Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

Advertisements

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.

83fc0def5343456bcf0c2eb33687902e

What me and Old Blue Eyes have in common…

i-faced-it-all-and-i-stood-tall-and-did-it-my-way-quote-1

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.

12729148_797653060378080_1682415804820287678_n

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.

12733592_797653510378035_4366691658439752037_n
(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.

 

 

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!

Check Out My Port! (part 2)

05cc5abbfbb9412c1940ae03cdfcdcdf2146ef39e371cff42310d1b842bac383

Between cooking Chicken Marsala (I’m just saying, it’s kind of a big deal. If I could marry my marsala, it would be on like Donkey Kong) and the weather becoming much warmer–I quickly changed into a tank top as the kitchen started heating up tonight. 

Looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, seeing my bare shoulders in a tank top again, with that protruding triangular shaped mound just sitting there; really got me thinking. My surgeon has given the go ahead for port removal; it’s been in place for 15 months now. I’m already 7 months out from completing treatment…7 months!

present-not-final1

Change is the evolution of life right? But I’ve become attached to my port. It’s just as much a part of me as my hair or skin. What’s it going to feel like when I don’t have a port anymore?  What will it be like looking in the mirror to see a fading scar where an obvious prominence used to be? To not have to wear my seatbelt a different way for comfort? For my daughter to say “Mommy, where did your port go?” To not get stared at in public by total strangers who don’t always know what a port even is? To not see my oncology nurses every 6 to 8 weeks for a port flush? To go to the lab for routine blood draws, instead of to the nurses in the infusion suite?

Port removal is a major milestone as a cancer patient. When your oncologist and surgeon are in agreement that it’s time to take out the port, it’s this hopeful intention that you’re going to be healthy long term. It’s their way of saying a patient is in a good place of survivorship.

Having my port removed isn’t just letting go of what was, it’s moving forward into what will be. Living my best life, one day healthier and stronger at a time.

chemo-portCheck out my port! Pretty gross and extremely fascinating at the same time. Especially when you consider that it’s sitting under my skin at this very moment. Having a port is kind of like having a tattoo, you forget that it’s there. Except, unlike a tattoo, I get reminded each time I buckle my driver’s side seat belt, get dressed in front of a mirror or get hugged way too hard. The hugging doesn’t hurt, it just gives you this feeling of “Oh hey I remember that! The chemo thing my surgeon stuck in a blood vessel X amount of months ago.”

Hey Check Out My Port! (part 1)

be-kind-for-everyone-you-meet-is-fighting-a-battle-you-know-nothing-about-drkehres

Warm weather is finally here in New England! I don’t dare mention the “s” word. You know–that white, fluffy stuff that comes from the sky. Enough of it was moved about in Boston, this past winter, to “fill Gillette stadium 90 times” according to Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker. You know what I’m talking about. Even though it’s May, I’m not going into detail about it because after all this is New England. If it could sn– eh hem, get really cold again in May when it shouldn’t…this is where it would happen.

Warmer weather means less layers and more skin. Let’s keep this rated PG you dirty bird, get your mind out of the gutter…not THAT much skin. I’m talking tank tops, capris, sleeveless tanks. And one more thing for me, for other cancer patients…clear port visibility.

The area that my port was placed in makes it very, very visible. At Victoria’s Secret, one employee in particular always remembers me.  She gives me that “you look so familiar but I don’t want to offend you, so I’ll just ask if you need assistance instead” look. Until she helps me with something in the fitting room.  Then she’s all smiles and says “Oh that’s right! I remember you now from the…” At a loss for words, she touches her shoulder just below her clavicle–where my port is.

There’s also some concerned, elderly, female cashiers at one of the grocery stores I frequent. I can think of two or three of them off hand. This is the part that always gets me. They make conversation with me, idle chit chat, speaking to my kids or asking how they’re doing if they’re not with me. Eyes shift to my shoulder, in a passing glance but get fixated (momentarily) on my port. The next time their eyes meet mine, it’s this look of…I don’t know, pain? It’s a look I’ve gotten to know so well. The look of someone who, by some means, recognizes my port. “My God, how does someone so young have cancer? How could this happen to her?” THAT look.

