#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: A Smile is a Gift

I haven’t updated the blog in a while but here are my last two posts from my GoFundMe page. I decided to keep it up not to beg for money, but to show a year in the life of a cancer patient to those who may not follow this blog.

The picture you see here is me finally feeling well enough to take my middle son to NYC for his 20th birthday. We spent an awesome family day together and walked and walked and walked, something I could not have done a few months ago, and for that I’m grateful.

My battle began January 22, 2015 when I found the lump while dying my fiery red hair. The rest of the months and days have been a whirlwind, a roller coaster ride, and I’m still waiting until I can get off. There have been twists and turns, hills and valleys but thankfully I’ve had someone holding my hand every step of the way. And I’ve had so many cheering me on from the sidelines. And for that I say a most heartfelt thank you.

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Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, 3:40 a.m.

Last Tuesday I was admitted into Danbury Hospital’s emergency room for the 4th time in the last year. Do I get a plaque yet? I was having pain in my chest at the port site and shortness of breath for a few days. So my oncologist said I should go to get checked immediately to make sure it was not a blood clot.

Blood clot? The thought had not even crossed my mind. I was thinking “recurrence, lung cancer,” not blood clot. One more thing to add to the slush pile. Yes, unsolicited thoughts being sent to my already overloaded brain.

After 4 hours in the E.R., a CT scan, EKG, blood work, vitals, checking for blood clots it turned out that the sore chest was because my puppy jumped directly on my chest in a fit of exuberance upon my return home 2 days prior. And the shortness of breath was likely anxiety attacks.

One of the sweet women in my Metaplastic Caner support groups recently passed away at the way too young age of 51. She was a wonderful, funny, vibrant advocate for this type of rare cancer and one of the first people who reached out to me and calmed my fears when I was first diagnosed. She touched thousands of lives and was taken far too soon and it is very troubling because she was an expert.

Another amazing, fierce fighter I know has recurrence in her lungs after a 10 year battle and one gentleman I know through my journey has had recent recurrence after being cancer free for 10 years. Both are strong, faith-filled fighters.

I am only not even one year out yet and have had complication after complication. How do I stay strong and positive and healthy if these knowledgeable advocates and warriors are still battling? This is what keeps me up at night and why I write- partially for you, my supporters, partially for those who are currently fighting, but a lot of it is for me so I can remind myself:

1) I am not alone
2) I will get through it
3) There are blessings around every corner

Some of those blessings this week include:

~My middle son who just turned 20. We celebrated is birthday in NYC yesterday and had an awesome day. I am blessed that he has taken such good care of me during my battle, driving me to chemo, helping drive his sister around and so much more. And he never complained once.

~Shine Salon in Ridgefield who gave me a free day of beauty after reading my blog and saying they were inspired and wanted to pamper me because of all that I’ve been through. Thank you so much to Erin, Stacey, Carrie, Ryan, Orlinda and staff for your generosity. I truly felt like a princess!

~BHS Sports Boosters/Grin Iron Team who presented me with a check for $300. The woman who organized the fundraiser said they read about my story and, rathe than donate all the funds to the American Cancer Society, wanted to help a local family. Thank you! We are so grateful!

~My new editor who is getting the book I wrote last year pitch ready for sending to agents. We were supposed to do it last year before the evil C word temporarily knocked me down. I’m back up now and ready to rock and know that 2016 has awesome things in store!

~The kind fellow who gave us 4 free train tickets. The hubs said it worked out that was because I volunteered to do kid’s crafts that morning (even though I was exhausted) so God blessed us for it. Thank you!

~And last but not least, I am grateful this week and every week for my amazing family, Ruby, Cullen, Dillon and my husband who have been there for me every step of the way offering physical and emotional support, prayers and so much more. My hope is for lots more pain-free family fun like we had this weekend- getting our fresh-cut Christmas tree at the farm, seeing the humungous tree at Rockefeller Center and celebrating lots more birthdays.

In a few hours I’ll go back to Danbury Hospital for the umteenth time for more follow-up and more testing. The E.R. doc was concerned that I’m still in pain in #MyLeftBoob 4 months after surgery. My surgeon said I could be in pain for up to a year later but my oncologist is concerned enough to have me come back in for an exam, radiology follow-up, ultrasound and whatever else. And hopefully they’ll say it’s just fluid build-up or scar tissue because I’ve had enough! Ain’t nobody got time for this!

I will leave you with this: One of the feisty red-haired ladies who battled the evil demon not once, but twice said she has been doing the “Cancer Dance” for years. At first that pissed me off. Dancing is supposed to be fun and freeing. How is dancing with cancer enjoyable? But then I recently was reminded of a song that made it all clear…..

Warning: Atheists/Agnostics can check out now…

A woman who prayed with me 15 years ago passed away from cancer a few years back. I was in a band with her daughter and we worked at a Christian school together. Her daughter shared a song with me by Israel Houghton called “With Long Life” which is based upon a promise God gave His believers in Psalm 91. “With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation.”

