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AUTHENTICALLY BOLD: REBECCA

BETTER, NOT BITTER

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Breast Cancer

The Edge

I have been slightly on edge recently.  I was not sure what the cause of my edginess was and my family accused me of being “hangry” and needing to eat more. No.  It was not quite that feeling.  Sure, I have a lot going on but nothing that is out of the ordinary.  I racked my brain for what could possibly be making me uneasy.

My thoughts have been in overdrive again.  Was this my typical drive to push myself to achieve my current list of goals?  Was this all that has been going on at work?  Was this my need to get the kids situated and back into the fall and school swing of things?  No.  The uncertainty was different than my usual behavior patterns.

Then it hit me.  Smack dab in the face.

August 31st.

August 31st, you say?  What is the big deal about that date?  Labor Day weekend.  Yes, usually fun and full of the last of summer events.  There it sits, like a lead weight or a heavy matzo ball in the bottom of my stomach.  The discomfort and uneasiness has me seeking for relief.  Where is the bottle of Tums to coat the emotional distress?

August 31st, 2007 was my own personal “D-Day” and for some reason, the last two D-Days of mine have been a negative memory that has caused the aforementioned uncertainty.  Ten years ago, was the day I heard the horrific words, “You have cancer.”  Ten years ago, I locked myself in my master bath with my husband as the recognizable hospital number rang on my cell phone and I knew….I just knew.  The memories of August 31st are so profound, the details so concise and clear, it is as if the day happened yesterday.  A portion of my brain is set on a loop, replaying the events of that day in a way that the Harry Potter marathon plays on the FreeForm channel on TV.

The funny thing is I never thought about my diagnosis date much until the last couple of years.  I have yet to pinpoint what triggered this sudden change or recollection of this date.  My focus has always been on my “chemoversary” or the date that my medical oncologist used as my “survivorship” date, the date in which I finished the last of my chemotherapy treatments.  Despite still needing radiation and more surgery after my chemo was finished, the date that is etched firmly in my brain – much like the birthdates of each of my children, is my chemoversary.  It is a much more positive date for me to cling to, so why the sudden clawback to my diagnosis date.  I still do not know.

It was a Friday night at 7:00 pm approximately when my phone rang.  I can still hear Dr. Quinlan’s soft voice on the other end of the phone.  My immediate reaction was why was he calling me at 7:00 pm on a Friday on Labor Day weekend; but I knew.  I just knew.

The day before I had a core needle biopsy, the same of which I also remember vividly and with angst.  Have you ever seen how they harpoon Moby Dick?  Yes.  The core needle biopsy was like being harpooned over and over again with a very large gauge weird looking instrument.  This procedure is ultrasound guided, so you are forced to look at the screen while the radiologist shoots this weapon into your breast to pull out pieces of your tissue that resemble small worms.  Yes, like small earth worms that wiggle across the pavement after a spring storm.

I recall being equal parts intrigued and disgusted as this procedure went on.  Science, it is fascinating.  But wait, this man is pulling out long, wormy sections of my left boob.  I felt sick.  I felt hot.  I felt cold.  The radiologist asked me questions about my pregnancy.  Right.  Yes.  I was 14 weeks pregnant with my third child.  Weird that they have the ultrasound on my boob and not on my belly so I could see the little fluttering baby.  What alternate universe was I in?

The radiologist was talking incessantly and I interrupted him.  Cut the medical talk for a minute, please and in layman’s terms, tell me what you see.  Please.  The doctor squirmed uncomfortably so for what seemed an unusually long time but was likely seconds.  He simply and calmly told us that he had put a rush on my results and good luck with everything.  I remember saying to him that means it does not look good.  I know you see this stuff all the time, so you know it is not good news.  He simply responded to call your oncology office tomorrow after 2:00 pm if you have not heard before then and again he said good luck with everything before leaving the room.

The walk to the car was a daze.  Foggy.  As if my vision had been clouded over and my mind was honing in on one thought.  I looked at my husband as he started the car and I told him, “I have cancer.”  His response through clenched teeth was, “It sounds that way, doesn’t it?”  The drive home is clear until a certain point and the thought that canvased my brain was “what on EARTH did you do to end up with cancer while pregnant?  Did you murder a Pope in a former life?” (Note:  I am not even Catholic).

Friday, August 31st was D-Day.  How does one sit around and wait for that call?  Little chores and tasks did not prove to be a distraction.  Tick, tock, tick, tock the clock inside my head went.  After what seemed to be the longest day of my life, I called oncology at 2:10 pm to see what was going on since the radiologist told me to call after 2:00 pm.  The nurse told me my results were not yet it.  Exasperated, I begged her.  How could my results not be in yet?  I…..*need* to know.  She reassured me in her most calming voice that the doctor would call me as soon as he had them.  I reminded her it was a holiday weekend and I could *not* wait until Tuesday to know.  I reminded her I was pregnant.  She promised me the doctor would call me.  Tick, tock, tick, tock……..

