I had hands down the time of my life last night. It seems crazy because I already had an awesome life changing experience on Sunday and on Monday afternoon - read more about my topless shenanigans here -> why-no-i-am-not-an-exhibitionist-but.html.
I saw through my Instagram lifeline (seriously, if you have breast cancer or support someone who does and you are NOT on Instagram you need to close this blog RIGHT NOW and sign up for Instagram and start by following me @thetimebetweenis and I will hook you up but good!). If you are on Instagram and need a friend, follow me, too.
Ok, are you back now? Thanks for connecting:).
So, I saw on Instagram that there was a BREASTIE event in my city (of New York) through an amazing woman's Instagram page Paige_Previvor (follow her, too, like NOW, please). What is a "breastie" event - it is indescribable. It is finding your tribe, it is finding people who get you across age, across background, across everything.
I attended last night, at 7pm (almost my bed time, yeah I am a wild woman like that), and it changed my life. Honestly. I now have 35+ new best friends (hi breasties!) and I love them all.
It was held at The Little Beet and it was FREE. I had gotten my tickets and then canceled my attendance because hello, I am unemployed right now and broke and Paige reached out to me to say "Why did you cancel?" and I told her (no shame in my game), "I am broke right now, I do not think I can afford the event." and she said, "COME - all of my events are FREE!" and I was like, wow, ok, I can afford free.
My only investment was my red dress that was $15 from Amazon.com because I was not going to my first Galentines event without wearing red and nothing I own fits me because I have to be a skinny bitch to continue to survive (more on that in a future post).
I tend to appear to others as a very extroverted person but in reality I am a mix of extrovert and introvert. Going to a dinner without knowing anyone in real life has in the past been a challenge for me. I assumed I would be older than most of the attendees and I just did not know if I would feel that I fit in. I often do not fit in - I tend to be too much extroverted or too much introverted in social situations and occasionally make faux pas that would make you cringe and cry for me... Hey, it happens.
I walked in last night with low expectations because that is how I roll. I would like to go back in time and bitch slap myself. I had one of the best nights of my life full stop. It was amazing, welcoming and warm. I did not notice too much that some of the girls were young enough to be born by me (hey, I am turning 42 this year) and were stunning like models and should be on the cover of Vogue because all I noticed was how much we were holding each other up and supporting each other and just overall being awesome.
I have so many photos to share and I just want to say that having the opportunity to meet these women and share my story with them (because a bunch of us got the chance to stand up and talk about "whatever we wanted" and I just spoke from my heart and felt so much love for it that I am punch drunk still today from it) and to make what I think will be true in real life friendships. If you are in the New York area or wherever these events are held in other cities, I urge you to leave your social anxiety and fears to the side and come on out, be embraced, be loved, be fondled (maybe) and let your inner goddess flag fly. You are beautiful, you are whole and any decision you have made about your health, your body, your life is the right true one (thanks Ally).
I met so many amazing women last night, but I want to take a moment to also spotlight someone who is a personal hero to me- the founder of AnaOno, Dana - please check out the work she does for the breast cancer community and the metatastic community she is amazing and I was so blessed to meet her and spend time with her - find out more about what she does for breast cancer patients of all stages for undergarments, bathing suits, and more here --> www.anaono.com/ . If you know someone who needs a mastectomy preventative or otherwise and you want to help support them, buy them this - www.anaono.com/products/miena-robe-with-drain-belt. I had just written about how hard it was for me to miss the AnaOno fashion show as so many of my inspirational women that I follow and learn from and then boom, Dana was at this event and I got to meet her anyway!
I could write books about all of the women I met and fell in love with - so fitting it was Galentine's Day. Paige, her mom, Ally, Dana, Tish, and MORE... See photos for more spotlights.
Also, important to note is that for these events, everyone is included - previvors, survivors, BRCA positive, BRCA negative, breast cancer, no breast cancer, cancer, no cancer... well, you get the idea.
This is what I do in the time between...
I am not an exhibitionist. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in revealing clothing because I was no allowed to go anywhere; for instance, I had a 12am curfew until I left the country at 21 years old and often spent time at people's houses not at the club or anything like that. As I got older, I learned the art of clothing that fits and keeps things covered - I would often, though, show cleavage especially as my weight went up and it seemed those hills would detract / hide my stomach - I write about it here --> complicated-history-of-boobs-a-treatise-by-a-breast-cancer-patient.html.
