1 X-Ray, 2 Biopsies, 3 Awesome Results: #MyLeftBoob #BreastCancerChronicles

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Okay, that last post was super depressing but sometimes that’s life. This blog is honest, open and real and doesn’t sugar coast the roller coaster ride we are on. Some readers may think I’m being melodramatic but the majority of emails and comments I get are from followers who say how much my writing has helped them— people who are not as open about their cancer journey as I’ve been, women who are going crazy but are afraid to go to therapy, patients who, like me can’t understand why the ones they thought would be there for them are not. It’s all part of the journey and the wounds that thicken our skin in this life-long battle we’re in.

We may look normal from the outside now that we’re done with treatment, but our lives will never be the same. Every new ache, pain, lump or bump forces us to think again about our biggest fear— recurrence. What it the cancer is back? And this is what I’ve been dealing with for the last few months.

Back in April I began having really bad cramps. At my annual gynecology checkup I shared my symptoms with my doctor thinking he would say it was normal for women my age. He didn’t. He ordered an ultrasound because of the type of cancer I had and its high rate of recurrence.

Seeing as I had so many complications during my breast cancer treatment, I figured I couldn’t possibly have anything but normal results for this test. I thought wrong. He said the results were abnormal and that I’d need another test. Test number two- they found a lump. More waiting.

In the midst of all this waiting over the course of two months my back began to hurt. Immediately my mind raced and the thoughts came flooding back— what if it’s back, what if it’s in my back? I fought so hard for so long. I just can’t go through all of this all over again. Except for telling my husband, I kept the results to myself and tried to go on with life as usual. But the pain, lack of sleep and worry took a toll on my sanity.

I thought about two women I’ve met who also had Metaplastic Carcinoma, a very rare type of cancer that only occurs in one percent of women diagnosed. It’s a very aggressive type of “new” cancer that has a very high rate of 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.

One woman, a fellow journalist, was one of the first to reach out to me after I found her online support group. She was an amazing advocate for this unrelenting disease and launched metaplasticbc.com to connect patients, caregivers and researchers. She also created a YouTube channel detailing her treatment. She fought a three-year battle with dignity, grace and humor. But the cancer came back, to her back, and she passed away in November of 2015.

The other woman is still fighting. The cancer also came back to her back and, after surgery on her spine to remove the tumors, she is now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. You’d think this would give her a reason to complain, be angry and bitter or all of the above. But not this fierce warrior. No, she fights 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 have held my hand and inspired me since I was diagnosed in February of 2015. I went for an x-ray and it came back all clear. Thank God!

But I still had to wait for test number three and two biopsies on my uterus and cervix. I won’t go into detail about the procedure, I’ll just say there were needles, catheters and painful scraping involved. The doc said the pain would be over before I knew it— not so much.  The cramping and pain from the biopsies lasted for hours and I had to take 4 Motrin to finally get some relief.

Finally after almost a week of waiting I got the good news— it’s not cancer. Thank GOD! The last three months have been awful, filled with so much worry and fear. Now that I know I remain cancer free I can try to get on with this thing called life.

While cancer has robbed me of so much it has given me so much more— appreciation for family, friends and of course my special sweet pup who never leaves my side, gratefulness for the doctors and nurses who have helped me get better, the helpers and the pray-ers, thankfulness that while I had it bad and some of the pain and symptoms will never go away, I still have all my parts, can still get up every day and be with my loved ones, go to work, exercise, smell the stargazers and enjoy all of the blessings I’m fortunate enough to have.

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And now that I have the all-clear, I can try to finally start getting back to taking care of my health. My goal for next week is going to the gym 3x and yoga 2x. If I don’t reach my goal please feel free to cyber-fish-slap me.

Black and white photo of Wendy by Garrett Burdick, San Fran., CA

Stargazer photo by Emily Lewis via Flickr Creative Commons

#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 Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future

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

~Charles Dickens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Ghost #1 – The Martyr

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

Ghost #2 – Metaplastic, Triple Negative Breast Cancer

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

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Ghost #3 – The Befuddled

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

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

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

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

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

The Ghosts of Christmas Future

Ghost #4 – The Flake

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

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Photo by Bill Gracey via Flickr Creative Commons

From Wild Birds Unlimited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your 2016 be blessed with all good things!

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

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

I choose the latter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” YOU’RE GOING TO BE FINE.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be kind. Choose love. All lives matter.

Click here to support #MyLeftBoob breast cancer battle.

