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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Better Christmas

The holidays this year have brought me so many mixed emotions.  At times I flash back to last year....living in silence through all the holidays with my breast cancer secret.  It was agonizing.  I don't know how I got through each day.  I was filled with fear, anxiety, bad thoughts and more.  I carried the burden of not telling my family and friends until after the holidays that I had breast cancer.  I had such anxiety over how I would tell people, what I would say and how they would take my news.  I just wanted to scream "I have cancer" to get it over with, but I just couldn't. 

Now I sit back and think about last year at this time and what a different place I am in now.  I am grateful for that.  Life is better....a lot better.  I feel like I am actually getting my life back.  I feel good and have energy.  I am happy.  I never thought I would get here.  I guess I can officially say "breast cancer won't define me" and believe it.  It has taken such a long time to get to this place in my mind and life.  It is well deserved. 

This year I had a better Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Am Anatomically Correct Now

It has been ten days since my surgery and I have been dying to see what things look like under those bandages.  I finally had my post operative doctor appointment yesterday.  It was time to be "unveiled".

So once the bandages came off, I got to see myself "anatomically correct" again.  It has been almost a year since I had nipples and areolas.  I was pleasantly surprised at the results.  Surgeons are really amazing!

The areolas and nipples are healing pretty well.  The nipples are a bit bigger than I want them, but they make them bigger because they expect them to shrink and flatten in time.  Overall, things look pretty good.  I am excited!

Today was the first day I got to shower without the bandages on.  It was really strange looking down and seeing my new nipples and areolas.  I actually felt "normal" again not having "Barbie boobs" (no nipples/areolas).  I just could not stop looking at them.  I guess I didn't realize how much I missed having them until today.  It is good to finally look anatomically correct again.  Though I was sick of surgeries and really wasn't looking forward to this surgery, I am SO GLAD I did it.  I am pretty happy with the results and feel good about myself.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Minutes of Normalcy...Then Back To Reality

This weekend my family and I set out to have some fun.  We went and visited Santa, saw a holiday movie and then headed to downtown Chicago to enjoy the Christmas lights.  We took a horse and buggy ride and went shopping and had a great time.  We then went out for a nice dinner.   For most of the day, I felt "normal" again.  I was not thinking about breast cancer.  I felt like I was living life again.

At dinner though, I got thrown back into reality.  We were sitting there, having a wonderful dinner and then it changed.  My five year old son looked at me and said, "Mommy, I am going to come over and give you a hug".  He got up and came to my chair and just put his arms around me and squeezed me tight.  I asked "why do you want to give me a hug right now?".  He said "because I love you so much".  It hit me then exactly how much he loves me.  I started tearing up and starting having panicked thoughts of not being here for him.  I could feel how much he loves me and needs me.  Breast cancer is so damn unfair.  It just plain sucks.  Back to my reality of never having a care free life again. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Slamming The Door on Breast Cancer

I had what I hope will be my final surgery on Friday.  I was pleasantly surprised at how calm I was.  I did not really get nervous even when they rolled me into the operating room.  I guess I am a real pro at this now after all the procedures and things that have happened in the last year.  I guess surgery is just not a big deal anymore.  Gotta love the breast cancer side effects.

At this point, now what I am done with surgery and it has been a whole year since my diagnosis (it was confirmed 1 year ago today), I am ready to slam the door on breast cancer and move on with my life.  I am tired of living in a breast cancer world.  At this point I want a "normal" life again.  I want to live in the moment and experience joy and happiness, not live in fear of breast cancer.  So in honor of it being one year since my diagnosis I am slamming the door as hard as I can and walking away with a smile on my face.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How Much Difference One Year Makes

Tomorrow it will be one year exactly since they told me they thought I had breast cancer and did five biopsies.  So much has happened since then.  In some ways I can't believe it has already been a year, but in other ways I feel like it was a long year.  Either way, I am still dealing with the major changes in my life since that dreaded day.

In two days I will have what should be my final reconstruction surgery.  I remember after I found out I had breast cancer and met with doctors I told myself "this crap is going to take one year" to get through.  On my surgery day, it will be exactly 366 days.  Crazy.

At this point I am so sick of surgeries, doctors and even needles!  I am not as nervous as I was for prior surgeries but I guess that is because by now I am a "pro" at this crap.  I can also see how some women get to this point and they just say "screw it" and don't do further reconstruction.  I could easily do that at this point, but I told myself it would be one year so I am just going to do it.  I am not looking forward to it at all....I just want it over with!

So last year for Christmas I got breast cancer,  This year I am getting nipples and areolas.  That is something I never thought I would get for Christmas!  I sure hope they are pretty!  LOL!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The "New" Me

I never thought I would be nervous about going to the hair salon, but I was.  So much so that I put off going to get a cut and style for months.  Had we not moved out of state and away from the hair stylist I had gone to for years, I don't think I would have put this off.  Now that we moved and I had to find a hair stylist that I did not know and go in and explain my hair situation in the middle of a salon with other people there made me so nervous and uncomfortable I just didn't do it. 

I finally just got so sick of my hair.  I have not had a professional hair cut since before I started chemo.  So the last hair cut I had was in February!  Since I used the Penguin Cold Caps to save my hair through chemo, my hair did continue to grow through chemo.  When I got done with chemo I had my sister cut a few inches off once and I had my husband cut some off the bottom another time.  At this point I have been in desperate need of a hair cut and new hair style! 

I found an organic salon in my area and called.  They were so nice on the phone when I explained my situation.  They scheduled an appointment for me with the owner of the salon.  When I arrived the salon was pretty empty as it was the middle of the day which immediately put me at ease knowing I would not have to talk to her about all of my hair issues from chemo with other people in the salon.  It worked out great!

The hair stylist was so patient and kind.  She made me feel so comfortable.  I hated to cut my long hair but she looked it over and thought that if I cut it to the shoulders it would look a lot thicker.  She brought over hair style books and showed me all kinds of options.  She also had a plan to blend in the new hair growing in around my hairline, temples, side burns and nape of my neck (where the cold caps didn't cover so well).  I put my faith in her and let her do what she does best.

