"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Avoiding Chemicals....what do I do??

I am still trying to make better choices with my health care products because so many of the chemicals used in soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, etc.... are not good for those of us with hormone positive breast cancer.  Several months ago I threw out everything in my bathroom - literally and bought all new safer products.  At the time it was extremely overwhelming and I tried to figure out what to buy but I am not sure I made the right choices.  Now I am revisiting that whole topic and trying to research what products are OK to use and what chemicals I need to avoid.

In my recent reading, I came across this article: http://cincovidas.com/toxic-truth/ingredients-to-avoid-in-personal-care-products/ and I instantly became overwhelmed.  The article has a lot of information in it, but it is pretty thorough and lists so many chemicals that should be avoided.   There were so many things beyond parabens and sulfates.  I really had no idea there were that many bad things in make up and body care products.  After I read the list, I went to the bathroom and got my body care products and make up and started to see how many of these bad chemicals are in what I thought were safer products.  Well after reviewing my make up alone I realized that I need to go shopping for new make up again!  Some of my items were O.K., but some of them contain chemicals listed in the article that should be avoided.  So I am headed to an organic make up shop next week to see what I can come up with.  I have a feeling this is going to get expensive!!  I am bringing a print out of the article with me so I can be sure I am avoiding all of those evil chemicals!  I was happy that the Tarte mascara I have been using does not contain the bad chemicals.  That was a bonus.  I don't go anywhere without mascara!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Normal "Hair" Day

I have to say how glad I am that I did the Penguin Cold Caps to preserve my hair during chemo.  It has been a long road for sure, but I am pleased to have enough hair to look normal to others.  There is something to be said for not walking in a room and feeling like everyone knows you had cancer.  Just like my blog says, "Breast Cancer Won't Define Me", and for me it's true!  Having hair just makes it easier at times. 

Last night I got a call to substitute an aerobics class this morning.  This would be the first class I have taught since we moved out of state.  I have been dying to teach so I was ready to do it this morning.  I went in there and taught that class just like I always have.  I was a little weak on the upper body given my surgeries, but overall it was a good class.  The people were nice and appreciative to have a good class since their regular instructor could not make it today. 

After I left, I started thinking what it would have felt like to teach that class if I had not used cold caps.  At this point, my new hair growing in is about 1-1 1/2 inches long. If I had not used cold caps, it would still be pretty obvious that I had lost my hair.  It felt so good to walk in there just like everyone else and feel "normal".  I know the alternative would have been a room full of people staring and wondering for the entire class about what type of cancer I had.  It's like walking in and saying "Hi, my name is Maria and I had breast cancer.  So, let's get started with class!". 

For me, using cold caps was a blessing.  It is allowing me to move on step by step beyond breast cancer.  When I go out or meet new people, no one knows my personal business.  It allows me to share my situation with those that I choose to tell.   It felt so good to get back to a "normal" activity and a normal day.

After that, my day got even more "normal" as I had to go to the Secretary of State and get a new drivers license.  Well that is always a treat, but this time I was super happy to see the photo on my new license.  It was me, with hair.  Since I have to keep that photo for the next four years, it was nice to look like the pre breast cancer me again.  I was so happy, I didn't even mind waiting in line!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Deals In My Head

Some of the things that people don't know about going through breast cancer is all the crap that is swirling around in the head of a breast cancer patient.  I keep finding myself making deals with myself in my head.  What I mean is while I am working out and suffering on the treadmill I keep saying "this is nothing compared to cancer...do this and you will live."  I also keep picturing my son in my head when I want to quit a torture workout and say "finish this and you will be here for him."  I know it sounds odd, but I keep making deals in my head.  If the deals actually were true, I would be fine but since they are not, I find this emotionally exhausting.  No matter what I do or what deal I make with myself, I will never know what the future holds for me with breast cancer. 

I am not "cured" like everyone else thinks.  Even being only stage 1, not one doctor used the word "curable" with me.  There is no cure for breast cancer.  People think that because you have surgery and do chemo that the cancer is gone and you are healed.  If it could only be that simple, my life would be so much easier!

After completing surgeries and treatment, yes, the cancer can be gone.  But that does not mean it will stay that way forever.  My odds are good with less than a 10% chance of recurrence in the next 10 years, but it's hard to get the 10% part of it coming back out of my head.  One in eight women gets breast cancer so we can see exactly why I don't believe in odds anymore.  That sounds pretty good unless you are the one in eight like me.