My children, then nine and six years old were a better distraction.  They both knew something was up as their routine had been altered in a couple of weeks prior as their Momma needed some additional doctors’ appointments.  My oldest honed in on me with this uncanny ability that she has and she repeatedly asked me if I were okay.  I assured her I was okay and that the doctors just needed to check some things out for Mommy.  Her eyes gave her away, it was as if she also had this sense of what lay ahead.

The phone rang and my heart skipped a beat.  I ran to the bathroom and had my husband join me behind the locked door.  We mentioned to the kids we were expecting an important phone call and needed privacy.  Of course, that warning did not stop them from knocking and asking what we were doing mid-conversation.  Remember how I “knew”?  I knew, but there was a part of me that still remained hopeful, maybe even optimistic that the doctor would say there was no concern and the lump in my breast was still just a benign fibroid that would be dealt with after the baby was born.

“Your results are positive.”

The blood drained from my face and plummeted through my body into my feet.  I sat on the toilet.  Holy shit.  My worst nightmare is true.  I have cancer.  Like cancer-cancer.  Somehow, through my marbled thoughts and burning ears, I asked the Chief of Surgical Oncology what stage cancer and what type.  I half-listened as he mentioned it looking like Stage Two because my tumor was well over four centimeters in size.  I vaguely remember him saying we need more testing to obtain the sub-type of breast cancer that it was.  Dr. Q told me he had taken the liberty to schedule me for an all-day meeting with the entire team the following Wednesday. I should be prepared to spend the day at the hospital to make the plan of action.

Quietly, I asked him what my prognosis looked like.  Expertly, he explained it depended upon the sub-type but overall the prognosis was good.  He further stated that I would likely have to start treatment sooner versus later and that we would work the pregnancy in.

“Oh, crap.  I have a baby in me.  This changes EVERYTHING.”  These were my thoughts as I realized again that I had cancer.  I did not know if I were going to live or die.  I had young kids.  How could I have cancer?  What the fuck?  My life had had more than its fair share of challenges and hurdles to date, but now I have to add a potential death sentence?

We hung up the phone after thanking Dr. Q for calling us so late on the holiday weekend.  My husband was scared shitless.  He just stood there with his eyes brimming with tears.  His personality makes him go to worst case scenario immediately before working his way backward.  He already had me dead.

I begged him to put on his game face as the kids were getting squirrely and begging us to come out of the locked bathroom.  We hugged.  I told him I would be okay and put my own game face on.  The entire night I pondered how I would have to tell everyone that I now have cancer.  I was immediately uncomfortable because I am not one for sympathy or help.  I am tough.  I am resilient.  I will do this.

The next morning, we canceled all of our weekend plans.  How does one normally process the news that they have cancer?  Oh, right, there’s absolutely nothing normal about having cancer.  We started slowly sharing the news with family members and close friends.  The agony and despair on their faces were nearly as grim as the receipt of the news over and over and over again. I became a walking, living, pity party able to provoke tears or sadness by simply entering the room.

Simply days later, I had meeting after meeting after meeting with a tribe of medical professionals:  surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurse after nurse, mental health social worker, and more.  I had made my decision that I was going to wait until my baby was born to do anything.  My surgical oncologist begged me to reconsider.  He thoroughly explained over and over again how it would not hurt the baby.  He displayed twenty-five-year-old studies showing the effects on pregnancy were minimal, albeit real.   It was not until I met with the high-risk OB/GYN doctor when I was still being adamant about waiting six more months until my baby was born that I got my wake-up call.  The obstetrician grabbed me by the arms, she looked me in the eyes and stated firmly, “Chemo will NOT hurt your baby!  You have TWO other children that also need their mother.”  Internally, I collapsed.  If this doctor was willing to assure me that chemo would NOT hurt my baby……well, I had to place my trust in her at this moment because she was right.  I had two older children who did, in fact, need their momma.  Ugh, how did I get to this point?  Where did I go wrong in my life?

Within a week of my all day pow wow with every doctor under the sun, I was scheduled for my sentinel node surgery the following week.  I had been sub-typed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC).  It is more commonly found in women of African-American descent, so why did I have it?  Who knows.  We needed to start treatment immediately.

My very first chemotherapy treatment consisted of two drugs:   Adriamycin (the red devil) and Cytoxan the week after.  The regiment of drugs at the time for TNBC was to include a third chemotherapy called Taxol, but they refused to give it to me while I was pregnant.  I had also begged for a mastectomy, get these boobs off of me but my surgeon felt it was too risky while pregnant, plus because I was so young he was of the breast conservation decision.  I disagreed but he showed statistics that mastectomy would not improve my survival rate.  My baby was more important than a risky infection.  By September 14th, just barely two weeks after my diagnosis, I had already had surgery and started my first of many chemotherapy treatments.

prego scarf nov 07
“Camp Mojito” night to support spreading the word as I geared up for my lumpectomy at 7 months pregnant. First two chemos just completed.

