Tag Archives: Faith

#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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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.

Present Day; Post Chemo Moving Forward

Where have the last two weeks gone? A book signing event, an Abraham-Hicks workshop, a children’s birthday party, Canadian Thanksgiving celebration, day-trip to Salem, Mass., classes, homework, housework, third-grade basketball signups; pre-workout, reps, set, repeat, protein shakes, homework, doctor’s appointments, housework, massage therapy, Reiki, doing laundry that multiplies quicker than jack-rabbits, group meetings for class assignments, redecorating, parent/teacher conference, catching up on “The Vampire Diaries”… (breathe!)

Life is always an adventure when you’re a single mom. Especially when you have two, high-energy, extremely bright children.

My life is almost back to normal; my body feels stronger than it has since my cancer journey began. I’ve gained nearly 15 pounds since I was first diagnosed, since surgery, since chemotherapy treatments started. I am so thankful for the weight gain (as the song says, “I love my butt and I won’t shut-up!”). Thankful for chemo being over, thankful for my son…who just sat down at the table with me, and his laptop (my old computer) and said “Oh look at me! I’m all type-typey, nerdy-nerdy like my mom!” Then he began to button mash the keyboard, like a mad man playing the organ,  causing a fit of hysterical laughter. Love that kiddo of mine.

In the months to come, I have several follow-up appointments; oncology, surgical, nurse-practitioner of oncology, GI specialist, an ultrasound, a colonoscopy and lab work.

(Side rant: to those of you who keep putting it off…get it done! It has the potential to save your life, it saved mine. You don’t feel a thing. If you’re scheduled to have one or your doctor is recommending you do so, get ‘er done!)

To be sitting here with my son, watching my daughter play; it’s the greatest gift I could ever hope for. Cancer has taught me to prioritize, live fearlessly, love with my whole heart and make each day count.

Cancer was a much-needed catalyst for me.  I never would have pushed myself so hard to do so much. It’s unfortunate that it took getting diagnosed with cancer for me to change my life so drastically. But I am (and will always be) grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to do so. I’m one of the fortunate ones.

I never once questioned “Why is this happening to me?” But I do question so much else about it. When I see other cancer patients suffering, losing hair, losing hope; it breaks my heart. Especially pediatric cancer, it’s unbearable. When I look back at this year, it’s easy to admit just how difficult it was. Yet the energy has changed so much since the beginning of the year. There’s so much more than a road to perfect health before me.

Recently, I attended a book signing for “Buried Beneath the Words” author, Betel Arnold. We connected instantly. There were so many parallels in our lives. She saw herself in me; a young woman with hope and dreams bigger than the sky. She made direct eye contact and without blinking said, “You are destined for great things. I can see it all over you! I’m so happy for you and the path you’re on. You’re going to accomplish so much and I would really like to be part of it.” Her words moved a mountain within my spirit.

For the most part, I think my life is in pretty good order. It’s taken some time to find myself. Everyday is a learning process but living with gratitude has become a way of life, a state of being. I’m no super hero. Yes I have battled cancer, gone through chemo and am raising two children on my own while obtaining my bachelor’s degree. But I have my days just like anyone else. Having tough days is important for contrast. It gives me greater appreciation for the moments of joy; for the days when everything just seems to flow.

After going through chemotherapy for nearly eight months, even the bad days are a blessing. For every toddler temper tantrum and eight-year-old melt down, for every sink full of dishes and pile upon pile of never-ending laundry needing to be done; I’m truly thankful. These are days that I still get to be here for, experiencing the gift of life. The good and the not so good. Even when my children make me want to pull my hair out, I have to be thankful there’s still hair on this head to pull. It’s all about perspective.

Gratitude, Day 17:

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DAY 17:

Wednesday/September 24:

To say I’ve been fortunate in family-life, would be an eloquent understatement. The past ten months, since my cancer diagnosis, has brought the ones I love even closer to me. They have gone above and beyond to lift my spirits; providing love and laughter. Sharing in my tears, providing an ear or two to listen, cooking dinners, watching my two young children when fatigue kept me in bed for hours on end.

They’re my earth-bound angels, every single one of them. From my aunt and uncle and parents who were there at the hospital with me the day I underwent major surgery. To my sister, her best friend and my niece–who all helped look after my children while I was in the hospital recovering. My siblings accompanying me to chemo treatments. Friends sharing funny videos and quotes on social networking sites. My ex-husband’s family, sending prayers and their love. My children guiding me through, tethering me to life, allowing me to live in present moments of sheer joy.

