Category Archives: in praise of true friends

I Got Mail!

I had a very nice surprise tonight…Apparently, someone out there with some very good connections likes me a lot, and they decided to tell me so via one of those tiny lingering bastions of communal human hope – the mail box.

I mean really, is there any better icon of simple mundane pleasures than the unchecked mailbox? You know how some people check it religiously, like there’s going to be something in there besides flyers and other unrequested junk advertising? Or bills, there are those too. My husband is one of those; I am not. I do not care about checking the mail because I am just so sure there will be nothing in there that I’m really interested in, and on the rare occasion there is, it can wait. But not him. He checks it on the way out to dinner, as if we’re going to carry an armload of supermarket circulars to the Macaroni Grill with us. He often prefers to leave his keys at home and depend on mine instead, so there’s a frequent, annoying tussle when we’re leaving the house for me to not have to dig my keys out of the depths of my purse (where I just dumped them after dutifully locking the door behind him) for this pointless mailbox checking as we’re on our way to any number of appointments.

Tonight I refused to indulge him as we left the house. But as we returned to our building he was scratching that little metal door like a puppy wanting in. And lo and behold, that common little fantasy of getting a nice surprise in the mail actually came true. Just not for my husband.

There, amongst the expected postal rubbish, was a UPS envelope for me from somewhere in Texas. At first I thought, Am I in rouble? This looks like something important from corporate headquarters. But inside were – get this – two tickets to a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Seriously! What the…?

I didn’t even know this concert existed. But it looks like I’m going. And I can’t wait to find out who with!
Anyone want to fess up?


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Filed under breast cancer, in praise of true friends, life

Good Old Post…Er, Mail

The last week has brought me many surprises in the mail. I recently find myself often calling it “post” by habit of hanging out with Brits all the time, not to mention the fact that “post” works in a handful of European languages, which makes for a really handy shortcut when living in a country with three offical languages (not including English, spoken at least as often as the others). I try not to use it back in the US, as it inevitably sounds snooty. (I slip from time to time and use one of these “continental English” words, giving my family much ammunition for teasing!) But today it is appropriate because calling it something a little different makes it sound special – which is just what I want to say.

First came the little “giveaway prize” from Sherry over at abreastintheworld. A baggie full off goodies to cheer my day, for no reason but to be thoughtful. Sometimes I forget how nice it is to get real mail! Then today Del and I got the nicest surprise package from my soon-to-be sister and brother-in-law: a wedding planning guide! It’s a super book great for those just starting on the whole process and we were both touched at the gesture!

But most of all, last week the post brought the surprise of the perhaps nicest letter I have ever received. There was no name on the envelope. We’d just come in from a long day of ring shopping (whopee!) and I ripped it open sure to find some medical form letter or perhaps a nice card that I could read while I took my winter gear off. But tucked inside was a 5 page letter! And I began to read…

At the end of the first lovely page, about the time I was thinking, “Who in the world is this?” she said, “I bet you’re wondering just who the heck this is!” It was from a woman who reads the blog. We do have some connection to each other, a “friend of a friend” so to speak. First she said lovely things about reading Killer Boob everyday and then went on to explain that because she reads here she knows so much about me, and she thought she would share some in return.

I finished the letter cozied up on the sofa with a cup of tea. I cannot say how much her letter touched me. This woman shared some very personal experiences and thoughts and I was very deeply moved by her own fascinating story and I am so honored at her decision to share it with me. Del came back in the room to find me sniffling heavily.

Most of the loyal readers are a mystery to me. I see the numbers but I have no idea who most of you are. You log in day after day, quietly reading, supporting and caring. Every once in a while someone I know will shyly say in a moment off to the side, “you know…I read your blog.” And I am always surprised and sincerely touched. This letter somehow gave body to that feeling for me. It made tangible the conversation that I never get to have with most of you, the one in which I get to receive the gift of your story too. The one in which I get to support you back.

There are so many interesting lives reading here today that I don’t know about in return. Many lives much more interesting than my own. Yet for some reason you give of your time and your caring to come here and follow mine. It’s hard to give back to you all what you give to me in this gesture, but I want to say thank you, a really…real…thank you.

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Filed under breast cancer, Cancer Blogs, in praise of true friends, life

Good Reading

Today a weekend pop-in here just to suggest some really good reading. WhyMommy has been doing a series of posts about how to help a friend with cancer. It’s not your average vague suggestion to “make yourself available”; she’s done several posts now, all full of concrete and detailed advice and suggestions from someone who knows. I couldn’t have said any of it better (or perhaps even nearly as well) myself. If you now someone with any kind of cancer, give it a read. If not, bookmark it for later. (I don’t mean at all to sound morbid, but chances are good you’ll want to know it someday – because surely you’re the type of friend who would want to help!). Well done, WhyMommy!

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Filed under breast cancer, Cancer Blogs, in praise of true friends

Chemo #5

Hey, remember that “this time last year” thing?

