All posts tagged: Cancer

I Got You — Caring for My Wife During Chemo

As my wife sat in the treatment room during chemotherapy, she would sometimes sing to me a song that became a sort of anthem for us. Headphones on, she’d hum and sing, “We ain’t gonna give up on this now, we refuse to turn around. This won’t be easy, no way, no how, but we won’t back down…” The song was ”We Got It” by Ne-Yo from The Wiz, one of those live TV musical events we’d watched together after her surgery back in 2015. In some ways, she was Dorothy and I was some unfortunate combination of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. I would chime in, “And when the night is so cold, dark and lonely, All you got to do is look at me and hear what I say…” And then together we would sing, “We got it! We got it!” “I got you…” I got you. When Margit asked me to share my experience as a “caregiver” during her treatment, I felt a bit uncomfortable. I saw it as …

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Silly Things People Say to Me When I Tell Them I’ve Finished Chemo

Yes, I’m done. Finito. I finished chemotherapy almost three months ago and have moved on to what my doctor dubs “Survivorship.” Great. I mean, no, it’s awesome. It’s incredible. Yay. Ok, I am not exactly ecstatic. “But you’re DONE, OMG, you must feel amazing!” To which I find myself essentially wanting to say firmly: “Ahem. Shut. It?” You have no idea. Done ain’t done. As I’m learning, it’s a process. That last infusion on May 2 was a bitch. It took the first three weeks just to pull myself out of the brain and pain fog, to get my appetite back, to have normal poops, to be able to walk up my two flights of stairs in less than 20 minutes. And there are a few residual goodies mostly to do with my left leg (toe, neuropathy, chronic vein issues and – brand new! – plantar fasciitis). So there are (literal) hills to climb. Yet, people still want to tell you how to feel. They mean well. They want you to be back to you. …

Can I Learn to Accept My Chemo-Induced Memory Loss?

I am a woman who forgets a lot. Every day I misplace keys, call one of my children by the wrong name (I’ve been known to throw in a dog’s name if I’m honest), and I lose track of what I’m talking about mid-sentence. It would be easy to blame any number of reasons for my absent-mindedness: three kids who keep me running in multiple directions, the day-to-day financial and emotional responsibilities of a household of five, my own, natural tendency to lean toward ADHD, along with work, friends, and exercise. For years, I somehow kept all those balls in the air, even adding new ones without a shrug. One or two might slip, but for the most part I was an artist at keeping who, what, where’s, and when’s moving seamlessly, without the use of a notepad or smartphone reminders. All of that changed when the one thing I hate to remember made me forget just about everything else: cancer. A little over five years ago I was treated for breast cancer. I wasn’t …

Ovarian Rhapsody: A Little Self-Renovation

Around the same time I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we were scheduled to renovate our apartment. My husband, an architect, had started to sketch out the designs. We’d enlisted his favorite contractor, Slavek. Our plans were to update the kitchen and the bathroom and to turn an unused half bathroom — really, our cat’s bathroom that featured an easily accessible hole in the door, left from the former owner — into a full bath with a shower. Our kitchen was Brady Bunch-era wood-and-probably-formaldehyde paneled situation: The refrigerator sat in the living room and we had a non-working washer/dryer combo machine called a Comb-o-Matic, circa 1975. Floor tiles were loose and scattered around the bathroom floor. We’d been saving up cash and waiting to do this project for a good seven years. It was time. So after processing the news of my upcoming ordeal, one of the first things I said to my husband was, “But we still have to renovate, right? We can’t stop the progress!” “Um, no,” he said. “That’s not happening now.” …

Ovarian Rhapsody: A Thank You Note

Back in January, just before I’d started chemotherapy, I’d been talking to my friend Adrianna about cold caps, the beanie of ice that sits atop your head and (hopefully) prevents your hair from falling out during treatment. Expensive and painful, I wasn’t too sure it was for me, but this was the stage when I was researching, frantically Googling and considering anything and everything. I had no idea what I was in for. Via email, Adrianna introduced me to her friend Casey, who had worn the cap and preserved most of her hair during a second bout with cancer. Only five minutes after I’d emailed Casey, I had a response. “Margit. I wanna come over asap. When works?” And two days later, there she was, sitting on my couch, counseling me — a beautiful, earthy soul with colorful bracelets and talismans about her neck and wrists, moving gingerly, still recovering from recent treatment. Her hair was thin, but there it was. She handed me a pretty cloth bag filled with sugar-free gum, savory Kind bars, …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: Wait, What? We’re All Done Here?

