Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In Loving Memory . . .

September 2007

Cancer has reared it's ugly head again in my life and claimed another person close to me. Just when I thought the year was looking up . . . I was cancer-free, on the road to recovery from surgeries, and feeling in good health. Then I get some heartbreaking news that a dear friend has only months to live. At first I couldn't believe it. How could his time be limited? He's only 33 years old and CAN'T be dying from a brain tumor!

I've know Jimmy since I was 5 years old, when we first started school. We grew up together, had the same friends, and were even high school sweethearts. Even though we ended our romantic relationship after college, we still remained close friends and would always have that love for one another. After all, how could you stop caring about someone who has been such a major part of your life growing up? When I first found out 5 years ago that he was diagnosed with brain cancer it was like a shot in the gut. I couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't focus. I kept wondering, how could this be? We're too young for cancer! The doctors were able to operate and remove most of the tumor and with chemo and radiation he was on track to getting better. But there was always going to be that chance that the tumor would grow again.

We all heard the words . . . "the cancer will come back" . . . but I don't think any of us REALLY understood EXACTLY what that meant. This year when it did come back and it was aparent that there was nothing more that the doctors could do I was in disbelief. Just two months earlier we were talking about how we were going to walk the survivors lap together in the Realy for Life that next year. We had talked about how strange it was that we both ended up with cancer but he was the one who helped me through my treatment, having gone through it himself.

I still find myself asking why. Why him, why so early in life, why, why, why. These questions will never be answered, I know that. But what I do hang on to are the memories of him and the time we spent together growing up.

James E. Beckwith, you will be in my heart always!

September 1993

Monday, August 31, 2009

The SCAR Project

I was lucky enough to be involved in a photo shoot for The SCAR Project with photographer David Jay in New York City. I stumbled across the site for the project while on my laptop passing time at the hospital during treatment last year. I was looking for other young women my age and how their cancer had affected them, and how they dealt with it. I was also working with a photographer close to home, having her shoot black and white photos of my stages through cancer. When I came across the website, www.thescarproject.org, I was in awe of the photos he had taken and how he had captured their beauty, even though they had been through hell. I wanted to get involved too! I submitted my information and waited. Within a week I heard back from him. Unfortuantaly he had finished shooting for the year and was off to Australia for the winter, but indicated that he would get in touch with me when he got back to the states in the spring.

Spring came and went and I started to think that maybe I wouldn't be chosen for the project. I had heard on some message boards of other women being turned down because they were out of the age range. I was still within the range, but just barely. In July I got an email from him saying that he was back in NYC and wanted to schedule me for a shoot. I was so excited! I had to have surgery at the beginning of August, so I scheduled the shoot for three weeks after the surgery.

I asked a good friend of mine to head down there with me. We decided to take the train from Hartford into NYC so we didn't have to fight with traffic (which was the best idea ever). I was a little nervous about what to expect but excited to get there. When we got to the city we had a few hours to kill before the shoot, so we decided to head to the Empire State Building. Wow, what a view! Heading up the top was fun, but we were a bit rushed. It would have been nice to have a little more time. At least we picked a great day to head down there . . . sunny and 90 degrees!

The photo shoot was a such cool experience. Instead of shooting at his studio, we shot at The Thompson LES Hotel. He was going for a more natural setting for some of the shots. When we got there it was straight to hair and makeup while he was finishing up with the first client. He made me feel very comfortable and surprisingly it wasn't akward at all. We started shooting and within 15 minutes he thought he had got the shot he wanted. I kinda felt a little jipped, he had only shot about a few dozen photos of me. I traveled all morning for this and I wanted more than just 15 minutes of fame!! :) He decided to shoot a few dozen more just to make sure everyting was in focus and then we were done.

I had such a good time while down there with everyone involved. I would definately do it again. It was bittersweet though, coming at a time when a good friend's health was taking a turn for the worse, and I think that he really captured that in my expression. This is a horrible disease, not just breast cancer, and when it just so happens that young people get it, it's that much more shocking. Which is why I wanted to be part of the project . . . to put a face to the disease and show people the absolute reality of what it's like to live through cancer.

