Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Break-- from cancer

Johnny Jump-Ups on my front porch
Two years ago, on April 1st, my former oncologist called me with horrific news. My cancer had revealed itself for a third time. A month later I began having infusions every three weeks. One year later I had progression of my disease, so a new treatment with a drug called TDM-1 (Kadcyla) was started. My first scan after four infusions of this new drug showed it was working against my cancer. I had no evidence of active disease! It doesn't get any better than that. I still get infusions every three weeks with my 17th treatment of TDM-1 and my 34th treatment overall occurring almost two weeks ago.

Living with metastatic breast cancer is difficult. I probably think about my disease several times during every hour of the day. Every strange bump, every pain under my ribs, any chest tightness, and every headache immediately causes me to think about what this disease could be doing to me. I don’t want this disease to define me, but it does. It is no different than how motherhood, being married, loving learning, and attending to the needs and wants of my family defines me. Or, the way I love sunshine because of how it makes me feel, and how I love the way horses look when they run defines me. My opinions about the world define me and unfortunately so does my cancer.

I have learned to adjust to cancer's role in my life. Physically, I feel so good on some days it is hard to believe I have a terminal disease. On days I don’t get enough sleep, though, I am left with not enough energy to attend to my very long to-do list. Those are rough days.

Then there is the CAT scan that my timeline races toward. I can’t stop it. My days of grocery shopping, cleaning, picking-up my kids from college, driving them back, watching my youngest in dance and tennis class, and going to a party with my husband all leads me to that sleek white machine where I am told “Hold your Breath” and then “Breathe”. That machine will give evidence of continued treatment success or . . . not. I fear that machine. It is the source of my present anxiety. While my life ticks away that machine awaits my visit.

I had my last scan January 29th. Since I am accustomed to every three month scans my internal time clock has sparked anxiety. This time my scans are not until the first week of June because my oncologist agreed with me that we could have scans every four months instead of the usual three. So, I must somehow temper my anxiety while I wait for the first week of June. Then I will know whether life will continue as it has or whether a new path will be taken.
Azalea Festival Garden Party

Of course I cannot completely remove the knowledge of my condition from my mind, but there are moments where I notice I wasn't aware I had any thoughts of it at all. Last Friday was one of those times. My thoughts were focused on a garden full of vivid spring colors not adorned by real flowers, but by people. I went to an outdoor party and people watched for hours.

Azaleas in my yard
Wilmington North Carolina hosts a festival every spring. The name Azalea is attached to this festival. Every year the planners try to guess when the azalea flowers will be at their peak blooming time so the festival is surrounded by the beauty that these flowers bring. This year for the week of the festival, the flowers were just beginning to show their beauty. I don't think most people cared though, as long as the days of the festival did not include rain.

Party goers waiting for the celebrities to appear.
For those desiring it, the week of the festival is a time for parties--one party after another.

My husband’s employer donated money to the event this year. With that donation, he received tickets to an outdoor party. Tickets to the party we attended were $150 A PIECE!--crazy, I know.  Never could I part with that kind of money for plenty of liquor, a few celebrity sightings or to see the lovely landscape of Wilmington’s Airlie Garden. I was glad my husband’s company did or I would never have seen the spectacle of The Azalea Festival's Garden Party.

There were probably other celebrities, local and otherwise at this party, but the only two I recognized were the three-time beach volley ball Olympic Gold Medalist, Kerri Walsh Jennings (yes, she is super tall), and the US Congressman from NC, David Rouzer.

Summerall Guards
After the celebrities made their appearance, everyone was entertained by the Summerall Guards. They performed their well-rehearsed choreographed military movements. I later learned that being a part of this group is a high achievement for these military cadets. The only unusual part, was the humming of a drone  hovering over our heads. I hope it took some good pictures of these guards or perhaps the crowd if that was what it was there to do.

Before I arrived, I expected to see a lot of people around my age attempting to make business connections. They were there, but it was clear they were not in the mood for business conversations. As I people watched I was surprised at the many young people that were there. It seemed to me this party probably was more about seeing and being seen especially since everyone had preened their feathers and now were doing their mating dances. I saw people in short, short dresses and shoes with very high heels. Some of it was tasteful and some not.

I am not a fan of these shoes.
Nor, do I like these.

Men adorned 100% cotton light-blue striped Seersucker suits and suit jackets of solid blues and pinks. Several young men were brave enough to wear shorts instead of slacks. There were a few women in one piece pant outfits, too. The colors were wonderful with lots of corals, reds, blues and pinks. I truly appreciate how some people can wear giant decorated hats and not look ridiculous. This was Wilmington's mini Kentucky Derby without the horses.

As my husband and I walked around the garden, we could not help but notice the amount of liquor available--tents, tents and more tents of it with only one tent for food. I am not opposed to serving alcohol. I have enjoyed margaritas, toasted almonds, and wine many times in my life. What I didn’t expect to find was this: We stopped to greet some people that my husband knew, and almost immediately a man asked if we would like a Jello-shooter. “What!” I thought, “But, you must be close to sixty years old.” He then told the story of his wife making the Jello-shooters and how she had used several bottles of Vodka to create them. All I could think was feeling and getting old hurts. Why would anyone over 40 and especially over 50 want to drink shooters?

My husband and several co-workers
The day was a gorgeous day for a party. I now can put names to faces of the men my husband works with. Their wives accompanied them, so that was nice too. A beautiful, sunny day with the man that has given me everything--well almost--I ever wanted is a great day. And it was an even better day with a short but much needed spring break from thinking about cancer.

Greg and I on April 10, 2015


  1. Haha! I love it. You are never too old for a jello shooter, as long as it is not mixed with a bunch of other drinks and you take your time. Hangovers are certainly not worth it the older you get. Love the photos, what a cool experience.

    1. Glad you liked my photos. In my "before chemo days", I might have tried one of those jello shooters. The me of today can hardly take the salsa that I love to dip chips into or even one small glass of wine. My stomach hates me. Ugh.

  2. Your blue dress is glorious!! :-)