#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Gratitude & Springtime’s Faithfulness

Never yet was a springtime, when the buds forgot to bloom.”

~ Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

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There’s something about spring that makes my heart leap. After months of being cooped up inside, cold and cranky, longing for sunlight, we emerge from our cocoons ready to greet the sunlight and the stunning new life that it brings. No matter what gloom the winter may have sent our way in the form of sickness or any other challenge, the spring season is always faithful to give new life, vibrant colors and endless beauty to lift our spirits. I’ve been reminded of this for the past week each morning as I open the curtains in my living room and see the gorgeous magnolia tree blooming in our front yard. I’m reminded again when I see the striking pink weeping cherry tree outside the bedroom window of our new house. And for these two trees, I am grateful.

These past few months have been quite a struggle, mainly due to my work situation and leaving an environment that was not good for me physically or emotionally. But I know there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel and if I just keep on truckin’, eventually “this too shall pass.” I’m hopeful that “good things come to those who wait” and that I will “reap what I sow.”

If you’re not a fan of cheesy, inspirational quotes maybe you should stop reading this blog now. I never was a big fan myself, until I learned that these simple quotes, sandwiched between three slices of Bible verses, prayer and faith, were the “meat” in my triple-decker daily pep talk sandwich I have to give myself to get out from under the mountain of negative thoughts that try to attack each day.

A cancer patient can become a hypochondriac quite easily, especially survivors of the rare kind that comes with a “cloudy with a higher chance of recurrence” forecast. But in order to prevent the evil C word from coming back, my doctors tell me I need to eat right, limit alcohol, exercise at least 5 times a week for 45 minutes each time and try to live a low-stress life. Easy as pie, right? Not so much. It is a daily struggle. But I know that even in dark times, like when I feel what I think is a new lump, get another reminder of a humungous hospital bill that still needs to be paid or get stress migraines from toxic people still trying to haunt me, that if I look for the good, appreciate the simple things and don’t beat myself up for little missteps, that I will be okay.

I think many of us suffer from trying to “keeping up with the Jones,” especially in the social media world. We see posts of our Facebook friends going to the gym every day, traveling the world, having a gazillion gorgeous and beautiful bff’s who always seem to be having way more fun than you are but we forget that’s not reality— it’s just their highlight reel. And personally I forget that I can’t push myself so hard to train for a 5K, 10K or any other K when it’s a challenge just to stay healthy when I’m only one year post-chemo.

I was supposed to be training over the last four weeks for a Mother’s Day 5K that’s coming up in a few weeks. My plan was to go to spinning class three times a week, run twice a week and go for a hike on the weekend with the family. But my sentinel-lymph-node-free body had other plans— like fighting off a 4-week-long illness that send me to the emergency room. I’m now feeling 95% better but only got to hike twice this past month and did spinning and running exactly zero times each.

Instead of getting down on myself for not accomplishing my goals, I need to remind myself that my body has been through a harsh battle, was pumped full of strong toxins that killed the bad cells and the good and may probably never be the same. I had five surgeries, chemo and radiation, each of which took its toll on me and can have long-term after effects. Plus I’m missing lymph nodes (that I used to take for granted) to fight off infection. I need to remind myself not to push so hard, not to strive for perfection and not to measure my bad days against someone else’s highlight reel. I need to remember to take things one day, and even sometimes one hour, at a time and celebrate life’s little daily achievements.

For other cancer fighters and survivors reading this now, I hope you will remember this too— you are stronger than you think, you are a fighter and you are an overcomer every day you wake up and breathe another breath. Take a look back to last week, last month or last year at this time and see just how far you’ve come.

In everyone’s life there are seasons. While it may look like you’re stuck in a cold and lifeless winter, don’t worry— springtime is here and is faithful to bring new life!

In prayer and meditation today the word that kept being brought to my mind was “gratitude.” I think that word is meant for me to focus on what I do have instead of what I don’t.

Google says gratitude is:

grat·i·tude
ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/
noun
  1. the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of gratitude is:

“the state of being grateful :  thankfulness

Oprah Winfrey is a huge advocate for keeping a gratitude journal and writing at least five things a day that she is grateful for. My goal is three. I’m sure my list will grow each day. Watch Oprah’s video here about focusing on what you’re grateful for, even if you only start with being grateful for your breath.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

So what am I thankful for today? Many things! Here are a few:

  1. My awesome children with whom I got to spend a beautiful day with on Easter eating, laughing, playing games and hiking
  2. My amazing, selfless, funny, handsome, loyal, hard-working husband
  3. My faithful self-taught therapy dog who comforts all of us every single day
  4. My health, even though my joints still ache and I still get waves of tiredness, but I am 100% cancer-free!
  5. Springtime which brings beautiful blossoms, fresh air, sunlight and new life
  6. The power of prayer
  7. A handful of good, loving, loyal, faith-filled old friends
  8. A handful of beautiful, giving, talented new friends
  9. A steady job, even if it is only part-time (for now)
  10. A decent house in a gorgeous, safe and welcoming town

Healthy Living Made Simple’s website states that “the single greatest thing you can do to change your life today is to start being grateful for what you have right now. No gesture is too small when done with gratitude… By concentrating on what’s good and giving it your energy, you attract abundance. But if you focus on what’s lacking: money, time, resources you will never have enough. Gratitude opens the door to abundance consciousness because it gets you to the source, which is the source of all things.”

I’m going to try to post what I’m grateful for each day (maybe in a journal, maybe here on my blog) and I know my life will get better because of it. I hope you do the same and that yours does too!

 

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: After-Effects of Cancer

ERE.R. visit April 6, 2017 for a pneumonia scare. No, doctor, this is not happiness to see you.

Forgive me cyberspace, for I have sinned. It’s been far too long since my last blog post but I’m happy to say that we raised $888 at our #MyLeftBoob Cancer-Free Celebration/Ann’s Place Benefit Concert in February! A HUGE thank you is going out to all the bands, donors, sponsors, volunteers and supporters who made it possible!

While I would have liked to have raised more money, I’m happy with the end result. As my beloved father-in-law used to say (God rest his soul), “It’s better than a poke in the eye!” I know that every little bit helps Ann’s Place continue to offer amazing free programs. I go whenever I can for yoga, have benefitted from reiki and therapy and am so grateful to have a place like this in my back yard.

Also since my last post, I met a woman who recently completed her treatment, learned of another who is newly diagnosed and three more who are currently going through treatment. I hope my blog can serve as a place where you/they can gain insight, comfort and support on what you will go through physically, emotionally and spiritually. And for their families and caregivers who ask me what they can do to help my answer is— just be there in whatever capacity your loved one wants. Some don’t want visitors (I didn’t), but will want to know you’re still thinking of them. I found a text or email was the best bet so as not to wake is in our odd sleeping patterns. Others might want someone more hands-on. Everyone is different— just ask!

This July will be two years since I completed 16 weeks of dose dense ACT chemotherapy, which I started two years ago this week on April 9, 2015, followed by 30 radiation treatments from August-October 2015. I started by treatment with two separate lumpectomies in February and August of 2015. (Click here to read my story from the beginning) So I “should” be feeling “normal” again by now, right? Wrong.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about cancer is:

  1. Everybody’s cancer is different, therefore everybody’s treatment is different.
  2. A cancer patient’s treatment is their choice— it’s their body— and they should not be made to feel guilty for choosing not to listen to others’ advice or home remedies.
  3. A cancer patient needs support, should take advantage of their local resources and not walk this road alone. Click here to find a support group near you.
  4. Getting cancer reveals who your true friends and family are and that some people who you think will be there for you may not be and that’s okay. There is a whole new family you’re a part of now- the WARRIOR family!
  5. Cancer happens to the whole family, and then some. Be sure that children, spouses and all those close to the patient are also getting the love and support they need.
  6. Cancer is not over when treatment ends— especially if you’ve had chemo and/or radiation. It could take months or even years to get back to “normal” and some never do. It all depends on the treatment.

While I might look “normal” to many, I’m not. I won’t use cancer as a “crutch” or an “excuse” for getting out of, or not doing things, but it’s been tough. I still don’t feel 100% and need to allow myself the right to not try to be Super Mom and/or Super Woman. I suffer from many of the long-term side effects that Cancer.net describes on their website, including constant joint pain, fatigue, pain at the surgery site, lung problems and fear of recurrence, to name just a few. I can’t lift heavy things on my left side due to the risk of lymphedema.

But I’m still here and will continue to write to raise awareness for early detection. Why not take the time right now to stop and squeeze your boobs?! It only takes a moment. It saved my life and can save yours too! Sometimes mammograms are not enough.

At this time last year I had surgery to get the chemo port placed in my chest. Today, because of another illness, I’m feeling about as weak as I was here in this photo but  now I can say that I am 100% cancer-free!  Photo: April, 2015.

port surgery

For those of you just joining me, I’m a recent survivor of a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer called Triple Negative Metaplastic Carcinoma. Triple Negative is only found in 15% of women diagnosed and it means that the tumor is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative. The good news is that this type of breast cancer is typically responsive to chemotherapy. Joan Lunden has a great blog that explains TNBC in detail.

Metaplastic Carcinoma is the scarier part of my diagnosis as it’s only found in 1% of women diagnosed and has a higher rate of recurrence in the bones, skin and lungs. It was only just discovered in 2000 and there has not been a lot of testing, research or clinical studies so diligent follow-up is key to me staying healthy and cancer-free. I can’t be on Tamoxifen or any other post-cancer meds because I don’t have the receptors for it. So  I describe my life now as sort of like walking a tightrope in high heels without a net. As long as I keep my chin up, stay focused on looking ahead (and don’t look down or back), I’ll be fine. Sort of. Eat clean, avoid sugar, exercise 5 times a week for 45 minutes each time, limit alcohol and try to keep stress levels down because stress is horrible for recurrence. Easy peasy! Right? Not so much….

When the “normal” stressors (work, bills, busy-ness of everyday life) get interrupted by another curveball life throws at me and my husband’s driving me to the ER at 8 p.m. to make sure I don’t have pneumonia is when I’m forced to stop dead in my tracks and remember that I can’t do everything I used to be able to do. I need to allow myself time to rest, learn to say “no” and remember not over-extend myself.

As I lay on our lumpy, 16-year-old couch battling a 3-week-long, stubborn illness that sent me to the emergency room last night, I find it hard to believe that at this time last year I was in the hospital, recovering surgery #2 of 5 to get my chemo port placed for breast cancer surgery. Glad I didn’t know they would go in through the jugular vein to place the tube that connects to the port they use to administer the chemo drugs or I might have been freaking out juuuust a little bit. Now when I get sick I say to myself— at least I’m not that sick.

Last week I went to Urgent Care because I’ve been coughing, wheezing and having a hard time breathing. For many cancer patients when new ailments arise the first thing we think of is— I hope it’s not cancer. The doc checked me out and said my lungs were clear and I was sent home with antibiotics, cough syrup, two different inhalers and nasal spray. The fever went away for a few days but the lingering fear of not knowing what was causing this sickness still haunted me.

When my temperature spiked to nearly 103 degrees last night, I called the doctor who said to go to straight to the emergency room to get a lung x-ray (which was exactly what I wanted). The Physician’s Assistant said he “thinks” it looks clear and to call back to see what the radiologist said. I asked if there were any spots on the x-rays because that’s what I was more concerned about and the PA assured me that my lungs were clear, had no black spots (cancer) but to call back later “just in case.” Pneumonia would show up white. I am putting in a call to the oncologist tomorrow too as an added precaution. Thank goodness for my husband’s insurance!

pneumonia

If looks could kill…….. (#badhairday #nomakeup #nofilter) Photo: April 6, 2017

After a few hours of waiting, the radiologist gave me the all-clear. Phew! Not cancer, not pneumonia, thankfully, yet I still lay here feeling like I got hit by a Ford F-150. I won’t say I feel like I got hit by a Mack truck because after enduring 16 weeks of dose dense red devil chemo I do know what that feels like and it’s not fun (but neither is this).

Heaped on top of battling sickness is a mountain of debt that doesn’t seem to be going away, a pile of horse-s#*t that a person who is no longer in my life keeps throwing in my face that’s consuming my time, money and energy and dealing with a huge pay cut that’s forcing me to seek out other jobs—  all adding to the stress. Volunteer work, house work, mom and wife duties and a new business launch that can’t seem to get off the ground due to lack of time and energy only adds to the pile I’m getting buried under. Oh, and then there’s this trying to lose the chemo weight battle. (Yes, you do gain weight during chemo because all you want to eat is buttery noodles, starchy bagels and other fattening carb-filled foods…at least I did).

#pitypartyendsnow

BUT I do still see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel from a match I’m lighting myself and that’s what I’m aiming for as I crawl out of this mess.

Before I got sick, I visited Joy Ride’s beautiful Ridgefield facility  and can’t wait to get started. Spinning is the perfect exercise for me because I can’t lift anything on my left side due to the surgery and lymph node removal so any cardio, like jogging or spinning, is perfect.

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Joy Ride Ridgefield seems like such a warm and welcoming environment and I can’t wait to be a part of this community. But I can’t start yet if just walking from the couch to the kitchen gets me winded. I know this illness can’t last forever and that “this too shall pass,” I just wish it wasn’t taking so darn long! Once I get started, I will be posting several times a week about my progress so be sure to check back!

Since I had my lymph nodes removed to make sure the cancer didn’t spread (it didn’t), including my sentinel lymph node, my immune system will always be compromised so I’m assuming that’s why now when I get sick it’s much worse and takes much longer to get over.

This is supposed to be the year I do all the things I’ve always wanted to do but have been putting off like skiing for the first time in 30 years (check!), like auditioning and being the part of a community theater production (check! – more to come on that later), like starting my own Arbonne business and becoming financially independent (a work in progress- click here to read more and order!), like finishing at least one of three books in progress and sending to an editor to polish up to start pitching (half-check, also a work in progress) and like registering for my first ever 5K (double-check!).

I signed up for Run Like a Mother, a 5K that occurs annually on Mother’s Day, that’s happening in just 37 days! (but who’s counting? I am!) I’m planning on running this (at least part of the way) with my daughter Ruby, but have not felt well enough to train at all. It might be a fast walk-jog-run-pant-crawl to the finish line but I will finish the race and get my Mother’s Day rose at the finish line!

But for now the wild roller coaster ride continues and I learn to live with my “new normal,” trying not to lose my lunch on the loop-dee-loops, keep my hands in the car, seek out the good in every bad situation, find a learning moment in every challenge, surround myself with positive people, have gratitude for each day I’ve been given and learn to live in the moment.

People often ask how I’m able to keep a positive attitude and get through what I’ve been through and the answer is this— I remember how blessed I am to be a survivor and to be surrounded by such an awesome family and amazing support system. I don’t know why I am still here but some of my incredible warrior brothers and sisters are not, but I do know that as long as I am here I will be their voice through my writing.  I try to take things one day, and many times, one hour at a time, and keep fighting the good fight.

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Do you have a question about my diagnosis or treatment?

Contact me at wendyannmitchell@live.com.

