All posts by Amber Strong

About Amber Strong

This blog began as a means of helping me cope, heal, through a cancer diagnosis I received on December 20th, 2013. I began the first session of twelve treatments of chemotherapy in February, 2014. I promised myself that 2014 would be my best year yet and I've been holding true to that promise so far. I've done quite a bit of traveling and other things for myself this year that I've really put on hold in the past. Now--and with each passing day--is the time for living in the present moment and maintaining a heart full of gratitude with each breath. I'm also the single mother of two amazing, high energy children, a soccer mom, journalism student, writer, dreamer and optimist. I hope that my journey through cancer and motherhood can inspire someone out there. Perhaps someone who is struggling, losing their will to cope or maybe just having a bad day will read these words and be inspired to keep on keeping on. We all have our own uniquely amazing story, something we are battling or coping with on some level. How you choose to handle it, by letting it define you or by letting it break you open and question everything about yourself, is the real test. This is my own personal journey; through motherhood, cancer diagnosis, treatment, life and healing. I believe that we all have the capability to be the hero of our own story.

Let Challenge Transform You

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PHOTO LEFT: This was me, 3 years ago this May, age 29, three months into chemotherapy…and super blonde! I weighed 119 pounds, my hair was thinning, exhaustion and fatigue were relentless daily adversaries, intent on defeating me.                                                                                          PHOTO RIGHT: Fast forward to today, this photo was taken Feb 2017. I now weigh a HEALTHY 145 pounds (fun-sized at 5’4”), am letting my natural auburn/brunette hair color come shining through and have never felt healthier or stronger!

When I began chemotherapy in 2014, I was told that my treatments would more than likely cause muscle loss in my body. That alone made me want to cry. For ten years I struggled to gain weight, no longer the thick curvy girl I was in my early twenties. I weighed 119 pounds, on some days 117. Bi-weekly doses of toxic chemicals, poisonous to the point of killing my healthy cells too, flooded directly into my blood stream in hopes of destroying the cancer cells.

Being told I may lose even more weight was the turning point for me. I became angry. “NO…FUCKING…WAY!” I told myself. I was determined to let this dis-ease in my body break me open, not break me down.

I joined the gym. I started slow. I could barely do three sets of squats with a ten plate on each side, with a Smith Machine. Now I squat with a free bar, 5 to 7 reps per set with 140 pounds…155 or a little more when I have someone there to spot me.  Miraculously, I gained about 18 pounds or so by the time I finished all of my treatments. Then another 5 or 6 pounds a few months after that. Now at a solid 145 pounds, I have my curves back and then some. My self-confidence and self-love are through the roof!

The thing is, it’s not the results that gave me back my confidence. It’s the promises I’ve kept to myself as a result of deciding to take value in my own health and well being. It’s the self-respect I gained through eating healthier, being active, staying committed to my workouts even when I’m tired, even when it’s easier NOT to go to the gym.

Being diagnosed with cancer saved my life in so many ways. It brought me closer to my family, to my children, guided me to going on a week long women’s retreat where I made lasting friendships and healed the relationship I had with myself. It brought me more compassion and understanding for the human condition. It gave me the gift of loving deeper, laughing louder and knowing just how sacred the precious commodity of time truly is.

It led me to a day where I said “ENOUGH” and joined the gym. That decision alone has led to so many new friendships and experiences. It’s led to fitness becoming part of my children’s lives early on, something I hope stays with them as they grow into adults of their own. It’s led to me becoming an Ambassador for the supplement company I’ve been using for about two years now.

Cancer could have destroyed me. Instead, it acted as a catalyst – transforming my mental, spiritual and physical states beyond the parameters of what I knew to be true. It accelerated my soul’s growth and brought me to a more authentic version of myself.

If there is something in your life – a fear holding you back, don’t let it.  I never would have thought that joining the gym could change my life so dramatically. My life, and who I’ve become, are practically unrecognizable from where I was three years ago. But it’s only because I took that first step. You are always one decision away from a completely different life, YOU have the power to make it a masterpiece!!!

(Shot out to Unico Nutrition!!! Use promo code Amber7 for a 15% discount at http://www.uniconutrition.com/shop/team/Amber.Strong )

You can also follow my new IG Fitness account at Amber.Strong.Journey

THANK YOU so much for reading! 🙂

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Celebrating Two Years Cancer Free

The day before yesterday, 12-12-16, was my Two-Year-Cancerversary. It was also Frank Sinatra’s Birthday. Lucky coincidence? I think not.