For the gallery photos check out: http://www.thescarproject.org/TheSCARProject20/

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Just a quick update. . . surgery went well today. Dr. C and Abby are happy with how things went in the O.R. Was supposed to take 2 hours, but they did a lot more work than originally anticipated so it ran long, 3.5 hours! Fine with me. Whatever it takes to make things as close to perfect as possible! Will post more later when I'm not so medicated! :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Surgery . . . again

The date for my next surgery is fast approaching . . . August 4th. This summer seems to be flying right by and I wonder what my life will be like next year when I'm not planning events around my surgery, or radiation, or chemo, or multiple doctor appointments. While I'm very excited to have this next surgery and be that much closer to the reconstructed me, it's really putting a dent in my social life. Already there are 3 things that I was looking forward to this summer that are now blown . . . Kenny Chesney concert - can't go, too close to surgery, Entrain Harbor Cruise in Boston - ditto, lobster boat races in Maine - major ditto!! WTF! And I really don't want to push the surgery date back, I want it OVER!

One thing I am looking forward to this summer is my photo shoot with David Jay for The SCAR Project. More on that in a later post.

"Rise above the storm and you will find the sunshine."

Monday, July 6, 2009

Back to life . . . back to normalcy

Or should I say, my new kind of normal. My blog updates are becoming few and far between, but I'm trying to be better. It's just been a crazy few weeks. So the first of my new news . . . went back up to moose country (northern Maine) to go whitewater rafting after taking a 13 year hiatus from class V water. It was actually a spur of the moment trip with an old college friend, and it turned out to be a great weekend.

They had booked the trip with Three Rivers Whitewater in The Forks, Maine. Sshhh, don't tell my old friends/co-workers at Crab Apple Whitewater that I went with another outfit! The weather for the weekend was less than ideal . . . rain, rain and more rain. Gotta love camping in that! So after the 6 hour drive north I arrived at the site to find that the girls had just finished pitching the tent . . . just in time! :) We were all very excited for our trip on the Kennebec River the next day. An 8000 cfs release is always a good time, no matter the weather!

Being back up there made me feel like I was 20 years old again! The adventures I had and people I met while working for Crab Apple was something I'll never forget. As we geared up I started to get a bit concerned. After all, I was only 2.5 months out of surgery . . . could I really paddle hard enough without hurting myself? Well, we were going to find out!! Cancer was NOT going to take this walk down memory lane away from me! After what was one of the scarriest rides on a rickety bus to the put-in (going so fast down a dirt road we thought we'd roll the thing, and then blowing out a tire and continuing on like nothing happened), our fun was about to begin.

The Kennebec was all that I remembered. Just like seeing an old friend after so many years, everything comes flooding back to you . . . the stunning beauty of the gorge, the power of Cathedral Eddy, the fun to be had in rapids such as Rock Garden - Three Sisters - Big Mamma - The Alleyway - and Maytag. And no, Magic Falls didn't claim our boat that day!

We had a fun day on the river and were more than ready for the lobster/clam bake that was waiting for us back at the base. I was a bit sore from the surgery, but I didn't let that slow me down on the river. Some of the guides found out about my situation and were even inspired. And come to find out . . . they have a survivor guiding for them too! It was a great trip, and I'll definately be back to take the river on again!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The next step

Went back to Boston to see Dr. C today. She is very happy with the way things are looking and we decided go go ahead and schedule my next surgery. So August 4th it is . . . a little nip here, a tuck there then I should be near the end of my road! I can't wait to see what my body looks like when all these little revisions are finished. The only question is . . . nipples or tattooing . . . I'm still on the fence. (I never thought that would be one of my decisions in life!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ink before cancer . . . looking for new ink post-cancer

The first tattoo I got on my abdomen was a yin yang with fire and water instead of black and white. I got it my first year of college and when my mom saw it, she asked me if I thought about how that would look if I ever got pregnant. Aparently that didn't deter me from getting more because the next one was of Kokopelli, and the next - Japanese symbol for strength . . . in addition to piercing my navel. After she brought that to my attention the pregnancy thing was in the back of my mind . . . I thought, sure maybe a few stretch marks due to a baby . . . but never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I'd lose all my art to cancer!!

This is the photo that was taken when I got my navel pierced, you can't see all three tattoos but I'm sure you can imagine the other one. For about 12 years this is what my belly looked like (give or take a few extra pounds of course!!).

