Sunday, April 27, 2008

Post Surgery Goals

Hi All,

Happy Sunday!
It is a hot one here.
Partly cloudy and 93 degrees.
It has been 10 days since my surgery.

Prior to surgery I set 4 post surgery goals.
And I am happy to share that as of yesterday afternoon I achieved 3 of them.
Not bad at all.

Goal #1 was to attend our Wednesday guided imagery session at weSpark with Mike. We attended and both took the direction as set forth by the class facilitator. (More on Guided Imagery in a later post.)

Goal #2 was to attend my group session on Thursday evening at weSpark -- unfortunately I did not reach this goal but for good reason. We had the 3.5 hour welcome to Chemotherapy lesson (more on this later) in the morning in Burbank followed by a 3.5 hour genetic counseling appointment in the early afternoon at Cedars. By the time we got home I just wanted to have some down time with my family. So I am hopeful I will get to my session this Thursday.

Goal #3 was to attend the annual Burbank On Parade. It can not compare to the magnitude of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Rose Parade but it is special to all of us in the Zack household for many reasons. The parade happens to fall on the last weekend of April which is always close to Mike's birthday (4/28 for those playing along.) Sully likes the parade because he feels it is for his Daddy's birthday and "because you get to look at all the people in their outfits and it's just a really fun event." For Mike and I it reminds us of something simpler. It is a tradition for us similar to July 4th (we see the fireworks from up the street) or St. Patty's Day (we get Corned Beef and Cabbage at our local family restaurant the Tallyrand.) It is so homespun as you can see from the pics. The Grand Marshall this year was Anson Williams. That's right folks Potsie Weber was here in our 'hood -- cruising down Olive. A couple years back the Grand Marshall was the grizzled actor from the Black Angus commercials. The floats are classic cars or flat bed trucks with various Burbank officials waving to all of us -- we cheer our Mayor, and school board officials as they drive by and give big cheers for Ronald McDonald, Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse. Sully gets a kick out of all of the free stuff. He came home with some candy, and even got a mini ice cream cone from the Cowpie Dairy, some pin wheels and an American flag. It felt great to be able to attend the parade -- take the short walk up the street and watch as the marching bands went by. Since this years theme was the 1950's there were several Elvis' and lots of poodle skirts. I got a chuckle out of the advertisement for a local chiropractor that said "do you want a Pelvis like Elvis".

Goal #4 was to attend Sully's Tae Kwon Do Belt presentation. He received his green belt and is now officially intermediate. Since Grandma Miriam was still in town we gave her the honor of presenting the belt to Sully. The afternoon included a demo from the black belts which was very funny and very entertaining. The apple on the sword is still amazing to watch and everyone getting sprayed with bits of flying apple makes for a laugh.

An added bonus this past week is that Whiskers Rusty Disco Carmel Zack is finally home after his 6 week vacation at the animal hospital. He is ringworm free and loving being in the center of our living room. He is getting used to the Wii -- he was a little skittish at first but now seems to be rooting Sully on as he quickly becomes an expert at Wii Sports. He loves Romaine lettuce, cucumbers and carrots and gets very excited when we bring them to him.

It has been fun to visit with so many this week and to continually be showered with thoughts, prayers and assorted goodies.

For those that have taken the personal quest to fatten me up a little -- thank you. The goodies are all really yummy. And if anyone can tell me where the cancer sucketh T-shirt came from please let me know. It arrived yesterday with a meditation CD and dog tags -- all the way from Virginia and mighty cool -- but no note...

My love to you all.
Hope you are having a blessed day.

Ancora Imparo


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Be It Ever So Humble...

Hey All, Mike here...

First, I apologize for the delay in new postings. Needless to say, the days following Marla's surgery were filled with concern and worry... BUT, I'm happy to say that there's been a whole lot of healing going on too.

We'd like to thank the good folks at St. Josephs for taking such good care of Marla -- the doctors and nursing staff were professional, attentive and worked hard to make sure Marla was as comfortable as she could be after undergoing such an extensive procedure. There were a few complications (hemoglobin level dropped rather low warranting a late Friday night transfusion), and I almost knocked a little Jesus off the wall (oops!)

By Saturday (less than 48 hours after surgery), Marla's pain had gone from a 10 with an IV painkiller drip, to a 2 with only a few Tylenol. By Sunday, she was up and taking walks, eating regular food (well, hospital food -- apparently she really liked the oatmeal), and ready to come home.

