The Party is Over: Saturday, May 30, 2009

Man, what a difference a day -- or even half a day -- makes. I felt pretty good when we left Charleston yesterday but after nine hours in a cramped car and the blood test results and bills I was greeted with when I got home, my mood turned from pretty high to pretty low in very little time. Sigh.

First, the blood test results: One of my chemo nurses called yesterday evening to tell me that my white and red counts were VERY low this week (I had my blood work done in Charleston). So, I need to start antibiotics today to ward off a possible infection since my white count is so low that I might need to have a blood transfusion. Really? How is it that a girl with a white count so low that she might need a transfusion can speed up a bridge to do a 45-minute power walk without any real shortness of breath (apparently, I should be experiencing that all of the time given my blood count)? The nurse also told me to curb my workouts and to take it easy. Does she have any idea how hard it is to hold onto my fantasy world in which I'm not really sick when I can't exercise and run around like the Energizer Bunny?!? I don't think so. Oh, and even though I've given up dairy except for some occassional goat cheese on a restaurant salad, I need to start eating yogurt everyday to ward off a potential secondary infection from my antibiotics. I think you gals out there know what kind of infection I'm referring to. Awesome! It's all like a big shit sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Second, the bills: On top of just over $1,000 of pending medical bills (and my $1,500 wig!), there were not one but TWO $40 speeding tickets waiting for me in my mail pile when I got home. It seems I now have another reason to hate Maryland. I got both tickets in Montgomery County during the wig purchase week. I mean, don't they know the only reason I'd be speeding through Montgomery County like a mad woman would be to select, purchase, and get fitted for a chemo wig??? Couldn't they cut a girl with Virginia tags some slack since the only reason she'd be in those parts was for some very sad, pathetic reason? Ugh. Note to self: Those sleezy Marylanders have secret cameras everywhere.

Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. Yes, I will snap out of it (...but I'm starting to think it might be time to start taking those happy pills I got a prescription for a week or so ago). Yes, I'm still going to do some sort of short walk this morning before my errands (just three or four...). And, yes, I do plan to spend the afternoon relaxing by my parent's pool with the great company of my cousin Heather and her three fun kids.

On the Road Again: Friday, May 29, 2009

Time to hit the road. We're heading back to Alexandria in just a little bit. Here's a shot from our last night in Charleston. It's so unfair that Bobby got dark coloring and I got the pale Irish skin! (And perhaps some other mutated genes, too!)


Me, Mom, Ansley, and Bobby after another delicious meal at Al di La.

Good Times in the Holy City: Thursday, May 28, 2009

Well, it's been another wonderful trip to the Holy City. I'm feeling pretty good, however, I am generally a little fatigued by the afternoon (could it be all the running around I do? Hmmm...) and I'm bruising like a banana so that's probably a sign of something bad but I'm not going to worry about it until someone tells me to. I've been doing the Ravenel Bridge walk just about everyday, which is one of my favorite things to do when I'm down in these parts. Anyway, I thought that everyone might like some photo highlights of the trip, so here they are:

Alison joined us on our first night here (last Friday). The three of us dined at our favorite neighborhood restaurant (actually, one of the best northern Italian restaurants you'll find anywhere), Al di La.

We hit Rue de Jean (appropriately, on John Street in downtown Charleston) for dinner on Saturday evening. My fish was delicious but the mushroom polenta that accompanied it was one of the most bland, hard things I've ever tasted. Think NHL hockey pock. Yuck! Oh well.

After dinner, we stopped by High Cotton for a night cap in the bar. There was a great jazz trio playing, which was fun to listen to.


Elena (above) joined us on Sunday afternoon and we all headed down to Kiawah Island for drinks at The Sanctuary (an amazing resort property!) and dinner with a friend and former colleague who happened to be staying at her parent's Kiawah house for the long Memorial Day weekend. As you'll see it was a fun and relaxing evening!

Alison liked her cocktail!

So did I!

The view from the veranda where we had drinks. Does it get any better than this?



A shot of Elena and Alison checking out the fantastic view from The Ocean Course Golf Clubhouse.




We spent Memorial Day on the beach at Sullivan's Island (my favorite beach down here) and had to stop by Poe's for a happy hour cocktail and appetizers. Love Poe's!



Monday night was Alison and Elena's last night with us so we all went out to FIG for dinner, which was absolutely delicious. FIG's owners have a local food philosophy and I'm telling you what, I had the best green salad of my life that night. Yum! I can't wait to go back there during my next visit.

Unfortunatley, I left my camera at the clubhouse on Sunday evening (I would forget my head these days if it wasn't attached to my body)...so back to The Santuary we went to retrieve it on Tuesday afternoon. Poor Mom had to suffer through cocktail hour on the veranda with me. Mojito anyone?




Before I go, I have to share with you the fantastic hostess gift Alison gave me upon her arrival. Aren't these bandanas great?!? I've worn several over the past week and am so happy to add them to my cover-up choices. Thanks, Alison!



So, it's our final night here and we're about to head out to dinner with my brother, Bobby, and his girlfriend, Ansley. We're going to end the trip where we started it with another fantastic al fresco meal at Al di La. Can't wait!



Happy Memorial Day!: Monday, May 25, 2009

That's all. Just wanted to wish everyone a good one! I'm off to eat a locally grown/caught dinner at Fig. Yum!

Headed South - Part II: Friday, May 22, 2009

Well, my mom and I are heading back down to Charleston this morning. We'll be down there until next Friday, May 29th. My friends Alison and Elena are going to join us for part of the trip, which will be fun. Since the purpose of going down there is to get away from it all, I probably won't post everyday but I will write occassionally to let you all know how I'm doing. Keep your fingers crossed that we don't encounter a lot of Memorial Day traffic on our way!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Poet-in-Residence: Thursday, May 21, 2009

Before I get to the heart of today’s post, I’ll take a brief moment for some housekeeping, er medical, updates: First, I had my weekly labs done this morning and everything is okay. Yes, just okay. I continue to be anemic and have a low white count but my levels are not really cause for alarm. I promised my nurse today that I will continue to eat an iron-rich diet and avoid sick people so she let me go without too much of a Procrit pitch. Second, I had my genetic counseling session today, which was very interesting. My doctor, as well as all of the other doctors I met with in the early days, has been focused on my getting tested for the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutation but my genetic counselor is more concerned that I might have Lynch’s Syndrome. She and I agree that the odds that I have a BRCA 1 or 2 genetic mutation, which would mean I’d be at greater risk for breast cancer following all of this nonsense, is pretty low given that there is no breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family and that it seems the only possible genetically-linked breast cancer on my father’s side is his grandmother’s, which occurred when she was post-menopausal. If I had Lynch’s Syndrome, which is linked to uterine cancer, it would put me at a significantly greater risk for developing colon cancer (and a few other kinds) later in life. Fabulous! So, we decided today that I’ll have my tumor tested when I have my hysterectomy later this summer to determine whether or not I should have further blood work done to see if I’ve got this Lynch’s Syndrome business or not. Oh, and while I’m giving updates, here’s the deal with my workouts this week: I walked on Sunday with Shannon, felt like crap Monday morning so I didn’t exercise, walked Tuesday afternoon, skipped yesterday, and did another 30-minute walk this morning before heading out for labs and genetic counseling. That’s it. Not very exciting, huh?

Okay, so now for the good stuff…

I lived with my friend Ali, as well as Shannon and Ingrid, during my last year at UVA. We shared a four bedroom apartment in “The Fred” apartment building, which was a short walk to many downtown restaurants, shops, and campus. Despite what you might imagine, there was surprisingly little dating relationship drama among the four of us that year. We all had boyfriends and Shannon and Ingrid actually ended up marrying those fourth year college sweethearts. (What’s even more amazing is that I think they’re both still very happy that they chose to marry those guys. Good for all of them!) Ali’s relationship with Erik, however, was full of 21-year old dating drama. In fact, it was so bad that we often joked that the proprietors of the local Chinese restaurant Ali and Erik frequented referred to the not-so-happy couple as “Asshole” and “Cry Baby.” Seriously. One of the products of Ali and Erik’s tortured love was a hole pile of love (and hate) poems by Ali. It seems as though every time I entered the apartment after class Ali would pop out of her room, teary eyed, with a new poem to share – one that no doubt compared her love for Erik to the vastness of the ocean (Ali’s love of the ocean ran a not-too-distant second to her love for Erik). It got so bad that I’d typically come in, take one look at her, and before she’d open her mouth, I’d say, “Okay, come on, Al. Let’s go to Europes (our nickname for our favorite café, Café Europa) and you can read me the latest while I have tomato basil soup.” (I could deal with all of their drama much better on a full stomach.)

