsided than I was before treatment.  Still most of the swelling from the radiation is gone, so I will need to get fitted for a new bra. Not exactly my idea of a fun shopping trip.

Most of the tamoxifen side effects are gone. My hair still seems to be coming out in alarming rates, but I seem to be growing plenty of replacements.  The hot flashes, chills and nausea are gone.

So, now instead of being caught up with feeling horrible, I’m beginning to appreciate just how wonderful I feel.

I’m working my way back into a good walking routine (those 39 miles in the Rocky Mountain Avon Walk are not going to walk themselves), getting more involved with breast cancer awareness and support, and continuing to make sure I’m well informed. (I think I may have checked out every book two different library systems have on breast cancer.)

Speaking of being involved with awareness, on Saturday Tony and I participated in our first Breast Cancer Motorcycle Poker run of the 2011 riding season.

I know I look like I’m really ticked off in this picture. I wasn’t. It was just the sun. Even though it was a little chilly, it was great ride. This was the annual Deb Tryon Cancer Run.  All the proceeds went to the Susan G. Komen For The Cure foundation.

On Sunday, Tony had training for the Motorcycle Crew for the Rocky Mountain Avon Cancer Walk.  While I’m walking, he will get to ride around on his Harley.

In June, I’ll go to my first Breast Cancer Survivor Support Group meeting. I was scheduled to start last week, but I had a job interview.  (And I got the job!) In July, after I’ve had several weeks to decompress after the completion of radiation, I’ll have an appointment at Penrose to talk about what’s next – medical wise. I’ll keep you posted.

As for my Life Celebration list, I haven’t given up on that. I’m just trying to get through the end of the school year before I start on it in earnest. Though, I might be marking one thing off my list this week – the tattoo. Stay tuned for pictures.

As I look back at my busy weekend and look ahead to all that I have going on over the summer, I am reminded that John Diamond was right.  “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.”

>Checking In

>Things have been a little crazy since my last post. Part of me has been just trying to catch up on my rest since radiation ended.  The other part has just been trying to tread water with all the end of school things that need to be done.

Summer break is just days away. I still have lots of information I want to share, so I hope you’ll stay with me. Regular posts will start up again soon.

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