Friday, March 1, 2013

Someone I Want to Share with You

Hey everyone,
     I wanted to share something with you today that's a little heavy because I think it is an important topic to discuss and be aware of. It also helps me put things into perspective when I think I'm having a bad day. Perspective is so important. But don't worry, you're more likely to find yourself smiling at the young woman I'm about to introduce you to than shedding any tears. With that being said, here's the wretched truth...
     My cousin Michelle has cancer. She found out over Christmas while on a family vacation. She is 25 years old and has already had a double mastectomy. The past few months have been traumatic. I mean, most 25 year olds people don't have to worry about freezing their future children to keep them from being poisoned by chemotherapy, but somehow Michelle is mostly smiling laughing her way through this ordeal! The girl is tough. When I found out, I had one of those weird moments where you don't know where you are and the whole world around you seems like someone else's life. The only way I know what it felt like for her is because she has been open enough to tell us...all.
     She started a blog shortly after her diagnosis to document her experiences. The blog is called Killer Boobies. The title alone gives you some idea of her wicked sense of humor. Believe me when I say Michelle is a brilliant writer. Her blog is better than the books I'm reading right now. Her attitude belies the seriousness of her situation. Besides humor and honesty, she offers a poignant look at mortality. I wanted to share some of her story here and lead you to her blog, not just because this diagnosis has affected someone I love dearly, but because I think she is an inspiration; the kind of person who offers wisdom and insight you'll think about on your drive to work even though you've never met her. 
     Now I'll let her do the talking herself. The following are excerpts from her blog that give you some idea of the amazing character my cousin, Michelle, has.
As you can see, this koala did a breast exam on me and didn’t find anything. I’m firing him as my doctor.
My name is Michelle.

I’m 25 years old, and I have breast cancer. At first I was in denial. Then I was scared. Then I remembered that I’m only 25, and decided to treat this whole cancer thing with the same humor and youthful irreverence with which I treat everything else in my life.

I think the idea of nipple tattoos is kind of cool, I’ve always kind of wanted to shave my head and I am blessed to have an amazing family, wonderful friends and the world’s greatest boyfriend here to help me through this.



[Here's an excerpt from her post on the diagnosis:]


On December 21, 2012, some lunatics were convinced that, due to some old Mayan calendar charter who ran out of room on a scroll, the world was doomed to end in an earthquake of rage and hellfire. But December 21 came and went, and for most people, not a thing changed.

I wasn’t one of them.

For me, the Mayans were right: December 21 was the end of my world. That day, what I thought was a routine gynecological appointment to drain a lingering breast cyst became something more when I was shuttled into a dark ultrasound room, probed and prodded for over an hour, forced to undergo an immensely painful and invasive biopsy, then confronted by a kind yet frank radiologist who said, “Unfortunately, it does look like a cancerous growth.”

On December 26, 2012, she called to tell me what I already knew: the biopsy results were back, and the lump in my breast was cancerous.

“Breast cancer?” I said incredulously, looking down at my 30As. “Me? But I don’t even have breasts!”

{read the rest of this post here: The Boobpocalypse}


The Diagnosis 

I found the lump myself, a few weeks before my 25th birthday. I went to the gynecologist, who told me it was a cyst and not to worry, but to come back if it didn’t disappear in a few months. Four months on, it was still hanging out. That’s when I got the ultrasound, the biopsy, and the news that changed my life forever.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma with lobular features
  • 1.4cm tumor at 11 o’clock on the left breast
  • ER+/PR+
  • HER2/neu+++
  • Grade 2
  • 0/1 nodes
  • Double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction on 1/11/13
  • BRCA 1 & 2 negative
  • 6 cycles of “TCH” chemotherapy
  • One year of intravenous monoclonal antibody treatment (Herceptin)
  • Five years of hormone therapy (Tamoxifen)
I think all of Michelle's posts are moving and extremely well written, but here are some that cover aspects of a cancer diagnosis that everyone should know: 


1. What’s the scariest part of chemotherapy?

A) Its historical relationship with deadly military gasses
B) Having to wait to find out which side effects you’re going to get
C) Needing to take steroids, and then needing to eat EVERYTHING IN SIGHT (MORE CUPCAKEEESSSSS)
D) All of the above

2. What’s the best part of chemotherapy?

A) Snacks!
B) Law & Order: SVU marathons
C) Not changing out of my jammies all day long
D) All of the above

Hint: The answer is DD, because this blog is about boobies.