Recalling this time in my life is crystal clear.  One would think that ten years later, the memories would start to diminish.  Isn’t there a cliché about time healing wounds?  I am healed in many ways, but August 31st and the days shortly thereafter are meshed into my being and forever a part of who I am now.  I am blessed to still be here with these vivid recollections because so many of the wonderful women I met along the cancerland highway are not.  My hope is that someone will read this that may be newly diagnosed and have a little hope that ten years down the line, they will recant their story for someone else.  Maybe someone else further out like me will feel validated and resonate with their own memories, “Yes!  I can recall my diagnosis this clearly too!”

Ten years.  Here’s some perspective:  My older two were nine and six on August 31, 2007.  My older two are now nineteen and sixteen on August 31, 2017.  From fourth grade to a sophomore in college for my oldest!  From kindergarten to junior year in high school for my middle.  From in utero to fourth grade for my miracle chemo baby.

Ten years.  Ten glorious years of living life after cancer.  The gift of life a second time over is glorious.  I am looking forward to my next ten years as there’s a whole lot more living to be had.

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Before My Eyes (My Life Flashed)

Before my eyes, last week, my life flashed in front of me. The anxiety that permeated my very being is different than the scare I felt yesterday, when a giant extension ladder fell off the top of the box truck in front of me on the highway. Sure, my heart catapulted upwards into my throat providing an instant gagging feeling and surge of adrenaline as my mind processed the speed of the escaped ladder careening towards my vehicle at least sixty miles per hour or more. As I swerved to avoid the now skidding trajectory, I thanked my guardian angel for allowing me the sense to have at least four to five car lengths between my car and this truck. Scary? Yes. Was I more freaked out with my medical incident of last week? You bet I was.

What happened last week, you ask? I thought I may have cancer again. My life literally flashed before my eyes and the fear of my children and husband growing up without their Momma and wife became surreal.

People assume because I remain in remission from my cancer, that all is well – including me. Heck, that girl is six years out from finishing her treatments…..why is she *still* talking about her cancer? Another friend innocently remarked, “Well, you hit that five year mark, why would you have cancer again?”

Recently, in the past year, I finally graduated to what I call the “big girl” schedule for my oncology follow ups – I only have to go annually now. Yes! Once a year visits to ensure my health remains solid going forward versus the every three month schedule I was on for five years. As much as I wear these oncology graduation milestones as a badge of KickAss, there is a little piece of me that has a heightened sense of anxiety that I only see my miracle workers once a year. A year is a VERY long time in Cancerland.

Last week, I confidently announced that I was going to walk into my oncology visit for my first annual checkup in my typical badass style. I was going to give love to my beloved doctors and be on my way in a half hour or less. After all, I have been working out at least three to four times a week and my nutrition has never been better. I finally have my joint pain under control, whether it is from the remnants of my chemotherapy collateral damage or actually from the rheumatoid arthritis. It has been several years since I have felt this good.

BOOM. CRASH. SREEECCCCH.

The sounds of my world coming to a skidding halt after I pointed out what I thought was a little nothing lump on the back of my neck.

On sight, my medical oncologist believed it to be clinically benign, but in Cancerland everything has to be proven otherwise…meaning a biopsy has to be done to ensure that a strange lump is non-cancerous. In triple negative breast Cancerland, I have recently learned that all bets are off – this disease is a beast in and of itself and everything, I mean everything, must be ruled out for cancer regardless of how much time has elapsed since treatment. Oy.

My doctor said she would schedule a fine needle biopsy for me and we would get it done. Fine. I was calm and collected. No big deal. I remain healthy, I thought to myself. Moments later, my doctor came in and announced that pathology was on their way over within fifteen minutes. Cool.   Let’s just get this done today.

The pathologist walked in and promptly asked if she could perform the biopsy with no lidocaine, as it causes the area to swell and make it harder to obtain a sample. Sure. I have had three kids with no pain meds, what’s a little needle to the back of my neck. Eek.

After jabbing the needle around the lump in my neck, the pathologist seemed slightly frustrated. The lump was hard and dense, not allowing her to get any tissue sample to review under the microscope. Did I mind if she tried again? Sure. The latest images of The Walking Dead entered my mind again as I let this sweet, petite woman jab yet a second needle around the back of my neck. Thoughts permeated my brain like: “Is she close to my jugular?” “Boy, I have been hanging around the gross kids and their stupid movies too long now!” “Oy, what the hell….why is this lump hard and what does this mean?”

The pathologist was not successful in obtaining a tissue sample from the second biopsy. Two neck stabbings down and no results on what this thing was in my neck. I kept my cool. Previous fire drills (aka medical scares) have allowed me to try to remain calm and collected until my medical team gives me a reason to be otherwise. (Okay, my bowels were starting to gurgle!)

My medical oncologist returned and said we need to figure out how we will biopsy the lump so we can know exactly what it is. After she left the room again for a brief period of time, she returned but this time with my beloved surgical oncologist a step behind her.

“Ohhhh, look who I happened to find strolling down the halls!” She exclaimed. The partially retired Chief of Surgical Oncology, two steps behind my doctor; the man who helped to save not only my life, but the life of my unborn child. After I jumped up to give my beloved doctor a hug, I then took pause……they’ve brought the big guns in. Holy poop. I started to debate myself: Dr. Q and I have a special bond, is he here because he loves me and wants to be sure I am okay? Dr. Q is top notch and knows his way around Cancerland….did my other doctor bring him in because…..well, you know……my heart-rate quickened.