And she did!

Since coming home, Marla has been healing nicely and draining (don't ask) as she should be. Her spirits are great and I am SO proud of her! And with Marla home, I'm happy to say that I got my first night's sleep in 23 days. What can I say? I sleep better knowing she's there...and past the surgery.

So, we've made it through the surgery. That part is done. We can now move forward with renewed and absolute certainty that Marla will recover to live, love and laugh for years and years and years (and years) to come! I said it in the last paragraph and I'll say it again. I am so proud of Marla. And I thank God she is home.

We also got some news from our Oncologist late yesterday afternoon... GOOD news. But, rather than listen to me go on and on, I am proud to re-introduce back to the blog, the one, the only... MARLA!!!! (take it away, sweetie!)

Thank you... thank you... I am truly honored and blessed to be here. I have a lot of people to thank. First to my amazingly loving brilliant inspiring husband (can you tell I am nuts about this guy?!) for being right by my side every step of the way as we continue to navigate this journey together. Our beautiful son who is handling this all so well and at the same time continuing to enjoy the magic of his childhood (a big thanks to Grandma Sherry for the Wii it could not have come at a more perfect time.) To Miriam (my MIL) and Joel (my BIL) who flew in from the east coast to be here to help us all. And a great big thanks to Ron (my Dad) who has been there for us with support and love every step of the way.

To my pre-surgery support team aka my very own ringside cheerleaders who kept Mike company so he didn't have to be alone during this very long day and showered us with their love before I went into surgery and who I surprisingly had time to visit with throughout the course of the day: Dad, Sherry, Karen, Miriam (MIL), Frani, Sam, Dick, Beck, Aaron, Mike, Cres, all four of my beautiful nieces, Uncle Bobby, Aunt Deb and the esteemed EFIII. I felt the love and light from all of you and still do. Karen for the exceptional piece of advice you gave me as I was being taken into surgery and the exceptional piece of advice you gave me when I was in recovery -- I remember them both and hold them in my heart.

I am trying to beat the play off music and know I am pushing my time limit...

To all of you who have sent your love and prayers I must tell you keep on sending them -- they are being felt and relished.

Who would have ever thought a skinny red headed Jewish kid from the OC would be blessed by a Balinese High Priestess! Certainly not me and I am truly truly touched.

So here is the good news.

1) The cancer is out of my body! (cue: polite applause)
2) They got a clean margin! (cue: bigger applause)
3) Out of the 14 lymph nodes they removed -- only 1 has evidence of cancer and the cancer in that 1 lymph node is teeeeeeeny tiny. (o.3mm) (cue: thunderous applause)

So what does this all mean:

While I am technically cancer free (cue: CHEERING!) -- I will need to have chemotherapy. The type and the dosage are currently being discussed. But later in the week Mike and I will go to chemo school so we will know all about it. Not joking about this it is actually what it is called.

It also means that I will be part of hormone therapy (we knew this because my cancer is ER/PR positive.) Again the specific type and length TBA.

Quite possibly I will need post chemotherapy radiation. Because even though the brilliant surgeon Dr. Quilici got all of the cancer out of me there was some cancer very close to the chest wall.

Additionally I may take part in a clinical trial.
So there is a lot more to come in this adventure.

That being said, the news received was fantastic.
Sure we would have liked to hear that out of the 14 nodes taken none had cancer but come on folks 1 out of 14 -- that is pretty frickin' awesome.

The hospital stay as Mike mentioned earlier in what has to be the longest single post in blog in history was pleasant and made truly special by the outpouring of love and support -- The visits: All the folks mentioned above who stayed through surgery to see me safe and somewhat awake in my hospital room and came back at various times during the next few days, Steve W. (who I remember at the foot of my bed Thursday evening post surgery), Nelly, My darling Sully boy, Joel (BIL), Nicole G., Joyce & Nicole P., Yulia, Joelle, Jackson, Dr. Gerard, Dr. Koopersmith, Dr. Mena, Dr. Berkowitz, Dr. McVay, Dr. Chen, Rabbi Jim -- thank you all.

