Dates and More Dates

November 23, 2014

This time of year is odd for me, it starts with the month of October.

My birthday is in October, so is the date that I learned my mammo was bad (the day after my birthday); then comes November, which is when I learned that I had breast cancer, and then wham, right into December when I had the first of 6 surgeries related to my breast cancer.

The day I learned my mammo was bad is a dark sky kinda day for me anyway, it’s the birthday of my favorite cousin, Darrell.  Why is that dark?  Because he is no longer with us,  he died in May of 1988 via suicide.  I always think of him on this day, we grew up together, we lived on the same street, went to the same schools, had many of the same friends – he was the big brother I never had, he truly watched out for me, so when our birthday’s come around (October 14th and 15th) and he’s not here, my heart is automatically a bit sad – now add the news of learning my mammo was bad on that day too, it makes that dark sky kinda day into a dreary sky kinda day.  It’s hard to explain, and I don’t expect anyone to truly understand my thoughts on what this day brings to me, well, honestly, it doesn’t bring me anything anymore unless you consider sadness a gift.

I don’t remember my birthday at all last year – I mean, truly, not at all, I have ZERO memory of my birthday.  Of course, I know it happened, I have no clue if I got a gift, a card, a birthday cake – no memory.  None at all.  All I do know is that I was preparing to walk in the Komen Race for the Cure 5k a few days after my birthday, but that’s it, nothing more.

With the close of October, comes November, the season of giving thanks, and I do give thanks.  I now wake up daily giving thanks for being allowed another day on Earth, another day with my family, another day that I can be a friend, another day that I can use my story to reach other women, another day that I can cuddle with my Wall-E, another day that I can see pics of my grandson, A.  Another day to be alive and still be free of cancer.

However, November also brings the anniversary of the day I received my breast cancer diagnosis. Last year, on the 1 year anniversary, I was having a photo session through the Magic Hour Foundation.  I had written a rather scathing letter to cancer and attached it to a single pink balloon.  It was wonderful to release that letter and balloon together, watching it float away, never to return.  This year was far less exciting.  I wrote a rather calm letter to cancer, made sure I told cancer that I am still winning and plan to continue to do so.  I attached this letter to two pink balloons, to represent the two year anniversary of my diagnosis.  I thought long and hard about where I wanted to go to release the balloons.  I wanted to go to our local lake and stand on the waters edge (on the sandy beach area) to release them, sadly, that area is closed during the winter months so I was back to trying to figure out what to do.  After I bought the two balloons and had tied the letter to them, I was driving home and decided that I wanted to give cancer the respect it deserved, so I rolled the window down, and as I was driving 75 mph down the high way, the wind sucked them out, and they were gone!  I caught a glimpse of them in the rear view mirror, no remorse in how I released them, just thankful to be here to be able to do so.  I plan to do this year after year after year.  I’d like to find a special place that I can eventually go to in order to reflect and let go.  Doing this is a way for me to say “suck it cancer, I’m still here, and you’re not”.  Again, something I don’t expect others to understand, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Then it’s December, which is the anniversary of the day I had my first surgery and became cancer free (technically, I will never be cancer free since the cancer was in my lymph nodes; my correct term is NED, no evidence of disease); to me, that is a HUGE day, a day worth celebrating!  Last year on the one year anniversary (actually a few days later), my family and I went to see a movie (my choice, Saving Mr. Banks) and then to lunch at The Cheesecake Factory (friends joined us)!  I brought home a piece of red velvet cheesecake, put a #1 candle on it, took a few pics and then blew it out.  This day is a lot like a birthday to me, in many ways it’s even bigger than a birthday, it is a big milestone, to be able to say that I’m still cancer free (NED).  This year, the only plans I have are to have a cake, with my family.  Sadly, my oldest son and his family won’t be in town to celebrate with me, guess I will have to eat their cake!  My friend, Alonzo, is a baker (Honey’s Boy Desserts in Mansfield, Texas – look him up), and he does a fabulous job.  I love that he knows me so well, well enough that I can say that I need a cake for __________ to feed XX number of people and to decorate it as he wants; and it’s always perfect!  PERFECT!  Y’all should see a birthday cake he made for me several years ago!  Truly talented!

I try to keep my spirits up during all of this, I never want the darkness of cancer to take over my thoughts, I want to remain positive, but I can’t help but reflect on what has taken place the last 2 years:

Bad mammogram

Bad diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound

Two biopsies

Diagnosed with Breast Cancer (grade 2)

Got a tattoo (pink ribbons turned into feet on my right wrist)

6 surgeries (first put me at a Stage 2a with 3 positive lymph nodes

BRCA testing (negative, thank you Lord)

16 chemo treatments

33 radiation treatments with deep 2nd degree burns

Severe allergic reaction to surgical tape

The loss of a job I truly HATED (blessing in disguise)

Lost many friends, but found out who my real friends are

I put my camera (Nikon) down and still haven’t picked it up

I feel as though I have come a very long way, both mentally and physically the last 2 years.  I’ve lost things (people, job and memories/time), but I’ve gained many things too, learned lessons about myself and life that I may not have learned had it not been for cancer; for that, I am thankful.

