The Miami Herald

Complete series: A reporter's journey through breast cancer treatment

Her personal accounts are published every Tuesday in The Miami Herald's Tropical Life's Health section. Click on the headlines below to read each story.

You can also follow her journey on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.



PART 1

Not too young for breast cancer:
Dealing with a nightmarish diagnosis

The nightmare began when I found a lump in my left breast. I first felt it when I turned in bed. I woke up the next morning and rode four miles on my bicycle. I was in good health, and was convinced it would go away after my period. It didn’t. “It’s a thick fibrous mass with a cottage cheese texture. It seems to be expanding,” I said to an ultrasound technician at the Diagnosis Center for Women in South Miami.


PART 2

Cancer treatment complicates dreams of pregnancy

The chance of getting breast cancer in your 30s is 1 in 250. I am 33. I was unlucky. My diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma comes with a dream buster: If I survive, there is a high chance that I may not be able to have children. “Your ovaries will suffer during chemotherapy,” warned Dr. Tihesha Wilson, a breast surgical oncologist at Mercy Hospital, after explaining a course of treatment. “You can develop premature ovarian failure or early menopause.”The room got smaller.


PART 3

Hanging in when chemo treatments get rough

Breast cancer treatment felt like a bad Halloween joke. About two weeks after my first chemotherapy, I woke up to the image of a monster. I had shaved my head. My body was covered with itchy red hives. I had a burning rash under my left shoulder. My stomach hurt. I had blurry vision. I couldn't process thoughts with clarity. I felt weak. I was scared of getting sicker. I was scared of dying. Several breast cancer survivors had warned me about the discomfort.


PART 4

Tough choices over type of surgery

Falling in love while healthy and beautiful is challenging. Falling in love while struggling to love yourself after losing body parts is daunting. That was my first thought when cancer cornered me into making a decision about the removal of my breasts. I was wearing nothing but a blue hospital gown and jeans. It wasn’t sexy. It was morbid. “The lump is not small enough to be treated with a lumpectomy,” a breast-conserving surgery, said Dr. Tihesha Wilson, a surgical oncologist at Mercy Hospital.


PART 5

Silicone implants are not the only
way to go in breast reconstruction

My fear of dying was diminishing. In about two weeks the cancerous tumors would be removed. And if it weren’t that my breasts were going to be gone, and I felt pressured to choose a method of immediate reconstruction, I would have thrown a party. The days when saline implants were the only approved devices for reconstruction are long gone. To assume that the options come without risks, is to believe in the tooth fairy.


PART 6

Rebuilding the breast from your body’s excess tissue

When you have cancer, hospital gowns feel like curtains at a theater in the Twilight Zone. The drama when the curtains parted this time was not about amputating my breasts. It was about considering that another part of my body could be used to replace them. The medical director of the Baptist Health Breast Center, Dr. Robert DerHagopian, looked at my abdomen and said, “let’s see if there is enough.” He then grabbed the excess fat that I am most ashamed of.


PART 7

Body fat can build patients' breasts

The Miami Beach club scene is full of Playboy Playmate look-alikes with beauty secrets. About a year ago, while in the bathroom of Fontainebleau’s LIV, a drunken blond with bursting cleavage asked if she could borrow my nude lip gloss. We were both on the same vanity mirror, but she was a stranger. I rushed to hide the gloss in my golden clutch bag. I pulled out my bronzing blush and brushed it on my face and neck to create the illusion of a summer glow.


PART 8

Facing my fears after mastectomy

I went to sleep with breasts and woke up without them at Baptist Hospital. I never flashed them during Mardi Gras, nor did I profit from them online. The 34-Cs lived a short private life. In their place were two saltwater balloons called expanders. They were hiding behind a very tight white bra. The drugs were flowing intravenously, friends surrounded me and I was grateful to be alive. The medical director of Baptist Health Breast Center, Dr. Robert DerHagopian, had performed a simple bilateral mastectomy.


PART 9

Taking control of the fear with breast cancer

Narcotics detectives hunt addicts and traffickers for the sort of painkillers that are prescribed to breast cancer patients after a bilateral mastectomy. Oxycodone can destroy a life. I decided to stay away from it on the fifth day after the surgery. That was a big mistake. It was torture. I felt like there were little creatures with sharp objects poking and tearing me from within. The pain was so excruciating it made me weep. “Why are you crying? That’s not going to solve anything,” said my mom.