Well, unbeknownst to me, Ali actually crafted some happier, more uplifting works during this dark period. I hadn’t seen or heard of the poem below until it arrived, along with many other sweet notes and cards, with my iPOD Touch the other week. I liked it so much I decided to share it with all of you today. Who knew a slightly depressed 21-year old could have such good insights into what really matters in life? My take away from “I Have My Own Bed” is that we all just need to be happy with what we’ve got, do the best we can each day, and get on with things. Thanks for the poem, Al.


I have my own bed
A roof over my head
Warm clothes to wear
And a comb for my hair
I have food to eat
Fruit, grains, greens, and meat,
I’ve got water to drink,
And to wash clothes that stink,
I’ve got heating and plumbing,
The water keeps coming,
I’ve got paper and plastic,
Twisty ties and elastic,
Paper towels and Kleenex,
Mr. Clean, Tide and Windex,
I’ve got containers galore,
For leftovers and more,
And if mold starts to grow,
In the garbage they go,
I can add, read and write,
My prospects are bright,
I’ve got CDs and tapes,
A couch, chairs and drapes,
Books filling my shelves,
Into which few I have delved,
I have a car just for me,
Though it could sit three,
I’ve got the comforts of life,
And in the absence of strife,
I usurp, use and waste,
There’s no need to be chaste,
But I do recognize
And therefore sympathize
With those who have less,
But feel no bitterness
They’re humble and strong,
And what helps them along
Is their brotherly love,
Faith in God up above.
Though we work a lot
For the things that we’ve got
We must never forget
Even when we’re in debt,
That we have more than some,
We’ve got rights and freedom.
So next time you fret
‘bout what you didn’t get,
Think how lucky you are,
With your home and your car,
It’s time we were aware
That we all must share
That we must preserve
The Earth all deserve.


-Alison McCabe, 1998/99

And speaking of a roof over my own head…CONGRATUATIONS to Kristin, Shawn, LEW, and Bella on their awesome new house! I’m so happy for all of you…and I’m really happy to have such a big space to help decorate!!!




Home, sweet home! Kristin, Shawn, LEW and Bella's great new house.




Welcome friends! LEW and Bella waiting to greet new neighbors...or, more accurately, waiting for the door to be opened to attack the neighbor's cat.

The Pool is Open!: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Okay, so in actuality, the McGihon pool has been open for about a month now. However, given the abundance of pollen and cool temperatures that have been around since it officially opened in mid-April, it's as though it opened today! We invited over our friend T and his mommy, Melissa S., both of whom were frequent visitors last summer, to enjoy opening day with us. Look forward to seeing all of you regular visitors at the pool sometime soon. Oh, and don't forget to bring your pool pass (i.e. Miller Lite or Chardonnay)!


T came prepared with his sun hat and shirt, and of course, the obligatory madras swim trunks. What else would a man related to Melissa S. be wearing?
A photo of T explaining to his mommy that he really can swim the length of the pool without his floaties. Nice try, T!


T took a break from the pool action to tour Miss Karen's garden and to have a seat in the Adirondack chair. It's a rough life, isn't it, T?

Weekend Update: Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Okay, so since I didn't write yesterday or Sunday, there's a lot to catch up on. First, I enjoyed a wonderful weekend with Shannon, my college roommate who came to visit me from San Francisco. We didn't do a whole heck of a lot but we managed to get in a couple of great walks, several yummy meals, an average movie (Management, starring Jennifer Ansiton and Steve Zahn), and lots of rest, which we both needed! Thank you for making it out here to visit, Shannon!

Me and Shannon at one of my favorite brunch spots, Carlyle (or The Caryle). Much like NYC was the fifth character in Sex in the City, Carlyle is a supporting character in this blog. It is the scene of so many of my life's happenings, including first dates, family gatherings, showers (or sprinkles!), etc. etc. You get the picture.

I started off the day yesterday with a dermatologist appointment. It had been almost three years since my last mole check and I figured that given everything else I'm dealing with right now, I might as well get my skin checked out, too. I'll spare you the details but apparently, I have two suspicious looking moles so I'll be headed back to the dermatologist in a couple of weeks for...you guessed it...more biopsies! Good times!

After my lovely visit to the over-crowded dermatologist's office, I headed over to my parent's to go where no man, and apparently no woman, had gone before. I decided that it was finally time to try and help my mother organize her closets. Yes, you read correctly, CLOSETS. She has three (she would say they're all small but they're not) and they all looked like a bomb went off in them (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration...) before we started our work yesterday. Long story short, two trips to Bed, Bath, & Beyond (for very fancy hangers) and three, full large leaf bags later, her closets look amazing! We have some more work to do on her shoes and accessories, as well as the front hall coat closet, but I slept much easier last night knowing my mom can actually find clothing to put on her body now. I'll post photos to show off our handy work later on.

Yesterday's fun didn't end with organized closets. I joined Melissa R. for dinner and couch shopping last night. We ended up meeting up with Kelley for dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery in Ballston Mall (my meal didn't win any nutritional value awards but at least I managed to get some iron-rich shrimp in me!) and then spent the next 60 minutes in Macy's Furniture Store attempting to order Melissa's new living room couch. Why is it that the computer system always has problems the evening you decide to try and run in to order a new piece of furniture? Without fail, the ordering process always takes about 2-3x the amount of time it should, right? Ugh! Anyway, it was worth it because Melissa has a beautiful new ivory colored couch on its way to her awesome new house.

So, that sums up Sunday and Monday. Oh, and you'll be happy to know that "How Do You Like Me Now?" is now updated with color commentary and photos. I know I still owe you more on "Headed South" and "A Quick Trip to the Concrete Jungle" but I am still experiencing chemo fatigue so be patient. Thanks.


Chemo Update: Saturday, May 16, 2009

Okay, so I didn't manage to update the blog last night. I have a good excuse though. My college roommate Shannon, who lives in San Francisco, arrived shortly after I got home from chemo to spend the weekend with me. We enjoyed a yummy dinner at Food Matters and then came home in time to watch the beginning of Farrah's Story on NBC. You might think it was kind of morbid of me to watch a story of a woman dying from cancer but for some reason, I wanted to check it out. Anyway, true to form, I only lasted about 30 minutes into the 9 p.m. program -- just long enough to decide that she probably should have gone with a colostomy at UCLA in order to save her life. Oh well. I understand how that would be a very tough decision to make. Poor Farrah. Poor Ryan.

Anyway, I slept well and am feeling pretty good this morning. I have little bit of a soft stomach but other than that I've got no complaints. I took some Glutamine (thanks Baxter Healthcare!) this morning (and will take it three times a day for the next four days) to help ward off the extreme joint pain (think Fibromyalgia pain) I experienced for a few days following my first treatment. Hopefully, the Glutamine will make me less dependent on the vicodine (but I do love that stuff!). We'll see.

Time to go. Shannon is finally awake and we're going to head out to the gym or for a walk (if the weather holds) in a little bit. Keep your fingers crossed that this round of chemo doesn't bring the feeling of a "shock and awe" missile campaign in my pelvis and anymore fainting spells (although, I've got my smelling salts at the ready this time!).

Two Down, Four To Go!: Friday, May 15, 2009

It's that time again! I'm heading out to my second round of chemo in a little over an hour. I promise to post an update later today to confirm that all went as well as it did during my first treatment.

Before I head out though, I need to share a HUGE, HEARTFELT thank you to my wonderful girlfriends and brother who have outdone themselves once again. Early this morning I got a text message to check my front door for a small package. When I went to see what was there, I found a fully loaded iPOD Touch. It's filled with photos, songs, TV shows, etc. that several of my girlfriends and my brother loaded for me. I have no idea how you all managed to pull this together and suspect that Christina was the mastermind behind this but I am more grateful than you can imagine. Between this and Kelley's iPOD, I will finally catch up on all aspects of pop culture (maybe I'll finally learn who sings some of my favorite songs...a girl can dream, can't she?) and have a big smile on my face all day long. But I'll have to remember to be quiet when telling all of my chemo nurses about your generosity because I don't want all of the chemo patients to hate me because I have such better friends than they do!

Thanks again to everyone for your generosity. You really have no idea how much all of this lifts my spirits and helps me get out there to fight the good fight. And speaking of getting out there, I have to run now to do a quick 30-minute power walk before chemo!

I'll be back later with more about today's treatment. Thank you!

The Roosevelts Had It Right: Thursday, May 14, 2009

Regardless of what you think of FDR's New Deal policies and programs (and I sure hope you've at least heard of some of them!), the Roosevelts (that would be Franklin and Eleanor) had it right about at least two things:

First, Franklin , during his 1933 inaugural address when our country was in even worse shape than it is now...

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Next, Eleanor...

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift that is why it is called the present."

