We still feel clueless when it comes to fighting cancer, but we’re getting better at it every day. Functioning in an organized, colorful way helps keep pain in check :) Let the sweet dreaming begin… Zzzzzzz
Guess what! Exciting news… while the NFL is busy letting an array of domestic violence offenders tackle each other and chase a funny-shaped ball around on some fake grass, (if you live under a rock, please click here), the NHL is fighting cancer!
And not just ANY type of cancer, specifically: prostate, leukemia & lymphoma, AND PANCREATIC CANCER. Woo!
Plus, hockey players are totally HOT it turns out. I’ve never been to a game (I tend to run chilly), but meet your newest fan boys! :) If there was ever a reason to double-clap (clap, clap) this is it. Check it out!
We have chemo (clap, clap) today! It is my mom’s second treatment of her second round on the drugs Gemzar & Abrax. We got a bit off track when my mama was in the hospital last week (she’ll do ANYTHING to get out of going to chemo!), and so our oncologist suggested she skip treatment to rest up. BUT, cancer center… Guess who’s back!?Back again. Susan’s back! NA, NA, NA.
Tell yo’ friends.
noun: the state or condition of being in good physical and mental health.
“when you come right down to it, stress affects every aspect of wellness” (yeah, no shit.)
My mom hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in almost 30-years. She was a habitual smoker (way back) but she kicked that about 25+ years ago, too. She ALWAYS ate her fruits and veggies, drank water, stayed active, and even ran mini-marathons. She was under 100 pounds most of her life (my little nugget) and didn’t put on extra padding until her 50’s, which is totally normal outside of Hollywood and the reality shows on E! or Bravo. One of her most recent health triumphs: kicking her dirty Diet Coke habit, plus all other sodas as well. That acidic, black poison ain’t helping nobody’s wellness.
She had annual mammograms starting at age 35, closely followed the prep-instructions before colonoscopies, and never skipped a PAP. Her own medical history is pretty clean, and besides a distant aunt who had breast cancer there’s very little cancer in her family… well, except for my grandma. My mom’s mom (Nana) is an (insane), 88-year-old ovarian cancer survivor who still drives, (this is as close to a PSA as I will ever get in my blog… But PLEASE, for your own safety: if you live anywhere around the Bay Area please buckle-up and use caution while driving near any casinos, eye doctor offices, or Home Depots.) My Nana’s cancer was found earlier and required very little chemo before she beat it, over 20 years ago now. She also told me the other day she hasn’t had a cold in years (WTF? how?), which blows my mind because I’m like a walking, coughing germ disaster all winter. Nana will outlive us all, though, the damned can do that. Knowing my nana’s history and how important early detection is my mom had played it safe, except for her pancreas…
A kale smoothie is what first led to my mom’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
She and my dad jumped onto the “juicing bandwagon” a few years ago. They started small by blending raw fruits and veggies, nuts and powders, eventually moving on to add chia seeds, weirder powders, herbs, vitamins, and everything else small enough to fit a NutriBullet. One day, after downing a heavy-on-the-kale concoction, my mom went to the ER with terrible abdominal pain. To healthy people, kale is a great leafy green containing mad benefits, but to those with digestive issues, (like say, i.e., their pancreas has a big old tumor on it), it’s hella hard and hurts to digest. We’ve had to cut salads out of my mom’s diet (one of her former food groups), and all other lettuce, spinach, collard greens and leaves are done. At that initial ER visit her blood levels showed high blood sugar and off-the-wall liver counts, but the ER doctor decided it was most likely painful gallstones and discharged her to get a follow-up appointment. The weird liver numbers, to him, were the aftermath of a couple glasses of wine at dinner last night… her chart shows she doesn’t drink. A week later, our family doctor brought my parents into her office where they learned that a precautionary ultrasound, followed by an urgent c-scan, followed by a frantic phone call, had found a large tumor on the tail of my mom’s pancreas.
Those of you who know the drill will understand it doesn’t matter the tumor size, what the biopsy doc says he saw, or how serious the tone of your doctor’s voice is… you don’t believe it’s cancer until the stickiness of the “official diagnosis” and staging labels you as
a cancer patient screwed. Even after you’re referred to a cancer center and handed discharge papers w/ the facts in print, “59 yr old female with metastasized cancer of the pancreas,” you keep praying there’s been a mistake.
So next, the big question becomes why? Well, I don’t know. Nobody really does… Even the doctors are just kind of guessing.