And now, this is what I'm starting over with. (Ok, not quite as this photo is only 5 weeks post-surgery, but it's an idea) The way I'm choosing to look at it . . . this is now a brand new canvas, a blank slate! So, after my abdomen is all healed up I'm thinking of getting another tattoo to replace the three that I lost. I've come to terms with the fact that I may never bear children of my own so I'm now not worried about stretch marks ruining my ink! I do know that I want the new one to symbolize my strength through all this and also my mom, who I lost to ovarian cancer. Problem being . . . I can't draw worth a shit! So if anyone reading this post has any ideas, fire away!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

3 weeks post-surgery

"Wow, that's quite a shark bite!"

Just one of the comments I've heard from friends when they see my donor site incision. I also got, "how many kids did you have?" when someone who didn't know me caught a glimpse of the incision. And to think, this is what the doctors and nurses consider a good looking incision!!

The surgeon wasn't kidding when she told me that the scar would be hip to hip!! It's been 3 weeks since the surgery and I'm hoping to get the last drain out tomorrow at my appointment. I'm also looking forward to being able to sleep comfortably. Sleepless nights are becoming old, real quick! Tomorrow I'm also hoping to talk more about revisions and what to expect in the coming months. Now that my belly is flat, my sides are more noticeable! I'm hoping that she'll be able to fix that when she does the scar revisions later on. After all, I've been through a lot and I think I deserve a nice sleek midriff!! ;)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Update - 9 days post-surgery

Just a quick update on how surgery went. My surgery was scheduled for 7:30am and they got me into the OR around 8. The surgery itself took about 12 hours and I didn't wake back up and become coherent again until about 9pm. I spent the night in ICU with them monitering my incisions and checking the flaps every hour. ICU was not a fun time! They had me on oxygen (little tubes in my nose) and the smell made me want to puke! That was one of the worst parts, I had to be on the oxygen all week and it also dried out my nose. By the third day I was having nose bleeds and the saline spray they gave me didn't really help.

I was moved out of ICU to a private room Tuesday night and Tuesday was also my first time out of bed. They moved me to a chair and I sat there for about 20 minutes before feeling like I was going to pass out. Wednesday the Physical Therapist came back and wanted to get me walking. We went for a little walk out of my room and down the hall and then got me back into a chair where they started some deep breathing exercises with me. At that time all started to go black and I got wicked lightheaded and again almost passed out. They quickly got me back into bed, I had aparently pushed it too far. The next few days got easier and I was looking forward to being released on Friday. Every day the plastics team would come by and see how I was progressing. They were very happy with the result thus far, always commenting that the incisions looked great and that it was going to produce a great result. Even one of the nurses made a comment that the incision on my belly looked better than her c-section scar.

I was completely shocked the first time I saw my body. It wasn't at all what I had expected. The incisions were huge and not symmetrical at all. It kinda got me down. I had expected the worst after the mastectomy and was extremely happy with that result. My scars from that surgery were about the size of a dime. This . . . just picture the stitching on a baseball and transfer that to both breasts! I know that it's too soon to judge, there's surgical glue and ink from being marked up before the procedure and blood under the glue, but it was shocking! I know that there will be revisions to make them more symetrical and that the scars will fade, but it's been such a long road that I'm more than ready to be at the end.

I left the hospital on Friday with 4 drains in place and planned on spending the week with a friend to be closer to Boston and my surgeon. Being close to the city proved to be a good idea, one of the drains became quite red and painful by Sunday night and when I called the office on Monday, they agreed that it should come out early. So Tuesday, my surgeon's nurse pulled that one and now I have 3 left. My first post-op visit with the surgeon is tomorrow. I was hoping that all 3 drains would come out, but yesterday the nurse told me not to be surprised if I went back home to Western Mass with at least 1 of the drains still in place.