I was reminded recently of these two famous quotes and thought that they made some good food for thought. They resonate with me right now because you have to move past any fear you have to advance in your fight against the dreaded "C" or you're finished...toast...fancy worm food (as Ali's dad, Dr. McCabe, likes to refer to us humans). It's that simple. Fortunately, as many of my family and friends know, I've never feared my intruder. (I've just been pretty pissed that it's going to take away my ability to have biological babies someday.) Also, even when you're fighting something as crappy as this disease, you have to celebrate the small joys of each day (like last night's fun and yummy vegan dinner at Christy's where my friends and I discussed Melissa R.'s deep sorrow at having to cancel her US Weekly subscription because she could no longer keep up with reading it, uh, weekly) because really, who knows what tomorrow will bring -- like, for example, a big Metro bus when you're not looking as you cross the street! So, those are two of the things I keep in mind as I face each day as a newly bald 32-year old woman.

In other news...

Since we all know I love a good workout, I've decided to start posting my daily workout stats (you know, kind of like Bridget Jones but instead of daily weight gain and cigarettes consumed, I'll post workouts ) so that I have a record of what I was able to during this cancer circus. Here's today's stats:

Rode the stationery bike for 30 minutes on hill interval setting at level 9
Completed one set (12) of push-ups (no, not the boy way...my body can't handle that yet)
Completed one set (25) of crunches on the medicine ball
Stretched for 10-15 minutes (without question, the most painful part of the workout...I hate to stretch but I've just got to!)

Oh, and don't worry, I will be updating the Headed South, How Do You Like Me Now?, and the Concrete Jungle posts this weekend. I just have to load my new camera software in my computer and since I procrastinate doing what I'm not particularly good at, it's not going to happen until this weekend folks. But don't you fear, more photos ('cause I know that's what you all really want...) are on their way!

Jennie's Top Ten List: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So, I thought I'd take an opportunity on this beautiful Wednesday evening to let everyone know the 10 best things to give to cancer patients (or any other sick person for that matter)...and in the process give a small shout out to those who have given these great gifts to me (since I'm so far behind on thank yous that I fear I'll never catch up...drat!).

Here's the bottomline though: Anything you do is appreciated, no matter how big or small. And you absolutely should not hold back from reaching out, sending a card, dropping something off just because you're not 100% sure it will be the perfect gift (I mean, it's a pretty imperfect situation so your card/gift isn't going to screw anything up worse than it already is, right?). So, here's the list and please know that these are not in any particular order:

1. One of the first gifts I received, aside from the most thoughtful cards and more gorgeous flower arrangements than any one person deserves, was a fully loaded hand-me-down iPOD chock full of movies, music (complete with a newly crafted Jennie Wellness set list!), and books to help make my many hours of chemo pass more quickly. Thanks so much for this thoughtful gift, Kelley! I know it took a million hours and I appreciate it so much!

2. Another really great gift is pretty sleep wear, whether a night gown and robe or pajamas. In the beginning, I used the nightgowns more often because of my incision (thanks for those Mom, Granny & Annie!) but am recently all about my cute little pjs (thanks Michelle!). Oh, and when you're in the hospital it's nice to have something for your tootsies too, so really luxurious socks (or slippers) like the chenille ones I got from Alison are perfect. Thanks, Alison!

3. I guess Melissa S. did a fabulous job promoting the fact that I HEART Sugar House Day Spa & Salon because thanks to Elena, Heather F., and Melinda & Chelsea, I enjoyed a free sassy pre-chemo haircut, eye brow wax, and a couple of much needed massages. Thanks to all of you for your generosity -- I enjoyed every minute of my services!

4. Thanks to Kristin, my Chief Technology Officer, for not only handling my camera repair for me so that I could start taking photos again (it's so helpful to have folks handle rather mundane tasks for you!) but also for the AWESOME Netflix subscription so that I have hours of mindless entertainment whether in the hospital or at home during summer reruns. Thanks to you, I'm caught up on my guilty pleasure, HBO's Big Love.

5. Books, books, and more books! They're great whether they're about beating cancer or not. Two of my favorites include: Kris Carr's Crazy, Sexy Cancer Tips (Lillian, I'm so sorry you've had so much experience, but you are one heck of a wellness cheerleader! Thanks!) and Anti Cancer by David Servan-Schreiber (Erin, I had no idea when I hired you that you'd end up giving me such a wonderful, life-changing gift someday!). I also got a great book about world-renowned spas entitled (shocker!), Spa, which was intended to not only provide me with relaxing imagery and fabulous interior design, but also to help me select the spa I'm visiting when all this junk is done. (Thanks Michelle and Jim!)

6. I think that paying for maid service (just for a cleaning or two) would also be a great gift because it's really hard to clean the bathtub when you're recovering from abdominal surgery. Mom, thanks for helping me keep up with household chores. Like I said, you're the best!

7. I've had many wonderful meals at various friends' houses (and am about to have another tonight at Christy's...and it's going to be vegan!). A girl's gotta eat even when she's sick so food drop-offs, take-out, etc. are all appreciated very much, particularly right after you return home from the hospital and you aren't up for going out. (Thanks again for the delicious dinner the other night, Carmen. Alison and I loved it!)

8. Trashy magazines! I got them from several people and appreciated them so much, particularly when I was in the hospital and had an even shorter attention span than I normally do.

9. Small or large care packages with a variety of wellness items, like the lavendar lotions and bath oils I received from my cousin Marcy and aunt Kay (thanks so much!) or Melissa R's recent gift bag filled with peppermint tea (herbal tea is good because coffee is now banned!), oatmeal lotion (to help with dry chemo skin), gum (to help with the metallic mouth you get from chemo), and a few other items. Thanks for talking with Kate to figure out the perfect items, Lissy!

10. Inspirational and fun cancer clothes! I have many interesting additions to my summer wardrobe this year thanks to Jill, Ali, Michelle, and Shannon. Don't worry, you'll get to see them all when I do a photo shoot for the blog. Coming soon...

So, I think that sums it up. I can't thank everyone enough for your thoughtfulness and generosity. I appreciate everything you've done for me. I have amazing friends!

Fired Up: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I didn't know what I was going to write about when I woke up this morning but I just found some inspiration...

I had the Today Show on in the background while making my oatmeal (I never thought this would happen but oatmeal is my new breakfast...and I actually kind of like it now) and heard Meredith's interview with Tina Brown (founder and editor of http://www.thedailybeast.com/) and Gloria Allred (feminist lawyer) about Elizabeth Edwards' new book, Resilience. Tina attacked Elizabeth for the subject of her new book (Mr. Wonderful's affair with his campaign staffer, Reille Hunter) and questioned why she would choose to spend her time dredging up the affair. Gloria defended Elizabeth and explained that she should be able to handle the affair in anyway she sees fit, particularly given her experience in surviving the death of a child and battling terminal breast cancer. During the course of the interview, Meredith also showed excerpts from the New York Times' Maureen Dowd's recent piece about the book, in which she too attacks Elizabeth's motives and her choice in writing this book.

First off, who really gives a crap if this woman wrote a book about her husband's affair and can't the Today Show producers find something more important to over produce? Second, if the poor woman (I mean, how much more can the broad take?) wants to write a book about surviving Ken's (John Edwards reminds me of the Ken doll) trangressions and if said book helps one other woman cope with her own complicated marriage (yes, I do realize complicated marriage is redundant), then more power to her. Third, why are women so freakin' hard on each other? While I am happy to be a woman most of the time, sometimes I really hate my own kind. Really. What is it about the way we're raised that makes us so hard on each other? (I suspect somehow it all relates to the evil estrogen...) I don't think men beat up on each other this way. No, they form Good Ol' Boy networks and help each other get rich everyday. Not us, though. No, we'd much rather rip each other apart about everything from our choice to stay home to raise our babies to the subject of our books.

I'd like to see Tina and Maureen endure a 25+ year marriage, the tragic loss of a child, some terminal cancer, Mr. Wonderful's affair (that may have produced a love child), and see what kind of book they'd write. I mean, for the love of God, not all of us can masterfully capitalize on our husband's political career and marital transgressions to become a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State! Some of us are just mere mortals trying to do our best to survive everyday. Give the girl a break!

Okay, my rant is over. Now, time to tackle my growing pile of medical bills! Oh, and I'm still working on the updates to Concrete Jungle, How Do You Like Me Now, and Headed South.