Long story later, the big guy decided I needed a punch biopsy and right then and there. He would do it himself, in fact. As relieved as I was to have my savior there and to do the procedure himself, my nerves were on high alert. In fact, during the biopsy itself, I had what I consider my first panic attack. I nearly stopped the biopsy because my heart was pounding OUT OF MY CHEST. If I ever felt like I was having a heart attack, it was at this very moment when my doctor was carving a hole into my neck.

After the punch needle biopsy, my doctor sat down and sighed. With that sigh, he shared with me that triple negative breast cancer can metastasize to the skin. Wait, what? What the what, what? I fiddled with my hearing aid to be sure I heard him correctly.

Post treatment I have been coping with the fear of a recurrence; after all, triple negative breast cancers usually come back in the liver, lungs, brain, bones…….but the skin? That was a new one for me. A quick jaunt to my Triple Negative Breast Cancer forum on Facebook and the question posed was met with countless women who have had skin metastases from all over the world, including those with neck nodules. Holy crap. I quickly jumped off the internet for a bit as it is not the most reassuring place for someone who thinks they may have cancer.

Fortunately, for me, I have some of the best care in the world and despite the fact that my life flashed before my eyes while waiting for results, I got the call from the Big Man himself and heard the magical words every cancer survivor longs to hear: your tumor was non-cancerous. Phew. Phew. Phew.

Despite being six years out from treatment and feeling as healthy as I have been in a very long time, the journey through Cancerland is never quite done. Despite my risks of recurrence going down significantly after five years post-treatment, there is still a risk of recurrence of my disease. I will carry that with me for some time forward.

The thoughts that I am beyond my cancer were resurfaced last week and the feelings made me very vulnerable. Wait, I am the advocate now! I help mentor women through their breast cancer! I am sooooo done with my cancer.

Eff. I had a bit of a reality check last week. Any thoughts I had of moving on from the pink world were firmly re-implanted in my very core. Despite the fear and the vulnerability, I do hope that my experiences shared will alleviate the thoughts of another who is going through the same thing. In the meantime, I will press on and continue to make healthier choices for me and my family. There’s way too much life to live before it flashes before my eyes.

2014-10-21 13.22.21

Repost from “Confessions  Of A Curvy Girl” on October 3, 2013

I do not hate pink. In fact, I find it to be a flattering color for me and the several shades of pink represent so much more for me in my life post-cancer.

I do hate the way pink is used. Pinkwashing. Have you heard of it? Tell me you have not walked into any box store in the month of October and you have not been drowned in pink as it is everywhere. Pink has been branded into a commercial enterprise of its own; namely for many corporations to jump on the breast cancer “awareness” bandwagon and ultimately, reap the benefits of its bottom line profit margin.
nfl pink

Debates abound with some die-harders telling me that a pink ribbon on their bucket of fried chicken does make them stop and think about their breast health for a moment.

kfc pink

Come on! <Insert my most dramatic, sarcastic eye-roll right here!>

Seriously, is it not infuriating that the pink ribbon – a symbol of a horrendous disease and a cause to “cure” the same – is somewhat misplaced on a bucket of obesity inducing fried chicken? How does that pink ribbon on a bag of cat food or cat litter help women with their breast health? Personally, I have seen the ribbon on everything from toilet paper, bubble wrap, Italian sausages, yogurts, duct tape, and countless other items of merchandise for sale.

We KNOW, we KNOW, we KNOW breast cancer exists.  Can we all safely say we are very AWARE that breast cancer is a profound problem currently today?  Um, yes.  Do not even get me started on “the cure”…..that is another blog post in and of itself.

Have you read the label to see how much of your “donation” by purchase of said item actually goes to the purported cause? Maybe ten percent, or maybe ten cents or maybe the disclaimer is as vague as “a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of this product goes to a breast cancer charity (or to breast cancer research).” Wait, what?

Where is YOUR money going?

Buying pink does not necessarily do anything for the hundreds of thousands battling breast cancer each year. In fact, many of the so-called pink items actually contain ingredients that may CAUSE cancer. Yay for a cure!

Come on! <Insert my most dramatic, sarcastic eye-roll right here!>

We CAN do better than this! We can, we can, we can!!!!

Let me tell you a little about breast cancer. Your brain will permanently etch the sound waves of your surgical oncologist calling you to tell you that you have cancer. You will hear that voice in your head for the remainder of your life. You will never, ever forget the dread, the fear, and the pit in the bottom of your innermost core knowing you have a disease that may possibly take your life.

Your eyes will never erase the image of a nurse donning all but a HazMat suit to come administer the insanely toxic and potent poison right….into…your veins. The fear of watching the gelatinous “Red Devil” (aka Adriamycin) arriving in the largest syringe you have ever laid eyes on (bigger than a turkey baster, people) being slowing pushed into the IV port and the feeling of the cool toxic substance surge into your body is similar to what you envision being tortured may be like. You will also panic at the sight of a technician coming in with a metal lockbox containing the radioactive isotopes they inject INTO YOU. Anything that must be under lock and key in a protective safe and deemed *radioactive* (I think Chernobyl if you will), must not be thrust into your bloodstream. Oh, yes, it does.

