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Archive for the ‘chemo’ Category

Well … What Do They Say About Two Out of Three?

Okay … I know that more than a few days have passed since I promised this post. But I’m here now with my heart in my hands and my thoughts well organized (I hope). During the last ten months (just counted them and absolutely cannot believe it’s been that long), I’ve had to defer or cancel a lot of plans and commitments that were important to me. And I’ve always found myself apologizing, which seemed to make me feel even worse. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I love my blog and those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, as well as those of you who’ve stumbled upon the site and subsequently found some level of interest in what’s going on around here as time unfolded. And I think it’s enough for you to know that not a day goes by without my thinking about all of you and this blog. Hopefully, the writing will begin flowing again with some regularity. There won’t be any schedule that I’m holding myself to, though–at least not for awhile. I’m just grateful to be here in this moment, focusing on this post.

So, you ask, what the heck has been going on? Well, the cancer is what’s been going … and on, and on, and on … like a bug you keep squashing but, when you lift your shoe, the damn thing is still moving. And one more annoyance that’s been taking up space is a rather intense case of the blues–something that’s very uncharacteristic for me.

In a few earlier posts, I’ve explained that I worked very hard for the first two years of this blog to keep everything on this site closely tied to the original mission: tracking the “journey from publishing obscurity to somewhere else.” Whatever was going on in my life outside of the writing and publishing elements was not germaine. Yet, at some point last year, the lines between the blog’s mission and the rest of my life had become so blurred–and “the rest of my life” had so impacted my writing and publishing plans–that I finally caved in and began sharing some of the details. Now I believe that a more thorough update is in order, first because of my extended silence, and second because a key component of this blog’s mission has always been to offer information that would be helpful to others. Hopefully, the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and that are now emerging in this post will hold at least a small amount of value for someone reached in the Web-o-sphere after I press “Publish.”

This new post–“Mortality, Cancer, and the Inevitability of a Writer’s Words”–encompasses three vast subjects that have been consuming an inordinate amount of my thinking. All three are now inextricably entwined for me–a writer who’s been a long-time purveyor of odd thoughts, fun fiction, characters, and conundrums. And after more than fifty years of putting words together, no obstacle or impossible set of odds has ever been able to make me stop my writing. Not until recently. Not until the very real possibility began encircling me that, within a relatively short span, I might not be here anymore to capture and massage the imagery and plots coming out of my head. Frankly, I think the fear I was generating for myself began to paralyze me.

This cancer problem actually began twenty-five years ago when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That “issue” was found super early and, although the progression did get a little dicey in the late 1990’s, great health care and a new drug managed to put the beast back in the box. Now (and I’m knocking on wood all over the place), the lymphoma has been in remission and not making a pest of itself for more than ten years. This current situation, however, began very recently, in the spring of 2010. We started with breast cancer (immediately labeled as my second primary cancer since there was no connection to the lymphoma). Again, the little demon was found very early in a routine mammogram. I proceeded with an extremely proactive plan of action that included a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. While the process was painful, scary, and unbelievably inconvenient as I was trying to bring my second novel into the world, I felt very fortunate. Then, over the next year, things became wildly bizarre in short order. In another routine checkup in late fall of 2010, before my breast reconstruction was even finished, a third primary cancer was found in yet a different part of me. (The statement, “You have to be kidding me!” is the most vanilla printable version of what I said to that particular doctor.) Cancer number three was also an early discovery, which we ended up treating with radiation. And then, in a follow-up exam for the third cancer about six months later … yup, you guessed it … a fourth primary was found. (If I can’t print what I said upon hearing of the third one, imagine the degradation of my words upon hearing of the fourth!) I had become a walking, talking petri dish. And that fourth cancer was the first one to be aggressive. We’ve been dealing with the bad boy ever since.

After a gigantic six-hour surgery in September 2011, I began eighteen weeks of chemo in October (the day before my birthday). In December, mid-way through the treatment, a CT scan was done and showed a new lymph node that was bigger than it was supposed to be. But we kept on going with the treatment anyway, and I completed the six three-week rounds of chemo in early February. The requisite end-of-treatment CT scan was performed shortly thereafter, and the “new lymph node” was a little bigger than in December. So they did a biopsy, which showed that the node was actually the cancer I’d just undergone four and a half months of chemo to eradicate. Seriously? I felt as if the cancer growing during chemo was tantamount to flipping me the finger. Ugh! And now what, by the way?