I am still not an exhibitionist BUT I have done a few photo shoots over the last two days that might make your scratch your head and think otherwise.
On Sunday, an organization called The Magic Hour arranged for my family and I to have a photo session free of charge with Jessica Leigh Photography (www.photographybyjessicaleigh.com/ ). Jessica and I had spoken a few times in advance before the session and I just felt like I knew her in real life before she even showed up at my doorstep with tons of camera equipment and an easy, relaxed smile.
My children gravitated and warmed up to her immediately. She does something called "unscripted life sessions" and these photos are nothing like you see at Sears or Picture People or even other photographers I had worked with in the past. She does not "pose" you instead the photos are the real YOU.
For me, this new me, this pixie haired, one boobed, clinging on with all I got to being cured me is ALL ABOUT THIS. I wanted photos that reflected who we truly are as a family, what we learned from breast cancer and how we are just at home, together and that quiet strength that we all have honed specifically over the last 15 months.
You see, though I was the one diagnosed with cancer, we ALL had cancer. My son who told me he would visit me in the cemetery because "lots of people with cancer die", my daughter who was stoic and happy throughout the whole process until it was over and she let herself be afraid and need comfort, my husband who mustered up all of his strength and love for me even though at times before I was diagnosed we were anything but "love-y". Even the darn dog was effected.
So this past Sunday, Jessica arrived and immediately won every one of us over and got us doing our things - playing board games, cuddling on my bed and just individual action shots of the kids jumping on my bed - of course, what kid doesn't love to jump on their parents' beds!
We then did some individual shots of me that showcased my warrior battle scar from breast cancer. It was powerful and the shots were amazing. I cannot wait to see them! All of them!
Today, I had another photo shoot and this one was way more revealing than anything I have ever done before full stop. I had heard about The Grace Project (the-grace-project.org/) at the beginning of my "public" exposure as a blogger / advocate about breast cancer screenings and sharing my story. I immediately messaged the photographer to volunteer to be photographed. At the time, it seemed like it was a long shot to be asked to get photographed but already I could tell that it would be a powerful statement for me to make as a "young-ish" survivor in training who did not reconstruct for the women out there who feel that without their boob(s) that they are LESS THAN or who tried to reconstruct and had issues with infection or removal or even those who do not want their boobs anyway but still wonder about whether or not they are "beautiful".
I am lucky in that, despite being super dependent on my boobs for most of my life either in wearing low cut tops or using my cleavage to disguise my belly, I really do not miss having a pair of tits. The one is enough for me and if I had my way, I would have opted to take lefty off, too.
I am leaving my prosthetic behind more and more and just acclimating to this new body, this new shape and all that. I was honored when the photographer Charise Isis let me know she would be in New York and I jumped at the chance to be photographed by her. She is a powerhouse of a woman who shares "broken is still beautiful" as a belief system and documents women who have had mastectomies to survive breast cancer. She takes photos representing the women as Greek goddesses and my experience with her today in a penthouse-adjacent apartment near Times Square was a powerful, moving and empowering experience and I cannot wait to share the images with you in a few months when I get them.
So I am going way out of my comfort zone and doing things I never ever thought I would do but I know it is the right thing - I want to normalize this new normal for others who are going through it. Cancer sucks but saying that does not make it all better, it does not make the scars you see and those you can't see disappear. We are all in stages of repair and recovery as we wait in the time between.
To find out more about The Grace Project or to donate to her work at healing breast cancer warriors, click here the-grace-project.org
As you guys know, I am unemployed and trying to figure out what to do next - which is ironic as I used to run a small business about careers and finding work - I still cannot get over the irony. Check out my blog at thenextstep1234.com/blog as I am offering FREE resume reviews and edits to anyone who also had the cancer plot twist adventure.
When I graduated college, I gave the commencement address and I spoke about how life is like a "choose your own adventure" book and the only real "choice" we had made for ourselves at that point was our college choice (maybe) and major (usually). I spoke about how we had a whole adventure ahead of us almost 20 years ago and never did I ever think my adventure would take me through breast cancer. NEVER.
