Saturday, December 31, 2011

a reflection on 2011

One year ago, I was in the middle of 3 weddings. Working, being a mommy, just starting my Mary Kay business, coasting through a pretty normal, happy, seemingly healthy life. I didn't give much thought to my health and had no idea what the coming year would bring. If you told me then what would happen in May, I wouldn't have believed you. Looking back, it's hard to believe what the past 7 months has brought. This year started off innocently enough as we prepared for Rick and Courtney's wedding, brought the birth of Bradley and learned that Austin was on his way. I still find it funny that the last pictures of me and my family before cancer are of me in a pink dress. Seems so ironic, and the picture taken by Tammy and Ryan at my brother's nuptials has become nearly iconic for my family at this point.

Now, my world has changed. I had a year of challenges, both physical and emotional. One which included not only me, but my mother getting diagnosed with breast cancer. A year where we went from zero family history, to one considered a strong history. A year when awareness went from being just a fleeting thought to a practical obession and a way of life. It was also a year of blessings. Aside from the new wonderful people that joined our family, it also was a year where I learned to appreciate what we have. A year to realize how much love and support I have. A year to learn about a talent that lied long-hidden. A year to make a difference in the lives of others.

I may never quite embrace my cancer or ever be happy that it intruded so rudely into my world, but I cannot let it win, physically or emotionally. I need to keep fighting back for myself and my family. I have to continue to find ways to make cancer work for me, for it to fuel me to be a better person. I have said it before, fear can be a great motivator. To look at the awesome gifts and opportunities we have been given and to find ways to make the most of what we have.

So, as I stand at the door of 2012, I have learned the lesson that I cannot predict the future. I just know that I will do whatever I can to get the most out of life, to love as much as I can, and to not take my health for granted. I pray that this year brings me and mom the words "cancer-free" and that we can begin a new journey in a healthier life to enjoy for many years to come.

Friday, December 30, 2011

More surviving

I was thinking yesterday about survivorship. (is that a word?) and also about the article I wrote for coping magazine. It will be printed sometime this spring. It's funny because I included all of the things I had survived up until the point it was written, which was a lot, but certainly, since then, I have survived much more. I thought I would update the list:
  • I survived 4 emergency room trips (including a very romantic trip on our 7th wedding anniversary)
  • I survived 4 AC chemos and 4 Taxols
  • I survived scrambling to hunt down Taxol and managed to find it and get treated without missing any treatment time
  • I survived cancelling our Disney trip due to chemo side effects
  • I so far have survived 18 radiation treatments, including radiation burns in the esophagus
  • I have survived getting passed the totally bald look, and am now entering Sinead O'Connor territory
  • I survived going back to work full time while still in treatment (or at least 18 cycles so far)
  • I survived having my doctor tell me I was losing weight to fast and to stop (now I am waiting for him to tell me I am gaining it back to fast)
  • and I survived learning that someone I love has joined the ranks of the breast cancer sisterhood. I survived the anger of feeling like she has suffered enough watching me and doesn't deserve to have to go through this now too. and I know she will survive it all too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The funny thing about history...

is that its being written every day. A year ago, I had no family history of breast cancer. But this year, history was made. Not in the way I would have liked, but we don't control what happens to us. We only control what we do with what we are given. Sometimes, that just means fighting like hell, fighting like a girl.

History also gets made by constantly evolving research. Every day, something new is learned. A new way to treat, a new way to save lives. For example, recently, there was research regarding the impact of osteoporis drugs on the treatment and improvement of survival rates particularly in premenopausal women like me. Woohoo!! Oh Dr Waintraub...

The good news is, there is much hope in breast cancer. I still wish it didn't exist in this world. I still hate it. I wish it stayed far away from me and my family. But I also am glad to be cut from a strong breed of women. We women of faith keep pushing forward and we do all we can to defeat this beast. I just wish we didn't have to.

2011 was the year when breast cancer came charging in, rude and unwelcome. 2012 however, will be the year it goes away, and when fear subsides, and there is nothing but pride and love left in its place. 2012 is the year we will be victorious!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cancer - the unwelcome house guest.

The way I see it, cancer is just an unwelcome, unyeilding house guest. It came without an invitation, has long since worn out its welcome. It has disrupted my life in countless ways.  I think one of the things that bugs me the most is the fact that cancer just gets in the way of everything. I am grateful that I am in a position to be receiving treatment, but it pisses me off that it is interfering with my christmas shopping time, interfering with my ability to enjoy a nice lunch with friends or colleagues. Radiation is going fine, but it's just a big pain in the butt to have to go every single day. 11 down, 17 to go!

It also bugs me that it's going to take a long time for my hair to grow back. I know that sounds vain, but it's not that, it's more the point that I don't look well this way. I can't wait until I have enough hair to not have to worry about having something covering my head when I leave the house. I can't wait to look more human, more healthy. My hair is definitely coming in, so I know all in good time.

Tonight, I am just frustrated and fed up with this whole experience. I had a good weekend. It didn't ruin that, but for some reason tonight, I am mad at cancer... Maybe it's because of the loss of a dear neighbor due to it this past weekend. Maybe it's because you never know when it's going to sneak up on someone you love. Maybe it's because it exists at all. Yup. I think that is it. I hate the fact that cancer exists at all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

it's all good

I have had about 10 people(including my husband) ask if I was ok because I haven't posted in a while! I have to admit, it was so nice to know people were still looking for the posts. All is going ok here. The reason for the lack of posting is purely exhaustion. Going back to work and starting radiation at the same time took a lot out of me. It's going well, it's just a huge uptick in activity.

Since I last posted, here are some fun things that have happened. You all know I am being published in Reader's Digest. That will be available on book shelves February 14th, and sure, for those of you who want autographs, I'd be happy to oblige! Haha. I have been good about going to the gym, and changing my diet. I have lost 3.5 pounds so far which is a decent start. I did my first race this past Sunday. It was only a mile, and I couldn't run the whole thing which made me feel pretty lame, but at least I did it. I guess it's not bad for being only a month from chemo.

Generally speaking, I am just trying to get my life back on track and somewhat back to normal. It's starting to feel familiar and comfortable again. I am less cancer-centric, which is wonderful. I still need your prayers as my war against cancer is far from over. In fact, it may never truly be over, even if I am declared cancer-free at some point in the future.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This year, I have so very much to be thankful for. I cannot begin to describe how much perspective I have gained in the past 6 months. I am grateful for the immeasurable support and love I have received this year. I am grateful to have the medical technology to enable my fight. I am thankful for my faith. I am thankful for new found talents, and for the ability to make good things come out of challenges.

I am thankful for the 30+ people that I will see today. I am thankful for traditions and excited that my son is looking forward to watching the parade today. I am thankful that I live in America and that this holiday exists.

I am even just thankful that I am able to be thankful!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I just learned this morning that I was selected as one of the runners up winners in the Reader's Digest contest! The article was based on the very first blog post and will be published! I cannot tell you how exciting and overwhelming this is. Reader's Digest, for crying out loud. Such an iconic publication, so excited to be a part of it!

I believe that the piece will be published in a book. Not sure if it also will be in their normal magazine. Either way, who cares! It's such an amazing opportunity to share my story with others.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The first non-chemo chemo weekend.

This weekend was a good one! It was my first non-chemo chemo weekend. This was the first time that I was not recovering from treatment on an alternate week in 4 months. Being able to enjoy life and just do whatever was wonderful. Of course, that involved a trip to Holmdel and then a trip to North Jersey.

On Saturday morning, I went to the gym. This was not my first time exercising since my diagnosis, but it was the first time that I didn't feel totally pathetic in my attempt. I felt strong. The endorphins were kicking. It was the first time my mind was really wrapped around the thought "I did it! I made it through chemo!" For those 45 minutes, I felt like a superhero. It was the most amazing feeling.

Tomorrow, I go back to work in my office. Another milestone. I am looking forward to it, I think. I don't know exactly how it will go, but I assume it will be great to get back to normal life. I am just not looking forward to getting myself and Steven dressed and ready, but it will be ok.

On a random side note, I had a good chuckle on the treadmill Saturday. There was a report on the news about PETA asking the town of Turkey, Texas to rename itself for Thanksgiving to "Tofurkey, Texas". If the town agreed, PETA would provide every home with a vegan Thanksgiving feast. Then they interviewed the mayor, an overweight dude in a ten-gallon hat. Based on his appearance, I assumed he did not seem the type to be interested, and based on his interview. I laughed. It became quite apparent in his interview that I was correct.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The girl with the radiation tattoos.

Yup, that would be me. Today was radiation prep day. It included 3 doctors' appointments: one with my oncologist to clear me, one with the surgeon to finish the pre-radiation fills, and one with the radiation oncologist to prep, mold and mark me. The first two were uneventful. The third was interesting, in a good way. I learned more about the radiation process.

First, they made my treatment mold. They basically fill a plastic pillow case with this substance that looks like pancake batter. I laid down on it, and it puffed up around me, and hardened. Pretty cool actually. The point of the mold is to get me to lay in the same exact position every time. I hope I picked a comfy position. Then they did a cat scan so they would know where to aim the beams. Once that was done, they marked me with 8 tattoos.