This surgery was so much more difficult than I had originally anticipated! I thought that I would be able to do things on my own once I left the hospital . . . not so! I needed help with the drains, getting up, getting in the shower, putting on my sweats, everything! Thank god for my friend and her husband! They made my first week out of the hospital so much easier, I don't know what I would have done without them! Each day is getting a bit easier and I can now do simple things by myself, and am finally walking upright without pain and can get myself out of bed. It's still a long road ahead!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Night before surgery

It's the night before my surgery for breast reconstruction (DIEP flap) and I'm feeling a bit anxious. I packed up my bags today to head to a friends house who is bringing me to the hospital in the morning. I'll be in the hospital for a week and then staying with my friend for another week to be closer to the hospital in case anything happens, since I live about 2 hours away. As I was packing up my things, the dog must have somehow known that I was leaving for two weeks because normally when my brother comes over he runs to see him and follows him around the house. Not today. He was shoved right up my butt and wouldn't leave my side. He was so cute today.

As the hours tick down to the surgery time - 7:30 am tomorrow - I'm getting more excited. I can't wait for these tissue expanders to be out of me and to have squishy boobs again. And to top it all off, I get a tummy tuck as well! That's the icing on the cake right there! But it's going to be a long, tough recovery. One that I'm NOT looking forward to. But I have a great support system behind me . . . great friends that have done so much for me already and a family that will do anything as well . . . what more could a person ask for!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Getting the word out

I've found that being back out on the mountain is where I feel most like myself these days. All geared up . . . riding down the slopes . . . people don't give the "poor you" look. It's like cancer never even happened!

And, just when I'm back to feeling like myself again . . . the season comes to an abrupt end! I was able to get in some good spring riding, and even met a few new riding buddies, who of course asked about my condition but I didn't mind sharing my story. They all have women in their lives and I hoped that my story would make them realize that breast cancer is NOT an old woman's cancer. Young women do and are dying from this, and early detection is so very important!

So to all the men out there . . . save a life, grope your wife/girlfriend/fiancée!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The cancer's gone . . . how much longer until I start feeling like myself again?!?

This photo of my friend Marcy and I was taken at my most recent sitting with a professional photographer. I had the idea to document how cancer would change my body through a series of black & white photos, and then put together my "cancer portfolio".

My friends are awesome, the photographer is awesome (she's even doing these sittings for me at no charge!), so why the f@%k can't I muster up a smile? How much longer until I start feeling like myself again? My reconstructive surgery is just a few weeks away, my hair is growing back (eyebrows are lagging behind a bit), and there's no more cancer in my body . . . WTF is wrong with me?! I don't think that I'll begin to feel like my old self again until I have my long hair back and I feel like a woman again. It was bad enough being called "sir" in the grocery store when I was going through chemo and had no hair under my caps, but now I get mistaken for a lesbian. News flash . . . not every female with short hair is a lesbian!!

Maybe I should shave my head again . . . . on second thought, not a chance!!

Must be rough . . .

As my reconstructive surgery date approaches I've noticed my anxiety level going up, which is strange because all through my diagnosis, chemo, mastectomy, and radiation I was fine. Or so I thought, maybe I was just really good at fooling myself.

As my worries increased, I couldn't help but be jealous of my dog . . . with no care in the world all he probably thinks about is his next long walk, or a steak bone, or ride in the car with his snoot out the window taking in all the smells around him. Must be nice to have a comfy place to rest (notice that he's spoiled with a pillow as well) and plenty of love and attention. He's blissfully ignorant.

I wish I could go back to being blissfully ignorant! In my next life I think I want to come back as a pampered dog. I think I've earned that right! :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Dew Tour at Mount Snow

January 8-11 the Winter Dew Tour came to Mount Snow, and thanks to my friend Ev, I was able to get a media pass and be right in the middle of all the action all weekend! World-class athletes, olympic gold medalists, it was all very exciting and I even got the chance to meet some of the athletes, including Shaun White, Simon Dumont and Mount Snow's own Kelly Clark!

The weekend was filled with events in the Superpipe and Slopestyle, both snowboard and freeski. Hiking the pipe all weekend for the best vantage point was well worth the huffing and puffing! Check out some of my shots from the weekend:

JF Houle

Simon Dumont

Kelly Clark

Shaun White

Me with Shaun White

Ev interviewing Kelly Clark

For the rest of the footage and interviews from the weekend, check out Ev on Real TV Films! This chick's awesome at her job . . . and one of my best friends!
www.realtvfilms.com/winter-dew-tour.html (interviews should be posted this weekend)