Progress report

Just a quick post to share the good news that yesterday I had my first CT scan since surgery and everything looks good. No sign of any tumors elsewhere.

Celebrate!

I'm cleared for three months. My next scan is scheduled for mid-April. The plan is for me to get scanned every three months for the first year. Beyond that...well, I'm not sure.

Dr. T let me take some pics of my CT images so if you'd like to see the "after" shot, just ask. 😀

A Woman's Place is in the Resistance

I went to the Women's March in NYC today - perhaps obviously. Surely none of you pegged me for a Trump supporter. 

(And if you did, please call a doctor to get your head examined ASAP.)

It was a wonderful day. I brought my patience because I knew crowds would be huge. It was tough to connect with friends because of all of the people and limited cell service.

 

Fortunately the one friend I was able to link up with, Karen, is wonderful. We enjoyed ourselves.

I was grateful to be among people who share my views about government, and that none of this is normal

Today isn't the end, but the beginning. I will resist this administration every step of the way.

At least 2016 ended well!

 

When my friend, also named Jennifer, asked if I'd be interested in returning to beautiful St Martin, I practically shouted "YES!"

Four of us vacationed there in July and it was wonderful. SXM is a beautiful island that is easy to get to from NYC.

After everything, it felt like a good time to treat myself.

I was thrilled to spend the last days of 2016 in paradise - and the first days of 2017 too.

For this trip, I went for seven decadent nights and it made such a difference. I felt the most relaxed that I have in months. And when I came back to NYC, I honestly felt more or less normal, something that I didn't always feel after the surgery.

 


A few of you asked for tips on travel to St. Martin so here they are!

The first decision you'll likely face is where to stay. Before you decide Dutch side versus French, think hotel versus house or apartment. The island is small enough that you'll almost certainly spend time experiencing both Dutch Sint Maarten and French St. Martin.

Image via sintmaartenvacation.com

Image via sintmaartenvacation.com

Where To Stay

For both SXM vacations, my friends and I stayed in apartments in Orient Bay (Baie Orientale). For the New Year's trip, we rented a two-bedroom duplex from Sprimbarth, a real estate agency we found on TripAdvisor and had a great experience. 

Apartments have been a great choice for us: more space, the ability to cook a bit (if desired) and better economics. 

If hotels are more your speed, there are many options. The Westin Dawn Beach has gorgeous grounds and, I assume, rooms. Incidentally, the property also has apartments for rent, however because they only allow Saturday-Saturday stays (no exceptions!) we looked elsewhere. While I haven't visited this luxe hotel, I have heard great things.

What to Do

We were seeking R&R more so than adventure. We read (I loved this book), swam, sunned, napped and drank a lot of rosé.

After a few days lounging on our gorgeous "home" beach, we did spend a day on Mullet Bay Beach and really enjoyed the change of scene. Mullet Bay featured bigger waves, a population that included lots of locals and proximity to landing airplanes which made for fun photos. 

 

We took a wrong turn on our way to Mullet Bay but it came with the reward of finding this tiny beach.

While St. Martin has plenty to do, we opted to make a day trip to St Barths. Same-day ferries between St. Martin and St. Barths are NOT available every day so it pays to plan ahead (thanks for that, JG!).

I am someone who has always enjoyed being on the water, HOWEVER the sea was very rough on the fourty-five minute sail. All three of us felt...not good. There's funny video from the trip on my YouTube SXM playlist.

One other thing you should know if you visit St. Barths during the high season: cabs can be very difficult to find. Smart vacationers hire taxi drivers for the duration of their stay during the holidays. As such, when it was time to leave Eden Roc for the ferry terminal, we couldn't find an available taxi.

So we hitchhiked. Sorry Mom!

Our savior, a lovely French woman, spoke no English and collectively we speak maybe thirty words of French. But we managed.

Where We Ate

St. Martin likes to think of itself as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. And it's definitely a contender. Our favorites included La Table d'Antoine (Orient Bay), Le Piment (also Orient Bay), and Bistrot Caraibes. We enjoyed dinner at Coco Beach on New Year's Eve.

In the morning, we sampled pastries throughout Orient Bay, and I tried in vain to find a Starbucks-style iced latte. Oh well...no place is perfect.

 

Shared grief

I cried when I heard the news.

It arrived, like most of what I consume in the moment: via Twitter. After I finished saying aloud "No!" I turned to Google. There were no new results in the News tab and I hoped against hope that someone had jumped the gun and gotten things mixed up.

But then I saw the Turner statement spreading. Craig Sager had, in fact, died.

