Monday, May 28, 2012

Taking A Break...

I'm doing well - now 4 years and 11 months from this time, I'm concentrating my creative energy on my photography, and on losing weight to be even healthier :)

I post my photographs on Instagram as 'trurogirl'; it has been a wonderful and liberating experience to share my view of the world with others! Cancer gave me the courage to share my photos, as it gave me the courage to write about my experiences.

My Photo Gallery is available on; my name there is...(you guessed it!) trurogirl

I especially enjoy taking photos of flowers; they really 'speak' to me!

Here's a link to my Photo Gallery:

My best advice to all from this point in my journey:
Enjoy every day of your life, and find beauty in the little things :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your MRI - A Hidden Danger

The FDA recently announced that it was requiring new warnings about the use of gadolinium contrast agents (dyes) used in MRI scans. Gadolinium has been conclusively connected with a rare, potentially fatal kidney condition called NSF (Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis). The named contrast agents most often linked to NSF are: Magnevist, Omniscan, and Optimark.

NSF is a progressive thickening of the skin's connective tissue: it can eventually affect the joints, eyes, and, most seriously, the internal organs. Patients experience tightening and hardening of the skin, with dark or reddened patches. The disease can lead to joint contracture, preventing normal movement; if it affects the internal organs, it can be fatal.

Breast cancer patients routinely undergo yearly breast MRIs in addition to our regular screening mammograms. The MRI visualizes the breast tissue without using radiation, and it can detect abnormalities which a mammography cannot. Using both of these methods provides a more comprehensive evaluation.

The MRI consists of 2 phases: a non-contrast phase, which happens first; then, the contrast phase, where an IV of saline mixed with gadolinium is administered; this provides an enhanced level of imaging.

Following the MRI, patients are advised to drink a large amount of water in order to flush the gadolinium out of their body. The added fluid lessens the chemical's impact on the kidneys, as gadolinium is a toxic substance.

Patients who have kidney disease or who are at risk for reduced kidney function should have only a non-contrast MRI, or have their physician explore non-contrast-based imaging options, due to their high risk of developing NSF.

Any patient who is experiencing a lessened ability to eliminate drugs from their system should have their kidney function evaluated prior to having a MRI using contrast.

Most patients needing a contrast MRI will have the capacity to eliminate the gadolinium from their system rapidly by drinking more water for a day or so. But, if there is any question of impaired kidney function, patients should consult with their physician before undergoing this type of imaging.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This Friday, STAND UP!!

On Friday, September 10th, at 8PM Eastern Time, Stand Up To Cancer will hold a multi-network 1-hour simulcast to raise funds for cancer research.

Celebrity actors, musicians, athletes, journalists, and others will all appear during the telecast; several were also cancer patients themselves, and have successfully journeyed through treatment to recovery.

There isn't a single person alive whose life hasn't been touched directly or indirectly by cancer. Before I became a patient, I had already lost my Father, Aunt, Uncle, and a dear childhood playmate to this dread disease. Right now, my wonderful Stepmother and a co-worker are also in treatment.

The mission of Stand Up To Cancer is to raise funds which go entirely and directly to cutting-edge cancer research, accelerating this process so that current and future cancer patients can get the greatest benefit in the shortest possible timeframe. It also celebrates the 12 million cancer survivors living every day in defiance of the disease, which gives hope to others should they ever be faced with a cancer diagnosis.

I have been a member of SUTC since the first telecast in the Fall of 2008. I donated without hesitation, and was energized by this innovative approach to funding research. At the time, I also dedicated a star in the cancer "constellation" in memory of my Father; this is a wonderful way of memorializing a loved one whose life has been taken by the disease.

SUTC invites us as cancer patients to create a profile and also make a statement about how we personally "stand up to cancer"; my Profile is available at the following Link, but I will also post it below:

It has now been 3 years since I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I am now a "Survivor"... Most days, I don't even think about cancer; even though I can clearly remember how it overwhelmed every aspect of my life for weeks and months. My life is forever changed, and some changes are for the better.

Cancer has put everything else in my life in perspective. Finding joy in each day is the most important thing to me. I now realize that life is all about "the little things". Living in the "now", and truly experiencing what is all around you, makes you feel that you are not wasting any precious minutes of your life. This attitude is one that enhances life for all of us, not just cancer patients.

