Monday, December 31, 2007

in the center of the circle

i've kept my promise this past week. all i've been doing is resting and healing. sweet friends have brought me meals, i've been devouring novels like cookies and my little dog has gotten spoiled with all the snuggling on the couch.

i've come to treat my beleaguered breast like a helpless infant. sick and fragile, it needs round the clock attention and very tender care. i swallow anti-inflammatory herbs and homeopathics, a spectrum of vitamins and antioxidants and eat my veggies. i sleep hours, giving the body deep rest. i take short walks in the fresh air with multiple bras stacked on top one another for support. i apply ice packs on a schedule, gently apply arnica cream to the bruises and watch as they shrink and fade, a bit more everyday.

the incision is still very tender, i can't hug people as i used to, with strength and abandon. the skin is itchy, tired of wearing a bra twenty-four hours a day. parts of the breast are still numb. the feeling has not returned and after now three surgeries in the same place, i wonder if the nerves will ever fully recover. it's possible i will always have a numb spot on this breast.

while the skin knits itself back together, bit by bit, another type of profound healing is going on. it's something harder to name, something spiritual and emotional.

when i first found the lump, my turnip, in my breast, i started this blog. with the blog i opened a door. a door into places in me i've traditionally kept closely guarded. and a door to a world of people i'd never met. i've lived most of my life like a warrior that can never show weakness. that's a position that's hard to hold. you spend so much energy keeping the public surface strong that you have none left to nurture yourself on the inside. and you can't let others in to hold you, either.

the past two months i've been systematically dismantling that guarded position.

what i've discovered is nothing short of a personal miracle. this is how i think of it: for years and years, i went through my life, feeling i was alone, holding a core belief that i would not be supported by the universe. i picture it now as me standing in the dark, alone. then one day, i reached above me to the pull chain on the ceiling light and turned it on.

suddenly i realized that i am actually standing in a massive circle of support. hundreds of faces reflecting warmth, love, encouragement. some of the people in the circle i don't even recognize, some are close friends. it's an amazing, wonderful, seemingly endless and growing circle of people who are connected to me, interested in my story, my well-being. my heart is cracked open in the best way, there is a deep release of fear and then really it hits me: i am being held.

and even more amazing, this circle was always there.

learning to receive, learning to allow myself to be held, is the beginning of a new way of living for me. it's something i've struggled with consciously for years. this didn't come overnight, as much as i am condensing the story here. yet the truth is, cancer didn't allow me to stay in my comfort zone and i was ready to change. i'd taken one big leap of faith. taken a business loan, quit my day job. yet cancer has kept me honest, held my face to the wind. there isn't any way to go but forward, that becomes crystal clear really quickly.

2007 has been a year of taking risks i'd never allowed before.

there is more to come, much more. challenges and hurdles. i'll be undergoing radiation treatment in a month. reconstruction surgery to follow, months later. healing, deep in my cells will continue to be what i am doing, every single day. and i've got just a few months to make it with my business, to start supporting myself.

when i list them like that, the challenges seem even more immense. but i have to believe, with you all around me, i am equal to the task. thank-you so, so much for showing up, for being in my circle.

after all, i am here to thrive.

Monday, December 24, 2007


oh my dears! it is good news, the best possible news, on a day i thought for certain none could come. this morning shortly after 9 am, i spoke on the phone with martha (dr. naik was not in today, i knew that was the case as she told me her holiday schedule last week) and she was able to pull up the pathology report.

clear margins, at last.

finally, the cancer has been cut out. i was able to have my mom by my side when i heard the news. we cried together. i realize only now, the extent to which i have been holding my breath. the sigh of relief is huge. collectively, amongst all the followers of my story, it must be a sigh heard around the world. i can hardly take it in, truth to be told. what a weight lifted!

i am not much of a christmas celebrator, but i sure feel like celebrating now! a sweet elf that brought me some champagne last week must have had a good feeling about this.

i am ready to drink a toast to clear margins.
and dear friends.
and an excellent surgeon.

oh, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, universe, for delivering this news.

and thank-you, dear friends near and far, for holding me so close in your thoughts these weeks. i have felt surrounded by light and love. your support is palpable and priceless.

of course, this is far from the end of the story, but it is the end of this particular chapter. i'll be writing here again soon, as there are many thoughts i've been processing, but have been to distracted too write. mom is on a plane back home and i am going to continue to rest this whole week.

