Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Special Christmas Gift

I can't think of anything that compares to the gift I received this Christmas. Dr. Forte gave me something neither one of us knew he had to give: the Gold Medal!

The plan for the next phase of treatment involves 4-8 months of intensive chemotherapy until the upside down chromosome #16, which acts like a marker for leukemia cells, disappears. Whether I receive 4 rounds of chemotherapy or 8 is dependent on the presence of 16i in my bone marrow. As soon as that marker is completely gone, I'll have one last treatment for good measure. Having qualified for the Olympics when no cancer cells were found under the microscope last week, the real competition takes place in the arena of cytogenetics - with chromosomal indicators like 16i telling us who's winning.

After a week of analysis by the cytogenetic experts, Dr. Forte left me a voicemail and an e-mail on Christmas Eve with "super duper good news": No 16i was found in my bone marrow from last week's biopsy at all! It's like the Olympic committee awarded me the Gold Medal now, and as long as I can hang onto it over the next 4 months, they'll let me keep it!

Although I'll still be in and out of the hospital receiving chemotherapy as planned, I will only need 4 rounds, and I won't need as many bone marrow biopsies along the way. The treatment is still necessary to increase my chances of a long term remission, and eventually - wait for it - a cure. I like the sound of that.

I can't wait to ask Dr. Forte in person how often, in his 45+ years of practice, he's seen this happen. I have a feeling I'm part of yet another rare statistic.

I think that the good and the bad of each twist and turn in this bumpy road of mine can be summed up with the question, "How is this possible?" I ask that question again, knowing that the disappearance of 16i at this stage in the game is truly remarkable. I can think of only one answer: the healing power of prayer. Countless people told me that they were praying for me, and I always knew that my voice was not alone. I thank all of you who were in that blue room with me, giving me strength and faith, reminding me to focus on the light rather than the dark. There is no greater gift we can give to each other and I am truly thankful and humbled by the collective compassion responsible for this magical Christmas gift.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Live Like We're Dying"

It's been a music weekend. There's nothing like a good snow storm to inspire me to catch up on some movies, read a good book, or in this case, update my music collection. This morning I heard a song on the radio that I had to download. It's called "Live Like We're Dying," by Kris Allen. When I heard it, I paused, smiled, and nodded to no one in particular.
We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying
I can't help but notice that many musicians are writing songs that recognize how fragile and fleeting life can be and the need to make the most of the time that we're here. Can it be that in this time of global and personal crisis we are collectively inching our way to the realization that, as my friend Cathie says, we are all on this earth on borrowed time?
You never know a good thing 'til it's gone
You never see a crash 'til it's head on
That says it all - the urgency of the present moment, summarized in two lines of a song. John Mayer recently released "Say," his example of this artistic trend, urging people to live in the Now.
Take out of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all your so called problems
Better put them in quotations
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Nickelback had the same idea with their song "If Today Was Your Last Day."
If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past?
donate every dime you had?
What if today really was our last day? Why not say what we need to say? Why not live like we're dying? Dying just makes us live harder anyway. Let's take advantage of these art-reflects-life reminders, make the most of our borrowed time, step over our fears and seize the day.

Carpe Diem!



Thursday, December 17, 2009

"I believe in the faith that can save me."

Again, Bruce's words come to mind.

Today I went for a bone marrow biopsy - my 4th - and a check up with Dr. Forte. I'm so glad that my friend Cathie came with me to share what turned out to be a pretty amazing day. Last week when I asked if I was in remission, Dr. Forte dodged the question, saying that the word "remission" is only as accurate at the tests that are available at the time. I resigned myself to having to wait till the end of the consolidation phase (4-6 months from now) before we would know if we could use the R word.

There are two stages to "remission" in the context of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The goal of induction therapy - the 6 1/2 weeks of hell that I went through in the blue room - is to achieve a "complete morphological remission" by reducing the amount of leukemic cells to an undetectable level under a microscope; the goal of consolidation therapy is to eliminate any remaining undetectable leukemic cells at the molecular level, so that the flipped out gene on chromosome #16 is no longer found. That's called a "complete molecular remission." It's kind of like qualifying for the Olympics, which is a huge victory in and of itself, and then winning the Gold. Today, I learned that I qualified for the Olympics! The induction treatment that made me so sick for so long worked. I'm in a "complete morphological remission" and I'm not stopping till I win the Gold!

When Dr. Forte told us the good news, there were hugs, tears, sighs of relief, disbelief. I forgot about the pain in my hip from the biopsy. Two of the other oncologists in Dr. Forte's practice who treated me during induction came in to congratulate me. I was again humbled by the realization that so many people are fighting this with me, for me -- my doctors, friends, family, co-workers, people at my church, strangers who read this blog. I'm not used to that. It's a very special feeling.

These last two weeks of freedom have been a gift. Sadie and I have been playing non-stop. I'm getting better. I'm feeling stronger. My recovery symptoms are improving. My days are getting busier and busier as I focus on my health and prepare for what's yet to come. I will begin consolidation treatment on January 4th, 2010. I'll be in the hospital for at least 5 days, I'll come home, and about a week or so later, my immune system will crash again. And so it will go each month. But I have the holidays to rest and heal and remind myself not to take anything for granted. Your belief "in the faith that can save me" is my greatest gift this holiday season.

I wish you and your families love, joy and peace as we celebrate our blessings and honor our connections to one another.

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Sprung From Cages on Highway 9"

Sometimes the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen say it all. I've been sprung! (Englewood Hospital is on Highway 4, not Highway 9, but close enough.) I was released on Thursday afternoon, and I'm still a little shell shocked at the reintroduction to my previous world. I owe Jim many thanks for taking time in the middle of the day to move me out of the blue room (it took 5 loads), bring me home and help me settle into the home I left in such a hurry in the middle of the night on October 19th.

Walking out of the hospital, I really felt that I was being released from prison. I spent 46 days - 6 1/2 weeks - being assaulted with toxic poisons that, ironically, saved my life. I underestimated the impact this had on me until the moment I walked back into the world. It was a warm 65 degree December day, with a breeze and fast moving clouds. It was a perfect day. I ditched the mask, took a deep breath and burst into tears. I have never been so happy and grateful. I will never forget the power of that moment.

