Moving Right Along

Eighty degrees, bright sunshine, breakfast on the patio. Just another hot summer day in southern Arizona. James and I are off to Tucson to visit the pool and spa experts. Construction has begun on the new Casa Asbell. For the first time in quite a while I have little to say about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer issues. I expect to continue posting here now and again, but plan to spend more time blogging about new chapters in my world.

For those who would like to join me I can be found at Lee Asbell in Quail Creek http://www.leeasbellqc.wordpress.com.

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Willcox, AZ wine country. A brave new world for this enophile. Big hat, sunglasses, SPF 30 required.

 

 

Goodbyes and Hellos

Sort, pack, sell, get stressed out, drink too much wine, rinse and repeat. That sums up my recent routine. In less than two weeks we will be out of our Pacific Northwest home of fourteen years and off to the Sonoran desert south of Tucson. Moving cross country is a big, fat, hairy deal thank you very much.

Last year at precisely this time I was about to have major surgery yet again. I would never have believed we would be about to embark on this new chapter. Such is life. Filled with surprises, good and bad.

One day in early 1999 when the concrete in the garage had just been poured, my then fiancée carved a small gift for me. I saw it again yesterday as I cleaned up after the whirlwind of a garage sale. My last name was not yet his, but I got a kick out of seeing our initials this way.

At this very moment we are enjoying a wicked good St. Angel triple cream Brie and one of the finest Chardonnays on the planet earth, Marcassin. The peak of gorgeous summer weather has arrived. I feel lucky even if all my stuff is stuck in a box for six months and the cats are crazy.

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Downsizing. Ups and Downs.

Four weeks ago our home of fourteen years went on the market. Each day I vacuum, polish, scrub and Swiffer every inch of the 3,040 SF “fantastic single-level custom home” my realtor assures will sell at any moment. Until then I am a maid in a fancy hotel who readies the presidential suite and waits. Flowers and fresh fruit are all that remain visible on sparkling kitchen counters. Coffee maker, tea kettle or anything useful? Banished to the pantry. Odiferous bacon, heady garlic, oven-dirtying roasted chicken? Not on the menu. I lurk in the hallway each time the cats enter the laundry room. Every sign of their existence must be eliminated. If the house does not sell soon I will have to enter a rehab program for those obsessed with cleaning perfection.

My simultaneous mission is to sell off half our household without wrecking its ambience. My latest coup? The sale of a fabulous formal dining room set via eBay. Purchased in Hong Kong in 1986, this huge table is made from solid rosewood and is elaborately carved with wine grapes. A beautiful, expensive and unique Asian beauty. Hardly a garage sale item. Somehow I am not surprised this well-traveled table is about to head 3,000 miles across the country to its new home in Long Island, NY. The buyer was willing to pay as much for shipping as the table itself.

Many glasses have been raised over the years around that Hong Kong table. Fabulous meals consumed. Parties, birthdays and holidays celebrated. Memories, good and bad. Five years ago a gravely ill friend with a brain tumor destroyed one of the table’s custom handmade chair cushions in a New Year’s dinner party I would very much like to forget.

Downsizing means letting go and moving on. Along with the dining room table I bid farewell to an antique mahjong table, barstools, bookcases, artwork and more. My “mother of all garage sales” is coming as soon as the house sells. Putting a price on one’s treasures and bargaining with neighbors and strangers is liberating and difficult all at the same time.

Yesterday also marked my final visit to the medical tattoo artist who pronounced her handiwork on my reconstructed breasts complete. My downsized boobs and belly continue to settle and heal. A different sort of letting go of the past and moving forward.

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So long to an old friend.

 

 

 

Saguaro Cacti and Valentine’s Day Gifts

Random thoughts in no particular order:

A few days in Tucson has Mr. A. and me ready to pack our stuff and move there. The Sonoran desert is calling my name.

