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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can You Expect if Expecting the Red Devil?

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

What About Losing Your Hair?

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

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

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

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

1. Put Your Blinders On

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

2. Don’t Check “Dr. Google”

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

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

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

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

4. Surround Yourself With Positive People and Get Support

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

5. Start Journaling

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

5. Make Time for Yourself

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

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

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

7. Cut the Negative Nellies & Ignore the Jealous Ones

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

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

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

 

8. Find Your Village and Let Them Help

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

9. Get Info Warrior Mode

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the Next Steps for Me?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT #MYLEFTBOOB BREAST CANCER BATTLE.

#MyLeftBoob Chronicles: #Chemo Day 105: Counting My Blessings

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Sunset Over Long Pond, Cape Cod, by Ruby Mitchell

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. ” ~Rabindranath Tagore

Today is the one week mark since my last chemo on July 16, 2015. I’m writing this blog post with slightly numb fingers and toes from one of the most beautiful places on earth, Cape Cod. Due to the kindness and generosity of family, we were able to get away for a week for a family vacation to celebrate the end of chemo. We hadn’t been on vacation since 2013 so this was a nice treat.

Breathing in the salty sea air, tasting and smelling the fresh-caught Cape Cod seafood and gazing at the breathtaking sunsets painted in the sky, all do wonders for the soul after feeling like I was at death’s door more times than I care to recall over the past 7 months.

The week has had its fair share of mishaps; from car troubles to a cut/skin infection on our puppy, from a slip and fall with a hurt back for me and a yellow jacket bee sting on my finger (almost on my eye) to the “usual” side effects of chemo, we’re taking it all in stride and focusing on the good times and the beauty that surrounds us.

My husband came with me for the last chemo and I slept through about 2 of the 7 hours we were there. One milestone marked and on to many more.  I’m so glad I chose to be treated where I felt comfortable and well taken care of. Every single one of the nurses, receptionists, assistants, doctors, volunteers and staff at Danbury Hospital were all so kind and caring and made me feel so welcome.

At the end of the last Taxol the nurses came in and clapped and cheered to celebrate. Nurse Nancy retired a few weeks ago but it was nice to have the others there to share in the occasion. They presented me with a beautiful silver breast cancer bracelet and a signed certificate of completion.

While that was the last chemo it was not my last treatment. I still have another radioactive seed implant on July 30, surgery to remove another lump (the 4th) on Aug. 4 and another surgery a couple of months after that to remove the port. Then there’s radiation, 5 days a week for 6 weeks.

After 16 weeks of chemo, 3 surgeries and all that radiation, I can’t imagine ANY last trace cancer cell could linger anywhere in my body and that is the hope I am holding on to.

Follow-up care is so important with Metaplastic Carcinoma due to its high rate of recurrence so it’s crucial I continue to get excellent care and be seen every 3-6 months to make sure it doesn’t come back.
My doctor told me that he will be retiring after 30+ years as an oncologist so I will need to decide whether to go back to the big cancer center for follow-up or stay put. I’m glad my doctor was with me until the end but it’s a little scary moving on to someone new, especially being diagnosed with a rare type like I had.

The last 7 months has been a crazy, whirlwind roller coaster of a ride and it’s not over yet. There are still more surgeries, more treatments and unfortunately a lot more bills. Thank you everyone who has donated to my medical fund. Thank you to the scholarships and grants we’ve been blessed with. Thank you for the dinners, donations, gifts, cards and love. You have all made my burden so much lighter and have taken away so much of the stress of this already stressful journey.

We will enjoy 2 more days of vacation before worrying about the next steps of this battle (surgery, radiation and that dreaded 5-letter word: BILLS). For now we will choose to live in the moment and enjoy the time we have together in this beautiful place, counting our blessings for being part of such an amazing family.

To support my breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me, please click here.

“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… to feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”  ~Kevyn Aucoin

#MyLeftBoob Chronicles: #Chemo Day 92: Beginning of the End

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It’s 8 days post chemo #7 and I’m excited there’s only one more left!

I’m finally starting to feel a little better today after a week of extreme pain in my joints, watery eyes, numbness in my feet and overwhelming fatigue. I don’t like to update when I’m in so much pain and an emotional blubbering mess, which has been my state this past week, but I’m glad to be feeling somewhat like myself again today.

My sister came with me to my last treatment which was 7 hours long. It was so nice to spend time with her and I’m thankful for her support and sense of humor, always leaving me with a smile during this difficult time. And she bought me some pretty cool purple dangly earring to match my shirt! Thanks sis!

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Me and my beautiful sister Shari, one of 5 girls and 1 boy in our family. I’m the youngest of 6.