Me and Dr. E: Monday, May 11, 2009

This morning I had a chemo planning appointment (can you say fee generator?) with Dr. E. Oh well, it’s always good to chat with him even if I had to wait almost an hour to see him this morning. Boo! Here’s a brief rundown of what we discussed:

· First, the good news: My CA 125 blood test results, which doctors use to track the progress of ovarian cancer treatment, are back and they are fabulous! My level has dropped from an all-time high of 88, which is really nothing compared to some ovarian cancer patients’ levels, to a mere 26!!! Obviously, there is more work to be done (he wants my level to be under 20), but this is a great start. Hurray for Dr. E and me!
· Next, the confusing news: My pathology consult is back from Hopkins and they’re still unsure as to whether or not I’m dealing with a Stage III uterine cancer that has metastasized outside the uterus onto the ovaries and other spots previously discussed OR if I’m truly dealing with synchronous primaries in multiple locations. And like I’ve said before, they really won’t know until I have my hysterectomy and they can run more pathology on my uterus. No matter. My treatment course is the same regardless of what I’m facing and frankly, I don’t really care about the details. I’m just going to stay the hell away from estrogen and keep exercising, downing veggies and water, limiting my beloved vino...and sugar, and animal protein, and anything else that tastes somewhat satisfying.
· What else? After a little more debate, we’ve decided to stick with the six chemo rounds divided in half by surgery schedule. To that end, I’ll be scheduling my early July surgery with Dr. E’s surgery scheduler in the next couple of days. What fun?!? Another surgery to add to my summer 09 memory book.
· There were a few more little things we discussed like mild anti-depressant use for menopause symptoms (they’re apparently effective for women who can’t take hormones), a potential tummy tuck to make me happy with my stomach again (I’ve got what look like two small baby butt cheeks on either side of the top of my incision right now, which doesn’t make me happy…), and what I should expect from the next round of chemo (the answer is: who knows?) but that’s about it.

I’ll be back at the office on Friday for chemo #2. Yay…another relaxing day to look forward to! That’s not sarcasm, by the way. I’m actually looking forward to it. Really.

Happy Mother's Day!: Sunday, May 10, 2009

Me and my beautiful mom, Karen, at my Uncle Chris' wedding on Saturdy, April 18, 2009. Could I be any paler? Geez!

Dear Mom,

Where to begin? First, if I didn’t know it before, I sure do know on this Mother’s Day that you are my hero. Why? Well, for one thing, you have provided me more calm and consistent support than anyone else over the past eight, very challenging weeks of my life. And while I’m not surprised by this at all, I’m more grateful than words can express. I’ve always known that Bobby and I won the “Mommy Lottery” in a big way and that God put you on Earth to be a mother, but the reason you’re my hero today is because you have so bravely and successfully moved outside of your comfort zone on a daily basis to help me through my treatment process. How so? Well, in ways both big and small. First, while not too long ago you needed your husband's help to successfully reply to the occassional email, you now email me and your friends and family on an almost daily basis in order to give and receive medical updates. More importantly, you’ve embraced the fact that if you want to hear from me quickly, you’re better off shooting me a quick email than trying to reach me by phone. Hurray! Second, at times my care has demanded a nursing degree but despite this, you quickly mastered what you needed to know to take care of me, and even though you were nervous at times, you’ve always done a fantastic job with various medical tasks. And I’m proud to say, I think you can change a wound wick with the best of 'em... and certainly much, much more comfortably than Dr. E does it! Bravo! And the list of your recent accomplishments goes on and on.


I know my high fevers (1x), fainting spells (2x), barfing (5x?), and temper tantrums (let's not count those) have freaked you out, as they would most mothers, but you’ve put on a brave face for me and I appreciate that so much. You’ve given me all of your time and attention the last eight weeks (much longer than that, really), which I know you haven't minded but I also know hasn't been easy. Heck, you’ve even subjected yourself to many, many hours in the passenger seat of my car for our trips around the Beltway and to Charleston, which, given the white knuckles and rigid body posture you exhibit, as well as your occasional yelps, might be the bravest thing you’ve done yet!

I love you, Mom. You’re the best mother in the world. And hopefully someday, either through adoption, assisted reproductive technology (read: some twenty something's eggs, my husband's sperm, and a gestational carrier), or maybe even the Stork, I’ll be able to make you the best grandmother in the world. Happy Mother's Day!


XOXO,
Jennie


And now a Mother's Day message to my mommy friends:


Happy Mother's Day! I hope you’re all being pampered right now and that you are enjoying a perfect Mother's Day with your little ones. All of your children are so special to me, and that's because each of you has done such a wonderful job raising them to be the sweet and unique little people they are today. I'm so thankful you're all in my life...and that it seems as though you're not raising spoiled brats. Back in my babysitting days, I complained to my dad about how spoiled some of the children I sat for were. He agreed, and he predicted our generation would return to old-school parenting values – you know, like making children say please and thank you, and actually saying no and meaning it. So far, I see those good values in all of you (plus, you all seem to have found effective ways to discipline without the corporal punishment part of the old-school values, so double bonus points for you!). I know some of you doubt yourselves on a daily basis but that’s just because you love your children more than anything else and you all want to do the best job you know how in raising them. It's the toughest job in the world and I think you're all doing an amazing job at it! Happy Mother's Day!


XOXO,
Jennie

P.S. If you suspect that I might be sucking up to you in the hopes that you will one day carry a baby for me, you’d be right!

A Quick Trip to the Concrete Jungle: Saturday, May 9, 2009

I ventured up to NYC on the train yesterday for two great reasons: 1. To attend an Urban Zen Foundation wellness and nutrition workshop, which was led by the multi-talented Kris Carr and 2. To attend the 30th birthday dinner for my good friend AliP, with whom I've worked for the past four years.

I'll post more details about the weekend, as well as some pictures, in the next day or so.

How Do You Like Me Now?: Friday, May 8, 2009

Right on schedule, my hair started to fall out on Thursday (this was day 13 since my last chemo; everyone's hair typically falls out between day 14 and 21). Based on the advice I read from other chemo patients, I decided to take control of the situation and go into the wig shop on Friday afternoon to get my head shaved and my wig fitted.

I'll post a lot more color commentary on my whirlwind afternoon at Amy's of Denmark, as well as pictures of the whole shaving and fitting process, in the next couple of days. I have to say though, thanks to the warmth and experience of the Amy's stylists, it really wasn't too painful. In fact, I felt pretty darn good when I walked out of the shop on Friday afternoon.


As promised, here's the color commentary and pictures (!!!) from my trip to Amy's:


First, you should know that there are only a few reasons I ever venture to Maryland. Don’t ask me why, but I just don’t like the state that much. Maybe it’s because of the accent of many of the people that live there? Perhaps, it’s because it has a place called Dundalk in it? Or, maybe it's because no one from that state can drive worth a lick when they venture into Virginia? Really! I don’t know what it is but I just don’t like it that much. However, I will cross the border to enjoy an afternoon on my dad’s boat, pick crabs in the summer, visit with my mother’s family, and…most recently, to find the crème de la crème of chemo wigs.

Mom and I first ventured out to Amy’s of Denmark, the premiere Washington wig shop (according to Washingtonian Magazine, anyway), on Tuesday, May 5. We invited my mom’s sister Kathy, who is a cross between Kathie Lee Gifford and Samantha from Sex in the City (don’t ask…just trust me on this one), to join us for the excursion and for lunch. Somehow I knew wig shopping would be more fun if Kathy was along and I was right. I was determined to find a lower cost synthetic wig to use over the next six to nine months as opposed to a MUCH more expensive real hair wig. And that’s exactly what I did on that Tuesday (actually, I found two!). I also found some nifty scarves and bandanas, which Mom and Kathy treated me to. I left the store with one wig in hand and the other on order, ready to come back to get shaved and fitted once my hair started falling out.

As I said above, right on schedule my hair really started to fall out on that Thursday and Friday (days 13 and 14 since my first chemo). So, I decided to take control of the situation, which was advised in a couple of cancer books, and to head in to get shaved and fitted on Friday afternoon. I was traveling up to NYC on Saturday morning for a weekend of events and knew I couldn’t handle the emotional trauma of losing all of my hair in the middle of the Concrete Jungle so I forced myself to get up to Amy’s (don’t even ask about the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic we encountered on the way home!). As you’ll see in the photos below, I ended up switching wigs in the middle of the styling process (in case you’re wondering, the stylists told me that 40% of the people who come in cry during the fitting/styling process).



Unfortunately, the synthetic wig I had purchased started to look like a brown football helmet as it was styled and I knew I just couldn’t bare to wear it so I made the switch to the MUCH more expensive (think down payment on used car expensive!) real hair wig, which had just received a fresh coat of summer highlights that morning. I think you’ll agree though, it was a good switch! And one that will keep me from slipping into a deep, dark depression over the next several months. Really, what’s a couple thousand bucks when you’re talking about a cancer patient’s happiness (right, Dad?)???

Here a few shots from the Friday afternoon shaving and fitting at Amy’s. Thanks to Elan and Sandee for their support and excellent wig styling!





Let's get the party started! This is how I looked in my fairly new, short chemo cut (less hair to fall out!) before the shaving started.

Okay, so obviously I'm having problems rotating photos with my new camera software (Kristin, help!) but here's a crooked look at me during the shaving process. Not so bad, right?


Uh...not too happy at this point because I felt as though I was starting look like Laura Bush with the stiffly coiffed brown helmet. Poor Elan. He tried hard but there was no saving this thing. It was a goner.
Making progress on the new wig with Sandee. It might not be obvious from the photos but this one felt and looked much more natural than the first Laura Bush helmet.


