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Sunday
Nov072010

My Incision and Me

I showed it to almost everyone who visited me in the hospital, and now it's time for me to show it to you (along with my guns).

I like to call it my shark bite. Thankfully, the shark didn't bite down all the way.

Luckily for me, I've always been proud of my scars. Also lucky is the fact that, before my surgery in September, I didn't have many. A little scar on my hand from a shard of glass that flew off a frame and made its way into my skin when I was three -- a tiny circular scar on my knee from one of many falls when I was a rambunctious first grader. And that was pretty much it. 

But now I've got a big one, and I like to show it off.

I don't think I've mentioned this, but about a week after my surgery, I irritated a part of my incision and it started bleeding a little bit. Tiny drops, and more pinkish-clear than anything, but still -- it oozed for at least a week and a half. My nurses successfully gauzed it each day, and I took antibiotics to prevent the infection of the mini-wound, but it troubled me a bit considering the fact that I'm a perfectionist about everything, including my incision. I was SO excited that morning when I took off the gauze and there was no hint of oozing. I've checked it out with the same excitement every day since.

These days, the scar is healing beautifully. It's a sign to me that my body wants to heal itself and do the right thing, and wants to do so in record time. The clean line of this pink, healthy incision line is a promise from my body to me: I'll do my part to get you better.

Also, I think it's a pretty nice incision, aesthetically speaking. Dr. Ramos did a solid job, especially around the belly button area, which must be tricky. I wasn't expecting anything less from him, but he needs to be commended for a job well done.

Not only is the scar a tangible reminder of my past surgery, it also reminds me of my future surgery -- the surgery that will get me to cancer-free status. The incision from that surgery will use my current scar as a guide (the Ramos/Sugarbaker collaboration) but will stretch a bit higher on my abdomen (which will be all Sugarbaker). It'll be the gateway to my gut, where all the picking out/pouring in magic will happen. I'm thinking about asking Sugarbaker to pose with my gut right smack in the middle of surgery. I won't post that picture to the blog, though (some of you may be a little squeamish). 

So yes, I have a scar that spans most of my abdomen and runs north to south. I won't be entering any bikini contests any time soon (are there even bikini contests?). I'll have this scar for the rest of my life. And yes, the scar is pretty substantial. But it's my badge of courage. It's my reminder to live well, give thanks for every day of my life, and to keep putting a hurt on that cancer. And I love it.

Saturday
Nov062010

On Faith

Yesterday, I met with a Catholic priest. And it was pretty awesome, actually.  

I was raised Catholic and it is the faith of my family, but don't get me wrong -- I have many, serious problems with the Catholic Church, especially with the way it's run in Italia. I don't, however, have any problems with my faith, my belief in God, and all the great things the Catholic Church does stand for: social justice, immigrants' rights, caring for the poor and sick, etc. I'm not pleased about affiliating with the Catholic Church because of the ill-conceived political stance that the Church has taken on many issues including women's rights and homosexuality, but I'm pretty sure that Jesus would be a pretty huge feminist and would hang out with his gay friends all the time. So I decided to keep an open mind and give this priest a shot. I'm glad that I did. We had a great chat, I got anointed with some delicious smelling oil, and I felt even more primed and ready to take down this disease.

In the fight against cancer, spirituality is key. For me, it was ever-present. From the moment I found out I had this nasty thing, I felt nothing but totally calm and confident. Pretty crazy, right? Seriously, ask my parents or Will or Dr. Ramos or my family or anyone who was with me during the time I first learned my diagnosis. I was cool as a cucumber, and I still am.

I'll tell you why. Because I knew -- and I know -- that God has a plan for me, and that this is just a part of it. Nobody has been as lucky as I've been in life. I've been almost embarrassed and most certainly humbled by the life that I've had. Things don't just work out for me -- they work out in grand fashion. For example, I wanted to go to Duke since I was 8 years old, and what happens? Not only am I accepted (and tackled by at least a dozen of my high school friends when I found out the news) and attend Duke, but I witnessed a Duke Basketball championship when I was a freshman, was the president of my class when I was a junior and senior, ran a literary festival at which I brought my favorite writer of all time to Duke (Joyce Carol Oates) and spent two unforgettable days communing with her, was one of two students chosen to deliver a graduation speech to my fellow graduating English majors, and -- oh yeah -- met some of my best friends and my husband there. See what I'm talking about? You can't make this stuff up. My ENTIRE LIFE has been like this. Sometimes I can hardly believe how awesome it's been.

My point in recalling my past glory is to convey to you the fact that, all along, I felt particularly blessed and looked after by God. These amazing things just don't happen to a person without someone powerful in your corner. And they continue to happen -- after my first surgery, for example, I healed like a superhuman. I can't just credit myself in this feat. And I know, as I beat the hell out of cancer, the credit won't just go to me and my phenomenal doctors and family and friends. 

