Category Archives: Survivorship

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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#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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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.

 

 

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.

If I’m Bloggin’ – I’m Happy!

Or in my case tonight, by my giant nine-year-old
Or the “almost as tall as me” nine-year-old

It feels like I’m on holiday right now; even though my nine-year-old is restlessly karate chopping me in his sleep while his sister strategically positioned her feet  near my head. I’m happy. They’re both sleeping and I finally have a moment to breathe, relax and blog.

I’ve been craving to write a good blog entry for weeks! About anything, everything and nothing at all. So much is happening everyday. If I don’t take time to write it down, type it out; I feel like these moments will be lost forever.

85bfcd7befabe015abeb3a1570349c48 - Version 2In January I stood in the middle of seated room of 300, in New York City, to have a fifteen minute conversation – live, in front of everyone, while being video recorded – with one of my everyday heroes; dating and life coach Matthew Hussey. Hussey told me point blank if I continue to sacrifice my love life for the sake of my children’s happiness I’m going to “fuck them up” and cause more damage than good in the long run. His rationale was that they would see their “mum” putting them first and never putting my own romantic happiness in the forefront. Leading my kiddos to believe it was what they were supposed to do as adults. Food for thought. Thank you for that Mr. Hussey, you’ve given me plenty to think about.

Two weeks ago, I traveled from Virginia to Maryland to Massachusetts in one day…by car…toting my children along for most of the journey. One of my best friends crossed the stage at her college graduation in Virginia Beach. I was not only there for moral support but to embarrass the bajeezus out of her by screaming out “I LOVE YOU KRISTIN!” in a very crowded, semi-quiet, stadium size, campus auditorium. Because hellerrrr, that’s what best friends do woman!

It was no small feat for a single mother of two to graduate with honors. I’m still so proud of you Snookum Snookums! When you’ve been friends as long as we have, and know as much as we know about each-other, you come up with silly nick names. It’s out of love, don’t judge.

Mama's first Sox game at Fenway, woot woot! #SOXNATION
Mama’s first Sox game at Fenway, woot woot! #SOXNATION

In April, I finally attended my first Sox game (SOX NATION!) and with the only person in this world I could imagine being there with; my son. I also started a kickass internship with quite possibly some of the most intelligent, interesting and charismatic people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with – acting as an intern and conservation writer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service WordPress blog.

This past Saturday, I pet a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Or as my threenager (about to be four) put it, a “kissing hockroach.” My son rocked it out at both of his soccer games this weekend. My daughter painted her little heart out designing faerie houses for our garden.

Some of our faerie garden supplies, my daughter walked off with the rest. And that glue...definitely got returned. Warning labels about hazardous fumes should probably be written on the FRONT of the bottle somewhere...not on back behind the packaging.
Some of our faerie garden supplies, my daughter walked off with the rest. And that glue…definitely got returned. Warning labels about hazardous fumes should probably be written on the FRONT of the bottle somewhere…not on back behind the packaging.

My 2015 memory box is already flooded with so many invaluable treasures from beautiful moments. And it’s only June 2. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds!

A beautiful life isn’t built in a day. A beautiful life, to me, is made moment by moment – when you do that thing you’re afraid of doing, say the thing you fear being criticized for and expand your mindset beyond society’s limitations.

One moment can lead to even greater moment, a connection with a person you may not have met which can lead to a job and/or career choice you never thought you’d have the opportunity to make. It’s all about choice. Will you choose to stay within the boundaries of your self-inflicted comfort zone? Or will you break free and shatter the parameters of your own fears?