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Warning. Whiny post ahead.

I am wiped out.

Why did I think things would calm down when school started?  All of my friends, as we randomly run into each other at Costco or Target since we can’t seem to ever get together due to vacation schedules, camps and who knows what, say the same thing: “Hey, summer has been so busy, let’s get together after school starts and we have more free time.”  HA HA F’in HA.

School started almost 4 weeks ago and I still have not had time to rest.  Well, that is technically not true.  I went back to bed after I sent J off of the bus the first day of school and slept like the dead for 3 hours.  Since then, it has been a revolving schedule of Costco, Cub Scouts, Walgreens, Fall Festival Planning, trying to get out to walk the dog, volunteering at Breast Friends and school activities, laundry, ninja classes and attempting to keep my house in order.  Add in Friday night lights at home football games at Tigard High School and also a few Oregon Duck’s games down in Eugene thrown in for good measure.  Oh and also a 34 hour trip to Seattle for a 5K with a visit to the Space Needle and the Komen Race for the Cure back in Portland the following day with a 5 am wake-up time.

Really, I am wiped out.  Even if I was not trying to get back some sense of “normal” post cancer, I would be wiped out.  Add all of this on top of aching joints like I am 90 years old, trouble sleeping (I wake up every night with hot flashes, not just at 3 am anymore, but now I have added a 1 am wake-up to my schedule) and overall fatigue.  Ugh.  I am surprised that the bags under my eyes are not bigger.

Did I mention that I have a cold?  Probably a sinus infection, but I am doubling down on Sudafed and Dayquil so I can attempt to function. I am leaving a trail of Kleenexes everywhere and am trying not to cough on anyone while washing my hands about 100 times a day.  I don’t have time to be sick or to rest.  It is hard to balance the things I need (sleep and being off my feet) with the commitments that I have made (scouts, volunteering) and the things I selfishly want to do (read books, watch This is Us or Grey’s, have mimosa brunches with my girlfriends and a night away with my husband).  The things I want to do seem to be taking a back seat the other stuff.  The cold will go away, but I will need to find a way to balance out everything that I have to do and still find time for myself.  If anyone has any pointers, I am would love to hear them!

At the end of summer, I had an appointment with my therapist and I made a promise to myself that I would set aside one day a week to write and another to do nothing.  For the past two weeks, I have managed to get some writing in, my bio and outline for and the then first draft of my speech for the survivor luncheon, but I have so many things to get out of my head for INeverLikedPink that I could write for days. Plus I want to start to really work on my book ideas.  This is my first post since July and it is now the end of September.  I feel like I have let myself down.  And a day for nothing?  That has yet to be scheduled.  I have yoga on my calendar for tomorrow morning, but the last thing I want to do is downward facing dog when my head is full of snot. And since I took a break while writing this, now yoga is off the list and I will doing things for the Fall Festival at school.

It sounds like I am complaining about all of the things that I do, and I am not.  I truly enjoy all of my volunteer activities and really believe in them.  Some days though, when I go from the Jog-a-thon to running errands to therapy to more errands, this time with the kid, to pulling together leftovers for dinner before a scout meeting all the while trying to not spread my germs, I wonder, where do I get off of this merry-go-round?  And I don’t even have a paying job!!  I look at many of my working mom friends who are such bad asses that they somehow work full time, manage their kids activities, work out, have a married life and don’t walk around with crazy eyes or a glass of wine in their hands at all times.  I am in awe of these women.

But for now, I need to remember that I chose my merry-go-round and I am blessed to be on it.  Being a two time cancer survivor has taught me so many things, but one of the most important is to not take any day for granted, no matter what I am doing.  We all do the best that we can, and it’s okay to be wiped out.

 

Relay for Life 2018

This weekend, the American Cancer Society is putting on the Relay for Life.  I was asked to contribute a story to a “book” which will be on display at the event.  Here is what I submitted, and I will be walking in the Survivors Lap with my tribe from Breast Friends.  Here is my story.

