Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear Cancer, You may slow me down, but you won't stop me from riding my bike!

This post was mostly written in my recliner at Mount Auburn Hospital Medical Oncology Department. I have treatments every three weeks, and treatment day is the one day where I sit still long enough to write a blog post!

The shirt is to support a fellow cyclist battling cancer along with being run over by a car. Read about Lynn here http://www.caringbridge.org/.../id/55005bf9ca16b44f0761bc73. And support Lynn's PT here http://onetoughbitch.com/

Biking to/from chemo!
For the chemo treatments, I like to imagine that we are battling my tumor, Davros, by pumping miniature Daleks into my veins. It is fitting that the exterminating obsessed Daleks are Davros' own creation, who have ironically turned on him because he isn't pure Dalek. So they now focus all their exterminating rage onto Davros himself.  As his current host and life support system, I will suffer some side effects from the battle, but I will live on, long after Davros is exterminated! Their attack is focused on exterminating him while saving me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dear Life, Please stop throwing shit at me, signed Pamela

Upon hearing my latest news, a friend counseled me that he was certain I could handle whatever life threw at me. My immediate response was that I sure wished that life would stop throwing shit in my direction, or at least not take such precise aim.

The next day while I was at a PT appointment, I added a new goal to my list. I said that we have to fix my flexibility so I am better able to duck when shit is thrown in my direction! OK?

Well, too little too late.  Shit has good aim, and apparently I'm just lousy at getting out of its way.

When the doctor told me I had breast cancer, my first reaction was it is simply not possible, since I do not even have breasts. Well maybe I have them technically, but really, it's in name only. My pixie moniker comes not just from the distinctive blond pigtails! Really, how is it fair that I couldn't have the benefit of even a little cleavage, to then have these tiny creatures betray me in such a way!

So off with them, I said. But then the doctor said I would have to keep the traitors for a while, since the Her2 Positive breast cancer I have is aggressive and needs to be treated with some very targeted drugs and chemo before surgery. They told me that this was good news: In fact, when Herceptin was found, it was heralded as one of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer treatment, to such a degree that some scientists remember where they were when they heard about it!

So Yay! Science! Let me say that again, Yay! Science! And because research is fundamental, I want to do my part to support the actual scientific research that will someday make stories like mine a thing of the past, so I'm putting my efforts into raising funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

I had the mammogram and biopsy on a Tuesday and then had several days to absorb the potential for bad news. I reached out to friends on social media asking for folks to channel some positive energy my way. When the doctor called Friday morning to say positive, I realized that I should have been a bit more specific in my request for positive news! I won't make that mistake again!

John and I spent that day wandering between doctors' offices, numbed by the sentiment expressed by Robert Burns that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The doctors cautioned me against self-diagnosis on the internet, against second guessing, and against obsessing on the negative. So we concentrated on the positive and looked through the glossy brochures from the cancer center discussing Herceptin.

The next morning, as I sat reading through this literature, the words heart damage lept out of the page at me. Seriously, it's not enough that I get hit by a truck, break my back and get cancer. But now you have to go after my heart too!

That had to be my lowest moment. There is no doubt that at times I might come across as strong and stubborn. But honestly, every long distance cyclist shares these qualities, and being stubborn might not be a trait to be proud of. But I do have some soft spots, and when those soft spots are targeted,  it can be pretty crippling. This was a pretty targeted assault! John immediately ignored advice to stay away from the internet and did loads of research on this type of heart damage, coming away with good news. I think by the time we arrived for our appointment on Monday that I'd been singling along with Elton John and Kiki Dee for a while. "Don't go breaking my heart."

But the doctors already knew. Apparently my reputation preceded me and my surgeon began by telling me that the head of Oncology mentioned me at a clinic that morning and talked about the type of rides I do and the importance of cycling to me. They quickly understood how critical it was not to break my heart!  

The next week was full of more tests, appointments and anxiety. My PET Scan and lymph node biopsy were both positive in the good sense. The cancer appears contained. I started chemotherapy last Thursday, and it went well. I even managed to get out for a couple of bike rides over the weekend. The last two days have been a bit of a challenge, but I was somewhat prepared for this. When we planned out which day to do chemo, they told me I'd feel OK for the first couple of days and then have a rough patch, so I said, let's give me good weekends!

Among the many positive comments I received from friends, I got one that I made me wish fb had a button 1000 times more powerful than like. My friend, Dan said that what the cancer doesn't know is that it's just been diagnosed with a case of Pamela Blalock!  I think he's saying that you don't want to get on my bad side!

As word has seeped out, loads of folks have reached out to me. Dwan Shepard, from Co-Motion, a cancer survivor himself, was one of the first to reach out to me directly. His words were very kind and touching. He told me how he'd named his tumor and even wrote poetry, as a way to capture his emotions. I think he saw in me the need to write things down to act as a release. Inspired by Dwan, I named my cancer Davros. Dr. Who fans will instantly get the reference. Davros is one of The Doctor's greatest enemies. He has caused trillions of deaths, and even his own invention seems to have turned on him. While The Doctor may show mercy to his enemies, in some feeble hope that there is still something good to be found inside them, fortunately MY doctors and I don't harbor such hope with cancer. It will be exterminated!

There is nothing good about cancer. Cancer can be hereditary, striking families.  It sometimes has environmental causes and finally it can just be random and vicious. Cancer steals joy and hope. Cancer kills innocent babies and ruthless dictators, indiscriminately. I may risk alienating some of my friends and family with what I'm about to type, but I think it's pretty well known already that I'm not one who believes in an interventionist God. I just don't think people get healed because someone prayed or they deserved to get better. I do not believe people survive because they are strong.  I do not believe that people get sick and die because they were bad. People are cured because science and research have found a way to handle it. People die because the science wasn't ready yet.

Don't watch the Stephen Fry video at the end of this post, if you are likely to be offended by this sort of thing. But he says what I feel in much more powerful words.

Now this is not to say that I do not believe a positive outlook will not help me or others. I believe I will be cured by modern medicine. And if nothing else, being positive and seeking joy where I can will make me less miserable, happy even! So my plans are to push away negative thoughts and concentrate on what is good, right now. So it's OK to channel positive energy my way and I won't deny anyone their prayers. But don't even think of coming near me with negative energy. Instead, channel it into positive actions, whether it is fundraising for research or driving a local cancer patient to an appointment or just saying please and thank you when you can.

And please support scientific and medical research in whatever way you can. And elect people who actually believe in science and support research. And since we have some many in office right now who seem to believe in anything except science, please make contributions to foundations who help fund this vital research. I'll just put in another plug to my fundraising page at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Also, let me try to pay it forward in a different way. Right around the time that I broke my back, an innocent child was born with Cystic Fibrosis. Everyday, this child struggles with the challenges of digesting food, thriving, breathing and staying healthy. Despite everything going on in her life, his mother, my dear friend, Dena, reached out to me to ask how she could help me. She is the epitome of positivity, maintaining such composure and taking on this challenge as a scientist and humanist would. She has continually reached out to help me, and I could never have hoped to find a better friend. So please also join me in helping Dena raise funds to do research in CF.

Because Yay! Science!