Despite drinking gallons of liquids to counter the effects of the noxious chemicals soaring through your system, you will not forget the feeling of not being able to poop. That is right. You insist to yourself that what goes in MUST come out. However, trying to poop on chemotherapy is nearly impossible. You actually consider an emergency room visit because it….just…..will…..not……come…..out. You cry.

Your breasts will never be the same. Ever. Not only will you show hundreds of different people your boobies on a daily basis, you will not be able to pull off the name Misty Rain and get tips in your thong for displaying these beautiful mounds. Oh, did I mention that about ninety-five percent of these people who gawk at your boobs will also touch them. Yup. Men and women. Young, middle-aged, and old. You cannot help but wonder how many boobs they touch every day in their professional lives. Seriously, your mind goes there.

Your armpit will be scarred and lymph nodes taken for good. Your breasts may be one or all of the following: scarred, misshapen, lopsided, tattooed, puckered, dimply, discolored, numb, plastic, radiation-induced firm, mis-matched nippled, lumpy, filled with scar tissue or fatty necrosis or even reconstructed from tissue from somewhere else on your body. Your emotional outlook on how your feminine breasts are now far from how you were made naturally may take a huge hit causing you to hide your breasts from your husband or not want to date for fear of disgusting them.

The bone pain from the other poison, called Taxol, will make you contemplate suicide. Take the pain of childbirth and delivery but maximize that by 1000% and pretend you are getting run over by a gigantic Mack truck crushing all of your bones slowly. You will ponder if death is a more palatable alternative.

You will have countless side effects long after the treatment has commenced and your support teams have dispersed. The emotions shift daily and as if on a roller coaster in the Marianas Trench. The residual bone and joint pain makes you shuffle like a ninety year old. The phantom striking pains in all of your surgical sites. The fog brain. Yes, you will not remember anything like you used to. Words you know will be stuck…..somewhere…..as you try to complete your sentences.

Welcome, my friends, this….is……PINK.

In an effort, myself, to do better about the world of pink and to make the lives of my fellow cancer counterparts more comfortable, I had to find a way to ensure that change was being made. I could not ask people for donations to support pink and not be able to tell them where their money was truly going. With a passionate cancer advocate who has bulldozed change herself, we founded PINK Revolution Breast Cancer Alliance. Our mission was to ensure that monies that come into our pink world actually go right back out in its entirety (yes, 100% of those monies – no skimmed fat executive salaries of these so-called NON-PROFITS; no operating expenses to cover extravagant five star hotel functions to “rally the troops”; no cents of the dollars actually coming back to the ultimate cause) to help patients you may very well know yourself.

How can a woman try to fight for her life when she has no disability insurance and cannot work because of the aforementioned “side-effects” of chemotherapy and surgeries; and the assistance she is given through our local social programs is $27/month in food stamps? Oh sure, what little she will try to eat given the projectile vomiting and constant nausea may amount to $27/month.

Come on! <Insert my most dramatic, sarcastic eye-roll right here!>

Our world has become a fast and furiously paced place to live. However, we are all humans and we all have the capacity to love one another and to help one another. Let us bring back the human touch. Let us take a moment from our busy lives to care for each other. It truly does take a village, so let us bring that back.

Donations are immensely helpful and help PINK Revolution fund a number of necessities – from local research at UMass Memorial Medical School Research, to leading edge technology (one of five in the world sophisticated tomosynthesis (3D) machines for betting diagnostic imaging) at UMass Memorial Comprehensive Breast Center, (yes, that’s me on their page),  to improved patient care and funding for items such as wigs, lymphedema sleeves, prosthetics and so much more.

Make your pink dollars count. Know with confidence that your donation is making a huge difference in the life of a very real breast cancer warrior. If you cannot make a donation, there are endless other ways to pay it forward: make a meal for a family going through cancer treatment, give a patient a ride to their chemotherapy, mow their lawn, rake their leaves, watch their young children, clean their house and set the ripple of pervasive change in place for our future generations.  If all else fails, ask me – I will certainly help align you in an opportunity that will allow you to feel even better than buying that pink yogurt.

Let us all be passionately pink.

Let us all be the start of pervasive change.

Have You Ever Looked….*THERE*?

During a recent vacation, I was forced to take an indoor shower. Yes! The horror of an indoor shower while on Cape Cod when the luxury of a warm temperature, blue sky, and ocean salt air infused outdoor shower exists.

outdoor shower

Let us not discuss the reasons behind why the indoor shower was utilized, but instead, let us ask the reason(s) why on EARTH the owners have a full length mirror hanging daftly on the wall just outside of said indoor shower.