When I received my 2nd breast cancer diagnosis in January of 2017 (During snowmaggedon week when it had snowed 8 inches at my house in one day.  In Portland. What???), I had no idea that it would change my life for the better.  Yes, 2017 was the worst year of my life; I had a bi-lateral mastectomy with a latissimus back flap, a hysterectomy where everything was removed, reconstruction surgery and daily meds that severely mess with my body.  But in the end, I found my “twinkle.”

I walked into Breast Friends, desperate to do something, anything.  I had just quit a very part time job at my son’s school after 3 days.  I could not be on my feet for the required 2 hours a day in the lunchroom.  I was a mess and thought that maybe I could volunteer and feel useful again.  My body was still in limbo, healing from the multiple surgeries, dealing with forced menopause and fatigue.   All of this while trying to care for my 6-year-old son, teenage step-kids, house, dog and my husband.  I felt like I was failing at everything.

I started to volunteer at Breast Friends and signed up for the Survivor Luncheon and The Thrive Beyond Cancer weekend.  Both of them together helped me focus on my fears about cancer and life, how to conquer them and what I wanted to do next.  I had a private blog which I made public and started to write A LOT about my cancer and my life. I knew that I wanted to share my story with others. I call myself “an over-sharer,” but it really helps when you want to inspire others.  You have to be able to talk about the good and the bad things in your life.  I am going to turn it all into a book to inspire others who have gone through cancer or other life altering events.  I also want to get on a stage and speak to these same people and motivate them to make changes for the better in their lives. I know that I can do this and every day I am one step closer to making it happen.  Without my second round of cancer, my life would not have taken this turn and I may never have found the new path for my life.  For that I am grateful.

Michelle Beck

www.INeverLikedPink.com

The Nipple Whisperer

I have been very anxious to start my tattooing.  For the past year and 4 months, I look every day at my new “breasts.”  One looks somewhat normal, other than it has a long red scar across it and the other is a bit more odd, due to capsular contracture (breast augmentation complication that develops when internal scar tissue forms a tight or constricting capsule around a breast implant, contracting it until it becomes misshapen and hard) with a football shaped scar which has healed well.  But there are no nipples to be seen, anywhere.   They don’t even feel like boobs to me, I have very little feeling in them, other than pressure, and I have no connection with them, other than they are on my body.

I chose to have reconstruction done after my mastectomy because I thought having breasts again would make me feel more whole.  Also, I am not a small woman and my breasts before were decent size, though age and child bearing had taken a toll.  I thought I would look weird with a size 12/14 body and a flat chest; that would definitely not be what society expects to see in a woman, nor what I wanted to see.  If I was going to survive after breast cancer, I wanted to be as close to “normal” after all of my treatment was done and reconstruction seemed like the best way.

When I was going over the options with the surgeons and they said that for many reasons, it was not possible to do a nipple sparing mastectomy for me, but they can give me new ones in the process, I was more worried about beating cancer for the second time, not so much about the nipples.  “Take everything, all the breast tissue, the tumor, the nipples, just make me healthy.  I have so much to live for.”

Fast forward to 6 months post mastectomy, I had had my expanders replaced with the actual implants and I had round-ish fake things on my chest which were just white skin and scars.  I was as “used” to them as I could be, but I wanted to close out the chapter.  I had originally thought I was going to have a small nipple reconstructed by my plastic surgeon, but then I was at a Young Survivors meeting and everyone shows off their new breasts.  I saw tattooed nipples for the first time, UP CLOSE!  I was literally inches away from another survivor’s chest, staring at how amazing they looked.  With the shading and colors, the tattoo artists work magic and they look SO REAL.  If you have never been around a group of women who have survived breast cancer and gone through reconstruction, it can be a shocking experience.  We tend to pull up our shirts and show off the new goods at the smallest provocation.  The best reason is to show a woman who has been newly diagnosed and wants to see what her future may hold.

