Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getting back to exercise after breast cancer
Please visit Confident Clothing Company at

Fifteen months after my breast cancer surgery, eight months since my last chemotherapy treatment and five months past radiation I still have days when I am very fatigued.
When I finished the radiation in April I had the expectation that I would be back at full throttle in no time at all; running, lifting weights, riding my horses. I made plans to do some road races and even a Ride & Tie race in very hilly terrain. But, I realized that my stamina wasn’t coming back as fast as I thought it would.
Upon my next visit to my oncology doctor I found out that one of the chemotherapy drugs that I needed to take for one year had temporarily damaged my heart. This was quite a shock since my heart tested above normal before I started the treatment. It did explain why my heart rate would shoot up quickly when I exerted some extra effort and why it would take me a few days to recover from an exertion level that, before the chemo had been an easy workout.
This new glitch in my recovery plan caused me great anxiety and depression. I had to rethink how I was going to move forward with this limited capacity. I had to figure out how I wanted to spend my energy. It is a hard realization to discover that you can’t just pickup where you left off.
I’m sure many people over fifty have faced this same dilemma whether they have had cancer of not. Knowing you can’t run as fast or play as hard can feel very defeating, maybe to the extent that you quit doing everything because you can’t participate with the same intensity and results. This also happens to plenty of people under fifty too.
This is when you need to think about what gives you joy. For me it was spending more time riding my horses. By choosing my very favorite outdoor activity I not only helped myself physically but, more importantly my mental attitude improved immensely.
You don’t have to run like you did twenty years ago in order to reap the benefits of regular exercise. Try new activities or think back to what you enjoyed most when you were younger. The important thing is that you participate in some kind of physical activity not only for the health benefits, but for the mental stimulation and clarity that you will derive from aerobic exercise.
There are plenty of days left in 2007 to get out and appreciate the wonderful Santa Cruz Mountains where we are so fortunate to live. Take the time to enjoy your surrounding and boost your physical and mental well being at the same time.

What not to say to a breast cancer patient

What not to say to a breast cancer patient.
This month’s article is not going to be about fitness. I have been asked to write about another subject, cancer. Since, May 2006 I have been dealing with cancer myself. I have had three surgeries, eight rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and all the side affects that go with these treatments. So, I definitely am an expert on what is truly helpful and what can be hurtful to a person dealing with this disease or any other major health crisis.

People want to be helpful when they hear someone they know is dealing with cancer. What is important is that you be specific with what you are going to be helpful with if you offer help. A lot of people will say “call me if you need anything” even though they may sincerely mean this, most people dealing with a major illness aren’t likely to pick up the phone and ask for help. A better offer would be “I would like to bring dinner over this week to help you out. What day would be good for you?” You could also take the initiative and organize a group of people to bring dinner for an extended period. Connie Goddard did this for me. She had people from Summit Riders bring us dinner for a week after my main surgery. What a great treat that was.

Ask what days you can drive the person to their doctor’s appointments. There are a lot of appointments and having to drive while you are sick from the chemotherapy or just plain tired can be difficult. Do some grocery shopping for the person while you are doing your own. Running errands can be a big help.

Maybe you work and can’t help with cooking or driving. Do you have some other specific knowledge or service you could offer? Teresa Scagliotti CFP, another friend and mountain resident made sure our wills and financial matters were in order before I went in for my surgery. This gave me peace of mind that if something went wrong during the surgery I wouldn’t leave loose ends for others to clean up.

Just sending a card, e-mail or phone call conveying your support is very much appreciated. I have kept all the correspondence I received from people during this time and truly cherish their kind words.

When speaking with someone dealing with a major illness remember they are the same person that they always were and their personality and beliefs haven’t changed. Don’t assume that because they have cancer you should treat them differently. The last thing a person wants is to be defined as a cancer victim. The person has a disease, they aren’t the disease and you can’t catch it from them.

Letting the person talk about how they are feeling, if they want to, will give you insight as to how they are coping emotionally. By being a good listener you will hopefully take more time with your questions and responses to the person. I certainly don’t mind people asking me about how I’m feeling or what treatments are like. The more information I can share with people, if they want to know, may help them in the future.