My chemotherapy is always on a Monday. This particular Monday is May 2. No balloons. No fanfare. Just me and my husband and the final infusion needle affixed into my vein. Yes, it’s my very last chemotherapy appointment. There it is! We’re at the finish line! Whee! Whee? I should be excited, but, frankly, I’m just tired. It has been 18 weeks since we started this mess, and now it’s come to a halt. It’s hard to know how to feel. Like 18 Mondays before, my journey to the hospital began at 7:45 a.m. A brisk 55-degree chill in the air; my blue-and-white-striped tote pre-packed with mints, hand sanitizer, tissues, Zofran anti-nausea medicine, my water bottle and the same granola bar I’ve had in there for the last three chemo sessions. I don’t even have to think about what’s in there. I usually wear black yoga pants, a t-shirt and a comfy sweater of some sort, but this time I figured I’d dress it up a little and wear this purple tunic dress thing I …

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A Healer with a Gun: She Tattoos for Cancer

In 2016 it’s not unusual to find out your co-worker has an elaborate sleeve tattoo hidden under her Ann Taylor blouse. But in 1990, when Amy Justen was a student at The Art Institute of Chicago, “tattoos were still very much part of the subculture of rebels,” says Justen. When Amy’s cousin, a Hell’s Angel fully engaged in the biker lifestyle, invited Amy to apprentice in his shop in Texas, she decided this was “not a career path for a young woman from a good Catholic family.” She stayed in Chicago and completed her art degree instead. After graduation, while Amy was pursuing a career in fine art, earning critical acclaim but not enough cash, two Chicago tattoo artists, Robert Hixon and Wayne Borucki, encouraged her to pick up a tattoo gun. “I was super green and had no idea what I was doing,” Amy says. “Tattooing is an unforgiving art form. I had to put all other mediums aside while I learned. It still blows my mind on the daily that perfect strangers allow me, pay …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s… Cancer Lady?

I am a superhero. Stronger than a shot of Lovenox into my body — twice a day! Powerful enough to withstand my first surgery ever! (Wait, make that two surgeries in two months.) Able to shave my entire head and utter, “Pssh that tweren’t so bad.” You see, even though cancer, chemo and the ensuing side effects are hellish, there is a bright side: Sometimes, I actually feel like a badass. I strut into Duane Reade, bald head shiny and a-blazing, all sweatpants and felt slip-ons, ready to pick up my meds. I look people right in the eyeball. Yup, that’s me — Cancer Lady. Cape on. Power up the invisible jet. Since my ovarian cancer diagnosis last November, and especially since undergoing chemotherapy, there are things I’ve dealt with things that I never thought I’d be able to withstand. Before, I could barely even give my cat Alice a shot in her little fleshy parts, let alone my own. Now? Hell, I’m a pro. My super powers don’t end there. My sense of smell …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: The Routine of My Dreams

Sunday morning. Tea. CNN muttering in the background. My husband has made eggs with pesto. I’m going through old mail and sorting it into “recycle it” or “shred it.” The cat is snoring on the couch. It’s a lovely boring day. Finally I have energy. My brain feels clear and crisp; I can do mundane physical tasks, even multitask. Ah, doing too many things at once. I feel like I’m back to my old semi-healthy self — yippee! The reason for my vim and vigor is in part due to a new chemotherapy routine. What was once every week is now every three. My doc decided to switch things up because I wasn’t tolerating the chemo well and the side effects were mounting. More importantly, she was acting on a report in the New England Journal of Medicine — released only two weeks prior —that had determined that my every week “dose dense” treatment wasn’t as effective for ovarian cancer patients as getting it every three weeks. Say what? This is how fast cancer research …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: Side Effects, Unfiltered

I’m lying flat on the bed with just yoga pants on. My legs are propped up on a stack of pillows. I can’t muster enough energy to finish getting dressed this morning, so here I am, half nude. My mind wanders to that hilarious Bill Murray SNL skit about an out-of-shape Hercules and his bad back. “If I lie flat like this it will fix itself!” If only. My entire left side feels swollen and pricked with pins and needles — it’s probably neuropathy, a chemo side effect. Yet…  I can’t be sure if this is actual neuropathy or the fact that I have a recently developed a blood clot in my leg. Or that I now have a new toe infection because of the clot, because of the chemo, or because of surgery. Who knows. The icing on the cake? I have a cold so I’m coughing and hacking and sneezing out chunks of blood. The blood thinners I’m on, to combat the clot, make bleeding from any orifice a likely predicament. Today is one of …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Upon hearing you have cancer, the thing people will ask you about, more than anything else, more than your diagnosis, more than the treatment, more than surgery: “But will you lose your hair??” And that’s only the executive summary of queries. Will you wear a wig? Are you doing a synthetic or human hair wig? Will you shave it off? Will it fall out? Won’t it be easier not to shampoo your hair? Does it fall out down there? (Yes, if you must know. Easiest Brazilian ever.) One friend suggested a cold cap? “You can keep your hair that way!” she said. Cold cap? Huh? Like many things related to cancer which I’d never thought about before in my life, this sent me down the Google rabbit hole on a process which is about $600 a month where, during chemotherapy, you wear an iced cap on your head which has to be changed at least every hour and kept in the infusion center’s refrigerator. It’s painful, it’s expensive. No thanks. I already had enough of that. …

