JUST BETWEEN US GIRLS

My journey from cancer, to finding strength in weakness, and learning to live my best life.

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In this blog, I’ve chronicled some of my experiences with cancer. It’s not so much a calendar of events, like my timeline.  It’s more an unfolding of the experiences, emotions, and feelings I’ve had during this illness. Sure, there are tips here and there, but that’s not the real purpose of the blog. Its purpose is simply to help as many people as possible–by saying the unsaid; going deeper than most people would ever dare; and showing a vulnerability that I didn’t even know I had. Until now.

I am sharing my story in hopes that it will help you or someone close to you who is being/has been touched by cancer. I focus a lot on post-treatment and what it means for the rest of your life. What’s the process for getting back to your old self? (Spoiler alert: You’ll never be your old self again.)  So then, how do you learn to accept your new self?  

When I was diagnosed in February 2017, I felt like I was at the top of my game–work was going really well; my girls were making their way into the “Adulting” phase of their lives; Greg (my husband) and I were on the same wave-length; and I was spending quality time with my friends. Things weren’t perfect of course, but things were good. But, I was tired–really tired. I was stressed out. I was the thinnest I had been in years. Looking back, I knew something was wrong. Your body tells you when it’s had enough.  Mine certainly did.

So I decided to start this blog, to talk about life after breast cancer. A blog that shares my journey from ignorant bliss, to cancer, to finding strength in weakness, and learning to live my best life.  I don’t have all, or maybe even some, of the answers, but my commitment to you is that I will be honest, authentic, and vulnerable.

Just Between Us Girls
August 30, 2018
Conquering Cancer

Just Between Us Girls

Is Cancer a Journey or a Destination?

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#205 I Knew I Hit Rock Bottom When I Bought a Mink Coat
August 21, 2018
Conquering Cancer - Post Treatment

#205 I Knew I Hit Rock Bottom When I Bought a Mink Coat

I’m depressed. I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life, so I know it when I see it. My mom had it and so did her mother. I have some pretty good coping mechanisms, but they aren’t working this time.

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#206 The Spontaneous Combustion of My Breast
August 20, 2018
Conquering Cancer - Post Treatment

#206 The Spontaneous Combustion of My Breast

I’ve been doing well—getting back into the swing of things and feeling really good, if not great. But alas, sometimes three steps forward comes with two steps back.

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Travel
17th  2017

On Surgery Day, this is the nerve block they put in my back to manage the pain after surgery.  It hurt like hell when they put it in. I’m pretty sure I passed out, but for the next few days, I didn’t really feel much.  This day, I was probably more afraid than anything else.Medication Tips: Stay ahead of the pain. It’s much harder when you wait to take the meds once you are in pain.As soon as you can, move around a bit. It doesn’t seem like it helps but it did for me.

17th  2017

One moment, I was counting backward from 10, the next moment I’m waking up in my hospital room with my little dog there to greet me.  What a great surprise.  I’d been through a lot but didn’t feel like it.

28th  2017

Thank you to my many, many friends and “family” who have started on this odd, auspicious, yet hopeful, journey with me. It’s been 11 days already and it feels like it’s been just two. Whereas I used to take pride in solving tough business challenges, today I enjoy the smallest victory of being able to crawl up the stairs in our house almost as fast as my smallest dog (if I only allow him to use two legs instead of four)! But mostly I garner tremendous strength from my faith and the kindness you all have shared with me…from the cool socks, to the yummy-and-completely-unhealthy snacks, the necklaces, the Lourdes water that I sprinkle on every day, to the stunningly beautiful flowers that lifts the spirits of everyone in the house and of course the fun and crazy cards and texts! I fear that I won’t be able to thank you all individually, but please know that each and every expression is so greatly appreciated! Warm regards.

Tips: Some of these may be a repeat, but I feel the need to do so.

1. Use your medication to stay ahead of your pain.  This can’t be over-emphasized.

2. Give yourself a break.  Even if you feel good, you’re going to be tired.

3. Keep visitors to a minimum unless you need it to feed your soul.  For me personally, I always enjoyed visitors but once my friends left I realized how much energy it took for me to visit with them.  I felt like I had to make sure that they knew I was okay.  It became exhausting.

4. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get thank you notes and thank you cards to people right away.  Most won’t mind at all.

5. Rest. Rest. Rest. And then, rest some more.

JUNE

On Surgery Day, this is the nerve block they put in my back to manage the pain after surgery.  It hurt like hell when they put it in. I’m pretty sure I passed out, but for the next few days, I didn’t really feel much.  This day, I was probably more afraid than anything else.Medication Tips: Stay ahead of the pain. It’s much harder when you wait to take the meds once you are in pain.As soon as you can, move around a bit. It doesn’t seem like it helps but it did for me.

JULY
8th  2017

Today, I cried. I cried because I have cancer. I cried because my cancer is real. The thing about some people with cancer (I can’t speak for everyone) is that every morning when you wake up, for just a moment you think, “Wow that was surreal, I thought I had cancer” and then you realize it wasn’t a dream, the cancer is real and you start your day. This morning, for the first time, I didn’t have that surreal moment of peace. Last night, in my dreams I had cancer and when I woke up, there was no nanosecond, no moment for me to pretend. I cried because cancer is irrevocably changing my life. The good that will come from this – and I know there will be good — is still so unclear to me right now. I know that God has a plan, it just hasn’t yet been revealed.

.I cried because my hair is falling out in clumps. I know it’s just hair and people always say that, “It’s just hair.” But the thing is, most all of those people have hair! But, there is something more to this. In a way, your hair is part of your identity…it’s a part of you. I cried this morning when my husband, ever so gently, brushed my hair and cut it shorter and shorter with such tenderness and love. I’m half bald now. I look like a Q-tip. I have this one clump of very thick hair that I can’t bring myself to shave off. I think I look a little like Larry from The Three Stooges, but only on half of my head. I recognize some of you reading this are far too young to appreciate the reference.

I remember BC (before cancer), I’d walk by a mirror and I would quickly and hopefully cleverly, sneak a glance at myself to make sure I looked put together (no spinach in my teeth or something), and then I’d quickly look away. Let’s face it, no one really wants to be caught looking at themselves in the mirror, so it was always an attempt at a nonchalant glance. Today when I walk by a mirror I stop and I stare. I stare because I don’t know that person who is looking back at me. I don’t recognize her. I look in her eyes and I still see strength, but I also see weakness. Where I used to see stoicism, I see fear, a slight crack in the armor. Where I used to see a fighting spirit, I see just the slightest bit of resignation. I don’t know this person. But where I used to see resilience, I see greater resilience. That’s how I know I’m still me, just different. I’m still here.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think I’m on the ledge. I am firmly off the ledge. Today, while in the midst of my own pity party I turned on the radio and caught a segment of a sermon by Joel Osteen. For those of you who know me, you know I hold three men (other than God) at the top of my “most meaningful to my life” list – My husband, Joel Osteen, and Darius Rucker – all for different reasons of course. I tuned in just in time for Joel to remind me that grieving is part of the healing process. What’s that saying of his? “Don’t let a season of mourning turn into a lifetime of sorrow. What’s in my future is greater than what’s in my past.” That made me smile. My mother used to say that God may not come when you call but he’s always right on time. I suppose that’s true. I always hear the Word when I least expect it, but when I most need it. Today, as always, Mom was right — God was right on time.

Health wise, I’m doing fine. I’m headed into my next chemo session, which means I will be more than half done on the 20th and I can’t wait! The last chemo really threw me for a loop. I hadn’t expected to be so weak and dare I say, feeble, for several days, and nauseated every day. My bones ache and sometimes I can’t move. It’s a weird feeling. I read somewhere that exercise helps with chemo side effects. Seems counterintuitive, but I figured, why not? So I started walking two miles a day on my good days. On my bad days, I work hard to walk one mile if I can. On my worst days I stay in bed. I won’t set any speed records but at least I’m trying. I even started going to a Zumba class once a week! It’s designed for cancer patients. Most days I make it through. Some days, I just watch. I appreciate the camaraderie and support of the ladies in the group.