Again, I apologize for the technical difficulties but here I am feeling like a movie star (okay, maybe a made-for-TV movie star but still...) as I prepared to leave Amy's in my new wig. I promise to replace these photos with a corrected image once I am able to connect with my CTO, Kristin, and get these fixed!

Headed South: Saturday, April 25, 2009

My mom and I headed down to my parent's house in Charleston for some much needed R&R (and warm temps!) immediately following my first chemo treatment. It was a wonderful trip from start to finish, despite some of the minor medical drama we both endured at the beginning of the trip.



I'll share some of the highlights (and the drama!) in the next day or so. In the meantime, here's a shot of us at Taco Boy in Folly Beach on the last night of our trip. We were joined by my brother, Bobby, his girlfriend, Ansley, and his good friend, Chris. It was was a fun and yummy way to end a perfect getaway!

One Down, Five to Go!: Friday, April 24, 2009

I'll need six rounds of chemo, each 21 days apart, to get rid of the dreaded "C." However, rounds three and four will be broken up by about eight weeks so that I can prepare for and recover from a hysterectomy.

I had my first chemo on Friday, April 24. All things considered, it went really well. In fact, as I told many people afterward, it was one of the most relaxing days I've had since March 10. I just read and relaxed the whole time in my chemo chair (think mani/pedi chair). I got in there (there is Dr. E's office chemo room, which I'll post photos of later) at about 9 a.m. and was greeted by my fabulous chemo nursing team. These women are some of the sweetest humans you could ever encounter and I was happy to treat them to some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. (Thanks for baking them, Mom!)

My nurse for the day, Rosemary, started infusing me with my pre-meds (steroids, anti-nausea, and Benadryl) at about 1o a.m. That infusion took 30 minutes and then she waited another 30 minutes to start my Taxol infusion to make sure all the pre-meds were in my system. The Taxol infusion started at about 11 a.m. and because it was my first time, they pushed it slower than usual so it took three and a half hours. (They push it slow so they can watch for an early allergic reaction, which I didn't have.) After the Taxol infusion finished, it was time for the Carboplatin! Fortunately, that infusion only took about an hour. Rosemary flushed me when with saline when the Carbo finished and I was all done with the treatment by about 3:45 p.m.

Later that night, I enjoyed a yummy dinner with several girlfriends at Carlyle to celebrate Melissa S.'s birthday, as well as the happy news that she's expecting her second baby! I was tired by about 9 p.m. (but what else is new, right?!) but otherwise, felt pretty good.

It's a Family Affair: Weekend of April 18, 2009

My Uncle Chris got married to his longtime love, Gail, on Saturday, April 18 (well, actually, Friday, April 17 during their Katubbah ceremony but they also had a committment ceremony on Saturday). It was a full wedding weekend filled with many events...and many conversations about the dreaded "C." It seems it was all everyone wanted to talk about! How exhausting?! Despite this, it was a beautiful weekend and I was happy to have had the chance to visit with so many family members.


The beautiful bride with her father, Milton.



Mutual admiration society: Sharing a laugh at the reception with my beloved Grandad.



Me, my mom, and Aunt Annie toast the newlyweds. Uncle Chris once broke (as in the whole thing fell apart underneath his weight) a nice antique wood rocker of my parent's, so I roasted him a bit (I like to roast, not toast) by telling Gail that I hoped her rockers faired better than ours and then wished them a long, happy life together.


The whole gang: (Front row left to right) Gail's father Milton, my Uncle Bob and Aunt Genie, my grandmother Denny (who gets younger each year of her life), the bride and groom, my wonderful step grandfather Clark, my Aunt Annie, and Gail's mother Marilyn. (Back row left to right) Me, my mom, Grandad, and my cousin Will. Notice who is not pictured? My brother couldn't make it up from Charleston and my father only made it to the Katubbah ceremony. He had a long-standing fishing charter trip that weekend. Nothing gets in the way of an important fishing trip! If my father ever left my mother for another "woman," he would leave for the Chesapeake Bay.

Synchronous Primaries: Friday, April 17, 2009

Below is an article that Christina, who is an HIV researcher with Cornell University, received in her Medscape update shortly after I received the official diagnosis from Dr. E. This pretty clearly lays out exactly what I have, which as it turns out, is pretty rare and has better outcomes than single ovarian cancer. Finally, some relatively good news...

Synchronous Ovarian and Endometrial Cancers Linked With Better Outcomes

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Apr 09 - Women with synchronous primary ovarian and endometrial cancers have better survival rates than women with single ovarian cancers do, according to a report in the April issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

"Women with synchronous tumors tend to get diagnosed at an earlier age and to have more localized disease than women with a single ovarian cancer," Dr. Elisa V. Bandera from The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, told Reuters Health. "However, some women with synchronous ovarian and endometrial cancer get diagnosed at advanced stage, and they also do better than women with advanced single primary ovarian cancers."

Dr. Bandera and colleagues used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program from 1973 to 2005 to estimate the occurrence of synchronous ovarian and endometrial cancers and to compare the survival experience of women with these synchronous cancers with that of women with single ovarian cancers.

Using the least stringent criteria, only 2.7% of women with primary epithelial ovarian cancers also had synchronous primary endometrial cancer, the authors report.

Women with synchronous cancers were more likely to be diagnosed at an early stage; more likely to have a lower ovarian tumor grade; and more likely to have endometrioid histology.
Similarly, endometrial cancers in women with synchronous ovarian cancer were more likely to be in an early stage, have lower grades, and be of endometrioid and adenocarcinoma histology.

The 5-year survival was significantly better in women with synchronous cancers (79%) than in women with single ovarian cancer (42%), the researchers note.

The survival advantage for women with synchronous cancers persisted after adjustment for age, tumor stage, year of diagnosis, and additional prognostic and treatment characteristics.

The survival benefit persisted even when analyses were restricted to women with more advanced disease.

These findings suggest that "synchronous tumors may be a different clinical entity; but we need further studies to confirm this and to improve the clinical management of these patients," Dr. Bandera said.

"We are currently planning a study with Kaiser Permanente of Northern California including a large number of cases and detailed clinical information, which will allow a more detailed investigation," Dr. Bandera added.

"Early detection of ovarian cancer remains a challenge, with most cases being diagnosed at late stage when survival rates are poor," Dr. Bandera added. "Therefore, improving our understanding of factors affecting ovarian prognosis is crucial."

Obstet Gynecol 2009;113:783-789.

I Guess I'm Pretty Lucky: Monday, April 13, 2009

If you'll recall, when I laid out the possible scenarios for my diagnosis in my St. Paddy's Day email to family and friends I said I'd be pretty lucky if it were scenario #2. As a reminder, scenario #2 was that I had separate Stage I ovarian and Stage I uterine cancers versus a Stage III cancer that had either originated in my ovaries or my uterus and metastisized to the other. Obviously, I hoped that I was very lucky and didn't have any cancer at all on my ovaries but I wasn't very lucky as I'd find out the morning of Monday, April 13. Below is the email I sent everyone after I found what I was facing from Dr. E. Even though I had prepared for this news, I was still pretty bummed. Oh well, no biological babies for me.

Subject: Update #5...or is it 6? [For the record, I think it was actually #3 or 4.]

PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO ALL

Well, I’m afraid I don’t have the best news to share with all of you today. This morning I had my post-op appointment with my doctor and found out that I have cancer on my ovaries, colon, and bladder, in addition to the cancer I have in my uterus. At this point, based on the pathology from the surgery and without further pathology on my uterus, it appears that I have Stage II ovarian cancer (because it has metastasized onto my colon and bladder) and Stage I uterine cancer. While this is not the worst case scenario my doctors presented at the outset, it’s certainly not the news I was hoping for. Basically, what this means is that I have simultaneously occurring endometrioid adenocarcinoma (endometrial cancer) on my ovaries, which appears to have spread from my ovaries to my colon and bladder, and in my uterus. Fortunately, while my endometriosis penetrated my colon, the cancerous tissue remained contained to the outside of the colon and has already been removed.

So, what next? Now I have the other ugly “C” word to look forward to! Hopefully, if my incision infection is cleared up by next Monday, I’ll have my first seven hour chemo treatment before the end of next week. I can expect to have an upset stomach and fatigue for about 48-72 hours following each treatment and I will lose my hair pretty much immediately. My doctor would like for me to have three rounds of chemo (each three weeks apart) before I go back to have a hysterectomy because he wants to attack all of the cancer cells in my pelvis several times before having me go through another surgery and taking the time off to let me recuperate from that surgery. So, at this point it looks like my next surgery will be in mid-July. I will probably have 2-3 more rounds of chemo following that surgery. It remains unclear whether or not I will have to have radiation in addition to the chemo treatments. Also, while moving forward with plans for chemo, I’m getting a pathology consult from Hopkins on everything they removed during my surgery and will also go back to the Hopkins oncologist for a second opinion on my course of treatment.

