Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Winning with cancer

I have heard so much about beating cancer. It has been something I have been striving for for more than two years now. It's the dream of anyone who hears those dreaded words. No one wants to lose that battle. What an awful thought. But then it occurred to me, tumor burden aside, I have already beaten cancer. No, that is not a medically confirmed statement. But it is my truth. Let me explain. Cancer wages a war on two fronts: the physical battlefield and the emotional one. The physical war still rages on in me. And hopefully, my troops are on the move and continue to kick some ass. But that remains to be seen. The emotional war is the one I am winning. I am not depressed. I am not crippled by anxiety. I am not buried in fear. Instead, I am happy. I am hopeful. And I am living my life. I am not curled up in a hole somewhere waiting for the storm to pass. I am dancing in the rain. Life goes on and I am a part of it! Take that cancer, you cowardly bastard! I am working. I am living life with my husband. And I am raising my son. My faith in God is as strong as it has always been. In fact, in someways, my life has been enhanced by cancer. I have several published articles that I am proud of, and that wonderful book that I never thought would come to life. I have raised funds for cancer charities. I have been there for others who have Needed the support and understanding of someone who has walked in their shoes. I have walked through the Mets clubhouse wearing my own Mets jersey that now hangs in my closet. I bathed in sacred waters in the presence of our Lady of Lourdes. I have met living miracles and am working On my own. Oh yes, cancer, my life is better because I chose to move forward with my head held high, in spite of you, come what may. And I plan on continuing to do so for a very long time. So hang on cancer, you are in for a bumpy ride. I don't take kindly to losing and I don't give up easily. Just accept that. And really, you wold be doing us both a favor if you wold just disappear or quiet the hell down for quite a while. I have things to do, and you really don't need to tag along. I will be just fine without you. But if you insist on staying, just sit down and shut up!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

People survive

I don’t understand why we don’t focus more on the “miracle” cases in cancer. There are way more of them than I ever realized. I once was completely terrified of Stage IV because it was a death sentence in my mind. Truth is, It might still kill me… But no one can say when or for sure that it will. There are people who give up from the outset (which is entirely their prerogative), and without any sort of treatment, Stage IV is absolutely a runaway train. But with treatment, perseverance and hard work, it can be managed and the hands of time cane be slowed somewhat. I know of a woman who was diagnosed around the time I was with Stage IV. Sadly, she is several months gone because she opted out of treatment. What a brave choice to make, but it is not one I could make for myself. For me, I choose to fight as long as I can. I have come across so many people now who have taken a grim prognosis and not accepted a death sentence and are here today to tell the story. Most of whom are cancer free today. Perhaps that can be me too. Time will tell. In the meantime, I will act as if that will be the case, and keep pursuing the beautiful goal of wellness. I am hopeful that it is possible that I can be one of those amazing stories. So far, I am doing well, and I will take that! These days, I basically take it two months at a time, going from one set of scans to the next and enjoying life in between. I continue to work hard at my health, and so far, it seems to be helping. It certainly can’t hurt, that’s for sure. I look forward to a day when I can walk up to a cancer patient and say “you know, 30 years ago, I had stage 4. Don’t ever give up hope. You can do this”, just like a wonderful man did to me on Sunday. I want to be one of those people who gives others hope and helps them to believe that they too can do it. There needs to be a better way of showing stage IV is just a classification, not a death sentence. Patients shouldn’t focus on statistics, and shouldn’t just assume that their outlook is dismal, even if the doctors say it is. Every one of the miracle people I have met have been told of their poor prognosis by their doctors before their situation turned around and improved. Don’t let anyone put an expiration date on you. I don’t. That’s up to God…

Saturday, July 27, 2013

You get used to it...

So here's something I never thought I would say: I have chronic cancer, and I'm used to it now. It will be a year in September since I learned there was the first sign of distant spread. And a few months later, things got worse. It seemed hopeless and horrible at the time. I felt like I was on a runaway train that couldn't stop.

And then I started treatment and added nutritional changes. According to my most recent scan, things were improving. I am tolerating treatment fairly well.  At this point, cancer is a part of my life that is just there. I live with it and life goes on. I often forget that I have cancer and that I am in treatment. And then I wonder why I get tired when I do to much. Or get frustrated when I feel sick. I want life to be completely normal, but it's not like it was before cancer. What I have learned is that is still ok. I am here, experiencing what my life has to offer as best as I can and that's good.

