GOOD NEWS

Nurse Fenway is unaffected by this news.
Then again, Nurse Fenway is a dog. 
The results of the third biopsy (the one to see if I had cancer not just in one place on my breast but two) came back NEGATIVE. Whooooot.

This is really good news!!

Yes, I still have cancer, but now I have a very contained, very treatable cancer AND I get to keep my breast.

WHOOOOOOOOOOT

That is all I have to say for today.

so much love,
xoxoxo
Dena


Goodbye Hair


I've been hesitating writing this post because it's so hard for me to think, let alone write, about it. I'm not sure I can capture what it feels like to learn that, at 29, all of my hair is going to fall out. Even writing about it now, I feel nauseated. I mean, it's my hair. I cut it off once before on purpose (true story: I was a gigantic, butterball tomboy and a late bloomer)

This is clearly not a good look for me. In fact, it is the look that reminds me of the most painful, awkward and humiliating time in my young life. My childhood best friend was blonde, gorgeous, friendly, nice to everyone and the unwitting princess of our middle school. Our friendship, and her devotion to me, put me in the eternal crosshairs of the mean boys (and girls) in our small middle school. I still cringe when I think about the boys who refused to play truth or dare if it meant they had to kiss me or the constant accusations that I wasn't actually a girl, but some kind of "shim".

Now, I face reverting to this, the most insecure and scarred version of my self images. And on top of that I will look SICK. I can't handle it. The lack of self esteem combined with pitying looks from strangers is more than I can bare.

Not to mention the fact that handsome boyfriend (long, long before tornado BC touched down and wrecked our awesome lives) would tell me over and over again how much he loved my long hair, and make me swear not to cut it. (Trust me, I am still recovering from the lasting scars from the above haircut, this was a VERY easy promise)

But of course, as they say, man makes plans and g-d laughs.

So I was going to lose my hair. Yes, I know, my LIFE is in danger. I get this. I am going to do everything I can to make sure I kill this stupid, unwanted thing that is growing inside my body.

But what about afterwards? It took me about 6 years to grow my hair back the last time. And that was when I was young and healthy and not about to pump toxic chemicals into my body for 18 weeks or so.

Did you know the number one concern of most women diagnosed with cancer is losing their hair? Did you know women with wigs/prosthetics have a higher rate of BC survival then women who go bald?

I believe both of these things. In fact, I feel them. I have nightmares about sitting alone, shiny bald head and no eyebrows or eyelashes, crying into Fenway's fur while everyone else is out having fun.

I may not be able to do anything about the immunosuppression, but I can damn sure do something about the hair.

So I started looking at wigs. Guess what? They cost thousands of dollars. Like, $3,000 - $4,000 each and if you are planning on using them for daily wear you need to buy TWO, because they wear out.

Also, once your hair starts growing back (and sometimes even before) they get itchy. In fact, most of the survivors I talked to ended up ditching their wigs anyways because they were so uncomfortable.

I'm not going to start lying to you guys now. I cried about this. Every night for a week. I would happily give up my breast, but my hair? How could I walk around, all day, for the next 3-4 years, looking like my worst, self conscious middle school version of myself? Every single time I looked in the mirror I would see something that cancer took from me. I love my hair, and now it was time to kiss my hair, and possibly my self esteem, goodbye.

But again I am lucky. So, unbelievable freaking lucky. And even though insurance wouldn't cover a wig, or hair prosthetics, my amazing friends would not let me go bald if bald is not what I wanted to be (and p.s. for those of you gorgeous girls running around bald, I am so proud and so jealous of you, but this choice was just not for me) and so they helped me with this amazing fundraiser for which I still struggle to find the words to express my gratitude.

P.S. I have made the decision to shave my head once I start chemo, rather than waiting for it to fall out all over (this sounds VERY traumatic) and donate it to an amazing organization Sheila introduced me to called Wigs for Kids. So, for those of you who so generously offered to donate your hair to me, if you still want to donate, please check them out! They only need 12 inches and their wigs are 100% free to the kids!





Dealing with Weakness

I never thought this exercise would be hard (see Wall Walk) Seriously, try it. I did it with my left arm and it did not feel like exercise. I tried it with my right side, now sans two lymph nodes, and it was excruciating. I started sweating. I wanted to cry. The pain got to be so much I thought I would barf. I stopped.

Anyone who has worked out with me will know that I love doing awful, painful arm exercises. With weights. Now I can't even walk my fingers up a wall. I can't raise my arm all the way up, or stretch it out. I can't get a glass from the top shelf in the cupboard anymore. I'm right handed so by instinct, without thinking, I always reach with that hand first. It HURTS.

