I spent some time after diagnosis and treatment getting bogged down with what I wanted to do to stay as "healthy" as possible. I put "healthy" in quotes because I do not quite know if I will ever be considered such again - I mean, I am NED (no evidence of disease) but since I had cancer in 2016 and was treated in 2017, I guess I just do not know if I can ever be considered "healthy".
In my mind, though, I am healthy. It is the only way to live.
Here are some of the things I do to keep myself focused and sane.
Re hypnosis - I like the Seth Deborah one but I recently saw the trailer for the Heal Documentary about how the body can "heal" itself and I tried to follow what the guy in the trailer said to envision his spine put back together and then it healed without surgery by creating my own hypnosis script to review every part of my body and envision it cancer free. It was challenging to do and it required me to research how to make a script, learn how to mix two different audio files of the hypnosis and the music in the background and also to create the audio of my speech. I guess it can never hurt to try to do more and more to keep my body healthy and well post cancer. If you are interested in my script, email me at email@example.com.
This is what I do in the time between. ....
I am pathetically positive. What does this mean? It means that despite my life experiences and recent foray into the world of BREAST CANCER, I am still really really sure I will NOT die of cancer. If this isn't positive thinking, I do not know what is. I was always on the outside a positive person but on the inside, I was the person who prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. This is not positive. This is planning for the inevitable BAD thing and maybe, just maybe manifesting said bad thing with all of the posturing, worrying and planning.
Now, I find myself to more often than not be on the side of expecting the best and planning for the best. This is a radical change for me. I was the person who got Straight A's in college but still knew I failed every test as soon as I put down my pen and handed it in. I was pathetic period.
At this point in my life, I am more informed and more well read on all things "cancer" related and adjacent. I understand, in some ways, my risk for becoming dead from cancer and yet I am incredulous thinking of it. In my heart of hearts, I am convinced that I will not die of cancer. It is quite shocking for me to be in this mindset after a lifetime of being convinced of doom and gloom without even a scratch on my health record. I am the person who got a million dollar life insurance policy for $69/month after all. Health has been my currency, it has been who I am inside. Just always healthy BUT not always happy.
Every night, I pray for me and my children to be "happy, healthy and safe" and I have been doing this for over a decade now. It is funny how I always prayed for health but never appreciated it. Despite my glowing health, I was a bundle of anxiety and nerves on a daily basis - nah on a minute to minute basis. Now my health is (I guess) "shit" but yet I am more confident, more comfortable and more focused than ever in my life on the GOOD.
Does this mean I do not worry? Ha, no not at all. I do still worry and it creeps up behind my shoulders whenever I am not looking, this fear, this panic, this feeling of "why does my side hurt - is it cancer?" but when it does show up and hit me, I hit back with this sense of peace, this internal calmness that I have never had before in my life. I credit my faith for this feeling of peace as well as my ability to numb myself with meditation, hypnosis, prayer and good thoughts.
I am treated at the number 2 cancer hospital in the world. I am surrounded by a support system that rocks. My children appear to be "normal" despite the fact that I was at one point not quite sure I would live, however briefly I thought that a child picks up on these thoughts more than you can know. I am back to fighting form and feel (knock on wood) OK. I mean, I am not perfect and never was but all things considered especially when you think about and read the side effects of just a handful of the medication I am currently on NOT to mention the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation I did just this past year, well, I am really lucky.
Being put into menopause and given tons of steroids and chemotherapy led to an immense weight gain. Having a radical mastectomy means that my right side is always a little off and sensitive to pain and pressure as when my son accidentally bumps into my right chest area and I see stars for hours (sometimes days).
The chemotherapy I started a year ago this month leads to tons of side effects that I deal with as best I can. There is chemobrain (this is so real; there are times I feel so off but then times I feel so "normal" but all in all, I lost a bunch of brain cells and it is what it is) and neuropathy (pain and tingling in hands, feet, legs, etc) but it is all manageable because I am still alive.
Every 3 months, I get an injection to stop my ovaries from working as I had a hormone driven type of breast cancer. I have been in medically induced menopause though since after my second chemotherapy in February 2017 so almost one full year without having that monthly reminder of being a woman. My mom did not go into menopause until she was late 50's and I abruptly changed over at 40. I take a daily anti hormone pill that also strips my body of hormones. There are so many side effects to these things on their own and together and yet, knock on wood, I am surviving it.
When I go in for check ups and mammograms or other medical tests, I get PTSD and worry hard. But I survive it. When I hear about my friends losing their battles, I get a feeling of the flu over my body, pain in my extremities and more. My ability to feel emotions and sadness now impact me from my head to my toes whereas before it stayed in my chest and my brain. I worry for my friends who are still dealing with scans and spots and nodules with the overarching fear that the goal of all of our treatment is really not to cure us but to stop disease progression. Cancer wants to progress, it wants to kill, it is its function. Stopping it is what I focus on doing for me and to hopefully help others figure out their plan to do the same.
