Liz Acosta's Cancer Treatment
Of particular importance is expensive treatment cost that is not covered by her insurance (e.g. certain MRIs). Another concern is to buffer against any complications that may arise. We want to alleviate financial stressors so Liz can focus on healing and getting back to her job being a software engineer, back to writing her poignant female-protagonist Westerns, back to the gym to outlift bros, back to being a lovely hostess of parties, and back to the life she has worked hard for and deserves. Liz is undergoing chemotherapy and surgery, and she is keeping her hair during this process via cold caps and special showerhead accessories to strictly regulate temperature; these costs add up, and, in a world where femme identities are denied coverage for deemed medically unnecessary equipment, where hair is inherently political and precious, where there is not yet a cure for a disease threatening a young woman's appearance and livelihood, we want to make sure the last thing Liz is worried about during this process is money.
Any amount donated will be greatly appreciated, and will be supporting someone who is a constant source of strength and support for her loved ones. Instead of focusing on herself, Liz is concerned that her friends stay healthy during this time, so if you are unable to donate monetarily, in lieu of money we would appreciate knowing more people are trying to keep their health a priority and, if applicable, doing monthly breast checks. Every dollar helps and any words of love, support, encouragement and solidarity are always welcome.
We thank you for your generosity. Keeping our theme cohesive with Liz's "Kittens Against Cancer" Facebook group, we will be sending personalized kitten-themed Thank You's and original artwork as rewards to our donors. <3
First of all, I apologize for this much delayed update. Not that anyone with a major illness owes anyone else anything, but for my own sense of closure, I've been meaning to do this.
In June 2017, I completed my final surgery related to my cancer treatment. So what happens now? Am I cured? What does life look like? Who am I?
If there is one thing cancer has taught me, it's that there are no definitive answers -- ever. Am I cured? I don't know. Only time will tell. All I know is that my particular type of breast cancer has a tendency to recur within the first five years of treatment. After that, the chances of recurrence drop off. But I guess there could always be an errant cancer cell floating around in here, waiting for just the right opportunity to take root and blossom into my death sentence. The doctors can't tell me anything conclusive. As far as being in remission goes, I got to start counting the years this July. So yes, I am in remission, but no, I don't know if I am cured.
What does life look like now? Well, to be quite honest, I am enjoying my new breasts. They are the silver lining to the almost two years I had to put my life on hold. But even getting these breasts was a struggle. I had to advocate for myself in the face of male surgeons, who insisted that the only way to reconstruct my body was to unnaturally place my breast implants under my chest muscle. As you know, I'm an avid weightlifter, and when I asked how such a surgery would affect my abilities and my appearance, I was told I would "just get used to it." This is an unacceptable answer. So I canceled surgery until I found a plastic surgeon who understood my needs and desires as a patient, and who advocates for a much more natural placement of implants over the muscle -- where breasts belong. Not surprisingly, it was a woman plastic surgeon I eventually ended up going with, and I love the results. The treatment of breast cancer -- as it affects mostly women -- has a long history of sexist bias, and this is something that continues to negatively impact people afflicted with the illness. In my life after cancer, I am committed to breast cancer patient advocacy through education, empowerment, and support.
What else does life look like? Since I've got these fabulous new breasts, I've taken up pole dancing. I enjoy the physical challenge, as well as the skill and grace it requires. I feel sexy doing it. I feel sexy all by and for myself. And after I had to yield my body to doctors and surgeons, sharing some of my most intimate parts, I need to reclaim my physical form, take up space, and get back in touch with my sexuality. In other athletic news, I've also begun Olympic weightlifting, and plan on competing once I feel comfortable with the technique. In other words, I am enjoying being in my body, watching it slowly come back to life like wildflowers after a long winter. I am alive, vibrant, and full of color.
But other than that, I've found it surprising how quickly we humans can pick up where we left off. In the depths of cancer treatment, I discovered a lot of inner peace and tranquility. I didn't let the little stuff get to me. But we humans are resilient, and forgetfulness is survival. I find myself stressing over things I glossed over while in the throes of chemotherapy, during which the future stretched only as far as the next hour. Now my horizon has expanded, and the future is expansive, and this can be as fretful as wondering if I can make it to the next day. I have been busy, throwing myself back into my body and my job and my beliefs -- almost too busy, so busy I forget to breathe and be grateful. I begin to wonder if the insight I gained during cancer was all for naught, and if I will simply return to the things in my pre-cancer life that made me unhappy.
Which leads me to: Who am I? Who am I now? The person I was before cancer is gone. The person I was during cancer is gone. And now I am the Woman Who Survived Cancer. Who is she? I sense a new, fearless woman emerging -- someone who has overcome tremendous obstacles and has gained a sense of confidence as a result. Someone who trusts herself, someone whose inner voice is all her own, who tells her she can do it, she has done it, she deserves what she wants and she can get what she wants. Someone who does not tolerate people who do not uplift her. I am excited to meet this person, this new incarnation of myself, but I am also very, very scared. The process of transformation is always a challenge, even more challenging when we've had so many people tell us we do not deserve to be our best, that we are unworthy of love. Especially when the world is afraid of a powerful, self assured woman. To become this incarnation of myself will mean standing up to those who would keep me down, and that is frightening. But I know it will ultimately be worth it, because for every person who can't stand me at my best, there are ten more who will be inspired.
