Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Transformative Celebration 2014

On October 4th I had a truly transformative experience, and I don’t use that term lightly. Believe me, I know what it is to be transformed.

In the summer of 2013 my entire body was transformed in a 12.5 hour operation that removed and discarded my breasts, detached tissue and skin from my abdomen, and reattached it to the place my breasts had been. While doctors were able to splice together the needed blood supplies, the splicing of nerves is not possible. The result is entirely numb pseudo-breasts made from the skin and fat that used to reside on my belly. When you hear a breast cancer survivor speak about accepting “the new me,” this is what she’s talking about.
Nicole and I in our 'Formal Wear'

So what happened on October 4th that could rival that transformation? I participated as a model in Celebration 2014, a truly rockin’ runway show featuring breast cancer survivors in fashions donated by local merchants. The event raised money for Enloe Hospital’s Cancer Compassion Fund, which helps patients with any kind of cancer when their other financial resources run out or don’t apply.

I was invited to be in this show by my breast cancer coach, Nicole Scoubes. She’s a vibrant survivor who always seems to have her finger in a worthy pie, so I thought I’d join her for some fun. At the initial Meet and Greet for Celebration 2014 though, I saw that what I thought would be a bit of fun for a good cause was a truly elegant, meticulously organized, passionately pursued event of a caliber that blew me away. I felt honored to be involved with a group of volunteers so dedicated and passionate.

Volunteer make-up artists, stylists
and models, preparing
At that initiatory event I heard the endeavor referred to as “planning a wedding for 40 brides.” I couldn’t see until October 4th how true that comparison was. The number of volunteers supporting the 14-scene show far outnumbered the models. Many of the volunteers are breast cancer survivors themselves. There were make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe consultants, designers, donation handlers, caterers, florists, photographers, prop builders, producers, audio/visual technicians, choreographers and a lively cohort of firemen as escorts.   

Charlene Mikeska, a 22 year breast cancer survivor, brought Celebration to Chico for the first time in 2009, and again in 2012, raising over $26,000. Part of Charlene’s biography in the Celebration 2014 program says, “Most of the models agree to serve because they believe in raising consciousness and money for breast cancer. They don’t realize until the day of the event that they will be celebrating themselves, and their endurance with grace through a difficult journey.”

I do believe I endured the difficult part of my journey with grace. My coping mechanism was humor. I chronicled my journey through a blog reminiscent of the writings of Dave Barry. A favorite feature was a running pictorial of myself with other people who shared my ‘haircut,’ including Governor Jerry Brown, Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil, my own bald mother, and a baby who was not at all happy I commandeered him for the photo.

But there was something troubling, too, at the onset of my involvement with Celebration. You see, its stated mission is, in part, to showcase “the beauty, grace and resilience of life beyond breast cancer.” Back in August, when I read that mission statement for the first time, life beyond breast cancer was not going well for me. I had made the following entry in my personal journal only days before:

“I HATE CANCER with every fiber of my being. People think the life-threatening nature of cancer is what’s bad about it. Or the sickness and pain brought on by chemo. Or the hair loss. Or the painful surgeries and side effects. I’m here to tell you all of that is chump compared to what cancer takes away from you when it’s gone. I entered cancer as a vibrant, active wife and mother, full of sexuality and verve; and here I am not even two years post Finding-a-Lump and I have turned into an old lady: void of energy, undesirable, infertile, butch and covered in scars. Cancer took away my sex life. Cancer took away the intimacy of my marriage. And oh, yeah, let’s not forget the obvious: cancer took away my breasts. Essentially, cancer stole my prime, and I’m angry about it.”

Yet on October 4th, only two months later, I rocked that runway like a diva, surrounded by 
The We-Can-Do-It-Girls
powerhouse women (and one gentleman) who truly understood. Between rehearsals we swapped stories, showed each other our reconstructions, recommended doctors, and built each other up. Many of us still have procedures and treatments to undergo, and for some reason, getting encouragement from someone who’s been there is in a tier all its own.

Back stage we waited in line to go on as other models filed off. “How did it go?” a model waiting to go on stage asked a model just coming off. “It went great,” she said, then quickly added, “but they’re cheering no matter what!” There was a rush of excitement to be on stage, to be so vehemently applauded, to be alive and to be part of a body of sisters so powerful and lovely. Women who had been strangers are now friends. Ours is a bond that will undoubtedly continue, as we volunteer in support roles for the models of the next Celebration.

