What started as IDC (Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma) in 2011, then turned into CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) in 2013, probably partially caused by chemotherapy along with a genetic pre-disposition. Here we are now in March 2016 and I am newly diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the left breast and liver (LMBC - liver metastasized breast cancer).

So the focus has shifted yet again, BUT... I continue to THANK YOU for your prayers, love & support. I receive them with open & loving arms. My wish is that I will gain strength from you, will provide helpful information and strength to others & will help to strip away the fears we each experience.

I am strong. I am loved. I am healthy. I WILL SURVIVE!

Have you or your loved one had their annual mammogram? PLEASE, don't put it off. Speaking from experience, I highly recommend monthly self exam as well. And if you are now cancer free of breast cancer, do everything you can to insist that your doctors follow up with an occasional PET Scan and labs for tumor markers.

Contents may be uplifting, sad, funny, scary, downright depressing ~ THAT IS CANCER .... at it's best, at its worst.

PLEASE ~ Feel free to share this blog with anyone who is interested to learn about my journey. While I welcome their support, I hope that by sharing this experience freely to the universe I may help to support others by breaking down some of the barriers and fear associated with breast cancer and the treatment.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Remembering Denise Emery

It's been a bit of a down month for me. I keep learning of friends or acquaintances with new breast cancer diagnosis, ones very similar to mine, and it just makes me angry and sad, and feeling helpless. Then there is my own situation still pending with most likely unavoidable surgery in the near future.

On top of that, my dear friend and cousin, Denise Emery passed away pretty suddenly Valentine's Day. Denise is married to Mark's cousin, Dick Emery, but Mark and Dick grew up more like brothers than cousins. After Dick and Denise married they moved up to the Ranch, as family calls it. We were on what some might call a family compound. On 33 acres sat five homes.  Dick's Dad's house, Wilson Emery, was right next to Grandmother Dasie Wilson Emery's home, the original homestead. This is where Mark grew up with his mother and Grandmother Dasie. Donna Emery, Dick's sister, had a trailer for she and Eric very near Grandmother's home & Wilson's home. Mark's mom built her home the farthest away, but he never lived in it until after we were married. Dick and Denise moved into the "old" house when we moved into the home Mark's mother, Eleanor Emery (Kitty) built, and Kitty finished off a part of the home as a studio apartment of sorts for herself. The fifth house was Great Aunt Reit's home (Margareitte Wilson Brent), Grandmother Dasie's sister. Hope you have all that straight, since it is a bit complex.

Throughout the years, we've gotten together with Dick and Denise as families for special events, and some fun times and such, as cousins and families do, especially when that close in proximity. I fondly remember a houseboat trip we all took when our girls were quite small and trying to learn how to water ski. Lisa recently shared a couple of cute photos when Sarah and Lisa took their First Holy Communion, and another one of the girls one Easter. But with Denise's large family of siblings (the Secchitano family), and all my Dallara siblings, large family gatherings were few and far between as the girls grew and moved away. In time, Dick and Denise moved away, all the elders passed away,  and our two families were all involved in raising families and jobs and such. Mark and I are now the only Emery's here on Sonoma Mountain Road.

Denise was first diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years or so ago. I don't recall a lot about her first diagnosis, as sad as that seems and feels to me now. Maybe it is just old age, bad memory, or chemo brain. Call it what you like. Time and years passed. We'd get together as a foursome from time to time, and we even made a fun trip to Tucson Arizona in 2001 for Aunt Elsie Emery's birthday, which is Mark and Dick's Aunt.

But in more recent years Denise and I became much more close. You see, we had that common bond of daughters, grandchildren, husbands who are cousins/brothers of sorts, and the dreaded breast cancer. We attended all our daughters weddings and showers, there were baby showers, a few holiday parties, etc; and the dreaded breast cancer. About a year after I was diagnosed in 2011, Denise had a recurrence. Breast cancer is not always in the breast, especially with a recurrence, and that was Denise's case. But we started to get together for lunch on occasion since we both had the time now, aside from doctors and such.

Looking back, I remember how lonely I felt going to my first Relay for Life Survivor dinner. It felt odd to be there as I didn't feel like a Survivor since I was in the midst of treatment that August and would not finish my radiation until the end of September. I had no hair, I didn't really know anyone there, but it felt like I should go. I remember asking Denise if she would be going, hoping I'd have her company. But she had attended many in the past years, and was cancer free and just not into it that year. Little did we both know that we would share a table for the next 4 years at the Survivor dinner.

Then eventually Denise and I started getting together with a group of local ladies like us. Originally there was just 3 of us and we would pick up sandwiches and meet at our homes. Then the "club" grew year after year, and we are now up to eight lovely ladies. Most are from Glen Ellen, one from Sonoma. Five of these women have all been been dealing with breast cancer, some for a few years and some for many years, two with other cancers, and one has lost her husband to cancer. Some of us are in remission, some are dealing with metastasis and ongoing lifelong treatment. We meet for lunch once a month and support each other. We talk about cancer, kids, grand kids, gardens, recipes, husbands, and cancer. Once in awhile we take in a movie or meet for coffee. We welcome new members to the club, as much as we hate to have any meet the criteria -- cancer. But mostly, we are there for each other.

Denise was always the one to bring little jars of cranberry sauce or pesto to everyone at our gatherings, or a bag of lemons. She was always all smiles, very positive and just a joy to be around. As her cancer progressed, I was able to be more involved and take her to some of her appointments, out to get some groceries, or just sit with her and visit and talk. I treasured that time, but wish I had done more, or could have been more involved; but I am thankful that I was able to do what I could.

Up until the last minute, Denise was planning to attend our lunch earlier in February. But then her sister was ill and it was not a good day for her at the last minute. A few of the girls went by afterwards to visit with her for a bit. I am so glad they did as things took a turn very quickly then.

Just a few days before she passed, Denise introduced me to someone as her sister-in-law. I was taken by the association. I didn't know if it was a slip up, or how she really felt. After all we are technically cousins. But I was tickled that moment she called me her sister-in-law. 

It felt as though Denise went very quickly. She had been in and out of pain for some time, and in and out of chemo. She would have a spell where she felt much and better and I think this gave her hope for more time. We talked about the fact the end was near and how her girls and husband were doing, or how hard this would be on the grand kids. It seemed as though she had that glimmer of hope up until just a week before she left us. I saw her on Wednesday, and was in communication with those close to her from then on. When I learned on Saturday she might not make it through the night, I prayed as I sobbed  that she would go quickly and be out of pain. That she, or God, or some power, would be with her and guide her family to stay close and support each other during these sad and trying days and more to follow. I was shocked and yet relieved when I got the word Sunday evening that she had passed.

Here are few more recent fond memories we had together ...

Lisa, Sarah & Alura, Easter Sunday.

Sarah & Lisa, First Holy Communion

2001 trip to Tucson for Aunt Elsie's birthday

2003 - Our 30th Anniversary Party

Lisa's bridal shower

A few years of Relay for Life

 Alura's Baby Shower

2014 Holiday party at our house

2012 Relay for Life Survivor Dinner

Rest in peace sweet Denise. Soar with the angels. You fought a long, hard battle, and now you can rest. You will be missed and remembered by so many, including me. Watch over your dear husband, children, and grandchildren. It was very fitting that you left this world on Valentine's Day, as you had such a huge heart.

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