Breast Friends Cancer Support Network Visuals

Hello listeners and thank you for making it here for the visuals which we discussed on the August 18th and 25th episodes of Breast Friends Cancer Support Network. 

Yvonne Nydigger joins the show to talk about life after cancer, breast or any kind. How does life go on when your body and your mind are forever changed? This 3 part series will lead us in ways to “dip our toes back in the water” of every day life, setting goals and making plans for your best future without letting the past rule your life.

On August 18, we discussed the Wheel and which parts of your life may be either bent or broken spokes.

On  August 25, we will go over the Value Assessment and how this leads to moving forward into our “normal plus” lives!

On September 1, we will wrap it all up!  Hope you can join us!

– Michelle & Yvonne

How do you handle grief when you work with the killer every day?

At 2:00 am on Saturday, April 24, 2021, the world lost an amazing soul and Heaven gained an Angel. Cancer took the life of one of my mentors, Becky Olson, and it hurts.  We knew it was coming, but it is still heartbreaking.  My head is swirling with emotions.  Honestly, she and I were not close, like best friends close, but she was an amazing mentor to me. I admired and cared for her so much. My deep grief is for her husband and family. For the organization she founded with her lifelong friend, Sharon Henifin and for Sharon herself.  For her beloved dog Swayze who used to come to the office with her for meetings and would “sing” with her.  For those who no longer will be able to hear her magical voice or be inspired by her words from the stage.  For me finally, who only received a small amount of her teachings and guidance on how to speak to an audience or host a show.

Becky had the magical quality to engage people and inspired so many.  I only know small parts of her story and she had ups and downs like we all do, but she lived life large and deeply.  She battled breast cancer 5 times over 20 + years, but this last time, her body decided it needed peace.  She went into the light with grace and had her family by her side. Faith was a large part of her life and she knew that God was waiting for her which does bring comfort. 

But how do I and my friends at work go on?  We deal with cancer every day, supporting the new women who come through our doors and providing them support, hope and inspiration.  With such a loss, it is tough.

How we continue on is to keep up with the amazing work she has done.  A few months ago, I was really struggling at work.  On top of COVID, there was a lot of family issues going on and I almost took a step back from Breast Friends.  I was not sure if I had anything left to give.  Becky reached out to me and asked if I would like to be her co-host for Breast Friends Cancer Support Radio and to eventually take it over.  Unfortunately, we did not get to host together, but I am so thankful that she chose me to carry on. I was and am so honored to continue on with something she loved so much and will strive every day to fill her shoes.

Being women impacted by breast cancer, this is a part of what we have to face.  We have hearts to serve; the work we do is incredibly impactful and fulfilling.  But on the flip side of that is that some will die, much younger than we think is acceptable and before they have been able to live what we consider a “full life.”  It is so unfair.  Yet, I will be back “at work” on Monday doing my best to support the women in our programs with my “sisters.” My heart will be heavier, and I will cry during our staff meeting for we have lost one of our own. Breast Friends would not be here today without Becky.  Sharon and Becky made this happen over 2 decades ago and now she is gone.  Gone, but definitely not forgotten.  Her spirit will drive us each day.

It is also a reminder of my own mortality.  I have had cancer twice and while I take the daily medication with awful side effects to help prevent it from finding its way back into my body, I cannot get the “what if” out of my head.  Most days, I push it to the back of my head and continue to do the work. I have so much life to live.  I have a 10 year old son who I need to see grow up and have his own children.  I have bonus kids and while some are grown, I need to be here to support them and encourage them to live life to the fullest.  I have a husband that I have not had enough time with yet. We are already talking about our 20 year wedding anniversary. “20 days in Italy” as a follow-up to last years “10 days in Mexico.”  I have my parents and siblings who need me and I need them. I have a beautiful niece who is turning 1 soon and I know more nieces and nephews will come that I can spoil.

So I wake up every morning and do my best to be positive and appreciate what I have. Each day is a blessing.  Every day that I wake up is a good day even if my body aches and my heart hurts.  While cancer has taken another angel today, if I have learned anything from Becky, it is to live every moment as if it could be your last. Say all of the things you mean.  Tell your friends and family how you feel even if you can’t find the right words. Becky said recently: “It is better to say the wrong thing than to say nothing at all.”