Having a positive attitude is so important and if you have people around that are negative it can be very harmful. Here are some things you should steer clear of when talking with someone dealing with a major disease.

Don’t bring up your aunt Betty who died 10 years ago and go into detail about all of her suffering or your cousin that had cancer but changed her wicked ways and was cured. Don’t impose your beliefs or negative experiences on the person. This isn’t support and it is not helpful.

Don’t tell them to rest and take time off. The last thing a person needs is time to sit around and dwell on their illness. You are dealing with a person that has their own way of coping with illness and is probably a normal adult with normal intelligence, not a person that needs to be told how they should feel or what they should do.

Don’t compare their illness to some non-medical crisis in your life. My niece Jessica’s husband Glenn died of leukemia 2 ½ years ago leaving her a single parent of three toddlers. An acquaintance of hers compared her divorce, the death of her marriage, to Glenn’s death and actually implied Jessica was better off than she. How self-centered is that!!! It is amazing what can come out of a person’s mouth.

Fear and lack of knowledge seem to drive many of the inappropriate comments people make. One way to avoid this situation is to educate yourself about the person’s illness. There are many websites that offer information in plain English about every disease you can think of. Do some research to find out more information about the person’s specific disease if you don’t know much about it.

No one plans to get cancer or have any other major illness but it happens. Being positive, without being over-the-top cheery, staying in contact and being sensitive to the person’s personality, beliefs and feelings are the keys to being supportive and helpful when someone needs it most.

The benefits exercising during breast cancer treatment

Fitness Tip

The last time I wrote about my journey with cancer I was at the beginning of my chemotherapy treatments. I finished those treatments on December 14, 2006, two weeks later than expected because of some complications that caused my blood counts to be unacceptable to the doctor.

During the chemotherapy I lost all my red hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes. As of today my hair is growing back, but no sign of my eyebrows or eyelashes. I also knew going in that I was going to go bald and there wasn’t anything I could do about it, but I thought I could push my way through the fatigue and go on as usual with my daily activities. Not!!! I was able to keep working with my personal training clients but had to give up my boot camps. The running pretty much came to a halt except for some walking on my really good days. My weekly mileage went from about 20 miles a week to 2 ½. Some weeks I couldn’t even do any exercise.

The good news is that since January 1st I have increased my exercise and I know eventually my stamina will increase. I may not get completely back to the level I was at before the cancer but I am certain I will improve from where I’m at currently.

I do believe I handled the chemotherapy better because I was in good physical condition before I started. I also credit some of my long Ride and Tie races and marathon training with helping me handle the mental aspect of the discomforts and fatigue of the chemo.

What I have learned from all of this is that everyone needs to listen to their own body and do the best they can. I was able to walk the Big Sur Half Marathon on October 29th with three of my clients/friends. Two of the people are mountain residents Carol Lard and Kristy Keyser. It took us about 45 minutes longer because of my slower pace, but it was just as satisfying as any of the other races we have completed together.

Many people have faced situations like mine, some much more severe and other not so serious. Think of people coming back from war with lost limbs but taking up running, skiing and other sports. People diagnosed with diabetes and finally realizing that exercise and diet are ways they can control their disease without medication.

So, my advice to everybody is this; exercise to prepare for your future no matter your age, current physical ability or past history. You can improve mentally and physically. You will be better able to handle aging, ailments and stress. You may also be able to ward off diseases. This is your future. Make it the best it can be.

Visit Confident Clothing Company at

Confident Clothing Company
Therapeutic Active Wear for Breast Cancer Patients

One of my main concerns after having the mastectomy was if I was still going to be able to do weight training. I knew the medical community recognized the benefits of aerobic exercise, but because lymphedema caused by the removal of lymph nodes causes fluid retention, the old wisdom was that you shouldn’t lift anything heavy. Lymphedema is a condition in which excess fluid called lymph collects in tissues and causes swelling. Lymphedema may occur in the arms or legs. This often happens after lymph vessels or nodes in the armpit are removed by surgery or damaged by radiation, impairing the normal drainage of lymphatic fluid.

