Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ten of Cups & Ten of Swords

Yesterday's tarot card was the Ten of Cups. The Ten of Cups refers to cycles completed, journeys finished and lives well lived in the company of others. Serenity and peace are in the air, and for a moment you can simply forget about all of the material troubles of the world around you. Nothing material matters here, just the eternal happiness that has been earned through trials and obstacles. This success is not a fleeting or temporary one, but a lasting peace and harmony that can truly be enjoyed. There are no regrets over the past, no concerns for the future, so you can live in the moment and seize the day. The only caution of the Ten of Cups is to not squander these precious times that have been given to you. Don't take your happiness for granted or it will only slip away. Don't let this time stagnate, but rather keep it in a constant state of growth and rejuvenation. Don't go looking for problems, just sit back and enjoy what you have.

Then today's card was the Ten of Swords. This card usually symbolizes a sudden and unexpected failure or disaster, a power beyond your control that humbles you without warning or mercy. Karma, the law of cause and effect, has free reign in the Ten of Swords, so a past misdeed may indeed be the source of future trouble. Sometimes you will be able to change this outcome, but most of the time you will simply have to bear down and take the hit. The positive side is that the Ten of Swords is the final ordeal, and no more pain will come to you from that source. It is darkest before the dawn, and as gloomy as it looks, the sun will rise again. This card is the ultimate teacher, and it shows you how to learn from your mistakes and misdeeds so you never have to fall prey to the evil side of the Swords suit again. When this card appears after a painful situation, it is a signal to pick yourself up off the ground and start thinking about what happened to you and what you have to learn from it. Hidden deep beneath the surface of the Ten of Swords is the ultimate power of the Swords suit: the ability to analyze your ways and learn from yourself. True wisdom does not come from without, but from within. The Ten of Swords is a sign that what you have gone through was not without purpose. The great positive power within you can be used to learn from your pain and draw wisdom from defeat. This is the Swords ideal.

I can't help but think this has something to do with my employment situation. I'm very happy at Community Green, but since it isn't providing any income yet, I'm feeling the need to find a paying job. I had a job interview earlier this week, have another one scheduled in November and am hoping for a third one soon. But, I have decided that no matter what, I will not stress over it! If it is meant to be, it will be. If I am supposed to stay at Community Green, I will figure out how to make it pay. If not, one of the jobs will come through and Community Green will take a back seat. Stay tuned to find out what happens...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The biggest fear

I saw my oncologist the other day for my quarterly checkup. All is well, except that my liver enzymes are elevated. That freaked me out a bit because I damaged my liver 15 years ago by taking too much ibuprofen (unfortunately more isn't always better). But elevated liver enzymes refers to any one of a number of conditions, and does not necessarily indicate any specific disease. It can be caused by any number of things, such as: too much alcohol consumption, diabetes, cancer drugs, high cholesterol and cholesterol medication and overuse of pain relievers (aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, etc.) I felt like I was being lectured to about my recent alcohol over-consumption, although Dr. Chaudhry couldn't possibly know about that, could he? Me thinks I am potentially screwed here. But that wasn't so bad in the scheme of things. You see, my mother just found out she has pre-cancerous cells on her face. Like many cancers, skin cancers start as pre-cancerous lesions. These pre-cancerous lesions are changes in skin that are not cancer but could become cancer over time. They discovered it in plenty of time so it can be removed pretty easily. But that news just feeds my biggest fear - being diagnosed with another type of cancer!

I heard so much of that during chemo from my "Chemo Compadres". Beating one form of cancer only to then be diagnosed with another type. That fear is #1 on my list. For patients who thought they had successfully conquered cancer, a second diagnosis of the disease is just as devastating, if not more so, as the first, experts say. It is re-traumatizing. The trauma goes back to the shock and fear of being diagnosed again with a potentially life-threatening illness. When you've gone through a first diagnosis and treatment, time has passed and you gain greater confidence in your health. So when there is a re-experience of that diagnosis, all the same feelings of fear and uncertainty race to the surface even more quickly than before. It's like you thought you had left that in your past and all of a sudden it's part of your future again. There's definitely feelings of anger, which really represents frustration over a sense of losing control in your life, again.

One diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming, but the effects are compounded psychologically with a second one. One of the common things upon diagnosis with cancer is that you go through a phase of insecurity, instability, not having faith in your body, feeling every little twinge and ache as a possible manifestation of a recurrence. So you're regaining your confidence and you get another diagnosis. Psychologically it's hard, you start to wonder if you're prone to cancer and/or if you'll die of cancer. I have learned that when someone has treatment for a primary tumour, on average there is a 30 to 50 per cent chance of recurrence, across all organs and all tumors. Recurrence is the term doctors use to describe when the primary tumour type has returned in the same or another site. The likelihood that an individual develops multiple tumour types in their lifetime is about 10 per cent. So the chance of that is not high, it's low, but not insignificantly low. But since we are now detecting tumors earlier, it opens the door to more people showing up with another primary tumor elsewhere. It's usually the prevalent cancers: lung, breast, colorectal or prostate.

Now, supposedly, the two diagnoses don’t compound your likelihood of death. They’re independent odds. So it’s a totally new fight starting all over again. The only way they would be related is if the treatment of one tumor limits how much treatment you can do for the second one, but biologically, the odds should be independent of each other. There is not yet a lot of specific information about how likely it is that survivors of specific cancer types will have second cancers. Current research shows that cancer survivors in general have an increased chance of developing cancer compared to people of the same age and gender who have not had cancer. This means that it is even more important for cancer survivors to be aware of the risk factors for second cancers and maintain good follow-up health care. A second cancer can appear at any time during survivorship. Some studies show that a common time for cancers to develop is from five to nine years after completion of treatment. However, because the exact causes of second cancers are not yet known, it is difficult to predict when they might appear. Lifetime monitoring by health care providers who are knowledgeable about survivorship care is recommended--even years after completing treatment for the original cancer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that October is also domestic violence awareness month. But so far this month, this country has witnessed one of the worst killing sprees – prompted by a domestic dispute – and a legislative maneuver that used domestic violence victims as pawns in a budget negotiation in Topeka, Kansas.

In Seal Beach, Scott Dekraai walked into a hair salon and shot and killed his ex-wife and eight other people. Many reports say he had been violent towards his ex-wife in the past and was in a custody battle over the couple’s son. The Seal Beach community was shocked by the murders and residents wondered how something like that could happen in their neighborhood. Their grief and shock is understandable. Many people still aren’t aware that domestic violence happens in every community; it’s just that most of the time, it occurs behind closed doors. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, every year approximately 1,200 women are murdered by an intimate partner – defined as a current or former spouse or boyfriend. That represents more than three women murdered a day.

One in four women and one in thirteen men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. While these incidents don’t typically involve mass murders and rarely make headlines, it is not uncommon for domestic violence to spill over to the workplace. According to a 2005 survey by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, 21 percent of full-time employed adults were victims of domestic violence and 64 percent said their work performance was significantly impacted.

We must remember the aim of Domestic Violence Awareness Month is to recognize the achievements made in reducing domestic violence and to recommit to the work still to be done. Yet, I am sitting here trying to understand why Breast Cancer Awareness gets more media attention and corporate sponsorship than Domestic Violence Awareness does? I know that 1 of 8 women will be diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. However, I am having a hard time trying to understand is why it seems to be favored (as if one could favor one personal disaster over another), over domestic violence especially when 1 of 4 women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime meaning women are more likely to be exposed to domestic violence than breast cancer.

I mention this not because I think we should reduce the level of attention Breast Cancer Awareness’ initiatives receive because, after all, I am a breast cancer survivor. I see the interconnections and similarities between both issues and believe they should be addressed simultaneously. Maybe it is easier to be more aware of breast cancer than domestic violence because we often blame women for being domestic violence victims but we rarely blame her for getting breast cancer. Many breast cancer survivors are also abused by people who claim to love them, or who are responsible for their care. I am not just speaking about sexual partners or married couples. Most breast cancer survivors are elderly women who rely on their family (husbands, children or grandchildren) to care for them while they go through treatment. And many of these women, as they fight for their lives against an internal demon, have to deal with being abused as well. Elder abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse... are all very real ramifications of this disease.