My team of doctors took my case to the “tumor board” (at Sloan-Kettering in New York where I’m being “handled”), and the fabulous surgeon who did such a phenomenal job with my September surgery said he wanted to operate to take out the lymph node. After an appointment with a great radiation oncologist, they agreed that they also wanted to do interoperative radiation, where they would actually give me radiation in the operating room. (Amazing stuff!) I thought their plan sounded like a terrific idea! But first … my surgeon wanted to do an MRI to get a clear picture of where the node was in relation to blood vessels, etc. Okay. And then … uh oh. The MRI showed two more lymph nodes. Excuse me??

That news came on a Wednesday. The surgery/radiation combo immediately came off the table, and I was back in chemo, with a different drug, the following Monday. The protocol this time has been three full chemo days in a row followed by a fourth trip into the city on Thursday of chemo week for a shot (called Neulasta) that keeps my white blood cells from bottoming out. After a total of three weeks, the cycle repeats. Unfortunately, the combination of all the drugs plus the shot was totally flattening me with lots of pain and a low grade fever that would not let up. That dismal situation went on for the first three rounds–a total of nine weeks. And that was the period of time when a deep-seated case of the blues took over with gusto.

Fighting cancer has been part of my life for twenty-five years. But, with the exception of intermittent surgeries and/or treatments, I’ve always been able to continue living my life while I was fighting. Bringing out my second novel, for example, was a top priority that was methodically woven into all the breast cancer surgeries. This time, however, I was unable to do anything. And when the body isn’t able to do anything, the mind goes into overdrive, especially when a tough cancer is part of the mix. Then suddenly the critical ability to fight begins to feel compromised. And that’s when things can really get scary. So I was determined to find a way to get up and moving again.

At the start of the fourth round (three weeks ago), I had a long conversation with my oncologist and a doctor who works with her about all of the difficulties I’d been having. To make a long story short (too late for this post, I know … 🙂 …), they came up with a plan that involved my taking something as simple as ibuprofen (a drug I’d been told not to take previously) beginning the morning of day four, following the three days of chemo but prior to receiving the big shot. The ibuprofen was supposed to continue every 5-6 hours through day eight. Well, I’m here to tell you that, after adhering to those instructions, I’ve had only a couple of small problems that were easily remedied. I’ve been up and around since that first weekend, slowly regaining my strength. And now, three weeks later, I’m almost back to normal in terms of my schedule. I still get tired by early evening, which is normal with chemo. But otherwise, my life is getting back on track.

Additionally, the CT scan performed four weeks ago showed that the cancer is stabilizing. Nothing new showed up this time, thank God! And now the plan is to do another CT after round six (in August). If that still shows the situation to be stable, they will put the surgery/radiation combo back on the table. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be feeling more like my old self. And imagine my (and my family’s) surprise that such a huge difference could be made by something as ordinary as ibuprofen. (Apparently, there are recent studies that show the benefits of administering the Neulasta shot in conjunction with ibuprofen. Wish I’d known about that before I spent the better part of nine weeks being such a mess!) One other piece of good news is that I will have an extra week of reprieve this round. Normally, I would have started round five on Monday, July 2. But since this treatment involves three consecutive days and a fourth for the shot, I would have been hooked up all day on July 4. Consequently, round five will begin on July 9–seven extra days to feel wonderful!

This blog post has been forming in my mind for a long time, and hopefully I’ll be able to start posting more frequently again now that the flood gate has opened. I’m also ready to resume work on my third novel, which will be a sequel to my second (Separation of Faith). Since I’m always the happiest and most content when a new story is coming together, I’m anxious to see/feel those words pouring out of me.

And that brings me to the lesson learned from all of this. Cancer is certainly a big meanie and shoves mortality flat in your face. Yet mortality is something we all have to deal–some of us just sooner and more graphically than others. Meanwhile, we all have life to live and joy to discover. Much of that life and joy, for me, comes through my wonderful family and amazing friends. But, again for me, writing is what helps keep the blood flowing through my body. And giving birth to a novel comes from a deep passion that is almost impossible to explain. So, it’s true–one day I won’t be here anymore. Hopefully, that day will be far off in the future. If I let this cancer (or any other obstacle) silence me, though, my words will be history way ahead of schedule for the rest of me. That train of thought means there wouldn’t be a third novel–and that means some of my readers would thus want to kill me. 🙂

Therefore, I hereby resolve that, even if no one ever reads a single thing I write, my words are going to keep flowing despite the challenges. And if the blues show up again, I’ll simply write straight through them! Some things that are inevitable are good. Let’s celebrate those!