Again, something I don’t expect others to understand.

I’m currently helping 2 women through their journey’s.  One is a new friend, her best friend reached out to me, and then I reached out to her.  She just started the second part of her chemo, which I was able to promise her would be so much easier than the first.  I like that she lives close by and I can easily check on her!  I’m super excited that next year she will be able to walk in the Komen Race for the Cure 5k and experience the significance of crossing that finish line as a SURVIVOR!

The other woman I’m helping is someone I’ve known for many years.  She was diagnosed about a year before me, but had post treatment was not handled well and because of that, her cancer is now in her bones.  I’m able to go to dr’s appointments with her, help ask questions and relay it back to her daughter who is at a new job and can’t take off just yet.  I am enjoying the time I have with P, we both understand what the other is feeling – fear, confusion, depression, fear…..fear.  She too sat her camera down and is struggling to find her passion for photography again.

I’m thankful to be able to live this new passion for helping others that I have; is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my life now?  I have no idea, but I do have my eyes, ears and heart open to what God has planned for me.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve rambled long enough.  If you hear a big hoopla on December 20th, nothing is wrong, don’t be startled, it’s just me celebrating being cancer free (NED), ALIVE to love, laugh, enjoy, celebrate and follow my heart.

It’s about More Than A Pink Ribbon!

 

Life on the inside

morethanapinkribbon:

Another amazing, insightful post on my frien, Leah’s families struggle with her Daddy’s Alzheimer’s. This post is written by Leah’s sister in law. I recommend following this blog! We can all learn something from it, we never know when we may be in their shoes.

Originally posted on See The Purple Elephant:

Mike and I went to visit Dad on Saturday for the first time since he went into the nursing home. I had a bit of anxiety about how the visit would go.  Would he cry?  Would he plead with us?  Would he be depressed?  He was placed in the locked-down Alzheimer’s wing, so we know he is restricted in movement around the place. He tried to climb out a window the first night there; understandably angry, somewhat combative, and refusing his supper. The next day he stealthily followed a cleaning lady out of the locked doors to the wing, and bless his ingenuity, actually made it to the parking lot before the staff stopped him.  Unable to talk him back inside they had to call the police on a Silver Alert, and put in a call to Leah as well, who arrived and was able to talk him back inside…

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2 Years

October 15, 2014

Two years ago today I received a phone call that would alter my life.  My mammogram was bad.

I knew in that very instance that I had breast cancer.  It’s not something that I can explain, but I knew in my gut and I was terrified.  I had to sit at work for the remainder of the day, pretending to be fine, when inside, I was a mess.  I held it all together until the lights went out and I turned over to go to sleep and that’s when my world came crashing down.

I couldn’t keep the tears inside anymore, I had to openly admit how scared I was and poor Pat, I think I freaked him out.  After I was able to somewhat pull myself together, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep and he convinced me to take a sleeping pill to help me, I’m glad he did.

What happened after that……..I shut down.  The only way I would talk to anyone was via text, email or Facebook.  If you called me, I wouldn’t answer.  I put on a happy face to be at work, pretended like nothing was wrong, but inside, wow, not a good place.

Since that call 2 years ago, I have had 6 surgeries, 16 rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radiation, suffered horrible radiation burns and most recently, a bad reaction to surgical tape/glue.  To me though, that was all easy to get through compared to the emotional healing I have had to do.

I carried around so much anger for, well, close to 2 years.  Once I finally sought out a counselor and talked through everything, I was able to recognize that even though I was angry, it was truly part of my story, part of the journey I never asked to be a part of, part of the pink ribbon society.

I don’t feel as angry as I used too.  I’m still rather fearful of the chances of the cancer returning, I’m no different than any other cancer patient in that area.  It’s something I will have to live with my entire life, but will truly trust God to protect me.  That sounds contradictory, saying that I’m fearful and that I trust God.  But it’s true.  I do trust God, more than I trust anyone else, including myself, but I am human, and I am not perfect.  I am fearful.  But, I know He will provide for me in whatever comes my way, the same way He provided for me my entire life.

I have been very vocal regarding breast cancer since my official diagnosis, it has been an outlet for me.  I may not have handled it the best way out there, but I have handled it the best way I know how.  If my being so vocal prompts a woman to get a mammogram that saves her life, well, then I know I’ve done the right thing by being so vocal.

With this being breast cancer awareness month (aka Pinktober), I just want to say that the slogans “save the tata’s” and “save 2nd base” really bug me.  I’d rather save a woman’s life than save her boobs!  Rant over!  LOL.

