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 Is Almost One Year Cancer Free!

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It’s been a while since I’ve written an update and wanted to let you know I’m almost done with with this year-long fight! The final surgery to get the chemo “Power Port” removed is Feb. 2, 2016! Woo hoo!

In some ways it seems 2015 flew by and other times it seemed like it would never end. We started the year with a bang with a broken bed, oven and dryer in week 1, my middle son almost dying from a ruptured appendix and torn intestine in week 2 and 5 days in the hospital (thank God he is still here!), and then me finding “the lump” in week 3, the day he came off of bed rest from his surgery. It’s all in the rearview mirror now as we look forward to the future with optimism.

On Feb. 17, 2016 I’ll celebrate one year cancer-free with a big party in Bethel, CT on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. If you’re reading this, you’re invited! It’s a benefit for The Scotty Fund and Ann’s Place, two organizations that helped our family tremendously over the last year.

There will be dinner, cocktails, live music and a David Bowie tribute band! (R.I.P., Starman). We’ll post a Facebook event once bands and details are finalized, but please save the date! For more info, email wendyannmitchell@live.com.

Some people recently emailed, confused and wondering what happened after the last update? I’m still here! I spent 2 Tuesdays in December in the E.R.

On Dec. 4 I was admitted after having bad pain in #MyLeftBoob. When I felt another lump, my doctor felt I should get it scanned. Thank God it was not cancer (again!) and was just another side effect from the last surgery in August.

It’s a seroma- a collection liquid that forms sometimes after surgery. I’ll have it checked at the end of January to make sure it dissipates on its own. If not they will have to drain it.

The second time was exactly one week later for throbbing back pain in the middle of my spine. Because of the high recurrence rate of Metaplastic Carcinoma, my oncologist felt I should go and get an x-ray to make sure it wasn’t something serious.

After a CT scan, x-rays, blood work, EKG, etc. it was determined that I have early onset arthritis due to chemo. After breathing yet another HUGE sigh of relief I asked what I can do to stop the arthritis and the doctor replied, “Stop getting old!” Very funny. I did get a chuckle but realized many of these side effects (joint pain, back pain, hot flashes, tiredness) are something I have to learn to live with.

Part of writing here is therapy, some is to raise awareness for early detection and mostly I write to educate the many newly diagnosed people with cancer, and their families and caregivers, so they’ll know what to expect.

Now that treatment is almost done, many times if I suddenly get a hot flash or feel tired/achy, people ask why. I say it’s from treatment. Almost always the response is, “But I thought you were done with treatment?” Yes, technically I’m done with chemo and radiation but the symptoms don’t magically stop the minute chemo and radiation is over.

My doctor said it could take 6 – 12 months for all the harsh ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxin and Taxol) chemo drugs and side effects to leave my system. While I may look somewhat normal, most days I don’t feel normal due to joint pain, sleepless nights and anxiety.

Here’s some information to help you better understand the conditions I still suffer, as many cancer patients do when treatment has ended, due to the side effects from chemo:

Chemo Brain:

“Research has shown that chemo can impact the thinking functions of the brain for up to 10 years after treatment. Some of the brain’s activities
are affected are concentration, memory, comprehension, and reasoning.” (Cancer.org)

Body Changes:

“Hot flashes at night and can disrupt sleep. This can cause mood changes and make it hard for to make decisions. You may feel tired or have trouble getting to sleep, getting up early, or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. You may experience memory problems, depression, mood swings, and irritability.” (Dana-Farber.org)

Emotional Side Effects & PTSD:

“Some people with cancer may develop an anxiety disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is most often associated with traumatic events such as war, sexual and physical attacks, natural disasters, and serious accidents, the disorder can also affect people with cancer. For example, a recent study found nearly one in four women newly diagnosed with breast cancer experienced PTSD.”

Many cancer patients will experience the same side effects months, or even years, after treatment. It’s been 6 months since the end of chemo and 3 months since radiation ended. I know I’ll get back to my “new normal” soon (and hopefully the gym) but I’m learning to listen to my body and rest when I need to…. which last weekend was 14 hours one day!