While brushing my teeth on our first night, I was reminded that the beautiful farm house we rented has a large mirror above the bathroom commode and when your eyes boringly scan the horizon, there is suddenly a reflection of your backside – a full length vision – courtesy of a full length wall mirror behind you.

mirror

This year I promised myself that I would not go through the typical, annual charades of self-loathing on my body while on vacation. Yes, the constant, internal verbal bashing that occurs every third week of July was NOT going to happen this year. Enough is enough.

As I sat on the beach, the Gremlin started up and I would envy an athletic looking mom that walked by, before telling myself that I am also an athletic mom – albeit with a very different body. That is all. Enough!

When I reached for my cover up to literally cover up after a swim in the ocean with my children, I paused for a moment and I asked myself if I truly needed the *safety* of hiding behind my thin piece of cloth. Yes, yes, I did need it at that moment. Keep your judgments to yourself.  My flabalanche is rather invisible behind these threads.  You do NOT see it.

Ok, I thought I was doing fairly well until the unfortunate Great Indoor Shower event. As I bent over to dry myself off, I happened to inadvertently take a peek .

Ohhhhhh Myyyyyyyy GAWDDDDD.

shock and awe

Oh. My. Oh….heavens. Oh….geesus….. Oh. Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh. Whoa.

You see, as I took my terry towel on the insides of my legs and ankles to dry off from washing; I was not-so-graciously bent over.  I *MISTAKENLY* peeked behind me, through my legs and, and, and….there was *THAT* mirror.

Shock and awe!

shock and awe lucy

Should I stay or should I go?

peeking

It is not every day that a woman gets a full-sized view of the entire tundra of where the sun does not shine. Part of me was horrified and I could not stand to peek for a millisecond longer.  Even with an imaginary thong on, the view was nothing remotely close to the recent social media images of Miley Cyrus and her nethers. A piece of me then halted; I realized that three of the greatest human beings on Earth had humble beginnings in this far part of my world (and yes, god forbid they read this they will cringe and crumple in disgust at their Momma.  Sorry, kiddos!)

miley cyrus

My eyes were suddenly magnetically drawn to the quarter-sized mosquito bites that singed red on my artic white ass cheeks. Literally, I told you, the sun does not shine………well, at least the fear of ass melanoma is likely slim-to-none positive. However, I am now pondering the random thought of whether a mosquito takes a bite into my gluteus maximus with the same ardor that one would chew on a succulent morsel of a rump roast. Anyone?

As my vision shifted and focused like an electron microscope, the scattered hairs demonstrated a need to take better care while shaving – slow the heck down and graze that razor over the vast land of skin, lady!  The latest issue of Cosmopolitan at the hair salon does not promote the mangy, homeless cat look, am I right?  The very chemotherapy that left me bald and looking like a pre-pubescent eight year old, well, my hair follicles are now pretty pissed off. Yes, there is hair……here, there, everywhere……and I must take better care to razor-fy myself with every future shave. No, I cannot bring myself to my nearest hair removal salon and ask them to……….   Did you know my toes and feet could likely resemble Sasquatch if I did not keep my razor near? Since when did *THAT* happen? (I redirected your attention there, intentionally so.)

Enough is enough.

Somehow, I came out of the reflective stupor I was mesmerized by and decided to very quickly get the heck out of the upstairs bathroom. Clothes went on and my thoughts recalculated as we drove to the beach.

Remember that promise to myself? Mmmmhhhhmmmm. Yes, yes, I do. My brain fought the urge to go down the self-destructive path.  Instead, I had to muscle up every ounce of inner strength; and I chose to focus on all that this body HAS done again (please recall I have a hearing impairment….I need things repeated repeatedly in order to *hear* them).

Instead of the flabalanches, cellulite, stretch marks, surgery scars, radiated tissue, extra weight and aging spots upon my being, I decided the mirror reflects only what I choose to see.

My vision of this body has earned every notch and then some over 40 years; my body has:

  • birthed three babies and lost two others early on
  • fought off an aggressive form of breast cancer and won
  • run a marathon
  • completed a triathlon
  • run several half-marathons and countless other road races
  • regularly picked up heavy things and put them down at Crossfit
  • hiked mountains
  • cuddled tears
  • belted out ridiculous laughter
  • advocated for others
  • championed for a better world for all of us
  • hugged friends, and still
  • sprouts way too much hair.

What’s your reflection in your mirror?  Will you be a kinder, gentler person to yourself?

be kind

Fly Free – Revisited

Last weekend, within moments of  when I sat down at my oldest’s soccer game, I had a visitor:

baby dragonfly

Yes, a baby dragonfly!  Hundreds of people at these fields and here I am within moments of arrival…..you have to believe.  Although, this dragonfly will grow up to be one of the gigantic variety that I compare to that of a pterodactyl and is not quite as beautiful as some its opalescent counterparts that shimmer in the sunlight; I took the visit to heart – literally.  Cara came to mind and my heart momentarily squeezed tighter as my recollection become more vivid.  I wondered to myself:  Is she now able to Fly Free

dragonfly

Shortly thereafter, I revisited my former blog,  Confessions of a Curvy Girl link “Fly Free” and I know the answer.  I now daydream of a world that may not necessarily be cancer free, because that is simply how our bodies work, but perhaps, a world where there is much less cancer, better treatments for those that do get cancer leaving little or no Collateral Damage, and the ability for humans to revel in the vastness joys of life!