#MyLeftBoob2017 is Celebrating 2 Years #CancerFree with a Benefit for Ann’s Place!

IMG_2739#MyLeftBoob is celebrating 2 years being cancer free with a musical celebration! Join us on Saturday, Feb. 11th at the Danbury Elks Club, 36 Sugar Hollow Rd., Danbury (Route 7), from 7 p.m. – 12 a.m. for live music, awesome food, raffle prizes and tons of fun! It’s all for a great cause!
 
From the day I was diagnosed with the evil “C’ word I’ve worked to raise awareness of self breast exams for early detection. I was low risk, went for a mammogram every year but got Metaplastic Carcinoma (MpBC), a rare, aggressive, fast-growing type of caner found in only 1% of women. I was lucky enough to have caught it early at Stage 1 while dying my hair (dropped hair dye on #MyLeftBoob felt the lump and the rest is history). Many women who get it don’t find MpBC until it’s at Stage 3 or 4. I’m also Triple Negative, something only 15% of women have, so I can’t be on any follow up meds. I say it’s kind of like walking on a tightrope in high heels with no net. It’s scary at times but as long as I stay balanced, keep my chin up and keep moving forward, everything will be okay!
 
After 16 weeks of dose dense “red devil” chemo, 30 rounds of radiation, 5 surgeries, 5 lumps and numerous complications, I’m happy to say I’m now 100% cancer free and planning the 2nd annual #MyLeftBoob celebration to raise funds for Ann’s Place a nonprofit that provides free services for cancer patients and their families. We’ll have live bands, delicious food prepared by Odeens BBQ, raffles by local bands and much more!
 
Bands include:
 
$2 Hat (featuring members of Future Tense)
The Knockoffs (featuring members of HED & Leadfoot)
Sugar Hollow Band (featuring Elks Club House Band)
 
Tickets are $25 each and include hors d’oeuvres, live music and one free raffle ticket. There is a cash bar. A portion of the ticket sales will go to benefit Ann’s Place. 100% of the raffle prize funds collected will go to benefit Ann’s Place.
Raffle prizes so far include:
 
To read my survivor story from the beginning visit:
 
 
To learn more about Ann’s Place visit:
 
 
For questions about this benefit or to donate a raffle prize, please contact wendyannmitchell@live.com or call/text (203) 501-7424.
Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased in person at Bach to Rock Music School, 15 Danbury Rd., Ridgefield or by going to PayPal.com and entering wendyannmitchell@live.com.
 
Image by Lisa Kosarko Sotero, Gruntled Design

#MyLeftBoob Breast Cancer Chronicles 2017: Out with the Old, In with the Boobs!

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Boobs— we know them, we love them and some of us, such as myself, can act like one from time to time. For anyone who has known me pre #MyLeftBoob cancer diagnosis, you might say I can be a bit coo-coo. I love hard, play hard, feel deep and pursue dreams and aspirations passionately. I am persistent and tenacious and (mostly) don’t give a crap what people think (unless I really care about you).

And for those who met me post evil “C” word, you might be thinking what a completely insane loony I am….. and you’d be right. In addition to recovering from the biggest, baddest type of “red devil” chemo, 30 treatments of radiation and five surgeries over the course of 18 months, having constant aches and pains in my joints, still struggling with exhaustion and roller coaster emotions, cancer patients can suffer from PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Pile on financial burdens, getting let go of a job you loved and worked hard at for nearly seven years, family and relationship issues with people close and I might have a teeny bit of a good reason to act like a boob. Heap on a few thick layers of insecurity from not having your once-fit body, hair, or eyebrows back, and you’d have the perfect recipe for one big, humongous hot mess. That’s me.

The holidays can be particularly emotional. People we call “family” don’t call anymore and it seems like they don’t care if you’re alive or dead. Those who were once so helpful and present while I was sick, bald and weak are now suddenly “forgetting” to invite us for Thanksgiving or are having Christmas with their “own family.”

Getting upset about this can lead depression, anger and a “valid excuse” to over drink and/or over medicate. And so the vicious cycle continues and repeats.

According to Cancer.net, it’s normal for cancer survivor to experience feelings of anxiety, worry, fear and dread.Cancer survivors who have PTSD risk developing depression, alcohol and/or drug abuse, eating disorders and loss of relationships and employment.  Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Avoiding places, events, people, or things that bring back bad memories
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drug or alcohol abuse
  • Frightening or unwanted thoughts

So how do cancer survivors deal with this anxiety, stress and fear on a regular basis? If we listen to our doctors, we pump ourselves full of Zoloft, Xanax and other anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants. Unfortunately these don’t mix well with alcohol and can make a person do and say crazy things….and then not remember them after….and then have to live through the next few days, weeks or months with embarrassment, humiliation and shame.

I said all that to say this— I’m sorry to anyone I hurt, annoyed or pissed off this past year. I’ve been struggling with a lot with my health, finances and relationships. My goal for 2017 is to try to be a better person, be more giving, more loving and more forgiving and to leave the past in the past. Unless you live in a vacuum, or Amish Country, you’d have to agree that most everyone shares the same sentiment about 2016- it SUCKED.

Personally, in 2016, I lost a strong and inspiring woman from my cancer support group who passed away after battling breast cancer and then stomach cancer ten years later. I lost a full-time job that helped pay for the mountains of hospital bills from Sloan Kettering and Danbury Hospital. And I lost a few people that are not worth keeping in my life anymore.

Whether they realize it or not, I’ve decided that it shouldn’t take so much effort to try to keep people around that don’t want to be. Life is short. A cancer patient faces that reality as they’ve stared death in the face and continue to do so over and over again.

I need to remind myself to count my blessings and appreciate all the good things I do have in this life. In 2016 I celebrated being one year cancer free on Feb. 17th, we celebrated my daughter’s “Sweet 16,” my son’s Star Wars themed 21st birthday, got a new house, a new job, moved to a wonderful new town with a great new school for my girl and made some amazing new friends.

Also, I’m cancer free! But yet I still feel like I’m being stalked by that the dreaded “R” word– recurrence– that keeps waiting to rear its ugly head. During my dark dance with cancer, faith, optimism and a good sense of humor helped get me through so why does the depression keep creeping in?

Dana Farber’s website states that it’s important to focus on wellness to stay as healthy as possible:

“Don’t blame yourself for your cancer. Some people believe that they got cancer because of something they did or did not do. This is usually not true—and you should not dwell on feeling this way. Remember, cancer can happen to anyone. You don’t need to be upbeat all the time. Many people say they want to have the freedom to give in to their feelings sometimes.”

I believe in the healing power of the stories we tell each other help us cope and not feel so alone. It’s never too late to start over, follow your dreams and be who you want to be. Life is short. Do what you love. Try, fail, try again, and if you fail again at least you won’t live with a giant cloud of “what ifs” lingering over your head. And who knows? Maybe you’ll succeed?!

These are my resolutions for 2017— work less, write more, cry less, laugh more, stress less, relax more, sit less, run more and find my ohm. Oh, yeah…..and try my best to stop acting like such a boob!

PS: Stay tuned to my blog for details on my 2-year cancer-free party on Feb. 11th and round 472 of my ongoing battle of the bulge….and scale…and kale.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Post War Wounds & Battle Scars

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Photo by Alan Barry

After a bloody battle, most warriors would lick their wounds, or at least clean them with hydrogen peroxide and slap a Band-Aid on and then move on with their lives, never looking back. Been there, done that, not going back. A cancer survivor has no choice but to keep looking back to see how far they’ve come, how much has changed and keep fighting— day in, day out, as the dark shadow, the “R” word (recurrence) hovers overhead, haunting our days and nights.

It’s been four months since I last updated this blog and since then I’ve had four more people reach out and tell me that they, or someone close to them, got the horrible news nobody ever wants to hear— you have cancer. One woman told me that she was so scared to hear not only did she have cancer but it was Metaplastic Carcinoma, a very rare, very aggressive “new” cancer (same as I had) and that she stumbled across this blog from a Google search. I’m so glad my writing is able to help others and let them know what to expect along the way.

I wish I could tell you that life goes back to normal after surgery, chemo and radiation, but it doesn’t. People who said they’d be there are not. People who were so scared that you might die and promised they’d make an effort to be in your lives break their commitments and carry on with their lives just like before you got the news. You’ll try to hold on to those who are there, sometimes a little too tight. You’ll try to live life to the fullest because life is short, you almost died and, heck! You beat cancer— this time. You’ll wish you could stop thinking about and talking about and writing about cancer but this is your new normal.

YOU ARE A SURVIVOR. You’ve been through WAR- you’ll tell yourself while being reminded daily as you look in the mirror that the scars are still there, on the flesh and deep down beneath. The battle rages on and most times it’s a battle in your mind.

Sure, neuropathy from ACT chemo comes and goes, your joints ache, your eyelashes and eyebrows aren’t as thick and full as they used to be. You’re exhausted and have major mood swings that makes everyone around you think you’re insane (you kind of are, learning how to hide that is key).

On the outside to someone who met you after the “C” word, you might seem crazy. But that’s okay. You’ve been through WAR. I’ve read that cancer patients can get PTSD because they’ve been through something so incredibly traumatic. Staring death in the face over and over is enough to make anyone go a bit crazy.

You get mistaken for a 40-something when you used to get mistaken for a 30-something. It’s because of the short hair, and tired look that never seems to go away.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. YOU CAN RISE ABOVE. It’s a choice. Through this almost 2-year-long fight, I’ve learned that I won’t base my feelings upon other’s actions (or inactions). I’ve learned to be thankful for those who are always here for me day in and day out, through all of my mood swings, ups and downs and craziness, and they still love me no matter what— my husband, my kids, my super sweet therapy dog Sadie, my cancer support group (that I haven’t been to in way too long) and a handful of friends.

The holidays can be particularly draining, especially when there are strained relationships with family members. You’ll rationalize in your head that  your whole family should be together, after all, you almost DIED! Don’t they care? The sad truth is, nope. Many do not. But that’s okay. Why waste your precious time and energy trying to fit a square peg in a round hole? Doesn’t fit. There are plenty more people out there just like you that have walked through the fire and came out the other side stronger, fiercer and full of moxie to take on anything life throws at them. After all, you almost DIED! And you kicked cancer’s ass! If the people around you who you think “should” appreciate that don’t, it’s their loss.

When I went to a strict Christian church years ago the preacher would always say that the “Us four and no more” mentality was wrong and selfish. I disagree. Sometimes that’s all there is (sometimes five for us). I’ve volunteered countless hours of time and money to help others in my community and to give back as my way of saying thanks for all I’ve been given. Whether you want to call it karma or reaping what you sow, being a good person and putting good out there into the world does come back to you. And if choosing to only surround myself with the four or five closest to me around the holidays helps me remain sane then so be it. I’ll be selfish for the sake of my sanity.

I’ve been so blessed with an outpouring of love and support from strangers-turned-friends from around the globe for which I’m so grateful. I was given a second chance in life and won’t take that for granted. Some of my warrior brothers and sisters are no longer with us and that is so unfair.

I think of my friend Pat Nagle who left us this past September after battling breast, then stomach cancer. She was always there for us, was a gentle, sweet soul and a huge encouragement through my cancer journey. Although I only knew her for less than two short years, Pat touched my heart in a tremendous way. No matter what she was going through physically or emotionally, she always managed to give  a word of encouragement and bring a sense of calm to our cancer support group. Pat was instrumental in me staying sane during difficult times by sharing the battle she fought. If she knew I was going in for chemo or surgery she would reach out and send me a quick note to let me know she was thinking and praying for me. I will miss her gentle spirit but I am glad she is no longer in any pain.

I think of Maria Fowler, an award-winning photo journalist for USA Today who welcomed me into an online support community for women with Metaplastic Carcinoma. It’s been one year since she passed away and many of her sisters are still struggling. We had plans to raise awareness for the little-known cancer that only 1% of women diagnosed get called Metaplastic Carcinoma. I was going to help her with her website, she was going to be filmed as our expert on the subject. Sadly neither happened. Life (and death) had other plans.

I don’t know why I’m still here and they are not but I do know that while I am here on this earth that I will make it my mission to help others through my writing and through reminding people to squeeze their boobs! Early detection does save lives, not all but many. If I hadn’t found the lump myself while dying my hair it could have progressed to stage 3 or 4 and spread. Thank God it didn’t.

When the fear tries to grip me at night I say a prayer and think of what my oncologist told me— “You caught it early, it’s stage one and hasn’t spread. You’re going to be fine!” I know that no one can predict the future and anything can happen. We’re not promised tomorrow or even today so we must love the ones we’re with an enjoy and be grateful for each day we’ve been given.

I know this sounded like two parts self-help with a dash of Hallmark card clichés but that’s my life now— sometimes sappy, many times goofy and crazy and always something to be grateful for. There have been many ups and downs, twists and turns and loop-dee-loops but I’m still strapped in with my hands inside of the car (most of the time). I hope that by my sharing my story it can help you or someone you know to feel that they are not alone.

 

 

 

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: #Cancer 101— What to Expect When You’re Expecting the “C” Word

Hello! It’s been a while since I last updated this blog because life has been a  whirlwind— in a good way. I am now 100% CANCER FREE and on the road to recovery. Praise the Lord!

For those just joining me, I’m the mom of 3 awesome kids and an incredible rescue-turned-therapy puppy named Sadie. I’ve been married to the most amazing hubby a girl could ever ask for going on 22 years this August.

Just last week I celebrated one year post-chemo and I’m still waiting to feel “normal” again after fighting an 18-month long complicated, harsh battle with the evil “C’ word. Here’s what I looked like before “IT”……..

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In case you didn’t know, in January of 2015 life threw me a 99-mile-per hour curve ball and I was hit with “IT.” You know— the thing you never want to be hit with or told— “You have cancer.” I found the lump while dying my fiery red hair and from Day #1 I knew the diagnosis had to be about something much more than just me. So I began a #MyLeftBoob awareness campaign and began writing to remind people to do monthly self breast exams.

On Feb. 17, 2015 I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor— Surgery #1. I thought I’d only have to do the one surgery and 6 weeks of radiation and be done with “IT” but after the biopsy my doctor said I had a “rare and aggressive type of cancer only 1% of women are diagnosed with called “Metaplastic Carcinoma.” And I’m also Triple Negative which only occurs in 15% of women. Both of these types have a higher recurrence rate than other cancers and require very aggressive treatment and careful follow-up.

Here’s what I looked like post-surgery #1 of 4 before I knew I had “the bad kind” of cancer……..

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There would be 3 more surgeries after this photo was taken, 16 weeks of dense dose ACT “red devil” chemo, 6 weeks, 30 treatments, of radiation, tons of complications and emergency room visits along with terrible side effects.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was that life will never return to “normal.” I can’t just wrap up my cancer, put it in a box on the top shelf of my closet, shut the door and forget about it. It is who I am and what makes me stronger, more grateful, more positive, more forgiving and less stressed about the little things that really don’t matter when looking at the big picture.