I never expected the Taxol to kick my butt as it has been doing but I’m looking forward to the end of chemo on Thursday, July 17.  End of chemo does not mean end of treatment though. It just means the hardest part is over. I’m only about halfway done. I still have another radioactive seed implant, another biopsy, another surgery and 6 weeks of radiation in Sept-Oct. to look forward to. Then another surgery to get the port removed. Yay me! If only the radioactive seed implant could give me special powers this would all be worth it! 😀

Then I wait until about December for my hair to grow back. Who knows about the eyelashes? For now I’ll be fancy and wear fake ones when necessary.

I met with my surgeon yesterday who said the surgery to remove the new lump and abnormal cells will be on Aug. 4th, just 2 days before our 21st anniversary. My doctor said as far as the fear and emotions go and worrying about each new lump, bump and symptom, wondering if it’s cancer, it does get easier.

She likened it to the over protective mom dropping of her baby at the daycare for the first time…. you call 10X, you cry when you leave and worry about them all day. But as time passes it gets easier. And then before you know it you’re sending them off on the school bus with some dude wearing baggy pants and a baseball hat, driving a bus full of screaming kids…. and you’re okay with that.

Yes, before I know it I will be one year cancer-free, then two years, then the Metaplastic magic mark- 5 years cancer free. After that the chances of recurrence go down dramatically and I breathe a HUGE sign of relief knowing I WILL be okay. I already know it deep down.

This is something I will always have to live with. It doesn’t go away when treatment is over. I’m now part of a new club, one I never asked to be in and one I would not wish upon my worst enemy. Cancer does not discriminate- old/young, black/white, rich/poor, men/women, Christian/Jew- cancer affects us all.

Even with everything I’ve been through, with everything cancer has taken and tried to steal, I am so grateful for all of the positives that have come out this: new relationships with family and friends, the ability to pay some of our bills due to your generous donations, stronger faith, a new appreciation for life, my kids and my husband, and so much more. I’ve been so very blessed and will not take that for granted.

I spent a good part of last week looking for a second job, to no avail, to help pay off $27K of medical bills. I love my regular full-time job that allows me to work from home, but sadly, even with my job and my husband working 70-80 hours a week at 2 jobs as a custodian, 6 days a week, we still can’t cover all of our medical expenses.

I’m hoping that by posting this update, it will strike a chord and someone will find it in their hearts to give, or forward it to someone who can help.

I hate to even have to ask for help but when I see people posting Go Fund Me updates for silly things (which I won’t mention for fear of offending someone), I figure the worst you can do is say no. If you can’t donate, don’t. But if you can forgo that $5 latte for one day and throw it my way, I would be forever grateful.

Anyone who knows me knows that for the last 15 years I’ve spent a lot of time helping others and even in this case I’m finding ways to help- by raising $2400+ for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life during chemo, by raising awareness for early detection through #MyLeftBoob campaign, and hopefully by raising people’s spirits through my writing.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening and if you’re one of my supporters I’m sending you a HUGE virtual hug along with an even HUGER THANK YOU!!!

Click here to support  my breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me.

#MyLeftBoob Chronicles: #Chemo Day 74: Pain, Scars and Superstars

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I haven’t updated in a while because I was waiting to feel better….waiting to have something positive and inspiring to say…..waiting for the pain to go away and well, it hasn’t. The last few days have been rough. And I’m not a wuss. I popped out an 8 1/2 pound baby, my first-born, with NO drugs whatsoever. The nurses in the delivery room kept saying, “Wow! You have a really high pain tolerance.” Or, “You’re doing really well considering how hard and fast your contractions are coming.”

Fast forward 26 years to a new kind of pain caused by harsh chemo drugs to kill any last trace lingering, unwelcome cancer cell. Everyone kept telling me how much easier the Taxol would be- it’ s not. Everyone kept saying how I’d have less side effects with Taxol- I don’t. I have more. The pain was so bad in my knee last weekend that I could barely walk. The pain was so bad in my joints and back last night that no matter which position I turned, I was still in extreme pain. Plus I have tingling in my feet and toes.

The only thing positive I can say about all of this is that I’m almost done. I have two more treatments left, then another surgery, my third (fourth if you count a tooth extraction), and another scar. I’ve heard someone say before that scars are tattoos with cooler stories.

The new surgery will be at the end of July to get rid of another weird, rare, abnormal thing I’ve been diagnosed with- Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia (ADH). As if being diagnosed Triple Negative (15% of women get) and Metaplastic (1% of women get) was not enough. This new surgery will push back radiation by a few weeks, depending on how my scar heals, but at least it’s not cancer. Phew!

One thing I’ve learned about all of this over the last five months is that no two cancer treatments are alike because no two people are alike. So when people who have been through it make generalized statements about what to expect, I can truly say, speaking from experience, don’t listen. Expect the worst but hope for the best. That may sound negative but until you’ve been through dizziness, nausea, hair loss, extreme fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, back pain, neuropathy all at once, on top of facing a life threatening illness, you have no idea what it’s like.

