I am in Free Fall but Determined to Climb out of Depression

joyIt’s been the most difficult New Year that I have ever experienced. On a personal level I am trying to approach this year with ease and joy. It’s been two years since Li died and I am drowning in depression. Not sure whether anything I am doing is worth anything. I have never worked so hard without feeling any reward. When I was volunteering at least I felt worthwhile every day helping people right in front of me. I have so many important friends on social media and I have been so fortunate to meet so many special people as a result, but sometimes it’s so hard to keep up with all the information especially as I try to simplify everything.

Meanwhile my very close friend has brain mets and just finished whole brain radiation and it’s just so unfair. I wish the treatment wasn’t so tiring for her. I am so grateful for her friendship and I try to do whatever I can to help but she just doesn’t deserve to be going through all of this. I am glad that we live close to each other and I love getting together especially walking with my dog Shelby to visit.

Twitter : justvisiting123: Why isn't @Jada_FA on the cover ... 2014-02-11 15-01-24Jada my friend on Twitter died at age 34. I only knew her through Twitter. She touched so many of us in the breast cancer social media community. She was so young and beautiful. Here is a stunning picture of her pre-cancer. I did some calculations (hoping my chemobrain math is still working) starting with the fact that there are 450,000 deaths a year from metastatic breast cancer (Source: GLOBOCAN 2008), I calculated that Jada is one of the 1238 people all over the world that died on Jan 28th because of Metastatic Breast Cancer. That’s over 51 deaths every hour.

Pancreatic Cancer Action wish I had breast cancer copy

People have other cancers that are just as important. Yet the Official Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA) came out with an ad campaign with a bald women’s picture saying, “I wish I had breast cancer.” Many of us connected with social media were outraged. The PCA really doesn’t understand breast cancer statistics. The pancreatic ad also made me sad. My dad died from pancreatic cancer and I know that the disease is usually caught at Stage !V. I did some calculations and discovered that about 22 people die a day from pancreatic cancer in the UK while about 32 women die a day from breast cancer in the UK. I know they wanted to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer but I wish they would come up with a new ad and really raise awareness. Once again we need to be united when it comes to all cancers.

Tamoxifen Brain_1379462921276_3014655_ver1.0_640_480On a personal note I am thinking that maybe it’s the medicine I am taking that is making me extra depressed. I took the awful tamoxifen for five years. Now with the ATLAS and aTTom studies at ASCO 2013, they are recommending taking tamoxifen for ten years instead of five. My oncologist suggested I try raloxifene (Evista) which is supposed to be a “tamoxifen light.” When I first took it, I was amazed that there were no side effects.  But during my third month on it, I started getting non-stop hot flashes again, blurry vision, and feeling horribly depressed.

I am ER+, PR-, Her 2-.  Every study I have read about tamoxifen (for example: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/23/4/931.long) and PR- when ER+ states that this is known to be resistant to tamoxifen. In San Antonio sitting next to Dr Dana I appreciated when she pointed to the speaker who I believe was Jason S. Carroll, PhD right as he said “ER+/PR- responds poorly to tamoxifen.” Thank you Dr. Dana for acknowledging the research I discussed with you about this, because I have heard different opinions from doctors. Unfortunately the data presented didn’t have the study published. I have suffered with this stupid drug especially being spooked by a recurrence of my breast cancer after not taking the tamoxifen.

Breast-cancer-revelation-other-hormone-receptors-could-be-targeted-for-novel-therapiesI apologize for those who don’t know theses technical things about breast cancer and to those who do since only 3-5% of cases are ER+ PR-. and there are very few studies since it’s not common. I miss being able to talk about all of this with Li. We loved discovering all the important information related to our cases. Because she was triple negative early on we didn’t understand that treatment options are limited. When she started hospice we both laughed at how much we thought we understood about breast cancer at the beginning when we went through chemo together. We both realized how little we knew until this disease took over our lives.

2225The official Advocates 4 Breast Cancer website is coming together, yet we hit an unfortunate snag. Without getting too detailed, we needed to change the domain hosting company to get ready to launch the new site. Our emails had to go with the domain server and due to technical issues some emails were lost and lots of time was spent on the issue. The problem took a huge chunk of time glued to the phone and computer with support, with lost emails and all sorts of computer issues. Today a miracle happened and after having the engineers look in to the issue, crossing my fingers, I put the settings in and the current mail is working. I apologize to everyone who may have tried to contact me and thought I didn’t respond due to having my email missing.

