Call Me Crazy (You’d Be Right) #MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles

“Everyone’s a little crazy. Some people just hide it better than others.” ~Michelle Hodkin, The Retribution of Mara Dyer

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Pre-cancer pic circa 2015, “Queen Bad@$$”

To anyone I have met post-cancer-battle, on the outside I may “look” somewhat normal to you— a short-haired, sassy redhead with a biting wit, confident personality and many logs on the fire. But don’t let the tough-as-nails exterior fool you for what hides beneath the soft-as-marshmallow-fluff interior. I am a big mush and today that schmatlz came seeping out in a way I did not expect at the doctor’s office.

To look at me now, without knowing what I went through, you might think I was “normal.” But the short hair is a side effect of red devil chemo and neither is the extra baggage I carry in the form of chemo weight, chemo/fog brain, PTSD, pain and anxiety. These all contribute to self-confidence issues I never used to experience and, like many cancer survivors and patients, am having a hard time dealing.

You might be reading this and think— how shallow, how petty, you survived cancer, you should be glad to be alive, many are not that lucky, and you’re worried about your looks? And to you I say- BUH BYE, stop reading now, you just won’t get it.

Unless you have walked a few steps in my shoes, not even a full mile, you have absolutely NO idea what a cancer patient experiences. To be told you have a life threatening illness is hard enough but add to it that it’s rare, aggressive, only found in 1% of women, has a very high rate of recurrence, then heap on the fact that people you think will be there for you (like your family) are not and are too busy with their own lives to take you to chemo, that people want to make your journey all about them when it should be all about you…… Add in a heaping helping of “you should….” eat almonds, eat kale, do juicing, drink wheat grass extract, take oatmeal baths, smoke weed, just rub coconut oil on it….. Sprinkle in the stress and annoyance of daily requests from “well-meaning” individuals (and not-so-perfect strangers) who want you to not only buy their skin care line, weight loss wraps, hair regrowth serum, essential oils and health and wellness products but also sell them, and you have a recipe for full-blown psycho. So yes, as you can see, the stress was getting to me.

Of course I am blessed, grateful, happy and fortunate to be alive. Sadly, I have lost friends who did not get that chance. But this blog has always been about what I personally have gone through before, during and now after the C-word; my journey, and how I get through it with prayer, meditation, writing and other positive and productive methods. And guess what? I get messages from strangers-turned-friends from all over thanking me for being so real, honest and raw, when others are afraid of what people will think.

Before I was diagnosed and went through a 2-year-long harrowing battle to kill the evil demon,  we could blame the craziness on being an artist, or being the youngest of six black sheep and starved for attention. But now? Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my hormones, or being with the same wonderful person (“Mr. X,” who I am not allowed to write about or post photos of)  for 25+ years who is blinded by love and doesn’t feel the need to tell me I’m beautiful as often as I’d like (because again, he is blinded by love), but it all came out today in a big wet mess of black runny mascara on the fresh white paper of the doctor’s table. How embarrassing.

My amazing chiropractor is not even 40. He is single. He is not used to these crazy antics like so many men his age deal with on a daily basis and did not know what he was in for. Poor him.

As the massage therapist’s grip released the stress of the week that had built up in my neck and shoulders, I felt the tears coming that have been building up from frustration of weight not coming off as fast as I’d like….. aggravation of having to work so many jobs to pay the cancer doctor bills…. disgust of being called a racist for respectfully disagreeing with someone’s political viewpoints… and the list goes on and on.

I stayed composed until part two of my pain management therapy— spine/neck adjustment and acupuncture. I tried to hold back the tears but sometimes there is no stopping the flow after a hole is made in the dam. The pressure was just too much. As the doctor’s needle pricked my lower back, the physical pain of the action turned to mental. I tried not to cry but could not help myself. My doctor probably thought I was insane. But being the sweet, experienced professional that he is, he took it in stride, offered me tissues and apologized for the pain I was going through…. like it was his fault. Good man. Of course it was not his fault.

When I got to the car the full-blown sobs came and I finally felt the release that I so desperately needed. People, myself included, don’t realize how emotional it is to deal with the day-to-day business of life after cancer until something like this happens. Then I think— I need therapy, why am I not going to therapy, oh yeah, because I have no time, because I work too much, because I have to pay the cancer docs, and the circle goes round and round.

The good news is that I know this season will not least forever. And I hope that by writing about it I can help someone else feel less alone. I stopped frequenting online cancer support groups because I felt it was doing more harm than good. It became more of a “One Upper” club of sorts and less “supportive” with women saying things like— oh you’re so lucky, you only had Stage One cancer, you’re so lucky, you didn’t have to get a mastectomy. Yes, both true. But I don’t consider myself “so lucky” to have to endure red devil chemo which is so toxic the nurse brings it to you in a hazmat suit, to get my skin painfully burned 30 times during radiation, to go through numerous surgeries and complications. I DO however consider myself incredibly blessed.

