The Cowgirl Cure: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today is Christina's and my Aunt Kathy's birthday. Mom and I traveled to Murlin (you know, Maryland) to get "Brenda" cleaned up for the weekend and treated Kathy to lunch for her birthday. As usual, we had a great time -- it was fun celebrating her birthday and the end of my treatment. I had many errands and tasks to do throughout the day to prepare for Ali's wedding weekend but I ended the day with a wonderful dinner with about 10 girlfriends to celebrate the end of my treatment. The dinner was held at Christy's restaurant (Food Matters) and we all had the pasta night special. Yum! Coincidentally, we all had the chance to meet and talk with the Democratic candidate for governor, Creigh Deeds. He was holding a fundraiser at the restaurant and took a moment to come over to our table, which was decked out with teal, green, and purple balloons (thanks MPR!). I took the opportunity of our introduction to make my ovarian cancer awareness plug and he shared his wife's own scary ovary story with me (she ruptured an ovary while pregnant and had to have emergency surgery to have it removed...the baby lived and just graduated from UVA). Anyway, it was a joyous celebration and I'm so appreciative of all that my friends did to make it so special -- from the balloons, to the teal ribbon sugar cookies (thanks Mary!), to the cake, to the Fodor's British Virgin Islands book Layla gave me (have I mentioned that's where I'm going for New Year's?), to the "what I love most about Jennie" toasts. It was so much fun! Group picture to follow.

I thought that after I put those sobering statistics up for all of you yesterday, I'd be a bit more positive today and feature a cool ovarian cancer survivor (you know, there are many of us out there...). Check out Gina DePalma. I may not be a kick ass pastry chef but I think I'm a bit of a cowgirl, too!

I have so much to catch up on with you all -- from the Souther Swing photos to Monday's appointment with Dr. E to a shot from tonight's festivities. Where does the time go? Well, I'm off to Vermont at 0500 hours tomorrow morning, which is when my parents will pull up to load my stuff in the car. Wish us luck on the New Jersey Turnpike and's a jungle out there! I'll be back with all of my updates on Monday or Tuesday when I've returned from the festivities.

The Grim Statistics: Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The education campaign continues! I found all of this data on the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance's Web site. Here goes:
  • Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer among women in the United States (2004).
  • Ovarian cancer has remained the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among U.S. women since 1999. Mortality rates are slightly less for minority women than for Caucasian women.
  • Approximately 174,236 women living in the United States have or have a history of ovarian cancer.
  • One in 72 women will develop ovarian cancer (lifetime risk). One in 95 women will die from ovarian cancer.
  • The overall five-year relative survival rate for all women with ovarian cancer is 46 percent. This means that compared to women in the general population, five years from the time of diagnosis only 46 percent of women with ovarian cancer are still alive.
  • However, the survival rate improves greatly to 93 percent if the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage before it has spread. Only 19 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at this local stage.
  • Approximately 75 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage after the cancer has spread beyond the ovary.
  • The five-year survival rate for women with ovarian cancer has not significantly increased in the past 30 years—a mere 8 percent.
  • Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer from 1975 to 1979 experienced a five-year survival rate of approximately 38 percent. Today this rate is approximately 46 percent.
  • The issue of ovarian cancer recurrence is complicated. Research suggests that between 70 percent to 90 percent of all women with ovarian cancer will, at some point, have a recurrence of their disease. The risk of recurrence varies based on multiple factors, including the stage at diagnosis. For example, approximately 70 – 80 percent of patients with optimal stage III ovarian cancer will have a recurrence. In case you're wondering, I'm optimal stage IIC (30 percent recurrance rate)/IIIA and have the desirable synchronous primaries as well, so realistically, I'd put my odds somewhere around 50 percent.
  • From 2001 to 2005, the most recent period for which data is available, the median age at diagnosis for ovarian cancer was 63 years. Approximately 13 percent of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 45 years or younger.
  • Over the past decade there has been a slight decrease – less than 1 percent per year – in ovarian cancer incidence rates, however, during the same time, the actual incidence numbers increased by approximately 3,000 women.
  • During most of the past decade (1996 to 2005), the ovarian cancer mortality rate has remained stable while the breast cancer mortality rate has decreased 2.2 percent per year (1990 to 2005) and the cervical cancer mortality rate has decreased 3.4 percent per year in a similar time period (1995 to 2005).