I’m happy to embrace 2016 with optimism, excitement and hope for more good things to come…. and more opportunities to pay it forward– especially with the benefit dinner/dance/concert on Feb. 26.

Thank you for your support, prayers and love. May 2016 be filled with all good things for you and yours.

Peace,
Wendy 🙂

*Pictured: Me & my medical oncologist, Dr. Robert Cooper, at his retirement party in Nov. 2015.*

#MyLeftBoob Breast Cancer 201: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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

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Tonight, as I sit here coughing with a bright red nose like Rudolph, I’m reminding myself to focus on the GOOD among the bad and the ugly.

The BAD: This week, the one week in 9 months I only had one doctor appointment compared to 5-7 over the last 9 months, we all have terrible colds. My daughter stayed home yesterday and I stayed home today…..

The GOOD? I get to work from home (most of the time) in my cozy jammies, sipping tea with honey and lemon and a monster-sized box of tissues nearby.

The UGLY: So far this week for work I’ve been threatened with a lawsuit for posting a letter to the editor (baseless), I’ve been accused of impartial political reporting (not true) and last night I was yelled at from across the room of a standing room only crowd because I was videotaping a First Selectman debate for work…..and it’s only Wednesday.

The GOOD? Also through work- I met a wonderful and inspiring woman who is also battling the evil C word for SIX years now. Wonderful because I could see her inner strength beneath her outer beauty which put my perspective back into focus.

The BAD: I’ve been having anxiety attacks because I feel like I can’t keep up at work, or with laundry, or sleep, or a second part-time job I’m about to begin tomorrow to try to help pay off some of these mounting medical bills. I only slept for 2 hours last night because my heart was racing and the worry warts were invading my mind in between coughing fits.

The GOOD? Among the 30+ political letters to the editor I’ve received today, there was one bright ray of sunshine from my now retired Medical Oncologist who stumbled across my “Behind the Pink Ribbon” series. I’ve been sharing stories this month of survivors for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Google “Patch.com, Wendy Mitchell, Behind the Pink Ribbons” to read them).

He told me he loved the articles and that I was doing a great job raising awareness for breast cancer. And he told me to keep on fighting which I will do! #MyLeftBoob is winning the battle. And if you’re just joining me, sometimes mammograms are not enough. You HAVE to feel your boobs!

The UGLY: My scars, my peeling skin, my growing waistline….I’ve been meaning to get to the gym for 2 weeks now and haven’t been able to due to my work schedule, my daughter’s field hockey games/practices 6 days/week, or me being sick and/or exhausted.

The GOOD? As Clarice in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” once said, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Tomorrow is not far away.” I have to stop beating myself up and realize I JUST finished radiation treatment and still have one more surgery to go. I’m not going to feel better overnight.

The BAD: I keep getting woken up by hot flashes due to chemo induced early menopause (I know, TMI for some, but for the newbies out there, this is what you can expect).

The GOOD? “This too shall pass” and at least I won’t have to go through it when I’m 55+.

The BAD: Numbness in my fingers and toes still plagues me.

The GOOD? It doesn’t last long and is getting less and less frequent.

The UGLY Truth: The dark shadow of “recurrence” still haunts me, which I hear is a common fear among survivors.

The GOOD: My new Medical Oncologist said that even though I can’t take any post-chemo drugs because I’m Triple Negative, there are things I can do to help prevent recurrence:

1. Exercise for 30 minutes 5 days a week.
2. Avoid alcohol
3. Stay away from animal fats and processed meats
4. Reduce stress

I’ve got 2 & 3 under control but I still need to work on 1 & 4. I will get there…baby steps….little by little.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” ~Mark Twain

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

#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 Chronicles: Nursing Battle Scars on the Inside & Out

Screenshot 2015-09-23 at 1.21.34 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT #MYLEFTBOOB BREAST CANCER BATTLE.

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