Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas is ruined!

Ask a member of my family for some family lore, and they will utter the following phrases...

- "we spit on the weak!"
Said by a fairly tipsy aunt about the strength of the family members and the lack thereof of others

- "the golden child"
Referring to my older brother - the one whose shadow we all live in

and the all time favorite -


Why is this so vividly burned on our brains, you ask? Well, according to family history, one fateful Christmas eve, while the three youngest children slept, my oldest brother was helping my parents put presents under the tree. Somehow, and in my mind, it plays out in slow motion like the changing of the tire in "A Christmas Story" - the Christmas tree fell down.

As in over. With the ornaments, lights and all.

And my father doesn't deal all that well in crisis. So he proceeded to flip his shit out.

"Christmas is ruined!" he exclaimed.

Whereas my oldest brother, home from his freshman year of college and quite the smart ass, replied by saying something to effect of

"What do you mean, Christmas is ruined? It's not like anyone stole the presents!"

Way to keep your eye on prize, big guy.

My father, not one to let someone rain on his melodrama parade, didn't appreciate the musings of some 18 yr old punk, especially one who might have a point. So there was some escalation and some yelling. I'm pretty sure at one point, my father told my oldest brother to get out, my brother grabbed his coat. Perhaps my mother stood on a chair and screamed to get them both to listen. It's all legend at this point.

A few hours later, by the light of Christmas morning, the other children crept downstairs to check out the loot. There is was, heaped in all its glory, under a perfect Christmas tree.

Only I noticed the very tiny threads of fishing line securing the tree to the wall.

"Christmas is ruined!" reminds us all that while things look bad, dude - there's still presents. Helps us focus on what's important. And when another Christmas disaster strikes, we can call keep our mind on the loot in the morning.

Like this Christmas, when there was a minor dog scuffle at the parents house which ended in me taking Alan to the emergency room. On Christmas Eve.

Really, combining family tipsiness and dogs who don't know each other that well - hell, it was bound to happen, right? In fact, as my mother was demanding that Alan put his head between his legs to prevent fainting, my drunk little brother exclaimed, "Christmas is ruined!"

Actually, Alan only had a minor hand wound. But it was deep enough and Alan was pale enough to warrant a little trip to the ER and perhaps a tetanus shot. So off we went, over the river and through the woods, only grandmother's house looked a lot like a hospital waiting room.

Things I've learned about the ER in my hometown on Christmas eve:
-Speaking English is helpful but not required.

-Someone will remind you when you present your insurance card that
the last time you were there was February 14, 2006. No shit. Like I forgot about that.

Alan and I spent a surprisingly short time at the ER, thankfully - since Alan's buzz had worn off and the pain from his hand was pretty intense.

But you know what, I didn't go to the hospital for cancer and there were presents under the tree when we got home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fractal Patterns

For those of you who didn't know, when i was just a wee one, I was quite the math and science prodigy. I was so far ahead in math in high school, they had to make an independent study for me. One where the teacher admitted I was smarter than her. That was the last day I paid attention to a word she said. I was a state science fair champ for like 6 years. My 6 years of work on fractal patterns caused a judge to ask if I was going to be a mathematician or perhaps go into science. I laughed.

Nope, going into theater school. Never to take math or science again. Except "the solar system" and biology for football players. Those don't count.

So many years later, after numerous career paths that never once included math or science, (unless you count calculating 20% interest rates on a used car) I find myself drawn to the science of breast cancer. In fact, I joke that I have an internet oncology degree. When I was diagnosed I spent hours on the web, researching everything I could find. After I finished treatment, I realized I only truly understood MY breast cancer. I was woefully uneducated in the other different types. How could I guide someone else if I didn't understand? How could I help them read their pathology reports, their treatment plans - anything?

So little by little, I researched. I learned about side effects, drugs, treatments, genetic tests - hell, I can even tell you the generic name of most chemo drugs. For any woman going through treatment, I could probably rattle off at least a couple clinical trials they could enroll in. And you know what? I found I really liked it. I don't know if it's that whole right/left brain thing or what. Or if I was so used to people coming back from the dead or some love triangle that it was refreshing to flex my cranial muscles.