The worst part? I haven't even had my REAL surgery yet. This is just a little prelude. I'm scared.

Physical health is always something I took for granted. And now that I'm getting closer and closer to treatment and the reality of my situation is setting in I've realized that I am going to need to get used to asking for help. Not emotional help (or not JUST) but also physical help. There are going to be things I just can't do.

I'll admit I've been pushing myself hard. Possibly too hard. My 60 pound dogs has been pulling me around all over the place and I am just not willing to give up our walks yet. I will just deal with the pain and discomfort, and sign up for training classes ASAP.

But if I need to ask for help walking the dog, I'm also going to work on not feeling bad about it. I'm working on giving myself some slack.

I had a mantra that I started saying to myself a few years back, when my brother was dying of cancer and I was having a really hard time with, well, life. I found it in a book that was given to me to help teens but something about this passage resonated with me, it soothed me.

Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe. As much as the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not you understand it, things are unfolding as they should.


This is a really great mantra when your plan veers of course, because really, who's harder on us then ourselves. I can really put myself through the ringer. I am always GO, GO, GO and suddenly my life is on pause. It's hard.

A friend sent me a link today on Twitter. It was an article from a 24 year old with a much, much, much more severe cancer diagnosis than me. I loved all of her articles but one thing she said really stuck with me:


Be Kind to Yourself
Instead of feeling mad at my body for failing me, I’m trying to give myself permission to take it easy. Easier said than done — I almost didn’t include this point because I’m still struggling with being kind to myself. I can’t help but feel frustrated with myself when my body is overly tired, or when my mind is fuzzy. (They call it “chemo brain.”) Sometimes I beat myself up over sleeping late into the afternoon. Or when I can’t eat more than a few bites of any meal. Or when my muscles are too weak to pick up the pitcher of water on the counter. It’s a daily struggle not to view these setbacks as failures or weakness. But I’m trying not to punish myself for the things I can’t change. In the time we should be the easiest on ourselves, I’ve found that we can often be the most judgmental and harsh.

A lot of you who read this aren't sick, but you are human. I think there's a message in this for all of us.

Be kind, be gentle to yourself. You can do anything, but you can't do everything. For me, the anything will be kicking this cancer with a lot of help from my friends, and everything else we can just figure out together.

Dena's Fertility Story

My fertility specialist uses the stories of other women of reproductive age who are facing cancer related infertility to help women make decisions about their treatment options.

This is my story that I offered  for him to use:


Three days after my 29 birthday I got a biopsy. I knew, even before the results came back that it would be bad. My surgeon could see it in the ultrasound, my radiologist in the mammogram and I could feel it when I touched the cauliflower under my skin that wasn’t there 3 months earlier. It was cancer, and it was “aggressive”. What a perfect word to describe the tornado that just came out of nowhere and swept through my awesome life.

As I write this, I still have a bunch more tests before I know exactly what my treatment options will be but, because of my age, the size of the tumor and what they know about my cancer, there will definitely be chemo and a few surgeries and radiation.

I work out like a loon. I eat fresh, organic farmers market vegetables. Things like this are not supposed to happen to people like me.



My mom keeps telling me over and over again that she wishes it was her instead of me. I don't. I am young, strong and otherwise healthy. I am going to come out of this just fine. I wrote a letter for my mom to give to her friends because she has a hard time talking about what's happening right now. And I can't blame her, her healthy 29 year old daughter has breast cancer. Where do you find the words to talk about something like that? My mom and I are best friends.


I was lying on a table with an IV in my arm, holding my mom’s hand, waiting for one of what would eventually be 3 biopsies, when my surgeon told me that I needed to get in touch with UCSF Fertility Preservation right away. WHAT? I thought. Totally overwhelmed. I didn’t even know chemo/radiation could affect my fertility.

"OMG, I might never get to have a baby."  was the chorus in my head that I fell asleep to when they knocked me out for the surgical biopsy. I woke up hollow, feeling knocked down in a way that even the cancer diagnosis hadn’t done to me.
These kinds of thoughts can crush your spirit, and if there is one thing every single doctor, survivor and expert I've talked to has told me, it's that you need your spirit.

The only thing I had ever really wanted to do was be a mom. I thought that the thought of losing my hair would be my undoing, but the idea of never being pregnant was more than I could handle. I fell apart.

Quality of life is a doctor term, but what it refers to are things like a decent hair prosthetic (wig), and preserving the ability to have the life and the dreams that you wanted before you got the sucker punch diagnosis that just rocked your world.

It's so hard to ask for help, but I have always, always dreamed of having a baby. Actually a couple of babies. And, really, can you blame me? When you have a mom as amazing as mine, motherhood seems like the best job ever.

