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Cancer Changed Me

cancerchangedme

Hope ~ Strength ~ Power ~ Belief ~ Courage ~ Honor ~ Determination

I have been told that cancer changed me.  Indeed, it wasn’t said it in the nicest of ways.  In fact, it was taken as a disparaging comment and I was appalled by the off-hand comment.  My first reaction was to defend myself at the time, to show how cancer didn’t change me.  But I left well-enough alone and decided to say nothing.  However, I was hurt by the retort.

Had cancer really changed me?

The question mulled in my head for days and many sleepless nights, more than I’d like to admit, but it’s true.  I’ve written how cancer changes you enough times in this blog to know that the reality is – YES, cancer changes most of us.  It has to, or we wouldn’t still be here.  For we have seen into the yawning mouth of our own demise, endured the most feared emotions and have come out of it alive, so far.  Looking at your own potential death does change you.

It makes you more aware for the most part.  Some of us now see with finite definition that life is short and there are no guarantees how much time we have on this earth.  We become grateful for the beauty in nature, for the simple pleasures that kindness brings and for a real, loving hug which can cure many ills.  We look to connect with others more because we know what it’s like to feel alone.  We share our stories, encourage each other and find the courage to be who we authentically are!  We smile when we are tired.  We work hard to overcome obstacles and to be there for others, even when we feel depleted.  We take that extra moment to smile and to enjoy goodness when it comes into our lives.  We are grateful for the support that we have been given and we look to support others to continue the flow of goodness.  We share tips to help others and happily receive tips to make our lives easier.

We know that all the money in the world, with all the frivolities are fleeting and really don’t mean a damn when death comes knocking at our door.  It’s that silence between ourselves and our maker (or our beliefs) in the quiet of the night that counts.  It’s regarding peace within as a precious gift, time spent with loved ones and a centered calm in which to retreat when life becomes hard.  It’s the voice within the stillness which speaks of love, gratitude, peace with ourselves and others and God.

Yes, cancer changed me.  That’s for sure.  Perhaps it was the misunderstanding of me that caused this person to spout the ‘dig’ as I took it.  Sometimes it takes a loss for us to be humble and perhaps there will be people who simply never understand.  And that’s ok with me.

I am me, authentically me.  I make mistakes, I ask for forgiveness and I forgive.  I choose to live in a state of peace within when I can, but I am always evolving, ever growing and yet, trying to do all things with love.  I intend to do my best, at any given moment, but I’m human.  I’m a work in progress.  Aren’t we all?

What’s precious to me in my life is love, kindness and connections and I strive every day to live with those three precious gems in my life.  Cancer made me a better person by giving me so many lessons in my life.  I’ve learned so much from cancer, even though I never wanted to endure that disease.  Looking back on my life, I realize that I am who I am today because of cancer.  Even if others don’t understand me, it’s ok now.  I’m at peace and I’m ever grateful for the peace within me.

Shine On!

xo

Begin Again

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A friend gave me a magnet awhile back in anticipation for all of the changes that were in store for my future.  At the time, I didn’t want to Begin Again as it was daunting for me to think about all that would be changed.  Regardless of how much I didn’t want the changes, they happened anyway, out of my control.  Instead of accepting that my life would dramatically change in all ways – divorce, moving, financially, health-wise, etc., I fought like a tigress to remain in that stagnant limbo of wanting no change, all while change happened anyway.

Finally, I surrendered.

Broken, exhausted and drained, I surrendered.

It’s not that I didn’t agree that the changes were imminent and necessary.  It was that I was fearful of how I would continue on in this uncharted territory for my journey and the journey of my children, for it wasn’t where I wanted to be.  But when I stopped fighting against the rising tide and began to doggy paddle to keep afloat, I received help through the transition.  Angels disguised as friends and strangers reached out to me with kindness.  I began to see the future as a new chapter in my life, a new book on which to write my story and a fresh clean slate which I controlled (for the most part) of how I am the captain of my own life’s ship.

I began planning what had to be done and like a sergeant, began the transition with what I hoped would be military precision.  But alas, I may have had a plethora of military family members, but precision has not been a characteristic blessing unto me.  And so it was, I surrendered.  I did my best daily, fell asleep on my pillow with a bone tired body and rose up the next morning to do it all again.  And finally, it was accomplished, through the help of my angelic human angels.

Now we begin again, in a new home with new challenges.  Regardless, I have surrendered what was and I embrace what is and I plan for what I would like to be.  To Begin Again requires letting go of the past and staying in a peaceful present and allowing a hopeful future to blossom, petal by petal.