So, I think that sums it up. I wish I had better news to share with all of you. If you have questions about my diagnosis or treatment, please direct them to Melissa S., who is copied on this email. I’m happy to talk with people but as you can imagine, it gets very tiresome to explain things multiple times.

Take care and have a good week,
Jennie

Happy Easter! Happy Spring!: Sunday, April 12, 2009

I love Easter because it means Spring is right around the corner!

Welcome Wick: Thursday, April 9, 2009

WARNING: This is one is kind of gross...but funny, too!

So, based on the look of things, I already knew when I went back in to see Katy on Thursday afternoon that she was going to have to open up my incision. Good times! I was given the choice of either having a shot of pain killer directly in the infection area (ouch!) or trying to go without pain killer while Katy gently opened up a small section of my incision. I asked her for advice and she said to go without it and if it got too painful, she'd give me a shot. That sounded like a good plan to me since a shot directly into the infection sounded like as much fun as having a finger nail ripped out of its bed.

We were in a tiny exam room for the procedure, along with a pregnant nursing assistant who was helping Katy. As soon as Katy opened my incision (not too painful...she's the best!), a warm liquid ran down the side of my stomach, which was the pussy blood mixture of my infection. At about the same time I felt the liquid, I also noticed a foul odor fill the room that smelled like gas. I thought to myself, "How rude! Here we are in this tiny room with the door closed and one of the two of them has to fart right next to me! Haven't I been through enough torture already?!? Okay, which one of them did it? The pregnant lady or my beloved Katy...hmmm." Well, as if she was reading my mind, a moment later Katy explained that the rotten smell we were all experiencing was in fact my infection juice. Gross. No wonder I had a high fever and abdominal pain if that was the smell of the stuff inside of me. And, boy, did I feel badly for thinking that one of them tried to gas me out of the place when it was my stupid infection all along. Oh well.

After she finished draining the infection, Katy asked for her assistant to get my mom out of the waiting room so that she could teach her how to change the wick (think shoe lace) that would fill my new infection hole to help draw out additional drainage. The wick needed to be changed once daily. More fun! After mom's tutorial was finished (she was a quick study), we left the office to head home. I felt immediate relief from the procedure: my color improved, my mood improved, and I walked with greater ease. Hopefully, the worst was over!

Houston, We Have a Problem: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 about 9 p.m.

I noticed that my lips felt really warm as I sat watching Dancing with the Stars (ummm...not my choice) with my mom at the end of my first full day home. I also felt really wiped out -- even more so than I thought I would feel. I mentioned this to my my mom, who looked appropriately concerned, and then went up to bed, hoping that I'd wake up feeling much better in the morning. Well, no such luck.

Unfortunately, it seems that I contracted a nasty incision infection at some point during my hospital stay (despite being pumped full of antibiotics). I woke up on Wednesday morning, April 8 with a 103.7 fever. Time to call Dr. E's service! The Fellow, Dr. A, called me back and told me to call to make an appointment for later that day when the office opened at 8:30 a.m. So, I did as I was told even though it took all the strengh I had to dial that number over and over again to try and get through. Once I did get through, I was told by the receptionist that I needed to call back after 9 a.m. to speak with the admin nurse. Great. So, after trying to reach the admin nurse several times, I finally just left a message and then went back up to bed to wait for her return call. I was practically delirious when my mother came in at 9:45 a.m. to let me know that the admin nurse still hadn't called and that I should try her again. Awesome.

I can't remember the specifics of my brief conversation with the admin nurse now but I just remember feeling as though I was going to cry at any moment as she questioned me about who told me that I needed to come in that day (ummm...it's your practice, don't you know?), how long had I had my 103.7 fever (ummm...who cares? It's freakin' 103.7 and I'm six days post-up, aren't you the nurse here?!), and the list goes on and on. My mother almost grabbed the phone to bitch her out but I knew that wouldn't get me anywhere with this idiot nurse, so I held on tight. Anyway, after I told her that I was not going to hang up until I had an appointment, she finally relented and gave me a 3:45 p.m. appointment with Katy, the nurse practitioner. Amen. I could finally go back to sleep with some cold compresses on my forehead.

Thank God my fever broke at about 2:30 p.m. that afternoon because I honestly think my dad was going to have to carry me to the car to get me to the appointment if I still had the high fever. And if you know the state of my father's knees, you know that wouldn't be a good scene...at all.

Fortunately, Katy was much more comforting and competent than the admin nurse. She came in and took a quick look at my incision and drew lines around the infected area. (Great, so now I had ink all over my stomach in addition to a huge incision and drain hole. This was starting to get ridiculous!) She gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and said that if the redness and swelling didn't appear much better by the next afternoon, she'd have to open up a section of the incision to let it drain. Really? Lovely. So, off I went, prescription in hand, all the while hoping for the best. And once again, no such luck.

Home, Sweet Home!: Monday, April 6, 2009

I ended up having to stay in the hospital just about five full days due to the fact that I had the surprise colon resection. I believe I sent some sort of an email update out once I got home to let everyone know what happened during my surgery but I don't have it in my files, so here's a quick recap:

  • Found spots on my colon and bladder; both spots removed and biopsied
  • Removed my left ovary and fallopian tube, which were necrotic (read: dead)
  • Removed my appendix, which also had a growth on it (otherwise known as an appendectomy)
  • Biopsied my right ovary and omentum, which is the fatty tissue covering the ovary area (I think)
  • Three pathologists and Dr. E were not able to confirm from the frozen sections that anything they removed during the surgery was definitely cancer, so my uterus and right ovary remained in me. One small victory! All I wanted going into the surgery was to wake up with some reproductive organs still inside of me. I wanted this, even knowing that it might mean a second surgery if they later came back as cancer.
It was so good to finally be home but the fun didn't last very long...

Letting One Rip: Sunday, April 5, 2009 sometime in the afternoon

Here's another funny one. So, because Dr. E ended up having to do a colon resection during my explatory surgery (because he found a growth on my colon), I was not allowed to drink or eat ANYTHING until I passed a little gas. (I know, how unfair that they have this rule when you're already down for the count?) So, despite my best efforts to walk a few laps around the nurses' station each day following my surgery, the gas just didn't come...and didn't come...and didn't come. And, unfortunately, the gas pain just got worse, and worse, and worse with each day I wasn't able to, as the title of this entry says, let one rip. Finally, completely desperate by Sunday afternoon, I felt that some gas passage was imminent. Hurray! It happened while I was sitting in a chair next to a Labor & Delivery nurse, who was trying to get a new IV line in me for about the fifth time (apparently, I have difficult veins). Ahhh the relief! I've never been so excited to do something so simple in my life. I practically screamed down the hall to my nurse, "I farted, now let's get some drink and food in here!"

Cocktail Anyone?: Thursday, April 2, 2009

So, in addition to Mike, I finally allowed a few of my best friends, all of whom had hounded me to be at the hospital during my surgery, to stop by briefly around 8 p.m. the evening of my surgery. Well, supposedly when they got there (I say supposedly because thanks to a beautiful morphine drip, I have only a vague recollection of this...), I went into full, drugged-up hostess mode. I made Mike leave when they got there so he could get a snack that he probably didn't actually need or want. Oh, and apparently, I kept asking all of my girlfriends if they wanted something to eat or drink even though I had nothing to offer them except what was available from the vending machine. But the best part is this: I guess it took me less than three or four waking hours to figure out how I would redesign the room to include a wet bar where the bench by the window was because I kept asking them, "See over there? Wouldn't it be so great if there were a fridge and counter in addition to the sink so that I could serve wine and snacks when people visited?" Only yours truly and maybe Martha Stewart could be so concerned (neurotic maybe?) about playing hostess while under the influence of the aforementioned lovely morphine.

So, how did it go?: Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 2:09 p.m.

Below is the email that Melissa S., otherwise known as my Patient Advocate, sent to my ever-growing distribution list following my surgery on April 2. Per my request, there was not a lot of detail in the note. I really wanted time to wake up and process what had occurred during my surgery before my friends and extended family found out. It is also the same reason that I didn't want anyone else besides my parents to be at the hospital with me during the surgery. I didn't want others to know what was wrong with me or what had been removed before I knew and I had no way of knowing how long it would be before I woke up. I know, I have control issues. Whatever.

Subject: Jennie's Surgery

Hi all,

Just a brief note to let you know that Jennie is out of surgery and in recovery. She tolerated surgery well and will be moved to a regular room later this afternoon. Once I have more information on room number, etc., I will pass that along. For now, just wanted to let you know that she made it out of surgery okay.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers.
Melissa

Wine & Cheese: Saturday, March 28, 2009

An evening with good friends: Michael and Krista with me and Mike at the TWIG winetasting fundraiser on Saturday, March 28, 2009.