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people, some complete strangers, tell me they or someone they love have cancer and they don’t know what to do or how to stay positive. They came across my blog and asked for advice and “words of wisdom” to help get them through. I’m so glad I can help others and pay it forward for all the good I’ve been blessed with.

A woman who was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer asked me— “How did you get into ‘Warrior Mode’ and stay strong throughout your fight?” The truth is, I wasn’t strong all the time. It’s because of an army of angels that I was able to keep moving forward. I tried to only write when I had something positive to share, but there were many times I wasn’t feeling so bright and shiny. There were some really low days and some nights I felt like I might not wake up after chemo kicked my butt HARD.

What Can You Expect When Expecting Treatment for the Evil “C” Word?

I can share what I went through but everyone’s cancer and everyone’s treatment is different. I heard someone say cancer is so common now it’s like getting a cold. If only it was that easy to deal with— pop a couple of Alka Seltzers, slug back some Nyquil and voila! You’re healed! Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. Some warriors I met along the way will never be done with their treatment— those with Multiple Myeloma, those whose cancer is resistant to chemo, those who have to deal with it spreading and recurring…..for them it’s a  living hell every day.

What Can You Expect if Expecting the Red Devil?

They call it “red devil” chemo because it is actually bright red in color and feels like the devil has invaded your body. The stuff is so toxic the nurse who administers it comes all covered up in a hazmat suit, gloves and goggles. It takes (4) huge 6″ long, 1.2″ wide syringes to get the full dose and after the fact it literally turns your pee red. You can’t touch or hug anyone for 24 hours. Not fun.

What About Losing Your Hair?

It may sound vain but losing my hair was the hardest part. Since Bible times hair has been associated with strength (Sampson and Delilah) or beauty (Jezebel) and femininity. So losing it is a tough pill to swallow. It means everyone will now know you’re sick. They’ll look at your with pity.

There were some days I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the bloated, frail, hairless person staring back at me. The worst was last August after I just completed 16 weeks of chemo and had to get another lumpectomy for another abnormal lump found in #MyLeftBoob. This was that day, two days before our 21st wedding anniversary………

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Weak….hairless….nauseous….bloated but still alive and trying to squeeze out a little smile. I know I’m not special and hundreds of thousands of people go through this battle every day. But I feel I can use my writing to help others and I feel that is what I’m meant to do.

So what is my “Cancer 101” advice and tips for the newly diagnosed patient?

1. Put Your Blinders On

My doctor told me this and I wished I listened. People will say the dumbest things in the beginning. You have to have tunnel vision and focus on your treatment and taking it one day, sometimes one hour at a time and get through.

2. Don’t Check “Dr. Google”

Another thing the great Dr. Cooper advised— but the reporter in me naturally wanted to gather as much information about my type of cancer since many at Danbury Hospital hadn’t even heard of Metaplastic Carcinoma, only just discovered in 2000. A lot of the information online is scary…… and old. Your doctor knows best. Listen. Get a second or third opinion if you have to— especially if it’s rare.

3. Let It Go In One Ear and Out the Other

Everyone and their mother will try to give you advice, figure out how and why you got it and try to blame something or someone. They might even ask you— Did you take birth control pills? Did you smoke? Did you dye your hair a lot?

They will tell you— smoke pot, eat almonds, take oatmeal baths, rub coconut oil on it, buy these magic pills and it will cure you. If all of that could cure cancer thousands wouldn’t be dying each year. A nutritionist may have studied nutrition for 20 years but have they studied cancer for 20 years? No. But your doctor has. Listen and trust your gut.

4. Surround Yourself With Positive People and Get Support

Make it a point to only be surrounded by positive people who will lift you up, make you laugh, make you feel loved and supported. I went to a faith-based cancer support group at Walnut Hill Community Church.  Words can’t describe how grateful I am for their love, prayers and support. I also went to Ann’s Place which provides free therapy for cancer patients and their families— another amazing place  I can’t thank enough.

5. Start Journaling

Research has shown that a cancer patient who begins journaling does better in their treatment because they are less stressed. MD Anderson says on their website: “Journaling is one way patients can care for themselves. Writing down your thoughts gives you an opportunity to work out your feelings and emotions, which may help you relax and find reasons to be happier and more hopeful about the future.”

5. Make Time for Yourself

Get a massage, go to the beach, shut off the phone and take time for yourself. People you haven’t heard from for years, or even decades, will crawl out of the woodwork wanting to take you to lunch or a movie. Now is a time to be selfish, do what makes you happy and helps you relax. Time is precious. Choose to spend it with those who love and support you “in sickness and in health.”

6. Distract Yourself by Focusing on Others (or a project- or both)

While undergoing chemo I organized a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It took a tremendous amount of time and energy to plan a 9-hour-long, 9-band concert, to coordinate schedules, round up volunteers and raffle prizes but in the end we raised $2,600 for the ACS. I also headed up a Relay for Life team as team captain for Wendy’s Warriors which was a great way to give back as my way of saying thank you for how many angels on earth helped me. Read about them here…

7. Cut the Negative Nellies & Ignore the Jealous Ones

People might actually get jealous of the attention, money and gifts you may receive. The ones who gave me a hard time over creating a GoFundMe page have never volunteered an hour in their life.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been a volunteer for 15+ years and gladly do it to help those less fortunate, to be there for troubled teens or help my community heal in the aftermath of the tragedy in Sandy Hook by volunteering time and money to offer a free space to heal through the power of the arts. I was grateful to have faithful volunteers by my side that enabled us to provide a safe haven when it was needed most.

When I was learning gymnastics, my instructor used to tell me to do a somersault to look down, tuck my chin and roll and I look at fighting cancer the same way. Obstacles will cross your path in the form of people who “just want to help” and may not realize their version of “help” is actually hurting and stressing you out. People might get jealous and even tell you so and try to make you feel bad for asking for help. Just ignore them, tuck and roll.

 

8. Find Your Village and Let Them Help

It’s hard and embarrassing to ask for help. It takes a humble spirit to open your hands and ask, “Please?” And it takes a village, a small army, to nurse a cancer patient back to life after staring death in the face.  I’m so incredibly grateful that my village was ready, willing and able to support me each step of the way. I am blessed beyond words and only hope I can help half as much as I have been helped. I believe what goes around comes around. Do good for others and it will come back to you.

9. Get Info Warrior Mode

To get into “Warrior Mode” you will have to choose your weapons wisely—

  • Choose to fight obstacles with perseverance.
  • Choose to fight weakness with inner strength by feeding your spirit.
  • Choose to fight criticism with kindness.
  • Choose to fight fear with confessions of faith.
  • Choose to fight cancer with dignity, grace, thanksgiving and optimism.

I did and that’s how I got through, and continue to get through, the after effects of this horrific war.

I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy and would never dream of being jealous of someone who had to go through what I went through. I’ve been blessed beyond measure and am happy I’m still here to pay it forward and to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, I am a warrior— thanks to all of you!

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I had the opportunity to share my journey at Bethel’s Relay for Life a few months ago and hear the amazing stories of warrior sisters just like me who fought, or continue to fight the good fight. This is a club none of us ever wanted to be in and that’s why I feel it’s my duty to advocate for early detection since I was given a second chance. By the grace of God,  I’m still here. Some are not as fortunate.

Thank you so very much to everyone who was there for me every step of the way.

What are the Next Steps for Me?

With this type of cancer we don’t use the word “remission” due to the high recurrence rate. I must be diligent with follow-up which is why I’m now going to a “Functional Medicine” doctor to get my diet on track.

Because I’m Triple Negative, I can’t be on Tamoxifen so I describe my life now as walking a tightrope in high heels over the Empire State Building. I can look down and be afraid of falling off and plunging to my death, or I can put one foot in front of the other, take one step ahead and keep moving forward. I choose the latter.

If you know someone going through this battle feel free to send them to my blog. You can read from the beginning here if you scroll all the way down…..

https://wendipoprock.wordpress.com/myleftboob-breast-cancer-awareness-campaign/

Or they can email me at wendyannmitvhell@live.com.  Be well!

 

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Surgery #5, the Battle Continues

Surgery #5? Aren’t you DONE yet? Yes, I know that’s what you’re thinking. Imagine how I feel!

After a year of hell, I’m so ready to be done. Cancer is like war— a war on the body, mind and spirit and treatment doesn’t end the minute you’re done with chemo, surgery and radiation. For many like me, chronic pain, swelling, anxiety attacks and the fear of recurrence is something we have to learn to live with.

It’s been a few months since I’ve updated this blog sp here’s what’s been happening since I last updated on Feb.2:

February:

David Bowie and later Prince, the legends and the bookends of my musical youth, passed away. Because David Bowie died of cancer and was a huge influence on me, being a weird goth kid, I knew I had to do something to honor him. I reconnected with old friends and we created a Bowie tribute band called Diamond Dogs…..

Photos courtesy of Lisa Weir or Autumn Photography

I celebrated one year cancer-free with friends, family, the wonderful people in my cancer support group and generous musicians who donated their time and talent to play for the benefit. It was a wonderful night, a celebration of life. I’m not sure exactly how much we raised since some sent donations directly to Ann’s Place, but I believe it was over $1,700. Thank you to all the generous donors, volunteers, bands, musicians and business owners who gave raffles and to everyone who came out to support me and Ann’s Place.

March:

My husband and I attended the St. Patrick’s Day Ball and had a shamrockin’ good time! Last year at this time I had just finished surgery and was just about to start 16 intense weeks of ACT dose dense chemo. What a difference a year makes.

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April:

I wrote and directed an original play based on Irish folklore called “The Princess and the Pirates.” It was a benefit for the Greater Danbury Irish Cultural Foundation. The play was a success and we were able to raise funds for the foundation to help them fulfill their mission of keeping Irish culture alive in the community.

Last Week/Today:

I got a brain MRI and a shoulder MRI due to persistent headaches and shoulder pain. Of course any time a cancer survivor gets a new lump or pain we always think the same thought— “Oh no. What if it’s cancer?”

I got the results back today and am happy to say— Thank God it’s not cancer!

The brain MRI results said that the headaches were probably being caused by inflammation and my diet. The doctor said I need to eat an anti-inflammatory diet and change the position that I sit at the desk on the computer. But it’s not cancer. Good news!

The bad news is that the shoulder MRI results show I have a torn rotator cuff and will probably need surgery. Who knew you could actually injure yourself while dreaming? Apparently sleeping with my right arm over my head and chest for 9 months to protect the chemo port did a number on me and there are torn ligaments and a hole in my shoulder which is causing pain whenever I do basic things like get dressed, lift, scrub, work at my desk, etc.

Doc said I have a torn rotator cuff, tendonitis, bursitis….which is it doc? All three?  I tuned out when I heard the word “surgery.” I’m getting a second opinion just in case.

I’ve been going to an occupational therapist and a physical therapist 4x/week to help with the shoulder pain and lymphedema (swelling) in my left arm and hand.

My oncologist said early on that to prevent recurrence I need to do things to feed my body, soul/mind and spirit. I also need to keep stress levels down, avoid alcohol, animal fat and exercise for 30 minutes 5x/week.

Since the orthopedic doc said physical therapy won’t help the torn rotator cuff, at least now I’ll have my mornings back and can begin my 5-step plan to take control back of my body, soul and spirit!

Going Forward:

Step 1: Get my diet under control. I met with a doctor who believes the health/food connection to illness so that means listening to what my sister (who is a nutritionist) has been telling me all along. Check out her Core Nutrition website here and like Core on Facebook. Diets don’t work. It’s better to make small changes and think about what I’m putting into my body and why.

Plan this week:

  • Drink the required amount of water each day (take your weight, divide in half, that # is the amount of ounces of water per day you should drink)
  • Start each day with lukewarm lemon water and Celtic sea salt
  • Have a kale shake 3x a week

Step 2: Start walking and doing yoga. I got 2 walking buddies and a yoga buddy— now I just have to stick to the commitment, even when they can’t. All are working moms which can be crazy. I work full-time as well. Add a husband who works 2 jobs/nights to my mix (so I don’t have a lot of help driving the girl to activities), plus 2 part-time projects and way too many doctor appointments each week and I’m juuuuust about to go insane. I know the regular routine of walking and yoga will  help to “stop the insanity.”

Plan this week:

  • Walk for 30 minutes 3 days this week, increast to 4 next week, 5 the following week
  • Do yoga once this week, increase to 2 next week, 3 the following week

Step 3: Make time for church, spirituality, God. A nutritionist came to our cancer support group and shared a study about where the oldest living people in the world are and what they have in common. Of those 5 places it was noted that those who lived past 100 had a very strong spiritual life.

Plan this week:

  • Start each day with a daily devotion from the new book I received as a gift from a friend— Daily Peace, 365 Days of Renewal
  • Go to church on Sunday

Step 4: Make time for family. Self-explanatory and should be #1. Family is everything!

Step 5: Make time for FUN! I’ve been playing in my band again which is good for the soul. Music is a healer and scheduling time to do what I love will definitely help destress.

Now let’s see if I can stick to the 5 steps.

I’ll start blogging about my progress begining tomorrow. Cheer me on or give me  a virtual kick in the pants of you see me slacking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#MyLeftBoob is #CancerFree & Ready to Party & Raise Awareness for Early Detection!

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Me & my medical oncologist Dr. Robert Cooper at his retirement party, November 2014

I’m so happy to say that as of last Tuesday, I’m officially DONE with treatment for breast cancer!

On Tuesday, Feb. 2 I had my 4th and final surgery- this time to get the chemo port removed. I have some stitches there, still in pain from the incision and have a nasty scar but I consider it one of my many war wounds, along with 2 lumpectomy scars and 3 tattoos for radiation.

For the last year you all have supported me, sent emails, Facebook messages, donations and TONS of love and for that I am so grateful!

Now it’s time to focus on my “new normal” as I learn to adjust to life after cancer. This includes a large amount of follow-up due to the rarity of Metaplastic Carcinoma but I know I’m in extremely good hands. For the next year I’ll be seen every 3 months by one of my doctors- radiologist, oncologist, surgeon and my primary care doctor. After I’m at the 2 year mark it goes to every 6 months and once I reach the magic 5 year mark I’m home free!

I won’t bore you with the ongoing after-effects of chemo and radiation, two intense treatments that wreak havoc on a person’s body, especially a woman’s, as it not only causes joint pain, neuropathy and fatigue, but also brings on “the change” a few years earlier than I would’ve expected. <— things they forget to tell you.

I hope to get back to the gym soon now that I’m done with all of my surgeries but can’t do any intense movement or the stitches can reopen so I need to take it easy the next couple of weeks….which gives me plenty of time to plan for…….

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My one year cancer-free benefit party!

  • Friday, Feb. 26 from 6 – 10 p.m.
  • Michael’s at the Grove, 42 Vail Rd., Bethel, CT
  • Benefit for Ann’s Place for Cancer
  • $45 per person includes appetizers, dinner, live bands & dancing
  • Cash bar & raffle prizes!
  • David Bowie Tribute Band!

