Alicia's Story: The Latest Chapter

Alicia Parlette, a copy editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, was diagnosed with cancer nearly a year ago. She's writing a diary about her experience, and the paper is publishing segments. Alex Chadwick checks in on Alicia to see how she's doing.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

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CHADWICK: Today we are revisiting someone in San Francisco. A woman with a signature laugh…

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CHADWICK: …and a cat.

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CHADWICK: She's Alicia Rose Parlette, 24, working as a Copy Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and she has cancer. How long have you had that cat?

Ms. ALICIA ROSE PARLETTE (Copy Editor, San Francisco Chronicle): It's my roommate's cat, and he's four.

CHADWICK: Oh.

Ms. PARLETTE: Yeah.

CHADWICK: How are you adjusting to living with a cat?

Ms. PARLETTE: It was kind of hard at first. I think he hated me but it's better now.

CHADWICK: We first met Alicia last summer. She'd been diagnosed a few months earlier with Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma. That's difficult to treat, and fortunately very rare, cancer. It had started in her hip and then moved on to her lungs. With the encouragement of Editors at the Chronicle she began to write about her experience and so far the paper has published sixteen of these highly personal accounts. Here's Alicia reading from her very first piece, published last June.

Ms. PARLETTE: If I get through this, this story will help me remember the important moments along the way and in the worst of all circumstances, if I go through this life changing ordeal and my body just wears out and I die, I will die a writer, the one thing I've always wanted to be.

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CHADWICK: Now it's ten months later, I'm back in San Francisco; Alicia has invited me to her apartment. She still has that laugh, but there have been many many complications. She's had a lot of pain and difficulty with the medications that are supposed to ease it. Worst of all, doctors told her they'd found evidence of the cancer in her brain. Something that for Alicia was too horrible to imagine.

Ms. PARLETTE: I think I thought, and I still think of my brain as the most sacred part of my body. I mean maybe except for my heart. Your brain is where your personality is and the cancer had invaded that and that was very frightening.

CHADWICK: Alicia underwent a kind of targeted radiation treatment and it was successful. And overall her therapy seems to be holding the cancer at bay.

Ms. PARLETTE: The spots on my lungs are pretty much unchanged and it looks like my hip tumor, it's still growing but it's growing at a slower rate than it was before which was kind of the whole point of this treatment. So, in that regard things are going better than I thought that they would.

CHADWICK: But it sounds like in other regards they're not.

Ms. PARLETTE: Yeah, I think just emotionally I hit this wall. Where it's like oh, my god, I have cancer, Like, what is going on here, you know. At the last appointment it was a lot of good news, but I was just sobbing the entire time because I was in there because I have cancer. It just was hitting me over and over again and I think I had had these little walls of denial built up and they all just kind of broke down because so much was going on.

CHADWICK: Maybe that's what happens to you when you have cancer at any age. Although you've also had a twenty fourth birthday. Twenty four.

Ms. PARLETTE: I have. Which was actually really good because I think when I first found out about the cancer you know I was wondering if I would have a twenty-fourth birthday.

CHADWICK: And that says Alicia is the problem. She finds it very hard to make any long term plans. There's just too much uncertainty in her life about her life.

Ms. PARLETTE: I get kind of afraid about hoping too much and making really long term goals. Because if I just focus on what's going to happen like five years from now and then there is no five years from now, I spent all that time now hoping instead of doing stuff right now.

CHADWICK: You've traveled?

Ms. PARLETTE: I've traveled. I went to Europe.

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CHADWICK: So, you can learn to live with cancer. At least a little.

Ms. PARLETTE: Right, right.

CHADWCIK: You can learn to live with a cat.

Ms. PARLETTE: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: And you can learn to go to Europe to just go, go.

Ms. PARLETTE: Right. Yeah, it was pretty empowering to just do that.

CHADWICK: What is going on with this pain medication that you're taking? Are you in pain now?

Ms. PARLETTE: At this moment no because of the pain medication. I, I was on Vicoden for a couple of months and it just wasn't doing the job, and I was in pain pretty much all the time. And yeah, so now, I'm on Oxycotin and it's been kind of a rough adjustment, but right now I think it's worth it because it's the first time really in a few years that I haven't had pain. And I didn't realize how much the pain was bringing me down emotionally until it wasn't there and I felt so much better about everything.

CHADWICK: Over the months since she was diagnosed Alicia has managed to work at the paper most days. She says her editors at the Chronicle have been very compassionate, understanding for instance when a few weeks ago she asked for time off while she's trying to adjust to her new medication. Alicia has a broad network of friends and co-workers to keep her spirits up. Most of all there's her father who she says is her greatest support. He lost his wife, Alicia's mother, to a different cancer about three years ago. Now, even with all her problems, Alicia worries about her dad, and what her cancer is doing to him.

Ms. PARLETTE: I think he thinks that he has to act like the strong dad all the time, and forgets that it's okay for him to be upset and scared and not know what to do. Because I don't know what to do, I don't know what's going on.

CHADWICK: But, you know, you seem as though you know what to do.

Ms. PARLETTE: Oh.

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CHADWICK: Since I saw you, since I saw you almost ten months ago, you just, you just have this clarity and sharpness.

Ms. PARLETTE: Well, thank you.

CHADWICK: Or maybe it's being twenty-four, it's just that maturity.

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Ms. PARLETTE: I'm older now. I mean, I don't feel very clear a lot of the time. But, I mean, I don't know. What else am I going to do? I mean, it was okay for me and good for me to break down for a week and a half, couple weeks, stay home from work for a month, but I can't do that forever. I mean, I wouldn't want to do that forever. So, I kind of have to regroup and get a little bit more clear, and go back to my life, I guess.

CHADWICK: Alicia Parlette. You can listen to the first conversation that we had last summer, and find a link to her stories, her diaries in the San Francisco Chronicle. That's at our website, npr.org.

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