Anyway, two years down.  I think I’m in a much better place.  I continue to learn things about life and the people around me.  I am enjoying being a grandma, my grandson, is my prize, my reward for making it through the hardest year of my life.  He was worth it and I’m a very blessed woman.

I’m going to attend my first event tomorrow morning as a spokesperson for Komen.  I hope that I can make a impact.  Then Saturday, I will cross the finish line in the Race for the Cure as a Survivor, with my family and 2 close friends, I can’t wait!

Thank you all for following along, and remember……get your mammograms, men, encourage the women in your life to get theirs.

What family means to Daddy today

morethanapinkribbon:

My friend Leah’s blog about her family’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
Thank you for sharing your Daddy’s story with us

Originally posted on See The Purple Elephant:

I stopped in on Daddy on my way in to work this morning.  I’m extremely blessed with an understanding boss that really doesn’t care what I do as long as I let him know and get my work done.  How I got this job is another story for a different time and subject but looking back I know without a doubt that God’s hand has been all over it.

Daddy was sitting fully clothed in his chair.  His chair was moved into a position that, at first glance, I assumed was to watch television.  The only thing was, the TV wasn’t on…so he was staring at the bathroom door.  I thought maybe his roommate was in the bathroom and he was waiting for his own turn – but that wasn’t the case either.  He was simply sitting in silence staring at the bathroom door.  I wonder what he must have…

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Scars

September 23, 2014

I’m having a minor surgical procedure next week to improve upon my already fake foobs, just a little nip and tuck.  Sadly, that means more scars.

I had lunch last week with a friend of mine, who is also a breast cancer survivor, and we talked about all the dumb stuff people say, the things that really bothered us and the things we could just laugh about.

We talked about our scars.  She mentioned how when she is undressed she looks like the bride of frankenstein with all of her scars from various surgeries since her journey started 2 years ago.  Our scars tell a story.

Somewhere on my right foob, is 2 tiny scars from biopsies.  I have a scar under my right arm from where they took additional lymph nodes, longer and bigger scars under both arms from a different surgery that included when I got my nipples.  Oh, yeah, scars from the nipples too.  There are scars surrounding each foob from my mastectomy surgery.  A scar from where I got my port for chemo, and then when it was taken out.  Oh and let’s not forget the 4 scars on my tummy from having to have my ovaries removed so they wouldn’t be allowed to make any more hormones, cause, well, that would be very dangerous for me considering my cancer was 100% estrogen fed.

I don’t think about my scars daily, I guess I’m used to them.  I don’t “see” them unless I happen to stand in front of a mirror when I’m getting dressed, I don’t examine them, I prefer to not think about the physical scars, no one is going to see them anyway.

It’s the emotional scars that bother me the most, the ones you can’t see, the ones that haunt me the most.

The hormone suppressor that I’m on has various side effects, but the one that bothers me the most is the bone pain that has settled in the bottom of my right foot.  It’s on the ball of my foot and goes into my toes.  Forget wearing closed toe shoes, that really aggravates the pain, but it’s a daily reminder of what my body is going through.  I don’t need to see my physical scars to reminded that I HAD cancer, I have that freaking pain in my foot to remind me.

Then I have the glorious reminder of my eye lashes still breaking off every few months.  What the hell is that all about?  I mean come on!  I finished chemo 14 months ago, why are they still breaking?  I’m taking Biotin daily to help with hair growth.  Yet, another reminder.

Last week, one of my friends from my support group announced that her cancer had returned.  This hit me hard.  HARD.  I can’t explain why, it just did.  For a few hours, I didn’t know what would come first, the tears or the vomit.  The tears ended up coming AFTER the fear took over.  Fear of a recurrence is something that I live with, I know it is a VERY REAL possibility for me since the cancer was in my lymph nodes and it freaking scares me – honestly freaks me out.  I feel like I’m walking through a haunted house sometimes, just waiting for someone to jump out at me and say “The Cancer is Back”. Yea, I know, I know, it may NEVER come back, and I pray that it never does, but I’m human, and I’m not perfect, I still have that fear.  If it can happen to a friend, it can happen to me, right?  Anyway, after I talked with my friend, Tanyecia, I started thinking more and more about the spot in my foot.  What if it really isn’t a side effect of the hormone suppressor.  What if it’s really bone cancer in my foot?  What if I have a tumor on the bone and that’s what makes it hurt?  Oh, the imagination can do a number on the brain of a cancer survivor.  I emailed my nurse from my oncologist and was very open and told her that I needed to be talked off the crazy train I was on, that the way I was feeling right that moment, I wanted to walk into an ER and demand a pet scan and not leave until I had one, I need that reassurance that I still am classified as “no evidence of disease” (NED).  I told her all about the pain in my foot, ALL ABOUT IT.  I found myself withdrawing until my phone rang and it was Josie (nurse).  She very calmly asked me detailed questions regarding the foot pain, I knew what she was doing!  She was assessing my “symptoms” over the phone, and talking me off the crazy train (Doesn’t Ozzy Osbourne have a song called Crazy Train?).  Josie explained to me why insurance most likely wouldn’t pay for a pet scan and how my blood work will tell the best story about what is going on in my body at any given time, including my bones, my lab work has been near perfect through out this “journey” and has not waved any red flags (ok I’m taking steps off the train entrance).  While talking to Josie, I started crying, my fear started surfacing, then I think Josie really understood where this was all coming from.  She, again, talked about my perfect lab work, but that if I wanted to change my appt with Dr. O and come in earlier, she would get me in, to just let her know.  My panic attack was starting to ease and I was now standing, wobbly, on the train station platform, receiving a virtual hug from my nurse.  Emotional Scar brought to you by cancer.