I put the song on over the weekend and my spirit leapt and danced on the inside of me. THIS was the Cancer Dance- one step forward, two steps back, it was the Cha Cha! I knew my friend, the wise woman who prayed with me, sent that song to my spirit so I would be encouraged. And I was.

Yes, sometimes cancer can knock me down and make me feel like I’m going backwards but as long as I keep moving forward, even if it is only in my spirit, I WIN!

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Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 – 2:40 a.m.

“Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.” ~Kak Sri

I am beyond grateful for the most recent test results that came in and I’m happy to share some good news! The lump was not cancer! It wasn’t “nothing” but it wasn’t the “bad thing” that every cancer patient worries about, thank God!

I went to my oncologist last week who definitely felt a lump (#4 if you’re counting) and she sent me immediately to get an ultrasound. I was laying there thinking about the first time I saw the first lump in January 2015. Here we were almost a year later and here I was again, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When the ultrasound tech rolled over the spot on #MyLeftBoob there it was again, another black spot. My heart sank. I tried to read her face and she didn’t look worried. This dark spot looked more like a long jellybean than a misshaped quarter with a scraggly tail. I breathed a huge sign of relief when the tech told me it was just a “seroma,” a mass of fluid that forms sometimes after surgery.

I asked how she can tell the difference between a seroma and a lump to be concerned about and she explained it was due to the shape and how it felt. So far the last 2 times I went to the doctor I received good news- no blood clots and no cancerous lumps.

I’m hoping 3’s a charm because the latest pain is in my back. I have another follow-up visit on the 21st and will ask the doctor once again to check this new pain. The hardest part of battling cancer is the battle of the mind, the fear of recurrence and trying not to think every ache or pain is a new type of cancer. I know many women who have fought two, three and sometimes four times and wonder how they can be so brave.

In the last few weeks two beautiful, strong women have passed away from cancer after both waging long and fierce battles. One was 51 and had the type I was diagnosed with- Metaplastic Carcinoma. It came back and spread to her spine. She fought for 3 years.

The other woman was 79 and battled for 7 years. She had ovarian cancer and left behind an amazing legacy in her 5 children.

Both women had such strength, grace and dignity in the face of adversity and left their mark on the world and on other women who are still fighting, myself included. I will always be grateful for their positive attitudes and the examples they set for others.

Fighting cancer is a full-time job and it’s not over the instant treatment is “done.” As we’ve seen so many times, it can come back and symptoms can linger–symptoms like numbness from neuropathy which I still suffer from, pain in the joints which I still have and extreme fatigue which I battle daily.

Trying to juggle the stress of working at the full-time job that pays some of my bills and work at fighting cancer while balancing doctors appointments and family time is definitely a challenge. But I know there is an end in sight, hopefully in the very near future.

Never in a million years did I think I would be in this position of being a cancer patient, fighter and advocate but I know that I can and will use my writing to raise awareness for early detection and the power of prayer and positive thinking.

I know there are some women out there who get mad or upset when they hear people like me “preaching” about early detection because it didn’t save their sister, mother, daughter or friend, but it does save many many lives, including mine. So I can’t be silent about it.

My heart breaks for those whose lives were robbed from us, for those who found their cancer fairly early at Stage 2 and they still passed away. It’s so unfair and that is why I must continue to encourage people to check themselves regularly, because for so many it does matter.

My life will never be the same but I feel that is a good thing. In a way I can say that cancer saved my life, saved some very important relationships and it gave me a purpose. I have a new perspective, a newfound appreciation for so many and a sense of gratitude I never imagined I could feel.

I am eternally grateful for the outpouring of love and support I’ve received along this journey and I promise to make my life matter. I won’t squander this second chance I’ve been given. I will work to help others, to support fellow warriors and show women that they can get through it too.

For the two special warrior sisters who are going through treatment right now– I’m praying for you daily. Stay strong. You will get through this.

To everyone who has loved and supported me along the way, I could never thank you enough. Life is a gift.

Yesterday was the three year anniversary of the most horrific tragedy our nation has ever seen, the Sandy Hook School shootings. 26 innocent lives were ripped away from this earth by a tortured soul and thousands of others who lived through it, lost a loved one or are living with someone who was affected will never be the same.

I struggle with the right words to say or the right thing to do to honor the precious lives lost. After the tragedy I had the honor of opening a nonprofit that helped families heal through the power of the arts called the Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids, the SHACK. It has since closed due to lack of funding but I still carry fond memories of those we were able to help in the months immediately following that day.

I met a few of the parents who lost children and am amazed by the grace and astonishing dignity they’ve shown. Their children and loved ones did not die in vain because the message they share is causing The Butterfly Effect and it will change the world. Their message sounds simple but what would happen if we all truly chose to live by these words? Love Wins, Be Kind, Choose Love.

Being kind could be as simple as a smile for those who need strength, for those who need love. This smile is for you.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.ย Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” ~Mother Teresa

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