Now, I will be the first to say that dealing with cancer is hard. Very hard. It is stressful beyond belief and it takes its toll on the patient and the people who care for them. But abusing someone because you are incapable of handling and channeling your rage in a productive way... is not the answer. It is never the answer. Additionally, many breast cancer survivors end up losing their jobs for lots of reasons, which often leaves them financially vulnerable and dependent on their spouse or their children to help them manage the costs of treating breast cancer. Add to that the stress of being in a weakened economy along with all the stressors of day to day living...and it often leads to abuse. This is why I believe we should see a pink and purple entwined ribbon, attacking both domestic violence and breast cancer together.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Footprints on my heart

Some people come into our lives and quickly go... Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same. That's from a poem I have always liked, entitled Some People. It is so true. Tonight I spent the evening out with two friends who have definitely left their footprints on my heart. They are some of the best people I know, my friends Deb & Dawn. You see, Dawn is leaving tomorrow for California, embarking on a new phase of her life. She is relocating to sunny San Diego. I am both envious and melancholy. I'm excited for her but will miss her. Deb and I hang together once in a while but we only recently had the opportunity to reconnect with Dawn. I'm so grateful that we did. It seems that no matter how long we've been apart, we just pick up where we left off. We are kindred spirits.One line from the poem says, "They celebrate the true essence of who we are...and have faith in all that we may become." I am a better person for knowing them and having fought the good fight with them (working to end domestic and sexual violence).

Another friend, my awesome 'Paign teammate, Towanda Steel, recently took off for Australia. Although I have only known Towanda, a/k/a Kelly, for about 20 months, she too left her mark on my heart. I had no idea just how much the 'Paign would come to mean to me. Kelly, along with all my 'Paign teammates, was right there with me through the roughest time of my life, my breast cancer fight. What cancer does is force you to focus, to prioritize and realize what's important. Staring death in the face taught me just how much my family and friends mean to me. I prioritized just being with them. Being around the people I love made my fight bearable as I knew that they always had my back, no matter what. At times I wanted to give up but they wouldn't let me. They saved my life.

So I hope that both Dawn and Kelly know how much I love and miss them. I will be keeping them in my thoughts through their travels and new adventures. And Dawn better believe that Deb and I are planning that vacation as San Diego is my happy place!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too much pink?

Every year, people spend millions of dollars on items with pink ribbons on them – all because consumers have been led to believe that their purchases will help end the breast cancer epidemic. This is not necessarily the case. Companies know that aligning themselves with “breast cancer awareness” will improve the public’s perception of them and increase their profits. Often, people think, “between a regular product and one that has a pink ribbon on it, I’ll choose the pink ribbon product so at least some of my purchase goes to breast cancer research”. Unfortunately, we often have no idea how much these companies are raising or how it’s being spent.

I saw an article in yesterday's paper re: "pinkwashing", where a company does a breast cancer promotion but sells and profits from the pink-themed product. Has breast cancer become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns? My suspicion is that the motive is not always entirely pure. For example, take Yoplait's offer to donate 10¢ to the Komen Foundation for every pink yogurt lid mailed to the company from September through December. Komen would get a bigger donation if consumers simply donated the 44¢ it costs to buy each stamp, not to mention the fact that donors would have to polish off 100 yogurts to come up with a $10 contribution--a formula that surely enriches Yoplait more than the breast-cancer cause.

Komen, which has raised $775 million for breast-cancer research, screening, education and treatment since it was established in 1982, makes a point of transparency about its pink campaigns, as do at least two other large charities: the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), started by Evelyn Lauder. Komen, for instance, insists that partners in pink-ribbon promotions reveal what percentage of sales will be allocated to the charity and how the money will be spent. They do not, however, require corporate partners to divulge the profits from the products or the amount spent promoting them.

So what happens to the money that does make it to the cause? Is it doing anything worthwhile for women with, or at risk for breast cancer? Activists worry that the sheer ubiquity of pink-ribbon campaigns creates an illusion that all is well in the world of breast-cancer research and treatment. We think that the huge amount of pink ribbon fundraising helps contribute to a sense that the “problem is solved”, though this is clearly not the case. We may have raised awareness, but incidence rates are higher than they were 30 years ago. We don't know how to prevent or cure the disease, and more than 40,000 women still die every year. Donors may feel they have done their bit by buying pink but it's even more vital that we keep pressure on the Federal Government to adequately support the biggest U.S. funder of breast-cancer research--the National Cancer Institute.

So think before you pink or at least read the fine print!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living somewhere in between

Lance Armstrong described cancer as being run off the road by a truck while riding your bicycle. One minute you are pedaling along and the next you are face down in the dirt. Your ride is an epic failure. It's a great analogy. The essential truth is that good, strong people get cancer and they do all the right things to fight it, yet they still die. I don't know why I'm still walking this earth as my prognosis was "not good". I did not actually learn that fact until after I was done with treatment. I never asked and my oncologist didn't reveal that nugget of information. He said that once he met me, he figured that cancer was no match for me so why scare me unnecessarily?! There is something to be said for blissful ignorance.