I'm in awe of the effort that it takes for the body to re-learn basic movements - standing, walking, climbing stairs. I'm still very weak, I need to put on some weight, my stomach has not recovered from all the chemo and antibiotics, and my head feels like it might fall off if I move too quickly, but I'm hobbling around pretty well, albeit slowly.

Sadie has been recovering from her own little female procedure in Hershey, PA, where Mary's friend Karen has been fostering her for the past week. I will get her back on Wednesday, and I can't wait! I can't thank Karen enough for being a 24 hour nurse to my cat, sending me pictures and updates everyday.

I will see Dr. Forte on Wednesday for a follow up appointment. Based on my blood work that day, we'll make a plan for the next step: Consolidation treatment. I'm hoping to get a break till after Christmas, but we'll see. I hate the thought of the upcoming assaults that will bring weakness and possibly other complications, but I also want this to be over with as soon as possible. Right now, I'm just focusing on getting stronger and enjoying every moment of freedom.

Today I had two gifts: my first cup of fresh brewed coffee in 7 weeks, and slushy snow. I know, slushy snow is usually annoying. But to be able to watch nature in action, after staring out of my hospital window at a red brick building for so long, was mesmerizing. I watched the snow all afternoon.

Please know that all your prayers were heard and answered. I've never felt more blessed.



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

I hope that everyone had a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. I was looking forward to writing a Thanksgiving post about all the things I'm grateful for and all that gratitude has done to keep my spirit humble and optimistic. Instead, my Thanksgiving came and went, without the opportunity for reflection or much of anything else. I was able to visit a while with my friend Michael, and Mary brought dinner for me from her Thanksgiving feast in PA.

I must apologize to many of you for ignoring your phone calls or emails. All of the complications that I was warned of during the second bone marrow crash came with a vengence during these last two weeks: systemtic infections, fevers, bone pain, along with side effects from all the drugs to fix these things.

Over the last few days, my counts have started to recover and we're all very excited. On paper, I look as though I should feel great, but instead I feel like I've been hit by a bus. (Actually, I was hit by a car crossing the street on my way home from work in San Francisco in 1990, so I speak with some authority on this.) I feel weak and unsteady, and my gut is still trying to figure out what happened to it over these long weeks. But there's a light at the end of all this: I may be able to go home by the end of the week! Can't wait to lose the masks and get the hell out of here! I've been here for over 6 weeks and I lost an entire season. My kitten has grown into a cat, and already it's December.

This will not be the end of the road in terms of treatment. I will get to go home for 2-4 weeks, depending on my blood tests and how I'm recovering. Then I will have to begin the Consolidation Phase of treatment. Each month for 4-8 months, I will be re-admitted for 5 days, during which I will get high doses of Ara-C on days 1, 3 and 5. Then I can go home again. Somewhere between days 14 and 21 of each month my counts will drop again and I'm likely to have to be re-admitted for a few days of transfusions and monitoring for other complications. This unpredictable schedule is not easy for a type A personality who needs a bit more of a plan. But my blood and bone marrow are in charge, and there's nothing I can do about it. Another lesson in surrender. Every now and then I'll have a bone marrow biopsy to check for the presence of that little flipped out chromosome #16. The treatments will continue till the inversion 16 chromosome is no longer found. Then it will be time to party!

I promise to return phone calls as I'm able. Right now I'm just trying to regain my strength for the big Break Out. Thank you all for your love and prayers, as always.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Induction Treatment, Day 26 and a Missed Opportunity

Well, I made it through round 2 of chemotherapy, which ended yesterday. It was harder than the first round because I barely started to recover my blood counts before my system was blasted again. I was weaker and the side effects were creepier. Today I began to brace myself for the next 7-10 days, which may be the roughest part of this mountainous climb. My bone marrow will fully crash this week, leaving me at risk for infection, bleeding and fevers. My goal was to stay off any antibiotics because the side effects made me sicker than the chemo. One day at a time, right?

This morning I discovered some tummy tenderness that concerned Dr. Forte. After x-rays, a CT scan for a better look-see and a consult with a surgeon, I sit here getting, not one, but two IV antibiotic drips. Ugh. I have been having fevers the past few nights, and with my tummy issues, I had no choice in this decision. It seems that all hell breaks loose the day after I finish chemo. I am reminded that complications are "normal" after chemo for leukemia. It makes sense. The bone marrow is assaulted 24 hours a day, and once the attacks stop, the body then realizes that it survived. It then tries to recover, but it takes a while to break through scorched terrain. I'm told that I have persevered "much better than most." Hmmm. I hate to think of what "most" go through.

Why the consult with a surgeon? To rule out any possibility that I may have an infected appendix. I know, crazy, right? The possibility of having any kind of surgery when I have no ability to heal or clot, is laughable. Thankfully, I just heard that the CT was negative and there is no indication that surgery is needed at all. That was a close one... Besides, I can't believe there is anything left to remove. Between all the surgical procedures I've had to my lungs and my abdomen since moving to New Jersey 10 years ago (wonder what that means), I could fit a Buick inside me!

The other day I had just taken a shower and was not yet hooked back up to my IV. Transport arrived to take me for a set of x-rays, so I went without the IV pump or pole. As I lay on the stretcher in the hallway outside of x-ray, I suddenly realized that no one was watching me. I was on the first floor, not far from the entrance. I could totally make a break for it! I had on my Lowenstein Sandler fleece, which covered up all my hospital wrist bands. I had a cap on my head, which is a dead giveaway that I'm a cancer patient, but it wasn't as bad as not having a cap. I gave this situation some serious thought. Of course I'd have to ditch the mask. The next issue was the slippers. Another giveaway. The biggest problem was the lack of cash for a taxi. If only I had my ATM card! I know I could have made it. I considered running away from home one time as a kid, after a fight with my parents. The lack of cash stopped me then too. I wish I didn't have so much Virgo in my chart...

I would have come back, once I visited my kitten (oh, wait, I forgot my house key too). But the disappointment and shock my escape would have caused Dr. Forte, when he is working so hard to cure me, kept me on my stretcher. A missed opportunity perhaps, but reason got the best of me.

I hoping for a less dramatic day tomorrow.



Thursday, November 12, 2009


There are so many things we take for granted when we're well: The freedom to go outside; eating good food; showering without having to ask permission; and so many other aspects of a normal life. One of the most profound things we take for granted is the ability to see someone's entire face. Because my immune system is basically shot, people have to wear masks when they come in my room, and I have to wear a mask when I have visitors. It's true that the eyes tell much in terms of expression, but when 2/3 of someone's face is covered, part of their humanness disappears. Mask: "A covering worn on the face to conceal one's identity." I never imagined what a difference a hospital mask can make. It really does steal part of one's identity.

