Monday, July 2, 2012

Please Follow Me to My New Blog

I have started a new blog here:

I will continue to write about cancer survivorship, my new "normal," and getting on with life.

Please update your bookmarks and continue to follow me there.

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Need to Pace Myself

Here I am -- post-cancer treatments and post-surgery. I have my life back and I have hair. But there is one small problem. I need to pace myself.

I find myself wanting to do it all and right now. I want to power through every project at work just to show everyone that I'm back. I want to visit friends, attend art festivals, re-start my Masters degree program, take a romantic vacation and join a yoga studio. And let's not forget about working out, eating right and losing some weight.

Perhaps I am too greedy because my life has been essentially on hold for the past 12 months. I missed all those things last year while I was hooked up to an IV and feeling rather lousy. I need to get over this impatient, greedy phase and slow down because I am getting a little stressed and overwhelmed. The last thing I want to do is invite cancer back into my body. No thank you!

I really need to step back and keep reminding myself that small, consistent changes can lead to big results. I don't need to take on more than I can reasonably handle. And I don't need to do it all today.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Recovering Nicely

No matter how it's done, a hysterectomy is major surgery. And while I chose the da Vinci robotic procedure which boasts minimal down time and pain, believe me when I say there is still plenty of down time and pain. I started to feel pretty good one week post op so I got online to work from home. Big mistake.

My abdomen swelled up and my incisions started oozing. Not good. I decided to lay down and take the rest of the week off. That was the right thing to do. Now I am almost three weeks post op and feeling much, much better. I still need to listen to my body and lay down to rest when I need to.

I have my follow up appointment on June 5. My plan is to ease back into work, start walking about 20 to 30 minutes per day which my nurse said will help alleviate my swelling and just take it easy. I am a bit anxious to get this all behind me but I have to keep reminding myself what my body has been through this past year. I have been through a lot and I will not heal overnight.

I am doing well with my goal of getting outside to soak up some sun every day. So far our weather has been fantastic so I have been able to get out in the yard and "supervise" my husband's landscaping efforts. Our backyard has been the beneficiary of all my time off and also my husband's willingness to plant lots of new shrubs and perennials.

I have also lost about 4 lbs. since my surgery. I think this is just simple bloat going away. Whatever it is, I will take it.

Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What A Difference A Year Makes

One year ago today I wasn't feeling it. I had zero energy. I had trouble sleeping. And I absolutely could not lose 10 lbs. no matter what I tried. So I started this blog with a simple goal: improve my health by making gradual changes and hold myself accountable by documenting my progress.

Just a couple of weeks later, I felt a lump in my right breast... you know the rest of the story.

To recognize the one year anniversary of my blog, I could write a post that reflects on all the biopsies, surgeries, and unpleasant chemo and radiation therapy. But who wants to read that garbage? It's old and tired. I prefer to focus on the future and what I want to accomplish over the next 12 months.

First on my agenda is my "Thank You Project." I want to take the month of May to personally thank everyone who offered their prayers, support and encouragement to me and my family. The list is long. My project could take more than one month to complete. But I would love to hit my one year "cancer-versary" on June 2 knowing that I thanked everyone who came to my emotional rescue.

Second, I will start making healthy lifestyle changes today. Two things I know about change:
  • Small changes are easier for me to make. Over time, consistent small changes add up to big results.
  • I find it is much easier for me to add healthy habits to my life than to eliminate unhealthy habits cold turkey. Eventually, the healthy habits will crowd out the unhealthy habits.
My healthy addition for May is to get at least 15 minutes of sunshine every day. My goal (weather permitting) is to sit outside, breathe deeply and let the sun deliver some much needed vitamin D to my body. How easy is that?!

What a difference a year makes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Next Up: Total Hysterectomy

Sorry for the delay in posting here on my blog. I have been very busy getting back to "normal." (More on that in a moment...)

Tomorrow I will undergo a complete hysterectomy. It is the last big hurdle of my cancer treatment. Children have never been in my life "game plan" so it's the big H for me. Normally the doctor would remove just my ovaries but because I have a large uterine fibroid (which was there pre-diagnosis), the doctor decided it was best to just take out everything.

My doctor will be using the daVinci robotic device which is supposed to dramatically reduce post-surgical pain and make recovery just a bit faster.

TIMEOUT: I just Googled "daVinci robotic hysterectomy" because I wanted to share some basic information with you. Unfortunately, I found this graphic video on YouTube - a complete hysterectomy by a San Francisco gynocologist all set to Bach's Orchestral Suite #3.

