Friday, July 30, 2010


Updated 11-15-10:

In September 2009, I wrote a blog about my cousin Ken and how we celebrated his 60th birthday. My cousin recently passed away after a 4 year battle with brain cancer. His strength and courage was amazing - and he was truly honored by many friends and loved ones at his memorial luncheon.

On July 8, I passed the 1 year mark of my diagnosis. On November 12 I had my chemo port removed -- closure (except for the pills that cause joint pain and water retention).

And, life goes on. I'm feeling great, my hair is growing in bushy and curly, and work is keeping me busy.

Survival is a good thing -- and I am happy to be able to support those friends and family members who are now going through similar trials in their own lives. Cancer seems to be on a fast pace these days. But, it's survivable!

I am planning my next vacation -- well deserved and a celebration of life! Next May, my brother Brian and I will go on a 14 day river cruise with Avalon Waterways on the maiden voyage of their newest ship -- our itinerary takes us from Amsterdam, along the Rhine, Mein, and Danube Rivers to Budapest. From there we will travel to Prague for 4 days. Before we get to Amsterdam, we will spend a few days in Normandy, France visiting the area, seeing the WWII sites, and having a few nice days with my pen-pal from England and her husband. It will be our 50th anniversary of being pen pals! Sounds like a great trip, even if my brother thinks it's a "geriatric" cruise -- we'll show him!

Wishing my friends a wonderful holiday season -- I am so happy that this year I can celebrate without feeling sick, bald or grouchy! How time flies ....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Surgery #8, here I come!

It's not as bad as it sounds. Next week, I'm finally going to have the tissue expanders removed and the implants put in. I've been living with these saline filled exercise balls inside my chest since February. A necessary discomfort if one wants new breasts after a mastectomy. But, definitely inhumane!

In the past several weeks, my hair has been growing back with a vengeance. It is getting thicker, and very gray (meaning, salt and pepper), but it's HAIR! A cute pixie look that everyone likes, except me! But, for now, it's what it is. Sooner than later, I will go back to a more youthful color; the pixie style may stay. Who knows.

Life has been busy -- keeping busy keeps my mind off of the stiffness in my back from all the incisions. I've been handling mediations, and have presided over 2 hearings, that require me to write detailed written decisions. One decision has been issued - - I'm official! I love the job ... very challenging.

Enjoyed a visit to Seattle a few weekends ago with my brother and twin nephews. We Rode the Ducks around Seattle and went for a little cruise on the lake. Lots of fun -- then, it was home and Aunty Adi made spaghetti for the clan. Had a chance to watch Avatar, too -- great movie, but not sure it was worth all the hype.

And, so it goes -- I am moving toward home plate in the treatment of cancer. And, I am sure now it's all about ATTITUDE. Do what the doctors recommend, and just keep busy. Time passes faster than one expects if you don't let the diagnosis of cancer rule your life!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Inflate, Expand, and Count the days!


Why would anyone voluntarily endure the torture of having their breast skin stretched unmercifully just to have bigger breasts? I ask myself this each time my surgeon "inflates" the expanders that sit like small exercise balls inside my once lovely boobs. Of course, I can't deny that I enjoy looking down and seeing a nice cleavage. But, the torture that one has to endure to get it -- hmmm, these babies better be GORGEOUS when this is all done. May 26 the expanders come out during surgery #8, and the implants move into their new home. YAHOO!!!

I returned to work full time about 3 weeks ago. It was a challenge to sit upright 8 hours a day with all the stitches in my back, and the weak back muscles. But I survived.

Something I did not expect, however, was the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that showed itself to me about a week and a half back to work. Over the past months, since early July, I was deeply involved in the process of diagnosis, treatment planning, treatment, a new job, surgeries, surviving chemo, keeping my head warm, keeping my brain functioning as I learned a new job, and just staying mentally and physically strong. You get the idea.

What I didn't really deal with is the big "C" word -- I have cancer. Of course, I was comfortable knowing that my team of health care providers were working with me to do everything possible to get rid of that devil living in side of me (which I am quite certain is gone), and setting me up with the tools to insure that it wouldn't come back. But, that doesn't change the fact that I am now a member of a very unique club -- a survivor of breast cancer. It changes things a little -- our futures are not predictable by any means, and I'm a control freak who has to know what is happening tomorrow. Now, I realize what people mean when they say "live for today, make it the best, and worry about tomorrow when it gets here." I spent about 1 day feeling angry, depressed, scared, and helpless -- what happens if this comes back when I am older and I don't have this same level of strength. The answer: I will deal with it, if and when I have to.

Today I got "good" news -- my cancer tumor had some estrogen positive receptors -- that means that I can add another pill to my regimen if medications, vitamins, and herbs -- Arimidex. Why good news? Because in addition to the Herceptin, which targets the Her-2/neu positive cells which duplicate rapidly, Arimidex works to repress estrogen which could feed estrogen hungry cancer cells. My chances of non-recurrence increase by another 50% (how does one calculate that -- 97% chance of non-recurrence before, 50% better chance with Arimidex).

I'm back to the gym -- and I never thought I'd say "hooray" to the gym! It feels great ... still a little stiff in the back, but I'm doing it.