My mom struggles with this question every day. She constantly juggles thoughts of blaming herself, blaming God, blaming Diet Coke, while feeling lost as to where her body dropped the ball. I told her today, maybe we need to stop saying to ourselves/doctors/friends&family how she went from being “soooo healthy” to “sooo sick now!” Yeah, she had (and has) a pretty baller grip on staying healthy, but at the end of the day, she wasn’t healthy. Before the severe abdominal cramps, bad back pain, indigestion and clay-colored stools (all signs of pancreatic cancer), she was healthfully living WITH a tumor hanging out in there. We don’t know for how long, or what sparked the little sucker into becoming a metastatic monster but he was there before the symptoms. And one of the biggest problems w/ our healthcare providers? They often treat symptoms and not diseases.
“We don’t have a healthcare system in this country, we have a disease management system.” -Dr. Andrew Weil, in the documentary Escape Fire.
Hate it or love it (and watch the documentary), IDC. It’s actually an entertaining flick, (*I’m a huge nerd so my standards are v. low), and it shows another side of U.S. hospitals, western doctors and the meaning of wellness. My mama and I are starting a journey toward better health, and hopefully, maybe finding a cure or some answers along the way. Cancer is a wakeup call. It snaps you into the reality of what matters most in life, who you can lean, how strong you never knew you are inside, and where to go from here: welcome to wellness.
Whatever that means…
Quickest way to shut up a doctor? Hope.
“We’re not aiming for quality of life, we’re here for treatment. Call us crazy…” I said to my mom’s oncologist. He paused not knowing how to respond, and for the first time our comedian-turned-cancer-doctor was speechless. No jokes this time.
He began some gibberish about how quality of life means that if he were to order continuos rounds of chemo, with the promise of shrinking my mom’s tumor in half, but the side effects were so severe she was in the hospital throwing up for three straight weeks, her life would be so sucky she wouldn’t sign-up for it. (My mom, obviously, jumped at the pretend offer saying, of course, she’d go for that if it meant curing her terminal cancer!) He doesn’t really get it.
On the ride home from my mom’s treatment, I asked my parents if they thought our oncologist had other patients who were nodding along as he gave them the rundown of their odds: slim-to-none. In fact, pancreatic cancer is such a lethal and underfunded cancer that our national cancer education website says this:
That’s one of the problems, though. No one knows just how deadly it is, and the people who do, well guess where they most often end up? You don’t need to skip to the next section to know the outcome of those diagnosed isn’t pretty, or hopeful, (especially if stage 4 like my mother.) The predicated outcome is down right ugly: Steve Jobs died, Patrick Swayze and Donna Reed died, lots of celebrities died. Sally Ride died, however that’s “okay” because The Huffington Post had an article about it saying, she put pancreatic cancer back in the spotlight.
It’s really great when the death of a loved one can shed limelight on how much funding is missing for research, and how desperately there needs to be a cure to combat the fourth most common cancer. Some other cancers, ahem, use PR strategies like putting a smiling, bald celebrity on the cover of People magazine to spread awareness… (no hate, just sayin!) But, those with pancreatic cancer… they’re do or die, folks. Ride or die (mostly die). No sissy survivors club or potential mentorship program will do it for them (because there aren’t many survivors to join, so it would be a very small club.) Instead, their message is carried in blood.
When my mom was first diagnosed, I went to our cancer center’s family resource center to pickup every pamphlet, info guide, FAQ and newsletter out there. I talked to a woman who runs the arena and learned she herself is a breast cancer survivor. She told me about losing her hair, which was a big fear in our household. (Silly, I know, but my mom had finally grown her blonde locks to the perfect length, and I, her demon spawn, was an assistant at a beauty magazine prior to her diagnosis. So… hair is a BIG deal to us). I asked if the woman or someone else could talk to my mom prior to starting chemo as a help to calm and encourage her. Knowing what to expect may make things like being bald or puking less scary, (a little bit less scary, maybe.) The lady explained how it’s best to connect with someone who’s gone through the same cancer as you, and talked up their survivor-to-patient mentoring program. I said great! It’s pancreatic…
And she said, “Oh, well then. I’m sorry. We did have one man signed up as a survivor, but he died. His wife will talk to people though!”
I declined, knowing that talking to the wife of someone who died from the terminal cancer my mom was only just beginning to fight was probably not encouraging. I needed a positive spark to start her journey. But, thanks, thank you very much for the offer, lady.