To my sleepover buddies who made me feel secure and handled every single need no matter how big or small so that Mike could be home with Sully to give the little guy that sense of security and consistency that he needed. Beck who I was quite talkative with Thursday evening and who not only entertained me but had a sing-along with one of the nurses and Juls who I think I uttered 8 words to during the course of our sleepover Friday night. Not quite like the slumber parties of our past but ladies from the bottom of our hearts (Mike and I) thank you for being able to be there for both of us.

And again to my beloved husband.
A ray of sunshine as he entered my room each time -- always asking what could he do to make me comfortable and to help me. What a lucky lady I am to have found such a truly special soul.

It is great to be home and back in touch with all of you.
We will keep you posted as we continue to learn about what is ahead of us.
In the meantime thank you for the phone calls, emails, visits, trinkets and goodies.
And for continuing to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We are blessed to know you and you are making my healing that much easier.

Ancora Imparo
M & M

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Little Hole In The Bubble...

Hello everyone, Mike here.

It's 11:20pm. It was a long day. We felt your love and support and it is ALL appreciated.

Marla's surgery started late. And it ran late. She is resting now and I am home to take care of Sully boy.

I'm going to be brief -- I am emotionally very drained. But I wanted to share with those I have not yet been able to reach.

The news we received today was not the news we were hoping for. The sentinel lymph node test showed cancer hadn't been contained in the right breast, but was also in at least two of the lymph nodes. The surgeon went ahead and removed the axillary nodes and put in a porta-cath for chemo which will begin as soon as we get the path results and as soon as Marla is healed enough to begin.

I know... apparently the little bump in the road had a pretty bad pothole behind it that I certainly didn't see coming. As I've said before, this REALLY SUCKS. Scarily sucks.

Okay, but the good news -- and we need to hold on to it -- in theory, removing the breasts and the axillary nodes HAS removed the cancer from Marla's body. And, if any of it is elsewhere, then the chemo should take care of it.

Remind yourselves of this (and please constantly remind me because, honestly, I'm a little scared right now) -- breast cancer is highly curable. And although we don't have the pathology of what Marla's cancer is like, the results we have gotten show she is able to be treated not only with chemo, but with hormonal drugs as well. So, the prognosis is still good. It is VERY good.

So please, repeat after me... "Marla will be okay." Please say it ten, twenty, or even thirty more times. Rinse and repeat.

In my last blog I described the LOVE and BLESSINGS we're receiving as a giant bubble that has enveloped Marla and is helping her defeat the cancer. Perhaps just somehow, that F@^*ing cancer managed to sneak around our backs and poke a little hole in our brilliant bubble of love. But with your help, I know we can patch that tiny little hole in the bubble. The hole is tiny. Our love of and for Marla is BIG. We can do it. We will do it.

Marla's spirits are good. When I left, she was groggy (pain medication) but alert, and looking to get some rest. She confided in me that she knew the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes. She just "felt that it had." I looked at her, half joking (and half pissed because I believed it hadn't spread) and asked "Is there anything else you KNOW that you'd like to share with me?!" She looked at me and said "Yes. I know I'm going to beat this."

Tomorrow will be a better day. We are now healing -- and patching the hole.

My love and gratitude to you all.

Ancora Imparo.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Next Stop Surgery...

I had a lot of mixed emotions today. There was laughter, tears, sarcasm with a splash of cynicism, more tears and lots more laughter. While I am not nervous about the surgery (don't get me wrong I will be a little more than anxious in the morning) -- I started really thinking about what it must have been like for my mom when she was faced with similar decisions and had to make choices twenty four years ago and it saddened me that I don't know what she was thinking or feeling at the time and it was something that we never got the opportunity to talk about.

I know that the choices I am making with regard to my surgery are for the best possible outcome. The aggressiveness of my treatment plan (bilateral mastectomy vs. lumpectomy) is due to family history and due to my family. My amazing husband, Mike, who is the light of my life and right by my side rooting me on every step of the way and our beautifully magical son, Sully, who wants Mommy to be able to be at the park playing frisbee and MY WANT to be cancer free and able to attend and participate at all of the celebrations to come and to one day meet our grand babies and to one day be sitting with Mike in our retirement community in Palm Springs when we are in our 80's. I always liked shuffleboard and a nice swim.

Thank you all for the beautiful emails, cards, texts and phone calls. But above all for keeping all of us in your thoughts and prayers. I got the following today -- it really captured exactly how I feel so I thought I would share.

"I know it sounds funny, but you need to visualize this cancer and then see yourself kicking its ass out of town. I hope you can feel all the love that surrounds you!"