First thing Wednesday morning, upon waking, I meditated as usual. Then checked into Facebook to find myself tagged in a post by one of my nieces. A few friends and family members have been nominating each-other, myself included, for daily gratitude postings on Facebook. It helps keep the positive energy flowing. There are so many negative things that social media can be used for. We choose to keep it uplifting with moments of gratitude and motivational quotes.

After reading my niece’s post, you’ll understand just how my gratitude moment went “from a trickle to a roar!” as the fairies of Pixie Hollow say 🙂

“I am greatful for my aunt Amber …for being the kick ass super women she is! She has been through soooo much over the past couple years or more and you would never know. She has such a great spirit true definition of a FIGHTER! Anything she has set out to accomplish has been accomplished. Her love for life and all it has to give her is something to admire. Her never ending faith that every little thing is gonna be alright. ..the fact that she has gone through 12 chemo sessions and came out with an even better love for life and with her beautiful smile even brighter. She is so positive and full of love …I myself have no idea how she does the things she does and still can be “our Amber” . With this said I am greatful that she has shown cancer who is boss and continued to raise two kids on her own! That’s what our family calls Amber Strong. ..so my beautiful amazing aunt I love you sooo and I am blessed for you and all you have conquered!”

Thank you for posting what you did darlin’, love you kiddo!

Gratitude Day 12: Good Riddance Chemo Pump!!!

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(Above: This little device was the chemo pump that I wore for my last treatment. It’s concealed within a little, black, fanny-type-pack with a strap that I had to wear over my shoulder like a purse. Tubing runs from the pump, into a needle inserted in my port.)
 

After each in-house chemo treatment I received–there was a 48-hour, take-home pump that I had to wear. It administered about two milliliters of chemo meds, per hour, for nearly two days. My treatments began in February of this year. It was pretty easy to conceal the bulging needle that protruded through my port under sweaters and hoodies. Once the weather started warming up, I was faced with the decision to either hide my pump when I went out in public or walk proudly with my head held high.

The first time I went out in public, with my port/pump visibly showing, was in late May/early June. I remember it with such clarity. The temperature was in the high seventies, low eighties. There was no way I was leaving the house in a shirt heavier than a tank-top. My mother offered to watch my two munchkins for me so I could do some solo grocery shopping.

When I walked inside the store, I felt like everyone was staring at me. Even if they weren’t, it felt that way to me. Each time I went in for treatment–the looks I’d receive from the other chemo patients, from their families, sheer sadness. They didn’t have to say it, I knew what those looks meant. “She’s so young,  How could she possibly be a cancer patient?, Poor kid, I’m so sorry she has to be here.” Each time, I’d look at them with eyes full of hope. Followed by a smile, as warm and genuine as I could manage.

That day in the grocery store, I decided to put my big girl panties on. I walked around as though I wasn’t wearing a chemo-carrying, shoulder-strapped, fanny-pack type contraption. I ignored the stares of curious fellow consumers. When we did make eye contact, I flashed a smile and said hi or hello. Carrying on about my business as usual.

Outtings this summer were that much easier after my first venture out in public. I became less and less self-conscious about my port showing or wearing the chemo-pump. Now it’s so routine, I don’t even think about it until I catch someone looking down at my shoulder. When I realize they’re staring at my port, which is hard to miss because of the placement of it and my petite size, it doesn’t bother me. I’m pretty open about my experience.

I’m a fighter, a survivor. Always have been. Most people are shocked by how nonchalant I speak about being diagnosed with cancer. I’m sure some people thought I was in denial about the whole thing because I’ve maintained such a positive attitude. The way I see it, life is what you make of it. I’m not the type to sit around, moping about, wondering “why me?” and being angry with the world.

Life presented me with a major opportunity for growth. For spiritual expansion, the ability to help others and (hopefully) inspire someone along the way.

I’m happy as heck to be done with wearing that pump!

Gratitude Day 10: Chemo Graduation Day!!! (9/17/2014)

 

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(Above: My twelfth and FINAL chemotherapy treatment! These are five of the nurses who were responsible for my care during treatments. Absolutely love these women! More like a second family to me than anything else)
(Below: My mother was holding back tears in this photo. It was such an emotional day for all of us; the nurses, my mother and myself.)
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The day before yesterday was my twelfth and final chemotherapy session. On the way to the hospital, one of my favorite songs came on the radio. It was one of those divine timing kind of things. The song was “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. I grew up listening to the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and the Supremes. The song took me back to my childhood. I thought of the loved ones I’ve lost, imagining they were there with me. Angels by my side, protecting and encouraging me.