My October 4th transformation was as dramatic spiritually as my surgical transformation was physically. Where I had been angry I am now full of grace. Where I had been resentful I am now resilient. Where I had felt undesirable, I now feel beautiful. And these differences in me make a difference in my marriage. Thanks to my talented doctors and my new Celebration family, life beyond breast cancer is a very good place to be.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Life After Cancer

Much Obliged
In January of this year I was diagnosed with Her-2 positive breast cancer. Only six months later, after eight rounds of chemo and two painful surgeries, I was pronounced cancer-free. To go from such a dismal diagnosis to such a striking declaration in so little time is nothing short of phenomenal.

I’m grateful to Dr. Sam Mazj and my kind oncology family at Feather River Cancer Center. I’m grateful for my incredibly skilled and competent surgical teams at Stanford. I’m grateful to Enloe Hospital for their care during my hiccups along the way. And my gratitude to my friends and family for their over-the-top support is truly inexpressible.    

. . . In Order to Form a More Perfect Union . . .
I hope it is possible for me to describe some of the not so wonderful aspects of my post-cancer experience without tarnishing that gratitude. I am especially mindful of those who are still suffering with cancer, and of those whose loved ones didn’t make it to the other side of cancer as I have. I approach what I am about to say gingerly, yet I am committed to recording my genuine story, and this is definitely part of it.

Enough preamble.

I Thought Beating Cancer Would Be More of a Pick-Me-Up than It Is.
Our culture assigns unequivocal labels to those who have lived through cancer: Warrior, Forever Strong, Hero, Brave and, of course, Survivor. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t feel any of those titles.

One obvious reason is that I didn’t do anything to deserve such lofty titles. I didn’t choose cancer. I didn’t particularly fight cancer. I put my trust in Dr. Mazj and I showed up on the days they put cancer-killing drugs into me. I endured the side effects. They told me I needed surgery so I got it. What I can take credit for is having a pretty good attitude throughout. For some reason it is harder for me to remain positive now. Weird, right?

Perhaps it’s because to everyone else, my journey is over. My cancer-free pronouncement is five months old already. I’m healthy and I should be nothing but grateful. But there are things that cancer took away from me that I haven’t gotten back yet (besides the two obvious ones, eulogized here).

For one thing, I still have port hardware installed in my chest wall for the purpose of receiving infusions of Herceptin every three weeks for five more months. It is a drug sometimes referred to as ‘Chemo Lite’ because it doesn’t cause hair loss or nausea. But I think it might contribute to the cumulative effect so famous in regular chemo because I still experience ‘Chemobrain.’  I have difficulty focusing. People joke about the aging phenomenon of getting up and going into another room only to wonder why you’re there. This happens to me All. The. Time. I double book myself. I have trouble finding the right words in conversation (yes, me!), and I forget to do important things—picking holiday songs for my music students to sing at the winter concert, for example (duh!).

Plus, my body is forever changed. There are positives to the changes, for sure. I appreciate my flat tummy and more manageable breast size. But I have to say my new bosoms remind me of 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of [breastliness] but denying the power thereof.” The rest of the verse applies to the effect they have in the bedroom: “From such turn away.”

I still have some surgical revisions to undergo to restore said breasts to breastliness, as well as to fix some odd puckers in my abdominal scarring. But because these surgeries are strictly cosmetic, they’re somehow shunned from the cancer journey. I’m supposed to keep quiet about them the way one does when one has an elective mommy makeover. I’m not saying I’m unhappy with the decreased level of sympathy. I’m saying it’s awkward. I feel compelled to remind people I had cancer in order to justify the plastic surgery. Then (at least in my perception) I am met with “Get over it already. That was ages ago.” I feel like I’m really supposed to be moving on, but I can’t quite, and then I feel guilty because that seems terribly ungrateful of me.

And finally, perhaps the worst aspect of my cancer being ‘over’ is that I’m very afraid it’s not over. Two of the vibrant, beautiful, generous women in my stake whose funerals were held this year started their cancer journey with Her-2 positive breast cancer like me. They both had periods of remission like me. How can I rest easy and bask in gratitude when the proverbial other shoe could drop at any moment? And yet, if it does eventually drop, won’t I regret having spent even one moment of my remission time worrying that it might? That’s hard to control.