It’s been two years since a follow up colonoscopy, post chemo completion, deemed me cancer free. What a feeling 🙂strength

How did I spend the day celebrating? The night before I attended a Reiki share with some fellow Reiki practitioners. It left me feeling super charged and ready to take on the day Monday. My Cancerversary itself was spent outdoors in the snow, acting like a five-year-old with the best teacher: my five-year-old daughter Izzy.

We built a snowman, as she yelled at me to stop singing Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Not sure if it was my singing or her inner demolition queen but our snowman didn’t stay assembled long. The Madd Queen from Alice in Wonderland may as well have shouted “Off with His Head!” Because that’s exactly what my sweet, little Izzy did. Without haste she belly-flopped into the snowman. His mid-section was transformed into a powdery mist, his head airborn as it propelled toward my dog – an innocent bystandard caught in the midst of our snowtastrophe. After we made snow angels, our leggings were so caked over snow clumps we had no choice but to go in the house and change. .

Honoring the parts of my life that mean the most; quality time with my love bug being one of them

Two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to be outside with either one of my children in Winter. The side effects of chemo made it impossible for me to touch anything below room temperature, about 65 degrees. On a cold day, even touching the glass slider that led out to the patio, would cause INTENSE pain in my fingertips.  Nevermind what going outside in the snow would have done to me.

I’m reminded of that every winter. The precious gift of life I have. The gifts of health, of strength, of family and the immense support and love of my friends and family. I’m reminded of what truly matters. The cold reminds me of how far I’ve come, of the mighty giant I battled and won. Winning isn’t everything though. It’s the lessons I took away from that battle more than anything that keep me grounded, that remind me to keep a grateful heart and never forget those who were there for me while I faced my darkest hour.

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What me and Old Blue Eyes have in common…

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This past December, I celebrated my 1 year Cancerversary, one week after my Aunt lost her five year battle with aggressive lung cancer. What happens after you survive cancer and you lose a loved one to the disease? That’s something that I don’t think even the best doctors and nurses in the world can prepare you for. I couldn’t remember being so angry at the Universe when I was going through chemotherapy or even after being diagnosed. But after my Aunt Anne passed away, I wanted to high five the all mighty creator…in the face, possibly with a closed fist. All I could think was, “Why? Why did she have to leave and I’m still here?” I could have screamed it through hot tears at the Universe if I thought someone would answer me.

The night I celebrated my Cancerversary I wore a purple lei, her favorite color, in her honor. What I hadn’t realized until just days before was that my very special day also happened to be the 100th birthday of Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

I fell in love with Sinatra as a child, first seeing him as a cameo on an episode of an old classic cartoon I was watching with my grandmother. She sat next to me in her rocker, eyebrows wiggling up and down as she said “That’s Frank Sinatra” with a mischievous smile. Luckily my grandfather was asleep in his recliner.

Sharing my special day with Sinatra, made my heart smile. I like to think of it as the Universe’s way of letting me know my grandparents were with me in spirit, proud of all I had overcome.

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As though that in itself weren’t special enough, my 1 year Cancerservary also turned out to be the Day 3 Hawaiian Luau celebration of the Matthew Hussey retreat I was attending in Florida. The energy I experienced that night was like anything I’ve felt. Perhaps, only parallel holding my son and daughter for the first time. Yeah, that good.

The energy between all of us High Value Women attendees and the GTG team was indescribable – 130 plus strangers, united by a desire for change. The kind of change that happens within, on a core level.

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(Left to right: Me, Epic Emma (above), the Lovely Lindsay and the Extraordinary Emmylou)

The luau celebration ended only after half of us (myself and three closest soul sisters; Emmylou, Lindsay and Emma included) jumped into the pool fully clothed with the GTG team…actually it ended once we all jumped back out of the pool and started dancing again!

I’ve used that night as my emotional button for joy at least a million times since returning home. Okay, maybe only half a million…because I love the feeling it gives me to think of those women and the bond we all share.

I can’t think of a better way to have spent my first Cancerversary – on my favorite musician’s 100th birthday, with some of the most inspiring souls I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with.

 

 

#5WordsToCancer #StrongerThanCancerISurvived

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In one of my usual bouts of insomnia tonight (this morning?) I decided to scroll through my Instagram feed before studying for an exam I have in one of my classes.

If you’re reading this then you know I’m clearly hard at work…

blogging…

but I digress.