Rest in Peace Becky.   I will strive every day to honor you and the amazing legacy that you have created.

How did I transition back into “life” after cancer?

I have been blessed to take over the hosting of Breast Friends Cancer Support Network.  I am going to try to connect blog posts to each episode.  I am a few week behind, but what’s new?  This episode aired on March 10, 2021 if you would like to check it out!

Transitions are a part of life.  It is the grace with which you handle them that truly matters.

“Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t take.” – William Bridges

I have gone through 3 major transitions in my life.  Two were my choice, one was not.

  • Quitting my secure, well-paying job of 10 years to “find myself,” then moving from California to Oregon for a job in my mid 30’s. I knew one person.
  • Becoming a stay-at-home mom after working full time for 18 years
  • Finding out that I have breast cancer for the second time.

It was the transitions in my life from breast cancer that truly made me look at my life and take a turn into different directions for the better.

Embracing transitions requires acceptance.  Life will always throw things at you which you are unprepared for and my.  It is how you handle them that will show your true character. 

Four key things to help with a transition post breast cancer which really helped me:

  • Embracing your Health
  • Reflecting on your Life
  • Finding Support
  • Volunteering

Embracing Your Health

Cultivating healthy habits is important for breast cancer survivors. This is because you are at higher risk for other health problems as a result of your treatment. Healthy behaviors can also help you get stronger, reduce the severity of side effects and feel better emotionally.

Some of these behaviors include:

  • Adopting a healthy diet – still a work in progress on this one! I love food, especially carbs, but I try to limit them.  Post menopause has not been kind to me.  I have literally changed nothing in the way that I eat or what I eat and have gained over 40 lbs.  It is one of the biggest struggles that I am still dealing with.
  • Limiting alcohol intake – one glass and I am good! I mean, maybe 2 or 3 if we are camping with friends.  🙂
  • Exercising regularly – last year we bought a Peloton home bike, since we couldn’t got to a gym.  I had an 8-day streak recently!  I am at the point where I feel guilty when I don’t get on.  That tells me that I have created the habit which will hopefully help control my weight and be healthier.
  • Managing stress – challenging, especially during a pandemic, but doing my best – this will lead into personal reflection and finding the right support systems. Channel your energy into the right places!

Personal Reflection

Many people report having survivor’s guilt following breast cancer treatment. I did and still do to some extent.  After my first diagnosis, I went to a young survivor’s group.  I had a fairly “easy” go round with a lumpectomy/radiation and I was in meetings with women who went through SO much more and I felt guilty and honestly stopped going. 

After I was diagnosed again, I realized that no matter how little or extensive someone’s cancer journey is, hearing the words “You have cancer” still have the same impact.  One of my very close friends, who is the silver lining of my cancer journey, often says “it doesn’t matter how big the dog shit you step in, you still stepped in dog shit.”  No one else in that room looked down on me for being there because my treatment plan was easier than theirs; we are all there to support each other.  It is SO important to be heard.

I also spent time figuring out what is truly important to me, this will differ for everyone.  First and foremost, my family. I am determined to not miss out on life’s events with them.  This past summer was my 10 year wedding anniversary; the previous October my husband and I booked a vow renewal in Mexico and invited all of our friends and family.   Then came COVID and everything was, well, you know, majorly F’d up!  We went back and forth on whether to go, cancel, postpone.  Finally, we ended up going, renewed our vows on the beach in front of 6 family members, instead of the 50 we had hoped for, but it was still magical.  We have masks which say “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and it will be a trip that we will always remember.  I am so glad we did not let circumstances stop our lives.

But this kind of reflection is normal, a life threatening disease will make you think about EVERYTHING. Some of these approaches helpful to work through these feelings and questions:

  • Re-evaluate old patterns and priorities to see if they are still relevant after your breast cancer
  • Reach out for spiritual support through your local church, the chaplain at your hospital or cancer center, or through local cancer organizations
  • Keep a journal or blog of your thoughts and feelings – I found that I love to write and I am an over-sharer.  Not much is off limits if I think it will help someone else.
  • Find new ways to support emotional well-being, either by trying a new activity or joining a social group.  I discovered that I love writing and public speaking.  I love being on stage and want to help others by sharing my story.  Prior to having cancer, I would have NEVER asked to be on stage.  Life is too short to miss out, do the things that scare you, they will bring you the most joy.­­­

Support Groups – Breast Friends!