This was last summer and I had gotten used to wearing just tank tops without a bra since the new breasts had no sag, and I enjoyed it.  That is definitely one of the top highlights, the lack of a bra most of the time.  I did more research, and I made the decision to get my nipples and areolas tattooed without having the plastic surgeon create a nub.  I had heard through the grapevine that there was an amazing tattoo artist to see in Portland (see prior post), she specializes in medical tattooing and made appointments by referral only. I had my doctor make the referral and I set up my first consult in late January.  Anyway, I was devastated at that first session when she told me I was months away from starting because my scars were still so vivid.  We set future appointments with the first one being in May.   A few days before that one, I sent her a photo and was told again that my scars were still not ready.   I cried.

Then, last week, I was pretty bummed because to me the scars, especially the one on the right side, were still vey pink.  I sent in the photo, but she said, “come on in, let’s get started and maybe the blood flow from the tattoo will kick in and help the healing process.”  WOOHOO!!!

I was actually very nervous, even though I have a small tattoo (thanks JB!), I remember the process stinging and bringing tears to my eyes.  I doubted this would be the same due to my lack of nerves and feeling in the area now, but I was anxious.  In the office, we looked at photos and sketches of cherry blossoms, which is what I want in addition to the nipples to cover my scars.  The ones she was showing me were way to dramatic and dense.  Mine are going to look something like this:

Then we went into the procedure room and got down to business.  Meaning, I put on a gown and she got out her red sharpie and started to measure me.   There is a spot on the neck which is the top of a triangle and the nipples are the other 2 ends and all of the distances should be equal.  Hmmm, who knew?  The she drew on me in red Sharpie and we looked at the red targets in the mirror together and judged if they were in the right place.  It was hard for me to tell, but she is the expert so I just said “you decide, and we’ll get down to it.”  Or rather, I sat down before I passed out from nerves. I even had to take off my shoes because my feet were super clammy and I thought I was going to have consecutive hot flashes. I also started to cry a little bit; she calmed me and said it was very normal as something like this brings me back to the whole cancer experience.

She gave me a piece of petrified log to hold onto so I would have something to do with my hands and then she got started.  I kept my eyes closed or stared at the ceiling as she rocked out to jazz music and worked her magic.  It only hurt in one small area thankfully, the rest was just pressure.  She was done pretty quickly and I looked down and was in shock.  I had color, areolas and nipples with shading and what looked like texture!  Then I started to cry again from amazement and happiness.  My breasts were no longer just mounds of skin; they looked “normal” again.  I could not contain my joy and she turned to look at me and said, “I am the nipple whisperer.”   She truly is amazing.  I had to wear bandages and apply the cream twice a day for 5 days, but now, they have quickly become the norm for me, and I am not shocked when I look in the mirror anymore.

I am one step closer to closing the door on the stupid F’in cancer and not looking back.

 

The Big 30

I just finished my last meal of The Whole30.  J likes to call it the “Big 30,” I have no idea why, but he has stuck with it the entire time, and I do identify with it.  This was BIG for me.  I LOVE food; not that I would ever call myself a foodie, but I so appreciate the things that I love: cheese, sourdough bread, Diet Coke, wine.  CARBS.  I could ditch sweets in an instant, but man I freakin’ love the salty carbs. The Whole30 is intense, but I needed a reset to my body and my eating.  Another fallout from the damn cancer.

Last year, after my mastectomy, I was at a low weight for me.  Then I had my hysterectomy where they took out my ovaries and everything else.  Hello forced menopause.  It is a miserable bitch.  My hormones went nuts and the weight started to accumulate, not just on my butt and legs, the usual culprits, but also on my stomach.  What the hell?? Even after having J, I still had a decent flat-ish stomach without stretch marks and a waist.  Not anymore. The fact that my meds cause fatigue and give me severe joint pain does not help.  The last thing I want to do is work out.  Hence a 30-pound weight gain in one year.  30 lbs. IN ONE YEAR.  I knew that I had put on weight by the way my clothes “fit” or rather did not fit and also by looking at my face.  I would joke that I was now “puffy” even though inside, I felt more like crying than joking.  I truly felt like a marshmallow.

