Book Releases

Holding On (Colorado High Country #6) —
The Colorado High Country series returns with Conrad and Kenzie's story.

A hero barely holding on…

Harrison Conrad returned to Scarlet Springs from Nepal, the sole survivor of a freak accident on Mt. Everest. Shattered and grieving for his friends, he vows never to climb again and retreats into a bottle of whiskey—until Kenzie Morgan shows up at his door with a tiny puppy asking for his help. He’s the last person in the world she should ask to foster this little furball. He’s barely capable of managing his own life right now, let alone caring for a helpless, adorable, fluffy puppy. But Conrad has always had a thing for Kenzie with her bright smile and sweet curves. One look into her pleading blue eyes, and he can’t say no.

The woman who won’t let him fall…

Kenzie Morgan’s life went to the dogs years ago. A successful search dog trainer and kennel owner, she gets her fill of adventure volunteering for the Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team. The only thing missing from her busy life is love. It’s not easy finding Mr. Right in a small mountain town, especially when she’s unwilling to date climbers. She long ago swore never again to fall for a guy who might one day leave her for a rock. When Conrad returns from a climbing trip haunted by the catastrophe that killed his best friend, Kenzie can see he’s hurting and wants to help. She just might have the perfect way to bring him back to the world of the living. But friendship quickly turns into something more—and now she’s risking her heart to heal his.

In ebook and soon in print!

About Me

My photo
I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The road behind me and the road ahead

For weeks, I’ve been wondering what I should write here. Should I try to share my eight-month battle against breast cancer? Should I share how I'm feeling emotionally these days? Should I try to take my observations and experiences as a cancer patient and try to say something profound about life?

The truth is that a part of me just wants to forget everything that happened this year, starting on April 21. I can’t, of course, so here’s a quick summary.

Cancer treatment sucked. Between surgery, chemo, and radiation, I spent almost eight months dealing with different kinds of sickness and pain. The healthcare professionals weren’t always the compassionate people they needed to be. They weren’t always on the ball. And the cost... It was nothing less than obscene, making me doubt the United States’ right to consider itself a first world nation.

I feel emotionally and physically broken, devastated by loss, and afraid this terrible disease will come back. That’s how most cancer patients feel. It’s hard to get psyched about the future when you’re not sure you’re going to have one.

Life makes no sense to me at the moment. I feel distant from everything I used to love. My faith is in tatters, and I can barely relate to the life I had before. How can I go back to it? Perhaps I can’t.

Yes, 2014 has been the worst of times. But before that, for two precious months, it was the BEST of times. After years of working my ass off as a single mother, putting in long hours at the paper then writing fiction in all of my spare time, life seemed at last to be going my way.

On February 10, I got on a plane and lived The Dream. Ever since being an exchange student to Denmark, I have wanted to live in Europe. And although I wasn’t actually able to relocate to Copenhagen, I traveled back and forth between France, Denmark and Spain, doing book signings in Paris and Madrid, spending time with my beloved Danish family and friends, making new friends, taking in historical sites, art, excellent food, and new experiences with Benjamin and then with both Alec and Benjamin. What could be better than bumming around Paris with both of my sons? When we stood together on March 28 in front of the Eiffel Tower after enjoying a sumptuous meal there with our friend Pierre, I felt I had finally reached the part of my own story where I could settle in and enjoy my own happily ever after.

I came home on March 30 and was diagnosed with Stage 1c breast cancer in April. Poof! There went the magic.

What followed were a mastectomy, chemo, and radiation. The only good to come out of the past eight months — other than catching the disease early and hopefully saving my life — is the amazing support my family, friends, fellow authors, and readers demonstrated every single day during this long nightmare.

There were some fun times. My sister spent seven weeks with me, and I always laugh when she’s around. My brother David took me on a surprise trip to Mount Rushmore, which I really enjoyed, even though we got the news that my Danish father had passed on a few minutes after we got out of the car. Benjamin and I went on an Oregon Trail trip, visiting stops along the trail, including Fort Laramie. During chemo, I tried to make the most of it, going on long drives in the mountains and taking a few easy hikes with Benjamin.

That didn’t take the ugliness away, but those trips were my attempt to live as fully as I could despite the ugliness.

I feel that I must say this: I do not believe that God has a plan for me that includes breast cancer. I don’t believe that breast cancer was a “path” I was “meant” to walk or a “journey” I needed to take. I don’t believe it is/was a gift or a blessing. I didn’t “manifest” it. I don’t believe I should be grateful for the experience. I don’t buy into any of that fatalist, pseudo-spiritual crap intended to downplay the horror of these past eight months.

It was terrible misfortune, a major bummer, a shitty bit of luck. It sucked.

So where does that leave me?

My hair is growing back. Apart from starting Tamoxifen later this week, I am done with treatment. I’m facing years of regular check-ups and tests to monitor my health, a situation that will probably involve a fair amount of anxiety even if all goes well. I also still have to undergo reconstruction, hopefully sometime during 2015. But apart from one major surgery and regular check-ups and tests, I can go back to my regular life, knowing I have about a 90 percent chance of making it five years without a recurrence.

Hurray, right?

When I was in the midst of chemo and thought about going back to my life, I imagined myself being like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, clinging to his bedpost and saying again and again, “I’m alive!” then dancing through the streets in my pajamas. But that’s not how it’s shaping up. Between an overwhelming sense of loss and nagging worry, whatever joy I might have felt is largely muted.

I am working with a counselor to try to make my way beyond this emotional morass by utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy to get control of my thoughts. I’ve also registered for a meditation class, despite a life-long reluctance to do all the stereotypical things Boulder people do. (I grew up surrounded by happy, shining people carrying yoga mats who seemed oblivious to the hardships of the world that I saw as a reporter, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.)

I need to change my diet and exercise, but that is tricky, too. I tore the meniscus in my knee midway through chemo, so walking and exercise are tough for me at the moment. Yes, I could swim, except that I can’t. Swimming requires swimming-appropriate fake breasts and an adapted swimsuit, so that’s expensive and out for the moment. Still, I have permission to ride a stationary bike, so I’m going to be doing that even if I’ve always disliked that as a form of exercise. Quelle joi.

Most of all, I need to get back to writing, or I’ll be living in my parents’ basement by June. I started Holly’s story before my diagnosis, and I hope I can get back into it and finish it quickly so that I can continue to eat in the daily fashion to which I have grown accustomed. Plus, the book has to be really good to make up for the year I’ve been off the market and for the inconvenience to my publisher.

Pressure? You bet!

These are the challenges that frame 2015. I hope I can find the courage to be equal to them. I hope I can find a way to transform the grief, the rage, and the fear. However long my life is, I need to live it to the fullest.

It’s Project Happiness all over again, except that I am both weaker — and stronger — than I was before. Life has gotten pretty fucking real, and so must I. Fortunately, my record for dealing with horrible days and harsh reality stands at a gleaming 100 percent.