I can’t imagine the crazy stories oncologist and their nurses hear on a regular basis.  They must be super saints to deal with all of our off the wall emotions, cause, let’s face it, we are all over the place on any given day.

One of the things I get to do is massage my right foob daily due to the radiation to keep the area loose.  Every few days, the area around the implant will be sore, and guess where my mind goes – oh no, the cancer has returned!  Can I feel anything, oh wait, what’s that?  oh, it’s the “pocket” where my implant sits and what I’m feeling is the ridge of my chest wall, or is it?  So, I hold off on my daily massage for a couple of days, wait for the soreness to go away, and repeat the process.  FEAR.  Isn’t this fun.  Thanks for the emotional reminder cancer, yet, another scar that no one but me can see.

Every new pain gets my attention, every.single.one.  I rub the area, trying to figure out if I can feel anything.  I avoid typing in my symptoms in a google search bar.  I know first hand how emotionally harmful that can be – do NOT google.  Let me repeat DO NOT GOOGLE.  If you do, be prepared for the emotional scars to open WIDE and all the ugliness to come spewing out, it won’t be pretty.

When I first learned my mammogram was bad (almost 2 years ago, so hard to believe), I dealt with what felt like a shit storm of emotions.  I shut down, I was so over the top scared, yet, very much pissed off at how the matter was being handled by someone in my family.  Being as mad as I was truly helped me keep my focus on that issue instead of what was about to smack me in the face with a 2×4.  The reality of that time frame brings about it’s own emotional scars, that relationship is doomed, I don’t think it will ever be repaired.  I know what I need in order for it to heal, but the other party has no idea and I’m not going to put it out there, they need to come to that conclusion on their own.  Emotional scarring at it’s best.

I went through counseling at the end of spring, beginning of summer to help me figure out what I had been feeling in regards to all the cancer stuff.  We talked about my anger (and yes, I have had some hefty anger), we talked about my lack of desire to pick up my camera (it’s been almost 2 years since I did), we talked about my new grandson and how I was feeling about being a grandma, my counselor drilled into my head that I didn’t need to let my experience with cancer take away my joy.  After one of my sessions, I was driving home and it hit me – what I was feeling was FEAR, hot, red, flaming, burning brightly, FEAR!  What if I picked my camera up again and started rebuilding my business and BAM cancer returns to take it all away from me again?  What if I don’t live long enough to see Andrew grow up?  WHAT IF???????  FEAR!!!!  I have been feeling fear this entire time.  Emotional scars.

Telling me to not worry about it is like telling a camel he can’t drink the water after a 7 day trek in the desert.  I know from speaking with other survivors that the fear will get better, and never truly goes away, I’m more than ready to get to the other side of fear so I feel like I can truly regain control over ALL aspects of my life, without the daily reminders of cancer…….like dry eye, messed up vision, the pain in my foot, the multitude of pills I now take.

Emotional Scars are just as real as the physical scars.  Even though I look “fine” from the outside, my hair has grown back in, rather curly, I have hair.  I’m no longer flat chested, I have some decent looking foobs.  You can look at me and never know that I walked through the fire of breast cancer, but I have emotional scars that run deep.  When I see posts by others about how deodorant causes cancer, or how drug companies purposely withhold a cure because of the money they are making, or that mammograms really don’t do that much for detecting breast cancer (um, HELLO, I’m still here because of a mammogram), or this causes cancer, or that causes cancer, you get the idea.  It really angers me, why?  Because not all of it is true.  Deodorant does NOT cause breast cancer.  If it did, then why don’t more men get breast cancer?  They use deodorant and they also have boobs!  I can’t believe that my oncologist would spend as much time researching breast cancer as she does if there was truly a cure and the drug companies are holding back so they could make more money.  My oncologist is very well known in the breast cancer community.  I did extensive research on her when I knew I needed a medical oncologist, she is a highly sought after speaker, researcher, doctor, etc.  No one will ever be able to convince me that drug companies are keeping a cure under their money belt, nope, won’t do it.  There would have to be some type of test that determines there is a rogue cell out there that is going to throw a party in the body and invite other cells to attend until they form a tumor.  Shouldn’t they be able to do that AT BIRTH?????  When I see, or hear, these type of statements, my anger scar splits open.  I’m learning to control that one more and more as the days go forward.  I know the talks I have with my oncologist, I know what she has found from her research (and trust me, I DID ask about deodorant), I know what happens in the exam room, I know what she’s looking for in my lab work, I have educated myself and wish others would too.

