Planting new roots

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treeThere’s nothing that feels as silly as when you start a new blog. It’s definitely like being a lumberjack and cutting down the tree that only you hear hit the ground. Thwack.  It’s a little like that over there at my new blog.  Hear the leaves crunching under your feet?

It was clear that when I started The Last Cancer Blog, I was writing to keep my sanity during cancer treatment.  And cancer really does suck enough to warrant all the wonderful support and love you receive.  I will always be grateful for all the loyal readers who kept up with my harrowing adventures.

I have to say that dealing with recovering from cancer treatment can be a bit of a lonely road.  There are lots of articles, even books, about how to get through the first few months and first year after treatment ends. Dealing with lingering side effects is one thing.  I’m getting the impression that my neuropathy will be permanent – or take years to resolve. My wobbly nails gave way to a fungal infection that will also take months to go away. And in some ways, dealing with growing your hair back is as frustrating and often frightening as losing your hair.   As I said to my oncologist, “I never thought I was very pretty before cancer – but now I can’t wait to get back to the pretty that I was.” It feels like a long way off.

And then, they don’t tell you when you are diagnosed that you will spend the rest of your life wondering about recurrence or dealing with the effects of the medication that’s supposed to prevent it. (I have declined to put any more “just-in-case” chemicals into my body.)  And finally, when all is done and said, you spend a lot of time wondering if you wouldn’t have been just as well off, or maybe even better off, had you never agreed to chemotherapy in the first place. This was a topic so painful for me, that I couldn’t even write about it!

And so, while I deal with trying to get myself back to health, back to pretty, back to a pre-cancer physical state, I am putting much of my focus on my spiritual health and healing. Hence the new blog, and my new Reiki practice.

And so, if you have been kind enough to get to the end of this post, I’m going to humble myself to ask…ok, let’s face it…beg, for you to consider signing up for my new blog. Yes, I feel silly asking, but not as silly as thinking about writing a blog that I force my family to follow.

I promise that I won’t complain anymore over there than I did here. 🙂 You might even find my new quest for enlightenment to be even more entertaining than cancer.  Love you lots. Peace, out.

Mama Shama at HealingArtsofCT.com

 

 

Let the healing begin.

It’s been a little over three months since my “last cancer blog” and I am happy to report that I’m doing well. Some lingering side effects, but nothing I can’t handle. I even have had my hair trimmed!

If you’ve been a part of the last year+ of my life, it would be an honor if you would choose to follow me through my next chapter. I will be blogging about better topics than struggling through cancer treatment. Observations, life and healing as a regular Jo, and as a Reiki practitioner.

imageMy new blog is called Mama Shama and can be found at www.healingartsofct.com . The web host doesn’t offer notification of posts but there’s a place to sign up so I can send you an email. I’ll be posting a link on Facebook (Click here and give a girl a LIKE.) You can find me on Twitter and Instagram as @healingartsofct. And I’m having some fun on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/healingartsofct.

Don’t worry I haven’t quit my day job!! I have been known to do a few things at the same time.

I would love to have you with me as a companion as I travel this next road.  And if you live in the area, and have been one of my cheerleaders, hit me up for complimentary Reiki session. Frankly, I’ve missed you.

I look forward to us reconnecting in a new healthy and healing way.

Namaste!

The Last Cancer Blog.

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When I started this blog, I named it the Last Cancer Blog with the great, slightly sarcastic and unrealistic hope that someday it IMG_5375-1.JPGwould be true. Well, today, it is true!  Today, this is MY last cancer blog.  Today I completed treatment that began with a breast conserving surgery last November, followed by 6 rounds of Doxetaxol, Carboplatin and Perjeta, followed by 30 rounds of radiation and 11 additional IV infusions of Herceptin.  Along the way, I lost my hair, my taste buds, my tear ducts, the feeling in my hands and feet, my mind at many points, my shit (literally and figuratively), and my sense of humor now and again.  I gained an appreciation for anything that didn’t taste like concrete, for a good night’s sleep, for the strength to take a bath or go to work.  I learned that people are so much more kind than you ever would imagine they would be, and that I was deserving of this incredible outpouring of FullSizeRender.jpglove that got me through even the worst of days.

Being a writer, and a lover of metaphors, when this diagnosis first came into my life, I was NOT particularly enamored with the whole “cancer as war” analogy. It was something to fight, to beat, to survive, to rally the troops against.  It was a battle, and I was to be a brave warrior, arming myself against chemo bombs and radiation blasts.  Now, having come through it, it very much feels like the end of a war – and I do, indeed, feel like a winner.