After going to my regular Dr. for a check-up, I saw the listing of my weight over the past visits.  I was appalled and knew I had to make some changes before it got any worse.  I went home and spoke to Nate, “I think we need do The Whole30. Are you up for it?”  He agreed and we started doing research.  I have friends who have done it a couple times and while they say it is a challenge, they have had great results and looked fabulous at the end.  Nate found a website www.realplans.com which helps with meal planning and grocery lists and we ordered the Whole30 book. The following Monday was going to be Day 1.  We took this ridiculously long grocery list to New Seasons.  Lots of meat, a huge amount of fresh vegetables and fruit and foreign things like ghee, tahini, and pretend mayo made with avocado oil.  Do you have any idea what Coconut Aminos are?  Neither did I, but it went in so many recipes. Note: do NOT take your 7 year old on a shopping trip of this magnitude; it will be painful for all.

Nate spent about 4 hours doing food prep that Sunday afternoon, making veggie egg cups, bacon, grilling chicken breast and chopping vegetables.  With all of that and the meal planning from Real Plans, we were set.  The first morning was a rude awakening.  I love my coffee full of creamer and sweetness to enjoy it in the morning while I wake up.  I have been using Stevia for a while, but that was not even approved.  I knew I needed coffee for the caffeine so I braved on, using a “creamer” called Nut Pods with some cinnamon.  It was not what I wanted, but bearable.  Then came the eggs, SO MANY EGGS!  My saving graces for the month were bacon, avocados, and salsa.  If you put enough salsa on, most things taste a lot better.   When I sat down to eat my first lunch, I automatically went to the frig to get a Diet Coke.  UGH, nope.  Water is just not the same, but I powered through.  The first week was HARD.  Yes, cancer is hard, major life changes are hard, but it is all relative.  Cutting down the caffeine and sugar, I was a pretty big bitch and cranky, hangry and anything else that can describe a very hungry woman who just wanted her comfort food back.  Yes, this was my idea and I hoped that I could make it through, but each day was a new challenge. There was so much cooking involved, new meals almost every night.  My kitchen floor was filthy because apparently I am a very messy cook.

We used to go out to eat a lot, which was part of the problem.  It was my escape out of the house and I really enjoy eating in restaurants.  I like not having to plan meals, shop and cook. It gets so tedious and boring so Nate knows that I need those nights out.  We did go out a couple times just for a change, and I have a lot more willpower that I thought as J ate an entire basket of tortilla chips and we just watched.  I even brought my own salad dressing to Red Robin.  We did go to the movies a few times; once in the first week where there was a plethora of free popcorn, candy, sodas and cocktails.  I wish that I could say I enjoyed the sweet potato chips that I snuck in to go with the bottle of water, but I didn’t.

Throughout the month, Nate was doing great and had SO MUCH energy.  He was meeting with a personal trainer weekly and back at the gym.  I was not.  I was still dragging and having cravings.  Every day when I made J’s bagel with real, delicious butter for breakfast, it was a struggle.  I was stabby at lunch times when I would drive right by Taco Bell and go home for turkey slices and raw veggies.  When I opened up the giant package of fresh cookies from Costco for the Cub Scout family picnic, I almost lost it and put one in my mouth.  One the 10 hour drive yesterday down to my mom’s in California, I was dying for gum or candy to keep me busy.  We stopped at 7-Elevan so J could have a slurpee; I saw a woman getting a Big Gulp full of Diet Coke, and I almost gave in. “What’s the difference between 29 days and 30 days?” I said to myself.  I quickly paid for the slurpee and got back in the car.

But I made it. I did not cheat, other than weighing myself, which they say is a no-no by the true Whole30 guidelines.  I did it though, every couple of days to motivate myself.  It is not supposed to be about the weight, but more about changing your lifestyle and eating habits.  As of day 26, I had lost 13 lbs.  Now, at my mom’s, their scale needs a new random battery, but I know I am down more weight the past 4 days with an upset stomach and less food.  I figure it is about 15 at this point which I am good with. It’s a huge accomplishment to know that I made it.