In the midst of my thumb swiping, I fell down the rabbit hole into the Instagram page for the I Had Cancer website. It’s a great social networking site for those of us affected in some way by cancer; be it survivor, relative of a cancer patient or someone mid-treatment. It’s also a kickass social platform for people to share their angst, victories and everyday battles with cancer. Our cancer journeys don’t end when treatment does. For many of us, it’s a lengthy journey to take back our life and what little control we have over it.

“I Had Cancer” has launched their #5wordstocancer campaign again. It got me thinking… What if cancer was this tangible entity I could write a letter to? What would I say? What would my five words to cancer be?

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Dear Cancer,

You may not remember me but I will never forget you.

We met, officially, in December of 2013. You’d been watching me for some time, though only you would know how long that was before we became acquainted. Was it months? Perhaps years?

I had an inkling something wasn’t right. I could feel your presence lingering around me, dropping hints, robbing my curves of their soft flesh for years, leaving behind a frame comparable to that of a pre-pubescent boy. 

When you made your debut into my life that summer (2013), you didn’t introduce yourself properly. You told me your name was stress. But what’s in a name right? So I reserved doubt about your true nature only for conversations with overly concerned family members. 

Apparently their concern was warranted.

By the time you revealed your true nature to me, you had already begun infesting my life from behind the scenes. My colon, my rectum, my lymph nodes. You were a literal pain in the ass. I thought major colon resection surgery was enough to evict your sorry ass from occupying my temple. But being the persistent little fucker you are, I was wrong. 

Too many lymph nodes were tainted by your indecency and overexposure to the healthy cells in my body. So you introduced me to Chemotherapy and Steroids. I hated all of you but I never questioned why you (Cancer) chose me. I never wondered why in all the healthy people of the world you wanted me. You’re a selfish prick, why not me?

 Your friend Chemo took my energy. The steroids brought insomnia, and also an unbelievably strong desire to rotate furniture and clean at 2 a.m. (Who would have guessed right?) My sleep patterns are still somewhat fucked.  Being the bully you are, you taunted me by letting my hair thin just enough to make me self-conscious, but not enough for anyone else (but my hairdresser) to notice. Guess what fucker? It grew back in twice as thick and healthier than ever. 

And my curves? They’re back too. In one year, I’ve gained more weight than I could have hoped for. I fit into my jeans in all the right places. My thighs are so sexy they can’t stop touching each other 🙂 I finally feel like the beautiful woman I am. The warrior. The survivor.

I should really be thanking you Cancer.

You brought me closer to my family. You’ve given me new found friendships that continue to change my life for the better. I’m inspiring those around me and taking better care of my mind and body than I ever thought I would. I’ve tapped into an inner strength that I didn’t even know existed. You tried to take it all from me, but in the end Cancer, all you did was give me everything.

I know there’s always that slim possibility we’ll meet again someday. Just know if we do, I’ll be ready for you. You’ve been warned.

Never or truly yours,

Amber

#StrongerThanCancerISurvived

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Rise and Shine Pumpkin!

I’m exhausted. What most (non-cancer having) people don’t know is that the effects of intensive chemotherapy treatments linger on for months and even years after treatment has ended.

I can remember picking up the phone to call my mother to ask her a quick question a few months ago. In the time it took for me to dial her number, let the phone ring and hear her answer…I forgot what I was going to ask her. Once we started talking I finally remembered what the question was. It was like that feeling you get when you walk into a room to get something – but completely forget what it was in the first place until you retrace your steps.

Usually big events or scheduled dates on the calendar I can remember. I also have literally about three calendars I plan everything on but I know my brain cells aren’t quite the same since chemo. Brain game apps are great training exercises and intense reading for work and school helps. But I still often wonder how much longer the effects will linger in my body.

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Fatigue is another thing that comes and goes. Sometimes I have energy for hours on end; cooking and cleaning, doing homework and running errands. Wake up at 4 to work out for two hours and then go home, get myself and my kiddos ready for our day.

Then there’s days like today when I’m wiped out. I have the motivation to do what I need to but lack the energy to follow through. Or maybe I give myself that jumpstart and motivational self talk to get my ass out of bed on time to get moving, but halfway through I lose the energy to get everything done. I also think I try to accomplish way too much in a day since it’s just me who’s here to do it.

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I also wonder if it’s the chemo, being a single mom of two high-energy munchkins or a combo of the two.

Either way, right now I need to get my ass in gear and get these babes of mine up and ready for another busy day.

Happy hump day!!!

