Tag Archives: 2015

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!!!

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!

Check Out My Port! (part 2)

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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!

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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)

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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?

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(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.

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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 🙂

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