DO NOT WATCH this video if you are having a hysterectomy, think you might want to have a hysterectomy or would simply like to enjoy a barbeque ever again. Good Lord.

Gag! I wish I hadn't seen this video. It's going to be a while before I can watch chicken sizzling on the grill and not think of what will (has) been done to my lady parts. Geez. Doctors do have a whacked out sense of what's appropriate sometimes. I guess this guy is proud of his technique and sutures.

Anyway - here is the toned-down, sugar-coated information about the daVinci hysterectomy.

So... back to normal...

For me, this past year has been anything but normal. Cancer, lumpectomy, six rounds of chemo, no hair, no sex (or very little), massive weight gain (hello 30 lbs.), 33 radiation treatments every day for six and half weeks, etc. The list goes on and on and on.

This hysterectomy is the only thing that's standing between me and getting my life back. I don't want a "new normal." I want my "old normal." The doctor is giving me six weeks to recuperate from surgery. For six weeks, I need to really take it easy.

But after six weeks, I'm taking my life back.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

No More Scarves, No More Wig

I think one of the hardest parts of my own breast cancer experience was having to wear scarves, hats and a horrible wig. I didn't like losing my hair (who does?) but covering my head was worse. Whatever I wore was hot, itchy, too tight or all of the above. And then trying to coordinate scarves with my outfit was always a challenge.

But not anymore. I have been "scarf-less" and "wig-less" for about two months now. And it feels GREAT!

Happy Easter Weekend

The weather here in Virginia is nothing short of spectacular this weekend. Bright blue skies, lots of sunshine, temperatures in the upper 60's... It is perfection.

I spent the better part of yesterday planting flowers in our yard. I love gardening. Let me re-phrase that... I love planting flowers and shrubs and doing all the fun decorative stuff in my yard. I do not like mowing the lawn or weeding. My husband handles that part of it. He bakes the cake. I just ice it. hehe!

Summer flowers and new azaleas going into the back corner of our yard.

Enjoying the afternoon on the porch

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is my mom's birthday. She would have been 72 years old today. As I write this post, I am overwhelmed by how much I miss her.

But now I am looking out the window to my backyard and there on the bird feeder is the first goldfinch of the season - bright yellow and just sitting there. He's not flying back and forth, darting from tree to tree the way goldfinches normally do. He seems to be sitting there for me to notice him. My mom loved goldfinches. Seeing him there brings a smile to my face.

Mom's Birthday - 2006

Playing Golf - 2005

Easter Sunday - 2007

Celebrating Remission - 2006

Enjoying a Red Sox Spring Training Game - 2006

Glorious June Afternoon - 2005

With My Dad - June 2005

I love you, Mom. I miss you every single day but I know you are always with me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

First Mammogram After Treatment

I had to go back to my radiologist this week for a diagnostic mammogram because of a new lump I felt in my left breast. Under normal conditions, I would not have needed a mammogram for another six months. But who said I was normal?

I could tell my lump was just a fluid filled cyst. It didn't feel anything like my tumor which was small and hard. My tumor felt like an M&M just under the surface of my skin. And I was right. My new lump is completely benign and nothing to worry about.

While I was there, my radiologist decided to do a bilateral mammogram. Both my "girls" were flattened to a pancake. Mammograms are not the most comfortable procedure but after a lumpectomy -- all I can say is "OUCHIE!"

Going back to the radiologist's office this week was an interesting experience. I hadn't been there since last summer when she found my tumor and gave me my diagnosis on June 2, 2011. Walking in and sitting in the waiting room brought back so many memories for me.

I remembered the fear and dread vividly and I could see it on every woman's face in that office. Seeing me with my short cropped "hairdo" didn't help alleviate their fears. But I was cheerful and upbeat and kept a smile on my face the entire time.

One woman sitting next to me complimented me on my hair re-growth. I thanked her and we started talking. She told me she was a 24 year survivor. That alleviated MY fears!

My next scheduled appointment is in September - another mammogram and an MRI. My goal is to stay out of the radiologist's office until then!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

21 Day Cleanse

After six rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation sessions, it's time for a good old fashioned detox and cleanse. I just feel like my body is finally ready to start healing from all the toxic treatment I have received.

cafe-230x230I am a proponent of the Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr and have decided to follow her 21 Day Cleanse starting tomorrow. I have never done a detox or cleanse, so this will be a new experience for me.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I ran out and bought Kris Carr's books and a juicer. I probably juiced three or four times and gave up. It's not easy. You have to make fresh juice every day or every other day, depending on how many veggies you are juicing. It takes about an hour to make enough juice for two days. Given all the benefits of juicing, it is time well spent. I just need to get back into it!