So, the pinnacle of science nerdom, the epicenter of all things breast cancer is the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held every year in - you guessed it - the alamo city. Now, when I think of the Alamo, I think of Pee Wee's Big Adventure, or perhaps William Shattner in Miss Congeniality - but off I went on another trip to Texas for breast cancer.

It was like the ultimate science fair. It's the largest event for doctors, researchers, clinicians - really anyone that does anything with the big BC. 8000 professionals... yes, that's thousand. From all over the world. And only about 150 advocates. That's me. Every 15 minutes a new paper was presented, a new study discussed. Every 15 minutes from 8am-6pm. Then there's the mentor sessions where docs help us common folk understand the findings. Don't forget the working lunches, the symposium dinners, the stroll through drug company lane... all in all, it was breast cancer all day, all the time. For 4 straight days. It was exhausting. And exhilarating. I learned so much. And I was amazed at what I understood.

And the swag! If you want a mousepad, flashdrive, travel blanket, laser pointer... I have one for you. With the obligatory drug company logo, of course. That doesn't even count the pens, post its - you know, "lesser" gifts. All that money... it makes your head spin.

So I came home from San Antonio with a greater knowledge of breast cancer and a even greater desire to learn more.

But seriously, I could wow you with my work on fractal patterns and chaos theory :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Baby Talk

Alan and I have been having a pretty serious discussion lately. It revolves around babies. As in having them. For those of you hip to the beginning of this whole pink ribbon tale, you know that my world was pretty much ovulation kits and pee sticks before I was diagnosed.

Then the "big C" hit. And any and all plans went right out the window.

So here I am, almost 2 years out from my diagnosis, and so far so good. What does that mean for the fetus factory?

Well, it's a complicated thing. See, I'm hormone positive. Meaning, my cancer fed on estrogen like a high frat boy eats doritos. And pregnancy usually means skyrocketing hormone levels. At the same time, there's no real evidence that shows pregnancy has an adverse effect. Why don't we know for sure? Well, there just aren't enough hormone positive women who have babies after breast cancer to really show us anything. The perks of being special. Some doctors say absolutely no pregnancy. Thankfully, I don't see those doctors. Mine tend to go for a cautious optimism. If it's really a priority of mine, and they can't prove it will hurt me, then they can't stop me.

Pregnancy could very well raise my risk of recurrence. Or not. We just don't know. I guess I could be uber cautious... adopt, get a surrogate, go kid free. But I just can't. And yes, I know it's a risk. I guess it's a risk I'm willing to take. Why?

Because cancer has already taken enough from me, dammit. I refuse to let it take one thing more.

Now, the current thought it that I should continue on my hormonal therapy for 5 years. In fact, I'm in a clinical trial for just that. But all my doctors have told me I could take a "break" after 2 years and try for a kiddie. Pop out one or two, then close up shop for good. I could move to permanent menopause and take another kind of drug - one that's been shown to be a bit more beneficial in post menopausal women. Sounds like a plan to me.

I will say, however, that Alan and I are toying with the idea of stopping tamoxifen and my monthly menopause shots before the 2 full years of hormonal treatment. This seems totally against my usually harsh medical advice I dole out to others. Part of it is life stuff... it's just easier to do it sooner. Then there's the "if you're stopping the drugs early, what's a couple of months?" And maybe the prevailing thought for me is that breast cancer is a crap shoot. You can do everything right and it will come back. You blow off treatment and it never does. There's a bit of "shit happens."

So maybe I have the fatalistic approach of "if I'm going to get breast cancer again, I'll get it again."

Sure, could I get pregnant, get breast cancer again and kick myself? Yep.
But could I do everything right, never get breast cancer but not have a child either? Yep.

I guess I'd rather go through door #1.

I think a lot about getting breast cancer again with small kids. What it would do to them... and I suppose we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Needless to say, Alan and I have a lot to think about.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Don't Mess with Texas!