I am grateful for the peace within now.  Although transitions are often fraught with wiggles and compromises, I knowingly stand with peace in my heart, grateful for the lessons and learning which have come with the experiences I’ve endured.  I’ve learned so much about people, about myself and about love.  Life lessons have been tough at times, but well-worth the growth that came out of them.  Sure, it’s easy in hindsight to feel this way, but I guess I wanted to share with you so that you can remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  We just have to keep walking towards the light.

I’m here for you if you are going through any transitions as I’ve been through a bunch of different ones:  cancer, multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation, divorce, selling a house, finding the right rental, starting over at 50, death of family, family with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, etc.  If you need a friend, here I am, with my arms wide open for a hug.

Shine On!

xo

 

 

It’s Been 15 Years and I’m Still Here!

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Fifteen years ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  At times, it seems as if it were yesterday.  At others, it seems a lifetime ago.  But as any cancer survivor knows, we never forget the diagnosis which begins this journey.

So today, I celebrate with gratitude the triumph of still being here to enjoy my life with my children.  Even though I celebrate this milestone alone today, I have many angels in my life to whom I look with loving gratitude for all that they have done for me throughout the years.  I hold dearly those memories of loving support and kindness which were gifted to me.  Indeed, sometimes it takes a village.

My life has changed by leaps and bounds since that fateful day.  I’ve overcome 10 + surgeries, chemotherapy, baldness, radiation and countless scares that the cancer had returned.  I’ve loved and lost and let go.  But what remains is my faith, my courage and my choice to stay here and fight for my life.

I’ve learned so many lessons by enduring cancer, ones that perhaps I wish I’d never learned, but yet I am grateful all the same.

So on this New Year’s Eve Day, please celebrate with me as I celebrate with you.  Cheers with gratitude to the lessons learned in the past 15 years and cheers to another year filled with light, love, health, prosperity and happiness for all!

Shine On!

xo

Recipe for Enduring Breast Cancer

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In order to survive Breast Cancer (and any other illness, tragedy, trauma) it’s necessary to collect all of your essential ingredients in order to endure the situation at hand.  A great dose of support is also needed as back up when your ingredients run low and you need a refill.  A quick jog to the store won’t suffice.  You need a team, a village, to count on and that’s where the internet, blogs, websites and support groups can wield a mighty sword to help you combat your ills.

A hefty dose of the above helps:

Hope

Strength

Power

Belief

Courage

Honor

Determination

In addition to a heavy handed sprinkling of

Humor, Love, Presence and Support.

Which is all fine and good as words, but how do you go about stockpiling these main ingredients when you’ve just been blindsided by your diagnosis and news?  I wish I could say it is easy, but it’s not.  That’s where your determination comes in.  You have to set your own mind to believing that you have the courage, the strength, the hope, and the inner power to endure.

You have all of this inside ~ you simply have to tap into it.  You must do the work.  There’s no way around it.  It is your mind that needs to have its power harnessed to heal your life.  Humor, love, presence and support may come from the outside from which you can receive the stores from others.  But you my friend, must believe that you are ready and worthy to battle and must prepare your mind, heart and soul to overcome the obstacles that are placed before you.

So how do you do this?  You harness your mind by feeding it positive thinking.  You eradicate negativity from your life, like removing rose petals from a rose, you gently pluck the negative thoughts from your heart and in place, you add the essence of the rose ~ the inner beauty and strength that comes from a rose simply being a rose.

Is this making any sense to you?  Do you need concrete examples?  Are you thinking I’m too pie in the sky for you?  Too Pollyanna and yippy skippy?  Not down to Earth enough?

Watch for it.  In the meantime, you need to get yourself ready.  Enjoy this day.  Get outside and look up to the sky.  Breathe.  Take 3 minutes to just listen to the wind, feel the earth under your feet and reconnect with nature.  Find a bit of inner and outer peace in being present.  You don’t have to do it for long.   Just feel the peace.

I’m holding  your hand.  You’ve got a friend in me.  Take your time.  Allow the grief and the healing to come to you and welcome it with your arms open wide.  You can do this!

Shine On!

xo

What Is Strength?

strongestpeople

“The strongest people are not those

who show strength in front of us,

but those who win battles

we know nothing about.”
~ Anonymous

Happy Saturday!

