Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pep Talk for Her Friend


My daughter told me about her friend who is undergoing treatment and is starting to have a very rough time.
Tonight, that young man held on tight for a hug and I was surprised at the intensity of that hug. I felt the desperation he has for his treatment to be over. I felt the fear in him for a future unseen. 

As I felt him tremble, I tried to give him words that would help him on his journey. I tried to pass on my strength to him.

Yes, it will get harder before it gets better, but it will get better.

Yes, the treatment will leave you not wanting to go on, but there are others who have been taken off treatment who will gladly take your place.

Yes, the pain will seem unbearable and the nausea will leave you weak, but you are alive to feel that pain and to lie your body down to rest.

Take it one day at a time and know that there are so many brothers and sisters who are cheering you on every step of the way.

Allow yourself to rest when your body is screaming for it. It doesn’t show your weakness, it shows you are giving your body respect for the battle it is waging on this disease.

Reach out your hand when you need it so that the people who love you can step in and help to make this war just a little bit easier. 

You are not and will never be alone in this. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In This Moment


I left work a little stressed today. I have definitely noticed a shift in my temperament since I’ve been back at work this week. I blamed the surgeries for knocking me off whack.

I’m a teacher and for some ridiculous reason, I decided to make an appointment with my doctor for 3:00.  The minute all of my students were dismissed, I found myself rushing. Rushing to pack up, rushing to the car and rushing down the interstate. 


I thought about the papers that I left behind, the papers that are still piled around my room from my time out on medical leave, the materials that I wanted to set up for the next day still sitting in the hanging folders. 


I thought about morning duty in the morning and how I won’t be able to laugh with my own children before leaving for work early, the conferences that I still need to schedule since I’ve been off, setting up my own children’s conferences to meet with their teachers.


I thought about the children that I talked with today and their sad outlook on how they think life should be, my headache that has been with me for a few days, the pain that I knew was coming from today’s appointment. 


Then something happened. I looked up while sitting at a stoplight and saw the most beautiful shades of orange, yellow, purple and red all around a green leafed tree that hadn’t begun to change colors yet. I was honked at from behind to get going.

This time as I drove to the doctor, I had different thoughts.


I thought about my children sitting at my parent’s house carving the pumpkin for tomorrow, them having fun playing with toys, and checking out things on the computer.

I thought about how excited they were to go trick or treating tomorrow, about my older son going from dressing up for candy to now wanting to dress up to scare, about fun times as a kid running to houses filling my own jack o’ lantern with candy.


I finally got to the doctor ‘s office and waited with my husband to be called back to the exam room. An hour later we were still sitting there. We watched an agitated man question the receptionist a few times. Patients came in, got called back and then left. My doctor was running late so my husband and I sat and talked. We talked and laughed through the stories of our day, held hands and talked about upcoming events. I realized that I was no longer stressed.


We were finally called back and had a great appointment with my wonderful plastic surgeon. His easy going nature, willingness to listen and his respect for what I say, makes waiting that much more easy to deal with, because I know that he’s giving all of his patients that same care. 


My day looked a lot brighter on the drive home. Instead of worrying about papers that are out of reach, I sang along to the radio. Instead of feeling sad about the things that were shared with me, I thought about ways to try to turn things around for them.  

I can’t change all the things that happen during my day, but there is always something that I can do. Today, I chose to look at the colors and appreciate fall, laugh with my husband and smile through the pain. Tomorrow will be here soon enough, but today, that’s the true gift to find the joy in.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Days Like This


I’m so thankful for days like this. 


Days when you wake up and the sun is just starting to peak over the houses and into your bedroom window. 

Days when you look over and see the man of your dreams sleeping beside you and to know that the love is stronger than it was on the day you got married.


Days when just because it’s Saturday, you get to snuggle underneath the warm, down comforter a little while longer. 


Days when you get to see the excitement on your children’s faces because they are putting on their costumes for a party even though Halloween is still five days away.


Days when your children hug you so tight and look you in the eyes and say, “ I love you.” 


Days when you can sit back and watch your children laugh, jump, and play at a street festival that you stumble upon.