During my college time, I also got the chance to move to Italy and build amazing friendships that have lasted these 20 years. I had plans after getting my MBA to be the CEO of a large company. I wound up working really hard and moving up many corporate ladders, gaining tons of skills and talents along the way. I honed and used my communication skills to be the only person who would be asked to travel around the world to give presentations and training on all things professional. I became a college adjunct professor on the side to really feel fulfilled as helping those students reminded me of where I was and how far I had gotten.
I never thought I would get married or have kids and bam, one day in December of 2001, I was out with friends, met my soon to be husband and within 11 months we were living together (trust, my father LOVED that -- NOT!) and a few years later, we were married. I kept climbing that ladder but my husband had some health issues and then all of a sudden, we thought we would try to have a kid and 9 months later, my daughter was born. It was like she was there and ready to be born.
I balanced work and motherhood terribly. It was so hard with my husband dealing with issues and not a lot of help at all. At times, I cobbled together help but at the time, my father in law was suffering from pancreatic cancer, my mom worked full time and my dad was busy with his stuff, too. I forced myself to still try to be "Lisa, corporate extraordinaire" when in reality I was scared, postpartum and just a mess.
I also found that although I had met my goals and was making 6+ figures and had the title of Vice President that I did not think it was what I wanted at all. I guess that happens sometimes but for me, it was a big time shock to the system that what I always thought I wanted was not what it was cracked up to be. That big time job that fought to hire me by offering my tons of money was actually not as hands on or meaty as I thought it would be. My waist line was bigger, my heart was at home and I struggled big time.
I thought being a mom was all or nothing. I think about my childhood and how I felt when my mom left the house and it was all too much for me to process how to be a mom and still be me. I did not have the toolset to do that. I had been raised watching my grandma give up her life to care for us, knowing my mom could not handle being a full time mom and living with my dad and I punished myself daily to keep my life out of the equation. I did not care about ME anymore.
Then add in a few miscarriages -one which started when I was at work and my mom constantly trying to help me by telling me to stop working so I could focus on my daughter and boom, I went out on FMLA and never went back.
All of a sudden, I was home and no longer an income generating person - could no longer say I was vice president or get dressed or get out of the house, it seemed. I was depressed and anxious thanks to the huge influx in hormones and my own unhappiness. When I conceived my son, I spent the 9 months with bated breath expecting another loss. He made it here and I calmed down but still never ever thought about what I wanted to do. I did not think I had a choice.
I worked odd jobs, teaching college course, tried to be an entrepreneur and took a disaster job full time right before my diagnosis that I am assuming was part of my path but left me shattered and feeling like less than a human when I tried to do it during chemotherapy and was let go the day after my last chemo.
Now, I sit here and this is all pouring out of me because I am at a crossroads again, my friend. A chance to pick my own adventure, to figure out what that means, what this new future is for me. So long as I am here and healthy, that is awesome but it is just not enough, I think to keep me that way. You see, if I am not "busy" enough, I worry, I think, I consider each pain and figure it is cancer coming to kill me.
I have an enemy in my sites and it is one I must defeat to be here for my kids, my family, my husband and for the good things I want to accomplish still in my life. I know at any time, this enemy can raise up and take a hold on my organs and lead to my death. I DO NOT WANT THAT (who would?).
I am up for a couple of great opportunities but the old insecurities come back - the ones I never had until I tried to be the uber mom the one who did not miss anything, who put my kids first above everything and did not care for myself. I know I cannot be that person anymore as it could very well kill me. But my problem is that I do not know what person I AM. Am I a hard worker still, could I go to work every day (even summers) for full time and maybe miss out on things with my kids?
Will it make them stronger people to see me rocking my career with my new one boobed, pixie haircut and new mentality of how much I matter? I know no one on their death bed have said they wished they worked more but I look back at all of the things I once accomplished and could do and think about and wonder how much I gave up to live up to an expectation that does not really exist.
I think about the bills piling up and the sense of self worth that comes from paying one's own way in this world and how much we have been unable to do that once I stepped out of the workforce. I think about how my kids are growing up and that maybe, just maybe, having a working mom will help them know that life is a precarious balance.
Most of all, I think about how cancer is not welcome here anymore and how I can still be in charge of my life and what I need to do so people can learn from me, with me and through me that life isn't over til it's over.