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Surgery scar after chemo port was placed in my chest and tube was inserted into my jugular vein for treatment.

I am blessed to have stared death in the face and survived, to have been brought to the edge of death and back again 8 times during dose dense chemo, to have been given a second chance at life. For that I am eternally grateful and try to live my life helping others, volunteering to help children and my community and to treat others the way I want to be treated— The Golden Rule. Am I perfect? Far from it. But my intentions are good and I try my best.

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This is by far the worst of the worst days of my entire treatment.  It was right after lumpectomy #2 when I had many complications including a skin infection and an allergic reaction to the iodine during the surgery. I do not even recognize this person but it was me. I do remember how grateful I was to have woken up and to have been given the chance to live. It’s hard to put into words the profoundness of that feeling. 

So what will I do now with this life I’ve been given? I will try my best to help others by writing and raising awareness for early detection. I will continue to raise funds for Ann’s Place for Cancer as I have done the last two years. I will continue to raise up strong, confident leaders through my jobs at the church and teaching musical theater. I will love my family and appreciate those who take time out of their busy day to spend time with me. And I will try to act less crazy by making the most of every day.

I will make time for me— my health, my family, my goals and dream of someday being a published writer. I know it will happen because, like Jeffrey Tambor said in his new memoir, I have that “fire in my belly.”

I just started reading his new book Are You Anybody? in which he describes his desire to become a famous actor as a “fire in his belly” that would not quit since he was a young child. I have that fire too— I just never knew what it was I wanted, or was meant to do. Now I know.

In the book he says that everyone wants to be like Cinderella— invited to the ball, the life of the party, the most beautiful girl in the room. We all just want to be loved. I am so grateful to be in a new town of fresh, new faces and people who actually appreciate all that I do and tell me so!

Last night I met with two women who want me to help out their youth organization. When I asked if they had any more questions one said, “Yes, where have you been all my life?” After living in a small-town full of bullies for 12 years that constantly gossiped, lied and tried to destroy my business when I was only trying to create something beautiful for children and teens, it is so refreshing to be valued and appreciated for my experience and the good that I do.

Today I had an awesome meeting of the minds and got a chance to share about all that I did to help victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy after 12/14 by opening up The Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids (SHACK). Then I remembered how I wrote an interactive live drama by teens, for teens that dealt with issues they face in a real way and many other things that have been a distant memory since cancer has consumed the last two-and-a-half years of my lfe. NO MORE.

Reminding myself that I have done way more positive than bad is a good thing. It’s not bragging. It should be inspiring to be kind, do good and pay it forward.

People have a tendency to compare themselves to others and that’s when we will end up feeling disappointed. There will always be someone smarter, funnier, better looking and wealthier than you. That’s not what life is all about because we will all grow old, get wrinkles and know that you can’t take it with you.

If this blog post has touched you in any way, I challenge you to show some love to someone this week.  It could be picking up the phone and calling your parent, brother or sister just to let them know you were thinking of them. It could be complimenting a stranger or paying for their coffee. But do something to show kindness. Why not start today? You could start a chain reaction.

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Life is Like a Boxing Match, Not a Box of Chocolates: #MyLeftBoob #BreastCancerChronicles

I found this blog post saved in my drafts folder that I wrote back in early March and wonder why I never posted it? Perhaps it was because the king of the chaotic castle I was leaving was threatening my piddly grass shack in the woods and I was afraid. This king thought he was important just because he was somewhat wealthy and surrounded himself with status symbols to make the peasants who worked for him submit to his authority. But what he didn’t realize was that there is only so long a ruler can oppress “his people” before there is mutiny. This king was egomaniac who hated any woman who was not young, beautiful, blond and skinny. The longer was held captive the more I realized I could only remain a victim as long as I stayed. So I left.

 

After the last few months of complete stress and chaos, working way too much and being stuck in an unhealthy relationship (no, not my marriage), I’ve broken out of the chains that once bound me and I am finally FREE! A few people I’ve crossed paths with lately have made snarly comments about how many jobs I’ve had, like it’s a bad thing. It’s not by my choice. If it was my choice I’d still be working from home as I did for 7 years in order to be there for my kids. But unfortunately layoffs happen, life happens and you do what you have to do to survive.

Sorry Forrest, but life is not at all like a box of chocolates. A box of chocolates comes in a shiny gold box, freshly sealed in plastic, wrapped in a silky red ribbon. When you open that up your suspense heightens because there is a glossy bi-fold paper filled with delicious, delectable photos of every decadent chocolate treat just millimeters away from your anxious fingers. Beyond that lays a squishy piece of black cardboard separating your watering mouth from dark chocolate truffles with raspberry, caramel and milk chocolate centers. Maybe that’s life for millionaires.