In the meantime, please know how much your posts here and on Facebook meant to me. I saved every card and gift you all sent to me. Your donations to my medical fund and the Good Food Fund made such a difference in my life. Forgive, if you can, the fact that I wasn’t able to write thank you notes or contact you all personally in response. The cards are saved in a special box that is now so overflowing with good wishes and concern that I can’t close it. I have read and re-read them all.

Here’s hoping for a happy and HEALTHY New Year for us all!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Getting by with a little help from my fellow authors

They went behind my back. Yes, they planned all of it behind my back. It was only after a cover was nearly completed and a host of authors had signed on to be a part of it that authors Norah Wilson and Dianna Love told me about their idea — a box set to help raise money for my medical expenses.

I burst into tears.

For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 21. After I had a bilateral mastectomy in June, they found that the cancer had spread to a single lymph node, making chemo and radiation advisable. I’m recovering from my last chemotherapy treatment now and will start five weeks of daily radiation treatments on Nov. 3. Sometime next year, I’ll be healed enough to undergo reconstructive surgery.

Although I have health insurance, I’ve used up my entire savings on co-pays and “co-insurance.” To make matters worse, I’ve been too sick to write. For a self-employed author, that’s bad news. It means, among other things, that I have no resources going into next year’s medical care, including reconstruction. My fellow authors know this, and that’s what led some of them to conspire together to create the LAST HERO STANDING box set.

[Read more about why these authors chose to act here.]

The box set contains 12 stories — 11 stories from 11 authors, plus a bonus short story from Dianna Love — and costs only 99 cents. That's 99 cents for the equivalent of 2,000 pages of fiction. Included in the box set is my novella First Strike, the erotic prequel to Striking Distance.

Participating authors include New York Times bestsellers Dianna Love, Cynthia Eden, Elisabeth Naughton, Joan Swan, Bonnie Vanak; USA Today bestsellers Norah Wilson, Adrienne Giordano, and Mary Buckham; and award-winning authors Stephanie Rowe and Tracey Devlin. The stories range from romantic suspense to paranormal to contemporary. So, although most readers of this blog have likely read First Strike, there are lots of other great stories to be found in this set.
It has been a hard road and oftentimes a lonely one. Chemo made my immune system crash. Even a cold could be life-threatening to me at this point. As a result, I’ve been on a kind of reverse isolation, restricted to my home, where I can receive very few visitors for fear that someone might be sick and not realize it.

Yet, despite the isolation, I've found so much support among my readers and fellow romance authors. They’ve reached out with cards, phone calls, emails and gifts to tell me that I wasn’t alone. While I sat here putting this blog post today, UPS arrived with Mrs. Fields cookies sent by author Julie James. I can’t tell you what the kindness of these remarkable people has meant to me in the darkest hours of fighting this terrible disease.

LAST HERO STANDING is available for one month only, and all the proceeds go toward my medical fund. Thanks so much for your support and concern!


Monday, September 15, 2014

DANGER & DESIRE Box Set is out!

If you love sexy romantic suspense, here’s the box set for you. It features 10 full-length novels from some of he top names in romantic suspense. The stories have amassed more than 2,000 five-star reviews between them — a mind-boggling thought. All of that for 99 cents.

I was invited to be a part of this box set and contributed my story Skin Deep (I-Team 5.5). Though many of you have read Skin Deep, there’s a good chance you haven’t read all of these authors. Even one of these stories for 99 cents is a deal. Getting all 10 is pretty fabulous.

This is a limited edition box set, available this month only. Grab it while you can!

Here are the links:

You can find the box set here: 
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:

I can’t believe it’s been two months since I posted. I’ve had two surgeries since my last post, and am halfway through chemo treatments. In that same span of time, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the same terrible disease that killed my Danish father. It has been a tremendously rough year for my family. At the same time, we’re doing what we can to pull through.

I seem to be tolerating chemo fairly well, though, of course, I feel sick much of the time. But that is the topic of my upcoming Chemo Diaries that I’ll share soon here on my blog.
Monday, July 14, 2014

A life well lived, a hard farewell

Preben Hoch, 1981

I first met Preben Hoch in the summer of 1981 when I went as a Rotary Club exchange student to Denmark. My Rotary Club liaison, Niels Henriksen, drove me from the little town of Sorø, where I would soon be going to school, out to the Hoch home in Bromme Forest. I was nervous, of course, only 17 and on the other side of the world.

My first impression of Preben was that he was very tall, a big, big man. He didn’t speak a word of English, really, but he flashed me the bright smile that would eventually become dear to me. I didn’t speak Danish, but Inga Hoch, his wife, was an English teacher. Thanks to her interpretation skills, we had our first conversation.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Preben and Inga would become two of the most important people in my life. I was to have three host families during my year in Denmark, and they were my second. But they were far more than a host family in the end. They were family, plain and simple.

I moved into their home on Nov. 20, 1981, a day that is important to me because nine years later it would become my younger son Benjamin’s birthday. I wrote in my journal about how I immediately felt at home both with the family and with my bedroom, which I described in detail. I put my stuff in the room, then had tea with the family, joined them in watching an old World War II movie on TV, and then headed to bed.

Preben and Inga in Bromme, 1982

By November, I spoke adequate Danish, and we quickly fell into a pattern. Preben, who worked as the manager of Bromme Forest, a big stretch of beech and pine that belonged to my school, loved to tell jokes. He would start supper by telling a joke or sharing some kind of Danish saying — especially ones that had double entendres. This would earn him a rebuke from Inga, and usually I didn’t understand anyway. He would explain, and I would laugh.

Bromme Forest

Laughter. That’s what I remember so much about my time with the Hoch family. I remember, too, how Preben used to tease me. But this wasn’t unkind teasing or bullying. Everything he said was geared toward making me feel good about myself. One night as we were walking into a restaurant, he slipped my arm through his and said, “Quick! Hold onto my arm! Everyone will think I’m here with a beautiful young woman.”

Many years later, I met with Preben and Inga in 1997 when they traveled to Arizona on vacation. I told them things they didn’t know about me. I shared the fact that I’d been sexually assaulted as a child and that my coming to Denmark had been a means of escaping a small town where I had been bullied.

Dinner with Inga and Preben in 1997

They weren’t surprised.

“We knew something had happened to you, but we didn’t know what," Inga said. “We felt we could help you by giving you as normal a life as possible during the short time you were with us.”

Those three months helped me to change my life. They were part of the saving of me. Their sincere effort to help a strange girl from far away was an act of compassion that made all the difference in my small world.

I spent my first Danish Christmas with Preben and Inga. I turned 18 beneath their roof, while Preben turned 50. (So old!!!) I watched my first lunar eclipse and found myself shaken by the realization that time passes and cannot be reclaimed. I realized that, just as the the lunar eclipse had passed with time marking itself in the slow disappearance and reappearance of the moon, my days in Denmark would pass, too. And so would my life.