Also, I really didn’t like the whole language around cancer being “a journey”. Along the way, I tried to come up with other comparisons.  It was a roller coaster, a house of horrors, an endless trek up a mountain. There were times when it was a long road, and others when it felt like the tunnel with no light at the end.

And then, just when I thought I WAS at the end, I have had to face the truth that cancer is, indeed, a journey. You get your one way ticket upon hearing the hardest words you ever have to hear, and if you are lucky, you will keep traveling this road without ever hearing them again. Ya see, there’s always a chance of recurrence. Your doctors try to give you some range of probability, but the way I look at is, my chances are 0% or 100%.  I’m going for zero.

I’m moving forward.  I’m suiting up for the next part of the journey which means eating right and exercising, being emotionally and spiritually fit. I’m going to live one day at a time; like each day might be my last.  I will wake up with gratitude for all I have; my family, my friends, my pets; for the medical team that cared for me, and for all of you who read, and wrote, and called, and texted.  You will never know how much it meant to me.

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The amazing Z and me.

As I end this blog, I do hope that our journey together will continue. I’m putting this single cancer occurrence into my rear view mirror, and I’m setting off in a new direction. As Robert Frost put it, “I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

It’s not always merry.

The holidays can be tough for a lot of people.  Sadly, several friends of mine are going through their first Christmas having lost people they loved this year.  I am sure that, at some point over the next few days, all of us will feel the loss of someone we loved and who made our past holidays brighter.  Last year at this time, I was a mess. There’s nothing worse than feeling bad when you’re supposed to feel good.  It takes that much more energy to honor your feelings.  It takes that much more guts to ask for help, or a hug.  It takes that much more faith to know that you’ll be given the strength you need to handle what life throws at you.

This year, I have that much more gratitude and much more compassion for anyone who may not be feeling so merry. Last year I wrote and posted a Christmas poem on the night before my first infusion. As I read it now, I’m surprised that I was able to write anything when I was in a state of sheer panic. I think I was a little insane. Today, it’s a reminder to never lose your sense of humor – and that old, standby, “This, too, shall pass.”  Yes, it does.  It did. It will.

So, in (the) light of the season, I give you, again…

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The Night Before Chemo

Twas the night before chemo and all through the house, no one was sleeping, except for my spouse.  Wearing my sweatpants and not feeling sexy, my mind raced like the wind on account of the Dexy.

No sleep would come. I was riddled with fear, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a vision of my oncologist drinking a beer.

His sterile white coat was covered in muck. It made me cry out, “Hey, Doc, what the fuck?” He hooked up my IV, and said with a smile, “Make yourself comfy, you’ll be here awhile.”

More rapid than reindeer the medicines came. Desperate for help, I called them by name: “On Taxol, on Carbo, Herceptin, Perjeta, On Ativan, On Emend – please get me betta!” My chemical friends had a mission to do: to kill every bad cell and not hurt the new.

I sat in the chair, the time it went slooowww – Then finally -, I shouted,”One down! 17 more to go!”

As I started my journey, I promised to fight. Thank you all for your prayers, and to all a good night.

Wishing you as joyous a season as you can muster. xo

One to Go. Pass the cookies.

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I’ve just returned from my 16th Herceptin infusion and it’s almost too surreal to say, write or believe that I have only one more treatment to go. At this time last year, I had just started writing this blog, opnepinnot knowing anything about what would lie ahead. Not knowing anything except fear.

Fear has never been my friend.Two of my favorite acronyms for it. 1. Fictional Events Appearing Real, and 2. F’ Everything and Run.  Last December, the second of those, while extremely appealing wasn’t an option and, regarding the first, there didn’t seem anything fictitious about the events that were about to occur.  I once told my friend, Denise, that my super hero name was Reality Girl and my secret weapon was a cold bucket of water that I would throw on anybody who was living in denial or delusion.  Neither of those suit me well. Honestly, in a life that has had its share of anxiety, last December, for the first time in my life, I, Reality Girl, was drenched in her own icy cold truth that I was scared to death.  My family will tell you that I cried a lot.  They probably did, too, but were kind enough not to let me see.  Not knowing the realities that lay ahead, I hoped my fear would subside once I started treatment.  Yet, each new side effect brought it all back again.  Would my eyes ever stop tearing, would the feeling return to my hands and feet? Would chocolate chip cookies ever taste like chocolate chip cookies?  I’m happy to report that at least the cookies taste good again — maybe even a little better.