Despite all of that, I am still sure in my body's ability to heal. Confident in my own jagged, broken down body that it is inherently curing itself along with the doctors' help. I cannot live any other way. To me, this makes me a new and improved version of me but also, deep down, I like to call myself "pathetically positive" or "stupid positive". As a former financial services professional who worked during the subprime mortgage explosion, I derided the big push of all financial services firms hiring "risk managers" or "risk compliance officers" or "chief risk officers" because I knew that people cannot adequately quantify or understand risk. If we did, none of us would get married or have kids. I feel I hired myself to be my own "chief risk officer" with the blinders on to navigate me through this world of broken down health, to get me back to fighting form - like a government bailout but for my own cells and shit.
This is what I do in the time between.
2017, you sucked. I am so glad you are (almost) over. This year, I missed out on so much because chemotherapy broke me, radiation burnt me but I also learned so much. I found I could get out there and unmask myself, show my bald head, tell my shame of getting sick of losing my job of being judged as being “too sick” and “not worth it” and showing the world that I am worth something, that even though I got cancer, I am still a person, someone who is not to be pitied or ignored or forgotten.
I watched my children learn the hard way how sometimes life is so unbelievably random and unpredictable. I watched them also learn how people can be so amazing and kind. I saw them worry about me dying and I was also worried about me dying and it is just too much to all be worried about death. I spent time hugging them and reassuring them and just all around trying to believe the hype, too.
I learned that cancer is something that never truly goes away but if you are lucky it will not kill you. I have always known that what does not kill you makes you stronger I almost feel like I did not need this masterclass on this topic but it is what it is and it can always be worse.
Usually, during New Year's Eve in my past, I would cry a little when the clock struck 12 and think about the time that passed and what I did or did not do. This year, I refuse to cry. I am finishing up a year that was spent primarily in treatment for cancer with the extra dollop of joy of being told I did not have a job for next year and other crazy stuff like family member’s health and being a caregiver even though I was not yet fully healed and more.
There are many things I want to focus on for 2018 and the most important thing is to not worry. You see worry is something that does not help anything. It does not change the trajectory of the future, it just ruins today. I am confident that I am healthy and will stay that way but sometimes, I worry. Right now on the cusp of saying goodbye to 2017, I want to promise myself that I will not go down the road of “what ifs”. I have been doing pretty well with not thinking about the possibilities but so many people have been dying of cancer lately and it truly is a disease that is so misunderstood and sometimes, the thought does cross my mind that I could be a victim. I want to think it even less.
I know I need to find my “next step” my new path after the plot twist of cancer. I know this will help me to heal, to feel whole again. I also know I need to continue to doing what I am doing - practicing gratitude, exercising every day, eating super clean, taking vitamins, my clinical trial, my hormone meds, my hypnosis, meditation, and writing. Writing above all. I would love to find a way to use my writing abilities to bring in an actual income. I am working on some things that might help me be able to do this but in the meanwhile it is a way for me to get out how I feel, to make and keep new friends who are also dealing with this crappy thing called cancer and to get out of my head. In writing it down, I theoretically can no longer hold it inside.
In 2018, I want health and wellness (and a cure for cancer). I want to be doing something meaningful in my charity work and also in my career. I want my children to be confident that I am not planning on going anywhere. I want to continue to share my story and hopefully help other cancer patients who feel the way I did know they are not alone. I want to have many years left to travel, to hang out with my friends, to watch my children grow up, to dance with my husband, to make inappropriate jokes and to just enjoy being alive.
I do not want to deal with pettiness and nastiness. I do not want stress. I do not want to worry about what happens if cancer does X or Y or Z. I want to “forget” cancer was in my body and instead focus on what I DID get from this heinous disease. I got the ability to try to live in the moment. To have grit. To show my toughness. I always knew I was tough but now I got my doctorate in it. I hope for all of us to have a healthy 2018 and beyond. For cancer to be a thing of the past.
What do you want to manifest in 2018? How do you manage cancer fears?
My “Poem” for 2017 (this is why I am not a poet...)
2017 I hated you so much
You had to come along and punch me in the gut
In 2016 I lost my boob
because cancer got caught there and made me a fool
after my mastectomy, I thought it would be easy
to get chemotherapy
ha I was so crazy
chemo was brutal
I worked through it full time
with a wig and a smile
I suffered without words
and lost my job with a sucker punch in the nads
after chemo came radiation
for 34 sessions
then I had follow ups and clinical trials, I ain’t playing
I lost 50 pounds
in the hope that I will be
Cancer free forever you see
My kids they were scared
My husband and I were too
Because when cancer is something that happens to you
It screws you right up and scares you to death
I have no intention of giving up yet
I am here for good
With nowhere to go
I am a fighter, a survivor a lucky ass though
At the end of the day no one knows the future
The cancer is something that makes it much clearer
Photo below: Xmas 2016 vs Xmas 2017 - in my mind, I was the same size until I did this side by side comparison (160+ pounds vs 137 pounds)
Nothing is perfect; no one is perfect. Everyone has their shit and everyone has to learn to deal with it. No one gets what exactly that means, though. Except me. I get it and always did. I believe that if we all got together and smacked our problems down on the table like playing cards that we each would still want to leave the table with our own problems and not someone else’s. Everyone has some great sadness in their life - everyone has something that did not work out, or some plan B they had to execute that was not their plan.
