Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Got a publishing contract!

I'm so excited to announce that HarperWave, an imprint of HarperCollins will be publishing my book next year. Keep checking back for updates. Here's the description from the HarperWave website:


ANDREA HUTTON

Bald is Better with Earrings

Written with warmth and humor, as well as eyes-wide-open practicality, Hutton's book is a guiding light to women diagnosed with breast cancer. When Hutton was diagnosed at 41, she searched for—but couldn't find—practical information about how to navigate her new reality. What might she (really) expect from chemo, radiation, surgery, hair loss, fatigue, nausea, emotional pitfalls, support, etc? For the 1 in 8 women who will journey down this path, Hutton offers welcome insights, tips and stories in this indispensable guide.
  • Agent:

     Sandra Djikstra/Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
  • Territory:

     US, Canada, Open Market

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happy Birthday

It's my birthday today and I feel lucky. I've always loved the presents, well-wishers, and chocolate cake - but birthdays are way more important now.  No surprise, right?

A few weeks ago I had my last Zometa treatment. After 3 years of going every 6 weeks for an infusion and blood tests, I was released back into the wild. Sure, I'm still on massive doses of Tykerb and am on intimate terms with the famed Tykerb rash, but I got 2 days per month back. The day spent in the oncologist's office for my exam and infusion, and the one three days later, when I would feel like a truck ran over me. That's 2 days every six weeks that were "cancer days" instead of Andrea days.  Turns out,  those days start to matter. They matter ALOT. So I really can't be bothered fretting over the creases that are getting deeper every time I smile (can't really call them laugh lines anymore - more like laugh canyons), and the fact that no amount of watering seems to make that boob grow back. I'm going to take every good day that comes my way and milk it for all it's worth - and today is a good day!

Sure, I still feel insecure about my future. Those doctor's appointments, though draining, were also a reassurance every 6 weeks that I was ok.  That there'd been no change. No spike in tumor markers, no sign of anything new and ugly rearing its head. Those infusions, though occasionally debilitating, were also part of a treatment plan.  Many women feel a little lost when they end treatment.  It's a huge relief, but there's also that piece of you that wonders, "Now what?" Is it really safe for me to be out here on my own?

Of course I have that little voice in my head that says the farther out I get, the higher the risks. Today, though, I'm telling the voice to be quiet - that it's pretty much the way life is, right? The farther out you get - the riskier it seems.  But today's my birthday. So today, as I celebrate turning 45, I'm really celebrating. Come to think of it, I think I'll celebrate tomorrow, too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I think I hate Pinktober

I think I hate Pinktober and I feel kind of guilty about it. As a breast cancer survivor, shouldn't I be waving the pink flag and walking and running my feet off? Shouldn't I celebrate the fact that there's a whole month dedicated to breast cancer awareness? Instead, all month long I am filled with conflicting emotions. I'm grateful for every penny that is raised for research for a cure - but I'm so "aware" that it drives me a little crazy. Every single time I go to the grocery store during October, the checkout clerk asks me if I want to donate to breast cancer.  That's what they say, too. Not, "Do you want to donate to help find a cure?" Or, "Do you want to donate for breast cancer research funding?" NO - they say, "Do you want to donate to breast cancer?" And it takes all of my willpower to keep from saying, "No thanks, already donated a breast."

Don't get me wrong - thank goodness for the millions of dollars raised by pink-wearing NFL players, yogurt cups with pink ribbons and companies that give generously during Pinktober. It's just that I have a very strong emotional response to the flood of pink out there. I wish we could keep the message simple. Let's put those resources toward developing vaccines and treatments that don't make you feel and look worse than the disease itself.  Let's donate to fund research for a cure - because someday I'd really like October to go back to its original colors of red, gold and orange for Fall.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Risky Business

Remember when life was simple? Sure, maybe you were exhausted from taking care of the kids, or from working. Maybe your biggest worry was how to get rid of those extra 15 pounds that just wouldn't budge. Ahh, those were the days. Now we have to worry about weighing the risk factors of almost everything. Do I dare buy those non-organic berries even though the organic ones are 3x as expensive? How many supplements should I be taking to prevent a recurrence, and..... the mother of ALL worries - how do I determine whether the side effects of the medication are worse than the risk of not taking it?