They say it takes 21 days to make new habits and now after 30 days, I hope that I will make some better food choices.  I am not saying that I am not going to have bread and cheese and wine tomorrow, because I am.  But I am going to try and stay away from the Diet Coke and lots of carbs.  I am also planning on getting to the gym when I get home and walking the dog more and on longer routes.  I am definitely not going to let these 30 days go to waste.  Bye bye, Big 30, hello the rest of my new, thinner life.

No One Should Go Through Cancer Alone

Earlier this year, I was asked by Breast Friends to speak about my experiences with their organization.  Thankfully, I am an “over-sharer” and it was so easy to speak about something I am so passionate about.  So, I did my hair, put on a lot of make-up and went in for my film debut.  I was asked to speak for a few minutes; I think I went on and on for at least 20 and they edited down. A lot.  🙂

I am joined in this video by other awesome survivors who have found and benefited from the programs and women of Breast Friends.  Please take a look.  I am hoping to eventually write a book about my cancer journey and publicly speak about it, to inspire and motivate others to keep on fighting and kick cancer’s ass.

 

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

A Thank You Letter to P!nk:

Thank you for being real.  Thank you for being open.  Thank you for being fierce.  Thank you for kicking ass and being an amazing artist.  Thank you for sharing your life as a mom and the truth of all sides of it.  Thank you for sharing the ups and down of your marriage and “True Love.”

In my head, we are friends.  I belt out your songs and think that one day we will share a bottle or three of wine and talk about our families.  Next week, on May 15th, I will sing and yell myself hoarse as you rock  and fly across the Moda Center in Portland.  I have lost count how many times I have seen you, mainly because I am old and have cancer brain, not because any of the concerts were forgettable.  All that I know is that I think you are tied with U2 for my number of most concerts by an artist, and I think that is pretty amazing company for both of you.

My Twitter and Instagram handles (@ineverlikedpink) have nothing to do with you.  I ADORE YOU!  It is all about me and my two time battle with breast cancer.  Five years ago, when I received my first diagnosis, I was not a pink girl.  I rarely wore, nor did I identify with the color pink in any way.  Other than my unabashed crush/love/admiration for you. When  you had Willow two months after I had my son Jackson, it made me love you more and I have enjoyed watching her grow, in a non-stalkerish way.

But anyway, you have been a part of my battle with cancer, and I wanted to thank you.  In the fall of 2012, I anxiously awaited the moment when the tickets went on sale for the Truth About Love Las Vegas show as we were making a weekend out of it with another couple.  Whew!  Good tickets secured, and I was just counting down the days.  Then in early December, I went in for a regular mammogram and heard the devastating news: I had breast cancer.  During my first visit to the oncologist as we discussed surgery and radiation options, one of the VERY first questions I asked her was: “I can still go to Las Vegas to see P!nk in concert, right?”  The answer was yes, and I saw you and sang my heart out 18 days after my lumpectomy.  I was exhausted the rest of the weekend, but you made it all worthwhile.  I had another surgery 9 days later, but I was still on a high after your show.

Fast forward to 2017, I received another breast cancer diagnosis and it became the worst year of my life.  I had a bilateral mastectomy, a full hysterectomy and an implant exchange for reconstruction.  I take daily medication which is extremely hard on my joints and muscles, and I am one big hot flash.  In the fall, I tried to take a part time job at my son’s school, but I could not be on my feet and had to quit.  I was a crying mess for days.  Then “Beautiful Trauma” came out. All of the songs are amazing, but when I heard “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken” it spoke to my soul.  The first time I heard it, I let the words wash over me and then listened to it over and over.  It reminded me that I have fight in me, and I will not let the cancer and all of the shit that came with it break me down.

I started to volunteer at a support organization for breast cancer survivors and also at my son’s school.  I write a public blog about my journey and one day, I am going to write a book and be a speaker, hopefully to encourage other women to keep fighting.  I have the strength and power in me.  Thank you Alecia, for putting it into words and giving me strength with your music and just being a role model of a true woman who works so hard, but also shows that it sure isn’t easy.  My wild heart can’t be broken.

