Category Archives: Kicking Cancer’s Ass

Sacred Awakening

In June, I self-published a book on Amazon titled “The Gift of Cancer” about my year-long cancer journey.

About a week ago, I republished the book, with a new title and a new cover:

“Sacred Awakening: Healing on my journey of cancer through faith, family and gratitude”

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 11.06.43 AM

All of the content within the book has remained the same, save for a few grammatical corrections and the addition of a reference page.

Thank you everyone for your love, support and encouragement along my journey!

Big hugs to you all xoxo

Amber

 

Advertisements

Colonoscopies are no pain in the @$$…especially if they save your life!

 

Today, I underwent my third colonoscopy since December of 2013 – when the first one determined it was cancer causing me to be sick, underweight and plagued by exhaustion. One year after that, I went in for a second colonoscopy (post Stage III Colon Cancer, post-treatment) which deemed me to have a clean bill of health. No cancer. No polyps. Ready to rock and roll into remission!

Today’s colonoscopy was seven months overdue. Life had become quite busy between being a Mom, moving, setting new goals and being fully present for the holidays.

Finally in February, I called the GI (gastrointestinal) specialist’s office. I hadn’t realized they needed to see me in the office, first, before the procedure could be scheduled. It would be another month before I was seen in the office. My insurance company had changed my policy but hadn’t sent out new cards yet. I did have a copy of my group number and everything I needed to schedule the appointment. Unfortunately, the office required a copy of the actual card since my current medical insurance provider now specified which hospital the procedure could be performed at. After waiting another two weeks for new insurance cards to come in, I was scheduled my colonoscopy.

keep-calm-colonoscopy.jpg

No matter how many blood draws or colonoscopies or check-ins I have, there is always a certain level of anxiety beforehand. What if the cancer-cell-indicator blood test says cancer cells are present? What if they find something during the colonoscopy? What if the doctor finds a lump or palpates an internal blockage of some kind? It’s easy to start feeling batshit crazy when pondering the “what-if’s” of oncology screenings and check-ins.

My rock-star Mama accompanied me today, as she always has for any hospital visit I’ve had during my cancer journey. She’s puts up with my anxiety-prone irritability, not knowing if I’ll be myself or stressed or numb, wonderfully well. In spite of the mood swings, she stays by my side, knowing it’s only temporary. When it’s over, I almost always go back to being her “little pumpkin.”

meprocedure7.11.18

While we were waiting for the nurses to wheel my hospital gurney away into the procedure room, I could hear music playing overhead in speakers on the ceiling. Colbie Caillat, Never gonna let you down was playing. A quick stream of tears ran down my cheeks. Emms.

Last year I sent that song to my soul sister, Emmylou, telling her it was our friendship one hundred percent. We have the kind of friendship where (quite literally) everywhere we go – people think we’re either sisters or romantic partners. We’re that close, that connected and always have been since the day we met.

When that song came on I felt her presence with me, even though she was probably painting an extraordinary mural somewhere or off to the gym in her current home of Mother England. I saw her there by my bed side, laughing with me and holding my hand. In that moment, I knew everything would be okay.

Immediately after that song played, Tale as old as time from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came on. It was my favorite Disney tale as a child and still is to this day. Hearing that song brought back childhood memories of  Belle gliding across a frozen ice rink during Disney on Ice. I remembered the “magic mirror” my Mom bought for me as a souvenir. When you pushed a little button, the mirror face lit up and made the kind of noise that made me say “whooooaaaaaa!” everytime.

I thought about my daughter, Izzy. How awestruck she was after I took her to see the Broadway musical version of Beauty and the Beast at our local university. How she tells me, “Mommy, you’re just like Belle because you kind-of look like her and you like to read and you’re like a little weird.” To which I always tell her, “Mommy has worked very hard to be a little weird and since you’re my daughter, that makes you my little weirdo!”