But I knew two things right away - none of the other survivor chicks I had talked to had done this and it was going to be expensive. I was scared. There was a solution out there but it might not be in my reach.

Then I found Doctor Rosen. And I found a scholarship from the Sharing Hope foundation (don’t worry, if you didn’t already find it, Audra’s got a copy of it in her packet).

When I went in to see him  the first time all I could think was - please, please, please let there be enough time. Please, please, please, let me be able to afford this. Don’t let cancer take something else away from me.

When Doctor Rosen shared the stories of other women with me and I read the story about the girl who didn’t know that this option was available, and then found herself without options afterwards, I thought I would vomit. I literally felt so bad it made me feel ill. Then, when I read the story about the woman who had frozen her eggs, who said she couldn’t wait to take her chance, well, I started sobbing. Happy, cathartic tears. This would be me. I would be ok. I still had a chance.

I am so lucky in so many ways. I have an amazing community of friends who raised the money to pay for my treatment and my quality of life expenses. Even though I am 29, I do monthly breast checks so I found the tumor early, and I found Dr. Rosen with enough time to freeze my eggs. 


When I go to sleep at night can still dream about having a big pregnant belly and the smell of that powder soft baby head. Cancer can’t take that away from me.

Needles & Answers & Antioxidants

Friday was not a good day. I thought that the awful way I was feeling was just a symptom of the cancer, and totally missed a small infection that was wreaking havoc on my body (two days of antibiotics later, I felt like a new person... moral of the story: don't miss the trees for the forest either)

I also got some news that was really hard to hear - a chance that there is more cancer in a different part of my breast. There were many things that made this really hard:

#1 More tests. Painful tests. Tests that are so painful that my clueless radiologist in ultrasound said to me "Oh, maybe I can find cancer in the nipple so you can just get a mastectomy and not have to do the MRI biopsy!!" (WHAT!?! Um, a major surgery is better than going through this procedure? Gee, thanks for sharing that)

#2 NOT KNOWING I am so ready to start treatment and just kill this thing and get on with my life. I want to DO something. I am a notorious planner and it is driving me nuts that I just don't know what my treatment plan is going to be and so I have to sit and wait for more tests, and then wait even longer for the results of these tests.  This is hard and frustrating in a way that is different than the diagnosis because I feel like I should be DOING SOMETHING. I mean for goodness sake, I have cancer.  But it's a lot of hurry up and wait.

Now, I know, logically, that the fact that my doctor doesn't want to just lop off my breast and call it a day is a good thing. 1 in 5 MRI results in situations like mine are a false positive so there is a hefty chance this will be nothing and I can go back to the original plan.

Everyone asks me "when do you start treatment?" Trust me lovies, I want to know as badly as you do...

But, not to be brought down I am using the next few weeks as a chance to get my body in super prime shape. My boss bought me a wheatgrass juicer. My best friend from Tulane got me a wheatgrass growing kit. I'm a farmer now. I have been eating so many antioxidants I'm pretty sure if you lick me it's the equivalent of a multivitamin. I feel awesome.

Here is a picture of one of the gorgeous, healthy dishes I ate this weekend. It's super easy (slice, stack, nom) and the fats in the goat cheese are supposed to help absorb the good stuff in the tomatoes.



Ingredients:
1 tomato
Goat Cheese (or Mozarella, but I'm kind of a lactard so I like goat)
Basil Leaves
Optional: salt & pepper, a drizzle of olive oil

Slice tomatos. Place a basil leave on each tomato, followed by a dollop of cheese. Drizzle with salt/pepper/oo if desired. Set in fridge for 10 minutes (I swear, it makes all the flavors seep together) Serve. Nom Nom Nom.




Cookies & Stunners

Ok, clearly I am the luckiest girl in the world. And I say this with 100% awareness of the fact that I have cancer. I am still the luckiest girl in the world. I have a kick-ass team of doctors who are like magical science wizards and I have a community of friends who are battling the darkness for my spirit. (Sorry, I have been reading a lot of fantasy recently.)

This is in no means a complete list of everything that everyone has done to support me but I wanted to share a few of the things that have made me cry buckets of happy tears, and laugh, and just kept me from falling into a pit of overwhelming self-pity and frequent panic attacks. I can breathe because of you guys.

And I am still struggling to find the words to express my gratitude (do you know how hard it is to make ME speechless?!?)

Also, just an update, I am officially Stage 3 Triple Positive Breast Cancer. However, do not let the Stage scare you. It's mostly used for things like research, treatment protocol and putting people into groups so they can figure out the best ways to make us better. My prognosis is really good, it's just that my treatment needs to be as aggressive as my tumor so we can kick cancer's ass.