I’ve been off it for a while for ovious reasons, and I don’t plan on overly focusing on the past, but I do like being able to make the comparisons. While here I’ve been doing all this surgery stuff, last year I was having chemos #3 and #4. Three was a breeze. An absolute godsend. No drama. Neulasta worked. It gave me a second wind, made all the rest seem possible to get through. (So for all those struggling through, I wish you a random and unexpectedly easy chemo!) #4 was more usual, but I no longer threw up after any more. Although the “Neulasta flu” made me throw up randomly once or twice each time. This is also when Neulasta started a new side effect: making me feel like I had a fresh bruise all over my body. Everywhere. It hurt to have a massage. It hurt to lie down. It hurt to sit on the toilet! It hurt if Del even stroked my face. This usually lasted 36-48 hours.

Then #5 came. I just didn’t think I could do it anymore. I couldn’t even think about chemo without my stomach revolting. I remember the day before taking a bath. Thinking that I felt good and that I only had to do two more. Giving myself a pep talk. I thought “only 2 more chemos. You can do it.” And I promptly gagged. I decided I better not think about it anymore. In any capacity.

I didn’t know how I was going to drag myself back there and let them pour more chemicals in. My French friend Vanessa was coming back (the same one who shaved my head for me) and would arrive that morning. I got up and got ready, was dressed to go, still wondering how I was going to get the courage to go through with it again, when she arrived. I was happy to have fresh company and knew she would hep entertain me through it. But then she said, “I brought something for you, but it’s too heavy to carry up by myself. Can you come downstairs and help me?” A thought about the limitations of my bad arm flashed through my head but I went to help.

We got to the landing of the stairs and there at the bottom stood two more of my friends! All the way from L.A. and Oklahoma! We four started our flying careers rooming together in Chicago our first year, and every year we try to take a reunion trip somewhere. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but this year they decided to bring the trip to me! I was so happy and touched that I was all teary again. To this day I have found it hard to express how much that meant to me. They really got me through that chemo, and on to the next – and last – one.

So, once again rescued by good friends, a year ago today my second to last chemo was now history. And an exciting moment that should not go without mentioning:  now, before I’d even reached my last chemo, my hair would begin to regrow. A message from my healthy cells that maybe they accepted my mental apologies after all? I liked to think so.


Filed under breast cancer, chemo, hair, in praise of true friends, this time LAST year

My most outstanding chemo issues

My chemo would become about 2 issues for me. Out of all the possible side effects and things that I dreaded, I had many of them (the racing heart, the ringing in the ears, etc.). But really it always came down to two things that made me miserable: hemorrhoids and Neulasta.

The first one is not an elegant discussion. It’s something I’d normally never openly talk about, but as a warning would have made all the difference to me, I’m putting it out there for anyone else it might help. Anyway, medical chat is no time to be shy, so here goes. I’d never had such a thing in my life (somehow I was lucky for 30 years I guess). So when the problems began I was not wise enough to catch on and take preventative measures. I didn’t realize what was up until the problem was in full swing. By then it was too late.

The thing is that one of the things that chemo really screws with is your mucus(es). This means that the nice little lining of slime that normally covers your intestinal track is gone. This is rough. Seriously, this problem had me terrified every single day. I’m still shy about going into detail, but suffice it to say that if anyone ever searched the caches on my computer they’d think I had some weird fetish. I tried everything out there and read up on the possible complications (which only served to make me more paranoid, which does not help the problem)! Everyday I wondered all day whether or not I’d need the bathroom. If not I was cheerful, but scared for the next day. It all sounds so silly, but it was terribly serious to me. There is no worse enemy to have than your own bodily functions. As this one brought pain sometimes akin to childbirth (so my research said. And if you disagree don’t tell me or I’ll never have a child!), Chemo passed largely as an anxious attempt to balance my need for fiber vs. my need for easily digestible foods vs. my need for vitamins and minerals vs. my inability to eat fresh foods (b/c of low WBC) vs. vs. vs. vs. vs. It’s a maddening cycle that any person in chemo will face in some form or another.

What did I settle on? Weary of taking any more meds than necessary I first tried taking 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil a day. This is an ancient remedy and serves to line the intestine. It’s also a disgusting remedy. I discovered that I can’t stand straight olive oil and eventually it made me want to gag (not to mention burning my throat). I went on to fish oil capsules. Fish oil is also gross. I would burp foul things for hours after taking them, but they were good for me if nothing else. Eventually I found a combination of things that got me through, which I will be happy to email with you personally about if you need. But out of all the things that I thought chemo would entail, living in terror of going to the bathroom each day was not one of them! If only someone had warned me…

My WBC count was the other monkey on my back. Just after chemo #2 my best friend came from NYC. I was so happy to see her. And she took me on a very generous shopping spree to buy me clothes that I could wear (since I was still having problems with my mastectomy wound and couldn’t wear a bra). Normally I would never have accepted such a gesture, but I knew that she really wanted to do this and we had a great time. She is awesome.

I felt a little faint during the shopping but hung in there. I’d had Neulasta, which is “guarenteed” to work, so I wasn’t worried. When the time came to go to my blood tests I was severely disappointed to discover that my WBC count was nevertheless 1100. I’d gritted my teeth through the shooting pains it causes for nothing. The disappointment wiped me out as much as the low counts. Three years to get her to visit me in Europe and the rest of Wendy’s visit was spent on my couch. Boo.