God is looking out for me, and God isn't going to give me something I can't handle. God has had a plan for me, and it's a pretty grand one, even if it requires that I go through the physical and emotional challenge of beating back Stage IV cancer. I believe in that as strongly as I believe in anything. 

So yeah, I'm pretty calm. Because I know I've already won.

Thursday
Nov042010

O'Melveny & Myers

Over the last month or so, as I embarked on this little adventure, I've been told by so many people that my quest to beat down cancer and the attitude I've adopted for the beat down is inspiring. I've been told by friends and strangers alike that this very blog has been inspirational. The quick study that I am, I'm starting to believe that maybe I've been inspiring folks lately.

 

So what inspires me? 

Plenty of things. My wonderful family, my incredible friends, the love I feel for my city of L.A. and my sports teams (GO DUKE!) and art and music and my favorite actors (Meryl Streep, Laura Linney, Anthony Hopkins) and athletes (Kobe Bryant, Nolan Smith), and...the list goes on and on.

But one other thing that inspires me on a daily basis, and is one of the things I can't wait to get back to when this cancer is a distant memory: working at O'Melveny & Myers. Today was "O'Melveny Day," a celebration of our 125 year anniversary where current and former OMMers gathered together and bonded over our shared history and good memories. Of course, I was in attendance and had a great time.

Simply put, I love my firm. I've always wanted to be a lawyer (I'm pretty sure I made that decision when I was about 11 or 12), and O'Melveny is a place where passionate lawyers thrive. In my three years of practice, I've been presented with incredible learning opportunities and have loved every second of my job. Even when work is crazy and I'm balancing a bunch of things at once and giving up nights and weekends to work my butt off, I'm a happy camper because, most of the time, it doesn't ever feel like work. Working at O'Melveny is, for me, "living the dream."

It's not just the practice of law that I love, and it's certainly not the only reason I love O'Melveny. The people at my firm are some of the most wonderful people I've ever encountered. Brilliant, fun, giving, and good hearted. Ever since I spent three months as a summer associate at O'Melveny, way back in 2006, I've called the firm "the family," because that's what this group of talented, good people felt like to me. Yes, this is a large corporate law firm, representing huge clients, filled with hundreds of attorneys and staff, and I'm calling it "the family" with no sense of irony. It's an incredible thing, I realize, but you've gotta believe me.

I've been particularly blessed in my O'Melveny experience, I'm sure. I've been staffed on exciting cases on which I took on lots of responsibility and learned a ton. I've had interactions with wonderful clients and -- for the most part -- pretty pleasant opposing counsel. I met my partner in crime and best friend, Tim, at work -- just knowing that he'll be at the office each day makes work incredibly fun. And on top of that, I've got the greatest mentors ever: incredible, seasoned attorneys who have taught me how to be a great lawyer and a great person, and have cared for me and looked after my progress as if I was their own child. I am so proud of the fact that so many of my closest friends are also my colleagues. These people make O'Melveny a family. They make the office feel like my home. And they are the reason why I've spent more time at the office post-diagnosis than pretty much anyone in the history of the world diagnosed with Stage IV cancer (I spend quite a good chunk of time at the office, just FYI).  

If there is one thing that I miss more than anything since being diagnosed, it's going to work every day. And if there's one thing that motivates me to work hard to beat cancer's ass and heal as quickly as possible, it's getting back to O'Melveny. What can I say? It's an inspiring place.

Wednesday
Nov032010

My Bag O' Chemo

In my description of the chemo process, I think I've made short shrift of an important aspect of the process -- and the one takes the longest: my adventures with my bag o' chemo.

After the five hours or so of chemo are done for the day, I am sent home with a little bottle attached to my portacath through a long IV cord which is taped on my upper stomach area. Inside the bottle is a balloon filled with chemotherapy meds -- fluorouracil, to be exact. The bottle rests in a navy blue fanny pack-type contraption, secured around my waist. And there it is: my bag o' chemo.

Me and my bag o' chemo (let's just call it "bag o'") hang out for about a day and a half, until the balloon in the bottle has gone completely flat which means my body has soaked up all that chemo. Then, the bottle is detached, my IV line is flushed with saline and blood thinner (to prevent clotting in my port), the needle in my portacath is removed, a tiny band-aid is placed on the tiny hole in my chest where the needle used to be, and I'm a free and unrestricted woman. 

For about the first hour or so after my initial round of chemo, when I was first suited up with my bag o', I was a little sheepish, wondering what people would think and if it was unsightly. I tried to cover it up with my jacket, only to find that I looked even stranger if I did that. I stared at people who passed me, watching their eyes to see if they looked at the tiny tube leading to the navy sack. I thought to myself, how uncool is this?