I recently embarked on my first real trip to Texas. Houston to be exact. The other other experience I had was driving through the panhandle on my way back from a brief stint living in L.A. Texas panhandle + hot car = not happy Courtney.

I traveled to Houston for the Young Survival Coalition's annual affiliate leadership conference. Yep, somehow in the middle of all these shenanigans, I've managed to become an "affiliate leader" here in Atlanta. Actually, I've somehow ended up in charge. I'm reminded of the "Friends" episode where Chandler falls asleep in a meeting and ends up going to Tulsa - you know, the "Paris" of Oklahoma.

In reality, I did offer to take this on. The current leadership needed some fresh blood... and there's a sucker born every minute. And I do have some tremendous experience leading a group of women to greatness (Welcome to Alpha Chi Omega, I'm Courtney, your Rush Chair.)

So off I go. To learn more about the organization, the only national non profit dedicated to the needs of young women diagnosed with breast cancer. Funny enough, that's me! And I really had a great time. Met awesome survivors from around the country, got some great training and left fired up about all the great things we could accomplish for women here in Atlanta.

And I got to to to a Tex-Mex bar complete with line dancing and a giant sparkling armadillo out front.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Circus is Coming!

READER: What are you doing lately, Courtney?

ME: Well, seeing as I have a little time on my hands, there's no better time to try something ridiculous!

READER: What would that be?

ME: What flies through the air with the greatest of ease?

READER: Um, I don't know... (insert some sort of circus freak joke here.)

ME: The answer is ... ME!!!!!

I've begun taking circus classes. Yes, that's in addition to the pole dancing. And no, Alan has not installed a trapeze from my two story family room ceiling... (but man, would that be cool!)

What does it involve? Well, there's the easy stuff, like juggling. I suck at juggling. Like SU-UCK! Alan's tried to help me. So far, no bueno. We do exercises in balance and stuff. We walk a tightrope... so far, it's only about 6 inches off the ground.

Then there's the good stuff. I've been working on the trapeze. I can now do this... this of course, is not me, but my teacher. I'll work on pictures another time.

In addition, I'm working hard on the Spanish web. That's the long rope that hangs from a very tall place. Eventually, I'm supposed to climb to the top, have it spin while I do all sorts of limb tangling tricks. Right now, it sort of reminds me of climbing to the top of the rope in junior high gym class. And I'm currently trying just to make it to the top. Apparently, breast cancer isn't great for upper body strength.

I'm still getting used to the almost full body spandex we're encouraged to wear. Pants get tangled in stuff when you try to climb. I've always believed that spandex is a privilege, not a right. And it is one I currently have not earned.

So while others do holiday shopping, send Christmas cards, and you know... work - I will swing upside down on stripper poles and fling myself on the trapeze.

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, My!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Move over Norma Rae!

Courtney goes picketing!

Since I was in New York anyway, you know - singing with Jon Secada and all - I figured I'd stay an extra day and do my union duty and picket. As if the WGA had consulted my very own calendar, they scheduled picketing outside my studio the very next day! Woo hoo, freezing my ass off in front of my own office, where cast and crew happily continue working in their cozy warm offices supplied with scripts written by also very warm scabs.

Now, I'm live south of the Mason-Dixon line now. I am not accustomed to the "chill" of December in New York. But I busted out my puffy North Face jacket like the midwestern kid I am, grabbed the gloves, hat and scarf that hadn't seen the outside of my closet in a couple of years and I was good to go.

Here's what I learned from my day of picketing. Picketing sucks. It's boring. People are bitter and angry. And apparently, no one in New York chants those cute "stick it to the man" rhymes like I've imagined. Maybe in L.A.

Walking in circles in the cold is horrible. And I don't care how many donuts Whoopi Goldberg sends out from "The View," it doesn't make up for the hours of walking in that little marked off section of sidewalk, knowing you're getting screwed.