In case it wasn't clear before, now you know while I'll continue to try to live life to its fullest everyday from here on out AND why I'll be crusading so hard against this cancer for the rest of my days.

Teal Toes: Monday, September 28, 2009

Have you heard of this organization? I love its mission, which is actually pretty simple. In fact, I decided to send teal nail polish to many of my lady friends and colleagues during September to try and raise awareness myself. Problem is: I only sent or gave out about a dozen so far. It's actually pretty time-consuming to send individual notes and get to the post office to ship the packages and between my trip to Charleston and the ups and down of my last two cycles of IP chemo, the majority haven't been sent yet...but they're coming and your teal nail polish will be waiting for next September!

Thank you to all of my friends (the guys, too!) who painted their toes teal during September! They include Kristin and LEW, Cassie and Kate, Sara and Ella, the Rehoboth beach crew (see below), Michelle (see below), Mom, Christina, Kindra, and others I probably don't know about. Again, I so appreciate your efforts to help me spread the word about the disease that whispers.

Here are a few shots of some teal toes!

The Rehoboth beach crew's teal toes, including Claire's, Skei's, Irene's, Heide's, Lee's, Macon's (yes, that's a guy), and Chris' (another guy!)...I'm probably leaving out one or two.

As you'll see any kind of teal will do! That's Michelle's and my feet on the lawn of The Sanctuary in Charleston with our teal toes.

Kelly Confidential: Sunday, September 27, 2009

Check out Kelly Ripa's campaign with Electrolux (gotta love those Electrolux vacuums...) and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund to fight ovarian cancer. Please text Kelly...or buy a t-shirt...or send a virtual t-shirt to a friend...or all of the above!!!

Did You Know?: Friday, September 25, 2009

Yesterday afternoon I realized that there's less than a week left in National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and I haven't really shared any interesting or important information about the disease on this blog yet. So, I'll start today and share something each day until the end of the month.

Do you know how many notable people have battled this disease? Well, there's a lot. The list includes people like Coretta Scott King, Kathy Bates (surviving), Gilda Radner, McDreamy's mom (surviving), Angelina's mom, Dinah Shore, and Louisa from The Sound of Music (surviving). Check out the full list here.

Have a great weekend everyone!

The First Day...: Thursday, September 24, 2009

...of the rest of my life! Did you know that is what today is? I wish I could tell you that it started in some extra special celebratory fashion but, alas, it did not. No, it started just like many others recently: Woke up at about 6:30 a.m. with River, then strawberries and Ezekiel cereal (still love that stuff!) during the first hour of The Today Show, and then a 30-minute walk with my mom and the dog. What's on tap for the rest of the day? Well, I just returned from purchasing eight dozen blush roses for all of my chemo nurses at Dr. E's office, all of whom I will see later today when I go in for my hydration therapy and the first of my last five Neupogen shots (a little more excruciating bone pain to endure but that's no biggie!). And since I'm feeling pretty good right now (remember, the Day 1 (IV) and Day 8 (IP) Taxol does not hit me nearly as hard as the Day 2 (IP) Cisplatin...), I think I'm going to do a design errand or two and then start digging out.

Digging out of what, you ask? Well, let's see: bills (think I have another fight with my insurance company on my hands...), mail, dog hair, blog photo postings (am going to get those Southern Swing photos up soon and a full recap of yesterday, as well), birthday thank you notes, my ovarian cancer awareness month project, which will most likely not make it to everyone until the month is over, etc. etc. I have a lot of catching up to do over the next month before I go back to work. And, in case you're wondering, I still have a lot of medical appointments as well. I'll give you a full run down on what the next several months look like for me after my last chemo planning appointment with Dr. E on Monday but the bottom-line is that while my formal treatment is over there is still much ahead, including a new anti-estrogen drug I will take everyday for at least the next five years but probably for the rest of my life (Tamoxifan), regular blood work, regular CT scans and perhaps other scans, a visit to the plastic surgeon to see what I can do to improve the look and feel of my scar short of a tummy tuck because, uh, well, there's really nothing to tuck and I hear it's a miserable surgery anyway, and much, much more.