I'm active at work -- keeping busy during the week handling cases that involve kids and their special needs is a good thing.


I'm back to organizing and planning for the opening of House of Hope - Mer Hooys, in Armenia. See more about this wonderful program at our website.

Even though Armenia has its problems with politics, economy and government, the children of Armenia deserve a chance at a decent lifestyle -- and, if we give them the right training and opportunity, hopefully one day they will lead the country to a better future. We are lucky to be born in this country, and to have a roof over our heads and food on the table. Lots of kids in Armenia aren't so lucky.

Please help me in making a difference in their lives
by supporting
Mer Hooys.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Men -- you've got it easy!!

I am fast learning what the words "determination" and "perseverence" really mean. As I progress through my unexpected encounter with breast cancer, I have acquired a profound respect for those who have traveled the road to recovery before me. Without determination to get it over and stay healthy in mind at the end, and without perseverance in achieving that goal, the journey would be nearly impossible.

On February 3, 2010, I woke at 5 a.m., showered, and readied myself for the ten minute ride to West Hills Hospital. My cousin Susan has been my chauffeur for these many early morning trips to WHH. I was directed to my room on the 6th floor, where I waited for the trip down to the operating room. At 7:30, I took that ride on the OR gurney, and was placed in the OR "hold" area until my surgeons and anesthesiologist arrived. I had become very familiar with that "hold" area over the past several months -- this was my 6th surgery since July 2009!

I had a great team - one general/oncological surgeon (who had been there with me for the 3 lumpectomies), two plastic surgeons (brothers who operate in tandem - one boob each), and a wonderful anesthesiologist who had been with me on two prior surgeries. Each of them greeted me, tried to make me feel at ease - fat chance! - and then the circus started. The general surgeon performed a double mastectomy, assisted by the two reconstructive surgeons -- first he removed the breast tissue in one breast, assisted by one of the plastic surgeons, and then he moved to the other, assisted by the other brother. While they were carving up breast #2, the first PS started reconstruction work on the first breast. The two surgeons working on the 2nd breast then switched roles, and started reconstruction. That included insertion of a silcone "spacer" with a port, which would eventually be filled, periodically over several weeks, with saline to expand the muscle and skin until I was as "big as I wanted to be". Oh Joy!!

I am lucky because my cousin Roger is on staff at WHH -- I am known as "Dr. Amerian's cousin" at the facility - that entitled me to incredibly supportive "VIP" treatment in every respect. After 5 hours of surgery, and some unknown period of time in recovery (I'm told it was around 2 hours or more) I was rolled back to my room -- which was a semi-private room. I was very lucky that I had the room to myself for what turned out to be an extended stay.

Take my word for it -- having a double M is not fun. But, by Friday morning I was beginning to feel a little better - thanks to a self-directed morphine pain pump, regular pain IV shots, and an automatic pain med pump in the incision areas. But, I don't do anything the easy way -- nope, not I!

Friday I learned that the doctors (all three of them) were not happy with the way the skin looked around the sutures. Necrosis (dying tissue) was setting in thanks to poor circulation. At 4 that afternoon, one of the brothers called me and told me that the surgeons had all agreed that I had to return to the OR and have a 2nd surgery to remove the dying tissue. My alternative was to "wait and see" and most likely come back in a week for another surgery. No way -- I'm there, let's get it done. Of course, that meant trying to get one of my preferred anesthesiologists, and beefing up my resistance for the next surgery. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.

But, the team came through for me. My anesthesiologist of choice cancelled plans for Saturday and came in for me; the surgeons were there too. And, there I went again, at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, into the operating room, for what turned out to be another 5-hour long surgery. Without going into gory details -- this one involved turning me onto my stomach (thank goodness they did that while I was OUT!!), taking muscle, skin and fat from both sides of my upper back, rolling me onto my back, and grafting that tissue to create two new breasts.

I can honestly say - that second surgery was the "bar exam" of this entire battle -- I woke up in recovery and eventually back in my room feeling like I had a fully inflated inner tube around my upper torso. And, three weeks later, it feels the same!!

Three more days in the hospital, and then I was released to recuperate at my mom and dad's house for the next 10 days. How lucky I was to have my parents there for me, even while Dad was going through his own medical challenges. A few days later, both brothers and my niece Melia joined the crowd, and we spent President's Day weekend as a family. I think this was the first time in at least 25 years that we were all back together as a family in the home we grew up in.

The highlight of that weekend was a duplicate treat -- Dad turned 88 years old, an event we celebrated with a nice dinner and a great chocolate cake! And, Dad's 800+ page book on the history of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem - 10 years in the making -- was finished and he received the first copy on that Friday. That was a fantastic afternoon - he was so excited!

The birthday kids!

Dad and his publisher, Nahabed

The fog of cumulative anesthesia wore off early the following week. I was able to convince my mom to let me return to my home by mid-week, promising that I wouldn't do anything strenous. Fat chance -- I was lucky to be able to get out of bed and walk to and from the kitchen!