For us working class blue-collar folks, life is more like a boxing match. It’s brutal and the pain seems never-ending at times. It takes a sucker punch at you, catches you off guard, smashes you in the head a bunch of times and then knocks you bloody and bruised, down the ground. While you’re laying there staring at the tooth you just spit out on the dirty ground next to your swollen cheek, you think you’ve been beaten so much that you might not have the strength to get back up again but then you hear your coaches, your friends—

“Hang in there. Life sucks, people suck. I wish I could help. I’m here for you. Don’t stoop to their level. You’re better than that. Don’t listen. Karma will get them. Just keep moving forward.”

And so you get back up.

Life is like a box you left in your garage that you’ve packed and moved along with you during each of your 20 relocations in the last 12 years. That box may look a little crusty on the outside, but you can’t throw it out. Inside sits a tiny white cotton sweater that a neighbor hand-knit for your adorable baby girl to wear home from the hospital before that same sweet neighbor passed away. It may be tattered and torn but just beyond the dingy brown packing tape sits a story your middle son wrote in second grade in crayon, complete with stick figures, about why he loves his mom. And then there’s the guest book to your oldest son’s graduation reminding you that your babies are not babies any longer. Time is fleeting.

I know that I am not going to waste any time working for, or surrounding myself around, people who suck all the life and love out of me. There will always be another job, another boss, another battle to fight— win or lose. I stared death in the face many times during my 2-year cancer battle I know that life is way too short to waste time on people who make you feel anything less than what and who I am— a strong, talented, loving, caring, giving human being who tries to do what’s good and strives to treat others the way I want to be treated.
Life is full of changing seasons— seasons of drought and seasons of turmoil,sickness, seasons of sadness, loss and famine, seasons of health and maybe some temporary wealth, seasons of tragedy and grief, followed by overwhelming laughter, joy and amazing love.  That’s life and, win or lose, I’m so glad to be blessed with another day. And now for some chocolate.
Photos by Rob Howard and Recetas Pasteles via Flickr Creative Commons

#MyLeftBoob Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future

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“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens

I’ve met a lot of boobs in my life and I’ve certainly been a boob a time or two hundred myself. Since enduring this year of hell battling Metaplastic breast cancer, I’ve learned none of that matters. What matters is focusing on here and now, people who love and support me and those who say they want to be in my life and actually are.

So why am I going to visit the ghosts of Christmases past? Because sometimes those ghosts resurface and try to haunt me, pull me down to their level and try to make me walk with them on their scary path.

I also visit these ghosts to show you that no matter how dark you may feel, there is good in the world. You can find it too if you change your perspective. There is gunk that can attempt to cloud your vision, just wipe it away and focus on good people and doing good things and your days can be merry and bright! (<– Sap alert! I should be a writer for The Hallmark Channel!)

I have a love/hate relationship with Time Hop (an app) because it reminds me at this time last year of what an ass I was many times and also how I was knee deep in a big old s#*t storm and had no idea the hell I was about to go through just a few weeks after Christmas 2014, a “celebration” devoid of any holiday spirit.

Forgive me family and friends, for I have sinned, but I’m certainly not the only one. The difference between you and me is that I actually apologized…even when at times I wasn’t wrong, because that’s what mature people do to make peace. That’s what people who call themselves Christians or Catholics are supposed to do. Some still have not. I can’t make them. I can only try to be the best version of myself I can be.

I boycotted some Christmas celebrations last year because I let someone get the best of me.  I lost a couple of friends and gained a foe. I sent an angry drunk text after being provoked by someone who misunderstood my attempt at making peace and threatened me. I apologized. They still have not. I deleted people from Facebook and removed some from my life who were important to me and some who I thought were. I tiptoed on a high wire 500 feet in the air with no balancing stick. I wrote a trashy novel and lived vicariously through my main character drinking her signature drink, an Orange Tundra. I almost got myself fired….twice. I said a few dozen Hail Marys and even more Our Fathers.

Most of that was due to an evil spirit called alcohol.

Booze has not been a part of my life since March 8, 2014 and I’m better for it. Alcohol clouds perspective, encourages danger, impairs judgement, makes people say stupid things and leaves a trail of tears so deep, you may be forced to give up your territory and migrate to another area due to its devastating effects. And sometimes it ruins Christmas.

Although hooch hasn’t been part of my life in nearly a year, thanks to another evil demon called breast cancer, unfortunately it is still a big part of the lives of people I have to come into close contact with– some of whom have tainted others’ views of me due to gossip and lies, some of whom have made awkward situations even more unbearable and forced me to go play with two-year-olds rather than face the 800-pound elephant in the room.

So who are these ghosts that have crept up to remind me this Christmas of how blessed I am, that I’ve been given a second chance and I don’t have to be like them or like my old self?