Shit happens and the real gem of life is learning to take that Plan B and love the hell out of it even if it was never in your plan or thought process. For me, I never ever planned to learn to live with such dignity and grace in the face of such adversity. And I thought I knew adversity and I thought I knew what it meant when someone said, “you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”. Stupid me.
I have found that when I was weakest and most downtrodden was actually when I was most strong, if that makes sense. Right now, I am nowhere near as strong and tough as I was when I walked into that operating room to get the cancer removed from my body. I was not as strong then as I was when I sat down in the treatment chair for the first round of chemotherapy. I was never even as close to strong as I was when I went from the first 4 rounds to the new chemotherapy drug and not knowing the side effects or issues that would happen. I am not as strong as I was when I sat through 34 radiation treatments. I am not as strong as I was when I put my name in to do the clinical trial (PALLAS)... well, you get the idea. lets-get-clinical-clinical.html
In each of these steps, I have been stronger than I ever thought I could be. I have just kept rolling with it but it is not me alone. I have had support, prayers, faith and more to keep me sane, to keep me smiling, to keep me focused on the prize. The prize is just simple - it is staying alive. It is staying NED as much as possible. It is being cured or whatever is called “cured” for this disease.
It means I have worked hard to change my whole body, what I eat, when I eat and what I do on a daily basis. See, most everyone has “cancer” in their body in the sense that they have an errant cell that wants to do bad things but for the bulk of the population, this errant cell is killed immediately and cannot reproduce. In the words of my nutritionist, Dr Napoli, for cancer to happen it has to be a “perfect storm”. The cell has to be able to do it’s bad work and thrive inside to create the tumor and ultimately spread around.
For me, I was diagnosed after a mammogram showed slight calcification in the duct which was microscopic and not able to be biopsied; it also was 98% chance of staying benign. A few months later, I had “advanced stage” breast cancer with a tumor of 5.6cm and 5/25 lymph nodes positive for cancer. This means there is always the chance that the cancer moved and got someplace else and it also means that whatever is wrong with my body has to be corrected and/or fixed for the just in case’s of cancer.
See, no one is ever truly “cured” of cancer. What it starts in your body, it can always come back. My above referenced nutritionist told me about a conference he attended where it was said that, “85% of cancer patients do not change anything after they are done with treatment.” If this stat is true (and you know what they say about statistics…) that means I am one of the 15% that got myself totally upside down after cancer.
As I have written about a lot on this blog, I read the AntiCancer book learning-about-the-beast-breast-cancer-anti-cancer-book-review.html and that started the seeds of what would ultimately become a total life transformation. See, I was never “obese” but I was up 30, 40 or more pounds from what I had weighed in my “youth” but you see, as a woman who has been pregnant and has children, you just do not think that weight is possible. I looked in the mirror and saw yes a curvier version of me but in no way did I really see me. I saw a woman who still wore a size Medium and just had some extra weight I mean didn’t we all? I am still friends with girls from high school and college and other friends who all say the same thing, we just are not the same body types we were when younger.
Well, then I got cancer and realized there is a big link between excess body weight, hormones and cancer and all that jazz. So I did something I never thought possible and would have smacked you if you suggested it in the past. I weigh 137 pounds, which is what I weighed in high school. It is insane. It is also something very different because in high school, I ate donuts and crap and did not exercise and that was my weight. Now, ha, I have to forgo sugar, exercise daily and fill up on fruits and veggies instead of chips and popcorn.
I am telling you all of this because when I saw my surgeon’s office this December for my 6 month follow up, everyone lost their collective minds and told me I was amazing and that I did the best thing I ever could have done for my health. I am not sure if anyone other than the alternative medicine doctor which I wrote about here integrative-medicine-clinical-trials.html ever told me that unequivocally that weight was so dangerous or if I was told I did not register it.
See, I will do whatever I have to do to keep my body inhospitably to cancer but I will not fall for fads or other crazy things. I am focused on research and proven methods to improve my body and its reaction to rogue cells. To do this, I am working with my nutritionist as well as my doctors at Sloan to balance all of the pieces of health. I no longer eat to just eat. I eat to fuel my body. To help the fight. I do not take a multi-vitamins, I take some supplements that are proven to help my immune system do what it needs to do. I do not let stress, worry and fear into myself (as much as I can not let it, I force it to not be there) and I also exercise and move every day.
There are no guarantees, however, that any of this will work as ⅓ of cancer patients regardless of initial staging become metatastic but I will continue to do it anyway because it cannot hurt.
What do you do to help keep your fears of cancer returning away? What do you do to try to not get progression of your disease? How do you keep your body as healthy as possible?
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