Here is a checklist from the book that I will use for the next 21 days to keep myself on the right path:
  1. Did you abstain from coffee?
  2. Did you abstain from alcohol?
  3. Did you abstain from gluten?
  4. Did you abstain from animal products?
  5. Did you abstain from sugar and choose low-glycemic fruits and better alternatives such as stevia or agave nectar?
  6. Did you dry brush today?
  7. Did you clean your sinuses with a neti pot? (I won't be doing this one!)
  8. Did you move your body for at least 35 minutes?
  9. Did you meditate for 15 to 20 minutes?
  10. Did you chew your meals thoroughly and mindfully?
  11. Did you laugh out loud and tell someone you love him or her today?
  12. Did you spend time in nature? Even five minutes is better than nothing?
  13. Did you get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep?
  14. What did you eat today and did you juice?
  15. How much purified water did you consume. Include fresh veggie juices in your calculation.
  16. What supplements did you take?
  17. How was your elimination? (TMI!)
  18. What time did you stop eating? Three hours before bedtime is optimal.
  19. How do you feel physically?
  20. How do you feel emotionally?
The 21 Day Cleanse recommends drinking a green juice in the morning and then switching to vegan, mainly raw, organic meals for lunch, dinner and snacks.

For those of you who know me personally, you know that it will not be easy for me to give up coffee or alcohol. But I feel like it's time. It's time for me to do something really positive for my health over these next three weeks.

Care to join me?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Next Challenge

When I was going through chemo, everyone told me to avoid eating foods that I love because they won't taste the same and I won't want them after I finish chemo. They also told me that whatever weight I gain during chemo would come off within two months of finishing chemo.

They lied.

During chemo, I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted. I figured that since I have cancer and am going through chemo, I should do whatever I want to make myself feel better. And since my appetite didn't go away during chemo, I indulged. I still believed whatever weight I gained would somehow magically melt away after chemo. HA!

So here I am -- after six months of indulgence -- weighing 20 lbs. more than I did when I started chemo. And I still love cheeseburgers, french fries, Prime Rib Pasta at O'Charley's and ice cream. There isn't one thing I ate during chemo that seems dissatisfying to me now. It's all still good!

My next challenge is to lose the 20 lbs. I gained during chemo and then lose another 10 lbs. I had been trying to lose before my diagnosis.

I need to lose this extra weight for all the usual reasons (look better, feel better, fit back into my normal clothes, etc.). But the really big reason I need to lose this weight is to help fight a breast cancer recurrence. My type of cancer is receptive to estrogen and estrogen is stored in bodyfat. So even if your ovaries have been medically shutdown like mine have, you still need to get your bodyfat in check so you are not storing too much estrogen.

Oh - and did I mention I will have a complete hysterectomy at the end of April and my 30th high school reunion is in mid-June?

No pressure...

Sunday, March 11, 2012


On Monday, March 5, 2012, I finally reached a goal that had been set for me WAY back in July. I completed my treatment for breast cancer. It's been a LONG 10 months. Many women face more rounds of chemo and more surgeries than I did. I got off easy with just 10 months.

Many of us face the same five year period of taking tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor to hopefully prevent a breast cancer recurrence. I will start my regimen in April after my hysterectomy. I will also see one of my doctors at three month intervals for the next two years. After that, the doctor visits should slow down. In the mean time, I will do what so many other women have done before me - get on with my life.

I have heard so many women refer to this time period between diagnosis and finishing treatment as "The Lost Year." I don't look at it that way. For me, these past several months have been exactly the opposite. I found much more than I lost.

I found the love and support of so many people, it has been overwhelming. I found support from people I hadn't heard from in over 30 years. I heard from classmates who were not exactly my friends during our school days. They came to my Facebook page and told me how much they admired me. I found a whole group of new friends online, women who blog or are a part of the Crazy Sexy Cancer website community. I have even had the opportunity to meet two of them in person and now consider them my friends "in real life."

My co-workers took support and encouragement to a whole new level. During the month of October for Breast Cancer Awareness, one of my co-workers would come into my office and present me with a pink themed gift. I received plants, jewelry, t-shirts, hats, tea towels, notecards, pins and mugs. Those that work in remote locations sent me pink Care Packages packed with items they collected at their office. This outpouring of support went on during the entire month and continues even today. Just last week I had the janitor in my office with tears in his eyes telling me what an inspiration I have been to him.

But most important, my relationship with my sister grew even stronger and for that, I am really grateful. She sent me a card after every chemo session. We talked on Facetime. She sent a huge cookie to congratulate me on completing chemo. We spent time together over Christmas. Her support in particular has meant the world to me.