As I wiped tears from my eyes, I thought of my son Dominic. His bright yellow and green, rainbow-loom bracelet adorned my wrist. I thought about him hand-pulling every rubber band through to make it. How superficially upset (but secretly happy) he would be to see me wearing his bracelet. Even though he’s at a sleepover and Izzy is with her amazing Aunty Kimmy, I needed to feel they were with me somehow. And I did.

Two blown intravenous lines and one moment of waking up mid-procedure later – it was time to go home. I overheard Dr. S tell my mom she found three polyps, removed them and sent them out for biopsies. Other than that, I was given a clean bill of health. Because of my colon cancer history, and Dr. S finding polyps, I’ll have to have another colonoscopy in three years rather than the five I was hoping for. But if it saves my life and removes any chance of my body developing cancer again, I’m certainly not complaining.

As soon as the polyp biopsy results come in, I’ll be certain to update everyone!

Thank you for reading, for sending prayers and love and support. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes community to combat cancer. Sending big love to you all!

~Amber xoxo

31

Book Launch Par-yay!

book signing

This past Sunday was the first official book launch party for my new book; The Gift of Cancer: A journey of transformation through faith, family and gratitude.

During the course of my initial diagnosis, treatment and surgeries – I kept a personal journal, kept friends and family updated on Facebook and published blog posts here on WordPress. I’ve spent the last four months compiling all of those entries into a 200-page book. (now, proudly available on Amazon.com)

Writing this book was healing on so many levels. Being surrounded by friends and family while sharing some of the most intimate, vulnerable moments of my life was beyond therapeutic. I know I’m one of the “lucky” ones, I was given a second chance at life. The opportunity to be here today, alive, to write this book is a blessing in itself.

My hope is it will inspire those going through it to keep fighting. Or that reading this book will help oncologists and doctors practice more compassion with their patients, understanding we are all so very different. I believe anyone serving as support to a cancer patient or cancer family can benefit from reading this book. While every cancer is different and every person a unique individual; there are certain things we all battle when facing this disease. The Gift of Cancer offers insight into that sacred, vulnerable world.

 

In Honor of Fitness Friday…

hsc flex

When you’re open to meeting new people, you never know what random conversations with strangers can lead to…

After moving to a new town, it quickly became apparent that I needed a new gym closer to home. As much as I loved the local Planet Fitness, it’s million dollar face lift and all the new equipment that came with it – commuting an hour each way daily was exhausting.

When I found “The Club;” ten minutes from home complete with a sauna, olympic size swimming pool, jacuzzi, basketball court, affordable membership with childcare, a shit ton of classes and FREE WEIGHT Olympic bars, it was such a blessing!

(If you’ve ever gone from Planet Fitness to a “real gym,” you understand and appreciate the importance of having an actual squat rack with Olympic training bars)

For seven or eight months, while training in the weight room of the new gym, I’d sneak peripheral peaks through glass windows into the adjoining basketball court – at the class training there twice a week.

The women and men who trained displayed some of the craziest feats of strength and endurance/conditioning I had ever seen. They flipped tires, ran ladder drills and made box jumps looks easy. I couldn’t help but marvel at their strength and unity.

You know that scene in the latest Wonder Woman movie where young Diana watches the other Amazons train, desperately longing to join them? Yeah, that was me every time I watched this class.

I wanted to be part of THAT.

But fear infiltrated my Warrior heart like an undetectable poison.

I’m afraid to try something new…

What if I don’t fit in?

What if I’m not strong enough or can’t keep up?

I’m afraid of joining a class on my own…

This went on for months.

Then, through what I can only describe as divine intervention, Kathy (one of the women from the strength training class) started a conversation with me in the locker room. It was something along the lines of “Hey I see you training all the time in the weight room, you should totally come to class!” That conversation was all I needed to kill my ego, face my irrational fears and finally step into the Hybrid Strength & Conditioning class I so admired.