Unwrapping the “Mummy”

Photo on 7-31-15 at 9.16 PM Friday night. Two days after my chemotherapy port-a-cath removal. It was time to remove the bandage covering the suture site where my port had once been. My surgeon warned me about possible bruising but I didn’t know what to expect when the bandage came off.

Slowly I began peeling back the thin, clear layer of water-resistant tape that covered the bandage. A corner here, the sides there until finally I could remove the bandage altogether, exposing the steri-strips protecting the suture site.

One layer of dissolvable sutures beneath the skin, one layer of sutures in the outter layer of skin. I thought back to when my surgeon was stitching me up. I tried to look away but could see him threading the skin in the reflection of the nurses’s glasses. I could feel the taught tugging of my skin as he brought the layers closer together until the hole was whole again.

But there wasn’t any bruising.

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Not for the faint of heart, a close up of my former port site. Sutures and all.

Maybe it was the self-Reiki I had given to the area, on and off, the day of my procedure. Maybe it was a combination of that, having an Angel or two on my shoulder and being a quick healer.

The unveiling of my former port site was odd. Not seeing that triangular shape beneath my skin or feeling the three, tiny, silicon dots in the center of it – the marker that guided my nurses time and time again where the chemo needle needed to go. Strange.

Just my skin. My flat, sutured, sore skin.

 

 

Arrivederci!

There’s something about the giant, sterile, surgical light that hovers above you in the surgery room. Whether it’s minor surgery or major, it doesn’t matter. Seeing that lamp sent me into a panic.

I was fine when I checked in to have my port removed. Fine sitting there as the nurse came and checked my vital signs and then escorted me into the room where minor surgery is performed. My surgeon, “Dr. D”, went about preparing what he needed to open me up and literally cut out my chemotherapy port-a-cath.

Immediately after my port was removed. Trying to fight back tears of joy long enough to take a "post port removal" selfie :)
Immediately after my port was removed. Trying to fight back tears of joy long enough to take a “post port removal” selfie 🙂

I started breathing heavy, hot tears flushed down my face…and I had just laid back onto the surgical bed. The nurse took my hand as Dr. D started prepping my skin, adding the dressing to the area that isolated the spot where he needed to remove good old “Penny”. He hadn’t even applied local anesthetic and I was quickly losing my composure.

Thank goodness my surgeon is the smartass that he is. The first needle was nothing. I’ve had blood draws taken that were far worse. I didn’t know he was going to inject about four or five more (possibly more, I lost count after the fourth injection).

It felt like someone was digging around, underneath my skin, with a miniature hot poker. Dr. D says to the nurse “Would you call that a whine or a whimper?” And when I wasn’t laughing he told me it was time to start manning up! Believe it or not, his sarcasm put me at ease.

Dr. D isn’t the type of doctor to coddle his patients. Tough love maybe but it’s the kind of attitude I grew up with and the reason why I probably got through my cancer treatments with such an optimistic attitude. It’s the “suck it up buttercup” mentality that allowed me to say “Okay, I’ve got cancer, what do I have to do to kick its’ ass ad move on with my life?”

He got me to calm down, that and a combination of the local anesthetic kicking in. I started taking slow, deep breaths and made small talk about my munchkins with the nurse.

I was done about ten minutes after Dr. D opened up the port site.

245b6a3786bfe4aaf8a939164f3d1bf5On the way out, the nurse asked me if I wanted to give a single finger salute. I said “What? No, I really like Dr. D” After bursting into laughter, she said “I didn’t mean to Dr. D, I was talking about your port!”

I looked over toward my surgeon and saw it there on the counter next to him. In a little plastic, specimen collection jar was my chemotherapy port.

That part of my life, for the most part,is over now.

A new journey begins…

And for my next trick…

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This is it! The last photograph that will ever be taken with my port in the photo 🙂

And for my next trick ladies and gentleman…I shall make this port disappear!

In about ten minutes I’m heading to the hospital for a quick day procedure/minor surgery. Today my chemotherapy port-a-cath is being removed!!!

Getting it removed is much easier than having it put in place, according to my surgeon. When I called to ask the receptionist if I would need someone to drive me to and from the hospital, she replied “It’s just like going to the dentist and getting novocaine.” They numb the area, make an incision, remove the port and glue me back together. Not quite like going to the dentist but I understand what she meant.

No more port, no more chemotherapy.