It was pretty heavy thinking for my 18-year-old brain and left me with a melancholy ache in my heart. I remember that night to this day, but I’m sure the feeling passed quickly. When one is 18, life beckons so strongly. There isn’t time to think about much else.

Dinner with Preben and Inga in Bromme, 1999
I went back to visit in 1999 and spent a good few weeks beneath their roof. It felt like old times with leisurely breakfasts together, walks in the forest, lots of jokes and laughter. I felt like I had come home. I even slept in my old room.

But now time has passed, so much time. That restaurant where we had dinner now belongs to a classmate of mine and has been transformed into a residence. He lives there with his wife and kids. The house in Bromme still stands. A thatched-roof cottage from a couple of centuries back, it is now occupied by someone else. 

Paying respect to the past, 2014

My Danish sister, Christina, took me there for a visit the day before my 50th birthday, the two of us strolling through a shared past. In addition to other changes, a tree had been planted in Preben’s honor. Marked with a sign that reads “Hoch’s Oak,”  it commemorates his many decades of service to the forest. Standing beside it, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed.

Standing near Hoch’s Oak, 2014

I spent part of that day and the next with Preben and Inga. Preben was confined to a wheel chair, and Inga, too, had limited mobility, both of them having been stricken with Parkinson’s. I will always cherish the handful of hours I spent with them. 

“Do you remember your 18th birthday?” Preben asked, struggling to speak.

“Of course, I do.” 

I repeated the embarrassing story about having been drunk under the table by my Danish brother, Tomas, and having to be helped to bed. And then there was something about them trying to convince me that the forest was full of wild pigs... Or something...

Though he didn’t have much mobility in his facial muscles, Preben smiled and gave a little laugh. 

Benjamin, my younger son, was with me that day. He doesn’t speak Danish, so he and Preben had no direct way to communicate. But Preben found his way beyond that, taking Benjamin’s hand and holding it in silence. 

Tea with Benjamin, Preben and Inga on my 50th birthday
Before we left, I hugged both Preben and Inga tight and told them I love them. It’s not the first time I’ve said those words to them, but I wanted to let them know, as if they already didn’t, how very much they mean to me. When the time came for us to say farewell, I wasn’t the only one in tears. Benjamin had been deeply touched by meeting the two people who had played such an important role in his mother’s life. Preben wept, as well.

I returned from that trip to Europe to get the news that I had breast cancer. I sent word to my Danish family, certain that Preben and Inga would want to know. I went through my double mastectomy and am now almost six weeks post-op. 

My brother David and I were in South Dakota on our madcap, spontaneous road trip to Mount Rushmore, when I got word from Christina that Preben had passed away. I couldn’t read most of the message because my eyes instantly filled with tears.

“Do you want to go home now?” asked David.

We had just driven for six hours, so I was blown away that he could be that selfless. He’d come up with the idea of making the drive as a way of cheering me up and giving me something else to think about besides cancer and chemo and survival rates.

“Are you kidding?” I said, laughing and crying at the same time. “Preben loved life. He would want us to see the fuck out of this.”

And so we did. 

One of the first places Preben and Inga took me on my tour of the countryside near their home was Bromme Kirke, a 1,000-year-old church that sits on a hill looking down on the area where Hoch’s Oak now stands. They told me a bit about the church’s history and told me that they were going to be buried there when they died. My 17-year-old self found it rather macabre that anyone would find peace in knowing where they were going to be buried one day.

Bromme Kirke
Today — July 16 — Preben will at last be laid to rest at Bromme Kirke. He’ll rest above the forest he spent his adult life tending in a cemetery that overlooks the tree that was planted in his honor.  

I am heartbroken that I will never see that 100-watt smile again, that I’ll never listen to another one of his semi-dirty jokes, that I’ll never be able to hug him again. But I rejoice in knowing that I had those last hours with him on my birthday. He met Benjamin, and I was able to say those three precious words again: “I love you.”

 I am relieved for his sake to know he is beyond suffering now. In the end, he was ready to leave this life. 

My thoughts now are with Inga and the rest of the family — daughters, sons, step-daughters, grandchildren. I hope they know how very much I care about them.  I had always planned to be there, but there is no way I could manage a trip to Denmark now. 

So I sit on my sofa, surrounded by mementos of the part of my life that intersected so blessedly with Preben’s and Inga’s — photos, journals, the table cloth they gave me as a wedding present, the set of silverware they sent me when they moved out of the house in Bromme to a smaller residence in Sorø.

Can a life pass so quickly? All our lives are rushing by, it seems.

I find myself thinking of the lessons I learned from him, lessons about living fully and keeping a sense of humor. As I continue my fight against breast cancer — a fight I plan to win — I think of how gracefully he dealt with Parkinson’s Disease. Even when he could no longer care for himself, he wasn’t bitter. 

I am so lucky to have met him, and I’m so grateful.

But my heart hurts, and I will miss him.

Sov godt, Preben. Vi ses igen én dag. Og næste gang vil vi ikke være nød til at sige farvel. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


It’s been three weeks since I posted on this blog. Since then I’ve been focused on one thing: healing.

I’ve slept a LOT. The drains have come out. I’ve moved back to my own home and am sleeping in my own bed and not the recliner I bought for my parents’ house. I’ve gotten some of my energy back.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had good days and bad ones. The drains have been replaced by a new problem — seromas. Fluid keeps filling in the space where my breasts used to be, and it’s not comfortable. Still, it’s so much less painful than having tubes running beneath and out of my skin. Ouch!

I’ve tried to go for walks and get some excercise. It seems amazing to me that just two weeks ago, I barely had the energy to walk for 30 minutes. Yesterday, I spent three hours strolling at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I think I’m turning a corner here now that I’m five weeks post-op.

There’s an emotional element to recovering, as well. Cancer is scary as hell. Ultimately, facing cancer is about facing one’s own death. Sure, we all die. It’s pretty easy to be philosophical about it, especially when you’re NOT the one with the cancer. Until the real possibility of death is staring you in the face, you can’t grasp what if feels like.

The 45 days of waiting before my surgery drained me emotionally more than anything I’ve had to go through. In the midst of it, I told my sister that I didn’t think I’d ever feel happy or light-hearted again. That much stress has to be resolved somehow. The impact of it is real. So I’ve been trying to be very easy on myself, making no big demands and approaching each day with no expectations of what I should do and focusing on things I enjoy — music, flowers, conversations with my mother, talking with my sister via Skype, slowing organizing all the cards you’ve sent me.

It’s funny how my perspective has changed since April 21, the terrible day I was diagnosed.

I initially told the surgeon that I would not be able to survive — I would not be able to SURVIVE!!! — without breasts for any lengthy period of time. Reconstruction had to be a priority, I said, along with obliterating the cancer.