So yeah, I'm done with cancer treatment. I am ready to get on with my life - this time with a much greater appreciation for my relationships and my health.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Quick Post

Seriously... This will be quick.

Radiation is going fine. So far, so good. Thank God for Magic Skin Balm! I put it on every night before bed and wear a t-shirt to bed. My skin is darker but it is holding up. I have this week (4 more days), next week (5 days) and then my last day on Monday, March 5. Then I am DONE, baby! DONE!

My hair is really starting to grow back. I have an actual wave going on in the back and a bit of curl here and there. I know in about another month or so it will probably look like a poodle's butt. haha!

I'm feeling really good. I have a lot of energy. I even lost a couple of pounds. I cannot complain.

Sorry to cut this so short... It's past my bedtime.

Nite, nite!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Celebrating My Husband's Birthday

Here I am keeping my resolution to enjoy my life by celebrating my husband's birthday at Morton's Steakhouse last night with our good friend Terry. It was a fun (and expensive) evening!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New Skin Cream + Working Out + Going "Au Natural"

Several women on the Crazy Sexy Life website have written glowing reviews about Magic Skin Balm by Brigit True Organics. They used it during and after radiation and claim that it really helped alleviate their radiation dermatitis (i.e., radiation burns). Many of them continue to use the product well after treatment.

I did a little research and lo and behold - these organic products are made about 1 hour west of me in Charlottesville, Virginia. Talk about coincidence... Anyway, the good news for me is that it is widely available at health food stores in the Richmond area. Today, I picked up a small jar at Ellwood Thompson's. My skin is holding up fine so far but I plan to use the Magic Skin Balm from here on out. I will keep you posted on how it goes...

In other news -- I actually worked out today. I guess you could call it a workout. It certainly wasn't what I was used to in my "former" life but hey, I have to restart somewhere. I did 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill then used dumbbells for squats, biceps curls and triceps. I also did some pushups and crunches. I think it was a good start. I am also tracking all my food on Weight Watchers. I lost two pounds last week. I would love to lose another pound or two this week. *fingers crossed*

And finally, I went out "au natural" this weekend - no scarf, no hat, no wig - nothing! My hair really isn't long enough but I just didn't care. I decided to run some errands without anything on my head and guess what? No one stared. Babies did not scream or cry. No one laughed and pointed at me. Basically, no one cared. Yay! I am pretty close to going au natural at work. Maybe another week or two...

My next goal is to scope out some yoga studios and actually join one. I would love to start taking a class on the weekends.

Okay - it's almost time for kickoff... Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some Words From the Wise

I know that many of us who are currently undergoing treatment or just finishing up treatment are experiencing an unnerving side effect: The constant worry of whether or not our cancer will come back.

I would like to share with you some words of wisdom that a friend and breast cancer survivor emailed to me yesterday. It is a little "trick" that she uses to shut out the negative worry from overtaking her.

She tells herself: "I do not have cancer TODAY. I do not have a doctor appointment TODAY so I cannot be diagnosed. This may all change TOMORROW but TODAY I am cancer free."

She says this mantra helps her manage one day at a time.

Words of wisdom for us all.

Thank you, P!

Monday, January 30, 2012

26 Points

I have gained just over 20 lbs. since my diagnosis. I thought most of that weight was due to water retention and bloating from chemo. My doctor and nurses all said the weight would come off a couple of months after I finish chemo.

Well, it's been almost two months and guess what? They were wrong. I still weigh exactly what I did on December 7 when I went in for my last round of chemo.

I was one of those rare people who didn't get sick during chemo. If anything, my appetite increased due to the steroids I was on. I also gave myself permission to eat anything and everything that appealed to me. After all, I had cancer and I felt like I DESERVED that piece of chocolate cake! Now I am paying the price.

A few weeks ago I decided to take action and joined Weight Watchers. I joined online, set up a profile, answered a bunch of questions and was told I could eat 26 points per day. How much is 26 points, you ask?

- A packet of unsweetened instant oatmeal is 4 points.
- An egg is 2 points.
- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is 12 points.
- Most fruits and veggies are less than 2 points or no points.

You can swap food points for activity points. It's simple - the more you work out, the more food you can eat. For example, my 90 minute hike yesterday earned me 7 points to swap out for food. woo.

So what's my point? (Yes, the pun was intended.) 26 points is not a lot of food.

And here's a newsflash: Just because you join Weight Watchers doesn't mean the weight is going to magically come off. You still have to do the work!

I am ready to take this seriously though. I stocked my fridge at work with all kinds of good snacks - fruit, hummus, yogurt. I need to fit in a minimum of 30 minutes on the treadmill every day. That's going to be tough because I am doing radiation every day, too.

