My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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Thankful

When you have cancer, it’s so easy to focus on what you have lost and what you don’t have anymore.  Trust me.  I know.  I do it constantly.  While I know it’s not helpful, there are days where I live in a constant, “woe is me” state.  It’s important to have those days.  They’re real, honest depictions of living with disease.  But when the dark clouds pass, we get to look at our lives and see all of the great things we have.  Thanksgiving is a perfect excuse to do just that.

Last year I made a long list of things I was thankful for.  Most of those things are still true.  I’m still thankful for my family and friends.  That is a given.  I’m nothing without them.  I’m thankful for my husband.  We’ve had a rough year.  Cancer is not easy on a marriage.  But we are figuring it out and I’m thankful for that.

I’m thankful that I have eyebrows again and even though my eyelashes are much thinner than they used to be, I’m thankful that they are here.  I’m thankful that I have found a new physical therapist who seems to be helping to manage my lymphedema.  I’m thankful to have work in wonderful schools and work for so many amazing people and organizations.

I’m thankful that, as of yesterday, I am finished with the infusions for my clinical trial!!!  Woot-woot!!!  November 25 has been a date stamped on the calendar of my brain for more than a year.  This date, which once seemed so far off that I was sure it would never come, happened!  Yesterday!!!!

But as I was in the waiting room to see my oncologist, celebrating by myself (unlike my last day of chemo, I went solo for this one) I noticed new people I hadn’t seen before.  They had that look in their eyes.  Wet from holding back tears.  I knew that look on their faces and the faces of their loved ones.  They were summoning everything they had inside them to hold it together.  Maybe yesterday was the day that they got the results of a mammogram.  Maybe it was the day that the find out what is in store for the next year.  Maybe it was their first day of chemotherapy.  I saw them clutch their tea and try to not make eye contact with the others in the waiting room but then try to catch a glance of those who sat with them.  Do they have the answers to what life will be like?  What it will look like?  Caregivers clutched the hands of their wives.  They got up, suddenly hypersensitive to noise when a secretary was clicking her pen.

I remember all of this so well.  This might have happened to me 13 months ago but being in that room brought it all back for me.  It was so familiar.  All of it.

My heart is with those people who are going into this holiday season with cancer and illness, whose lives are changing forever.

An hour later, I had gotten my infusion, my last free massage and it was time to say goodbye.  Goodbye to Nina, my chemo nurse.  Nina was my cancer mama.  We developed a very close bond.  I love Nina because she is caring but also firm, just like a mother.  I could talk to her about anything that was going on in my life and she wouldn’t sugar coat it.  She’d let me know what was worth worrying about and what I needed to let go.  I knew I could count on her to take care of me through everything, and she did.  Because your nurses aren’t just there to make sure you get your medication and don’t have allergic reactions to them.  They are so much more than that.  Nina was so much more than that to me.  I am so thankful to have had her in my life and to have her as a friend.  We said goodbye.  There were tears.  But I know I can come back anytime I want but “just to say hi.”

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Me and Nina.  The best nurse ever!

Nina walked me out, holding the door open for me to leave and then closed it behind me.  There was a ritual to it.  She was ushering me out of this life that I have been living for so long and telling me not to come back.  But to go out and live.  To live my life again.  That simple act of opening and closing the door was so meaningful.  So emotional.

Afterwards, I left the cancer center.  I won’t need to be back for three months.  Three whole months!!  I am thankful for that.

I celebrated by going to a nearby  coffee shop and getting myself a cappuccino and a warmed up chocolate croissant.  Of course, I did work while eating it.  Life must go on.  But it was still a nice treat.  I am thankful for chocolate croissants.

Now, it is officially Thanksgiving.  Later we are going out to eat.  After the year we have all had, no one felt like cooking.  We are all so tired.  But we are going to the restaurant where my husband works so, in a sense, we will all be together.

This morning, the thing I am most thankful for in this world, Oliver and I got to spend some quality time together.  He wanted to take the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge to Oliver Street.  Yes, there’s an Oliver Street in Chinatown so, that’s exactly what we did.  Then, we had a very non-thanksgiving lunch of oxtail soup with noodles.  Yum!!!!!  I was thankful for that yummy, fatty oxtail.  Last Thanksgiving I couldn’t eat.  That will not be the case this year.  I am thankful for that.

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Looking out onto the Manhattan Bridge

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Watching the cars get on and off the bridge.

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Looking at the map for Oliver Street.

And finally, thank you to all of you who read and comment on my blog.  I’m so thankful to have people who support me through this experience.  I’m also so lucky to be part of a community of strong, smart, powerful women who have been through or are going through cancer treatment and share their experiences with me on their own blogs or through comments.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Bits Of Happiness #11

Several months ago, I made it a goal to find joy in every day, despite the challenges cancer threw my way.  The challenges have not stopped.  More on that another time.  Today, I want to bring the joy in every day, however small, back to my blog.  Back to my life.  I am making a commitment to post a “Bits of Happiness” post each week for the next year.  What better week to start this than the week of Thanksgiving.  So, here it goes.