So I left the salon feeling like a million bucks!  I felt like I actually looked good too!  My hair is much shorter than I have had in years, but it is a cute, trendy, easy to manage hair style and the best part is, it does not look thin at all!  I am no longer needing to wear hair extensions and I no longer feel self conscious about my hair.  I feel like a new woman! It is just what I needed!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Surgery Is Looming...again

I keep trying to put it out of my mind, but I have one more surgery scheduled for December 9th.  At this point I just want to be done with this crap!  It is physically and emotionally draining to keep having treatments and procedures.  Ugh!

This surgery will be for areola grafts and nipples.  Yes, I am getting nipples for Christmas this year.  I guess that is better than last year's gift of breast cancer if I think about it....

I can see why people get to this point and don't have more surgeries.  I am dreading another surgery and more recovery.  This is such a long process.  In this surgery, I will have a nipple made from the skin on my breast.  Then the surgeon will take skin from my lower stomach (my c-section scar) and create areolas and graft them on my breasts.  I guess the bonus is a mini tummy tuck (after an almost 10 lb baby I am not complaining about that!!!  My tummy was never the same after my son was born!).  From the photos I have seen from this type of reconstruction surgery, the results are the most realistic looking.  Regardless, I just want to be done with this whole thing so I can move on and live my life.

Last year when I was diagnosed, I quickly realized it would take about one year to get through all of this.  It seemed so long and overwhelming at the time.  At this point it's just kind of emotionally draining.  I keep telling myself that in two weeks it will be 1 year since my diagnosis so just do the surgery.  I knew it would take a year and the year is almost over.  I can start to see light at the end of the tunnel. 

For now, I will put the surgery out of my mind.  I will have the Scarlett O'Hara point of view and say "I will just think about that tomorrow". 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Need A Makeover

It has been almost 7 months since I finished chemo.  Life has been crazy with moving out of state and all but it has been WAY too long since I did something with myself!  Ugh!  I have never let myself go so bad.  Gotta love just one more side effect of breast cancer!

Before breast cancer, I had my hair cut every eight weeks - like clockwork.  I use to schedule my appointments eight weeks in advance.  I use to get my hair colored every few weeks.  There was never even a gray root visible to most.  Now it's a struggle to just wash my hair and put make up on!  I really need a makeover or something!

I have never considered myself a vain person or always primping but BC has allowed me to let myself go.  NO MORE!  I am going to schedule an appointment to get my make up done.  I need someone to help me camouflage these dark circles under my eyes for sure.  I look so pale with winter coming.  I hope this make up artist can perform miracles!

I also need to get something done with this hair.  I used cold caps to keep my hair through chemo but it is much thinner and frizzier than my pre-chemo hair.  I am kind of hating it and ready for a new look.  I was referred to a hair stylist that uses all organic products so I am going to call and get something done with this hair for sure! 

I am ready for a new look and a new me...cancer free!  I am gonna go for it!  No more post chemo excuses for me.  I need to put myself together again and soon!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

I Get By With A Little Help From My Pills

I have never been the type of person that liked taking pills or vitamins all that much.  When I use to get headaches, I would just try to wait it out and only take aspirin if it was really bad.  I just really didn't like to take anything.  Funny how things change after a breast cancer diagnosis!  These days I feel like a little old lady with my daily pillbox all ready to go!  This is a far cry from my pre breast cancer life for sure!

Since my diagnosis my perspective on pills and medication has changed significantly, but then again many things in my life have changed significantly.  In recent months I have said and done many things I would have never done before I was diagnosed.  I never would have thought that I would discuss my breasts with women I met over the Internet, let alone show them my breasts (gasp!) when we met in person.  I never thought I would blog about one of the most personal struggles of my life either, but here I am.  At this point, taking pills is no big deal to me anymore.  I guess I am glad to have medications to help me with treatment for breast cancer and other pills to help me deal with it.

Once I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my sleep went out the window.  It seems like being alone in the dark at night with my own thoughts is more than I can stand.  I guess I also realized that being a complete Type A personality is really hard when you have breast cancer.  I am the kind of person that over analyzes every situation from ever possible angle.  Do you have any idea what that is like day after day and night after night?  It's emotionally exhausting and the lack of sleep makes it physically exhausting.  I have discovered that I just can't stand that about myself anymore.  I just want some peace.  I want my brain to chill for a while so I can relax and enjoy my life. 

The breast cancer diagnosis plays games with your head.  No matter how much you try not to think about it, it is always there.  It lurks in the corner of your mind day after day and night after night.  It plants a seed of fear and anxiety that can grow like a wild weed if you don't do something with it.  I feel like over time the weed of fear and anxiety has grown slow, but it is still there.  Now that I am done with treatment I have more time to worry about it too.  I have to do something to make this easier. 

Many months ago, after weeks and weeks of little sleep, I finally caved and asked my medical oncologist for something to help me sleep.  I started taking Ambien.  When that didn't work, I started trying Xanax at night before bed.  That seemed to help me calm down and relax a bit so I could fall asleep.  I do sleep on Xanax but not near enough.   After ten months with little sleep, I finally talked to my new internist about other pharmaceutical options.  I guess I just can't do this on my own, so I started taking Lexapro.  I have only been on it for a few days so far so I don't know what to think quite yet.  I have noticed that I am having less hot flashes (bonus!) which many women that take these medications also experience.  I hope that continues!  I usually have several hot flashes every day and in the middle of the night from the tamoxifen I take. 

At this point, I guess I am getting by with a little help from my pills and I am O.K. with that.  Breast cancer is hard.  It is like nothing else I have had to conquer in my life.  So many things about it have taken me outside my comfort zone so what's one more thing?  I just want to do all I can to live a great, happy life cancer free and if pills help me do that, so be it.  So for now, I am getting by with a little help from my pills.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Today I Ran for Peggy

Today is the 3 year anniversary of the passing of my best friend's mom from lung cancer.  I have been thinking about Peggy and my best friend all morning.  I just can't get them out of my head.  I think about Peggy's laugh and zest for life and picture her at happy hour with us over drinks.  She was always upbeat, positive and young spirited.  She was a beautiful woman who loved to garden and listen to music.  She passed way too early and my best friend has been robbed of having her mom be here to see her kids grow up.  My heart aches for my best friend as she is still coping with this great loss.