Now I'm not talking about chemotherapy, because at this moment in time, the benefits far outweigh the side effects in the long run.  Those are the real statistics, folks. I'm talking about the other medications that so many of us are taking as follow-up prevention. Whether it's Tamoxifen, Tykerb (that's mine), Herceptin, Arimidex, Zometa (also mine) and a whole bunch more that I don't even know the names of, they ALL have side effects. By now you know that I'm the queen of talking about side effects.  Sure, my hair has completely grown back  - Hallelujah! - but all these drugs are powerful and they ALL have side effects.  Some of them slam you right from the start, some of them creep up on you over time, but read your package inserts people! They don't make that stuff up. It all comes from somebody somewhere reporting those symptoms.

So what do you do when your doctor says she thinks maybe you should stop taking DIHBIHM (DrugIHateButIsHelpingMe)? Perhaps it's time to consider the risks.  I hate considering risks. First of all, I don't have a good history with them. I had extremely low risk factors for having breast cancer, and we all know how that turned out.  Risk factors are statistics and I hate statistics. My husband loves them. He takes comfort in them and understands them.  Personally, I just see the small numbers and assume they have my name on them. What's a little heart trouble compared to going through chemo again? What's a little bladder spasm or horrific muscle pain among friends?

The good news is that you and your doctor really can make informed decisions that weigh the real risks of your side effects versus potential benefits. The information is out there and your oncologist knows the numbers and can help you navigate your choices.

TOP 5

1. Discuss exactly how debilitating your side effects are with your doctor. Don't sugarcoat it because you're afraid to stop taking the drug. Be honest.

2. Talk with your doctor about the real risks associated with stopping. Make sure you are comfortable that you've been given ALL the information.  Perhaps schedule a separate appointment where you can focus just on this so you're not feeling rushed.

3. Discuss your fears openly with your doctor.

4. Ask about alternative drugs. Sometimes there's an effective, but perhaps more expensive, alternative to what you're currently taking.

5. Don't assume that if you stop taking the drug, the cancer will come back.  You may be able to stop for a while and then go back on it, or maybe you've taken enough to get the majority of the benefits already. Once you've made the decision, don't be afraid to change your mind and revisit the question later. You're a woman - it's your prerogative to change your mind.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thank you

I want to express my appreciation for the people who reach out to me after finding my blog. Your stories mean so much to me and I'm grateful I can offer even some small help for what you're going through. Thank you all for your kind words and I will continue to do my best to share what I have learned.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cancer is Scary - no matter what stage or age

I recently spoke with a woman who told me she had been unsure about contacting me because she wondered whether her own experience with breast cancer was bad enough to warrant reaching out. She felt guilty about coming to me because she felt that she hadn't suffered enough compared to what I had gone through.  I felt sad hearing her describe how her age (over 50) and her treatment (lumpectomy and radiation) made it seem like she should be having an easier time or feeling lucky that she hadn't needed anything "worse". As though a lumpectomy and radiation are a piece of cake. HAH. Only if the cake is filled with burns and fatigue that makes you feel like you're wearing a lead suit and the icing reads: This may be your last birthday. Pretty messed up cake.

Where do we get these feelings? Sure, it could be worse. Does that mean we're lucky if it's not? Is any cancer victim supposed to feel lucky that their diagnosis isn't worse? These are things that well people say to us because of their own fear. It's their own need to rationalize and make it all ok. I actually had a "friend" tell me I was lucky I was bald because now I didn't have to deal with washing and styling my hair all the time. Are you kidding me?

Regardless of your diagnosis, age or treatment plan - cancer is terrifying. Period. You're dealing with something that isn't very well understood, and leaves you with great uncertainty about the rest of your life. All cancer treatments are debilitating in many ways. We read about mastectomy and chemotherapy and we accept those as being particularly awful to deal with, but that doesn't mean that other treatments are easy. No way. Lumpectomy is surgery. Surgery that changes a part of what makes you look like a woman. It doesn't matter how old you are or how good the reconstruction, or how small the scar - still life-altering stuff. Radiation knocks you down, no matter who you are or how well your skin heals. You have to go every single day except during the weekend and walk into that room. The password to get into my club is cancer. That's all.

Sure, you have to find ways to get through the day without feeling sorry for yourself.  Sure, you have to remind yourself of the positives, blah blah blah, but some days just suck and there's no way around it. Some days you just have to give yourself permission to whine and feel sorry for yourself, regardless of how other people expect you to act.

Top 5

1. When you feel the need to whine, accept it. Don't judge yourself. You're going through hell and if your friends or family don't get it or are tired of hearing it, find a support group or email me.