The uncertainties that cancer can cause do not end with treatment. While the immediate illness may be in remission, you find that your life has changed in unexpected ways. Many cancer survivors find that they feel unsure about many aspects of their lives. This is called living with uncertainty. Some survivors put the cancer experience in the past and choose to hardly ever think about it. The uncertainties that cancer causes do not bother them very much. Others might think about cancer often and find those thoughts to be overwhelming. They may live with a lot of fears about whether the cancer will come back or how cancer will affect the future. I live somewhere in between the two, with only a vague uncertainty.

Today, I rarely think of the cancer, choosing instead to live life. Uncertainty is not part of my daily routine. However, at times, I find that I am overwhelmingly faced with a lot of uncertainty. When looking for a job, I wonder if my cancer diagnosis precedes me. It used to be that cancer walked with me everyday even though I frequently chased him off. Other times I had conversations with death, trying to convince him it was way too soon to take me. I often found myself making deals with the devil, attempting to buy more time. It used to be that the only time I didn't have cancer was when I was asleep. But since I still have to see my oncologist every three months, recurrence does rear its ugly head from time to time. There are dark moments when those fears creep in, almost paralyzing me.

But I find that it is possible to live with a vague feeling of uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring. I think that before cancer, I had fewer doubts and unknowns in my life. Having cancer has made me more aware of uncertainties, because I never expected to get cancer in the first place.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm back...and with a guest blogger

Hi everyone! Sorry to be out of the blog-o-sphere so long but my laptop crashed and I just saved enough moola to get it fixed [Big cheer here]. I recently passed my 2 year cancerversary [even bigger cheer]. Part of the reason I have is because of the Young Survival Coalition so I thought it appropriate to celebrate that fact with an article from a guest blogger, my friend, David Haas. A big thanks to David for his insight. A link to his blog appears at the end of the article {just click on his name}. Happy reading!

Cancer Support Groups Celebrate Life Together

Cancer support groups inspire survivors to find healthy ways to cope with their disease. The resources, advice, and personal stories survivors share with each other are both practical and encouraging. One study of breast cancer patients who attended weekly support groups showed significant improvement in survival time. This is just as likely for those with thyroid cancer, mesothelioma, skin malignancies, and other forms of cancer. Even if life expectancy does not improve, quality of life surely does. 

Many cancer patients find it hard to talk about what is happening to them. It may be awkward, uncomfortable, or painful to talk about the disease, even to family and friends. Talking to doctors and nurses can be just as hard. It may seem easier to ignore the issue, but talking can help. While some cancers are curable and most are treatable, almost all survivors face an emotional crisis. Cancer can be the scariest challenge of someone’s life. Talking with others who are going through the same thing reminds survivors that they are not alone.

There is not a “right” or “wrong” to deal with cancer. Each person copes in his or her own way. But talking about it with other survivors, or writing about it in journals or blogs, is therapeutic. Knowing that other people are listening helps survivor’s better cope with the challenges they face.

Some people find it hard to reach out to others, especially if they think they have nothing to give in return. Many cancer survivors are surprised to discover how many people want to support them. Partners, families, and friends can be disappointing sources of support because they are dealing with their own emotions. Most healthcare communities and some churches have support groups, provided by people who simply enjoy helping others. Hospice teams offer support during the last months of life.

 An online group like the American Cancer Society “Cancer Survivors Network” is a valuable resource for cancer survivors. They celebrate life together by supporting each other and telling their stories. Discussion boards are a good place to meet other survivors and build friendships. Internet chat and instant messaging allow for real-time conversations. And cancer support blogs offer useful information and insight.

Cancer patients face similar fears and uncertainties. Support groups are important whether someone has treatable breast cancer, an unfavorable pancreatic cancer prognosis, or a short mesothelioma life expectancy and prognosis. Talking about cancer with people who understand is priceless. Support networks give survivors a sense of belonging and a safe place to vent. Group involvement is known to reduce stress and improve health, for a better quality of life. And that is something every cancer survivor wants and needs. Other online resources can be located at:
Caring Bridge

By: David Haas