Is it strange for me to say that I think I might actually enjoy radiation? I found laying in the mold to be pretty relaxing, which is essentially all I will be doing during treatment. I felt very much like I was lying on a blanket on the beach. Can't beat that right?

Ok, seriously, who every thought I would be the chick with 9 tattoos and fake boobs? God must be having a good chuckle over that. Ah, the ironies of life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The long and winding road... and a little sob fest

This weekend marks a joyous and special occasion for me. The first non-chemo, chemo weekend! This is the first alternating weekend in four months without side effects. Seems so hard to believe, but wonderful. I am praying that this cold finally bites the dust in time for me to fully enjoy it.

It's amazing to me to think that chapter is closed. There were days when I thought it would never end. But sure enough, it did. It goes to show, it is possible to get through very hard, trying times. I had to persevere. That's how it works. I couldn't just sleep through it, as much as I would have liked to.

In the last four months, we have been through a lot. 4 trips to the ER. 8 infusions. A scramble in the middle to chase down the drug I needed. Countless doses of Zofran. Bizarre side effects. Joint aches. A bald head (or a fuzzy head to be moer accurate). Sleepless nights. Exhausted days. A roller coaster ride to be sure. But it was also a time where I got to spend extra time at home. A time where I realized that as tough as I had it, there are others who suffer more. A time when I got to be inspired by my Making Strides team. A time where I came to appreciate how loyal and supportive my husband can be. A time where my parents sacrificed much to help me through. A time where I realized how loved and how strong I really am. So as much as I would like to pretend it didn't all happen, I am grateful for the impact it has had on me.

Now for a few tears... Here are some songs that have struck a cord with me in the past few months. I get blurry eyed every time I hear them. So I am sharing them with you. Sob along, won't you?

Just stand up. This one gets me everytime because it captures what it's like to go through the battle:

I'm gonna love you through it. Sung by one of my all time favorite singers, written by the daughter of a survivor about her father's support of her mother during her fight. Side note, the video is all real survivors and their support groups. I can get past the first line now, but I still don't think I have made it through the entire song in one sitting. HUGE SOB:

I run for life. By Melissa Etheridge, a survivor herself.

And happy birthday to my big brother Chris! Thank you for your support and love... I'll take those awesome encouraging text messages any day. Love you

A realization

It is amazing to me that the end of chemo marked not only an exciting time for me in terms of achievement, but it also seems to have affected me in an unexpected way. I feel better. I don't mean physically, I mean emotionally. I don't feel scared like I did before. I am not up all hours of the night. I guess being at the end of that part of the journey has given me the comfort that I made it through that very trying period of my life.

It doesn't mean that the cancer experience is behind me. I expect that will always be a part of my fabric now. But being at the point where I can no longer feel the chemo running through my veins puts me in  a freer place. Perhaps it's because I am not afraid of the treatments that are remaining. Perhaps it's because I know that if I survived the past 4 months of chemo, I can survive jsut about anything.

Either way, I am starting to feel the angst of cancer subside ever so slightly, and that is a wonderful feeling. I will be so glad as I continue to be less consumed by it, feeling more like myself.

Friday, November 11, 2011

in sickness and in health

On November 12, 2004, those were part of the words that we spoke in front of about 200 people and our God. Little did we know...

We all take our vows when we get married, and in that moment, we absolutely mean them with all of our hearts. However, we never quite know when and how those vows will be tested. There are different components of them that can be challenged at any given time. The richer/poorer thing, well we all struggle with that in this economy. The better or worse part, that's so general, it could apply to anything. That could even boil down to managing through a cranky day.

The sickness and health part, that's more definited, but sometimes, like in my case harder to predict when it will pop up. I think to me, I expected to have a good 40 years before we had to worry about that sickness stuff. I thought it would be more the old people, forget where you left your teeth, or forget to take your blood pressure pill kind of sickness that we were talking about. I mean, sure, I knew we would get the occasional flu, or stomach bug, but cancer? Never in a million years did I expect that. At 7 years of marriage, I did not expect us to face what we did in the past 6 months. But the truth is, we have no control over things like this, and unfortunately, this was the hand we were dealt.

So our vows were tested in a big way. And I think I can confidently say that despite our challenges, our frustrations and occasional shouting matches, we weathered the storm. We meant what we said and we have stuck to it. We have loved, honored and cherished. Now we know not to take life and each other for granted.

And although this stupid cold I have is preventing me from celebrating our anniversary how I would have liked, we will find a way to celebrate it anyway because we earned it!

Oh and a special shout out to one of my favorite couples on this planet who share our anniversary. Love you guys and proud that you thought enough of us to get married on november 12 too! Can't wait until we can take a huge anniversary trip together somewhere fun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We are given life...

"We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given life. And it's up to to make it good or bad." - Ward Foley

I saw this quote today. I cannot agree more. We all encounter crap in life. That's a given. But we have a choice in how we interpret that crap. You might see a someone who has a smile on their face, and you might assume that they have the best life, but the truth might be, they are just making the best of the life they are given.

You can have cancer, or some other struggle in life, but you can still be happy. You have to choose to integrate things into your life to offset your challenges. It takes an effort, but it's worth it.

Better and Better

I'm a little delayed in writing this post because I was exhausted from the little man's birthday festivities over the weekend. Yesterday was Grandma Carrie's birthday. Her legacy still lives strong in her family. We are a large, close knit family. We are not perfect, but we love one another and are there for each other. We are taught at a young age to think positively, and that mentality becomes part of who we are.

My grandmother was a tough lady, but kind as could be. She stood up for what her heart told her, stood by her man for more than 60 years of marriage, and stood up for her faith. When she was younger, she walked daily, and prayed daily. She had the most wonderful laugh, and if you watch closely for it, you can still see that laugh in my father and my aunt today.

She was incredibly loyal. If you asked her, she would tell you she married her first boyfriend. She and Grandpa started dating when she was 14. I was blessed to be there when she died, and saw Grandpa's heartache as he realized what had happened. She was 89, and he was there with her every day since they started going out. Now that's love and commitment. For those of you who know the story, "he appreciated" her.

She was strong. After Uncle Bill died, I know it was hard for her to press forward, but she did. She didn't let her heartache stop her. She learned to smile again. And life did get better, perhaps because she willed it so.

She also made her health a priority. Knowing that she had dangerously high blood pressure, she did whatever she could to help keep herself healthy. She was incredibly diligent about her sodium intake, and excercised daily right up into her 80s. She took responsiblity for herself, and was determined not to let her own actions cause her ill health.

The hallmarks of being Carrie's granddaughter are these: strong faith, positive thinking, the importance of family, loyalty, standing up for what is important to you, being responsible for your own health.

This morning, I made it a point to start a new healthy habit. I was up at 6 am and hit the gym. I continue to learn from the examples of those around me. Excercise and diet are statistically linked in reducing recurrance risk. I can't predict the future, and I don't know what will happen with cancer in my body. All I know is I will do whatever I can on my part to keep it at bay. Here's to working towards a healthier future. Here's to life getting "better and better."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Celebrating "lasts"

It has been a pretty unique and special feeling knowing that I am in the last round of chemo. There are so many things that I am bidding adieu to these days. That feels amazing, and actually a bit surreal. This past Friday was 6 months from the day I got the news and my world changed. It seems extra special then that it was also the last hurrah for chemo.

When they unhooked me from my infusion last week, it was a wonderful feeling. With each day that passes, I get further from my 22 guage needles, paper tape, and bags of iv's. I get further from my side effects and fatigue. Hopefully, I get further from my fear.

I am happy to say that I no longer will have the super fatigue days known as "chemo sundays". I am so happy that I will no longer feel winded doing the most minor tasks. I am looking forward to finishing up the joint pain. I am so happy to have a normal stomach again. I am so happy to be looking forward to a bright future, and to no longer have to count down anything. To know that each side effect is only bubbling up for the last time is truly amazing. I think the most special feeling will be in two weeks when it's the first "non-chemo" weekend. Life will feel grand then.

Yesterday, we celebrated Steven's birthday with our family and friends. It reminded me of how blessed I am. I have a wonderful support group, and I am excited to be heading in a healthy direction to be able to enjoy life's celebrations with all of them.

I feel like I missed so much in the past 6 months, but I know that what I have gained is infinitely greater. I know that this chapter was a dark one in many ways, but also a rich one, full of opportunity.

Now it's time to look forward. Time to focus on rebuilding my future, and my life. Time to reclaim my body that has been on loan to science for a nasty experiment for the past 6 months. Time to start feeling like me again. And time to do my best to ensure that my body and mind are strong for a long, healthy future.

Friday, November 4, 2011

my rasion d'etre...

At 6 am, I heard this little voice calling from his room, "mommy!" I went in to see him, and told him it was too early to get up and that he had to go back to bed. He asked me if I would sit in the rocking chair with him. How could I say no to that? I sat in the chair, and he climbed up on my lap. He put his arm around me and snuggled his perfect little face into my shoulder.