#1 The UNBELIEVABLE Generosity of the people in my life


My friends GabiJordan & Adam organized a fundraiser that raised over $10,000... in a day. In a single, freaking day! And if that wasn't enough, each and every dollar came with a note expressing love, support, humor, grace and magical healing powers (ok, this last one is my interpretation, but I swear it's true!)

So I just want to say thank you to each and every one of you who have given so far. And I'm going to do it by name at some point (unless you gave anonymously), so if you are shy - too bad - you shouldn't be so freaking awesome, ok?

I'm also working on setting up a trust that will be 501(c)3 so that all of you will be able to write off your gifts as tax deductible and there will be more information on that coming soon (and when I say I, I clearly mean handsome boyfriend because you know how I freak out about anything math/tax/finance related)


#2 A SICK PAIR OF PINK STUNNERS - NAMED AFTER ME





Plus this post which kind of made me feel like a rockstar.

#3 A POWER COOKIE RECIPE (this is no ordinary cookie)





Plus a box of said cookies and a freaking TRAY of macaroni and cheese that is so good it is possibly the only food I ever want to eat again. If you don't already read Brokeass Gourmet or own her book, go do that, immediately.

#4 These flowers & this care package, and a reminder that my life will go on after cancer...


Cancer can be so serious. (And it is! I know! I know!) But sometimes you need a break from that, and thinking about the treatment, and talking about medical details....yesterday this was my break. I will be dancing my face off at coachella, with most of my body in tact and cancer 100% gone. Thank you of reminding me of that (and also making me laugh) 


I also got this delicious goodie bag yesterday, thank you Nurse Gwen for sending me the most amazing smelling package. My whole mail box smelled like lavender! Just FYI I have already eaten both licorice, put the sachet in my underwear drawer and bragged about my hand sanitizer (which I know I will need buckets of once I start chemo.)

LOVE YOU GUYS
xoxoxoxoxox



A letter to my mom's friends about my cancer





Dear Friends of Kathy,

I am writing this letter for my mom because she has a hard time writing about what's happening right now. And I can't blame her, her healthy 29 year old daughter has breast cancer. Where do you find the words to talk about something like that? 

Fortunately for all of us, I have inherited her amazing communication skills and I have no problem writing about what's happening to me. Here is the article I wrote when I first got my diagnosis. The response to the article was amazing, people from as far away as Peru and Indonesia were promising me to check themselves. This made me feel loved, supported and like I was actually doing something with this horrible hand that I had been dealt. 

Those same people, when they heard I could have over $10,000 worth of "quality of life" expenses that weren't covered by my insurance, set up a fundraiser on my behalf. In less than 24 hours, they have raised over $5,000  People are seriously amazing. http://www.giveforward.com/helpdenakickcancersass

Quality of life is a doctor term, but what it refers to are things like a decent hair prosthetic (wig), preserving my fertility which has a likelihood of being damaged by the chemo and things like ice packs, nutrition and other things to keep my spirits up while I go through a very yucky couple of months. 

It's so hard to ask for help, especially financial help, but I have always, always dreamed of having a baby. Actually a couple of babies. And, really, can you blame me? When you have a mom as amazing as mine, motherhood seems like the best job ever. 

When I found out that I had to have chemo my first thoughts were "OMG, I'm going to lose my hair" followed almost immediately by "OMG, I might never get to have a baby." These kinds of thoughts can crush your spirit, and if there is one thing every single doctor, survivor and expert I've talked to has told me, it's that you need your spirit.

There is no question that I am going to beat this thing, right now the questions are all about "quality of life" - how much will I let cancer take away from me? While my insurance and my doctors are covering all the things that will make my body healthy, they don't always cover the things that will keep my heart and my feelings healthy and that is where this fundraiser comes in. 

Thank you so much in advance for helping us the spread the word.
Lots of love,
Dena

PS: In case you missed it, here's my favorite article I have ever written, also consequently about my mom: The Best Dating Advice Ever, From My Mom

I Have Breast Cancer, and I am asking you for a favor...



Sorry for the slap in the face headline but I needed to get your attention. You may have noticed that I haven't been posting recently. It's been a rough couple of weeks...turns out I have Stage 2/3 breast cancer. 