bless you all for being here. may your holiday be warm and bright.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

same song, second verse

here we are again, knee-deep in the long agony of waiting for the pathology report. i've been in a dense fog of pain meds this week, not even able to write in this space. just drifting along, sleeping many hours, checked out from life. i hope you all forgive my silence, there is very little that seems worth saying, in the absence of real news.

i had hoped for an answer back on the pathology report on friday. it was a long shot, but within the realm of possibility. yesterday, by the time 6pm came and went, i knew that hope was dashed. i cried, curled up with my mom's arms around me. i'm not feeling at all confident that we will hear on monday, even. monday being christmas eve and even if the pathology report is done, who will be there to call me and relay the results?

does santa deliver pathology reports? what if i've been a very good girl?

which means i am again facing hearing this news after my mom leaves. the news that may not come now until wednesday or even thursday. i'm not too good at this waiting game. i feel like an angry, frustrated, dull-witted child.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


quick update: i am home, safe, the surgery went as planned. much shorter day at hospital and got the pain meds right away. feel better after than last time. i think i was becoming a pro at the surgery show. next christmas when i do the reconstruction, i'll be a whiz kid at the hospital routine! i am quite a bit drugged up and heading to bed.

this afternoon was napping, drinking fantastic fresh super anti-oxidant juice from my dear friend rachel, watching movies and my mom is taking such sweet care of me...

more soon.

thanks for all the healing power you have been sending my way. i feel so held and loved.

Monday, December 17, 2007

clarity at 7 am

the surgery for clear margins is tomorrow, 7 am. i am happy to be the first surgery of the day, so hopefully it will be a shorter day at the hospital than last time! dr. naik knows where to take the tissue, we are just aiming now for that tissue to be free and clear of cancer cells.

the studio sale on sunday was a wonderful success. so many people, from all parts of my life came out and shopped. i feel very full and loved right now.

thank-you, everyone. for sending healing energy and buying my jewelry and donating to my medical bills. the consistent support and love has been so, so wonderful. i am very blessed.

fingers crossed for clear margins, all together now...

Friday, December 14, 2007

asking for help, part 2

i've been keeping myself busy this week, really busy. it helps to take my mind off the next surgery and all the things to follow in this battle. i have been able to return to a little light work in the studio. making earrings and preparing some vintage lockets has been good for my spirits. although my true love, metal-smithing, with it's hammering and precise skill set is still beyond me with my healing chest muscles and tender breast.

my special studio sale is this sunday. if you are local, please do spread the word. invite your friends, your neighbor, your kid's teachers...anyone you can think of. and as i know many men in particular have maybe just begun to shop for holiday gifts -invite them! my friend melissa who is helping with the sale and i will be happy to advise anyone not quite sure about what their special girl (or mom!) might like. all the details are here: twirl holiday studio sale. and of course, i'd love to meet the local readers of this blog!

if you are not here in portland, but would like to help support me, making a purchase in one of my web shops is an easy, sweet way to do so. what could be more of a win-win? you get beautiful jewelry for yourself or as a gift to give and i am sustained, bit by bit. the links to my shops are right there in the left margin and if you scroll down to the bottom, there is even a little photo strip of some of the pieces in the bread + butter shop. that collection is very affordable, nothing in the shop is over $50 and many items are under $30.

as my next surgery is on tuesday december 18, the very last possible day i will be able to ship before christmas is this monday, december 17. all orders from the web shops that are in by 3pm, PST will be shipped. of course, if you don't need your items right away, please do carry on with shopping! i will resume shipping by december 26.

if you have no need or desire for jewelry, there is another tangible way to offer support. i have started a fund for my medical bills and donations in any amount would be so wonderful. there is a simple way to donate, using the button in the left margin. some of you have already been so generous and i thank-you again for reaching out. it's very hard for me to ask for help, i've always been so independent. but i am practicing, because this breast cancer is a trial by fire. i must learn the lessons, grow out of my comfort zone or be crushed. i want to thrive as an artist, as a woman and as spiritual being. i have great work to do on this planet and i want to be empowered to get on with it as soon as possible.

if you have the means, please help me thrive.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

big brains for a strange turnip

one thing i haven't written about yet is the breast conference at OHSU. every thursday a huge team of doctors and nurses, 45 skilled professionals, sits down together to review the special cases. guess who was a featured special case last thursday? yes, yours truly.