Just a couple of Amazons getting our Strong Woman training on! Kathy (left) my inspiration for joining the class and Steph (right) one bad mamma mamma and all round rad mama! BOOYAH!!!

 

 

Nearly a year after stepping into that class; I’ve learned to flip 600 lb and 700 lb tires, nail it with box jumps, pull a pickup truck with kegs and several dope humans in the bed of that truck and lift some crazy ass shit…like this 185 pound dead lift with two jeep tires attached on an axel! (pictured above)

As Hybrid Athletes; we train together, support one another though life’s ups and downs and encourage growth in every aspect of our lives. This dynamic group of badass athletes aren’t just people in a class, they’re family. A family that would have never become part of my life, had it not been for a cancer diagnosis pushing me to join the gym…and of course for that lovely divine intervention! 😉

This journey through “dis-ease” into health and wellness has been hard, trying, and at times completely exhausting. Yet every step of the way has guided me toward living a more fulfilled life. A life centered around gratitude and compassion with a much deeper connection to the world around me.

To read more about the PHENOMENAL WOMEN of this class and how they kick ass in Strong Woman training on the weekends too…click HERE!!!

hsc 1

Rest, Recover, Reflect

Standing, unilateral, landline press with a two-inch, Olympic weight bar weighing about 44 pounds (20 kilos) 3 SETS EACH SIDE: 15 lb. plate added for 7 reps, 10 lb. plate added for 10 reps, no weight added (bar only) for 10 reps

One week ago today, was my first day back at the gym after a two week hiatus spent recovering from the flu and pneumonia.
Hit the weights hard, warmed up with a little HIIT cardio on the elliptical since my lungs weren’t at full capacity. Trained triceps and shoulders with a little bit of back. Played around with the weight doing these standing, unilateral land mine presses. By leg day on Saturday, I was riding the wave of endorphins flowing within my body – welcoming the soreness that followed from killin my quads, knowing I’d given my all.

It was longest length of time I’ve spent away from the gym since beginning to train nearly four years ago. Even during chemo, I’d only take a week off between treatments.

Feels extraordinary to have that piece of myself back in place.

But…will also say my body needed LOTS of rest with the way I’ve been running myself into the ground. Between goal smashing, being a present parent, maintaining our household, both kiddos getting sick back to back and training our new pup – I’d forgotten to be a “kindness warrior” to myself. Listening to stubborn self talk like, “Keep grinding, sleep later, write more, work harder,” led to me not only falling ill but also to the realization that I was forgetting to play and seek adventure in the everyday.

I was losing myself to my own hustle.

The level of exhaustion I experienced over the course of the last few weeks has been comparable to how chemo treatments left me feeling. It also reminded me that my tendency is “all or nothing” and how easy it is for me to burn my candle at both ends.

So I’m back to training again, but this time – mindfully – with more respect for my body than ever before. When she wants to rest, we’re gonna rest and when she’s too sore to train – I’m letting my body recuperate.

My fitness journey isn’t about a number on a scale or achieving a certain body type. It’s about loving the skin I’m in, conditioning my mind to be stronger, and pushing past my own limits…no one else’s. 

“Unbuttoning” My Cancerversary

 

Extending my sincerest gratitude to Julian Parker-Burns Photography for capturing these candid moments from open mic night

Writing short stories and creating poetry is something that, throughout most of my life, has helped me come through the darkest of circumstances with a healed heart – however bruised it may be. When I began my cancer journey, it was no different. 

This blog allowed me to connect with all of you, to not feel so alone on the road to wellness. For that, I can never begin to thank you enough  – for reading my posts, for following me on my journey, for sharing your own stories of how mine has impacted you – I am so truly grateful.

After listening to a “School of Greatness” podcast with Lewis Howes and Rupi Kaur, a few months back, something in me shifted. Rupi’s story inspired me. As much as I had spent the past year unearthing my truest self – another part lay hidden, beneath the layers of motherhood, being a woman, working hard and achieving my goals. A part of me lay buried beneath the ash of pain and sorrow, waiting to be brushed off with life anew.