So to recap. I got very depressed taking a medication hoping to avoid another breast cancer recurrence that I am not sure can help me anyway. With research and a note to my oncologist, I just stopped taking the medicine. Now I hate having to consider taking an antidepressant and I hope the new one works. That’s the problem with medications. Each one causes the need for another one and then it goes on and on. I have had problems with many ones I’ve tried because they made me sick.

no-health-insurance-5Time has been lost over these technical problems with the web site. So please bear with us as we iron out issues.I personally have to make going to the gym a priority and make sure I am taking care of myself. It’s so hard with so many problems all over me. I also have to do another surgery on my breast in a few weeks. I could start another rant about my health insurance especially because it’s gone up 40% in price over the past few years including a recent 15% hike. It’s frustrating financially, time-consuming and I know I am not alone. Scorchy wrote a post that had me in tears about her issues and the financial drain called The Road to Ruin. Yet I am so grateful that I have insurance and my awesome plastic surgeon accepts it. She has fixed some previously botched work. This will be my ninth surgery on my breast, but I am lucky I tolerate surgery very well and I trust Dr. La Via. I  love my docs.

PIIS1470204509703201.fx1.smlI am very upset about my close friend’s metastatic cancer and brain mets. I am grateful that she still keeps me laughing even through difficult circumstances. She is amazing. I luckily have lots of support from family and friends and I know that what I mostly need to do is breathe and appreciate things that really matter. I think the hardest part is feeling no control over outside events. It’s such a combination of frustrating events and I just have to pass through this, one step at a time. With all that is going on I know that I must make the most out of every day and not let these things drag me down.

It’s so important to be in the moment and find daily joy in things. So with that in mind I remind everyone reading and myself that sometimes things can get overwhelming. I will trust that everything will sort itself out and try to find joy in things again. It’s best to allow myself to understand that’s all I can do is keep going and know that things will get better.

IMG_5794Luckily I have Shelby and she is a great source of joy in my life. I thank Li every day for the gift of Shelby. I made a silly movie trailer of Shelby with my iMovie program that makes me smile. I couldn’t get the program to make things perfect, but that’s OK. I have to let go of being a perfectionist. I hope it makes you smile.

#SCORCHY #BCSM #SCOTUS #ASCO13 #BCANS

Social Media SignThis was an incredible week for breast cancer patients, advocates, doctors, bloggers, and what has happened in breast cancer news and social media. I started on Twitter a year ago and for those of you who don’t know about the format, Twitter is a place where you pick a name for yourself (mine is @a4breastcancer-A4BC was taken) and then there are #hashtags which are names of groups or topics.

Because I find and put together breast cancer news articles as part of Advocates for Breast Cancer (A4BC), I created a new hashtag, #BCANS (Breast Cancer News). I am learning a lot about what ends up as news as well as trying to sort through articles that I hope will be of interest to fellow medical professionals, researchers, advocates, patients, and organizations while I try to decide what is newsworthy. This has been an incredible week of news combined with social media.

bcsmcosI am very proud of being part of the #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) community which meets on Monday nights from 9-10 Eastern Standard time. It is an incredible group moderated by Dr. Deanna Attai (breast surgeon), Alicia Stales and Jody Schroeger and this week we had a review of what happened in breast cancer at the annual meeting of #ASCO13 ( American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting 2013, Chicago May 30-June3).  I was thrilled because I had followed and gathered #BCANS (breast cancer news) everyday at #ASCO13. I also used and followed the #ASCO13 Twitter feed.

BCSM (1)The #BCSM meeting Monday night was so exciting because we had almost as many doctors as patients and patient advocates on the chat including the President of ASCO , Dr. Clifford Hudis (who is also the Chief of Breast Cancer Medicine at MSKCC-(Memorial Sloan Kettering), Dr. Seisenberg (oncologist), Dr. Diane Radford (breast surgeon), Dr. Bob Miller (oncologist), Dr. Matthew Katz, (radiation oncologist),  Dr. Krupali (medical oncologist), Dr. Dana (breast oncologist), Dr.Anas Younes (lymphoma expert), Dr.Damodhar (surgeon), and Dr. Naoto Ueno (medical oncologist). (I hope I didn’t miss anyone and I simplified their specialties as otherwise this would be very long!) It was so exciting with all the Doctors and patients interacting, talking about the breast cancer highlights from #ASCO13.