As he drifted back to sleep in my arms, I couldn't help but know that there is no other option but for me to never go through this again. Even though I am winding down on chemo, the war is far from over. I still have radiation and tamoxifen ahead. And I need to change my lifestyle. I have already started making changes, but I need to do much more. I need to lose a significant amount of weight. I need to eat more naturally. I need to exercise regularly. I know none of these things will guarantee anything, but statistically speaking, the risks of recurrance are so much lower when lifestyle changes like these are adopted.

As I held that sweet boy in my arms and rocked him peacefully in that chair, I knew that I have to live for him. I need be here when we don't both fit in that rocking chair anymore. I need to be here when "mommy" turns into "ma!" I need to be here to worry when he gets his first girlfriend that I raised him right. I need to be here to cry the tears of pride when he wears that mortarboard on his head at the college of his choice. I need to be here to be the second woman to have a dance with him on his wedding day. I need to be here to see that the little boy I am nurturing now will be an amazing man. He has a life to live and I need to be a part of it. It's not an option for me to miss it.

There is a long road of choices ahead of me and I pray I make all the right ones. I don't want to survive for me. I want to do it for him.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I love november!

Truth be told, November has always been a busy month of celebrations for me. 2011 will be extra special.

It starts off with brother and sister-in-law's anniversary and the birthday of my wonderful friend Jen who has been in my life since the day I was born. Then, my beautiful cousin Carianne's birthday. Then, my most precious little boy's birthday. Then, my Grandma Carrie's birthday which I know she is celebrating in heaven with Grandpa, Big Bill, Uncle Bill and Uncle Mike. Then comes the birthday of my lovely cousin Alison. Then comes our anniversary (which will have extra special meaning this year), which also happens to be the birthday of a very special man (Mr. Woodhull) and the anniversary of two of my favorite people on this planet. Then, we move on to my beautiful Goddaughter Anna's birthday and the very next day is my big brother Chris's birthday. Then my parent's anniversary (the two most amazing, wonderful parents in the world. I hope they know how blessed I feel that they were in my corner since I got sick). That's followed by the very first anniversary of my wonderful cousins Jami and Billy, whom I could not have survived these past 5 months without. Then it's time for some turkey, stuffing and a brutal football game in Holmdel. WHEW!

So YEAH. lots to celebrate... And add to the mix that I am now done with chemo, and what more could a girl want? (oh maybe just a few good scans from the doc...) Certainly, I have much to be thankful for.

With chemo behind me, I have so much to look forward to. I think it will hit me two weeks from now when it's the first time I won't have to go to an infusion! How wonderful that will be. Ahhhhh.

And since I know chemo brain stories are always good for a laugh, here's one for you. Last night, I was up late working on the book. In my attention deficit mode, I clicked over to, and went to print off my article that was published there so I could have a copy. I hit print, and forget about it. I go back to writing. Mind you, this is occuring at about 1 in the morning Suddenly, I hear this ruckus out in the middle of the house. I panic. Steve was snoring in bed (like most normal people do at that hour). I sneak out into the hallway to see if I really did hear something, and I hear it again. My heart nearly stopped thinking there was someone lurking in our family room. I went to turn and run back into the bedroom, until I realize that the noise was the printer... Oh what is wrong with me?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Last chemo today! Talking about learnings.

I found a quote from a surprising source that sums up the theme of this post, "If you are going to go through hell, I suggest you come back learning something" ~Drew Barrymore

Not sure if it was hell or purgatory, but the last few months certainly have been rough. However, I do believe I am coming out of it for the better.  I have shed some things in the process, but I have gained more than I lost. Here is what I have learned:

  • Be your own health advocate. Doctors have your best interests in mind, but they don't necessarily know what is best for you. If something doesn't seem right, you should speak up. If you aren't getting the attention you think you deserve, say something or seek someone who will give you that attention. You do deserve it, and there is no reason to settle for less than you deserve.
  • Kids are more resilient than you expect. My son handled my illness with a surprising compassion and remained fairly unphased by my illness throughout.
  • Kindness often comes from unexpected sources. While the ones closest to me were naturally wonderful and supportive, some of my greatest boosts came out of the blue from long lost friends or family, coworkers, and acquaintances. Many of these people exhibited such kindness that it warmed my heart.
  • I am blessed with the most amazing parents, husband, family and friends in the world. Seriously, the whole world.
  • Keeping emotions in is just not healthy. It's no less dangerous than leaving a tumor in. Venting it out and facing the feelings are the only way to successfully move past them.
  • People cope with trauma differently. In my case, I choose to be open and share what I have experienced, the good, the bad, the ugly. I am finding it helps others, and that in turn helps me. But I realize my approach isn't for everyone.
  • I am one tough broad.
  • I have always lived by the mantra of "if not me, then who? if not now, then when?" I continued this philosphy through my cancer treatment, and find that it serves my soul well.
  • Fear is an amazing motivator. It used to be an obstacle, now, it's a great catalyst.
  • I am not defined by my physical appearance, I am defined by my heart and a soul.
  • There are stupid people in this world. They may say stupid things. I'm pretty sure there is a special brand of karma that handles people who pick on cancer patients.
  • After fighting a diagnosis like mine, you realize how much you can accomplish, and that everyone has the ability to make a difference. It's all a matter of putting yourself out there and making an impact in this world.
  • Survivors are an amazing breed. There is something so special about someone who has faced this beast and come out victorious.
  • Laugh as much as you can! It's a massage for the soul. 
  • Treatment can be so daunting in the beginning. To be truthful, there were times along the way that I wasn't sure how I could endure. But endure I did, and nothing made me happier than seeing the words "infusion complete" on my iv machine today! Donna and I both cried. 
  • If you are thinking something of saying something kind or encouraging to someone, do so. It will make them feel good. Trust me. There's the old adage, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. I suggest the flip side: if you have something nice to say, open your mouth and let it out. 
Oddly enough, just as my infusion completed today, positive outlook on Facebook posted this quote: "That even tears shed in times of tribulations they bring a gift of strength in later years". A sign? I don't know, but I will take it. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Going into this chemo like all others, with a prayer.

I am asking for an extra special prayer tonight. Please pray that tomorrow goes well, and that it is the very last chemo that I ever need. Pray that God heals me and that I am restored to health and that I live a long life from this point on.

I cannot believe it's finally here! I am so relieved. I am ready to close this chapter of my life. It's been an interesting experience to say the least. One that I have gained much from, but one I hope to never have to repeat.

I know that this has come into my life for many reasons, and I do believe that it will not be for naught. So I am grateful for the woman this has made me. I don't regret the choices I have made to respond to this challenge in my life. But I do want to leave this whole beast in my past.

I can only imagine how I will feel in 24 hours. I believe it will be just such a heavy weight lifted to know that I will finally be "infused for the last time.

I have high hopes for tomorrow. November 2 is a very blessed day in my family. On November 2 more than 50 years ago, Aunt Bern and Uncle Tom met for the very first time, starting a life long love that would inspire even to this day.  Then 22 years ago, my beautiful "baby" cousin Carianne was born, and the world became a brighter place. So I can only figure that is a good sign. Good things come our way on November 2nd. I can only believe that this year is no exception.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Farewell, Pinktober

This was a special month for me in many ways. It was my first breast cancer awareness month as a survivor. I can't deny the fact that I shed quite a few tears in the last 31 days, but most were out of overwhelming happy emotions. I was so very touched by people's kindness this month, starting with the flowers from my two handsome nephews and Michael sporting his pink socksin my honor on the football field. That was the best way to kick off to BCA month in my opinion!

I was able to be blessed and see how truly generous and kind people can be. Between my walk and people just helping me out directly, I can honestly say there are amazing people in this world. They make challenges like this much easier. My angels and I raised over $8,000 for the American Cancer Society. The walk was one of the most exhilarating and moving experiences of my life. I cried, I laughed, I walked, surrounded by much love. It was a beautiful day on so many levels, not just weather-wise. The whole day did my soul good.

I also continued my treatments as scheduled and started the ball rolling on the radiation part of the process. I managed through the usual bizarre side effects. I even started writing a book. Yes, for those of you who have been encouraging it, I finally got started. It will take a while, but at least it's under way. (Get ready for the ride on the tour bus Mary C! First stop is at your house). I will admit, it's a challenge to do with chemo brain. I have a hard time remembering ideas if I don't write them down immediately, and of course, between work, chemo, a husband and an almost 3 year old, the ability to do so is limited.

While I can't get into the details, I also channeled my inner Erin Brockvich this month. It felt so amazing to be able to stand up for others who weren't able to do so themselves. I'm proud of that. I wish I could say more, but basically, I had a David and Goliath-type experience and was fortunate enough to be victorious.

At the end of the month, I look back feeling a bit celebratory, pink wig and all. I can say that this month made me a better person, made me stronger and more confident.

I pray that November is as blessed. I will start it by taking my last chemo and end it by having much to be thankful for. It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

General commentary

It's pretty surreal to me that in less than a week, I will be getting my last chemo infusion! I cannot believe how quickly the time has past. I can only hope and pray that I never experience anything like this again. I will say that I do think that cancer has made me stronger. I has given me a new confidence in what I can accomplish. I have endured a lot in these last 5 months to say the least, but I am still standing!