The next few weeks were tough -- lots of pain and swelling, 5 drains that needed measuring and emptying twice a day, extraordinary fatigue, too much TV, lots of sleep, no exercise, and prayers that this torture would eventually go away! Truly -- NOT FUN.

But, I have now passed the 3 week mark, the pain is easing up, the inner tube is still there, I have more stamina (appetite was never an issue), and my surgeons have promised that by 6 weeks I will feel A LOT better. I'm holding them to that promise. And, of course, it will be temporary, because in May or June I'm back in the OR for surgery #7, to replace the spacers with permanent implants. That happens after the spacers are filled up to stretch the muscle under which they are now inserted.

A year from now, all of this will be a memory -- I'll have two beautiful, symmetrical artificial breasts - or so I'm told - and I will be cancer free. That's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

For now, it's one day at a time. Hour by hour, day by day ... just keep focusing on the prize.

And, as a preview of the prize -- my hair started growing back while I was in the hospital. I still look like a partially bald porcupine, but my hair is coming back - black, white, straight, curly -- it really doesn't matter what it looks like -- it's hair! Wahoo!!!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The holidays are over and life has moved on into 2010. On January 7, I was happy to finish the last infusion of poison (a.k.a. "chemotherapy"). I am still receiving infusions of the targeted drug Herceptin weekly through January, and then tri-weekly until September, But, that drug has few noticeable side effects. Wahoo!!

Chemo is not fun - but, now that it is over, I can say it is a tolerable experience, if you have a decent attitude. The side effects are cumulative -- the worst are muscle fatigue (which I understand takes months to overcome) and sore toe and fingernails - go figure! Of course, and NO HAIR! But, soon I am expecting to see some spikely little black strands of hair poking out of my scalp, no doubt causing some itching. OK -- that's really OK! It's HAIR!

Of course, the holidays didn't pass by without incident. Despite being extra careful to stay away from people who had colds and the flu, the stomach flu hit me with a vengeance right after Xmas. And, it hit lots of my family members too -- not the first time the Amerians got together for the holidays or a special event, and then ended up with lots of homes loaded with sick people! Fortunately, all are well now.

We had a great time with my niece and nephews over the holidays -- Santa stopped at my house with a TRUCKLOAD of presents for the kids -- all of which Aunty was privileged (ha!) to wrap and schlepp over to Grandma and Grandpa's house where all were staying. The chaos that went into the 15 minutes of opening those gifts was something I'll never forget! So much for neat folds, and careful placement of tape!

In January, I began to become more active at work, now that training is complete. I have started mediating cases, and preparing for the time when I will hear my first case and have to write a legally complicated decision. That comes in April, after I return from medical leave.

Next, it's time to remove the "boobies" ... I will be having a double mastectomy and the beginning phase of reconstruction on February 3. I'm told to expect to feel like a Mac Truck has come to rest on my chest when I wake up. Oh joy! Well, positive thinking -- it won't last forever. But, don't expect me to be a happy camper for the first few days -- I have no intention of doing so!

Knowing that I will be out of work for 6 weeks, not able to lift, push, or do anything strenuous, I have been a busy bee in the kitchen. I've made plenty of spaghetti sauce, turkey chili, turkey burgers, Armenian burgers, soup, and dolma (stuffed veggies and grape leaves). All of it is packed away in the freezer -- Mom won't have to worry about what to feed me, and when I get home I'll be ready to recuperate without having to worry about what to eat. Like that ever stopped me!

Life goes on ... our family is facing its challenges early in the year. My Dad - who will be 88 years old on Valentine's Day -- is facing some medical challenges that will change his daily routine. But, I'm so proud of him -- he has written an 800 page book on the history of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The book has been in process for nearly 10 years. Dad has done an an astounding amount of research in books of many languages to gather information for this book -- the first of its kind in English. Once published, it will be distributed throughout the world to a variety of places. This has been a dream of my Father's life -- and it is nearly complete.

Dad is also writing his memoirs, and we are encouraging him to keep at it -- his mind is clear and his life is so interesting that it is important to get it written. He has finished 300 pages - and I think he's at about 25 years old at that point! Dad was born in Baghdad, studied at the Armenian Seminary in Jerusalem where he became very close friends with Torkom Manoogian -- now the Patriarch of Jerusalem; he later studed at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He speaks 5 or 6 languages, is a writer, an expert on the history of the Armenian Church, and, after coming to the United States, he became an engineer and worked on the first of many space vehicles that went into space. His later years were spent as a real estate broker. What an interesting life ... I can't wait to read those memoirs!

The picture below is a picture of Dad, cousin Lita Dulgarian and Mom -- great friends and cousins going back to the late 40's when my Dad came to California. Cousin Dick Dulgarian recently passed away just short of his and Lita's 60th Anniversary. Life as we get older is tough because we begin to lose those we love. But, as hard as that is, and even though we know the time is to come sooner than later, the best thing we can do is enjoy the time we have with our loved ones, and work at making memories that will last a long time.

Following our trip to Turkey in June 2009, my brother Brian and I have been trying to contact family members to update our family tree and the history of our extended family. Brian has done an amazing job so far -- visit our website! And, if you are a member of the family, contact Brian and let him know of any updates, historic pictures, and anecdotes of the family.