Now that I’ve been living without breasts for more than a month, I’ve begun to wonder whether I want reconstruction at all. Yes, I miss having breasts, but do I really want to subject myself to the long surgery that a DIEP flap entails? It’s microsurgery with four to five hours of anesthesia and a few days of hospitalization. I’d have chest incisions and drains, as well as a major belly incision. I’d be risking all the pain and hazards of surgery, including infection, just so that I could have sculpted blobs of fat designed to look like breasts beneath my clothing?

I’m not offended by the sight of my chest with its healing scars, so why should I subject myself to that? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself. What a shift!

I initially told the doctor that I would not even consider breast prostheses. No! No! Not me. I imagined they would be big pillow bullet bras or something. And what was I supposed to think when what they gave me in the hospital were two hand-stitched felt pillows? These were made by volunteers — God bless them! — but I’ve never worn mine. They’re not even the same shape. As I said on Facebook, I have no idea which clan they represent, but I call them my Argyle boobs.

A pair o’ wee titties for ye, lass?

Then the referral for a prosthetics came in, and I decided to approach it all with an open mind. The fitting at Nordstrom was interesting. The first pair of breasts prosthetics were so much like my real breasts that I got choked up for a moment. That was tough. Then I decided to go bigger.

Why not?

I ended up with two bras that look like grandma bras and two high-tech breasts made of whipped silicone. The prosthetics are inserted into the bra and can be adjusted so that the little nipples point the same way and such. They look real even when I’m just wearing the bra. When I’m dressed, you wouldn’t be able to tell they weren’t real unless you grabbed them, and even then...

They’re so convincing that one of my cross-dressing gay friends has offered to buy them from me if/when I have reconstruction.

High-tech boobage

I was amazed at how good they looked — and how much seeing myself with breasts again lifted my spirits. No, breasts don’t make me who I am, but they were a part of what I cherished about being a woman. They’re a part of what makes a woman feel feminine. Looking in that mirror, I felt more like myself than I had in weeks.

Some days I wear the prosthetics, and some days I go flat. I feel comfortable both ways. Whether I’ll stick with prosthetics or go under the knife again remains to be seen.

July 3 was a big day. I woke up, took a shower with my iPod blasting, and found myself dancing around afterward while straightening up my bedroom. I said to myself, “I might not have boobs, but I still have the moves.”

Then I stopped and stared at myself in the mirror because it was the first day since my diagnosis that I’d woken up feeling happy.

What a precious thing it is to feel light-hearted! What a beautiful gift it is to open your eyes in the morning and not immediately feel pressed by worries! I don’t think I’ll ever take feeling carefree for granted again, and I am actively cultivating happiness. Yes, Project Happiness is still active.

Last summer, Benjamin and I decided we had to put a concerted effort toward having more fun. If left to ourselves, we’ll work all day every day. So we regularly planned little getaways, even if they were just quick drives to favorite spots in the mountains. We had a spectacular summer.

We learned from that. If you don’t TAKE time to MAKE memories, you won’t end up with any, and time will pass you by anyway. As a result, I’m doing that again, working to make certain that I include activities that soothe my spirit and lift me up. It’s more important now than ever.

Yesterday, we went to the Denver Botanic Gardens to see the flora and the Chihuly exhibit. I wasn’t sure when we made this plan that I would be able to handle three hours of walking around in the hot sun. Fortunately, it wasn’t as hot as it has been lately, and the beauty of the art and the flowers lifted my spirits so much that I felt as if I were being carried through the gardens. It was bliss.

Blue glass reflecting off the water

Beauty is so intensely healing for me. It soothes and inspires. It lifts not just my heart, but my mind and my spirt, too. Creating beauty is a God-like act, as all creation comes from that original Divine spark. Soaking up other people’s creations is such a joy on every level.

Still, I have a lot of physical and mental adjustments to make. The seromas need to heal. The incisions need to heal completely, a process that will take another three weeks or so. I still have to face treatment — whatever it turns out to be — and then recover from that. But there’s more.

I need to learn to cope with the fear that cancer brings so that stress won’t hurt me. I also need to change my lifestyle from the sedentary one of a writer to the active lifestyle I had before my climbing accident. I already eat organic, but I also eat a lot of sugar. The sugar has to go. These are big changes, and they’re tough. How many people want to live more healthful lives and never get past joining the gym? But this is my agenda for the year.

I plan to enlist the folks at the Integrative Care Center at BCH in Boulder to help me with some of this, through oncology massage, Reiki, acupuncture, counseling. It’s expensive, but I’ll go as many times as I can afford to go — whatever it takes to rebuild my health and my life brick by brick. That’s really what this is about.

The other elements that I hope to rebuild is my community involvement and my spiritual life. As a journalist, I was always involved in something. As a writer, I’ve been primarily focused on my books. I want to shift that. My church community has a program that helps women who are homeless after leaving jail or prison. Can you think of a cause more suited to my particular and very odd life experience and skill set? I think not. The cause of incarcerated women has always been dear to me, so I hope to become involved in that when my health permits.

As for my church, the community there has been very supportive of me. I gave up going to church for years, in part because I was going to sweat lodge and enjoyed that more. But in January after my mother-in-law’s death, I felt the desire to return to St. John’s, the liberal Episcopal congregation where I was baptized. I haven’t been to services since my surgery, but I hope to return this Sunday. Prayer helped me get through my dark days — with support from the beautiful and loving Marliss Melton — and I want to keep this change as a permanent part of my life.

When it comes to writing, I hope to work my way back to Holly’s story as soon as possible. If I don’t write, I don’t publish. If I don’t publish, I don’t have income. If I have no income...

Well, we all know what happens then.

I have some big decisions to make in the days ahead about treatment — decisions that have the potential to impact how long I live. My cancer is low risk and not aggressive, but there was 1mm of cancer in a lymph node. This puts me in an awkward position in terms of whether or not I should have chemo. Statistically speaking, I don’t stand to benefit from chemo because the specific biology of the tumor makes it highly unlikely that it will recur. The odds of recurrence are almost identical without chemo as they are with it — a 0 to 1 percent difference. Because chemo entails some real risks, including permanent organ damage and death, it may be riskier than going without. Statistically speaking.

But statistics aren't science or biology, and there are no certainties when it comes to breast cancer. Even my oncologist says this is a tough call. We’ve gotten a second opinion, and it concurs with the first. Both recommend Tamoxifen for five years and no chemo. But ultimately the choice is mine.

If you pray, then please pray for clarity for me on the next step.

In the meantime, please know how touched I am by your gifts and cards. Your kindness and your prayers carried me through this difficult time. I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Most Unkindest Cut, Part II

Maybe it was the morphine. Or maybe it was being on the other side of a surgery that I had been both desperate to have and dreading. But I felt so much relief as I regained full consciousness in my hospital room, surrounded by my family.

