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6 Years

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Today I mark 6 years of being cancer free.

August 31, 2012 was the date of my double mastectomy – the day I consider myself to be cancer free, even though I would still need 3+ months of chemo and 8 weeks of radiation. I documented my mastectomy adventures in this blog post.

In reviewing that post this morning, I am transported back to that day. I didn’t know how many years, or months, or days I would have left (do we ever?) and I am grateful for every day since my breast cancer diagnosis.

Some random thoughts this morning, as I reflect on these six years…

  • I spent a lot of time waiting on the day of my surgery. We had to be there so early, to sit around and do nothing. I have wasted so much time just waiting in doctor’s offices in the ensuing years.  Some doctors are better than others, but in addition to waiting the morning of my surgery, I also waited 90 minutes on my first day of chemo. These are pretty nerve-racking events and I’m just not sure that all doctors understand what they are doing to patients’ mental states by having us just sit there — waiting to have parts removed or poison injected into our bodies.  I think there needs to be more awareness on the emotional toll that is taken on cancer patients.
  • When I re-read my description of the sentinel node biopsy that day, I laugh. It seems so tame compared to my actual experience. There are truly no words to describe exactly how painful that experience was. It hurt like HELL! Not even childbirth ranked as high in my books. I always say if men had to have that done, they would a) numb the area and/or b) knock us out! Radioactive bee stings in your nipple. Yep. Good times!
  • I still have no regrets on not reconstructing, although I do wish I had emphatically stated “flat”, so that what remained was not lop-sided, bumpy and dog-eared. But doctors always assume that you will change your mind and will eventually see clear to get implants. My logical brain could not wrap itself around implanting foreign substances into my body, putting it through more surgeries and pain and inconvenience, risking infection, and more… just to satisfy a social norm. And especially considering this was my second cancer. I know it’s a very personal choice and I’m not criticizing those who make that decision. We all have our reasons for our choices and those are mine.
  • I still live with the daily reminders — scars, hearing loss, memory loss, thinning hair, fear — of cancer. But those reminders encourage me to try to make the most of each day. To not worry so much. To take care of myself so I’m here for the long-haul (however “long haul” gets defined). To eat right and get enough sleep. To focus on what’s truly important, and not get caught up in petty worries. To forgive and forget. To keep away from physical and emotional toxins. To help influence others to be healthier. To be grateful for every. single. day.

And here I am, six years later. Appreciative. Healthy. Imperfect. Doing the best I can every day. Content.

Grateful. Here’s to the next six!

IMDb: 6 Years (2015)

 

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Parade’s End

I have blogged about this before, but when I received the official word that I had breast cancer, I was at EPCOT in DisneyWorld. I remember vividly where I was standing when the call came from the doctor.  That was in 2012.

When I visited Disney again in 2014, I had my husband take my picture to celebrate my return.

Disney China

Last week, I had the privilege of chaperoning my son’s band trip to Disney and I took the opportunity to take another photo. Yes, I’m still alive and well!

Disney China 2018

(Apparently I like the color pink, but it’s not because of the ubiquitous pink ribbons!)

Disney trips are always hard work, even as they are loads of fun. The temperature was hot (85-90), the humidity high, and my feet have never hurt so bad from all the walking and standing! But it was a great trip — our students are awesome and we couldn’t be prouder of their march down Main Street in Magic Kingdom!

One thing I realized on this trip? That I’m in better shape than I give myself credit for!

On the day the students marched in Magic Kingdom, I got in roughly 20,000+ steps in the heat (“86/feels like 92” kind of day…), and this included some serious running along the parade route to get ahead of the band for purposes of video and photos, and then running back to the back lot gate at Pirates of the Caribbean. It also included unloading/loading the van with some of the other chaperones in the back lot in the blazing sun. (Note: at least I was wearing shorts… our poor kids were wearing their wool uniforms, so I’m not really complaining!)

I was exhausted at the end of the day, and maybe a little faint at the parade’s end, but I did it! At least I know my heart and lungs are pretty solid, and considering where I was just a mere 6 years ago, I’m incredibly grateful!

This photo op will be part of every trip I take to Disney because it’s a reminder of where I was, and just how far I’ve come!

IMDb: Parade’s End (2012)

Aware

Well, I made it to the end of October without talking about Pinktober, aka breast cancer awareness month. I have to admit that this month didn’t bother me as much as in other years. Were the pink ribbons not that noticeable, or have I become immune?

I fully understand the point of Pinktober, but many survivors get frustrated that the message has been pink-washed. I mean, how much “awareness” does one need? Is there anyone out there who isn’t “aware” that breast cancer exists? And what of those companies that don the pink ribbons, and yet, sell products that contribute to cancer? I won’t even get into all of the awareness messages that are all about “saving the ta-tas” and what not. Shouldn’t we be focusing on saving the person? I just ask that you be sensitive to survivors on some of these awareness campaigns. While good intentioned, just consider them from the point of view of survivor… who may not actually have been able to save her ta-tas…

Anyway, soapbox done.