You’d think with as many times as I’ve seen it, I’d be conditioned to not feel what I do when it happens. But I do. And every damn time someone gives me that look, it makes me want to burst into tears.

Not because I feel weak or think I’m too young to have had cancer. It pulls on my emotions because of the genuine element of human compassion behind it. Because I have never seen so much empathy, love and genuine concern from both people I know and total strangers in my entire life.

I’ve seen men as big as Sasquatch look like they’re about to cry when they hear I had cancer. Journalists, who are tough as nails in the field, look at me with such endearment because of what I endured.

There are still kindhearted, loving and sincerely good people on this earth.

It gives me hope.

Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?

DSCN8103 - Version 2

(above: My daughter and I after building our first snowman of the season!)

By now, I think most New englanders would agree…whoever pissed off Queen Elsa needs to go and apologize so we can get out this prolonged state of frozen Arendelle. It’s been snow, snow and more snow for four straight weeks in my neck of the woods. But before I got sick of the cold, there was this beautiful afternoon I shared with my daughter.

 The type of chemotherapy treatment I went through was 5-FU with Leucovorin and Oxaliplatin. Now every cancer type has a different type of treatment and each stage of cancer can also have treatment variations as well. Some people need chemotherapy and radiation, others need just one or the other. Some are extremely fortunate and only need major surgery to remove the tumors/affected cells.

My cancer treatment regime consisted of major colon resection surgery, followed by 12 rounds of chemotherapy. One chemo session every two weeks. Because of low blood cell counts (such as platelets and white cells) my treatment stretched out over nine months instead of six.

There are also different reactions to different types of chemo. Some people get hot flashes, experience pain with extreme heat or when eating/drinking anything hot. My reaction was sensitivity to cold.

Beginning chemo in early February, in New England, definitely wasn’t something I had prepared myself for. The residual effects of chemo left my body defenseless against the harsh, bitter weather. I couldn’t play in the snow with my kids. I couldn’t eat or drink anything cold unless I want to feel like I was swallowing broken glass. Anytime I went outside into the freezing air, I had to bundle up (picture Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”). Scarves, a hat, gloves, sometimes two layers of jackets and two pairs of sweatpants was my uniform of choice from February to May last year.

DSCN8104 - Version 2

You can imagine the elation I felt in January when we had our first heavy snow fall of 2015! I couldn’t wait to get outside. My daughter and I threw on our snow gear and headed out onto the back deck as the snow continued falling. It was the perfect texture for snowman building, fluffy and easy to pack. Not too fluffy where it won’t stick together but not full of too much moisture either. We had a blast playing in the snow together.

To be out in the cold without experiencing pins and needles in my face, feet and hands was amazing! The tingling sensation I had associated with cold weather was gone. I kept waiting for the pain to set in, but it never did. Time passed quickly as we built our own personal version of Olaf. By the time my daughter and I went inside, my son had finished watching a movie he started with my mom before us girls had gone outside. That means I had been out in the snow for nearly two hours without the slightest bit of discomfort!

The further out my survivorship goes, complacency becomes easier to settle into. It’s only been five months since my last chemo treatment. Already it feels like this bizarre, waking dream that’s since passed. Surreal. Until something gently reminds me.

Each time I go back to the Infusion Suite, sit in that big blue chair and get my port flushed or have blood work drawn, I’m reminded. All of 2014 was spent, literally, fighting for my life. I love harder, laugh louder, dance crazier and live my life moment to  moment because of what cancer taught me.

I’m still sick of the snow at this point. Fortunately for me though, this winter, it’s because of an entirely different reason 🙂

DSCN8101 - Version 2

Gratitude for Good Health

10801733_605475872929134_230296916931725967_n

(Above: My mutt mutt Bella-Boo)

Almost two weeks ago, I gave my dog a bath.

“And?” You’re probably thinking, “Why the heck does that matter?”

Well, let me walk you through all that en”tails”…pun intended 🙂

My dog Bella is a sixty-pound, “no way in hell am I getting in that bath tub”, has every possible imaginable allergy under the sun, type of dog. Which means after picking her heavy ass up and placing her into the bath tub, she then has to be shampooed twice. Once with a yummy-tropical-smelling, hypo-allergenic dog-shampoo to get her clean. And once more with a medicated, prescription, dog-shampoo that has to be left in…for twenty minutes. Did I mention that she really really doesn’t like taking a bath?

