Tag Archives: Health

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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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…

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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2014 in Review

I would like to personally thank each and every one of you for reading, following, commenting on and sharing my blog. This blog was started to help me through my cancer journey. But knowing that I’ve been able to reach out into the world and share my story with so many, knowing that you care enough to read my blog and be part of my life…well that’s what gives me the motivation to continue blogging and sharing with you all.

Thank you everyone for being part of this journey in 2014! Who knows what adventures will await in 2015. I wish you all a beautiful New Year filled with love, family, good health and joy! Thank you again for everything 🙂

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

‘Tis the season…for a healthy colon…Part 1

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The Fall semester of school is finally coming to a close! You know what that means, more time for blogging! Yippee!

I’ve missed blogging and tracking the progress of everything going on in my life. As I continue to make transformational changes emotionally and physically, moving forward, I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be…blessings are everywhere, in everyday moments and I am so undeniably thankful.

Yesterday was a huge milestone for me. It was my first colonoscopy, post-diagnosis. My official one year cancerversary isn’t until Dec. 20, 2014 but who’s counting right? (Ah yeah, that would be this girl over here!)

This week also happened to be finals week on campus, having time to worry about my upcoming procedure wasn’t really a thought. Between chauffeuring my son to basketball practice and martial arts training, working on final projects for school, and trying to plan out next semester’s course load; my mind was already running on overdrive. Then my son brought home a respiratory virus, that has since been passed along to my daughter. Add in the two of them taking turns with who can’t sleep through the night, well, you get the idea. It’s been a week of relatively organized chaos for sure!

It wasn’t until yesterday morning rolled around that I began thinking about the gravity of how this colonoscopy could potentially affect my life. If it went one way, I would be deemed “cancer free” and wouldn’t have to have another colonoscopy for another year, at least. But if there was something there; a polyp, another tumor, a growth, unhealthy tissue–I honestly couldn’t even fathom what that would mean.

Everything went as scheduled. I arrived a few minutes late for my 7:55 a.m. check in, got changed into a hospital gown and followed the medical assistant to my hospital bed. There I met with several lovely people who would be part of my procedure that morning; the anesthesiologist, the nurse who would be monitoring my vitals, another nurse who administered the IV into my port (“That is one prominent port you have there! That’s wonderful!” she said) and another woman who I believe was also part of the anesthesia team.

As I spoke with the nurses, we laughed and made jokes with one another using jargon that only cancer patients and their medical team understand. “Now do you typically use Emla?,” one of the nurses asked. I told her through chemotherapy I swore by it. (Emla is a numbing cream used by some patients to numb the site of their port prior about an hour or so prior to it being accessed. Otherwise you get a little bee-sting type feeling when the needle goes into your port. We discussed the type of chemotherapy I was given, “5FU, Leucovorin and Oxaliplatin?” “Yup, that’s the one! With a 48-hour take home pump.”

She went on to tell me that her husband had experienced his own cancer journey. One morning on their way to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, her hubby nearly had a meltdown at the thought of having forgotten to put Emla cream on his port. I can’t say I’d be in disagreement with him. Emla is the best thing since sliced bread! Especially since it makes being turned into a human pin-cushion far more bearable.

One of the nurses and one of the anesthesiologists whisked me away to the procedure room, gurney and all. They positioned me on my left side in the bed, as the Gastroenterologist (Dr. S, I’ll call her), came into the room.

If you haven’t read any of my previous posts about Dr. S, let me tell you, I absolutely LOVE this woman’s energy! From the moment I met with her, prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was sold. She has this way of talking to patients that puts you at ease. She’s always upbeat, full of good energy, and extremely down to earth.

The anesthesiologist counted some deep breaths with me, slowly, in and out. Before I knew it, I woke up in the recovery room. My vision was still hazy as I came to but I overheard Dr. S speaking to my mother. There was a smile in her voice as she said “Everything looks great! Nothing but good news to report, she did extremely well and everything is healthy and normal looking.”

My mom was overjoyed. I couldn’t see her yet but I could hear the happiness in her voice, I would have hugged her if I wasn’t so out of it.

Getting Back to ME

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Hello, hello world! It’s been quite some time since I last blogged. Okay, realistically, maybe only a month or so since my last post? Getting toward the end of the semester, which means lots of papers are due and final projects are in need of being worked on. Discovered a few music artists (SoMo, Hozier, Alesso) and began listening to country. Yes, I said it, I’m no longer a closet country fan…between Luke Bryan and Lee Brice, don’t know why it took me so long to catch on!

Anywho, this moment of reflection hit me the other night and felt like sharing 🙂

Last fall, my son played basketball through his school. It was absolutely exhausting for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but cancer had been growing within the cells of my body for who knows how long. I knew I was fatigued. But hello, I was (and still am) the single mom of two high-energy children,  a college student and a young woman with a very active social life. Who wouldn’t be tired?

I would bring my daughter’s stroller along, walking her up and down the hallways of the elementary school, while my son played ball in the gymnasium. Back and forth we’d go, until she fell asleep, usually not until practice was just about ending. It was tiresome gathering the energy to keep up with my children.

This past Tuesday was my son’s first basketball practice. It was more of an introductory session. Get the kiddos together, run some drills, arrange the teams. As usual, my daughter wasn’t remotely about to sit still while all this was going on. I made an executive decision to walk with her out in the hall while my son played in the gym.

“Mommy, let’s have a race! On your mark, get set…go!” She took off own that corridor so fast her curly, brown, ringlets couldn’t help but bounce from shoulder to shoulder. Her raspy giggle echoed through the hall as I ensued; not needing to catch my breath, not feeling that rhythmic pounding lump of anxiety because I couldn’t keep up. In fact, I was running circles around her! My three-year-old had to stop to catch her breath. A few more times, up the hall, back down, she was exhausted but I was ready to run a marathon! Okay, so maybe not a marathon. But I could have taken on at least another lap or two.

This was about the time I had an epiphany. My body is getting stronger everyday. I feel healthier and happier as more time passes. It’s been two months now since my final chemo treatment. In that moment, as all these thoughts passed through my mind, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. My health isn’t just returning to me, it’s being renewed. I feel healthier now, for the most part, than I have in over a decade. I have the energy to run circles around my children and it feels INCREDIBLE!

No more sitting on the couch for hours on end, barely able to move from utter exhaustion. No more staying inside during the winter, unable to play in the snow with my children. The harsh cold causing excruciating pain against my chemo infused skin. No more asking relatives to bring my children to basketball, martial arts, baseball or gymnastics. Because now I’m energized to a point that I can do it again on my own.

How empowering! I have my life back. My health is being regained little by little. Each day I become stronger, more motivated to thrive than ever before. Cancer taught me to be brave. But survivorship is teaching me the power of perseverance. Lack of good health gave me the emotional tools needed to evolve as a soul. Surviving gives me the opportunity to use those tools, to implement so much of what I learned into my life. There are no words for that kind of empowerment. But the two that come to mind are simply “thank you.”

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