My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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On Making It To 40 and A Birthday Wish

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Today is my birthday.  Today I turned 40 years old.

40.

40!!!!

I hear that number and I feel conflicted.  On one hand, I don’t feel like I’m 40.  I feel more like 25, like I’m still finding myself and getting comfortable in my skin.  40 used to seem so old.  And I’m not old at all!  I still have so much to learn and discover.  I can’t be 40. On the other hand, I’ve made it to 40.  Just over two years ago, I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.  I heard the word, “cancer” and didn’t know if I’d reach any milestone.  But here I am, and it seems to me that 40 is something to be celebrated.

I wish I have given some thought as to what I want to define the next decade of my life.  Beyond being surrounded by my loved ones, creating theatre and traveling, I don’t know what I want.

I do know that I want this year to be filled with the new; new restaurants, new routes through the park, new travels and more.  I want to expand myself.  I want to grow.

You all know that I am not a “cancer is a gift” kind of gal and yet, I feel as though I have been given a gift to continue into this new decade.  When so many of our brothers and sisters have been lost to cancer’s oppressive power over our bodies, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that, in many ways, I am one of the lucky ones.

I have but one birthday wish from all of you.  Many of you who are reading this went to school with me, which means that this is the year that you also turn 40.  The American Cancer Society has decided that women who are not high risk for developing breast cancer begin mammograms at age 45 and those with family history and other risk factors begin at age 40.  I have mentioned on this blog before my dissatisfaction with these new guidelines.  As a young breast cancer survivor who found the lump through a self exam, I think we need more tools and resources, not less.

So, what I want from all of you, women and men (yes, men get breast cancer, too), is for you to feel your boobies.  Know your body.  Know what is normal for you so that you can identify when something is wrong.  Advocate for yourself.  If you feel that you need a mammogram, find a doctor who agrees with you and get one.  Do it every year.  Every. Year.  Feel your breasts every month.  Every. Month.

If 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, then I am not the last one that I know who will go through this ordeal.  We need to be vigilant, to do the best for our bodies that we can so that we can remain as healthy as we can.  We need to educate ourselves and each other and support one another.

So please, this year, get schedule and go to your mammogram (it’s not that bad) and learn how to do a self breast exam.

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Life After Breast Cancer: The Other Side Of Pink

 

This post was written for an organization that I am a part of, 5 Under 40.  5 Under 40 helps breast cancer survivors and those with the BRCA mutation age 40 and under with beauty and wellness services.  In addition, they host support groups and meet ups.  They have helped me in so many ways so when they asked if I could write something for them, I jumped at the opportunity.  I want to thank 5 Under 40 for all of their support and for giving me a voice in their community.  Please check them out at 5under40.org and if you are in the NY/Tri-state area and would like to be connected to 5 Under 40, please let me know

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            I know what I was told.  I was told that it was going to be a hard year; a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.   I was told that I was going to lose my hair but it would come back and while it did, I’d get to wear cute hairstyles.  I was told that I’d lose some energy and might feel sick but once it was done, I’d return back to normal.  Normal.  That’s a word that I heard a lot referring to what would happen when I finished treatment.  I found “normal” to be far from the truth.

I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in my right breast and lymph nodes at age 37.  My son was 19 months old and we had just weaned from breastfeeding.  I was working full time as a teaching artist, my passion, and beginning to consider ways I might advance in my career.  Secretly, I was also beginning to think about what life might be like with another child.  Originally I had said, “one and done,” but, as Mother Nature tends to do so well, I forgot about the lack of sleep, the spit-up and the aching raw nipples.  I remembered the cuddles, the first giggles…the first everything.  But when you are diagnosed with cancer, many of your plans for the future get put on hold or changed forever.

I endured my treatment like a trooper.  I made jokes, smiled (and cried and threw a few temper tantrums) through the tough days and created a mantra to get me through the hellish days, “a blip in time,” to remind myself that all pain and discomfort would pass.  Through my six months of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiation, I checked each treatment off my calendar until the end, when my life would go back to normal.  I looked forward to spending long days with my son without feeling completely warn out.  I was excited to work and not be afraid that my chemobrain would completely derail or ruin me professionally.  I wanted to hang out with my friends, drink wine, eat sushi…hell, I just wanted to be able to taste my food again!!!!!!  I was excited to not spend time every week at the cancer center and to get back some time for myself.  I was ready to look normal again, to not look like a cancer patient and to get my body back.

When you are going through cancer treatment, you are surrounded with support; support from your medical team, family, friends and, if you are lucky like me, colleagues and bosses.  But, when treatment ends, a lot of that support goes away.  At one point you are seeing your oncologist every 2 or 3 weeks and suddenly, it’s every three months.  Of course you can call whenever you need something but, in their eyes, they have done their job.  Now your job is to get back to living life.

Or now that your hair has grown back, your colleagues figure that the worst is over and that you are feeling better and can return to work as you did before.  What they don’t know is that cancer related fatigue can last for years.

The offers for home cooked meals, laundry help, childcare also start to dissipate.  When treatment ends, so does a lot of the help that came with it.