But I will get there. I must get there. I have my 30th high school reunion to attend in June and I absolutely cannot show up looking fat, bald and sick!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Radiation and Livestrong at the YMCA

I started radiation this week with my first session on Thursday afternoon. It was relatively easy and definitely painless but for some reason, it bothered me more than chemo. It seemed scarier than chemo.

Laying on the table with this giant machine circling me, it almost felt like the machine had a mind of its own. It zooms in and out to target the spots on my body that it needs to zap. Obviously the radiology technicians are operating it, but it seems like a bad science fiction movie to me.

At my session on Friday night, I decided to just close my eyes, relax and visualize positive healing. I visualized the machine treating all the right spots and the radiation zapping any lingering cancer cells. This technique definitely helped me get into a more positive frame of mind.

In other news... I forgot to mention that my oncologist recommended a program to me called Livestrong at the YMCA. It is a 12-week program to help adult cancer survivors successfully transition from treatment to wellness. The program is offered at three YMCAs in my area but none of them are very close. The only facility that offers the program in the evening is 25 miles away. I may do it anyway after I finish my radiation treatments. A few miles of driving every day would be worth it if it helps me regain my health.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

First Follow Up Appointment

I was back at the hospital a few days ago for my monthly lupron injection. I happened to notice some new reading material in the magazine rack. These were my choices:

“Living with Advanced Cancer”

“When Cancer Comes Back”

“Looking Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment”

Any idea which brochure I chose to read?

“ I will take ‘Looking Forward’ for $500, Alex.”

Which leads me to today’s post…

I saw my oncologist yesterday for my first follow up appointment since completing chemo. The appointment went well. She was pleased with how I handled chemo and felt quite certain that radiation would go just as well. We discussed hormonal therapy and agreed that I would start Tamoxifen as soon as I complete radiation.

Here’s the kicker… There is absolutely no way to tell if my cancer is going to come back. There are no tests to run, no indicators, nothing. I will have a mammogram every six months for the next couple of years. I will also see either my oncologist, my radiation oncologist or my radiologist once every three months. They are a tag team (or triumvirate) – one of them will see me and report back to the others.

Of course, I am to let my oncologist know if I experience any abnormal bone pain, difficulty breathing or headaches as these symptoms could indicate metastasis to my bones, lungs or brain. This is every breast cancer patient’s worst nightmare.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about it every day. Some days are worse than others. When I talked to my sister about it, I explained that it was like background noise. It never goes away. Some days it is louder than others but it is never peaceful and quiet. The worry is always there. At least it is for me at this point.

My oncologist tried to be reassuring by telling me that I have done everything that is recommended and medically available in 2012. Then she told me the rest is up to me and I need to start looking forward. I need to get on with my life.

When I asked my husband for his take on the appointment, he said it was the best possible follow up appointment given my situation. And his 100% correct.

Still – there are no guarantees and that leaves me feeling very vulnerable.

I have a lot more to say on this subject but I will stop here. It is well past my bedtime!

Nite, nite.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life is Dull

I feel like I need to update my blog but I really don't have a lot of news to share. Life is blissfully quiet right now. One thing I have learned over the past few years is that when life is quiet, you must enjoy it. Eventually, something will surely go awry -- the fridge will break, the dog will get sick, the car will break down -- so enjoy the "dullness" when you can.

To enjoy my dull life today, I am leisurely spending some time putting away the last of my Christmas decorations. Then I am going into the office - not to work - but to clean up the joint. My office has become a bit of a disaster area over the past few weeks. I need to file papers and dust and clean. I may even buy a few nice desk accessories to spruce it up for the New Year.

Later tonight, we're having dinner with a friend to celebrate her birthday. As part of my New Year's resolution to "Enjoy My Life," I want to try a new restaurant in the Richmond area at least once a month. Tonight, we'll be checking out Rosie Connolly's Pub and Restaurant in downtown Richmond.

So yeah - not much is happening right now and that's okay. I love it!

Monday, January 2, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

Every New Year's Day, I love to sit down and write out my goals for the next 12 months. And like most people, I make resolutions. Does "lose weight" or "exercise more" sound familiar? I thought so.

But this year is a bit different for me. There's nothing quite like ringing in a new year after a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly those old resolutions seem lame. Not that losing weight or working out is lame. Being healthy is always a good thing. It's just that my old resolutions don't seem to matter quite so much anymore.

So this year I have just one resolution: Enjoy my life.

What does that mean exactly? I guess you will have to keep reading to find out!