Saturday, November 30, 2013

This Holiday

This weekend is one of my favorite times of the year. Thursday was Thanksgiving and I had a wonderful day with my family. We laughed, played games, talked and just enjoyed being together. Yesterday was the day that we put up our family tree.

Now first, I have to confess that I am a black Friday shopper. NO, I am not one of those people who stand in line for hours on end. Instead, I go in for a few toys, clothes, and then walk around and enjoy the music and fun that I have with my husband and daughter and the friends that I run into while shopping.

The fun continues when we make it back home. For at least 15 years, we have the tradition that the day after Thanksgiving is the day that we decorate our house for Christmas. 

The family tree is first. This tree really represents my family. I have ornaments that date back to our first holiday together.  My mom has added to my collection over the years as she brought the kids their first Christmas ornaments with the year of their birth imprinted on them and a few others that represent a few special occasions.  I shop the days and weeks after holidays to find Hallmark ornaments at prices that won’t break my bank, but all celebrate my family or are just too cute to pass up.

We have soccer players, dancers, a bee reading a book, Harry Potter characters, Spiderman, Cat in the Hat...well I’m sure you get the idea. 

Our tree also includes homemade ornaments made of plastic, paper, upside down flower pots, glitter, applesauce and cinnamon,...again, I’m sure you get the idea. 

All of the holes around the tree are filled with traditional bulbs, lights and all the extra decorations my children end up making through the holidays, such as snowflakes and reindeer. 

There are white lights and multi-colored lights twinkling on the tree and chasing each other up the limbs.  The angel sits atop keeping watch over my family.

Once this tree is done, my kids also have their own little trees that they get to decorate and keep in their bedrooms as well as door covers and hallway decorations that add touches throughout the house. 

2 years ago, I decided to add a survivor tree to my holiday decorating. When I saw the pink tree in the store, I knew that I wanted to create something in memory of all of the beautiful and strong people who are battling or have battled cancer; those living and for those who have left us. I was devastated with the amount of people that I knew who lost their battles that year but I was also moved and motivated by them all. 

Today, as I’m sitting here typing this, my family tree and my survivor tree are flashing and twinkling. I can’t help but cry as I think of another sister that has just lost her battle. Kiki was a loving woman who reached out with friendship. She was 28 with 2 beautiful very young children, a loving husband, and family by her side. My tears are a mix of sadness and something else that I can’t name. I just feel touched having known her. To Kiki, every moment should be enjoyed and celebrated and dreams were to be lived not just thought of.

No my tears aren’t of happiness of her passing, but more for feeling blessed for having known her. I feel blessed knowing all of them. 

So I’ll sit here in the darkness with all of my Christmas lights on and flashing. I’ll sit here and enjoy my evening relaxing beside my husband while my crazy crew plays through the house. I’ll dream about all of the things that I still want to accomplish and then work on succeeding. I’ll remember that it’s not about how much time that I have left in my life, it’s what I do with the life that I have. I’ll enjoy the moments and overcome the obstacles, keep on smiling even through sadness, love a little stronger and never let my family and friends forget it and appreciate all that I am blessed with, whether I see its worth yet or not. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!!

This Thanksgiving, I hope that you all love unconditionally, hug your family more tightly, laugh hysterically, and eat well. 

I hope that all of your pain leaves your for at least this one day. 

I hope that your side effects from treatment forget to come around.

I hope that your heart stays open and you find forgiveness to those that seek it and they find it in you when you seek it.

I hope your eyes are open to see the true blessings that each day is bringing you and that you help someone else find their own joy.
I hope that you all realize how much I appreciate the time you take in reading my blog. Your responses, emails and words mean so much to me. 

This holiday season, I am hoping to live it like it's my last. Lately, I have been feeling extra blessed. I don't feel any extra special, I think I am just taking more time to appreciate all the things that happen in my life. 

My life is not perfect, but it's mine, I'm happy and I am so thankful for all that I have and the people in my life.        Happy Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Focusing on a Happy Thanksgiving!

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, a lot of things have come into my mind. The end of 2013 is bringing a lot of joy and hopefully, growth my way. 

I’ve been keeping track of all of the reasons why I’m so thankful this month. I do it every November, but I have to wonder why I don’t keep it up year round. It really makes me think about everything that happens throughout the day and it reminds me that I have a lot to be grateful for. 