Today I started my day with my workout.  I have been running in recent weeks but the most I have done is 5 1/4 miles.  Today I ran for Peggy.  I pushed myself to run a full 6 miles in her honor today.  I thought about all she went through in the last months of her life and realized my run was NOTHING compared to that.  I though about her smile and laugh.  I thought about the amazing relationship she had with my best friend.  I remembered when she met my son, held him, played with him and laughed.  I thought about how sad my best friend has been at losing her. 

Six miles was nothing but today thoughts of Peggy gave me hope, strength and peace.  Today I ran for Peggy.  May God please find a cure for all types of cancer one day so no child has to lose their mom to cancer. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Does Cancer Do To Someone?

I don't know why but I am in a little bit of a funk the last day or two.  It has been ten months since my diagnosis and life feels like in some ways it is finally moving on and getting more normal.  I know it can never be the life I had before, but I keep hoping it will be OK again. 

Today I was thinking about what I have to "get over" or "get through" for life to be completely normal again and quite honestly it made me stop and think about what breast cancer has done to me.  We all know the obvious things - surgeries, mastectomies, chemo and side effects, but what no one realizes are the many other things that go with it.

When you get diagnosed, you put on your "big girl panties" and just get prepared for what lies ahead.  You try to prepare for losing your breasts and getting new fake ones.  You try to prepare yourself for chemo and feeling like crap.  You try to prepare yourself for losing your hair or fighting to keep it through chemo.  You then slowly push through all of these things at a physical expense and an emotional one as well.  These are the things people around you know and see you go through.  What others don't see is the battle that lies within.

The battle within starts with the worst possible thoughts and fears of your diagnosis and what could really happen.  Ultimately the words "there is no cure" ring in your head.  Those words rip deep into your soul and rob you.  Those words steal your faith in things, peace of mind, many of your dreams and most of all your ability to lead another care-free day.  It's something only the actual patient can experience.  No one else can truly understand it unless the words have been said to them.

What others don't realize is that long after surgeries and chemo are over and hair is back to normal, the internal battle still goes on within for those diagnosed.  We may look normal on the outside and like our pre-cancer self again, but we are not done fighting.  It's a struggle everyday to deal with the cancer thoughts that dance in our heads.  A cancer diagnosis cuts you to the core and there are so many wounds inside that others will never see or understand.  That makes this a very lonely, lonely battle. 

I realized that others see me as "normal" again the other night when I was talking to my husband.  I was telling him that I was so sick of being tired and not sleeping well.  I have such a hard time getting to sleep even with xanax some nights.  My husband turned and looked at me and asked "what does keep you up at night?"  That is when it hit me....he really doesn't get it.  He has NO idea how much I am dealing with the internal battle in my mind.  That was a blow.  It just reinforced that no one else gets it no matter how close they are to me or how hard they try to understand. 

I love my husband and I am not mad.  I just wish people in my life had just a little more of a true picture of what my life is really like.  I know it's not their fault and if I had not been through this I wouldn't get it either.  I just know that my battle to fight cancer is still going on in my head.  I don't know how, when or if it will ever stop, but I am trying hard to cope and move on to a more care free life.  I don't want to live in this battle, I want to live in the real moments in my life.  That is what I am going to try to fight for every day. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Running Five Miles is NOTHING.....

Recently I started adding running into my regular workouts.  The first day I ran on the treadmill about a month ago it was torture!  Just trying to complete two miles was really a challenge even though I exercise daily.  I got the cramp in my side and thought my legs were going to give out.  The first few times I ran it just seemed like I would never get through it.  As I thought how hard it was to run, it made me think of how I thought I would never get through breast cancer and all the crap that goes with it. 

I use to think five miles was long, hard or maybe even impossible.  Now I realize it is NOTHING compared to what I have been through.  The other day I began my ran and just set out to do at least three miles.  I wasn't particularly excited about it, but I know that running is good for me.  As I got going I remembered why I use to run so much years ago.  There is some type of adrenalin rush that occurs after three miles and you no longer feel your legs or feel tired.  You feel full of energy and full of life.  It is powerful surge from deep inside that just carries you through.  There is something inside that tells you  - you can do more, so you do just that.  Before I knew it I had run 5 1/4 miles and felt great.  I really didn't know I had it in me to do this!

As I think about a five mile run or the long road in the last 10 months since my diagnosis, I realize that nothing is impossible.  I never thought I could run 5 miles again, let alone after breast cancer, but I did.  I never really knew how I would get through the surgeries, chemo and emotional strain of breast cancer, but I did.  Here I sit, full of energy and life, feeling good about what I have accomplished.  I look back on the whole breast cancer experience and am eager to put it behind me and move on with my new cancer free life.  I have a renewed hope that life will be good and I can do anything I set my mind to.  Life is good!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paying it Forward

I knew that when I got diagnosed that at some point I would want to do something to help others going through the whole breast cancer journey.   I guess it's the educator in me.  I just can't help myself!

Today I took the first step to doing just that.  I visited a local cancer wellness center and spoke to the wellness director about getting involved.  I am hopeful that I can can teach some fitness classes or give some presentations about nutrition to help educate others going through cancer treatment or after.   I have learned so much in this journey and I hope that in some small way I can pay it forward and offer support or help to someone else going through this too.  

While I am excited to get involved,  I also know that as I continue to move forward beyond cancer in my life I don't want to dwell on it.  At some point I can't eat, drink and live breast cancer anymore. I know there will be a fine line between helping others and living too much in the cancer world.  I hope I can find a way to support and help others while still moving on with my new cancer free life. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Meeting my Bosom Buddies

Breast cancer has certainly brought a lot of things to my life I never expected.  Of course, most of them are negative things.....lumpectomy, bilateral mastectomy and chemo to name a few.  It has been a long ten months but during that time I have also experienced some things I never expected that were positive.  One of the best experiences I have had was making friends with other women diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time I was.  Over the last ten months I have forged a close relationship over the Internet with some truly wonderful women that have forever touched my life.  I never expected this.

