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.
So as a December girl, my birthday has always been a great way to celebrate the holidays in overdrive. I used to (before kids) decorate my house and tree right after my birthday (or the day of it) - now of course, we decorate after thanksgiving.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before my birthday last year - actually almost 2 weeks before my birthday to the day. This year, on my actual birthday, I have to admit, I had tons of mixed emotions. I was of course happy and thinking myself blessed and lucky and all that jazz but I also experienced a lot of fear. A lot of dark thoughts about what could happen and if the worse would happen and I would die before seeing my kids grow up or not have the chance to do my renaissance my new me my unveiling of whatever it is my goals in my new life will be to give back, to do more and all that jazz.
I know I have some PTSD and some other lovely issues to work through but I know it takes time. I do all I can to stay focused and positive but sometimes, of course, I falter - hey, I am only human.
Today is the day I can truly celebrate, though, and stay focused on the prize, which is this moment, today, this exact moment of knowing that one year ago today, I had my surgery. My surgeon took out everything - my mastectomy is quite radical I mean hey my tumor was almost 6cm after all. Also, I lost 25 lymph nodes a year ago today of which 5 were positive for cancer.
When the surgeon spoke to my husband he told him emphatically, "I removed all of the cancer. It is all gone." I posted about that on Instagram today (@thetimebetweenis); from that point on my husband has been convinced that I am cured, that I am cancer free. I live my life to try to believe the same, every moment of every day because if I did not, I would not have any peace. I know that this might not be true as it is not true for 1/3 of breast cancer patients who wind up having cancer spread to other parts of their body and become "terminal" at some point...
I also know that some people have local recurrences and all that jazz. I try instead to be positive and not think about those possibilities, but sometimes like the night of my birthday, those thoughts were taking over and winning which sucked.
I did have an awesome night and was able to not cry - because at one point, at dinner, surrounded by my loved ones, I did want to cry. I think the tears were a mix of self pity and fear and I do not like those feelings not one bit. I am thinking about making a post about how pity is one of the worst emotions and why I think so but for now, I will just say that it was a moment of weakness - which everyone can experience at any time though in the old days, I felt this weak all of the time -- now ,though, I truly do (try to) live in the moment.
I am going to share something now that might make you think I am insane - and if that is the case, it is ok, sometimes, I think I am insane, too (lol).
On the night of my birthday, when my peace was rocked, as I was sleeping one of my children called out to me and said, "Mommy, I am scared!" (This happens sometimes as they were impacted by my cancer plot twist and it is the reason why I worked on the children's book told from "their" perspective - see it here - working-through-the-pain-or-what-your-kids-feel-when-mama-gets-sick.html.
Anyway, when they called out, I wanted to say, "I am scared, too." but I did not of course - I told them, "Everything is ok, there is nothing to be scared of..." then, I quickly fell back to sleep but I was not asleep. Instead, I was bathed in a white light that was so strong and so bright and yet I could look at it without having to shield my eyes. I was in a white bright room and in that room were 2 other people - Mary, the Blessed Virgin and Padre Pio. I have written before about my experiences with Padre Pio here padre-pio-me.html.
This experience was more deep, more profound and even if I created it in my head alone (which I do not believe) it was still something that brought me great peace and made me feel that no matter how much I worry, it does not help and that I should just follow my original gut instincts to "pray, hope and don't worry". There was more that happened during this "vision" or "dream" but I cannot put words to it...
I woke up suddenly because I felt something in my hands. When I opened my eyes, I was holding my green scapular in my hands, tight. I will write more about what a "scapular" is at another time because this post already is turning into a book and I have some living to do today! On this day, the day of my "rebirth" there is no bad feeling or fear - there is just this moment, this moment when last year, we heard the magic words, "All of the cancer is gone." I am going to hold on to that and keep it with me so that I can continue to have my peace, no matter what.
What do you do in the time between to help you cope with the fears, the bad stuff, the PTSD? I would love to know! Thanks!
This month is my cancerversary --> its-my-cancerversary.html and for some strange mental reason, I decided to do a bunch of medical shit this month and I am really regretting it and recognizing how I had no idea how deep my PTSD goes after living through a real medical diagnosis and hoping and praying to stay healthy.
So just this month, I did the following:
I am doing the best I can to not think doom and gloom. I know deep down that my thoughts cannot change the results so why should I beat myself up and ruin my holiday season on the unknown. Until it is known, I can keep focusing on being "cured" or NED of being me of being free.