For those crazy people who don’t know the words to this amazing song, here they are:

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

P!nk

I will have to die for this I fear
There’s rage and terror and there’s sickness here
I fight because I have to
I fight for us to know the truth

There’s not enough rope to tie me down
There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won’t stop until we’re free
Wild hearts can’t be broken
No, wild hearts can’t be broken

This is my rally cry
I know it’s hard, we have to try
This is a battle I must win
To want my share is not a sin

There’s not enough rope to tie me down
There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won’t stop until we’re free
Wild hearts can’t be broken
No, wild hearts can’t be broken

You beat me, betray me
You’re losing, we’re winning
My spirit above me
You cannot deny me
My freedom is burning
This broken world keeps turning
I’ll never surrender
There’s nothing, but a victory

There’s not enough rope to tie me down
There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won’t stop until we’re free
Wild hearts can’t be broken
Wild hearts can’t be broken
This wild heart can’t be broken

Songwriters: Alecia B. Moore/Mike Busbee

You Shall Not Pass

Our family started to go see a therapist, Dr. F, last fall.  On top of all of my cancer issues and the fallout from that, my husband was on the road A LOT for work and we were struggling with kid issues.  Teenagers are an interesting breed and that is putting it nicely.  But that is a whole other post that I can only get out after I have had a bottle of wine.  2017 was an awful year, no way to sugar coat it.

When the husband and I went in for the first time, we shared our struggles and Dr. F said “Wow, you guys really have a lot going on!  I can’t believe you have lasted so long on your own.”  Since that time, we have gone back together and individually and have found it very helpful.  One of the things which came out for me (during a role playing session where she was the cancer and I talked directly to it) was how ANGRY I am that cancer invaded my breasts.  TWICE!!  It is common sense that I am angry about my cancer, but I am generally not one to show a lot of anger.  I am not a fighter; I can count the number of real fights that Nate and I have had in 10 years on my fingers, possibly even one hand.  Not that we don’t disagree and I think he is wrong, because I am always right, and he thinks I am irrational and over-emotional, because that happens.  But I am a repressor.  I keep that anger inside and it comes out in snide comments or snappish behavior.  I have kept the anger about the cancer bottled up.  I don’t want to complain all of the time or be an angry person, so I ignore it.  Dr. F. wants me to let it out, but in a healthy way.  We put up a heavy bag in the garage after Christmas so I could use my new pink boxing gloves on it.  I have been advised to put something on the bag which represents the cancer and punch and kick the crap out of it.  I have not done it yet, not that I don’t think it is a great idea, but the thought of it is exhausting when I don’t have a lot of physical energy to go around.

I have been dong meditation on my own to relax at night and help me fall asleep. The app “Calm” is phenomenal, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to focus on relaxation, mediation, etc.  It has breathing exercises, guided mediations, sleep sessions, music and nature sounds.  During the day, I often lie down and use Calm or listen to a podcast (I am currently obsessed with “Wine and Crime”) to rest or even take a nap.  I need to listen to something to be able to turn off my mind; if not it races in different directions.  What do I need to do later or tomorrow?  Which projects around the house are not getting done because I am resting?  What is on my To Do list for Breast Friends or Cub Scouts?  These are the things which I need to tune out.  Having a pleasant voice guide me in breathing (or hearing about true crimes) does the trick.

In addition to being angry, I am also very afraid that the cancer will return, and I will end up with metastatic cancer in another part of my body. Last week, Dr. F led me in a guided meditation to help me address these fears.  She said I could lie down on the couch instead of staying upright, but I was afraid that I was going to fall asleep and snore or drool.  However, once she started talking in the soothing voice, I wished I was lying down.  She rang her chimes and began to lead my mind.  I was seated on a bench in a green field, facing a mountain.  It was a beautiful, warm spring day with a slight breeze and with birds and butterflies in the air.  To my right was a thick grove of trees, but it was inviting.  I got up and walked toward the forest as if being called toward something.  I found a very large, old tree along my path.  As I got closer, I saw the outline of a large door, but without a handle.  A light was shining around the door, glowing and pulsing.  I knew I had to find that light within the tree.  I placed my hand on the door, and it opened.  I walked inside and while I could not find any source of the light, it surrounded me in the warm glow, and I was at peace.

