Train Derailed- Next Stop: “Build-A-Bridge-And-Get-Over-It-Ville” #LifeAfterCancer #MyLeftBoob Chronicles

 

 

 

Last week I posted a very self-absorbed blog filled with glum thoughts swirling around in the pity party in which I was wallowing. After getting several concerned messages and emails from friends, I am happy to report I have drained the tub of tears I was drowning in, have built a bridge and am getting over it.

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How did I pull myself out of the depths of darkness and despair you ask? Signs. They are everywhere if your spirit is open to receive. Whether you want to say they are from “God” or “The Universe,” I know they are out there and I’m thankful for all that were sent my way today.

As you may or may not know, I work in a church, have worked and volunteered in several churches and have had many experiences (good and bad) that have shaped me into the person I am today. I am so grateful to my spiritual mentors for their teaching and the example they have set for me and know I have a long way to go. I have also learned a lot about those who judge in the church world and hope to never be like them.

The difference between the “Bible Thumper Christians” and the rest of us is that the Bible Thumpers shout at you in their tan skin, $3,000 designer suits and porcelain veneers from atop their gold-plated soap box telling you how horrible you are for your sins while they are busy embezzling money, having affairs or watching porn.

People like me, “The Mainstream Christians,” (I just made those two terms up) are fully aware that we are sinners and do not claim to be perfect, but we try our best. When we fall down we admit it, apologize and get back up again because we know there is a job to be done and people need us. We are not perfect leaders but we   know that we are called to do work in our community and world by helping others.

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Last night was rough— our 4-year-old lab mix rescue dog was whining and scratching all night which left us sleep deprived and worried. We believe she was stung by bees on her face and then got hives from the bee stings because she had big bumps all over her body. We brought her to the vet who gave her a steroid shot and then breathed a huge sigh of relief that she was going to be okay. Anyone who reads this blog knows how amazing our sweet little Sadie Lady has been not only for me during my breast cancer treatment, but for the whole family.

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Lack of sleep and extreme pain (in my back) can do a number on one’s emotions. If you crossed my path today and thought I was acting crazy and emotional, you were right. Research shows that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in regulating our emotional stability, according to Mathew Walker of Berkeley’s Sleep Laboratory, and author of the study.

“This is the first set of experiments that demonstrate that even healthy people’s brains mimic certain pathological psychiatric patterns when deprived of sleep…..deep emotional centers of the brain were approximately 60% more reactive when you’re sleep deprived.”

So yes, lack of sleep can make “even healthy people’s brains” act crazy.

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This morning, while scrolling through Facebook, instead of starting my day by working out, doing something positive, or reading, a smack of the pettiness of my self-sorrow hit me right in the gut— a Sandy Hook mom  who lost her beloved, beautiful butterfly posted about how painful the simple act so many take for granted— posting your child’s first day school photo— is for her and how her son is forever frozen in time… in first grade. I met her through the volunteer work I did in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy of 12/14 and am astounded and amazed that this remarkably strong woman can pry herself out of bed every day and fight for the legacy of her son so that no other parent has to endure the gut wrenching pain she lives with every single day.

Another sign that showed me I needed to be shaken from the self-centered mentality I had been wearing as of late was evidenced at the doctor’s office. My appointment was for 5:30 p.m., but was changed to 3:30 p.m. because I was in so much pain. Good thing, because this was just what I needed.

I ran into an incredible church leader who, when I asked how he was, said their congregation was busy getting ready for their response to the Texas flooding. Busy getting ready to help others…and what was I doing? Nothing but thinking of myself instead of others. Rather than feel bad about this and fall into a deeper hole, he inspired me to think about what I can do rather than what I can’t…. about how I can spend my time instead of letting the hours waste away…. about what I was going to do to help out as soon as I possibly could.

So thank you Pastor for always being such a steadfast and faithful leader. I have so much to learn from you and I’m so glad to be able to have you as a great example of someone who walks the walk and talks the talk.

Also today, another wise and caring person said this to me after I tried to explain (and justify) my foolish behavior— “Everyone you meet has been through something or is going through it right now. You are not the only one. Maybe people are worse off than they appear.” Wow. The truth hurts but is sometimes so needed to snap us back in line.

The last thing that happened made me reflect deeply and realize how fruitless it is to only think of yourself.  I got the news that another person in one of my cancer support groups had earned his wings after a courageous, hard-fought battle. This man leaves behind two beautiful children and a loving wife.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all who loved him. I did not know him personally, as I have not attended the meetings in months due to my new job, but I have joined in on the prayers for him and his family as I got news from my group about his condition.

My breast cancer surgeon said to me early on in my battle, “I don’t understand why cancer has to happen to the nicest people? Why not the criminals and evil people? Why does it always have to be someone who does so much good?” I still don’t have an answer for her but I do know that all of those things made me realize how ridiculous I was being by staying stuck in my funk for this long and I am grateful for all of the signs that helped me out.

Thankfully, tomorrow is a brand new day and a new chance to make the most out of the time I have been given. Life is fleeting and nobody is promised another tomorrow.  I am so grateful and can’t wait to get back to work.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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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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Another Day #1 Has Begun: #MyLeftBoob Chronicles – #LifeAfterCancer

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Last oncologist follow-up visit, always a nerve wracking time, but I did get the “all clear!”

It’s been a LONG time since I had a fitness post on this blog and I’m so happy to finally be back! For those just joining me, I’m a married mom of three and a fairly recent survivor of an extremely rare, very aggressive type of breast cancer that only occurs in 1% of women called Metaplastic Carcinoma (MpBC). It has a high recurrence rate and not much is known about because it was only just discovered in 2000, which is pretty scary.

I’m also Triple Negative (TNBC) which only occurs in 15% of women diagosed, including Joan Lunden, compared to 80% of the “normal” kinds of cancer. This means I don’t have the hormone receptors to be on any follow-up meds like Tamoxifen. Also scary. I describe life after my type of cancer like walking on a high wire in high heels without a net. Read my story from the beginning by clicking here.

Over the last two years, I endured five surgeries, 30 rounds of radiation, and tons of painful and emotional side effects. According to Living Beyond Breast Cancer, some of the short-term side effects of ACT chemo are:

I experienced 99% of these symptoms, the worst being hair loss, bone and joint pain and mouth sores. The long-term side effects are what I still deal with day in and day out two years later. Cancer.net describes these as:

So after dealing with all of this over the last couple of years, you might understand why it has been incredibly difficult for me to get up and get out to the gym.

Monday was a big milestone in my post-cancer life as I began yet another Day #1 of my never-ending quest to get fit. It was an emotional day as it also marked the 2-year anniversary (July 17, 2015) of finishing my arduous battle through the hell of red devil chemo.

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Last day of chemo: July 17, 2015

Doctors said the side effects of chemo could last up to 2 years or more but I naively thought I’d pop right back into shape, not get chemo brain (forgetfulness/fog brain) and have my energy back in no time. I thought wrong.

There were so many times I truly believed I was going to go to the gym and paid for a gym membership for an entire year without using it once. I even signed up for spin classes, but my body had other plans— mainly taking its own sweet time to recover and regain my strength after the harsh drugs pumped into my body, killing the good cells along with the bad. Dealing with a new lump and two painful biopsies last month didn’t help matters either.

So I almost could not believe that I was finally walking into the gym Monday morning to begin what I’d planned on starting many times since completing treatment. I joined, and paid for a membership, to the Rec Center over a year ago but never had the time or energy to go. But on Monday, I was motivated and inspired because a Facebook group I recently joined, Hello Fitness!, connected me with a trainer who organized a FitBit Step challenge.

Being somewhat competitive as the youngest of six, this was just what I needed to motivate me as I tried to keep up with the other five women in my group. It helps so much to have accountability partners cheering me on and watching my group members reaching their step goals was just what I needed to get me to get up and get moving.

I know from past experience in starting a workout program that I need to start slow, especially with my ongoing joint pain, torn rotator cuff shoulder pain, surgery scarring on my chest and other chemo side effects. In addition to that, I’ve been dealing with neck and back pain. While I was tempted to beat the rest of my team mates, I knew that if I reached 10,000 steps, that would be good enough for me.

So Monday I set out to reach my 10,000 step goal and was so pleasantly surprised when I already had 7,000 steps before noon! While doing a half hour on the treadmill and a half hour on the elliptical might not be a big deal for some people, for me it was HUGE. And that’s why halfway though my workout I had to choke back tears as I realized that I was finally doing this without feeling nauseous, tired or dizzy.

And little by little, as I set attainable goals I can reach, I get a little bit stronger.  I’m finally breaking free of the old, tired, pain-infested body and embracing the newer, stronger me, thanks in part to my new chiropractor, Dr. Nick Peterson of Peterson Chiropractic & Acupuncture.

The beginning of this Day #1 journey actually started several weeks go when I was searching for a new doctor to get back x-rays. Metaplastic Carcinoma has a tendency to recur in the back, bones, skin and/or lungs so naturally the fear crept in when I began experiencing back pain which made me fearful of that dreaded R word— recurrence.  “Metaplastic” means “change in form” which means this type is known to come back and spread to the back, the skin, the bones, the lungs and more. Every new ache, pain, lump or bump forces us to think again about our the fear of recurrence.

I began to think about two women I knew who also had Metaplastic Carcinoma and whose cancer came back to their spine. Both, sadly, passed away but they each fought their battles with dignity, positivity, grace and class.

So naturally when my back started aching in May, I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking about these two brave warriors who held my hand and inspired me since I was diagnosed in February of 2015.  I went for an x-ray at my new chiropractor’s office and it came back all clear. Thank God!

I’m so grateful to have found Dr. Nick Peterson, who got me started on a wellness plan that includes toning, stretching and strengthening. He has been working to rehabilitate me and got me to start moving and stretching several weeks ago which made Monday’s Day #1 at the gym a lot less painful.

While other chiropractors basically gave up on me and said the only way I would get relief from the neck pain (whiplash) and lower back pain was to have surgery, Dr. Nick is working with me by using a combination of massage, electromagnetic stimulation, traction, manual adjustments and acupuncture. Already in just one month I am seeing a difference in mobility and a decrease in pain levels.

I  know that if I continue on this path of a combined wellness, healthy diet and regular exercise plan, that I can finally reach my goals, gain more energy and stamina and weight loss will be a pleasant side effect. So what’s different now than all of my previous failed Day #1 attempts? Why do I think this is the time I really will stick with it? Three things:

  1. I started gearing myself up for it 3 weeks ago thanks to the new stretching and strengthening my core exercises I’ve been doing at the recommendation of Dr. Nick
  2. I have a workout buddy— my wonderful 17-year-old daughter
  3. I have an online community of cheerleaders in the Hello Fitness! group and I’m participating in a 5-day fitness step challenge

I’ve been drinking a lot more water and eating a low carb diet similar to Keto or as us old(er) folks call it, The Atkins Diet. This means so sugar, no pasta, bread, fruit or carbs. Your body goes into ketosis after the first 3 days which are BROOOOO-TUULLLLL as you go through withdrawals. You may get headaches, mood swings and cravings but just push through and after day #3 you will see the pounds melting off which will be motivation not to go back to the old way of eating.

What I learned most this week about myself is that I need to stop comparing myself, or try to keep up with other people. They have not been through what I’ve been through. Some have had it worse, some much easier and others have absolutely no idea how hard (and painful) it is sometimes just to get up and get dressed, nevermind get to the gym.

Some of the scars after my cancer battle are easy to see on the outside— like the eyebrow, eyelash and hair loss and extra weight I gained during 4 months of red devil chemo……

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Cape Cod, the day after the last day of chemo, July 2015

……or my fried skin from 30 radiation zaps over the course of 6 weeks……

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Radiation marks

…….or the pink, raised bump on my chest where my chemo port used to be.

Other scars are not so easy to see and they’re on the inside, buried under the layers of 40 extra pounds I’ve packed on that are being more stubborn than an Irishman at last call. All of these factors can take a toll on my emotions. But thankfully I am surrounded by some awesome people who love and support me no matter what.

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Cape Cod, July 2016

And now I’m counting down the days (20), looking forward to making more memories and taking more fun family photos next month on our annual trip to Cape Cod!

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Cape Cod, Summer 2013

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I will not be posting any bikini pix just yet, but I will feel good and energized since starting this wellness program. So for now I just keep on trucking and try to remember that each day is a new day to start again. And remember what matters is not how I look compared to others, but how feel I feel compared to myself at this time last year one year post chemo or the year before one day or one week post chemo. It’s been a long, hard road ut I am getting there little by little. As long as I keep moving forward.

 

 

While I would love to go to the gym every single day, lift tons of weights, do aerial yoga, hot yoga, laughing yoga, water mat yoga and headstands on the beach, the reality is that I need to do what I personally can handle, take baby steps and set goals I can reach.

Last week my goal was 10K steps a day for 5 days and 3 times going to the gym. So how did I do? I did 9K a day for 5 days and made it to the gym 3 times! That is a huge accomplishment for me. No, it’s not even close to my team-mate who had 80K steps in 5 days, but for me? It’s awesome! I’m comparing myself with myself.

The week before last I had 40,791 steps for the week. Last week I had 56,704. I increased my activity by 15,913 more steps, or 2,273 more steps a day. Here are my other accomplishments:

  • Week of July 9-15 = 27 floors, 16.99 miles
  • Week of July 16-22 = 116 floors, 23.62 miles

I’m not running any marathons yet but I am feeling more energized, eating healthier and feeling much better about myself— as long as I remember that the only person I need to try to be better than is who I was yesterday.