I shared my PTSD on instagram and so many people commiserated and knew what I was talking about (consider following me there @thetimebetweeenis or on twitter @timebetweenis - I am sharing it here with more detail to hopefully help someone else as they learn to navigate this new world in the time between...
Today, I was inspired to write this post from the sermon at Mass. I have been going to mass throughout this plot twist of cancer; though I did miss some weeks. I did, however, give up on getting my kids to go every week. I would run out on a Sunday night at get the last mass in my town at 7:30pm, the last ditch attempt to getting in that hour of peace.
One week, months ago, I was feeling very anxious - thinking what would happen if the cancer progressed, fearing death and I dragged myself out to mass, though I felt like curling up in bed and crying. That day, the mass was about Jesus curing the lepers and how He cures us and it gave me peace - I get it if this is not your thing - you can find your thing that gives you peace, I pray you do.
Today, both kids came to mass with me and my dad and my mom (which is ironic and funny if you know anything about my family history or just read this a-tale-of-two-novembers.html or this the-oh-sht-playbook-or-being-my-dads-daughter.html) and it was about talents and using your talents the way you are meant to use them.
This got me thinking and hence it got me writing - I always thought my talents were well, I did not know because I always thought of talents as being singing or drawing but in reality your "talent(s)"are your mission - the things you can do better than anyone else or that come easy for you AND that I guess, you enjoy doing.
In that case, my talents include writing, resumes, writing, educating (BUT not less than college aged; I learned this the hard way) and I guess balancing lots of stuff oh and of course being positive.
A former friend of mine had called me "Positivo" before I had anything that I really needed to be positive about to survive. But, being positive has been integral to my life and my survival, in general long before I heard the words, "You have cancer."
As I look for my next step (ha, it never gets old - see www.thenextstep1234.com), I am thinking about the different things I am good at and how those skills and talents can be used in a way to help others and I am just open to it. I know I can do more and that I should do more. I know that I want to create a non profit as soon as I fix my full time situation how-to-take-the-next-step-after-cancer.html.
How do you use your talents? What are your talents?
I truly do not know what the hell I was thinking to "challenge" myself to blog every day this breast cancer awareness month - my first as someone who has/had breast cancer.
Today is the eve of the last day, I guess and tomorrow is Old Hallow's Eve (?) right? So maybe there is some symmetry to this stupid idea of mine.
When I say "stupid" it is with a smile - I love to write but as I am working on this daily blog post, I am also working on my first novel i-am-writing.html and looking for a new job when-god-closes-a-door-he-opens-a-window.html oh and I went away on my own for the first time in over a decade to focus on ME being-a-woman-or-how-a-local-charitable-organization-marys-place-by-the-sea-has-boots-on-the-ground-toes-in-the-sand-helping-women-cancer-patients.html.
I recognize that my words help others - my website unique visitors count shows me that on a daily basis and the folks who do reach out to me solidify that what I am doing "matters" or "helps" the other 1 in 8 women who are facing a diagnosis of breast cancer,
As I write this, 67 people have been on my blog TODAY and 1495 this week. Words have power and sharing my story helps me manage it and deal with it. I will not lie, though - as much as I smile and focus on today, there are fears. Fears that my cancer will come back, fear that it will become terminal (by spreading to other organs or metastasizing). Last night, when I returned from my weekend away at Mary's Place by the Sea, I felt thrumming with emotions. I had uncovered so many things about me and how I feel and what I feel that it was like too much - sensory overload. I had tears coming and part of it was from the fear - the fear that I will die before my time.
I want to tell you it is easy to move past these fears but it is not. However, once you realize that YOU are still HERE you have to shake it off (in the words of the immortal Taylor Swift). I let those fears and tears fall, then I said, "Pray, hope and don't worry!" because that is my mantra, it is what works for me. The truth is, no one knows what the future brings and I say this to myself over and over again. It just hit me hard in the gut, though, that I would have cancer. That I would be in a situation where I was truly, honestly "sick" after really being one of the healthiest people I know.
Why was I so healthy way back when - because I did listen to my body. When I was tired or run down, I stayed home and did not put on my low cut shirts and go out to flirt and party. When I felt icky, I missed a day from work and rested in bed. I was born old - I say this all the time and it's true. Even this weekend with my new friends at Mary's Place by the Sea, at dinner I was like, "Whoa, it's 8:15pm, I got to go to bed!" Everyone made fun of me (in a sweet way but I can take it, I have been teased about this stuff for years!) and I was one of the first (and youngest) ones to get to bed.