Almost Celebrating End of Treatment for #MyLeftBoob

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A week ago I was getting radiation for a “rare and aggressive” type of breast cancer only 1% of women get. Two days later I was on an insanely fast roller coaster with my kids, screaming my head off, celebrating no more treatment (almost). That brought to mind a quote from my oldest son’s favorite movie, Ferris Bueller:

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Today marks one week since I completed 6 weeks of radiation, Today is also 3 months since I finished 16 weeks of dense dose ACT chemo for Metaplastic Triple Negative breast cancer.

It’s 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep again, which seems to be the norm lately due to radiation burns and other issues. Later this morning the hubs and I will travel to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY for my 3 month checkup.

In the week since I’ve updated, there have been 2 more women in my life who are just starting their cancer journey. They are both private so I won’t write about them, but I’m so glad to be here to answer questions and lend support.

The best advice I’d give to anyone just starting out is:

  1. Listen to your body – rest when you need to
  2. Learn to say “NO” – so many people will want to pop over & spend time with you & that’s the last thing I felt like doing. I was just trying to get through each hour of each day while working and being a mom.
  3. PUT YOUR BLINDERS ON! My doctors told me this so many times and I wish I listened. People will tell you every cancer horror story & the truth is that everyone’s diagnosis and reaction is different,
  4. STAY POSITIVE- pray,meditate, watch comedies, don’t answer your phone/texts/email if it’s from someone who will stress you out or make you fearful. This is a time to focus on your treatment and recovery.
  5. Find a support group that is truly supportive and positive.

If you are a family member or friend of someone going though treatment, the best thing you can go is to stick with your patient the whole time and let them know you care. It’s a long, hard road and some people drop out after the first couple of months. Maybe they’re tired of hearing about it. Maybe it’s depressing. Maybe they feel like they don’t want to bother you. Getting a quick text or Facebook message to let us know you still care and are still here for us is certainly no bother and is very much appreciated.

And when the treatment is over it doesn’t mean we’ll be back to “normal” right away. It takes months for all the chemo drugs to leave our bodies and for the symptoms to go away.

So how am I doing 3 months post chemo?

  • Chemo brain (Google it, it’s a real thing) is still here. I forgot about 2 appointments this week and feel like I’m forgetting to do something, or I can’t remember the words I want to say.
  • Red, bumpy, burning, itchy skin from radiation is still a problem but getting less and less.
  • Neuropathy in hands and feet is still bothering me but not as much. It hurts most when I first wake up in the morning and hurts to walk sometimes. The numbness comes and goes in my fingers which is a challenge because I do need to type for a living.
  • Chemo induced early menopause– not a fun thing to talk about but it happens….and that could be why I’ve been waking up in hot sweats and getting horrible sleep.
  • Eyebrows and eyelashes are back. Hair is coming back in and super short still. IMPORTANT beauty tip: If you have red or blonde hair and are thinking of dying it right away- don’t. Mine turned orange….one of the things people forgot to tell me. It has something to do with the new hair coming in- or red going on top of grey hair or something. I’ve been told I look like Mia Farrow and Annie Lennox, which I’m taking as a compliment.
  • The “X Marks the Spot” scar is still prevalent but I don’t mind, it’s one of my warrior scars- surgery area is still sore 2 1/2 months later.

Sleep escapes me because I have so many questions firing through my brain…. sort of like those firecrackers you threw on the ground when you were a little kid….bang! bang! pop-pop-pop-pop! It’s so loud I can’t keep up enough to write them all down so I write here. Studies have shown that writing is one of the best forms of therapy for someone going through this battle.

I still have one more surgery to go and due to the type of cancer I will need follow-up checkups every 3 months for the next 2 (?) years because I can’t be on any follow-up meds since I’m Triple Negative. After the 2 years it goes down to every 6 months for 5 years I believe.

The aftermath will be long-term. It’s a war we’ve fought, and are still fighting, and there are physical, financial and emotional scars that need time to heal. I’ve read that cancer patients actually can get PTSD from the trauma of what we’ve been through. I can definitely see how it can mess with your head. The key is to keep your mind busy with good thoughts, focus on other things, and even helping other people. A small act of kindness goes a long way and makes you and the recipient feel so good.

I was supposed to start at the gym this week but lack of sleep, my daughter’s field hockey games and 3 doctors appointments threw a hitch in my giddyup, so I’ll have to start small next week. I’m not going to beat myself up for not beginning on time. I know I will get there eventually.

The past month has been tough- 3 of my husband’s friends’ fathers, and his aunt, all passed away. A girl who goes to my daughter’s school lost her dad unexpectedly due to a heart attack. Another friend lost a lifelong childhood friend in his early 50s who took his own life. Life is rough, life is short but it’s also amazing and wonderful and full of beauty and grace if you look hard enough. Nobody is promised tomorrow and when you stare death in the face, as I have, you learn to let the small stuff drift away and enjoy each moment you’ve been gifted because life is a gift.