I hope at some point I can live my day and do the simplest of things (like working out) without spending that time making deals with myself over breast cancer.  Take it from me, we breast cancer patients may look OK on the outside, but the wicked, twisted side of breast cancer lurks in our minds and these are the things we are too afraid to say out loud, let alone to explain to someone we love.  We keep this inside, in our heads and endure it daily.  Sometimes we endure it hourly or moment by moment.  I hope at some point to endure it far less often and eradicate the evil mind game of breast cancer. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Birthdays have a whole new meaning

Today is my birthday...yes, I turned 46 (ouch!)!  I am officially closer to 50 than 40 now and that freaks me out.  I don't feel 46.  I think I am only 35 really. 

Earlier this week my husband asked me "what do you want to do on your birthday?".  I said "nothing...I don't want to be a year older."  Today though, I marveled at being a year older.  Having a birthday is a gift after breast cancer.  Each birthday I have will mark another year of being cancer free, alive and well.  There is something to be said for that given what the last 9 months have been like for me. 

So today, I actually woke up and felt GOOD about my birthday.  I am glad to be a year older. What a blessing.  After working out and having a nice big brownie after lunch I showered and decided it was time I looked like the "old me" again.  For the first time since February I used a blow dryer and styled my hair with the flat iron like I use to before breast cancer (with the Cold Cap protocol, you can't use hair dryers or flat irons).  It felt so good to actually style my hair!  I use to hate blow drying my long hair because it took so long, but today I enjoyed it!  I actually look like myself again which was THE BEST birthday present I could have.  Today I am counting my years and my blessings.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Moments of a normal life

Since moving out of state last month I have been so busy trying to get settled I have not had much time to write.  My days are filled with "normal" annoying activities like getting a new driver's licence, changing our address on everything, finding new doctors and looking for a house.  My day was topped off by going to the social security office to get a new social security card (somehow it was lost in the move) and waiting for an eternity.  Boy, does this feel like a normal life or what?

One thing that has been hard for me since the move is having social interaction.  My husband goes to work and my son goes to school so they have people to interact with all day.  I wish I had that at this point!  I get up and go to the gym after getting my son on the bus.  I run errands, come home and have lunch.  My entire day is spent alone with no one to talk to.  My friends and family all work so they don't have time to chat during the day.  This is driving me nuts!  It is so isolating.  At this point I have spent so much time alone since getting diagnosed I just can't take it anymore!

The good news is that a dear friend of mine was in town today.  We talk often but have not seen each other in a few years.  We went to dinner tonight and boy was it fun!  I had forgotten how nice it is to go out with a girlfriend, have a glass of wine with dinner and just talk and laugh.  It was so much fun and so needed!  It actually made me feel "normal" again.

Slowly by slowly there are more "normal" feeling moments in my life.  The more normal my life gets, the less I think about breast cancer.  I guess for now I will try to enjoy the many normal things each day brings...even waiting in line at the Secretary of State getting a new driver's licence (ha ha!).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Giving Birth To A New Life

This week it will be 9 months since I was diagnosed.  In some ways, time has gone so slow, but in other ways it has gone by so fast.  I sit hear thinking about something I said to a friend a long time ago.  I mentioned that going through this is kind of like being pregnant.  You make many sacrifices and go through changes but at the end of the 9 months there is something to look forward to.  Obviously with being pregnant, it would be a beautiful baby.  With breast cancer it is being done with treatment and a "birth" of a new life - your life but cancer free.

I can't believe it has actually been 9 months.  I feel like the 9 months of breast cancer seemed far longer than the 9 months of being pregnant, but then again I was actually one of those women that felt good being pregnant and liked it.  I certainly did not "like" the breast cancer "pregnancy".   Blech!  Instead of a "glow" and long flowing hair like a real pregnancy, I had a pale, sick look with thinning hair.  Oh and with pregnancy there is weight gain while with breast cancer there is weight loss.  I guess in both cases, my boobs got bigger (which is a benefit!). 

Out of my breast cancer, a new life was born.   Now I move forward trying to understand this new life, the life of a woman that HAD breast cancer.  For now it is gone from my body, but how do I make it disappear from my mind?  That is the daily struggle at this point.  It's a whole new journey.  I know it is a process and as I have learned in the last 9 months, time changes things.  I hope with the next 9 months it brings me less focused on breast cancer and more focused on the wonderful life I DO have. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My journey through chemo with hair

My worst fear when I got diagnosed with breast cancer was losing my long hair.  I know that seems odd, but for some reason it was important to me not to lose my hair.  I think it was because I knew that if I was bald people would immediately know I had cancer.  I just couldn't face broadcasting my health condition to the world and especially my four year old son.  I kept hoping and hoping that I wouldn't have to get chemo and it would not matter, but the more I read about my situation and talked to the doctors I thought "how can I NOT do chemo". 