What do you think?
So I have been diligent and dedicated to doing all that I can to hopefully make my body as inhospitable to cancer as possible. I do know that it does not mean I am in the "clear" and that I am still very close to being that me who had cancer in my body. As fast as time goes, it goes slow, you know?
Last year at this time I had just completed my second of eight chemotherapy treatments. I was lucky in that I was able to "bounce back" and work and avoid infection and basically did all of my chemos on time (except for a 5 day delay to up my platelet count which, at the time, felt like the end of the freaking world but in retrospect was really not a big deal).
I see now as I am super involved with the community of women (and some men) who go through this plot twist that I was super lucky. There are folks who cannot tolerate chemo (like literally their bodies break down and they wind up in the hospital for days) and there are folks who had infections from their surgeries and there are folks who went in for a simple procedure but found out the cancer had spread and a surgery would not be enough to help them...
At the time, of course, I did not know about these other alternate realities as I was so damn busy hiding from my actual reality. Yes, hiding. I did put on my smile and joke and get through the whole soup to nuts of cancer but I did it as though it was a bad dream that I would wake up from ... of course I realize now that it was not a bad dream BUT that it could always be "worse".
Now, I am in "fighting form" down to my high school weight and I deal with people consistently approaching me with that look. That look that says, "Oh, you are dying." And they ask me, "Are you okay? You look really bony." To which I go, "I am fine, thanks. I weigh what I did in high school and no one ever called me bony then so thanks." Then I will hear, "But are you sure you're okay because you are so thin." To which, again, "Thanks - no one ever told me that before as I still have my tummy and my curves (though just one I guess with the other breast gone... but yes I am ok as far as I know."
It never stops really. People just often do not know what to say or do around cancer survivors in training. It happens to me quite a lot and I chose to let it flow off my back now. I take the pitying looks and think about how much instead I pity THEM. They do not know yet that life is for the living. That nothing is worth getting stressed over. That they are beautiful no matter their shape or size. That even if things really suck right now it is nothing compared to dealing with a life threatening illness for themselves of their loved ones (God forbid). They do not have people who love them unconditionally and who they can IG chat with or call at 2am to share the new world, these new words and experiences we know and go through as cancer soon to be survivors.
I want to take a minute and take my hat off to the women I follow, who I have come to know and love, who are trying to do all that they can to take back their lives from this beast called cancer. I was lucky to have had my children before I was diagnosed with cancer. The type of breast cancer I had is one that makes any future children impossible, which at times, even though I am "older" at 41 is something that makes me think about what my 3rd child might have been like if I had been able to have another. I know I probably would not have had another but I had the choice before. Now, I do not.
My body has been in menopause for a year this month. I take a shot to suppress my ovaries every 3 months and I take a daily hormone inhibitor pill. Still, if I am you know with my husband, I have to use another form of protection JUST IN CASE. As my husband looked at me and I fell pregnant in the past (though struggled with some miscarriages), I have to be very careful as I do not want to be in the position where I fall pregnant and it's my life or theirs.
I follow women who were not lucky enough to have had their children already but still want to start a family. I think they are true heroes. It is not easy to plan and grow your family under normal circumstances and to do it after cancer (or the women who were diagnosed during pregnancy) WOW I want to say God bless and good luck to all of you who are out there building your families for the first or third time behind this wall of "cancer patient".
I spent my son's pregnancy worried and stressed after my miscarriages only for fear he would not make it but to worry also about your OWN health and if you can do it without waking the beast is even scarier. Of course, not all breast cancer is the same. Not all people have hormone positive breast cancer, as I do/did. My cancer was fed from ER/PR (estrogen and progesterine).
So this post is to all the soon to be mama's out there who know what it is like to be bald, to lose a boob, to lose their sense of constancy in this life - may your have tons of baby dust, be fertile and have uneventful pregnancies. May you all hear from your daughter as I did recently from mine that, "MOM, the world does not revolve around you and your ONE BOOB!" -- I mean, I had no idea of that until she told me. May you all hear your son say to you, "Mom, you are boring. Dad is more fun." (Yes, it is true but I am also an adult and my husband is a large child - in the best of ways, I love him dearly but he is just a big kid...)