A few days after listening to the podcast, a completely unrelated conversation with a friend led me to discovering a local open mic night. It offered poetry in the beginning and live music afterward, the second Tuesday of every month. It was pretty clear what I had to do.

The first time I sat down to write that poem for open mic night, was beneath the shade of a large maple tree. That is, until a group of ants decided to use me as their personal playground. I quickly moved my blanket out onto the open field. My best friend Emmylou from England was a few hundred feet in back of me, sitting on park grass, journaling away. I remember how warm the sun felt on my back, beating down without a cloud in the sky.

I was nervous about writing again. Would my poetic muse still be there for me after all this time? I had abandoned her when she was always by my side. For a good five to ten minutes, I heard that old “worrier” voice in my head, “You’re not a poet anymore, it’s been too long.” Followed by “You’ll never have time for this, it can’t be done.”

I hadn’t come this far, to give up now. I regrouped, put Lindsey Stirling on in my earbuds, took a breath and that’s when I heard her. My inner Warrior shouting to me, “It can be done, you’ve got this, MAKE the time for it!”

Like a distanced lover, who you never really had a falling out with, but instead just drifted apart from – my poetic muse embraced me with open arms. I did finish my poem that afternoon and read it that night, aloud at that open mic event. It was INCREDIBLE!

Last week I returned for open mic again. The poem I prepared was “A Letter to Cancer,” about both the struggles of treatment and the people who pulled me through. Just minutes before going on stage, it hit me that it was also my three-year Cancerversary. What a beautifully raw, emotionally charged, empowering way to celebrate being three years in remission!

A LETTER TO CANCER

Dear Cancer,

You thought You damned me,

condemned me to death.

But instead…

You breathed into my life

a power I had yet to know.

More fulfilling than the first breath that, 

into newborn lungs, flows. 

Dear Cancer,

You gave me,

bee sting pinches

for port access

just below my collar bone.

Toxins,

every other Tuesday

that took away my glow. 

Nine months of…

treatment

for

every

one

of

those

I

fought

through.

My son lent me his strength.

My daughter guided me with her light.

You thought I’d give up

when I got you.

But I had butterfly kisses

and little league baseball games to go to.

Berry bubblegum serenity

lingering on my little one’s

freshly shampooed hair.

Dear Cancer,

 Chemotherapy caused me pain…

physical pain.

I walked on invisible shards

of broken glass

each time bare toes touched cold concrete.

Put on socks

to go in the basement.

Wore gloves

just to wash clothes.

Dear Cancer,

I had enough!

In spite of You

I didn’t give up.

One week on treatment,

the next at the gym.

Protein shakes,

power lifting,

then chemotherapy again.

Slowly…

5 pounds on.

Steadily,

ten more.

Dear Cancer,

I’ve gained weight now. 

You have…

forged a fighter,

within me.

A survivor, 

an inspirer. 

Dear Cancer,

I dont hate You

anymore.

You thought You damned me,

condemned me to death.

But I see now,

You were never my disease…

You were..

my CURE.

 

Let Challenge Transform You

225932-Iyanla-Vanzant-Quote-Who-you-are-is-strong-enough-to-bare-your

IMG_2870
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! 🙂

Never-Give-Up-Quotes-6

#5WordsToCancer #StrongerThanCancerISurvived

cancer-3

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?

you

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

99219998010012788OKkdBuxUc

Gratitude Challenge: Days 6 and 7

DAY 6: Time for Me!

My true “aha” moment for Saturday, rather my “ahhhh” moment, was at the end of the day. Saturday was another busy day. Is there ever really a day that isn’t busy when you’re raising two children?

