Friday, December 18, 2015

Stick a Fork in Me -- I’m Done!

I’m so excited right now because I finished the last of my cancer treatments this week.  Now, I can begin the next chapter in my life.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything.  It got to the point where I had difficulty thinking and lacked the energy to write.  But that phase is behind me now, never to return again.

Wow, I learned a lot through this experience.  I met a lot of very nice people, many of whom were at the hospital seeking treatment far away from their home and family.  I learned a lot about myself and the strong bond between physical wellbeing and mental attitude. But the biggest lesson of all, I think, was the strength that can come from counting your blessings and how far I had to dig to see those blessings at certain times.  Fortunately I have wonderful friends and family who helped to point those blessings out when I needed it most.

My surgeons were skilled, efficient, and kinder than I expected. That being said, my radiology team was definitely my favorite.  I saw them every day for 6 weeks, so naturally there’s a bit more of a bond there, but it was more than that.  This team of folks made it their mission to be happy and upbeat every single day.  No matter the circumstances, I was always greeted with a smile and positive energy was flowing generously from each and every person I encountered.  After months of feeling rotten physically, being injected with a few minutes of happy attitude every day for 6 weeks did as much to heal me as the radiation has done.

So picture me doing the Snoopy dance!  I’m ready to create a new life with the lessons I’ve learned and the extra time I’ve been given.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank

This is the title of one of my favorite books by the beloved American humorist, Erma Bombeck. It’s a true statement that describes how I look at my life right now.  I’m not going to say that cancer treatment isn’t all bad.  Let’s face it, it’s a septic tank and it is all bad.  BUT that doesn’t mean my life is all bad.  In fact, my life is very good and this experience, in the long run, is making it better!

Facing a serious illness realigned my priorities almost instantly.  No months of contemplation or shelves of Steven Covey books are needed to break free from the tyranny of the urgent and get the important things to the top of my list.  Those dishes in the sink can stack up like the leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s time to play with my grandbaby and have some fun. That note to my friend I’ve been meaning to write is done now, not put off to later when I think I might find the time.

Because I tend to lose weight when I’m stressed, I am literally under doctor’s orders to get back into my fat pants. How many times in your life do you think that will ever happen!  I’m Agent 007 with a license to eat. Although a diet of chocolate, donuts and TexMex food might spring to mind, I find that I suddenly possess the will power to resist bad foods in favor of healthy choices.  I can even skip those chips at the Mexican restaurant. (Those of you who know me well, understand how big my corn chip weakness is and will be impressed by this statement.)  At the same time, the reminder that life is short keeps me from feeling guilty if I decide to splurge a little here and there.  It’s the best of both worlds!

I’m learning all kinds of new things.  I’m studying new technologies like the use of nanotechnology in cancer treatment or the use of guided imagery and meditation in accelerating healing.  I’m learning new recipes.  I’m even teaching myself how to play the piano in an effort to combat “chemo brain”.

I’ve always been strongly driven to prioritize work, chores, and the needs of others over my own needs.  I literally worked to ensure that I would in no way be a burden or disruption to other people.  But in this new A.D. (after diagnosis) life, I must put my own needs higher on the priority list (like on the top!).  I’m finding that this new alignment of priorities brings a sense of freedom and comfort.

I feel free to purge negative people from my to-do list. Let’s face it, some people are like Slinkys, the only way they could bring a smile to your face is if you imagine pushing them down the stairs.  I am free to increase my awareness of my own physical and emotional needs and to take a break whenever I want.  If that break happens to be in the middle of doing the laundry and the clothes are all wrinkled, so be it.  It’s so hot outside they will probably steam out straight before the A/C in the car kicks in anyway. A strong focus on the here and now, while letting go of worrying about the future, brings me a sense of peace.

Best of all, I’m receiving lots of love and support from family and friends as well as meeting new people who share some common experiences. The things I’m learning about stress reduction, prioritizing happiness and healthier living are going to serve me well for decades to come and will make my A.D. life the best part of my life’s journey.   Yes, the grass on my life’s path is definitely greener!