Back in February after my surgery I posted on a breast cancer chat board looking to chat with other women recovering from surgery that were into exercise and doing physical therapy after surgery.  Several women joined in on my chat, but a few months into it, most ladies didn't return.  By that time it was just down to seven of us that posted regularly.  We all encouraged each other to do our daily exercises and eat healthy.  There was so much enthusiasm and support.  It was great!

Over the course of the last several months, we have learned so much about each other.  We moved our chat group to a private facebook group  (named appropriately "Bosom Buddies") and exchanged cell phone numbers.  Many of us have talked on the phone too.  We all live in different states so getting together is difficult so the computer and cell phones are the easiest way for us to communicate with each other.

Last week two of my Bosom Buddies were here in Chicago and I got to meet them!  I have been looking forward to this for months!  It was amazing to meet these wonderful women.  I never thought posting a message on a breast cancer chat board would result in something so incredible!

What's strange is we got to know each other backwards (one of my Bosom Buddies said this at lunch last week).  They knew all my deepest darkest secrets and fears of breast cancer right up front before they even knew my real name.  As time went on we shared more about our recovery, post surgery physical therapy, pain and emotional issues related to breast cancer.  Then we started to talk about our families, share our real names and even connect on Facebook and see what everyone looked like.  Our friendships continued to grow and get deeper.  Now, ten months after my diagnosis I can't start my day without checking in online with my Bosom Buddies.  We chat and post updates through out the day and share so many things.  Now our friendship is so much more than just breast cancer chat. 

As I think about all the bad things I have had to endure through the last ten months, it is nice to think about the positive things that came out of all of this.  My Bosom Buddies are definitely at the top of that list!  I don't know what I would have done without these amazing women to listen to my fears, offer advice, make me laugh and give me recipes for healthy dinners.  I am so truly blessed to be friends with such wonderful women.

Meeting two of my Bosom Buddies was the best thing that has happened to me in such a long time.  I was wondering if it would be strange since we had never met before, but it was completely natural.  Once we met it was like old friends getting together for lunch.  I spent last Friday with one friend and then on Saturday all three of us went to lunch.  It was so much fun!  We really had an amazing time and saying good bye after lunch was hard for all of us. 

When I think about what these friendships mean to me, it gets me emotional.  I always refer to them as "my girls" when my husband asks who I am texting or chatting with online.  They are "my girls".  The bond we share is something different because most of my good friends don't "get it".  They try to say the right things about breast cancer and they mean well, but they really don't understand.  I find myself refraining from saying some things to those friends because it just makes me feel alone.  These wonderful women have filled a void in my life that no one else could fill.  For that I am forever grateful and truly blessed.  I don't know what I would do without "my girls". 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Taking A Shower For Granted

I never thought I would take something as simple as a shower for granted.  That probably sounds odd to those of you reading this, but not to me.  When I decided to do Penguin Cold Caps to preserve my hair during chemo I had to accept all that came with it.  Part of the protocol to save your hair involves washing your hair in cold water.  Yes, I said cold water!  You want to avoid anything that can cause the hair to fall out and so it is recommended that you don't wash your hair in hot water like you normally would in the shower.

I can remember the first time I had to wash my hair in cold water.  It was eye opening!  I have been washing my hair in cold water in the sink or over the tub since February.  The funny thing is I have gotten use to it and really didn't even notice it so much anymore.  I guess after doing for so long like that you just get use to it.

Last week I was in a hurry and just didn't have time to wash my hair in the sink and then take a shower.  They say by about 6 months after chemo you can return to your normal hair care routine.  It was almost 6 months for me so I just hopped in the shower and went with it.  Boy did that feel nice to just take a hot shower and let the water flow over my head!  I guess I never realized how much I took something as simple as taking a shower for granted.  You never think about little things like that.  You just get up and take a shower to start your day.  It's nothing special.  But when you have been dumping buckets of cold water over your head for over eight months, a nice, quiet, hot shower to wash your hair seems like a luxury.  It feels nice to returning to more normal daily things.  I even use the hair dryer again!  I use to hate that it took such a long time to blow dry my long hair.  Now I can't wait for the day that my hair is thick enough for it to take a long time to blow dry my hair!  Now because my hair is thinner it doesn't take that long, but I am happy I have hair to blow dry so I will smile about that!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Other Side Of The Mountain

I can't believe this week it will be ten months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In some ways it seems like so much time has gone by but in other ways it seems like yesterday that my world crashed.  Either way, I know I have come such a long way since that day the doctor said "it no longer looks consistent with something benign." 

When I think about the last ten months, I think about the road ahead of me now and the road that was ahead of me back then.  The road then was full of surgeries and treatments with unknown results and side effects.  It was full of so much uncertainty and fear.  It made me face my worst fears head on.  It tested my strength, my courage, my faith and my emotional abilities.  I just remember I kept saying that I wanted to climb this big mountain in front of me and get to the other side and find some beauty in something from there.  I know now I am on the other side of the mountain and heading down.  I can't believe I actually made it to the other side.

The other side of the mountain is better for sure.  I am glad to have almost all of my surgeries completed (I have one more surgery in early December).  It was my goal to complete this stuff by year's end.  I thought I would never get through chemo and actually it kind of went by pretty fast.  I thought I would never stop shedding hair and worried that the Cold Caps wouldn't work, but they did work and I stopped shedding - and still have my hair.  I remember the burning in my legs and body from chemo fatigue and thought I would never have my strong body back, but it's back stronger than ever.

When I look back and try to see the beauty in the mountain in some way, I find some things that are better in my life now.  Giving up a high stress job that was not my passion has made me more at peace and removed so much tension from my life.  This has not only made me happier, but made my family happier.  Moving out of state was hard, but now that it is just the three of us, we are closer as a family and do more together - just the three of us.  That is a good thing!  I have also gotten closer to other people in my life and always tell them how much I love them.  That is something most people don't ever do.  It feels great to tell someone you love them and to know they know how you feel.  I have also met some amazing women that also have breast cancer.  These new friends have helped enrich my life when it was at it's worst and have made me smile, laugh and be stronger than I ever thought I could be.  I see these things as being the beautiful view from the other side of the mountain.  The other side of the mountain is definitely better!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I knew it was coming...October, which is breast cancer awareness month.  It all started a few weeks ago when I was shopping innocently at Kohl's.  I wandered into the kitchen department - I am a sucker for cooking supplies.  I can't help it...I am Italian and love to cook!  I walked to the end of the aisle, and there it was, the first pink display I saw.