It was the end of the night, probably around 9:30 p.m. or ten. Both Thing 1 and Thing 2 fell asleep entirely on their own after a day of hard play. My son had been a human ping-pong ball, bouncing back and forth between our house and the neighbor’s for most of the day. My daughter had been helping me sort through the endless pile of laundry, following me around as I did some light housework. I decided to take it easy after feeling pretty wiped out Friday night.

There’s this quiet moment, that as a mother, you learn to cherish–just as much as the noisy, rambunctious play of happy children. That was my gratitude moment. The house was completely quiet, not a peep, nor a snore or a creaky floor board. I was actually able to sit silently through an entire movie! An entire movie! The last time I was able to do that was months ago when I went out to the movies with one of my friends. To be able to pick a movie, one that doesn’t involve me having to say “cover your eyes,” “don’t watch this part,” “cover your ears” or “We can’t get this one, it’s not appropriate for you guys to watch.” HOLY HELL BATMAN! It was fantastic!

I love cuddling up to my munchkins and watching movies together as a family. But there’s something about that sacred time of silence and having time for yourself as a mom that is truly invaluable. You have to nourish yourself in healthy ways, otherwise you have nothing left to give your children. Between school, helping my son with his homework/school related assignments, my own homework, chemo, doctor’s appointments, family and everything else in between–it can be incredibly difficult for me to carve out time for myself. I get to go out and experience quite a bit but 99 percent of those times, my children are always in tow. It can be a real energy-drainer if I don’t take time to recharge my spirit.

Sunday morning the kids and I were able to sleep in for the first time all week. Heaven! It was sheer Nirvana. The only drawback to sleeping in is that I don’t always have the opportunity to meditate in the morning. Once my children are awake, they’re ready to take on the day…full throttle. But I knew I needed to start my day off right. Since both of my kiddos woke up in such a great mood, I figured I would seize the opportunity. I let my son know that I needed about 15 minutes of alone time to meditate. Being so used to my “not your typical mom” antics, he said “oh okay, let me know when you’re done.” My daughter is the tricky one. I never know if she’s going to be understanding or climb all over me like a human jungle gym.

“Mommy is going to meditate, so you need to be very very quiet. Okay?” She looked at me with those big brown eyes, long curly lashes and said “Okay Mommy” in her raspy little Michelle Tanner voice. Which brings me to my gratitude moment of Day 7.

DAY 7: Many Blessings

I lay in bed, settling into my zen place Sunday morning. I was about half way through my meditation, totally in my happy place. I could hear the pitter patter of tiny feet stomping heavily upon the floor as my daughter ran back and forth between my room and the living room. About halfway through my meditation, I felt the tiny tickle of a button-nose on my cheek. My eyes remained closed but I could feel my daughter begin to smile as I started laughing. The more I laughed, the more Eskimo kisses I was given. Then a big “Muah!” as she kissed my cheek, followed by more of her hearty giggles. I could hear her over the music playing in my earbuds, “This is so much fun Mommy!” Laughter truly is the best medicine!

She lay down next to me, took a few deep breaths, then dramatically threw herself on me. She wrapped her chunky little arms tightly around mine, squeezed me with a bear hug and smiled. “I love you so much Mommy.” My heart melted like plasticware stuck to the bottom of the dishwasher rack.

That was how my day began. There were so many beautiful instances of gratitude yesterday. The weather was perfect–clear blue sky, beams of warm sunlight shining down. A cool breeze blew through the patio wind chimes, making my heart smile. After using, and slightly altering, my older brother’s cinnamon pancake recipe–I disconnected my son from his X-Box console. He reluctantly got ready to go to the park with his sister and me. Once we got there though, he didn’t want to leave.