Purchase tickets 2 ways:

#1) Visit Paypal.com & enter wendyannmitchell@live.com as the recipient

#2) Mail a  check made payable to Wendy Mitchell to 9 Evergreen Drive, Bethel, CT. 06801

I’m excited to play a Bowie tribute set at the party to honor to the man and legend who challenged us young goth chicks and dudes to just be ourselves during those angsty late 80s teen years.

Although treatment is complete, my mission to spread the word about early detection to save lives is just getting warmed up. Check out #MyLeftBoob on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to follow all the ways Wendy’s Warriors are working to raise awareness for self breast exams to save lives for women AND men. Squeeze your boobs!

Thank you again to each and every one of you for supporting me over the last year. I pray that you are blessed one hundred times over for all the goodness and generosity you’ve shown to me.

Peace, love and #MyLeftBoob,
Wendy ❤

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#MyLeftBoob Is Almost One Year Cancer Free!

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It’s been a while since I’ve written an update and wanted to let you know I’m almost done with with this year-long fight! The final surgery to get the chemo “Power Port” removed is Feb. 2, 2016! Woo hoo!

In some ways it seems 2015 flew by and other times it seemed like it would never end. We started the year with a bang with a broken bed, oven and dryer in week 1, my middle son almost dying from a ruptured appendix and torn intestine in week 2 and 5 days in the hospital (thank God he is still here!), and then me finding “the lump” in week 3, the day he came off of bed rest from his surgery. It’s all in the rearview mirror now as we look forward to the future with optimism.

On Feb. 17, 2016 I’ll celebrate one year cancer-free with a big party in Bethel, CT on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. If you’re reading this, you’re invited! It’s a benefit for The Scotty Fund and Ann’s Place, two organizations that helped our family tremendously over the last year.

There will be dinner, cocktails, live music and a David Bowie tribute band! (R.I.P., Starman). We’ll post a Facebook event once bands and details are finalized, but please save the date! For more info, email wendyannmitchell@live.com.

Some people recently emailed, confused and wondering what happened after the last update? I’m still here! I spent 2 Tuesdays in December in the E.R.

On Dec. 4 I was admitted after having bad pain in #MyLeftBoob. When I felt another lump, my doctor felt I should get it scanned. Thank God it was not cancer (again!) and was just another side effect from the last surgery in August.

It’s a seroma- a collection liquid that forms sometimes after surgery. I’ll have it checked at the end of January to make sure it dissipates on its own. If not they will have to drain it.

The second time was exactly one week later for throbbing back pain in the middle of my spine. Because of the high recurrence rate of Metaplastic Carcinoma, my oncologist felt I should go and get an x-ray to make sure it wasn’t something serious.

After a CT scan, x-rays, blood work, EKG, etc. it was determined that I have early onset arthritis due to chemo. After breathing yet another HUGE sigh of relief I asked what I can do to stop the arthritis and the doctor replied, “Stop getting old!” Very funny. I did get a chuckle but realized many of these side effects (joint pain, back pain, hot flashes, tiredness) are something I have to learn to live with.

Part of writing here is therapy, some is to raise awareness for early detection and mostly I write to educate the many newly diagnosed people with cancer, and their families and caregivers, so they’ll know what to expect.

Now that treatment is almost done, many times if I suddenly get a hot flash or feel tired/achy, people ask why. I say it’s from treatment. Almost always the response is, “But I thought you were done with treatment?” Yes, technically I’m done with chemo and radiation but the symptoms don’t magically stop the minute chemo and radiation is over.

My doctor said it could take 6 – 12 months for all the harsh ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxin and Taxol) chemo drugs and side effects to leave my system. While I may look somewhat normal, most days I don’t feel normal due to joint pain, sleepless nights and anxiety.

Here’s some information to help you better understand the conditions I still suffer, as many cancer patients do when treatment has ended, due to the side effects from chemo:

Chemo Brain:

“Research has shown that chemo can impact the thinking functions of the brain for up to 10 years after treatment. Some of the brain’s activities
are affected are concentration, memory, comprehension, and reasoning.” (Cancer.org)

Body Changes:

“Hot flashes at night and can disrupt sleep. This can cause mood changes and make it hard for to make decisions. You may feel tired or have trouble getting to sleep, getting up early, or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. You may experience memory problems, depression, mood swings, and irritability.” (Dana-Farber.org)

Emotional Side Effects & PTSD:

“Some people with cancer may develop an anxiety disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is most often associated with traumatic events such as war, sexual and physical attacks, natural disasters, and serious accidents, the disorder can also affect people with cancer. For example, a recent study found nearly one in four women newly diagnosed with breast cancer experienced PTSD.”

Many cancer patients will experience the same side effects months, or even years, after treatment. It’s been 6 months since the end of chemo and 3 months since radiation ended. I know I’ll get back to my “new normal” soon (and hopefully the gym) but I’m learning to listen to my body and rest when I need to…. which last weekend was 14 hours one day!

I’m happy to embrace 2016 with optimism, excitement and hope for more good things to come…. and more opportunities to pay it forward– especially with the benefit dinner/dance/concert on Feb. 26.

Thank you for your support, prayers and love. May 2016 be filled with all good things for you and yours.

Peace,
Wendy 🙂

*Pictured: Me & my medical oncologist, Dr. Robert Cooper, at his retirement party in Nov. 2015.*

Thanks to 1,001+ People Who Helped #MyLeftBoob #KickCancersButt

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“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.”

~Alfred Painter

The end of the year is a time for reflection, a time look at resolutions made that weren’t keep and maybe a time to commit to do better next year. This blog post is by far the longest (3,000+ words) and took the most time to write (3 hours) but it is the least I could do for the love and support I’ve been given by all of you.

Looking back to last year at this time I was partying like a rock star and acting like I didn’t have a care in the world– all while an evil demon called cancer was secretly growing inside of #MyLeftBoob.

In early January before I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Metaplastic breast cancer, I knew “something” didn’t feel right in my body and began a rigorous clean eating and exercise plan. I eliminated alcohol, sugar, carbs, dairy and red meat from my diet and went to the gym 4-5 times a week but I still didn’t feel right. Little did I know that starting 2015 by being healthy was preparing me for the firestorm that was about to come just a few weeks later.

There are so many “what ifs” that make me feel someone up there was watching out for me.  If I hadn’t been dying my own hair instead of going to the salon like I usually did, I would not have dropped the Vampire Red Manic Panic hair dye on my left boob and felt the lump. If I hadn’t gone immediately to get it checked out it may have grown larger and progressed to Stage 2, 3 or 4.

I’m so grateful to be here and for the support showered upon me from Day #1. I didn’t feel I deserved it but you gave anyway. I felt awkward asking for help since I’m used to helping others through volunteering at The SHACK (Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids), the Irish Cultural Center and the churches I’ve been involved with over the last 10 years but when I got sick I had friends tell me “it’s your turn now.”

If you’re looking for a charity to donate to as 2015 comes to a close, I highly recommend donating to one of the ones marked with an *asterisk below. If you’d like to check any of these on Charity Navigator, click here.

*The Scotty Fund

The Scotty Fund is dedicated to providing financial support to children affected by cancer and their families. It was established in memory of Scotty Anderson who passed away from the disease when he was just three-years-old.  The Scotty Fund helped our family financially and provided dinners during treatment because I was too tired to cook. It was such a huge help to have the meals delivered which often included fresh cut flowers, a card with encouraging messages and homemade cookies. Words can’t express how grateful I am to this organization. In February 2016 I will be one year cancer-free and I’m planning a benefit for them as my way of paying it forward and saying thank you for all they’ve done. Stay tuned for more details on that.
*Swim Across the Sound (SWIM)

SWIM is a nonprofit that holds a swim marathon across the Long Island Sound and other events each year to help families touched by cancer. A friend who I met through my work in Sandy Hook after the tragic shootings introduced me to Kyle Lyddy, a huge supporter of SWIM. Kyle lost his father Tom to cancer and ever since had worked tirelessly to raise funds in his dad’s memory. Each year his family holds an event called Light Up the Point with proceeds going to SWIM. Kyle took it upon himself to introduce me to the SWIM folks who approved my application for help with rent and utilities. With over $30K in medical bills, this was such a huge blessing. Thank you Kyle, Maribeth and SWIM for helping relieve some of the stress associated with this horrible disease.

*Greater Danbury Irish Cultural Center (GDICC)

The GDICC is dedicated to preserving Irish culture in the greater Danbury area through Irish language and music lessons, monthly sesuin and Irish dance. Over the last few years, I’ve volunteered to DJ kid’s Halloween and Christmas events and help with their website and marketing. When I became ill, the club held a fundraiser “Tip Night” for our family, which was a huge help to us. Thank you to Pam Fedigan for organizing, bartenders Pam, Abbey, Dean and Norm for donating tips and to all who contributed. We are so grateful!
*Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH)

The Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians is one of those groups that do so many good things for the community but fly “under the radar.” I became a member in April 2014. Some of the charitable work they do include donating food and funds to help the needy in the Danbury area, donate to the Women’s Center, help teen moms, participate in Adopt-A-Family and so much more. They held a Ladies Tea last spring and donated all of the proceeds to help our family during our own time of need. Thank you so much to my sisters in green!

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*Bethel High School Sports Boosters, Grid Iron Football Team & Field Hockey Team

The sense of “community” our family felt during the fall season of field hockey was overwhelming. Each year the teams participate in “Play for the Cure” and donate funds to the American Cancer society. This year, the team decided to donate to “one of their own” – our family. My daughter is in her second year playing field hockey and we are so grateful that the pink games were dedicated to us this year. Families baked goods and donated funds from the proceeds of the bake sale and ticket sales to help us. Chick-fil-A and their cow also came and gave sandwiches to sell to contribute to our family fund. It was nice to have my sister Dawn there with me after she was gone for such a long time working on a yacht. The Grid Iron Football Team also decided to donate to us through their own fundraiser. We’re so grateful to the coaches, players, volunteers and all who contributed to help.

Chick-fil-A of Brookfield

In addition to donating sandwiches mentioned above, the owner of Chick-fil-A Brookfield also had one of her staff members bring a HUGE fresh-cooked dinner for us consisting of delicious chicken tenders and a gigantic salad. Devon and her team are one of the most giving, community-minded group of people I have the pleasure of knowing and I gladly support them in all of their endeavors.

Gilleoghan Irish Dance & Families

My daughter has been part of the Gilleoghan family since they came to Bethel in 2010. Anyone who has been a part of Irish dance knows the lessons, dresses, wigs, and feis (competition) can be costly. When I was diagnosed, the teachers not only comped her tuition, but also were there for me every step of the way for support. Mr. Philip even introduced me to a friend who is a Triple Negative breast cancer survivor and had many encouraging words for me. The kids made get well cards for me and the families drove my daughter back and forth to her lessons since I was too dizzy to drive. They all ensured she was able to participate in a sport she loves. Go raibh maith agat as do cineáltas!

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*Walnut Hill Community Church (WHCC)

We used to me members of this non-denominational Christian church but my husband wanted to go back to the Catholic Church, as that is how he was raised. When I was diagnosed, WHCC prayed for me and invited me to come to a monthly support group of other cancer patients and survivors. This was just the “medicine” I needed. The members of this group listened, prayed and instilled a sense of peace and calm into my spirit during the scariest moments of my life. I will be forever grateful for the spiritual medicine provided by this group of faith-filled believers and continue to keep all of them in my thoughts and prayers.
*Ann’s Place

While I didn’t take full advantage of all the free services this wonderful place has to offer to cancer patients and their families due to being so sick the last year, I was able to go a few times to reiki, yoga and a free therapy session. I know that once my treatment is done I am never truly done and will need lifelong support- mentally and physically. I’m glad to know they are here for me when I need them.

*Relay for Life Team – Wendy’s Warriors, bands, business sponsors and volunteers

There were SO many bands, volunteers, businesses and supporters that came together to help us raise over $2,600 for the American Cancer Society. I wish I could thank each one of you personally but I’m afraid I’d forget someone. Click here to see who helped and donated raffle prizes so you can support their businesses. Thank you!

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Gruntled Design

You may have noticed the cool cartoon-like logo of my face that we used for our t-shirts for Relay for Life’s Wendy’s Warriors team. They were designed by the uber talented Lisa Sotero, owner of Gruntled Designs. I went to Newtown High School with this amazingly talented artist and she donated her time and talent for our team. The buzz at the Relay for Life event was that everyone “just has to see these totally cool t-shirts!” Thank you Lisa!

Which leads me to…..

New Fairfield Press

I’ve known the owner of New Fairfield Press, John Parille, for over 15 years. I was his daughters’ youth mentor at a church we both used to attend. He is now the Pastor of Gaylordsville United Methodist Church and has been there for me every step of the way on my long, scary journey. John donated all of the programs for the children’s play I wrote, directed and produced at the GDICC. Not only that, but he gave me a discount on the printing cost of the t-shirts, using Lisa’s design. If you ever need business cards, t-shirts, banners or anything else printing related, I highly recommend this honest and giving businessman.

Laura Skutch, LMT

My friend Julie introduced me to Laura via email after learning of my back and neck pain. Laura offered me 3 free massage sessions and taught me that so much of the pain in my neck was due to stress. Stress can have a profound effect on the body and mind and my doctors have also told me that reducing stress is one of the best ways to prevent recurrence. Thank you Laura for your healing touch.

Attorney James Saraceni

Something a person never wants to think about is doing a Living Will. When I went for my first surgery back in February, Jim met my husband and me and explained the unimaginable in a calm, caring way that helped us more easily deal with difficult decisions. He donated his time and services to us, just as he did when I was running the Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids. Thank you Jim for your giving heart.

The Maids of Brookfield

A friend told me about this wonderful company that donated through Cleaning for a Reason. The Maids donated their services to clean out house, free of charge, four times while I was going through chemo. It was so nice to be able to have my house cleaned, as I did not have the energy to do it myself. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Shine Salon of Ridgefield

A friend I went to high school with in Bethel said that although she wasn’t commenting, she was quietly following along in my journey and wanted to give me a free day of beauty at the salon she works at. Along with the owner and her co-workers, they organized and donated a free day of beauty to me and I was pampered from head to toe- manicure, pedicure, facial, reiki, massage, haircut and color. Thank you to the entire staff for making me feel like a princess for a day.

Salon Kamala – Bethel

My sister Becky owns this salon and she has been there for me for all of my hair cutting (and coloring) needs. She also did a month-long fundraiser and donated to our Relay for Life team. Thanks Becky for always making me smile and for your support.

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Bethel Day Spa

After reading about my horrible experience at another Bethel nail salon I’d frequented for years, the owner of Bethel Day Spa came to our Relay for Life benefit and presented me with a $50 gift certificate to her place. I have yet to use it but I was so thankful for her going out of her way to let me know that she would never discriminate against a cancer patient the way Toe Toe Nails did. Read more here.