There’s a lot of literature out there that talks about all the scary feelings that go along with treatment ending. Having fears about not seeing doctors regularly; that the cancer could return; that friends and love ones won’t be as close; that “pretty” is gone for good; that life will never be the same. The closer I come to finishing treatment, the louder these questions become.  Luckily, Reality Girl has a new acronym for FEAR: Face Everything and Rejoice.  I plan on kicking this attitude into high gear during this brand new holiday season. I’m sure I’ll have lots of pretty extra serious resolutions come January 2016, but for now…all I can say is….one more treatment to go.  Pass the cookies.XEEQej1449539440

 

A super Thanksgiving

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Today I am one year cancer- free. Let me just say that again, in CAPS, if you don’t mind. TODAY, I AM ONE YEAR CANCER-FREE.

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Some people count their first year of ‘cancer-free-ness’ from the day that their treatment ends. My way of thinking is that one year ago today was my breast surgery. It’s the day that I woke up with cancer in my body – and went to sleep without it.

Last year, my surgery was two days before Thanksgiving. It marked the end of a whirlwind month that started with a mammography that detected the lump, included the biopsy that confirmed it as cancer, and required numerous other check-ins: with my dentist, neurologist, dermotologist, gynocologist and psychiatrist. It was the first month of what would be a pretty harrowing year.

I spent last Thanksgiving in my pajamas; tired and scared. Truthfully, it was hard to have a lot of gratitude. As I recall, I managed to use the old “it could be worse” way of thinking to muster up the energy to give thanks for what I had. Of course, I was thankful for my family and friends.

This year, I am more thankful than ever for everyone and everything in my life. But make no mistake: cancer is not a gift. In fact, it’s more like a box full of shit. But like all of life’s trials and tribs, you can learn from it. You can find a silver living. You can find ways to make changes in your life that you never thought possible. You can fall down and pick yourself up. You can be a little more grateful and a lot more positive.

I am sure over the next four weeks I will have a lot of memories of last year’s holiday season. As I come to the end of my treatment, and to this year of blogging about it, I hope you’ll indulge me in a few more posts. I need to take every opportunity I can to thank you all for being part of my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

A Month of Milestones

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525,600 minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets,
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles,
In laughter and strife.
In…525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

–Seasons of Love (from the Broadway musical Rent)

It’s November – my month of milestones. A few days ago marked the anniversary of last year’s mammography when I first heard the words, “It looks like cancer”, and a few days from now will be one year since I was diagnosed. Having gone through one of the longest years in my life (which did feel more like 525,600 minutes) these ‘anniversaries’ are ones that I’d really like to forget.

But here’s cause for celebration: Today was this year’s mammo-squeeze  – and I am super, super happy to report that,  itsqueeze‘s all clear on the western – and eastern front.  The medical term is that I have no evidence of disease.  That’s NED for short. NED, my new favorite word. I LOVE NED.

I won’t officially be one year cancer free until November 25th (the anniversary of my surgery), so I will put off any actual celebration until then.  But, boy-o-boy, will I have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.  In addition to being cancer-free (!!), I recently learned that my oldest daughter is engaged (!!!) ,Why, squeeze my boob and call me grapefruit!!  I’m walking on air.

I still have three more Herceptin treatments to go, with my last one coming in right before the end of the year.  I can’t wait to put 2015 behind me…all 525,600 minutes of it.  I’m ready for the next 15 million, 758 thousand and 88 minutes ahead. I think I’ll celebrate every last minute.

Healing the pieces

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broken togetherBelieve it or not, I listen to Christian radio when I’m driving.  Yup.  It’s called K.L.O.V. The station’s jingle is “Positive. Encouraging. KLOV.”  And I find it to be so. I guess you’d call the music current pop and kind of country. Most of the songs sound like Adele or Jason Mraz, and there are lots of love songs, but in lyrics like, “He loves you more than you can know” or “My love for you is endless” they’re singing about a spiritual connection not two people.  And yes, sometimes it’s a Christian-based, “He” or Jesus, but as we know, “names can never harm you.” and I don’t let it get in the way of the message. So, I listen with an open mind and an open heart, and it’s much better than hearing John Legend singing “All of Me”: with this line: “I hope that thang so good, make me think of drinking your bath water.”

So yesterday, a song came on by a band called Casting Crowns; the Christian version of Counting Crows, I suppose.  But these words, not to mention the really nice music, really hit me. It said:

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us.
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together.