The Most Exciting Regular Day Ever (What people fighting cancer and disease really want)

I had an incredibly normal, basic, simple day today, and there’s really no way to convey how excited and happy that makes me.

Here is a list of normal things I did today for the first time since surgery:

1. Put on makeup. I looked in the mirror, which recently has been a little traumatic, and actually spent some time applying mascara, blush and lipstick. It’s amazing how something so simple can really boost your mood and make you feel pretty.

2. Put together an outfit that didn’t look like a cross between something Hugh Hefner would wear on a bad day at the mansion and costume pajamas that would make an awesome and comfy Halloween outfit. No sweats and slippers for me today! I’m wearing leggings with chunky socks and boots, a flannel button-up and a cozy faux shear sweater. I look like a normal 25-year-old instead of someone’s senile grandma robbing a Victoria’s Secret Pink store.

3. Slept in my own bed, on my side. Yes, you guys, I left my dear chaise lounge and went back to my own bedroom last night. I didn’t stay up ’til 2am watching late night talk shows. I didn’t have to sleep on my back and wake up three times in the night to take pain meds and empty my drains. I slept through the night and woke up without a sore back (or, at least, with a less sore back) for the first time in two weeks.

4. Went to lunch!

My beautiful, funny, sweet aunt came up from Laguna Beach to visit today. I was nervous about this because I haven’t had any visitors since my surgery, since I was too busy watching TV, eating chocolates and popping pain pills to talk to anybody – but I’m so glad she did. We went out to lunch at a cute cafe where I was a barista in high school. I felt like I was a super-secret spy because no one suspected I was a direly ill cancer patient, and everyone just served me my BLT wrap and jasmine tea assuming I was a normal, healthy 20-something. I should probably enjoy that, because once I go bald, it’s going to be real obvious that something is wrong with me.

My aunt also brought me an amazing outfit that I can’t wait to wear, now that I’m back to actually dressing myself, as well as some pastries, a fun puzzle and a book of prayer. I truly feel like I’m having Cancer Christmas. New amazing things arrive in the mail each day! In fact, over lunch, we were discussing the variety of reactions that people have had to my news and the different ways they’ve reached out to me, and it forced me to reflect on what truly helps at a time like this. Gifts are sweet and wonderful, but what I love more are the letters that come with them. What really means the most to me is when people I love call, text, email and write to let me know that they love me, too. 
The best thing to hear right now is how much my friends value our friendships. In some ways – and I know this will sound bizarre, since it sounds bizarre even to me – this diagnosis has been a blessing. I’m like Tom Sawyer, getting a chance to listen to my own eulogy – hopefully, like Tom, without actually dying. I know that getting to the other side of this experience will give me a life of purpose and love I never could have imagined without it.

Bills, Bills, Bills, 
When I passed out in the MRI prep room a thousand years ago (read: last month), an ambulance had to come and pick me up to drive me literally across a parking lot to the trauma bay of the main hospital. I just got the bill for that. It was $1,360.
My ambulance ride cost me roughly $700 per minute. Good God, at least they could have taken me in a limo! I should have been poppin’ Cristal in a hot tub in the back of the thing for that price
Alright, you knew it was coming: I have to talk about my hair.

Objectively, the hair thing just seems so…trivial. I mean, if a genie came up to you and said, “[Your name,] I’m going to let you live a long, healthy life – provided that you go six months completely and utterly hairless. If you refuse, there’s a 30% chance you’ll die.” You’d obviously take the half a year of baldness, right? I mean, I totally would. Wouldn’t I?

Also, what kind of jerk genie would ask that?

But subjectively, when B-Day (that’s Baldness Day) starts to sneak up on you, it becomes this big, distracting deal. I was tired of dealing with the stress of that when I really needed to be focusing on the fact that while yes, chemotherapy will make me look temporarily like an alien, it’ll also be saving my life. So I made a decision that I was going to take charge of the hair situation.

The doctor came in while I was in recovery to let me know that they had gotten 15 healthy eggs, which means that even if I wind up totally infertile at the end of this whole ordeal, I can still get all Duggar family up in this biatch (“this biatch” being my womb) if I so choose.