Figs Wood Fired Bistro

I met the owner of Figs when I had The SHACK in Sandy Hook center. She said she was reading my blog and one post in particular touched her heart, the one where I wrote about practicing real love. A charity she supports, The Ana Grace Project, uses the phrase “Love Wins” as their motto because it was the family motto of the founders. Ana Grace was only 6 when her life was cut short in the Sandy Hook School shootings. After reading my blog post, Figs’ owner said she felt compelled to offer a free dinner for our family, along with a beautiful card, yummy dinner and a special necklace, which I wear often that says “Love Wins.” Yes it does.

Bethel Fitness and Wellness

Tracy DeLuise welcomed me with open arms and offered her gym to me, free of charge as I healed. Tracy texted and sent encouraging messages to help me get back to the basics of working out- starting slow, listening to my body and not over doing it. Thank you Tracy for offering me a safe, supportive place to get my health back on track.

Occasions

Gail the owner helped me find the perfect gown for the St. Patrick’s Day ball, just a few weeks after my first lumpectomy surgery. She discounted the dress so could go to the ball feeling like a queen.

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Mary Kay by Liz Rosiello

One of my theater student families nominated me for a free chemo care package with Liz hand-delivered to my house. The package included lip balm, moisturizer and cleanser, which was a great way to pamper myself during treatment.

Alan Barry Photography

Alan did a free photo shoot right before I began chemo to document the start of my journey. While he’s used to working with perfectly fit models and celebrities like Martha Stewart, Kim Kardashian and P. Diddy, he made me feel very comfortable and the pictures came out beautiful. Check out his website here.

Rachel Marie Artistry

Rachel did the first round of makeup for the photo shot, free of charge. Thanks Rachel for your professionalism and support.

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Taylor Dombroski Makeup

Taylor did my makeup and set design for the above mentioned photo shoot and helped to make me feel comfortable as well. I’ve known Taylor since she and my son have been friends for 6 (?) years through school. She is very talented and has a huge following on Instagram: @hold_on_til_may

r Media

Alicia and Renato filmed the beginning of my journey in the hope that we will one day turn it into a documentary to raise awareness  and funds for Metaplastic Carcinoma (MpBC) research, a highly aggressive disease with a high recurrence rate. Unfortunately the woman I was hoping to collaborate with on this project, Maria Becker Fowler, sadly passed away just last month at the way too young age of 51. She was a huge advocate for MpBC research, a fellow journalist with USA Today and was on the Board of the Elizabeth Smider Foundation. Maria was one of the first women to reach out to me after she came across my blog and I’m so glad to have known her but so sad she is not here after battling so hard for 3 years. I’m not sure where the documentary stands at this point but I’m thankful they got a lot of that important footage on film and hope we can make it into something one day.

My Left Boob Donors on GoFundMe.com/MyLeftBoob

Thank you also to my family for cooking meals- Mom, Denise, Cheryl, Sherri, Debbie, Shari, Dawn, driving kids and being there for me…sorry if I’m forgetting anyone- chemo brain!

Thanks to my prayer warriors Michele, Sherri, Pastor John and Pastor Karen for praying and calming me down every time I got a new lump or bump or was scared.

Thanks to my doctors: Dr. Cooper, Staradub, Hall, Sanghavi, Sandhu, Dr. Lake at Sloan Kettering, Nurse Nancy and other chemo nurses and staff of Danbury Hospital for the incredible services you provided.

And a huge thanks to the angels who sat with me all day for 7-8 hours when I got chemo: Pastor Karen, my sister-in-law Sherri twice, my sister Shari, my brother Dennis, my son Cullen, my sister Debbie, my husband twice for chemo, every surgery and about a zillion doctor appointments. I know it must have been hard to sit and watch while I was so sick but your love and support made it so much easier.

I could not end this blog post without thanking my husband, my rock, my self-taught therapy rescue puppy Sadie who never left my side and my kids- Dillon for always making me laugh, Ruby for helping with chores and always telling me I am beautiful no matter what and Cullen who was my #2 caregiver when the hubs was busy working 2 jobs. Cullen drove me to chemo, drove me to get the Neulasta shots the next day, sat with me for 8 hours while I got chemo drugs pumped through my veins and was there for me for anything I needed.

While all of that must have been so scary to watch their mom go through, my kids never showed their fear and were all such pillars of strength for me when I needed it. I can start a whole new blog post about how amazing my husband and kids are but it would take at least a month to write.

There are not enough words to describe the amount of gratitude I have for everyone who helped me walk through this fire virtually unscathed. Just as a diamond is put through the pressure, cutting, purifying and polishing by a jeweler to show its true beauty, I feel that everything I went through has helped me to leave the junk, the old me, the impurities behind and I’m not able to be the best version of myself I can be,

I know I still have a lot of work to do, physically, emotionally and spiritually, but as I’ve said before, I feel as if I’ve been given a second chance in life and I won’t squander it.

I will continue to raise awareness for early detection to help others. I am so fortunate, blessed and grateful to have found the lump while it was only Stage 1 and had not spread to my lymph nodes. And I’m firmly believing in faith that it won’t come back because of the 16 weeks of dense dose ACT chemo and 30 radiation treatments I went through and because we got it early.

I believe I’m here for a reason and I am not a statistic. I can use my writing to help others remember to do self exams so they have a fighting chance. Yes, I know early detection doesn’t help everyone (which is so unfair) but it does help a lot and for that reason I won’t be silent. I can use my life, my survivor story and my voice to help others.

Thank you all!

#MyLeftBoob Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future

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“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens

I’ve met a lot of boobs in my life and I’ve certainly been a boob a time or two hundred myself. Since enduring this year of hell battling Metaplastic breast cancer, I’ve learned none of that matters. What matters is focusing on here and now, people who love and support me and those who say they want to be in my life and actually are.

So why am I going to visit the ghosts of Christmases past? Because sometimes those ghosts resurface and try to haunt me, pull me down to their level and try to make me walk with them on their scary path.

I also visit these ghosts to show you that no matter how dark you may feel, there is good in the world. You can find it too if you change your perspective. There is gunk that can attempt to cloud your vision, just wipe it away and focus on good people and doing good things and your days can be merry and bright! (<– Sap alert! I should be a writer for The Hallmark Channel!)

I have a love/hate relationship with Time Hop (an app) because it reminds me at this time last year of what an ass I was many times and also how I was knee deep in a big old s#*t storm and had no idea the hell I was about to go through just a few weeks after Christmas 2014, a “celebration” devoid of any holiday spirit.

Forgive me family and friends, for I have sinned, but I’m certainly not the only one. The difference between you and me is that I actually apologized…even when at times I wasn’t wrong, because that’s what mature people do to make peace. That’s what people who call themselves Christians or Catholics are supposed to do. Some still have not. I can’t make them. I can only try to be the best version of myself I can be.

I boycotted some Christmas celebrations last year because I let someone get the best of me.  I lost a couple of friends and gained a foe. I sent an angry drunk text after being provoked by someone who misunderstood my attempt at making peace and threatened me. I apologized. They still have not. I deleted people from Facebook and removed some from my life who were important to me and some who I thought were. I tiptoed on a high wire 500 feet in the air with no balancing stick. I wrote a trashy novel and lived vicariously through my main character drinking her signature drink, an Orange Tundra. I almost got myself fired….twice. I said a few dozen Hail Marys and even more Our Fathers.

Most of that was due to an evil spirit called alcohol.

Booze has not been a part of my life since March 8, 2014 and I’m better for it. Alcohol clouds perspective, encourages danger, impairs judgement, makes people say stupid things and leaves a trail of tears so deep, you may be forced to give up your territory and migrate to another area due to its devastating effects. And sometimes it ruins Christmas.

Although hooch hasn’t been part of my life in nearly a year, thanks to another evil demon called breast cancer, unfortunately it is still a big part of the lives of people I have to come into close contact with– some of whom have tainted others’ views of me due to gossip and lies, some of whom have made awkward situations even more unbearable and forced me to go play with two-year-olds rather than face the 800-pound elephant in the room.

So who are these ghosts that have crept up to remind me this Christmas of how blessed I am, that I’ve been given a second chance and I don’t have to be like them or like my old self?

Meet the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Ghost #1 – The Martyr

I encountered this ghost a few times this holiday season. This person claimed to be a good friend but was nonexistent during my breast cancer treatment. I had complete strangers-turned-friends donate, cook dinner and send cards and gifts, yet this “friend” didn’t bother to call, text or email once in 9 months. When she did finally text the day after I was done with chemo and radiation she told me her therapist said I was “toxic” for not being there for her to listen to the drama of her current, ex or future abusive husbands. Sorry hun, I was too busy fighting for my life. Did she remember to tell her therapist I was battling a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer? Probably not. The difference between her and me is that she chose to have these men in her life. I didn’t choose to have breast cancer in my life.

Ghost #2 – Metaplastic, Triple Negative Breast Cancer

This is a ghost I hope never to have to come into contact with again. It will try to haunt me when I go for my 3 month follow-up visits over the next 5 years, when I get tests and scans hoping it didn’t rear its ugly head and when I hear of others “losing their battle” to the disease, a term I loathe. If they fought hard and didn’t give up, they won.  I will continue to look to the the present and the future with my head held high- proud of my valiant fight. There is nothing I did to deserve to be given a second chance in life. There are so many others who passed away and shouldn’t have– strong, brave women who left behind heartbroken sons, daughters, husbands, brothers, sisters and parents. It’s not fair. I don’t know why they died and I didn’t but I do know I’m here for a purpose and that I’m supposed to use my writing for something good. My goal for 2016 is to try to figure out how exactly to do that.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Ghost #3 – The Befuddled

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Befuddled/Dizzy/Woozy: This ghost comes in many forms, mainly alcohol. I run into it at parties, gatherings of family and friends and work-related functions. This ghost hurts, name calls, spreads lies to make others think poorly of me and tries to ruin my reputation. The Befuddled is often disguised as an inebriated person who shares amusing anecdotes, makes folks laugh by putting others down and embellishes stories to make them much juicier. But what they don’t see is now gross they look at the end of the night when they’re nodding off in public, passing out with their face in their cake or incoherent while trying to carry on a normal conversation. Deep down they’re the one who needs help or they wouldn’t be drinking themselves into oblivion.

Befuddled/Confused: Sometimes The Befuddled come in the form of a confused zealot who is so obsessed with their own beliefs that they can’t respect someone else’s. While fighting for my life, a few of them called me a showboater, a narcissist, defensive, negative and immature….all because I disagreed with their way of fighting cancer, a disease they never had. All because I chose to listen to my doctors. How dare me! Thank God and my doctors that I am still here to tell you this: Nobody has the right to tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Even if they think they’ve gone through the “same” thing. Even if they think rubbing coconut oil on your boobs three times a day while eating almonds, smoking weed, juicing wheat grass and doing the downward dog will save your life. No two cancers are alike just as no two people are alike.

I was recently told by one of The Befuddled not to write about them on Facebook or any other public platform. Well guess what?

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My doctors told me that reducing stress is one of the best ways to prevent cancer recurrence and writing is a huge stress reliever. So anytime the ghosts of Christmas past and present try to haunt me, instead of downing an Orange Tundra, I write. It’s way less dangerous for the environment and has much fewer casualties.

And who knew blogging could save a life? #MyLeftBoob did and I won’t stop writing just because an angry ghost or two is embarrassed because they’ve been forced to look in the mirror. Anger and drunkenness doesn’t look so cute under those 100 watt vanity lights now does it?

The Ghosts of Christmas Future

Ghost #4 – The Flake

This ghost floats in and out of my life, every time promising things will be different, promising they’ll be there and spend more time with me in the future, but they’re not and they don’t and that’s okay. Deep down we always hope people we care about will change but sometimes they don’t so we have to. This ghost has their own demons they’ve never dealt with. But being treated poorly in the past should not be used as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. So how do we deal with The Flake who floats hither and thither on another plane entirely? Just think of them like a beautiful hummingbird, always moving quickly on to the next big thing.

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Photo by Bill Gracey via Flickr Creative Commons

From Wild Birds Unlimited:

“Hummingbirds are very small birds. A great deal of energy is spent flying, so they must feed almost constantly. Hummingbirds are able to perch and will do so at feeders regularly. Because they fly so much, they have poorly developed feet. They can barely walk at all. The hummingbird is much more comfortable in flight.”

Just as hummingbirds have poorly developed feet from lack of landing, The Flake has poorly developed relationships from lack of being grounded. Enjoy their beauty when they land, if only for a moment, and wish them well as they fly away once again.

Maybe you have people like these ghosts in your life. They could be your family, friends or co-workers.  Maybe you can relate to what I went through or what I’m still going through. I’ve changed for the better but some people, unfortunately, have not. What matters now is how I react (and learn not to react) to them.

I know some will say I dwell on the past but I don’t. I use it to learn from so I don’t get hurt again- https://www.youtube.com/embed/dZfGTL2PY3E“>

Just like Rafiki said to Simba in one of my favorite stories, The Lion King.

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Moving past these hauntings can be done by looking at our ghosts in the light of day. No amount of gingerbread cookies and eggnog can bring happiness to a person determined to cling to their ‘Bah, Humbug’ past and  conversely, nobody can steal the joy of the season if you don’t let them.

I hope this post has helped some of you heal as I am healing- physically from the battle I went through, emotionally from mini-wars along the way, and spiritually as I learn, grow and mature and think about what is truly important in life- God, family, a few friends I’m lucky enough to have and doing good for others.

May your 2016 be blessed with all good things!

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: A Smile is a Gift

I haven’t updated the blog in a while but here are my last two posts from my GoFundMe page. I decided to keep it up not to beg for money, but to show a year in the life of a cancer patient to those who may not follow this blog.

The picture you see here is me finally feeling well enough to take my middle son to NYC for his 20th birthday. We spent an awesome family day together and walked and walked and walked, something I could not have done a few months ago, and for that I’m grateful.

My battle began January 22, 2015 when I found the lump while dying my fiery red hair. The rest of the months and days have been a whirlwind, a roller coaster ride, and I’m still waiting until I can get off. There have been twists and turns, hills and valleys but thankfully I’ve had someone holding my hand every step of the way. And I’ve had so many cheering me on from the sidelines. And for that I say a most heartfelt thank you.

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Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, 3:40 a.m.

Last Tuesday I was admitted into Danbury Hospital’s emergency room for the 4th time in the last year. Do I get a plaque yet? I was having pain in my chest at the port site and shortness of breath for a few days. So my oncologist said I should go to get checked immediately to make sure it was not a blood clot.

Blood clot? The thought had not even crossed my mind. I was thinking “recurrence, lung cancer,” not blood clot. One more thing to add to the slush pile. Yes, unsolicited thoughts being sent to my already overloaded brain.

After 4 hours in the E.R., a CT scan, EKG, blood work, vitals, checking for blood clots it turned out that the sore chest was because my puppy jumped directly on my chest in a fit of exuberance upon my return home 2 days prior. And the shortness of breath was likely anxiety attacks.

One of the sweet women in my Metaplastic Caner support groups recently passed away at the way too young age of 51. She was a wonderful, funny, vibrant advocate for this type of rare cancer and one of the first people who reached out to me and calmed my fears when I was first diagnosed. She touched thousands of lives and was taken far too soon and it is very troubling because she was an expert.