It wasn’t long after treatment ended that I realized returning back to my normal life was unrealistic.  I no longer looked like myself, even with my hair growing back.  I developed major body image issues (remember sixth grade people?) because of treatment related weight gain and the whole one boob thing.  I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.  This was disconcerting.

I didn’t feel like myself.  I remember one-month post chemo, I tried to take a bike ride for exercise.  My husband encouraged me to go for a long ride.  I almost didn’t make it home.  My body was no longer capable of doing what it had done just six months prior.  This included exercise or for daily endurance which was for things like raising my son, grocery shopping, scrubbing the bathroom…whatever.

I can go on and on about why life wasn’t normal.  But I think the hardest thing for me after cancer was dealing with the trauma of what had happened to me.  I fought so hard for so long and suddenly, it was over.  I didn’t know what to do next.  I didn’t know what was supposed to come next.  I kept thinking I would feel the same, think the same and look the same as I did before cancer.  None of those things happened.  Instead, I felt like I was living in a body that wasn’t my own and having thoughts and feelings that were different than what was normal for me.

Depression post-cancer is very common and it was happening to me.  I was afraid every day about recurrence.  I was afraid every day that I couldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations of me or the expectations I had for myself.  And managing post-treatment side effects like lymphedema and fatigue were more difficult than I anticipated.

I don’t write all of this to scare people.  I write about it because it is the truth for many of us.  I think what is hard is that breast cancer is depicted as this “happy” cancer or “party” cancer.  I mean, what other cancer is celebrated with pink feather boas and t-shirts that read, “fight like a girl” or “breast cancer warrior?”  We see images all of the time bald women surrounded by their friends, covered head to toe in pink and smiling and cheering.   We hear stories about women who say that cancer was a gift and has changed them for the better.  We see these images and hear these stories but that is not everyone’s reality.

Some people hate the color pink (who me?) and don’t feel empowered by pink glitter and cosmopolitans.  Some of us don’t like to walk with Komen with every girlfriend we’ve met since Kindergarten.  And some of us think cancer was a curse and feel that it didn’t change us for the better.  Some of us are angry about what happened to us.  Some of us, instead of not sweating the small stuff (we aren’t supposed to sweat the small stuff anymore, we’ve been through worse) feel that each wound, no matter how small, cuts more deeply.  And some of us, after cancer, have a hard time.

This is not true for everyone.  I have met so many people who have gone back to living their lives and living them well soon after treatment was done.  We read about these stories in the papers and the breast cancer websites and blogs all the time. Many of the stories we hear are the ones where there is a happily ever after.  But, if you are not living happily ever after, after having cancer…you are not alone.

Here’s what I will say.  I am two years post diagnosis.  As of just two months ago, I stopped crying every day.  I still think about cancer every day but I’m not crying.  That’s a big step.  I am also finally starting to think about my future and with the help of a therapist, I am defining my new normal.  It’s hard work to redefine yourself but I’m finding the effort worth it.

Life after cancer might not be what you expect. Know that whatever you are feeling, thousands of others feel the same way.  Know that there’s no right or wrong way to do cancer or to feel after breast cancer.  Also know that there is help for you if what you feel isn’t like a “warrior” but like you have been defeated.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

 


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Mother’s Day: A Regression Story

Sometimes I regress to my former self.  The self before I was happy; happy with my career, happy in love and happy with a family that I made myself (ok, I had a little help).  The self that was superficial and wanted “things.”  Lots of things.  And I think I have been regressing lately because I’ve been so unhappy post-cancer.  I’m unhappy with my body, with how I feel, with my outlook on life…emotionally, each day is a struggle to get used to my new normal.  I don’t even know what normal is!  So, when I thought of Mother’s Day, I thought of all the things I wanted.  The things I deserved!  I mean, haven’t I raised a child (and did a great job of it, I must say) while undergoing treatment, post surgeries and despite extreme fatigue?  Don’t I continue hormone therapies with terrible side effects so I can be around long enough to be a mother to my growing child?  Don’t I sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice?

The answer I came up with was, FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!  And I wanted pretty things to prove my worth as a mother.  What things?  I don’t know.  A pretty dress, earrings….something that I can throw on my body and say, “I earned this.”

I don’t like the person I become when I am unhappy in life.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be treated well, with wanting something pretty or to feel special, putting such importance on a frivolous items defeats the purpose of the day.  And I know better than that.  I am constantly grateful for what I have.  I have a happy and healthy family, as of last week my scans show no signs of cancer, my son is amazingly perfect in every way, I have a job, a home (rental but a home), food to eat and even a little money left over to go out once or twice a month.  I’m not running from my country fearing for my life.  I’m not afraid that a bomb is going to fall on my home.  I enjoy religious (or lack there of) freedoms without fear of the consequences.  My water is safe to drink.  I have water.  I have health insurance.

Life is good.

I have so much.  I have so many wonderful things in my life the greatest being, Oliver.  He showers me daily with kisses, hugs, snuggles and huggles (a hug/snuggle hybrid that we made up).  He tells me he loves me.  He wants to play with me and takes me on imaginative journeys with tickle monsters.  He protects me.  Just yesterday he reminded me to buckle my seatbelt (I didn’t forget) and said, “Am I protecting you, Mommy?  Like you protect me?”