Cancer survivors often benefit from speaking and sharing with other survivors. A support group offers the chance to gain emotional support. It is also a great way to gather practical tips and tools. You may discuss treatment-related challenges like pain management or fear of recurrence or what your life after cancer should look like. Other things which also help:

  • Talking with a friend – Yang to my Yin, Yvonne Nydigger – my boss, my mentor and now one of my forever friends has helped me through SO much.
  • Individual counseling or therapy. Been there, very helpful – see my previous post “You Shall Not Pass!”
  • Speaking with your doctor or nurse – my nurse navigator was A HUGE help to me, Jen Steen-Revis, Compass Oncology. She is a angel who helped me through both diagnosis and still supports me now.
  • Speaking with a spiritual or religious figure in your community.  This is not a big part of my life, but very important for others.  FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!
  • Focusing on other enjoyable activities –  I use reading and coloring to relax and turn my head off at night.

Volunteering

I knew that after my 1st bout with cancer and going to the Komen conference, that I needed to DO something to feel human again. I felt a calling to give back to other, but I also had a toddler at home and life took precedence.  THEN, I was diagnosed again 4 years later and my life completely changed. I underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy, oophorectomy/hysterectomy and breast reconstruction.  My body will never be the same, nor will my mind.  Then came the AI meds and menopause which I am still struggling with 4 years later.  At this point, I was not able to go back into my old career as an EA, nor did I want to, but I was not even able to do a very part job at my son’s school due to the physical pain and exhaustion in my body.

That is when I walked into Breast Friends to volunteer, and the rest is history.

Many breast cancer survivors often experience a strong desire to give back after treatment. Many want to repay the kindness that they were shown. Some realize that their experience may be valuable to others who are newly diagnosed or in treatment.  Me, me, me!

Regardless of your reason, volunteering is a great way to build new friendships, expand your network of support and do something that makes you feel good.  I knew that I have value in my computer skills, events background and organizational abilities. Who doesn’t need that?  I walked into Breast Friends, not really knowing what I wanted to do.  I started doing basic data entry, helping with mailings and basic organization in the office.  I moved on to revamping the Hat Program, mailing out hats to women who have lost their hair in treatment and then was hired on as the Patient Programs Assistant.

If you are interested in volunteering, think about your own strengths, interests and expertise. Then determine how you could use these to help an organization further its mission. The most common types of volunteer opportunities are:

  • Service and support – office duties, data entry or working with patients who need support.
  • Awareness and education – talking to outside organizations about what your chosen organization does.
  • Fundraising – it is not my thing, but very important nonetheless.
  • Advocacy – helping to get the word out about early detection, treatment and support options that are available.

I KNOW that these 4 strategies can help with most big transitions in life.  Our health is a huge priority and should never be taken for granted.  Figuring out what matters most in life will lead to a clear path for your future.  Finding your tribe who gets you and supports you no matter what will make your life so much better, hands down.  Finally, being able to give back and help others is one of life’s greatest opportunities and will fill your soul.

All of these helped me get to the good place where I am at today!

One Year

How has it been ONE YEAR?  Technically in 9 days, but I felt like getting all of this out NOW, today, I had to write.  I have not written anything in a year as well.  A correlation maybe?

Life has been drastically changed by something which was only imagined in movies and books.  But it happened. A global pandemic which has taken the lives of over 500,000 people and almost 30 MILLION people were infected in the United States alone.  WHAT. THE. F&*K.

Our day to day lives now consist of hand sanitizer, masks and social distance.  Honestly, I am sure that I have spent hundreds of dollars on masks.  In the beginning, it was the run on toilet paper and I still don’t understand that part, but it is a meme that will live on in infamy when talking about 2020. Now it is double masking to actually go in a store or ordering everything for outside pickup or delivery.  And if you see someone you know when you actually go in a store, there is that awkward moment when you want to hug them, because you are desperate for human connection . . . you try to bump elbows or lean in oddly before remembering and stepping back.  Anyone could be asymptomatic and transfer it without intention. One of my dearest friends gave me the best hand sanitizer which says it all. “I mean . . . I can’t even . . . It’s like  . . . Just ugh.”