Al has started a campaign to raise money in support of an early cancer detection research project called Nanomagnetic Relaxometry. Read more about this project on our Texas Thru My Back Door blog or click the button below

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Root of Success is Loving Support

There is nothing that helps me more than the support of my friends and family. I am reminded daily that I am one of the luckiest people on earth. A dear friend gave me a journal to track my progress and that has provided inspiration for this blog.  Another precious friend sent me beautiful flowers. Another checks on me multiple times a week and offers to help with things at my house.  Cards and encouraging emails are more helpful than you will ever know.  There aren’t enough words in the universe to express how helpful my partner in life, Al, is every single day. This encouragement builds me up when I am down and gives me a reason to fight every day.  I’m sure I sound super positive in these little blog entries, but you will note that I don’t write them on my bad days.

I do have some bad days and these experiences are not the things that I want to dwell on.  But when those days or even moments come around, having friends and loved ones (is there really a difference between these two?) who listen makes all the difference.  There are lots of things I’m learning about healing and survival on this journey that I want to share with you, but absolutely nothing has more impact on my life and directly on my health than the support of my loved ones. I’ll never be able to repay the hours and hours of investment in listening from my wonderful support system.  But the good news is that I won’t have to, because that’s what friends are for.

My experience benefiting from these wonderful people leads me to a few words of advice to those who are supporting a friend or loved one on this challenging journey.  Listen calmly and don’t judge.  This can be an overwhelming journey and I can state from firsthand knowledge that you can think some pretty crazy things along the way.  I went through a few very dark days right after I had heard from the last of the doctors outlining my treatment plan. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the not so favorable report from the reconstruction surgeon. (Turns out that if you don’t have much excess body fat or sagging skin “there’s not a lot to work with here”) But in truth it was everything. The chemo, surgery, radiation, estrogen suppression, and reconstruction seemed overwhelming.  I told Al I wasn’t sure I could do any of it and I didn’t want to go back to the hospital again.  He listened without reacting or judging and helped me focus on one step at a time, just the first 12 weeks of chemotherapy.  If he had reacted negatively, the conversation would have been over and I would have stewed in my negative thoughts for days.  

Be aware that sometimes it’s best to talk about things besides cancer. There are times when I want to talk about cancer and times when I don’t.  Good friends are sensitive to that and don’t bring it up when I say I’m done with that part of the conversation.  They also say nothing when 5 minutes after I say that I’m done talking about cancer for today, I bring it up again.  No one could have more understanding listeners. 

Being the first one to reach out is also helpful.  As a cancer patient, I hesitate to reach out to those I love because I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” in their lives.  If you have never been through this, you have no idea how crappy it feels when you are first diagnosed to call up a friend.  It goes something like this:

Me:        “Hi, how are you?”

Friend: “Pretty good, except I’m trying to get ready for … and the kids are driving me crazy… How are you?”

Me:        “Everything is great with me except that I have cancer.”

Conversation stopped dead… everyone is officially depressed.

So I hesitate to call people up, even people I should reach out to, because instead of “reach out and touch someone”, it’s “reach out and ruin someone’s day”! 

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it when I hear from a friend.  That is the signal that my loved one is feeling good and ready for whatever things I have to say. I don’t have to feel like I’m subjecting them to unwanted “Debbie Downer” talk if I’m feeling low or dealing with a challenge.  And if I’m in a good place, which fortunately I am nearly all the time now, it’s just great to feel cared about and to talk about normal things.

I’ve even been blessed with encouragement from people I don’t know that well.  When we met with the head of the nanotechnology research project at MD Anderson that I’m so excited about a few weeks ago, Al told her about my diagnosis.  We didn’t talk about it much other than a discussion about how the ability to easily detect and target individual cancer cells could eliminate much of the physically difficult aspects of cancer treatment in general.  Just this past Friday night, over a month after our little visit, she sent an email to Al asking how I was doing. I was really tired that night, but hearing about her thoughtfulness brought a smile to my face and renewed my energy.  So, don’t hesitate to reach out and encourage a virtual stranger.  It really does help!