PART 10

Doctor knows about being a breast cancer survivor

When Dr. Tamar Ference found out she had breast cancer, she spent a week in her home. She could not believe that after helping so many cancer patients as a doctor of physiatrics, she would be thrown such a curveball. “I didn’t want to talk to any one. I disappeared. I was in shock. There was no way I could be there for my patients that week,” said Ference, also an assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “It’s tough to find out you have breast cancer – even for someone like me.”


PART 11

Radiation therapy gives her hope

Resilient cancer cells that may have been plotting to invade again met a new enemy this week: external beam radiation therapy. It was uncertain if the ionizing radiation six-week attack, meant to damage DNA, would help stop the cellular aberration for good. Despite undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy, I was still likely not free of cancer. I was scared. Experts say that about 20 to 30 percent of breast cancer patients are considered at high risk of recurrence after a mastectomy.


PART 12

Finding strength from beauty queen

The ugly truth about breast cancer is not an easy one to share, but it is an important mission that many beautiful women take seriously. Former Miss Venezuela Eva Ekvall, whose struggle with breast cancer began in 2010 and ended with her death last week at age 28, allowed a photographer to document her physical transformation during treatment. “I hate to see photos in which I come out ugly. … But you know what? Nobody ever said cancer is pretty,” Ekvall said.


PART 13

Facebook, medication help breast cancer
patient deal with depression

Social media became my lifeline as waves of fear, sadness, anger and confusion swept ashore with hurricane breast cancer. Emotional distress came with the diagnosis. Experts in psychosocial oncology say that women with breast cancer have the third highest rate of depression among cancer diagnostic groups, and that major depression is an under-recognized and under-treated problem. I turned to Dr. M. Beatriz Currier for help.


PART 14

Breast cancer patient begins 2012 with new outlook

It looked like the worst part of the life-saving treatment for breast cancer was behind me. My future was hopeful. I just had to be patient. I had adopted a new routine to battle the morning sadness. I began to browse through a small booklet titled Myself: Together Again by breast cancer survivor Debbie Horwitz. It has a series of photographs showing the breast reconstruction progress she underwent when she was 32. I had become a beneficiary of her last year’s resolution.


PART 15

Breast cancer patient uses diversion
to cope with harsh reality

Over the past five months the nature of breast cancer has increased my craving for escapism. A movie theater with gleaming windows in Miami Beach resembles a hypnotic portal into a realm of fantasy. Chocolate and its silken touch comes in the form of a smooth mousse or crunchy cookie. Only a naïveté would assume any of these actions to be inconsequential. I have groused that the satisfaction has been short-lived.


PART 16

After radiation therapy ends

My dream of living a life free of breast cancer seemed possible when my radiation therapy at the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center ended on Thursday. My naked torso looked like a Piet Mondrian cubist painting, as a reddish square covered the left side of my chest. My skin was irritated. It was peeling. The burns hurt, but I was feeling happy. If all had worked as planned, the radiation I received every week day for about a month had destroyed the remaining menacing cancer cells.


PART 17

Friend’s breast cancer journey is not as fortunate

In the world of mastectomies, a world that Angela Lara entered in July at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, most women fear mirrors and tight clothes (among other things). Lara and I have a lot in common. We both walked the hallways of Florida International University with big dreams in our pockets. We were both diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. With a stage IIIA (the most advanced is stage IV) diagnosis, we both walked through the valley of death.


PART 18

Anti-tumor meds for breast cancer
patients come with scary history

I have heard this reasoning multiple times: The benefits greatly outweigh the risks. I’m not so sure the logic always works. The next phase of my treatment includes taking a drug for five years that the American Cancer Society has deemed a human carcinogen. The drug is called Tamoxifen. The list of carcinogens also includes a leisurely day in Miami Beach: solar radiation, tobacco and alcoholic beverages.


PART 19

Reentry into the world after breast cancer treatment

The body image issues continued. How could they not? After breast cancer treatment, the woman in the mirror looked like a damaged mannequin. And even with breast implants, I felt like a creature that belonged on a different planet. “I pity the guy who checks me out and dares to come up to me,” I told a guy friend over a text message. And when he asked why, I replied, “It’s like feeling sorry for a man who hits on a drag queen thinking he is a she.” He said I didn’t make any sense.


PART 20

Bad combination for breast cancer patient:
Too much fear, too little trust

My car was towed. It happens. A few more unfortunate situations later, and I was crying. It wasn’t that I was feeling sorry for myself. I was just mad, and the tears wouldn’t stop. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to a friend at the moment, so I grabbed my phone and called the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization’s 24-hour hotline. I had saved the number (800-221-2141) on my phone when I was diagnosed in August.