What we discussed is in trials and things we can be hopeful for in the future as well as certain things that may impact our specific cases that we can talk to our own oncologists about. I have mentioned how impressed I am with ASCO because the organization recognizes the importance of patient advocates as well as social media and it relationship to current oncology practices.

What was so great about the #BCSM chat was that patients and doctors could come together and discuss highlights from the #ASCO13 meeting  and I love that the doctors are willing to listen to patients, our thoughts, stories as well as ideas and we all learned something together. I am honored that theses doctors care about patients and come together for this type of meeting and I am so impressed with the people I am meeting as a result. To see the transcript follow this link: #BCSM Transcript- Highlights from #ASCO13

david-jay-the-scar-project-04I am so excited with what’s happening with social media. I am so proud of my friend and fellow blogger Scorchy Barrington  at: The Sarcastic Boob.  Scorchy started a petition on change.org opposing Facebook for not allowing photographs from famed photographer David Jay, that showed post-mastectomy photos of women known as The Scar Project, because they violated Facebook’s terms of service. Imagine my delight as I am gathering the news on Wednesday and I see on my news feed an article in the Chicago Tribune that talks about Scorchy’s change.org petition, where she got over 21 thousand signatures of people who felt the pictures belonged on Facebook. I rushed to get the message out on Twitter and as I was also getting it on Facebook there were so many news feeds of articles including CBS News, FOXThe Daily News, The Daily Mail, NBC, ABC , (to name a few). coming out at once that I could hardly keep up with them. Then there was a burst of energy on Twitter and Facebook with so many people cheering for Scorchy and another great friend and blogger AnneMarie at: Chemobrain…In the Fog, started a campaign to get #Scorchy trending on Twitter.

FacebookFacebook posted this statement: “We agree that undergoing a mastectomy is a life-changing experience and that sharing photos can help raise awareness about breast cancer and support the men and women facing a diagnosis, undergoing treatment, or living with the scars of cancer. The vast majority of these kinds of photos are compliant with our policies.”

Thanks to brilliant work of Scorchy they will now show these important photos as well as Annmarie Giannino-Otis’s photos at Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer. If you haven’t seen The Scar Project photos, I recommend you look at it here: The Scar Project

Scorchy was quoted saying, “We want the world to know that breast cancer is not a pink ribbon — it is traumatic, it is life-changing, and it urgently needs a cure.”

blog_iconScorchy has breast cancer and is Stage IV. She is an amazing blogger, honest, funny, engaging and what she did with this petition and getting all of this news in mainstream media is so fantastic, because patient advocates have worked so hard to let the public know that breast cancer is so much more than a pink ribbon, while all of this “pinkwashing” about the disease distorts some of the harsh realities about breast cancer. These photographs depict real women who know the truth about mastectomies which make scars and are many times lots of surgeries (my case), with different women making difficult choices about whether to do reconstruction and some women especially who get IBC (Inflammatory Breast Cancer) can’t even try reconstruction because IBC happens on the breast skin. As I have said so many times this disease is killing one woman every 14 minutes in the US alone.

pinkcultureThere’s a lot of “pinkwashing” of the disease and so many woman who have had breast cancer hate the color pink because of what has been done to the color by representing an oversimplification of a pretty pink disease. As a former ballerina I still love the color pink but I detest “pinkwashing.”

Getting back to this exciting week and all the action on social media, I was still so happy when I got up on Thursday after all the excitement that #Scorchy brought and while I was preparing #BCANS articles, #SCOTUS (The Supreme Court of the United States) ruling came down and 9 judges voted against Myriad genetics.

I have written about the Supreme Court Case in which Myriad Genetics was challenged because they had a patent on our human BRCA genes. This patent allowed them to be the only ones to do this gene test which kept other researchers and companies from conducting research for better tests that would help women with treatment decisions by knowing if they are at high risk of developing this genetic form of breast and ovarian cancer. While Myriad held the monopoly on the test, other companies were prevented from developing better and less expensive tests and more research into other genes.

Outlaw human genes_nThe case originally in 2009 brought together many diverse plaintiffs in New York Federal Court that included the ACLU,  the Association for Molecular Pathology, the American College of Medical Genetics, individual researchers; women’s health and breast cancer advocacy groups, including Breast Cancer Action and Our Bodies Ourselves; and women who have breast and ovarian cancer. Originally they ruled against Myriad but the case was overturned a year later in an appellate court. Absent from the list of plaintiffs was the Susan G. Komen Foundation who lists Myriad Genetics as a donor to their organization.