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth
When I first learned of my cancer diagnosis and had such an amazing outpouring of support from my friends, I knew I couldn’t ever ask “Why me?” To the contrary—I was a good candidate for cancer because of all the support I had available to me. But now I do ask “Why me?” with regard to how easily I came through it. They tell me that’s called survivor’s guilt. I guess it’s a real thing.

The word HOPE is used a lot in the arena of cancer. My treatment was superbly successful and amazingly brief so I ought to be the poster child for hope. But then why is there a tug of war going on inside me? Why is it so hard to embrace the fruits of my hope?

Is it to do with my reluctance to attribute my successful journey to prayer or blessings? I fully believe I received strength and comfort from knowing people were sending good will heavenward for me, but I cannot in good conscience claim I was healed because of those prayers. Everyone with cancer has friends who pray for them. How arrogant it would be for me to assume the prayers of my friends and family had more clout. I can only say that I believe Heavenly Father knows the reason I was able to heal even though I do not. The hope I cling to now is that his wisdom will be made known at a later date.

In a Nutshell
I thought after cancer I’d be all, “I’m going to live life to its fullest; I will make every moment count; I won’t do anything that doesn’t feed my soul or advance my goals!” But I lack stamina. I’m often depressed. My sexuality is gone. I spend a good deal of time playing Sherlock and Sudoku. I do love my new teaching job, and of course my family is a priority and source of joy, but I lack the resolve and determination I thought automatically came with the title ‘Survivor.’ Anyone know where I can get some of that?

A set of lyrics from a song I used to know just came to me. They represent what I hope my attitude can become when this cancer journey really is over:

“All I ever wanted, all I ever dreamed of, 
Everything I hoped, and all the things I prayed for
Couldn't hold a candle to what I've been given,
I've been given what I need.”

Monday, September 30, 2013

Eulogy for a Breast

So, in general I feel fantastic. I am three months post surgery and at about 98% capacity. My abs don't quite have the strength they used to, and I still have a few stamina issues, but I am pretty much back to my normal life.

In fact, I got two new jobs. I teach choral music at my reds' school on Fridays, and I teach Spanish at CORE Butte High School on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Working three days a week is fantastic. I love having home-time to keep the house in order, prep my classes, run errands, and even explore my creativity. And I love my jobs. They are fun, fun, fun.

The school year is in full swing for all of us, and things are GOOD.

But today something sad happened. I had to dump out my purse to look for my keys in the rush of this morning, and later I was putting it all back together when I came across a folded and stapled stack of papers that have evidently been in there since my surgery. The title is "Results: SURGICAL PROCEDURE." I had never read it until today.

At first I loved it. Page 1 notes the "clinical history of grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma and high grade ductal carcinoma in situ of the right breast," and then lists the diagnosis of the lymph nodes and other tissue dissected during surgery. It reads something like this (only this is a briefer version):

                        Sentinel lymph node #1 - negative for carcinoma
                        Sentinel lymph node #2 - negative for carcinoma
                        Breast, left - benign tissue
                        Breast, right - no residual invasive or in situ carcinoma

Wonderful, right?

Page 2 has detailed descriptions of each specimen collected. Color, size, distinguishing markings, weight, the label of the container, the solution it is stored in, the time it was received, the time it was examined, and so forth. Pretty boring stuff.

"GROSS DESCRIPTION: Six specimens are received labeled with the patient's name and medical record number.

The first specimen labeled 'sentinel node #1, touch prep, 1239' is received fresh from the OR and consists of one fragment of tan-red soft tissue measuring 1.5 x 1.0 x 0.3 cm. The specimen is bisected to reveal a 0.6 cm tan white lymph node. The specimen is submitted for touch prep and the remainder of the specimen is submitted entirely in cassette A1."

The second specimen labeled blah is received fresh from blah and consists of blah blah.

The third specimen, blah blah blah.

Then I turn the page, continue reading, and a slow sob forms at the base of my sternum and works its way up until it erupts out of me. I am so incredibly sad.

"The fourth specimen labeled 'left breast' is received in formalin and consists of an 825 g mastectomy specimen measuring 22 x 21 x 7 cm. The specimen is received on July 3, 2013 at 1622 and placed in formalin at 1330. The specimen is sliced at 1900. No palpable masses identified. The specimen has a fragment of tan-white skin without lesions measuring 11.5 x 2.5 cm. The nipple is located eccentrically and is everted, measuring 1.3 xx 1.2 x 1.0 cm. The specimen is serially sectioned into 21 macro sections. The specimen is radiographed, and no calcifications or masses are identified."