Another amazing, fierce fighter I know has recurrence in her lungs after a 10 year battle and one gentleman I know through my journey has had recent recurrence after being cancer free for 10 years. Both are strong, faith-filled fighters.

I am only not even one year out yet and have had complication after complication. How do I stay strong and positive and healthy if these knowledgeable advocates and warriors are still battling? This is what keeps me up at night and why I write- partially for you, my supporters, partially for those who are currently fighting, but a lot of it is for me so I can remind myself:

1) I am not alone
2) I will get through it
3) There are blessings around every corner

Some of those blessings this week include:

~My middle son who just turned 20. We celebrated is birthday in NYC yesterday and had an awesome day. I am blessed that he has taken such good care of me during my battle, driving me to chemo, helping drive his sister around and so much more. And he never complained once.

~Shine Salon in Ridgefield who gave me a free day of beauty after reading my blog and saying they were inspired and wanted to pamper me because of all that I’ve been through. Thank you so much to Erin, Stacey, Carrie, Ryan, Orlinda and staff for your generosity. I truly felt like a princess!

~BHS Sports Boosters/Grin Iron Team who presented me with a check for $300. The woman who organized the fundraiser said they read about my story and, rathe than donate all the funds to the American Cancer Society, wanted to help a local family. Thank you! We are so grateful!

~My new editor who is getting the book I wrote last year pitch ready for sending to agents. We were supposed to do it last year before the evil C word temporarily knocked me down. I’m back up now and ready to rock and know that 2016 has awesome things in store!

~The kind fellow who gave us 4 free train tickets. The hubs said it worked out that was because I volunteered to do kid’s crafts that morning (even though I was exhausted) so God blessed us for it. Thank you!

~And last but not least, I am grateful this week and every week for my amazing family, Ruby, Cullen, Dillon and my husband who have been there for me every step of the way offering physical and emotional support, prayers and so much more. My hope is for lots more pain-free family fun like we had this weekend- getting our fresh-cut Christmas tree at the farm, seeing the humungous tree at Rockefeller Center and celebrating lots more birthdays.

In a few hours I’ll go back to Danbury Hospital for the umteenth time for more follow-up and more testing. The E.R. doc was concerned that I’m still in pain in #MyLeftBoob 4 months after surgery. My surgeon said I could be in pain for up to a year later but my oncologist is concerned enough to have me come back in for an exam, radiology follow-up, ultrasound and whatever else. And hopefully they’ll say it’s just fluid build-up or scar tissue because I’ve had enough! Ain’t nobody got time for this!

I will leave you with this: One of the feisty red-haired ladies who battled the evil demon not once, but twice said she has been doing the “Cancer Dance” for years. At first that pissed me off. Dancing is supposed to be fun and freeing. How is dancing with cancer enjoyable? But then I recently was reminded of a song that made it all clear…..

Warning: Atheists/Agnostics can check out now…

A woman who prayed with me 15 years ago passed away from cancer a few years back. I was in a band with her daughter and we worked at a Christian school together. Her daughter shared a song with me by Israel Houghton called “With Long Life” which is based upon a promise God gave His believers in Psalm 91. “With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation.”

I put the song on over the weekend and my spirit leapt and danced on the inside of me. THIS was the Cancer Dance- one step forward, two steps back, it was the Cha Cha! I knew my friend, the wise woman who prayed with me, sent that song to my spirit so I would be encouraged. And I was.

Yes, sometimes cancer can knock me down and make me feel like I’m going backwards but as long as I keep moving forward, even if it is only in my spirit, I WIN!

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Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 – 2:40 a.m.

“Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.” ~Kak Sri

I am beyond grateful for the most recent test results that came in and I’m happy to share some good news! The lump was not cancer! It wasn’t “nothing” but it wasn’t the “bad thing” that every cancer patient worries about, thank God!

I went to my oncologist last week who definitely felt a lump (#4 if you’re counting) and she sent me immediately to get an ultrasound. I was laying there thinking about the first time I saw the first lump in January 2015. Here we were almost a year later and here I was again, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When the ultrasound tech rolled over the spot on #MyLeftBoob there it was again, another black spot. My heart sank. I tried to read her face and she didn’t look worried. This dark spot looked more like a long jellybean than a misshaped quarter with a scraggly tail. I breathed a huge sign of relief when the tech told me it was just a “seroma,” a mass of fluid that forms sometimes after surgery.

I asked how she can tell the difference between a seroma and a lump to be concerned about and she explained it was due to the shape and how it felt. So far the last 2 times I went to the doctor I received good news- no blood clots and no cancerous lumps.

I’m hoping 3’s a charm because the latest pain is in my back. I have another follow-up visit on the 21st and will ask the doctor once again to check this new pain. The hardest part of battling cancer is the battle of the mind, the fear of recurrence and trying not to think every ache or pain is a new type of cancer. I know many women who have fought two, three and sometimes four times and wonder how they can be so brave.

In the last few weeks two beautiful, strong women have passed away from cancer after both waging long and fierce battles. One was 51 and had the type I was diagnosed with- Metaplastic Carcinoma. It came back and spread to her spine. She fought for 3 years.

The other woman was 79 and battled for 7 years. She had ovarian cancer and left behind an amazing legacy in her 5 children.

Both women had such strength, grace and dignity in the face of adversity and left their mark on the world and on other women who are still fighting, myself included. I will always be grateful for their positive attitudes and the examples they set for others.

Fighting cancer is a full-time job and it’s not over the instant treatment is “done.” As we’ve seen so many times, it can come back and symptoms can linger–symptoms like numbness from neuropathy which I still suffer from, pain in the joints which I still have and extreme fatigue which I battle daily.

Trying to juggle the stress of working at the full-time job that pays some of my bills and work at fighting cancer while balancing doctors appointments and family time is definitely a challenge. But I know there is an end in sight, hopefully in the very near future.

Never in a million years did I think I would be in this position of being a cancer patient, fighter and advocate but I know that I can and will use my writing to raise awareness for early detection and the power of prayer and positive thinking.

I know there are some women out there who get mad or upset when they hear people like me “preaching” about early detection because it didn’t save their sister, mother, daughter or friend, but it does save many many lives, including mine. So I can’t be silent about it.

My heart breaks for those whose lives were robbed from us, for those who found their cancer fairly early at Stage 2 and they still passed away. It’s so unfair and that is why I must continue to encourage people to check themselves regularly, because for so many it does matter.

My life will never be the same but I feel that is a good thing. In a way I can say that cancer saved my life, saved some very important relationships and it gave me a purpose. I have a new perspective, a newfound appreciation for so many and a sense of gratitude I never imagined I could feel.

I am eternally grateful for the outpouring of love and support I’ve received along this journey and I promise to make my life matter. I won’t squander this second chance I’ve been given. I will work to help others, to support fellow warriors and show women that they can get through it too.

For the two special warrior sisters who are going through treatment right now– I’m praying for you daily. Stay strong. You will get through this.

To everyone who has loved and supported me along the way, I could never thank you enough. Life is a gift.

Yesterday was the three year anniversary of the most horrific tragedy our nation has ever seen, the Sandy Hook School shootings. 26 innocent lives were ripped away from this earth by a tortured soul and thousands of others who lived through it, lost a loved one or are living with someone who was affected will never be the same.

I struggle with the right words to say or the right thing to do to honor the precious lives lost. After the tragedy I had the honor of opening a nonprofit that helped families heal through the power of the arts called the Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids, the SHACK. It has since closed due to lack of funding but I still carry fond memories of those we were able to help in the months immediately following that day.

I met a few of the parents who lost children and am amazed by the grace and astonishing dignity they’ve shown. Their children and loved ones did not die in vain because the message they share is causing The Butterfly Effect and it will change the world. Their message sounds simple but what would happen if we all truly chose to live by these words? Love Wins, Be Kind, Choose Love.

Being kind could be as simple as a smile for those who need strength, for those who need love. This smile is for you.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” ~Mother Teresa

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Journey: Fighting An Invisible Battle In My Mind

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“”If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell.” ~Lance Armstrong

I choose the latter.

It’s Thursday, Nov. 17, 3:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep again. I’ve heard people say fighting cancer is like being in a war zone. Just when you think the battle is over, another attack comes. Shards of shrapnel fly at you burrowing just under the surface, causing twinges of pain depending on which way you’re positioned. You think you may die….you have another pain in your head, your chest, you have indigestion, is that bad? What does Google say….uh oh, more cancer…..you feel another lump….is it back? No. I can’t go down this road again. But those thoughts are our reality each day.

I can’t wait to get through an entire day without thinking about it, without talking about it. I was so proud that I got through my new writers group without talking or writing about it. But I know sometimes I must. I continue to write and update because I get so many lovely messages from readers, many of whom I don’t know that say- “Me too. Thank you for sharing.”

It’s been 5 weeks since radiation ended and 4 months since chemo ended. To look at me you’d think I’m back to “normal.” I fight through the tiredness and pain.

It’s been said that people who go though cancer treatment can experience PTSD. I wouldn’t say I have that but I’m definitely not back to normal. I still battle fatigue, hot flashes, neuropathy, twinges of pain at the surgery site and roller coaster emotions. But most of all I battle those darn thoughts spinning around in my head.

The people around me, my boss, my co-workers, friends, acquaintances and extended family act like everything is miraculously okay, “now that treatment is over” but it’s not. I still have one more surgery in 2-3 weeks (my 4th) to get the chemo port removed, one more time I will go under anesthesia and then the knife and hope everything goes okay, one more day, or week of pain. I’m still “in treatment” and will be until we know this evil demon is gone for good. I’ll still go to doctor’s appointments every three months for the next few years until I reach the “Magic 5” when I’m cancer free and chances are slim to none it won’t return. Until then it’s a crap shoot.

So I do everything the doctors at Sloan Kettering and Danbury Hospital tell me to do….almost. They say to prevent recurrence I need to:

1. Avoid alcohol
2. Avoid animal fat and processed meat
3. Exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes
4. Keep stress levels down

I’m doing really well with #1-3 but I’m having a hard time with #4, especially working very long days in a fast-paced, deadline oriented job. Thankfully my bosses are understanding and I do my best but I still worry about the $30K in unpaid doctor bills.

And then something good happens…. a nice person reads my story and shares info about a charity that can help me….SWIM Across the Sound pays one month’s rent and one month’s electric bill. And I worry less and breathe a big sigh of relief. THANK YOU SWIM! Thank you Kyle! You’ve helped reduce my stress.

So what else can I do to help with #4? Go to yoga. See a play. Laugh! Play music. Don’t lose my sense of humor. Do things I enjoy, says my favorite now-retired Dr. Cooper who is being honored this evening. And then I remember what he said at one of my first visits: “You’re only Stage 1, it was all contained to one duct, it didn’t spread to your lymph nodes…….

” YOU’RE GOING TO BE FINE.”

And I have to believe that. And my hope is that you will be too. If you are fighting, keep going! It will get better. The more you focus on others the less you think about yourself. This is why participating in Relay for Life & raising $2,600 for the American Cancer Society during chemo was so good for me. It took the focus off myself. It made me remember there are SO many out there fighting this nasty disease….the disease that doesn’t care if you’re young or old, fat or thin, black or white, Catholic or Jewish, vegetarian or carnivore, runner or couch potato– It touches all of us.

This is why I continue to write– to show how those of us in the “Cancer Club” really feel, to educate people and raise awareness for early detection. Maybe your loved one will have to go through it and you’ll be more prepared to help and encourage them along their journey.

Cancer is not just about pink ribbons during the month of October. It’s about people from all walks of life every day who have the misfortune of hearing those three awful words, “You have cancer.” I use my writing to help others and to make a difference in this fight.

There may be two women in particular who are much more private in their breast cancer battle and I want you to know that I pray for you all the time and can’t wait until you’re on the other side with me in the survivor’s seats, cheering others on in their fight. Stay strong!!!!

I’ll update again when I know when my next, and hopefully last, surgery will be.

Today begins 26 Days of Kindness, in memory of the 26 angels who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook School shootings. Please remember to do something nice for someone today. Day 1 honors Jessica Rekos, a 6-year-old who loved horses and whales. Search “26 Days of Kindness” on Facebook to see the rest of the dedications.  Click here to read more about the victims.

Be kind. Choose love. All lives matter.

Click here to support #MyLeftBoob breast cancer battle.

#MyLeftBoob Breast Cancer 201: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” ~Walter Elliott, The Spiritual Life

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Tonight, as I sit here coughing with a bright red nose like Rudolph, I’m reminding myself to focus on the GOOD among the bad and the ugly.

The BAD: This week, the one week in 9 months I only had one doctor appointment compared to 5-7 over the last 9 months, we all have terrible colds. My daughter stayed home yesterday and I stayed home today…..

The GOOD? I get to work from home (most of the time) in my cozy jammies, sipping tea with honey and lemon and a monster-sized box of tissues nearby.

The UGLY: So far this week for work I’ve been threatened with a lawsuit for posting a letter to the editor (baseless), I’ve been accused of impartial political reporting (not true) and last night I was yelled at from across the room of a standing room only crowd because I was videotaping a First Selectman debate for work…..and it’s only Wednesday.

The GOOD? Also through work- I met a wonderful and inspiring woman who is also battling the evil C word for SIX years now. Wonderful because I could see her inner strength beneath her outer beauty which put my perspective back into focus.

The BAD: I’ve been having anxiety attacks because I feel like I can’t keep up at work, or with laundry, or sleep, or a second part-time job I’m about to begin tomorrow to try to help pay off some of these mounting medical bills. I only slept for 2 hours last night because my heart was racing and the worry warts were invading my mind in between coughing fits.

The GOOD? Among the 30+ political letters to the editor I’ve received today, there was one bright ray of sunshine from my now retired Medical Oncologist who stumbled across my “Behind the Pink Ribbon” series. I’ve been sharing stories this month of survivors for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Google “Patch.com, Wendy Mitchell, Behind the Pink Ribbons” to read them).

He told me he loved the articles and that I was doing a great job raising awareness for breast cancer. And he told me to keep on fighting which I will do! #MyLeftBoob is winning the battle. And if you’re just joining me, sometimes mammograms are not enough. You HAVE to feel your boobs!

The UGLY: My scars, my peeling skin, my growing waistline….I’ve been meaning to get to the gym for 2 weeks now and haven’t been able to due to my work schedule, my daughter’s field hockey games/practices 6 days/week, or me being sick and/or exhausted.

The GOOD? As Clarice in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” once said, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. Tomorrow is not far away.” I have to stop beating myself up and realize I JUST finished radiation treatment and still have one more surgery to go. I’m not going to feel better overnight.

The BAD: I keep getting woken up by hot flashes due to chemo induced early menopause (I know, TMI for some, but for the newbies out there, this is what you can expect).

The GOOD? “This too shall pass” and at least I won’t have to go through it when I’m 55+.

The BAD: Numbness in my fingers and toes still plagues me.