The display was for baking supplies.  There were pink plastic bowls, pink whisks, pink spatula as and more.  The whole area was full of pink kitchen stuff.  I immediately wanted to run in the other direction as at that very moment I was not thinking about my breast cancer (I don't get many moments where I am not thinking about my breast cancer these days!) and now I was reminded.  Ugh!  I quickly walked away and went on about my business.

Later, I stopped at Costco for some groceries and there it was, the next pink display.  This time it was a whole refrigerator full of pink yogurts for the cure.  All I could do was push the shopping cart quicker and get out of that aisle quickly.The next day I stopped at Old Navy to buy my son pants.  There it was, the next pink display with t-shirts, sweat pants, tank tops and more, again all for the cure.  How will I get through a whole month of this???

These encounters with pink all occurred in September which is clearly before Pinktober.  I can't even imagine what I will see next!!!  I have such a hard time not thinking of my breast cancer throughout the day.  No matter what I do, my mind always seems to go there sooner or later.  I get so few moments or hours of not thinking about my breast cancer, it is hard to have these reminders everywhere during this whole month.  An innocent trip to Staples for some folders was another smattering of pink.  There were three separate displays of pink office supplies including scissors, calenders, daily planners, clip boards, pens, highlighters and more!  Then I saw the huge copy/printer paper display with a sign that said "Print for the Cure".  Blech!  I grabbed my "non-pink" folders and ran for the check out only to see another display there.

At this point, I am trying to forget my breast cancer.  I don't even want to go run errands as the pink crap is everywhere.  I know it is meant to help educate others and remind women to get mammograms and such, but these companies are also making a ton of money off of these items with only a small percentage of proceeds going to research.  In addition to that, the pink crap is driving us breast cancer survivors crazy.  Like I need any help going crazy about breast cancer....I was doing fine by myself before Pinktober!  It's going to be a long month......

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Connecting With Breast Cancer Survivors

One of the benefits of moving to the Chicago area was that there is an active group of breast cancer survivors that correspond and get together.   I met these women through a breast cancer chat board.  It is nice to be able to talk to other women that can relate to the whole breast cancer experience.

Last night 12 of us got together for dinner.  It was so much fun!  Even though we discussed breast cancer, we found humor in our stories and managed to laugh quite a bit.  As I met these eleven amazing women, listened to their stories and looked in their faces, I saw confidence, happiness, faith, strength and hope.  It was really quite amazing.  The positive energy in the group was contagious. 

I am only 10 months out from my diagnosis so this all still seems surreal to me.  Seeing other women many more years out from their diagnosis was powerful.  When one gal announced she is a 5 year survival of Stage 3, triple negative breast cancer (a more aggressive type of breast cancer usually with a worse prognosis), it sent chills down my spine.  That is a huge accomplishment....simply amazing!  I gain such incredible strength from hearing that. 

I guess after going to this dinner and meeting each of these wonderful women, I have gained hope and have renewed my faith that somehow this can be OK and life will go on.  I hope in time I can inspire someone else when I am further out from my diagnosis and show them that life can be good after breast cancer. 

When I think about what I have gotten from breast cancer, it is easy to say fear, sadness, anger and all the negative emotions.  As I try to reflect and see the good things that have come from this situation, I can see those too.  I have met so many amazing, incredible women that have forever touched my life in so many powerful ways.  I have made positive life changes by giving up a stressful career and becoming more focused on what really matters.  My family has become closer and we spend more quality time together.  I also have become the type of person to tell those I care about a lot exactly how I feel about them.  I never end a phone call with a dear friend or family member without telling them that  I love them.  These are things that some people may never experience in their lifetime.  I am fortunate.

I guess as I continue to walk forward, I have a choice in which path to take. There is a fork in the road every day.  I can either walk on the positive path or the negative path.  These amazing ladies have helped me continue to choose the positive path.  That is a blessing for sure.

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.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why not me?

I have been hearing so many stories of breast cancer survivors that are cancer free for 5, 10, 20 or more years.  Right now that just seems so impossible to me.  I have been consumed with breast cancer and all the crap that goes with it for nine months now.  It really messes with your head.

It's hard to focus on the possibility of being cancer free as with breast cancer there is no cure.  I was stage 1 and not one doctor used the word "curable" with me.  That is hard to swallow.  It is hard to digest that you will never be cured.  You can never just say "well, that's over with - thank God."  This is something I have to live with forever. 

I am trying to come to a place where I can move forward with my life and not be so consumed with breast cancer.  I am not sure how to do that as it is a very real possibility it can come back.  I keep thinking about those women that are lucky enough to be cancer free for years or the rest of their life and then I think "why not me too?"  I can be cancer free for years too.  I have to keep telling myself that.  It's hard to stay focused on that, but it's what I want more than anything. 

I use to be scared about growing old.  Now I am scared I won't get to grow old.  I want to see my son grow up, go to high school, drive a car, go to college, get married and have kids.  I want to grow old with my husband and return to Italy on our 30th wedding anniversary to visit the place we were married.  I want to retire and move south and enjoy warm winters.  Other breast cancer survivors get to do that.  Why not me?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Coming Out Of the BC Closet

I have been writing this blog anonymously since my diagnosis in December.  I guess I chose to be anonymous because I was ashamed of my cancer and what comes with it.  I will never really be OK with having cancer, but now I am at a place with things where I am OK with telling others that I had breast cancer.  I just don't care anymore who knows all that much.  I guess with time you just get use to it and realize that it's a part of who I am now. 

Now that so much time has gone by and I have had time to digest my diagnosis and get through treatment, I have decided to reveal myself to those of you that read my blog.  I also want to share photos of the success I have had with using Penguin Cold Caps to keep my hair through chemotherapy.  I want others to see that you don't have to look like a cancer patient.  You can look like a normal, healthy, vibrant woman.  So if you are curious, stay tuned and photos will follow soon.  Since I am moving this week it may take me time to get to the camera as it is packed for the move. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Life After Breast Cancer Really Exists!