I am working on a special post for the day I get my last treatment (Wednesday, November 2). I think you all will enjoy it. I have been working on it for a while because it's a momentus occasion in my life and I want to get the words right for it. The end of a very challenging chapter in my life.

On another note today, I got my pink wig to wear for Halloween. It's just lovely! I figure why not have some fun with this, right?

I hope everyone is surviving in this crazy weather. We are lucky here, we have had mostly rain and wind all day, but I have heard crazy snow reports from across NJ/Pennsie. Stay safe!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Met with the Radiation Oncologist today.

Today's meeting with the radiation oncologist went well. He seems like a very decent person/practitioner. The week after Thanksgiving I will start 28 radiation sessions, 5 days a week. By all accounts, it will be much better than chemo. I cannot wait!

I plan on imagining that I am on an island with a fruity drink in my hand, soaking up the rays.

While I was waiting for my doctor, I met a woman in the waiting room. Today was her last day of treatment. She had a very similar medical plan to mine: double mastectomy, chemo, radiation. Her hair was starting to come back in! Woohooo! I took her presence as a sign that this will go well and in a blink of an eye, I will be there too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Celebrating a hero

Happy birthday Dad! In the past few months, wonderful people have called me a hero. I don't see it that way, but perhaps I just learned from the best. In emulating a hero, perhaps I have begun to resemble one. I didn't run into burning buildings to save lives for a living. I didn't carry others to safety. I just watched and learned that life is precious and worth fighting for from someone who lived that every day.

Perhaps being the daughter of a firefighter is what gives me courage in the face of fear. Perhaps I gained my strength from watching him. I know I got my work ethic and determination from him (just as him the mullygrubs story sometime). I learned the power of thinking positive from him. And I certainly learned the importance of family and faith.

So thanks, Pop for always living an example. Thank you for just being there, and letting me know how loved I am. You being you made me who I am. Hope you didn't get your keyboard too wet reading the post. You're the best, and I am blessed.

On another note, one week and a wake up until my last treatment! But who's counting?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

everyone gets weary

No matter who we are, everyone of us had our trials in life. And as strong as we strive to be, we all get weary now and then. Life is like that. We all hit different points that require strength, perserverance and faith. We push through as best as we can. No matter how hard we try, inevitably, we all get worn down sometimes. For me, I just get tired of being strong.

The main part of today was good. I was tired in the morning, had a wave of normalcy mid-day, and then got hit with the aches and fatigue like a ton of bricks this evening. It's such a strange feeling when it hits. Out of nowhere, I feel like I need to lay down that immediate second. So I did.

I know I am in the home stretch now. It has been 5 and a half months since my diagnosis. That seems unbelievable to me. It went by so very quickly. My last infusion is less than two weeks away. I know that this will all be behind me soon. I just wish that fact would make the present day more bearable. I guess in some ways, it does, but I'm just tired. It will be so wonderful to be done with this interesting chapter of my life. Just gotta keep going. One foot in front of the other.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm still me

Sometimes, I have to remind myself of that. My world has been turned upside down since May. We all know that. My physical appearance may be different. But I am still me. I may have some temporary limitations that get in my way right now, but I know they will go away. I know someday very soon, I will feel more like the old me again.

The truth is though, I never left. I do believe I held true to the lyric I typed months ago. They did cut into my skin, and my body, but they did not get a piece of my soul. In fact, I believe my soul has thrived, and blossomed in ways it would not have if I had not been put through trials.

I see now that cancer hasn't changed me much. It just enhanced me a bit I guess. I am open about my situation for the hope of helping someone else. Maybe my sense of humor is a bit more warped. But I still love nothing more than the things I did before. I still love snuggling with my child. Spending time with my family (even though I missed being with them today... It was for a good cause so that I can be there in the future). Laughing and living life with my husband. Sharing stories and smiles with my friends. Just feeling alive.

They say that they chemo drugs can affect the heart. And perhaps they did, but not in the way the clinical studies say. My heart wants to give, to love and to be me. My heart wants to help others. My heart wants to pump blood through my veins as I take in this beautiful, crazy life. I think that those feelings were there, but perhaps dormant until I was awakened by fear. Fear can be a great motivator to remind you to get out and live your life. I cannot wait until the limitations are gone and I can move freely without pain or fog, so I can enjoy life in a new way.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One more to go, Dean Martin, and a little more chemo brain fun

Completed Round 7 today! I am so blessed and grateful that my blood work has held up so nicely throughout treatment! I would like to personally thank the nerdy scientist that discovered neulasta and my boss for allowing me to work from home as I am certain that this combo has kept me healthy and made it possible for me to keep on my schedule without delays. Seems almost unbelievable to me that the end of this is so very close now. Less than two weeks away until I am stuck with a 22 gauge needle for hopefully the very last time.  Today's treatment was uneventful. I slept through most of it again. Damm benedryl infusion. I tried staying awake, but I got so tired I got that numb face feeling that is typically reserved for too much alcohol.

Walking out of the infusion suite today was, well, sweet! Knowing that I am almost done is just surreal to me. I finally feel like I am on the downward slope of the mountain. I talked to my doc today about next steps! That was so lovely to finally be at that point where that conversation was more than just mere speculation. The only thing that is disappointing is that they won't do any follow up scans until radiation is done. I want one now to tell me all is good. I'm not the most patient patient. Oh well.

After treatment, Mom and I went to dinner at a lovely restaurant across from the hospital (for those of you who know the story, it's the place where much of my family enjoyed a delightful 3 course meal while I was coming out of 8 hours of surgery). Anywho, I realized the music that was playing tonight was upbeat Dean Martin collection. It took me back to Gram and Grandpa's house over the years. If you at their house on a Sunday, your experience likely included pasta, meatballs, grated cheese, and at some point Dean Martin serenaded you. He was a mainstay that in my recollection was brought to us via 8-track, then cassette tape, then eventually cds, as Grandma got more modern. I felt like it was her way of telling me that she's here and is celebrating too that I am almost done. It was better than her biting me in the cemetery last time.

Now, before I wrap this up, I thought I would share a few more chemo brain incidents with you since I know several people found it amusing:

  • The other day, I popped into Hess Express while fueling up the van to grab a drink. For a moment, I forgot that I had to pay for said drink and caught myself almost walking out the door without paying. What? Cancer patients don't get freebies at convenience stores? Well, that's a bummer. 
  • Then one recent morning, I went to brush my teeth. Just as I was about to shove the tooth brush into my mouth, I saw Cookie Monster smiling at me. Ooops. That's not mine! 
  • A few days later, Steven and I were both brushing our teeth, when he started freaking out right after he put his toothbrush in his mouth. Apparently, he was none too fond of the grownup minty stuff instead of his usual toddler fruity flavored tooth paste. Ooops again! Sorry buddy!
  • Oh and attempting to do brain teasers and letter puzzles during infusion equals not the best way to win. The letters were swirling and kind of resembled numbers, so I decided to stop and nap instead.
  • And earlier this week, I got locked out of my work computer this week because I had to change my password and couldn't remember what I changed it to. So my IT guy reset it at something generic that I just struggle to remember. Every time I go to login, I screw it up. If you want to mess with a patient, change their login. 
Please continue the prayers. I still need them on this journey. Pray that I finish stronger than I started. Pray that the treatment was effective. Pray that some day soon, I officially hear the words "You are cancer-free" and get my remission date (pray extra hard on this one!). And pray for my family. They have gracefully endured more hell than anyone should have to endure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

standing on the edge of 7

At this time tomorrow, I should be able to say "ONE MORE CHEMO!" Please keep me in your prayers as I go for round 7 tomorrow. Time is flying by so quickly now. I made my appointment to meet with my Radiation Oncologist next week. It's almost time for tanning!

The return to "normal" life is close now. I wonder if it ever will quite feel like it did before. I can't imagine that it will ever quite be the same as it was. I look at life through different lenses now. I would love to say that once I have my last infusion this all goes away, but deep down, I know it won't. It's now a part of me. It's not all of me, but it's a very large chunk at this moment. I suspect that percentage will change overtime, but the experience has permanently changed me.

What will I do with it? I'm not totally sure yet. I did see a quote today that resonated with me: "There isn't a single human being who hasn't had plenty to cry over. The trick is to make the laughs outweigh the tears". Right on! Life is enhanced by laughter and smiles. I cannot go back to taking life for granted. I cannot go back to just floating along. I need to spread some positive around. Whether that be by smiling more myself, finding ways to help others, teaching my son to be a good person who will have a positive impact on this world. I don't want to squander this experience. I have learned much in the past few months, and there are so many new ways that I can contribute. I think of Steve's shirt that simply says "Impact... Make one" I want to come out of this a better person than I would have if my life had not taken this unexpected detour!

Monday, October 17, 2011


Here is an interesting statistic I heard on the news today. 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of it! Lately, my blogs have been a bit egocentric focusing on me, the walk, my published pieces, etc. So I want to get back to the point of this month and all of the activity in case it's missed: BE AWARE!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, not Nicole Awareness month (although thank you for all the love and support! It is nice to hear from people who care...).  Therefore in the spirit of BCA, I want to focus today on just that. It was announced earlier today that Giuliana Rancic of celebrity gossip and reality tv fame was just diagnosed with breast cancer. She is 36 years old, and SAY IT WITH ME... "Had no family history"...

