Hope Floats

red ink…

No surprise that I, too, have a favorite song from the play “Wicked” – It’s “Because I Knew You” and the refrain goes “Because I knew you . . . I have been changed for the better . . . I have been changed . . . for good.” My kids and I sang that song in my house at the top of our lungs for months after seeing the play last Christmas eve. It made me think of my besties, especially Barb, who are so very different from me in many ways, but who have loved and accepted me just as I am, and in the process have made me better and changed me. The tale of love and acceptance – true friendship – no matter what is my favorite thing about that wonderful musical that no one should miss – but maybe you don’t have to see it 5 times! (smiles to Barb!)

So the last couple of weeks of radio silence have been a little tough, I’ll admit. Now I understand how many others in my little sis’s life have been feeling all along. Texting during the Oscars was as close as we’ve come to a genuine conversation in weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I completely empathize with the need to retreat and focus, especially when you are trying to get through something, because I do it often, and can now better relate to how my people feel when I’m M.I.A. and they just want to “be there for me.” As I’ve said to pink ink many times in response to the reactions of others who she wasn’t in contact with, “this is your journey and you get to travel through it the way that feels best for YOU.” That advice holds true even when it means she doesn’t feel like talking to me!

Communicating, under these circumstances, isn’t just for the person facing the challenge but for the supporters as well. Supporters, it turns out, have a need to “support.” Barbra’s Backers were there because they wanted to support, and formed their team out of their love for her and Brendon, but also out of their need to do something. In every area of my life, I’m a fix-it chick – just give me a problem and I’ll try to fashion a fix. Not doing anything active simply doesn’t come naturally. I’m learning through this and through other challenges that it’s important to recognize that YOU (read “I”) can’t always fix it, and that trying to can be, well . . . annoying. Some things are simply out of your control – now there! I struggle with this mightily, but am learning to have peace with just being still. It’s a gift actually, to know that my actions or inactions for that matter, don’t always change the outcome because sometimes I just screw up and do or say exactly the wrong thing even with the best of intentions.

I believe there is a purpose to everything, so honestly on my darkest days (which are rare) I wondered sadly if God was preparing me to be without her as I looked to others for the every day banter and the soul comforting laughter they we usually share. That is an honest, unimaginable, thought that I have not dared utter before. On most days though, I just pray, wish her good thoughts, and think about our reunion in the Inkwell, laying on that beach, laughing and watching our chicklets enjoy each other, occasionally with the hubbies along for awhile. With the last chemo behind her (YEA!!!) and only radiation between us, let the countdown begin . . .

I also realize that I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog for awhile in part because Barb’s posts have been so powerful that my responses seemed inadequate. While my life continues, with some pretty difficult challenges of my own I can assure you, I have been feeling more and more like my problems were a distraction and my voice didn’t really have a home here, and that’s ok. This really is Barb’s story and she should absolutely tell it. I’ve witnessed that life in the cancer lane is at times all consuming and can take up all the air in the room. Barb’s need to just catch her breathe over these past few weeks, and find her own rhythm in the midst of it all makes perfect sense to me.

So while my own wacky life, with its not so normal ups and downs, spins along, Barb has been less a part of it (and I less a part of her’s) during these past few weeks as she focuses all of her energy on feeling better and spending time with her loves. I have hope though that what we absolutely require is provided and takes the shape of the most convenient container. So today is a day that I’ll focus on hope in the form of friends who show up in hospital rooms or take you out for drinks, family members who care for your children and come when you need them, or the true loves of our lives who share our story as it is unfolding. Barb’s journey demonstrates to me that hope truly defies the gravity of our situations. Here’s to Hope!

Finish line…

pink ink…

Well I did it! I made it through EIGHT chemotherapy sessions! I don’t have much to say about it. After the VERY boring Oscars, I had my typical hour of anxiety before I went to bed. Once again, Big B walked me back from the cliff. You would think I would be excited about this being the last treatment. But a small part of me kept saying…”what if it’s not?” I also dreaded the pain. But big girl panties and all, I got up yesterday and headed to MAYO.

My mom came in town to join me on this last trip. We decided to leave lil B in school. (You know a mind is a terrible thing to waste!) But I did bring a picture of her and Michele-Red Ink with me! The treatment was without incident. I thought I might lose my breakfast, at one point, but managed to keep it together! Lol.

Before I knew it, the buzzer went off and the last bit of chemical entered my body! Yay! No more Adriamycin (Red Devil), Taxol, or Abraxane! I am done with the Macro killing of Cancer cells. Can I get a collective “Finally”!?

Next thing I knew, the nurses were all coming toward me with tamborines, noise makers, and bubbles! Everyone was clapping, and offering congratulations! I guess I am really through. I cried as they handed me my Certificate of Completion signed by all the nurses. What a wonderful, caring group of women! To my MAYO chemo family, I say THANK YOU! I hope I never have to see you again!

Next I turned to my left and saw my Link & Sorority Sister/Radiation doctor walk in! It was like a party! You can see the tears if you look close! lol

To all who have sent emails, texts and cards on the days of Chemo. To all the folks who sent prayers on days of chemo. To my family who sat with me on days of chemo, I say I’m done…with chemo! Thank you!

BUT, we are not done yet. Shortly, I will start radiation every day for 6 weeks. (That’s the micro killing of cancer cells) Word on the street is that it will be “easier”. I will keep you posted.

Right now, I see it as my last hurdle before…the FINISH LINE!

Defy Gravity

pink ink…

Whew! It has been a rough and busy almost couple of weeks since Valentine’s Day! Seems like yesterday, I was enjoying my V Day. But it’s been tough.

You know that I have worked hard not to “define” myself by this not-so-new diagnosis. I feel like I have done a pretty good job. But sometimes, Cancer comes at me on all sides, and I feel like I am drowning. First, my New York “family” unexpectedly lost a jewel to cancer. Then, good friends here learned that their mother has aggressive cancer. Finally, 2 days later, another close friend was thrown sideways into the Cancer Lane! Everywhere I turned, there was this feeling of “ here we go again”. As people were discussing diagnosis, treatment etc, I was in mild shock. It hit me hard because once again, folks’ lives were turned upside down, and it made me think about my mortality. My cancer mentor admitted she was scared each time she went to the doctor! Here I was, just thinking about finishing chemo. Silly me!

To top it off, I had really bad bone pain these last 2 weeks. I got a Neulasta shot after the last chemo. Usually, the pain lasts 1 week. This time it has lasted the whole 3 weeks! I even called the doctor to see if this was normal. Alas, it was normal, just very rare. The way it has been described, is the type of discomfort that people with MS and Sickle Cell deal with. Lovely.

So, I kind of went into a hole. Resting my bones. No talking to Red Ink, or my parents. Long distance texts and emails ignored. Just resting, and re-focusing on making new memories with my immediate family.

Did I mention that we also lost Whitney Houston during that time?

What did I do during this time of re-focus other than sit? I went to see my FAVORITE musical for the 5th time! Yes, WICKED! It was Lil B’s 1st time, but she knows the soundtrack by heart. To the dismay of our seat-mates, we sang and cried! Yes, I cry every time I see it! To see Lil B enjoy my fave musical was magical! Then, we had a mommy-daughter dinner with 2 other families who saw Wicked for the 1st time. But alas, dinner was marred by a waiter bumping into my “cancer” side. Actually, he jammed a chair into my arm and boob. The yelp that came from me drew 2 managers and 4 servers. A week later, I am still bruised.

Another highlight of this period, was also a very humbling experience. This weekend my family participated in the Climb for Cancer…at 6:30am! It is a 5 mile uphill hike! We made it…2 miles! So we walked 4 miles total, up and down! Even lil B! But the humbling part was that Big B’s company created a team in my honor! They named it “Barbra’s Backers”, and raised thousands of dollars. There were even t-shirts! Most of these people had not met me, but knew my story. Big B did not ask for this, and was frankly a little embarrassed, yet obviously honored. Initially, I was just going to cheer from the sidelines. But because of the spirit and attitudes of Team Barbra’s Backers, I hiked as well! To the Wells Fargo folks, I say a big “THANK YOU”!

Twelve hours later, I was at a Gala raising money for women who have had hiccups in life, and need a “Fresh Start”. A great “date night”, with close friends…and ½ of Phoenix! Feet and bones hurting, I weathered on! Side note…I wore a dress I had worn before. Before I had BOOBS! So I had to re-adjust! Big Boob girls, I feel your pain! I spent half the night hoping I wouldn’t pop out! So much so, that when a magazine asked for my picture and who I was wearing, I FROZE! How did that happen!! What would Guilianna say!!!!?? I quickly recovered. But I fear I was too late!

Finally, today, I went to the Symphony with Lil B to see Broadway Rocks. Again, enjoying musical theater with my mini me! Awesome! Once again, I am sure our seat mates were wishing we wouldn’t sing. (It wasn’t loud! I promise)

So I am about to settle in for MY Super Bowl…the Oscars. As I mentioned, I am closing out chemo, by watching the Oscars! I fear not much excitement. But I will be happy b/c I will be less than 24 hours away from my LAST chemo! This time for real!!! They promised! So if they change again, I say we all go up there and make some noise!

(My Oscar Predictions: Jean DuJardin, Meryl, Octavia, Chris Plummer, The Artist->Let’s talk tomorrow! I am still hoping George pulls an upset.)

So while it has been a tough few days, I tried not to be held down. I continue to try and…Defy Gravity!

UPDATE: 8:00am MST: Headed to chemo in 5 minutes! My Oscar predictions were right on! Look out Guiliana! Also, Defy Gravity, for the uninitiated, is the main song from Wicked! It urges you to never be held down by something, or someone. Reach for the highest dream!

Love…Yourself

pink ink…

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is one of the days we are supposed to tell those we love how much we love them. I just sent my daughter and hubby off to school and work filled up with love. To all my friends and family, thanks for loving ME these past 6 months. I wouldn’t be here without you. To my doctors, thanks for loving your jobs enough to show up and help me getter better. I love you all!

But the person I am loving the most today? ME! I am going to take the day, do nothing except love me, and the fact that I am still alive! I am going to also make a valiant effort to love how I look today! Trust me, that will be a challenge!

As “Aunt Wendy” Williams says, I am a woman of a “certain age”. When I turned 40 a few years ago, I celebrated all year. I don’t understand people who feel it’s the beginning of the end. I felt the most secure in myself of my life. You see, I’m an “average looking” chick. I have friends who are much better looking, in better shape, have better hair! I have a mom who looked better at 40, 50, & 60 than I do now. I have a cute daughter who may end up living in a tower, if my husband has anything to do with it. We all have our issues with how we look. But, up until now, I was good with that! I was healthy and actively working to “keep it together” as they say. I mean, I am basically thin, HAD decent hair, and was pretty happy with how I looked. How many times have I talked about how I will wear a bikini until the bikini police come to get me!? But in the last few months, it has been a bit…umm…different.

Notice that I am specifically talking about the superficial. The “beauty” side of being of a certain age. Trust me, I know that being happy is much more than that. I have spent the last 9 years trying to teach my daughter that beauty is on the inside. I constantly tell her you can be a “beautiful” person on the outside and still be tortured. (hello Halle) or just mean. (Lena Horne) I remind her that beauty comes and goes. But that’s not my message today!

This week, I was reminded that it is also about perception.

As you can imagine, Life in the Cancer Lane can drastically affect your appearance, how people see you and how you see yourself. The drastic change in appearance affects how others treat people with Cancer. They avoid eye contact, or talk to you like you are already dying. I’ve already written about the usual suspects of cancer side effects…Hair loss, skin discoloration, weight and muscle tone loss. If you are not careful, you can spend days avoiding looking in the mirror. I have tried hard not to fall into that gutter. In fact, during my 1st round of chemo, I really took pride in how I tried to keep it together. But with surgery and the second round of chemo, it’s been a bit more difficult. It has become a little harder to “pull it together”. Part of that is because I have NO EYEBROWS OR EYELASHES! LOL! I never realized how much a part of your appearance they are!

This past week I had 2 different experiences. My “play” niece told her mom that “Auntie Barbra even looks beautiful, bald”. Well, that almost brought me to tears, when her mom shared that with me. It definitely warmed my heart! I felt I was looking cute that night, so I was happy! LOL! On the other hand, earlier in the week, one of my best friends told me with a frown, that I now actually look like I am in treatment. I was NOT offended. It validated what I had been feeling. So in my effort to “keep it real” in the cancer lane, I am posting a REAL look at Beauty in the Cancer Lane.

Look at me Saturday, preparing for a night out with Big B.

<- BEFORE: This is what I look like without any spackle! Like an alien! No concealer, no mascara, no eyeliner or lipstick. Definitely a hard look! I am lucky I have a hubby and daughter who tell me I am beautiful every single day. But, let’s be real. It’s not true!

But for my friends on their own journey, I also wanted to post my “after” picture. I have chosen not to stay in the house and hide. I am learning to draw on eyebrows (scary), and even out my chemo skin. I have become even better friends with my MAC makeup artist! (LOVE to the MAC folks at the Biltmore!) I am not hiding behind the spackle, just embracing the very real need for it. Let’s keep it real. All women of a certain age need to update their make up routine every once in a while.

Tip: If you have a friend in the Cancer Lane, get her a gift certificate to MAC. Go with her to the store. Force her to learn to “put on her face”. Go early in the process of treatment. Take a good picture of her before she loses her eyebrows! It is funny how quickly we forget what our eyes look like.

So today…after I draw on some brows, I am going to look at my flowers, look in the mirror and love me! The champagne will come later! I hope you do the same.

Take the time today to Love…Yourself!

50/50 part deux

pink ink…

Do you ever have those days when you are just all over the map? Of course you do. That’s life, and that’s the kind of day I am having. I just finished my 7th chemo treatment. For those of you keeping up, I have 1 more to go..or so they say. But let’s back up a few steps.

I too watched 50/50 last week. That was the plan. Michele & I would both watch, then talk and post. I remember when this movie came out. It was 2 weeks after I was diagnosed. As Michele mentioned, it’s about a young guy who finds out he has cancer, and how he and his best friend deal with it. The title represents his chance of survival! I distinctly remember all the great press around this movie. Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt assured all it wasn’t sad! It was a dramedy! Yet, at the time it was too close. I didn’t have a desire to see it. Even though I knew the main character lives (NOT a spoiler, as he wrote the movie), I just couldn’t do it. People encouraged my mom to watch it while she was staying with me, during those 1st few weeks of chemo. Like me, she was like “umm…NO”.

Well, I finally watched it, and I am glad I did! I would recommend this movie to newly diagnosed people, people in the Cancer Lane, their caretakers, or anyone else facing a serious medical condition. Also, folks who just like a well-written movie. But for those of us living the Cancer journey, it is spot on. When I 1st turned on the movie, I had a nice healthy pour of wine to “help” me through. Turns out I didn’t really need it. I did however, spend most of the movie saying “Exactly”. I saw myself in the main character, pieces of my friends in others. I wish my mom and I, or Michele & I had watched it together, earlier. It would definitely have opened up some great dialog. I won’t rehash the movie. Go rent it! I know one of you is asking when I cried…b/c you know I did! Two times, other than the random tear, here and there. First, when “Adam” is ignoring his mom’s calls because he’s not up to talking. But then he realizes (in a later scene) what she is going through as a parent. Been there! Also, the scene where “Adam” is about to be wheeled into surgery left me in racking sobs. I will never forget my fear. I will never forget saying to Big B if I didn’t see him again, I loved him and to take care of my baby. Tears…

Speaking of Big B, this weekend, his 2 best friends surprised him and flew into town. Small piece of advice for those of us who are “ill”. Don’t forget about your spouse. If they are the main caregiver, they need a break. But sometimes, you have to force it! It’s been a rough 5 months for Big B. Two months ago I reached out to Big B’s buddies, picked a date, and said, “Please come and take care of your boy. He will need it by February.” They never hesitated. Via email, I connected his frat/best friends here, with the 2 out of town. This weekend it all came together. A weekend of relaxation for Big B, and he didn’t have to worry/think about me! It was wonderful weather, and for 2 days they sat outside, ate, drank etc. Great male bonding. I will be forever grateful to his 5 buddies. Again, friendship at its best!

After his friends left, the 3 of us sat and watched the Super Bowl. Despite the game, it was a relaxing evening. (Side note…I still love Madonna! Her last concert was one of the best I have ever seen! I’m an eighties child!) But alas, my sleep was intermittent, as all I could think of was how today’s treatment would affect me. Well, it was tough today. I didn’t feel like dressing up, or putting on make up. I just didn’t feel like “it”!

It was packed in “Chemo Village” this morning! But I got right in. Accessing my port hurt like hell. We put the numbing cream on an hour before, but I could still feel the needle all up in my vein! The nurse figured out it is probably a side effect from surgery. Lovely. Hopefully, I really only have one more treatment. I also got nauseous today, which upset me. Big B was like “What’s wrong babe? Why are you upset?” I just couldn’t take being back there.

Ironically, and unfortunately, 50/50 came flooding back to me. I am SO thankful that I have my own suite! In the movie the men all sit in a semi-circle as they receive treatment. No thank you. Chemo in some ways is very private. Some people may benefit from the company. Not me. I bring my own. In chemo, you don’t know how you will react emotionally or physically. While I am generally very open about this whole process, I don’t really need anyone else to see me vomit. My heart broke today, when B and I realized that the woman in the next suite was starting her 1st round of chemo this morning. She looked scared but resigned. I remember October 10th, my 1st treatment, like it was yesterday! I wanted to speak to her so badly! Give comfort somehow. But I followed my own advice. I smiled, gave her the head nod, and said hi as we left. Today was not the day to enter her Lane.

So that’s why I am all over the place. I sit here typing as the side effects are already rolling through my body. My stomach is cramping, my port hurts, and my boobs are achy. Neuropathy is around the corner. My white blood count is really low, so I have to go back for a “shot” tomorrow. Did I mention that I have only 2 eyelashes left on eye? Just when my hair is starting to grow back, I am losing eyebrows and eyelashes! Pretty!

But this is just one day! It will pass. The chance that tomorrow will be better? Let’s pray for more than…50/50!

A Movie Review – 50/50

red ink . . .

Watched the movie 50/50 a couple of days ago after being given the go ahead by my 14 year old (going on 21) son who told me I could handle it. It turns out that he “pre-screened” this movie about a young man (Adam) who is diagnosed with a rare cancer, and the reaction of his best friend (Kyle) and family to see if I would “be o.k.” watching it. He’s funny, and very protective of his mom, but that’s another post. He was right. I handled it just fine, but not without a few sobs (more about that later), more than a few laughs, and a lot of . . . is that what’s I’ve been doing? Is that what it’s like? It was a inside good look at life in the cancer lane from a young person’s perspective.

The whole time I was looking at it, I was thinking about Barb and her journey. I was grateful for so many things – that she has her husband and daughter and isn’t trying to navigate a new relationship (can’t imagine going through our dating phase AND having cancer), and wondered whether it was tougher to go through this knowing what you may have to lose and having something to fight for or not having had the opportunity to have a family yet at all; grateful that she hasn’t (to my knowledge) had to sit in a room full of other patients yet; and dear God grateful that she doesn’t have to take the BUS to chemo! Truly a low point in the movie.

From my perspective, I thought the movie “got” the close friend/family stuff pretty dead on. I’m always trying to make her laugh and to talk to her about the things that we would normally talk about, but I surely have the books about how to support your friend all over my house, and I do my grieving (I think I can call it grieving) alone, outside of her presence. She’s got enough to deal with and truly doesn’t need me to grieve all over her. The movie also clearly communicated that some people in your life, like the girlfriend Rachel in the movie, will disappoint you because they just can’t handle it, even if they have good intentions and try really hard. It’s heavy stuff, and even if some people will drive you to the fire, they just can’t get too close to the flame and stay there. For a chick who’s having hot flashes, I can assure you that it’s not always easy to be near the flame, but I can’t imagine being anyplace else. I just peel off the layers and turn on my fan! During the holidays right after her surgery, a few people were asking me about Barb, and as I was sharing some of her ups and downs, someone abruptly cut me off saying “let’s talk about something happy.” Wow! I realized then that even I, running parallel to the cancer lane, am too heavy for some folks.

The mom piece touched my soul. His mom’s deep sadness and love, but inability to comfort her son in any other way but to smother him and to just keep calling, hit me in my heart. I imagine myself being like her if this were my child. I was grateful that he realized, if only momentarily, how difficult this must be for her and took a moment to comfort her in the midst of her suffering. It has to be impossible for a mom to watch her child face something so scary that you can’t fix. I can only relate to the struggles that my teenage son is facing (medical and otherwise) that I just can’t “fix” and it truly breaks my heart.

I was also struck by the way that the older men in chemo together introduced themselves by their illnesses which demonstrated to me how cancer can define you if you allow it to because it takes up so much space in your life.

I sobbed in two places, when the chair for one of the threesome is suddenly empty and we know he won’t be back, and when he’s going in for surgery and is just so scared. The thought of Barb being scared kept me up at night before her surgery. I knew she was very well cared for with her hubby, her mom and dad, but I wanted to be there holding her hand, as her friend. Hell, I was scared too. I did the best I could long distance, and only exhaled when Brendon first, then Tracey (her cancer mentor) called me to tell me that she was o.k.

From a friend perspective, I also saw how important it is to let your friend tell you what they need and when they need it, to listen to them, but to make yourself present enough that they don’t have to work too hard to ask for your help. Most importantly, you have to know that you really can’t just impose yourself on somebody who is living life in the cancer lane. Let them navigate and give you the directions.

Finally, as the romantic sap that I am, I truly loved that Adam began falling for his therapist and she for him. Love really is stronger than cancer, and definitely gives you motivation you need to survive.

Watching this film, I laughed out loud and I cried, and it hit me that this is probably how some people respond to our blog. Barb’s much funnier than I am but we both try hard to make sure it isn’t always too heavy. But the reality of it all is, well, pretty heavy, and it can sometime make you cry.

The Inkwell Chicks version of the film would be, I can assure you, much, much more colorful! In the meantime, if you haven’t already seen it, watch 50/50 . . .

Loving the Red

red ink . . .

Ok so I can’t resist teasing with my sis about seeing her “red” post! Her reminder about taking care of our heart health is right on time. I just got out of the pool where I am ashamed to say that I was pretty breathless after a lap! (It’s gonna take a lot of prayer and hard work to get ready for my mini-triathalon, but I’m working on it! ) Cardio fitness is no joke.

A couple of months ago, one of my cousins (who is right about my age and average weight) felt like she was having heartburn one night. She complained to her husband and decided to get up and have a cup of tea. When she still felt the same way the next morning she decided to go to the doctor instead of to work. To make a long story short, she ended up having open heart surgery and a two way bypass the next day! Her doctor told her that she was a ticking time bomb. Thank God she went to the doctor.

Don’t ignore the symptoms ladies. They can be different for women than for men, and insist that you need to be seen if you are feeling out of whack. Better safe than sorry.

Also try to get the stress in check. It is absolutely true that I feel better about everything (thanks serotonin!) when I get some exercise in, even if it’s just walking my dog.

Since the new year, I’ve decided to ease into a plant-based diet (o.k. I know it’s out there – and yes, I am running out of things to eat – HELP :)). (Serioulsy, read or watch “Forks over Knives” if you get a chance. It’s eye-opening stuff.) Even doubling the vegetable and fruit portion of your diet and keeping the dairy and meat to a minimum two or three times per week can yield tremendous benefits for your heart and for your health.

Wearing red will help you remember to do what you have to do for your heart and for yourself. We really can’t take care of anyone else if we aren’t healthy ourselves. Put on your own gas mask first ladies. Hey, and yesterday I even got a discount at Macy’s for wearing red . . . Gotta love the shopping benefits. I think that did my heart good too! Barb, I always told you red was powerful! LOL!

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