Hi…Happy Birthday to me!

pink ink..

Hi Chicklets! Today I am writing a 2-part post. So be patient, I promise it won’t be too long.

PART 1:
So I hit a milestone! I have started going back to the gym! “Why?” you ask!? Two reasons actually. I am getting closer and closer to radiation. As I result, I have started to learn more about the side effects of getting radiation every day, for six weeks. Yes, every day, for six weeks. The most common are armpit discomfort, skin tenderness, skin burn, chest pain, limited arm movement, swelling of the arm and massive fatigue. Just what I need…more fatigue! Really!!?? (They didn’t mention boredom, but 6 weeks of the same cycle has got to bore one to tears!) But article after article said that the best way to combat this fatigue was to walk at least 4 hours a week. Doesn’t sound bad huh? Well I haven’t been in a gym in 3 months. I get tired walking up the 10 stairs to my front door. Plus, let me remind you that I am still going through chemo! The thought of going back to the gym regularly completely stressed me out. In fact, it made me…tired!

Then last week, I was on one of my marathon phone convos with Red Ink Michele. She informed me that she and her eldest son were starting to train for a mini triathlon! Now, Michele is a former dancer, and is always fit. But, like me, she goes to the gym because it’s the right thing to do, not because she loves it! So to hear that she was committed to training for a triathlon, I suddenly became…a little motivated to put my toe back into the gym water. (Side note, how cool is it that she and her 15 year old are doing that together! I can only hope Lil B will want to do something like that with me in 6 years!) Anyway, the side effects of radiation and Michele’s new challenge got me out and to the gym.
Two things you should know.

1.I was scared to death. Will I be able to walk for 45 minutes? After all, I have limited strength/endurance now! I’m in chemo! Will people stare at the bald lady? What if my boobs start to hurt from the movement? What if I pass out? These questions swirled in my head as I stretched and got my music together!

2.I am now firmly on an emotional roller coaster! I fought back tears for the 1st ten minutes of my workout! “Why?” you ask…again. It was a lot to take in. It was a combination of being happy to be back in the gym, happy to be using my body in a positive way for the 1st time in months, and great frustration at not being able to get on my favorite machines. I am an “upper body” workout chick. I like weights (if I must work out) and the rowing machine in particular. But no way I can go anywhere near them for at least another 4-6 months. I wore my Race for a Cure shirt proudly…or perhaps as an explanation, but felt self-conscious. Not a feeling I was used to. Again, fighting tears. How did I get here? Folks cry over getting cancer. I didn’t! Why am I crying about going to the gym!?

So by now, you have probably gotten a million different versions of “Sh*@ people say…” in your email. Watch the one for breast cancer below! Hilarious. I experienced my own versions while I was at the gym.
“Oh, cancer huh?”

“Your head looks great!”

“I like your shirt.” (Really? It’s a Race shirt…)

“Are you ok, walking?”

“You look like Halle.” (Ok, no one BUT Halle looks like Halle!!! Come on people!)

“Don’t worry. You can do it”

These are just some of the things people felt motivated to say to me as I was passing them on the track…or in the bathroom. Folks I did not know! Other people just looked at me with pity or the “sad eyes”. But instead of upsetting me, this made me laugh inside, and just focus on my task of walking. Yes, I made it, 2 miles! I felt good. Each day, I am determined to get control of my body back.

As I was leaving the gym, I ran into my old Pilates trainer. She didn’t know, so I filled her in. She burst into tears, grabbed me, and said she didn’t know what to say. I understand that. It is hard to find the right words if you know the person. I understand that. My suggestion is to not focus on the words. Most times, I don’t remember all the versions of “I am praying for you, God will get you through, You are strong, Don’t worry you won’t die”. My advice is to just “be present”.

If you are at the grocery store, gym, or at your kid’s school and see someone like me, my advice is to just smile, give the “head nod”…and say “HI”.

PART 2;
Happy Birthday to me!! Yes, as my sis said, I had a birthday this weekend! Thanks to EVERYONE who sent cards, called, texted, sent gifts etc! I felt the love! What did I do for my birthday?

I WENT TO VEGAS BABY!