I believe that the loving support I’m receiving is a more important factor in my success against cancer than all the drugs and other medical treatments. I’m reminded that I am fortunate to have the privilege of knowing such wonderful people. A wise friend pointed out that cancer treatment is a marathon, not a sprint. (A great reason to go out and buy new shoes!) So keep those cards and messages coming. Sometimes I just need a reminder that it’s time to put my big girl pants on and hit the track!

Al has started a campaign to raise money in support of an early cancer detection research project called Nanomagnetic Relaxometry. Read more about this project on our Texas Thru My Back Door blog or click the button below

Monday, June 29, 2015

Are You Smarter than a Toddler?

Well, I’m not!  I thought about saying “Are you smarter than a 5th grader”, but they aren’t smarter than toddlers either.  Watching our little grandson, Drayton, is teaching me some big lessons.

His only mission in life is to play and learn while he’s playing. His work is his play. That’s the life we all should have!  He learned to walk just a couple of months ago and he continues to delight in every little accomplishment.  He loves to walk around holding something his hand and he does this all day long, just because he can.  It doesn’t matter that he’s done this dozens of times before. Each time is a cause for celebration. 

What would my life look like if I celebrated every little accomplishment so thoroughly?  I can see it now.  Hurray, I cooked breakfast!  Wow, I went to the grocery store and didn’t forget anything… let’s pop the champagne cork.  Al would think I was crazy I’m sure, my daughter would roll her eyes, and that lady behind me in the grocery store checkout would be looking for the security guard.  But hey, I think it would feel pretty good and I’m going to try it.

My cute little grandson eats whenever he wants. He tries any kind of new food you give him, but if he doesn’t like it, he just spits it out and moves on.  Unfortunately, if a grownup tried that in a restaurant, people would look at you funny.  So, I guess I should use some caution there.  This a very relevant lesson for me right now because chemotherapy changes the way my food tastes.  The other day, I fixed a salad with ranch dressing.  It’s a recipe I make frequently and it’s one of my favorites.  I put a big ol’ fork full of that salad in my mouth and much to my surprise, the dressing tasted like weak coffee!  Now I like coffee, but cold coffee on lettuce… not so much.  So I just didn’t eat it. (BTW – Al jumped up and made me some scrambled eggs, which tasted just fine.  I have the greatest guy in the world!) I’ve cut almost all bread and sugar from my diet, but if my stomach feels weird and all I want is starchy food and bread, the Toddler’s Guide to the Universe says that’s OK!

Drayton always prioritizes play over all else in his life.  Man, I need to put that lesson to work in my life.  How many times have I failed to take time to do something fun because I need to finish the laundry, or pay a bill, or fulfill a request from a family member.  Think of the hours and hours of fun and learning I have missed in favor of doing mundane tasks.  While I can’t exactly stop all chores, (let’s face it, someone else does this little guy’s laundry) I can make “having fun” a higher priority and let some of those daily chores just wait.  The Keebler Elves are not going to show up and do the laundry for me, so I can rest assured that it will be waiting for me later, after I’ve taken time to have some fun.

My “little man” is a smile machine.  He smiles at the drop of a hat.  It doesn’t take an incredibly funny joke or an extraordinary emotional moment for him to smile.  He smiles when he sees a familiar face and he really smiles when he sees his own face.  He smiles when he hears a song he likes or when he picks up a toy.  He smiles when he grabs his toes or when he sees anything new.  On the principle that the right feelings follow right actions, I’m going to devote myself to smiling more.  If I smile at the drop of a hat, the positive feelings will follow. Smile!