On Thursday, March 12, 2020, I was out to dinner with my husband and son at Claim Jumper.  We had heard about the virus which started out in China and on cruise ships and had hit New York and Washington state, but we were not super concerned.  Yet.  Then I got a text message from a friend that the schools were going to be closed “early” for spring break, starting on Friday, the 13th.  Oh how ominous it was.  I ordered a second glass of wine, hopeful that it would just be a long break from school and things would go back to normal ASAP.  My son was thrilled because he had no idea what was coming. None of us did. We went to Target after dinner to “stock up on wine” and prepare for what was to come.  There is truly not enough wine for what we have all been through.

357 days later, life is definitely not normal. As I write this, my son is inside his Taekwondo studio, in a mask with limited kids and I am sitting in the car because of restrictions. I am so thankful that it is back open; it gives him a much needed break out of the house and allows him to be physical. He has been doing distance learning for a year.  A YEAR!  Bless all of the educators and administrators out there.  They are doing their best to make an impossible situation better.  I am thankful that my kiddo is a good student and likes to stay in his PJs all day while being on video calls with his class, but it has not been easy on anyone.  I am not built to teach common core long division.  Period.  Spring break is around the corner, and I am looking forward to a week of no schedules or checking assignments or asking why something did not get submitted and “no, get out of bed while you are on video with your class.  Because I said so.”

Anxiety and depression have skyrocketed for many, myself included.  The fear of the unknown.  “What will the ‘rona do?  Will I get it? How bad can it be?” I have a very close family member who had COVID-19 and spent almost a month in the hospital.  I cannot express the fear we all felt when she was given a 10% chance of survival. Thankfully she is home and on the mend, but waking up every day and thinking the worst will truly damage your soul.  We are much luckier than many.  My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones.  I do feel that we as a country are moving in the right direction and hope that the numbers will go down as the vaccinations are given. But for many, vaccinations are a whole other discussion which I cannot even wrap my head around.  All I know is that I am getting mine ASAP. To protect myself and my loved ones.  But you do you.  No judgement here.

I am an extroverted introvert. I love people on my time; I love being social as long as I can go home and recharge.  But my god, I never asked to recharge for this long!!! We love to have parties for any and all occasions. Nope. Not now. Not being able to just hang out is miserable. Zoom and FaceTime are great, but the video fatigue has set in.  Human beings crave connection, and it is not the same over a screen. I think we have all spent more time with our immediate families in our homes than many past years combined.  Screen time has skyrocketed for all of us; movies, binge watching TV (Tiger King anyone?) and playing games so we don’t have to think that we should just stay home and isolate. Because for so long there was no place to go.

Oh and, did I mention that my husband was laid off in August?  7 months with no major income.  I DO NOT RECOMMEND.  I work for a small non-profit and my monthly paycheck covers our car payment.  I am SO SO SO thankful that we had savings and that my marriage is strong because this was just a wee bit stressful.  We are ecstatic that he started a new job this past Monday; we will not have to move in with any of you. But I would like to visit ALL OF YOU!

Another thing I have been struggling with is reaching out to my friends.  I have the BEST friends, hands down, and I am so blessed.  But do I pick up the phone?  No. I know that 100%, I could call any one of them at any time to cry, vent, laugh or share, but I have not wanted to burden them with my issues.  Then I feel like a flake because we say “Oh, let’s talk this weekend” and it doesn’t happen.  I don’t even return phone calls. 🙁 This on top of not being able to see more people, get together for a play date with our kids or go into my office to work with our full team.  It stinks and I am not dealing well with it all.  Instead I play a ton of Phase10 on my phone.

One thing which has kept our sanity, somewhat, is the connections we have kept.  Close friends live 2 blocks from us and together, we decided that we were in all a “pod” from Day 1.  Weekly dinners back and forth, kids being able to play, seeing people that do not share my last name is amazing! As is not having to cook every damn meal. Another saving grace has been amazing friends of ours that bought a travel trailer last year.  We were able to spend so many fabulous weekends away with them, while being safe and outside in our trailer. I have another friend who I see for coffee and compassion; she and I share so many similarities in life and her hugs make me feel better.  #QuaranteamsfortheWIN

I try to remind myself, there were some great things about 2020:

–  In August, we celebrated our 10 year anniversary by renewing our vows in Cabo.  Originally we had hoped for many friends and family to join us, but we had a small group of 8 and it was perfect. 