It’s so easy to sit down and complain about all of the things that go wrong in my life. It’s so easy to point the finger at other people and blame them for the problems that happen to me. It’s so easy to see the bad side of things and of people. 

All of the bad things come so easily, kind of like eating all of the chips instead of stopping at 1 serving. 

It takes effort to see beyond what is constantly being thrown at us.

The effort comes in looking beyond the behavior that a child shows when they are frustrated and see the joy and pride they feel when they do succeed at something.

The effort comes in looking beyond someone’s harsh words and immature behavior and seeing the vulnerability in their heart.

Sometimes, I want to complain about the pain in my arm, but then I think about the people who are battling with everything they have but still can’t get ahead of this beast. 

When I think of complaining about my day, I think about the teachers who are facing serious life or death problems because an army or a gang does not want to see them succeed in opening the doors of the world to the children.

I think about the quote my dad often says; “I used to complain of having no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.”

That doesn’t mean that I don’t vent about issues, because Lord knows I do. I just don’t dwell on them or allow them to take apart my day. There will always be someone who is having a harder time than I am.

It’s funny, I get spoken to a lot about how positive I am and that I always try to look at the bright side. 

Sometimes, I’m not sure if I’m being complimented or not, but I know I wasn’t always like that. 

Several years ago, I worked at a job that I really enjoyed, but couldn’t stand the environment. I knew it wasn’t the place for me. One summer I decided to make the jump and leave civil service. I’ve been with the public school system ever since and have not looked back yet. 

Preschool and the federal government prepared me for a lot in the classroom...well, except for the lack of funds.

Getting diagnosed the 2nd time helped me also. Watching people in the chemo room, at relays and the few children, men and women that I’ve me during my battles have taught me humility, satisfaction, sacrifice, love and happiness. 

Yes, I get angry, yes I fuss, cry, and complain. But...then I laugh and I smile when the moment is over. I had to laugh when a student explained it best. “I like you because you don’t stay mad. You fuss, but then you’re happy again. You don’t hold it against me.”

Holding onto anger, grudges and stress brings out grays, wrinkles and heart attacks. I’ll settle for grays, laugh lines and positive thoughts. 

I don’t know what it is, but I have really been looking forward to this weekend, to this holiday. Maybe it’s the time with family, the Christmas decorating we will do, or just time off of work. All I know is I’m ready and I will enjoy each moment.  

This Thanksgiving, I hope that every one of you that reads this finds some kind of joy in your day. I wish you all happiness and positive thoughts.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


There’s something I realized yesterday while talking to my husband. I was sitting in the waiting room of my plastic surgeon, talking to him about Angie and her situation. Angie is a woman that I just recently met online. She is a fellow cancer sister and is in the middle of battling for her life. It saddens me to know that someone is battling 2 different types of cancer and that the Dr.s are treating one because it is more advanced than the other.  

I thought about her last blog in which the doctor talked to her about quantity over quality. 

I thought about my online support groups and the women, my sisters that I met there. I have never laid eyes on these women, but they have given me a lot. They have given me support when I’ve faced a new diagnosis, surgeries, or pains, and talked me back from the ledge when faced with new fears. 

I also thought about the women I’ve known, that have lost their battles to cancer. I hate to say that list has too many names on it. Young women and older women, all but one were mothers, all were daughters, wives, sisters and friends. 

I thought about the lives that they led. I thought about the children they left behind. I thought about the battles that they waged. 

Every one of them battled with a strength that many people will never know. Each time one of my sisters died, I have cried. 

I thought about the survivor’s guilt I would feel when they passed. 

I get angry knowing that they have family that love them and are now trying to pick up the pieces to move on.  I would get angry knowing that their children would grow up without their moms. I would get angry thinking about why them? Why am I still here? When will it be my turn?

I thought about all of them yesterday while waiting. I thought about how positive they always were and I thought about their spiritual growth during their battles. I thought about the way they always took my problems to heart, and always took the time to answer everyone’s questions or respond to posts. They shared in our triumphs, joys, setbacks and sadness. 

All of these thoughts come out and it was then that I realized something. 

I don’t know why things work out the way they do. I don’t know why some of us survive while others don’t. I don’t know why some of us will battle once and others of us are battling several different types. I don’t know what sets us apart. 