Anyway, when you look at me and see that physically, I look fine, I show no outer signs of breast cancer, just remember this………..

Emotional Scars are harder to treat than physical scars, but they exist just the same.

Small Victories

July 2, 2014

Sometime during my “time off work” I saw an episode of the Ellen Degeneres show where she honored a breast cancer survivor (it might have really been the husband she honored since that’s what I remember most) and her husband.  I don’t recall very many things from that interview, other than that husband said that every day was a victory and that he chooses to celebrate the victories in life.

Even though I don’t recall exactly what was said, or even the true context of it, something about celebrating the victories really stuck with me.  And that is exactly what I did today, I celebrated a victory.

But first……..

In 10 more days, it will mark the 1 year anniversary that I finished chemo!  I don’t have any big elaborate plans other than to see my counselor and to take a selfie so I can see the progression that I have made in the last year (I will actually have hair, eye brows and eye lashes in this picture).  There won’t be any ticker tape parades, party hats or party horns, no cake and punch, but inside, I will be celebrating.  I understand that people who have never experienced the joy of having poison run through your body in order to save your life, might not understand just how “big” of a day this is.  Most cancer patients know that once they reach the 5 year mark of no recurrence of cancer, well, it’s like giving yourself permission to breathe, so……1 year down, 4 to go until I can really shake my pink boxing gloves in the air and really claim VICTORY over cancer.

One of the hardest things I had to face during my “journey” was cutting my hair off.  Not loosing it, but cutting it off.  I had spent just over 2 years growing it from a Jamie Lee Curtis style to all one length.  It was beautiful, I loved my hair.  Actually growing it out was an accomplishment for me, not cutting my bangs when I grew frustrated, an even bigger accomplishment – but I did it.  So, the day I made the choice to cut off my hair in preparation for a shorter look before we shaved it off, well, I wasn’t in the best of moods.  From the time I left my house until after the cut was over, I cried.  One of my photography friends, Detta, was there to capture this part of the process, she got some amazing images, caught the tears running down my face, she got the raw stuff as painful as it was.

And then, we shaved it.  That my friends, was less traumatic.  It was honestly no big deal.  I laughed and talked the entire time, and Detta was there to capture it all again.

The way I lost my hair was on MY terms, NOT on cancer or chemo’s terms.  That was the one thing cancer didn’t take from me, I made the decision on how and when I would loose my hair.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it wasn’t long into my chemo that I started taking Biotin vitamins and using Nioxin shampoo to help my hair to grow.  I did miss it, what woman wouldn’t.

And I knew that eventually, I would have enough hair to actually cut.

Today was that day!

Before I could get my hair cut today, I have to tell you that I showed up for my appointment – yesterday!  I was 24 hours early.  Talk about excited!  LOL.

So, there ya go!  I got my first hair cut today.  I still have my curls, but Regeana used her magic round brush and blow dryer to give me a “style”.  It looks nice!  I will try this style tomorrow, so if you see me and notice I have curls instead, well, just know that I gave it my best try and no one gave me a blue ribbon for my efforts!

 

NOW……..onto another, bigger victory!  My gold medal, my blue ribbon – my grandson!

My grandson arrived 3 weeks early.  Everyone told me that I would simply fall deeply in love with him when I held him the first time.  Somehow, I doubted them, after all, I’ve been saying for YEARS that I was NOT ready to be a grandma, no way was I ready.  I should have just taken out a billboard and announced it – I was NOT ready.

But, wow!  Just like that.  A Nana was born.  When my son texted to tell us they were pushing (we were in the waiting room) until we were able to meet our little A, I honestly felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I can’t explain it.  I needed to see him, I needed to meet him, I NEEDED TO HOLD HIM.

And yes, I fell in love, hard.  When I held him the first time, I cried, not a lot, but enough that I probably should have been using some kleenex, but didn’t dare take my hands or my eyes off of this beautiful tiny human being.