Days when the sun is shining and there’s just enough chill in the air to keep it from getting hot.
Days when you laugh so hard that your stomach hurts and then laugh some more.


I know that all of these things aren’t much, but for me, these things today made the greatest day that I’ve had in a long time.



It wasn’t marred by pain, I enjoyed every minute of it, I spent it with my family and my son even won a prize for best costume.



It’s so easy to look at the bad things that happen in our lives, so instead I’ll enjoy this day for all of the good things that happened. I’ll sit on the couch this evening with my feet kicked up in my husband’s lap, watching movies (some scary and some cartoon for my crazy crew), and smiling, because it was just that kind of day.



Thursday, October 24, 2013

True Life's Passion


I often get asked why am I always so positive. I get thanked for being an inspiration, for being upbeat, for being supportive, for listening and for always being there. I realized today after reading an email from an old friend that maybe that’s why I’m here.

You always watch shows or read stories of people finding their true life’s passion, their “calling.” I would watch them and wonder about mine. How could I find mine? I read articles and answered questions that were supposed to help you find it, but never came up with anything. 

I’m a teacher by trade. I truly love what I do and have a passion for wanting to help kids. My principal and friend once told me that she could see me as a counselor. Truth be told, one of the things I love the most about my job, is trying to help children become passionate about their lives. I put my heart into working with them and die a little when I see them making the wrong choices because I know that’s not who they want to be.  There is so much good in the world, but for some reason, the older we get, the more we forget. Then we pass on that cynicism to our children. We take away so much of the true world, before their eyes are even open to see the beauty for themselves. 

When I’m in the group talking with my sisters, reading their updates, sharing my own, there is so much sadness for some of them that my heart breaks and I wish I could swoop in and fix them all. They are the best ladies that I could have ever asked to be in my life. I’ve always wanted a sister, and was blessed with a beautiful sister in law and so many pink sisters, so when I see one hurt I take in their pain. 

Last night, I had a sister share with us that she had just signed up for hospice care. I read the post and it was one of those posts that I just had to step away from because I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I wanted to believe it. I thought about her a lot last night. This morning, I looked at the post just to make sure it was really there. Then I read Anthony’s email and thought about Heidi’s comments and this is what I know:

I know that when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer it took a while, but I came to terms with the possibility that I could die. I cried thinking about my husband, children and family and what I would miss being a part of. I was so angry that I kicked and hit things, but I accepted it and handed it over.

Then I took what I could into my hands.
For each moment that I’m here, I will find the beauty in our world.
Each moment I have with my family, I will love them and enjoy them and laugh with them and argue with them and make memories with them.
Each day that I teach, I will see the joy and spark in a child’s eye. I will make sure they know that they are so loved by me. I will do everything I can to protect them and make them feel as safe as I can while they are in school. They will know unconditional love.
Each conversation I have with my sisters and brothers, they will know that I love them, that I’m praying for them, that they have touched my life in an amazing way and that they will be in my heart for always. 

So I thank you for telling me how positive I am. Thank you for letting me know that I’m an inspiration. Thank you for helping me realize my dream and my true life’s passion. For that I’m grateful to you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The New Normal


Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, I was blissfully unaware of anything to do with breast cancer. It wasn’t until I sat in an examination room at the Peninsula Cancer Institute huddled around the exam table with my oncologist and my husband that I’d even heard of triple negative breast cancer.  When the appointment was done, I walked out of the room, went home and did what any other woman would have done; jumped on Google and scared myself half to death with what I found. 

Page after page of percentages, death sentences, little hope, and little research. 

As I shared the news with family and friends I was met with a tremendous amount of love and support.
I went through all of my treatments and was so happy when the last one came. My oncologist was pleased with the way I handled the rounds of chemo. She was satisfied when she looked at my blood counts. She ordered an mri that came back clean. Then she said the magic words... “I think it’s time to remove your port.” 