How on earth do these little ones sleep so soundly?  When little Drayton is out, he is dead to the world.  The other day, we took him with us to a restaurant and he passed out in car just as we drove into the parking lot.  Al picked him up and carried him into the noisy crowded room. The music, the voices, and the jostling of the crowd had no effect on him. He stayed draped on Al’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes and never heard a sound. How does he do that?  I think it’s because he’s tired from all that fun and not tired from worry or stress.  One of my goals is to sleep like that little angel.  I’m using meditation and guided imagery to help with that, but I still have a lot to learn. So, if you see me in a restaurant, face down on the table, don’t worry.  I’m not allowed to have alcohol, so I can’t be drunk.  Just be happy for me, because that means I played all day, have no stress, and I’ve mastered the art of having a good nap.

We have started a campaign to raise money in support of an early cancer detection research project called Nanomagnetic Relaxometry. Read more about this project on our Texas Thru My Back Door blog or click the button below

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mind over Matter

Wow, there’s nothing to compare to the experience of hearing the words “you have cancer”. It’s hard to absorb.  Your brain screams, “But I thought I was healthy. I’m too young for this. I feel fine.  How can this be true?” It’s hard to hear the reassuring words about advances in treatments.  Your life is instantly divided into two segments, B.C. (before cancer), and A.D. (after diagnosis).

For me, the sense that my life was no longer under my own control was a huge issue.  Now, anyone who’s ever raised children has learned that thinking you actually have control over your own life is nothing but an illusion.  But still, I’m pretty fond of that illusion. This definitely put that sense of security, false though it may be, in jeopardy. That feeling of a lack of control leads to fear and a clear sense that the situation is overwhelming.  The whirlwind of tests and doctor’s appointments does not help the situation feel more manageable.

Fortunately, I have a lot of positive things going for me that have really helped bring things back to a more manageable state, allowing me to move forward in a positive and very productive way. The biggest thing has to be the support of my loving partner in life, Al.  He knows me well and knows that my math/science nerd brain needs lots of data to make sense of the world. He did tons of internet searching to find the latest treatment options for my particular type of breast cancer and gave me only the data that I needed to make decisions.  I found that if I looked online myself, I would zero in on the negatives. Having a partner do the searching was a huge win.  He is my coach, my supporter, my friend and counselor… I could go on and on.  We settled for the obvious choice in the Houston area, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Much of my 30+ years in the computer industry was focused on technical crisis management for large enterprise customer.  I knew that getting the customer to participate in the problem resolution gave the customer back the sense of control they needed in times of crisis and helped move things along in a positive direction.  Here too, Al’s research and the help of others paid off as we began to explore mind/body techniques to help in this fight. 

Our bodies have a tremendous capacity for self-healing.  Now that does not mean that conventional western medicine is bad, but in the case of cancer, you need all the help you can get.  I personally found some of the self -healing material by Andrew Weil to be very helpful, but there are lots of others and I’m reading books from a variety of sources. The power of prayers, meditation, guided imagery and other similar mind/body techniques have well documented success in assisting in managing symptoms and promoting healing. 

For me, these things are working.  I have a positive attitude and I am completely confident of a cure at the end of this road.  I feel empowered to promote my own healing and work with the chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, etc. to kick this issue to the curb.  In my reading I ran across a thought that stuck with me.   Basically the philosophy is that disease is not good or bad, disease is a message from your body that something needs to change.  Well, message received.   I’m not a powerless victim of cancer.  I’m a person who has received a message.  I understand the message and I’m taking action. 

I want to write about what I’m learning as I focus on removing stress from my life, making changes in diet/exercise, and learning to cope with treatment side effects.  I also plan to share information on the tremendous research being done right now to find and cure cancer at stages so early that there is little or no effect on healthy cells in the body.

For me mind over matter is the key.  The great minds of cancer researchers, the great minds of my friends and family as they help me through this rough patch of life, and the great power of my own mind to create changes in my life that will ensure success.  So my first equation for life is:

               > cancer

A note to my family and friends: Feel free to remind me of this as my hair falls out! I’m sounding pretty brave here, but rocking the hairless Chihuahua look is going to be a bummer.

Al has started a campaign to raise money in support of an early cancer detection research project called Nanomagnetic Relaxometry. Read more about this project on our Texas Thru My Back Door blog or click the button below