So here is to us - the parents who know what battle scars look like, who know when to get stressed and when to just let it go. We have been to hell and back and we have no clue that once we have teenagers, it is ALL OVER. Can't wait to get there together!
This is what I do in the time between....
There comes a time when even the most people pleasers of people pleasers (me , I am their queen, hi nice to meet you) realize it must stop. That giving and giving to people who don’t appreciate it and would only give once to you no matter who they are must be turned down.
It’s hard. Really hard. I learned though that I need to focus on me, my husband and my kids. I need to stay healthy, in fighting form and I can’t do that when I’m bogged down by other stuff.
Some of that other stuff in addition to people pleasing is the run of the mill fear of dying and not keeping my promises.
I promised myself during chemo last year that I would change my ways. That I wouldn’t be a crazy helicopter nah shirt-mom. I wasn’t in the helicopter, I was like in the children’s shirts and not allowing them to be on their own or with others. I promised I would be more focused on what I need in my life. That I would take risks. That I wouldn’t settle for what I thought was being a “good mom” and putting myself last anymore.
And you know, so far, I am doing it little by little. I have learned to let go and let God in ways I never ever thought I could. I am like chill af now as the young kids might say... I do not get ruffled often. I do not panic anymore. I have a routine and a plan for managing most of these types of issues. As someone who always worried about everything I don’t worry anymore. Occasionally I get scared and spooked but I just roll with it by acknowledging the fear letting it sit with me for a few minutes and then dtmf down after the 5 minute mark.
I listen to a hypnosis by Seth Deborah called “victory over cancer” and it’s a great visualization technique to see my body healing or to help my body heal.
I also do mindfulness meditation, a novena every night before bed and exercise or at least walk 10k steps every day.
I eat well and have found that taking 3ml of melantonin helps me sleep like really sleep... like life before kids sleep. I found post surgery, chemo and being put in immediate menopause almost one year ago meant that sleep was now a challenge a real big challenge. I would lay awake for hours, despite being so tired. I wouldn’t dream much. I would wake up too early and not be able to rest again. I was taking 1-2 .5 milligram anxiety pills (have to check the name) from my oncologist every night to try to get sleep. Now, after a half hour of laying down, I am out cold. I get up at like 330 to pee and then boom right back to sleep til 6.
It’s amazing. I was born tired so getting to rest is huge for me.
This weekend, I worked on doing something really new. Both kids slept out and my husband and I took a surprise drive to Atlantic City w place we spent lots of time at before kids. We had a fancy dinner and also met up with an old friend of mine from grammar and high school!
I got home at 2am friends!!! And woke up at 7am because I had to get to my sons basketball game at 9! I am finding it’s ok to balance the different parts of me. I got some good news about some exciting opportunities for me to maybe just maybe be able to use my writing and social media skills as an income generator - more on that soon.
I volunteered to be part of the planning committee for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk for Staten Island and there’s more to that tooo coming soon! And I’m stepping wayyy out of my comfort zone again soon in February a few times - can’t wait to tell you all about that too!! You got to keep reading ;).
I continue to try to exceed expectations on this new normal. I have so many ideas and plans to help others adjust to this “new normal”. I am here and I plan on making the most out of whatever time I have left and I hope it’s a long ass time- what about you?
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.
We made it, friends! It is 2018. Many of us are still actively fighting cancer, some of us are done with treatment, some of us are stage 0, stage 1-3, stage 4 but all of us are praying and hoping or wishing for a cure to this disease.
No matter our stage, diagnosis, age, life issues, we all are aware that our life is potentially in trouble or could be lost based on the state of our cells. It is tough to understand and even tougher to get straight answers from medical teams as the fact remains that no one knows. The future is not clear but TODAY is. We are cultivating a life of living in the moment - or at least trying to do it.
I try and fail on a daily basis to keep my thoughts in today, to let things flow off my back and off my mind to stay present in the RIGHT NOW and not the "what if" or "what can". This is not easy for someone who used to be such a control freak, type A personality that everything was planned and then re-planned, everything said to me or about me was taken to heart or caused me to lose sleep or lose my sense of peace.