My parents, sister Michelle, brother Robert and younger son, Benjamin, and bestie Jenn LeBlanc all looked intensely relieved, too. The frozen section of the sentinel node biopsy had shown no cancer in my lymph nodes. What we didn’t know then was that the deeper pathology would later show random cancer cells in one lymph node — which means nothing and is the same as a negative node — and a 1 mm micro-metastases in another. The third node was 100 percent clean.

What does a 1 mm micro-met mean? No one has really been able to tell me. Some doctors say it’s the same thing as a negative node and shouldn’t be counted. Others still hold to the older, more traditional belief that it counts as cancer. So...

But we didn’t know this on June 5.

We shared our relief that the surgery was behind me, that I most probably had no cancer in my lymph nodes, that the worst might be over. Having them all with me meant so very much.

But I’d just had major surgery. I had a morphine pump the button of which glowed green when I was able to push it again. The pain relief was good, but not total. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the side, the result of incisions created for drains that were threaded beneath the incisions to drain off excess fluid. The drains were to become (and still are) the bane of my existence post-op.

I hadn’t slept the night before, and with both morphine and anesthesia in my system, I was extremely drowsy. But relatives aren't allowed to push the button, nor are medical staff. Self-administered pain relief has to be just that. This basically meant I couldn't sleep, as dozing off meant my pain relief vanished in a relatively short period of time, leaving me wide awake and hurting.

My family tried to help, telling me when the light turned green again. They would point and say, “Green! Green! Green!”

But that still meant I had to be awake every 10 minutes to push the damned button.

My nurse that day was a wonderful, fun woman named Laurel. She checked my vitals at regular intervals. She also gave me a bolus of morphine to carry me through several rounds of button pushing, enabling me to doze for a while.

Of course, then I had to pee.

The cool thing about peeing after getting a sentinel node biopsy is that the blue dye they inject into your breast to light up the sentinel nodes turns your pee blue. I don’t mean a hint of blue. I mean full-on Papa Smurf blue. In my morphine state of mine, I found this hilarious and wanted to show my pee to everyone. It’s a wonder I didn’t take a photo of it with my cell phone.

Laurel, the nurse, helped me into and out of the bathroom, and it was in the bathroom as I was about to pee again that I learned she’d gone to my website to read about my books. Either my sister or I had mentioned I was an author, and she’d taken the time to check me out online.

I wished I’d had a book to give her. Alas, I hadn’t brought any to the hospital.

At one point, the physican’s assistant who works with my surgeon came to check my surgery site. This was a sobering moment that I remember.

“I don’t want to see,” I told her.

“You don't have to see. Only I have to see,” she said.

Of course, that wasn’t true. Eventually, I would have no choice but to see.

But lying there in pressure bandages only a few hours post-op, I didn’t yet need to face my changed body.

Then came the absurd part of the day where they told me to breathe. My oxygen saturation rate kept falling. My mother, a respiratory therapist as well as an RN, coached me in how to breathe. But no matter how deeply I breathed, I couldn’t get my oxygen levels up. Then someone discovered that 1) the oxygen had been shut off somehow and 2) the clip on my fingertip wasn’t working. Once the oxygen was on again and the clip had been changed, I was suddenly fine.

As the day wore on, my brother and son left for home, both of them having to return to work in the morning. My mother and father left at suppertime. And so my sister settled in to spend the night with me.

The night shift

That night is a bit vague to me.

Laurel went home, and a kind woman named Lori took over as my RN.

I know my sister went to get some supper at some point, while I feasted on broth and Jello, clear liquids being all I was permitted to eat.

I also know that I tried to go for a walk, and that the IV had infiltrated my right hand, making it blow up like a balloon. I was down the hallway away from my room when the IV was disconnected. With it went my pain relief. By the time we got me back to my bed, I was in serious, awful pain. Fortunately, relief was just a new IV and a bolus of morphine away.

Did we watch TV? I can’t remember.

My sister managed to fall asleep at one point. Dependent on that boost of morphine every 10 minutes. I couldn’t sleep without the relief it gave, and if I fell asleep it wore off.

I listened to my sister sleep. Sometime in the course of the night while she was sleeping, I took this awesome selfie. Note the glazed eyes and the fabulous hair knot.

I watched the hours go by and tried hard not to have to pee because I didn’t want to wake my sister up. Also, the CNA who was assigned to me for the night wasn’t very good. Though I wasn’t supposed to be left alone out of bed, she would help me out of bed, then rush off, leaving me to get back in myself, complete with a massive IV pole. She didn’t chart certain things, and left me to figure out how to put on my oxygen again.

I waited from four AM to six AM to pee because I didn’t want to wake my sister. Rather than calling for the CNA, I went by myself. As I predicted, it woke my sister. By this time, the blue was gone, and I was back to ordinary yellow pee again.

Outside the window, the sun began to rise on another Friday morning.

At this point, I hadn’t slept since getting up Wednesday morning. I was tired, in pain — and hungry.

Soon, Laurel was back, and things were done right again. The surgeon’s partner checked me on rounds and told me I was being discharged. Some part of me wondered if this wasn't grotesquely soon. But at least I was allowed to eat again. I ordered breakfast — an omelet and potatoes — and did my best not to worry about what came later.

I can’t remember who brought me that first latté — my sister or my mother. But damn! That was too good to be true. Jenn showed up soon thereafter with another. And before I knew it, I was being given discharge information and told it was time to go.

In truth, I was being rushed out the door. I’d had a bilateral mastectomy and was being discharged in 24 hours.

My mother helped me dress, which meant removing the hospital gown to face the pressure bandages that wrapped around my flat and hurting chest. The post-mastectomy camisole I’d bought wasn’t comfortable. Fortunately, my mother had bought a smock with Velcro down the front. It was loose and had pockets for the infernal drain bags.

By the time I was dressed, I was in tears. Pain, exhaustion, tension, trepidation about going home where I would have to face what had been done to me — it overwhelmed me. Jenn, my sister and my mother were with me as I was rolled to the front exit in a wheelchair, where my father had his SUV waiting for me.

We drove for 1.5 hours to my parents house, where we arrived to find that the motion of the drive — those bumps and curves — had started a surge of bleeding. Blood had filled the drains and drain tubes, spilling out of the incisions in my side and down my skin. I was also in a great deal of pain.

What happened next was a mini-nightmare.

They had prescribed Dilaudid for my pain. Not only did the drug not work for me, but it gave me a terrible allergic reaction. My entire body began to itch horribly. My face turned red and began to swell. My lips started to go numb.

My mother gave me Benadryl, and we got back in the SUV for a long, arduous, horrible drive back to the hospital’s emergency room, where it seemed at first that they would make me wait in the waiting room.

“I just had a bilateral mastectomy for breast freaking cancer! I have no pain relief, and I'm having an allergic reaction. I am NOT sitting in the waiting room!” I shouted at the medical intake guy, who seemed more interested in getting my financial info than hearing what was wrong with me.