The next paragraph likewise describes the disembodied right breast, including similar information about the centered and protruding nipple. And while phrases like "No palpable masses identified" and "without lesions" do stick out as positive, in general I just have this horrible aching void, this MISSING feeling that no one ever could have prepared me for. It began to read like an obituary for these loved beings that are no longer in my life.

Those are my breasts they're talking about. They've reduced them to 'mastectomy specimens,' but nonetheless they are my breasts. The breasts that made me a woman when I was still a child. The breasts that shocked all the boys at the 7th grade swim party. The breasts that played an essential role in the intimate connection between me and my husband, the breasts that filled and fed and nourished three sweet, happy, drunken sailor, fat and helpless babies. The breasts that formed at least some portion of my self-identity, that dominated my profile, that had to be accommodated at every turn.
Before I could finish reading the entire report I found myself hugging the pages. Holding them to my heart. Cradling them like the photo of a lost loved one, and truly weeping.

And just like one would remember the last encounter with a lost loved one, I remember standing naked in front of the tri-fold full length mirror of my hotel bathroom the night before surgery and saying goodbye. I looked at my breasts for a long time. I squashed and squeezed them, caressed them, cradled them . . . and cried. I knew I would miss them, but I didn't know it wouldn't hit me until three months later.

Of course I have been living with my new frankenbreasts for three months now and am fairly used to them. They are smaller and therefore less in the way and more comfortable. They have their benefits, for sure. But they have zero sensation, and although they're roughly shaped like breasts, and look fine under my clothes, they are definitely not womanly or attractive. They are heavily scarred, numb, nipple-less mounds in the place where my real breasts--the beings eulogized in the report--used to be.

Don't misunderstand. I would much rather be well and have frankenboobs than be dying with breasts rich in history and sensuality. I truly am grateful. But today I grieved a loss, and I thought it worth recording here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rocking the Do

Have you ever kept a journal? A diary? They can be so cathartic and helpful. They're very personal, of course. Yet in all the journals I have kept throughout my life, I have definitely written to an audience. A reader. Some future relative. At times I have addressed the reader directly, and I find it fun to imagine who it might be that one day reads my words.

Perhaps I flatter myself that my descendants will ever be interested in the thoughts I've put to paper over the years. But if they are, they'll be sure of two things: 1) my entries are sporadic at best, and 2) I feel terribly guilty about that. Not unlike my last blog post here, almost all of my journal entries start with something like, "I'm so sorry it's been so long since I last wrote," as if my future-dwelling reader will hold it against me that three months went by without my thinking of them.

And so to you, my live, present-dwelling, online readers, I say: I'm so sorry it's been so long since I last blogged. 

Also, I know I promised the material outlined in this previous post, but I still don't have it. I do desire to go back and catch up, I really do. But I'm feeling blocked by that onus and so I've decided to move on. It will still be my goal to go back and record those experiences, but I'm not going to wait for that to be done before sharing more.

Today what I have to share is fun. 

As I mentioned before, my hair is beginning to grow back. I've given up hats entirely now, and I believe I might be approaching 'I'm-wearing-my-hair-like-this-on-purpose' territory. As proof that people do wear their hair like mine on purpose, I submit the following images.

This is my mother, Susan. She actually doesn't wear her hair like this on purpose. In fact, she doesn't wear her hair like this at all. This is just what her real hair looks like under the hair she does wear on purpose. People think she shaved her head for me once I lost my hair, but actually it was me who followed her lead. We make bald a family affair.

This is my nephew, Markie. He definitely wears his hair like mine on purpose and looks good doing it. 

Ibs, one of our dearest friends, also chooses my hairdo and rocks it.

It's possible Josh chooses this style for political purposes, but nonetheless it's on purpose.

This is Dave, who sits on the front pew at church. He gives raucous hugs (thus the blur). When I explained to him that I was collecting pictures with people whose hairstyles matched mine, he said, "But I don't have cancer." Fortunately I was able to say, "Neither do I!"  

This is Leanne T. She's just hip that way.

I don't think Caleb cares much about our matching hairstyles, but I do know he was not happy I hijacked him for the photo.

This is Leann P. She's been sporting this do for over 15 years and says she'll never go back. Hers is what I can only aspire to.
This is literally a random stranger in Jon & Bon's Yogurt shop. She told me people often inquire too politely about her health and she has to inform them that she just likes her hair short. She asked me if I like mine short too. I said I did, but that cancer also played a part. 