I am re-sharing the content from the original “Fly Free” post from August 2012 here:

I will never forget the day, approximately three years ago when I was sitting at a local watering hole (a pond, not a drinking place people) and a beautiful dragonfly landed right on me. The beach was filled with people, but yet, this beautiful, metallic blue creature landed on me and stayed with me for an uncommonly long time. My friend commented on this unique moment, as did others – while I simply embraced the peace and beauty his magnificent creature brought. Why did it choose me?

Shortly thereafter, dragonflies were very common around me – and in my presence. Of course, I took particular note of them after the pond incident, but big, beautiful, bird sized dragonflies and small, fragile damselflies hovered around me with an odd frequency. My family even noticed their increased company around my being and I could only wonder what it meant.

Of course, google now being my best friend – I researched the various meanings of dragonflies and what their significance could mean in my life. Here, I’ve summarized them:

  • Change – change in the perspective of self-realization and understanding into the deeper meaning of life (looking beyond the surface).
  • Power and Poise – ability to accomplish objectives with simplicity, effectiveness, elegance and grace.
  • Clear Vision – discovery of one’s own self; by removal of self-created illusions. Iridescence being the property to show oneself in different colors or lights.
  • Living IN the moment and living life to the fullest – by living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and living moment-to-moment. Living without regrets.
  • Uninhibited Vision – open mind and ability to see beyond the limitations of human self.

Wow. Right?

After my cancer battle, my perspective was completely different than before. As cliché as it is, my self-realization of how precious and how short life truly is was magnified as if under an uber-powerful electron microscope.   I tend to over-analyze things in general; however, a clear vision certainly guides one down their destined path.

Another source indicated that dragonflies may often symbolize the appearance of a deceased one in your life. Am I being visited?

Dragonflies are known to live a very short time; hence, the correlation to living in the moment and living life to the fullest. Do dragonflies make the most of their short time on Earth? It’s certainly a good reminder to us humans to make the moments count.

Despite the flight of the dragonflies, I struggle and I have yet to learn how to cope with the shortness of life in people. Some of us die way before our time – before our flight is over; this I understand. I also comprehend (albeit with much frustration), that we will never know the “why”. However, I cannot seem to come to grips with those who die at a young age, particularly because of cancer.

People have offered me various explanations: Scientifically, it’s survival of the fittest – we cannot all live to be 100. Religiously, it is all a part of God’s Master Plan. Medically, his/her body cannot outlast, outwit or outplay cancer and it’s deviance to all modern medicine.

With news of another local warrior entering hospice earlier this week, I have been consumed with heavy thoughts. Every little moment of my day, I am in her shoes. Every moment is a BIG moment.

For example, my daily shower is shrouded by thoughts of how this woman will soon be unable to take a shower and bathe herself in the latest smell of Bath & Body Works shower gel. My morning cup of coffee is savored knowing that the simple pleasure of enjoying a favored drink will soon be no longer an option for her. The latest pop song on the radio may be one of the last enjoyed by her ears. My tears flow heavily for her.

I hug my children so much tighter; knowing that soon, the warm embrace of this beautiful woman will only be a fond memory that her children will have to cling on to. I tell my friends I love them, because I know that in due course, the wonderful friends that have supported this kind soul will cherish all the times they were honored to have with her.

I cry. I cry. I cry.

I only went to high school with her and with her husband. I have taken the small measures that I could during her battle, to try and offset the burden that comes along with a cancer diagnosis; as many in our tight community have done for their family. I am not close enough to this amazing soul that I should be feeling the amount of pain that I do feel.

I cry. I cry. I cry.

Perhaps, my heart is breaking because of my own experience with cancer and my own threat of the possibility of death. I am in her shoes for the time being. I cannot fathom the pain that she and her family are going through as she prepares to finalize her journey. I only know that every time I see a dragonfly going forward, I will think of her. I will know she touched the lives of so many people in her brief stay. The strength she showed during her darkest days; her relentless courage; the brilliant and iridescent smile she afforded everyone in her presence; the vision throughout that life should be lived in moments and memories made………she will fly free.

 

collateral damage

Unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action, especially unintended civilian casualties caused by a military operation.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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Unintended damage caused by a war, perhaps a war against breast cancer in your very own body resulting in collateral damage. The impairments are very real and often reside behind the brave, smiling faces you encounter in a survivor. Despite asking a breast cancer warrior if she’s recovered and well after months of toxic treatments and debilitating surgeries, she is still suffering on a regular basis. How, you ask?

Often times you will not hear about the painful and balance compromising neuropathies in her feet. She hides the stumbling gait: the excruciating pain upon waking, trying to walk like a forty year old and not a ninety year old, from everyone except her husband. Yes, you did see her trip up those steps and hear her joke about her awful clumsiness; however, that smile hides the frustration in the numb feet that caught the lip of the granite and nearly caused a full on face plant, or worse, scraped hands that have braced many a fall.