Oh, and as for the future of this blog, I still haven't decided how long it's going to "live." I know it will live through the one year anniversary of my diagnosis (March 10, 2010) but I don't really know beyond that. I'd like to keep it to provide good news to everyone on my scans and blood work, my progress on my triathlon training (more on that in October...), as well as the various ovarian/gynecologic cancer awareness-building and fundraising activities I undertake, but part of me thinks it will need to be re-branded at a certain point, right? I mean, we know that Cancer was there now and we also know it's now gone so at some point, I think the name needs to evolve. I had a nurse suggest to me yesterday that perhaps the new name should be, "Jennie Won, Cancer 0," and I liked that a lot. Or it could be "Sans Ovaries," which is my Twitter name. Let me know if you have thoughts on re-branding/launch timeline.

Okay, I'm off to do stuff. Thanks to all of you who sent messages yesterday. They brightened my day as I lay there getting infused for THE LAST TIME!

On the Eve of Day 8: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's 8:54 p.m on Tuesday evening. I just let loaner dog out for the last time tonight and am watching Jon & Kate Plus 8 as I wait to take a bunch of pills (steroids, cumidin, and a sleeping pill) before going to bed. At 8:54 a.m. tomorrow, I will probably be on my way to the hospital for my FINAL chemo treatment ever?!? There are no words to express the anticipation, dread, excitement, fear, happiness, and whole host of other emotions that I feel tonight on the eve of my final eight to ten hours treatment for the flippin' cancer that has both taken away and given me so much.

I want each and everyone of you who has written, called, commented on this blog, sent me a Facebook message, written my parents, cooked me a meal (let alone a vegan one!), given me a generous cancer gift (from autographed get well wishes from Glenn Close to pretty pajamas to life-changing books to massage gift certificates and on and on), etc. to know that the ways in which you've supported me over the past six+ months has made all the difference in my outlook and is one of the main reasons that I am and will remain cancer-free. It is true that our friends are the family that we choose for ourselves and, as I have said before but will say again, I have chosen well. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything. I hope that I am able to repay each one of you for your generosity someday but if not, please know this: I promise I will spend the rest of my days crusading against this awful disease, particularly raising money to find a good diagnostic test for and building awareness about ovarian cancer or "the disease that whispers" as it is known in cancer circles.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Time to go pop those pills...for the last time!

Southern Swing: Sunday, September 20, 2009

At long last, here are the pictures from my last trip to Charleston and Richmond. As you'll see, it was a wonderful trip from start to finish! It makes me sad to think I won't be back until next spring or summer. I love the Low Country!

We had dinner with Bobby's girlfriend, Ansley, our first night in town. She suggested Wild Olive and I'm so glad she did -- absolutely delicious northern Italian dishes.

Reunited and it feels so good! River and Ansley's dog, Coach, checking each other out.

If you look closely, you can tell just how excited Coach was to see River. Sorry...I couldn't help myself!

The dynamic duo.

Mom took a brief break from painting the dining room set to enjoy some time lounging on Sullivan's.

I took many breaks from painting. This is just one of them!

The bride-to-be, Michelle, during her cocktail hour "sprinkle" at The Sanctuary.

Me and Mom in our favorite Adirondak chairs on the veranda of The Sanctuary.

My yummy cosmo!

Michelle showing off one of her gifts. What is that Michelle?!?

Michelle, me, and Mom.

A perfect Low Country sunset. Gorgeous!

Michelle on Sullivan's (a.k.a. my favorite beach in town). This was her first beach trip in several years and she loved Sullivan's as much as I do.

Heading out to downtown for dinner at the Blossom Cafe on Michelle's second night with us.