It has been a wonderful yet crazy week and a half since my last post.  Lots of good news which makes me smile.  First of all, the bone scan was clear!  What a relief.  I was so worried about mets in my ribs since I have been having rib pain again since my surgery.  A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I realize that this is part of how life will be now moving forward.  It is going to take a lot of time and counseling to help me figure out how to deal with this in the years to come.

The other good thing to report is I had a fabulous vacation.  I spent a week with my sister and her kids, plus four other great friends and their families.  We travelled to the Outer Banks for a week to celebrate me being healthy and done with treatment.  It was an amazing trip in so many ways.

The first great thing was being able to spend time with those people that supported me through everything in the past 8 months.  When we made plans for this trip several months ago the purpose was to celebrate my recovery.  I had no idea this trip would also be full of good-byes now that we are moving out of state tomorrow.  I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to spend time with all of the people that love me and care about me so much.  What a great gift this trip was.

The other good news is that this trip showed me that there is life after breast cancer.  For the first time since my diagnosis I got a dose of something "normal".  I spent my days like any other mom on vacation - in the pool or at the beach swimming with my son.  I laughed with my friends.  I had a few cocktails.  I cooked dinner for the group.  We made sandcastles at the beach.  I sat in the sand and got it all over me.  After the second day I realized I was no longer "consumed" by breast cancer.  It made me remember what life felt like before I was diagnosed.  It made me realize that I can have my life back and that breast cancer WON'T define me.

The highlight of my trip was lunch with my girlfriends with cocktails.  Now that I don't drink much I was a cheap drunk and got tipsy pretty easily.  We had a few drinks over lunch and laughed and had a great time.  That was just what I needed.  It is the best I have felt since getting diagnosed.   I am so grateful for my dear friends that knew just what I needed.  Now I have to remind myself that I can live that carefree life every day if I "choose" to.  It is all about your mind and attitude.  I have to kick the evil thoughts out of my mind and just live in the moment.  I need to focus on living, not breast cancer.

This week we move out of state and start a new life.  It's an opportunity to have a clean slate and not be consumed with breast cancer anymore.  No one there knows what I have been through and because I still have my hair, they will never know unless I choose to tell them.  I hope that with new surroundings and lots of things to keep me busy I can focus on something other than breast cancer.  I look forward to the new life me and my family will be building in Chicagoland. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Deja vu

I feel like I am back in the beginning phase of all of the breast cancer crap all over again.  I have been having some rib and hip pain so my medical oncologist assured me it was probably nothing but then said we could do a bone scan to be sure.  So I finally found time to schedule the bone scan in between trips to Chicago and vacation this coming weekend.  I finally went today.

Since my doctor ordered the test, I have been in denial and have been putting it out of my mind.  Today it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was completely worried and emotional again just like when I first was diagnosed and was going through more tests.  I am completely stressed, nervous, anxious and very emotional.  Having this go on while we are moving and traveling out of town for a vacation - and all of this after surgeries and chemo, I am at a breaking point.  My husband is in Chicago so I am a single parent this week too.  I just feel so scared and alone in this.

Now I sit and wait for the test results which will take 3-5 business days.  Nothing like a little more torture.  I am so scared that the cancer is somewhere in my body.  I know this is how I have to live for the rest of my life...with this fear and potential reality.  I just don't know how to do this. 

I am finding it hard to keep my emotions to a minimum in front of my son right now.  The move is really weighing on me.  My stress level is out of control right now.  I have been trying to get us all ready for vacation as we leave in two days.  I know the vacation will be good for me, but how do I even relax knowing the moving truck is coming two days after we get home?  I have not started anything to organize our move yet. 

Last night my five year old son sat on the couch next to me and said "Mommy, I love this house".  I could feel the tears swelling up in my eyes as I said "I do too" in a cracked voice. He could see it in my face...I hate that I can't hide it at times.  He hugged me and said "it will be OK Mommy.  We will get a nice new house and you. me and Daddy will be together having an adventure.  It will be good."  I never expected my little boy to comfort me in such a way.  It breaks my heart that I can't be stronger but I am doing the best I can.  I just wish it was better.

Tonight I was emotional again and he hugged me and wanted to make me feel better.  He asked me "Mommy, are you going to cry again tomorrow - because I can help you stop crying again.  I love you".   I am trying so hard to hold it together but sometimes I just can't.  I don't want my son to remember me crying all the time or being sick.  Breast cancer sucks.  There is not a nicer way to put it.  It destroys not only your body, but your mind and faith in things.

For now I sit and wait just like I did back in December.  I feel sick inside.  I am a wreck. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Is breast cancer defining me?

I can remember starting this blog early on when I was first diagnosed and pondering what to call it.  I thought about it and came up with Breast Cancer Won't Define Me because I didn't want to be known as "that girl that had breast cancer".  I still don't want to be "that girl".  I started really thinking about it and wonder if breast cancer is defining me......

Today the family that use to live next door to us was in the neighborhood riding bikes and stopped over unannounced.  We have not seen them since last summer.  We were able to quickly catch up and chat and the whole time my friend had no idea I what I had been going through since December.  I stood there in my kitchen talking to my old neighbor with my hair and new breasts and she had no idea.  I finally told her.  Her jaw hit the floor.  She could not believe it.  She assumed I had not had chemo or a mastectomy.  To her I looked just like I did before.  When I finally told her I had a bilateral mastectomy and chemo she said "your hair" and looked up.  I explained briefly.  She said she would have never guessed I had breast cancer.  In some ways it made me think that breast cancer wasn't defining me.  No one was seeing me as "that girl that had breast cancer" unless I told them.  I guess I have been successful in some ways.

Then I thought about my life and breast cancer.  I feel like the last 8 months have been consumed with breast cancer all the time and every single day is filled with so many things related to breast cancer.  I feel like it is a major part of my life, every day, most hours and minutes.  I hate that it is such a "BIG" part of my life.  I feel like on the outside it's not defining me, but on the inside it is.  It's so all-consuming.  I don't want it to define my life.  I don't want it to be a "BIG" part of every day, hour and minute.  I don't know how to make that part stop. 