This weekend we had friends stay with us.  While we were walking through Central Park, we stumbled upon the most beautiful tree with blood red leaves.  Everyone who saw it had to stop, look and take a picture.  As we left, we crossed a small bridge over one of the small lakes in the park.  The sunset was gorgeous and the skyline was reflected in the water.  Two examples of life’s beauty only moments apart.

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Family Photo Shoot + Be Back Soon

Hello friends.  I think this is the first week since I started blogging that I haven’t posted something new.  After losing my friend, Jessica (see my last post) and all of the terrible things that have happened in the world (Paris, Donald Trump), I’ve been left speechless.  That doesn’t happen to often.

I have so many opinions on all of the horrible things that have happened in the last week but, I’m tired.  I’m emotionally exhausted so, even though writing about it is usually therapeutic for me, I’m finding that words are hard to come by.  So, I’m not going to push it.

There have been some wonderful things that have happened this week, despite all the sadness.  A group of people got together here in NYC to say goodbye to Jessica and I met some incredible people who had stories to share about her.  That was priceless.  We had friends stay over this weekend and going out with our children to the Times Square Toys R Us was a welcome distraction.  My students, who are creating an original show in just 15 sessions are doing and great job and blowing me away.  So, there is good.  There is a lot of it.  I just need one more day of “blah” before I’m ready to move on.  That’s all I’m allowed.

In the meantime, here are some family pictures we took.  We did the same thing last year just weeks before my mastectomy.  It was nice to have the experience, but on the other side of cancer.  Enjoy them!!

*All photos courtesy of Julia Newman at Julia Newman Photography.  julianewman.com 


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In Memoriam: Jessica

Jessica Wilt, taken from her Facebook page.

Jessica Wilt, taken from her Facebook page.

Some people say that cancer is a gift.  I’ve never seen it that way.  I’ve seen it mostly as a curse.  But there are some gifts that have happened in my life because of cancer.  One of those gifts was, Jessica Wilt.

Jessica and I both work in arts education but we met through cancer.  She was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, Ewings Sarcoma right at the time I discovered the lump in my breast.  Some of her friends had started a Crowdrise campaign to help Jessica with the costs of treatment and shared it on Facebook.  I know this sounds silly but I donated to her partially because I wanted to put out good karma into the universe.  Maybe if I did something nice for someone with cancer, that lump in my breast would turn out to be nothing.  It’s funny how the mind works to protect itself from the inevitable.

On August 1st, 2014, the day I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer, Jessica sent me a message thanking me for the donation.  I wrote back that I had just found out about my own cancer and asked if we could be friends and support each other through treatment.  That was the beginning of our friendship.

Jessica’s cancer was very different from mine and she was diagnosed just a month before me but I saw her as knowledgeable and experienced in the world of cancer.  I looked to her for guidance and example.  The first thing I noticed about Jessica was her ability to smile through the challenges and the pain.  The first picture I ever saw of her was in a hospital bed, smiling with her thumb up.  That thumb up would become her signature gesture that let cancer know it had a fight on it’s hands.  It was her warrior pose.

I think if it wasn’t for Jessica showing me, the world and cancer that you could fight with a sense of humor, with a smile and a thumbs up, my cancer experience would have been much different.  For example, when she was losing her hair due to chemo, she shared a video of it being shaved off.  It was because of her that I decided to turn the shaving of my own head into a ritual and share that very vulnerable moment on my blog for everyone to see.  When she got scan results that showed growth of her tumor, she would give that famous thumbs up and proclaim that she was not going to stop fighting.  When I was having a bad day due to treatment, I would remember this and find joy in my day.  I’m not sure I could have done this without her example.

One week ago, Jessica posted in her Facebook page that her tumor had spread to her spine and other parts of her body.  She had been in pain for quite some time and the scans finally showed why.  Her oncologists declared that her cancer was now terminal.  While this news was devastating, she was still giving that thumbs up and writing “I AM NOT GIVING UP HOPE.”  She never gave up hope.

Jessica died last night in the hospital surrounded by her family.   She endured cancer for 18 months with grace and courage.

I don’t know what a world without Jessica will be like.  But I know that it is a little bit smaller…tighter…strangely claustrophobic.  Or maybe the world is bigger, emptier with a space that can never be filled.  I’m not sure which.  Maybe it’s both.

Jessica was a dancer and believed in the power of the arts to be a movement for change.  She loved NYC and dreamed of coming back and reclaiming her life here.  She loved her family and friends fiercely.  Her community was everything to her.