Instead of continuing my rant, I thought I would share some facts to help improve your awareness. You know breast cancer exists, but do you know….

  • We lump (pun intended) all breast cancer into one category, but there are actually many different types, depending on where they are located (ductal versus lobular), sensitivity to hormones (estrogen/progesterone positive/negative), genetic makeup, etc. Some have better success rates than others, so be mindful of this when talking to your BC friends. For example: I had invasive lobular carcinoma, ER & PR positive.
  • There are multiple stages of breast cancer development, depending on size, lymph node invasion and metastasis. I was Stage IIIA, T3 N1 M0.
  • There are ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer! (Wouldn’t you rather prevent it in the first place? Or at least try?) These include: nutrition, exercise, weight management, not smoking, watching alcohol intake, and avoiding environmental toxins).
  • The best foods to stave off cancer? Greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. (Known as “G-BOMBS” by Dr Fuhrman).
  • Mammograms do not find 1 in 5 cancers and do not improve mortality. (I went faithfully and mammograms completely missed my tumor, which was stage III / 8 cm at removal.)  Read: Limitations of Mammograms
  • There are alternatives to mammograms, such as ultrasounds (it was an ultrasound that eventually found my tumor), MRIs, and thermograms. Do your homework to determine which is best/safest for you, what your insurance will pay for, and the benefits/risks of each.
  • Men can get breast cancer, too — about 2100 cases a year, with almost 500 deaths.
  • There are also alternatives to breast reconstruction. More and more women are opting to “go flat”, but many women are not presented with this as an option at diagnosis and regret it later. I’ve been lucky to connect with women across the country as part of the My Flat Friends Facebook group. Here are a few articles about how many women are trying to spread the word about this option!
    CBS News: A Matter of Choice
    NBC Today: Living Flat and Fabulous

Hopefully you learned something new and are more aware as we close out Pinktober!

Peace!

IMDb: Aware (2016)

The Bucket List

I was never one to have keep a bucket list and I always thought the concept was silly.  Why would you need such a thing? Just enjoy your life!

And then I had cancer. Twice. And I really started thinking differently about the whole bucket list concept. If I was living on borrowed time, what were the things I really wanted to do and see?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling pretty healthy these days but the idea of a bucket list seemed more appealing. I don’t have anything formal or written down; it’s all just in my head.

One of the things on my list is whale watching. We just returned from vacation in Maine where whale watching was part of the plan. Alas, Mother Nature was not cooperative and unrelenting dense fog resulted in excursion cancellations multiple days in a row. This was the closest I got to an actual whale (we were on the lookout everywhere!):

 

Better luck next time. While disappointed, we did find other great things to do in Maine and we had a fabulous trip. Maine is truly gorgeous and, if you’ve never gone, you might want to add it to your bucket list!

Most of my list is made up of experiences and trips — and are family-focused. None of it involves acquisition of stuff (quite the contrary, if you know me!). And maybe the idea of writing a book!

How about you? Do you have a bucket list? What’s on it?

IMDb: The Bucket List (2007)

The Retiree

Today is my birthday.

My 55th birthday.

My age now officially matches my status: retired.

After a whole 4 days of official quasi-retirement, I’m still struggling with this label. Since I didn’t really “retire”, (rather, I was “retired” – as in out to pasture), it feels disingenuous to describe myself as a retiree. It implies choice, of which I had none.

When you actually choose to retire, people throw you a party. There’s cake and balloons. You get to reflect on accomplishments and people say nice things about you. You may even get your own fun Powerpoint presentation (true at the last retirement party I went to!).

When retirement is thrust upon you, you just fade into the sunset. (Well, after a few drinks at happy hour with friends!) One day you just aren’t there anymore.

When you choose to retire, the typical plan is not to work anymore. And that’s not the case for me. Since I was 16, I’ve never not worked, and my 55 seems much too young to not go back to work. Quite honestly, since I’ve been home, I feel like I’m working harder than I did at work! But the pay sucks.

The retiree label makes me feel like I should be older than 55, and who wants that? In my brain, I’m stuck at 26 and I’m just not sure how I got to 55 already.

I don’t like the label very much at all. I’m a retirement fraud and so I declare that we should no longer use the term! I think I’ll use entrepreneur. Dreamer or princess. Maybe superhero (as suggested by one friend)… something a little more fun and interesting. Something that speaks of action and possibilities. I’m open to suggestions!

I certainly don’t want to imply that I’m bitter or resentful about the whole thing. I’m not. Disappointed by how and why it was done? Yes. Disappointed by people I thought would reach out and didn’t? Yes. But disappointment is about the only negative emotion I can muster about the whole thing. I just feel to young, too healthy and too ambitious to be here.

But it’s only temporary.