I felt a presence beside me and turned to find my protector who I could count on when I feel afraid and who would fight beside me when I did not have the energy. Who was this presence you ask?  Gandalf The White of course.  His image was the one who came to my mind when Dr. F was talking about this guardian presence by my side.  All I can picture is him yelling at any new cancer: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” just like he yelled to the Balrog on the bridge.   Yes, I know he is defeated on that bridge and goes down with the Balrog and he is technically Gandalf The Grey at that point, but I am thinking of him coming back stronger and ready to kick more ass as Gandalf The White.  He is in my mind and going to help me keep any new cancer out of my body.

In the peaceful place in the center of the tree, Gandalf is also holding a pouch of pearlescent anti-cancer powder which he proceeds to toss lightly in the air and it floats down over me.  Finally, I am ready to leave the tree and I head back out to the meadow and back over to the bench.  However, now I know that I have my guardian by my side who will help to give me strength.  Dr. F rang her chimes again and the meditation was over.  I then knew that I have that power inside me and if I want to call it Gandalf and have him tell any new cancer to “F Off,” then so be it.  Whenever I feel angry about what cancer has done to my life or anxious and scared that it might return, I can close my eyes, breathe deeply and head to the tree for a sparkly dust shower.

Yes, I do have a vivid imagination and am a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, but the guided meditation definitely helped me to focus on my own inner strength. And I choose to call it Gandalf.  🙂

 

B-roll

Little did I know when I walked into the Breast Friends office to volunteer back in October where it would take me.   I started out as a volunteer and a patient, doing data entry for the hat project while also getting counseling and support, attending Warrior Women Workshop events and a Thrive Beyond Cancer weekend. Every time I walk into the office, I know I am in safe place to talk about my cancer and even complain about it.  Yes, the cancer was removed from my breasts, but it has definitely left a deep mark on my life and it is important to me to talk about it and what I am still going through.

Breast Friends is full of survivors, from the founders down to the volunteers, everyone has been on this journey.  The women there inspire me to be a better me and to take care of myself first. I am also being asked to utilize my OCD and organizational talents in (now) overseeing the hat project.  It means so much to me to feel needed and useful again.  One of the most amazing things I get to experience is calling the survivors after we send them a hat.  The gratitude in their voices for the hats is wonderful to hear, but they also are so thankful just to have someone to talk to.  The amount of support which each woman has varies, but even those with a great support system still want to talk about their journey, the weather, their kids or even chemo sessions.  Despite the numerous doctor visits, infusion rooms and visits from loved ones, cancer treatment can be incredibly lonely.  Receiving a call out of the blue from a fellow survivor who just wants to know how you are doing can make all the difference, and I get to make those phone calls.

I have also been reading books on breast cancer, including those by the co-founders: Becky Olson’s “The Hat That Saved My Life” and Sharon Henifin’s “Thriving Beyond Cancer.” The books are a must read for those diagnosed with cancer, containing personal stories along with heartfelt wisdom and guidance on moving forward.  I laughed and cried as I read them, each with a feel as different as the women who wrote them.  At the Breast Friends Survivor Luncheon last fall, I was fortunate enough to meet Lyn Cikara, the author of “Stronger than Cancer: Take Action Today, Beat the Odds and Start Living Your Life Again” which is an incredibly motivational read.  All of these books and many more will help me get to the start of writing my own book.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to talk about my experiences with Breast Friends on camera for B-roll which will be edited and used in snippets at the fundraising Gala on May 12, the Survivor Luncheon in October and who knows what else!  At first I was nervous, but then I realized I had so much to say about this amazing organization, what they did for me and all of the other women whose lives have been touched by them.  Thankfully a few days before the video shoot, I was scheduled to meet friends for lunch.  Instead of lunch, they dropped me off at their hairdresser for a much needed “hair intervention” as they called it.  I had been ignoring my hair for months and it was an awful shade of grey and dull yellow. A few hours later, I came out newly blonde and ready for my close-up. 