PART 21

Chemo brain after breast cancer treatment complicates a return to day-to-day routines

A few days ago, I filled a pot with water and added a few peppermint tea bags. I placed it on the stove to boil, left the kitchen, and got distracted. The smell of smoke told me the teabags had turned to ashes. I hid the embarrassing evidence in a garbage bag, and walked out of the apartment to dispose of it. Then, guess what? I forgot the garbage bag. Breast cancer treatment has left me struggling with poor concentration.


PART 22

The cancerous tumor’s gone, but not the fear

A few days ago, I woke up abruptly in the middle of the night. My heart was beating fast. I felt a sense of terror, but the night was quiet. The worst part of breast cancer treatment was over. I was safe. I got into a fetal position and cried anyway. After radiation treatment ended in January, I thought the overwhelming fear would end, too, but it hasn’t. I have also been having bouts of crying, difficulty falling asleep, poor concentration and a sense of a foreshortened future.


PART 23

Drawing strength from a singer’s defiant spirit

Soraya Lamilla was a force to be reckoned with. We shared a homeland and a breast cancer diagnosis, and though she is gone, she inspires me every day. Soraya was one of my favorite Colombian singers. She taught herself to play the guitar as a little girl, and wrote and sang in English and Spanish. I met her once in Coconut Grove, but I would never have imagined that she would become a source of strength for me. At 31, Soraya was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer.


PART 24

A breast cancer message played out
at the Ultra Music Festival

I was watching a Swedish electronic pop band perform at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami’s Bayfront park. I didn’t feel like a breast cancer patient. I was not in pain. The crowd was dancing and singing: “Thinking of my 81st birthday, every day this body goes to waste.” The lights were shining bright. There were many smiles. I was happy to be alive. About 165,000 people from around the globe attended the three-day annual event.


PART 25

Breast cancer patient has high hopes for new drug

Two years after completing treatment for breast cancer, Mercy Moore knew there was a problem — she just couldn’t fix it. It was a persistent pain in her lower back. “I went to urgent care and was told it was sciatic nerve,” Moore said. “It went away after I went to the chiropractor several times.” Months later, the pain returned. When other treatments failed, an orthopedic doctor ordered tests that revealed the breast cancer had spread. The mother of two boys was in tears.


PART 26

Religion is unavoidable topic for cancer patients

When a cancer diagnosis hits home, the loaded subject of religion is unavoidable. A breast cancer patient named Linda was angry about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s since-reversed decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood in order to maintain its relationship with the Catholic Church. She uploaded a defiant video to YouTube earlier this year. “I used to have two beautiful girls here,” she says, indicating the place on her chest once occupied by her breasts. “Now they’re gone.”


PART 27

Breast cancer treatment changes
young survivors' social life

No one’s life stops because you get breast cancer. While friends have gone traveling, found new boyfriends, gotten married and had babies, my social life has come to a halt. For a while, the only woman I could truly identify with was Stephanie Green, a pretty brunette who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32 and died after a recurrence 15 months ago. I never met her, but the Dishalicious blog she left behind really spoke to me.


PART 28

Fatigue is breast cancer patients'
frequent post-treatment companion

A six-month trip to breast-cancer treatment country has left me with jet lag. I’m sleepy most of the time. I’m not endangering anyone on the road, but I am annoying a few drivers. I apologize to those who have had to honk their horns to rouse me. I like to close my eyes when I’m stuck in traffic. Last week, the elevator door opened and a co-worker discovered that I like to snooze for the few seconds it takes to get to my floor.


PART 29

Having cancer means being a myth buster

Cancer patients have to be myth busters. The moment we go public with our diagnosis, we get bombarded with rumors about magic cures, remedies kept secret because of evil conspiracies and misinformation about cancer-causing agents. One of the first lessons I learned from a fellow cancer patient was to trust the experts. “Scientists and doctors have studied cancer for years. Stop listening to the wrong people,” Michael Maryanoff told me.


PART 30

When it comes to beauty,
men glance at women’s breasts first

When breast cancer patients with a genetic predisposition to the disease are faced with a choice between life and beauty, it’s a simple decision for most. The challenge is in living with it. My bilateral mastectomy was in November, and I’m still adjusting to the changes in my body and psyche. One can enjoy life without breasts and fertility. But treatment changes life for young, single patients in unanticipated ways.


