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