The last time Bella had her bath, I was still going through chemotherapy treatments. It was exhausting. I could barely find the strength to pick her up twice. In fact, I’m pretty sure I let her jump out of the tub when her bath was over. Picking her up again simply wasn’t happening.

After her first round of shampooing, I was ready to call it a day. It took me just about two hours from start to finish. (That’s a very loooong time!)

But on this particular day (a few weeks ago) I was the victorious, alpha, rescue mom. Just as my soapy hands became full of dog hair, my children reminded me that they too were part of my multi-tasking agenda. I micromanaged my son’s appetite plus my daughter’s sudden need to become Queen Elsa of Arendelle then went back to work on my soapy pup.

I couldn’t help but be overcome with an enormous sense of gratitude. My back didn’t feel sore.  My legs weren’t becoming weak from the constant strain of bending to lather, rinse, repeat. It felt damn good to be accomplishing a normal everyday task without feeling wiped out! Healthy again. My body, while not back to 100 percent, was getting there.

Bella looked up at me, tail between her legs, ears back, eyes begging for release from this tiled prison. I was laughing and smiling the whole time. Being healthy enough to do something so simple was such a blessing. Something that, just a few month ago, would have winded me for sure.

I took it for granted that I would always be healthy. Just like being in an unhealthy relationship can give you new eyes of appreciation and admiration for the healthy one that comes along.

Cancer taught me to give thanks for everyday my heart is pumping. For each day my lungs allow me to breathe. Cancer could have owned me, destroyed my life, taken every precious intangible thing away. It may have been a very cruel teacher at times, with harsh lessons to learn. Without everything I gained because of it, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.

I’ve lost quite a few people in my life to cancer. I can count on more than one hand how many family members have been afflicted by it. Maybe this was cancers way of repaying that karmic debt. By giving me invaluable knowledge, appreciation for days I may have taken for granted, moments that might have slipped through the cracks of my life–it made up for all the pain it had caused in previous years.

To be a survivor, I know how fortunate I am. Why fate chose to keep me here, I don’t know. I don’t know why so many have to lose their lives to this terrible disease. Why I wasn’t one of them. All I know is that I believe everything happens for a reason. So rather than saying “fuck you” to cancer, all I can say is “thank you.”

Another Moment of Gratitude

photo

The day after my munchkins and I went out to eat, I lost this bracelet. It was a sterling silver bangle my father had given me over twelve years ago. It’s not that it was expensive because it wasn’t. The sentimental value of it made it irreplaceable to me.

I still remember the day my father brought it home. He had picked up some jewelry from a moving job he did. Customers from time to time would give him things they couldn’t or didn’t have time to sell but no longer wanted. We accumulated quite a few “knick-knacks” over the years. So when my dad would say he was bringing something home again, my mom and I would just look at each other and think “Oh boy, here we go again!”

But this day he brought home a few bracelets wrapped up in white cloth. He placed the cloth on the table and told me, as he unfolded it, I could pick just one of the bracelets. When I saw the bangle I was thrilled. I’ve always been big into (quite obsessed really) with Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek mythology/history. One particular bangle had the meandros (Greek key) going all the way around it. That was the one I chose. It was a symbol of both unity and eternity in Ancient Greece and one of (if not the most) sacred symbols Ancient Greeks utilized.

I had been running errands last week on a particularly cold morning. Not usually the winter glove wearing type, I went back into my house to grab a pair since the cold was so bitter that morning. Unfortunately at some point in the day, while taking one of my gloves off, the bracelet had come off without me realizing it. My wrist felt lighter like I was missing something but I couldn’t quite place what it was since I had several bracelets on that day.

By the time I noticed the bangle was missing, I had already made three stops. Not one of them said a bracelet had been turned in. I was devastated. I’m not going to lie, it really put a damper on my day. I had taken this bracelet with me to Italy for ten days but somehow managed to lose it locally running errands. Sheesh!

I went home that day, after finishing up what I had to do, accepting I was probably never going to see the bracelet again. “Can’t take it with me when I go anyhow right?” I told myself to take the sting out of losing it. I tried to “fogetaboudit” but was still a little upset that night when I went to bed.