I have been cared for by so many doctors, nurses, assistants, and other staff, I sometimes don't even recognize them when I walk around the floor. During such excursions, I am masked, but they are not. It's also interesting to note how often people look right past me, not aware if I smile at them or not. Now that I've been here awhile, more people are noticing me during my walks.

I miss seeing the faces of those who visit me. I can't have many visitors, since it's such a contagious time of the year, but for those with whom I do visit, I miss sharing the emotions that facial expressions provide, especially smiles.

For now, I will have to settle for reading people's eyes and voices. That's a lot, really. This temporary form of identity theft is for my protection. It keeps me from contracting bad things while I'm in the blue room. But the days are sometimes long, and I am anxious to escape this confinement.

This is Day 22 of treatment. Three more days of chemotherapy and then it's wait and see again. Part of being a patient is being patient -- something I have never been good at. I'd like to think that I could have learned this skill in a less dramatic way. But here I am. We respond to life's challenges with as much grace and dignity as possible, and control what we can. For now, the masks are necessary, but I really look forward to the day when they are no longer needed, and to seeing the identities behind them.

Do the world a favor, smile at everyone you see today.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Induction Treatment, Day 20

Almost half way there! The results of last week's bone marrow biopsy showed traces of residual leukemia, so I started a second round of 5 days of chemotherapy today. This is very common, and should not be seen as a sign that I'm not doing well. In fact, Dr. Forte and the oncology nurse said that I responded very well to treatment so far. Despite the secondary complications I had, some would even say that I "sailed through." This is not how I would describe it, given my extremely low energy levels, a fairly painful tooth infection, and the side effects from 12 days of 2 very strong antibiotics. But, compared to most, I'm told I did great, given how sick I was when I first came here on October 19th. Lots of leukemia patients have trouble with fevers, infections and bleeding when their bone marrow crashes, creating a domino effect with all sorts of serious problems, usually resulting in a stay in Intensive Care. So, all in all, I'm in pretty good shape.

I will be getting Idarubicin for 2 of the 5 days, and Cytarabine, or Ara-C, in a 24/7 continuous drip for all 5 days -- a little less than the 3/7 protocol for these same drugs that I received a couple of weeks ago. In about a week, the full effect of this second crash will begin and I'll again be at high risk for problems. But no one expects this second round to be any worse than the first, and now that my tooth infection is under control and I'm off the antibiotics, I should be fine. Then it's a matter of waiting for my blood levels to return to non-threatening levels.

Since it's the middle of flu season, we're being extra cautious. Dr. Forte is very protective of me, and he wants to treat me completely so that we can someday say that I've been cured. That's one reason he is treating me again with chemo. He said that because I was in such good health to begin with -- well, except for that whole metastatic cancer detour that distracted me on and off for the last few years -- there's no reason not to treat me with the tried and true protocol for AML, type M4 eos. The inversion 16 chromosome (the upside down gene on chromosome #16) will help in determining how much more treatment I will need in the months and years to come.

So, it's back to one day at a time. Dr. Forte said that my earliest departure date would be around December 6 or 7, assuming all goes well and my blood counts recover normally. I'm sad that I'll be here for my favorite holiday, but I should be home to Sadie, the goofy kitty, in time for our first Christmas together.

There are bright spots. I'll have peace of mind, with this second round of chemo, that we've done the most we can to do kill as much leukemia as possible before I go home. Any stray abnormal cells will be killed off during the 6-8 month consolidation phase of 3 days of Ara-C over 5 days once a month. Another bright spot is that you have all remembered me, here in the blue room. Lots of times when people go out on leave or disappear for medical reasons, it's easy to forget them because they're out of sight, out of mind. Or, the sick person reminds people of their own worse fears. I'm here to tell you that your worse fear is really not your worse fear. Things can always be worse. There's always a sliver lining to everything, even if you can't see it at first. My worse fear used to be, not cancer, but chemotherapy. Been there, done that. Actually, still doing that. Then my worse fear was dying of cancer. I just refuse to accept that as a possibility -- not after the war I've been through and am still fighting. As humans, we are always revising our worse fears, as we get older and we start collecting challenges to overcome. But I choose now to focus on my biggest blessings. It's way more fun and lots more rewarding. Besides, it's the season for counting blessings. Thank you all for your continued support and prayers.



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Induction Treatment, Day 13

I may have spoken a little too soon. No sooner did I hit the "publish" button on my last post, when the jaw pain that I referred to became quite a bit worse. By the next morning, the left side of my face began to swell and I realized that I had a tooth infection. A dentist was called in, but due to a miscommunication, he didn't come that day. By Friday morning, the left side of my face gave me a natural Halloween costume: Elephant Woman. The dentist came, I had a CT scan and began strong IV antibiotics, which in turn, wreaked havoc on my GI track. (Between 60%-70% of the immune system is in the GI track, so it's no wonder complications arise there when the immune system has crashed.)

For about 5 days I was on the hospital's version of liquid diet because my entire jaw was too sore to chew. Puréed carrots, puréed green beans, and puréed chicken - yes, chicken - got very old very quickly. Then I started getting this chicken colored Soylent Green stuff, which I couldn't even bear to look at. So I'm on liquids that my cousin, Mary, brought me and will hopefully graduate soon to food that my friend, Elissa, made for me. It's all about the food.

I am starting to feel better, having received several transfusions of blood and platelets. My face has resumed its normal proportions, and my energy is slowly returning. The Induction phase of treatment began on the first day of chemo, and it won't end till my blood counts tell Dr. Forte that it's over. Therefore, even though I ended chemo on Day 7, today is Day 13 of treatment. Little did I know that the week after chemo would be the worst.

Tomorrow I will probably have my second bone marrow biopsy to see if there are still leukemia cells present. If so, I will have 5 more days of chemo and then another period of crawling back to health. Although I would hate to have to extend my stay in the blue room, I would hate even more to have to return to it later.

Believe it or not, I am keeping busy. My blood levels determine how much I can actually get done each day: Watching movies from Netflix (thanks Vincent!), figuring out my new Kindle and ordering books to read (thanks Elissa and Dan!), returning e-mails and phone calls (thanks everyone!), uploading NPR broadcasts of This American Life to my IPOD (thanks Michael!), hearing reports about my kitten, Sadie, (thanks Betty and Cathie!), receiving the next batch of needed provisions (thanks Cathie and Jim!), my workouts (laps around the floor with my mask and IV pole so that I can get a glimpse of the changing trees), trying to catch my TV shows without my DVR, and my favorite part of the day: my shower - 15 minutes of complete privacy, untethered from my IV pole.

We're getting there. Day 13 is better than Day 1. As my friend Eliza reminded me recently, this too shall pass. One day at a time.



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Induction Treatment, Day 7: Last Day of Chemo (for now) and Some Good News

Well, this has been interesting. I expected to be wiped out, barely able to get around, nauseous all the time or worse. The types of chemo I've received don't really make me too sick, and I haven't needed any transfusions so far. The real side effects come with the crashing of my blood counts - the risks of infections, bleeding and fevers. I just started having some weird complications, such as jaw pain, heartburn and a nail infection. At most, I only need the anti-nausea medication once a day. I haven't lost my hair yet, but that should happen any day now. Later this afternoon I will start my last of this 7 day 24/7 infusion of Cytarabine, or Ara-C. Then I think I will get a break. My counts will continue to drop, and then slowly I will re-build my bone marrow. Once that happens, I'll have another bone marrow biopsy to see if I need more treatment.

Once I enter what's called Complete Remission, I may get a longer break before entering the Consolidation Phase. Consolidation is necessary to provide more therapy to eliminate non-detectable disease and prevent relapse — that is, achieve a cure. Typically, this means high doses of Ara-C for 3 of 5 days, once a month for 4-6 months, depending on my blood levels. I thought at first that this current 6 weeks of Induction would be the end of the chemo story, but this is only the first half of the equation. How I'll feel and how much I'll be able to do during Consolidation remains to be seen. All I care about right now is going into remission and getting well enough to go home to my kitty!

Dr. Forte called my room the other night and was very excited to deliver good news. There are subtypes of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, (AML), from M0-M7, and these subtypes have very different treatments and prognoses. I learned that I have M4 eos, which is much better than the more common M4. And he told me that I have a really cool chromosomal abnormality. Here's the lowdown:

The most important factor for predicting a prognosis is cytogenetics, or the chromosomal structure of the leukemic cell. Certain cytogenetic abnormalities are associated with very good outcomes, one of which is called inversion 16, or inv(16). This means that one of the genes on chromosome #16 is flipped. This is good because it's easy to detect and once it's found, I can get treatment before things go downhill. The upshot is that this wacky chromosome significantly increases my chances of long term survival and reduces my chances of a relapse.

Dr. Forte is also researching the possibility of other treatments that will further reduce my chances of a relapse. Even with a Complete Molecular Remission (the best kind of Complete Remission), some hidden cancer cells can still exist. Of course he doesn't want me to have anything that I don't need, and neither do I. But he is talking with a bunch of other doctors to come up with the best plan for me to be around long enough to die of something other than stupid cancer!

Today I read a new post in my favorite resource for anti-cancer prevention and general health, Anticancer, by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, called Getting by with a little help from our friends. If these findings are true, I'm on my way to being the healthiest person I know, thanks to all of you who have helped in countless ways already!



Sunday, October 25, 2009

Induction Treatment, Day 4

I rarely find myself at a loss for words. I always have something to say about something. But the outpouring of love, support, prayers and well wishes is truly astounding and leaves me at a complete loss for words. I feel truly blessed, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I must give a special shout out to my cousin Mary and my friend Cathie. Mary left her fabulous family in Pittsburgh on Friday to help me set up house in the hospital room that is to be my home till about the end of November. She is staying at my condo with my kitten and putting up with Sadie's crazy antics, while running to Trader Joe's, the bank and Petco. Cathie has been making the trek to Englewood on a regular basis, checking my mail and feeding Sadie when no one is there. Both have been indescribably helpful in talking with my parents and sister in Arizona, all of whom are very distressed about this whole situation. So many others have also reached out in so many ways, reminding me of the goodness of the human spirit.

After a week of living with this horrible diagnosis, the shock is wearing off. I'm gearing up for battle again. At first I felt very weary, like I imagine it might feel like to be called back to active military duty after fighting so hard and making it home in one piece. I just kept thinking, "Why is this happening now, when I finally got my first cancer under control? A little break would have been nice!" But these are unanswerable questions. Maybe someday I'll look back on this and gain some clarity on this chapter of my journey.

Yesterday I received my third and last dose of drug #1, Idarubicin - a strong concoction that is a 15 minute infusion once a day for 3 days. I am on my fourth day of drug #2, Cytarabine or Ara-C. That one is a 24 hour infusion for 7 days. Then I'm done with chemo. My blood counts have started to drop, and they will all bottom out 10-12 days after the start of chemotherapy. Then I will start to rebuild bone marrow without leukemia cells. I don't feel too terrible. I felt a lot worse when I first got here. I'm not too nauseous, and when I feel queasy, there are drugs to make me comfortable.

Several people have asked me how they can donate their blood specifically for me. It looks like next week I will need some transfusions, but my doctor says it's safer for me to use donations from the general blood bank rather than have directed donations from people I know. He'd rather not be limited to directed donations, and there are potential complications from receiving blood from family members when I have no blood counts. But he and I would love for you to donate to the blood bank in your local community to replenish the resources that I may use. The Community Blood Services is a great place to donate.

A few people have commented that I must be really angry with God. I understand that response, but it doesn't make sense to me. God didn't give me cancer. We created cancer. It didn't always exist, back when the Earth was clean and we lived healthy lives and ate healthy foods. I am angry, but I'm angry at cancer, not God. God provides me with an anchor with which to hang on, as I navigate these stormy waters. And there are moments when I think that I can actually feel your prayers. It's a comfort that's hard to describe. It gives me strength for the days ahead.



Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nothing Like a Good Party Before a Storm

To celebrate my Touchdown, I decided to have a Negative PET Scan Party. It's a little odd, but way better than a birthday or holiday in my book. I found some cool lung people for the invitation:

I invited friends and family far and wide, ordered up some party trays, made a batch of knock-your-socks-off sangria, and arranged a wall of PET/CT reports, along with diagrams Dr. Georgiades made showing the progress of my ablated tumors. My kitten, Sadie, even came out to investigate the festivities. My friend Eliza came from Chicago, and my cousin Art came from Seattle. A good time was had by all. That was on Friday, October 16th.