Isn't she amazing? I know I'm biased, but I also know I'm not off base. There are many more excerpts from her story. I encourage you to explore more of her perspective for yourselves on her site KillerBoobies.wordpress.com (but definitely don't go to killerboobies.com by accident like I did because, let me tell you, it's not a blog about an insightful 25 year old winning a battle against cancer!) 

Enjoy your weekend! And don't forget: check yourself! and tell the people you love how much they mean to you!

19 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing her story and her blog. I love her already and am subscribed. What an example of toughness and humor. When others would just lay down and take it, she's really standing up to cancer!
    Bravo to Michelle!

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  2. What an awesome woman Michelle is! Hopping over to Killer Boobies now.

    Also, "Hint: The answer is DD, because this blog is about boobies." HAHAHA!

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  3. wow-your cousin certainly has a great attitude to life and to beating the cancer! thank you for sharing!

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  4. OMG, I've been following your blog for the past year and Michelle happens to be one of my sorority sisters from UVa. I recently spoke with her, and she is absolutely amazing. Her blog is incredible and everyone should go read it!

    How small is this world?!

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  5. Thank you and thank Michelle for sharing her story. As a nurse, I'm fortunate enough to work with patients that keep me grounded and help bring perspective to my life on a daily basis. But as you well know, sometimes it's not until an unfortunate reality hits closer to home that we really stop to think about what and who matters most in this life. Wishing your cousin all the best...sending her positive vibes and healing thoughts her way!

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  6. I should also add that I work as a RN at UVA in Charlottesville. In reponse to Jackilyn, yes, this is very small world!

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  7. Man, life can be really unfair. Thank you for sharing her blog. She is a great writer, and I'm looking forward to reading more. I'll be thinking about her across the miles and sending her good thoughts. You're right when you said that what she's going through makes our 'bad' days not seem so bad. My heart goes out to her. Her willingness to share her story in such a funny and insightful way is really inspiring.

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  8. oh my goodness i would love to be her friend! she seems amazing. heading to her blog now to say hello! and definitely praying for her xo

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  9. Wow, I will be keeping your cousin in my prayers for a safe and speedy recovery. I love how positive and funny she is despite everything she is going through. I will definitely swing over and check out her "Killer Boobies." You're such a supportive cousin!

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  10. @ Jackilyn small world for sure! For as much as we say "it's a small world", I'm always surprised how tiny it truly is. Stoked to have you as a reader!

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  11. Devon, I saw this on Maddie's Facebook and have read her entire blog this week. My heart goes out to your entire family! I love Michelle's attitude and I will continue to read her blog.

    BTW, you should go check out my blog, there are some pictures of you on it this week.

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  12. Just from what you've shared, I can tell she's an incredible writer. That sense of humor is what's going to get her through this. She sounds awesome, and I can't wait to check out her blog!

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  13. Thank you for sharing this with us! I'll be keeping your cousin in my prayers. It really does put everything into perspective! I'm looking forward to checking out her site. She's a fighter and I look forward to the day that she announces she's beaten cancer!

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  14. Wow Devon, your cousin sounds like an amazing person. I love her outlook! And thanks for the tip about looking up her blog...I don't want a peep show. Haha.

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  15. Thanks for sharing this amazing blog with us! Bookmarked.

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  16. She. Is. Incredible. As one who has seen a parent go through cancer, I know how encouraging it is to have a positive attitude. Praying for her and for your family!

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  17. oh my gosh.... heartbroken for her yet amazed at her strength. what kind of world are we living in where 25 year olds get breast cancer... what is going onnnnn??

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  18. I'm just not reading this and I am in awe. Thank YOU for sharing her story with all of us and making us even more aware of how cancer can truly sneak up on any one of us. I just can't even imagine. Her strength is so evident in what she writes. She is an inspiration!

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  19. This girl has an amazing sense of humour and that is going to be her strongest weapon against a disease that strips you of everything else. I'm not going to lie, and I say this with all respect, but hearing her say this disease was a blessing irked me. I wholeheartedly believe in her right to an opinion on this as a cancer patient (and hopefully one day a cancer survivor), and perhaps she has a different perspective as someone with a type of cancer that is one of the most treatable, but it sucks to hear. There are so many whose diagnosis is less a call to fight than a death sentence and it sucks. I don't know, I'm sure she didn't mean it like this, and I know why she said it, but this isn't a mentality that all cancer patients get the luxury of having-no matter how positive they are as people.

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