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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The Angelina Effect: A Few More Thoughts

Only a short time after Angelina Jolie’s bombshell op-ed in the New York Times appeared, she lost her aunt to breast cancer at age 61. Her mother died from ovarian cancer at age 57. All three women in Angelina Jolie’s family have a defective BRCA1 gene, just like three of the women in my family. We know her pain.

In the comments, interviews and editorials since Ms. Jolie announced her choice to undergo what my docs simply call “the BRCA surgeries” there have been many who do not agree that lopping off healthy body parts to reduce cancer risk is a good thing. Of course it isn’t. It is an unfortunate reality that preventative surgery is the best of the limited weapons at the disposal of high risk patients. What really sucks is that all the choices are awful.

As I approach the fifteen year mark as a breast cancer survivor, I am profoundly grateful just to be here to complain about these issues. My relative with ovarian cancer has put up one hell of a fight for the last five years. I doubt she has five more. Many of the experts I have heard in the Angelina uproar say that those BRCA positive patients who witness close relatives suffer with cancer are more likely to choose prophylactic measures. No shit. Cancer is brutal and very, very ugly. No one likes to talk about that. Think losing your breasts is bad? Try the monster that is Stage IV breast cancer or advanced ovarian cancer on for size.

That is all for today’s rant.

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My Dad as a young man. He died of leukemia in 2004.

The Angie Gene

Talk about a PR windfall. Angelina Jolie, mega-movie star, humanitarian, celebrity mom and fiancée of an equally famous man has suddenly become the face of the BRCA gene world. And what a gorgeous face it is.

This is very good news. Of course it is pretty crappy news for Ms. Jolie and her family. The same crappy news women all over the world deal with each day. Difficult decisions, uncertainty and major life upheaval come with the knowledge of what it means to have this genetic disorder. I am sorry for Angie, but very glad she chose to share her story and I thank her for doing so in such a public way.

The airwaves are filled with Angelina and people everywhere are discussing her family history, cancer risk, choices and treatments. For all those people I have heard criticize or stand in judgement I would politely like to remind you that she did not have to say one word about this to anyone, ever. It could have remained private. Instead, she chose to tell the world her story.

Thank you Angelina Jolie for speaking out. It matters to women like me who face the thorny array of problems that come with being a BRCA mutant. It matters even more to all those who did not even have a clue this genetic order existed until you spoke up. Your candor will save lives.

The Angie gene. I have it too. And I will keep telling my story just as often as anyone will listen. I hope Angelina Jolie will do the same.

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.

 

 

 

Nipple Tats and Old Cats

The icing on the cake is how my plastic surgeon described it. Nipple/areola tattooing, that is. As I drove to the medical tattoo artist’s office, it did not feel at all like a moment of celebration or even an opportunity to mark the end of a tumultuous chapter. It has been 14 months since my initial bilateral mastectomy/reconstruction. Today was just another dang medical procedure that I have not been looking forward to one bit. The tattoo artist, one more stranger who wanted to mess with my mangled personal anatomy.

What a pissy attitude, I told myself. Be glad you have decent health insurance and are alive and cancer free. Put a sock in it and go finish what you started, I thought as I waited.

So, I did just that.

No offense to those who love their ink, but I really do not like tattoos. Garish tats and piercings other than normal pierced ears (not those barbaric plugs) make me want to look away. I find them disfiguring. As someone who has been carved up from stem to stern, I have a strong appreciation for Mother Nature’s work and think people should not mess with it too much. Merely my humble opinion.

What I was really thinking about while the tattoo artist’s needle buzzed in my ear was my old geezer cat, Count Catula. We had yet another vet trip this morning. For the last day or so he’s been clawing at his mouth. Sunday night he scarfed down his dinner but puked it right back up a minute later. Not at all the typical kind of barfing he does on a regular basis. His weight continues to decline and his once silky champagne colored fur is drab and clumpy. He will no longer tolerate me combing his scrawny body. So be it.

I let the tattoo artist work her magic, feeling oddly disinterested in making important decisions like size, shape and color. In passing, I asked her if she could fix something that has bugged me for nearly fifteen years. A reminder that I had extensive radiation treatment for breast cancer even though I no longer have those breasts. Four permanent marks that radiation therapists made on my skin to line up the machine that zapped the cancer. Only in my case, three of those marks disappeared in my surgical adventures and all I was left with was the biggest, ugliest most prominent blob of bluish ink that anyone could see if they looked.

When she was done I had to admit that despite the skin being all raw and angry, I could see a more normal looking appearance. That is what medical tattooing is all about. The removal of that annoying radiation tattoo was a bonus.

It will be a week or so before the top layer of skin sloughs off and I can really see what these new nips look like. I’m in no hurry.

Count Catula is sleeping soundly in my chair in the family room where he’s been for nearly six hours. I am in no hurry for the vet to call with test results.

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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.