Late Sunday night, after taking Art and Eliza to the airport, I became very sick with flu like symptoms. I was becoming dehydrated and was unable to take in fluids. At 2 a.m. I packed a small bag and drove 45 minutes to the ER. The hospital where my Captain, Dr. Francis Forte (see November 16, 2008 post) practices, is out of range for ambulances in my town.

I knew something was wrong a few days prior to the party because my blood counts came back wacky at a routine visit with Dr. Forte. I have been in Englewood Hospital and Medical Center since Monday, when I was told that I have leukemia, which is cancer of the bone marrow. After lots of tests, procedures, more tests, and a couple of biopsies, the final diagnosis is Acute Myeloid Leukemia or AML.

As I sit here, in the hospital room where I will spend at least the next 40 days or so, I am getting my first day's dose of chemotherapy. I will get one very strong drug for 3 days, along with another drug which will last for 7 days. This is called the Induction phase, where the chemo is crashing my bone marrow. Then, with no immune system whatsoever, I will recover for the next 7 days. Hopefully, my counts will have started to rise by then (if not, I'll wait a few more days till they do) and I will have a second bone marrow biopsy. If there are leukemia cells in my bone marrow, I will have to get more chemo. If there are no leukemia cells, I will be in "complete" remission. That's the new goalpost in this never ending football game: Complete Remission.

It's likely that I'll need several "blood products" (more cancer speak), such as transfusions. The Community Blood Services organization in Paramus is a possible place to donate specifically for me. But Dr. Forte would need to give them specific instructions as to exactly what I need, so we're not quite there yet. That would happen during the second week, when I'm building back my blood counts.

So how am I coping with all this? Well, this has been very tough. It's my 3rd cancer diagnosis - the first was 9 years ago when I was diagnosed with Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma of the Breast (ACCB), and the second was almost 3 years ago exactly when I found out that the ACCB had metastasized to my lungs. This one is the scariest. There's no solid mass to attack. Bone marrow is all over. But I beat it twice before when the odds were against me. I can do this. It's my thing - fighting cancer. I'd like to find a new thing, but that's not going to happen for awhile. So I'm ready for battle. Today I had my first solid food since Sunday, and let's just say that I've already called for a consult with the hospital's dietician. My diet of no red meat, no dairy, no white flour, no sugar and no inflammatory foods just went out the window. I can't have any fresh fruits or vegetables, and I can't receive any flowers because I'm so susceptible to infection. At least they have soy milk.

I haven't cried much. I suppose I will at some point. What makes me tear up is the outpouring of love and support from all my friends, family and co-workers. All the offers to help overwhelm me, especially since I live alone and my family is out of state. Yes, I'm angry, and I'm tired. And I miss my kitty. But really, I'm just grateful that I'm in the hands of my Captain and that I have such a loving circle around me. I believe that God has a plan for me - for us all. This is just one more "hmmm, I can't wait to see what this was all about" reflection. One day at a time. I still believe that Life is Good.

Pura Vida!



Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Let's hear it for putting some points on the board! I went for a PET/CT scan at Hopkins yesterday, and was told that I am "negative for cancer, positive for inflammation." Dr. Georgiades said that cancer gets brighter and bigger on a PET/CT. My tumor sites have either gone completely dark (meaning that the tumors are dead and gone forever) or they are collapsing and getting dimmer - no longer a "hot spot." The inflammation is just a leftover side effect of the radiofrequency ablations (RFAs). This will disappear completely with time. Not only that, no new lesions were found and the little "ditzels" (tiny spots that are only 1 or 2 ml. - too small to declare as anything definitively) have not changed. I don't have to go back for more tests for 6 months. (By the way, the reason that a nuclear glucose isotope is injected through an IV to make the cancer "light up" on a PET scan is because cancer is hungry for sugar and the glucose in the IV provides the food. No wonder there's a correlation between sugar and the rise in cancer rates. Click here for more on this.)

As I mentioned in previous posts, I can never use the words "cancer free," "cured," or "remission." I will never be able to leave the football field, but I'm in the end zone, as close to claiming "no detectable cancer," or "no viable evidence of tumor" as I'll ever be.

If I have learned anything in the last 14 months, I've learned that we never know what the next moment will bring. I believe that this is my first of many negative test results, so I will savor it for awhile. I will not, however, take it for granted, and no, I will not stop living my anticancer lifestyle just because my cancer has either been completely killed or has been beaten into dormancy. This disease is vicious. It deserves no slack. This is not just a game, it's the Super Bowl.

But for now, I'm doing the Victory Dance!



Sunday, September 6, 2009

Resources: Livestrong - Blog and Facebook

I only recently discovered all that the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Livestrong, has to offer. They are a wealth of information, with international programs that are making a huge dent in the fight against cancer. They offer resources on survivorship, community programs, grants and research and many other ways to plug in and get involved. It's a place to go for answers.

From the main page of the website you can find the Livestrong blog, subscribe, and receive e-mail updates to all posts. From the blog you can also join Livestrong's Facebook page, where you can become a fan without having to send a Friend Request. This is where you can post any question or share experiences. I have asked questions and within a few hours, received very helpful information. It's as if there's a magic genie monitoring the Facebook page waiting for people to ask for help. Here's an example:

As someone who is constantly searching for answers, this is a gold mine! I am truly grateful for this forum and the magic genies who maintain it.




Sunday, August 30, 2009

Does Anyone Really Lose Their Battle With Cancer?

I think not. When someone dies of cancer, why do people say that they "lost their battle?" We don't hear of people "losing their battle" with heart disease, or diabetes, or high blood pressure, or obesity, or any other chronic or life threatening illness. So why cancer? Maybe it's the "battle" metaphor. In a war, someone has to lose. But aren't all diseases wars? And aren't many treatments wars too?  I never hear people say, "She lost her battle with chemotherapy," or radiation, or surgery, even though cancer treatments often claim peoples' lives before cancer has a chance to.  I never understood how society, especially the media, can characterize people like Farrah Fawcett and Ted Kennedy as having "lost."  They died of their cancer. But they did not lose. Far from it.