By the time he was 2 sweet days old, he had some jaundice and needed to be under the blue lights.  I got to hold him for just a few minutes before he needed to lay under the lights again, and when I laid him down, oh boy, did my heart HURT, HURT I’m telling ya!  My sweet daughter in law looked at me and said “Michelle, he’s gonna be ok”.  All I could say was that I knew, I just didn’t want to leave.  And I didn’t.  How could I possibly leave this little thing who had just stolen my heart?  When was I going to see him again?  When could I hold him again?  What if we don’t get to have that super close relationship that I long for?  What if?  What if?  What if?  My arms truly ached from not holding him, not feeling him breathe while he was cradled in my arms.  These are emotions that I don’t know how to explain to anyone else, nor do I think anyone can explain them – you just have to experience them for yourself.

I always knew that my son would be a fantastic father.  Little children have always taken to him for as long as we can remember.  When he became a big brother at the age of 3, he was fantastic even back then; helping with diapers, bottles, bathes, etc.  So, becoming a Daddy would just seem natural to him.  Seeing my first born, hold his first born, take care of his child, well, there are just no words.  This will be an image I take with me until my final second on this Earth.

I have a complete and total understanding that it is by God’s grace that I am here today, that I am here to witness the miracle of my grandchild, to watch my son and daughter in law love, teach and raise their own child.  It’s not lost on me that my story could be very different if I had not gotten my mammogram when I did.  if I had waited, my story would be very different, I could not even be here right now to witness this miracle.  That is something that I think about A LOT.  God’s hand was in my story from the very beginning, it is because of Him that I am here today, and I am so thankful.

My grandson is my reward, my gold medal, my blue ribbon for making it through this past year and a half of 5 surgeries, 16 chemo treatments, 33 radiation treatments, loosing my job, loosing friends, everything that I’ve gone through both mentally and physically – he is my prize!

He is my VICTORY and Nana takes back every single time she said she wasn’t ready to be a grandma!

 

Meeting Robin Roberts and some other not so fun stuff

June 1, 2014

Last Friday night, I had the ultimate privilege of meeting THE Robin Roberts!!!  As much as I’ve talked about it this past week, a few people have actually looked at me with a question in their eyes “just who is this Robin Roberts and why are you so excited about it”.  I proudly tell them, “ya know, she’s on Good Morning America, she had breast cancer, then MDS”, then I see a light bulb go off in their eyes – they remember who she is!  I guess they don’t watch Good Morning America, or ABC news much!  Oh well…..moving on.

When Robin Roberts was battling breast cancer, LONG BEFORE ME, in such a public manner, I admired her in how she handled herself; how she was always smiling, always so positive, always with gratitude – wow.  Fighting cancer with such an amazing attitude – you go girl!

Then she recovered and came back on air, just as if, nothing had ever happened.  I can remember when she decided to take her wig off and show off her stubble of hair growth and silently applauding her, and smiling too; sending her a high five through the TV.  She did it with such grace!  Just like she seems to do everything else.

And I admire her for that so very much.  She had no idea she was becoming a role model for so many other women who would follow in her foot steps, including myself, in our own journey’s against breast cancer.  How does someone even begin to express that sentiment to someone you only know through a morning news program and what the media shows us?

And bam….she became sick again, this time, with MDS.  Not something easy to fight, she needed a bone marrow transplant.  Before she could get the transplant, she had to endure the death of her mom, isolation and MORE chemo – isn’t once enough?  I think so.  But, yet again, how did she handle it?  With grace, dignity, humor, a smile, and of course some tears; she is, after all, human.  Understandably so, one of the hardest things she had to do, was separate herself from her fur companion, KJ.  She describes in her recent book “We’ve All Got Something” just how emotionally difficult it was to turn KJ over to friends, how she cried, how she ached to just pet and cuddle KJ.  I get that, I would be a mess if I had to separate myself from Wall-E during such a difficult time like that.

I had already read her recent book on my Kindle when I learned she would be in Dallas signing copies of it.  There was no question in my mind, I would go get a hard copy and stand in line for whatever length of time it took to be able to have her sign it, but more importantly, to have the chance to tell her “you were my role model while I battled breast cancer” with some other things I wanted to tell her (grace, dignity, humor, etc).  The ONLY thing that would have kept me from attending the book signing was if my grandson had decided to make a very early appearance and we had to go out of town (thankfully, he is still waiting on his own special day to arrive).

The night before, I stood at my closet trying to decide what the wear.  Should I just stay in my work clothes?  Should I take a pair of shorts to change into?  What if we have to stand outside, in TEXAS?  I’ll probably be nasty sweaty, shorts it is!  Now, what shirt?  Do I wear a breast cancer shirt?  A survivor shirt?  A dressier t-shirt type thing?  AWE…….My “Overcomer” shirt!  That’s it!  She was in this video with Mandisa, that’s the one!  And I’m so glad that I did!

I ended up being number 67 in line to meet her!  She was taking her time with each and every person, chatting, taking a photo with them, signing their book.  The closer I got, the more nervous I became.  I was rehearsing in my mind what I wanted to say, praying I wouldn’t stumble on my words – I would probably never, ever get this chance again, I needed it to come out heart felt and eloquent.