– We bought a Peloton bike to attempt to stay in shape. I am not a good “worker outer.” It has never been my thing, ever.  But, now that we have had it for a while, I am feeling much stronger and have more endurance.  If I don’t get on every day, I feel guilty and miss it. I have successfully developed the habit and will keep going. We are connected with friends and are accountable.  My favorite coaches are Robin and Cody, FYI. Love them!

– Daytime and nighttime PJs are a HUGE win in my book.   

– We welcomed a new puppy in December; Thor is a black lab, and he is super lovable.  Apollo is finally happy with him and we are one big happy two dog family. My house is covered in dog hair, but it’s OK because only my Quaranteam sees it and they love us anyway.

But I digress.  I have a lot of feelings right now, but I KNOW things are going to get better.  This year has been SO HARD.  It is important to remember to give yourself a lot of grace.  No one expects perfection or even anything close right now.  I am at the point where I consider each day a success if we all go to bed still liking each other, fed and have showered within the last 48 hours.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene

I am doing my best; it may look different every day, but I never stop dancing.

 

 

Fear

I have not written on my blog is over a year.  Why? I can think of many reasons, but the one that pops to mind currently is “fear.” If I keep writing on a consistent basis and work toward writing my book, then it would go out into the world, people would read it and then have opinions on my story, which is terrifying to me.  As much as I love being the center of attention, for some reason, this is different.  I blame it on lack on time, how tired I am all of the time and the pain that took over my body in 2019, but if I really look deep, it is the fear of the future.

I think that fear is encompassing many of us right now with what is going on around us.  COVID-19 has sparked a mild panic and became an internet sensation (and created an immense need for toilet paper apparently); the 2020 presidential election has all of is in fear, no matter if you are red or blue, or a nice shade of purple and there are so many more things we all worry about every day.  I personally am I giant ball of anxiety most of the time; the rest of the time I am asleep.

I literally could sit here all day and be afraid.   Not focusing on the life going on around me,   wondering if COVID-19 is going to affect my life or someone that I personally know.  I will not look past any headlines about the coronavirus; my husband and best friend tell me what I need to know. If I research it, I will spiral and decide that we are never leaving the house again and be thankful for Amazon Prime.  

Our family is headed to Disneyland in a few weeks.  It is literally one of my favorite places in the world.  It might actually be a close second to Italy (but we definitely can’t go there at the moment)!  I have been super excited about this trip for months.  The kids have not been in years, J does not remember it as we went for his 3rd birthday, and I could go every 6 months and be thrilled every time.  Yet, should we be going?  I am afraid of what could happen.

A friend and I were headed down to Los Angeles last Thursday for a Young Survivor’s Coalition conference.  She and I decided to not go; the last thing we would want is to bring back a virus to the immunocompromised women we work with.  Two days later, the entire conference was canceled by the YSC to protect the health of attendees.  It was the right call, but man, I was really looking forward to a fun and informative 4 days away.  My oncology group was also hosting a talk on March 17 about updates in breast cancer.  This was also just cancelled to protect patients health.  Now I sit here and wonder.  How afraid should we be?

The adult in my says: “Stay home.  Go later in the year when it was less crowded.  Space Mountain will always be there.”  The kid in me says: “WOOHOO, maybe a lot of other people WILL stay home and the lines will be shorter!”  I have made plans to meet up with a friend while we are there and I had texted her about it.  Her response when I said that I was waffling about cancelling and that I had been reading the news from Disney: “Um – what f*#$ing news from dland?  Cuz I ain’t cancelling either!!”  I guess that settles it.  

And then I fear that I am not being a good wife or parent because the pain from medication is back.  My hands, feet and all of the other joints either hurt, feel like they are on fire or just don’t work.  I do everything I can with my family, but I know it affects my mood when I can’t do something or it just hurts when I get off the couch.  Not asking for sympathy and I am forever grateful that I am here to feel the pain, but chronic pain stinks.  