Since watching the documentary on Farrah Fawcett's cancer journey, Farrah's Story, I became downright irritated when people said that "she lost her battle with cancer." She fought long and hard, leaving behind a story that documented her cancer experiences so that others could learn from them. She lived her story outside the box, seeking alternative treatments that were not widely accepted in the U.S., fearlessly looking for a way to stay alive.

What about Leroy Sievers, the well-known news correspondent who, before his death from colon cancer last year, inspired tens of thousands of people with his NPR podcast and blog, sharing his personal story with the world on a daily basis?  If it weren't for Leroy and his willingness to undergo a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) procedure on camera for the Living With Cancer Discovery Channel documentary, I would never have learned that RFA could successfully kill all my lung tumors.  Leroy also won, in the end.  His impact can never be measured - the people he comforted, supported, and, like me, guided out of what he called Cancer World.

With Ted Kennedy's passing, I heard the phrase again. With all that this incredible leader accomplished, can anyone really say that he "lost his battle?" He died of brain cancer, a winner by everyone's standards. He lived his life fighting for health care reform that would make life better for all of us when (not if) we get sick. Although cancer ultimately took his life, Ted Kennedy - the voice for the voiceless - won countless battles.

What about all the other people who have died of cancer who were not in the spotlight? Did they "lose their battle?" Or did they die of cancer, having fought like hell to live?

Death is an undeniable part of life. Since we're all going to die someday, will we "lose our battles" against the diseases that will eventually take our bodies? Not me. With the exception of a few bad days, I never really believed that I would die of my cancer. I can't explain this; it's just a knowing that comes from deep within. But if, by chance, after all that I am doing to kill my cancer and prevent a new one from developing, I die from this disease, I do not want anyone saying that I "lost my battle." The winning is in the fighting - that's how the end of life should be remembered.



Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fear, Faith and Other F Words

I recently received the 2009 Flame of Courage Award from the Cancer Hope Network, a New Jersey non-profit organization that pairs cancer survivor volunteers with newly diagnosed patients to provide guidance, support, and resources. My friend, Lindsay Tasher, is on the Board of Trustees, and she graciously nominated me for the award. Some people said that they liked my speech, so I decided to include it here.
Acceptance Speech for Flame of Courage Award
Cancer Hope Network - June 15, 2009

Fear, Faith and Other F Words

Thank you very much for this award. Lindsay said that I have about two minutes, so I tried to focus my thoughts, and I've titled my comments tonight, "Fear, Faith and Other F Words."

All Survivors remember the moment that we are diagnosed - and, for those of us with metastatic disease, we sometimes have a second moment, when we are diagnosed again. In addition to fear, I was confused and felt very isolated because no one really knew my disease or what to do with me.

Over the last 10 years, I have experienced many, many sides of the cancer journey. They have given me a window into a disease that allows me to relate to just about any cancer survivor. I'm lucky that way. Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear pushed me up against a very hard wall. I might not have found a door if it wasn't for Faith.

My faith helped me pull together my own team of medical doctors and alternative practitioners. We work together to find the best way for me to build my immune system to overpower my cancer. I think we're doing a pretty good job.

Organizations like the Cancer Hope Network give survivors a place to start making connections and building their teams.

When I was diagnosed with metastatic disease in October 2006, I was hungry for information about others with rare cancers like mine. Jonathan Alter, also a cancer survivor with a rare metastatic disease, describes this in his cover article in the April 9th, 2007 issue of Newsweek, called “How I Live With Cancer.” He says, “Unfortunately, many hospitals still do little or nothing to connect newly diagnosed patients with those who have survived the same disease for several years, though this is what we crave.”

The Cancer Hope Network offers a solution to this problem. Volunteer survivors teaming up with newly diagnosed patients with similar medical histories gives patients an opportunity to express feelings, talk about fears and concerns, and ask questions of someone who can offer an “I’ve been there” understanding that few others can.

I’ve been asked how I cope with those moments when the reality of my diagnosis surfaces and my mind wanders over to the Dark Side. Having spent a little time on the Dark Side, I eventually realized something rather extraordinary: Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Not living a purposeful life, not leaving an impact, for me, would be far worse.

So my last F word tonight is Front, as in United Front. Cancer patients and our medical teams need to work together toward treatment goals that we actively participate in setting. We research, we learn, and we become knowledgeable, as we fight the helplessness that we feel from a disease that takes control from within. On a broader level, the fight against cancer is best fought with a team approach: Scientists, doctors, survivors and their families, working together to set goals, make connections, and think outside the box, all in the name of healing. I applaud all of you tonight for being part of this United Front.

I promise not to put this award on a shelf until it is time to pass it to next year's recipient. I promise not to take it for granted. I will do my best to live up to all that the Flame of Courage represents.

Thank you.



Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pura Vida! Blue Zones, Lifestyle and a Must Read Book

I recently returned from 12 days in Costa Rica, one of the planet’s blue zones - 5 spots on the globe where people frequently live well past 100. Blue zones are defined by the longevity of their people, and several lifestyle characteristics, among which are family, a plant based diet, constant physical activity, social engagement, a positive attitude and no smoking.

These characteristics are mirrored in a book that I highly recommend called, Anticancer - A New Way of Life, by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. Since cancer makes us feel completely helpless, it's important to take control whenever possible. One area we have control over is our lifestyle. For those who are sick, recovering, or just want to live healthy, this book is a must read. It has become a bible for me.

Since I was diagnosed again in 2006, I made several lifestyle decisions specifically aimed at how to best heal myself of metastatic disease. I spent about a year researching and developing my own treatment plan and implementing the advice of several alternative doctors and nutritional counselors. When I read “Anticancer,” I learned that not only was I on the right track, but I found tons of scientific evidence for what has become for me “A New Way of Life.”

Dr. Servan-Schreiber is himself a 15 year cancer survivor. While working as a research scientist on brain imaging, he was confronted with his worst nightmare: brain cancer. Having spent a year researching why some people get cancer and other people don’t, his book is full of sites to scientific studies that make any skeptic want to pass on the french fries. The premise of the book is to take control of these 4 areas of our lives: 1. our environment; 2. our diet; 3. our state of mind, and 4. our relationship with our bodies to stimulate our immune systems so that we can heal ourselves.