Meet the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Ghost #1 – The Martyr

I encountered this ghost a few times this holiday season. This person claimed to be a good friend but was nonexistent during my breast cancer treatment. I had complete strangers-turned-friends donate, cook dinner and send cards and gifts, yet this “friend” didn’t bother to call, text or email once in 9 months. When she did finally text the day after I was done with chemo and radiation she told me her therapist said I was “toxic” for not being there for her to listen to the drama of her current, ex or future abusive husbands. Sorry hun, I was too busy fighting for my life. Did she remember to tell her therapist I was battling a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer? Probably not. The difference between her and me is that she chose to have these men in her life. I didn’t choose to have breast cancer in my life.

Ghost #2 – Metaplastic, Triple Negative Breast Cancer

This is a ghost I hope never to have to come into contact with again. It will try to haunt me when I go for my 3 month follow-up visits over the next 5 years, when I get tests and scans hoping it didn’t rear its ugly head and when I hear of others “losing their battle” to the disease, a term I loathe. If they fought hard and didn’t give up, they won.  I will continue to look to the the present and the future with my head held high- proud of my valiant fight. There is nothing I did to deserve to be given a second chance in life. There are so many others who passed away and shouldn’t have– strong, brave women who left behind heartbroken sons, daughters, husbands, brothers, sisters and parents. It’s not fair. I don’t know why they died and I didn’t but I do know I’m here for a purpose and that I’m supposed to use my writing for something good. My goal for 2016 is to try to figure out how exactly to do that.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Ghost #3 – The Befuddled

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Befuddled/Dizzy/Woozy: This ghost comes in many forms, mainly alcohol. I run into it at parties, gatherings of family and friends and work-related functions. This ghost hurts, name calls, spreads lies to make others think poorly of me and tries to ruin my reputation. The Befuddled is often disguised as an inebriated person who shares amusing anecdotes, makes folks laugh by putting others down and embellishes stories to make them much juicier. But what they don’t see is now gross they look at the end of the night when they’re nodding off in public, passing out with their face in their cake or incoherent while trying to carry on a normal conversation. Deep down they’re the one who needs help or they wouldn’t be drinking themselves into oblivion.

Befuddled/Confused: Sometimes The Befuddled come in the form of a confused zealot who is so obsessed with their own beliefs that they can’t respect someone else’s. While fighting for my life, a few of them called me a showboater, a narcissist, defensive, negative and immature….all because I disagreed with their way of fighting cancer, a disease they never had. All because I chose to listen to my doctors. How dare me! Thank God and my doctors that I am still here to tell you this: Nobody has the right to tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Even if they think they’ve gone through the “same” thing. Even if they think rubbing coconut oil on your boobs three times a day while eating almonds, smoking weed, juicing wheat grass and doing the downward dog will save your life. No two cancers are alike just as no two people are alike.

I was recently told by one of The Befuddled not to write about them on Facebook or any other public platform. Well guess what?

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My doctors told me that reducing stress is one of the best ways to prevent cancer recurrence and writing is a huge stress reliever. So anytime the ghosts of Christmas past and present try to haunt me, instead of downing an Orange Tundra, I write. It’s way less dangerous for the environment and has much fewer casualties.

And who knew blogging could save a life? #MyLeftBoob did and I won’t stop writing just because an angry ghost or two is embarrassed because they’ve been forced to look in the mirror. Anger and drunkenness doesn’t look so cute under those 100 watt vanity lights now does it?

The Ghosts of Christmas Future

Ghost #4 – The Flake

This ghost floats in and out of my life, every time promising things will be different, promising they’ll be there and spend more time with me in the future, but they’re not and they don’t and that’s okay. Deep down we always hope people we care about will change but sometimes they don’t so we have to. This ghost has their own demons they’ve never dealt with. But being treated poorly in the past should not be used as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. So how do we deal with The Flake who floats hither and thither on another plane entirely? Just think of them like a beautiful hummingbird, always moving quickly on to the next big thing.

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Photo by Bill Gracey via Flickr Creative Commons

From Wild Birds Unlimited:

“Hummingbirds are very small birds. A great deal of energy is spent flying, so they must feed almost constantly. Hummingbirds are able to perch and will do so at feeders regularly. Because they fly so much, they have poorly developed feet. They can barely walk at all. The hummingbird is much more comfortable in flight.”

Just as hummingbirds have poorly developed feet from lack of landing, The Flake has poorly developed relationships from lack of being grounded. Enjoy their beauty when they land, if only for a moment, and wish them well as they fly away once again.

Maybe you have people like these ghosts in your life. They could be your family, friends or co-workers.  Maybe you can relate to what I went through or what I’m still going through. I’ve changed for the better but some people, unfortunately, have not. What matters now is how I react (and learn not to react) to them.

I know some will say I dwell on the past but I don’t. I use it to learn from so I don’t get hurt again- https://www.youtube.com/embed/dZfGTL2PY3E“>

Just like Rafiki said to Simba in one of my favorite stories, The Lion King.