I feel better now and I’m not sad at all. I did a little retail therapy (online of course). Nothing like buying something you don’t need to lift your spirits! A friend gave me a water bottle that says “Shopping is my favorite cardio!” So, at least my fingers are getting a workout on the keyboard every time I click “add to cart.” The UPS guy and I are really close. He says I’m helping him build his muscles because of the amount of Amazon boxes he brings to the house each day! Why didn’t I buy stock in Amazon when it was $100 a share?

That’s it for now friends. Be well.

AUG.
10th  2017

Today was a great day. I reached an important milestone and my family was there to share it. I love you guys G, S, and J! Thank you to my team for the great poster! You guys rock! And to my ride or die team –  J, E, R, and K. who created a great home-coming surprise, and lastly to my many friends whose encouraging words and prayers got me this far! Too many people to list here, but you know you who are. I am truly blessed! It’s not over, but today, all that matters is what’s behind me. Tomorrow, I’ll focus on what’s next. Thank you!I mentioned in one of my other posts that the list of tips and ideas around chemo are just too numerous to add to the timeline so I have created a separate post just for chemotherapy and dealing with it, from my point of view.

SEPT.
9th  2017

There are times in your life when something really negative, but meaningful, happens to you. If you’re like me you never ask “Why Me?” Because the truth is, “Why not me?” That’s how I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. Since then, I’ve been on an amazing journey filled with many inconveniences, pain and dark days. But it takes rain to make rainbows and yesterday a rainbow shone so brightly in my life I am still blinded by its presence. Yesterday was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. My co-workers put together a team called Charlie’s Angels, based on my nickname Charlie. It was overwhelming to see so many people there to support women and men who have been affected by breast cancer. And a team put together to support me. I know I’m not the only reason people on the Charlie’s Angels team walked, but I know the idea started with A and D  and a few others, out of concern for me. I am so humbled and so blessed — more than I can appropriately put into words. Charlie’s Angels raised $24,000 in just over a month! These are some amazing people. I will never be able to thank them and others enough for the outpouring of love, concern, and action. And even from people I don’t know (check out @dariusrucker Instagram and you’ll see what I mean). My family, friends and even acquaintances have taught me so much about love, kindness, selflessness, and what it really means to be a blessing to others.

Cancer changes you — physically, emotionally, and mentally. I look at pictures of myself before I was diagnosed and I think to myself that I’ll never again be that carefree person. I mourn who I was and question who I’m becoming. I look in the mirror and I feel sad for the person looking back at me. It’s a harrowing feeling.

Then I tell my reflection to “put on her big girl pants and get through this.” And that once this is done I know I owe it to others to help them see that there is life on the other side. Even though my journey isn’t over, my will is stronger than ever, because of Charlie’s Angels, because of my family and friends and because of God who has taken me down this path for reasons I may never know. But I trust. I trust that in time it will all be okay. In time I will know how to express my gratitude.

In the meantime, I will excerpt the great poet ee Cummings, to express how I feel about so many who have touched my life: “I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart…here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Charlie’s Angels!  My work team put together a team for the Race for the Cure last year and named the group Charlie’s Angels in my honor.  Above are a few pictures from that very special day. You know, sometimes when you are feeling your weakest others step in and be the strength you need.

OCT.
9th  2017

It’s October 24, which also happens to be my deceased mother’s birthday and it is my last day of radiation!  You know what that means — I’m done!  I’ve gone through all the treatments; I’ve stayed strong; I tried bald hair and now it is finally over.  There were tears running down my face when I walked out of the radiation center and into my car.  I knew my mother was looking down at me from heaven.  My girls threw a celebration at one of our favorite hangouts to celebrate the milestone.  Even the restaurant was in on it.  I just felt everything was going to be okay.  I had one surgery left and it was the exchange surgery to take out my tissue expanders and replace them with silicone implants.  Although that is still part of the treatment, in my mind, that was the good part.  I just had to wait six months, I’d buy my last bracelet and I was DONE.   I wasn’t done.  I didn’t know it at the time but I was about to face my biggest complication to date and it was a doozy.

My breast blew up.  Let me repeat that…My. Breast. Blew. Up.  You can see the intro video of the story (not the explosion).  It’s not to be missed.  Not because it’s traumatic and funny — and it is both, but also because it is a cautionary tale.