Yes, you read correctly. I flew. To Vegas. Land of the many germs! Big B had to go on business, and I decided to tag along. I don’t gamble. The fun for me was to have nothing to do. I just wanted to relax, and take in all the nuts in Vegas.

Medical Minute Detour: Big B and I flew to Vegas. When you have lymph nodes removed during a mastectomy, flying becomes a mild problem. One has to wear a compression sleeve…for the rest of her life…when she flies. Then she has to keep it on for 24 hours after the flight. It looks like a nude stocking. When I picked up my sleeve last week, I didn’t know about lymphedema. So I am sharing! If I don’t wear the sleeve while flying, my arm will blow up to the size of a football, and possibly not go back to its regular size! It’s called lymphedema, and very uncomfortable and annoying. I knew immediately, I didn’t want that to happen. Plus I’m too vain! Who wants a fat arm and a skinny arm? Not me, so I wore the sleeve! And yes, I was completely paranoid for 24 hours that my arm was going to explode…along with my new “girls”!

Vegas was a great trip. The weather was nice, and the food great. Not to mention all my birthday wishes from afar! I bought my 1st post surgery bra! But the best part of my birthday weekend (other than being with Big B) was courtesy of the Armstrong/Talbot crew.(LUV you guys!) They sent me to the Bellagio spa for the day, to get reinvigorated. Reinvigorate, I did! If you ever have cause to give something to a person who is going through a medical challenge, a spa day is a great gift. It was the 1st time in months that I had “treatments” done to my body that weren’t “killing something” in my body! These treatments made me feel good about my body. They made me feel pretty. For example, my masseuse was experienced in working with mastectomy patients. She helped me lay on my stomach for the 1st time in 7 weeks! Again, I…say it with me…CRIED.

Truth moment…the 1st ten minutes of my massage, I had the irrational thought of wondering if the massage would stir up any lingering cancer cells in my body! But my masseuse worked that stress out.

More Sh*@ folks say…Yes, my pedicurist said to me on 3 occasions “Don’t worry, you will live”. Seriously? Do you not see the champagne in my hand! I am good! Not thinking about dying today!

Birthdays are not promised. I know that more than ever. Last week, I was reminded that had I not found my tumor, I would probably be dying now. It was that aggressive (GOT to love the honesty of medical professionals). So on my birthday, I “let go”. I did have serenity and peace of mind. My life is firmly in the Cancer Lane, and that’s my journey. On my birthday, I acknowledged the wisdom that allowed me to be aware of my body and its changes. I thanked God for giving me another birthday.

Then I had another glass of champagne!

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday, my friend

Red ink . . .

Today is Barb’s birthday and she is feeling well enough to celebrate with her hubby. Now that’s a great present! I’m just amazed to think about how much has happened in this year. Last year this time, we couldn’t have imagined the twists and turns that this year would bring. Today brought wisdom in the most unlikely of ways. While working on an assembly line at a service project doing VERY monotonous work (putting labels on cans for three hours), another mom friend shared with me the therapeutic wisdom that we simply have to learn to deal with uncertainty and to let go of the illusion of control that we cling to so desperately. We were talking about our teenaged sons, and expressing our frustration at not knowing how to “fix” their problems or “change” a particular situation that they’re faced with. “Letting go and letting God” is something that I’m definitely still working on! Over the mountains of boxes and tons of shiny cans, my friend shared that the act of letting go had given her real peace. I was so grateful for the reminder, and for the mundane, routine tasks that gave us the occasion to share such an important truth. It made me grateful also for all of the mundane, routine things in my life that I can still get my arms around when the big things are swirling out of my control. I often retreat to the simple things that I can manage (like cleaning, laundry, organizing things) and remember the wonderful prayer of St. Francis “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s that prayer that I hope my lil’ sis is feeling today. She surely has courage to spare. I’m wishing her also the serenity and the wisdom. Who knows what next year brings, but these gifts will help both of us handle whatever comes our way. I pray also that she will continue to handle it with good humor and pure honesty. I sent her this video that I found online earlier this week, and she laughed out loud. LOLOL! Hope you do, too! I promised her that I’d post it to our blog, so here it is . . . Watch it while enjoying a glass of wine, and reading something about what’s trending. Raise your glass to Barb wherever you are! Happy Birthday and many, many, many more!

