Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Luck of the Draw

I moved to Michigan from California about six years ago. I worked in the television industry and left a pretty good career to be with my then boyfriend, now fiance, who was in an accident and moved back with his parents to recouperate. I stayed in CA for a year, working on a couple of shows that didn't last and decided that, since the television industry isn't very stable, that I wanted to move to Michigan to be with my boyfriend Doug. I thought, after I moved here in the middle of one long winter, that it would be a decision I would later regret, but looking back I was pretty lucky.

Lucky, you are thinking, you moved away from a lucrative career in television to move to a small town in Michigan, that most people have never heard of, much less pronounce, then you got cancer, how the hell is that lucky? Well let me tell you why I think I am lucky.
First of all I believe that I recieved the best care possible. The planets truly aligned for me healthwise when I moved here. I started working out more at a gym and got a trainer Scott Conti. Scott is one of the people I think is responsible for helping save my life, although he will disagree with me. I work out like a fiend, to get ready for hockey season, mostly my legs but one particular day I wanted to focus on my arms, to get them toned. We did a good workout then a couple of days later I noticed a lump in my breast, it may have been a coincidence, but I don't think so. Secondly Scott recommended my primary care physician, I didn't have a doc since I moved here and I was going to go to one to get the yearly womans exam before I found the lump. I called my new Dr., Dr. Swenor, and scheduled an appointment. While all this was going on I was in the process of getting individual health insurance. They had turned me down because I had vision insurance through their company, and I had to tell them, no its vision, its not major health insurance. They looked into it and 2 days before I saw and met the doctor my insurance card came in the mail. Could this be luck or divine intervention? I say a little bit of both. So here I am at the Dr. Swenor's office, not really thinking I have cancer, I never really thought it would be that, meeting her for the first time and we exchange pleasantries and I show her my lump. I was scheduled for a biopsy the same day. The results would come a few days later. I called her office and the nurse answered the phone, no results yet. Ok I thought, I was on my way from one job to another and 2 minutes later my doctor called and asked how soon could I get there to discuss the results. Fuck, I thought, it's cancer. I know I have written about this part many many times but it is such an important part of being a patient, knowing that the doc never calls you into the office to see how you are doing, just to give you the bad news. I remember walking into the office, but not actually the drive there, I guess I was on mental cruise control. After a few minutes of her wanting me to call my boyfriend I asked her to just tell me, although I am pretty sure I cursed at her doing so and she said "it's cancer." If you have been reading my blogs up til now you know the rest of this part of the story.
At this point I had to tell my employer, at the time I was a server at a major ski/golf resort in the area, I was scared to tell them, not that they would fire me, but holy fuck!!!! I was just diagnosed with cancer and telling the story over and over again can be completely overwhelming in the beginning, especially to your employer, you never want to cry at work, and I didn't want to cry in front of her. I told her the story and my doc wrote a note getting me out of work, the biopsy made it entirely too painful to lift any trays or even help clear tables as a hostess, (yes I am right handed and the lump was in my right breast.)
I can't recall if I met with oncology or the surgeon first, but I liked both of my doctors from the start. Dr. Smith, my oncologist was a no nonsense older doctor, whose son plays hockey. Sweet, something I can relate to him with. I love sports, so anytime I can talk sports with someone, especially hockey I am totally in my element.
The three of us, Doug, Dr. Smith and I discussed the course of action to be taken. Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Herceptin. It would last a year. Ok, my main thought going through my head, not that I had cancer, which was caught pretty early, was that I couldn't play hockey for 2 years, one track minded weekend warrior athlete in me. It was standard protocol that I was to be put on Surgery, 4 rounds of adriamycin/cytoxan, 12 rounds of taxol with herceptin concurrently then herceptin for the rest of the year (52 rounds in all of herceptin, but they do it every three weeks after you are done with taxol, so you don't go completely nuts going to the hospital every single week.) 16 rounds of radiation, then done. Overwhelming to say the least.
When I met my surgeon I knew I would like him from the start, even though he is an Ohio State fan. Too much free time for me is a dangerous thing as I looked him up on the internet and saw his qualifications and read up on him. We discussed mastectomy or lumpectomy, I chose lumpectomy, because the lump was high enough that most of the breast could be saved and if no lymphnodes were involved we wouldn't have to worry about cutting it off, which would be hard to handle, just finding out you have cancer is hard, then them telling you you have to have something completely cut off from you? I am glad I didn't have to go through that. I told him I was a University of Michigan fan and we were joking about sports, at which point my boyfriend pipes up I don't care anything about sports, probably thinking my love for the maize and blue would taint the doc's professionalism in the operating room when he is cutting me open? I really don't think he thought that, but he was just as freaked out as I was.
So are you still wondering how I am lucky? Well let me tell you. If I was still living in California I probably wouldn't be able to work, tv production hours are long 12 hour days mostly and my fatigue level was pretty high. I don't think I would get to know the doctors that I have as well as I do if I was being treated out in CA, now I am not saying it isn't possible, but this is my journey and my opinion. I see my docs, and nurses around town and we talk, I don't think that would happen if I still lived in the san fernando valley.
If you had told me I would be on the radio championing causes and being a producer/co-host a few years ago I would have told you you were crazy. I would have never thought I would be on the radio, being able to speak about my causes, relay for life, and pretty much other cancer related events that go on in the area, whether it is a spaghetti dinner for someone needed help with medical bills or just relaying information on an upcoming event in the area like Bike 4 Breast Cancer or Tri 4 fun. I never thought that I would be one to be on the radio, I hate the sound of my own voice, I never really liked talking in front of people, although I am overcoming my fear of public speaking. I wouldn't have found my voice, on the radio and in this blog.
Most importantly cancer has given me something that most people don't get, a second chance, at many things. I don't take people or things for granted anymore. Looking back I think I was so consumed by my career in television that I took Doug for granted. Little things don't bother me as much anymore, when you are faced with adversity like I have been you have to laugh, like when your car has a fight with a carport an loses, yes that was my fault and $200.00 later I am still laughing about it, and yes its expensive, but in the grand scheme of things, so what?
I am truly grateful and truly lucky for all the Doctors, Nurses and Medical personel that have come into my life. Everyone I have met has made a positive contribution to my medical care, even if it was just a smile or a hello on a day that was difficult to get through.
So yes I am lucky to be living where I am living, having the doctors, friends and jobs that I have and the life that I have.
My friend is going to Vegas in a couple of days, a place where, when I lived in California I would go to twice a year. Maybe I should have her put a couple of quarters in a slot machine for me.
Listen to me on The Vic McCarty Show weekdays 10am-noon on, & read my blog posts on


  1. Mel, how do you get over perennial side effects like the pain of the radiated scar or infertility or any deformity due to surgery or anything else that one may suffer as a collateral damage from the treatments?

  2. Well there is the cream that they give you to put on the radiated area, in my case that went away over time. I really never wanted kids, so infertility was not really an issue for me and deformity? Well I do have a scar, but I am alive and kicking. At first the scar really bothered me, but now I barely even notice it. There are good plastic surgeons out there and I always find it good to talk about things. I have a therapist I see once a week. If there is no one in your area then the american cancer society and the wellness are good resources to go to for survivors who may be going through the exact same thing that you are going through. I hope that helps.