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Ovarian Rhapsody: Choosing Your Cancer Hero

“This chair pattern is driving me nuts,” says my husband. We are sitting in NYU’s waiting room, about to meet the first oncologist on my list. “And isn’t it funny how they have to put those dots across the glass so people don’t run into the pane?” My husband, the architect, is always analyzing how a room could be better or why certain design choices are made. I’m looking around too, making different kinds of notes. A hushed room, friendly staff Bundled up cancer patients — some with caps, some with wigs — reading “courtesy of NYU” People magazine A bit depressing, but of course it is Red couches accented by intertwining geometric shapes made to look cheery but not too fun You never know, some of this random detail might help me select my doctor and my choice of cancer care. No, really. After scores of friend-of-a-friend suggestions, scouring RateMds ratings, New York magazine best doctor lists and insurance coverage checks, I narrowed my list of possible oncologists down to two: one at NYU Langone …

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The Waiting Room: Details of a Diagnosis

“Fakakta…shit.” “Fakakta…shit.” In a packed radiologist’s waiting room in midtown NYC, a 70-something woman sits next to me, scribbling in a stack of forms and muttering loudly in Yiddish-English. “Fakakta…shit.” The woman says this roughly every 10 minutes.  I want to whisper to her, “My feelings exactly.” I’m here to get a precautionary mammogram to rule out any additional cancer. Four days prior, I learned that I had — well, what looked like — ovarian cancer and, because my mother and grandmother had breast cancer, my gynecologist thought we should rule out B.C.  Hopefully, I wasn’t a cancer factory. This brown-carpeted clinic smells like sanitizer and sadness. I fumble with my keys in my jacket pocket. I’m still zipped up in my puffy orange coat, ready to get in and get out because this isn’t me. This isn’t me. Fakakta…shit. *** Allow me to back up and start from the beginning of this C craze. Back in September of 2015, I’d bled for five days. Hey, we ladies bleed; not weird, right? Well it was weird …

Nice to Meet You, I Have Cancer

It was the first time I’d been out to a restaurant since having a cyst removed, and only a few days after learning I had ovarian cancer. > Insert record scratch sound here < Yeah, I know, I know. That’s some big news right there. But hold on, let me finish my lede… I’d spent the last week and a half recovering from surgery and, up until that November night, had been pretty much down for the count. A Percocet-induced haze of Broad City binge-watching and crushing fatigue. So by the time my friend Shelly came to Brooklyn for a visit, I was ready to shake up my bed-couch-bed routine and feel somewhat normal again. What I wasn’t quite ready for was having to share my big news with the outside world. We decided to go to a red booth and burger joint right around the corner from our apartment — a place where my husband and I were semi-regulars and would often sit at the bar and order dinner. I’d gotten to know Tommy the bartender a bit, a …

Random Acts of Cancer

I went to a memorial service today for my friend, Jeanne, who died two days before Christmas from brain cancer at the age of 58. Her sister spoke, as did her closest friends and her children, but it was something her husband said that stayed with me: “I used to think things happen for a reason. Now, I believe things just happen.” To me, those words underscore the randomness of cancer. With the exception of people who practice risky behaviors that increase their chances of getting cancer, the rest of us can only hope that luck is on our side. Cancer strikes with ferocious democracy — it doesn’t care how young we are or whether we’re complete innocents or evil to the core. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Many scientists believe in the randomness of cancer, too. Last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used a statistical model to determine that random mutations may account for two-thirds of the risk for getting many types of cancer, leaving heredity and …

That Time I Was Radioactive

Right now I am radioactive and waiting for a PET scan. I’ve been anxious about this test since I’ve known I would be taking it. I found a thickening in my left breast on Labor Day. It wasn’t a lump, but it was clearly out of place. I didn’t really think it was anything, but I googled it and discovered that breast cancer doesn’t always present as a lump. My regularly scheduled mammogram was only six weeks away, but I am not great with uncertainly. Six weeks of waiting would be intolerable. I called the radiologist as soon as I knew the office would be open, and when I described what I had found, she squeezed me in first thing in the morning two days later. I arrived to an almost empty office. As other patients came and went over the next four hours, I shuttled back and forth between repeated mammograms, ultrasounds and the dreaded waiting room. I cooperated as they put my breasts and arms into increasingly uncomfortable positions. Finally, the doctor asked …