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Moving past these hauntings can be done by looking at our ghosts in the light of day. No amount of gingerbread cookies and eggnog can bring happiness to a person determined to cling to their ‘Bah, Humbug’ past and  conversely, nobody can steal the joy of the season if you don’t let them.

I hope this post has helped some of you heal as I am healing- physically from the battle I went through, emotionally from mini-wars along the way, and spiritually as I learn, grow and mature and think about what is truly important in life- God, family, a few friends I’m lucky enough to have and doing good for others.

May your 2016 be blessed with all good things!

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Journey: Fighting An Invisible Battle In My Mind

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“”If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell.” ~Lance Armstrong

I choose the latter.

It’s Thursday, Nov. 17, 3:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep again. I’ve heard people say fighting cancer is like being in a war zone. Just when you think the battle is over, another attack comes. Shards of shrapnel fly at you burrowing just under the surface, causing twinges of pain depending on which way you’re positioned. You think you may die….you have another pain in your head, your chest, you have indigestion, is that bad? What does Google say….uh oh, more cancer…..you feel another lump….is it back? No. I can’t go down this road again. But those thoughts are our reality each day.

I can’t wait to get through an entire day without thinking about it, without talking about it. I was so proud that I got through my new writers group without talking or writing about it. But I know sometimes I must. I continue to write and update because I get so many lovely messages from readers, many of whom I don’t know that say- “Me too. Thank you for sharing.”

It’s been 5 weeks since radiation ended and 4 months since chemo ended. To look at me you’d think I’m back to “normal.” I fight through the tiredness and pain.

It’s been said that people who go though cancer treatment can experience PTSD. I wouldn’t say I have that but I’m definitely not back to normal. I still battle fatigue, hot flashes, neuropathy, twinges of pain at the surgery site and roller coaster emotions. But most of all I battle those darn thoughts spinning around in my head.

The people around me, my boss, my co-workers, friends, acquaintances and extended family act like everything is miraculously okay, “now that treatment is over” but it’s not. I still have one more surgery in 2-3 weeks (my 4th) to get the chemo port removed, one more time I will go under anesthesia and then the knife and hope everything goes okay, one more day, or week of pain. I’m still “in treatment” and will be until we know this evil demon is gone for good. I’ll still go to doctor’s appointments every three months for the next few years until I reach the “Magic 5” when I’m cancer free and chances are slim to none it won’t return. Until then it’s a crap shoot.

So I do everything the doctors at Sloan Kettering and Danbury Hospital tell me to do….almost. They say to prevent recurrence I need to:

1. Avoid alcohol
2. Avoid animal fat and processed meat
3. Exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes
4. Keep stress levels down

I’m doing really well with #1-3 but I’m having a hard time with #4, especially working very long days in a fast-paced, deadline oriented job. Thankfully my bosses are understanding and I do my best but I still worry about the $30K in unpaid doctor bills.

And then something good happens…. a nice person reads my story and shares info about a charity that can help me….SWIM Across the Sound pays one month’s rent and one month’s electric bill. And I worry less and breathe a big sigh of relief. THANK YOU SWIM! Thank you Kyle! You’ve helped reduce my stress.

So what else can I do to help with #4? Go to yoga. See a play. Laugh! Play music. Don’t lose my sense of humor. Do things I enjoy, says my favorite now-retired Dr. Cooper who is being honored this evening. And then I remember what he said at one of my first visits: “You’re only Stage 1, it was all contained to one duct, it didn’t spread to your lymph nodes…….

” YOU’RE GOING TO BE FINE.”

And I have to believe that. And my hope is that you will be too. If you are fighting, keep going! It will get better. The more you focus on others the less you think about yourself. This is why participating in Relay for Life & raising $2,600 for the American Cancer Society during chemo was so good for me. It took the focus off myself. It made me remember there are SO many out there fighting this nasty disease….the disease that doesn’t care if you’re young or old, fat or thin, black or white, Catholic or Jewish, vegetarian or carnivore, runner or couch potato– It touches all of us.

This is why I continue to write– to show how those of us in the “Cancer Club” really feel, to educate people and raise awareness for early detection. Maybe your loved one will have to go through it and you’ll be more prepared to help and encourage them along their journey.

Cancer is not just about pink ribbons during the month of October. It’s about people from all walks of life every day who have the misfortune of hearing those three awful words, “You have cancer.” I use my writing to help others and to make a difference in this fight.

There may be two women in particular who are much more private in their breast cancer battle and I want you to know that I pray for you all the time and can’t wait until you’re on the other side with me in the survivor’s seats, cheering others on in their fight. Stay strong!!!!

I’ll update again when I know when my next, and hopefully last, surgery will be.

Today begins 26 Days of Kindness, in memory of the 26 angels who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook School shootings. Please remember to do something nice for someone today. Day 1 honors Jessica Rekos, a 6-year-old who loved horses and whales. Search “26 Days of Kindness” on Facebook to see the rest of the dedications.  Click here to read more about the victims.

