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Saturday
Nov092013

Savannah and Durham

Alright, alright. I’m way, way behind on blog posts. I haven’t told you about most of my trip to the Southeast, or my little trip to the hospital (spoiler alert: calm down, everything is fine), or my new chemo regimen (spoiler alert: calm down, everything is fine). It’s time to get it together, so my first post of the following three will give you the low down on my adventures in Savannah and at dear old Duke.

After a couple of great days in Miami, my mom and I were off to Savannah. The drive to Savannah was pretty crazy – about 8 hours of pushing through Florida…a lot of time on I-95 and lots of singing along with the radio. We finally got to our hotel at around 11pm. My mom and I were both pretty tuckered out at that point. Luckily, though, our amazing hotel – The Marshall House – and my good buddy (and fellow cancer warrior) Carlyle were both waiting for us and both lifted our spirits. We had a blast hanging out with Carlyle, who I had met online soon after she was diagnosed and have been buddies with for the last year or so. This was my first time meeting her in person, and we were just as good of friends as I knew we would be. She calls us sisters from another realm and I think she’s right about that.

We loved Savannah immediately. The history, the quaintness, the ghostly history of it all (even our hotel was reputed to be haunted – it used to be an old Civil War hospital so not a stretch to believe that some other-worldly stuff could be going on there) – so charming and welcoming, so much so that we immediately booked another night at the Marshall within 15 minutes of getting into our room. We had so much fun during our two full days there – from a vegan tea at Carlyle’s house to her guided tour through an amazing cemetery to a ghost tour (in a hearse) through the city to ghost hunting at a haunted site called The Gribble House (yes, we went in for all the paranormal stuff since Savannah is known as one of the most haunted cities in the U.S.). Carlyle and her posse are throwing a fundraiser for The Wunder Project in March, and I can’t wait to get back to partake in the event and spend more time in one of my favorite new spots.

It didn’t seem like the trip could get any better, but then again, we were heading to my beloved alma mater so it was certainly likely. Duke didn’t disappoint. From the moment I stepped back on campus, I felt nothing but pure joy. We had an event for the Foundation – a screening of The Wunder Project’s documentary and our other videos – and I went to Duke Men’s Basketball’s first scrimmage of the year. Will and Jordan joined me and my mom, and the four of us had a blast on campus. Our basketball team looks absolutely phenomenal this year, which warms my heart and excites me like no other. Ah yes, college basketball season: the greatest time of year.

Will flew home on Saturday, Jordan flew home on Sunday morning, and my mom and I finally headed home on Sunday night, luggage filled with new Duke gear and our minds filled with great memories. We had basically been on the road for about a month, and what a month it was. Despite my breathing setbacks and time spent in a wheelchair for a lot of the trip, it was an amazing time and I wouldn’t have traded it in for anything.

Let’s end this blog post on a little cliffhanger, shall we?

We got to LAX at midnight, and I was at Norris about 12 hours later for chemo. But chemo was not in the cards. Instead, I was checked into the hospital. My next post will explain why.
Saturday
Oct122013

Chemo Round 59, Austin, and Miami

Even with this annoying pulmonary embolism (Pierre) weighing heavily in my lung, I don’t let anything slow me down or hold me back. Chemo Round 59 and the adventures that followed were perfect examples of that fact.

Infusion went well, as always. I was taken care of beautifully by my nurses in the day hospital, cozy in my bed with about half a dozen warm blankets piled on me. I had a great time with Dr. Lenz and Taline, as always. And I got through the next two days pretty well. The only real problem with my chemo regimen is the Zaltrap, which is extremely fatiguing. I can get through the headache and overall grossness from the FOLFIRI, but I feel the Zaltrap lag for days and days after the other side effects have lifted. To add that exhaustion to my already labored breathing because of Pierre means I’m not nearly as active as I’d like to be.

Having said that, though, I should add that on Wednesday night, when I should have been tucked away in a bed, I was at Union Station in Downtown L.A. boarding an Amtrak train to Austin, Texas. Why am I so crazy? Well, Austin City Limits, an awesome music festival, was starting that Friday and I wasn’t planning on missing it. Why in God’s name did I take a train? One, because of Pierre and my desire to limit flying until this clot is less of a beast. Second, because I knew I’d be going on a plane the following week. Third, I’m a strange girl and I thought it would be fun.