While standing in line, there was a couple behind me, we chatted as we were standing there, they were kind enough to take MULTIPLE photos of me (with my phone) with Robin when it was my turn. while the staff used my little lame, point and shoot.  I’m so glad I had them do this, since my regular camera photo is blurry :-(.

Oh goodness, when it was my turn, I was so nervous with excitement.  I try so very hard to not place people to high on a pedestal, because, when they fall, who gets disappointed?  Us – those who placed them there (something else I’ve learned the hard way through life).  She is afterall a human, just like me and you!  We (including her) make mistakes in life, that’s just how it goes.

As I walked up to where she was sitting, the first thing she said was “Are you an overcomer” as she reached out to hug me (EEK, Robin Roberts just hugged ME).  I replied that yes, I was an overcomer (the shirt has the pink breast cancer ribbon on it), for 17 months now.  I proceeded to tell her how she was my role model during my journey, and insert stumble upon words, how much I admired her for how she handled herself, for the rest of us to see.  I honestly, don’t recall exactly what she said to me as she signed my book, kissed me on my cheek and told me to be blessed.  Y’all, she was just as gracious in person as she is on tv.  It was several HOURS before my heart stopped beating so fast, I was texting the photo of us to practically everyone in my phone, I was seriously, just that excited.

I am aware that she is meeting tons and tons of people on her tour of book signings, but I can only hope that something will trigger a memory of our brief meeting and she will smile with gratitude, knowing that what she does, what she’s been through, has honestly made a difference in just one person’s life – mine.

Maybe one day, I will sit down and write her a letter and include the photo of us together; more for me than anything else.

As wonderful as that moment was, I must switch gears and get back into what the purpose of this blog is really all about, the journey of breast cancer; the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly.

Because my cancer was estrogen fed, I am scheduled to be on some type of hormone suppressor for at least 5 years.  There are 3 drugs in this family that I can take, the most well known being Tamoxifen.  Since I was already on a drug that was working for me and known to work with one of the others, my oncologist put me on Femera with a warning that I would most likely experience bone/joint pain.  I did, but it was a rare occurrence and when it hit, I would often times have to just sit and “be” because my hips knees and ankles would hurt so dang bad.  But I was experiencing extreme fatigue.  While I was still off work, it was normal for me to take a nap, and still be able to go to bed no later than 10 and sleep all night.  I often found myself drinking up to 4 cups of coffee during the day.  It wasn’t long after I started my new job that I realized this fatigue was really worse than I realized.  Many nights, I was struggling to stay awake until 8pm before crawling in to bed.  When I called Dr. O about this, she didn’t hesitate to take me off of it for a total of 6 weeks before starting me on the next one – Arimidex 1 mg (the lowest dose).  I asked what I should expect in terms of side effects (I still do my best to not research stuff related to my cancer so it doesn’t freak me out any more than I need to be) and was told bone/joint pain and hot flashes.  The bone/joint pain can often times be crippling and I hate to add more pills to my daily intake, but would if I just had to, but the thought of increasing hot flashes, well, that just wasn’t very appealing since we had my hot flashes under control while on the Femera. I had taken a total of 3 doses when the pain hit, my feet hurt so badly, they felt like needles were sticking into my toes, and my ankles joints were just plain painful, they actually felt like both were badly sprained.  Thankfully, my hubby rubs whatever is really hurting the most to help give me some relief when I need it the most.  I’ve now only been on the Arimidex for 10 days and I have to tell ya, I’m not as fatigued as I was on the femara, but when it’s time for bed, I’m more than willing to get there, and I sleep like no one’s business.  Two comments were made to me last week that made me stop and think.  My husband asked me if I was mad at him (which I wasn’t, not even a tiny bit) and a dear friend said she didn’t understand why everything she said to me was making me angry.  My wheels started turning on those two statements (this was last Tuesday night).  Wednesday, during the day, I noticed that many things that were being said, and various people were really aggravating me, and I was feeling weepy.  So….Thursday morning, I called Dr. O’s office to see if mood changes were part of the side effects of this drug, cause this bites!  I played phone tag with her nurse all day Thursday and decided Thursday night to go straight to the Arimdex website and look at what it had to say about side effects.  Yep, you guessed it – mood changes.  This now has me really thinking.  But before I explain, let me publicly apologize to anyone who has thought (this past week) that I was aggravated, irritated or angry with you.  Chances are, I was not and didn’t realize that my attitude and reaction to things were different than normal.