Enjoying the view of the Cooper River Bridge from the Market Pavillion Inn's rooftop bar following dinner.

Next stop: Richmond. This photo was taken sometime around 1:45 a.m at my friend Dave's house in Richmond. Obviously, it was a fun dinner party. Congrats to me for staying awake that late and congrats to Kindra for figuring out the timer on her camera! From left to right: Dave, me, Karl, and Kindra.

All smiles! Kindra and me.

Grease!: Saturday, September 19, 2009

Okay, so here's the deal, sometimes you've just got to have some (grease, that is) to help you get through a hangover...or the Day 2 Cisplatin treatment of your third and FINAL cycle of chemo. And that's just what I did this morning! After a delightful visit to the dog park, during which River repeatedly humped a happy-go-lucky 10-month old Lab/Chow mix named Jupiter, Michelle, Lucy, River, and I headed over to Food Matters for a yummy brunch on the patio and I had...drum roll please...a BACON (perfectly cooked...has to be crispy!), cheese (just one slice of extra sharp cheddar), and egg sandwich on multigrain. That sandwich -- as well as the fries and the ginger ale that accompanied it -- hit the spot and was just what I needed to fight the mild, yet persistent, nausea I experienced throughout the morning. See...I break the rules when I need to and don't regret it in the least! Yum!

I'm holding up okay following this treatment but am tired right now. I packed a lot in today: a 30-minute walk with River, the dog park, brunch, a short 50 -100 yard "walk" with my grandfather for his daily exercise, a trip to Border's to shop for my grandfather's funeral music with him (don't ask...he's recovering from knee surgery at my parent's right now and is very focused on planning his Naval Academy funeral service in his down time), a dessert on the patio of La Madeline per my grandfather's request (it's next to the Border's and as soon as he saw it, he had to have a dessert...he's got a wicked sweet tooth!), a long chat with my good friend Ali whose wedding I'm in the first weekend of October, and that about covers it. Now I must give myself a shot of Neupogen before heading over to the Riddy's for some baked ziti and salad. Double yum for the day! Don't worry, I will be home in bed early, though.

Oh, and I think that I'll finally get around to posting Southern Swing trip photos tomorrow. We'll see how things go!

Day 2 for the LAST Time!: Thursday, September 17, 2009

So, as expected, Day 1 went just fine. I was at the doctor's office for my infusion from about 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I took my usual Benadryl-induced two+ hour nap, then visited with some lovely patients who were being infused next to me, then I had my yummy spaghetti lunch my mother had packed for me, and then it was time go home. I got home and rested on the couch the rest of the afternoon as I felt "blah," which is how I normally feel. I almost forgot that I needed to run to CVS to pick up my last prescription of Emend (super anti-nausea pills) for today's fun. It would have been really bad if I had forgotten as Emend is a wonder drug that allows me to hold things down for days following today's treatment. After CVS, I went over to visit with my grandfather and parents for a bit before heading over to the Whitmans for a meeting about Jori's upcoming baby shower. Again, I can function after my Day 1 treatment, I just feel rather tired and low-key.

So, I'm waiting for the call from the hospital for Day 2's Cisplatin infusion. I'll get there around 9 ish probably, start getting infused around noonish, will take my Benadryl nap (amen!), and then hang out the rest of the afternoon waiting to do my rotisserie chicken flipping at the end of it all. Good times! I will feel very bloated (my abdomen will be filled with about 2000 cc of fluid) and tired at the end of today's session and will probably just come home, drink an Ensure, and call it a day. Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Just so the poison does its job...that's all I care about!