Be kind. Choose love. All lives matter.

Click here to support #MyLeftBoob breast cancer battle.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Nursing Battle Scars on the Inside & Out

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It’s 1:30 a.m. and I’m sitting on the couch coughing, writing, editing and trying to juggle all of the duties of working mom, loving wife, community news editor and dance/band/field hockey mom- not an easy task when radiation and a bad cold is wearing on me, but attainable nonetheless.

I have about 2 hours of work left that I should’ve gotten done during the day but had to go to 2 doctors appointments and take care of regular wife/mom stuff. But after a stressful end to the very long work day, I must take a break and remind myself that life it too short to let someone else’s negativity affect me. I can rise above the muck and not let their bad mood drag me down.

Today marks radiation #13 of 30. I’m almost halfway there with minimal side effects which is a huge blessing! The doctor said if I am to experience skin burns from radiation it will most likely happen towards the end of this week or next. I’ve been slathering up with Aquaphor each night so hopefully it won’t be too bad. The waiting is the hardest part.

At 10 weeks post dense dose ACT chemo, my eyebrows and eyelashes are finally growing back, my hair is almost 1 centimeter long (woo hoo!) and the neuropathy (numbness) in my fingers and toes is subsiding.

Yet still that gnawing feeling lingers in the back of my mind, 17 more treatments left and then what? This type of cancer has a high rate of recurrence, although it has not spread and was caught early. But still, I think almost every cancer patient faces these fears. Learning to live with them and combat them is the challenge.

I’ve cut alcohol, sugar, cold cuts and red meat out of my life completely. I’ve switched to all organic produce and rarely eat eggs, cheese or anything with artificial anything. I’m not vegan completely but working towards it. While my doctor said Metaplastic Carcinoma is not caused by anything external or anything I “did” or “didn’t do,” I’d rather be safe than sorry.

And after the battle is over, I’m left bruised and scarred. I wear my battle wounds proudly; a scar under my left arm from the Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy, two scars in an “X Marks the Spot” design on my left boob, a bump and a scar on my upper right chest from where the port still remains.

And I’m left to pick up the pieces of this war on cancer- a few broken relationships, a lot of lost finances, an ever-changing role at my job, new perspectives and realizations and a newfound appreciation for every day of live I’m blessed with.

Some battle scars I’m left with are obvious while others lay beneath the surface of a smiling face. I can’t force people to be in my life if they don’t want to be, even if they are family, so I need to learn to be grateful for those who have been there for me, and are still here, since day #1.

While I’ve been beat up by dentists, surgeons, horrible chemo drugs and even now a slight fever/bad cold along the way, the blessings far outweigh the bumps in the road.

I have my 3 month follow up checkup with the doctor at Sloan Kettering scheduled and after that I will be checked every three months for a year. From there I’ll be checked every 6 months for a year and then when I reach 3 years cancer free I believe it’s a yearly checkup. Five years is the magic number when the recurrence rate going down drastically. I will be 50. Start planning a huge party!

Because I’m also Triple Negative I can’t be on any follow up medications as other cancer patients take when they’ve completed treatment. Because I’m Triple Negative I can’t take the Onco test to see if or when the cancer will return. All I can do is live a healthy live, try to stay positive, pray a lot, pay it forward by helping others and enjoy every single day I’ve been given.

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT #MYLEFTBOOB BREAST CANCER BATTLE.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Fighting Fruit Flies and Managing Madness

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I’ve always had a rather large melon-like forehead, as shown in the left side of this photo. I call it a fivehead, but this here is definitely a sevenhead. Don’t know what I mean? Place four fingers on your forehead and see if they cover it all. Mine normally takes 5 but after being bald for 6 months it now takes 7. Hopefully when my hair grows back in it will got back to “normal.” I hear I can expect “chemo curls.” Guess “it’s better than a poke in the eye,” my father-in-law used to say, God rest his soul.

Pardon my sevenhead story- just a little something to make you chuckle before I tell you what’s really going on.

Getting cancer takes a toll not only on your 4, 5 or 7-head and body, but also on the purse and wallet. But I’m not going to harp on that. We’ve been so blessed with all of the donations and help and I know if I think positive and just keep truckin’ we will get there.

One of the biggest challenges throughout this journey has been how to manage stress. Ann’s Place has free yoga for cancer patients which is awesome, but between 5-7 doctor’s appointments a week, work and my daughter’s crazy schedule, I haven’t been able to get there. Now that my neck and upper back muscles are so tight I know I have to make it a priority to calm down.

So what’s causing all this stress? A dead car battery, bill collectors, lost backpack, teen drama, a sick kid, plans changing too many times and fruit flies. Yeah, fruit flies. I’ve been battling them all week, annoying lil buggers. They follow me everywhere and there is no evidence of fruit anywhere in our house. It’s all in the fridge. But still, as I sit here and type, the pesky varmints fly in my eyes and up my nose.