So who has time to revamp their lifestyle? It’s not as hard as you think. My favorite part of the book is chapter 8, The Anticancer Foods – not because I can cook, but because I love to eat. In fact, I usually don’t cook at all. Who has time? Most of the time I buy healthy foods and I warm them up. Thankfully, "Anticancer" is not all about sacrifice. I was thrilled to learn the scientific justification for eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine! See pages 127-128. The book points out how healthy food decisions can not only prevent cancer, they can prevent most other major diseases as well. Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s website has a blog component that addresses countless topics about fighting cancer and healthy living. My little blog can’t possibly add to the landscape that he has provided.

There’s a saying in Costa Rica, home of a blue zone, and the cleanest, most environmentally green spots on Earth. The saying is, “Pura Vida!” It means “pure life,” or “the good life.” It is used to say hello, goodbye, how’s it going, going fine, what’s up, good to see you, and other positive expressions connecting us to one another. It’s my new favorite motto. If it were a little shorter, I would name my new kitten, “Pura Vida!” It represents to me, living life the way that we were designed to live it: as healthy, happy residents of this planet, free of disease and capable of managing the stress of daily living in a complex world. I wish this for us all. Pura Vida!



On the One Yard Line

There's always that mix of feelings that creep over me when I go to Johns Hopkins to have a follow up PET/CT scan and a consultation with Dr. Georgiades: anticipation, nervousness, excitement, and the need to take deep breaths. On June 2nd, I received some great news:

Not only have all the ablated tumors shrunk in size, but they are also "dimmer" on the PET/CT, which means that the cancer has been killed and the inflammation caused by the radiofrequency ablations (RFAs) is disappearing. In fact, some of the tumors aren't even "lighting up" on the test at all! One such tumor is the one that was ablated during the last RFA that I had on March 3rd. Because of a small pneumothorax - collapse of the lung - during the procedure, Dr. Georgiades wasn't sure that he got the whole thing, which was one of the main reasons for this follow up appointment. Oh, and there's more: The test also showed that no new tumors have appeared, and the tiny little spots that were too small to characterize haven't grown. To me, this was the best news of all. Because no one knows how my disease spreads, we can't tell if, during these last two years of growth, all the cancer has revealed itself, or if there's more. We still don't know that, but worse case scenario, it looks as though we've stopped the growth. Best case scenario is that maybe, possibly, hopefully, we've killed it all. I'm happy and extremely grateful either way.

The plan is for me to have another PET/CT in September, when we can see if more tumors become even dimmer or stop lighting up due to the healing process. After I left Johns Hopkins that day, I felt that I not only made a touchdown, but that I had won the whole damn game! That's the way it is with cancer, every good report feels like a Super Bowl win. But the reality of metastasis is that we're never really out of the game. The season never ends.

After I got home, I started thinking about this, and I wrote this question to Dr. Georgiades:
I know that the terms, "cancer free," "cured," and "remission" will never be appropriate for someone like me. But do you think that someday I might be able to say that I'm "tumor free?"
Here is what he wrote back:
The problem is that even our best tests are not 100% accurate. We are following your disease with PET/CT, which is indeed the best test in this case, but its accuracy is about 92-95%. If and when one day the PET/CT is entirely negative (and given the way things are going now, there is a good chance it may happen) what we can say is: Based on our best test there is no evidence of viable tumor. Irrespective of that, however, we will need to follow up for life because of the possibility of a new lesion showing up.
That's Dr. Georgiades' diplomatic way of saying, "We really can't ever say 'tumor free' either, but things are looking good." That's ok, "no evidence of viable tumor" is good enough for me.



Friday, March 13, 2009

Busy Couple of Months

I am happy to report that my last radiofrequency ablation (RFA) was successful, with almost no side effects whatsoever -- very little soreness, no cough, etc. Because of the location of the tumor, I had a small pneumothorax (collapsed lung), which we anticipated. This means that Dr. Georgiades is only about 80% sure that he ablated the entire tumor, but I'm confident that he got it all. If not, he'll do another RFA and finish the job. It's not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. (I told Dr. Georgiades that I think of him as Yoda, teaching his young Jedi Knights how to ward off evil with their magic light sabers, or RFA needles. He was not as receptive to this analogy as was the Fellow who was assisting with my RFA that day. The young doctor seemed excited at the prospect of sharing my analogy with his entire class.)

So where do I stand now? We believe that all "declared" or "detectable" tumors have been killed! I do still have 3 or 4 tiny spots on my lungs, but we can't tell what they are. Lots of people have spots on their lungs because we live and breathe in a dirty world. But unless they grow to a point where they light up on a PET/CT scan, I am going to assume that I have no traceable cancer anywhere in my body. I can't even begin to express how it feels to say that. It's pretty amazing and staggering. It stops me in my tracks.

I reported earlier that I had a total of 11 tumors since being diagnosed with lung metastases. I had 3 removed surgically in October 2006, and 7 have been ablated in the last 6 months. Either the last one disappeared (which is unlikely, given the growth pattern of all the other tumors), or it shrank down to one of the tiny spots that we're now following, or it may have been double counted. In any case, it's hard to keep track of these things because the lobes of the lungs are shaped in all kinds of crazy ways, and doctors are trained to follow what's there at the time, not what might have been as seen on prior scans, taken at a different hospital using different equipment. I'm just taking things one scan at a time. My next PET/CT will be at the beginning of June. We'll be able to tell at that time whether this last tumor is completely dead, and if there's been any changes with the other tiny spots. I will never be "cancer free," "cured," or categorized as "in remission," but, thanks to Yoda, I think I'm close to being "tumor free" right now, and it feels pretty good!

I'm very grateful and relieved that this last ablation was the easiest one to tolerate, but it was not without drama. The ablation was originally scheduled for February 12th. However, it had to be postponed because my dog - a sweet Silky terrier with a major fear aggression problem (which I thought was under control), turned on me one night and bit off a chunk of the top of my ear. Although the piece of ear was too small to sew back on, I was lucky that my ear filled in and I recovered completely. My dog was a stray, found by a shelter. He had the aggression problem, unknown to me at the time, when I adopted him a year ago. Since this was not the first time he bit me, I had to make a difficult decision. I gave him back to the shelter, where he will now live as a permanent part of the shelter's pack. I think that he'll be happier around other dogs and more people, and although I adored him, I'll be safer and under less stress. Anyway, the bite to my ear introduced a threat of infection, which caused the ablation to be postponed.