Day 1 for the LAST Time!: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well, we're back from our southern swing to Charleston and Richmond. It was a great trip and now it's back to reality: chemo, bills, and other kinds of life administration tasks. What better way to spend a gray and rainy Wednesday than to start your LAST cycle of chemo, right? I'm heading over to my parent's in less than an hour to drop off loaner dog (who, by the way, I think caught fleas at the end of our much for monthly Frontline!!!) before driving myself to and from chemo today. My mother decided it was okay for me to do this for two reasons: 1. I'm generally doing pretty well for the first 24 hours after my Day 1 treatment, which is just a three-hour infusion of Taxol (it takes about six or seven hours door to door) into my chest port and 2. She needs to spend the morning and afternoon preparing for my grandfather's visit for the next...week or two? As if she or my dad (he's really going to have to deal with this one...) need another patient! My grandfather had a knee replacement surgery about a month ago and they've decided to have him come stay for an undetermined amount of time to finish his convalescence. Again, I'm constantly amazed at what my parent's are able to handle together without falling apart: running a small business, keeping up with two high-maintenance houses, caring for me, now caring for Grandad, helping out with loaner dog A LOT, etc. etc.

Okay, so now that you know I'm back from Charleston in one piece and how I'll spending my day (and tomorrow and part of Friday for hydration therapy), I'm going to run and get ready for all of the fun and games. I promise to get the photos from our trip posted soon. Happy hump day!

...& After!: Sunday, September 13, 2009

Well, we're nearing the end of another fantastic trip to Charleston. Michelle joined us for the past couple of days, which was great. It was sort of an unofficial bachelorette weekend for her so we did it up: the spa, a drink at and tour of The Sanctuary on Kiawah, several delicious meals out at some of our favorite places, an after dinner drink at The Market Pavilion Inn's rooftop bar last night, two bridge walks, and finally an unplanned but highly successful visit to Ooh! Events/Out of Hand for several bridal accessories. The weather has been perfect the whole trip, which always makes things even more fun!

I'm feeling good but have had a pinching cramp in my side for the past several days close to where I think my abdominal catheter hangs out under my rib cage. I can't figure out if the catheter is rubbing something OR if I just have a deep muscular issue from my lack of stretching. Hmm...regardless, it's highly uncomfortable, particularly if I take a deep breath or cough. Otherwise, no complaints. We're hitting the road early tomorrow to head to Richmond for a quick overnight stay with the Kirkebys (a.k.a Kindra, Karl, Henry, and Jack) before our return to reality (and!). I'm excited to see the progress on their new addition!

As promised, see below for the "after" pictures of the dining room project. What do you think? It was definitely a labor of love (and there's a thin line between love and hate...) but I think we're on the road to achieving the right look for the room. To be honest, my mother did far more painting than I did as the fumes really bothered me and I developed mild carpal tunnel syndrome from pressing down on the spray can with my pointer finger. (I wimpy, right?) Oh, and be sure to check out what's coming next...wall/ceiling paint, a rug, custom placemats and window treatments!

A full Charleston pictorial round-up is promised before the end of the week. Have a great Monday everyone!

Voila! The new look of the dining room chair. Please refer to my recent "Before..." post for a refresher on the old look.

A shot of the entire "new" set in the dining room. The chandelier is from Ballard Designs. My grandfather made me the the sideboard in the background, which my cousin Heather painted and glazed for me years ago. I'm a big fan of reworking and recycling furniture!

Another view of the set with the corner cupboard in the background. My father got the corner cupboard from a job site. Good eye, Dad! Eventually, the dining room table will have some sort of coral piece as a centerpiece.

A close-up shot of the interior of the corner cupboard. We plan to add some coral accents to the shelves because coral will be the third color of the dining room.

What's next: My mom is getting double-sided custom placemats for a Christmas present from me (no surprises in this family!) -- one side will be the coral seashell print on the left and the other the khaki stripe; we're EVENTUALLY going to paint the dining room walls the coral color at the top of the left paint swatch and the ceiling the light blue on the top of the right swatch; we're probably going to make simple fixed roman shade curtains out of the khaki stripe for the window treatments; and I like the large loop sisal rug sample on the right with a navy border for the rug in the room. FYI - large loop sisals are MUCH more comfortable to walk on then small loop sisals or sea grass rugs.

33 and Cancer-Free - Part III: Friday, September 11, 2009

I bet you thought you'd never see these! Well, here are my "33 and Cancer-Free" birthday party pictures, as well as some shots from my birthday luncheon, all for your viewing pleasure. Oh, in case you're wondering, I'm feeling great (have done the bridge walk the past two days), the weather is PERFECT down here, and our design project is moving along nicely. The only thing that I've failed miserably at is getting out all of my birthday thank yous and National Ovarian Cancer Awareness mailings. Oh well. Something's gotta give, right? Enjoy!