Then, slowly but surely, I got over it. I decided that this bag o' is a badge of courage. It's helping me beat the hell out of cancer, and it's essential to my fight. I stopped trying to hide it, and just the other day, one of my childhood friends (Nick) bought me a special Great White Shark backpack to carry it in. It may not have started out as the hippest thing for a 28-year old to be saddled with, but I'm quite sure I'm making it pretty darn sweet.

These days, I don't care who sees my bag o', and whenever anybody shows any interest in it, I whip the bottle out and show off the balloon of magic juice. This week, I even worked out two nights in a row with it. Nothing like doing some bench press with your trusty bag o' by your side.

My point about talking about bag o' is that I've found, in fighting this idiotic cancer, I've got no time for embarrassment. If I can't shower for a couple of days because I need to avoid getting my portacath wet, and if that means my hair is not going to look great (actually, it may look pretty rough), then so be it. If I have to walk around with a bag o' secured around my waist like a nerdy tourist, then so be it. If I have to show off my butt to my parents and Will every night as I get my shot of Lovenox, then so be it. 

My only goal -- my singular focus -- is to get better, to become totally and completely well. And there's nothing cooler than that.

Tuesday
Nov022010

On Introspection 

Introspection ain't easy. At least, it isn't easy for me. By introspection, I mean being really quiet and still, listening to your body, reflecting inward, and really spending quality time with your own silent thoughts and feelings.

As you may know, I am fairly loud, and a pretty serious extrovert. Being quiet does not come easy for me. Being by myself -- as opposed to being surrounded with friends and family laughing it up and having a blast -- is even more of a stretch. So taking time for introspection is not exactly one of my natural strengths.

Back in my pre-diagnosis past life, I was way too busy and -- more importantly -- way too impatient to do this introspection thing. I believed that I was pretty in tune with my inner thoughts and felt that if my body needed something -- well, it could wait. Basically, the only time I had to really reflect was time spent in the car, and I was usually too busy belting out one of my favorite songs or talking on the phone to actually do any reflecting. 

These days, introspection is key. The first and most difficult part of this, by far, has been listening to my body. During the middle of the day, I'll ask myself, "Am I tired? Should I take a little nap?" While I'm working out at Educogym, I'm thinking, "Am I straining my core with this exercise? How are my muscles feeling?" As the night winds down, I query, "Am I ready to go to bed? Maybe a little more TV?" It's weird, this listening to my body thing. I used to tell it what to do -- ok, I'd demand it -- but learning that you've got some cancer kicking around the ol' body changes all that. In order for my body to truly work with me, my brain needs to partner with my body. No more pretending that I can just will myself to do something without giving any regard to whether my body thinks whatever adventure I've got planned is a good idea or not.  

Today, I spent a lot of time listening to my body and chilling out with my inner thoughts, and found that I still have a lot to learn. 

I started the day with a visit with my five-elements acupuncturist (Mary Ellen), where she tested the balance of energy between the right and left side of my body. Part of this test was putting the end of a small, lit incense stick near the skin right below each of my toenails and fingernails, and I'd have to tell her when I felt the heat from it. I was resting on my back, focused on my toes and fingers, just waiting for the sensation to hit me. Seems easy, right? Just say "hot" when your skin feels hot, right? Not so much. I actually had to strain a little bit to really get in the zone. I probably could've just withstood the mild burning pain and ignored it until it got impossibly hot. That started to freak me out. If I had the ability to ignore my body when there was a hot incense stick on some pretty tender parts of my skin, what else could I ignore? Once I took some deep breaths and got focused (and much better at sensing the heat, at least in my mind), I stopped being annoyed at myself and started to relax, which helped me focus more. I realized that, even now, I can be a really uptight kid. This relaxing, introspection thing takes work.

I decided to follow my session with some more introspection via one of the guided imagery/meditation CDs that OMM best bud Sabrina bought me way back when I was first diagnosed. The CD I listened to this afternoon is specifically geared for people undergoing chemotherapy, and helps you visualize the chemo as a magical, powerful liquid that encapsulates and destroys your cancer cells. It's really powerful stuff, and taking the time to really envision the chemo working gives me an added confidence about its effectiveness. It makes me feel awesome and prepared -- similar to an athlete visualizing himself playing a great game hours before the game is actually set to start.  After finishing the CD, I realized that this was only the second time I'd listened to it, and the first time was on the plane coming home from NIH before I had even started chemo. How weak is that? I realized that I need to make more time for serious, time-intensive meditation.  

In the battle against cancer, part of the journey is celebrating my strengths (for example, my attitude, confidence, and resolve to beat this cancer no matter what it takes), but also to recognize my weaknesses and the areas in which I tend to skimp. Introspection is one of these areas.  

But don't worry. I'll still be a loudmouth at heart. :)