My best to all of you! “See” you soon!

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Sorry for the delay yesterday. Here you go for real this time! 🙂 http://youtu.be/EFKA5ECs0I0

Please let me know if you run into any problems.

All the best for a great week ahead!

Cheri

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Hi! Before I turn in on this Saturday evening, I want to get the word out that I’ve created and posted a new video for YouTube (and beyond). This one is very personal, in which I give my own demonstration of how women can fix their eye makeup to look very natural even though chemo has taken (temporarily) their eyebrows and eyelashes away. And yes, I actually start the demo with my bare face, for those of you who are curious. 🙂

This is the first step in my plan to start giving back, in the wake of my rather extensive cancer journey over the past two years. (You’ll find lots of posts on the subject in this blog, if you missed them, to give you more information on that journey). And before too much longer there will be another book, this new one falling into the nonfiction category (a very different experience for me than my novels) and designed to be of immediate help to women who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I will continue to keep you current on that book’s development and publishing progress, both of which should start zipping right along now that my chemo treatments are complete.

But the main thing I’d like to see happen with this new video is for everyone who views the film, and wants to be of help, to forward the video’s link to women they know are going through chemo or are about to do so. Forwarding the link to loved ones and friends of those women would also be useful. Missing eyebrows and eyelashes will not be a big deal for every woman undergoing treatment, but I’m hopeful that those who would like a little help will find at least one thing (even if that’s just support and commiseration) in “Chemo Eyes” at http://youtu.be/0C_rC5lamSw.

Thanks so much, in advance, for your assistance with this! Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

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Hi! This will be a quick post, but one that’s hugely exciting! In January, Amazon opened the fifth annual ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) competition. There are two categories: General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction. A maximum of 5000 entries were accepted into each category prior to the close of the entry period on February 5, 2012. There are a whole bunch of rules and judging levels (http://tinyurl.com/7hgp4qt ) if you’re unfamiliar with the contest/process and interested in learning more for future reference.

At any rate … last year I entered Separation of Faith in the General Fiction category, on sort of a lark. Much to my surprise, the novel made the first cut in the competition (the 5000 entries in each category are narrowed down to the top 1000 in each category). Given the odds, I wasn’t surprised when that was the end of the good news. The 500 novels chosen for the Quarter Finals in the second cut did not include Separation of Faith. And yet I loved the experience anyway!

So … this year I decided to try again. And as you already know from the post headline above, my little book has once again made the first round cut!! There’s no doubt that Separation of Faith has some sort of legs, especially in the contest arena, having won or placed in more than a dozen contests thus far. This success hasn’t translated yet into any significant visibility in the publishing world–but, just like every real writer out there, my motto is, “Where there’s a new day, there’s indestructible hope, no matter how daunting the odds.”

Now we have to wait until March 20 to see if the fresh perspective from a new set of judges will make a difference this time around. Even if the novel didn’t advance any further than the next cut, making the top 500 out of 5000 entries would sure be a kick! Nonetheless, the first round cut authors do receive feedback from two of the judges, which I found to be both interesting and useful last year. I know from all of my other contest experience, though, how many good novels are out there just waiting to be discovered. We’ll simply have to wait and see how Separation of Faith stacks up against the other 999, whose authors are dreaming the same dream along with me. Our stories are whatever they are at this point. Still, a little bit of luck would sure be useful (and appreciated).

Hope all is well with each of you and that your publishing journeys are on your projected paths for 2012! My next post (tomorrow) will include a chemo update as well as a bunch of links to articles that I’ve been collecting for you. There might be a surprise as well. 🙂 Stay tuned … and have a wonderful night/weekend!

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Cheri’s Note: This was an uplifting and inspirational way to end another great WD conference!

The Drive to Write–Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); author of No Plot, No Novel and Ready, Set, Novel

NaNoWriMo: Writers sign up to write a 50K word novel, from scratch, during the month of November each year. Baty and a few friends first experimented with the idea in 1999 (a total of 6 people). By 2000, 130 writers participated. In 2011, there were 300,000 participants in 33 countries. Six years ago, NaNoWriMo became a non-profit in Berkeley, CA, with a staff of seven. On Friday, January 20, Chris left the organization. On Monday the 22nd, he began his new job as a full time writer.  He explained his decision to make this change with this quote: “A ship in harbor is safe–but that is not what ships are built for.” –John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928.