Shine On!

xo

 

Tips to Survive MRI Breast Scan From Someone Who Knows

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It’s hard enough to have questionable health issues, but to endure testing to find out the results is an added necessary burden.  Have you ever had an MRI?  You can have them for all different health problems.  I have endured MRI’s for brain and breast scans, neither of which are fun.  But then, no test is fun, there I said it.  I feel for you.  I’ve been there.  I don’t know what’s harder, the test itself, the wait time for the answer or the dealing with whatever the result is.

But below are a few tips that may help you or a loved one in case you need an MRI, in no particular order:

You can’t have any metal on you when you are in the MRI machine.  Watches must come off because they will be stopped by the machine.  You can probably keep your gold jewelry on, but the technician may tell you to take it all off and put it in your locker where your clothes are because you’ve changed into that fashionable hospital gown.  You know the one, right?  Lucky for us, they will probably give you two like they gave me.  First one opens in the front, second opens in the back so there’s no peek-a-boo affect!  Oh-la-la!

Go to the bathroom right before you have the procedure.  Remember how your Mom told to you to go pee-pee before you left the house?  Well, you will be in the MRI machine, not able to move for a bit so better to try to go again before you get strapped down for at least 30 minutes.  Because, it’s so uncomfortable to have to resist the urge to stop an MRI because you need to go.  You know how it is, if you need to go and you are strapped into a loud cranky machine and aren’t allowed to move, your mind will fill up with thoughts of the bathroom and it will be hard to stay calm and not move.  And you can’t just get up, run to the potty and finish the test.  Nope, you have to stay there, from start to finish in the same position.

When they put you in the machine, you will be asked to NOT MOVE for the entire time.  So make sure you are as comfortable as humanly possible before the professional leaves the room.  I’ve had MRI’s where I had to be in a certain position that was very uncomfortable in order to have the test.  Sometimes you just have to be in that position no matter what, but occasionally, you can have the position adjusted BEFORE the test begins.  The key here is BEFORE because you can’t change position once it starts.  It never hurts to ask.

Make sure they give you earplugs ~ the machine clanks LOUDLY and you are in a tube which makes the sound reverberate.  Earplugs don’t seem to help, but it’s even worse when you don’t have them.  Years ago, they didn’t give you earplugs and it felt deafening to be in the machine.

TELL the professional if you are a claustrophobic.  THIS IS IMPORTANT!  Some tests will allow a relaxing medicine (prescription from your doctor before you go to the MRI) to be taken 30 minutes prior to help with the phobia and there are cases in which you can request an OPEN MRI which would help immensely if you are indeed claustrophobic.

For the breast scans, I have gone by myself before and since I know what to expect, it’s not as bad.  Ok, it’s not great either.  Breast scans have the patient laying face down (like the photo above) so you can see nothing except the sheet that covers the platform on which you are laying.  Your arms are above your head so that the radiologist can see your breasts.  I will tell you that for me, it is terribly uncomfortable to have my right side that way.  In fact, my back muscles went into spasm once and I called to the technician.  She came in and helped me to reposition myself and made sure I was still in position for the best possible test results, but I was able to have my arm oustretched to get into the machine and then under her supervision, was able to bend my arm against the machine so that it was comfortable once I was fully in the machine.  It made a world of difference for me.

The object here to get the test done in the shortest amount of time with the best results while you are as comfortable as possible.  To get all 3 pieces is a huge win-win.  Your technician is a big help in this because they want you to have a good experience and they need to get the job done. 

Working together is key here.

You are not alone in the MRI machine.  You have a ball in your hand to squeeze in case you need help and your technician (who is in the next room) will respond.  There is also an audio whereby you can hear the technician tell you what to expect  ~ test for 8 minutes, the contrast is now starting, etc. and you can respond verbally as well.

You can have an MRI with and without contrast.  Without getting too technical, with contrast means that you will have an IV inserted before you go into the MRI machine room.  Once you are settled into position in the machine, the technician will connect your IV to the contrast for use later as the first set of MRI images will be without the contrast.

My advice is to drink water before you go to the test and to drink water afterwards to flush your system of the contrast.  Drinking water before hydrates you (hence take the potty break right before) and allows your veins to be nice and plump so that the IV is inserted quickly, easily and pretty painlessly.  If you don’t hydrate, then it’s harder to find a good vein, the prick hurts more and veins can get blown, which means you have to get stuck again in a different vein.  That, my friends, is never fun and I’ve had a ton of experience with that piece.