it's amazing and comforting to know that all of those surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and many more i can't even imagine were all gathered together looking at my health. they studied the many mammogram films and ultrasound images, wondered over my freaky pathology report and combed their collective brains for answers.

not so comforting is the fact that in that group of 45 top breast cancer professionals, none of them had ever seen a phyllodes tumor with a mass of DCIS cells hidden inside. i checked in with the rare cancer talk forum online (not part of OHSU) and world-wide, only one other woman has reported this same strange twist in her story.

my mom jokes that i am taking this whole "being unique" thing a bit too far this time. that maybe i should take it down a notch towards normal. ah, if only i could, i would in this case. i have always been an unusual person, not very average in any way. but i'd love to be average in this case.

my point today is really this: i am getting excellent care at OHSU, some of the best in the country, i am certain. the collective experience of that conference is impressive. they have seen more phyllodes cases than any other group in portland, for certain. and because they are also a medical school, a research facility, i feel like their brains stay sharper. medicine is imperfect, yet even knowing that, i still feel that i couldn't be getting better care.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

an encouraging word

i never would have though that plastic surgery would be the best news, the most encouraging, hopeful information i could hear. yet, it was. yesterday i met with dr. reid mueller at OHSU and he was wonderful. warm, easy to understand and totally reassuring. although it was a lot of information to process, i left there with a lighter heart just knowing that no matter what the outcome is, plastic surgeons have ways of making magic and fixing things.

of course, i have already come to terms with some compromises. i will have to accept scars. no longer will i have these perfect (to me) breasts. mine will tell the story of this journey i've been on. that seems ok right now.

i sure as hell will have earned the scars.

for now, in this round, i am fighting to keep this breast. but who knows what the future holds? i hope i never see breast cancer again. but i won't be surprised if it comes back. i am going to live the fullest life i know how, with the knowledge that you never really see your opponent until you are at the battlefield. and if it comes back, i have the experience to beat it again.

yesterday i learned that even with a radical choice like a mastectomy, there are options for reconstruction that i would feel comfortable with. i don't ever want implants, those silicon and saline pillows of stuff freak me out. do you know they actually put them under the chest muscle? i could barely touch the examples in dr. mueller's office. the great news is, i am a good candidate for using my own body's tissue and muscle to make a new breast. they would take it from my belly, where i happen to have a bit to spare. mind you, i am not taking this route now, i am not going to get a mastectomy, i am not having a total reconstruction. but it was deeply comforting to know how it could be done. way more gracefully and naturally than i assumed.


this round, i may possibly lose my nipple and i certainly will have two radically unmatched breasts. those issues can be fixed, although the outcome of reducing one of the breast will certainly be better then having a new, non-functioning nipple. cross that bridge when i come to it, i guess.

i hope i get to keep my nipple, i would mourn it's loss.

dr. mueller won't be able to start reconstruction for me until months and months after radiation is finished, assuming i do choose radiation. so this saga may be another whole year in the making.

Monday, December 10, 2007

the body takes healing in it's own time

little by little, i am healing. still deeply sore, but marked improvement from just a few days ago. the ice packs make such a difference. i've got the heat cranked in my apartment so i can stand having ice on my skin so often in this chilly weather.

today, i see dr. naik again to check on my progress and make our surgery plan. i also will consult with the plastic surgeon she recommends (and martha says is an artist with breast reconstruction) to get an idea of what is possible. i know it's way early to meet with him, but somehow i feel i can face the results of this next surgery better, knowing there is a way to fix things later. i need some hope, some positive projection to focus on at this point. last week i learned that if i choose radiation, i must wait at least a whole year before they will do plastic surgery on the other breast for symmetry. radiation changes the tissue that much. and the body takes a long time to heal from it fully. i wouldn't know what to expect and the most skilled surgeon wouldn't risk a guess.

these are disappointing facts. i had so hoped to at least close this chapter of my life within the next few months.

i don't think red wine, dark chocolate or nature walks are a proven cure for cancer, but they take the edge off, that is certain. it's been good to spend some time with friends this week, to surround myself with gentle souls and good conversation. soothing my stress level is absolutely helping the healing along!

in the spirit of being pro-active and positive, i've decided to seize this last week before the next surgery to have a special studio sale. i'll have my entire inventory from both web stores set up for gift shopping next sunday, december 16 from noon to 6pm. anyone local who has had their eye on my jewelry online, will have an opportunity to come browse and shop in person! i hope it will be a win-win for everyone. i really need to make some money and you all must have some gifts to buy for holiday giving.

my bread + butter shop has a very affordable collection and i hope to make a few new pieces this week as well. more lockets for certain. so the offerings you see online are just a fraction of the pieces available next sunday.

send me an email if you would like to be added to the evite list and i will send you the details. you can read the full particulars right here.

if you are not in portland and have been considering a jewelry purchase from either of my shops, please do seize the moment as well. put your order in as soon as possible this week! I won't be able to ship anything for christmas after monday, december 17, as i will be recovering from surgery and determined to just lay quiet for two weeks.