Of course I looked on WikiHow as to how to get rid of them and tried this:

Day #1) Open a bottle of apple cider vinegar and leave the lid off. The fruit flies will go in and won’t be able to fly out due to the shape of the vessel. This didn’t work.

Day #2) Pour cider vinegar into a paper cup. Place Saran Wrap over the cup and poke holes in the top. The fruit flies will fly in, not being able to resist the smell of the cider, they won’t be able to get out and will die. This didn’t work either.

Day #3) Take Saran Wrap off the cups, pour 3 drops of Dawn dish detergent into the cups. The fruit flies will fly into the cup for the smell of the cider but won’t be able to get out as the dish soap will create a film on the surface. Is 3 a charm? Nope! Not in this case and still these fruit flies plague me.

Day #4) Open large bottle of wine, insert straw, drink up. You will no longer care about the fruit flies.

Okay, so I made that last one up and didn’t try it but I can’t say I haven’t wanted to. It’s been 8 months since I’ve had wine and I don’t miss the after effects. But I do need to learn what to do to calm down when little things in life, like fruit flies, get me all riled up.

I need to remind myself to look at the big picture, think positive and fill my spirit with uplifting verses like this:

“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” ~ 2 Cor. 4: 16-18

Cancer has been a bit more than a “light momentary affliction,” but I do know it will all soon be over and remember the good that’s come of it.

According to CalmClinic.com:

“Stress has a physical effect on the body. When you suffer from anxiety, you’re putting your body through extensive, long-term stress. Your body is in fight or flight mode, and that means that it’s releasing hormones that tense muscles and create an overall feeling of general unpleasantness that, in many ways, contributes to further anxiety. Neck pain is one of the symptoms caused by persistent anxiety. Many experience a degree of neck pain that ranges anywhere from slightly irritating to severe, all as a result of their anxiety symptoms.”

How can I deal with all of these stressful situations without wine and without going completely insane? Just breathe. And pray. And follow my doctor’s orders:

  • Put on your blinders: Don’t listen to the cancer horror stories which will be swirling around in my head late at night, keeping me worried and awake.
  • Keep stress levels down: Yoga is good if I can make time to get there. Minimizing contact with Negative Nellies is also good.
  • Get enough rest: This has been tough with working full-time and trying to keep up with laundry, dishes & my daughter’s schedule but I’m trying to force myself to go to bed an hour earlier each night. Lack of sleep makes people emotional and isn’t good for a weak immune system.
  • Make time to do something you love: Check! I have an audition Tuesday for a British rock cover band that likes to dress up and play goofy songs. They wear wigs so I’ll fit right in! Fingers crossed I pass the audition!
  • Spend time with people you love:  Again, trying to find time to do this.
  • Take a pill when you need to: This one is scary- I don’t want to get addicted, but I do need to sleep… and not be in pain.
  • And last but not least….

FOCUS ON THE GOOD NEWS

~ I’m in week 5 of 6 weeks of radiation and I’m blessed with the sweetest radiation techs! So far, besides tiredness, there have not been any symptoms. They said I may get a sunburn-like burns on my chest but if that happens it won’t be until towards the end. Hey! At least it will keep me warm in the winter! 🙂

~ A DJ saw my photo on Instagram and will be using it in a video he’s making for breast cancer awareness for the #BoobProject The Boob Project is a collaborative charity song written by an 8-year-old boy whose mom is fighting breast cancer. The song/video features Florence + the Machine, Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Hozier, Michael Franti, Vance Joy, Matt Nathanson, Spandau Ballet, Graham Nash (CSNY), the Grateful Dead, Jack Antonoff (Fun/Bleachers) and many, many more. It will be released October 1st to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

~ My hair, eyelashes and eyebrows are starting to grow back!

~ I lost 10 pounds but still have 10 more to go to get back to pre-chemo weight. I met some nice folks at a festival today who will help get me back on track since the last gym basically forgot about me….but this is the good news section so I won’t say anything more on that!

~ I still have slight neuropathy that comes and goes in my fingers and toes but it’s getting less and less.

~ There is a good chance that I’ll be teaching an after-school theater class but I can’t expand until details are finalized. <— That fulfills the “doing what I love” Rx my doctor gave me.

I know this has been long and rambly but it’s therapeutic and I hope it helps others too. There are good days and bad days. When we take the time to stop and look at the big picture, there is always something to be thankful for.

A good side effect I’ve experienced along the way has been the people who take the time to send emails or write on my blog or Facebook page comments like these:

“Thank you for sharing your personal story. I feel exactly the same way.”

“Your writing has helped me as I go through my cancer journey. You’ve been able to vocalize exactly how I’ve been feeling.”

“Thank you for raising awareness for self breast exams and early detection.”