I have come a long way from this old me but I am still in need of improvement. I am doing all I can to stay as healthy as possible all the while knowing that the future is not promised to anyone. I am focused on doing everything I can to stay healthy while understanding that I have to only think of today. Thinking of tomorrow, a year from now, two years from now, etc is not something I can do without fear. I do not think anyone who has / had cancer can think long term without the constant "what if?" but I want to try to make it much less constant.
When I was filing my paperwork to be a non profit to help cancer patients get back to work, I was thinking about what would happen "what if" and it was making me crazy. I find when I am stressed or perturbed, these thoughts hit me more. When my kids look at me and ask, "Is the cancer gone?" it hits me right in the gut. Of course, I tell them yes but the truth is we just do not know.
I want to manifest for myself this word peace - a life where I live in today and do not ruminate over yesterday nor think about tomorrow. I am focused on finding a job which means I am thinking of the future in terms of being an employee again but I think after all I have been through, I can do this day by day.
What do you do to help yourself live in the moment?
I am and have always been what we call an “old soul”. What does that mean? It basically means that if the movie is black and white and has a song and dance routine, I am sold. It means if the choice is between staying in and reading or going out and dancing, I’ll be reading. It means that I spent a lot of time growing up with older people and for a while my “crew” included a bunch of 70-90 year old ladies who were the shit, end of story.
Over the last year, I lost my crew of ladies who were there for me all the time, any time. Who I could call up to complain to or to cry with and who always got it and always told me the same thing, “When are you going to take care of you, lady? When are you going to rest? You run around like a chicken without a head.”
On one hand, I am glad they passed before I got sick so they did not have to worry about it for me - but, on the other hand, I missed them a lot during this cancer plot twist and also just in general.
My aunt Jean was my grandma’s best friend and then she became mine. I lost my grandma when I was 23; it was my first real loss. My grandma kind of raised me and she took care of everyone and everything for all of us. She could cook like a big time chef and was just so damn proud of her kids and grandchildren it was crazy.
My grandma and aunt Jean would often be in my kitchen, drinking coffee and talking about everything -- aunt Jean had a mouth on her that would literally scandalize every living and dead truck driver / sailor ever since the beginning of time END OF STORY. Every kid in my family learned every bad word from her AND called her “aunt”; though she truly had no relation to us but she was there from before we could remember.
Every pair of shoes I ever owned for big events from baptism to when I got married were bought for me by aunt Jean. She always sent me the first birthday card and it always had something in it. She would beat my husband into shape anytime she was over. I would pick her up and take her to visit her children, who ALL predeceased her, at the cemetery. She was a strong ass lady who lost her husband young and never looked at another man.
Her hair was always perfectly coiffed in a blonde chignon and her makeup was always on point. Every finger wore a ring and earrings and necklaces were also used and sparkling. Her clothes were always pristine as was her 3 bedroom railroad room apartment on the 3rd floor in Park Slope where she lived for over 55-60 years and where she independently lived, cleaned and went up and down those 3 flights of stairs until she was 91.
She lost her husband when she was still in her 40’s and then right after that her youngest daughter died. Her son died years later and her oldest child died on mother’s day suddenly and without warning many years later. I would take her to the cemetery and she would visit with them and say, “I think God forgot about me but I live for my ‘kids’.” I was her “kid”, my kids were her “kids”- everyone were her “kids” and she thought of us and took care of us and I tried to do the same for her.
She passed away when I got my first full time job in over several years and I just felt that I could not take off to go to the funeral though I went to the wake. She was 93 and I guess that God remembered her and I hope she is in heaven with her husband and children and also watching over me and my family as she did when she was here. In life, she and I were together a lot so I forgave myself for not going to the funeral. I know she would have understood and I can still hear her in my head telling me to rest and relax when I try to do too much but it is a lot more colorful than that with some “f” bombs and such. She is definitely one of my guardian angels.
My other "golden girl" is someone that came into my life kind of by accident. My mom married her son and she became a step-grandma to me and step great grandma to my kids. No one could ever say anything bad about Roe - she was just the best lady you ever did meet. She was strong, too.
She adopted her 3 children before it was “trendy” to do so and when it was actually “easier” to get young local children to love and care for - but to these kids, she wasn’t their “adoptive” mother, she was their mother, full stop. She was always chatting and vivacious - she would take one look at me and go, “Why don’t you slow down, lady? You need to take care of YOU! What happens if you fall down?” I think her Irish eyes could see the future.