I don't like being limited, but I am learning to incorporate it into my life fairly well. I can't change it, so I learn to make the most of it. It was difficult to accept that cancer treatment is an indefinite situation, but it is getting to the point where I am ok with that fact. I had to shift my mindset. Being in treatment is good because it means there is something they can do for me. That's better than the alternative. And who knows what next great thing might be coming down the like treatment wise.

In the meantime, I try to go with the flow. I know that they can't "cure" me. But that doesn't mean all is lost. And that doesn't mean that I need to crawl up in a ball and hide because it's a crappy reality. If anything, that would end up wasting precious life. Life is good. Yes, even with cancer. It can have some potholes and crappy times, but that can be said with life without cancer couldn't it?

Friday, July 12, 2013

The wellness journey

Several people have been asking me about what I have been doing in addition to chemo to help support my wellness. And one friend suggested that I post blogs about the information and share what I am doing in case others might be interested for themselves. I got nervous about it because I don’t want people to judge my choices or think I am crazy because I have made some big changes. I also don’t want people to look at me funny if they see me on an off day or social event where I am not following my own protocol. But she convinced me that more good than harm can come from sharing my information, so that sealed the deal. She knows the way to get me to share. ;-)

So here’s the deal. First off, I wanted to state that I am no expert. I am just a girl living in a scary set of circumstances looking to do whatever I can to support my wellness so that I am better able to withstand chemo and whatever else they throw at me.  I have done a lot of research, but what impacted me the most is the cancer survivors I have met who have added something like this to their medical regimen and had great success. Several of these people have been told there is nothing that can be done to help them (which I cannot imagine how awful they must feel. Fortunately, I have not been faced with such a grim outlook from my doctors). The kick is, several of these very same people are not only still here, but even better yet, living without cancer detected in their bodies now. Can I get an AMEN?? Who knows whether or not that is in my future… That’s in God’s hands. But I do believe that these people who crossed my path have been put there for a reason, even if it is just to teach me to treat my body better so that I can tolerate treatment better.  

The reason I have made the changes I have is that I do not necessarily think any one thing is a cure. In fact, there is no known cure for what I have. However, I believe based on my research that a comprehensive approach to wellness is the way to go. Chemo has its merits and clearly helps fight cancer, but it can be toxic to the body and can affect the immune system, your overall chemical balance in your body, and healthy tissues. Given that, it makes sense to me that conventional treatment coupled with excellent nutrition and a focus on stress management to help offset potential damage from treatment seems to be a recipe for success. I have done what I have done in the name of giving the chemo the best environment to work in, and to give myself the best shot of fighting. There is a lot of information to cover, so I will start with the highlights in this post and add recipes for anyone interested in other posts.  

Ok, let’s start with the basics. Here are the highlights:

