Week 2

So my biopsies came back well differentiated invasive ductal CA. No surprise with they ca type, it is the most common. Well differentiated was good. So now I know for sure it is CA. I told Jim and Elise. Jim gave me an introduction to an oncologist that it turns out is too busy to see me. I also let Ben and Alex know. It didn’t seem to affect Alex much, but it turns out Ben went home from work early. I don’t think I explained it well enough to him.

I met with the surgeon today and decided to have a unilateral mastectomy with a skin expander from the plastic surgeon. They don’t make me feel less guilty that I have have this cancer. Our visitors had to make their way to our house from the airport on their own (well, we arranged the super shuttle). We have kept busy, but the haunting hideous pictures of women post mastectomy are really bothering me. I feel I will be so deformed. Maybe I should just give it all up. I don’t know.

On a positive side, my E2 receptor is 100%, which is good, but it means I will need to be on an aromatase inhibitor for 10 years at least. I was always so proud I wasn’t on any meds…. and was healthy….

Notes of anything but Paradise- my journey through cancer

I guess as a physician, I have had to tell my patients bad news. One just never expects to get it themselves.

I prided myself in my healthy practices and how I am a boring patient. My first visit with my new primary care was that am and we both commented on how nice it is to have a boring (i.e. healthy) patient. I have run since I was 13 yo, but not finatically so I can still run at age 58. I am normal weight- not too high, not too low. I eat mostly fresh veggies, and not too much. I do indulge in sugar although I am trying to cut it out. I like a drink or 2 in the pm, but I can’t remember the last time I was really drunk. I have no relatives with breast cancer except my mother who was diagnosed a few months ago at age 86. My first kid was born when I was 32, but I breast fed both boys. In short, like many people diagnosed with cancer, I am thinking why me? Ok, I know it is some genes and some bad luck. But still…

I went in for my mammogram 2 days ago with my old films. I was not worried. I almost deferred my mammogram to Thanksgiving, some 4 months away, so I could save money. We are on a high deductible international health plan and I loathe spending money frivolously. I only found one place in the state of Colorado who would tell me up front how much a mammo would cost. It was not CU. Indeed, CU does not take self pay patients. But in the end, with not being welcomed to to visit Austin for a mammo (where I had had them done before when in the USA), I decided to bite the money bullet and go to CU Medical School. Colorado is not up to date on the latest diagnostics for breast cancer. A more progressive state would have required automated breast ultrasounds for every woman with dense breasts (which I have). But CU has the best technologies near Boulder so I booked my mammo there. It turned out, it didn’t matter. My mammo was obvious for cancer. Period.

So in shock I texted my husband the bad news and then drove home, thinking that I should have known when they called me in for more films and could fit me in the day they called me, that it was not a good sign. It all leaves one in a fog…

First stage of grief: Denial

Day 3 Biopsies

I called a friend of mine, someone I admire very much, who is undergoing radiation and chemo for lung cancer. Just bad luck on her part- she is a non smoker. Anyway when she called me back I did not offer to drive her to her appointment as I didn’t think I could deal with having my breast biopsies done and taking her to the oncology center. Maybe in a few days I can do that, but not the day of the biopsies.

We are not sleeping much. I have to stay busy to not think about it. 58 seems so young to me. I don’t want to be thought of as a person with cancer before people think of me as a person, and yet, I am guilty of that very thought process towards others.

So the biopsies were done, and while it hurt when the radiologist actually took the samples, it wasn’t too bad. I was sore that day but didn’t take any pain meds. My husband and I are trying to plan out things to do. It looks sometimes like my diagnosis upsets him more than it does me. When my mom was diagnosed in March, I couldn’t sleep and felt incredibly depressed for a long time. Now I feel only in a fog… a bad dream fog….

I am not telling any one until I get the pathology and know what I am going to have done which won’t be until next week. None the less, with a good friend with cancer, everyone brings their feeling up about cancer to me. It is hard.

When I talk to my kids I want to cry. Ben texted me the sweetest message today thanking us for how we brought him up. They are both planning on visiting in August- will I be post op? In radiation? (probably not yet) Will I be around to see them have kids? Reach their goals professionally? It all makes me sad. But self pity is an awful emotion and I try and work to keep it at bay.

Day 4

Little sleep last night for both of us, but less for Bruce. He reaches out to me- it must be hard. So we hiked Bear Peak today- the hardest hike in Boulder. Really good to do. And tonight we are joining friends for dinner. Must keep busy…. must keep busy….

Visitors to Tahiti and what we did

My sister and her family visited us in Tahiti. There is a lot to do here with kids. We surfed, went to local markets and ate at the roulettes. We enjoyed watching the lane changer. We snorkeled, scuba dove & wet on a inland island safari into “Jurassic Park” where we saw high water falls, the volcano crater, lakes with eels and swam in the river.

Their son ran with us at 5 am through the cacophony of roosters crowing. We swam in our pool, had drinks watching the sunset over Moorea and rode the waves in the ocean on the black sand beaches. We boogy boarded at Point Venus and visited the cultural museum.