There is 4-5cm malignant tumor in my right breast and the tests I have done so far tell me that it is aggressive. 
I still have a bunch more tests before I know exactly what my treatment options will be but, because of my age, the size of the tumor and what they know about my cancer, there will definitely be chemo and a few surgeries. I'm still waiting on test results to see if it's spread to my lymph nodes and if I will need radiation.  Despite all of that the last two weeks for me have really crystallized one idea in my mind. I am lucky.   Yes, this situation is nothing if not absurd. I just turned 29 two weeks ago. I work out like a loon. I eat fresh, organic farmers market vegetables. Things like this are not supposed to happen to people like me. My mom keeps telling me over and over again that she wishes it was her instead of me. I don't. I am young, strong and otherwise healthy. I am going to come out of this just fine. I am also so so thoroughly and completely surrounded by love, support and offers of help from the most amazing group of friends, coworkers and family that it just blows me away. Every time I get a text message from someone telling me they are thinking about me and sending good vibes and asking to help, I feel stronger. When I get scared about what the coming months are going to hold, I just think about how I have easy access to all the hugs, company, good vibes, home-cooked meals, rides to procedures, help walking the dog, personal yoga lessons, hand holding, hair holding, jokes, back rubs and snuggles that a person in recovery could possibly need. I know my friends are just a text message away and I know that I can get through whatever is barreling my way because of that.  And I know for a fact that all this good energy is already helping me on the road to recovery. This outpouring of love and good energy literally drips off of me wherever I go. People can see it. I have seen approximately 1,547 doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and surgeons in the last two weeks. Each and everyone of them has either complimented me on my awesomeness as a patient or marveled at my attitude. They tell me over and over again that I am amazing and inspiring and that this, above all else, is why I am going to come out on the other end of this just fine.  Where does this attitude come from? Duh, didn't you read the earlier paragraph? It comes from you guys. I am taking all your love and support and text messages and phone calls and I am using them to prop me up when I want to be dark and defeatist, and wallow in self pity.  I feel your thoughts and your love and I know I am truly blessed in so many ways. You guys are getting me through the pain and the needles and the dizziness and fear with an attitude that amazes the people who see other people going through this all the time.  Basically you guys are saving my life. Now I want to save yours.  I want you to promise me you are going to start doing monthly exams. I want it in writing in the comment section below. I want you to share this with your friends and make them promise you (or me) that they are going to do exams too. Send me a text message or an email that says, "Dena, I promise to start doing monthly boob exams."I want all this crap I am going through to count for something. I need to know that it's not all for nothing and that while you guys are taking care of me, I can also take care of you. The good news is that nobody is saying I am gonna die. In fact, my doctor told me flat out, "Nobody dies of breast cancer." It's probably going to be a yucky couple of months but I'm not going anywhere. However, while the last two weeks have been physically and emotionally painful in more private ways than even I want to share on the internet,  at the end of the day the scariest thing I've learned so far  is that none of you guys think you would do it.  
The very first thing I hear from people when I tell them I have cancer is "How did you find it?" This is usually followed by some variation of  "Wait, you do that? I have never even thought about doing that."
I love you guys but this response makes me want to simultaneously hug you/feel you up/smack you in the face.
So while regular mammograms are how they usually find cancer in older women, unfortunately the test just doesn't work well for young women. We young women have these perky breasts because our breasts are made up of mostly  breast tissue. As we age this tissue is replaced by fat, which looks black in a mammogram.Thick, dense breast tissue looks white in a mammogram. So does cancerous tissue. When you get older, the white cancer spots shows up loud and clear. When you're young they don't show up as well. So young women don't get mammograms, but they do get breast cancer. 







Thank you for all of your love and support, and for taking care of yourself.
Lots of love, 





OUR BEST & ONLY OPTION IS KNOWING OUR OWN BREASTS
I'm gonna say that again, our best and only option is to know yourself.
Do you shower? Maybe just pay attention to your body. 
It only takes about 5 minutes to know what they feel like normally. Then you just notice is something feels different.  
In fact is is really easy to fing volunteers to help. ;)
Trust me - when I found this thing and felt the change in my breast I knew something was wrong and I got in to see my doctor the next day. This probably saved my life. 
I hate to throw out trope like "it's important to know your body" but when you have a stomach ache you know something is off and you fix it. Why should your chest be any different?
Don't wait, don't be scared, just do it. I am asking you, begging you really, to promise me that you will start paying attention. The odds are in your favor that you are not going to find anything, but it will make ME feel so much better. And I know you guys all just want to make me feel better, right? 


Dena 



The Devil is in The Details

So, things have been a little crazy and I haven't had time to post in awhile but I thought now would be a good time to be grateful for the small things. Here are some of my favorite little things from this past week....

Leather vest + canadian short tuxedo = best thing ever

Arm party

Arm Party #2

Sun protection + purple nails = best way to a-sex-orize a bikini...

Black bikini = classic
Black bikini with fringe = epic