And I only did it one day. One crappy day before flying home to my 70 degree southern oasis where no one requires me to do much of anything. It left me feeling a little bit guilty. After all, what's a WGA writer who doesn't live in New York or LA to do? Spread union propaganda, I suppose. So, if you're interested at all in the strike, check out these sites.

Deadline Hollywood Daily - written by a reporter for LA Weekly... it's the site for news and updates.

United Hollywood - started by union writers

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

$10 to the person who can name a Jon Secada song!

I just returned from singing with Jon Secada. Who the fuck is he? I know, a valid question. You know, we could all remember the name, but not one person could think of the one hit wonder that made him an early 90s superstar. So I thought I would help you. According to Wikipedia, the bastion of all important knowledge, Jon Secada was launched into the latin pop scene (think pre Ricky Martin, Lou Bega) by Gloria Estefan and had the following mildly successful hits:

1992 "Just Another Day"
1992 "Do You Believe In Us"
1992 "Angel

What most people don't know is that if you a. get breast cancer, b. join a gospel choir and c. get invited to sing at the New York Stock Exchange Christmas Tree Lighting, you too could back Jon Secada up in "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Where am I, you ask? Middle Row, third from the left. Rocking out. To "A Holiday Classic with a Latin Flair."

Who says breast cancer isn't fun?

Here's the choir.

My friend Joy and me under the tree.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What are you up to, Courtney?

I've been on strike for about a month now. Being on strike blows. Yep, there's some eloquence for ya. Hey big studios - give this out of work writer a job! What have you been doing while on strike, you ask?

Well, my kitchen cupboards are amazingly organized.
The drool is wiped off all the walls.
I've managed to only call my husband and annoy him about 4 times a day.
I check Deadline Hollywood Daily religiously. Like every other minute.
Did you know that there are these amazing systems to organize your garage?
Donna Martin graduates.
Sewing curtains. They're still not done, but more of a "work in progress."
There's this fabulous little pen that cleans your grout.
Maybe now's the time to finish my book proposal... oh, look - "clash of the choirs" is on!
I've finally made some itunes playlists.
Have you heard about this thing called Facebook?

Actually, the first couple weeks were great. Now that the news isn't good, and I've run out of free household tasks to accomplish, it's getting harder. Although I'm doing a ton of traveling in the next couple of weeks, so that will help. And I've been doing a whole lot of breast cancer stuff. I feel like I was a "trophy wife in training." Lots of volunteer work. Only no trophies to show for it.

Going back to work... that would be even better.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

There I go again!

It wouldn't be an interview with Courtney if she didn't say something PG-13 or above. Let's see, I've been quoted in print saying bitch, damn, ass, bastards... hmm. No shit or fuck yet. That I know of.

So I was mentioned on this month's MAMM Magazine. It's a magazine dedicated to cancer and women's issues. I know, a real page turner. But important.

Anyway, the article is titled I Can't Believe You Just Said That! by Sherry Baker.

Here's an excerpt with my perspective on what to do when people say something stupid. Like the person who said, "Well, at least I don't have cancer." to my face. My bald headed, chemo filled face.

Appalled at the thoughtless remarks she heard, Rosanne Kalick researched what people should say and do when interacting with a cancer survivor. She compiled the information in her book Cancer Etiquette: What to Say, What to Do When Someone You Know or Love Has Cancer. “I don’t think boneheaded remarks are said to be malicious. Instead, I think they mostly are the result of fear, shock and concern. Too often the first thing people think is spit out of their mouth,” says Kalick. “Words you might fluff off if you were well, hit you like iron if you have cancer. Compassionate communication is what is needed. What people say and do really does matter.”

Hankins says there isn’t one “correct” way to react to hurtful remarks. Instead, a woman has to find ways of coping that are natural and comfortable for her. “Some people can answer with a zinger, some ignore stupid comments or can laugh at them,” he says. “But some women are so devastated, they can’t make light of inappropriate remarks and may feel devastated for weeks.”