Cancer has helped me realize that I am an extremely strong person. I write about my experiences on my website, in the hope that it might help others going through their journey back to health:

Cancer has robbed us of far too many friends, loved ones, and family. We must work together to make it a thing of the past. Stand up, everyone!!

me to never allow cancer to claim my spirit or take away my smile

Please watch the telecast Friday; it will touch your heart, and it will also inspire you. Donate to SUTC so that together, we will be able to make cancer "history".

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Most Costly Disease In The World

If an interviewer asked "people on the street" what they thought was the greatest threat to worldwide health, the answers would most likely be "AIDS", "Malaria", "Flu", or another infectious disease. I would have given a similar response.

Surprisingly, the answer is - "cancer".

At a global cancer conference being held in China this week, the American Cancer Society presented new findings about cancer: not about treatments, cure rates, or research, but that cancer is now the world's leading cause of death, and literally costs more than any other disease in terms of disability and years of life lost.

A staggering $895 billion was attributed to cancer's economic cost for 2008 - this is roughly 1.5% of the entire world's GDP (gross domestic product). And, this is only the figure linked to disability and life-years lost to the disease. The costs of treatment, which are not included here, are also astronomical, and will only increase in the coming years.

The World Health Organization has estimated that cancer would replace heart disease as the leading cause of death this year. In 2008, 7.6 million people worldwide died of cancer, and each year, 12.4 million new cases are diagnosed.

This is an impending world health crisis of unimaginable proportions. Some are now comparing it to the global crisis leading to increased spending on AIDS in the early 1990s. The current 3% of public and private funding dedicated to global health must be greatly increased if we are to have any hope in turning the tide against cancer.

Many Women Not Informed of Reconstruction Options

Last Sunday, New York signed a new State Law requiring hospitals and physicians to discuss breast reconstruction options with patients prior to performing cancer surgery.

Sadly, although breast reconstruction following cancer surgery has been a Federally mandated covered benefit since 1998, the rate of post-mastectomy reconstructions is far lower for poor and minority women. I know that this is the case.

I had personally been asked to research this issue a while ago, and I was completely taken aback to see the incredibly low rate of reconstructions vs. mastectomies in the Bronx. It did not ring true that 80% or more of these women would actively choose to live the rest of their lives this way, when the law says that they are entitled to reconstructive surgery. Not all women are medically eligible for reconstruction, but this could not possibly account for the disparity. Were these women not aware that reconstruction is indeed a covered benefit? Could something be done to raise awareness of the situation, and help these women to be "whole" again, following the devastation which cancer had caused them?

A major factor is that women undergoing mastectomies at hospitals which do not offer breast reconstruction were not informed of their right to have this procedure performed at another hospital equipped to offer this service. From now on, if the hospital where the mastectomy was done does not offer breast reconstruction, it is mandated that the patient be referred to a facility where the procedure is available. In the NYC area, breast cancer patients at academic medical centers, which have breast plastic surgeons on staff, are far more likely to be informed of, and to undergo, breast reconstruction. The new legislation will ensure referrals to these institutions for post-mastectomy patients.

I was fortunate enough to undergo surgery and treatment at a facility of my choice. This legislation means that other women will have access to the same level of care and treatment options, no matter where they are initially treated for their breast cancer.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers - Angels Everywhere

Last Wednesday, I traveled into Manhattan to attend an all-day conference in Midtown. After leaving the conference, I was walking to meet my husband at his office, when I tripped over an electrical cord which was taped to the sidewalk. The cord was not flat the entire width of the pavement, and as I stepped around to avoid it, my left foot was caught in the space between the sidewalk and the light pole where the cord originated (!). I fell hard into the street, right next to a man who was hailing a cab.

He immediately stopped what he was doing, grabbed both my hands, and lifted me back up onto the sidewalk. He asked me if I was OK, and said that if I needed to, he would use the cab to get me to the nearest hospital.

