Monday, December 20, 2010

Focus for the Cure

Woah, I finally (randomly-ish) found the "Focus for the Cure" segment that we taped last March and aired in May on WPTV (channel 5 local news). I was finishing up chemo and was exhausted that day. I had to lay down and take a nap before the interviewer arrived. And how weird is it to see me with no hair?

(The doctor interviewed is my oncologist.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One year ago...

Today is my cancerversary. One year ago I was diagnosed. What a milestone. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, it's a perfect time to sit back and be thankful for the year that I've had. The amazing, crazy, awful, beautiful, painful year.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Breaking News: Facebook is still dumb.

There have been a few breast cancer awareness campaigns floating around facebook. The first one that appeared last year, post your bra color as your status, I let slide. The second one that started floating around a few weeks ago, post where you keep your purse as "I like it on the...", made no sense to me. Now the third, post your shoe size followed by the word "inches" and a frowny face, is the worst of them all. These have about as much in common with breast cancer awareness as I do with Snookie from the Jersey Shore.

I have therefore decided I'm going to start my own awareness campaign: Know your risk of breast cancer. Play along, it'll be fun! (Do you know your risk? I sure do! It's 100%).

-If you are a woman, you automatically get 2 points. Men get 1 point.
-If you are over 40, add a point.
-If you had your first period before the age of 12, add a point.
-For every first degree (mother, daughter, sister) relative with BC, add a point. If they were younger than 50 at diagnosis, add another point. For every second degree (grandmother, aunt) relative with BC, add a half point. If they were younger than 50 at diagnosis, add another half point. If you have been tested and are BRCA positive, add 5 points.
-If you do not exercise regularly, add a point.
-If you are overweight, add a point.
-If you drink alcohol, add a point.
-If you use birth control pills (or other hormones), add a point.

If you have 1 - 3 points: Low Risk
Perform breast self-exams. Know what's normal for your body. At the age of 40 start getting yearly mammograms.

If you have 4 - 6 points: Medium Risk
Perform breast self-exams. Know what's normal for your body. At the age of 40 start getting yearly mammograms. Talk to your doctor about ways you can reduce your risk (healthy diet, exercise, stop boozin').

If you have 7 or more points: High Risk
Perform breast self-exams. Know what's normal for your body. Yearly mammograms can start as early as 35. Talk to your doctor about ways you may reduce your risk (healthy diet, exercise, locking up the liquor cabinet, prophylactic mastectomy, chemo/hormone suppressants).

*NOTE: These values are subjective and came from my brain and my 11 months of research into the fascinating world of breast cancer. Also, BOOM!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Over pinkification?

I've been thinking for awhile about what I wanted to say about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was diagnosed last November so this is my first one as a survivor, which makes it a completely different experience for me. As in, before it wasn't an experience at all. The pink ribbons were just on the edge of my consciousness. Sure, I was "aware" of breast cancer. It existed. I knew about it. But it was something that happened to old ladies, not something I had to worry about. I didn't need to worry about breast self exams. I had ten more years before I had to worry about mammograms.

I knew that pink ribbons equalled breast cancer awareness, but I wasn't at all aware of breast cancer. The treatments, the scars, the constant worry, the fighting for my life... this is what the pink ribbons mean to me now. Pink ribbons accost me wherever I go (my sister says "It looks like pink ribbons threw up all over the grocery store"). I would say they're a constant reminder, but how can you be reminded of something if you never stop thinking about it in the first place? Between my own treatments and checkups, managing after-effects, and volunteering for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, breast cancer is constantly on my mind. I don't need the pink ribbon products in order to be "aware".

I especially don't need a pink ribbon product that says "5% of the proceeds to benefit breast cancer research...". The $4 is better spent being donated directly to a charity than to buy a product from a company that disguises their greed under the premise of being charitable. They use the pink as another marketing ploy. It makes sense, too. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and with all-time high survival rates, there are a lot of survivors walking around out there. Not to mention all the survivors' friends, family, co-workers, etc. who just want to show support. "Buy our $4 cereal and 4 cents will be donated to breast cancer research...". No thanks. I'll buy the generic and donate the dollar I save.