Anyway, it reminded me that we all go through times of feeling broken:  physically, mentally, spiritually. And we all have disappointments, and wishes that go unanswered.  Knowing that that’s part of the human condition – and sharing that brokenness is what makes us more complete feels really right for me.  Especially coming through these last 10 months with my healing purely a result of the love and support I’ve received. Makes me think that sometimes the sum of the parts is, in fact, greater than the whole.

Not a Model Patient

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Me and Z. I couldn’t have gotten down the “runway” without him.

As many of you know from my Facebook page, I was honored to be one of 12 breast cancer patients at a Pinktober fashion show at Saks Off Fifth sponsored by the Smilow Breast Health Center.  I had so many special people come out to cheer me on. They even brought pompoms!  Once again, I am so grateful to feel such love and support.  And I was so happy to be able to thank all the doctors who came out to be a part of the celebration.

All that said, I have to tell you that I didn’t find this to be easy.  Minutes before, I almost pulled a “Project Run-AWAY”, but I made a good show of it. Heidi and Tim would have been of proud of the way I worked it.  But inside my head was a whole different movie.

You see, there I was – all dolled up as a breast cancer survivor – and it truly felt like a nightmare.  Imagine yourself having a dream in which you are a cancer patifashionshowent modeling in a fashion show with people laughing and clapping and cheering you on as a survivor. Who wouldn’t want to wake the f#ck up??

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My gals were all there. Plus Billy, Vicky, Ralph and Mike, my Pop and Barbara.

I continue to struggle with this new identity that I just don’t identify with.   But by definition, you become a survivor the day you are diagnosed and you continue to be one…until you’re not.

The words I have chosen are “I HAD cancer.” Perhaps it’s a bit of denial. I don’t minimize my fear of recurrence but i’m anxious to put this all behind me. I guess I’ll feel different when all the lingering side effects are gone and when I can “walk the walk” not the catwalk, helping others live through and after their diagnosis. Perhaps then, I, too will feel like a survivor.

Think before you pink.

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It’s Pinktober. And unless you are living under a rock, you’ve gotten the message that October is all about the ta-tas. Everywhere you look, there will be companies putting on the pink to support breast cancer awareness.  The NFL will be wearing pink gloves and shoes, and dozen of products will be sporting little pink ribbons.  Lots of people will be up in arms about how much money actually goes to fund breast cancer programs and research (now called pinkwashing), while others will tell us how much good the pinking of October does for the cause.

fcThis is my first October as a member of “the club”.  When I was first diagnosed, the only pink I thought about was Pepto Bismol because the whole thing made me pretty sick to my stomach.  I remember the day that I got the news at the radiology center.  That morning, I had been collecting the tschotckas scattered around the office: the free Tic Tacs, pens, hand lotion and Schick razors.  After learning that the lump they found was, most likely, malignant, I left all the pink goodies in a pile on the floor in the dressing room; my thoughts screaming, “Fuck you, pink and the ribbon you rode in on.”

A few days after my surgery, I asked the head of the Breast Health Center how she could stand being surrounded by pink all the time. She had the right answer: if seeing pink reminded one more woman to get a breast exam, she’d wear pink every day.  My oncologist wears pink socks every day which, no doubt, saves his wife the time of making pairs. I’ve come to understand the importance of the whole pink thing but I have mixed emotions about it having a “month.”  Survivors will tell you that every month is breast cancer awareness month.  Personally, I can’t wait for that day when I realize that I haven’t thought about it for 24 hours. But if it takes a designated month to remind women to do their monthly exams and have an annual mammo, so be it.

Frankly, I feel bad for Eye Injury Month,  Dental Hygiene Month, Down Syndrome Month and Domestic Violence Month, that have to share the October spotlight with breast cancer. Certainly the NFL has closer ties to (cough) one of those other causes.

Before you buy a product just because it’s gone pink, check out that company’s website to see just how much money is going to the cause. You can also use www.charitynavigator.org to learn how a charity stacks up. By doing so, I learned that Susan G. Komen’s sister, Nancy Brinker, who founded the well-known organization, made between $300,000 and over $650,000 a year for 30 years.  She finally took an unpaid position this past June. This year, Yoplait, whose revenue for 2015 is $ 1.3 billion, is giving a $350,000 (about 1/4000th of one percent) to three charities (Komen included)esb.  Estee Lauder, on the other hand, is committing $5 million this year and has raised $47 million over the last 12 years. Tonight, Lauder is paying to light up the Empire State Building.

I hope you’ll do something that’s right for you this month to further the cause of breast cancer research and prevention. Now, where did I put that pink tee-shirt???