IMDb: The Retiree (2015)

The Catalyst

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“When one door closes, another one opens.”

“Nothing happens by chance.”

* * * * *

We’ve all heard these platitudes. Heck, we’ve all said them hundreds of times. I know I certainly have. But do we really believe them to be true?

Does everything really happen for a reason? I mean, “everything”? I can think of many examples of things that appear to have to no reason whatsoever. And yet, I can see how some things might spur one in a new direction. I might feel better if this statement said: “Some things happen for a reason, but not everything. And it might take you a while to figure out.” Rolls right off the tongue!

Does the other door open because it’s supposed to? Or does it open because you selected a door, turned the handle and pulled it open? Don’t we make our own reasons? Open our own doors? (No, I’m not covering the debate of free will versus destiny.)

I have been thinking a lot about this since the middle of May when I received notification that my job had been eliminated and I had only 60 days left in Corporate America. This was not a surprise to me given some other events that had transpired, so I was emotionally and mentally prepared for it. But since then I have had so many people declare the quotes listed above. I’m not saying I completely disagree, but I view this change in my employment status as a catalyst (“an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action”) rather simply fated.

New things aren’t just going to happen to me. I need to do something with this change. I need to come up with a plan, take action, educate myself, and work hard if I want to look back on this and say, “there was a reason this happened”. It’s not going to just happen to me – the door will not just open all by itself. (Although it would be fabulous if it did!) J

So what doors will I be pulling open? What direction is my catalyst sending me?

I plan to pursue a career that focuses on my passions – plant based nutrition, coaching, and writing. Stay tune for more information over the next several months because I need to do my homework first. What are my options? What’s the financial investment? What’s the market? I don’t know what I don’t know about starting my own business, so education must come first.

I already started with my certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell that I completed last week. I have also already started working with the Small Business Development Center at the University of Scranton, as well as taken several courses with a career-coaching program offered by my (soon-to-be-former) employer.

I’m super excited about the opportunities ahead and I guess none of this would be happening if not for this reason, this catalyst.

I do prefer the following platitudes, however:

“When Life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” ~Dale Carnegie

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” ~ Dr. Seuss

“Life is what you make it” ~ Anurag Prakash Ray

original_life-is-what-you-make-it-wall-sticker

IMDb: The Catalyst (2010)

Tofu the Vegan Zombie in Zombie Dearest

Just to get things started: a reminder.  Given the “lights cancer action” theme of my blog, every blog title is an actual movie term or title.  So, yes, this is actually a movie.  🙂

And, as you can guess, our topic is tofu!

I have indicated several times in the past that I have completely avoided soy since forever, but even more so since my diagnosis. There was so much debate as to whether tofu was healthy for a breast cancer survivor of an estrogen positive tumor, it wasn’t worth the risk. I changed my mind after reading Dr. Greger’s “How Not To Die”. The chapter on breast cancer, and his supporting research, convinced me that soy is actual beneficial.

I read that book months and months ago, but, despite giving myself the green light, I remained intimidated by tofu.  That is until this week!  I finally braved purchasing and cooking with it.

I have my Scranton Beets group to thank for getting me over my hurdle.  I tried this yummy dessert two weekends ago and loved it SO much that I made it for a party I attended this past weekend.

Pina Colada Banana Coupe’

1 pound can of pineapple chunks (drained)
1/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
2 T. of a sweetener (I used brown rice syrup; other options: honey, agave, etc.)
1/2 cup silken tofu
1-2 small, ripe bananas

Put all ingredients (except the bananas) in your food processor and blend until very smooth.  Layer the banana slices with the pudding and chill it before serving.  (For a bigger group, double the recipe.)

Inquiring minds might want to know: It’s called a coupe’ because the original recipe instructions suggested that this dessert be served in stemmed wineglasses or some other individual serving cup.  I had to Google coupe’, which means “a shallow glass or glass dish, typically with a stem, in which desserts or champagne are served.”

The dessert was a hit at the party for vegans and non-vegans alike!

After this, I was feeling quite brave and moved on to a dish with firm tofu. Purchasing the tofu wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be. It was in a refrigerator in the health food section and was clearly labeled “silken” and “firm”.  🙂

Tonight’s recipe was, again, from my go-to book “Isa Does It”: Shroomy Hot & Sour Soup. It was pretty easy to make and was absolutely delicious!  The fact that my 15-year-old ate FOUR bowls will give you some indication of just how good it was.  The tofu was tasty and the texture didn’t freak me out.

I plan to continue experimenting with more tofu recipes and, in fact, will be attending a “tofu 101” class offered by our Scranton Beets leader, Jean Hayes.  If any local peeps are interested in attending, you can check out the Scranton Beets Facebook page and sign up for Tofu Demystified on Sunday, February 26th, 2-4:00 pm.

Hope to see you there!

IMDb: Tofu the Vegan Zombie in Zombie Dearest (2007)