She passed away right around my diagnosis; in fact, I missed her wake because I was meeting with my gyno to go over my “official” breast cancer diagnosis. When I found out I was “officially” with cancer, my mom and my mother in law and my dad and my brother were all at Roe’s wake and believe it or not they all came together even though my mom and dad are totally the old school of divorce where it was all the other ones fault and all that crapola - but they were all crying together and came to my house and then my mom, husband and I went to my doctor while everyone stayed home with the kids doing a tremendous job of “Oh what, nothing is wrong, everything is GREAT!” all teeth smiles and more.
I often think about Roe and her sage advice, along with my aunt Jean. I had friends my age who would run over to come sit with Roe and aunt Jean whenever I was having an event or a big dinner. They were ladies who had some big shit happen to them. Roe lost her husband in the 70’s and she too never looked at another man. They both were all about family and also the voice of reason to try to tell me to calm down, to take it easy and I NEVER EVER LISTENED. But I am listening now and it is their voices in my head when I know it is time to calm down and sit and take care of me.
One night, in the midst of chemotherapy and working full time, I had a dream and in it, Roe was there - we were at a party, a wedding of some kind and I looked at her and said, “How are you here? You’re in heaven.” Her answer to me was, and I quote, “I was bored so I came to visit.” That is just Roe - she would do whatever she wanted and ask permission never- my aunt Jean was like that, too. The next morning, I mentioned to my mom the dream I had and how Roe was just being Roe and she burst out crying and I was surprised but she told me, “Lisa, last night, I was telling Mick <her husband> how much I wish Roe was still here to help you go through what you are doing with chemotherapy and shit and then you dreamed of her! She listened to me!”
One of the last times I took aunt Jean out to do her errands and to the cemetery, she wanted to go into a deli to return something she had brought that was not needed. I went in for her as her legs were not doing too great. When I came out to tell her the story did not take returns, aunt Jean went gangsta. “Let me out of this car, I am going to f*@### kill him, that motherf*@#DDS, I will kick him to death with my good leg!” I just sat there laughing and holding her back while my kids put their hands over their ears as they were used to this from years and years of being with aunt Jean in the car. I just know I have some (well a lot) of her spunk and fight in me and I think she is lending it to me from heaven.
Both of these women loved my kids as though they were their great grandchildren. It was amazing to have so much love and so many women to fulfill the missing of their great grandparents. Not a day goes by when I do not think of them and how much fun they must be having in Heaven. I am sure there are a lot of new vivid vocabulary being learned by all the angels and saints, though. May they rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon them.
What do you think? Do you have any special family members that you know helped you from heaven during your cancer plot twist?
Today, I did something I have not done for a long time. It is my birthday, so it’s been 365 days since my last one so I guess I do not do that too often… But I went out and had lunch, by myself.
This is something I used to do all of the time, back in the day. I have lived alone in foreign countries, taken 27 hour flights to far flung destinations for work but something I stopped doing abruptly over the last ah 13-15 years is doing things by myself for ME and with ME. It seems weird because I was always a very solitary person who just went off to do my own thing quite often.
Somewhere in becoming “coupled” up for good and having children, I lost this ability to be alone. I was always alone but alone at home and busy or alone at work and busy but now, I am just enjoying my own company and having a good old time spending money I do not have to get some splurge items for this birthday, this birthday that I never doubted I would see - maybe because I am just stupid but I just did not doubt that I would see this birthday in the books and that I will see many, many more - at least past 70, right?
But, the truth is I do not know and as much as I am rah rah and cheerful and positive there are these little nags that sit on my soul - this tiny little doubts that flourish up at the most inopportune times and remind me - remind me that my days might be numbered to an extreme, that there are cells that might remain in me trying to wreck havok and/or cause issues all I can say to that is I AM DOING EVERYTHING I CAN POSSIBLY DO TO NOT HAVE THAT HAPPEN and also, HEY I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL OVER THAT BECAUSE IF I DID, I WOULD NEVER HAVE GOTTEN CANCER IN THE FIRST DAMN PLACE!
Excuse my yelling. Sometimes, there are things that try to take your joy. In the “old” days, I had many, many things that took my joy. Now there is only 1 - it is just the underlying fear of having been sick and the WHAT IF it happens again. So every day, especially on this day, my 41st birthday, I do what I can to exhume it, to get it out and to live my life because it is what it is and it could always be worse.