I do know that instead of asking why not me or when will it be me, I’ll celebrate life. I am still learning how to live each day to the fullest, but I am finding the joy in everything that I do. I am making it a point to do something for me each day. 

I cannot bring back any of the sisters that I lost. I cannot take away the pain of losing them for the their families or for me. I cannot change when the next diagnosis will come. I can change my life from a survivor living with guilt or fear, to one of a survivor living. Enjoy your day...I’m going to enjoy my family!!  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sweetest Words

Wednesday was by far the biggest day that I’ve had since I met my oncologist 6 years ago.
When I first walked in I was a little nervous. This was not already scheduled and I had not seen her since my latest diagnosis. 

 Now, just a little backstory, I have been diagnosed 3 times with cancer. This latest time was found during routine scans. When I got the call and was told cancer was found again, I was FLOORED. I mean, who expects to get that phone call when you are 5 years in the clear? Literally, several weeks prior, I received my very first mammogram results that said no evidence of cancer. I was so happy, I cried when I read it because I had never heard that before. To hold that piece of paper meant a great deal. I called family, I even posted the good news on facebook, LOL I still have that letter. 

2 weeks later, I get a phone call 2 set up a biopsy.
1 week after that, I get another phone call...cancer. 

Now, I am two months out from my latest 2 surgeries and still dealing with a lot of continued pain.

Okay, cut back to this past Wednesday.  I walk into my oncologist’s office, and speak to patients waiting to be seen, catch up with the staff that I haven’t seen in awhile and prepare myself for what may happen. It doesn’t matter how much I love the people there or how far out from chemo I am, there’s something about knowing why you’re there and who you’re there to see that will always be a bit scary.

 I picked up a magazine and sat down when my husband joined me. I don’t know why I was a little surprised to see him. He doesn’t let me face anything alone. He has been with me through every step of this journey. He lays down beside me, when I am tired, and kicks my butt along if I try to sit too long. That man is a force in my life and I thank God for putting him in my path.
We sat there for a bit working on a puzzle because I was a little anxious. “Angie.” My name is called and after doing the dreaded weight test, it’s time to go back.

We laugh and talk a lot while we wait for my oncologist to come in.  Once she does, there are two back-to-back codes on patients undergoing treatments that pull her away and prolongs my wait in the room. 

When she comes back and checks me over, she looks perplexed, taps her fingers, and then looks at me. 

Everything looks great, I will not have to do chemo for this latest diagnosis. Then says the absolute best thing that I’ve ever heard her say...I think it's time to move you out to a year!! Yes, a year!!

 For 6 years, I have wanted to hear those words. I know it sounds crazy, but in June, she was going to put me to yearly visits, but she held back. A month later I was diagnosed with cancer again. For me, a year means that she is feeling confident that cancer is not a major worry at this time. It means that I have 365 days of living life without another appointment. It means I can stop holding my breath every few months when it’s time for scans, lab work, or an appointment. It means that I am as close to being normal as I was before 2003. No, it’s not perfect, I’ve never been told I was cancer free, never been told that I’m cured, or that I won’t get cancer again. But what I do have is a year. A year to live, enjoy and celebrate. A year FREE from appointments and reminders. A year for me to live not as a cancer patient, but as, me. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Take a Card From my Children

Oh my gracious! It’s been quite a while since I’ve written in my blog and I’ve really missed it. Getting back into the swing of teaching, writing lesson plans, grading papers, and my own evening class has been tough. I really enjoy what I do, but there’s something about writing that I’ve always loved. I remember keeping a diary as a young girl and then a journal as a young woman. I have journals for each of my kids and one for my husband and in them I try to express everything they mean to me.

Today, I’ll be adding to my 13 year old son’s journal. He had an appointment today and at the end, the Dr decided to do a biopsy on him. No, it’s not cancer or a concern for it. The Dr just wants to check a few things out. I was fine with that. Joked with my son, worked on a few puzzles with him while we waited and played a little Candy Crush. Then they called him back again. He puts on the gown and while he’s lying there, it hits me, my son is having a biopsy. 

My 13 yr old son is having a biopsy! 

It wasn’t a biopsy for cancer so I am not worried or afraid of what this test will show. It was sitting in the chair looking at him stretched out and looking towards the ceiling. Is this what the future would be like for him? Watching it happen, I felt so helpless. He laughed at me when I offered to hold his hand, but admitted that he was a little nervous because he didn’t know what to expect. 