By then I was exhausted and in tears. Fortunately, my mother and sister were more than up to the task of advocating on my behalf. My sister can get angry when pushed. If she raises her voice, watch out. Soon, the head physician of the entire ER was attending us. I was given IV Ativan, morphine and Benadryl. And I pretty much drifted off while my mother dealt with the rest of the medical stuff — getting a new pain med RX, figuring out a way to get me home that would be less painful, and so on. I barely remember the ride home.

Between Oxycontin, Ativan, and Benadryl, I managed to sleep a little that night.

Facing myself in the mirror

When you’re getting ready for a mastectomy, everyone tells you that your breasts don’t make you a woman. They don’t make you who you are. They aren’t the source of your beauty. True beauty is on the inside.

This is all true. But to some degree it’s all just platitudes. 

There is no easy way for a woman to lose both of her breasts. There is no way for a woman to lose such an important part of her body without feeling a sense of loss and grief.

During the long weeks prior to the surgery, I’d told my mother to buy a bunch of cheap sleeveless T-shirts because I didn’t plan on taking a shower nude until/unless I was ready to face what this terrible disease had taken from me.

But when I woke up the next morning, I found myself wanting to know what lay beneath the bandages. When no one else was around, I lifted up the edges and looked beneath. Long incisions. Steri-strips. Puckered skin. A sternum that seemed to bulge out. No breasts. 

The sight of it settled somewhere in my stomach — and it wasn’t as horrible or shocking as I’d feared it would be. Of course, I’d only caught a glimpse. But I had looked and lived through it.

After we emptied my drains again, I found myself desperately wanting a shower—not a small thing when you have very long, very thick hair and it hurts like hell to move your arms. 

We had strategized about the whole shower thing ahead of time. My mother had bought the T-shirts I’d requested. She’d also bought a lanyard for me to hang my drains from so that they would be out of the way. My brother had installed a big, hand-held shower head in my mother’s shower so that it could be used by anyone to wash my hair if necessary.

They helped me undress, and my mother carefully cut off the pressure bandages, which we could have removed the night before if we’d chosen to do so. When the big bandaging came loose, I surprised both my mother and my sister by stepping away from them — and standing naked in front of the mirror.

And what did I see?

I saw a woman who’d been through hell, a woman who was fighting to live, a woman who would bear the scars of that battle for the rest of her life. I could see in her eyes and on her face that she’d been through a terrible time, and I felt compassion for her. But I also felt her strength, her will to survive. I felt the iron inside her. 

There aren't a lot of times in my life where I can say I felt like a hero, but looking in the mirror at the four-inch incisions that had replaced my breasts, I respected the hell out of myself.

I didn’t shed a single tear. 

My sister and mother were surprised. I think we had all expected a bit of a breakdown. But I didn’t. Instead, I waited for my mother to turn on the water, then stepped into the warm stream, lifted my arms slowly and began to wash. 

It took an hour and a half from start to finish, but I washed my own hair, combed conditioner through the tangles myself, and then washed my skin, each motion of my arms sending pain across my chest. Afterward, they helped me dress and get settled with pain meds.

Looking back, I really don’t know how I made it through that first shower without crying. Some things in life you simply have to face head on. When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, that list grows long and dark and scary. 

A mastectomy is, to steal a few words from Shakespeare, “the most unkindest cut.” And yet a mastectomy is a small price to pay to live. The core of who I am is unchanged. I am defined by what I love and what I do. I am not defined by what has happened to me.

Still, I will always miss what was taken from me. 

The night before my surgery, I asked my sister to photograph my breasts. I wanted some way to remember them. And before she left for Sweden, I asked her to photograph me from the same angle with my mastectomy. 

The photo of my breasts I’ll keep to myself. My breasts were beautiful. I always loved them. That photo is one of my personal treasures.

The photo of me after my bilateral mastectomy I will share. I share it to prove that there is no shame in a changed body. I share it to challenge superficial notions of womanly beauty. I share it for the sake of other women who may be facing a breast cancer diagnosis and feel afraid that they can’t face surgery. I share it so that those of you who have friends or loved ones fighting breast cancer can understand perhaps a bit more deeply what your friends and loved ones might be going through. I share it to show you my battle scars, the part of me that is standing up to cancer and telling it to fuck off. 

Here’s what I see when I look in the mirror. 

The ridge in the center is my sternum, my breast bone. Where my breasts once were are small concave spaces that make my sternum bulge out. The doctor left some extra skin to help with my reconstruction, and I still have some swelling from the surgery. The steri-strips haven't fallen off yet, and the bruising is still there.

Yes, my body is changed. But breasts aren’t the only thing breast cancer has taken from me.

It has also stolen the illusion that life is certain, that tomorrow is mine to do with as I choose. This disease has robbed me of that pleasant fantasy, leaving me face to face with the stark reality that we are all living on borrowed time.

On my desktop is a document I created in January titled ”Goals for 2014.” In that document, I mapped out how I would spend this year — the books I would write, the trips I would take, the new activities I would explore. Two I-Team books. A new contemp series. A trip to Canada. A painting class. Tai chi. What a year it was going to be!

This year, I will fight cancer. 

I plan to win that fight. 

When my brother sat beside me in the hospital, he told me that I’d just fought that battle that would win me the war. 

“There are still more battles to come, but that was your D-Day,” he said. “Keep fighting, and you’ll win the war.”

It was June 6 when he said those words — the anniversary of the real D-Day. A good omen? 

I hope so.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The most unkindest cut — Part I

It’s been a week since my bilateral mastectomy. Diagnosed on April 21 with cancer in my left breast, I waited 45 days for the surgery to remove the deadly invasive ductal carcinoma from my body.

To say I was afraid the night before would be a gross understatement. It wasn’t just the surgery or the idea of losing both breasts that distressed me, but also the possibility that they might cut me open to find that the cancer was much more advanced than they had believed. No, I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t.

I got up at 4 a.m. and showered, knowing it would be the last time in a while when I’d be able to shave my legs, wash my hair, or feel truly clean. It was also the last time I would bathe with my body intact. I stood there in the hot water, tears pouring down my face, my hands instinctively reaching to hold the part of me I was about to lose.

My sister and younger son Benjamin got up with me and prepared for a day at the hospital. We left my house at 5 a.m. and reached the hospital at 5:30. The sun was up, light spilling over the plains onto the mountains as we took a few minutes just to sit in the parking lot, where I did my best to gather my courage.

Robins sang in the trees. The sprinkler system kicked on, water spraying out over the asphalt and not onto the grass. Typical. We joked about making use of the off-kilter sprinklers to give Benjamin’s car a bath. And then it was 5:45. Time to go inside.

Facing my worst nightmare

The surgery center was busy and staffed by medical assistants who seemed far too cheerful to me. Did they not understand how afraid I was or how damned angry I was to be facing a bilateral mastectomy? I’m sure they intended to be professional and polite, but to me their attitude felt like cold, corporate indifference. I was sure they didn’t give a damn what was happening to me, and I wasn’t about to let anyone hide behind a superficial smile.

