Tag Archive | breast cancer

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)

Five Years Later

When I received my cancer diagnosis in 2012, my second such diagnosis in 4 years, I was devastated. My son was only 11 years old; my marriage only five. I worried that I wouldn’t see either get older and I wasn’t sure I would survive cancer the second time around.

But here I am, five years later.  Thriving, loving, and looking into the future with a new perspective. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t worry from time to time, but cancer has taught me many things over the years and I do worry less.

On this, the 5 year anniversary of my double mastectomy (and the date that I count as my cancer-versary), I thought I would share some random thoughts on how cancer has changed my life for the better. (Perspective is everything.)

  • While none of us knows when our time will be up, cancer survivors face mortality head on. This gives us a unique opportunity to cherish each and every day as the gift that they are.
  • What we do to our bodies — or put into our bodies — matters. Whether it’s food, stress, negative thoughts, or too much alcohol or caffeine, we can either nourish or damage. I’m not perfect, but I choose to nourish with healthy, plant based foods, sufficient sleep, stress management, meditation, and yoga.
  • The little things don’t matter; and what my definition of “little things” is has changed. In general, “things” don’t matter. People and relationships do.
  • Trust your instincts and be your own advocate. Our healthcare system is broken and flawed. Don’t assume that everyone is looking closely at your case. Follow up, ask questions, challenge the status quo, get a second opinion and do your homework. I’ve said “no” a lot more times in the last five years than I would have previously. No, I won’t reconstruct. No, I don’t want to take a drug that makes me feel 102. No, I won’t do that procedure (CT scan, chest x-ray, etc) because I don’t want more radiation. No, I don’t want steroids.  Listen to your body and your intuition to do what is best for you.
  • After being afraid of dying, so many other things seem less fearful. Like starting a new career, making new friends, putting myself out there in this blog, challenging a doctor, asking for what I want/need, trying something new.
  • Nothing is a guarantee in life, but you can persevere. Always have hope.

Breast cancer recurrences “usually” recur within five years, so this anniversary is a big deal. Depending on what charts you look at, I had about a 72% chance of making it 5 years for Stage IIIA.  Overall breast cancer rates, for my age, were in the 85% range. So I am very grateful to be here.

Does five years mean I’m off the hook forever?  No.  But it does mean that what I’m doing to keep myself healthy is apparently working, and I should remain diligent in my self-care.

Thanks to all of you who have been by my side — physically and virtually — through this journey.

Here’s to the next five!

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IMDb: Five Years Later (2010)

Starched

I just finished my dinner from Day 6 of the Mary’s Mini “diet”! It’s going pretty well, and I’m happy with the results so far.  For those who want to know what I’m actually eating, here are my menus for this past week.

Day 2 Menu (Monday):

  • Breakfast: hash brown potatoes with spinach; some mixed berries (The berries were ok on the “old plan” but I think technically not compliant for the new version of the Mini.)
  • Lunch: baked potato with sautéed onions and peppers, zucchini salad
  • Snacks: cucumbers in apple cider vinegar and an apple
    (I even stayed away from the red licorice!)
  • Dinner: mashed potatoes with RawTill4Diet Mushroom Gravy, corn and green beans – OMG, delicious!
    IMG_1997

Day 3 Menu (Tuesday):

  • Breakfast: hash brown potatoes with spinach (yes, I made enough for a few days) and the mixed berries
  • Lunch: leftover mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans
  • Snacks: cucumbers
  • Dinner: hash brown bake in “cheez” sauce (This was a really easy recipe but I couldn’t find it online to share a link. If you are interested in the details, let me know! My only regret was adding the pepper. I really don’t like pepper, so I’m not sure why I did that.)

Day 4 Menu (Wednesday):

  • Breakfast: mixed berries, and that’s it… It was a crazy day!
  • Lunch: leftover hash brown bake
  • Snacks: cucumbers and a few corn tortilla chips when I got home from work
  • Dinner: baked potato topped with the quinoa and veggie dish I made for the boys

Day 5 Menu (Thursday):

  • Breakfast: mixed berries, baked potato with ketchup
  • Lunch: mashed potatoes with gravy
  • Snack: cucumbers
  • Dinner: stir “fry”: steamed rice, steamed broccoli and some soy sauce, just dry-fried in a non-stick pan.  (I did break the “rules” of the mini by switching out my starch but I was in a hurry and needed something that wasn’t a potato!)

Day 6 Menu (Friday):

  • Breakfast: banana
  • Lunch: leftover stir fry
  • Snack: I know you will be surprised… wait for it!  Cucumbers!
  • Dinner: whole grain pasta with mushrooms, capers, spinach and lemon

At weigh-in this morning, I was down 3.5 pounds! And that’s the halfway point weigh in. The weekend is ahead and that will be tough, as we usually eat out on weekends. We’ll have to either stay home or be very selective in where we go to eat!

And in case anyone was wondering, no, David and Ethan are NOT eating this way!  (Although Ethan has been enjoying my potato and rice dishes!  I was tempted to say “Hey, those are MY potatoes”, but I was glad to see his interest in my healthy foods.)

I’ll report in again when I’m done!

IMDb: Starched (2001)

The Sisterhood

The world is a little darker today. A little sadder. Today I learned of the passing of one of my sisters in breast cancer, a dear colleague and friend.

When I was going through treatment for breast cancer in 2012, she was receiving treatment for a recurrence. We were just weeks apart in our treatment, although it was clearly more difficult for her the second time around. Yet when she returned to work, my sister was her energetic, positive self, and was ready to take on the world.

We often talked to each other about our post-treatment care. Naturalists, supplements, stress management, nutrition, sleep. We talked about all of it, while admiring each others’ locks as our hair grew in. We debated the issue of aromatase inhibitors for months on end and both decided to take a pass after dealing with unbearable side effects. Each meeting was full of hugs, support, and encouraging words.

Stress management was always a big topic because she attributed her two cancer diagnoses to preceding periods of high stress.  We checked in on each other regularly and lectured one another when we seemed to be taking on too much.

Fast forward almost 3 years since we finished treatment. Life became more “normal”, our regular interactions became less common, and the quarterly meetings on our calendars got bumped for some other “priority”. I hadn’t spoken to her in months, never thinking I’d never have another chance to do so.

While I do not know the details of her death, based on some of the sketchy tidbits thus far, I have no doubt that cancer played a part.  This time Cancer would not take no for an answer, and he was swift in taking her from us.

So many people called and messaged, or came to visit me today, to make sure I was ok. One call came from another of my sisters…one who most recently made the journey through diagnosis and initial treatment. She asked me if it ever gets easier as time goes on… Do you ever stop living in fear?

I told her that I try to find the balance between being complacent as time goes on and being scared all the time. I don’t want to be so complacent that I forget to take care of myself.  I don’t want to take any day for granted.  But I also don’t want to be so afraid that I forget to live and enjoy my life. I wish I could say I have that balanced nailed down, but I don’t. And days like today tend to tip me into fear. If it could happen to her, after doing so many of the same things I have been doing, then who’s to say it can’t happen to me?

So let this be our reminder. To manage our stress and walk away from the drama. To nourish our bodies with healthy food. To get enough sleep. To avoid toxins. To drink lots of pure water. To care for ourselves. To find time for those we love.

But mostly let it be a reminder to live life to the fullest, to spread joy to those around you, and to love greatly. You never know when you’ll lose the chance to do that.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

IMDb: Sisterhood (2015)