Nor will she elaborate on the difficulties she faces in buttoning her young daughter’s sweater or fumbling and trying to tie the little shoelaces. The often- times illegible handwriting to the poor teachers in a school note, or the misspelled texts stem from stumpy finger tips that aim but do not always hit on target, are a regular routine event these days, one she just shakes off as a new “normal” post treatment.

Words do not come easy, surprisingly, even for the most motor-mouthed of them all. Regular words feel as if they are on the tip of her tongue, but are nowhere to be found in the circuitry of brainwaves. Disappointment and disgust enter as she tries, she blunders, and she finds a somewhat less-fitting replacement word to continue on in dialogue and unbroken conversation; followed with nervous laughter to disguise the aforementioned disappointment. New words are created as the synapses misfire between mouth and brain creating a weird, and often times hilarious, fusion of two similar words that spurt out simultaneously. Memory is far from what it was pre-treatment, while well-intentioned jokes about age from her spouse are smiled at, a sadness sometimes sneaks in as she *still* tries to get accustomed to the new normal, even five years out from completion of treatment.

Nagging joint pain continues to crash the neuropathy party in her body: a residual daily souvenir of the poison cocktails that surged through her blood vessels systemically; the sole mission of chemotherapy to seek and destroy those cancer cells that formed a mini-brigade against your immune system. The trudge against the very cells trying to mutate and possibly kill her, instead leaves her with a significant amount of collateral damage. While the surgeries may have been successful, the skilled surgeons’ knives left scar tissue and disrupted lymphatic flow – highways re-routed and blocked, further adding to swollen arms and hands as lymph fluid has nowhere else to now go. She does not complain about compression sleeves or pumping, after all she is alive and wakes each day grateful for another day of memories, even if they are foggy.

Phantom pains surface every so often, from breast tissue that is no longer there perhaps, causing her to grimace through the smile at the soccer field because she wants to grab her breast in pain, but knows it is inappropriate in a field full of tween boys. Radiated tissue is harder than non-radiated tissue, a reminder she experiences as she shifts from her right side in bed, to her left side instead and back again because it is too uncomfortable to lay upon that previously scorched side.

breast pain

Chemo weight is nearly impossible to remove, despite 4,552,854 burpees done each week or marathons run. Depression tries to overtake her brain with the weight frustrations, but she smiles again knowing she is alive and the continued efforts to perfect said burpees helps her health in other ways despite the flabalanche that surrounds her middle. Strength may be defined in her life, not only by the size of her deadlift, but instead by knowing she faces the ongoing collateral damage with every ounce of muster she may gather.

Bathing suits are anxiety provoking to most women, but add large surgical scars and uneven, lopsided breasts, and she has to summon the courage to find a flattering suit – one that covers the Frankestein-like marks upon her chest, the radiation tattoos, and helps to adjust the boobs from not being overly stared at for the discrepancy in size. She may want to wear a sign that warns the general public about the scars and misshapen body parts, but she quietly smiles and builds sandcastles anyway.

Despite her unconditionally loving spouse, she may still cover up and hide when he walks unannounced into the bathroom as she exits the shower. She cannot help but wonder what goes through his mind: will he notice the significant different texture in each breast? Will he be turned off by the drastic size difference? Wait, that won’t bother him as much as the anchor-scars that surround each breasts or the rippling or pulling skin from deeply buried scar tissue within? She will then escalate into additional worrisome thoughts: will he be freaked out by the hot flashes and the night sweats? Will he find her early morning hobbling eerily reminiscent of her parents’ old-age disabilities? The collateral damage finds its way into her personal relationships, as if to add insult to injury.

Everyone seems to consider cancer survivors are well after they have beaten their disease, or rather have remained in remission or have no evidence of disease. Many people are unaware of the residual side effects that remain in the weeks, months and years after treatment has long ended. Cancer survivors are told that many of the side-effects will lessen with time or go away all together; but for many, that is not the case and the collateral damage is with them for a lifetime.

Many of us may simply be so thrilled to be alive and to remain free of the disease, we feel this is the “price to pay” for life itself. There are some of us out there that do not cope as well, and wonder if the “price to pay” was worth the daily pain, the new-found disabilities, the slack performance in previously stellar areas of our lives like work and again; the regular amounts of agony left behind when the cancer was obliterated.

The war against cancer, especially breast cancer, leaves significant impairment on the life of the person affected. Many facilities are now only just focusing on survivorship; life after breast cancer and the well-being of the patient once treatment has completed. Recovery needs to be more than follow up appointments every three months to ensure the disease remains at bay. Breast cancer patients need to be sure to continue to advocate for their quality of life post-disease, being educated on residual side-effects that are very real, and knowing what pain is normal and what options for pain management are available.

In the meantime, she may be grinning and bearing it, so give your breast cancer friend a warm and gentle hug to soften the achy joints, offer her compassion as she stumbles in the grass unexpectedly and as she fumbles around for words to add to your conversation. She is learning to live within her post-war environment chock full of collateral damage, despite wearing her best outward smile.

In the meantime, breast cancer survivors are encouraged to participate in the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundations studies – more information may be found here: The Collateral Damage Project

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