She was in the midst of infertility battles, when her new fertility specialist told her he wanted her to be screened before he would treat her. (p.s. I wonder if there is a link between people who struggle with infertility and BC. hmm. I come up with a theory a day. But I digress). And sadly, she's now going into treatment for cancer instead of trying to have a child. It's likely early stage, and she expects to be fine, but none the less, it happened. And now she will go through even more hell than she already has.

So I say it again, if you think it can't happen to you, it can. If you think you are not at risk, you are. If you think it doesn't happen to people under the age of 40, it does. If you find something, do not wait for it to go away. If it's there in a few weeks time, it's likely not going anywhere, so why not get it checked.

Don't be embarassed or shy. If a car was coming at you, full speed ahead, would you stand there a politely smile? No, you'd jump out of the way. Don't be polite when it comes to your health either! If you find something, treat it with the same urgency as the car. Know your body. Yes, that means checking yourself out. If you are embarassed about it, check yourself in the shower when no one's around. No one will know, and they will be happy if you detect something early. Ask questions. Be assertive.

Here is a good guide on how to do an exam. There! I am taking away all your excuses...

They can do mammograms for diagnostic purposes under the age of 40. You don't have to wait if you think there is something to be concerned about! Just FYI.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My body is tired, but I am wearing a smile.

Today was a truly amazing day! It was full of surprises, love, and a whole lotta pink! God blessed us with perfect walking weather. It was comfortable and beautiful. I was so touched to see so many shirts with "Nicole's Angels" on the back. I was equally honored to wear one that said survivor on the back!

It was an emotional day for sure, but a good emotion. I cried a decent amount, but I was armed with my waterproof mascara. I had the most amazing team to walk with. I counted my blessings today, all 75 of the ones who were there or there in spirit. Thank you to all who walked, all who thought of us and all who donated! In the end, we raised more than $8,000 for the American Cancer Society! As my mom said afterwards, we took something awful and made it into something wonderful. I'm so very proud of that!

One of the other special parts of the day was when several long-term survivors randomly came to hug me and tell me that I would be ok. Particularly, a 17 year survivor came right on up to me to share that message. She told me to hang in there and never give up. I could not thank her enough. She gave me an extra boost of hope. So truly special.

I also was particularly excited to see the pink fire truck! I literally jumped up and down when I saw it was there. Being a firefighter's daughter and sister, there was an extra level of special to sign that. What added to the beauty of that was when my nieces and my brother inked there messages too. Beautiful, special, touching!

I have never shared pictures on the blog before, but today I will post a few. Check out my fierce team, me proudly rocking the words "Survivor", a special picture of me and Steve, and my awesome team captain and cousin Frankie and the cake she made me! 


Let me share with you an experience I had this morning. I had to load a few things into the van. I had already pulled the van out of the garage, so I had to go out to do it. When I stepped out into the crisp, chilly pre-dawn air, an old familiar feeling and then memory came over me.

For those of you who don't know, my grandparents were brave souls who often took long road trips during the summers with their grandchildren. Part of the experience was riding "Big Nick" style. My grandfather was a truck driver his whole life, and learned that if you are going to be traveling, the best time to start was before the sun came up. So many a morning, he would be drag us kids out of bed at an ungodly hour, and we would be leaving a hotel by 5 am and on the road to our next destination. As you might imagine, it was often chilly as we would pile into the car.

So this morning, when I walked out, I had a deja vu. I felt like I was walking out to the old Caddy in the parking lot with Grandma and Grandpa. So, I ask myself, perhaps are there are two more walkers on my team today? I believe so. And for those who put me down in the poll as the first to cry... You win!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tomorrow is the big day!

Tomorrow, Nicole's Angels will take to the walking path, 70 strong! I cannot wait for the big event. A giant, loud sea of pink!! Ah, how I wonder if ACS is ready for the likes of us. As of right now, we have raised over $6,800. So, So awesome. That money will help many a cancer patient. Thank you to all of those who are walking, those who planned on walking, but are being sidelined due to life happening and those who contributed! I am so proud of the team and what we are accomplishing. It really is an awesome feeling to be giving back.

I think we should take bets as to who sheds the first tear. Any guesses? Something tells me it's going to be an emotional day. Seeing 70 people with my name on their back is going to be amazing. Plus, I am certain many of the other teams will have some awesome survivors. I wonder who will be the first one to drop a tear and who will be the one to cry the most often throughout. We should have a pool.

Here is the link to our team page if anyone would like to join us or contribute last minute.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I can't believe it!

I am so amazed that people in the media are interested in my story. My blog "there are no tears on Hope Rd" was published in!

Check it out.... :-)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The amazing thing about this journey...

From the time I was diagnosed, one of my goals has been to have there be some positive come out of this horrible experience. I hate cancer, and as much as I wish it wasn't a part of my life, there is nothing I can do to change the fact that it happened to me. It's in my life now, so I have to make the best of it. That is one of the reasons that has inspired me to keep up with the blog (although admittedly, the other reason is that I find the writing incredibly therapeutic and a wonderful way to get my positive thinking cap on). 

As I have continued blogging, something wonderful happened, people started to notice, and it started giving comfort to others: a wonderful side effect to something that was originally intended as a mode of venting out my own experiences to clear my head. I am hearing from others who do not have this type of battle that I inspire them in their daily lives. I cannot tell you how amazing that is to me. Then, I hear from others in the "cancer club" how this has helped them, by either given them tips through their journey, validation of what they are feeling, or just hope to know they are not alone. And that is the true gem for me. If I can help others, and give them hope, then I am doing my job.

In an earlier post, I spoke about lighthouses and how they guide others to shore who are battling storms. That is still what I would love to be for people. Now, looking back, some truly awesome opportunities to do so have come my way. First there was the interview by the Cancer Support Community, which was a blessing as the group has been tremendously instrumental in my coping. Here is the link: Then comes word that Coping with Cancer Magazine is going to publish a story I wrote for them based on my one of my blog posts! Such a huge boost knowing that others in the club may find comfort in my words. Then there is the Readers' Digest contest I entered which is still going pretty well. If I am lucky, I will be published there. You can vote here for me every 24 hours via facebook. Here is the link to vote:  But yesterday was a topper of all of these, when I was interviewed by ABC News and posted as a top story in their health section. here is the link:

It's so unbelievable and exciting to think there are people out there who are touched by and are learning from my story. I have been blessed all along to have a wonderful group of family and friends who check my blog. I typically get anywhere from 80-120 readers in my world a day. Here's the awesome part: yesterday, thanks to the coverage, I received over 600 page hits! I have received comments from people who I haven't even met who are finding comfort in my words. That is a gift, a blessing! People are learning about this disease, and becoming more aware because of me. What a truly indescribable feeling...

One of the other survivors told me how brave it was of me to share this experience. I don't find it to be so, actually, I find that it gives me courage because it allows for feedback. I post what I am thinking and feeling and people have responded with such kindness and encouragement, how could I not? Please know that for every one who has commented, whether here or through facebook or a card in the mail, each comment is a blessing to me. A sign that I have touched someone's heart somewhere, perhaps gave them a chuckle, a smile or a tear. That is a gift. Sometimes, cancer makes you feel emotionally numb, but when something like this occurs, you feel alive, special, beautiful.

So here is my message one more time: Cancer can happen to young adults. It happens when you least expect it. Know your body, and ask questions. If something doesn't feel right, then talk to your doctor. Do not ignore it! And if God forbid, you do get a diagnosis, know that there is hope in treatment, and you can still get much joy out of life!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

oh and one more thing

Perhaps the best way to honor those you have lost is to let their legacy continue. So Grandma, while you were fiercely private about your diagnosis, I hope you don't mind that I am very open about mine. I hope that someone can learn from my experience or another member of the cancer club can realize they are not alone and gain some hope in their journey.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a writer at ABC News about issues that affect young survivors. Here is the outcome! I'm proud of it and hope that it helps someone along the way.

"Life ain't always beautiful"

5 years ago today, the most beautiful cancer survivor in my world traded this world for heaven. I miss her like it was yesterday. She was my unconditional friend, my inspirational fighter, my grandmother. I never missed her more than I do now. I treasure every discussion we had, whether it was to gossip about the old bitties in her building, or to chat about my work. She was a fixture in my life. As her time started to fade, it scared me to watch her go. I couldn't imagine my world without her. I still can't imagine it sometimes.

We were very different people, but I do see some of her traits in me, especially now. I try so very much to rely on her legacy and the example she set. There are things in life that terrify you, but you can't let them stop you. Determination, a sense of humor and a brave face are necessary to battle a beast like cancer. I learned that by watching her fight for 15 or 20 years.

There was much living that happened from the time she was diagnosed until the time she was called back home. Grandchildren graduated from high school, college and grad school. Some of us got married. Great-grandchildren were born. Members of her family found their happiness. She continued to make the best macaroni soup. She even movedto a new home and started a new life for herself at the tender young age of 80. She became a biker chick at the age of 83. She colored Easter eggs until her last Easter. She still rolled her eyes when she heard the first few notes to "Grandma got run over by a Reindeer". When she was too weak in her last few days of life, she still enjoyed a beer.