So what I am saying is that right now, fear is in the air on many levels.  But I am going to not let it rule my life.  I am going to do my best to write more, because it is so relaxing for me, however chaotic my first post back may be.  I am going to Disneyland (unless they close it!) and I am going to do the best I can to live my life and enjoy every minute of it.  A friend just said to me that 2020 is the year of doing things that make her happy. I am on board with that and throwing fear out the window.

Mastectiversary – Year 2

Two years ago on this day, at this time, I was heading into a very long surgery to remove my breasts and start the reconstruction process.  I have been thinking a lot about it as one of my friends is going in today for a lumpectomy to remove her cancer.  I am so thankful for her; it was found early and her treatment is appropriate.  But she still had to hear those awful words, “You have breast cancer.”  Life changing words which will forever alter her perspective on so many things and her body in so many ways.  But she has the most amazing attitude and has tremendous support; those will go a long way in her recovery.  I am blessed to have her as my friend and sending her all my love today.

As for me, what a difference a year makes.  While I am still in pretty constant, mild pain from my meds (Letrazole) and have a lot of fatigue, my life has moved forward quite a bit.  My breasts have amazing tattooed nipples, and I have beautiful cherry blossoms over my scars.  Now, I am not shocked when I look in the mirror or afraid that I will scare little ones in the changing room at the gym.  Well, I don’t actually make it to the gym enough yet, but I am working on it!  The husband and I are also changing our eating habits.  We started Keto (not sure quote what the proper way is to say that? The Keto diet? Trying to be in ketosis?  Whatever, you get the idea!) last week and I am down 5 lbs.  Having cheese and avocados on a meal plan is ahhhmmaazing!  I still miss bread and pasta, but I want to be healthier, to live longer and enjoy my life, see my son enjoy a good life and be a grandmother to his kids.  Having all of that is worth cutting down on the carbs and sugar!   Plus, you can still have vodka.  Win!

I have also become a full fledged volunteer of Breast Friends, the emotional support organization.  It is my home away from home, and I have found a place where I belong.  I send out hats to women who have lost their hair from chemo, call them to check and see if they received it and how they are doing and provide continued follow-up.  Hearing how much they love their hats and so appreciate the support warms my heart.  I have also spoken twice at Breast Friends events and last week I spoke as a representative of Breast Friends at St. Mary’s Academy during their Breast Cancer Awareness Night Basketball games.  I was honored to share my story and remind the young ladies how important it is to do self-checks, talk to their doctors about anything odd and put their health first.

I have not moved forward on my book; life is just very busy.  Trying to fit in my time at Breast Friends, weekly volunteering in J’s classroom, walking the dog, taking care of a house full of people, fitting in a yoga class, having time for the husband and friends and also watching “A Million Little Things” and “This is Us” is a lot.   I did decide that I want to start my own non-profit organization where myself and others can take their therapy animals to visit those who are going through chemo at home and could use some cheering up and comfort from animals.  The first test animal will be our Golden Retreiver, Apollo.  He helped me during my treatment so much and I want to help others.   I mean, who would not love this face?

All in all, I am so thankful that time does heal wounds and you do move forward.  I cannot wait to see what the next year will bring in my life!  Being on “Ellen” to talk about my therapy no-profit (I really need to name it) is one of my goals; that may take a couple of years, but I’ll get there.  It’s good to have dreams.

It’s Not About How I Have Aged, It’s About How I Have Lived.

I have been hemming and hawing over whether I wanted to post my first and current profile pictures on Facebook to see how I have aged.  I was not worried about the difference in my looks.  Because let me tell you, the last 11 years have done a number on my body.  But I am 47 years old.  I think.  It sometimes takes me a while to remember and the calculations are just impossible. I am middle aged; of course I am going to look “old.”  What I thought about was why it mattered how I have aged.

Looking at the photos of my friends, I can honestly say that I prefer the way they all look NOW! And while I definitely had fewer  wrinkles, much less grey hair and my jeans were probably 2 sizes smaller, I would never trade any of those things for the amount of life that I have lived in those years.

When my first photo was taken, I had just started dating my future husband and we were out wine tasting with my sister.  It was an amazing day.  My current photo was on my last birthday with my husband, my son and 2 of my 4 bonus kids.  It was also a great day.  Sure I drink a lot less know and I need a hell of a lot more sleep, but I can still find the joy in my life.