PART 31

Breast cancer survivors' beauty
on display at The Day of Caring

David Labrie radiated self-confidence in his bubble-gum pink bow tie and black tuxedo, flashing a great grin as he strode down the runway at the Models of Hope fashion show. Seeing a male model surprised some in the audience of about 700 at the 11th annual Day of Caring for Breast Cancer Awareness on Saturday at the InterContinental hotel in downtown Miami. It had been about two years since he was diagnosed.


PART 32

Doctor: Blood test to detect prostate
cancer saved my life

Miami OB-GYN Associates’ Dr. Edward M. Fidalgo knows what it feels like to face the threat of cancer and the pain of infertility at a young age. About 11 years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that about 16 percent of men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes. About 3 percent will die, and about 70 percent of the deaths will occur in men older than 75.


PART 33

Learning from child cancer survivors
on National Cancer Survivor’s Day

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer stage 3 last year there were scary moments when I thought that I wouldn’t make it to my next birthday. This week I will blow out my candles and make a wish with a shining cancer survivor star sparkling on my shoulder. The cancer free card won’t come until 2017. On Sunday, National Cancer Survivor’s Day, I met several inspiring children from Miami Children’s Hospital.


PART 34

Finding ways to feel pretty after
breast cancer treatment can be challenging

Getting “dolled up” after breast cancer treatment can be challenging. I have referred to my newly curly hair as “electrocution in cartoon world,” “the Colombian soccer’s team Afro” and “my new spongy hair.” I try to remind myself that when you have lost all of your hair after chemotherapy and something healthy that’s your own is covering your scalp, there is no such thing as a bad hair day.


PART 35

Sometimes it’s necessary to put pride aside

Breast cancer forces one to practice humility, but pride can still get in the way. Character flaws test us in our most difficult moments, and when one overcomes those tests, there is growth. Before the cancer, I would never have gone to a Miami Heat watch party at the AmericanAirlines Arena, but last week my friend Christine Anderson invited me to go with her family. “I’m scared to go. All these different kinds of people are going to be there,” I told a colleague.


PART 36

Life lessons from a determined
ballet dancer with breast cancer

One silver lining of the breast-cancer cloud that cast a shadow over my life has been the opportunity to learn from amazing women. Last week, I learned from Tiffany Glenn, a 33-year-old ballet dancer who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when she was 27. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her — she died June 18 — but the more I read about her, the more I admired the way she lived.


PART 37

For one breast cancer survivor,
life’s next act brings love

Finding love is not easy, especially after breast cancer treatment. But it is not impossible. Just ask Christine Zahralban. A veteran prosecutor with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, Zahralban was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer three years ago at age 39. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy and six grueling months of chemotherapy. “It was a dramatic, emotional rollercoaster,” says former colleague George D. Cholakis.


PART 38

Sharing a breast cancer journey live on Twitter

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was the regular reader of a website for technological savvy users with an appetite for the unique named Boing Boing. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that one of the site’s co-editors, Xeni Jardin, had been diagnosed with breast cancer months after I was diagnosed. Jardin is a smart, self-taught Internet code writer, who has been a guest on National Public Radio, CNN International, Fox News, Wired and other media.


PART 39

Relationship between breast cancer and alcohol abuse is complicated

A cloud of smoke permeated the room. Deborah Hatch was smoking a cigarette and drinking bourbon when she told her husband she had breast cancer. That night the couple didn’t care about carcinogens. She really enjoyed smoking, and he really enjoyed drinking. After all, alcohol and nicotine stimulate the release of neurotransmitters related to pleasurable feelings. It took her a few months on the nicotine patch to quit smoking.


PART 40

The possibility of infertility looms for cancer patient

A woman in her early 30s should not have to think about infertility. But breast cancer changes everything. Doctors have highly recommended that I have a hysterectomy, surgery to remove the uterus, and a prophylactic oophorectomy, removal of my ovaries. Both would be a preemptive move against uterine and ovarian cancer, which can develop after breast cancer. Thinking about it has been difficult, especially faced with a gynecological appointment this week.


PART 41

Breast cancer experience shapes
new values, priorities

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. This year has been one of transformation. Yes, my health and body have changed significantly, but so has my approach to living and to developing meaningful relationships in my life. Albert Einstein was right when he said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” The suffering during treatment has molded my values. The meanings of the words “problem,” “urgent,” and “important” have changed. And my priorities have a new, healthier order.