It’s physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining. It will test your faith. It will test your inner and mental strength. It will test your relationships and maybe even end some and that’s okay. It will show you who truly loves and cares about you and that’s a good thing. It may be shocking at first to realize those you thought would be there are not. Maybe because they can’t deal with the C word. It’s too scary. Maybe because they offered you advice and you politely declined. Maybe because cancer is too depressing…or too inconvenient. So many times I’ve wanted to say to this one person who has not been there for me, “Sorry my cancer diagnosis has inconvenienced you,” but I won’t apologize for something I didn’t ask for and have no control over. This person has shown me time and time again that other things in their life are more important than me. And so I just slowly let the relationship fade away. Yes, that’s depressing.

Then I try to fill those sad places with thoughts about the tons of love and support I’ve received from so many and I am grateful. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Each day I never know what to expect and this has become my new normal.

So how have I been coping? Prayer. Support from family and friends. Relaxing yoga and therapy sessions at Ann’s Place- thank GOD for that place! I wish I had gone sooner but I was too busy trying to distract my mind from the fear that tries to creep in…from the what ifs.

And finally, I must mention the excellent care I have been receiving from Danbury Hospital and Physicians for Women. I have the best doctors and am getting excellent treatment. My gyno called today just to check to see how I was doing and to tell me he was praying for me. My oncologist always makes me laugh and calms me down when things get scary. My radiologist is straight-forward, efficient and doesn’t mince words. My surgeon is the one who took out the cancer and to her I am forever grateful. She respects me and explains things in ways I can understand without talking down to me. My team of doctors are all superstars in my book. We are on top of things and taking care of business.

And me? I’m taking things one day, and sometimes one hour at a time and I know that one day soon it will all be over.

Click here to support my breast cancer battle on GoFundMe.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: My Heart and Bald Head Will Go On!

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Test results are back and like Celine Dion once said, my heart will go on! That’s right folks, the echocardiogram results came back and my heart is GOOD and STRONG! So chemo #4 for my last A/C (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) will go on as planned tomorrow and so will my heart <3. It must be all the love and support I am getting from all of you.

Tomorrow is also a very special day because it is my youngest child’s 15th birthday! My precious gem, Ruby Joan, turns 15 on Thursday, May 21, and hopefully I will be done with chemo in time to greet her from the bus with her birthday gifts in hand…. too bad I can’t wrap up the $7K braces the dentist said she needs! 😉

We’re planning on taking her out for a hibachi dinner tomorrow night and I know I will feel good enough to go (power of positive thinking). We already had a big party for her and a teens sleepover before I started chemo because I wasn’t sure how I’d react, but we’ll celebrate again tomorrow. She is such a sweet, smart, special girl and I am so blessed to have her, especially now as I fight this battle.

I’m hoping the pain in her hip is just “growing pains” like the Orthopedic doctor said because she really misses her Irish dancing!

After tomorrow’s A/C treatment #4, I am halfway done and will only have 4 more Taxol before I’m completely done. Then we celebrate in Cape Cod, my favorite place in the world (only because I haven’t been to Ireland or Hawaii yet!). After chemo, I get a 4-week break and then it’s on to radiation…. I don’t want to even think about those side effects yet. One day at a time!

Besides last Friday’s fever and the constant burning eyes, my symptoms were not as bad last week. I go in for a follow-up with my surgeon in 2 weeks. Hopefully I won’t need anymore surgery.

My hair is still peach fuzzy so I’ve been wearing the scarves mostly because the wigs get too hot and itchy. I did wear a glamorous long one to a friend’s wedding last weekend, which was fun, but it got uncomfortable after a while. My oncologist said my hair will start growing back in 4 months after chemo is done so I still have 6 more months of wearing scarves, wigs and hats.

I’m trying my best not to lose my cool when people tell me to “just rock the bald look,” “vanity is overrated” or”hair is overrated.” Some of these people telling me to”just get over it” are men who have absolutely no idea how traumatic it is for a woman to lose all of her hair. Being a bald man is socially acceptable. Being a bald woman is not. Case in point; Sinead O’Conner and Britney Spears. But I can deal with it for 6 more months, as long as I get better soon so I can get on with my life!

I’m so grateful to have connected with a wonderful group of cancer and prayer warriors at Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel. The leader is a 10-year bladder cancer survivor with an amazing survival story that I hope to write about sometime. He shared an awesome scripture with me which has remained with me all week. Last week was scary with the fever and getting nervous about the echocardiogram and “what ifs,” but this scripture helped to calm my nerves. And now I want to share it to encourage all of you!

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Then the God of peace will be with you.” ~Philippians 4:6-9

T-minus 12 hours until I’m halfway done with chemo! Yay! 🙂

To support my breast cancer battle on GoFundMe, please click here.

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