She lived, she loved and she laughed.

There is a song by Gary Allen that always made me think of her and her battle, and these days, it makes me think of "our" battle: the one that she and I have in common, although we didn't have chance to share together.

 When you think of Gram, do what I do, remember her and smile.
No, life ain't always beautiful, but it's a beautiful ride indeed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The loudest voice you hear is your own & ode to Steve!

That was the affirmation card that I got today at the Wellness Community (aka, the cancer support community. I am resisting the name change, because I like focusing on the wellness part better).

I find it interesting timing because I have been having a rough few days emotionally. Right before my last treatment, I was feeling great. Then the side effects did their thing, and I struggled. I know to expect these things, but I still have a hard time accepting it when going through it. Fears creep in, sadness happens. And I can't help but ask the proverbial "why me?" I know I have come up with reasons to justify it, and in many ways have accepted it, but it's challenging to look at the world and know that I am the one who drew that short straw, and to know I will never quite know exactly why.  I know there are people in this world who have it so much worse than me, but sometimes, I get tired of being strong, and I let it get the better of me.

So today, while sitting there in my comfy seat in the community, I got that card. I found it very interesting because I know that much of the waves of sadness are within my control. So I need to cut the crap. I only have two more rounds of this stuff. I can get through this. It's been a long road so far, but I am nearing the homestretch. I need to believe in myself that I am beating this. I need to believe that soon I will hear and own the words "cancer free".

I need to understand that while going through this has been the bain of my existence, it's going to open my heart to an even more beautiful future, one where the colors on the trees are more vibrant. I will see that the sky is a bit more blue. I have learned more about how to reign in my soul when it feels like it's running amok. I am a warrior, and I will win this war... never mind the battle, I'm taking the whole kit and kaboodle.

Enough about me. I want to talk about Steve. He is one unbelievable man! He's not perfect, but he's perfect for me. He's the man who used to tell me I was beautiful without makeup. Now he tells me I am beautiful without hair. He has been by my side in ways I could never have dreamed of. He's held my hand when I was in pain. He's made me laugh, and cried with me. He's made me feel special at times when I feel invisible. When the rest of the world is living their normal lives, he's right there front and center, never letting me feel alone. He doesn't get to forget about what I am going through, he lives it every day. He never makes me feel badly about bringing this unwanted guest into our home. I know it's hard on him, and I know he's tired, but he doesn't give up. He knows when he needs to step up with extra effort to cover mommy's shoes with our son. Does he get angry about cancer? Of course. But he never lets it stand in the way of living up to the vows we took 7 years ago. I know it's not easy, but that's what makes me so lucky. This is a horrible path we are walking, but I am grateful and blessed to have him walking it with me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Funny how it happens...

Being today is a "chemo sunday" (even though it's saturday), I have not been having my best day. Feeling crappy, a little sad and overwhelmed, and just generally yucky. Then, a boost came. My interview has finally been posted on the Cancer Support Community's website. I am waiting to see when it pops up on Every Day Health's Newsletter.

Here is the link:

It's so very nice to see this online. I hope that my story encourages another patient to treat the whole self. The mind certainly does affect the physical. And cancer affects the mind. The best way to combat that is to get lots and lots of support and information. The Cancer Support Community is one great way to do that. I am blessed to have found it.

I hope you enjoy the story.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chemo brain....

In honor of chemo round 6, taxol round 2, I thought I would share with you one of the more entertaining side effects of chemo: CHEMO BRAIN. It is a real occurance, not just something I made up. Google it if you don't believe me.

Here are some of the entertaining things that chemo brain has done to me:
  • I came dangerously close to putting paprika in my oatmeal instead of cinnamon. blah!
  • I have put several non food items in the fridge only to find them later when looking for something else
  • Words constantly evade me when I am trying to talk, so now I just make stuff up
  • I drove to Holmdel last week convinced I had my purse with me. When I got there, I realized I didn't have it
  • I intended to microwave something for 30 seconds, and instead cooked it for 3 minutes... oops. that didn't taste so good
  • I have repeatedly booked multiple things for the same time and had no clue I was doing it because my brain has no concept of time or schedules right now
  • During a recent dinner, I was completely confused as to where the serving bowls, hot plates, and utensils were. Jami got a good chuckle out of watching me spin around the kitchen.
  • I was given a bag of shirts for the walk to deliver 12 hours before seeing the recipients... That bag is STILL in my dining room.
I don't mind chemo brain. I kind of find it funny.

Today's treatment went well. Poor Mom. She had to catch up on all of the celebrity gossip for the year while I was sleeping the day away in the chair. I am halfway through Taxol now and 75% of the way through chemo. I think I can, I think I can!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Taxol 2 tomorrow!

If all goes well, in 48 hours, I will have half of my Taxol infusions behind me! Tomorrow, they will take slowly too. They say if you are going to have a reaction, it will happen in the first two rounds. The first one went fine, so here's hoping that this one goes well to. I have to say, everyone told me I would like Taxol much better than AC, and they did not lie. The experience has just been so much different. I am so glad they do it that way. You get the worst over with first.

I am finally starting to feel more normal. I was able to exercise yesterday. I am sleeping better at night (most of the time anyway). I am able to eat normal foods again. It's so refreshing! Starting to feel better means I can start to do those things I need to do in order to get healthy and keep this disease far away.

Taxol has its own challenges of course (I mean, after all, it is still chemo), but it pales in comparison to AC. The good news is today is October 5 (Happy 75th birthday Aunt Bern!). One month from today, if all goes well, I will be in my ridiculous extremely tired day for the LAST TIME! Yippeeeeeeee!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.

BC awareness month is upon us, which means a tidal wave of pink. Some of the pink we will see are really exciting and touching. For example, watching a group of 13 year olds dedicating an awesome football game to breast cancer support (including my awesome nephew Michael and their team sporting their pink socks and tape, as they kicked some Howell butt on Sunday!). Some pink can be inspiring, like seeing pictures of the sea of 13,000 people strong sporting pink for the Komen Race for the cure this past week, or the team of 50 that will be proudly wearing pink shirts that say "Nicole's Angels" on their backs in two weeks. For those who haven't heard of it, there is a pink fire truck that is signed by survivors that rolls around northern NJ that is pretty amazing. And of course, you will know my mini-van when you see it because it has my pink "fight like a girl" sticker on it.

But some of the pink is down right goofy. There are plenty of things to chuckle about out there, and I want to share with you some of what I have found.  I am proud to say I lost my boobs, not my sense of humor, so here goes. For example, Mattel had come out with a Breast Cancer Barbie. She's lovely sporting a fancy hairdo and a glamorous gown (pink of course). Of course the proceeds went to research, etc. which is great. Then some survivors countered with the "real" breast cancer barbie. She has a shaved head, comes with a tube top made of gauze, lymphadema wraps, a pathology report, an iv drip and a toilet bowl! Ah, now that is a real life depiction! Gotta love that survivor sense of humor.

I also thought it was necessary to have breast cancer pens that also claim to "help prevent check fraud." Yes, I have bought these pens, although I am still not certain how those two are linked. The irony is, they are made by Uniball. That made me wonder if they have pens to support testicular cancer too. I mean, it only seems appropriate. Or how about the pink ribbon beer pong table? Sometimes drinking games are just the way to go. Ignore the fact that excessive drinking can be linked to breast cancer. Or how about the fact that KFC had buckets of their original fried chicken (yes breasts of course) in their "buckets for the cure" campaign? There are so many issues with this, all I could do was chuckle! Then there is the very fancy pink ribbon cigarette holder that I found online. REALLY? Nothing says cancer support than a pretty mechanism to hold your tobacco.

Oh and ladies, don't leave home without your pink ribbon mace!

I also found a breast stress ball. Yes, one that you squish to help relieve tension. And then I found a bottle coozy that is supposed to be a pink ribbon t-shirt. Not too unusual until you realize that it's molded to look like it has boobs under the shirt. Lovely. People are creative, I will give them that!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I am well aware, thank you very much.

It's amazing what a difference a year makes. A year ago, I thought I was "aware" of breast cancer, but was blissfully unaware that it was growing inside of me. Breast Cancer Awareness back then meant seeing pink ribbons and pamphlets around, knowing that there were walks and runs going on, hearing commercials on the radio.  Little did I know what the coming year would bring.

We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. This year, obviously, awareness has a new meaning for me. I understand it on a different level now. Pink is not just a color in my closet, it's a way of life. A year ago, I was not even remotely at risk in my mind. I felt sad for those who were, but I went about my life having no clue that it could ever happen to me, especially in my 30s. Now, I am practically a poster child.

Today, I thought about the limitations treatment has put on me. I thought about how I have half of the normal amount of weekends because I am too sick to enjoy every other one. It means there are parties I can't attend, and activities that I have to skip.  And it means that the ones that I do attend, I am attending with 75% presence because my energy level even on good weekends is substandard.