If you know someone who rocks my haircut, snap a shot and send it to me!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

You Know You Want to See Them

Okay people. Obviously I am having trouble getting my updates finished. Part 2 and Part 3 are still in the plan, but I thought I'd just sign on to say hello and let you know I'm alive, though bodily rearranged.

I was in surgery for 12.5 hours on July 3rd. I came home from the hospital on July 8th with three fluid drains protruding from my body. People: appreciate the fact that you live drain-free. I sure do. Three weeks with those babies was all it took for me to thank my lucky stars each day that tubes are no longer stitched into me. I am, however, still required to wear an abdominal binder 24/7 (except to shower). I have four (4!) more days of that and then I can start taking it off at night to sleep. I'll still have to wear it during the day for one more month. WO THE ITCH!!

Something about the way I was positioned during surgery made me lose feeling in my left hand. Feeling has now returned to three fingers and most of my palm, but my thumb and forefinger feel like cat tongue. And you'll recall I'm familiar with the feeling of cat tongue because my cat is my hairdresser.

She's got her work cut out for her because my hair is about 3/4 of an inch long now. It resembles salt-and-pepper peach fuzz, as do my eyebrows. Happily, my eyelashes are coming back in, too. But that concludes the list of desirable regrowth. Leg hair, chin whiskers and pubuscusness are also bravely fighting their way back. What about underarm hair, you ask? That's an odd case. My mastectomy incisions end right in the center of my underarms and there's still a lot of recovery going on up in there. I do NOT look forward to the need for shaving over my scars. At the moment, it wouldn't matter if the time was ripe for a pit shave anyway, because I can't lift my arm high enough to pull it off.

My recovery has been bumpy, but I'm currently in a fairly good state. Bowel trouble plagues me, but there's nothing new about that. I also have a large area of my right breast and two small areas of my left breast that have died. It's called necrosis. The blood supply has not been sufficient to keep all the tissue alive. The skin is gray there and the areas are very hard. It is uncomfortable, but not painful. I'm told it is not an emergency. It will be dealt with during the revision process. My next appointment with the plastic surgeon is in mid August.

Another difficulty was that suction was left on during one of my drain extractions (my own fault) and it made my hip and waist and ab muscles on the left side excruciatingly sore for about four days. I actually had trouble walking, often felt faint, and even had a day of shock and chills because of it. Fortunately, that too has resolved, and I am moderately up-and-at-em.

This is in no small part due to the fact that I have had MUCH opportunity for rest and relaxation. Major kudos are in order for those who have cared for--and are still caring for--my children. At no point this month have I had all three of my children home at once. Lori, Stacy, Jill, Jamie, Marissa, Kacie & Jeff, Jon & Shellie, Tracy . . . THANK YOU!

And for a final ta-dah, I'll announce the good news. I am without detectable cancer in my body. I have many thoughts and feelings about this to hash out in a different post, but for now suffice it to say I am grateful. Only five and a half months have passed since the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. To go from such grave news to such great news in so little a time is a blessing for which I cannot account. My journey is far from over; multiple revision procedures and nine more months of Herceptin infusions are ahead, but I'm very pleased to have weathered the "hard part" as well as I have.

My other posts will be rife with photos, but here let me just share Sophie's version of what my new, much-smaller-than-before breasts look like (I know you're dying to see them).

We call them my FRANKENBOOBS.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Part 1

Wow. There is WAY more to cover than can be done in one post, so I will break it into parts and blog as I recover in the next week or so before my children come back to me.

Here I am blogging, using a very cool lap desk my dear friend Suzie thoughtfully gave me.

(My lap desk is adjusted quite high because my many drains need clearance.
I could adjust the camera, but I'm digging this pic a la bad tourist photo.)

SO. I need an outline:

Galleria Birthday Weekend
Pre-Surgical Consultation


Boob Party, Nerves and Blessing
Pre-surgical Body Art
Surgery & Hospital

Home, Drains etc.
Kids' Awesome Summer

Let's Get This Party Started!

Galleria Birthday Weekend
My niece Courtney had her 16th birthday and invited my daughter Sierra to go with her and my sister to the Galleria mall in Roseville. I went with. I was ickefied from chemo, but threw caution to the wind and did this:

I paid for three minutes, and only made it for two. But it was very fun. These are the things that having cancer makes you do.