For those that don’t know, a port is a little piece that they put in you; it was put in my chest, just under my collarbone. This is where the nurses place your iv to administer chemo. Why not just a traditional iv you ask? Well, because the chemo is so toxic, that it can fry your veins. Sounds lovely right? Makes you wonder how they came up with something: that can kill cancer in the body, that nurses have to wear special gear to administer, that they charge you an additional fee for handling of the medications, but won’t kill off the rest of you as it flows through those veins that the port is protecting...huh?? I don’t get it, but I don’t get paid the big bucks to get it.
So, happy day, my port comes out. I get hugged by friends and family for getting through treatment. I hear,

 “I’m so glad you’re going to be alright!” “Aren’t you glad it’s over?” “Now you can move on with your life.”

Can I move on? Is it over? Am I really going to be okay?

No, it’s not over. That’s hard for people to understand. It was hard for me to understand.
I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t moving on. Why didn’t I have that feeling that everything was going to be okay? Why wasn’t I getting back to normal?

Well this is what I know. I know that I still go to check ups with my oncologist. She checks my blood. She physically checks lymph nodes in my torso. She checks my breasts and all around them for any lumps or abnormalities. We talk about the challenges that I face physically and more importantly mentally. She sends me for mammograms, mris, bone density, ct scans...etc as part of my check up. If I go in with a cough, I get sent for an x-ray. If I have a headache, I get sent for a ct scan. If I have a pain, I get sent in for an mri. When I’m in the middle of conversations, I lose my train of thought, other thoughts flood into my brain, I stutter, then I begin to panic and try to grasp hold of something in my brain that will help me remember what I was saying or thinking. God bless my husband, my daughter, my son and my mother. I don’t even know if they realize that they have begun to help me recall what I was talking about and continue conversations, but they do. 

I’ve never been told that I’m cured. The closest I came was a few months ago. It was the first time that I had mammogram results come back saying no evidence of cancer. I was so excited that I celebrated with family, I posted on Facebook, I cried. The following month I was in an mri machine having another biopsy because of a spot that looked suspicious. So here I am a few months later, just starting a blog while sitting on my couch and dealing with a tough mastectomy recovery. Yeah, cancer again.

So back to my questions:
Can I move on? Is it over? Am I really going to be okay?

Yeah, I’m moving on. There’s so much to enjoy in life. I have a phenomenal family that I have to keep up with. Soccer games to cheer on, dance recitals to enjoy, bowling leagues to high five my son’s strikes and fist bump his gutters. 

No, I realize now that it will never be over. Not as long as there is another test, appointment or needle scheduled with my name on it.

Yes, I will absolutely be okay!! I have my crazy supportive family, sisters, friends, Falcons J and medical team cheering me on! My mother always told me that I was stubborn and had to have the last word when fussing. Regardless of what my oncologist says or what any test shows, I will be okay. I know that all things are in His hands. So for now, I’m going along for the ride. Enjoying each day, stopping to see the leaves changing colors and getting used to my new normal.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole


Facebook has made the world a whole lot smaller. I remember the first time I heard of it was when my brother sent me a notification through email. I had to join before being able to see the pictures that he tagged me in, so I did. Just that easy, I fell down the rabbit hole. 

For several months, I tinkered around facebook, liking pictures, commenting on posts, and reading updates from disgruntled political friends and proud parent friends. Then came the day that I was invited into a group of triple negative breast cancer sisters. It was through this group that I found support, understanding, love, and my voice. 

I went into the group expecting to be the one helping other women who were newly diagnosed or whose disease came back and they needed words of encouragement. I was set to be a tnbc cheerleader and root my warrior sisters on! I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

The women that I met became my sisters. They helped me realize that I still had healing of my own to do. Yes, my treatment was over and my surgery was done, but my emotional scars had not begun to heal, instead, they were tucked away neatly behind my smile and joking personality. 

I began in the group, by reading and responding to women who had questions about their treatments and surgeries. I shared what I knew, what worked for me and what didn’t work. 

Then, I noticed that questions began to go beyond the physical battle of cancer and into the mental battle. This is when I realized how much healing I still needed. I read and read and reread the words of these women. I heard my own thoughts, fears, struggles and triumphs in their words. As the weeks and months went on, I found myself sharing my own thoughts and struggles with them. I cried when they felt pain. I cheered when they shared their milestones. I danced when they had no evidence of disease. 