“Thank you for writing about your battle. I’ve shared your blog with my daughter who is going through treatment and it’s really helped her.”

Thank YOU all for taking the time to let me know this blog is helping others.

CLICK HERE to support #MyLeftBoob breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Battle Phase 3: Walking the Tightrope While Accentuating the Positive

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“The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.” ~William Shakespeare, Othello

Many think cancer robs people of so much and they’re partially right. Yes, it can rob us of strength, finances, hair, appetite and sometimes relationships, but it doesn’t have to steal our sense of humor or positive attitude.

It also gives us something invaluable that many take for granted- appreciating every day of life and those around us.

My doctor told me brain studies were done on cancer patients who maintain a positive attitude during treatment and they showed they have a much better prognosis than those who don’t. One thing I’ve had throughout this journey is an attitude of gratitude. I am so grateful for your donations, prayers, love, well wishes, dinners and everything else I’ve been blessed with.

This week I’ve gotten so many well wishes of people asking how radiation is going. Thank you! The only thing is- I haven’t started it yet because I’m still recovering from surgery #3.

Last Friday I met with the radiologist who discussed what to expect during the next phase- 30 doses of radiation, 5 days a week, Monday through Friday for 6 weeks. I can’t start until the surgery scar heals or there could be “irreversible damage” to my tissue. And we can’t put it off anymore because radiation is supposed to start 4-7 weeks after chemo is completed. But because I had to get the abnormal lump removed, it’s cutting it pretty close.

Next up at this appointment was yet another surprise. I didn’t realize going in that I was going to get tattooed. Those “little blue dots” the doctor told me about last week were actually 3 permanent painful tattoos on my chest and either side of my belly to guide technicians when they start. If you’ve read my earlier posts you know how I feel about needles…..not a fan.

I had to get a CT scan and get marked for the tattoos. The nurse positioned me on the table to map out a plan for treatment so the radiation doesn’t hit my vital organs…you know, the heart and the lungs? This was another thought that hadn’t crossed my mind. Oy! They found the best position, tatted me up and sent me on my way.

Next up was the surgical follow-up on Monday. The doctor removed the surgi-strips and said the scar, although still red and very tender, looked good. She gave the OK for me to start radiation on Thursday, Sept. 3.

Since talking about the next phase, a lot of people are offering tips, advice and horror…ahem, I mean first-hand experience stories. I’ve been told I’ll feel extremely tired, my ribs will hurt, I’ll have to think to breathe, I’ll lose 70% of my lung capacity, I’ll get severe burns- especially since I’m so fair-skinned, and the list goes on and on.

As I did with chemo, I’m trying not to let those comments get to me. I’m putting blinders on, going in with a positive attitude and hoping it’s not as bad as they said it will be.

One thing I’ve learned through all of this is that people really do mean well. What I haven’t learned yet is how to get people to stop telling me their horror stories or other things to instill fear into me- something I don’t need right now.

It’s scary enough to be told you have a life-threatening illness, and that it’s really rare and very aggressive, and that it has a high recurrence rate. Then on top of that to be told how someone knows someone who died from this or didn’t get the best care or had it come back to their lungs or skin or bones or brain 2 or 3 times. No, I don’t need to hear any of that. Keeping my mind in a good place it of the utmost importance right now. And that’s why I must again remind myself to focus on the positives:

1. We caught it early at stage 1
2. The tumor was contained to one milk duct
3. It has not spread to my lymph nodes
4. With dense dose ACT chemo and radiation there is a 90% chance it won’t come back
5. March 5th’s PET Scan said I’m cancer free!

A few people have asked why I had to get chemo and radiation if I had a lumpectomy and they got it all out. It’s because Metaplastic Carcinoma (MpBC) is a very aggressive cancer so my treatment needs to be aggressive as well. And MpBC grows very quickly.

They want to make sure to kill any last trace cell that’s too small to show up on a scan. Metaplastic means “change in form” and this type of breast cancer is known to come back and change in form, spreading to the lungs, skin or bones.

Others have asked what follow-up meds I’m on and when I say “none,” a look of shock comes over them. Because I’m Triple Negative I have no estrogen, progesterone or Her2 receptors so there’s nothing I can take for prevention. It’s a frightening thought and sometimes I feel as if I’m walking on a tightrope in high heels with no net. But I do have my balancing stick and a fancy outfit. As long as I keep my eyes straight ahead, focused on the end result and don’t look down, I’ll be okay.

As Sam Cooke once said, I’ve “got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, but don’t mess with mister in between.”

And as God once said, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10

So I will keep walking the tightrope, peach fuzz topped head, with a smile on my face and slight numbness in my fingers and toes. And I’ll do some really big jazz hands when I finally get to the other side. TA DA!!!!!!!!

CLICK HERE to support my breast cancer battle on GoFundMe.com. Any amount, no matter how small, helps with my medical bills. Thank you! 🙂

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