The next morning was another busy morning (as is usually the case) but around noon I received a call from one of the places I had stopped at the day before. Someone had actually turned in my bracelet! Before the receptionist could even describe the bracelet, I gave her a full rundown myself; the size, material, design and just how much it meant to me to have it back. After getting off the phone with her, I headed straight over and picked up my bracelet. I was almost in tears. Not only from having it back, but from the fact that there was a person out there selfless enough to turn it in rather than keep it for themself.

It goes back to that whole boomerang effect of good and bad Karma. I thought back to all the times I had found a credit card or someone’s wallet or a smart phone and turned them in or found the person to give it back to them. Maybe it was a little good Karma coming my way. Who knows? All I know for sure, is that I was very very grateful to whoever turned my bangle in!

Pay It Forward :)

My children and I were getting a little stir crazy last week. We have a pretty busy schedule but the routine of it all gets a bit overwhelming sometimes. I’m the kind of person who needs adventure, variety, to not be doing the same thing each day. Since my son has something going on every day after school Monday through Friday…every…single…week…it gets to be monotonous.

I was looking forward to coming home and throwing on my jammies after my son’s appointment that day. A few days earlier, the Patriots won their game against the Ravens. Which meant that one of my son’s fave local restaurants was serving up the kids menu for free all day! No, it’s not organic but I figure once in a great while won’t hurt anything. My son was oober excited so I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d rather come home than go out to eat that night.

We left my son’s appointment later that night, heading to the restaurant. Dom (my son) and Izzy (my daughter) were so well behaved I thought I must have walked right into the Twilight Zone for sure! I mean one behaving okay, but both of them? Wow. Not only were they behaving but they were entertaining each-other and the surrounding tables with their comical theatrics.

(SIDE NOTE: Izzy is obsessed with Disney’s Frozen right now. Absolutely obsessed in every sense of the word. To the point where normal everyday conversations become lines from Frozen. Last night when I told her it was bedtime, she went to run away from me and said “Mommy, you have to tell me ‘Elsa stop!’ okay?” Then tonight she went to kiss me. Lovingly, she placed a hand on each of my cheeks. Looking into my eyes with a kissey face on her lips, she said “Oh Ana, if only someone out there loved you.” [this is what Hans says to Ana in the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it] This was followed by excessive giggling and “Oh Mommy! I’m such a little stinker huh?!?” Like I said, obsessed!)

Anyhow, she was belting out “Let It Go” in her loudest Disney princess voice as we waited for our food. I leaned in close to her and let her know she needed to use her quiet, inside voice to sing. This little goofball looked me square in the face, laughed out loud and then (in a very not so quiet, outside voice) said “Mommy! I farted! Oh what’s that smell?!?! Who did that?!?”

On their way out, a couple I’ve known well over 15 years stopped by our booth to say hello. They had been sitting in the back of the restaurant (unbeknownst to me since my back was facing them). I hadn’t seen them in years. It was great reconnecting with them over pictures of their grandchildren, joking about the times we had when I used to work for them. They each got a huge hug from me before going on their way.

Me and the kids went back to our meal. I kept thinking how I was going to leave a pretty sweet tip for our server. He brewed a fresh pot of coffee for me, brought my soup out as soon as it was done (still piping hot) and kept our “to go” order of ice cream in the freezer so we could pick it up on the way out. All without me asking. It was such a great night. The energy was light, care free.

When it came time for the check, our server told me that the couple I had been speaking with earlier picked up our tab. Even gratuity had been covered. I was speechless.

So this is my message to you. As we all start off 2015, let’s start it off right. PAY IT FORWARD! A simple act of random kindness doesn’t have to be done for someone you know. That’s the joy in it. You don’t have to be dough loaded to make a difference. Sending a personalized “thank you” or “thinking of you” note/card can be all it takes.

Whatever you put out into the Universe comes back to you, I truly believe that! It may not be today or even next week (well…for some people it might) but at some point there’s a boomerang effect. When someone does something special for you, keep that good deed moving forward. Do something selfless for another. You’d be surprised how much a simple act of kindness can change someone’s day for the better 🙂