As I move forward with all of the big changes in my life it is an opportunity to make sure breast cancer doesn't define me on the inside.  Each day represents a new chance to define my life by positive things and happiness.  I have to keep reminding myself of that each morning and fill each day, hour and minute with joy and not thoughts of breast cancer.   

Sunday, July 31, 2011

More big changes

So much has happened since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of last year and now even more big changes.  I am fullfilling one of my goals and New Year's Resolutions for this year and that is leaving corporate America!  I am quitting my job tomorrow.  I can't believe it.  I don't know what to think.  I am nervous about calling my boss and friend and breaking the news.  I have been a hard working employee there for almost 4 years and I know my boss won't be expecting this. 

I have mixed feelings.  I have wanted to leave my full time job and continue pursuing my art business for a long time but have never been in a position to actually do it.  I love working but am just kind of over the stress associated with my job as a sales rep.  I love parts of my job, but over the years it has become harder and harder to do and more and more frustrating.  I know it's not my dream job at all, but it is a good job which has provided very well for my family.  Now that we are moving to Chicago I will be quitting my job and will be able to pursue my business.  I am also planning on continuing to teach fitness classes once we get settled there.  It will be a big change for me to not work in a full time capacity. 

I look at all the things that have happened since December and at times I still can't digest it.  Breast cancer hits me out of no where.  I have a lumpectomy, bilateral mastectomy and the first part of reconstructive surgery.  Chemo came along next and more surgery for reconstruction.  My husband got a new job out of state and we sold our house.  We move in two weeks!  Through every step of this I have tried to remain positive and keep life "normal" for my young son.  It has been a very long road.

Months ago we made reservations for a vacation to celebrate me being done with treatment.  The trip is to the beach with four other families (good friends and my sister along with their families).  We leave this week.  When we made the reservations I never thought this trip would also be about good-byes.  This will be the last time I get to spend time with those people I care so much for before we move.  The moving truck comes two days after we return from vacation to move us out of state.  This trip was suppose to be about "celebration", not good-byes.

I think about how life was back in December before breast cancer.  I can vividly remember the morning I went to the breast center for what I thought would be a "routine" thing and a normal day.  It seems like a lifetime ago that I just got up and put my business suit on and said good bye to my husband and son that morning.  I can remember watching them pull out of the garage as I waved good-bye.  I can still remember it all so clearly.  I can remember how sunny it was that day - even in December here where it is cold.  Nothing will ever be the same in so many ways since that sunny, cold and life altering day.  I have experienced more big changes than I could have ever imagined.  Now I can add moving out of state to the long list of changes.  For now I will focus on enjoying my trip with those I love and celebrate my health with them.  I hope we build some wonderful memories that will make me smile no matter how far apart we are.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Itch Free for Real??

It has been about 10 days now with no itching!  I am celebrating as I have been itching since before Easter...yes, I said BEFORE Easter!  I never had a severe skin reaction or allergy like this before.  I have had some rashes and have always had sensitive skin, but nothing has ever lasted for months like this.  I am kind of scared to even put in print that my itching is gone as it cycles and has come back so many times before.

This time my dermatologist said she feels I am having an allergic reaction to something I am eating or coming in contact with.  We cut out all vitamins, supplements, nuts and I am using a special soap.  So far, so good!  Now if I only knew what I was really allergic to.  I have had low vitamin D and chemo left me anemic so I need to get on my vitamin D, vitamin C and iron supplements again soon.  I will have to introduce them one at a time and try to figure out if any of them is the issue. 

I have also cut out nuts which is hard since I don't get enough protein.  Following the Anti Cancer type diet makes it very challenging for me to get enough protein in unless I am home to cook all the time.  With our upcoming move and such, I am so busy it is hard to be home enough so when I eat out, I eat mostly salad and veggies only.  Every time we travel I lose weight because I can't eat anything but salad.  We were in Chicago for a few days again and I lost a few more lbs.   At least I lost the 5 lbs I gained during chemo when I was hungry all the time! 

Now that the itching is better, I fixated on my hair again.  It is still shedding a lot.  For the last few days I have just kept it clipped up or in a pony tail so I did not have to deal with it at all.  The days I wear it down, I feel hair fall on my arms ALL DAY...it drives me nuts and serves as a constant reminder that I am shedding a ton.  It stresses me out.  I have to say that wearing it up helps me not focus on how much is falling out all day long.  That's a good thing.

I have to wash my hair again on Saturday...it's my son's 5th birthday party.  When I started this journey I never imagined I would be looking like this on his birthday.  That is a wonderful gift.  I have had my exchange surgery with my new implants that I love.  I still have my hair too.  I can't wait to welcome our friends and celebrate this birthday with them all before we move.  It will be our last shin-dig in our wonderful home.  I will miss our parties and all the amazing memories we created here......this feels like home.  Maybe by moving it will help me start with a clean slate...cancer free with my hair.  I am going to focus on that and try not to be so sad about leaving here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I have no time for breast cancer

If I felt like my life was out of control before just dealing with breast cancer, things are really out of control now!  With our upcoming move out of state, I have had NO time to even think about breast cancer.   That has been a welcomed break for sure.

I spent the weekend looking for a place to rent and a new house to buy in Chicago with my husband and son.  It was a completely busy weekend with really no time to dwell on my breast cancer.  Somehow life is getting back to normal or at least a different version of the old life.  For now I am consumed with researching schools, neighborhoods, commute time to my husband's job and moving.  Maybe all of this distraction is good. 

I am still emotionally trying to get under control at times.  I am sad that our house already got an offer.  It's bittersweet. We need the house to sell so we can move, but it is our house...the place we built a life and family.  I get sad at the thought of not being able to go in my son's room and remember rocking him as a baby in there.  I am sad I won't be able to look out in the yard and see him playing on his swing set.  I am sad I won't look out the very sliding door my son was holding on to before he took his first steps in my kitchen.  I am mourning my house and the memories we built here.

I know I will always have my memories, but this is home....our home.  We bought this house with the intent of building our family and life here and sharing that with our family and friends.  I am so sad to say goodbye to all of that.  It's really hard, especially after all of the breast cancer things I have had to endure in the past seven months. 