As some of you know, I volunteer with TWIG, a local non-profit that raises money in support of INOVA Alexandria Hospital. I served on the fundraising committee with a wonderful group of women this past year before beginning a medical leave of absence at the end of March. Due to my extensive business travel throughout the fall months, I was a pretty bad committee member until the early winter when I got involved in helping execute the spring winetasting fundraiser (or perhaps, I was just finally passionate about the particular fundraising activity?). Anyway, the winetasting turned out to be a well-attended, surprisingly successful event (we thought the economy would affect our net this year but it didn't) but more importantly, it was actually fun and a great distraction before going in for surgery the following week.

A Quick Observation: March 2009

Something occurred to me during the first couple of weeks of dealing with this disease. The early days of a cancer diagnosis, which is the time period when you're hearing new theories about what might be wrong with you everyday and you're subjecting yourself to a million different diagnostic tests, is a lot like coping with the whacky March weather we experience here in D.C. How so you ask? Well, it's like this: The temperature in March can be as high as 75 with sunny skies but it can also be as cold and gray as the worst day in mid-January. All you (or at least all I wanted this March) is for the barometer to land somewhere in the middle - say maybe 55 or so - and just stay there with brief periods of sunshine each day. But that's not what you get. What you get is extreme highs and lows. And that's also exactly what you get, despite your best efforts to stay steady, when you're in the early days of a cancer diagnosis. One doctor says something hopeful and you're as high as you feel on a warm, sunny afternoon when you dare to take off your winter coat. The next day, another tells you something different, or maybe they just have a gloomier tone in sharing essentially the same opinion, and suddenly you're standing there shivering under a gray sky, totally depressed. Think about it. One day up, the next day down. True, right?

Update #2: Friday, March 27, 2009

Below is the email that I sent everyone (the distribution list had grown considerably by this time) to let them know my decision to move forward with surgery on Thursday, April 2. I wrote this following the last appointment I had the week of March 23, which turned out to be a 5 p.m. pre-op appointment with Dr. E on Friday, March 27. During that appointment, I FINALLY decided to move forward with invasive pelvic surgery (read: 4 inch vertical incision starting an inch below my belly button) to biopsy things to formally diagnosis my cancer. In order to commit to the invasive surgery, I had to get over my belief that going with the invasive approach (versus laparascopy, which was only offered as an option at Hopkins) might increase the odds that they would find cancer on my ovaries. I know that this sounds CRAZY -- and it is -- but your mind plays weird tricks on you when you're dealing with the dreaded "C." I realized that I was desperate to do the less invasive approach not to avoid having a big scar but because somehow I thought that less invasive surgery = finding less cancer. As you can imagine, It was a big decision but I felt trememdous relief once I decided to do it. I babysat Melissa & Geoff's son on the 27th and I think I passed out on their couch at about 8:30 p.m. It had been a long week and I was exhausted.

Subject: Update #2

PLEASE DO NOT “REPLY TO ALL” TO THIS MESSAGE

Hi everyone,

TGIF! It’s been a long week of diagnostic tests (starting to feel a bit like a human pin cushion…), second and third opinions, nutritionists, acupuncture, etc. Long story short, I’ve decided to move forward with exploratory surgery in order to diagnosis and treat my endometrial and potential ovarian cancer. Dr. John Elkas at INOVA Fairfax Hosptial will perform the surgery on Thursday, April 2 at 8 a.m.

Fortunately, I’ve received some good test results this week (most importantly, there does not appear to be any cancer anywhere else in my body except for my ovaries (possibly) and my uterus (definitely)) but there are still many questions, so after hours of doctor appointments and much deliberation, I’ve decided that Dr. Elkas’ approach makes the most sense and will provide the most definitive information in the most efficient manner.

My surgery will last between 1-2 hours and my parents will be at the hospital with me. All of you on this email will receive an email on Thursday afternoon about the outcome of my surgery. I probably won’t be allowed to/want to see any visitors until late Thursday evening or Friday. It’s likely that I’ll spend about 2-3 days in the hospital and will then need to recover at home for another week or so. I won’t learn my exact diagnosis, prognosis, and potential subsequent treatment course until about 10 days after the surgery (I know, kind of unbelievable in 2009, but true!)

Anyway, thanks to all of you for your continued support and prayers! My family and I appreciate all of it.

Take care and have a great weekend!
Jennie

Surgery is Scheduled: Friday, March 20, 2009

Below is the email I sent my core wellness team to let them know my proposed surgery date, assuming I decided to go with Dr. E after I finished all of my second opinion appointments the following week (week of March 23). As you'll read, I was concerned that some of my best friends were threatening to cancel spring break plans to be able to be here for my surgery. How ridiculous?!? Fortunately, I convinced them all to keep their plans!

Subject: Surgery is Scheduled

All:

I just spoke with Dr. Elkas’ scheduler and found out that I will have surgery at Fairfax Hospital, assuming I go with Dr. Elkas, on Thursday, April 2 at 4 p.m., which means I will need to be at the hospital by 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. I have my pre-op appointment with Dr. Elkas next Friday, March 27 at 5 p.m. in Fairfax and they are faxing me an order so that I can get my blood work done next week as well.

My last day “in the office” will be Tuesday, March 31 so that I have all day Wednesday, April 1 to get organized for things. I am working with my bosses to create various transition plans so that things are covered while I’m out, whether for two weeks (best case) or the whole summer (worst case) or somewhere in between.

Feel free to share this information with people as you see fit. I will send another update to everyone on Thursday or Friday of next week but I’m sure some will ask you all before then. Oh, and for those of you who have spring break vacation plans beginning on/around Saturday, April 4, have a good trip! DO NOT think of changing your plans based on this news. I think that this works out well because I’ll be able to visit with you (you know who you are) on Friday before you leave. Frankly, I’ll probably be pretty immobile while you’re gone so it’ll be great to have you back Easter weekend when I might start to need more rides, help, etc.

I think that’s it for right now. Let me know if you have any questions.

Xo,
J.

A Sprinkle for Ali: Weekend of March 21, 2009

Two of my best friends, Ali and Christina, came down from NYC to visit me. Their visit was just what I needed 10 days into dealing with the dreaded "C." We spent the weekend catching up and helping Ali get organized for her upcoming fall wedding, which was a fun distraction. And since I'm always looking for an excuse for a party, whether big or small, I decided to throw Ali a brunch "sprinkle" (i.e. a small shower where the attendees just give one group gift) with some of our other college friends at her favorite neighborhood restaurant, The Carlyle. Here are a few shots from the weekend:



On Saturday night, we met up with Melissa R. and some other friends to hear Big Band music at The Carlyle Club.
As you can see, Ali was happy to receive the towel set she registered for!
A group shot of me and some of my best friends: (from left to right) Kristin, me, Krista, Melissa S., Ali, and Christina.

So Many Doctors, So Little Time: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Below is the email I sent my core wellness team (my parents and some of my best friends) to advise them of all my medical appointments for the following week. I went back to check my calendar and I actually ended up having eight doctor appointments and two diagnostic tests the week of March 23. Besides the time I did volunteer media outreach for a 5-day political convention, during which I only got about a total of 12 hours of sleep, it was the most exhausting week of my life!

Subject: Next week's appointment schedule

Here’s the line-up for next week:

Tuesday:

· 10 a.m with Dr. Gordon of Dominion Fertility http://www.dominionfertility.com/site/index.aspx
· 2 p.m. with Dr. Bristow of Johns Hopkins http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gynecologic_oncology/about_us/our_team/physicians/robert_bristow.html
Wednesday:

· 10 a.m. CT SCAN at Washington Radiology Associates

Thursday:

· 10 a.m. with Dr. Barnes at Georgetown University http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/barnesw2/?PageTemplateID=147%20

That should be it unless I get my pre-op appointment with Dr. Elkas http://www.vitals.com/doctor/profile/1730156373.

Let me know if you have any questions,
Jennie

Update #1: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Below is an abridged version of the St. Paddy's email I sent members of my father's family. I sent this to the growing list of friends who had been told about my diagnosis. One girlfriend later commented to me that she found the upbeat, matter-of-fact tone of my email a little "frightening." I guess some of my friends didn't understand how I wasn't falling apart at this point. But I wasn't. I mean, I had my bad moments but as you can tell from the content of these emails, I was just too darn busy to fall apart!

Subject: Update #1

PLEASE DO NOT “REPLY ALL” TO THIS MESSAGE

Happy St. Paddy’s Day everyone!