My doctor told me I could do anything except put a tourniquet on my arm, which I wasn’t planning on doing anyway. But, many people have misconceptions based on outdated information that lifting anything once you have lymphedema can cause it to worsen. This is not true! The updated studies confirm that exercise which causes muscle contractions, especially in the arm and calf, help to promote lymph flow to veins in the neck region where it returns to the blood circulation. Exercise also helps the proteins in lymph fluid to be reabsorbed. Both result in a lesser severity of lymphedema.

The other benefit of doing weight training again is that it is helping me get back the range of motion in my arms. This is important to maintain, just to be able to perform daily living skills. This is similar to people with arthritis. The old wisdom was that they shouldn’t move or the pain would increase and worsen. That myth has also been proven wrong. Moving and lifting (within reason) is a good thing. Like a rusty hinge the longer you don’t use it the harder it will be to get it unstuck.

A study done by Dr. Susan R. Harris, PhD, PT, School of Rehabilitations Sciences states that “ Results of a series of case reports suggest that women who have received axillary dissection and, in many cases radiation, for treatment of breast cancer can safely engage in strenuous upper extremity exercise without developing lymphedema. Because many women who have been treated from breast cancer are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis due to premature menopause, the opportunity to partake in competitive recreational activities with both aerobic and bone-building benefits is extremely important.”

It is never too late to improve your health and fitness. Get moving!!!!

Stage Three, Grade Three Breast Cancer….What a birthday present. In May 2006 one week before I turned 50 I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer Grade 3. My main tumor that was not there 10 months before was over 7 cm, poorly differentiated, and in every part of my left breast plus the sentinel node. After an unsuccessful lumpectomy I chose to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. My Oncologist told me they don’t usually recommend the bi-lateral, but I my case, if I could handle it mentally, it would be the best. He said it was if I would develop cancer in the other breast, just when. So five weeks after the lumpectomy I had the bi-lateral mastectomy. When they performed the final biopsy I had DCIS in the right breast.

My first thoughts were that I would carry on my life as normal as possible. During chemo therapy and after hair loss, I realized that existing head coverage products made my head sweat!

A Personal Fitness Coach for ten years, I was determined to keep my business running and serve my clients as well as maintain my own well being through all the surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, I realized that I was going to need different types of exercise clothing.

I could still wear some of my looser shirts and cover them with jackets and vests, so that it wasn’t so obvious that I had undergone a bilateral mastectomy.

During one of my sleepless night I came up with the idea of cutting up old exercise tops that were made of wicking material to make caps that would be more functional. These first caps were a great improvement compared to the cotton caps that I had purchased. The caps wicked sweat away from my head and allowed me to be much more comfortable while exercising and they looked great! The Cool Chemo Cap™ was created.

The Cool Chemo Top™ was the next idea. Anyone who has ever undergone chemotherapy knows that one of the dreaded side effects is hot flashes and night sweats. After researching cancer internet sites I realized that there was no outerwear for women with mastectomies. There were undergarments, but not designed for an active lifestyle. So the idea of an active-wear top that you didn’t have to pull over your head that wicks away sweat and was flattering was the obvious next product.

The most unique feature on the Cool Chemo Top™ is the pockets that are discreetly hidden on the inside of the tops. These pockets are to hold the drains that all mastectomy patients and some lumpectomy patients have inserted after surgery and are sent home with, to collect the lymphatic fluid that results from lymph-node removal. The tops work great for reconstruction surgery too. Once the drains are taken out the pockets can be easily removed and the top can continue to worn. The tops also designed so that medical ports are easy to access and the arms are cut loose to allow for potential lymphedema.

The clothing can be used to exercise; dress up for an evening out or just wear in comfort going about your daily activities.

As Baby Boomers get older, more of us are going to be faced with cancer. I found that there are many women like me, who choose not to wear wigs and breast prosthesis. Also, more women and the medical community realize the value of exercising while going through treatment. Exercise not only helps you keep up your strength but also gives you the much needed mental boost.

While you may not have hair, eyebrows or eyelashes, women still put on their makeup to look the very best they can. It is important that your clothing fits well, is functional and is flattering whether you are exercising or just going about your normal life.