Jessica, I will miss you so much.  I will miss our late night Facebook chats about cancer and life.  I will miss knowing that I had someone out there who gets it.  All of it.  I regret that I only met you in person once and that our friendship couldn’t have lasted longer.  Your spirit will always be a part of me.

Today, I had a hard day of scans.  It was awful, especially after learning you were gone.  But that’s ok.  I laid there and gave the machine a thumbs up.  And all will be well.

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That time we met in Washington Heights after we both finished our final chemo infusions. We ate, drank wine and thought about the future.

All that I know is I’m breathing.

All I can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing
All we can do is keep breathing

Now.

-Ingrid Michaelson


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What To Get Someone Who Is Going Through Cancer Treatment: The Cold Weather Edition

There’s a chill in the air.  The leaves are changing from green to maroon, mustard, brown and florescent orange.  It’s time to start packing up those summer dresses and fill the closets with chunky sweaters and corduroy.  It’s seems so simple.  So easy.  But for someone going through cancer treatment, the change of the seasons can be stressful.  How do you deal with the cold when your hair is gone?  How do you stay cozy when every part of your body is in pain or discomfort?  How do you feel pretty when your body has been altered?  It’s hard to know how to help someone you care about when they are going through cancer treatment.  But there are ways you can show your support and love.

As always, you can provide support in the form of services.  Offer to do laundry or pay for laundry service.  Prepare a simple but nutritious meal or give a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant for home delivery.  You can give a gift card to fresh direct or instacart so that they can order groceries from their couch.  If the person you know has children, you can offer to take them out for the day for a fun excursion or offer childcare while they go to chemo or doctor’s appointments.  These are the gifts that are priceless.  But if you want to give/send something in the form of a gift, I think these items would do nicely.

  1.  Hats!!!  This Land’s End Fleece Hat looks soft and cozy.  I like the different colors and patterns they come in.  This hat has a sense of humor.  So does this and this.  It’s made of wool though so a good knit cap would work well underneath it.  I love this black beaded number for something a little more dressy.  I’m not sure how this would look but this rabbit fur hat must feel DIVINE!!!!  But sometimes cashmere will do the trick.

    Eugenia Kim hat from Saks Fifth Avenue

    Eugenia Kim hat from Saks Fifth Avenue

  2. Someone please get me (or someone else going through treatment) this cashmere robe.  This velvet number is so old Hollywood and would make me feel sexy no matter what I was going through.  Your favorite diva would love this faux fur robe for chemo treatments!  This colorful robe would bring life and joy to any hospital room!

    Sleepy Jones robe from Anthropologie

    Sleepy Jones robe from Anthropologie

  3. Chemo induced hot flashes are a bitch.  These pajamas can help a little bit.  You can get silk, or the fake kind.

    Silk pajamas from journelle.com

    Silk pajamas from journelle.com

  4. What a great, soft looking sweater.  The sleeves are great for those with lymphedema who might need to do bandaging after seeing the physical therapist.  This one too and the neckline is perfect for chemo days but it’s a real splurge.  Here’s a less expensive alternative.  This chunky sweater coat is perfect for snuggling up in on cold chemo days.  You can never go wrong with a cashmere hoodie!

    Chunky seater coat from ASOS.

    Chunky seater coat from ASOS.

  5. Not sure what to say to someone who has cancer?  Let these cards do the talking for you.  Emily McDowell makes the most humorous yet heartfelt empathy cards.  Maybe you just want to give cancer the middle finger or let them know you want to hold their hand even if you can’t be near with these Nicstudio cards.  This card really does say it all.  And I love this card for letting your loved one know that your support doesn’t end when chemo does.

    “Flip The Bird” card from TheNicStudio on etsy.

  6. Chemo can give you the worst taste in your mouth.  I bet these ginger lollipops would help with that and the nausea.  I love the packaging on these lemon candies.  But you could always go with the original Lemonheads.

    Lemon candies from Eataly.

    Lemon candies from Eataly.

  7. Some women, after losing their hair, like to get fancy with their jewelry, particularly earrings.  This pair has so many beautiful colors in it and it’s still simple and timeless.  These earrings are so eye catching.  For a woman who is not afraid to make a bold statement, these feather earrings are incredible.  These chandelier earrings are simple but beautiful and classic.  These hoop earrings are less gypsy and more rock and roll (and a major splurge) but these are way more affordable.

    Arman Jewelry Serpent Hoop Earrings sold at The Clay Pot.

    Arman Jewelry Serpent Hoop Earrings sold at The Clay Pot.

  8. I love everything in Knit Mystique’s etsy shop but these hand knit long socks are just amazing.  These shark slippers made me laugh and I think they would be great for hospital stays.

    Hand knit long socks from Knit Mistique

    Hand knit long socks from Knit Mistique

  9. I think temporary tattoos are so much fun!  These from the MOMA shop are whimsical.  These are a little more adult and badass.  These motivational tattoos gently remind you to remember some of the good things in your life.  These 3D butterfly tattoos are amazing.