Friday, December 7, 2007

a small update

the next surgery will be tuesday, december 18. dr. naik will go into the same breast and take more tissue, in hopes of getting enough margin to test clear. focus your healing thoughts there, a clear margin. we are getting dangerously close to the nipple, so if a third surgery is needed, i will lose my nipple.

if. if. if. if. so many ifs.

i'm trying to not go there yet. one step at a time, one small(huge) chunk at a time with this thing.

i will meet with both dr. naik and the plastic surgeon on monday, although any reconstruction that is needed won't be this month after all. so many unknowns. i look into 2008 and want to be positive. i can't see it clearly, i feel in a deep fog, nearly numb after the news of the past few days.

only one thing i am sure of right now. i want to fight to keep this breast. i love it and i want to keep it. oh yes, it is smaller, maybe not the prettiest one for a while, but still better than nothing.

i am terrified of that nothing.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

oh, these fucking margins!

brace yourselves, dear ones. the margins i hoped to be clear, sadly are not. they are sprinkled with enough cancer cells to need another surgery. that being said, the cells present in the margin are phyllodes cells, not DCIS cells.

which is good news, i guess. it is pretty fucked up when you are looking at any kind of cancer cells as good news. i am in a very strange head space right now.

the mass of DCIS cells within the turnip were of a significant size, also. over a centimeter. did you know the body uses the metric system? just like canada. so, even though there is precious little logic one can apply to my situation, the doctors do kind of assume that means there may be DCIS cells in other parts of the breast. cells just waiting to sneak up on me and turn into invasive cancer. little baby killer cells. fuckers.

i have options put before me to consider. radiation. mastectomy. some other path of my own invention. it is a real shit ton of heavy stuff to process. martha suggested i might need wine for the task, good red wine. that sounds like very sound advice.

she gave me permission to make this statement:

please, i don't need to hear and in fact cannot handle hearing about anyone else's breast cancer. everyone knows someone who has it, who survived it, who chose the double mastectomy. it is not helpful for me to hear those stories. i know they are offered in hopes of relating somehow to this awful thing happening to me. i know everyone just wants to help. but i don't need advice on what to choose for treatment, i don't need any kind of judgement. i just need cheerleaders, support, sales on my websites, prayers & chants to every god, goddess, saint and wood sprite you can think of, a few meals, a whole lot of money and i need you all to hang in there with me. this thing most probably will get long and boring. thank-you for understanding and thank-you for all your love and support. i hope you never, ever have to face this yourself.

ladies, do your breast exams. yes, i am taking to you. with love.
i will be having another surgery and soon. we will again hope and pray for clear margins. dr. naik will have to make an educated guess about how much tissue to take. that might not even be the end of it. but for tonight, that is all. it is vital to my healing to stay present, breathe and keep the stress level low.

funny movies, fantasy novels and good red wine is the only medicine i can stomach for now.

the wait: finding escapes

i am a mess of confusion today. meeting with the radiation oncologist at 3pm, for the final results of the pathology and to discuss treatment options. i can't even see beyond that, for now. trying to just stay present and not project into the future, as that throws me into an emotional tailspin i just can't afford on any level.

the breast, healing the breast right now is all i can do. it swelled back up, because i was moving around too much, not icing enough and so it filled with an audible fluid. hearing and feeling that move under skin gives me all kinds of the creeps. i am sure you all are shuddering, just reading about it. so i am back to ice in the most strict rotation, it's my job. ice on the breast, rest, try not to worry. also, i need to go get a better bra solution. all of the options on hand (and i have many) have not done the trick. so despite the need to rest, i am going shopping.

it's the perfect combination of firm support and gentleness that is needed. isn't that what we are all looking for? metaphors for life and love.