My mom came with me and we did have a serious adventure on our way to Austin. We made the mistake of not booking a private room for the trip over there, but that mistake made for some interesting encounters. Our area was on the lower level and pretty private, only holding about 12 people, but some of those 12 were…well, unique. The first lady we sat next to, who wound up getting moved to the general passenger area since that’s what she paid for, was clearly addicted to meth. She was missing a tooth AND a bra. We were nice to her, and she mentioned that she only had $4 in her purse and was going to the middle of nowhere in Arizona and had no idea how she’d get to her final destination. We smiled and clutched our purses a little tighter. Another dude walked in and was studying the overhead area where the luggage was as if he was scoping out a spot for his stuff. The only problem was that he had no stuff. We pulled our carry-on luggage off the upper ledge and put our bags under our seats. And a couple of guys, who wound up being very nice to us, staggered in during the middle of the night. One of those guys couldn’t stop burping and hiccupping beer smells through the night. Luckily, my mom was closer to him and I had my headphones on, because I don’t know if a slightly queasy chemo tummy could have handled that.

We got to Austin a day and a half later, on Friday morning, and we were quickly picked up by my buddy Jordan, who was already in town staying with his parents. He brought us back to his family’s home, and I luxuriated in the most comfortable accommodations ever. Jordan’s parents are some of the most wonderful people on Earth, and made sure that despite my chemo-related fatigue, I was as cozy and well-taken care of as possible. His mom even bought me a blanket, the cushiest and warmest blanket that Pottery Barn has ever made. I was tired, but happy.

We wound up skipping Austin City Limits on Friday because I needed to rest and Depeche Mode really isn’t the kind of band that would get me out of bed when I'm that beat(no offense to Depeche Mode fans). But on Saturday, after relaxing for most of the day, my mom and I met Jordan out at ACL and had a great time. I caught the end of Kendrick Lamar’s set and had fun rapping along with him, and saw most of The Cure’s awesome set. Because I was so exhausted and because of Pierre’s jerkiness, I wound up getting a wheelchair for the festival, and it was pretty phenomenal. My mom and Jordan took turns wheeling me around, and every now and then I’d break away from them by pumping my wheels with my arms to the slight dismay of my mom. I figure as long as this clot is going to give me trouble, I shouldn’t continue to tax myself unnecessarily. After getting over the fact that sometimes I’m going to use a wheelchair temporarily, I loved it. Why not, right?

The next day, we got to ACL a little earlier and wound up catching Tame Impala, an awesome rock band from Australia that has a Led Zeppelin-ish sound. Then, the big event – the band that made me say, “Who cares that it’s a chemo week? I’m going to Austin!” ATOMS FOR PEACE. Atoms for Peace is a side band that Radiohead frontman and musical friggin’ genius, Thom Yorke, created. I am a huge, huge Radiohead fan and an even bigger Thom Yorke fan, so I knew I had to see my boy. Atoms for Peace did not disappoint. They were inspiring, incredible, and filled my heart with joy. I was moved to tears. This was why I endured the exhaustion of traveling during a chemo week. And it was worth it. So, so worth it.

The next day, we caught the movie Gravity with Jordan and his mom (the movie was amazing), was given an awesome driving tour of Austin by Jordan (and got some legendary shaved ice), and were soon back at the train station for our journey home. This time, we got smart and upgraded to a private room and it was great. The room itself was tiny, but we had a bed. We were so psyched to have a flat surface to sleep on that we didn’t even realize that there was a memory-foam-like mattress on the upper bunk that was meant to go on top of that flat surface. So for the first several hours of our sleep, my mom and I were basically resting on the equivalent of a park bench. We laughed until we cried when we found the mattress at about 3 in the morning. Then we slept like babies.

We made it back to L.A. a day and a half later, at 5:30am on Wednesday. Tired and bleary-eyed, we made our way to Norris because I had appointments for scans, blood work, and fluids. I was relieved to finally plop in my bed for fluids at around noon, but didn’t actually sleep since a bunch of my favorite people at Norris came by to hang out. I figured I’d sleep when I got back home, but I worked on Foundation stuff instead. My mom and I had little downtime since we were leaving for Miami the next morning. Thankfully, my mom and Will handled my packing so I could spend more time relaxing (if you call working in bed “relaxing,” which I do).

And so, the next morning, my mom and I were off to LAX. We missed our flight by a hair but were quickly booked on the next one, and had a smooth and fun flight to Miami, where the Colon Cancer Alliance’s National Conference was set to kick off the following day. And guess who was slated as the first speaker at that National Conference? Yup, your chemo-guzzling, Austin-loving, train-riding friend, WunderGlo. It went really well.

