My 10th Cancerversary and Graduation

Today is my 10th cancerversary of appendix cancer diagnosis back on February 5, 2010. Unbelievable. I remember when I didn’t think I would be around to see my daughters finish elementary school and enter middle school. Not only did I get to see those milestones but now one is in college and the other a sophomore in high school. My husband has been forever supportive and my extended family and friends have been with me all along. Thank you to all for your love and friendship!

Additionally, I have graduated from MD Anderson cancer check-ups! I always hold my breath before these visits but the tests indicated that I still have no evidence of disease.  After almost 10 years of cancer scanning appointments, I am now released into the wild!

I asked my artist friend, Maria Vittoria Sesta, to create a piece of artwork that expressed my emotions and have given it as a gift to my doctor.

Dancing out of the dark and into the light.
Artwork by Maria Vittoria Sesta

I feel so blessed and grateful for another year!

9th Cancerversary

I can’t believe it’s been 9 years ago today, Feb 5th, that I first saw a 6.5 cm tumor on the CT scan and began my journey with appendix cancer. It took lots of chemo, multiple surgeries, and intense support from family and friends to help me get through that ordeal. Here I am, 9 years later, with no evidence of disease.

Some of my friends struggled with the same rare appendix cancer. Ellen and Zanetta, in particular.  I will always remember their laugh, their sense of humor, their optimism. Sometimes, when I feel that life is a bit overwhelming, when I’m worried about my kids, and about the future, I ask myself what advice they would give.

I imagine they would look me in the eye and remind me to:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Love your family.
  • Be a good friend.
  • Be kind.
  • Smile often.
  • Let challenges inspire you to do better.
  • Remember, you make an impact with every little thing you do.
  • Go for it right now because the future isn’t promised!

Another year, another opportunity to get on with living.


Appendix cancer: genetic mutation testing

Back in 2010 when I was researching treatments for appendiceal adenocarninoma, I learned that appendix cancer is often treated with colon cancer chemotherapy even though appendix cancer is thought to be genetically distinct from colon cancer. There still aren’t any appendix cancer-specific drugs but some patients do respond to the standard colon cancer drugs.  To understand why, scientists are doing research into the genetic differences between the two types of cancer and have found that there are distinct genetic mutations between appendix cancer genes and colon cancer genes.

Continue reading

Your life is your story.

It’s November 30, my “new birthday” once again.

Seven years ago, I had surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center to remove a second appendiceal adenocarcinoma tumor after two prior surgeries, six months of pre-surgery chemo, three more months of post-surgery chemo (just in case) and a whole bunch of support from family and friends.  My doctors removed a completely dead tumor even though the odds were not in my favor.

So today I will celebrate and revel on my “new birthday” again by: Continue reading

Cancer is a Real Pain: Neuropathy

It’s another hot August morning in Austin. I’m waking up, sitting in my favorite chair with my dog, sipping my coffee with my feet up. And my feet hurt. Six years after chemo, I still have some pain in the balls of my feet and toes, and today’s pain is more intense.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m absolutely joyous to be alive!  Neuropathy is just one of those nagging, ongoing side effects that you get used to.

What is neuropathy? And why does chemo trigger it?

Certain types of chemo, like ones that include platinum-based drugs and others, tend to damage the nerve endings in the extremities, mainly hands and feet, resulting in peripheral neuropathy. Continue reading

The Real Questions

Yesterday, November 30th 2016, was my SIXTH anniversary with NED (no evidence of disease) after my journey with Stage 4 nonmucinous appendiceal adenocarcinoma.

I will never know why I had cancer. Or why I am well and still here. Instead of searching for answers to those questions, I would rather address the real questions that matter, like these that I came across recently.

  • Did I offer peace today?
  • Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?
  • Did I say words of healing?
  • Did I let go of my anger and resentment?
  • Did I forgive?
  • Did I love?

I try my best to answer ‘yes’ to as many of these as I can every day but I’m only human and I always fall short! Crazy as it sounds, it’s not always easy to carry the weight of being well, of being given more time after staring down my possible death before I was ready. So how do I live my life now?

I’m trying to make choices each day to pay it forward, be present, listen and participate.  One of the ways I try to to do these things is by being there for my small “tribe” of fellow appendix cancer survivors.  I’m also grateful for the opportunity to help other cancer survivors by participating on the MD Anderson Patient and Family Advisory Council. As part of this group, I’m able to give my input on ways to improve patient care at MDA.

My doctors (my heroes) don’t know why I had a complete response to chemo and surgeries. There are only 50 -100 people diagnosed in the U.S. each year with my particular flavor of appendix cancer. Meaningful data is difficult to glean from such a small group. So I may never know the answers to the why and how of my cancer. For now, that’s OK with me.  I’ll stick to living my life as best as I can by trying to answer the real questions.

Celebrating the Little Things

When I started my cancer journey, I had heard of the phrase “cancer survivor” but I didn’t think the term applied to me at the time since I was going through treatment. I thought the clock started when you were cancer-free.

But I soon learned three things. First, that the term “cancer-free” is being replaced with “no evidence of disease” (NED). Second, that the survivorship clock starts when an individual is first diagnosed, not at NED. Third, that cancer survivorship continues on past treatment. I will always be a cancer survivor.

The National Cancer Institue defines a cancer survivor this way:

“An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included in this definition.”

MD Anderson refers to the different stages of cancer survivorship as living with cancer, through cancer, and beyond cancer.

A cancer survivor that is past the treatment phase and has NED, may still have lingering physical effects of treatment such as fatigue or memory issues from treatment among other things.  Post-treatment emotional effects may include fear of recurrence, anxiety or a sense of gratitude to be alive.  These emotions can cycle through again and again.

My long-term physical effects are neuropathy in my hands and feet (a constant feeling of numbness, tingling and pain) which requires me to be selective in my choice of shoes (flat, cushioned and with good arch support).  If feet and hands are my only issue, these long-term physical effects are mild!

I cycle through some of the long-term emotional effects such as fear of recurrence on occasion but, mostly, I am extremely grateful to be here on the planet!  Whether you are a cancer survivor or not, each day is a gift as we are not promised tomorrow. All the more reason to celebrate the little things in life!

Thanks to all my friends, including my care team at MD Anderson, who supported me during treatment and beyond. You will never know what a difference you have made in my life.  I am so grateful for each of you!

Here is my blog post on this topic featured on MD Anderson’s Cancerwise blog:

After appendix cancer, celebrating the little things
June 14, 2016