I did know, but I didn’t share it with him. Instead, I only told him about the Novocain shot he was about to get and then we laughed and talked our way through his test. 
When it was over, I rubbed my swollen arm slowly and watched my son sit up. When it was over, he sat up and asked the Dr if he would be able to go to soccer practice tonight to watch. 

After my son confirmed that he would be able to play his game on Sunday, we left.
On the way home, my son thought about the puzzle book he was looking at, and my thoughts were about 4 children that count on us for survival, and I was praying that I didn’t sentence them to death. 

I take great pride in knowing that I beat cancer 3 times. However, there is no worse feeling than knowing that my survival status may open the door to future health problems for my children. 

Glancing over at him, I let my fears and frustration go.

 I can’t fix what hasn’t happened. I won’t prepare my children for doom and gloom when their focus is on soccer games and having fun.

Instead, I’ll take a card from my children. I’ll focus on the laughs I shared with my son today while waiting for the Dr. 

I’ll focus on dance recitals and youth bowling leagues. Cheering on excellent report cards, goals, strikes, Christmas performances and upcoming parades. 

In this household, that’s what life is all about. My husband and I realized twenty years ago, that we were just along for their ride. Sometimes there are bumps and bruises along the way, but we just hold on a little tighter and laugh a little more.

Friday, November 1, 2013

6 years Ago Today

I sit on the loveseat in the waiting room watching people walk through the door and sign in. I look at my husband who is telling me about his day. The television is on tuned in to the daily news. My husband looks towards me and I remember saying something in response to him, but I’m not sure what he’s talking about. 

My stomach gets more nervous. I look down at my hands and notice that they tremble as they hold onto one another. I can’t explain this feeling.

I watch as people who came in after me are called in before me. The knot in my stomach grows.
A nurse comes out to tell me that she is sorry for the wait. There was a procedure that they need to clean up after and then will come and get me. Why is she telling me that? 

I look to my husband and ask him that very question. I’ve had doctors run late before, but they’ve never made it a point to come and explain. I cover my face with my hands and feel them trembling harder.

I cannot focus on anything. I look around for something to grasp hold of with my mind, to start a conversation, to help me focus on the conversation my husband is trying to have with me.
Time goes by and finally...”Angela”

My husband stands up and takes my hand seeming to know that I need that support, that lifeline. 

We walk down a maze of hallways until we are led into a seating room with 2 chairs facing a couch. Why aren’t we in an office or exam room to hear the results?

My husband and I sit on the couch and the pathologist and nurse sit across from us. The doctor who is there is not the same pathologist who did my biopsy. Who is he?. He looks over at the nurse and then at me. I’ve never seen him before. I don’t know who he is, but he gives me my results...

“Your results came back positive.”

I’m not sure what I expected to hear. Positive was a good thing. Right?

The doctor continued talking, well stammering about what would happen now and that a patient advocate was here to answer any questions. 

What questions? Why do I need an advocate? What the hell is going on?

I look at my husband who looks in disbelief and then look back at the doctor. 

“Wait, positive? Are you telling me I have cancer?” He never said that. He didn’t even say the word cancer. Who is this man and what is he talking about?

 The young, inexperienced doctor opens his eyes a little wider and looks towards the older nurse that is with him. She leans forward and begins to talk to me about breast cancer. 

We leave to go pick up our children from my parents. I walk in and sit on the steps of the den, take a deep breath and share the news. My parents, ever faithful, have the reaction I expected.
My father, “Okay, where do WE go from here? What’s OUR next step?” My father is a man of few words, but when he speaks, he speaks volumes and I grab hold of words just like that.

My mother, she holds me and rocks me silently crying, but giving me every ounce of love, strength and courage she can. Praying for her baby and silently wishing it was her and not me.
We leave there and try to make the evening a typical evening for our children. We succeed with all but one, our oldest daughter. She was at an age where she understands and we knew she needed to know. After telling her, we sit on the couch, holding her, wiping her tears and letting her know that I am going to be just fine. 

That was enough telling for today. My support circle is being formed, I’m preparing for the fight of my life.

6 years ago today, my journey with triple negative breast cancer began. 6 years ago today I cried and thought why me. 6 years ago today, I learned what it means for me to be truly strong. 6 years ago today, I became a survivor...again!