It was through my sisters that I learned the ugly truth of triple negative. The way that it can take a beautiful woman and show her one-day as a sister who shares her love of laughter, shares pictures and dreams of her beautiful family, shares her passion and love for life. To then take the woman and see her fears of not making it to milestones with her children, to see a body that is weakened by disease, and to see the family try and pick up the pieces and move on after losing the one person that made them feel complete, feel whole.  

We have lost so many sisters during this journey. When this happens, the ladies in my group join together to lift the family in prayer and to lift each other in spirit. With each loss; it does get harder for me. I wonder how much longer can I continue to lose people that I have come to love? How many I’m sorrys can I type before it begins to lose it’s strength? How many children will I have to thank for sharing their mother with me? How much longer before it’s me that begins to lose my battle?

Then I look to my sisters and I see them stand up and shouting to wake up the world about the devastation of triple negative breast cancer. I see them jump out of airplanes and skydive down to the ground. I see them pink out at baseball games.  I see them touring vineyards and dancing the night away. I see them shout triumphs over new milestones. I see them writing books. I see them sharing laughs about phantom itches and Ritz crackers. 

Just when I think maybe it’s too much, a new sister enters our group. Welcomes are given, hugs are sent. Our arms open wide as we welcome in a new sister to our fold and close ranks to protect them as best we can from the beast. These are my sisters. They have accepted me, they have supported me, they have loved me. Through them, I have found a new beginning, a new me, a new voice. All that by jumping down the rabbit hole.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pink Ribbon Soccer Socks


It would be easy for me to sit here and tell you how much I hate cancer, how it ruined my life, ruined my body and has left us still paying bills. I’m sure you’ve seen the bald-heads, frail bodies, and weakened spirits, but there’s something that you don’t know. Cancer also gave me one of the greatest gifts I received in my life... sisters.

Before cancer, I had never paid attention to ribbons, bald-heads, or relays. I didn’t even like the color pink. I wasn’t a selfish person; it just wasn’t part of my world. After cancer, my eyes became drawn to it. 

The first time I realized it was at a PTA meeting. I sat there with a hat covering my bald-head and my eyes were drawn to a young woman with a pink camouflage scarf on her head. After the meeting, I grabbed my husband’s hand and dragged him along because I just “had to meet her.” I asked her about her scarf and baldness in which she proceeded to tell me about her leukemia, her young daughter who was staying at her grandparents house as she traveled to Richmond to receive free treatment because she had no insurance from her part-time job. We parted sisters, with a hug and promise to each other to fight hard for our children, for ourselves. 

Next, I met Trudy at a rummage sale. This woman had a light in her eyes and a fiery spirit that made it clear she was going to win this battle. I had on my pink ribbon hat, she had on her pink shirt with a scarf on her head and we made a beeline towards each other. We spent the next half hour talking while others shopped all around us. We would later meet at the Relay For Life and vowed to meet each year to check in on each other. We met the next year and Trudy hugged me so tight and was so happy for how well I handled treatment and how well I continued to do. The next year, I went to find her, but found her sister instead. Trudy almost made it that year but the cancer spread throughout her body and she lost her battle. Instead of hugging my friend that night, I stood in front of one of her luminaries and cried my goodbye to my sister with the bright eyes and fiery spirit. 

Then today while at a soccer game, a woman with a pink hat and pink shirt approached me. She tells me that she asked someone about the pink ribbon socks that my son’s team was wearing and she was pointed in my direction. She reached out her hand then pulls it back and asks, “Are you...well I heard you...” She stopped talking and I teared up. That quick, the bond was formed. She sat down beside me and we spent the entire second half sharing our stories. She showed me her newly growing hair and whispered, “You give me hope.” Through cheers, screaming, a goal and stops, we talked, we hoped, we dreamed. When the final whistle blew we both stood. We hugged and introduced ourselves just as we said goodbye. As she walks away I smile and though my son’s soccer team may have won the game, my victory was a little sweeter. I met another sister today.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A New Battle


I walked into the store all smiles today. For the first time in a very long time, I was going shopping just for me and even better, my 13 year old wasn’t complaining...yet. I selected several pairs of my favorite slacks a size larger. No, I can’t lie, 2 sizes larger. I knew that I had gained a little weight sitting about, but I also wanted something a little larger so that it wouldn’t press against my scars from my recent surgery. With 2 pairs of slacks of 2 different styles slung over my arm, I traipsed into the fitting room. 