PART 42

Getting back on healthy eating track

I stepped on the scale at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. The digital numbers rose from 130, 140, 150, stopping finally at 160. “There is no way! That can’t be possible. I’m in trouble,” I said to the nurse. After an awkward smile, she asked, “How tall are you?” I am 5’4. My height-to-weight ratio is from 114 to 152 pounds. My ideal weight is 125 pounds. I’m not sure why I was surprised. During treatment for breast cancer, my cardiovascular activity has been limited. I have been experiencing fatigue, and I have been abusing comfort foods.


PART 43

Getting back to dating after breast cancer treatment can be difficult

It was a Saturday night, about a month before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I put on a long black pencil skirt that hugged my hips, a soft white blouse that showed off my cleavage and purple high-heels. My phone shook on the table. It was a text message from him: “I’m downstairs. Take your time.” My heart beat faster. I grabbed my red lipstick, sprayed on some perfume, grabbed my little red purse and rushed down the stairs.


PART 44

Cancer patients need support in many ways

None of my close friends, who are in their 20s and 30s, had ever faced a challenge like breast cancer. They weren’t prepared; no one is. There were friends and family whom I expected to be there to support me, but weren’t. I struggled with that a bit. “I’m going back to Colombia for the next few months,” one friend said a few weeks after my diagnosis last year. “You are going to be going away during what are likely to be the worst months of my life,” I said. I couldn’t believe she would make that decision. I know that if the roles had been reversed, I would not have left her side.


PART 45

Launching a weight-loss effort with high-tech help

It’s discouraging to know that years after treatment, breast cancer can come back. The encouraging news is that there are things we can do that may make that less likely. Among the most important is maintaining a healthy weight and low body fat, because studies have shown that people who are obese have a higher risk of a recurrence. Cancer cells have tentacles. Their exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood, but studies have shown that body fat provides support for growth.


PART 46

Taming stress to fight cancer recurrence

My heart beat faster. The rhythm of my breath rose to a crescendo, and my left leg began to shake as if I were tapping to a punk-rock song. My job is sometimes like a rollercoaster ride, and anyone who knows me knows that I love it. But I’m doing my best to avoid these moments of stress by consciously slowing my breath. I am also trying to meditate once a day. My parents taught me several techniques when I was growing up, but I never really got into the habit.


PART 47

New skin cancer drug helps a friend

A few months after my breast cancer diagnosis, Bill and Maty Hallcroft visited me after chemotherapy. Their presence was comforting; they are like family. Bill had a nice tan and looked healthy. The couple had been travelling to Italy and were very positive. Bill survived prostate cancer a few years ago. But he said his fear of cancer began when he was a teenage boy and his grandfather died of bone cancer. For a while, every time he felt a pain, he wondered if it could be cancer.


PART 48

Worldwide movement helps breast cancer patients in Mideast

It’s discouraging to know that years after treatment, breast cancer can come back. The encouraging news is that there are things we can do that may make that less likely. Among the most important is maintaining a healthy weight and low body fat, because studies have shown that people who are obese have a higher risk of a recurrence. Cancer cells have tentacles. Their exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood, but studies have shown that body fat provides support for growth.


PART 49

Finding inner beauty after breast cancer treatment

In literature, a hairstyle change is usually a symbol of internal transformation. In the 2005 movie V for Vendetta, based on Alan Moore’s novel, Natalie Portman plays Evey Hammond, a working class woman living in a totalitarian regime. She was transformed into a fearless revolutionary and shaved her head to play the part. “You got to me? You did this to me? You cut my hair? You tortured me? You tortured me! Why?” Evey asked V, the lead character in the movie.


PART 50

All things pink are not always rosy

Rock that bubble gum pink, but don’t let it deceive you. Last year while I was undergoing chemotherapy, October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month made me feel like there were thousands rooting for me. “October is a time to celebrate survivors,” said Emily Marquez, American Cancer Society director of the Florida chapter. She invited me to a couple of their events. “Our Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign has some of our survivors wearing these beautiful, ornate, pink bras over their white T-shirts. It’s fun.”


PART 51

Breast cancer is deadly and apolitical

Five-year-old Niomi Tyler Thomas recently learned that her beautiful 39-year-old mom is probably going to die of breast cancer this year. Her mommy’s blog, pictures and videos published on the web for all to see are not a morbid tale about a young woman’s tragic death. They are about the value of time, the importance of having a zest for life and not taking the ones you love for granted. “Live each day to the fullest, laugh at the stories from your past, laugh at something at least one time that day, and hug those you love,” Niomi’s mom, Meredith Israel Thomas, said.