How My Husband’s Cancer Changed Me — For the Better

At the start of 2014, I celebrated my half-century birthday. My New England home was packed to the rafters with friends, both old and new, family, music and food. I was enveloped in love and felt buoyantly optimistic about the upcoming year(s). My husband of 25-plus years, Ken, was starting a new senior role at a growing startup. I had launched a fledgling consulting business with a bunch of amazing clients. I had committed — finally— to getting on the biking bandwagon and going on a 62-mile race with my biking obsessed hubby. It was promising to be quite a year. Less than a month later, we learned that the funky little squamous cell carcinoma that my husband had removed from his lip two years earlier, to little fanfare, had metastasized. Stage IV cancer. The cells had spread into at least four lymph nodes. As a world-class problem-solver and fixer, I shifted into high gear. I researched and ranked doctors and surgical centers as my hubby, alternatively numb and angry, struggled to make decisions about …

1 in 8: Why You Should Still Get That Mammogram

One of the most fascinating/confounding phenomena I’ve observed over the last decade is the absolute explosion of health information on the web and the profound impact it can have, both positive and negative, on people’s behavior, attitudes and healthcare choices. While there’s definitely a lot of good information out there, there’s also a lot of bunk. Sifting through the clutter, picking out the important nuggets and turning them into choices about our health has become a huge challenge, much more so in a time when medical and scientific innovation is being communicated directly to consumers through so many different channels. In this monthly column, I’ll be cutting through the health-web BS and translating internet-speak about bodies, fitness and nutrition into real talk that matters for your health. Join me as I try to make sense of it all — I’ll do my best to tell it to you straight. Everywhere you look on the internet these days, someone is telling women what to do with their boobs. A lot of time and energy seems to …

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Margit’s Note: The C Word

Hey you, it’s been a while. I’m back and back with a bang. You can see why here. Spoiler alert, though, this week is all about the C Word. That word we hate to hear, to utter: Cancer. It’s a big, spreading, ugly black mass of a concept, and something we know very little about — until we have to know something about it. And then we Google. A lot. As we get older, we know more and more people who have it — our friends and loved ones, our freaking musical heroes. We harangue our doctors to check out every inch of our bodies (justifiably, I might add), we have elective surgery to prevent any possible sightings. Something I’ve learned in the last month: Cancer is a big thing, but it’s also just a thing. I used to look at people who’d experienced cancer from a distance. If I’d met them at the same time that I learned they had cancer, it was the cancer that overshadowed them, walked into the room first. But …

The Final Reunions I Never Had

There are reunions you look forward to in life. For these gatherings, you plan to lose a few pounds ahead of time, book hotel rooms and rekindle memories by looking though old photo albums and yearbooks. And then there are the impromptu reunions. They are the unplanned, emotional and raw. I keep an altar of sorts on my nightstand. It’s a place to reunite the spirits I love. The ones who were taken from us too soon. *** I met my friend Chris Vicente in a Nazism and Fascism class in college during our junior year at Penn State. He had just returned from a semester in Rome, and I was immediately drawn to his Euro style: the horn-rimmed glasses, the bouffy, big 80s hair and a fabulous fashion sense. We didn’t know each other, but figured we should. And that’s how the friendship started. Turns out we shared a birthday (July 8), a passion for life, dancing and a love of men, although I didn’t officially discover that Chris liked boys until much later …

Women Who Inspire: Dr. Deborah Cohen

NAME: Dr. Deborah Cohen AGE: 44 OCCUPATION: OB/GYN in San Francisco, California WHO SHE IS: Who stages a dance party before they’re scheduled for a double mastectomy? Dr. Deborah Cohan had the whole operating room laughing and shaking it to Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” before her surgery. This mom of two is a Buddhist and an OB/GYN (obstetrician/gynecologist) in San Francisco, California. She has always tried to incorporate the teaching principles of movement to her team of obstetricians and gynecologists to help cultivate their physical listening skills, so her pre-op dance party makes a lot of sense.  WHY SHE INSPIRES ME: Deborah’s positive energy was off the charts, and she proved that attitude is everything. If she was able to approach a double mastectomy with such bravado, how dare I be afraid of life’s lesser evils?! When I find myself grumbling about something stupid, I think of her and do a little dance.