Not Courtney Bugler, 30, of Atlanta. “People speak before they think, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten genuinely upset. So as hard as it is sometimes, I’d advise people to blow it off. You have more important things to worry about than someone’s stupidity. It’s not worth it,” says Bugler, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in February 2006. “I do appreciate my support group because they do understand. When I share a story, you can see that understanding in their eyes. And you can bet your ass humor helps me deal with it.”

There we have it people... blow it off and swear.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


It's very funny considering how my life is going, but it may surprise you to know that philanthropy hasn't always been my bag. In fact, it's pretty safe to say I never really gave a shit. When I was in college, I was the social chair and the rush chair... facts that probably don't surprise you. I planned parties. I judged women in .4 seconds. When the time for the sorority philanthropy rolled around, I conveniently had something else to do. I did not toss watermelons, cook chili or whatever other bullshit there was to raise money for charity. I did do the Dance Marathon my senior year, but that was only because I was sleeping with someone on the committee. Who was sleeping with someone else - but... I digress.

Point is, me and philanthropy don't really make sense. Not like ham and eggs, or Will Farrell and the jazz flute. So, imagine my surprise when Northwestern University called and asked to profile me for their annual report of donors.

Now, I will start by saying I am not a big donor. Not at all. I think maybe that at my age I donate at all is a big plus. I'm not quite sure why the development office creams their pants about me, but they do. Actually, I do know. One of college roommates works in the office. In fact, many of them read this blog. Hello, NU. I apologize for using the words Northwestern Development and "creams their pants" in the same sentence. Go Cats!

Okay, so Northwestern sent out this photographer... Jeff Gartin for those of you who'd like to know. We did a whole glamour shot photo shoot. We did all this stuff outside by my car. With lights. And umbrella things. My neighbors must have loved that. My profile picture is from this shoot. NU interviewed me for the donor spotlight. Wrote a whole big long thing.

So a couple months later, the annual report came. I found my page. I laughed out loud. For a long time.

A. They made me seem awfully adult. I mean, they somehow make partying and not having a real career seem totally normal.

B. I still managed to reference things mildly inappropriate.

C. They used the term "service and philanthropy." That's what got me. Ha! If the other co-hosts of Halloween pumkin gut wrestling could see me now.

So, here... reprinted from Northwestern for your reading pleasure. I will say, if you're an NU alum, you should really throw them a bone. You get glamour shots!

“If I think of a period in my life that has shaped who I am, what I do with my life, who I go to for advice … it’s my four years at Northwestern,” says Courtney Relihan Bugler.

As a theatre major in the School of Communication and as a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Bugler became acquainted with a diverse group of friends. “What I gained at Northwestern was exposure to many different people I would not have met otherwise. Some of my best friends in the world are the ones I met through Northwestern. And then there are all the stories that go along with them! My favorites ones … those probably wouldn’t be appropriate for print!”

Following graduation, Bugler took a circuitous path to pursue her love for performing arts. While working in Los Angeles as an event planner, she kept her theatre skills honed by producing a review for Northwestern in her free time. She then served a stint working as an activities director on cruise ships, before returning to her native Illinois where fellow alumna Megan McTavish (Communication 71) hired her to write for ABC Television’s All My Children — the daytime soap opera created by alumna Agnes Nixon (Communication 44).

Now that she’s back in the industry she loves, Bugler uses her free time to advocate for young women with breast cancer — a disease with which she was diagnosed a few weeks after her 29th birthday. She originally received care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, then completed her treatment in Atlanta, where she relocated with her husband, Alan, for his new job. She is currently training to become a crisis counselor for the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization. In October 2007, with two Northwestern friends by her side, she participated in the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Bugler’s life experiences inspire her service and philanthropy. “I’ve been very fortunate, and I feel it is my duty to support others in pursuing similar opportunities that were available to me,” she says. “Why wouldn’t we, as alumni, give what we can to provide other students the same opportunities?”

Bugler has supported the School of Communication Annual Fund, the Theatre/Interpretation Center, and the Student Life Gift Fund — all areas in which she participated while at Northwestern. “Giving to the areas of Northwestern that influenced me the most is my note of thanks and appreciation.”

Freaking hysterical.