We took the ferry to Moorea with our car and stayed in an over water bungalow on a turquoise lagoon. It rained, but not all the time. Their 10 year old loved jumping off the porch into the sea to snorkel. We swam with dolphins, saw the turtles in the sanctuary, swam and petted the sting rays, swam with black tip sharks and snorkeled off a motu. (small off shore island). We saw an albatross circle over head and saw picasso fish, zebra fish, barracuda and hundreds of other fish under water. We kayaked around the lagoon. We went to the view point and saw Marea, a archeological ruin of an old village and temple.

It was a great week- lots of fun!

 


 

Tikehau- dolphins, manta Rays and pink sand beaches

Tikehau is an atoll in the Tuamotus 12 km from Rangiroa and is known for its pink sand beaches and excellent diving. We dove the pass where we swam with playing dolphins and again saw myriads of fish, including a humpback wrasse (huge), lion fish and schools of barracuda. It was wonderful to hear the dolphin song.

We also dove with manta rays- about 10- 15 of them. They are huge and beautifully fly while remoras suck onto them and clean them.

The Pearl Beach Resort was pretty, isolated and had nice snorkeling off our overwater bungalow. If reserving take care to reserve the premium over water bungalow as the standard ones do not have swim access. The pink sand was lovely. Sharks swam by, there were a lot of baby and adult flute fish and large trigger fish, Titan and Yellow margin,  that were unearthing coral to feel underneath it. We also saw a meter long porcupine fish, which have lovely large eyes.

Evidently the hammerhead sharks are seasonal and are there between Jan and March.

Swimming with the Humpback Whales

Humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to tropical waters of Tahiti for calving. They swim thousands of miles in a short time- often as little as 36 days. In Tahiti the waters are deep enough to calve, but shallow enough that no predators can get above their babies to force them to the depths and drown them. The females eat when in the nutrient rich waters of the antarctic and fast in the tropics. They nurse their babies and ween them with them for 8 – 10 months.

In Tahiti the whale watches are strictly regulated. Only a certified pilot can pilot the boat (ours was a merchant marine who is in Tahiti for this reason only) and our guide, who lead us snorkeling with the whales, is also certified and in Tahiti for this purpose.

No one is allowed to scuba with the whales nor are they allowed to swim with them when the calves are new. The whales are in Tahiti from late August to November, depending on

Tikehau, Tuamotu Manta Rays abound!

We traveled to Tikehau Pearl Beach resort in the atoll of the Tuamotus. The sand is a beautiful pink and the part of the atoll where the resort is located is only accessible by boat. We stayed in a premium over water bungalow as the non premium ones did not have access to the water.

We went on 2 dives- the first one to the “cleaning station” for manta rays. It is at an old pearl farm and we did not dive down far (which was good for us as we could use our underwater camera which has no housing.) There were 30 + huge manta rays just gracefully gliding around while small fish and some remoras. On a dive in Tahiti a NYC woman scoffed at scuba divers going to the “cleaning station”. The diving was easy, but the manta rays go this spot on their own and not because humans coaxed them there with food. It was fascinating and beautiful and not to be missed. We also saw mantas on the reef here and in Bora Bora,. They are beautiful graceful creatures.

The dive we did was beautiful and lush like our other dives in the Tuamotus.

Le Taha’a

Le Taha’a is a Relais & Châteaux property which lives up to its parent organization. The grounds were full of blooming flowers – the nicest we have seen of any resort in FP. It is a place full of romanticism- great for couples. There is a swim up bar, a beautiful pool, a spa which overlooks a pond and a coral garden which you can drift through and see colorful coral and fish.
We also went on a dive which we saw eagle rays and green tortoises.

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Titan trigger fish blowing water in the sand

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spinner dolphin

Between dives

manta ray

manta ray

we saw about a dozen of them

manta ray

manta ray

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Tikehau from the air

Motu

lots of coral to snorkel around

pink sand beach

lots of coral to snorkel around- saw some amazing fish!

deserted pink sand beach

deserted pink sand beach

polynesian tv

polynesian tv

pink sand beach

pink sand beach

sunset

sunset

sunset

TIkehau airport

TIkehau airport

I have been to Tikehau twice. It is in the tuamotu archipelago of atolls. You can’t drive around Tikehau- the atoll is a ring of motus separated by passes. To reach the motus you take a short 3 minute car ride and then board a boat. The Pearl Beach resort is on a motu as part of the atoll on pink sand with aqua water.
The highlight of Tikehau is the manta rays. They have (on their own) adopted an old pearl farm and the surrounding coral where they show up to be cleaned by the smaller fishes that are inhabitants. Our first trip to Tikehau in October, we saw 15 manta rays and my second trip in June I saw 4. They circle the coral and are present for the entire dive and come up to explore us. The site is locally regulated to limit the number of divers and snorkelers and the time they spend so as not to scare the manta rays away.
We also did a dive in the pass which had schools of fish, dolphins to swim with, huge moray eels and huge humphead wrasses. The people the day before saw a hammerhead shark, but we weren’t so lucky.
The resort has 3 types of overwater bungalows. The only overwater bungalow that you can swim off of are the premium OWB or the suites. The premium OWB are situated in a pass and the wind whips over them. You would want a bungalow facing the lagoon if possible as the wind is less. The suites are better situated to have less wind and a sunset view. All have polynesian TVs. Top Dive is on site.
The pink sand beaches are beautiful. On the ocean side one can see whales.