Somehow I know it will all be OK.   I know that moving will also continue to bring my family closer together. I know that we can build a new life...a good one in Chicago too.  I am trying to remain optimistic and look to the future with hope.  I still have my moments though which I guess is normal.  Going through another major life change of moving right after a cancer diagnosis and treatment is hard so I am trying to be kind to myself and realize it will take time to accept all of this.

For now, my hair is still shedding.  I can't even bring myself to wash it....blech!  I figure if I am not going anywhere, why wash it?  So I am home with my dirty hair, but at least I still have hair.  It is still much thinner than it was.  I look back at my pre-cancer photos and realize what beautiful hair I had.  It has been so long since I looked "normal" I forgot what the healthy me looked like.  In photos I am smiling, happy and full of life.  I don't look so tired and weathered as I do now.  I keep hoping soon enough when I can resume normal hair care and get a good cut I can look a bit more like the old me.   For now, I am happy that I have hair on my head, eyelashes are growing back like crazy and I no longer have to connect the dots with an eyeliner on my eyebrows.  I am celebrating these things today!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Itching myself crazy

I am 9 weeks out after my last chemo and I still have this horrible rash.  I can't take it any more!  The rash started after my 3rd chemo and came back again after my 4th chemo.  Essentially, the rash has been here since before Easter.  So I have had this rash for over 3 months and no one seems to know why.  I am so frustrated.  I really can't take it any more.

I have been on steroids and have tried numerous creams and lotions.  Nothing makes it stay away.  I itch all the time.  My chest and neck are flaming red and looks like I have a bad sunburn with some bumps.  I also get it on my arms and torso.  It seems to get better with the treatments but once I get relief and the treatment stops, the rash and uncontrollable itching come raging back.

I woke up at 3am last night again itching out of control. I sat on the edge of the bed and just sobbed.  I just want someone to help me.  I have been like this for 3 months.  I literally feel like I am going to go crazy from this.

My medical oncologist seems to wipe her hands of it.  She says it's not from chemo.  She offers no suggestions and just moves on to the next thing she wants to talk about.  The internist is stumped and offered steroids so I could get relief and referred me to a dermatologist.  I have been to the dermatologist three times and they don't know what is causing it. They thought it was the chemo but now they are convinced it is something else I am still being exposed to.  Now they want me to stop all vitamins/supplements in case it is related to that.  Ugh! 

I just want relief.  I can't take this anymore......I never thought 9 weeks after chemo I would still be dealing with crap like this. I am just spent.  I am sick of being uncomfortable.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Moving on

I am moving on in more than one way.  We are definitely moving.  My husband accepted a job in Chicago and starts on 7/26.  My head is spinning.  I am trying to continue recovering from my surgery and now I have to put my house up for sale this week..yikes!  I thought life was crazy before.  It just went completely nuts!

I am doing ok from surgery but still have pain in one of my ribs.  The last few days it has been painful when I move or try to do anything.  I guess that is why my plastic surgeon wants me home from work for a month...it makes sense.  I guess even if you think you feel OK you have to continue to rest and let you body recover from the surgery.  I am going crazy not exercising....I can't wait until my doctor clears me to hit the gym.  With all the stress of breast cancer and now moving, the exercise is really needed!

I guess it is nice to have a distraction from breast cancer.  The last several days were busy with talking to the relocation specialist, the realtor in Chicago and meeting with the two realtor's here that want to list our home.  My poor husband is painting the bathroom, putting up new blinds and cleaning the closet.  Boy we have lived here almost 7 years and I am have wanted to get rid of those stupid blinds in our bathroom the entire time!  I guess it took moving to do it!  Now the new owner will have nice blinds...not those ugly ones that we hated.

I was feeling very overwhelmed before we formally made the decision to move.  Now I seem focused on just doing what needs to be done to make it happen.  I am glad I am off work right now so I can make these phone calls and get things organized.  I find my poor husband is completely stressed out.  I keep telling him "it will be OK".  I guess it is role reversal.  He has been telling me that for the last 7 months.  It feels good to take care of him now and be the one reassuring him for a change. 

So we are moving on.  I hope that when we move I can feel like it is a new start and move beyond breast cancer too.  It will be hard to leave family and friends behind.  That will make me sad.  I know even as badly as I want to leave breast cancer behind, it will be hard.  I wish I could just "move away" from breast cancer but it will never be that simple.  For now I will look to the future with hope - oh and hair!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A little color

Well I finally could not stand it any more and decided to try coloring my hair.  I had the no peroxide, no ammonia hair color kit on stand by since before I even started chemo.  I have waited for this day since February!  I was scared horribly though...worried all my hair would fall out!  Help!

I mentioned that I wanted to color my hair to my sister and she immediately said "I will do it"!  So we put a movie on for the kids downstairs and went for it.  I was having her try so hard to not get color on my scalp (the cold cap protocol says to avoid getting it on your scalp) but that was nearly impossible...so it was on my scalp.   It took so long to do the color and be super gentle.  After the color was all on my hair I looked down at the towel that was covering me while we colored and it had quite a bit of hair on it.  More hair than I even thought would come out!  I about died!  I started freaking out. 

My sister was super cool about it.  She said "we knew from combing it, some hair would fall out.  Don't look at it...don't think about it...I will clean it up."  She immediately got out my cone vacuum and sucked it all up.  She said "don't even picture that in your head anymore...just look in the mirror".  She was so good...I was so glad she was here to help.

I was scared to leave the color on too long so I only waited about 10 minutes after we got it all covered before rinsing.  I was bummed to see it didn't completely cover the gray, but it looks a lot better.  I then had her trim an additional 2 inches off the bottom of my hair as it looked super thin at the ends.  That made it look a lot thicker.

Despite the gray not being totally gone, I feel like a new woman.  The color really makes my hair look richer and the trim makes it look thicker.  Even though I continue to shed and worry about my hair getting even thinner, I still have a full head of hair.  To most people I look completely normal and no one would even guess I had breast cancer.

We went to a BBQ this weekend and I was with people that did not know I had breast cancer.  I felt completely normal and had a whole day of not talking about breast cancer.  It was nice to feel like there was no big "pink" elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about.  I felt like it was a vacation from BC for the day......I need more of these!