Life moves fast. So stick your head out of a sunroof, scream loud and beep the horn every time you go through a tunnel, go on roller coasters and celebrate each breath.

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

#MyLeftBoob Radiation #26: It Takes a Village of Vikings and Warriors to Battle Breast Cancer

Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 1.13.45 AMMy brother (center with viking hat) and my middle son (on the right) modeling the awesome Wendy’s Warriors tee shirts, designed by Lisa Kosarko Setaro. The crazy dude on the left is our good friend Shadow who came out last April for Relay for Life to support me in my fight.

I sit writing this update propped up on 8 fluffy pillows under my arms and neck and one firm one on my lap for the MacBook. I just popped a pain pill and am waiting for it to do its job, in extreme pain under my arm and chest from radiation burns.

Just yesterday I was enjoying a nice visit with two of my four sisters, our kids, my dad and his girlfriend. It’s been years since we were all together, since my sister has given up her footloose and fancy free glamorous life of yachting. Juuuust kidding! She actually did just come back from a decade on a yacht, but it was far from glamorous. She worked her butt off as an executive chef on a one of the world’s largest yachts and, after my cancer diagnosis, decided to return to dry land for good to be close to our family and I’m so happy she’s here.

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So, like an annoying aunt, I made us all take a lot of pictures. Life is short. Life is unpredictable. You never know what tomorrow holds. We ate like kings, danced like fools and acted like, for a brief moment, I wasn’t battling the evil demon. And it was good.

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And then…BAM! Reality slapped me in the face like a jealous girlfriend. You’re not allowed to have fun, it said. You’re supposed to be giving all your attention to me. I hate for my kids to see me cry but I couldn’t help myself tonight. The pain was awful. I’m sick of not being able to function normally. Imagine you have a horrendous sunburn and you’re forced to go back into the sun over and over, the very thing that caused your burn. Not fun. But it’s almost over.

The past few nights I haven’t slept well because I wake up in a pool of sweat from the burns. Not so fun fact: Did you know that chemo brings on early menopause? It’s just one of many side effects from treatment– dizziness, numbness, pain, nausea and if that wasn’t enough to deal with all at once, why not throw on some hot flashes?

I know there are people in worse shape that me. There are people who have had a double mastectomy. There are women fighting alone, single moms, struggling financially or emotionally.  There are women just starting their journey who are asking themselves, “Why me?” There are women who have endured multiple surgeries like me and we are all entitled to our feelings. Just because I write about it more often or more publicly doesn’t mean I don’t think about, try to help, and pray for those who are fighting. We are all warriors.

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My sister Becky with her adorable daughter Juliet sporting their Wendy’s Warriors tees.

Speaking of warriors, last April our Relay for Life team, “Wendy’s Warriors,” raised over $2,600 for the American Cancer Society. We did it in honor of all those we know who lost their lives to cancer: My sister-in-law who passed away four years ago at the age of 51 from pancreatic cancer, my mother-in-law who passed away in 1986 at the age of 55 from ovarian cancer, my aunt who passed away in 1999 from brain cancer, our friend’s father who suffered and passed away from stomach cancer. I’ll never say they “lost their battle with cancer.”  Anyone who fights and doesn’t give up is a courageous warrior and a winner.

warrior: noun

a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill

Our family and friends were an amazing support for me throughout my journey and during Relay for Life. I was tired, and probably shouldn’t have pushed myself so hard, but it was something I was determined to do to help others. I believe if you do good things “what goes around comes around” and “you reap what you sow.” If you’ve been following from the beginning you’ve seen how much good has come out of all this and we are so grateful.

Many of you will never know what it’s like to fight and many of you will need to know…like our friend whose mom was diagnosed just last week. Our friend has watched me through almost all of the stages and I’m sure never thought it would touch him personally. But now, unfortunately it has. That’s why I write. So they can know what a cancer patient goes through physically and emotionally. So they know what to say and what not to say. So they can be prepared to support their loved one as they take each step one day, and sometimes even one hour, at a time.

 

And in the spirit of  supporting warriors would you consider purchasing a Wendy’s Warriors tee shirt or bracelet? We ordered (and paid for)  way too many and they’d look much better on you than on my couch! A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society so they can continue their lifesaving work.

Tees are white, 100% cotton and are $20. Bracelets are purple and are $4 each. Honor your warrior and make a difference in the fight against cancer. Paypal: wendyannmitchell@live.com or mail a check to: Wendy Mitchell, 9 Evergreen Drive, Bethel, CT. 06801.

If you know someone who is fighting or has fought any type of cancer, please share my blog with them. It takes a village to fight the evil demon but together we can make a difference in the war on the C word! As always, thank you for your support!

#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.

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