·         The goals are to lose weight (and yes I have spoken to my medical team about this because it can impact treatment. They know my general plan and are good with it as long as I keep them in the loop if anything weird happens. i.e. like if I try to gain weight or eat foods that should contribute to weight gain and am unable to add the pounds. That’s not a good sign in cancer land) being overweight isn't good for anyone's health but coupled with breast cancer does not tie to good outcomes.
·         I have cut out the processed sugar, big time. There are days when I would cut off my arm for a kit kat or a twix, but sugar definitely isn’t good for cancer, if for no other reason than because it adds empty calories, and a few other reasons as well.
·         I have cut out processed snacks mostly. Admittedly, if I am at a party on the weekend and there are chips, I will eat them, but during the week or in the course of normal life, I try to keep them out. Similar reason to the sugar.
·         I have cut out dairy products. This honestly is probably my biggest challenge! I never was a huge milk fan, but sweet Jesus, my kingdom for some pecorino romano or cheddar! Or even just some yogurt. Here’s why I cut it out. There have been several scary studies of late linking dairy consumption to survival rates in breast cancer, especially metastatic like mine… That data was enough to scare me sober! What was difficult for me though was that I was taking in extra dairy after my first bone spot was detected thinking I needed the extra calcium support. I was nervous to let that go. But I have supplemented with calcium and vitamin d in a pill form in decent sized doses and have sought out plant-based sources of calcium. I just had my first bloodwork done that checks calcium levels since I gave up dairy. The range for normal is 8.8 through 10.4. Mine was 9.4! Just about perfect. So the proof is in the pudding, or the broccoli so to speak) Here are some excellent plant-based sources of calcium: chick peas, butternut squash, brussel sprouts, many types of beans (pinto, navy, kidney, etc), spinach, calcium fortified orange juice, celery, kale.
·         I have seriously limited red meat. I am slightly anemic, so I do sometimes add a little in (like once every few weeks). Although I am anemic, my levels are consistent from before I started treatment, so that’s a good sign.
·         I have seriously restricted other meats, choose organic when I do cook it for myself (or rather when Steve cooks it for me), and have boosted my intake of plant-based protein. Included in this are beans, nuts, seeds, and quinoa (which is so good!). I do not include soy products because of the hormonal basis of my cancer, but for others who don’t have hormonal issues, this is also a good option.
·         I start my week day mornings out with fruit and veggie smoothies. I usually have two or more veggies for snacks and lunch. I typically pack nuts and a piece of fruit or a carton of berries for an  additional snack during the day. I try to drink water throughout the day, sometimes plain, sometimes flavored with lemon, lime or other pieces of fruit.
·         I have given up coffee for the most part, and if I need a caffeine fix (which hey, I work full-time, chase after a 4 year old, and am on chemo, I get tired…) I opt for green tea.

The wonderful news is that I have lost about 10 lbs since starting treatment which I needed to do… And yes, I can gain weight when I eat like I should be gaining weight (trust me, I have tried, and it’s not an issue! Never was, and I guess for once I am glad it hasn’t changed). The even better news is that my blood work is holding up great. My immune system is responding quite well and not getting totally wrecked by chemo. AND the rest of my organ functions measured by blood work are showing to be completely normal. And the recent set of scans showed the cancer was retreating. Let’s hope that trend keeps up!!

The cancer girl...

An interesting thing has happened (which on an side note, oddly enough, my spell check wanted to change happened to napalmed, I find that entertaining) over the past two years. I have noticed that I have become the go-to person for people who either have been diagnosed with cancer or love someone who has been diagnosed. It is especially true in my work place. Sadly, we are up to about a half dozen people there in about two years and several others outside of work. This is a particularly strange feeling for me because first of all, I know very little about cancer in general. I could tell you more than any of us ever care to know about breast cancer and all that comes with that, however, that is where my technical knowledge pretty much ends. Other diseases are foreign to me, and truth be told, my brain could not actually retain that amount of knowledge. Kudos to those who do!!

What I am learning though is that the emotional component of cancer is very different than the physical, and interestingly transcends the type of cancer. The feelings of fear, sadness, helplessness, desperation, and determination among others seem to be the same regardless of where those rogue cells take up shop. So, in that regard, I am finding my experience allows me to comfort others a bit and help the transition to that new normal that we all speak of because once you cross that line into cancer-land, there is no looking back. Your life changes. I can see their relief when they learn that the emotions they are feeling are common and they are not alone in this new, scary world. I can see they need to hear from someone who has been there that there is life (and a fairly decent one) after diagnosis and during treatment. I almost feel like a welcome week counsellor at the cancer college. While it is not something I would have chosen for myself, I do find that it can be rewarding to help someone and make them feel less fear and anxiety at such a horrific time in their lives. There are certain things you can only really comprehend if have had cancer or had someone extremely close to you with it. You have to live it to really know it.

I suppose this was a role I was meant to play. I can see the benefit and need of someone to be this person for others. It is an unexpected side effect of cancer for me, but one that I am starting to enjoy. I wish  people didn't need it at all, but because they do, I am glad to help. I know who those wonderful women were for me when I first started my journey. They eased my pain and fear in immeasurable ways and so it's rather nice to be able to pay that kindness forward in their honor. I hope I have done for others what was done for me. That would be a beautiful turn of events and make me grateful to be able to help people in a very unique way.

Monday, July 8, 2013

An owed update

THE SCANS WERE FANTASTIC! Showing stability in some areas but improvement in most. Yipppeeee. That is all. Carry on!