Baty said that a common trait in others who’ve left the shore is the drive to write. Something else they share in common–they’ve all packed the same four things:

  1. An established deadline.  Set a deadline and then share that date with someone (even a newly met stranger). Ask that person to hold you accountable for that deadline commitment. And don’t ask just one person. Invite several people to hold you accountable.
  2. Momentum. “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann, German writer. “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” –Isaac Newton. Even if you don’t start out writing every day, commit to opening the document every day. That single motion of opening the document will automatically begin to expand and lead to writing.
  3. An appreciation for messes. Writers need to make as many messes as possible in both the writing and the business levels of this endeavor. Fumbling in the dark, on and off the page, is part of the process. The only way we can better ourselves is to make mistakes–trying and failing first.
  4. Faith. Faith that “our books don’t suck.” That we’re getting better as writers. That our work will eventually mean something. The world holds a lot of surprises–and success is often closer than we know.

If we give ourselves permission to take this crazy path, we have the power to accomplish unimaginable things. Baty says he’s watched hundreds of thousands of people write a book in one month that they didn’t even know they had in them when they started. That’s quite impressive and unimaginable. And we each have the power to do such things.

He offered to have faith for us, on our behalf, believing in our possibilities, because he’s seen them firsthand.

Cheri’s Note: As I said earlier, this was quite a moving and inspirational presentation, and the perfect closing for this conference!

And this concludes my series of summaries on the sessions I attended. But this exercise in sharing has accomplished something unexpected. One of my goals for 2012, as I complete and rebound from the chemo, is to get back to a more frequent and predictable blogging rhythm. Very much in tune with Chris Baty’s “objects in motion tend to stay in motion” point, my need to get these summaries out to you has put me on a daily blogging cycle that I’m hoping to sustain–unexpectedly meeting one goal by accomplishing another. And that, after all, seems to be the story of a writer’s life.

Wishing you all a happy, productive day!

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In a Nutshell, Three Elements to Launch 2012’s Writing Year:

1. The third annual Writer’s Digest Conference begins tomorrow (January 20) at the Sheraton in Manhattan, and I am extremely excited, as usual! Those of you who are familiar with this blog understand my affinity for this particular conference and the impact that the first conference in September 2009 had upon my publishing decisions relative to my second novel (Separation of Faith). That first conference also marked the motivating moment for the launch of this blog, among other social media outreach activities.

Throughout the multiplying years in which I’ve been pursuing this literary dream, I have no idea how many sizes and shapes of conferences I’ve attended. A bunch, for certain! And a number of those were actually produced every year by Writer’s Digest in conjunction with Book Expo America (BEA), the publishing industry’s annual convention event. But Writer’s Digest broke away from BEA in 2009 and began holding their own conference. And that’s when everything changed for me. You can read about the reason’s for the metamorphosis in this blog’s Launch posting (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/).

Since then, the WD conference has become the best one out there, in my opinion. For writers in search of the truth about the publishing world and practical information/tools that help us navigate through that world, this conference is “the” place to be. If you’d like to explore the conference agenda and sessions, here’s a quick link: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&. And for those of you with a sustained interest, I’ll be blogging throughout the three days, giving you the inside scoop from the sessions I attend and from other attendees and presenters with whom I have the opportunity to chat.

Regarding the Pitch Slam session on Saturday afternoon, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be pitching. Part of that decision will depend on how I’m feeling (see point #3 below). If I do pitch, I’ll be focusing on my nonfiction project, which isn’t finished (nonfiction books don’t need to be finished before pitching, but I’d prefer that mine were). Still, if I’m feeling empowered by Saturday afternoon, I might run the project by a few of those agents just for the practice. At this writing, I’m fairly certain that I want to move forward with that project on my own, publishing an e-book first followed by print options. I’ll know more about that direction once the conference is over, since I’m attending several sessions on how writers can navigate the wild and ever-changing publishing world on their own. Stay tuned for my blog posts on the subject as the conference unfolds. If you happen to be at the conference yourself, please let me know so we can connect somewhere!