Then, I thought to myself, it's ok that I am missing my weekends now because it means I will be here for so many more weekends, years and events. As people have said to me, it's one year out of my life. Soon enough, my life will become my own again.  I will feel like me again

So as we start Breast Cancer Awareness month, please think of me. Ladies, if you have not done your proper screenings, whether that be self-exams, mammograms, etc. please do so. Gents, presumably, you have ladies in your life. Either remind them to get checked or lend them a helping hand. There is a fan-favorite t-shirt out there that says "save a life, grope your wife". There.... I said it. Hey, whatever works, right?

Keep yourself aware. Not just aware of the pink ribbons, but of the facts. Read the pamphlets. Do a google search. Talk to me or someone else. and NEVER assume that it cannot happen to you. It can. And being "paranoid" if you find something unusual could be all you need to save your life. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Here are some statistics for you (compiled from the Komen, ACS and Y-Me websites):
  • Breast cancer is the second most common diagnosis for women, to skin cancer
  • 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime
  • The estimated number of newly diagnosed women in the United States in 2011 is greater than 230,000
  • Between 5 and 10% of breast cancers occur under the age of 40 (aren't I lucky?)
  • 70% of breast cancer patients found the lump themselves
  • When found early, (stage 0 or 1) breast cancer has a 98% survival rate
Early detection is key!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2 Corinthians 4:6 - look it up! Sharing some exciting news

I cannot tell you how many of my wonderful family and friends have inspired me in my writing. So many of you have reached out in various ways to tell me how my words have touched you, and words fail me to try to explain what this does for my heart. I try to repay you by digging deep and sharing what I can. What started as a coping mechanism and a way to share information about my health has become so much more.

As you all know, I began blogging as a way to purge the thoughts and emotions that were overwhelming me. What I found was that my words touched so many others who are sharing this journey with me, whether that be family, friends, or even folks who have not met me, but have heard my story. I cannot tell you what a gift that has been for me. To know that what write I affects someone else in a positive way is simply amazing.

Many people have said to me that I should share my words with others, beyond this blog. At first, I was not up to it, I was not confident that what I wrote was good enough, or that anyone other than my super supportive friends and family would care about what I had to say. But the comments and support kept coming. It led me to wonder. Then it led me to act.

You all know about the Reader's Digest contest, which is very cool and which I am doing quite well in so far (p.s. yes, I know there is an issue with the voting the last day or so. It seems to be back up now, so please feel free to continue to vote). But I submitted my work to several other media outlets as well. Today, I received word from Coping with Cancer Magazine. Their board had reviewed my submission and approved it for publication!! It is the most exciting news I have received in a while.

The particular article is titled "Redefining Survivor", and focuses on the fact that cancer patients become survivors the moment they are diagnosed. Being a survivor is not about acheiving some grand milestone, it's about celebrating every hurdle that you clear because each one is an accomplishment. To be able to share my words with folks who are also affected by cancer is a blessing. I hope that I may be an inspiration to them, make them proud of themselves, and perhaps make this journey a little easier for them.

I have been given a difficult cross to bear in life, but what I choose to make of it is up to me. I can do nothing but fight this disease (which would be noble unto itself) or I can fight and try to shine some light on a dark situation. I try to be a prism in this world. I take the sunshine that comes to me, and reflect it out in rainbows, to make others smile or make their hearts a little lighter.

"For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  (There, I made it easy for those who didn't look it up yet)

Monday, September 26, 2011

voodoo and pirates.

I am very relieved to finally be rid of the nausea. It's so nice to be able to eat whatever without aversions or gagging. Taxol isn't quite without its issues, but as always, it's worth it. I am still finding that the second day after the infusion is still brutally exhausting. There doesn't seem to be any way around that. I guess that is regardless of the type of chemo.

The big side effect that people talk about with this hasn't hit yet: neuropathy. I originally posted this without an explanation of what neuropathy is. Basically, it's a numbness/tingling in the hands and feet. I wonder if and when that will happen. People tell me that it makes it difficult to pick things up or button shirts. Well, that's just great for someone who isn't exactly the most coordinated person to begin with. This should be interesting. For anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with me, you realize that I already have problems in this arena. I suggest wearing something waterproof around me at all times. I already have "spilling" issues. Just ask my brothers who sat through every dinner with me spilling my beverage at least once per meal as a kid.

The other main side effect is bone/joint pain. They say it's temporary, but it is, well, painful. I think the best way to describe it is to say that I think I now know what it's like to be a voodoo doll. It feels like someone is poking my bones, and joints with sharp toothpicks. Tylenol does help some with taking the edge off. It's not catastrophic, it's just annoying. It's kind of hard to get comfortable doing anything when you have a pretty constant ache.

I'm going with the image that Tammy gave me. I'm picturing the taxol as being little pirates with tiny swords stabbing at any little cancer cells that might still be floating around. That sounds pretty good to me.  Little mini Jack Sparrows running around, minus the drunken debauchery. (I don't want them poking the wrong thing in a drunken haze).  Works for me!

Side effects are what they are. They are unpleasant and annoying . However, I am grateful for them because it means I am fortunate enough to be receiving treatment where others may not be so lucky. So if it means little pirates are running around stabbing me, that's fine. To that, I say "yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

short but sweet

I am tired as anything. BUT how wonderful it is to not be nauseous.... ahhhh! thank God for small favors.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Just call me the Taxol hunter

So two weeks ago, I was told there was no Taxol and I was going to have to do another regimen. I am pleased to say, I proved them wrong. After a lot of phone calls, text messages and scrambling, today I did it! I successfully received my taxol. I was nervous because the two people I know who tried had a reaction. But by the grace of God, the infusion went without a hitch.

Moral of the story: if anyone (even a doctor) tells you that you "can't" do something, but you believe that you can, then you have to keep going until you get what you want. Be your own advocate. Don't be shy. You have every right to speak up and you owe it to yourself. If you don't stand up for what you feel in your heart is right, you will regret it or second guess yourself.

Be relentless. I had to call my old doc's staff 10 times before I could get them to transfer my records to my new doc. I was tired and didn't have the energy, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I knew this was what I wanted and other people's laziness, or whatnot, was not going to stand in my way. Bottom line is, don't settle for something that doesn't feel right to you. Push for what you want.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

There are no tears on Hope Road!

Tonight was my first meeting with the Early Stage Breast Cancer group. It felt like the first day at school walking in, rather appropriate for this time of year. It was a little nerve-wracking not knowing what to expect. I made sure I put on my water-proof mascara in case it turned out to be a sob-fest, and I chose a chair next to the tissue box.

I should have known better. I was in a room full of survivors.

Let me tell you a little bit about survivors. They are amazing. They are strong. Those are the things we already know. But let me tell you more. They smile and laugh a heck of a lot. They are supportive. They are comfortable with who they are because an experience like breast cancer puts life in perspective for you. It strips away your ability to mire too much in nonsense, and just cut to what's real and what matters. They are honest and open. They want to help others because they know what it is like to feel you are the only one who has ever gone through the nonsense. They build you up because they have walked that path. You believe them when they tell you that it will be ok because they know better than anyone else. They are proof. And when you put a bunch of them together in one room the feeling is electric, invigorating. It makes you feel like you can conquer the world.

So, I did not cry tonight. I laughed. I shared. I listened. I smiled. I learned that I am not the only person who craved pork fried rice during treatment. I felt good about the choices I have made regarding my treatment, and the person that I am becoming as a result of my cancer. And I sang really loud on my drive home with my hat off and my window open, just feeling very much alive.

There is something so comforting about talking to people who are in various stages beyond you on the journey. It's like looking into a crystal ball, and seeing what your life might be like in the future, realizing it's a happy place to be. Envisioning yourself in various stages of hair growth, in various stages of being emotionally "past" cancer. It's a glimpse of what is coming and it really is overflowing with hope. Oh how I love my journeys to Hope Road.

So to anyone with a cancer diagnosis, please find yourself some support from others who have walked in your shoes. They can provide a different level of support than the rest of your world can because they really truly know because they have been there. There are many organizations to choose from: the Cancer Support Community, Gilda's club come to mind. Trust me, you will not regret it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Medical update

So I finally concluded my hunt for Taxol today. I will be getting infusion one of four (as long as it's well tolerated) at Hackensack on Friday. The kicker is, my new oncologist called Monmouth to follow up on an issue on my pathology report. Within an hour of my appointment, I got a call from the nurse at Monmouth to tell me that they magically found me 4 doses of Taxol. Hmmm. Very "coincidental" if you ask me.

Anywho, at least I now have a plan again.

In other news, the Reader's Digest contest is going great. I keep on moving up the ranks, and took over the #6 spot today! Wooohoo! The only downside is there is a long time to go in this one and a lot could change. The voting is open until November 15. Yikes! If you have facebook and feel like voting, here is the link:

Also, our Making Strikes team got knocked out of 3rd place in fundraising by some random team who went from zero to $5,000 in one fell swoop. Oh well, at least we are still the biggest. If you would like to walk with us, let me know and I can send you the info to register.

Tomorrow,  it's back to work. Always interesting. I am blessed to have a job that let's me work part-time from home during this craziness. That's my mantra.