I got stuff to do, though, and it should be enough to keep me busy and focused. Finding a job, filing for my charitable company The Time Between Is, Inc (done today, for my birthday gift to me - I also got myself tons of earrings, an echo dot, a new bag, new dress and a belt oh and a pair of jeans - today was a treat yoself day!) and just living life. Tomorrow is birthday breakfast with my best friend forever and of course tonight is all about family. We will meet at a restaurant and have a big dinner and a bigger cake. It is time to go big or go home for me - it has been a long time since I had cake / sugar and stuff so Bring, It. On.
How do you celebrate your birthday after breast cancer? What do you do to make sure nothing steals your joy? How do you quiet your fears?
I am focusing each day on practicing gratitude. I am keeping a journal to jot down a few things each day that have made me happy that day. I am doing this at night to go to sleep with happy thoughts.
Each day in my gratitude journal I write that I am healthy and cancer free. Do I know this is true? No, not really. Do I believe this is true, yes and I will unless God forbid I am told otherwise.
I try to think this way every day but some days, it is hard. Some days, I get a headache that lasts too long and I think, "Oh shit." Some days I get back aches and/or other weird pains and think, "Oh shit."
Sometimes, someone stops to ask me about my experiences, someone who is an acquaintance and means well and I tell my story and for a bit afterwards, I think about how I am a G#D-D@mned super hero that I am cured and still standing and kicking ass and all that - then about an hour later, I am thinking, "Damn, that person does not have cancer, never had cancer, and wow I am sick and so unlucky and blah, blah, blah...."
I do my best to just shake it off, though, and continue thinking positively, not because it will cure me but it sure as hell can't kill me.
On another note, I am at goal weight and have stayed there since mid-November the-weight-of-a-breast.html . I weigh what I did in high school people (137 pounds). Way back when I weighed this amount last, I thought I was HUGE and OVERWEIGHT because I was a typical insane teenager (and I quiver with fear thinking about how soon my kids will be teenagers and think these crazy things but I also look forward to it and plan to be here for it and if I complain then, hit me and remind me how I had / have cancer and shouldn't complain lol).
This is my routine/eating style post integrative medicine doctor meeting at Sloan (integrative-medicine-clinical-trials.html) that led me on the 10 day green smoothie challenge that I believe kick started my metabolism and also taught me how much food I need to eat vs how much I "wanted" to eat.
For instance, pre challenge, for breakfast I used to have a full smoothie with kale, spinach, fruits and water AND a yogurt with granola with dark chocolate and now I just have the smoothie. I am full and not at all hungry and cannot believe how much extra I was eating before versus now.
I eat breakfast 13 hours after I had my dinner; this is some kind of intermittent fasting process that is supposedly good for your body.**
After breakfast, I have my green tea - 2 cups of it, usually in a to go container so I can drink it on the road. A few hours later, I have snacks with me ready to go. I have ziploc bags with apples, unsalted nuts, almonds and rice cakes. Yes, rice cakes. Some people think they taste like cardboard but I love them. I use the whole grain sea salt ones. They are delicious.
For lunch, I have salad or a smoothie or a 1/2 of sandwich (meaning, I go to the deli and get a wrap and it is the size of my ARM so I cut it in half and save it for the next day's lunch). Between lunch and dinner, I have more nuts and fruit again. Dinner is whatever my family eats but we are all trying to eat "clean". I also have like 3 days a week oven roasted veggies to snack on throughout the day, too.
During the day, I am also moving and grooving usually doing at least 10k steps a day with 4k of them as a cardio workout.
As part of my de-stress routine, I listen in the morning to my hypnosis app by Seth Deborah called "Victory over cancer" and I meditate as well. I also pray and think about all of the things I am grateful for, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post.
This is how I try to stay sane and focused and grounded. I cannot worry or wonder every day about what is going on inside my body so instead I smile and zen myself into oblivion while job searching, taking care of the house, kids and puppy oh and husband oh and my dad, too. Can't wait to find that job! Oh and of course, updating this blog and sharing my story, in the time between....
**I am not a doctor so please check all of this information out with your medical team before following along with me.**
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