The morning of the video shoot, I curled my hair, put on a lot of make-up and headed to the office.  I was told where to stand and to just be myself and they would ask me questions to start new topics as needed.  When the camera was turned on, they asked me to describe how I came to Breast Friends, what I did there, etc.  I started to talk and I don’t think I stopped for 15 minutes.  Because you know, I am an oversharer.  But really, I believe so strongly in this organization and what they are doing that I can’t say enough about them.  Plus, I am going to be famous!

Does anyone need an oxygen mask?

I am struggling.

This is hard.  Life draining hard.  The changes which cancer has brought into my life, both physically and emotionally, are still taking a huge toll on my life 8 months after my “treatment” ended.

I am tired all of the damn time, like bags under my eyes tired, every day.

I am gaining weight.  F you very much menopause.

I feel as if I am failing as a wife.

I can’t sit on the floor or be very active with my son.

I try to read a book and I usually fall asleep.  See above: tired.

I wake up numerous times a night due to hot flashes. Again: tired.

I have at least 3 or 4 blog posts in my head and don’t have the energy to sit down and focus on writing and I love to write.

I feel guilt every time I leave the house and my dog looks at me with his big brown eyes and I know that he is thinking: “when do I get a walk?”

I have 2 or 3 appointments every week with my naturopath, massage therapist and physical therapist who all give me “homework” of various exercises and stretches which I am supposed to do every day.  I can’t begin to remember all of them, let alone find the energy to do most of them.

I am sure my friends believe I have dropped them.  I barely return texts, let alone phone calls.  The last thing I want to do is complain to my friends about how crappy I feel all of the time and how it dominates my life.

I am in chronic pain.  My left arm and shoulder just hurt and has limited range of motion.  If I move it wrong and try to do something out of range, I get a shooting pain from shoulder to fingertips and it brings tears to my eyes.  My joints and hips are stiff.  If I sit for longer than a hour, I struggle to get up and often need help. If I kneel down, I need a hand to help pull me up or something to push myself up on.

The side effects of the medication which I am taking to hopefully prevent future cancer contribute to the fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia and joint pain.  And lucky me, I get to take them for 9 ½ more years.  That alone depresses the shit out of me.

But despite all of this, I still feel the need to take care of others ahead of myself.  It is such a part of who I am.  As a teenager, I helped to raise my sister.  As an adult in my career, I took care of lawyers, CEOs, board members and entire offices.  As a wife and mother, I took care of my family.  As a friend, I did my best to help out where I could.  I provided care to others in return for love, gratitude and praise. (My therapist helped me work out that part.)  With everything that has gone on in the past 14 months, I feel like that has all exploded and I am pretty useless.  It has led to depression, more anxiety and emotional upheaval.

I want my old life back, but clearly that is not going to happen.

I was talking to my massage therapist about all of this and how I feel I am sinking under the weight of what “I need to do.”  She asked me if I was familiar with The Oxygen Mask Theory.  I thought for a moment and quickly realized what she meant.  When the plane is going down and the masks fall from the ceiling, put your mask on first before you put the mask on your child.  If you pass out, you won’t be any help to your child or anyone else.  If you don’t take care of yourself first, there is no way that you will be able to take care of anyone else in any capacity, physically, mentally or emotionally. 

It sounds simple, yet many of us, myself included, often fail to practice this.  Why is it so hard to take care of ourselves?  The aftermath of “Breast Cancer 2017” has forced me to do this.  I nap whenever possible (I still feel a bit guilty about it, but I know I need it).  I see a massage therapist on alternating weeks with a naturopath who does acupuncture and CranioSacral Therapy to work on the pain and stress in my body.  I am doing physical therapy to work on the range of motion in my left arm and shoulder.  Trying to take better care of myself is hard work and exhausting.  I am so incredibly fortunate that my husband works so hard to support our family so I can be at home during this process.  I cannot imagine having to bring in an income while dealing with all of this.

I did an exercise last week with my therapist.  I had to talk to myself as if I was my own best friend looking at my life.  What would I say to her?  It came easily to mind: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Give your body permission and time to heal.  Rest.”  It brought tears to my eyes.  I know what I need to do, but it is easier said than done.