Confident Clothing Company was featured at the Monterey County, California American Cancer Society Fashion Show held March 20, 2009. We also partnered and participated in the Young Survivors Coalition in Dallas, Texas for their 9th annual conference.

The comment that I hear non-stop is “Where were you when I went through my surgery?”
And “What a great idea, I’m going to pass this information on to my surgeon.”

My passion is to provide inspiration and comfort for all women going through the breast cancer journey. It is a long haul and any way to make it easier is a step in the right direction.

Remembering Consuelo

Monday, March 9, 2009

Since I left Tucson, I have been meaning to gather some of the stories and memories of Consuelo committed to ink and computer code.

Here's a special one from Roberto Rodriguez.

Something from Neto Portillo, Jr., a friend and fellow reporter from the Arizona Daily Star.

And lastly this one by Olga Briseno, who remembers Consuelo alongside Cesar Chavez and Lorraine Lee.

I have to be honest. It still shakes me to come across virtual altars or memorials to her in social networking sites like myspace and facebook.

We all carry her forward in our own way.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

gravity is something my current boobs defy. they are swell (in various ways). the skin graft is still healing, so they're not the prettiest pair you've ever seen...yet. in fact, chloe saw them and said, "mama, your boobs look funny!" but then again, i'm not sure if she said this because she had gotten used to seeing them flat and sans nipple, or just because they look funny. i like them though. here's a picture of me and my boobs (kind of):

El Brujo de Lujo

Monday, March 2, 2009

Francisco "on stage" at the Brujo's home. The woman to his right is trained opera singer and the dude with the guitar played a handful of huapangos (argueably). That's Rafa on bass guitar.

brujo [broo'-ho], m. Sorcerer, conjurer, wizard, warlock, a male witch, (LAm.) Medicine mn.