2. Set a time limit for wallowing. Don't let it overwhelm you. Though it's important to express those feelings, it's not helpful to let them take over. I will say to my husband sometimes, "Can I just whine for  10 minutes?" Then I go through all the crappy things I feel. All the pains (big and small), fears and whatever else is going on. His job is to just listen and then say something like. "Oh honey, that sounds awful." No offering advice. No tips on how to change my mood or fix anything. Just empathy.

3. Reach out to someone who can understand. Sometimes it really does have to be another cancer victim. Your regular friends and family may not be able to hear you during those moments because they hate to hear that you're suffering. They love you and want it to be okay. They need it to be okay and when it's not - its freaking scary for them.

4. Have a response ready for times when people say something stupid like, "You're lucky." Even if you don't say it out loud. How about, "I guess I feel somewhat relieved that I don't have to...."  Of course, what you really want to say is, "I don't think anyone who has cancer feels lucky, you idiot." That probably won't go over too well, though.

5. Understand that the people who know and love you are scared and sometimes overwhelmed too. Maybe tell them what you need from them - including sharing that it's really hard to feel like you're not allowed to have a bad day. It's too much pressure to feel like you're supposed to go through treatment and put on lipstick and a happy face all the time. It feels lonely to have to put on a cheerful face for the world when sometimes you just need to get under the covers and cry a little.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Cancer Survivor - What's in a name?

Recently I've been thinking about the words we use about cancer and cancer patients. They're words of war: battle, fight, survivor. On the one hand, we read that so-and-so is a 10 year survivor. On the other, we read of those who lost their 5 year battle with cancer. We engage in a fight against cancer, and people refer to themselves as pink warriors. As though the next President will land on an aircraft carrier in the middle of a hospital (see the absurdity of the metaphor?) and declare victory.

A friend of mine and I were recently commiserating about the term survivor, in particular. First of all, the word makes it sound like the battle or hardship is over. That we survived - emphasis on the "ed." Neither of us feels as if it's over and done with. I don't believe anyone who has had any experience with cancer ever feels like its truly over.

The whole fight thing really bugs me too. As though the cancer really cared about my personality. If it did, it wouldn't have dared to take up residence in my body to begin with. I think the flip side of the battle cry is the subtle hint of blame if things don't go well. Like somehow, if you're not smiling through the pain, wearing lipstick to your mastectomy, flying to Switzerland to try some experimental drug and meditating six times a day, you're not doing enough to "fight" your cancer. Guess what? Cancer doesn't discriminate. It affects the mentally strong and weak alike. It doesn't care if I take a nap or run a decathlon today. It's a sneaky sucker that will take advantage of anything it can, and when we throw something at it one way, it will morph and hide until it finds another way in. It is many different diseases with one name - and they're all out to get you and me, the vegans and the yoga instructors, the country singers and celebrities, the poor, and the rich.  That's just the ugly truth  - so please don't tell me that dressing it up in pink and calling me a survivor or a warrior or a sister is going to make one bit of difference.

Of course, we have to find some way to feel powerful in the face of an adversity that is mostly out of our control. I just feel that we haven't quite figured out the perfect words yet. My friend says she feels more like a cancer victim than a survivor. I get that.  Victims of a random act of violence. One that affects not just our bodies, but our families and friends as well.

Even Wikipedia recognizes that the term "survivor" is loaded: "The cultural ideal of a survivor may add to individual patients' distress if the patient is unable or unwilling to live up to the ideal. The ideal survivor is bravely committed to mainstream medicine and optimistic or even certain of a physical cure. He or she is open about diagnosis and treatment and becomes an educated, empowered medical consumer. The ideal survivor, like a superwoman who simultaneously manages her home, family, and career, struggles valiantly to prevent cancer from affecting loved ones by appearing, behaving, and working as much as possible. Once the immediate crisis is past, the person may feel strongly pressured to donate time, money, and energy to cancer-related organizations. Above all, the ideal survivor does not die of cancer. People who publicly conform to this ideal are given social status and respect."

That's a whole lot of pressure from two words. I mean, who doesn't want to be an "ideal survivor"? However, living up to that ideal, just like any other, is a losing proposition. So, I challenge everyone to find new words for us to use.

Here are my top 5 so far

1. Cancer Victim
2. Cancer Kicker
3. Cancer Endurer
4. Cancer Outlaster
5. Cancer Coper