“Pamela Clare reporting for mutilation,” I said to the one at the desk, unable to keep the tears out of my eyes.

She blinked, clearly taken somewhat aback, then returned to her script. “Show me your ID. Gimme money. Sign here. Sign there. Blah blah. Nice weather. Please have a seat over there. Blah blah blah. Someone will be out to get you soon.”

My parents arrived a few minutes after we did. My mother smiled and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, but I could see the grief and fear in her eyes. She didn’t look like she’d slept much either.

A nurse came for me in a few minutes and led me back to a room, where I took off everything that made me feel like me — clothes, earrings, ring. Those things were replaced by two hospital bracelets, one of which was mostly a bar code like you’d find on a box of Corn Flakes.

We quickly came to the first thing I’d been dreading. A man from radiology came in to inject radioactive isotopes into my left breast near the tumor. The isotopes were supposed help the surgeon identify the lymph nodes that the tumor was draining to — the sentinel nodes. I’d gone to great effort to research practices at various hospitals and had made it clear to my doctor that the injection would not happen unless I had numbing medication first.

And yet despite guarantees that I would get lidocaine as patients at most hospitals do, I discovered that the lidocaine was mixed with the isotope solution. In other words, I wasn’t really going to be numb before the injection. The lidocaine was just there to take the edge off during the injection.

I was pissed. I really don’t understand why the medical profession doesn’t do all it can to eliminate unnecessary pain. How people feel ought to be of supreme importance to all medical staff. It wouldn’t have cost but a few minutes to numb me up first. Why couldn’t they take that extra step given what I was going to go through that day?

When the radiology tech did the injection, I let him know exactly what I thought of his apparent indifference to causing me pain. “This is fucking bullshit!” I said, squeezing the heck out of my  mother’s hand.

So far, the morning was becoming the nightmare I had feared.

The nurse promised I’d get sedation as soon as I signed consent forms. She started an IV, hooked me up to a bottle of lactated ringers, and left us alone.

I lost it for a while. Anxiety from six long weeks of waiting had taken its toll on my emotions. Combine that with lack of sleep...

I cannot tell you what it meant to me to have my parents, my sister and Benjamin there. They held my hands while I cried, kept their arms around my shoulders, and just generally surrounded me with love while we waited together.

Laughter and acts of kindness

At 7 a.m., my priest arrived — and everything began to change.

Rev. Susan has a lovely voice and a beautiful presence. I met her in January after my former mother-in-law’s sudden death made me want to return to my spiritual roots at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Thanks in part to my cancer diagnosis, Rev. Susan and I got to know each other quickly, trivialities swept aside for the deeper discussions that happen when one is facing serious illness.

She entered the room, a sympathetic smile on her face, and hugged me. I sobbed on her shoulder, and she didn’t let go. When I had gotten the tears out of my system, she introduced herself to my parents, greeted Benjamin and Michelle, and listened empathetically while we talked.

The surgeon came with papers for me to sign. When he saw I was with my priest, he left us in peace.

Rev. Susan guided the conversation to a spiritual plane, bringing her perspective to my worst fears — losing a precious part of myself, facing prolonged illness, possibly facing death. She talked about God’s love and the Resurrection of the Flesh and what that means for those of us who’ve lost parts our bodies in this life.

“Jesus holds these precious parts of us in trust until we are resurrected. We’re reunited not only with our loved ones, but also with parts of our bodies that we lost,” she said, her hands curving into cups. “If you can imagine Jesus holding this precious part of you... ”

And we all burst into laughter. Jesus holding my boobs?

It felt so wonderful to laugh, so much of the tension I’d been carrying dissipating in shrieks and howls.

The surgeon opened the door, perhaps wondering if we’d all gone insane, and came in to listen.

Rev. Susan finished the point she’d been trying to make, then she invited my surgeon to join hands with us in prayer. Her prayer was beautiful, helping to fill me with the sense of peace I’d needed all morning. She anointed my forehead with oil and blessed me, and then stepped aside so that the surgeon could go over the consent forms with me.

The anesthesiologist, a woman from Australia, was right behind him. She asked some medical questions, had me sign some papers, and then told me to tell everyone goodbye. “Once I give you the sedative, you won’t remember anything, so it’s better if you say goodbye now.”

I hugged Rev. Susan, my father, my mother, Benjamin and my sister, each one of them finding different words to offer me reassurance, my mother and sister with tears in their eyes.

Then the nurse injected a powerful sedative into my IV and ...

I do remember being wheeled from the room and into the operating room.

“Can I please wear lipstick during the surgery?” I asked the anesthesiologist.

I have no idea why this was suddenly important to me.

“I don’t see why not,” she answered.

She reached into my bag of belongings, fished a tube of lipstick from my purse, and helped me put it on. “Is that good?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

And then she put the mask on my face, and I was out.

She could teach that radiology tech a thing or two. Just a little touch of kindness here and there can help a patient feel like a person.

In the recovery room

As I slowly regained consciousness a couple of hours later, I felt a stabbing pain in my sides and pain across my chest. I heard voices — a couple of nurses — talking about the dose of medication a patient needed to receive. They were trying to do the math.

I can’t do math to save my life — unless I’m semi-conscious and on morphine apparently. I saw the numbers behind my closed eyelids and spoke the answer out loud.

The voices stopped.

“She’s right,” said one.

“You must be a math whiz,” said the other.

Me? Hahaha! A math whiz? I barely survived college algebra. I have math phobia. I hate math.

I drifted in and out for a while. I told someone I was in pain and asked over and over again whether they’d found cancer in my sentinel nodes.

At first nurse’s voices and then my surgeon’s voice told me that the surgery had gone well and that they’d found no cancer in my lymph nodes.

I cannot tell you the relief I felt when that news finally sank in.

The pain was bad. The surgeon gave orders for more pain medication — morphine. And then he stood there beside my bed, one hand holding my right hand, the other pressed against my right forearm.

“Everything’s okay,” he said in a reassuring voice. “You’re going to be okay.”

I don’t know how long he stood there, but it seemed like a long time. Maybe it was the anesthesia or the morphine or both, but I felt a kind of peace come over me. And in my mind, he became Jesus, standing beside me, comforting me, reassuring me that all was going to be well.

The worst behind me

I was still semi-conscious when they wheeled me upstairs to my room.

“Are all of these people your family?” one of the nurses asked. “I hear you have a lot of visitors waiting for you.”

My family. 

They were there — my parents, my sister, both sons, my brother Robert. They were all there except for my youngest brother and my sister-in-law and the kids. I felt so lucky and happy to be able to share the good news with them. The surgery was behind me, and now all I needed to do was rest.

I could feel pressure bandages across my chest, and I truly did feel like I’d been stabbed in the sides, the pain the result of incisions made to accommodate three drains.

I wasn’t certain how I was going to be able to face my new body, but given that I could barely open my eyes, I opted not to worry about that yet. I was just grateful to be free of cancer and to have so many of my greatest fears behind me.