When I dropped my four-year-old daughter off at preschool this morning I told her that when I picked her up later, my port would be all gone. We had this conversation yesterday as well but I wanted to reiterate it to her again just to be safe. She smiled at me when I told her this morning. Then she brushed my hair aside and moved my sleeve to the side of my arm, exposing the port. She looked at it for a second then looked back at me, smiled and gave me the biggest hug. Her way of saying “be brave Mommy!” after leaving a kiss on my cheek and telling me she loved me.

I’m ready.

The Journey

Sometimes it feels like I didn’t have cancer, like it was all this surreal dream I coasted through. It’s been nearly nine months since I finished my last chemo treatment. My port is still in place. My surgeon has been bugging me to have it out for months now but I’m attached.

It’s the one tangible reminder I have that my battle with cancer was real. Sure I have pictures and memories, cards and sentimental keepsakes collected from diagnosis to survivorship. But every time I look down and see that port, I’m reminded how real the journey was and still is.

d5a71ae31a5d494ba5f5c32a7e1a54d3It’s the strangest feeling now that I’m healthy and cancer free, even more so than when I was going through chemo. Although there was that one time I tried watching “The Fault In Our Stars” a few months after I completed treatment. It hit me like a hundred pound weight to the chest. Overwhelmed by emotion, I shut the movie off not quite half way through. Still haven’t finished watching it.

Thirty-years-old, student, single mom of two, writer, blogger, Stage III Colon Cancer patient, survivor. Crazy.
My sleep schedule is still all over the map. There are times when no matter how much sleep I get, I feel exhausted. Some nights I fall asleep around nine. Only to wake up around three a.m., unable to sleep.

8ce32765c7cb09009ab72f6e64a379d1By the time six or seven a.m. rolls around – I’m tired – but can’t go back to bed.  Two little humans need me bright eyed and bushy tailed. There’s work, school or sometimes both to get myself ready for as well.

About once a week, I feel fluttering in my chest. It usually lasts for a few seconds, then subsides. I’ve had several EKG’s, all perfectly normal. I didn’t lose my hair during chemo. It thinned out some but it was so thick before, no one except for maybe my family and hair dresser knew. It came back twice as thick as before so no one really knows now.

That’s just it isn’t it? On the outside, you’d never know.

I’m at the gym at least four times a week and work out just as hard as any able-bodied, healthy person can. I almost always take the stairs at work, up and down three flights everyday, several times a day.

You’d never know that just a year and a half ago – I was told by my surgeon that waiting even six more months would have been too late.

4e5a6016beed964fbb4b9c58393536d8I wouldn’t change a thing…I take that back. I definitely would have gotten my symptomatic butt (pun intended) to the doctor sooner. Cancer doesn’t look at a person and say “Oh hey, you know what? You’ve got a lot going on in your life. I think I’ll give you a Mulligan and come back around in about twenty years when you’re older.”

Cancer could care less about the amount of money you make or what your age or gender or social status is. Sure there are steps we can all take to prevent certain types of cancer. But sometimes shit just happens.

531px-Blue_morpho_butterfly - Version 2One thing I can say is that I wouldn’t be the woman I am right now without that journey. I learned to value myself more, tolerate less bullshit from the world around me and take much better care of myself physically and emotionally.

The days I start to feel myself coasting again – becoming complacent, caught up in the Groundhog day scenario of life on repeat – I take a step back and remember what it felt like when I could barely take care of myself. Nothing like a quick self-evaluation to give yourself perspective and a solid reality check. So yeah my kids are bonkers most of the time, my schedule is crazier than a patient in Arkham Asylum and I’m constantly on the go. But I’m without question healthier, stronger and better able to handle everything on my plate now than I was last year or even a few months ago.

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TGIF!

It's Friiiiday! I said it's Friiiiday!!!
It’s Friiiiday! I said it’s Friiiiday!!!

Just a quick thought for today, wanna wish you all a fan-freaking-tastic Friday! I’ve been up since 5 a.m., feeling super productive today. Took over an hour to get all the recycling sorted out this morning, but I gets ‘er done! Did two loads of laundry, ate breakfast and am about to start getting my dope little humans up and ready for school and myself ready for work. Woot woot!

Give yourself a high five if you’re still breathing, just not to your face. I mean, hey unless you’re into that kind of thing.

Go out into the world, do epic shit. Be the reason someone smiles today. Pick up the order for the person behind you at Dunkin or Starbucks or wherever you get your a.m. cup o’ joe. Kindness is contagious, sprinkle that shit everywhere like glitter!

Happy Friday ya’ll!