And now, here I am in Miami, enjoying the conference and bonding with all of my cancer warrior buddies. Next stop is Savannah, Georgia, where I’ll be meeting another one of my warrior buddies, Carlyle, and staying in a HAUNTED HOTEL (yes!! I am a serious fan of ghost stuff so this is going to be amazing). After a couple of days in Savannah, we’ll be off to Durham and Duke, for basketball and a Foundation event.

Cancer. Chemo. Clots. None can stop me from doing my thing and loving life.
Sunday
Sep292013

What a Week!!

It began with a yacht party and ended with Las Vegas, with a successful event that raised $52,000 in between. Dear readers, it was a hell of a week for your buddy WunderGlo. Let’s start from the beginning.

We had a blast on The White Light, the yacht I rented for my 3 year cancer anniversary. I had about 35 of some of my favorite people aboard with me, so I was literally surrounded by loved ones: friends from childhood, high school buddies, O’Melveny colleagues, my USC Norris crew, and many others – all near and dear to my heart. I stripped down to my brand-spankin’ new string bikini for most of the cruise, prompting my childhood best friend Nick to urge me to “put on some clothes” before we took pictures, which was endlessly hilarious to both of us. My other friend for over 20 years, Anna, had a ring pop that she shared with me, and my law school best friend Morgan made sure to make the innocent act of licking a ring pop into some slightly racy pictures (ha!). I recalled the glory days during a huge case I was on with my colleague/partner/mentor at my firm, Mark, and talked about Coachella with my other colleague/partner/mentor at my firm, Seth. My high school best friend, Erin, made sure I continued to eat during the cruise, hand-feeding me grapes like I was a king. I took a ton of pictures with my best friend from O’Melveny, Tim, who had rallied to join us on the cruise since he usually gets crazy seasick (but he didn’t this time). I broke it down and danced to some sick hip hop music with my girl Tracy, and had a blast posing for pictures taken by my main man, Jordan. And, of course, my devoted and loving three nurses – my mom, my dad, and Will – were there, soaking it all up, too. It was a perfect day.

Once we docked, it was back to business, since the Foundation’s big annual dinner was on Thursday night. I’m pretty sure I worked about 15 hours a day from Monday to Thursday, taking care of every last detail to ensure that the event was a success. I had a ton of help in doing a lot of the legwork, which was huge. But the program, the speech, the silent auction organization, and the recruiting of attendees was up to me for the most part. We’d worked hard on the event for months, and by the time Thursday morning rolled around, I was focused on what we needed to do but very confident that everything would run smoothly.

It did. We wound up hosting 200 people at our 2nd Annual annette cook Cancer Warrior Awards, and we wound up raising $52,000 (over 40K netted after costs). More importantly, we honored some incredibly deserving people, especially my sweet friend, Annette. As you guys know by reading the blog, Annette passed away at the end of last year, and it’s been hard for everyone who loves her. It’s been really hard for me. The emotions are still incredibly raw, and I can get tears for my girl at the drop of a hat. She was truly my best friend in the cancer world, and there’s no denying that life is less beautiful without her around. I made it a point to honor Annette by renaming our event and showing a special tribute film we made for her, and her husband Stan, who is also on the Foundation’s Board of Directors, brought a whole crew of family and friends to be there to receive the honor. It was emotional and special, and I know my dear friend was smiling up in Heaven.

We also honored my friend Alla, another patient at Norris and a close friend who passed away in April. I almost got through my speech about her without crying, but as I hit my last couple of lines, I couldn’t help but get choked up. Alla was an incredible stud, a stunningly brilliant attorney, and a wonderful human being. I’m proud of the fact that we paid tribute to her and gave her a posthumous Cancer Warrior Award.

We recognized other amazing people who continue to fight cancer and do it in incredible ways. Ironwoman Teri Griege, ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, and Meredith’s Miracles Colon Cancer Foundation – inspiring people who make a huge impact by their efforts every day. Our honorees were so gracious and kind, and I know that they blew away our audience with their achievements and heart.

The event was poignant and powerful, and I’m so proud to have been at the helm of it. I couldn’t have done it without the help of our Board and Ad Board and my friends and family, and I’m so grateful for their help in helping me envision and achieve the goals of our Foundation.