I sat down in the chair with my back to the mirror and began to try on the pants. I pulled them up and realized that even 2 sizes were too tight. I stood for a few seconds before pulling the pants back off. I turned around to the full-length mirror. My mouth fell open and I just stared. Then, I pulled off my shirt and continued to stare. I looked at my misshapen breast that was reconstructed after my first battle with breast cancer. I looked at the new scars of my recent mastectomy. I looked at how my chest was starting to look puffy where my expander was filling. I looked at the ugly puckered scar under my armpit from the drain tubes. I looked at my swollen arm. I looked at the 3 scars in my abdomen from another recent surgery to remove my ovaries. I looked at my large stomach. I looked at my thick cellulite ridden thighs. Then I began to cry, quietly, alone, as I sat in the single chair, in the dressing room, in the middle of JC Penny’s. 

I’ve never been one to have a positive self-image, but I’ve never hated myself either. Today, I hated myself. I hated the battle, I hated my body, I hated myself for allowing my body to get that way. What good is surviving cancer 3 times, if I end up dying of a heart attack? 

Standing there looking in the mirror, I came to reality with myself. I left the pants hanging on the hanger, walked out of the dressing room and right into the women’s section. I haven’t shopped there since my thyroid was removed...2003. 10 years, 10 years! I selected the same size pants that I picked from the misses section, but this time with a W. I tried them on and lookie there, they fit. I tried on all 5 pairs of slacks to make sure that each fit. 

This time when I got undressed the final time, I looked at myself again. Yes, I hate the battle, but I kicked cancer’s ass 3 times! Yes, I hate my body, but it holds the scars of that hard fought battle. No, I don’t hate myself, I’ve been through too much to give up on me already. 

I have a lot of growing to do. At 42, I know my weaknesses, my ugly habits and my challenges. I also know how strong I am, that I have the best support group a woman can ask for and that I have a beauty that shines from within. 

Today, I stood for a few moments humiliated by the sight of me but then; I got dressed, put my smile back in place and joined my family. Me-3, cancer-1. Today, cancer won the battle. I let it beat me, but it’s not over...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Step Inside