And that is where this journey ends, I guess. That is, at least, the note I want to end this chapter with. And if you can walk away from my battle with cancer with any of the following, then I feel I have won:
Health is wealth. Prioritize it as such. It is not easy. We are surrounded with addictive, over-processed foods, and constant messages to consume these foods. Exercise is considered a luxury. Our access to care is being constantly threatened. But you are worth it.
While I appreciate your generosity, it is shameful that so many people have to turn to crowdfunding just to stay afloat through something as unfair and as unpredictable as cancer. I am one of the lucky ones. Many others are financially devastated by their illness, they have no safety net, and they aren't surrounded by communities who can afford to help support them. I am one of the lucky ones. Many others are not so lucky. And this is an injustice that falls on all of us to correct. We are in this together.
If and when you fall ill, remember your voice. You are your own best advocate. It sucks that when dealing with doctors and hospitals, when you are already vulnerable and weak, that that is the moment you have to be your strongest. It's not fair. Surround yourself with caretakers who will amplify your voice. Trust your instincts. Challenge your doctors. Make the decisions that feel right to you. You deserve it. And when this time comes for you, please don't hesitate to come to me for help.
And lastly ... thank you. Money is good. Money is always good. But more importantly, you provided me with a reminder that life is worth living. That if so many of you were willing to rally around me that this fight must be worth fighting. And in enduring this battle, I've discovered my strength and my power, and it is in your name that I will continue to radiate that strength and power outward. I hope you, too, have discovered your own strength and power, that just one small gesture can mean the world to someone else. You can make a change. You changed MY life, at least, and I owe a lot of my stellar recovery to you.
Let's keep the good going.
I've been meaning to update you for a while now, but I've just been so swept up in life. Which is good -- it means life is resuming some sense of normalcy for me. A flurry of work, recreation, working out, pursuing hobbies, socializing, falling in love, attending the weddings of friends, gratitude, healing, eating good food and drinking good wine, and adjusting to cohabitation with the boy.
I know we're all terribly busy, so let's see how efficient I can be:
- The one year anniversary of my diagnosis was February 3rd. I celebrated showing cancer who's boss by visiting Disneyland for the first time in years with my former college roommate. I thought I would be cynical about it, but oh no -- I could not stop smiling!
- My last dose of chemotherapy was April 20th. I celebrated by taking the day off, riding my bike, eating a picnic at the park, and hanging with friends. I am done -- fucking DONE -- and the end of my treatment is on the horizon. My final reconstruction surgery is on June 22nd, and then I can start putting all of this behind me.
- In the final few weeks of Xeloda, I was pretty uncomfortable. If you've been following along, then you know that my digestive system has really suffered. Not in the barfy sort of way -- quite the opposite. Days of blockage, and gas, and heartburn, and bloating so bad it made my back ache. My hand and foot syndrome was never painful, but my skin become flaky and peel-y, like I was a lizard constantly shedding. One of the more peculiar side effects of Xeloda is the skin becomes so inflamed and sensitive, that your fingerprints nearly vanish. That was a funny one to explain to the receptionists at the gym when I tried to sign in with my print. (Everyone was very understanding and sympathetic.)
- In just two weeks, my stomach feels better and my fingerprints are returning. I'm getting stronger everyday, and focusing my workouts on my chest and back muscles since I know surgery will put my upper body out of commission for at least a month.
- Gild my words in edible gold, for I am to eat them. Despite all my youthful declarations otherwise, the boy moved in, and life is all the more joyful for it. It is a good life, and we are trying to keep it that way by unconventionally maintaining separate bedrooms.
- In the past two months I've attended two lovely and vastly unique weddings. I am grateful for the happiness of my friends, and the opportunities to travel with my partner, and partake with him in these celebrations of love and mirth. I eat my words!
- But the words are not bitter. They once were, but they've mellowed into something sweet. Growth always adds perspective. And may I never stop changing and adapting to new truths. After all -- I never thought I'd get cancer.
- Had I resisted this reality, I don't know if I would be doing as well as I am. And I am doing really really well. I have a healthy helping of dark humor about it -- about all this --as well as a sense of mysticism, resignation, and reverence. I've made no friend of cancer -- I've outsmarted it. Cancer has taken a lot from me, but it has also given me resolution to live with authenticity.
- I do believe I am cured.
- And if I am wrong that's okay, because I've stood corrected many times before. I am not afraid of dying -- whether I die in fifty years or five, I know plenty of perfectly healthy people who have never lived a day in their lives. To live firmly in your truth for even just one day is worth a thousand lifetimes living in the dark.