Earlier today I had my first of several appointments to select an oncologist. The appointment went as expected: The doctor (Dr. Elkas, who practices at INOVA Fairfax Hospital and comes highly recommended from multiple sources) laid out three likely scenarios ranging from very good news to pretty bad news and we discussed next steps in my diagnosis and treatment, including all of the various places where I will be getting second and third opinions (by the way, they include the Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University – both for my pathology, diagnosis, and treatment). The potential scenarios are as follows:

1. I am very lucky and simply have Stage I endometrial cancer confined to my uterus and really bad endometriosis on my ovaries. In this scenario, it is likely that a doctor would “zap” the endometriosis and do another D&C on my uterus to make sure all of the cancer was out. After that, I’d probably be treated by taking progesterone only (estrogen is NOT my friend these days) and monitored very closely. But I’d get to keep all my parts, so that would be great.
2. I am pretty lucky and have Stage I endometrial cancer in my uterus and Stage 1 ovarian cancer in my ovaries. In this scenario, it is a given that a doctor would perform a total hysterectomy (so my ovaries, uterus, appendix and some lymph nodes would be removed). It is also highly likely that I would receive some targeted chemotherapy but they won’t know about that until they see what’s inside. This and the next scenario are unfortunate because I would be left infertile and would begin menopause…and I’m not anxious to join that club anytime soon!
3. I am not so lucky and have Stage III endometrial cancer (endometrial is a kind of uterine cancer) that has metastasized onto/in my ovaries. In this case, like the last, I would have a total hysterectomy and would likely have six rounds of chemotherapy three weeks apart (total treatment time of about 4-5 months including the surgery).

What next?

· At the end of this week or early next, I should receive my pathology consult results back from a renowned Hopkins pathologist. It is likely that his consult will simply confirm my results from Alexandria Hospital but Dr. Elkas, and probably all others, are anxious to see what he says.
· In the meantime, I’m working with Dr. Elkas’ scheduler to schedule a CAT scan, pre-op appointment and my surgery, which will likely be the week of March 30 or April 6.
· During all of this, I will be meeting with a reproductive endocrinologist and two other oncologists for their opinions on my case.
· Fortunately, my fertility is an “all or nothing” scenario that can only be addressed after my surgery and diagnosis. I will either be cleaned up and fine or I will have a hysterectomy and be infertile. This is somewhat of a relief to me right now because the last thing I feel like spending energy on is figuring out who can freeze my eggs, etc. (FYI – no doctor will touch my ovaries for various ethical reasons until they know they are cancer-free.)
· Oh, and in addition to all of this Western medicine, I’m also seeing an acupuncturist, a nutritionist, and my cousin Heather might try some Reiki therapy on me as well.

That’s all for now. Please feel free to route further questions/concerns to either Kristin or Melissa S., both of whom are copied on this email. I’m still working on the blog so stay tuned!

Hope everyone has a great day and I’ll talk with you soon!

xoxo,
J.

Spreading the Word Part II: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Below is a slightly modified version of the St. Paddy's Day email I sent members of my father's family to drop the cancer bomb on them. I felt a little guilty about sending my family an email to let them know about things but as you'll read in the note below, at this point in the diagnosis process, I really needed to avoid tear fests so I went with the mass email. I still think it was a good decision and they all seemed to understand.


Subject: Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Hello everyone!

Happy St. Paddy’s Day to you all! I don’t know about all of you but I’m really hoping for some of the luck of the Irish this year. I apologize for the mass email but I have to be as efficient as possible and avoid unnecessary highly emotional situations these days. I’m writing to let all of you know that last Tuesday, March 10, I learned that a uterine polyp my doctor removed in the hopes of correcting a persistent uterine bleeding problem was cancerous. I also learned that my final radiology report from the ultrasound that showed the uterine polyp also showed multiple malignant-looking endometrial cysts on/in my ovaries. Yes, a big bummer indeed. So, what does all of this mean? Here goes…

Earlier today I had my first of several appointments to select an oncologist. The appointment went as expected: The doctor (Dr. Elkas, who practices at INOVA Fairfax Hospital and comes highly recommended from multiple sources) laid out three likely scenarios ranging from very good news to pretty bad news and we discussed next steps in my diagnosis and treatment, including all of the various places where I will be getting second and third opinions (by the way, they include the Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University – both for my pathology, diagnosis, and treatment). The potential scenarios are as follows:

1. I am very lucky and simply have Stage I endometrial cancer confined to my uterus and really bad endometriosis on my ovaries. In this scenario, it is likely that a doctor would “zap” the endometriosis and do another D&C on my uterus to make sure all of the cancer was out. After that, I’d probably be treated by taking progesterone only (estrogen is NOT my friend these days) and monitored very closely. But I’d get to keep all my parts, so that would be great.
2. I am pretty lucky and have Stage I endometrial cancer in my uterus and Stage 1 ovarian cancer in my ovaries. In this scenario, it is a given that a doctor would perform a total hysterectomy (so my ovaries, uterus, appendix and some lymph nodes would be removed). It is also highly likely that I would receive some targeted chemotherapy but they won’t know about that until they see what’s inside. This and the next scenario are unfortunate because I would be left infertile and would begin menopause…and I’m not anxious to join that club anytime soon!
3. I am not so lucky and have Stage III endometrial cancer (endometrial is a kind of uterine cancer) that has metastasized onto/in my ovaries. In this case, like the last, I would have a total hysterectomy and would likely have six rounds of chemotherapy three weeks apart (total treatment time of about 4-5 months including the surgery).

What next?

· At the end of this week or early next, I should receive my pathology consult results back from a renowned Hopkins pathologist. It is likely that his consult will simply confirm my results from Alexandria Hospital but Dr. Elkas, and probably all others, are anxious to see what he says.
· In the meantime, I’m working with Dr. Elkas’ scheduler to schedule a CAT scan, pre-op appointment and my surgery, which will likely be the week of March 30 or April 6.
· During all of this, I will be meeting with a reproductive endocrinologist and two other oncologists for their opinions on my case.
· Fortunately, my fertility is an “all or nothing” scenario that can only be addressed after my surgery and diagnosis. I will either be cleaned up and fine or I will have a hysterectomy and be infertile. This is somewhat of a relief to me right now because the last thing I feel like spending energy on is figuring out who can freeze my eggs, etc. (FYI – no doctor will touch my ovaries for various ethical reasons until they know they are cancer-free.)
· Oh, and in addition to all of this Western medicine, I’m also seeing an acupuncturist, a nutritionist, and my cousin Heather might try some Reiki therapy on me as well.

So, how am I doing?

As Granny can attest to since we spoke this past weekend, I am doing well. Or, as well as can be expected. (Granny, sorry for fibbing about what’s new but I wanted to wait to say anything until I had just a little bit more information.) Anyway, I shed a few tears (not many actually) when I initially found out what was going on but have since spent more time delving into research, coordinating the shipment of pathology reports, and making doctor’s appointments than feeling sorry for myself. Here’s the thing: Shit happens to good people every day. I believe that I’ve been dealt this hand because God (or whomever you think might be running things in the world…) knows that I can handle it and that I will be fine and that I will do something positive with my experience (currently, I’m contemplating starting a blog, writing a book, and/or trying to garner media coverage about my diagnosis and treatment…).


Again, I’m sorry for the mass email but I’ve shed my tears and have moved on and I need to let all of you shed your tears and get in the right frame of mind before we speak or see each other during Gail and Chris’ wedding weekend, which I’m very much looking forward to. I just don’t have the time or the energy to comfort people right now and I hope all of you will understand that. Also, PLEASE RESPECT MY WISHES AND ONLY DISCUSS THIS WITH THE PEOPLE ON THIS EMAIL WHO NOW KNOW ABOUT THIS. THERE ARE OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS WHO DO NOT KNOW YET AND WHOM I’D LIKE TO TELL WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT.

So, that’s it. Read it and weep and then, if you like, you can call me to talk.


Love to you all,

Jennie

Spreading the Word: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 4:10 p.m.

Here's the first email I sent to let a relatively small group of local girlfriends to let them know what I learned at the doctor's office earlier in the day on the 10th.

No subject line


Hey everyone,

Since all of you on this email are aware of my recent “GYN” health woes, I thought it would be most efficient to update you all on my status in one email. Unfortunately, I got some bad news at the doctor’s office today. Apparently, the endometrial polyp he removed last week is cancerous. I really don’t have any more information than that at this point. I should start to learn more about the cancer I have when I have my first oncologist appointment next Tuesday, including whether it’s ovarian or uterine cancer, etc. I probably won’t know how serious it is (i.e. what stage it is) until they perform surgery to remove it, which will hopefully happen by the end of this month.

I’m thinking about creating a blog to update everyone on things in an efficient manner (and to have a creative outlet to record the more interesting moments of cancer treatment…). If I do, I’ll share the link with all of you next week. In the meantime, please keep me (and my female parts) in your thoughts and prayers. Also, please feel free to share this news with anyone you like (this isn’t a big ugly secret). I’m waiting tell some extended family and out of town friends until I have more information but other than that, you can share as you see fit.

Hope to see you all soon!
Jennie