Next, I started having gallbladder pain. Gallbladder polyps were first detected on a CT scan last August. The pain was extreme and came and went for over a week. Since my blood work didn't show any infection or inflammation, and I didn't have a fever or chills, Dr. Georgiades said that I could go forward with the ablation, which had been re-scheduled for March 3rd. I headed down to the Baltimore/D.C. area the day before the ablation, as I usually do, but ended up driving straight to the emergency room at Johns Hopkins because the pain was so bad. I was told that I had Biliary Colic, a condition usually caused by gallstones. It reminded me of a baby that cries all the time -- when I ate, my gallbladder screamed like a baby. I was advised to schedule a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to have it removed once I recovered from the ablation. In addition to the morphine shots every two hours and a consult with a surgeon at 3 a.m., I had a roommate that makes this story read like a bad Scrubs episode. She was a sweet elderly woman, a bit senile, with insomnia. She would hit the overhead florescent light button instead of the nurse’s call bell, tried to watch the news at 5 a.m. after I finally got to sleep, and asked my cousin, who flew in from Pittsburgh to be with me, to give her an enema. I could go on, but it would be too much information. The next morning I went for the ablation completely exhausted, with a morphine headache. But once the ablation was over and I got a good night's rest, I was as good as new.

I drove home last Thursday, went to work Friday and Monday, and had another 911 gallbladder attack on Monday night. I ended up at the emergency room again on Tuesday, this time closer to home, had my gallbladder removed on Wednesday, and came home yesterday. I'm doing really well – just resting at home feeling a bit like a blowfish. I'm glad the attacks are over and I no longer have to worry about the polyps, which, if they grew, could have become cancerous. My surgeon said that I could have had gallstones in addition to the polyps, or the polyps themselves could have caused the pain if one or more were blocking the bile ducts. The pathology report should be interesting.

Looking back on the last two weeks, I hardly remember that I had an ablation. Looking back on the last two months, I'm ready for a break! Since late January, I've shared a bout of food poisoning (possibly the Nurovirus or Cruise Ship Virus) with about 25 others who attended a client function at my firm, had the top of my ear bitten off by my dog, resulting in a heart breaking separation, had a tumor burned out of my chest, and had my gallbladder sucked out of my belly button. I'd say that constitutes a busy couple of months.

Here's to a calm, relaxing, healthy Spring!



Monday, February 2, 2009

Almost in the End Zone – One More Ablation

Regardless of who you routed for, that Super Bowl was a hell of a game. (The best part, for me, was the halftime show with Bruce and the E Street Band.) That game sort of reminded me of the road that I’ve been on for the past few years: I couldn't tell who was winning from one play to the next. Cancer lends itself to a lot of football analogies. I scored field goal last week when I went for a PET/CT scan and got some great news.

Getting a follow up scan always brings up mixed feelings. I look forward to finding out if the good health that I feel is really betraying me on the inside. I want as much information as possible, but I dread that feeling of free fall if the news is negative. I fantasize about being told that my cancer is regressing, becoming undetectable. I know that day will come. I can’t tell you why I know that. I just do. It may be years from now, and the ride getting there may be bumpy, but eventually this period of activity will die down and go dormant.

So off to Hopkins I went last Friday for a PET scan and a consult with Dr. Georgiades. I could tell that the news was good from his demeanor. No new tumors. Best of all: the tumors that were ablated at the end of August, including the one that was right next to my aorta, are toast. And from all indications – there is still some inflammation from the two ablations in November – the other four tumors that were ablated also appear to be completely dead. I wasn’t surprised to hear this, since I was extremely positive about RFA and its potential for my type of cancer, but I still felt shaky with the good news and emotionally raw. I think I have a heightened appreciation for the relief that the passengers of Flight 1549 must have felt when they finally stepped out of icy water and onto solid ground. That’s what getting good scan results feels like: stepping onto solid ground.

I still have a few little spots, what Dr. Georgiades calls ditzels. But because they are so small, he’s not willing to declare them as tumors right now. One of them, however, looks a little bit fuller, and because it’s in the neighborhood of a major bronchus that supplies 90% of the oxygen to my lower right lung, he thinks that we should ablate it before it becomes risky. So I’m scheduled for one more RFA procedure on my lower right lung on Thursday, February 12th. Since I’ve had time to recover from the last two ablations in November, I’m hoping this will be a same day procedure. I’m thinking of it as an odd little act of love for myself this Valentine’s Day. More importantly, it’s one step closer to a touchdown.



Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ring in the New Year!

I can’t think of anyone who isn’t glad to see 2008 make its way to the graveyard of years past. That last quarter woke everyone up. 2008 was bittersweet in several ways on a personal level for me. Although I went through the worst time of my entire cancer journey mid year, things ended on a very high note for my health and my future. All in all, it was a good year, despite all the jagged edges.

These days, one can’t help but feel a sense of dread, which bleeds into our lives and our psyches, as the news reports on stories that are heartbreaking and fear-based. Sometimes it’s better to turn off the news and turn on our favorite music, watch a funny movie, or take a long walk. Like the Holidays, global crises, and cancer, it is our nature to respond by coming together and finding comfort in the hope that everything will be ok.

I observed a profound sense of loss, laced with hope, this Holiday season:
One friend lost her son to a medical mistake; another friend faces a second stem cell transplant because the first one didn't work; another was reminded of the loss of her 20 year old son 2 years ago; another local friend tries to put a positive spin on his father's recent cancer diagnosis, while yet another long distance friend does the exact same thing; another friend's 25+ year marriage is being tested; my cousin had a massive heart attack at the age of 48, which shook him in ways that other close calls haven't.
Yet the human spirit, and in most cases, faith in a Higher Power, continues to give these people courage they didn't think they had. As a people, I think that we are reawakened to the courage in all of us to heal. As we heal as individuals, we heal as nations, as a planet and as residents of the Universe. It is no secret (with all due respect to the readers of "The Secret") that we are connected.

Our understanding of this, on whatever level we know it, explains why people continue to build for the future, even when things look bleak. I know several friends who are getting married, two of whom became engaged this Christmas; a relative was just promoted and given her own studio to create her pastry masterpieces; a friend is about to give birth, after chemotherapy treatments, to a miracle baby; and I know about a dozen young men and women who are finding their way into their adult worlds without anger or resentment toward the generation ahead of them who kind of botched things up -- well, those few at the top anyway. These things are an indication of an optimistic vision and they give me comfort.

Yes, everything will be more than ok. Happy New Year everyone. Bring it on!