- The shadow of cancer will never be lifted completely from my life. It lives alongside my trauma and my mental illness, always sort of lurking like sulky wallflowers at a happening party. They all occasionally bring the mood down, but I've learned to roll my eyes at them and keep dancing.
- Lots of things in the world are fucked up right now. (And please please talk to your friends and family about how repealing ACA will harm people like me.) I try to find solace in gratitude for even the smallest things. Like still sporting a full head of hair.
- I am grateful for you, and all your support through this. As I feel my health returning, like plants returning from their dormant winter, I am thinking about how I can continue to propagate your acts of compassion outward, rippling into even the farthest reaches of the universe.
- It's not everyday that a group of people -- some of you strangers, some of you dearly beloved -- work together to save your life. I live in your honor.
<3 <3 <3
Thank you so much for your ongoing support. We also want to thank you for your patience as we send out our "Thank You" rewards for those of you who donated and opted to receive them; please expect them in the mail this month! If you have any questions or concerns, or want to notify us of an address change, please contact the organizer, Anne Vetto, via email here.
Thank you again,
Kittens Against Cancer
Well hey -- we made it to 2017. I hesitate to assess an ultimately arbitrary expanse of time as wholly one thing, but in this case 2016 was literally the worst. The highs were really high and the lows ... well, I think death is probably the only thing lower. Maybe next year will be consistently boring, however, I've got a feeling that's not going to happen.
Regardless -- look, we're here! We made it! And I'm sure glad you did. I hope you had a gorgeous NYE -- I certainly did. NYE is one of my favorite holidays. Besides my birthday, of course, which is in nine days!
I'd like to update you on how I've been spending the money you've graciously donated. Most recently, I decided to pay out of pocket for a particular blood test. As I understand it, the Circulating Tumor Cell test returns a count of how many tumor cells are found within a sample. That's very simplified, but you get the picture. This test is normally reserved for breast cancer patients with metastatic disease, but I wanted it. The thing about this blood test -- and honestly, about all this cancer testing and treatment -- is that there are no answers. There are statistics and patterns and correlations, but nothing direct because one might always be the anomaly. We hear it all the time -- folks given mere months to live who end up living their whole lives. Of course, that coin has two sides, but let's not talk about it right now.
In other words, I paid out of pocket for this test which really won't make any contribution to my treatment, but let me tell you why this is so important to me.
Fighting cancer is like fighting a shadow. I didn't feel sick -- didn't feel like anything was wrong apart from a weird hard lump in my breast -- until I started treatment. Treatment felt like cancer, but it wasn't the cancer. I mostly battled side effects, but the cancer itself? I have never seen it or known it besides an ominous mark on my imaging. So I want a count -- even a vague one -- of how many of my enemy might still be in my blood. It was about exerting some sense of control. The number has no meaning other than a number -- the tidiest, most basic thing. The number of pairs of shoes I own, the number of jobs I've held, the number of days since I discovered the lump (367 -- it was the day after New Year's), the number of tumor cells which may or may not morph into a death sentence somewhere else in my body. Controlled with a number, at least. Thank you for helping me give myself this gift.
I've been seeing a personal trainer with your help. Chemo and surgery ravaged my muscle, endurance, and energy -- my body felt foreign and not trustworthy to me. I was lost. I've started seeing a personal trainer who is helping me rebuild the strength I lost and rebuild my confidence in my new body. With her help, I feel I've been able to achieve a peak level of fitness which I believe is helping stave off the most common side effects of my current chemo. So far so good!
Most important to note is that with your help, I was able to cover my medical expenses last year WITHOUT derailing my personal financial goals, one of which was to entirely pay off my student loans. Guess who's starting 2017 free of student loan payments? Me! This has been one of the biggest financial burdens I struggled with -- and my loan situation wasn't as bad as most folks'! If I wanted to pay them off quickly accruing as little interest as possible, I had to pay double my minimums every month. With a lot of luck, a lot of hard work, and a lot of the generosity of folks like you I am now free of student loan debt. Now I can save, invest, and make more concrete plans for the future. I could not have done this without you.
That's when you know you're feeling better: When you start envisioning the future again. For a long time, I could see the edge of my future -- a flat horizon with the sun setting quickly on it. Now it seems a little farther away, hidden, perhaps, behind a forest. I am still deeply aware of my constant movement forward, maybe at a pace quicker than most folks'. The thing about my cancer -- my triple negative breast cancer -- is I can get three years past this, the shadow looming over me will start to break apart, and if I can get five years past this, the shadow will be gone entirely. I wan to fast forward time, but I also want to savor every moment!
Especially my birthday. I love birthdays! I will be turning thirty-two and I will have lived through an entire year of cancer treatment. (And yikes! -- all the other intense stuff that happened!)
Here's to this year, and the year after that, and the year after that. I do so hope there will be many. Thank you for everything.