One of the plaintiffs, Breast Cancer Action (which I am so proud to be on the Speakers Bureau) is a national grassroots education and advocacy organization working to end the breast cancer. They do not accept any donations from companies, corporations or anyone who profits from or contributes to the breast cancer epidemic.

blog-brca-decision-500x280-v02The Supreme Court ruled against Myriad Genetics by ruling that companies cannot patent parts of naturally occurring human genes. The ruling was complex and at the heart of it was the patent, but the result will help doctors, pathology labs, research, breast and ovarian cancer patients and those at high risk for the disease and will also help make the test more affordable. The test was very expensive (over $4000.00) and many women were uninsured, and those who carried insurance while doing the test were sometimes denied payment or had very high co-pays for the test. There is already a genetics testing company based in Houston that said it would offer the test for $995.00 called DNATraits. To see the decision go to: The Association for Molecular Pathology et al. vs. Myriad Genetics .

It was so much fun for all of us to get on Social Media cheering this monumental decision of the Supreme Court. I feel so connected to so many others including breast cancer patients, patient advocates, doctors, legislators, organizations, bloggers, and of course #Scorchy, that are working every day to help other patients, make the public aware about the realities of this disease,  get more funding for research especially for patients who are metastatic and doing difficult treatments every day to stay alive, and finally work to develop a vaccine that will prevent this horrible disease in the first place.

blog_iconIt’s been a fantastic week of news and  social media. My favorite end to the week will come out soon from my fellow blogger Marie at: Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, where she will do the weekly round-up of some of the best blogs that came out this week. It’s really a great time to be connected to so many awesome people.

Wego Health Award

Wego content_badgeI have been nominated for a Wego Health Award for best in show by using social media to raise awareness. You can click on the yellow health activist award on the right or click here.  When it asks for your email address to endorse me, you will not receive junk mail or be put on any email lists. I am honored for being nominated & I thank you ahead for endorsing me!

Happy Thanksgiving

I like Thanksgiving because it’s a time for the family to get together and just enjoy the holiday and time away from our normal routines. I am also grateful for all of my family, friends from social media, good friends, and all the things I am getting to do as I work on putting up my web site for Advocates 4 Breast Cancer. I am grateful that I feel well and I am getting to live my best life even after all I have been through with breast cancer.

I am grateful to everyone who has read my blog and commented or written me. I am grateful for my fantastic family even though we have lost some members due to death from metastatic cancer. I am so happy to have such a great and supportive family. I am so happy that so many of my friends are always there for me when I need them and I also get to help them . In life with friends and family, we do what we can do.

So please enjoy the holiday and think of all the things that we are grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

Celebrating the Extra-Ordinary: Her name is Shelby

In the blog, “Journeying beyond Breast Cancer” Marie challenged other bloggers to celebrate the ordinary by taking a photo of something every day that makes them feel grateful.  When my friend Li Bailey died on January 6, 2012 of Metastatic Breast Cancer (see earlier blog My Fearless Friend Li Bailey) , she left me with a gift that she asked me to take care of when she found out she was going to die from Breast Cancer.  It was her beautiful dog Shelby. Li knew that I adored Shelby from the first day she arrived at her home.

When Li got Shelby, Li had completed her primary chemo and moved to a bigger apartment so she could have a puppy. Shelby arrived around Christmas in 2005 and when I visited Li, I loved playing with Shelby and she is just the sweetest dog that anyone could ever ask for. Shelby brought so much joy in to Li’s life and continues to bring me joy every day.

The day Li died, I took Shelby and all of her things to my home. We spent the day together as she got used to her new home. Shelby acted as though this was a new fun adventure. I am so grateful to have her in my life and she continues to keep my friend alive in my mind by just being herself. I love Shelby so much! She is a fun, happy, adorable dog with the most beautiful eyes.

Earlier today I was feeling sad because I missed my friend. I walked with Shelby like I do everyday and when we got home I felt so much better. She was sitting on the floor looking so pretty that I took her picture and realized just how grateful I am for having had Li in my life and having been blessed with her incredible gift of Shelby.

I also want to thank Marie for giving all of us bloggers a great idea to post about.