The GOOD? It doesn’t last long and is getting less and less frequent.

The UGLY Truth: The dark shadow of “recurrence” still haunts me, which I hear is a common fear among survivors.

The GOOD: My new Medical Oncologist said that even though I can’t take any post-chemo drugs because I’m Triple Negative, there are things I can do to help prevent recurrence:

1. Exercise for 30 minutes 5 days a week.
2. Avoid alcohol
3. Stay away from animal fats and processed meats
4. Reduce stress

I’ve got 2 & 3 under control but I still need to work on 1 & 4. I will get there…baby steps….little by little.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” ~Mark Twain

CLICK HERE to support my breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me.

Almost Celebrating End of Treatment for #MyLeftBoob

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A week ago I was getting radiation for a “rare and aggressive” type of breast cancer only 1% of women get. Two days later I was on an insanely fast roller coaster with my kids, screaming my head off, celebrating no more treatment (almost). That brought to mind a quote from my oldest son’s favorite movie, Ferris Bueller:

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Today marks one week since I completed 6 weeks of radiation, Today is also 3 months since I finished 16 weeks of dense dose ACT chemo for Metaplastic Triple Negative breast cancer.

It’s 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep again, which seems to be the norm lately due to radiation burns and other issues. Later this morning the hubs and I will travel to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY for my 3 month checkup.

In the week since I’ve updated, there have been 2 more women in my life who are just starting their cancer journey. They are both private so I won’t write about them, but I’m so glad to be here to answer questions and lend support.

The best advice I’d give to anyone just starting out is:

  1. Listen to your body – rest when you need to
  2. Learn to say “NO” – so many people will want to pop over & spend time with you & that’s the last thing I felt like doing. I was just trying to get through each hour of each day while working and being a mom.
  3. PUT YOUR BLINDERS ON! My doctors told me this so many times and I wish I listened. People will tell you every cancer horror story & the truth is that everyone’s diagnosis and reaction is different,
  4. STAY POSITIVE- pray,meditate, watch comedies, don’t answer your phone/texts/email if it’s from someone who will stress you out or make you fearful. This is a time to focus on your treatment and recovery.
  5. Find a support group that is truly supportive and positive.

If you are a family member or friend of someone going though treatment, the best thing you can go is to stick with your patient the whole time and let them know you care. It’s a long, hard road and some people drop out after the first couple of months. Maybe they’re tired of hearing about it. Maybe it’s depressing. Maybe they feel like they don’t want to bother you. Getting a quick text or Facebook message to let us know you still care and are still here for us is certainly no bother and is very much appreciated.

And when the treatment is over it doesn’t mean we’ll be back to “normal” right away. It takes months for all the chemo drugs to leave our bodies and for the symptoms to go away.

So how am I doing 3 months post chemo?

  • Chemo brain (Google it, it’s a real thing) is still here. I forgot about 2 appointments this week and feel like I’m forgetting to do something, or I can’t remember the words I want to say.
  • Red, bumpy, burning, itchy skin from radiation is still a problem but getting less and less.
  • Neuropathy in hands and feet is still bothering me but not as much. It hurts most when I first wake up in the morning and hurts to walk sometimes. The numbness comes and goes in my fingers which is a challenge because I do need to type for a living.
  • Chemo induced early menopause– not a fun thing to talk about but it happens….and that could be why I’ve been waking up in hot sweats and getting horrible sleep.
  • Eyebrows and eyelashes are back. Hair is coming back in and super short still. IMPORTANT beauty tip: If you have red or blonde hair and are thinking of dying it right away- don’t. Mine turned orange….one of the things people forgot to tell me. It has something to do with the new hair coming in- or red going on top of grey hair or something. I’ve been told I look like Mia Farrow and Annie Lennox, which I’m taking as a compliment.
  • The “X Marks the Spot” scar is still prevalent but I don’t mind, it’s one of my warrior scars- surgery area is still sore 2 1/2 months later.

Sleep escapes me because I have so many questions firing through my brain…. sort of like those firecrackers you threw on the ground when you were a little kid….bang! bang! pop-pop-pop-pop! It’s so loud I can’t keep up enough to write them all down so I write here. Studies have shown that writing is one of the best forms of therapy for someone going through this battle.

I still have one more surgery to go and due to the type of cancer I will need follow-up checkups every 3 months for the next 2 (?) years because I can’t be on any follow-up meds since I’m Triple Negative. After the 2 years it goes down to every 6 months for 5 years I believe.

The aftermath will be long-term. It’s a war we’ve fought, and are still fighting, and there are physical, financial and emotional scars that need time to heal. I’ve read that cancer patients actually can get PTSD from the trauma of what we’ve been through. I can definitely see how it can mess with your head. The key is to keep your mind busy with good thoughts, focus on other things, and even helping other people. A small act of kindness goes a long way and makes you and the recipient feel so good.

I was supposed to start at the gym this week but lack of sleep, my daughter’s field hockey games and 3 doctors appointments threw a hitch in my giddyup, so I’ll have to start small next week. I’m not going to beat myself up for not beginning on time. I know I will get there eventually.

The past month has been tough- 3 of my husband’s friends’ fathers, and his aunt, all passed away. A girl who goes to my daughter’s school lost her dad unexpectedly due to a heart attack. Another friend lost a lifelong childhood friend in his early 50s who took his own life. Life is rough, life is short but it’s also amazing and wonderful and full of beauty and grace if you look hard enough. Nobody is promised tomorrow and when you stare death in the face, as I have, you learn to let the small stuff drift away and enjoy each moment you’ve been gifted because life is a gift.

Life moves fast. So stick your head out of a sunroof, scream loud and beep the horn every time you go through a tunnel, go on roller coasters and celebrate each breath.

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

#MyLeftBoob Radiation #26: It Takes a Village of Vikings and Warriors to Battle Breast Cancer

Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 1.13.45 AMMy brother (center with viking hat) and my middle son (on the right) modeling the awesome Wendy’s Warriors tee shirts, designed by Lisa Kosarko Setaro. The crazy dude on the left is our good friend Shadow who came out last April for Relay for Life to support me in my fight.

I sit writing this update propped up on 8 fluffy pillows under my arms and neck and one firm one on my lap for the MacBook. I just popped a pain pill and am waiting for it to do its job, in extreme pain under my arm and chest from radiation burns.

Just yesterday I was enjoying a nice visit with two of my four sisters, our kids, my dad and his girlfriend. It’s been years since we were all together, since my sister has given up her footloose and fancy free glamorous life of yachting. Juuuust kidding! She actually did just come back from a decade on a yacht, but it was far from glamorous. She worked her butt off as an executive chef on a one of the world’s largest yachts and, after my cancer diagnosis, decided to return to dry land for good to be close to our family and I’m so happy she’s here.

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So, like an annoying aunt, I made us all take a lot of pictures. Life is short. Life is unpredictable. You never know what tomorrow holds. We ate like kings, danced like fools and acted like, for a brief moment, I wasn’t battling the evil demon. And it was good.

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And then…BAM! Reality slapped me in the face like a jealous girlfriend. You’re not allowed to have fun, it said. You’re supposed to be giving all your attention to me. I hate for my kids to see me cry but I couldn’t help myself tonight. The pain was awful. I’m sick of not being able to function normally. Imagine you have a horrendous sunburn and you’re forced to go back into the sun over and over, the very thing that caused your burn. Not fun. But it’s almost over.

The past few nights I haven’t slept well because I wake up in a pool of sweat from the burns. Not so fun fact: Did you know that chemo brings on early menopause? It’s just one of many side effects from treatment– dizziness, numbness, pain, nausea and if that wasn’t enough to deal with all at once, why not throw on some hot flashes?

I know there are people in worse shape that me. There are people who have had a double mastectomy. There are women fighting alone, single moms, struggling financially or emotionally.  There are women just starting their journey who are asking themselves, “Why me?” There are women who have endured multiple surgeries like me and we are all entitled to our feelings. Just because I write about it more often or more publicly doesn’t mean I don’t think about, try to help, and pray for those who are fighting. We are all warriors.

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My sister Becky with her adorable daughter Juliet sporting their Wendy’s Warriors tees.

Speaking of warriors, last April our Relay for Life team, “Wendy’s Warriors,” raised over $2,600 for the American Cancer Society. We did it in honor of all those we know who lost their lives to cancer: My sister-in-law who passed away four years ago at the age of 51 from pancreatic cancer, my mother-in-law who passed away in 1986 at the age of 55 from ovarian cancer, my aunt who passed away in 1999 from brain cancer, our friend’s father who suffered and passed away from stomach cancer. I’ll never say they “lost their battle with cancer.”  Anyone who fights and doesn’t give up is a courageous warrior and a winner.

warrior: noun

a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill

Our family and friends were an amazing support for me throughout my journey and during Relay for Life. I was tired, and probably shouldn’t have pushed myself so hard, but it was something I was determined to do to help others. I believe if you do good things “what goes around comes around” and “you reap what you sow.” If you’ve been following from the beginning you’ve seen how much good has come out of all this and we are so grateful.

Many of you will never know what it’s like to fight and many of you will need to know…like our friend whose mom was diagnosed just last week. Our friend has watched me through almost all of the stages and I’m sure never thought it would touch him personally. But now, unfortunately it has. That’s why I write. So they can know what a cancer patient goes through physically and emotionally. So they know what to say and what not to say. So they can be prepared to support their loved one as they take each step one day, and sometimes even one hour, at a time.

 

And in the spirit of  supporting warriors would you consider purchasing a Wendy’s Warriors tee shirt or bracelet? We ordered (and paid for)  way too many and they’d look much better on you than on my couch! A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society so they can continue their lifesaving work.

Tees are white, 100% cotton and are $20. Bracelets are purple and are $4 each. Honor your warrior and make a difference in the fight against cancer. Paypal: wendyannmitchell@live.com or mail a check to: Wendy Mitchell, 9 Evergreen Drive, Bethel, CT. 06801.

If you know someone who is fighting or has fought any type of cancer, please share my blog with them. It takes a village to fight the evil demon but together we can make a difference in the war on the C word! As always, thank you for your support!

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Battle: 18 Doses of Radiation and I’m Seeing Red

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This is what someone’s chest looks like after 18 doses of radiation- red, bumpy, itchy and raw. Not a pretty sight but a necessary evil to kill the beast. And I still have 12 doses left. I can do this!

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” ~Walter Elliott

It’s been nine long months of fighting the evil beast so far… nine months of deep breaths through the pain, sleepless nights, surgeries, nausea, chemo drugs, dizziness, worry, hot flashes, crazy emotions and pure exhaustion. I feel like at the end of these 9 months I should at least get a cute baby or something?! 🙂

I started my fourth week of radiation Monday and my chest is starting to itch and burn, despite slathering up with a thick layer of Aquaphor every night. I have 12 more treatments, the last 5 of which are targeted to the area where the two lumps were removed.

Friday I go in for another “mapping” session so the physics team can mark me up with more purple Sharpie to ensure my vital organs are protected during this intense last part of treatment.

I’m probably not getting as much sleep as I should throughout all of this but a mother’s work is never done. I feel a twinge of excitement as I think that in just two-and-a-half weeks I’ll have my life back, almost completely. The last 9 months have been filled with 5-7 doctor appointments per week, hours and hours each day spent getting poked, prodded, injected, drugged, cut, scarred, checked and double-checked.

Yes, it’s a long time since I started fighting this battle that completely turned my world upside down and made me look at things from a whole new perspective. Yes, I’m sick of talking about it and I’m sure many are sick of hearing about it but the fact is, cancer touches everyone and I won’t be quiet until I feel my work of raising awareness is done.

Here is my message: Sometimes yearly mammograms are not enough. You HAVE to feel your boobs on a regular basis. If I didn’t find the lump myself while dying my fiery red hair, that is no longer there (how ironic), I might not be here to tell this tale. I consider myself blessed and I feel it’s my duty to spread awareness for early detection so others can have a fighting chance.

While I will be “officially” finished with treatment in just 16 days, I won’t truly be “done” because the dark shadow called “recurrence” will TRY to follow me due to the rarity and aggressiveness of this type of cancer.

Since Metaplastic Carcinoma was only recently discovered in 2000, not much has been done in the way of clinical trials and research. It is a rare cancer, only occurring in 1% of women, and an aggressive cancer with a high rate of recurrence, especially in the first 3 years.

I was also diagnosed with Triple Negative which also has a high recurrence rate. Being Triple Negative means I lack estrogen, progesterone and Her2 receptors so I can’t take any follow-up meds for “insurance.”

BUT my Radiation Oncology doctor told me today that I have a different type of insurance- the long, harsh and fierce treatment that I’ve endured over the last 9 months. This will kill any last trace cell that tries to mutate and change in form to lung, skin or bone cancer. The meaning of Metaplastic is “change in form.”

AND my Oncologist, who has worked with thousands of patients over the last 30 years told me, “You caught it early and it didn’t spread. You’re going to be fine!” I have to believe him.

This is also why I felt so strongly about getting a second opinion at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. On March 9th I was told after my PET Scan that I am officially cancer free. And that’s why I will go back there at the end of October to make sure I stay cancer free for years to come.

My hope is that I can be healthy, strong and not drowning in debt from this battle so that I can be in the position to help others.

Often times life’s not fair but that’s not the lesson I try to teach my children. Through my battle I’ve tried to show them that there is always something to be thankful for. And that it’s important to help others because there are a lot of people out there who don’t have friends or family for support like I do.

Through your love, you’ve all helped keep me going. Because you’ve surrounded me with your prayers, dinners, donations, gifts, hugs, calls, emails and laughs, I’ve been able to stay strong. Thank you!

CLICK HERE to support #MyLeftBoob  breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me to cover medical costs related to my treatment.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Nursing Battle Scars on the Inside & Out

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It’s 1:30 a.m. and I’m sitting on the couch coughing, writing, editing and trying to juggle all of the duties of working mom, loving wife, community news editor and dance/band/field hockey mom- not an easy task when radiation and a bad cold is wearing on me, but attainable nonetheless.

I have about 2 hours of work left that I should’ve gotten done during the day but had to go to 2 doctors appointments and take care of regular wife/mom stuff. But after a stressful end to the very long work day, I must take a break and remind myself that life it too short to let someone else’s negativity affect me. I can rise above the muck and not let their bad mood drag me down.

Today marks radiation #13 of 30. I’m almost halfway there with minimal side effects which is a huge blessing! The doctor said if I am to experience skin burns from radiation it will most likely happen towards the end of this week or next. I’ve been slathering up with Aquaphor each night so hopefully it won’t be too bad. The waiting is the hardest part.

At 10 weeks post dense dose ACT chemo, my eyebrows and eyelashes are finally growing back, my hair is almost 1 centimeter long (woo hoo!) and the neuropathy (numbness) in my fingers and toes is subsiding.

Yet still that gnawing feeling lingers in the back of my mind, 17 more treatments left and then what? This type of cancer has a high rate of recurrence, although it has not spread and was caught early. But still, I think almost every cancer patient faces these fears. Learning to live with them and combat them is the challenge.