This has prompted a wonderful conversation in my online support group, where, well, frankly, no topic is off limits, we are free, welcomed and encouraged to share ourselves, how we are feeling, what are thoughts are, etc, and a more meaningful conversation with my husband.  When I see Dr. O again on June 20th, I want to have a very frank discussion with her regarding the chances of recurrence on vs off of a hormone suppressor and my quality of life, whatever time I have left on this Earth (i’m personally praying a many years).  I don’t want to walk around feeling irritated/aggravated by everyone around me, as well as feeling weepy.  My sweet husband looked at me Friday night, as we sat in the parking lot at Wal-Mart (which is where we had this discussion) and he said to me something that I will always cherish.  He said he knows what I went through, but he doesn’t TRULY know what I went through, what I felt, what my body experienced, what I was thinking, the pain I was experiencing, that only I know that – BUT, he would rather see me have quality of life versus a multitude of side effects.  God Bless this man.  I can’t tell you how it makes my heart SOAR to hear someone say all of that.  I love that man.  He and I both trust my oncologist with every fiber of our being.  When we learned that I had breast cancer, we went to work searching for an oncologist who specialized in breast cancer and was ranked high in our metroplex.  I simply wanted the best that I could get.  It turns out, that the more survivors in my area that I talked to, the more I heard ONE name – Dr. Joyce O’Schaughnessy.  When I researched her, I was not disappointed at all.  Then I found out, she has to accept you as a patient, thankfully, she accepted me.  Dr. O has served on the board of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, among many others.  She is a researcher, is often the keynote speaker at conventions related to cancer, treatment, etc.  Yeah, she knows her stuff.  She is on top of all things breast cancer and you can tell that when you ask her a question; I love that about her.  And she also maintains that you shouldn’t read stuff on the internet about cancer, treatment, etc UNLESS it comes from these website – The National Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, Komen, or Chemocare.  The rest are not considered trusted sites and we (cancer patients) should avoid them – and I sincerely try too, because, well, they still have the power to scare me.  Several well meaning friends and family have said that I should increase my vitamins, get on Zeal, Spark, Herbalife, try juicing, try fasting for days, cut red meat from my diet, add only fish, do this, do that, stand on my head and drink green tea that is precisely 72 degrees (ok, not really, but you get what I’m saying here, right?)  I KNOW everyone means well, and everyone wants me to be healthy, happy and to live a long life, but unless Dr. O blesses one of these things, no way Jose am I trying it, she knows what’s best for me and I trust her a bazillion percent, and I start by staying off the internet sites that can scare me senseless.  The ONLY one I visit on what I would consider a regular basis is chemocare.com, whether it’s for me personally, or for someone who is about to undergo treatment, I prefer to not be freaked out by what I read, living with the potential (regardless of the percentage) that cancer could return is enough knowledge for me.

And now, there’s this.

I have sought out counseling.  Let me be the first to say, HALLELUJAH!  I had my first real session with my counselor yesterday (who is also a breast cancer survivor) and she helped me figure a few things out.  We mostly concentrated on the anger I had in the very early days following the call that my mammogram was bad, in how it protected me from falling apart and not being able to get back up, how having something else to focus on was actually good for me – but now it’s time to let go of that anger, accept the person who caused it for who they are and continue to distance myself from the negativity that they bring to my life.  Anger and stress are known to feed cancer and who wants that?  Not this girl!  She gave me a few things to try to help me move forward, to let go of the anger that I will try before I visit her again.  I told her that I wished that the anger (the story behind it) wasn’t such a big part of my story, and how I don’t want to include it when asked to tell my journey.  She told me to INCLUDE it, that I never know how telling my story, every single piece of it, could help someone else, for them to know what I went through, and how I overcame it, could help them.  Then she said something that surprised me – she said I should write a book, WHAT?  Me?  A book?  No, I don’t think so.  This blog and my personal journal are enough.

She also helped me to understand (without even knowing it) why I feel no desire to really pick my camera back up – I’m afraid.  Afraid that I’ll get back up on my feet good in my photography world and business and BAM will have that yanked from me again with a recurrence of cancer, and yep, that’s just the truth, that is exactly how I feel.  I was in such a wonderful place in my life when the cancer was revealed, the fear is more in control than I realized.  Finally, a piece of the puzzle fits, a BIG piece of the puzzle, what else is my fear keeping me from enjoying?  I’m sure many things, we will tackle my fear (and still work on the anger) in the coming sessions, and for that, I’m so very thankful.

There is no way that you, my friends, my family, or you, the follower of this blog, can ever truly understand what I am feeling, what I am experiencing because you have not lived MY life – the same way, I can’t fully understand the things you are going through in your own life.  No two journey’s are the same and that is what makes us all unique.

In closing, when I look at the ones I am connected to via that little pink ribbon, I count my blessings to know that many have walked before me, including Robin Roberts, who have helped researchers, like Dr. O know they need MY specific tumor tissue to be able to design the course of treatment that will be most effective for MY cancer treatment.

I am blessed to still be alive, to still be able to laugh, love, smile and experience all the beauty that is around me; and I hope that you feel blessed too.

Oh, one last thing.  Did I tell you that I met Robin Roberts?

Here are a few pictures!

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