As if the yacht and the event didn’t already make for a killer week, I took off with my mom the very next day to meet up with Jordan and my friend Jake in San Diego. My friend Max Frost was opening at the House of Blues, and Jordan had scored us backstage access. It was my first time backstage and in the green room, and it was sweet. My mom and I sprung for the Omni Hotel, so we returned from the concert to a pretty fancy pants hotel with the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.

The next day (yesterday), we took off for Vegas, and that’s where we are now. Given all the great times we’ve had in the past week, I think it’s safe to say that we’re feeling pretty lucky right now. I’m feeling pretty lucky every day.
Friday
Sep202013

Chemo Round 58 and my THREE YEAR CANCERVERSARY

I mean, should we really talk about my last round of chemo when I celebrated my three year cancerversary this week? Don’t we have better things to talk about like beating the odds and remaining positive and living way longer than initially expected? That’s alright, let’s start with business first. And business is recapping my week with my beloved FOLFIRI and Zaltrap.

Chemo Round 58 was sort of magical, I’m not going to lie. There was something about this round that – despite the gross headache and general ick that comes with it on Tuesday and Wednesday – simply put, clearly showed me that I am turning a corner. Turning a corner with this treatment getting easier, with my appetite getting better, and with my breathing improving pretty measurably. I felt way less weak, way less achy, and was pretty much back by Thursday. This has been unprecedented since I said au revoir to Avastin and started on Zaltrap. Usually, I’m lucky to feel decent by Friday. But on Thursday, which also happened to be the 3 year anniversary of my diagnosis, I was pretty much a beast. Was able to shower, get it together, and get to Norris for fluids, then went to a WNBA game at Staples Center after that and, after that, scarfed on some vegan pizza and worked/watched TV/celebrated the fact that I’m alive until about 3am. Dudes, that was a great Chemo Thursday.

And here I am, on Chemo Friday, feeling awesome. Belly feels great, head feels great, energy levels are as high as they’ve been in several months, and my breathing is as good as its been in several months. I had gotten a little worried about hosting my Foundation’s huge event next Thursday (have you not heard about this? Check out www.stayclassy.org/CancerWarriorAwards for details), but this ridiculously impressive body of mine got me right in shape just in time. I couldn’t be happier with how things are going. Oh, and one more thing – not only did I maintain my weight this week, I gained about a half a pound! Yessssss.

Now that business is taken care of, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the fact that I’ve lived three wondrous years since my cancer diagnosis. I remember the day I found out that I had Stage IV colon cancer like it was yesterday. Instead of being upset, it’s like a light went off in my mind, my heart, and my soul. It was a moment when I realized what at least one major purpose of my life was to be. It wasn’t about me just fighting the disease and surviving, which was a tall order at that. But I knew, somehow and in some way, my attitude, my leadership, and my love for people and desire to help them would transform this supposed “curse” into one of the biggest blessings of my life. Funny that I had that feeling all the way back then, but I really did. And now, look at how far I’ve come. With a blog that helps people to a Foundation that helps people to The Wunder Project, my biggest endeavor yet that seeks to really and truly help people by curing colon cancer entirely. I was called to this life. This was the life I was supposed to lead. And despite the physical struggles, which are but a passing thing, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I love where I am, I love what I’m doing, I love my team of family and friends and colleagues and doctors and cancer warriors. I love my life. And I am so, so incredibly grateful to be living it.

On this big milestone, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank certain people that have been instrumental in my survival and in my happiness. First, to my mom, who has my back more than anyone in this universe. Next, to my dad and Will – two guys who would do anything for me. The rest of my family is incredible too – big shout-outs to my grandmas who pray for me…really hard…every single day. And my friends – man, what would I do without you crazy people? I love you and I’m so grateful for the joy you bring me every single day – Tim, Rhett, Morgan, Jesse, Tracy, Erin, Sabrina, Nick, Aymee, Jessica, Jordan, Ruth, and the rest of you troublemakers who make my life so incredibly rich. And big props to my surgeons – Ramos, Sugarbaker, and Genyk – you guys have literally looked the beast in the face and did everything you could to get it out while keeping me safe and sound and intact. You are geniuses and heroes and wonderful human beings.

And finally, to my partner in crime, the person I just couldn’t do this without: my oncologist, Heinz-Josef Lenz. You are with me through every single step of this, plotting out our plan to defeat cancer not only in my body but for everyone. You are my greatest collaborator, my confidante, and one of my best friends in this world. I admire you, I respect you, and you know I love you. I wouldn’t trade this cancer-killing life of mine for many reasons, but the biggest reason is that I wouldn’t have known you had it not be for my diagnosis. You really are one of the best people in this world, and I’m humbled and honored to be your patient and friend. Thank you for taking such good care of me, HJL. Being under your care makes me the luckiest kid in the world.