I experienced so many emotions this weekend but no fear until I got home - I let it hit me that of the other guests with breast cancer, mine was the most advanced stage AND I was the youngest. Statistically speaking, this is sobering. As 1/3 of breast cancer patients wind up with stage 4, I allowed the fear in to think wow, it would be me in this situation. I pray and hope and not worry about it because if I give in to the fear, then I am already dead, right.
So, I experienced my emotions and then I let them go. I cannot harbor them. I must be who I am - I am the person who smiles and laughs in life's hardships. I am the person who gets up every morning and when my feet hit the ground the Devil goes "Oh shit, she's up! RUN!" I am strong, I am healthy (all things considered) and I will take my cancer and deal with it because that is what I do.
I will love more and be nicer to my husband and I will never forget the lesson that I must make time for me and my life and to be present in it and enjoy the people who are in it who love me (and I love them).
And all things considered, I will focus on the good. The good is that my cancer WAS caught, I was still considered "early stage" and that I can do what I need to do and the rest, is not up to me. It is up to something else - I keep following my doctor's advice and LIVE each day because that is all any of us could do.
But seriously, fuck cancer and fuck 31 day blogging challenges. This is what I do and think in the time between.
I have been trained to be "professional"; I spoke about it in my blog post managing-diagnosis-from-super-woman-to-cancer-patient-in-two-seconds-flat.html. No matter my career as an educator, I came of age in my world of financial services. That was always my "dream" during college and my MBA program - it was to work on or around Wall Street and I did for many years. During that tenure, I learned quickly the ways to present and be professional and those rules have just stuck with me ever since.
Those "rules" are unwritten and one of the big ones was always never discuss religion, politics or sex. I have no interest in talking about politics or sex but now I am compelled to speak a little bit about religion.
I was raised in a small town, in a middle class Italian household which meant mass every Sunday and gravy afterwards. This faith was just something I had to "do" to not be in trouble and I always thought I would not go to mass once I moved out.
When I did "move out" it was for the opportunity of a lifetime - I moved to Rome, Italy to get my MBA with a scholarship. It was time to test out my theory; would I go to mass without being "told" to go? Well, the first time I went to mass while living "alone" (without my family but with friends), it was at the Vatican (hey, living in Via Santa Maria Mediatrice it meant that was practically my parish - though there was a church right across the street from my apartment)!
I felt a peace at mass, I felt connected to my family at home and I kept going week after week either to the Vatican or to the church across the street aptly named the Church of St Maria Mediatrice.
When I returned home, many things changed and yet I continued to go to mass. I was never "pious" or "preachy" and I have no intention to start to be now but I do want to talk about how my faith has helped me during this "challenge" of breast cancer.
There is something about being faced with your own mortality that makes you want to be more open, to share more. I cannot explain it beyond knowing that for me, writing and speaking have been something that has helped me process many things in my life and as I wrote a blog for my business, I have felt more comfortable with being "out there" but still I have held back on writing about faith's role in my life due to my professional conditioning. I realize now that the landscape of companies has changed since I left Corporate America in 2009 and things are a bit more free but it has never been my way to be open like this about things involving faith.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I found that I needed to find peace. Once my energy levels came back, I focused on incorporating exercise and diet changes in addition to meditation and yoga taking-back-control.html. At the bedrock of all of this, though, is my faith.
I believe I have been cured (I wrote about this previously in my blog; I just believe it) and part of what helps me believe it is my faith. I could be wrong - hey, I thought I never would get breast cancer and yet here I am blogging about my experiences with stage 3 Breast Cancer. I was feeling a little off this past weekend and spent more time worrying than I want to - and I relied on some feelings and beliefs to get me through it. When I went to mass late Sunday night I saw the readings were about Jesus healing someone and I felt reassured.
My personal feeling is that Padre Pio is involved with me during this process. I cannot prove it to you and I am not trying to but I have felt a kinship with the Italian priest and even had a dream where he told me he knows me. During my day yesterday when I had some fears, I looked up and someone in front of me was wearing the Padre Pio bracelet and it brought my comfort but it did not last and that night when I went to mass, with the little worries of potential spread of cancer, the readings were about Jesus healing people and it was like, OK maybe now I can relax and let go. That is all I can do - breast cancer has take a lot from me but it has, through my own little ways of living, given me a lot, too. I realize I cannot live my life worrying and in fear - I just have to live and for me, that has been and always will be with faith.
This is what I do in the time between.
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