The opening address will begin at 4:00 p.m. EST. You’ll be on my mind! 🙂

2. New Year’s Inspiration can be found almost everywhere we look as writers. People in my life are constantly telling me about someone they know who’s in some sort of jam that could be tweaked and woven into a novel’s plot or subplot. And I recently sat at the pharmacy for 90 minutes where I observed no less than a half dozen interpersonal scenarios that could be spun into fun stories. If we’re alert, there will never be a shortage of material. But as 2012 gets underway and we are all still focusing on our resolutions, I’d like to share a few links I’ve been collecting that I hope will offer you a nudge, an idea, or a little inspiration, if you’re in search of such things.

Please let me know if you find anything helpful in these lists. Since creating consistency in my writing routine is one of my 2012 resolutions, I have the “Reboot” list posted on the wall close by.

3. Where Am I in the Treatment Part of My Life? Currently, I’m in the middle of Round #5 (of 6). The effects became noticeably cumulative, beginning with Round #4, so I’ve been struggling a bit, especially through the holidays. But the good news is that #6 will happen on January 30, followed by the standard three weeks of not-so-hot, which will then be followed by … nothing else! Yay! When this process began with Round #1 on October 13, today’s point on the calendar looked like a millennium away. And yet, here we are, about a month away from being completely finished with the process. And I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference, which I wasn’t sure I could make even a few days ago. Lots of blessings to start the New Year!

Two more photos are attached, both of which were taken a week before Christmas. These images seem to be a good way to mark the progress of this journey within a journey.

All the best to each of you as the New Year becomes fully launched. Wishing for each of you that your dreams come true in 2012! Talk to you soon from the conference!

Holiday Thoughts & New Year’s Wishes

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This past Monday, November 28, turned out to be an extraordinarily long day.

And yet much progress was made on the new book!

Although the arrival time for my chemo appointment on Monday was a couple of hours earlier than normal–which would have led one to believe that the day might end an equivalent number of hours earlier–alas, that was not to be. Because last week was Thanksgiving, lots of people like me opted not to have treatment on that Monday or on Thanksgiving Thursday (the only two days of the week that chemo is administered). Instead, a whole gaggle of us shifted our appointments to this week. That, as you might imagine, led to a backup of gargantuan proportions. I arrived shortly before 10:00 a.m. and left the chemo suite that night at 7:30.

Adding to the unusual nature of the day was the fact that this was the first time I’ve gone through the process alone. Normally, my daughter is with me. But she had an unmanageable conflict at work, so I went solo. Admittedly, that is not my favorite way to experience the experience, and yet I was able to make good use of the quiet time by writing a substantial portion of the chapter on the “hair thing” associated with chemo. Of course, the part I wrote during the 90 minutes following the IV bag of Benadryl wasn’t completely intelligible … or even exactly legible … since I had been making notes earlier in a spiral binder and decided, for some unknown reason to keep writing instead of plugging in my mini. But those pen strokes (and, believe me, I use the words lightly) marking up and down (and across and sideways) on the page did make me laugh. And then I got serious when the Benadryl began to wear off and the chemo drugs started infusing. In fact, I wrote for the entire four and a half hours of the infusion process.

Given my previous blog comments on the subject, there won’t be any surprise to learn that this “hair thing” is a huge component of chemo–at least for me. And the more women I meet at Sloan-Kettering, the “huge-er” the subject becomes. Each person handles the trauma differently. And some, amazingly enough, don’t even use the word trauma. Yet all are deeply affected by this particular side effect, which hits every part of the body, not just the head. Eyebrows, eyelashes, everything–nothing is sacred. Consequently, the manner in which women come to grips with the situation has become increasingly fascinating. And this chapter is extraordinarily important to me, because I’m hoping to offer a small measure of help to women who might be feeling alone or isolated in the midst of the decisions they have to make and those things over which they have no control.

My goal of having this book available on Kindle, etc., by the end of December seems attainable at the moment. And I’m especially motivated now that I’ve enrolled in the January Writer’s Digest Conference (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/happy-thanksgiving-wishes-for-peace-updates/) where I’m hoping to practice pitching this new work to agents, just for the heck of it.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of me and my new hair taken with my Webcam in my office tonight. Thank goodness for the blessing of this thing on my head, because without it I look like a bald man! Seriously!  🙂  (Behind me is the glass wall separating my office from my living/dining room, in case you’re wondering about the reflection.) Hope you’re all having a great week!

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