I then did research and came across a thread on the http://www.breastcancer.org/ website about using Penguin Cold Caps to keep your hair during chemo.  I started reading as much as I could about the cold caps and talked to my medical oncologist.  She supported my use of them but warned me that there was only a 50% success rate.  I had talked to the Penguin Cold Cap representative and knew that was misinformation and was not accurate.  In fact, the cold caps have a very good success rate especially with the chemo I was on (taxotere and cytoxan).  I decided to do the Penguin Cold Caps. 

I have talked about this for months on my blog, but now I wanted to share my journey with my hair.  I hope this helps other women out there facing chemo.  I hope people realize they have a choice in keeping their hair....I am proof.  See for yourself that it worked for me.

Here are some photos of me before chemo.  My hair is long, colored and about medium thickness. 

August 2010 - 4 months before diagnosis
October 2010 - 2 months before diagnosis

October 2010 - 2 months before diagnosis

March 2011 - right before starting chemo

46 days after first chemo
(air dried, frizzy hair - no blow drying allowed)

April 23rd 2011 (a week after 3rd chemo)
April 24th 2011 - 1 week after 3rd chemo

April 24th - 1 week after 3rd chemo

Weekend after finishing last chemo
(I have one small set of hair extensions in today)

August 2011 - 3 months after completing chemo
(hair is air dried and a bit frizzy...still not able to use blow dryer)

Is my hair the same as before chemo?  No.  It is definitely much thinner.  It does not help that I can't style it much.  I have gotten use to air drying my hair which now happens faster since it is thinner (I am looking for the positives in this).  I am still only washing my hair twice a week but it has adjusted and quite honestly doesn't even get greasy anymore.  I guess it somehow got use to not getting washed and adjusted which is a bonus!  My hair still sheds more than it did before chemo but I still have a full head of hair.  Now I tend to wear one small set of hair extensions that easily clip in/out and with those in, it pretty much looks like my pre-chemo hair.  Today I actually used a cooler flat iron on the length of my hair and styled it slightly like I use to wear it (straight) and I could not believe it - I looked like the old me!  It is the first time in months that I looked like myself.  It made me feel really good. 

I hope that if you are considering using Penguin Cold Caps you can get an idea of what the results may be.  I am glad I did it.  I feel good having my hair and feel like it is easier for me to move on with my life.  I am sick of the shedding but when I go out, no one knows I had cancer.  There are people that have not gone through chemo that have less hair than I do.  I am thankful for Penguin Cold Caps!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Here I am!

It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable to reveal myself on my blog.  For a long time I felt ashamed of my cancer.  I guess in time you get use to it (it's not like I really had a choice.....it will always be a part of my life in some way).   Now I am to the point where I don't care if people know about my cancer, so here I am!

My name is Maria and this is my husband Joe and my son Jayden.  These photos were taken two months before my diagnosis on a wonderful family vacation to Disney and the Bahamas.

This photo was taken two days before my diagnosis as we searched for the perfect Christmas tree.  It's hard to look at these photos because back then I had no idea in two days my life would forever change.  These photos represent the care-free life I will no longer know.  I mourn having a care free feeling every morning when I wake up. 

Here I am now.  These photos were taken a few weeks ago on my celebratory trip with family and friends down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  This trip was meaningful because so many good friends and my sister were there to celebrate me completing treatment and being cancer free. 

I guess when I look at the photos, I see the same person, but so many things have changed both physically and emotionally.  In some ways I wish I could go back to my pre-cancer life, but there are some things that are better since getting breast cancer.  I guess I am going to try to focus on the blessings that have come out of this journey.  The good things are having the chance to find out how much my friends and family really care about me and what I mean to them.  Having cancer brought about many wonderful discussions with people in my life where they expressed things they may have never said to me if I had not gotten sick.  I have also come to appreciate saying good bye to corporate America and spending more time being a mom and wife.  I am adjusting to staying home, but it is so nice to be with my son so much more now that I don't have a demanding fulltime job.  I have made so many wonderful, new friends in my breast cancer journey.  I have a group of gals I chat with online everyday.  We are "Bosom Buddies" because we have all gone through breast cancer together.  Though we have never met, we are forever joined together in a special way.  I could not have gone through this journey without my "Bosom Buddies".  The last thing I have come to appreciate is that breast cancer brought my husband, son and I closer.  Now that we have moved away from family and friends, it is just the three of us.  We are spending much more time together alone which has been amazing.  I hope in time I will continue to find more blessings in this horrible disease.  I am trying to focus on the positives as much as I can despite cancer being such a negative thing.

So for those of you that have been reading my blog and wondering who I was, now you know.  You can put a face with the story you have read and see that life does go on after getting diagnosed with breast cancer.