The beautiful centerpiece that my dad surprised my mother with, "For being the best mother in the world!" So true!
The stars of the show! Delicious Georgetown Cupcakes in chocolate ganache, vanilla squared, and lemon berry. Please note the "33" on the top of each cupcake.
Our bartender, Joanie, with the bar in the summer room. We had to move things inside due to the thunderstorms we had that night. Best laid plans, right?
A close-up on the bubbly and the "33 and Cancer-Free!" napkins. Details, details...
My beautiful girlfriends at the Whitman's pre-party (from left to right): Ali (in town from NYC), Christina (in town from NYC), Sara (a.k.a. S'Nokes; in town from Greenville, SC), Jill, Jori (in town from San Diego and expecting her first baby boy!), and Kristin.

Welcome everyone! From left to right: Alisa, Heather, me, Jill, S'Nokes, and Layla. I'm spening New Year's in the BVIs with Heather, Jill, and Layla, all of whom I spent last New Year's with in Jackson Hole. Needless to say, we're looking forward to this year's warmer temps!

A great pair of gals: My wellness campaign co-captain, Michelle, who is also the bride-to-be, and Alison, my faithful pool companion.

Pretty ladies: My cousin Heather, who is a nurse and yogi and my wellness guru, and Kristin.

Two of my favorite septagenerians: My dear Aunt Kay (in from West Palm Beach) and my beloved Granny (a.k.a. Dr. Denny McGihon; in from Denver). Don't they make 70+ look good?

Good friends Krista and Michael Drescher, who took many of these photos!

My pool posse: Alison and Jill

As you see, the cupcakes went fast...time for the toasts!

First, I toasted my friends for everything they've done for the past six months (and longer!)...

My first friend in the world: Elena, who was in town with her husband Briley from Atlanta. She is expecting her first baby in February and is running for the Georgia State Legislature. Talk about a multi-tasker!

Many friends: My patient advocate Melissa, who is standing against the wall on the left, is expecting Baby Boy Sigler #2 in November, S'Nokes, Jori, Michelle, my former boss, Susan (in the turquoise dress), and many others.

My best pal from junior and high school, Christina, who is a talented PA doing HIV/AIDS research in NYC, along with my Uncle Chris, Granny, and Chris' wife Gail in the backgroud.

Toasting my parents -- the best parents in the world, who have literally carried me through all of this. Thank you!
My mom's toast to our friends, my dad, and moi! For someone who REALLY hates public speaking, she did a FANTASTIC job!

Ahhh...toast done! Not the best shot of me and my mom but we'll take it. Time to party OUTSIDE (the downpour finally stopped!)!!!

Here comes trouble! Jill + Jennie + Jori + S'Nokes = TROUBLE with a capital T!

T.C. in the house! Several of my friends from high school (plus, Ali from UVA): Kindra, Christina, Elena, Ali and me.

Me and Papa Charlie toward the end of the evening. My dad and Kindra's husband, Karl, developed a bit of a "bromance" during the party and stayed up telling stories and drinking beer until the early hours of the morning. Good times!

My birthday luncheon at one of my favorite places, Restaurant Eve, in Old Town. My Aunt Kay, Jori, Kristin, Mom, and Melissa were all able to attend. It was just as delicious as usual!

Camera troubles again, hence the sideways view. Blowing out the candles on 33! Bet you can't guess what my wish is for next year?!?

One last parting shot...what a tasty, relaxing lunch. Unforunately, it was followed by a much less appetizing chemo planning appointment with Dr. E, which Jori attended with me.

My college roommate and dear friend Shannon couldn't make it out from San Francisco for the party but she sent me these gorgeous flowers. She was so thoughtful to have the florist do them in a teal vase and include a teal ribbon (you know, for ovarian cancer awareness...). Thank you, Shannon!