So that’s that, ladies and gents. Round 58 rocked, and my 3 year cancer anniversary was pretty stellar as well. And to celebrate in true WunderGlo fashion, I’ve rented a yacht this weekend and about 40 or so of my closest friends will be joining me as we sail, soak up the sun, and tell cancer to go screw itself.
Saturday
Sep142013

Chemo Round 57, PET/CT Scan Results, and The Blood Clot

Round 57 came sooner than I would have liked, given my slow recovery from this gigantic clot in my lung (should we name it? Yes, we should. It’ll come to me during this post), but it was all good. Infusion went well – I got a cozy bed with some warm blankets and was totally comfortable and relaxed for the several hours of chemo guzzling. My normal side effects of a headache and general grossness lifted by Thursday morning, but I still had that Zaltrap-induced fatigue. Basically, once the normal chemo side effects lift, I feel completely lethargic and lazy. Maybe a little achy, too. So I took full advantage of that and worked in bed for a couple of days. Then, I huffed and puffed and made my way back to the world.

So, the clot. Let’s call it Pierre since it’s a pulmonary embolism (generally called a “PE”). Pierre is not the Frenchman that you’re imagining in your mind – the one with a little chapeau, a nice warm baguette, maybe some poetry, and a romantic side that takes your breath away. Pierre just takes your breath away. It’s been an interesting ride with ol’ Pierre. It sucks to not be as active as I want to be. I haven’t seen the gym, despite my desire to go, in weeks and weeks. I’ve lost weight because the minute I start eating, all the blood drains to my belly and Pierre makes sure my brain doesn’t get enough blood, so I get sleepy. Because I’m not nearly as active as I used to be, I’m losing my muscles which contributes to the weight loss. I think, since the onset of this bad boy, I’ve lost at least 15 pounds. So when you see pictures of me looking sleek and skinnier than I’ve ever been, please don’t think this is something that cancer is doing to me. This weight loss is NOT because of cancer. As you’re about to find out, there is plenty of good news about “the cancer” that so enjoys chilling out in my body. This weight loss is about the clot. This weight loss is squarely due to Pierre and his devilish ways. But I’m improving…slowly. I’m eating more. I actually gained a pound or two in the last couple of days. So Pierre is not going to be the king of the hill for long. I’m making my comeback and I will come back to the ridiculously active, ridiculously healthy WunderGlo you’ve come to know. This is just one of many challenges that, like all of those other challenges, I will conquer.

Enough about Pierre. It’s time to talk about “the cancer.”

So I had a PET/CT scan a couple of weeks ago and got my results right before Round 57. There is plenty of good news. The disease in my belly, as it’s been for about a year and a half, is minimal and stable. The scan detected a couple of jackass lymph nodes and that’s it. Good times. Also, my last several CT scan reports have noted some “suspicious” stuff in my lungs. I knew it was the radiologist getting his kicks with predicting new cancer and being wrong, as the radiologists always love to do, but now I got confirmation that I was right. The PET/CT scan said definitively that there was no evidence of disease in my lungs. So, besides Pierre hanging out in my right lung, my pipes are solid. The only bummer was that the scan did not detect Pierre getting any smaller, but the good news is that he’s stable. This clot will not grow and it’s not going to kill me. So, basically, I need to chill out, breathe, keep taking my blood thinner, and wait as the clot resolves.

In the week following chemo, I could feel a change in my lung. I think things are absolutely getting better. I find that the long walks I take when going to Sparks games and Dodger games (yes, even with Pierre, I support my teams) are getting easier. The stairs I take in my house are getting easier to climb. I’m eating more without feeling nearly as tired. And I’m breathing deeper and easier. For the first time in several rounds of chemo, I actually feel stronger than the round before and ready for the next round.

There are many things I’ve learned during this fistfight with cancer. Patience, constant gratitude, how to ride the waves of physical challenges and triumphs, et cetera. But with Pierre and this new chapter, I’ve learned that tough times may come, that things may not always be as easy as they’ve been in the past. But I’ve also learned not to count myself out. Ever. Because I don’t give up, I don’t put my head down, and I don’t despair. I endure. And that fact has been the most self-affirming one of them all. I will endure. So bring it on, Round 58.