Monday, September 19, 2011

no such thing as a bad hair day

While talking to Tammy today, I told her that I didn't think I would ever complain about a bad hair day again. That spawned a thought and a post. It's about appreciating what we have, and how the loss of something, even something as trivial as hair, can make you see what you do have.

I miss the days when humidity was my greatest foe, and when my solution was throwing my frizzy hair back into a pony tail.  I miss frizz! Frizz is better than fuzz, ladies and gentlemen. You heard it here first. I was brave enough to conduct a scientific experiment on your behalf to determine which is worse.  You can thank me later.

I am certain that you don't come out of a cancer diagnosis unchanged. I'd like to think that I am going to at the core still be "me", but perhaps a better me with a different perspective. I renewed perspective on life. I remember having a quote hanging in my first cubicle at Schering. The quote stated simply, "If you focus on what you do not have, you will never have enough. If you focus on what you do have, you will realize how blessed you are". I find it ironic that I am being taught a lesson that I already knew was true. I guess perhaps it was to test me, to see if I could put my money where my mouth was so to speak.

The bottom line, it's about focusing on what you have. Does your job drive you nuts sometimes? Maybe, but it pays your bills and it supports your family. In this day and age, that's something that others don't have. Do you have a lot going on and feel overwhelmed? Maybe, but it sure beats being bored and not having much to live for. Do you wish your house was bigger, cleaner, fancier? Maybe, but it's a home none-the-less, providing shelter and a place to gather with your family and rest. So many people lost theirs in the recent hurricane. Does your hair get frizzy when it's humid? Maybe, but it's wonderful to just have hair, and as I know know, frizz is better than fuzz. Do you have to go through chemo to get healthy, and does that suck? Maybe, but it means you have hope to live a longer life and are benefiting from years of research. The treatment might seem worse than the disease, but in reality, it's not true. It's wonderful to have the option to fight. Some people never get that chance.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

we all have our crosses to bear

It's so easy to look at my situation and throw a pity party. But what would that do? It certainly isn't going to make it easier or take it away. All that would do is magnify it, and make it even seem worse than it is.

Everyone has crap in their lives to deal with. Some people have unhappy home lives. Some people are underemployed or unemployed. Some people are lonely or unfulfilled in their lives. Some people put their lives on hold to care for loved ones. Whatever the case is, we all encounter crosses in our lives.

Early on in my journey in cancer-ville, there was a knowledge of something that occurred that I only shared with a few people. The reason I didn't share it broadly at the time was because it's an extreme story of faith and religion, and I was not sure how everyone would receive it. I only shared it with those who I believed would understand and not question it. I've decided that it is important for me to share this because it is a real account of my experience. Perhaps it will bolster faith for someone. If people choose to take something from it, wonderful. If not, well, no harm, no foul. If you do not feel comfortable reading about a Christian testimony, please stop here because I do not hold back on what occurred and my interpretation of it.

On the day that my biopsy was done, I knew in my heart what was coming. I knew because something happened. While I was lying on the table, I heard the tech say to the radiologist, "hey, do you see what I see?" The radiologist acknowledged that she did. She told me to look at the screen. I did and I saw what they saw. The tumor they were biopsy-ing was in the shape of a cross. The radiologist said to me, "I see a cross. And I hope you don't mind saying so, but I take that as a good sign". My thought immediately was "this is my cross to bear in life - cancer."

It was there, plain as day on the screen, and later, it was there on the films. I interpreted it a few ways. First, I took it immediately as a bad sign because I knew instinctually that my diagnosis was coming. My next reaction was that I knew that I was not alone in this battle. I knew that even aside from my wonderful family and friends, I had faith that I was not walking this road alone. There was my higher power involved.

So I continue to bear my cross, as do those of my friends and family who in many ways support me though out this, whether it is to push me to keep going, to listen to me when I struggle and need to vent, to suffer in their own hearts just watching me going through this, or doing a number of things to help me along the way.

Crosses are heavy, that much I know. They take endurance, faith and love to bear. But the fact is, everyone has them, and as a Christian, perhaps the focus is not on bearing the cross, but on the glory of the symbolic Easter, the thought of triumph over adversity. The reality that though the road is a tough one, one can overcome. Indeed, this is the cornerstone of my faith as a Catholic, is it not?

Friday, September 16, 2011

If you think you can...

It's ironic how consistent themes play throughout various stages of your life. I always been a believer in mind over matter, and the power of positive thinking. It had been challenged in the past, but certainly not to the extent of the past four months. One of my favorite quotes had long been "whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are right" (or something like that). I still do believe this is true.

What I love even more is that my son is learning this same lesson. One of his favorite books is the little engine that could, and he's shaping up to be one tough little cookie. But I digress.

I believe that you are as strong as you think you are. I believe that the only real stumbling block is the ones we put in front of ourselves, typically built out of fear, fatigue, or stubbornness. I believe that we are able to accomplish anything if we put our mind to it. Every successful person in life had common denominator: they believed in themselves enough to try whatever it is that made them successful. It doesn't matter to me if they are a child learning to read, a cancer patient making a way through treatment, an employee working under a tight deadline, the head of a large company, or the President of the United States. It's about believing in yourself and not stopping until you achieve your goal, whatever that goal may be.

Take for example Nancy Brinker, the head of the Susan B. Komen foundation, but not because of her organization's affiliation with breast cancer. She is inspiration simply because she was one woman who promised her sister to do something great, and she did! She was "just" one woman 30 years ago, now her organization has international reach, has impacted the survival rates of this crazy disease worldwide, and partners with some of the largest companies in the world. Just yesterday, they announced a partnership with GE. Yes, that GE, the humongous corporation we all know.

The truth is, everyone hits brick walls now and then. Everyone runs out of steam and feels like they can't go on. Everyone gets to a point where they feel like they just can't do it anymore. And regardless of what "it" is, that is a very real issue for them. So how do we overcome it? Sometimes, it's ok to say we just can't do it as long as we recognize that as a temporary condition. Sometimes we need to really recharge before we can push on. But push on we should, as long as what we are pushing for is a worthy cause.

Here is what I know to be true about what I can do. I can keep taking treatment. I can do the best I can once I have energy to get myself healthier. I can be the best mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, etc. that I know how to be. I can continue to pray like it's up to Him and work like it's up to me. I can keep working to be the best HR Manager I can, even if it's only part-time for now. I can keep thinking positive, smiling and laughing. I can keep writing and hoping that my words will help someone else in some way.

Speaking of which, I am currently in the #9 slot in the Reader's Digest contest out of literally more than a thousand entries. THANK YOU and please keep voting!! My goal is to be in the top 10 and be published. I want people to realize that this disease can happen to any old average girl living a normal life. I want to spread awareness, and perhaps maybe warm a heart or two of other survivors to know that they are not alone. And I want them to know that life is good, even with cancer.

So how's that for upbeat? It's the truth as I know it. And for anyone who find it irritatingly positive, I share with you my second favorite quote, "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort!" Enjoy that!

One last note, a friend of mine is having some followup tests to rule out breast cancer and is asking for your prayers. She will hopefully learn good news next week. In the meantime, could you please all say a quick one to the Big Man upstairs and ask that she is ok? Thanks!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A time to harass

Well, if nothing else, I'd say my experience in cancer-ville has made me a bit more assertive. I historically tended to be a bit more on the passive side of life and to pick my battles. For example, I was never one to complain in a restaurant or send food back for fear of the "sneeze-burger". If you have ever read the book "Burnt Toast", that was me. I tended to settle for things, never one to make a fuss, especially with people I don't know.

Lately, however, I am learning when it comes to your health, you just can't screw around and wait for someone else to do the right thing. Robert Wood Johnson cannot make an appointment until they receive my medical records from Monmouth, and review the files. So I was sitting here waiting for someone to send my medical records whenever they get around to it and it was not exactly jiving well with me. As such, I've become a bit of a harasser.

Things get lost in the shuffle, even the paper file of a cancer patient. It's ridiculous, but to some employee somewhere, it's just a part of their daily grind. I guess to them, it's not that important. It's just one more item on their to-do list that didn't get done. After leaving several voicemails, I finally reached someone in the medical records department. She told me the release I signed on Monday never made it to her desk, and until she had that, she couldn't send my records. Lovely! So I had her fax me the form for me to sign it again, and urged her to please expedite the file. She was pleasant enough and said she would make it happen. Even if she sneezed on my file, I don't care because I got what I needed out of her. It only took 7 phone calls from me to make it enough of a priority for it happen.

The HR Manager in me struggles with the obvious lackadaisical approach to job performance. So to each of you, I challenge you to think about who your stakeholders are every day, and think about how your to-do list impacts them. Granted, most of yours will not be cancer patients waiting for treatment, but still, they have needs too. Try not to just let your work become so mundane that the job doesn't get done. They pay us for a reason.

When you become a patient, somewhere along the line you realize you have to become your own advocate. You can't wait and expect others to go the extra mile for you. Some will, but you cannot assume. When time is of the essence, and it's your own health being impacted, your sense of urgency gets heightened, and your motivation to act goes through the roof. So harass if you must. It's working for me.

Does it make me a pain in the ass? Maybe, but given the circumstances, I don't particularly care. At least I am still a polite pain in the ass. I harass with a smile.