When the technician tells you the contrast is coming, you will feel it in your veins.  You may have felt something already, a little bit of cold fluid which is the saline solution to make sure that all flows properly.  You will know the contrast is entering your veins because you will taste a metallic ink in your mouth and may even feel a warmth in your body.  You may even feel like you’ve (ahem) peed yourself (for lack of a better term), but don’t worry.  It’s simply the sensation because remember, you’ve already gone potty before you got into the machine.  Once the contrast is delivered, the machine will clank again as it repeats the same imaging as before, only this time with the contrast in your body.

So what do you do while you are waiting for the whole episode to be over?  It’s loud in the machine and time for me, feels like it stops completely.  I have tried to sing songs to myself ~ made up rap songs to the rat-a-tat-tat of the clanking machine ~ I’ve tried to find a mantra to say along with the rhythmic clanging ~ I can do this…I am healthy…All is well…God please be with me…etc.  I have tried to pray the rosary even, but as my mind has a hard time focusing I only almost prayed 2 mysteries.  But perhaps you’ll find something to do to make the time go by easier.

I have had techs who have been diligent in telling me, “Ok, this test is for 8 minutes…now this one is for 10” and so on…and I have had others whom I thought had left the building as I hardly ever heard from them so I guess it’s just the luck of the draw.  My favorite line from any of them has always been, “Ok, the test is over.  Stay still, I’m coming in,” as I drew a huge sigh of relief that it was over.

I’ve been woozy afterwards with all of the fears now over, the test now over and I am now having to stand up after being face down for 45 minutes.  Take your time.  If you feel light-headed, TELL the professional as if you faint, the EMS come and it’s a big deal.  If you can take your time and simply stay calmer, it helps.  I know that those of us who are fainters (yup, me too) don’t always have any notice that they are going down, but if you do, please tell them.  Believe me, you don’t want the EMS there because you fainted because the test was finally over.  You want to do a happy dance that it’s over and get out of there!

I hope you found a tidbit or two to help you through ~ I have been there, done that, so if you have any questions or want to share your experience below, please do!  I am here for you if you need a friend.  I understand ~ here’s my hand, hold on.  We’ll get you through this together!

Shine On!

xo

P.S.  Thanks to my sweet readers who shared their experiences below and gently reminded me about the contrast sensation.  You rock Rhonda and Cordelia’s Mom. ♥

 

 

Pinktober

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Well, we’ve almost made it to the end of October which is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I’ve yet to write anything about my struggles, my journey or my on-going dance with cancer.  Perhaps today it’s time to update from a survivor who was diagnosed on New Year’s Eve of 2001.

I’ve spoken to many people, sharing my story when I thought it would help and connecting with them when I knew they needed someone to simply understand the devastation that we feel when life turns upside down.  I’ve been a Reach to Recovery Volunteer, helping those who want to find a new normal and who are looking for a way out of the labyrinth of grief which many times surrounds us when we are hit with a cancer diagnosis.  For everything changes in our lives when cancer hits.  Life, relationships and health all change and we suffer until we can find our equilibrium.  We grieve, we mourn and we endure what we previously thought unthinkable.  We can stagnate in that pool of darkness or we can reach out for the light.  As a survivor for so many years, I try to be an inspiration and to shine my heartlight so that others can find theirs and begin to move on in their lives.  I know it’s not easy, for I have been there, done that and still struggle with the aftermath of cancer.  It seems I am never fully out of its grasp as it rears its ugly head in my life from time to time as a pointed jab and a reminder that life is a gift and everyday we must be grateful for this moment in time.

With breast cancer in particular, we suffer the indignities of losing our outward signs of femininity (breasts, hair (chemo)) and many times our ovaries which help keep our feminine hormones going.  Sometimes we can even lose touch with ourselves as we struggle to come to grips with a body which many times in clothing looks good, but in our birthday suits, is riddled with train track-like scars and missing pieces.  It takes a strong woman to get up every morning and to continue to strive to be the best person she can be when her heart is breaking.  I admire those women who can be vulnerable and yet be strong, who can laugh, but still cry, who can feel even when her body is numbed by surgery or can remain peaceful while hearing careless comments from those who say they love them.

We all have a story to tell when it comes to surviving breast cancer.  Each of our personal stories is a bit different, but the fundamental grief and subsequent healing of body, mind and soul are similar.  Today’s post I dedicate to those friends and family who have gone before me, those who are presently enduring breast cancer and to those, like me, who are still here, somewhere in purgatory, never quite released from its icy grip, but still hopeful that it never quite fully returns.

Shine On!

xo