And to that I say I do. I absolutely do. I see the cancer getting kicked out tomorrow. Or thrown out. I see it clearly getting the message that it is not welcome in this body of mine and to get the heck out of dodge.

And with regard to the love and the prayers I can absolutely feel them. It is truly touching to be receiving so much from so many. I am so blessed and honored to have so many people thinking good thoughts for my recovery.

Tomorrow will be a great day.
I will check-in to the hospital at a nice respectable hour, breeze through the hospital admitting process and proceed to the matters at hand. Getting the cancer out of my body! I will awaken from surgery cancer free and with the knowledge that this surgery is behind me.

Wishing you all a peaceful night and a wonderful tomorrow.
Ancora Imparo

Bathed in Blessings...

Hi, Mike here.

Since tomorrow is surgery, I thought I'd add a little something to the blog before going to bed.

Going through something like this isn't much fun. In fact, it pretty much sucks on all levels. It's like a scary roller coaster ride with no operator -- you just keep going around and around and around until you feel as if that cheap hot dog you ate is about to come up.

Plain and simple, I'm a "fixer." I like to fix things. Fixing is something I'm good at. But here I am, the "Bob Villa" of our little home (please note that, unlike Bob Villa, I do my own work) watching the love of my life go through something that I can't "fix." And that really chaps my ass. (I know, Bob Villa would never say that...).

Breast Cancer sucks. It really, really sucks. It sucks for Marla. It sucks for me. It sucks for all of you because you care.

But... on the eve of surgery... WE ARE BATHED IN BLESSING. We are ALL bathed in blessing.

You people out there -- our friends, family, doctors -- you all bathe us in bright light, holy prayer, blessing and love. And we feel it. And we appreciate it. And we love you for it.

It's like a bubble of love that has surrounded us since we first found out about Marla's diagnosis. And it's a healing bubble. And we feel that too. And as the bubble grows (thanks to more and more of you sending even MORE love), it engulfs us all -- and grows even stronger. We feel it. We really do.

Tomorrow will be a hard day. But the day after will be better. And at the end of each day, we'll continue to count the blessings we have...and cherish the family and friends in our lives.

They say visualization is good. So here's what I see. I see Marla and I, in our 80's, in a retirement community in Palm Springs. We're gray. We're old. But we're laughing. And we're together. And my god... we're so happy.

My love to you all for sending your love to us. Thanks for bathing us in blessing.

Ancora Imparo.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hair Today...

Yesterday we Zacks had our usual 6 week outing and headed to our local haircut place to see our stylist Lida. Only this day was a little more special as it was the day I chose to cut my hair to make my ponytail donation for the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Campaign. Since making the decision to grow my hair out for the purpose of donating it back in late December I did my research and learned that unlike other organizations Pantene only requires 8 inches. And since surgery and a new chapter unfolds this week I thought there is no time like the present to take this step and make this adjustment.

With Mike and Sully by my side Lida gathered my hair into the prerequisite ponytail and began cutting. I have to say it was rather liberating. If I end up needing Chemo I am hopeful that the transition from short hair to no hair won't be as overwhelming.

With my new hairdo I have been told I look younger! Sully said I look like I am in my early 30's. Younger or not I begin this new week accepting and understanding that surgery will soon be here and with that I am getting closer to getting this cancer out of my body.

Ancora Imparo

If you would like to learn about Pantene and their hair donation program feel free to check them out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Validated, Blessed, Honored...

I went to my first group session last night at weSpark.

I didn't know what to expect. I just knew it was something I needed to do. Those in attendance all had breast cancer and as different as we all are -- so are the choices we have made for treatment (whether in the past, present or near future.)

As I left the session and headed on home I felt three things:

Validated, Blessed and Honored

Validated by the choices that I have made thus far with regard to my treatment (for those playing the home game Surgery is Thursday, 4/17.)

Blessed with the amazing support system both spiritually and medically.

Honored that my wonderful husband and my beautiful son are by my side -- that while I travel on this journey I am not facing it alone -- I have Mike in my corner to help me navigate through all of this and to support me in all of the decisions that lay ahead.

One of the ladies mentioned that she felt like her cancer was an uninvited house guest. Someone that had simply barged into her life and home unwelcome and most certainly unwanted. That comment made me think of something Casey had sent earlier in the week.