Another gratitude moment from Sunday, was having the strength and energy to run around the playground with my children. Some days, especially during the week of chemo, it can be really hard for me to keep up with the kids. All I want to do is sleep or lay on the couch for hours. But I don’t always have that option unless my folks are around to help out. Fatigued or not–I still have to cook dinner, do laundry, help with third grade homework assignments, buy groceries, have tea parties, play board games. If I don’t do most of these things, my kids are missing out. Just because I’m a cancer patient, doesn’t mean that my children should have to sacrifice their childhood. It’s bad enough that they’re going to have memories of me being in the hospital connected to IV lines, seeing me tired, dizzy, nauseas and grumpy. They should get to play, have fun, enjoy their childhood no matter what. You blink and then you’re grown, it’s time you can’t get back.

Hopefully they know how much I enjoy spending time with them. How loved they are. I always explain it to both of them. When I’m too tired to play a game or read a story before bedtime, “It’s not that I don’t want to do those things with you because I really do. It’s just that mom is too tired right now but we’ll (play that game, read that book, go to a particular place) as soon as I’m feeling rested again.”

My son has been incredibly understanding for an eight-year-old. My daughter has been as well, even though she’s three. The nights I’m too exhausted to read, my daughter will say “It’s okay Mommy, I’m going to read to you. Is that a good idea?” Both of my children are such old souls, though, beyond their years intellectually. My mom used to hear the same thing about me as a child, so it’s no wonder I guess.

My daughter interrupting my morning mediation was by far the best gratitude moment of my day, though there were several others. One of my aunts, who I haven’t seen in years, came to visit. My mother cooked up an amazing meal. Double gratitude there because we had ribs, mashed potatoes and Lebanese style green beans…and I didn’t have to cook any of it. My mother took care of everything, It was so nice being served for once. It’s tiring when you have to do the cooking, cleaning and dishes every time you cook. Which, for me, is three to four times a week.

It was a great weekend, spent laughing and reminiscing with family. This week, I’m supposed to finish up my twelfth and final chemo treatment on Wednesday. I still have sessions seven through eleven to blog about, luckily it’s all written down in my writer’s notebook. It’s been one mind-blowing, spirit-enlightening journey for certain! I’m eager to see what the week will bring 🙂

“Fight Like a Girl” Explained

Fight like a girl tattoo

My tattoo bears a navy blue ribbon in the center of the butterfly for Colon Cancer. I chose the blue Morpho Butterfly for it’s color, as well as a symbol of transformation. The “Fight Like a Girl” quote embodies my belief to stand strong against adversity.

Less than a week before my first chemo session, I decided it was time to add some new ink to the living canvas of my body. At this point I have somewhere around thirty hours of tattoos, but this new tattoo is incredibly significant. Not that my others aren't, each and every one of them marks a specific event in my life or belief. This one is just a tad more special to me.

It commemorates the most challenging battle I've had to face yet. This tattoo was inspired by something that has guided me to an inner strength I didn't know existed: being diagnosed with cancer.

When I was first diagnosed, I did so much research online. I wanted to know statistics, data, treatments, alternative therapy, holistic approaches, survival rate, support group info, the best oncologist, the best surgeon. I found a great website "The Fight Like a Girl Club" where you can link up with other cancer fighters, survivors and their families. It's a completely free website that allows you to blog and also read the blogs of others. More or less it's a community for anyone who knows anyone battling cancer of any kind.

Finding the website was great, but my first question was "What does it even mean to fight like a girl?" This is what I could find. And please, if you feel it means otherwise then, by all means let me know. This is just from my own perspective what I found it to mean.

The term Fight Like a Girl is heard being chimed out in the country song, of the same name, by the group Bomshel. In the song, the duo proudly exclaims that to Fight Like a Girl means to "hold my head high...never let it define...love yourself, give em hell..."

I'm honestly not sure which came first, the country duo singing it or the cancer community adopting it. But either way it's a motto--a mantra--that many cancer fighters, survivors, their family and friends have come to be familiar with.

My own personal take on what exactly this statement means? As someone battling Stage 3 Colon Cancer, it's at the core of who I am. I'm not letting this cancer define me. I'm not going down and I'm damn sure not going down without a fight.

