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Sandy Andina: Blog

Long time no blog? Part I: the personal

Posted on February 21, 2016 with 0 comments

Yikes--has it really been two years since I posted an entry here rather than in the “news” section? (At least I finally updated that, as well as my calendar--where new dates are popping up again like the chives and crocuses in my garden; unlike the latter, which have been quashed by critters and caprices of winter, I hope nasty little life surprises don’t snatch them away like they did late last spring). 

If you hadn’t checked back on this site (or Facebook, Acoustic Guitar Forum, Bonesmart or BCO) in the past couple of years, my family & I have had some medical adventures beginning last May. First, Bob--my husband of nearly 45 years--went in for his routine triennial colonoscopy and came out with a perforated bowel requiring three hospitalizations and major surgery; then as soon as he’d healed, his hernia blew and needed to be repaired. He was out of action on & off till well into July. On top of that, his first CT scan in May showed a 2cm lung lesion which was recommended to recheck in Nov. Just before the surgical sideshow began, we had booked a Mediterranean cruise on the Viking Star for December. We decided that even if the recheck were to reveal the worst, waiting one more month to start treatment wouldn’t have made a difference and we agreed that we’d need that “last fling."

In mid-August, I had my routine annual mammogram. (What is it with us and “routine” screenings anyway)? The very next morning I got an e-mail in my patient portal inbox that they found a “focal asymmetry” in my right breast that wasn’t visible in my 2014 or 2015 mammograms. I went back a week later (first opening they had) for a diagnostic spot mammo & ultrasound--which found a “suspicious" 7mm blob. A biopsy was indicated. Unfortunately, I had to wait two weeks--I had already booked a trip to New Orleans for both an entertainment law CLE course and a gig, then flew to Phila. where my singing partner Stephen picked me up to drive to a gig near Scranton, then home to host the CSC writers’ round stage at the Fox Valley Folk Festival. The radiologist & nurse navigator said it was safe to wait and also advised I experience the joys of that trip “just in case.” I had the biopsy the day after Labor Day, and the very next evening learned I had grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma: looks like I beat Bob in the race to the Big C. No family history (and I was already past middle age when diagnosed), but since I’m Ashkenazi I had genetic testing for the BRCA and other mutations. Luckily, the fault, dear Brutus, was neither in my stars nor in my heredity--just plain “shit happens.”

Had a lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy two weeks later, and the news was almost as good as it gets with a grade 2 breast cancer: clean margins, all 4 nodes negative for cancer, and estrogen/progesterone-positive/HER-2-negative status. The “almost” was that the tumor was 1.3cm, nearly twice as big as showed up on the ultrasound. So for ten days I sweated out the results of the OncotypeDX test, which would determine whether I’d need chemo, how well it’d work, and my 10-yr. survival chances with & w/o it. Luckily, my score was low enough that chemo wasn’t indicated. I also had a little setback when one of my incisions ruptured but suturing took care of that, and I had three weeks of high-dose partial-breast targeted external radiation which ended just before Thanksgiving. I had to give up being in the Bar Show this time (I wasn’t able to guarantee in advance I’d be strong enough to give it my all) but we did get to take that cruise! And in Nov., repeat CT showed Bob’s lung lesion had disappeared, replaced by a tiny little spot elsewhere in the lung that is also probably nothing (knock wood). I am now on at least 5 years--perhaps as long as 10--of a drug called letrozole that prevents my body from making any more estrogen, so that any rogue cells leftover from my estrogen-dependent tumor will starve to death. 

But because of all this I had to cancel a raft of gigs and trips near and far--first to be there for Bob and then for my surgery, & recovery, to be close enough to home not to miss appointments and treatments, and to not bite off more than my stamina could chew. Was able after surgery to play in Rockford and Iowa City (FARM and a gig) plus lead a circle in Downers Grove, then last month up in Madison. We were supposed to play in Wauconda but the weather (subzero wind chills) had other ideas--it’s been postponed, and hopefully Mother Nature will behave herself this time so folks can get out safely to see us perform. We’re carefully adding shows as I’m slowly confirming I can do them. (I did develop mild lymphedema from that sentinel node biopsy and radiation, but it doesn’t affect my playing or singing). We’d have more gigs, except that Stephen’s main family income derives from his music so he’s doing a lot of solo touring (primarily at senior centers, where his bass-baritone and extensive repertoire of early 20th-century pop songs and jokes resonate with the elderly female clientele). Though at 65 (yup, I’m now on Medicare) I’m not about to launch a parallel solo career, I am branching out to do more solo shows both here and further afield. And unless our touring interferes, I’m back in the 2016 Bar Show. 

And speaking of “Bar,” I’m still keeping my law license alive (more on that in a bit), so for the CLE required, I’m heading to London, Lausanne & Paris next month with the Chi. Bar Assn.  On the family-travel front, we’re going back to Italy in July (hot, I know, but the only time we could book a stay in a Tuscan villa for the middle of the trip) because on our cruise we learned that there’s no such thing as spending too much time in Rome. Maybe we can squeeze in Florence, too.

So all of this has given me a new perspective on life and living. To-wit:

1. Never turn down an opportunity to pursue your muse and your pleasure. You never know when fate will throw nails onto the road to shred your tires. If the worst happens, there is no dishonor in cancelling (and if you were smart enough to buy the appropriate insurance, no financial penalty either).

2. Cherish whomever and whatever you love. You can’t have them forever--either they will eventually be taken from you or you from them--and we can never know for sure how far away “eventually” will be. Especially the “whom:” things can be replaced, experiences sometimes replicated, but family (human or animal) and friends are irreplaceable--and memories are not a substitute for their presence.

3. Some problems are crises and some are mere annoyances--nothing like a life-threatening experience to help you realize just how many are the latter. 

4. Don’t catastrophize, but still be prepared. I almost lost Bob during his first hospitalization, neither of us are getting any younger, and in case the worst happens I want to be able to have my own source of income so as not to deplete savings or depend on Social Security (and hopefully to leave something over for Gordy once I’m gone). So that’s why, even though I’m currently retired from actively practicing law, I still keep my law license current. I get to use it occasionally to help out friends and do pro bono work, and if it comes to that I can earn some money beyond the dozens of dollars there are to be made in folk music.

5. Never be too proud or private to accept a helping hand...or a hug. And never be too selfish to reciprocate. Always be there for friends & loved ones who may find themselves in a situation similar to what you were able to overcome--and your advice and moral support is as important as your services and financial assistance.

5. Current events affect us all--from the world to the nation to your community to your own personal situation. But your family, friendships and health are far more important. It’s okay to be aware of the world and to try to the best of your ability to make it a better place. But the people in your life are so much more than their political and religious philosophies--don’t let your differences shut them out of your life.

Speaking of current events, I have a lot to say about that, and I will in Part II.