Ancora Imparo

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Testing 1, 2, 3...

Today was a big day!
Mike (bless his heart) got me to the hospital right on time for a day full of tests.

We started in radiology admitting with Lottie (she checked us in.) Thus beginning our tour of the various areas in the hospital. Lottie by the way is a fan of "Scrombled Eggs." You probably had to be there for that one. But it put a smile on our faces.

First up was the injection for the bone scan, followed by a CT Scan, a Chest X-Ray and then an Echo.

At some point in the waiting portion of our program we got the call that my Surgery has been scheduled for Thursday, 4/17 -- that was a great phone call to get.

We had time for a little lunch and then ran over to the surgeons office to pick up the order for surgery and then went back to the hospital for my Bone Scan.

All in all the tests were uneventful.
My doctors will have the results in the next few days.

It feels great to have these tests behind me and to know that we are on our way.
Surgery is in 9 days!

Ancora Imparo

Friday, April 4, 2008

Moving Forward...

I thought Moving Forward was an apt title for this posting. Today marked the 20 year anniversary since my Mom passed away from BC. (That's a pic of my mom and I from a college sorority weekend back in 1986.)

It is amazing to think it has been twenty years. So much has happened and while I feel older and wiser and have become a wife and mother myself -- part of me still feels the same. I had some quiet time this morning to reflect and light a yarzheit candle.

We are really making progress and I have to say it feels great. Today I met (via the phone) our case manager from the insurance company. She will be not only my liaison but all of the different billing coordinators liaison so this should avoid delays with needing approvals and authorizations and I won't have to deal with the automated voice prompts -- man those drive me crazy some times. I am happy to report that after giving her the names of my team of doctors she phoned back and reported that they are all in network. That was great news as I am really pleased with my team and know I am in great hands.

Next week we will get some answers and get this big ball in motion. Monday and Tuesday are big days. Monday I will go back to the surgeons office and solidify the procedures that I will be having. I am hopeful that at that time they will be able to give me the date for my surgery. Tuesday I will be spending most of the day at the hospital having several tests: CT Scan, Echo, Bone Scan and Chest XRay.

We have been so deeply moved by the tremendous wishes of support, prayer and love that are coming our way. The cookies, flowers, phone calls, emails, cards, "miracle" bubbles, flowers, more cookies, more flowers, more emails and more phone calls are all truly appreciated and most certainly welcome. Please know that we are all truly touched by the effort to keep us in your thoughts. Thanks to Michele Zug. for the hilarious Ohio News clip. The funny stuff really puts a smile on my face! In case you haven't seen it check it out.

So if you come across anything funny send it our way.

Ancora Imparo

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood...

Since this official journey began just shy of a week ago I have met some truly special people thus far who I know will enhance this experience through their wisdom, compassion, humor and guidance.

Sharon is amazing and not just because she gave me the groovy
"I have Breast Cancer" tote bag.
I am not kidding.
It is a great tote bag.
One of the many things she does is to assist those that have been recently diagnosed and help them get focused on the tasks at hand.
Who knew my production background would come in so handy!
She is insightful, hilarious and a joy to work with.
I say "work" because curing this cancer is my new career.
And Sharon is a great co-worker!

Bebe will be there to help "Glam" me up a bit and give me tips about
Wigs, Make-up and Accessories and fit me for the appropriate undergarments one wears after surgery. While we haven't met in person yet she was an absolute hoot on the phone.

Today I went to The weSpark Cancer Support Center.
I dropped off Sully at school and decided to check it out.
It was early and I just walked in.
It was peaceful and welcoming.
I met several people.
And out of respect for the confidentiality I will not state their names.
But as mentioned when I started this post they will enhance this experience greatly.
I had my intake interview and passed... I think it is a formality but isn't it funny the sense of validation we get when we pass something?!
(Just something to ponder.)
This means that I can take advantage of all of the wonderful programs they offer and I plan to do just that.

Sully seems to be handling things well.
Like Mike and I, he is anxious for me to start treatments or as he said yesterday morning "Take my medicine."
I understand the delay -- I don't necessarily like it but I do understand that the right treatment and to be on the right path takes time.
And while it may seem like a long time this is only the 5th business days since diagnosis.
I am happy to report that the phone just rang and (2) of the (3) remaining screening tests have just been approved by insurance so those can now be scheduled. Yippee!

Ancora Imparo