     I wrote this piece a few years ago and it's still my favorite. I have tweaked it a few times as my voice has changed, but it still holds a lot of emotion for me. 
    At first glance, she stands empty, dark, and devoid of any life. There is a couple looking in at her, wide-eyed, brows furrowed, with questions left unasked. She waits quietly, knowing that she will soon play a large part in this couple’s lives. She knows that her reputation is frightening. What she stands for is as suffocating as being caught underneath a raft and being unable to find the surface of the water. However, she also knows that for many people, she is the difference between life and death. 
     The next day, she stands ready. Shiny IV stands are set in each workstation. Pillows and blankets are placed on each green vinyl recliner. Counters are clean, except for the medical files of the patients; blue scrubs are ready for the nurses to don. On the light peach colored walls are pictures of the beach with water so blue it beckons the observer to jump in. Her nurses are bubbly like champagne on New Years Eve; her lab technicians are as entertaining as the late Bernie Mac. Everything is in order and awaits the people that will sit in one of her honorary positions. She is now ready for a new day just as the first patients are called back.
     She may be a chemotherapy room, but dark is no longer her prominent image.  An eclectic mix of upbeat music playing from her speakers greets patients as they are called back and seated in one of her recliners. Although the lights are turned off, a large picture window covers one wall and beautiful sunlight streams in leaving bands of light across the floor. Crackers, cookies, chips and pretzels are placed in baskets on her counters. Her refrigerators are stocked with bottles of juice, ginger ale, and water for anyone that may want or need to maintain strength or fight off the nausea that is prevalent in so many of her visitors.
     She is no longer empty. Her chairs are now filled with patients who are allowing poison into their bodies while praying that it will destroy any cancer that is in them. Nurses suit up from head to toe in heavy blue scrubs to protect them from the toxicity of the chemotherapy drugs that they are pushing into their patient’s bodies or hanging on an IV hook. The smell of alcohol haunts the air like a menacing ghost that does not want habitants around. It is so nauseating that tears well in one’s eyes as the urge to bolt from the chair grows.  The patient takes a deep breath as her husband holds her hand. The nurse pushes the needle for the IV into the woman’s chest.
     No, she is no longer empty. She is now filled with hope. Patients who haven’t seen each other in days or weeks take this time to catch up with one another and share words of inspiration. For the patient who is new and scared, there is the seasoned warrior ready to take them under their wing.  For the battered warrior who is getting weary from their battle, there is the warrior with unwavering faith, lending their strength to help them through the storm. These sisters and brothers are all willing to give their love and open their hearts to anyone that makes the decision to come inside the room. It is within her that this camaraderie is formed. It is within her that some lives will be decided.
     She is no longer devoid of life. Each green recliner and visitor’s chair face to the middle of the room. The people in the chairs all share lively conversations about children, work, sports and bucket lists to be fulfilled when chemo is done. Everyone in this room shares stories of good times that leave each person laughing and troubles forgotten if just for a few minutes. The walls cannot hold back the dreams that will one day be filled by the patients who graced the room.
     As the day moves on, the room begins to darken. A hush falls over her as the sun goes down. Is the room losing her life energy? No, for those who have spent the whole day in the chairs, the poison has started to wear down the body. She knows this, which is why she has one more trick up her sleeve.
     There is a clicking noise coming up the hall, and in the room walks a sandy colored golden retriever. The dog scans the room and walks up to the green chair and lays its head in the lap of the woman sitting in it. The woman, with her eyes closed strokes the dog’s head. Life is still flowing in this room, just gentler, quieter, and more peaceful. This room seems to always be prepared. When it’s cold, blankets are pulled from her cabinets. When patients are sleepy, her chairs are reclined and extra pillows are added.
     Yes, at first glance, she stands empty, dark and devoid of life. However, once a patient enters, she stands for so much more. She stands for every cancer patient that has made the decision to walk through her doors and sit in her green recliner. She stands for hope. Hope for a cure. Hope for another chance. Hope for a miracle.
    
    

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Imagine

Imagine a life in which you fear your next breath,
your next appointment,
your next ache,
your next cough.
Imagine having to say goodbye to your children,
your husband,
your parents,
your family and friends.
Imagine holding your child and praying for it to be you instead.
Imagine taking out a loan at exorbitant rates to pay for treatment for your loved one.
Imagine trying to piece your life back together,
trying to find a new normal,
trying to keep a smile on your face,
trying to keep your shoulders strong and your spirit up.
Can you imagine it? I hope you never live it. My love to every warrior that is fighting, every warrior with their wings, every survivor that sits in worry or with patience, every caregiver that battles alongside their loved one.

Journey With the Beast

     I had never really thought about cancer and I certainly didn't think that I would ever face it. Sure, my grandmother and grandfather passed away from cancer, but I was young. It didn't touch young healthy adults right? Well, here I am a 3 time survivor of thyroid cancer, triple negative breast cancer and another primary breast cancer. I am 42, wife to an amazing supportive man, mother of 4 phenomenal children, teacher, friend, and sister to some amazing women that I have met through this journey. These ladies are my pink sistas and I love them all dearly. It is for them that I began this blog. 

     I'm not a guru on eating properly that can tell you all the right and wrong things to eat. I am not an exercise fiend that will show you my newest fitness routine. I'm not a know it all that can tell you everything you need to know about cancer. What I do know is that cancer took a lot out of me, but it also gave me a lot.  

    I often wonder why 3 times? Why 3 different types? Is there something wrong with me? Am I not fulfilling something that I should be? 

    Maybe this blog will help me. I often think about my pink sisters, cry for those that have left their families too soon, those that are battling fiercely yet are still told that they are losing, and those of us left behind fearing our next recurrence, wondering why them and not us,  or worrying will it one day be us. I've lost so many women that I have met to this beast known as triple negative. Survivor's guilt is real and it takes a bit of me each time someone passes. Again...why me? Why us?

     Thank you for reading. I hope you get something out of the time you spend reading and I invite comments.