 

Tears sprang to my eyes for although I had only officially met Mr. Sager once, I have some sense of the pain his family feels now.

The grief.

The loneliness.

The need to reshape how you view yourself and your family around the hole where your father used to be.

The guilt-inducing relief that sometimes comes upon realizing that the most awful roller coaster ride of your life is over.

The loss of a parent changes you. One day, I had a dad, the next he only lived on in my memories. Suddenly, I became attuned to loss all around me in a way I simply wasn't equipped to before.

I know now that my life tomorrow may not be as simple as it is today, and as a result, I strive to remain grateful on a daily basis, and to share what I have learned through these hard times in hopes of helping others. 

#SagerStrong

The grey area

"So it was benign, right?"

"Well...it's complicated"

And so begins an awkward conversation with well-intentioned friends and colleagues. I know how to answer the question - sort of - but responding almost certainly requires me to veer into TMI territory. I am comfortable talking about what I have been through and what I face next. It helps me. But I am not a mind reader so I don't always know how much people can handle or truly want to know.

If I have already told you too much, or if you were just being polite, I'm sorry...kind of. Not really.

I don't know.


Recently I met my new doctor. We'll call him Dr. Tito because that's his name. It's actually Dr. Tito Fojo but Dr. Tito is ever so slightly more fun than Dr. Fojo. When I went to my first appointment with Dr. Tito, I wasn't sure if he would become my doctor, if he thought I needed his sort of care. I felt the strange sensation of fearing rejection by someone whose treatment I hoped I did not need. Because he is an acclaimed oncologist and no one is saying I have cancer. But they can't say my weird, rare tumor is benign either.

It's a grey area.

Dr. S. had discharged me once it was clear my surgical wounds were healing. That was understandable, but I was left feeling concerned that there was no clear plan for my follow-up care. Fortunately my situation also concerned my close friend Ali who herself happens to be a medical oncologist in Portland, OR. Her friendship is just another way I have been truly fortunate.

Ali did some research and talked to colleagues before recommending Dr. Tito. It was thanks to Ali that I found myself sitting in a chair next to the warm, kind Dr. Tito as he reviewed every piece of data related to the tumor I had removed on September 21. 

If you know me, you know I can be a chatterbox. I tell too many stories with too many details, trying to answer questions not yet asked. Sure enough, at one point during his review of the surgery and pathology reports, Dr. Tito gently put his hand over one of mine. It was the nicest way I've ever been told to shush.

My first appointment with lasted nearly an hour during which time he examined both me and my records thoroughly, introduced me to the Weiss system for analyzing the malignancy potential of tumors like mine, showed me my CT scan images and hugged me - twice.

That splotchy thing? My giant tumor.

That splotchy thing? My giant tumor.

Dr. Tito did not reject me, perhaps unfortunately. So now I take solace in the fact that I am in the most capable hands.

In addition to CT scans of my abdomen every three months starting in late January, the doctor has asked me to retrieve as many slides from NYU's pathology department as they will give me. The plan is to send them to his former colleagues at NIH for further study.

NYU is making me jump through hoops to get the slides. I emailed the Pathology Department using info I found on the NYU Langone web site. Their initial response came within hours and copied seemingly the entire department. But when I replied asking if I could make the request "officially," the result was a week of silence followed by three not-very-helpful phone calls during which I was treated like someone who owed them a lot of money and then asked for a favor.

To get my tumor slides, I have to pay an administrative fee, which they only accept via check or money order, but I can send the authorization form via email. And if I want unstained slides, the doctor him/herself must make the request, and only after they receive my payment.

How strange to pay to take back pieces of the tumor I very much wanted to get rid of.


November marks Open Enrollment for health insurance plans for those of us in corporate America. Ten or so wild and crazy days (I'm joking) where we have the opportunity to make speculative decisions about what the future holds.

In years past, my biggest issue was deciding how much money to put in my Flexible Spending Account, that tax benefit that my accident- and illness-prone self always uses. 

But things are different now. Recently I was faced with the opportunity to add "Critical Illness" coverage, a supplemental insurance that would pay out $15,000 or $30,000 for diagnoses of conditions including heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer's, necrotizing fasciitis, rabies, diphtheria, polio, "full benefit cancer" or "partial benefit cancer" depending on the insured's investment level. 

At first, I couldn't shake the notion that I was effectively wagering on my prognosis; that to opt into this insurance meant I was pessimistic about my future. But I ultimately chose to pay for the lower of the two coverage options because it's a grey area. I am preparing for the future, but know that I would never, ever bet against myself.