Pre-Surgical Consultation (if you say this in an East Indian accent, it's much more fun)
For this trip I was on my own. I brought Sophie with me and we stayed with my niece Jill and her family in Concord the night before my busy day of appointments. Jill watched Sophie for me.

If I had sat down to blog shortly after that day, this would have taken up a post unto itself and it would've been hilarious. You're just going to have to trust me on that. But hemorrhoidal flareups (again, more fun when pronounced in the East Indian accent) being what they are, sitting down to blog was not appealing to me for quite some time.

We'll do it in pictures, shall we?

First, the walk to the room one of my appointments was in was incredibly long. At the entrance I told them where I needed to go and they said, "Down that corridor until you get to the E elevators." I soon realized that meant I had to pass the A-D elevators first. At a certain point, I saw this Segue against the wall and seriously considered commandeering it for my purposes.

The experience reminded me of this deleted scene from The Pink Panther. Start at :33 seconds and end at 3:15.

So I finally got to my appointment room and then waited.

Here is a selfie of me as I wait.

I continue to wait, so here is a selfie of my patriotic pedicure.

The waiting continues, so I begin to explore the room. Here we have the screen savers that cycled around on the computer used by doctors and nurses. I was impressed that the proverbial 'management' was keen to tutor its workers on bedside manner.

 But then I saw this one:

WTFlip?! Who does this?

I had a lot of fun imagining possible updates and tweets that would violate this aspect of bedside manner--especially considering this is a breast oncology center exam room.

"Check out the tumors on this lady!"
"Get a load of these malignant jugs!"

I will let you add your humorous possibilities in the comments section below!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Graduation x 5

My family is chock full of graduates!

Although I wrote at length about Dave's hard work toward completing his Master of Fine Arts degree, I never announced that he indeed passed his final review (with flying colors) and is now an official graduate of San Francisco's Academy for the Arts.

Unfortunately, his graduation ceremony was scheduled for the Friday after my chemo treatment, and the Fridays following my chemo treatments are my worst days. In addition to that, we made two other trips to the bay area that month for my doctors' appointments. All this combined to smush the pomp and circumstance right out of Dave's graduation. Although the ceremony of it all was a casualty of my cancer, our family's pride in our dad and husband is very much alive.

 Congratulations Dave!

Sierra is the next graduate in the family. She has graduated from the 8th grade and is ready to move on to high school. To my delight, Sierra is a strong student of English, and will be starting the honors program in 9th grade. Unfortunately, she also takes after me in math, so she will be repeating Algebra in 9th grade. Sierra is a great public speaker and has a beautiful singing voice as well. She was selected by faculty to audition to be a graduation speaker, and made three cuts before being eliminated. She also auditioned to sing the national anthem at graduation, and it came down to her and just one other contestant, a good friend of the family. Sierra was saddened to come so close and not win, but we are happy for our friend, who also has a lovely voice. Kudos to Sierra for a) putting her hat in so many rings, and b) being a good sport. May she always have the courage to try!

 Congratulations Sierra!

In an adorable ceremony this morning, Sophie turned the monkey on her balloon hat from the back to the front, signifying the completion of Kindergarten! She has learned so much academically, but has also grown in her physical skills. Did you know that jumping rope is a Kindergarten standard? And Sophie is a master! We look forward to reading lots of books this summer and keeping her skills sharp for the first grade.

 Congratulations Sophie!

And while it doesn't technically qualify as a graduation, Knox deserves congratulations for earning two stripes on his gray belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu. Knox works hard on his "chop-chop" skills (a nick name we've adopted because it's easier than saying---or spelling---Brazilian Jiujitsu, though it must be pointed out that there is no actual chopping in the sport of Brazilian Jiujitsu), and we are proud of him for setting goals, working toward them, and achieving them.

 Congratulations Knox!

And finally, I have graduated from chemotherapy! I feel this "achievement" pales in comparison to those of my family members. For one thing, I didn't have much choice, and for another, it was in no way proactive. I showed up to the infusion room eight times, sat there, and let them flush me with chemicals. I suppose how I earned it was by dealing with all the side effects, which are well documented in my previous posts. But in any case, I'm very glad to be finished, and am grateful said chemicals did their job and my tumors are history. There is still a tough row to hoe ahead of me what with major surgery looming, but I take strength from the heroes that have preceded me, and hope that my experience can likewise be useful to those who find themselves at the beginning of their cancer journeys.

 Congratulations Me!