Why hadn’t the Neulasta worked? That was something which I would struggle with for weeks and weeks. And weeks. The first obstacle was to get someone to listen to me! Try telling your doctors that their favorite most expenisve wonder drug that “always works”, doesn’t always work! They aren’t too prepared to believe you. trust me, I tried.

Tune in next time for my Neulasta rant…


Filed under breast cancer, chemo, if I'd known than what I know now, in praise of true friends, life, this time LAST year

Chemo #2

In general, chemo was a quickly established routine at least as far as certain things were concerned. I would get a headache during the last drug’s drip. I would go home and get ill almost exactly 2.5 hours after my drip. I arranged my chemo for the afternoon, so that by the time I was finished the evening was upon us. I would come home, change immediately into my pyjamas and crawl into bed, hoping to sleep through the worst of the sensations.

For chemo #2, two Brussels friends volunteered to come with me. This was an unexpected and touching gesture, especially as one if them was a guy. Chemo is just one of those experiences that I assume most people would not be eager to watch. It’s uncomfortable and highly personal. Call me sexist but it just seemed like the kind of thing that many friends – particularly guys – would rather opt out on. But I was proven wrong when both Dan and Pia voluntarily took off work and sat by my side for the long hours.

As usual, my hospital would surprise me with thoughtfulness. Usually one only gets a bed the first time, (a reclining chair the times after). However, my head nurse had taken note of me the first time and reserved me a bed again in advance. “You were quite upset last time, so I just wanted to make sure you are as comfortable as possible. I’m sure you’ll be a pro now, but still….” I wanted to throw my arms around her for her thoughtfulness.

To get to the good part: we chatted all through chemo and this time, indeed, it was much less traumatic. No tears, all casual. Del also surprised me by getting off of work early and showing up. The nurses did not mind that was exceeding the limit of visitors (another advantage of taking chemo late in the day).

Then, Dan and Pia insisted on coming to our place to “hang out, watch a movie.” I tried to tell them that it would not be a pleasant night for me and it wasn’t very appropriate for social calls. They didn’t seem to get it. I didn’t mind them being there when I got sick, but it was if they didn’t quite believe me. So I was a good sport and they came over and ordered in Japanese food. I clenched my jaw against the smell and tried to participate by asking for rice. (Which I couldn’t eat because the restaurant foiled my plan by putting some fancy seasoning on it. Bleah.) It was a challange but I made it through the smells of their dinners.

We put on Napolian Dynamite. All was going well. Then, right on time, 2.5 hours after chemo, I ran out of the room, tossed a few cookies, put myself together and re-emerged from the bedroom. Dan and Pia were scrambling to get their things together. “Oh, my, we should go….no really, we should go.” You would have thought that they had walked in on quite something else. Poor things were tripping over themselves to get out of there. I was sorry to make them uncomfortable, but to be honest a part of me found it humorous. It was hard not to sing, “told you so…” just for the fun of it. But I didn’t. They weren’t quite ready to joke about it yet. (My chemo twin, Jess, on the other hand, had a good laugh with me later!)
I managed to keep Del company for the movie and then gratefully crawled into bed, willed myself to go to sleep immediately. With new drugs in my arsenal, I thought I was going to make it through the night. I slept well until Del came to bed a few hours later. I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. As I set there peeing, the urge to throw up hit hard and fast. Obviously I couldn’t jump off the toilet that quickly, so I clamped my hand over my mouth. You know how well that works: there I was in all my glory, sitting on the john and throwing up in my lap! (As Del just said, “ahh, the good old days.”)

I think I may have giggled about it a little right then, which you can imagine struck Del as strange from the other room. A few paper towels did the trick and it was not so bad. And I made it through the night with no more problems. Most importantly I learned two good lessons: 1 – survey the nausea situation before blocking your only receptacle. 2 – Most importantly, no matter how bad the last chemo was, there’s plenty of hope that the next one will be better!

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Filed under breast cancer, chemo, humor, if I'd known than what I know now, in praise of true friends, life, this time LAST year

Surgery, Bleah

In the present, I am only one week away from surgery. This time next week I’ll be checking in, unpacking my stuff and answering questions from the nurse. (No doubt including, “Can I have a beer?” like we did last time. Ha!) I’m not going to whine about it, cause I’ve already done so. Luckily, I’ve been slightly anxious about this for about 6 weeks now, which means that a good part of me now just thinks, “Well, let’s get on with it already!” The sooner we start the sooner we’ll be done. I’ve had some great discussions with a couple of women who’ve done the same surgery and it helps a lot to know what I’m in for.
Thanks ladies!

Del has been kind enough to arrange the winning of an electric, reclining chair off of ebay. About $200, I think it will make a huge difference in post-hosptial, pre-standing up straight comfort. My always-helpful Belgian friends are arranging the pick-up from a city near the border. What would I do without them?

That’s it for today. Just a little update from the present. I’m off to try and put on a few more pounds before surgery. Every little bit helps!

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Filed under breast cancer, in praise of true friends, life, reconstruction ("upgrade"!), surgery, this time THIS year