Today’s guest blogger is Bonnie Phillips, my good friend and maid of honor and dedicated dog-sitter.
Pro tip: Do not attempt to drive to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston on a day when both the Boston Marathon is happening and the Red Sox are playing.
Now, those of you who live in New England are saying, “Well, yeah. Duh.” But in our defense, Larissa had broached the subject with the nice folks at Dana Farber and was told that we’d have no problem getting there. And appointments at the prominent cancer treatment center are hard to come by. So off we went Monday morning, excited and looking forward to learning about possible new treatments for the Stage IV breast cancer Larissa has been battling for a year.
Getting to Boston was no problem. Traffic was light because of the Massachusetts holiday, and we made it into the city easily. The trouble began when we got off the highway.
Suffice it to say that, as the old-time New Englanders say, “You can’t get theah from heah.” We only needed to travel about four blocks to get to Dana Farber – but we needed to cross Commonwealth Avenue, which was closed for the marathon. And Commonwealth Ave is a very, very long street.
After running into about our third roadblock, Larissa asked a police officer for directions. The officer, from Quincy, Mass., was more than helpful. “Turn left heah, then cross over the pahk and bang a right.” (An especially nice touch was the shamrock sticker he had on the grip of his handgun. I swear to God.)
About six more roadblocks later, we asked another cop, this one a Boston officer. Got different directions, and off we went. Same thing – more roadblocks. Asked another Boston cop – more different directions. Off we go. Same result.
Finally, desperate, Larissa’s husband Martin (who had not one but THREE backseat drivers yelling directions at him while each was looking at completely different routes on their phones) asked a cab driver stopped next to us at a red light how to get to Dana Farber. God bless the man – he had an empty cab, so he led us to Storrow Drive and told us how to get theah from heah.
Finally, we made it. More than an hour late for Larissa’s appointment, but we made it.
I have been honored and blessed to be by Larissa’s side during her cancer journey. From the day she learned the earth-shattering news that she had breast cancer, to learning the disease had spread to her liver and bones, I’ve watched this incredibly brave woman fight for her life. If you know Larissa, you know she doesn’t lack for self-confidence. She’s strong.
But she’s had to learn a whole new language over the past year. Hormone therapy, chemo, immunotherapy, holistic therapies, Taxol, Lupron, double mastectomies, early menopause – these are subjects those of us without cancer are lucky enough not to have to think about. I’ve watched Larissa go from a woman who literally couldn’t say the words “breast cancer” to a woman who can go head-to-head with a cancer doctor from Dana Farber on possible hormone therapy and which drugs have the best reputation or the most likely chances of success. I was so proud of my girl when the Dana Farber doctor said “You’re very knowledgeable about these treatments.”
We got a lot of good news at Dana Farber. We learned that Larissa’s agonizing decision to undergo chemo instead of trying hormone therapy worked. Her cancer is “stable.” When you’re Stage IV, that’s excellent news. We also learned that now is a good time for her to go off chemo and try hormone therapy – just in time for summer. So she can stop the weekly chemo infusions and the accompanying nausea, exhaustion, hair loss, “chemo brain,” body pains, etc.
The next stage of her journey will bring different challenges. The hormone therapy won’t be without side effects. She’ll have to be closely monitored to make sure the treatment is working. There’s always the chance that it won’t – and she’ll have to go back to chemo.
But I have no doubt that Larissa will face everything head on. This is a woman who was in the midst of starting her own non-profit organization to help people with disabilities when she learned she had cancer. A lot of women would have given up upon learning such news. Not Larissa – she has made that non-profit grow. She has such a cheerful, positive outlook that everyone – from her oncologist to the nurses at the chemo infusion center— can’t resist smiling when she walks in the room.
I’m so proud to call her my friend. I’m even more proud that she calls me her friend.