On Valentine’s Day with my sweetheart on the road, the highlight of the day will be showing my Frankenboobs to yet another stranger. A medical tattoo artist.

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Green Valley, AZ on a fine winter’s day.

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Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain. Only the hamburgers and the view were affordable!

BRCA Surgeries: 1 Year Later

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In two days time it will be one year since my initial mastectomy/reconstruction surgery. What a year. And the adventure continues. A visit to the plastic surgeon is on the calendar in a few days to check the new nips and give me (hopefully) the go-ahead to schedule tattooing. Not everyone chooses nipple reconstruction or the tattoos that make the nips look flesh colored. I cannot say I am looking forward to the needle treatment but being really, truly all done will be marvelous.

In the mean time, it is tax season and around here that coincides with retirement planning. It is very nice to worry more about 401k stuff than boobs.

Allyn Rose: Mutant enters Miss America Pageant

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Allyn Rose
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Hollywood Gossip

Miss America contestant Allyn Rose, a 24-year old college graduate with movie star looks is so much more than another pretty face. Although she did not make the cut to be a Miss America pageant finalist, her DNA made news around the world. Morning talk shows and tabloids gobbled up her story, eager to label her health dilemma and decisions as controversial. Strong opinions, even hate mail, have followed Ms. Rose in the weeks since she announced her intention to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.

Welcome, Allyn Rose, to the path that anyone with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation knows so well. Our mutations are more famous than your very rare Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome but hey, I am certain those with Cowden’s, Li-Fraumeni, Peutz-Jegher or the host of other known hereditary genetic defects that predispose one to breast cancer will welcome you into the mutant fold. We need you in a big way.

Why do those in the hereditary cancer community need Allyn Rose? It’s simple. There is work to be done to educate people everywhere about the risks and choices involved in familial cancer. Allyn Rose has stepped up to the plate and said to the world she wants to make preventative health care her mission. I applaud her efforts on behalf of those everywhere grappling with the same difficult decisions her family faces.

Thank you Allyn Rose. I am certain your Mom, who died from breast cancer at age 50, and the many generations of women in your family who suffered the same fate, would be so very proud of you.

Hereditary Cancer Research

Back in the dark ages some fourteen years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the oncologist had to rattle the cage of the pathologist to get the results of a test that is now considered routine. The test was for a proto-oncogene called Her2-neu. My tumor was positive for over-expressing this protein.

This was not good news. It meant my cancer was even more dangerous.

In 1998 a drug called Herceptin was in clinical trials to determine if the drug could improve outcomes in people that had this tumor type. Researchers also knew that positive Her2-neu status was another one of those pieces of the puzzle that often seemed to be present in women like me who developed breast cancer at a young age. At the time I received chemo, Herceptin was only available to those with metastatic disease. I had Stage IIB breast cancer and did not meet the criteria.

Not long after I finished chemo, Herceptin proved to be highly effective against Her2-neu positive tumors and became more widely available. This is the way drug research works. It is a long, expensive difficult road that is littered with failure.

Of couse 1998 was not really the dark ages. The point is, things change fast in cancer research and treatment. The two are inseparably linked. Back in 1998 I also did not know I carried a defective BRCA1 gene. Insurance considered the genetic testing “experimental” and would not pay the $3500 tab.

Herceptin and many drugs like it come to market only with the combined efforts of many groups, including patients. For BRCA-positive people, the PARP inhibitors show promise, but may never reach the finish line. Why? There are not enough women who qualify enrolled in clinical trials.

Do you know anyone with advanced breast cancer who is BRCA positive? There is a large Phase II clinical trial for PARP inhibitors going on. Participating could mean a breakthrough for those with hereditary BRCA cancers, as well as the wider cancer community. Of course there are no guarantees. This is how science works.

For more information please read this important blog post from Sue Friedman, the founder of FORCE.

http://facingourrisk.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/clinical-trials-for-hereditary-cancer-where-the-rubber-meets-the-road/