lujo [loo'-ho] m. Profuseness, extravagance or excess in pomp, dresses, far, etc.: superfluity. luxury, finery. Vivir en el lujo, to live in luxury.
from Velazquez Spanish and English Dictionary
"Disculpame, pero, como aprender a ser un brujo," I asked the man sitting to my right.
He just looked me in the eyes, stood up and walked away.
In my broken Spanish I asked the brujo de lujo how he became a witch doctor.
I guess the answer wasn't mine to know -- maybe not yet -- but I asked.
We met on my second day in Mexico City in the afternoon following my morning visit to El Tepeyac.
Just the day before, Francisco, Nacho and Rafa were telling me about the Brujo. Francisco wanted the guy to see me.
"He's also a cancer survivor, so he understands," Francisco added during our meal at Don Chon's.
So an appointment was made.
We took the metro and then walked into what seemed like an upper class neighborhood. It was a gated-community. Amid clusters of apartment buildings that could have been in any city, we entered the lobby of his practice.
There were about 50 people sitting in a waiting room that was more comfortable than any waiting room created by Kaiser Permanente. Most people were watching television on one of the multiple plasma screens. A friendly woman took us back into a small, private waiting room.
Nacho joked saying it was for "veeps."
It was a smaller lounge. About five people -- what looked like immediate relatives -- were already waiting there. There were couches and magazines. Art of western scenes and photographs of indigenous ceremonies hung from the wall. It was very comfortable. In fact, from the waiting room, we had access to a small outside patio, or garden, where one could retreat for a smoke.
While we waited, I grabbed a brochure and looked closely. In Spanish the text offered answers to frequent questions from customers.
It said the brujo only worked three days a week because the work was tiring. It also explained that people with grave illness or visitors from the country-side, or in my case, outside of the country, were given preference to other visitors that day, even if there is an appointment.
When my name was called, I entered a small office -- no more than 56 square feet. Inside was just a desk and three seats.
I met a man wearing grey silk slacks, a sweater and a collared shirt. His skin was cafe colored and his eyes were brown. His hair was cut short. In all honesty, he had the appearance of banker dressed in business casual attire.
For this occasion, Francisco served as my translator, though I understood some of the brujo's questions and was able to respond.
He already knew I was a cancer survivor. He asked what I did for a living?
"Soy un reportero, un periodista," I responded.
Then he shut off the lights and the office plunged into total darkness. To my left, a handheld light, like a maglight, went on, and suddenly was infront of my right eye.
El Brujo was examining my iris. Then he did the same with the other.
He offered an explanation as to why my cancer appeared. He warned if I didn't take care, it could return. Then he prescribed a diet and regimen of teas that I would have to take for two months. I am a cancer survivor, he told me, and I would need to take care of myself for the rest of my life.
The following evening, we went to a party at his home.
As we arrived, it seemed like the Brujo did well for himself. The garage was capable of housing five cars comfortably. His home had another garden patio, though much larger -- the size of a yard in a small southern californian suburban home.
The party was held in honor of Francisco. But it became clear pretty quickly that Francisco was a captive of his own party as he was expected to play and entertain.
As we ascended the stairs from the garage into a small room, we found four folding chairs up against a wall, each with a microphone and mic-boom stand in front of it. The mics were run into a p.a. system.
The p.a. didn't make any sense as the room was small -- no more than 200 square feet, including a small kitchen.
In front of the mics, with about three feet distance, were two video cameras. Another camera was set up in an adjacent hallway. Actually, it wasn't just a camera. It was a camera boom that extended about ten feet.
Francisco just sighed at the site. We had arrived late to this and there wasn't even any food available. I laughed in delight, saying I'd end up in the footnote of some award-winning documentary that draws hundreds of thousands to theaters across Western Europe. He just smiled.
About 45 minutes later, Francisco, Miguel and I sat down together to perform about four son jarocho songs -- El Pajaro Cu, El Jarabe Loco con decimas, La Indita and El Colas.
"So this is what it takes to play with you?" I joked. "Get out of the country."
Across from us -- the entertainment -- sat about six people in benches and chairs with soft cushions. El Brujo was one of them. He just sat and stared as we played.
While we played, the "stage" was "dressed." In the middle of our first song, some one placed a crystal vase of towering water lillies in front of us. Then speaker towers were placed to our right and left, to act as columns to support more vases of more flowers.
Two photographers snapped away while the video cameras ran.
I couldn't help from laughing at the obsurdity of the whole situation.
Some time after midnight, I found myself next to El Brujo. I told him he had a nice home and he said to me visitors weren't allowed in the library. Then I posed my question, hoping to learn about his training. He looked into my eyes, stood up and walked away.
Later I saw him speaking with Francisco.
As the party came to an end sometime after one a.m., we embraced goodbye. El Brujo looked at me and said in Spanish we would speak in two months.
The next day Francisco said he asked the Brujo about me.
"He said you were in much better health than he expected. He said what ever you're doing is great and to continue," Francisco recalled.

I have a cup of the Brujo's tea sitting next to my laptop right now.

El Brujo de Lujo, Federico Cruz

Report from Mexico, D.F.

Here I am, on the hill of El Tepeyac, about 18 months after completing chemotherapy. Last time I was here, I was just starting to sprout little hairs on my body again.

My trip to D.F. was specifically to hold up my end of the manda Francisco made while I was in chemotherapy.

This photo was taken by Francisco Gonzalez on Feb. 13. That morning we rose early -- around 7 a.m. -- and marched from Calle Nezahualcoyotl to the metro station in the distrito historico to a stop just outside the basilica. We walked the route that is in the middle of the boulevard, a green pedestrian walk-way created to accomodate those making mandas and pilgrimages to la Virgen.

When we arrived, there were less than 40 people inside the basilica. After praying in the pews, I went down below to the floor below the tilma which displays the image of La Virgen that appeared to Juan Diego hundreds of years ago. To prevent lines backing up into the church auditorium, a moving floor -- like those moving walk-ways in airports -- is in place in front of the tilma.

After about 20 minutes riding back and forth on the moving floor to get a close look at La Tilma, we left. At the basilica gift shop, I paid for two masses: one to be said in the name of my father and another in Consuelo's name.

Then Francisco and I ascended the hill of Tepeyac. On our descent, we prayed at the Antigua Parroquia de Indios, the old chapel on the property. There, we prayed a full rosary to La Virgen.
That afternoon, I visited a brujo.

La Virgencita en la Tilma.