    Motivational tattoo from Pop Shop UK

    Motivational tattoo from Pop Shop UK

  10. Keep hands toasty with these adorable convertible fox gloves.  The colors in these mittens will brighten any day.  These gorgeous, cashmere gloves are beautifully knit.

    Color Block Gloves from Anthropologie.

    Color Block Gloves from Anthropologie.

  11. Here are some ideas to keep that chemo brain active.  This coloring scratch and sketch book looks so awesome!  I really want one.  While this is not making things by hand, necessarily, my new obsession is designing shoes on Shoes of Prey. A gift card for this would be splendid!  This adult paint by numbers looks incredible!!!  What a great way to spend an infusion day!  I love the idea of terrarium kits!  This is just one but etsy.com has lots to choose from.
    Terrarium kit from Bird and Feather on etsy.com

    Terrarium kit from Bird and Feather on etsy.com

    These are just a few ideas.  There’s so much you can do for someone you care about who is going through cancer treatment.  I got so many generous gifts and words of love and I loved them all.  It is really the thought that counts.

What gifts did you get during cancer treatment that you loved?  What would you have liked as a gift to get you through the cold weather season?

z


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Youshare Project

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I’m so excited to share and announce that my blog post, Head Bowed, Heart Heavy has been adapted for the website, Youshare Project.  Youshare’s mission is “To create a more conscious and thoughtful global societyby publishing personal stories from people around the world.”  As someone who believes in the power of story to bring people and communities together, I’m so excited that the first time a piece of mine is published is with a website whose mission is so aligned to my personal one.  I hope you will check out their website and support my post by clicking on the little heart in the corner.

Thank you, Youshare, for reading my blog and including me on your incredible website.


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What A Difference A Year Makes

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This weekend was crazy and almost a week later, I’m trying to recover.  Between Halloween and my husband running the NYC marathon (which meant I ran my own marathon making sure to see him), I’m wiped.  Seriously wiped.  But throughout this weekend, I was forced to remember what life was like just one year ago and it’s crazy to me how far I’ve come.

Just one year ago, I completed my second chemotherapy treatment.  Just two days later it was Halloween, Oliver’s second and I was starting to feel yucky.  I was still doing ok but I put on a brave face because I wanted Oliver to have a great Halloween.  I wanted to go trick or treating.  I wanted candy.  I wanted the fantasy that the day provided.  I wanted to pretend that my life, as I was living it, was not real.  So we walked for hours and maybe miles.  I pushed my body.

One year ago, Halloween 2014.  My hair had just begun to fall out.

One year ago, Halloween 2014. My hair had just begun to fall out.

Then, just two days later was the NYC Marathon and Ken was running it for the second year in a row.  He very much wanted me to come and see him, at least in one spot along the trail, if not two.  I woke up that morning feeling that indescribable fatigue that comes with cancer treatment.  That feeling like your body has been filled with led but your head is floating.  Your tongue is swollen and your lips are dry.  I got out of bed, got into the shower but barely made it out.  Actually, I crawled out.  I tried to get dressed, still determined to leave.  But when I could barely get myself dressed, I knew I wasn’t going to make it out.  I knew that if I pushed myself to try to see him I could literally be killing myself.  So I stayed home and watched his progress on the NYC Marathon app on my phone.  And cried.

This year, I am starting to feel more like myself again.  Well, as much as I can be with still experiencing fatigue and the problems with the cording and lymphedema.  But I didn’t have to pretend I was happy or healthy during trick or treating this year.  I just was.  I was able to focus on the joy of the holiday and watching Oliver as he mastered saying, “trick or treat” and walk up to people as they gave him candy.  He had his serious face on.  He was going to fill his bag with as much candy as possible.  “We’re going to the next house, mommy?”  And we did.  Because we could.  Because I could.

Oliver was a Fiffer-Feffer-Feff from Dr. Seuss's "ABC Book."  His choice!

Oliver was a Fiffer-Feffer-Feff from Dr. Seuss’s “ABC Book.” His choice!

DSCN2866 DSCN2868 DSCN2889And we got to watch Ken run his third marathon.  We stopped in two spots, one in Brooklyn and then we got the VIP treatment by getting Grandstand passes to see him at the finish line.  It was stressful trying to get to him on time.  The trains were running horribly that day and I thought we were going to miss him both times.  But we made it!!!  And Ken finished in just over 4 hours.  Amazing!!!!

IMG_3666 IMG_3700IMG_3687unnamedIt’s hard for me to remember the pain I was in just one year ago and how helpless I felt.  But life is moving on.  Not how I expected it to, necessarily.  But it’s continuing.  I’m continuing.  And I won’t look back.