The nurses grew accustom to my goofy shenanigans over the last seven plus months. My first day of chemo, one of them pulled back the curtain to my little infusion cubicle to find my mother and I taking “chemo selfies.” In the very beginning, there were all kinds of jokes about the IV pole that held up the chemo bag & other meds. “The only pole you’ll ever need to dance with,” and so many others. I even got my sister in on it a few times, not the dancing, just the joking.

One day I noticed how the base of the IV pole branched out like spider legs, with eight wheels, one at each end of the metal extensions. After that I thought, I am so using this thing as a skateboard! Luckily, I didn’t want to be a bad influence on the other patients or I would have followed through with it.

When I pulled out a graduation cap, yesterday, and a huge sign to hold up during photos–the nurses weren’t the least bit surprised. “You know me ladies! Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t go out with a bang!” We all laughed as we tried not to cry. After photos, I couldn’t hold back the tears for long. I hugged each of the nurses. Every single hug released more tears from both me and the nurses. These women wrapped their arms around me with such compassion and hope. They were there for me, taking care of me for nearly eight months now. My heroic, healthcare, champions.

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Nearly eight months of chemo, finally reached completion. The euphoria I felt upon returning home that day, indescribable. I felt cleansed of all negativity. Triumphant, that I never gave up on myself or my will to survive. I came so close to quitting around my six and seventh sessions. When I reached treatment number ten, I knew I had to press on. I gave it everything I had, to keep the crazy train moving forward until I reached Grand Sanity Station.

There’s no way I could have gotten through this without the emotional support I received from friends, family, total strangers and my healthcare team. I mean, I’m sure I would have found some way to get through this process.

All I know, is that between maintaining a positive attitude and having this massive emotional-safety-net to hold me up, I got through it. I’ve managed to kick 2014’s ass between being a full-time single mother, part-time student and a cancer patient. I did it all with a heart full of gratitude and a belly full of laughter.

Of course there were tears shed here and there, I’m only human after all. On the drive home from the hospital, I did my best not to cry in front of my mom. When I cry, she cries and vice versa. I was just so elated, ecstatic, joyful to be done with chemotherapy treatments. So indescribably grateful to the Universe that I made it this far, that it was finally over.

My mother looked at me and said, “You know Amber, it’s okay to cry. For someone who’s been through as much as you have, I don’t think you’ve cried enough.”

Such a surreal experience, like living through a lucid dream. Even though I had symptoms of a “dis-eased” body, went through chemotherapy and major surgery–the fact that I had cancer still doesn’t truly resonate with me. I had cancer? It doesn’t even feel right saying it. Throughout this entire process, I’ve held the visualization of my body being whole. I’ve seen myself as a healthy individual, with a strong body and a sharp mind.

Even on the days that I felt like poo, yes I said poo. (When you find yourself spelling out cuss words…in front of other adults…with no children present…sure sign of being a parent!) Even on those days when I felt like never getting out of bed, I still saw myself with an image of wholeness and full health. I visualized how good it would feel to not have to take a week off from the gym, twice a month, because of chemo. Or the energy I would have to keep up with my children, everyday, not just the weeks that I didn’t go through treatment. I imagined all the free time I would have when I no longer needed to have so many trips to the hospital. I practiced gratitude and thanked the Universe for healing my body, for putting the right people on my path to uplift my spirit.

Chemo is done now but I still have the road to recovery to embark upon. For the next two to three years, I have to go in every three months for routine blood work. My surgeon, who removed the tumor, has me scheduled every three months as well–for the next 18 months. There’s also the oncologist, GI specialist and my primary care physician who I’ll have to follow up with for the next two to three years.

As with all endings, come new beginnings. Finishing chemo feels like a period of great change. I’m entering survivorship now but it’s so much more than that. This isn’t just the beginning of a new chapter; it’s a brand new book altogether. My spirit, my soul, has been transformed. This end only marks the beautiful beginning of the best years of my life and the lives of my children. In the words of Old Blue Eyes, “The best is yet to come and babe won’t that be fine?”