"So what, then, can I do to make people aware?". I'm very glad you asked that. I personally raise awareness by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and everything short of shouting my story from the top of a mountain (but only due to the distinct lack of mountains in Florida). "But Cristal, I don't have an inspiring story like yours to share." Yes, thank goodness for that! You can still get educated and spread the word. Breast self-exams: Do them and know what is normal for you. Get your mammograms after 40. Know your family history and know your risk. Boom, I just dropped an awareness bomb on you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And now for your halftime entertainment...

.... ME!

Chemosabe Cristal: International TV star. (thanks W for the pic!)

(There I am! Just to the left of the lady in the pink wig).

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or, as I call it, October) the NFL is going pink to support Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Late last week I received an e-mail from my local Komen affiliate saying that the first 100 survivors who replied would get a free ticket to the Monday Night Football game for the Dolphins vs Patriots and be on the field for the halftime show at SunLife Stadium. You bet I jumped all over that! And lucky for me, the median age of breast cancer patients is 61 so most of the survivors aren't as tech-savvy as a 29 year old with an awesome new smart phone.

They brought us down to the sidelines and had us line up while the players finished the first half of the game. Then a bunch of cheerleaders sporting pink performed while Kelly Rowland (of Destiny's Child fame) sang a few of her songs. When Kelly busted out with "Survivor", we walked down the field and the dancers unfolded a giant pink ribbon. Then the show was over and we were ushered off the field. It was such an exciting whirlwind of a night, and I can't believe I had the opportunity to be on the field!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Being in the majority is cool!

Let me just state that what brought on the topic of this post was my most recent PET Scan.

You spend most of your life thinking you're nestled safely in the majority of all statistics. If I told you that 0.625% of people will spontaneously combust, you're probably not gonna go running for the fire extinguisher. You'd probably wager big that you'd fall into the 99.375% of the people that would be just fine (I'd take those odds!). As a young woman, I had a 0.625% chance of getting breast cancer ("young" is considered to be less than 40). Right before my diagnosis I had been told over and over that it wasn't possibly cancer and that I was too young. The shock of diagnosis hit me, my family, and my friends *that* much harder.

Now I've finished treatment and because of my triple negative breast cancer, there is no further therapy I can do to try to prevent a recurrence. I have had all the odds stacked up against me: my age, the triple negative status, my BRCA gene mutation, and my stage IIIA at diagnosis. So I hit the cancer with everything they've got. The most potent chemo, the most severe surgery, and even a "boost" on top of all the radiation treatments are all that shield me from a recurrence. Now I am pushed into the world of "survivorship" and everywhere I turn I'm faced with frightening statistics. With my super-aggressive type of breast cancer, I'm looking at a 30% chance of developing a recurrence and a 15% chance I won't see my 35th birthday? And these are "good" statistics? Now if I told you that you had a 30% chance of spontaneously combusting, I bet you'd be standing ready with the fire extinguisher, a garden hose, and the fire department's phone number on speed dial.

Now you can start to see some of the anxiety that I, as a survivor, have to live with. Every ache and pain in my body I immediately think is a metastasis (spreading of the breast cancer to other parts of the body). If I have a headache, it's brain mets. If I have a pain in my back, it's bone mets. If I have pain under my expanders (which I should! the tissue has been cut out and fried by radiation) then I think it's a recurrence. So yes, I am very happy to be done with treatment but as long as I'm living under this constant worry then I don't feel "cancer free". (I have been told, however, that with each clean scan the worry lessens.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chemo curls

I get a lot of comments as people walk past my desk on my curly hair. Since I can't see the back of my head, I took a picture. I just thought I would share it with you all.

The most frequent question people ask me is "Was your hair this curly before?". First of all, weird that in less than one year's time I have met SO many new people. Secondly, no, my hair was not this curly before. It was somewhere between straight and wavy. If I blow-dried and straightened my hair I could wear it straight (but it was a constant battle against the Florida humidity). If I put product in my hair and used the diffuser, I could wear it wavy-curly.