Oh sunny day

pink ink…

Today my friends, is a good day. We have had a few dark days over the past few weeks, but today is a pretty good day. But for reasons that may surprise you. I read a quote today that hit me.

“A True friend will bring sunshine and a smile to your face even on the darkest of days.”

Now I have been writing about my great friends since I hopped into Life in the Cancer Lane. But today, my thoughts turned to my friends from times past, particularly those in Charlotte and in Philly. Last night I got an email from one of my Charlotte Link sisters whom I haven’t seen in a few years. I was tired and sore and mildly nauseous, but it made me so happy. Her sentiments really meant a lot. I couldn’t believe she took the time to reach out to me. I haven’t lived in Charlotte in 5 years, but I still keep up with a few people. The “news” has made its way to Charlotte, and folks have really stepped up. I have been especially moved by my friends from Lil B’s 1st playgroup, and from Jack & Jill. Though we haven’t seen each other, they follow the blog, send me cards, texts and emails. Just want my southern belles to know that it means the world. It makes me smile.

Further north, I have 2 friends in Philly whom constantly check in on me. One was my running buddy in high school, whom I reconnected with at my reunion in May. (Hey Lizzy!) The other was one of my best “guy” friends forever. We come in and out of each other’s lives but as they say, “a friend is someone you can speak to today, tomorrow, or in a year & pick right up where you left off.” Again, their “presence” during this journey means so much to me. To the Philly Crew, I say thanks for bringing sunshine to my day! You are “true friends”!

Sitting on my deck this morning, reflecting on this, I realized I was “happy”, having a “sunny day”.

DETOUR: Another reason for a sunny day. I made it through the 1st week back on chemo. You know what, it was not as bad as I thought! Still sucked! But I am not throwing up off the side of my bed. As I mentioned, this drug is for cancers that have “come back”. Side effects, my toes and balls of my feet are tingling. That’s neuropathy. Evidently, a typical side effect. My tongue is tingling and sensitive. Been there, done that. The most…interesting…umm…annoying effect is that I have bowel movements 3 times a day. Yay! This is awful for a chick who is usually a once every 2 or 3 day chick. BUT, I count my blessings. It could be throwing up 3x a day. I only took Zophran for 3 days!! MIRACLE! Again, reasons to be happy!

DETOUR #2: Biggest reason to be happy today…I am healing. It has been 5 weeks since my 1st surgery. 3 ½ from the 2nd surgery. My tubes are out, and I only have one more “fill” for my expanders. I am at about 80% on my left arm with re: mobility. Maybe 60% on the right. I still can’t lift much, but it’s getting better. I have boobs now! Don’t be alarmed! They look bigger than they are! Still a B cup. Because they are expanders, they are hard and sit up high. The real implants won’t come until late spring, early summer. But that’s ok. They will look much more natural! Most important, my scars are healing. While the scars are positioned well, I was nervous that they would stay “dark” or would keloid. But the darkness has started to fade, as you can see. So again, reasons to be sunny!

Be happy for me! I have once again found the “sun”!

I hope wherever you are, your day is …sunny!

And the winner is

pink ink…

Happy belated MLK Day! While you were out walking in a parade, or enjoying your day off, I was back in the Chemo Chair. I did take a moment to reflect on the fact that the doctor who sent me to get that diagnostic mammo back in September was a Black woman. In addition, the person who put together and leads my treatment team is a highly recognized Black female doctor! However, it is not lost on me that in 5 months, I have never seen a black receptionist, nurse or orderly at Mayo. Progress?

My long weekend was filled with a bit of anxiety leading up to the “big day”. Big B and I did squeeze in a “date night”, the 1st in many months. It was great to just go out, eat and talk. Fortunately, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time discussing Life in the Cancer Lane. We briefly discussed chemo effects versus surgery, and a couple of people who have disappointed us. But beyond that it was “good times” as they say. Sunday, I went to our monthly support group (cbbcaz.org). Once again, I spoke a little bit more than I expected to. There were a couple people who didn’t realize what my journey was. They didn’t connect the baldhead to cancer. Lol. I ended up sharing my holiday experience, and that chemo was coming once again. I also got to thank my cancer mentors, again, for all their help. Everyone was so supportive, I was glad I “shared”.

At the meeting, one of my close friends reminded me that my chemo plan was bookended by awards season! How could I forget! (Thanks Crystal!) So Sunday night Guiliana of E! covered the Golden Globes out in LA and I covered them….from my couch in Paradise Valley! (Side note, one of my doctors thinks that Guiliana must not be going through immediate reconstruction. She is moving too well, and on her feet for too long to be 6 weeks out. Seriously, I can’t really raise my right arm @ 5 weeks, & I am exhausted!) But, here’s the quick and dirty…

George Clooney and Idris Elba (minus the sneakers), are like fine wine! Yum!

Among the best dressed…Nicole Kidman, Heidi Klum, Zooey Deschanel. ( I didn’t love Angelina’s look.)

Ricky Gervais…tame.

But the best part of the night? That small piece of “normal” that I have been craving! Big B gave up the big TV, handed me some wine, and said “Go at it”. So I had a very relaxing evening. I ended up sleeping on and off that night. But I expected that. I awoke to many supportive and emotional texts and emails from all the folks who remembered that I started chemo again. To you all, I send a great big hug! I needed them to get me out the door!

If you are wondering, Chemo was fine. I didn’t cry when I walked into the suite. Actually, I was surprised by how emotionless I was. The nurse remembered us. (Scary!) We had to take Lil B with us. All our friends were out of town or at the MLK parade. This time we had no issues with her coming with us. We told Lil B it was “new medicine”, leaving out that it was actually chemo. But we think she figured it out. She is a trooper and just played on her ipad. It’s been 6 weeks since my port has been accessed. So despite numbing cream, I definitely felt the needle! The nurse had to do it twice, to really get it in the vein.. So I am a little bruised. But otherwise, the process went smoothly. It was much shorter. Only 1 ½ hrs, and we were out of there. So far, just fatigue and a little nausea. BUT, my tongue is already tingling and sore! Cannot believe I just got my taste back, and in a day, it is leaving again! My boobs are feeling ok today. I am supposed to get my last expansion in a couple days. Hopefully I won’t be nauseous, and the expansion will go well.

So that’s it for another 3 weeks. It is almost cruel to have 3 weeks in between treatment. Just when I am feeling good again, BAM, I will be back at it! But, I have the BET Honors, the Grammys, and the Oscars to look forward to. Like the Golden Globes kicking off treatment, the Oscars fall on the Sunday before my last treatment! So perhaps I will have my own Oscar Party! I may even dress up! If, just this once, my treatment goes as planned. If, this time, this is truly my last chemo treatment, I can say…

And the winner is…ME!

Buck up!

pink ink…

So we have reached the mid-way mark of the Life in the Cancer Lane…we hope! In my “Another Bwats Production” special on BET/Paramount (Again, HELLO Mr. Armstrong! Make it so!), OWN or Lifetime, this would be the end of the 1st hour. So far you have seen diagnosis, chemo, surgery, more surgery. The viewer has seen me going back to thank the nurses at the hospital who helped me. They’ve seen our joy at receiving Lil B’s straight A report card, a blessing given everything she has had to endure the last couple months. The viewer has seen me try and resume some normalcy by attending my monthly Links meeting, and my 1st attempt at driving down the street. Also depicted, the removal of the tubes (yes, they are out!), and the inflation of the expanders to what seems like ridiculous proportions!

But then the “special” takes yet another turn. The one where the viewer says, “OK, now this is getting ridiculous. No way”. The “Scene” has me and Big B sitting in the Oncologist’s office as we hear the news that I will be starting Chemo again. Yes, you read correctly. I am back to chemo. And yes, I am in shock, and say, “this is getting ridiculous!” I, like the viewer, want to turn off the TV and move on to something more upbeat!

So on MLK day, I will walk back into the Chemo Center at Mayo. Ironically, it is the day that I was originally supposed to have my LAST chemo treatment. I was supposed to be “free” on this date!! But here we are! “Why?” you ask. My cancer was “special” evidently. When the docs did the pathology after the mastectomy, they found that while 70% of the tumor had died during chemo, 30% was still alive and thriving. Normally, breast cancer patients do 8 rounds of chemo. I did 5. While they initially thought that once the tumor was out, radiation would be enough, they changed their minds after examining it further. The Oncologist wants me to complete my chemotherapy and go another 3 rounds. I will be receiving a drug that is specifically for cancers that have “returned”. They say if I were older they might have decided otherwise. But b/c I am young, this will give me the best chance for survival. There are various side effects…nausea, of course, tingling in hands and feet, dizziness, loss of hair etc. Naturally, I got the “you may not have any of these” lecture. But we all know that’s not true!

If you have been following my journey, you know that this was devastating news. I must be honest and say that for 2 days, my spirit was crushed. I mean really beat down. This hit me worse than the diagnosis, worse than the surgery, just WORSE. Again, you may ask, “why?” At the end of the day, chemo sucks the joy and energy out of me, and my family. Not to be underestimated, I also just want my body to feel “normal” again. At the time the doctor told me more chemo, I still had tubes hanging from me. I still can’t really lift or do anything. Still sleeping partially sitting up. And, now my boobs are sore from the expansion. (Side note: They are GI-Normous for me! Lol) So I long for the days of my body just feeling whole. I mean, I just got back my sense of taste! My tongue is no longer black! My hair is SLOWLY growing back! So the thought of regressing makes me feel almost…resigned/beat down. Is this my “new normal?” I was very sad. How do I do this again? How do I tell Lil B?

For 2 days, “red ink” Michele, Tracey, Michele, my other big sis/Link sister, and Big B, pulled me back from the cliff. They allowed my tears (yes, tears again!!! What’s wrong with me!), they listened, they told jokes, they comforted. But at the end of the day they all said “Buck up. This is what you have to do”.

So my friends, no upbeat ending. No smiling pictures. I am back at it in a few days. Dr. King had a dream, or two. So do I. That one day soon I will have my body back. That I will be cancer free.

But until then…I will just BUCK UP!

Counting Blessings in the New Year!

red ink . . .

Growing up, my dad always reminded us to “count our blessings.” I’m certain that his “half-full” philosophy has kept me afloat on many occasions when life circumstances alone could have sunk me. My slightly more cynical twist on his mantra is that I always remind myself that things “could be worse” whenever facing something difficult, and then go on to count the things that I am grateful for. Now, I must confess that I host the occasional pity party for one where I moan and groan and wonder “why me?” or “why mine?” (Come on, we all have THOSE days, don’t we?) But dad’s mantra (even though he’s been gone for almost 14 years now), somehow, always brings me back. Like the seizure that my oldest son had (after 5 months of being seizure free) on the last full day of school before the Christmas break. While at home wrapping Christmas presents, I once again received that terrifying call from his school telling me that he had a seizure and that the ambulance was on the way. This time though, the call came from an “angel” security guard at his school who was familiar with my son’s history and could talk to the paramedics until I arrived. Naturally, I was devastated that this happened to him again, when we all thought it was under control, but I was so very grateful as I’ve been before that 1) he was ok, 2) that an angel was there for him until I could be, and 3) that he wasn’t out in a street somewhere where nobody knew him.

As we mark the passing of one year into the next, there are so many crazy things going on in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. In addition to Barb and the B-Rileys, every single person I talk to seems to have their own serious life challenge that they’re facing as we begin this new year. I find myself cautiously but hope-fully saying “Happy New Year” because I so want it to be true for all of us.

My family shared the new year with a very close friend of mine and her family, who have endured life challenges that are unimaginable including the loss of a child. Though my best gift was our time together over a cup of tea while our husbands watched the football game and our children hung out and enjoyed each other, she also gave me a simple vintage “blessings bracelet” with four pearls to remind me of the blessings that I have in my life. Immediately, I thought of my husband and three kids, but I also began to think of the long list of other things that I can count as blessings at this moment, right now.

This beautiful reminder – to be grateful for the little things that we so often take for granted, like the use of our limbs or the laughs of our children – was a wonderful way for me to begin this new year.

Despite the challenges and the things that we all wish were not, what are you grateful for? Focusing on those things more will surely make this, at least, a happier 2012!

Quest for Quiet…

pink ink…

Happy New Year! 2012 is finally here! I hope everyone had a good Holiday! Mine was…of course…a journey! On New Years Eve, I had been home from the double mastectomy about 2 ½ days. I was actually feeling pretty good. The weather was in the 70s, and I was spending the days sitting outside or in the living room looking out at the mountains. The night before, Big & Lil B went to the Fiesta Bowl. (I love the daddy/daughter bonding over…FOOTBALL!) My pain was finally under control, and we all felt that we were on the road to recovery. Everything was “quiet” as they say.

On New Years Eve, 4 of our closest friends came by. They brought great food and spirits. (Alas, none for me). We spent the next few hours just reflecting on the year, our friendship, and just laughing. They are part of that inner circle I mentioned, who knew that this was exactly what we needed. Nothing fabulous, just a piece of normal. We had missed the New Edition concert the previous night, and they proceeded to act out the concert…including Bobbi Brown antics! Hilarious! It especially made me happy to see Big B relax, laugh, and act silly with his Fraternity Brothers. He needed that more than I did.

But alas, nothing is truly simple, normal, or quiet in our Cancer Lane! About 10pm I noticed my right breast was starting to feel engorged, like when you are breast-feeding. Now, my immediate thought was “well, I don’t have breasts anymore to engorge, so it must be the nerves reconnecting.” A ½ hr later I noticed my tubes were full of blood. I excused myself, and dragged B to the back with me. I unhooked my bra and found my right boob was the size of a football. We kicked everyone out and were off to the ER. (Actually, I think we left before they did!) Boob size and pain were growing by the minute! Next thing I know, I am having surgery for internal bleeding! Skin stretched beyond its limit. Ten days of recuperation, out the window! So our New Year started off where it ended. At Mayo Clinic.

As a result, it has taken me a few days to read all my Happy New Year texts, and emails or post. Overwhelmingly, people wish for me to have a better 2012 than 2011. Yesterday, I was having a pity party, just wanting control of my body/life again. As a result, I was thinking a lot about last year. What I came to realize is that my 2011 wasn’t that bad. Actually until September 15th, I had a really good year. I have a great family, and we made really good memories. How many people get to celebrate their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, at a big family gathering? How many people get to enjoy 3 out of 4 Saturdays of a month on “date night” with the love of their life? I saw all the people around the country that I NEEDED to see. There were many whom I wanted to see but couldn’t. But those that I needed to see/touch, I did. We created great memories with lil B all around the country, and right here, in our own living room. I taught my daughter to wash clothes, cook her own breakfast and lunch, and manage her hair. These lessons came in handy the last quarter of the year. Big B continued to have a great career, and became even more involved in the community. I helped launch a support group that was desperately needed in AZ. (cbbcaz.org) Yes, in September we hopped into the Cancer Lane, but before that, we were on cruise control.

The last few months have provided many bumps in the road. Cancer. Chemo. Returning tumor bigger than before. Emergency surgery. Emergency Surgery #2. So what I wish for in 2012 is to return back to “cruise control”, to the “quiet”. I know I will be in the Cancer Lane for a moment. I just wish for the ride to go a bit more smoothly. No real resolutions. If I had to have one, I would resolve to remind myself that I do have “Hope and Joy” in my life. I will remind myself that there are funny moments…many actually…on this journey. (If you could have seen me trying to put on a sport bra this morning, you would be laughing also. Picture me stepping into the bra b/c I can’t lift my arms, pulling it up over my butt and hips, and then trying to manage my other 3 ‘fake’ arms up through the bra, and finally, my real arms that I can’t lift or move higher that chest level! Truly a comedic moment)

I wish you all a happy, healthy 2012! I wish for myself, a return to normal. Knowing that will include cancer in some way, I still invite you on my

Quest for Quiet…