Part II coming soon.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Tale of Two Breasts

Tonight is my last night with natural breasts. It’s also my last night with the cancerous tumor that invaded my left breast. My emotions rock from relief that something is finally being done to combat this deadly disease to deep grief to be losing a part of my body that has meant so much to me.

My breasts aren’t the sexiest in the world, but our standards for “sexy” when it comes to breasts are so absurd that it’s the rare woman who can meet them without surgery. Still, I’ve always been happy with them from their shape to the fact that they’re small enough that I’ve always been able to go braless to the pale pink color of my nipples.

My breasts have given me so much sexual pleasure. I’ve gotten emails from readers asking why there is so much “nipple action” in my books. Some women don’t have sensitive nipples. Being licked and nipped and sucked does nothing for them. It has always made me melt. But after tomorrow morning, that avenue for sexual pleasure will be gone. Permanently.

Yes, there are procedures whereby doctors can spare nipples during mastectomy, but it largely depends on the shape of a woman’s breast and how close the cancer is to her nipple. And even if a woman is a good candidate for nipple-sparing surgery, she will still lose sensation in her nipples, as all the tissue beneath them, including nerve tissue, is stripped away and checked for malignancy. Also, there are no long-term statistics about the case of recurrence in women who’ve kept their nipples, and some surgeons refuse to do the surgery on those grounds. I will lose my nipples tomorrow morning.

My breasts went bare in Europe on beaches and public parks in Denmark and elsewhere. The feeling of sun on my bare skin was wonderful and so liberating. We have such a bizarre attitude about nudity, particularly breasts, in the US. But I was able to enjoy being young and beautiful in the sunshine without wearing a bikini top or shirt. That rocked.

My breasts also fed my children. Nursing babies is the purest, most beautiful expression of love I’ve ever known. It gave me time each day just to hold and cuddle my babies, time to relax and have eye contact, to smile and babble and coo together. I wouldn’t trade those memories to save my life.

I breastfed both of my sons for a longer period of time than most women. My older son was breastfed for 15 months, my younger son for about a year until hospitalization for an ovarian cyst led him to wean himself. I was heartbroken to have that connection severed so soon.

Breastfeeding is without a doubt the most natural way to nourish a child. I never had to bring bottles or formula. My kids never tasted the chemical concoction that is formula. They had my milk every day from birth until they were weaned. This has made me a big supporter of breastfeeding, a “lactivist” if you will. Breastfeeding should be encouraged, facilitated, and supported.

The breasts I fed my children with will be gone tomorrow.

I am in mourning for this. I think I’ve been in mourning since April 21, the day the radiologist walked in and said, “It looks like we have an early breast cancer.” He might as well have struck me in the head with a sledgehammer.

People say, “A woman is more than her breasts.” I know this, of course, and don’t need to be reminded. My breasts didn’t run the newsroom at the papers where I was editor. They never wrote a story or edited copy or did a single interview. They didn’t do homework with my kids or clean the house or plant rose bushes. They didn’t push for the bill that ended the shackling of pregnant inmates here in Colorado.

But my breasts are mine. They are a natural part of my body, a part of my sexuality, a part of what has always made me feel feminine and womanly. And I’m going to lose them forever. For months, I’m going to walk around with slashes on my chest where they used to be, long scars over skin that has been stretch flat and stripped of all underlying tissue.

There is no way to feel good about this loss, no way to gloss over what losing my breasts means to me. I am mourning for my mammaries. I am heartbroken, and I am angry. I hate this.

I know that one day they’ll be replaced with reconstructed breasts, either silicon implants or tissue from an abdominal flap (which also means a tummy tuck). But those breasts will be designed only to fill out a shirt and give me a normal appearance. They won’t feel anything. They won’t be capable of feeding a child. They won’t feel like mine.

They won’t have cancer either, and, yes, I know that. I’ve waited an unbearable and unforgivable 45 days for surgery. I’ve had to worry every one of those days whether the cancer has spread. I won’t know until the final pathology report is back whether this awful disease has sneaked its way into my lymph nodes. Those are questions that touch on my survival, my very presence on this earth.

I want to live. I want to make more memories with my grown sons. I want to enjoy lovers. I want to visit Paris and Denmark and Spain again — not to mention many other places. And that means my breasts need to go. Although the tumor is only in my left breast, I have chose to sacrifice both because women who’ve had breast cancer have a higher chance of getting it in the other breast than those who haven’t. I never want to go through this again.

My sister and I went into the back yard tonight. While I wore a sarong, she took some practice shots. Then I dropped the sarong, and we took photos of my bare breasts, trying to give me a way to remember them and all the life lived with them. I have a six-foot privacy fence, but I couldn’t have cared less whether anyone saw us. (I almost included the photos. I’m not shy, but some of you might be.)

I plan to do all I can to beat this terrible, brutal, violent disease, this sickness that steals so much from women. But I can’t deny the reality of my emotions.

In so many ways, life as I knew it ended on April 21, and I am just dragging along in pieces. It’s not just the loss of my breasts, but everything that will come with this — chemo, the loss of my hair, and ultimately the risk to my life.

I’m not sure I want this new life, but it is my reality now.

The fight begins tomorrow.

* * * 

I want to thank those of you who’ve sent cards, gifts, and emails, sharing your support. Your warm thoughts and prayers have sustained me through this terrible time. My mother and sister have been my heroes, enduring my mood swings, my wild raging emotions. My brothers, too, have been there for me in their own way, which is to say they’ve made me laugh a lot when I thought I no longer could laugh.

But a special heartfelt thanks goes to all of you who donated to the Good Food Fund that author and friend Thea Harrison set up. Almost $7,000 was raised to provide me with organic, homemade meals that will be delivered to my door during my recovery from surgery and during chemotherapy. There is no way I can send cards or emails to all of those who contributed, but please know that I read your messages. When I heard how much it had raised, I burst into tears.

Deep, profound thanks to those of you who donated to the Medical Expenses Fund. The idea came from author and friend Courtney Milan, who helped spread the word about the Good Food Fund, too. Right now, I believe that fund has raised $3,800, every penny of which will go to my cancer treatments. Although the food account is on hold now, anyone who still wants to contribute can send a donation to the Medical Expenses Fund directly via PayPal via this email address.

You all are helping to save my life. Thank you for making me feel loved in the midst of this nightmare.

* * * 

One last word before I get ready for tomorrow’s surgery. Please don’t skip a mammogram. And if you find a lump or a thickening in your breast between mammograms, get it checked and push for another mammogram.

This lump wasn’t found by my doctor. I felt a thickening, asked her to check it, and she said it was normal fibro-cystic changes. Months later, it shows up as cancer on a routine mammogram. If I had skipped this mammogram, I would be fighting for my very life.

Thanks again for your support, good wishes, and prayers.

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Favorite Writing Quotes

"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale