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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#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: #Cancer 101— What to Expect When You’re Expecting the “C” Word

Hello! It’s been a while since I last updated this blog because life has been a  whirlwind— in a good way. I am now 100% CANCER FREE and on the road to recovery. Praise the Lord!

For those just joining me, I’m the mom of 3 awesome kids and an incredible rescue-turned-therapy puppy named Sadie. I’ve been married to the most amazing hubby a girl could ever ask for going on 22 years this August.

Just last week I celebrated one year post-chemo and I’m still waiting to feel “normal” again after fighting an 18-month long complicated, harsh battle with the evil “C’ word. Here’s what I looked like before “IT”……..

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In case you didn’t know, in January of 2015 life threw me a 99-mile-per hour curve ball and I was hit with “IT.” You know— the thing you never want to be hit with or told— “You have cancer.” I found the lump while dying my fiery red hair and from Day #1 I knew the diagnosis had to be about something much more than just me. So I began a #MyLeftBoob awareness campaign and began writing to remind people to do monthly self breast exams.

On Feb. 17, 2015 I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor— Surgery #1. I thought I’d only have to do the one surgery and 6 weeks of radiation and be done with “IT” but after the biopsy my doctor said I had a “rare and aggressive type of cancer only 1% of women are diagnosed with called “Metaplastic Carcinoma.” And I’m also Triple Negative which only occurs in 15% of women. Both of these types have a higher recurrence rate than other cancers and require very aggressive treatment and careful follow-up.

Here’s what I looked like post-surgery #1 of 4 before I knew I had “the bad kind” of cancer……..

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There would be 3 more surgeries after this photo was taken, 16 weeks of dense dose ACT “red devil” chemo, 6 weeks, 30 treatments, of radiation, tons of complications and emergency room visits along with terrible side effects.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was that life will never return to “normal.” I can’t just wrap up my cancer, put it in a box on the top shelf of my closet, shut the door and forget about it. It is who I am and what makes me stronger, more grateful, more positive, more forgiving and less stressed about the little things that really don’t matter when looking at the big picture.

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people, some complete strangers, tell me they or someone they love have cancer and they don’t know what to do or how to stay positive. They came across my blog and asked for advice and “words of wisdom” to help get them through. I’m so glad I can help others and pay it forward for all the good I’ve been blessed with.

A woman who was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer asked me— “How did you get into ‘Warrior Mode’ and stay strong throughout your fight?” The truth is, I wasn’t strong all the time. It’s because of an army of angels that I was able to keep moving forward. I tried to only write when I had something positive to share, but there were many times I wasn’t feeling so bright and shiny. There were some really low days and some nights I felt like I might not wake up after chemo kicked my butt HARD.

What Can You Expect When Expecting Treatment for the Evil “C” Word?

I can share what I went through but everyone’s cancer and everyone’s treatment is different. I heard someone say cancer is so common now it’s like getting a cold. If only it was that easy to deal with— pop a couple of Alka Seltzers, slug back some Nyquil and voila! You’re healed! Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. Some warriors I met along the way will never be done with their treatment— those with Multiple Myeloma, those whose cancer is resistant to chemo, those who have to deal with it spreading and recurring…..for them it’s a  living hell every day.

What Can You Expect if Expecting the Red Devil?

They call it “red devil” chemo because it is actually bright red in color and feels like the devil has invaded your body. The stuff is so toxic the nurse who administers it comes all covered up in a hazmat suit, gloves and goggles. It takes (4) huge 6″ long, 1.2″ wide syringes to get the full dose and after the fact it literally turns your pee red. You can’t touch or hug anyone for 24 hours. Not fun.

What About Losing Your Hair?

It may sound vain but losing my hair was the hardest part. Since Bible times hair has been associated with strength (Sampson and Delilah) or beauty (Jezebel) and femininity. So losing it is a tough pill to swallow. It means everyone will now know you’re sick. They’ll look at your with pity.

There were some days I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the bloated, frail, hairless person staring back at me. The worst was last August after I just completed 16 weeks of chemo and had to get another lumpectomy for another abnormal lump found in #MyLeftBoob. This was that day, two days before our 21st wedding anniversary………

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Weak….hairless….nauseous….bloated but still alive and trying to squeeze out a little smile. I know I’m not special and hundreds of thousands of people go through this battle every day. But I feel I can use my writing to help others and I feel that is what I’m meant to do.

So what is my “Cancer 101” advice and tips for the newly diagnosed patient?

1. Put Your Blinders On

My doctor told me this and I wished I listened. People will say the dumbest things in the beginning. You have to have tunnel vision and focus on your treatment and taking it one day, sometimes one hour at a time and get through.

2. Don’t Check “Dr. Google”

Another thing the great Dr. Cooper advised— but the reporter in me naturally wanted to gather as much information about my type of cancer since many at Danbury Hospital hadn’t even heard of Metaplastic Carcinoma, only just discovered in 2000. A lot of the information online is scary…… and old. Your doctor knows best. Listen. Get a second or third opinion if you have to— especially if it’s rare.

3. Let It Go In One Ear and Out the Other

Everyone and their mother will try to give you advice, figure out how and why you got it and try to blame something or someone. They might even ask you— Did you take birth control pills? Did you smoke? Did you dye your hair a lot?

They will tell you— smoke pot, eat almonds, take oatmeal baths, rub coconut oil on it, buy these magic pills and it will cure you. If all of that could cure cancer thousands wouldn’t be dying each year. A nutritionist may have studied nutrition for 20 years but have they studied cancer for 20 years? No. But your doctor has. Listen and trust your gut.

4. Surround Yourself With Positive People and Get Support

Make it a point to only be surrounded by positive people who will lift you up, make you laugh, make you feel loved and supported. I went to a faith-based cancer support group at Walnut Hill Community Church.  Words can’t describe how grateful I am for their love, prayers and support. I also went to Ann’s Place which provides free therapy for cancer patients and their families— another amazing place  I can’t thank enough.

5. Start Journaling

Research has shown that a cancer patient who begins journaling does better in their treatment because they are less stressed. MD Anderson says on their website: “Journaling is one way patients can care for themselves. Writing down your thoughts gives you an opportunity to work out your feelings and emotions, which may help you relax and find reasons to be happier and more hopeful about the future.”

5. Make Time for Yourself

Get a massage, go to the beach, shut off the phone and take time for yourself. People you haven’t heard from for years, or even decades, will crawl out of the woodwork wanting to take you to lunch or a movie. Now is a time to be selfish, do what makes you happy and helps you relax. Time is precious. Choose to spend it with those who love and support you “in sickness and in health.”

6. Distract Yourself by Focusing on Others (or a project- or both)

While undergoing chemo I organized a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It took a tremendous amount of time and energy to plan a 9-hour-long, 9-band concert, to coordinate schedules, round up volunteers and raffle prizes but in the end we raised $2,600 for the ACS. I also headed up a Relay for Life team as team captain for Wendy’s Warriors which was a great way to give back as my way of saying thank you for how many angels on earth helped me. Read about them here…

7. Cut the Negative Nellies & Ignore the Jealous Ones

People might actually get jealous of the attention, money and gifts you may receive. The ones who gave me a hard time over creating a GoFundMe page have never volunteered an hour in their life.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been a volunteer for 15+ years and gladly do it to help those less fortunate, to be there for troubled teens or help my community heal in the aftermath of the tragedy in Sandy Hook by volunteering time and money to offer a free space to heal through the power of the arts. I was grateful to have faithful volunteers by my side that enabled us to provide a safe haven when it was needed most.

When I was learning gymnastics, my instructor used to tell me to do a somersault to look down, tuck my chin and roll and I look at fighting cancer the same way. Obstacles will cross your path in the form of people who “just want to help” and may not realize their version of “help” is actually hurting and stressing you out. People might get jealous and even tell you so and try to make you feel bad for asking for help. Just ignore them, tuck and roll.

 

8. Find Your Village and Let Them Help

It’s hard and embarrassing to ask for help. It takes a humble spirit to open your hands and ask, “Please?” And it takes a village, a small army, to nurse a cancer patient back to life after staring death in the face.  I’m so incredibly grateful that my village was ready, willing and able to support me each step of the way. I am blessed beyond words and only hope I can help half as much as I have been helped. I believe what goes around comes around. Do good for others and it will come back to you.

9. Get Info Warrior Mode

To get into “Warrior Mode” you will have to choose your weapons wisely—

  • Choose to fight obstacles with perseverance.
  • Choose to fight weakness with inner strength by feeding your spirit.
  • Choose to fight criticism with kindness.
  • Choose to fight fear with confessions of faith.
  • Choose to fight cancer with dignity, grace, thanksgiving and optimism.

I did and that’s how I got through, and continue to get through, the after effects of this horrific war.

I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy and would never dream of being jealous of someone who had to go through what I went through. I’ve been blessed beyond measure and am happy I’m still here to pay it forward and to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, I am a warrior— thanks to all of you!

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I had the opportunity to share my journey at Bethel’s Relay for Life a few months ago and hear the amazing stories of warrior sisters just like me who fought, or continue to fight the good fight. This is a club none of us ever wanted to be in and that’s why I feel it’s my duty to advocate for early detection since I was given a second chance. By the grace of God,  I’m still here. Some are not as fortunate.

Thank you so very much to everyone who was there for me every step of the way.

What are the Next Steps for Me?

With this type of cancer we don’t use the word “remission” due to the high recurrence rate. I must be diligent with follow-up which is why I’m now going to a “Functional Medicine” doctor to get my diet on track.

Because I’m Triple Negative, I can’t be on Tamoxifen so I describe my life now as walking a tightrope in high heels over the Empire State Building. I can look down and be afraid of falling off and plunging to my death, or I can put one foot in front of the other, take one step ahead and keep moving forward. I choose the latter.

If you know someone going through this battle feel free to send them to my blog. You can read from the beginning here if you scroll all the way down…..

https://wendipoprock.wordpress.com/myleftboob-breast-cancer-awareness-campaign/

Or they can email me at wendyannmitvhell@live.com.  Be well!

 

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Surgery #5, the Battle Continues

Surgery #5? Aren’t you DONE yet? Yes, I know that’s what you’re thinking. Imagine how I feel!

After a year of hell, I’m so ready to be done. Cancer is like war— a war on the body, mind and spirit and treatment doesn’t end the minute you’re done with chemo, surgery and radiation. For many like me, chronic pain, swelling, anxiety attacks and the fear of recurrence is something we have to learn to live with.

It’s been a few months since I’ve updated this blog sp here’s what’s been happening since I last updated on Feb.2:

February:

David Bowie and later Prince, the legends and the bookends of my musical youth, passed away. Because David Bowie died of cancer and was a huge influence on me, being a weird goth kid, I knew I had to do something to honor him. I reconnected with old friends and we created a Bowie tribute band called Diamond Dogs…..

Photos courtesy of Lisa Weir or Autumn Photography

I celebrated one year cancer-free with friends, family, the wonderful people in my cancer support group and generous musicians who donated their time and talent to play for the benefit. It was a wonderful night, a celebration of life. I’m not sure exactly how much we raised since some sent donations directly to Ann’s Place, but I believe it was over $1,700. Thank you to all the generous donors, volunteers, bands, musicians and business owners who gave raffles and to everyone who came out to support me and Ann’s Place.

March:

My husband and I attended the St. Patrick’s Day Ball and had a shamrockin’ good time! Last year at this time I had just finished surgery and was just about to start 16 intense weeks of ACT dose dense chemo. What a difference a year makes.