Also in these 11 years, I married an awesome guy who cherishes me and we had a son.  Watching that kid grow is one of the best things in the world.  Yet, I have a scar from my C-Section.  Oh well.

We bought our first house together and have made it a home.  Some days, the cost of the mortgage and property taxes add to my grey hair, but we have both worked very hard to have this home and it is so worth it.

I have had family members who I cherished deeply pass away which still hurts my heart, and I have held newborn babies of friends which reminds me that no matter what happens, the world keeps turning and it is fabulous.

I have had friendships fade away just in the course of life, lack of similar interests or illness, but I have also made new friends who I know are in it for the long haul and will be there for me in good times and bad.

I have had breast cancer.  Twice.  It’s ridiculous and it has taken it’s toll on my body.  I now have reconstructed breasts, but I don’t need to wear a bra anymore and one of them has a beautiful tattoo of cherry blossoms on it.  I had a full hysterectomy, but yay, no more periods!  The medication that I take has a lot of side effects: I move slower, I have hot flashes constantly, I can’t get a full night sleep to save my life and the pain in my joints make me feel like I am in my 80’s.  But I am still here.

I stopped working when my son was born and I was really good at my job.  I chose to be a stay at home mom, and I don’t regret that.  Ever.   But a couple of years ago, I started to want more for me than to be someone’s wife or mother.  I needed to find my identity again.  My second time around with cancer has led me to a future career as an advocate for breast cancer and a public speaker.

All of these things are just some of what has happened in my life in the last 11 years.  But I have lived and I would not have it any other way.  I am proud of my laugh lines; they show that I have things to laugh at.  I will cherish my wider hips; I have a son and loved being pregnant.  My grey hair takes less upkeep than any other color that I have tried.

Of course I have aged.  I have lived.

 

 

Be Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving, a holiday known for excess eating of traditional food, a houseful of family or friends and possibly some football or card games.  It started out as the first celebration of the Pilgrims coming to the “new world” in 1619 and is also known as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest of the past year.  For most of us, it seems to have veered far from the early traditions.

For me, it is a day to remember that I am blessed with LIFE.

But this year, I am tired.  The thought of making a big diner with a turkey, stuffing, etc. was just too much.  We checked in with the kids and the in-laws, and decided that we were bucking tradition and having pizza for Thanksgiving dinner.  And it was awesome.  I did make a salad, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, but it all went with 3 pizzas from Papa Murphy’s.  Prep time was minimal, dinner was great and clean-up was quick and I felt just as thankful as I did last year after shopping for, making, eating and cleaning up a full multi-course meal.

I am blessed in my life; I have a wonderful family and supportive friends.  We are going on an awesome vacation next week with good friends (and no kids!) to Disneyworld and Universal Orlando.  I am able to be a stay-at-home mom to my son and volunteer in his class and for his activities.  I give my time to an organization which supports women emotionally who are going through breast and ovarian cancer.

But most importantly, I am alive.

Cancer has invaded my body TWICE, yet here I am.

I have extra to be thankful for.  That my cancer was caught early and treated quickly.  I am currently NED (no evidence of disease) and my prognosis for living a long life is good.  Yet, why me?  I have met many people who have not been so lucky and have or will lose their lives to cancer.  That may happen to me someday, but today is not that day.

Every morning that I wake up is Thanksgiving day to me.  I am thankful that despite the pain that I endure from my medication, my breasts are not natural and the range of motion of my left arm is limited, I am alive and healthy.  I am thankful every day.

I am a speaker!!!!

I had the honor last Saturday of being the keynote speaker for the Breast Friends Survivor Luncheon!  I am so blessed with the support that I have in my life and that I have found my voice and know what I want to talk about.  The majority of the speech is here and soon I will have a better copy.  The beginning is cut off, so here it is:

Thank you, Sharon, and also to Breast Friends for letting me tell my story today.  Welcome to all of you: survivors, those living with cancer, family and friends.  I also want to thank my family, who all traveled to be here, my daughter Lily, who during the course of my treatment, whenever I needed anything said: “I’ve got you Shell” and she did and my husband who is my biggest supporter.  Last year, I was sitting in the audience: depressed, angry, in a lot of pain and having no idea what was going to happen in my life.  Now, I am here on this stage speaking to all of you with a new perspective.