It means that no matter how exhausted I am or weak, I will always always give my children the best I can give to them. I will not use my cancer as an excuse for not being able to turn in homework. If I'm legitimately tired from treatment that's one thing. But I absolutely refuse to become someone who constantly says "fill in the blank here...because I have cancer."

I truly believe that there is so much potential to be unlocked within the human mind. Staying positive and optimistic is one of the most important weapons that cancer patients have against kicking the disease's tooshie. Yes I said tooshie, I am a mom after all, it's a habit :)

The first response that people typically give you when you say you've been diagnosed with cancer is "I'm so sorry to hear that" or "That's terrible." Or any of the negative, "thank you for making me feel like a walking corpse statements." To which I usually reply "Thank you, I appreciate your concern but this is just another thing for me to overcome."

Everyone deals with these kinds of things in their own way. I think it's a very natural human response--when someone we care about tells us something devastating--to say that you're so sorry for them. It's just our way of showing empathy for what they're going through. Honestly, telling someone we love "I'm so sorry" really isn't such a bad way to respond.

But when people start to tell me how to live my life and that I'm pushing myself or in denial of my circumstance, that's where I very diplomatically have to draw the line. If you're not in this body, thinking with this brain, please don't presume to know what's best for me. I'm the only one that can make that judgement call.

There were many people that felt I shouldn't be making an overseas journey to Sicily with my travel writing class this past March during our spring break. Those people included my nurses, some family members, a few acquaintances, not so much my friends--who know that I'm going to do what I want to do regardless and that I'm strong enough to do it.

My mother was my greatest advocate, telling everyone that she thought it was the best thing for me. Before I even found out whether or not I was accepted into the class (there was a very selective application process), then once I was accepted--whether or not I was awarded the scholarship I applied for--my mother had already offered to watch my children so I could go.

As soon as everything was set into place financially my mother put her slip in at work to request the time off. She knew just how much I needed to go. Not only for my physical health but for the well being of my soul.

Going to Sicily was the healthiest thing I could have done for myself. The memories, the experience, the bonding time I shared with my classmates; I will never ever forget any of it. Last night I found Aranciatta Rosso at the grocery store and nearly jumped out of my shoes with excitement! It's a carbonated version of succco d'aranciatta, juice of the blood orange. The fruit is native to Sicily, extra juicy and extremely tasty. Opening the bottle and taking that first sip, I was immediately transported across the Atlantic Ocean, being reunited with the rest of my soul...which remains in Sicily until I physically return again.

So to me Fight Like a Girl means to never give up, never back down. To stay optimistic in the face of adversity. Be true to yourself, even when those around you may doubt what you're doing. Sometimes the ones we love can, unintentionally, project their own fears onto others in hopes of protecting them. Follow your intuition, it's a very powerful ally. And if you don't have keen intuition then get into the practice of quieting down your mind so you can listen. Meditation, yoga, Reiki, fill in the blank here, are all also great tools (not for everyone but extremely beneficial for those who are interested).

Fighting like a girl means you don't let your circumstance define you. You defy it, you empower yourself, you use the circumstance as an opportunity for growth and not as a casting call to play the role of victim. This doesn't mean you go completely numb. There are going to be days when you need to cry, you need to break things, scream, eat that bowl (eh hem, not pint) of ice-cream, call that friend or relative and tell them how miserable you are that things have changed in your life so drastically.

But then you get yourself back up. You affirm everything that is good in your life by giving thanks. Yes, your health might not be 100% or even 50% of what you want it to be. But if you sit down and really think about it, you will find that you have more to the thankful for than you have to complain about. Life is too short, it can still be beautiful in the face of adversity. After all, even when the most severe of storms hit, the sun is still shining if you get above the clouds.

Now I'm not usually a country music fan, but there's no way I could post this blog topic without giving credit to the women who sang this song: