Because of You

Pink Ink…

Three or four new spots on my lungs they say. Looks like it could be cancer. Could this be true? Won’t know for a month…or two.

Doctors are worried.

Sitting at Mayo in between appts, as I do. My tears fall freely. Who’s to know, but me and you. Fortunately, I have new Tamia playing in my ears. Her voice. What I needed today, to carry me through…

(abridged)

I’ve had my share of good and bad news
I’ve had to cry when no one else knew
Felt all alone like nobody could really understand
But I heard you whisper a sweet melody
Said “Give me your burdens, give them to me.”
Today I stand Lord, stronger and wiser because of You.

Because of You.
Because of your Love and Grace and Mercy
I’ve made it through.
I know I’m not perfect
Sometimes I fall
Yet Lord you’ve been there, whenever I call
And if anyone asks me how did I make it
It’s because of You.

Strong for my family, I had to be
But tell me who’s strong, who’s strong for me
Who gives me Strength and Courage and Wisdom
To make it through
If any one asks me how did I make it
It’s because of You
Because of You
No I am not perfect
Sometimes I fall
But yet Lord, you’ve been there whenever I call

If anyone asks me how did I make it
If anyone asks me how did I go through it
If anyone asks me “how did you do it”
It’s because of You.

Yes, tough day. Tough week. Such is Life in the Cancer Lane.

Lord, I believe I will get through this next journey…because of You

Mildly optimistic

Pink Ink…

Sitting, & reflecting in between appts at Mayo. Did you really think my time there was done? On the contrary. Good thing I love Mayo. Still hoping to make my “I am Mayo” commercial! LOL If I could just be done!

Take a quick walk with me in the Cancer Lane. It will be quick because Mayo stays on schedule!

Last week, I had my 3-month check up. I have heard that many women are very nervous when these “post treatment” appointments roll around. I was not. Maybe, because I haven’t really “finished” treatment. Between physical therapy and these headaches, I haven’t had a break. I dream of the day I have 3 weeks, let alone 3 months without going to Mayo. But I digress…

I found out 2 things that day. My insurance, which I thought was great, doesn’t cover the test you need to really test if all the cancer is gone! (asinine!) BUT it does cover tests that, when put together, can give you the same result…maybe. Hence my visit today and next week. Second, my doc told me that he was “mildly optimistic” about my prognosis, my survival.

Mildly optimistic.

Hey, it is better than pessimistic, so I took it! Two days later, I was off to the Plastics Doc to talk about reconstruction. Finally, I would get to plan my new boobs! Talk about excited! While I appreciate the expanders, I would love some more “natural” feeling breasts. I am sure Big B would agree! But alas, I continue to be an “overachiever” when it comes to breast cancer drama. Nutshell: My 3rd degree radiation burns (on top of 3 surgeries) have so damaged my skin, that they now cannot do traditional reconstruction. Seriously? They are scared my skin/body can’t take it. But, I can’t keep the expanders in b/c they are not made to stay in! Plus, they are hard. Surgery is still in my future, but, once again, it will be challenging. I can put a regular implant in my left breast. As for the right, there is a chance I can use stomach fat to create a boob. BUT, the doc isn’t sure I have enough for that. (I think I do! Tummy Tuck!) When I asked my doc if having stomach fat in my boob would expose me to more cancer, she said no. But if I gained weight as I got older (as women do), it may make my boob…just one…grow! Big B and I laughed at the thought of 1 boob being bigger than the other.

My self imposed nickname of Frankenstein is here for good I guess.

The next day was tough for me. I stayed home to “get my mind right”. Can nothing be simple for me? It also finally hit me that the type of breast cancer I have has a 14 % 3 year survival rate. 14%! Wow. After wallowing a bit, I unpacked my big girl panties, shook them out, and got back at it!

Later today I have an appt with yet another doctor to figure out what to do about my headaches. My pink big girl panties are on and pulled tight! –>

Wednesday, a reporter asked me what my goals were now, that I am out of treatment. I must admit that I was taken aback. All year, my goal has been to “finish”. To be done! I paused. I said that my initial response would be to keep giving “cancerrealtalk”. But most important, my goal is to be with my family. To enjoy my family, without the Cancer Lane being part of the discussion!

I am…mildly optimistic!

Best of luck

Pink ink…

Dear Giuliana,

Happy Birthday! Remember me? I’m the chick who was diagnosed the same day as you and had surgery the week after you? It’s been a while since I last wrote of you. But rest assured, I watched “Giuliana & Bill” to keep up! A lot has been going on. Still working on my “Cancer Lane” mini-series. Did you see that we went to RPM as part of my celebration of finishing treatment? I was waiting for the “congrats” return tweet! But it never came, even after I commended your staff! And tweeted a picture! (see pic) But that’s ok. Fellow Survivor Robin Roberts tweeted her love and congrats!

I thought of you earlier this week, as we celebrated Lil B’s birthday. I know you are eagerly looking forward to the birth of your son. I asked myself what you would tell your son about your breast cancer journey? Would it begin…and end…with the fact that your deep desire to have him led you to discover your breast cancer? Will you say you just wanted it all behind you, and chose to focus on his birth and your product launches? Or, will you say it was tough being in the public eye and balancing the breast cancer versus surrogacy parts of your story? As I put my baby girl to bed on her birthday, I held her close and apologized for disrupting her 4th grade year! I promised that we would do everything in our power to make this year “better”. I also thanked her for helping me travel this Cancer Lane. As I watched her fall asleep, I knew in my heart that the best gift she received this year (other than love!), was the gift of knowledge and awareness. She turns 10 knowing that her mom fought hard against cancer. She will know the importance of breast health. She will know that Breast Cancer education is not a “sound bite” or just in October. She will know that Mommy is still here! On your birthday, I wish you, Bill and Baby Rancic the same!

Best of luck!

Breaks in the Clouds

red ink…

Well, we are on our annual 19 hour sojourn back home after leaving our special place of rest, remembrance, retreat, and restoration in Martha’s Vineyard. When we were packing up our last few things to leave the island this morning, it was raining cats and dogs, like the island was crying our tears (mine came later!). This year no one in our family was really anxious to get back home. One of our last nights, we had dinner together and recounted the things we would miss about the island, and everyone of us had something different to share about freedom and new experiences – freedom to come and go as we please, to hang out with friends or to stay up extra late and to sleep in, freedom from the pressure of work and other commitments. We were especially grateful this year to be free from any medical emergencies. (Last year Drew had THREE seizures that ushered in a challenging year.). New adventures in MV this year included Mom and Shelby running a local 5k (yup, another one for me), family kayaking, Drew taking art classes and going to a Vineyard college fair (and asking the first question!), Max hanging ’till midnight and enjoying back door donuts with his crew, and Shelby finding a way into the mix.

As I’ve said before, the year since our last trip to the Vineyard has been more than a little stormy. As we came again to re-connect and download, it was more clear than ever that all of us (my friends and my family) were a little weather weary. The time that we all have (and make) on the island to take long walks, really listen, and share our stories is hard to replicate amidst the background noise of every day life (but we should really try harder!)

This year the major milestone was just making it there. Pink ink and lil B came to pick me and my littlest chicklet (who is taller than I am after this summer, by the way!) up from the OB ferry. The rain and our tears fell as we hugged to celebrate the victory – we’d made it to the Inkwell! So many times this year, we just didn’t know if it would happen. Most recently Pink ink’s unrelenting headaches threatened to abort our reunion. Although we have been in touch almost daily throughout this crazy year, our time together in MV as we complained about our rental houses, bought boogie boards and shared a cupcake or a glass of wine, enjoyed dinner with our families, or just sat on our beloved Inkwell and watched our kids – who have become family – was truly a special “break in the clouds” for everyone.

My tears came this morning as we drove through Massachusetts listening to my husband’s “church” – a gospel medley – in the car. I looked out of the car window at the clouds ahead, and just felt the weight of what lies ahead, letting the tears flow into my pillow as my husband reached over to touch my hand to see if I was ok. I was more than a little anxious about going back to “real life” and genuinely afraid of going back into the “clouds.”

On Pink Ink’s last day, I gave her a card that read “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

As my family and I continue on journey towards home, the music plays on, my tears have dried, we passed through the clouds, and as I look ahead right now, I’m seeing beautiful sunny skies – a reminder of possibilities and of the potential great days in front of us starting with today. (Today is lil B’s birthday party! Can’t wait to hear about the celebration!) While traveling and listening, I’m resolved that more clouds will come, but I’m grateful that I’m not traveling alone, that I’ve polished up my dancing shoes on MV in preparation for the rainy days, and that I have faith that there will always be “breaks in the clouds.”

Old friend

Pink Ink…

“The best mirror is an old friend”
-George Herbert

School started today! It seemed like just yesterday Lil B was packing up her 4th grade desk for summer break! Before she left for school, she was talking about the things she was looking forward to. They included things like, choir practice, getting to know her new teacher, and seeing her old friends.

She also said she looked forward to a year without worrying about me and breast cancer!

Wow!

What do you say to that? I just hugged her and said that we will have a great year. Lil B then said that she was sad that her “best friend” from school was going to a new school this year. I reminded her that they would still see each other. (She lives 5 minutes way!) As only Lil B could, she responded with a hug, and said “Hopefully we will be like you and Miss Lizzie.”

I hope so as well.

Lizzie and I met when I changed schools in 7th grade, and quickly became thick as thieves. We never had any teenage girl drama with each other, and kept each other sane in our granola private school. But when we headed off to college, we went our separate ways. Last May, we reconnected at our high school reunion, 20+ years later. It was like we hadn’t skipped a beat. Our laughter picked up where it left off. It was kind of scary!

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Lizzie was right there, every step of the way! She’s a nurse and very close with the woman who founded breastcancer.org. She immediately offered me resources and support. Sometimes she questioned my treatment! But most often she was like “What the he*#, is going on? Why is this happening to you?” I came to enjoy and expect her 3am PST texts asking how I was, or just sending her love. Lizzie always asked me if it was ok to ask for more details. I was like “You’re crazy! I give “#cancerrealtalk”.(see twitter) Ask away!” All the way from Philly, she was…present, right there with me in the Cancer Lane! Last month, she came to visit her family, and see me in person. It was 1986 all over again! Even though I was having those awful headaches, she made me laugh. Big B just shook his head, and said he could see why we were friends. Lizzie and Lil B bonded…being Leos and all! (Ironically, her daughter ‘s birthday is the day before mine-Leos & Aquarius’ unite!).

Twenty plus years later, I appreciate and value her friendship more than I did at 18.

So as Lil B headed to school, I silently prayed that one day she will have a “Lizzie”.

I pray that she will have an …old friend.

A new journey

Pink ink…

Sur•vi•vor: a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.

Talk about a loaded word! When you think of the word “survivor”, what is the 1st thing that comes to mind? Because of the advocacy work I have done, to me it means a person who has battled cancer. The next step my mind takes, is to a person who has battled breast cancer. But obviously, it means different things to different people, and is not limiting, but instead, all encompassing.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, we were a few weeks away from October; Breast Cancer awareness month. Even though I was telling people I had breast cancer, I was not referring to myself as a “Survivor”. It just didn’t feel right. Then the Race for the Cure was upon us. I was to start treatment the next day. On the eve of the Race, as we did our last Race walk-through as a Board, I asked if I could wear a Survivor shirt. The response was a resounding YES! I was told I should “absolutely” wear a Survivor shirt! I was already a Survivor, they said. It still felt weird. The day of the Race, I proudly wore my shirt. But I watched from the edge of the crowd when the 1, 5, 10, and 20+ year Survivors paraded by. I asked myself “Do I really deserve to wear a Survivor shirt?”

In the Cancer Lane, you can find a million different answers to the question “When does a person become a Survivor”. Some say it’s ridiculous to say Survivor because there is in fact, no cure. Others say it’s at diagnosis, or when the tumor is removed. Public opinion leans towards people who have completed treatment, while advocates and doctors say at time of diagnosis. I know a couple women who refuse to use the word “Survivor”, and actively try to distance themselves from being called a “Survivor”. They have come up with all kinds of other words to describe themselves and their experience. (Over time, I have learned that they don’t have enough distance from their experience, and are in fact still “mad” with the fact that cancer interrupted their lives. This denial of a universal term is their way of coping) I have also read numerous blogs about when people feel they became survivors. There is never one answer. In fact, the only consistent thing is that a person becomes a Survivor when they choose to say they have “survived”.

Leaving the Vineyard, it all became clear to me.

I’ve been told many times how strong I have been this past year, how much I have been forced to endure, etc. This is true. When I recount my Life in the Cancer Lane to people, I am on occasion, shocked at the totality of it all. All week, Michele and I kept saying, “We made it!” Yes, we did! We made it through the storm, motivated by rejuvenation on the Vineyard! My last day on the Vineyard was capped by the news that Coping Magazine accepted my National Survivor’s Day picture entry! Joy!

So, as I boarded the ferry, it all hit me. Big B knew. He saw it brewing on my face. He hugged me and gave me my time. I sat on the trunk of my car, looked out at the fog rolling in over the ocean, and cried. I took the time to actually feel all that I had been through. I sat. I thought about the surgeries, many rounds of chemo, radiation, and all the missed activities. I thought about Big and Lil B, my family, and Michele, and all we had endured. I let myself feel the weight of this journey. So, I sat. I cried for 30 minutes. Despite the new headaches, I made it to the Vineyard! Most important, I had journeyed 10 months in the Cancer Lane.

I could not have scripted those 30 minutes of reflection had I tried. At one point, the fog was so thick; I couldn’t see the island behind me or the mainland in front of me. It was as if that moment was created just for me to…sit. So I allowed myself to think about my journey, to be in that space, and…survive.

It was only at that point that I opened my mind, heart and soul to the fact that I was indeed a Survivor!

Anything that comes at us now, will be…a new journey!

More to come

Pink ink…


Well we did it! We made it to the Inkwell! It’s been a long year. The thing that was always on the horizon was getting to the Inkwell. At my lowest point I said to Big B, “ If only I can get to the Vineyard.” When I was in the throws of chemo, Red Ink Michele sent me a photo book of our favorite pictures and places from the Vineyard. I pulled out that book whenever I started to feel “blue”. When I thought I was dying, just weeks ago, I told Big B, that I wanted my last trip to be to the Vineyard. I just wanted to see the Inkwell one more time.

Why the Vineyard? I have been going to the Vineyard for over 30 years. Lil B has traveled there 9 of her 10 years. It is a place where my family hits the “restart” button. Michele and I have been reconnecting at the Inkwell for at least 10 years. Thanks to my parents, it is a place that feels like a long warm hug. Thanks to my parents, and now Big B and Michele, it is a place that feels like (If I can be a bit dramatic!) unfettered love. We all just breathe, relax, and take time to…LIVE.

This was the first time that I have ever been to the Vineyard without my parents. I must say, it was bittersweet. When it was time to make our reservations last year, we all hesitated. Would we really make it to the Vineyard? Time came and went, and my folks chose not to come. A part of me was ok with that. It would be a time for the “3 Bs” to start our own tradition. But as time grew close for us to leave, I felt sad. When I got to the island, as the days passed, I realized that I missed the comfort of my parents presence. Given all that we had been through, I wish they had been there to hit “restart”. As we walked around the island, Lil B would point out the places she went with Poppi for donuts, or the fried clam place she went with Nana. Alas, like everything else this past year, it was a new experience, and a little painful.

There are so many stories to share. So many moments of reflection. And a few headaches. Yup, still have those! Michele and I thought about posting everyday. But in the end, we chose to just enjoy ourselves, and our families. To enjoy the new memories we were creating.

I made it to the Inkwell. I have hit “restart”.

So sit back. Over the next few days, as I reflect, there is sure to be…more to come!