A little over a year ago, I had seen an ad for the Susan G. Komen race for the cure and I remarked to my husband, “I am not being a very good cancer survivor.” (and here is where the video starts):

 

 

 

Race for the Cure

In August of 2017, I had seen an ad for the Susan G. Komen race for the cure and I because I had no desire to participate, I remarked to my husband, “I am not being a very good cancer survivor.”  His response, that still echoes with me today, was “you’re doing a great job at not dying.”

But I was not doing a very good job at “living” either.  Mainly because I was in a lot of pain; healing from multiple surgeries and the deep to the bone pain in my muscles and joints from the letrazole.  My favorite place was on the couch or in bed.  Lying down was all that I wanted to do, not that it completely eased the pain, but being horizontal lessened it.

I was also in a funk.  I tried to not outwardly project the “why me” feelings that were going through my head all of the time and to combat the depression, but it was hard.  Why did cancer attack my body twice?  Or why does it attack anyone?  I have no answers for that and at the time, it was really hitting me hard.  It took every ounce of energy that I had to get up, make sure my son got off to school and to deal with the dog and throw in a load of laundry.  Then it was back to bed for me.  The thought of walking, let alone running, in a 5K was SO not even a possibility in my life.

I halfway participated in a 1K walk with my husband’s company for support of the Seattle Children’s hospital in September, but mostly so I could see where J was when he ran it.  He ran to the end and then ran back to me and we finished it together.  That alone left me physically exhausted for the rest of the weekend.

Then it was deep into fall and winter.  In the Pacific Northwest, that means rain and a lot of it.  I love the rainy weather, but mostly when I can be inside, curled up with a blanket and a book, not out walking or exercising.  Slowly as spring came around, I started to venture outside and go for walks.  My dog and I had both gotten “fluffy” and we needed to shape up!  First it was to the end of the block and back, then to the end of the street.   We live at the bottom of a large hill and getting the energy to even walk up the long, mellow incline was a challenge at first.  Finally, I conquered that and would continue up the hill and around after seeing J off on the bus.   Next, I added walking down to the local field where I could throw the ball for Apollo.  He was in heaven and it was good for me to just move.  As we were walking, I would do the PT exercises to work on the range of motion for my left shoulder, trying to “heal” my whole body.  Slowly, I had gotten a little bit of stamina back.  Not that I will be running any marathons in the near future, but I can walk around the block and do a mile without wanting to take breaks every few minutes.  

This fall, the charity 5K sponsored by my husband’s company and the Komen Race for the Cure were the same weekend and I participated in both.  I walked the 1K for each, but it was a huge accomplishment for me.  It was a crazy weekend, driving up to the Seattle area on Friday afternoon, participating in the event for Seattle Children’s and the 1K on Saturday, touring around the Space Needle area, coming home, up at 5 am on Sunday to help set-up and man the Breast Friends booth with two of my tribe members at the Race and then walking the 1K.  At the end of it, I was a hot mess, but I made it.  I came home and slept for 4 hours that Sunday afternoon.

While at the Race, I helped out at the Breast Friends booth, talking to survivors, women newly diagnosed and family and friends of loved ones that have been lost.  It is so worthwhile to me to be a part of this organization that gives back in this way, supporting women emotionally as they go through possibly the worst time in their lives.  

I almost accidentally tried to walk the 5k that day with friends; I thought they were wanting to o the 1K walk so we started off.  When I realized what their intent was and gauged how bad my leg were already hurting, I chose to turn around and do the 1K when it started.  I knew that I would not make the 5K, as much as I wanted to.  So I walked with another survivor and her daughter and it was great.  To cross that finish line felt amazing.  Emotionally amazing.  Physically, I was in pain, just from the entire weekend’s activities, but I did it.  Seeing the variety of people there, young and old, in support of those affected by breast cancer was amazing.

It was a milestone for me and my goal for next year is to do walk the 5K with a team and fund raise for it.  Maybe one day, I will run it, but eh, I have never been a runner so I don’t want to go too crazy.

A hugs thanks to my friends Joleine Sigler and Jen Wynn for outfitting me for the race and to Kelly Gallagher for running for me!  Love you!