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April:

I wrote and directed an original play based on Irish folklore called “The Princess and the Pirates.” It was a benefit for the Greater Danbury Irish Cultural Foundation. The play was a success and we were able to raise funds for the foundation to help them fulfill their mission of keeping Irish culture alive in the community.

Last Week/Today:

I got a brain MRI and a shoulder MRI due to persistent headaches and shoulder pain. Of course any time a cancer survivor gets a new lump or pain we always think the same thought— “Oh no. What if it’s cancer?”

I got the results back today and am happy to say— Thank God it’s not cancer!

The brain MRI results said that the headaches were probably being caused by inflammation and my diet. The doctor said I need to eat an anti-inflammatory diet and change the position that I sit at the desk on the computer. But it’s not cancer. Good news!

The bad news is that the shoulder MRI results show I have a torn rotator cuff and will probably need surgery. Who knew you could actually injure yourself while dreaming? Apparently sleeping with my right arm over my head and chest for 9 months to protect the chemo port did a number on me and there are torn ligaments and a hole in my shoulder which is causing pain whenever I do basic things like get dressed, lift, scrub, work at my desk, etc.

Doc said I have a torn rotator cuff, tendonitis, bursitis….which is it doc? All three?  I tuned out when I heard the word “surgery.” I’m getting a second opinion just in case.

I’ve been going to an occupational therapist and a physical therapist 4x/week to help with the shoulder pain and lymphedema (swelling) in my left arm and hand.

My oncologist said early on that to prevent recurrence I need to do things to feed my body, soul/mind and spirit. I also need to keep stress levels down, avoid alcohol, animal fat and exercise for 30 minutes 5x/week.

Since the orthopedic doc said physical therapy won’t help the torn rotator cuff, at least now I’ll have my mornings back and can begin my 5-step plan to take control back of my body, soul and spirit!

Going Forward:

Step 1: Get my diet under control. I met with a doctor who believes the health/food connection to illness so that means listening to what my sister (who is a nutritionist) has been telling me all along. Check out her Core Nutrition website here and like Core on Facebook. Diets don’t work. It’s better to make small changes and think about what I’m putting into my body and why.

Plan this week:

  • Drink the required amount of water each day (take your weight, divide in half, that # is the amount of ounces of water per day you should drink)
  • Start each day with lukewarm lemon water and Celtic sea salt
  • Have a kale shake 3x a week

Step 2: Start walking and doing yoga. I got 2 walking buddies and a yoga buddy— now I just have to stick to the commitment, even when they can’t. All are working moms which can be crazy. I work full-time as well. Add a husband who works 2 jobs/nights to my mix (so I don’t have a lot of help driving the girl to activities), plus 2 part-time projects and way too many doctor appointments each week and I’m juuuuust about to go insane. I know the regular routine of walking and yoga will  help to “stop the insanity.”

Plan this week:

  • Walk for 30 minutes 3 days this week, increast to 4 next week, 5 the following week
  • Do yoga once this week, increase to 2 next week, 3 the following week

Step 3: Make time for church, spirituality, God. A nutritionist came to our cancer support group and shared a study about where the oldest living people in the world are and what they have in common. Of those 5 places it was noted that those who lived past 100 had a very strong spiritual life.

Plan this week:

  • Start each day with a daily devotion from the new book I received as a gift from a friend— Daily Peace, 365 Days of Renewal
  • Go to church on Sunday

Step 4: Make time for family. Self-explanatory and should be #1. Family is everything!

Step 5: Make time for FUN! I’ve been playing in my band again which is good for the soul. Music is a healer and scheduling time to do what I love will definitely help destress.

Now let’s see if I can stick to the 5 steps.

I’ll start blogging about my progress begining tomorrow. Cheer me on or give me  a virtual kick in the pants of you see me slacking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#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 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.

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