PART 52

Women on a mission against breast cancer

Everyone knows someone — a mother, a sister, a daughter, and in rare cases, a man — who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About one out of every eight women in the United States will get the news one day — with one in four of those younger than 50. There is hope: Early detection and customized therapies have increased survival by about a decade in the majority of patients. And the pink troops are not giving up on the cure. They will be out en masse Saturday in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Bayfront Park, clad in pink.


PART 53

Finding peace when you’re not feeling sexy

I was wearing a short black dress with white geometric figures that distract the eye from my uneven breast implants. Ruffled shirts, scarves, loose sweaters and bright contrasts also do the trick. I was seated next to an ex-boyfriend I had not seen in a while. My heart was beating fast. We met when I was 19. And that skinny girl with pretty breasts and flawless skin was long gone. He looked almost the same. I put my head on his shoulder and he put his arm around mine.


PART 54

Mother battled her fears to the very end

A trip to South Africa, Broadway musicals, baking sessions, chocolate truffles — and whatever else made her little girl giggle — were the priorities. For Meredith Israel Thomas, making plans to be with her 5-year-old was a fight against time; a test of quality vs. quantity. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, Thomas did everything in her power to buy more time with her “princess,” Niomi. I watched her journey on Facebook.


PART 55

Lance Armstrong's lies do not negate efforts to help

When it comes to Lance Armstrong, I am on his son Luke’s side. When I watched the famous cyclist’s exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, I wasn’t watching a hero who had fallen from grace or an arrogant cheater. I was watching a survivor. It was his first interview since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency filed formal charges against him for using performance-enhancing drugs, and the cycling’s governing body stripped him of his seven Tour de France victories and banned him from the sport for life.


PART 56

Choices after genetic mutation finding affect fertility

The baby shower had a nautical theme. The navy-blue tables were outside the home near Grove Isle. Red roses in silver buckets had a small sign with a sailboat that read “It’s a Boy!” Some of the guests were friends I had spent time with at nightclubs and parties in Miami in years past. Some were pregnant. “I was nauseous and felt so sick at first,” one said. “My back hurts. I hope it’s a girl,” another said. A beautiful little girl dressed in white stole most of my attention. For a moment, it was all too much. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses and discreetly excused myself to the bathroom, where I sat on the floor and cried.


PART 57

Cancer doles out challenges for all

There are nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the United States and we all have challenges in common. On Sunday, I was having coffee with a friend who is being treated for cancer, and heard a voice behind me. “I’m a five-year breast cancer survivor,” the stranger said. That is long enough to be considered cured or in remission. . “I was listening to your conversation and at first I wondered if you were talking about your parents. You both look so young.” We introduced ourselves: My friend is a man in his 20s who anticipates completing treatment in September, and I am a woman in her 30s who is adjusting to life after breast cancer treatment


PART 58

Poking fun at cancer with ‘Real Housewives of Chemotherapy’ video

Michael Maryanoff dressed up as a drag queen to direct and act in a short video, “The Real Housewives of Chemotherapy.” He is not a cross-dresser, but — with his clip-on chandelier earrings and a matching turquoise necklace hanging over his hairy chest — he looked just like one. His blue maxi dress had a feminine curvy pattern in fuchsia that hugged his hairy legs. And he struggled to maintain his balance in glossy tangerine high-heels. “I kill wrinkles with Botox and I kill cancer with the energy of my mind,” he tells viewers as his on-air persona, Yesenia. Some cancer patients like Maryanoff are gifted in finding humor during difficult times.


PART 59

Thank you to those who’ve lifted me up

My brother’s friend flashed a smile when he saw me. I had not seen him in about three years and I felt butterflies in my stomach. He talked about his new life as the single dad of a 10-month-old boy. I did my best to summarize my ordeal after my Aug. 1, 2011, breast cancer diagnosis. “Wait, what? Cancer?” His eyes opened up like he had seen a ghost. “I didn’t know you had gone through all of that.” Despite my fears, I agreed to go out on a date with him and met his son. Fear can deny us sparkly moments. Cancer has taught me more about life than death this year. While cancer treatment is painful and scary, we agree to go through it because it means more time with our loved ones. And because life is a beautiful adventure.





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