Tag Archives: Strength

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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#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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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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‘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.

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 Challenge: Days 6 and 7

DAY 6: Time for Me!

My true “aha” moment for Saturday, rather my “ahhhh” moment, was at the end of the day. Saturday was another busy day. Is there ever really a day that isn’t busy when you’re raising two children?

It was the end of the night, probably around 9:30 p.m. or ten. Both Thing 1 and Thing 2 fell asleep entirely on their own after a day of hard play. My son had been a human ping-pong ball, bouncing back and forth between our house and the neighbor’s for most of the day. My daughter had been helping me sort through the endless pile of laundry, following me around as I did some light housework. I decided to take it easy after feeling pretty wiped out Friday night.

There’s this quiet moment, that as a mother, you learn to cherish–just as much as the noisy, rambunctious play of happy children. That was my gratitude moment. The house was completely quiet, not a peep, nor a snore or a creaky floor board. I was actually able to sit silently through an entire movie! An entire movie! The last time I was able to do that was months ago when I went out to the movies with one of my friends. To be able to pick a movie, one that doesn’t involve me having to say “cover your eyes,” “don’t watch this part,” “cover your ears” or “We can’t get this one, it’s not appropriate for you guys to watch.” HOLY HELL BATMAN! It was fantastic!

I love cuddling up to my munchkins and watching movies together as a family. But there’s something about that sacred time of silence and having time for yourself as a mom that is truly invaluable. You have to nourish yourself in healthy ways, otherwise you have nothing left to give your children. Between school, helping my son with his homework/school related assignments, my own homework, chemo, doctor’s appointments, family and everything else in between–it can be incredibly difficult for me to carve out time for myself. I get to go out and experience quite a bit but 99 percent of those times, my children are always in tow. It can be a real energy-drainer if I don’t take time to recharge my spirit.

Sunday morning the kids and I were able to sleep in for the first time all week. Heaven! It was sheer Nirvana. The only drawback to sleeping in is that I don’t always have the opportunity to meditate in the morning. Once my children are awake, they’re ready to take on the day…full throttle. But I knew I needed to start my day off right. Since both of my kiddos woke up in such a great mood, I figured I would seize the opportunity. I let my son know that I needed about 15 minutes of alone time to meditate. Being so used to my “not your typical mom” antics, he said “oh okay, let me know when you’re done.” My daughter is the tricky one. I never know if she’s going to be understanding or climb all over me like a human jungle gym.

“Mommy is going to meditate, so you need to be very very quiet. Okay?” She looked at me with those big brown eyes, long curly lashes and said “Okay Mommy” in her raspy little Michelle Tanner voice. Which brings me to my gratitude moment of Day 7.

DAY 7: Many Blessings

I lay in bed, settling into my zen place Sunday morning. I was about half way through my meditation, totally in my happy place. I could hear the pitter patter of tiny feet stomping heavily upon the floor as my daughter ran back and forth between my room and the living room. About halfway through my meditation, I felt the tiny tickle of a button-nose on my cheek. My eyes remained closed but I could feel my daughter begin to smile as I started laughing. The more I laughed, the more Eskimo kisses I was given. Then a big “Muah!” as she kissed my cheek, followed by more of her hearty giggles. I could hear her over the music playing in my earbuds, “This is so much fun Mommy!” Laughter truly is the best medicine!

She lay down next to me, took a few deep breaths, then dramatically threw herself on me. She wrapped her chunky little arms tightly around mine, squeezed me with a bear hug and smiled. “I love you so much Mommy.” My heart melted like plasticware stuck to the bottom of the dishwasher rack.

That was how my day began. There were so many beautiful instances of gratitude yesterday. The weather was perfect–clear blue sky, beams of warm sunlight shining down. A cool breeze blew through the patio wind chimes, making my heart smile. After using, and slightly altering, my older brother’s cinnamon pancake recipe–I disconnected my son from his X-Box console. He reluctantly got ready to go to the park with his sister and me. Once we got there though, he didn’t want to leave.

Another gratitude moment from Sunday, was having the strength and energy to run around the playground with my children. Some days, especially during the week of chemo, it can be really hard for me to keep up with the kids. All I want to do is sleep or lay on the couch for hours. But I don’t always have that option unless my folks are around to help out. Fatigued or not–I still have to cook dinner, do laundry, help with third grade homework assignments, buy groceries, have tea parties, play board games. If I don’t do most of these things, my kids are missing out. Just because I’m a cancer patient, doesn’t mean that my children should have to sacrifice their childhood. It’s bad enough that they’re going to have memories of me being in the hospital connected to IV lines, seeing me tired, dizzy, nauseas and grumpy. They should get to play, have fun, enjoy their childhood no matter what. You blink and then you’re grown, it’s time you can’t get back.

Hopefully they know how much I enjoy spending time with them. How loved they are. I always explain it to both of them. When I’m too tired to play a game or read a story before bedtime, “It’s not that I don’t want to do those things with you because I really do. It’s just that mom is too tired right now but we’ll (play that game, read that book, go to a particular place) as soon as I’m feeling rested again.”

My son has been incredibly understanding for an eight-year-old. My daughter has been as well, even though she’s three. The nights I’m too exhausted to read, my daughter will say “It’s okay Mommy, I’m going to read to you. Is that a good idea?” Both of my children are such old souls, though, beyond their years intellectually. My mom used to hear the same thing about me as a child, so it’s no wonder I guess.

My daughter interrupting my morning mediation was by far the best gratitude moment of my day, though there were several others. One of my aunts, who I haven’t seen in years, came to visit. My mother cooked up an amazing meal. Double gratitude there because we had ribs, mashed potatoes and Lebanese style green beans…and I didn’t have to cook any of it. My mother took care of everything, It was so nice being served for once. It’s tiring when you have to do the cooking, cleaning and dishes every time you cook. Which, for me, is three to four times a week.

It was a great weekend, spent laughing and reminiscing with family. This week, I’m supposed to finish up my twelfth and final chemo treatment on Wednesday. I still have sessions seven through eleven to blog about, luckily it’s all written down in my writer’s notebook. It’s been one mind-blowing, spirit-enlightening journey for certain! I’m eager to see what the week will bring 🙂