I’ve cut alcohol, sugar, cold cuts and red meat out of my life completely. I’ve switched to all organic produce and rarely eat eggs, cheese or anything with artificial anything. I’m not vegan completely but working towards it. While my doctor said Metaplastic Carcinoma is not caused by anything external or anything I “did” or “didn’t do,” I’d rather be safe than sorry.

And after the battle is over, I’m left bruised and scarred. I wear my battle wounds proudly; a scar under my left arm from the Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy, two scars in an “X Marks the Spot” design on my left boob, a bump and a scar on my upper right chest from where the port still remains.

And I’m left to pick up the pieces of this war on cancer- a few broken relationships, a lot of lost finances, an ever-changing role at my job, new perspectives and realizations and a newfound appreciation for every day of live I’m blessed with.

Some battle scars I’m left with are obvious while others lay beneath the surface of a smiling face. I can’t force people to be in my life if they don’t want to be, even if they are family, so I need to learn to be grateful for those who have been there for me, and are still here, since day #1.

While I’ve been beat up by dentists, surgeons, horrible chemo drugs and even now a slight fever/bad cold along the way, the blessings far outweigh the bumps in the road.

I have my 3 month follow up checkup with the doctor at Sloan Kettering scheduled and after that I will be checked every three months for a year. From there I’ll be checked every 6 months for a year and then when I reach 3 years cancer free I believe it’s a yearly checkup. Five years is the magic number when the recurrence rate going down drastically. I will be 50. Start planning a huge party!

Because I’m also Triple Negative I can’t be on any follow up medications as other cancer patients take when they’ve completed treatment. Because I’m Triple Negative I can’t take the Onco test to see if or when the cancer will return. All I can do is live a healthy live, try to stay positive, pray a lot, pay it forward by helping others and enjoy every single day I’ve been given.

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT #MYLEFTBOOB BREAST CANCER BATTLE.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: Fighting Fruit Flies and Managing Madness

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I’ve always had a rather large melon-like forehead, as shown in the left side of this photo. I call it a fivehead, but this here is definitely a sevenhead. Don’t know what I mean? Place four fingers on your forehead and see if they cover it all. Mine normally takes 5 but after being bald for 6 months it now takes 7. Hopefully when my hair grows back in it will got back to “normal.” I hear I can expect “chemo curls.” Guess “it’s better than a poke in the eye,” my father-in-law used to say, God rest his soul.

Pardon my sevenhead story- just a little something to make you chuckle before I tell you what’s really going on.

Getting cancer takes a toll not only on your 4, 5 or 7-head and body, but also on the purse and wallet. But I’m not going to harp on that. We’ve been so blessed with all of the donations and help and I know if I think positive and just keep truckin’ we will get there.

One of the biggest challenges throughout this journey has been how to manage stress. Ann’s Place has free yoga for cancer patients which is awesome, but between 5-7 doctor’s appointments a week, work and my daughter’s crazy schedule, I haven’t been able to get there. Now that my neck and upper back muscles are so tight I know I have to make it a priority to calm down.

So what’s causing all this stress? A dead car battery, bill collectors, lost backpack, teen drama, a sick kid, plans changing too many times and fruit flies. Yeah, fruit flies. I’ve been battling them all week, annoying lil buggers. They follow me everywhere and there is no evidence of fruit anywhere in our house. It’s all in the fridge. But still, as I sit here and type, the pesky varmints fly in my eyes and up my nose.

Of course I looked on WikiHow as to how to get rid of them and tried this:

Day #1) Open a bottle of apple cider vinegar and leave the lid off. The fruit flies will go in and won’t be able to fly out due to the shape of the vessel. This didn’t work.

Day #2) Pour cider vinegar into a paper cup. Place Saran Wrap over the cup and poke holes in the top. The fruit flies will fly in, not being able to resist the smell of the cider, they won’t be able to get out and will die. This didn’t work either.

Day #3) Take Saran Wrap off the cups, pour 3 drops of Dawn dish detergent into the cups. The fruit flies will fly into the cup for the smell of the cider but won’t be able to get out as the dish soap will create a film on the surface. Is 3 a charm? Nope! Not in this case and still these fruit flies plague me.

Day #4) Open large bottle of wine, insert straw, drink up. You will no longer care about the fruit flies.

Okay, so I made that last one up and didn’t try it but I can’t say I haven’t wanted to. It’s been 8 months since I’ve had wine and I don’t miss the after effects. But I do need to learn what to do to calm down when little things in life, like fruit flies, get me all riled up.

I need to remind myself to look at the big picture, think positive and fill my spirit with uplifting verses like this:

“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” ~ 2 Cor. 4: 16-18

Cancer has been a bit more than a “light momentary affliction,” but I do know it will all soon be over and remember the good that’s come of it.

According to CalmClinic.com:

“Stress has a physical effect on the body. When you suffer from anxiety, you’re putting your body through extensive, long-term stress. Your body is in fight or flight mode, and that means that it’s releasing hormones that tense muscles and create an overall feeling of general unpleasantness that, in many ways, contributes to further anxiety. Neck pain is one of the symptoms caused by persistent anxiety. Many experience a degree of neck pain that ranges anywhere from slightly irritating to severe, all as a result of their anxiety symptoms.”

How can I deal with all of these stressful situations without wine and without going completely insane? Just breathe. And pray. And follow my doctor’s orders:

  • Put on your blinders: Don’t listen to the cancer horror stories which will be swirling around in my head late at night, keeping me worried and awake.
  • Keep stress levels down: Yoga is good if I can make time to get there. Minimizing contact with Negative Nellies is also good.
  • Get enough rest: This has been tough with working full-time and trying to keep up with laundry, dishes & my daughter’s schedule but I’m trying to force myself to go to bed an hour earlier each night. Lack of sleep makes people emotional and isn’t good for a weak immune system.
  • Make time to do something you love: Check! I have an audition Tuesday for a British rock cover band that likes to dress up and play goofy songs. They wear wigs so I’ll fit right in! Fingers crossed I pass the audition!
  • Spend time with people you love:  Again, trying to find time to do this.
  • Take a pill when you need to: This one is scary- I don’t want to get addicted, but I do need to sleep… and not be in pain.
  • And last but not least….

FOCUS ON THE GOOD NEWS

~ I’m in week 5 of 6 weeks of radiation and I’m blessed with the sweetest radiation techs! So far, besides tiredness, there have not been any symptoms. They said I may get a sunburn-like burns on my chest but if that happens it won’t be until towards the end. Hey! At least it will keep me warm in the winter! 🙂

~ A DJ saw my photo on Instagram and will be using it in a video he’s making for breast cancer awareness for the #BoobProject The Boob Project is a collaborative charity song written by an 8-year-old boy whose mom is fighting breast cancer. The song/video features Florence + the Machine, Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Hozier, Michael Franti, Vance Joy, Matt Nathanson, Spandau Ballet, Graham Nash (CSNY), the Grateful Dead, Jack Antonoff (Fun/Bleachers) and many, many more. It will be released October 1st to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

~ My hair, eyelashes and eyebrows are starting to grow back!

~ I lost 10 pounds but still have 10 more to go to get back to pre-chemo weight. I met some nice folks at a festival today who will help get me back on track since the last gym basically forgot about me….but this is the good news section so I won’t say anything more on that!

~ I still have slight neuropathy that comes and goes in my fingers and toes but it’s getting less and less.

~ There is a good chance that I’ll be teaching an after-school theater class but I can’t expand until details are finalized. <— That fulfills the “doing what I love” Rx my doctor gave me.

I know this has been long and rambly but it’s therapeutic and I hope it helps others too. There are good days and bad days. When we take the time to stop and look at the big picture, there is always something to be thankful for.

A good side effect I’ve experienced along the way has been the people who take the time to send emails or write on my blog or Facebook page comments like these:

“Thank you for sharing your personal story. I feel exactly the same way.”

“Your writing has helped me as I go through my cancer journey. You’ve been able to vocalize exactly how I’ve been feeling.”

“Thank you for raising awareness for self breast exams and early detection.”

“Thank you for writing about your battle. I’ve shared your blog with my daughter who is going through treatment and it’s really helped her.”

Thank YOU all for taking the time to let me know this blog is helping others.

CLICK HERE to support #MyLeftBoob breast cancer battle on Go Fund Me.

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Battle: You ‘Should’ But… No Thanks, I’m Good

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In the 5 months since I’ve been bald due to ACT chemo, never once have I posted a photo of my “bald is beautiful” shiny new noggin. Nope. Because my bald head is not beautiful. Some people can totally rock the look, like my new breast cancer friend Ericka (pictured below), but not me.

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But since I am entering a new chapter of my journey, 6 weeks of radiation starting tomorrow, I figured I’d post one. And one is all you’re going to get.

I’ve had so many tell me all the things I “should” do during treatment. While it’s annoying, I know they mean well, my response has always been a very polite, “No thanks, I’m good.”

Here are some of the best “You shoulds.”

In relation to my hair….

You should just shave your head

You should get a henna tattoo on your skull, you’d totally rock that

You should invite over all your friends to draw with Sharpies on your head

Umm, no thanks, I’m good.

In relation to healing/recovery….

You should rub coconut oil on your boobs 3x a day (after I had surgery & the scar was healing)

You should smoke weed

You should do wheat grass juicing and just not tell your doctor

You should go vegan

You should eat whatever you want because you could get hit by a bus and die tomorrow

You should eat a tablespoon of coconut oil 3x a day

Um, no thanks, I’m good.

Anytime someone begins a sentence with “you should,” it immediately ruffles my feathers. I would never go up to an overweight person and say: you should eat less, you should exercise more. It’s rude and none of my business. Don’t you think they know they’re overweight?

So for all of you cancer newbies: be prepared for unsolicited “advice,” unwanted tips and unwelcome, sometimes rude, suggestions on how “you should” just do this or that and you will magically be cured of cancer! Don’t you wish all of the doctors and hospitals knew about these quick and easy tips? Then a billion dollar industry would go kaput and we’d all be better! Yay!

Sarcasm aside, sometimes it’s hard to let it go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes you get tired of explaining to people, at times even perfect strangers, what your diet is/was, what sort of birth control you were on, whether or not you drank or smoked excessively, etc. So if you’re one of those people asking such invasive questions… please stop. It’s none of your business. And for the record, none of those things caused the type of cancer I was diagnosed with (Metaplastic Carcinoma). It wasn’t because I dyed my hair or used non-stick pans or ate bacon. It just happened.

To put a positive spin on it, here are some nice things you can say to a cancer patient:

After being diagnosed:

I’m so sorry to hear that. 

You’re in my thoughts and prayers

Is there anything I can do?

During treatment:

How are you feeling?

You’re still in my thoughts and prayers

Is there anything I can do?

Some of the worst feelings of all to deal with through all of this are:

#1) Being made to feel guilty, like the cancer was your fault. I know Dutch women who literally eat lard, pork, bacon and live to be 80+ years and never get cancer. I know others who smoke a pack a day and live to be 90+ and never get cancer. On the flip side, I know women who eat healthy, grow fresh herbs, are physically fit and play tennis and they still get cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advising you eat lard and smoke a pack a day, I’m just saying that, as much as you want to, you can’t blame getting cancer on those things. The type I was diagnosed with was not caused by any external factors and the biggest reason I got this is, my doctor said, is because I’m a woman. Women get breast cancer. It just happens. Raising money for research and raising awareness will hopefully help other women have a better chance at life through early detection.

#2) Feeling like you’re forgotten. At first everyone calls, emails, texts and writes. They help cook, clean, run errands, etc. And then it fizzles out. I know- cancer is depressing, cancer is a hassle, how do you think I feel? It only takes 2 seconds to send a quick text that says “thinking of you” or even an emoji heart or smiley face. This goes double for family.

#3) Feeling like you’re a burden. Don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about cancer all the time. I won’t plague you with the gory details- that’s what this blog is for….haha! I won’t ruin your good time by having me around.I’m still the same person, just a new and improved, much stronger version of my former self.

Now take a deep breath. Aaah. Doesn’t that feel good? It’s called life and we are all lucky and blessed to be here. There is always someone better off and worse off than you are and there is always, ALWAYS something to be grateful for.

Today I am grateful for my sister Becky who has helped me with my many changing hair and wig styles along the way. I saw her tonight and she cut a wig I’ll be wearing to yet another job interview tomorrow after radiation. Yes, I’m trying to get a second part-time job to pay for over $30K of medical bills. My husband already works 2 jobs so he can’t do anymore than he does already.

Hopefully something will come along, or I will finally sell one of my screenplays or manuscripts, to pay all the doctors who have been keeping me alive. Oh yeah, I just have to find some time to finish them first! A girl can dream!

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Thank you Beckells for not only being a great hairdresser and sister, but for being a great therapist and friend! ❤ 🙂

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Here is an update from my Go Fund Me page. Please donate by clicking here if you can. Any amount helps and is SO greatly appreciated.

While cleaning my teeth Monday, my dental hygienist asked me what the side effects will be and I told her I wasn’t quite sure because I’ve been advised to stay away from Dr. Google. There is no use worrying about something that “might” or might not happen. Everyone is different and everyone’s reaction is different.

I’ve heard people describe radiation as getting a horrible sunburn, getting burned alive, being 10x worse than chemo, being 10x better than chemo, an absolute nightmare where you can breathe and you’re always exhausted, blah blah blah…

I’m going to go Thursday morning with a hopeful and positive attitude and remember the reason why I’m there: to kill any last trace cancer cells that may try to morph into something else and show up later somewhere else in my body.

“Metaplastic” means to change in form and this type of cancer is known to come back, changing in form as lung, skin or bone cancer, even after surgery, chemo and radiation. With radiation, it diminishes the chances of that happening.

My oncologist said because the cancer was contained in one milk duct and it didn’t spread to my lymph nodes that my chances are good that it won’t come back. No “what ifs” or “buts” are allowed in my train of thought right now (or ever).

I’ve had to amp up spiritual “food” intake my and scale down the “support” groups that are not always so supportive. Some have made me feel guilty because I’m “only” Stage 1 and have said “you’re so lucky.” Yes, I’m so “lucky” to have to go through 3 surgeries, 16 weeks of dense dose chemo, 6 weeks of radiation, nausea, dizziness, exhaustion and lose all my hair. Luck has nothing to do with it. I am, however, BLESSED.

Cancer is no discriminator- it can invade your body whether you’re young or old, skinny or hefty, black or white, rich or poor. And if you’re tired of hearing about it, or talking about it, like me, sorry but it’s not going away…yet.

And that is why I do what I do- write to raise awareness, to raise funds, to help others, like me, to have a fighting chance through early detection.

So what if I’m in a little pain or feel like I have a bad sunburn on #MyLeftBoob for the next couple of months? It’s just a small blip of time in the grand scheme of things.

The after effects are not so pleasant (scars, HUGE pile of bills that don’t seem to be going away, fatigue, etc.) but this is just a season in my life that will soon change. And as Gloria Gaynor once said, “I WILL survive!”