but while i am doing my job of caring for the breast, who is doing my real jobs? who is bringing in the bacon while i am resting, unable to fully use my arm, to make jewelry, to manage my apartment complex (my other job)? that is very worrying. worry doesn't help the healing. but i am hemorrhaging money.

i want to be all filled with light and confident and positive...but that seems to require energy i am using just in holding a veil of denial up high. so i can get up in the morning, care for my dog, heal my body. i've never been very good at denial or lying. i am good at being practical and working hard. yet, i'm also good at dreaming.

i can't escape into hard work with this sore and swollen breast, so i've been dreaming. escaping to fantasy places, warm places without rain, free of cancer. my island in greece, the clear waters of tulum, mexico, the mesas of new mexico, the 10,000 waves spa in the hills outside of santa fe, new mexico. places i've been and loved. and places i long to explore. thailand, morocco, bali, egypt, portugal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

some answers, part one

at long last, i did get a call from dr. naik yesterday afternoon, tuesday. i just was too shook up to write about it. the news, when it finally came was not what i hoped for. it wasn't even what my doctors expected.

the body holds surprises.

i don't have the full results of the pathology report yet, actually. the margins are still at the lab, getting another once over. there is an area of question, as i understand it. what i do know now is that the turnip was indeed a reoccurance of my last tumor, but with a progression and a strange twist. this tumor is classified as borderline, which means it is somewhere in the middle of that malignancy scale. which means it is more aggressive and if it had continued to grow, potentially dangerous.

the good news, it's out.

the strange twist that no one expected because it is extremely rare (a rare tumor with a rare surprise? what the hell?) is that within the tunip, there lay some other breast cancer cells. yes, the garden-variety kind that i have been so thankful not to have. i don't fully understand the science and i couldn't bring myself to do a lick of research online about it because i am just reeling. how dr. naik described it is that the cells they found are called DCIS and are low-grade, pre-cancer cells. they are the cells that grow to become invasive breast cancer.

i didn't know how concerned to be until she said that the treatment for these cells being present is either a mastectomy or radiation. she wants me to meet with the radiation oncologist this week to talk over the treatment options. with these new developments, it is critical that those margins be clear. if there are phyllodes cells or DCIS cells in the margins, they will have to go in and take more tissue.

that is all i can write today, my friends. i am stunned, overwhelmed and sad. i keep thinking i want to beat this with positive energy, but i can't seem to summon much. i was hoping this long sprint i just ran was the last of the race, but it looks like i am in for a marathon or two.

Monday, December 3, 2007

no news is just that

all day, waiting to hear news of my pathology report and nothing. i wasn't able to reach martha today, either. to ask my burning questions. i am anxious to get an appointment this week with the plastic surgeon. time is ticking.

a long, long day with no answers.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

returning to what is left

it was good to escape to the coast. mom created a safe little healing nest for me in the cottage, with a crackling fire, cozy blankets, movies, hot soup and long sleep-ins. yesterday the sun came out and it was warm enough to sit outside for a couple of hours on a log and with almost no wind, take a long, pleasant walk. after being so inactive for days it felt good to stretch my legs, to stroll the beach.

coming back into portland tonight, we passed the sign for the hospital and the reality of what we are waiting for hit me afresh. there was no message from my doctor on the results of the pathology when we returned to the house. just thinking of it has darkened my light mood from the time by the ocean. i hope so much that the margins test clear and dr. naik doesn't have to go into this breast for more tissue.

the breast still feels so tender and fragile. in quiet moments, i can almost feel the body knitting itself back together again. it's a spooky, prickling feeling inside. my whole breast is technicolor with bruising, so i keep the ice pack in strict rotation, hoping to help control the swelling as much as possible. i need the swelling to recede relatively quickly so i can determine what is truly there. what this breast is now to be. already, it is clearly much smaller and um, perkier. looking at the two side by side, they don't look like they belong on the same body. two different women's breasts on my chest is how they look. really, the whole scenario is surreal. some crazy photoshop mash-up on my body. if it wasn't for the persistent tenderness, i would think i had fallen into a strange, dreamy painting.

reconstruction is likely, and soon. if i have the next surgery before the end of the year, my insurance will pay at 100%. monday i call martha and ask about getting on the plastic surgeon's schedule. at this point i am just saying fuck doing anything else in december. holiday shows, working in my studio, social obligations. i just need to get this breast cancer chapter closed. closed and sewn up before a new year starts in four short weeks.

and wouldn't it be perfectly lovely to leave the turnip solidly in 2007?