Fakarava, Tuamotu Atoll

Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago in French Polynesia. It is a UNESCO world biosphere site which is known to have some of the best diving in the Pacific. It has 2 passes entering the atoll, where the diving is drift diving. There are only around 700 people in this second largest atoll in the Tuamotus.

We stayed at the White Sand Beach resort, which is the resort with the most stars. There are no over water bungalows so we stayed in an air-conditioned beach bungalow. The resort is run by an Austrian, Hans, who likes to greet each visitor.  We rented bikes from the hotel for around $3 (USD) and had a lovely ride down the atoll. The first meal was an outdoor BBQ which was quite nice.

We went for 2 days (Saturday and flew out Sunday) primarily to dive but were told by Top Dive we could not dive the passes without an introductory dive to evaluate our diving skills. Unfortunately, the only dive Top Dive offers to do this is in the afternoon and as we were flying on Sunday, we would not have been able to dive the pass. Instead we went with Dive Spirit, a small new outfit, which was nice and had an introductory dive in the morning. We hope to go back and do more diving there. The dives had beautiful coral and of course amazing fish.

 

Beaches Around Tahiti

When visitors come to Tahiti there is a lot to do, not all of which costs money.

Beaches: All beaches are public, it is the access you need to find. There are some parking lots where access is direct and other ones where you park on the street and walk in.

From Papette towards Arue towards Taravao

PK 5 Viapo beach with small parking lot and volleyball court.
PK 6 Before you get to the Radisson is a beach that usually has good body board surfing and lots of kids. There are roadside showers but no bathrooms.
PK 7 To the left of the Radisson in Arue there is an access point to the black sand beach which has waves that pound on the beach (not very good for kids).
PK 10 Point Venus has a nice beach for children and a small artisan boutique with good prices. The weekends often have canoe races and now there is a fort there for kids to explore. The light house is also nice. The bathrooms are open (which at many beaches they are not).
PK 13 Papenoo beach You can park along the road on either side. There are no bathrooms or other amenities. There are always plenty of people body boarding and surfing here. This is where beginners learn to surf. The waves are gentle and break on water. There is a small amount of shade under the trees along the road. For beginners, the waves are best towards in the middle of the beach and there is a small spring under a tree locals use to rinse off the sea water. This is our favorite wave riding beach and we usually go here every weekend.
PK 22 BLow hole- After exiting the tunnel, you need to turn around on the road with the three waterfalls (also a nice easy hike) and go back to the blow hole where there is parking a very pretty black sand beach. There are picnic tables here and working bathrooms.

There are other beaches the whole way around the coast but none have working bathrooms.  When you go to Tahiti Iti along the south coast, (left side as you face Tahiti Iti)  there is a beach at the end of the road with a tiki statue. Here locals have fishing parties and start canoe races. Along the side of Tahiti Iti towards Teahupoo, there is a white sand beach along the road (no parking lot or amenities) where the cruise liners used to dock (the large cement moorings are still there and ugly). The water is pretty. At the end of the road in Teahupoo there is a surfboard sign which has some surf champions names on it and a beach with a fresh water river emptying in to the sea. There are working bathrooms here and usually plenty of parking. You can’t get near the big wave but need to get a boat, which we have not done. It is around 50 USD per person.

On the way back to Papette, there are several beaches with parking lots that are well marked. Of note is that locals park at the Gauguin Museum, which is free, and walk down to the point to swim. Walk to the left of the gift shop with the museum at your back. There are no waves as this is within the lagoon. There is a pavilion for shade here.

Along this side of the island there is also a spring which always has lots of local people swimming in the fresh water. It is before Papeari.

PK 17 (from Papette towards Taravao)  is a white sand beach with intermittent coral where one can go snorkeling. It is busy on weekends. There is a stand that rents stand up paddles as you walk along the beach back towards Papette. You have to look up the side of the beach for the sign. There are a couple of parking lots. We park at the one near a small bridge. The bathrooms work here as do the showers.

 

Of note is that generally it is ok to use the beach at the hotel on Sundays, when the hotels have lots of locals there. I don’t know the why or protocol for this. The hotels seem to guard their towels but not much else and I often see people at the pools with their own towels.

The Intercontinental had a beach club that locals can join. It is rather expensive but does give you access to the pools, tennis courts and a discount on diving and food. Of note that if you tell the diving center you are local you get a discount and probably don’t have to join the Intercontinental Beachcomber Club. The expats who belong here are, as everywhere in Tahiti, French and smoke a lot. The hotel has a lagoon where they feed the fish and it is fun to snorkel there.