I said that I thought that I could still walk, but that I had hurt my left knee, elbow, and ribs, as I landed on my left side when I fell. I thanked him several times for his kindness, and he said that he would not leave me until I was sure that I was OK. He was a sweetheart. I told him that he was going straight to Heaven for being so kind to me. He was very modest, and said that he was only doing what anyone else would do in a similar situation. I really was somewhat in shock at the time; I was still trying to process what had happened to me.

While this was going on, a very petite Asian woman was silently brushing the dirt from my pant leg with her hands, and she patted me on the shoulder. I couldn't believe that she was doing this - it was so sweet. I thanked her, and she just smiled - I don't think that she spoke English. Several other people stopped and offered their help as I tried to get myself back together after falling. They were being kind to a total stranger in one of the busiest cities in the world, a city with an underserved reputation for having cold, unfeeling citizens.

I can say this because I was met with similar acts of kindness and generosity when I was run over by a van 15 years ago in Manhattan. People were absolutely wonderful to me, and I actually made friends as a result of that experience.

So, even though I'm writing this while I'm still in pain, recovering from my brush with the "mean streets", the truth is that there were caring, kind people who stopped what they were doing to give aid and comfort to someone they didn't even know.

I feel very grateful for that, and I do believe that there are "angels" everywhere, in the form of people who will stop and help a total stranger who has been hurt.

The drawing accompanying this post was done by a little girl who was dying of the cancer which ultimately claimed her young life. Even though she knew that she was dying, she still saw herself as being watched over by angels.

Right now, I am thinking the very same thing. These people were my "angels", and I wasn't alone.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When You Look In The Mirror

What do you see when you look in the mirror? And, how do you want others to see you?

I know how very difficult it is when you are diagnosed, undergoing surgery and treatment, to see the person in your mirror as anything else but a "cancer patient".

Your entire waking existence revolves around office visits, x-rays, scans, lab testing, blood drawing, taking meds, and trying to cope mentally, emotionally, and physically with your new unwanted identity. Cancer has erased the person whom you used to be prior to your diagnosis; you will never be the same.

Most of us are forced to lose part of our body to cancer; but, you don't have to relinquish your identity to it as well. You may even decide to see this as a kind of "rebirth" of the rest of your life. Now, as someone facing your own mortality, what is truly important is very clear; and the person whom you see in the mirror is indeed still you, after everything which you have experienced.

As more and more people living with cancer (over 12 million, at last count) finish treatment and enter their survivorship stage, they will be redefining their own lives. As survivors, we also have a real opportunity to empower and help others; both our fellow cancer patients, and those who might someday also face the disease. This is the reason why I am writing here about my experiences, and sharing them with you. I'm almost 3 years from diagnosis, and there are days when I don't even think about cancer.

It's unfortunate that cancer patients are continually bombarded with the "warrior" and "fighter" personas which are automatically bestowed on us. I believe that the very best way to diminish cancer's power over us is to be true to ourselves, and to define our own lives. Remember, you are not defined by your disease; or by what image society attributes to someone in our situation.

There are many times, even now, when I don't particularly feel like a "warrior" as I deal with my daily symptoms. I don't feel particularly strong or empowered when I'm overcome, literally, by the severe hot flashes caused by my anti-estrogen meds. This happens at least a dozen times a day, and during the night: besides any normal activity, it can be set off by things like standing too close to the toaster, drying my hair, ironing clothes...but I have chosen to laugh it off, and say to myself, "Only 2 and a half more years of taking this drug - I'm almost halfway through!" And, I was the person who was always cold...!

When people describe me, I think that they would most likely say, "She's an upbeat, funny, short woman with blonde hair, who always has a smile for everyone. She loves reading, sci-fi, architecture, history, gardening, pugs; she loves Hawai'i, and plans to move to Maui in retirement. She also happens to be a person who had breast cancer." Cancer is far from the first thing people associate with me, and that's exactly the way I want to be seen, because that's how I see myself.

I have vowed that even though cancer could take my life, I will never allow it to claim my smile, or change the essence of my personality: then, it will have "won" in another way. That, to me, would be even more tragic than dying.

When you feel overwhelmed by fear and worry, think about this: no one knows how much time they have left in this world. And, have you ever considered that you may die from something other than your cancer?

Put your life in perspective, and focus on your present and your future. Be as "you" as you can be; this is the best advice that I could possibly give to the person you see in the mirror.