For anyone reading this who is in the same, or a similar boat as me, I will say this: don’t compare your behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel. While filters, smoke and mirrors may make them look like Greek goddesses living the best, most fun and perfect life, the real you, scarred, imperfect, raw and honest is beautiful inside and out.

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From BecomingMinimalist.com:

“Comparing our lives with others is foolish. But finding inspiration and learning from others is entirely wise. Work hard to learn the difference……We ought to strive to be the best possible versions of ourselves….. Work hard to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Commit to growing a little bit each day. And learn to celebrate the little advancements you are making without comparing them to others.”

~Joshua Becker

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 Battle: 18 Doses of Radiation and I’m Seeing Red

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This is what someone’s chest looks like after 18 doses of radiation- red, bumpy, itchy and raw. Not a pretty sight but a necessary evil to kill the beast. And I still have 12 doses left. I can do this!

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” ~Walter Elliott

It’s been nine long months of fighting the evil beast so far… nine months of deep breaths through the pain, sleepless nights, surgeries, nausea, chemo drugs, dizziness, worry, hot flashes, crazy emotions and pure exhaustion. I feel like at the end of these 9 months I should at least get a cute baby or something?! 🙂

I started my fourth week of radiation Monday and my chest is starting to itch and burn, despite slathering up with a thick layer of Aquaphor every night. I have 12 more treatments, the last 5 of which are targeted to the area where the two lumps were removed.

Friday I go in for another “mapping” session so the physics team can mark me up with more purple Sharpie to ensure my vital organs are protected during this intense last part of treatment.

I’m probably not getting as much sleep as I should throughout all of this but a mother’s work is never done. I feel a twinge of excitement as I think that in just two-and-a-half weeks I’ll have my life back, almost completely. The last 9 months have been filled with 5-7 doctor appointments per week, hours and hours each day spent getting poked, prodded, injected, drugged, cut, scarred, checked and double-checked.

Yes, it’s a long time since I started fighting this battle that completely turned my world upside down and made me look at things from a whole new perspective. Yes, I’m sick of talking about it and I’m sure many are sick of hearing about it but the fact is, cancer touches everyone and I won’t be quiet until I feel my work of raising awareness is done.

Here is my message: Sometimes yearly mammograms are not enough. You HAVE to feel your boobs on a regular basis. If I didn’t find the lump myself while dying my fiery red hair, that is no longer there (how ironic), I might not be here to tell this tale. I consider myself blessed and I feel it’s my duty to spread awareness for early detection so others can have a fighting chance.

While I will be “officially” finished with treatment in just 16 days, I won’t truly be “done” because the dark shadow called “recurrence” will TRY to follow me due to the rarity and aggressiveness of this type of cancer.

Since Metaplastic Carcinoma was only recently discovered in 2000, not much has been done in the way of clinical trials and research. It is a rare cancer, only occurring in 1% of women, and an aggressive cancer with a high rate of recurrence, especially in the first 3 years.

I was also diagnosed with Triple Negative which also has a high recurrence rate. Being Triple Negative means I lack estrogen, progesterone and Her2 receptors so I can’t take any follow-up meds for “insurance.”

BUT my Radiation Oncology doctor told me today that I have a different type of insurance- the long, harsh and fierce treatment that I’ve endured over the last 9 months. This will kill any last trace cell that tries to mutate and change in form to lung, skin or bone cancer. The meaning of Metaplastic is “change in form.”

AND my Oncologist, who has worked with thousands of patients over the last 30 years told me, “You caught it early and it didn’t spread. You’re going to be fine!” I have to believe him.

This is also why I felt so strongly about getting a second opinion at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. On March 9th I was told after my PET Scan that I am officially cancer free. And that’s why I will go back there at the end of October to make sure I stay cancer free for years to come.

My hope is that I can be healthy, strong and not drowning in debt from this battle so that I can be in the position to help others.

Often times life’s not fair but that’s not the lesson I try to teach my children. Through my battle I’ve tried to show them that there is always something to be thankful for. And that it’s important to help others because there are a lot of people out there who don’t have friends or family for support like I do.

Through your love, you’ve all helped keep me going. Because you’ve surrounded me with your prayers, dinners, donations, gifts, hugs, calls, emails and laughs, I’ve been able to stay strong. Thank you!

CLICK HERE to support #MyLeftBoob  breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me to cover medical costs related to my treatment.

#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.

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