I mean…c’mon!!!!!!!

What more could I want?  There are few things I really, really want that money can buy.  But what I really want is to feel happy, to have a fulfilling career, a marriage full of love and to watch Oliver grow.  Right now, I have that.  I am grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day.IMG_6297

 

 


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Warrior Pose

I’ve been a bit MIA lately due to being crazy with work and life.  I’ve missed many of your posts lately and I want to apologize for that.  I hope to find time to catch up.  It might be like this for the next month or so since this is my busy time with work.  I just wanted to put this out there.  Now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post!

Back in July, I was reading one of the blogs I had come across called My OBT (One Beautiful Thing), a blog that finds the beauty in every day.  She posted about these amazing headpieces that she found on Etsy.  They were incredible, intricate and fierce!  And in the post, she quoted the artist who mentioned her work with Hidden Warriors, an organization that works with women cancer survivors and treats them to a day of delicious clean food, power posing, and costume therapy.  I became obsessed.  I had to find out more.  I had to get a chance to wear one of those headdresses!!!  Last Sunday, it happened.  I became a warrior.

The mission of Hidden Warriors is “increasing self-esteem in and empowering women who have been affected by cancer. Together, we create an experiential and transformative adventure which tap into the Hidden Warriors they already are. The Warrior Makeover Workshop model is achieving this goal!”

The day started at 10 am.  I entered the building on W 26th St. and took the elevator to the 6th floor.  I was immediately greeted by Mayra, the mother of the Hidden Warriors founder and inspiration behind the organization whose bubbly and excited energy caught me the moment I walked off the elevator.  She was running around, making sure everything was set up and ready for us.  She wanted everything to be perfect.

First, a lovely vegan meal arrived with a kale salad, sandwiches, smoothies and snacks.  It was a beautiful feast.  One of the goals of Hidden Warriors is to show the benefit of clean eating.  I’m not a vegan but this meal was so delicious, I forgot about real cheese.  And I love real cheese.  IMG_5857

Once all of the other women arrived (there were five of us in total), the sessions began.  Marlene, who founded Hidden Warriors, welcomed us to the day and outlined everything that was planned and her vision for the future of the organization.  We were then treated to a session with an OT on channeling positive energy by tapping on certain parts of our body.  I enjoyed learning a new technique for meditation and the ritual was calming.  I’m not sure this specific method of meditation is my taste but I would love to incorporate more meditation into my daily life.  Even taking five minutes to clear the mind was rejuvenating.

Next, we were asked to think about gratitude and how “finding the gold in the darkness” of our cancer experience could be beneficial both for our physical and mental health.  Now, as many of you know, I hate cancer.  I really fucking hate it and, in my opinion, nothing good has come of it.  You know that I am of the belief that cancer was not a gift.  So, to hear that they wanted us to do this stiffened me up a bit.  What would they think of me?  Was I failing warrior 101?

I chose to be honest.  As we went around the circle reading from our list, I listened to the other women and their lists of gratitude.  Some truly have found the good in cancer and have come out the other side either with new perspectives on life or with positive experiences.  I envied them.  “I don’t give a shit about the small stuff anymore.”  Well, I still do and even more so now.  “I only see the good in people.”  I always did but the negative energy that people put out is now amplified for me.  So when it came to my turn I said, “Nothing good has come from cancer.  I have to be honest.  It has really been a curse and my life is worse off for it.  I am grateful for so many things but none of them because of cancer.”  I waited to be chastised or asked to leave or to dig deeper.  But, instead, my point of view was welcomed.  My opinion and my heart had a place there.  I felt accepted.  Even though my opinions might not conform to their philosophy per se, I was not seen as the Debbie downer, the poison, the pessimist.  I was able to say that everything good that happened to me during my cancer experience was not because of my cancer but, in spite of it.  It was empowering for me to say that and to acknowledge that I possessed the tools before cancer that helped me to get through it.

After our gratitude circle, we participated in a short yoga session.  It was simple and light.  I would have liked more but there was costume therapy to be done!

I was paired with makeup artist, Jose Lopez, who generously volunteered his time to be with us.  We sat down and introduced ourselves.  He asked me what I envisioned.  I didn’t really know but I told him that I was not afraid of color and that I like bold colors.  He asked me if I wanted to be pretty or dramatic.  My answer was, “If I want pretty, I’ll go to the Bobbi Brown counter.  I’m here.  Let’s do this!!!!”  It was the answer he was looking for.  I put my makeover completely into his hands.  I adored him from the moment I met him and knew I could trust his expertise.  This was the right decision.  For the next hour and a half, I watched Jose transform me from a breast cancer survivor who, that very morning could not look at herself in the mirror, into a dramatic, tribal like goddess.  It was incredible.  He kept adding on more and more.  And when I didn’t think it could get any better, he added on more lashes, more glitter, more eye makeup, more shadowing…AND IT WAS FABULOUS!!!!!  Here is some of my transformation.

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Before, with no makeup on.

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The beginning of the eye makeup

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With eyes closed

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Add on the glitter.

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Adding in the details

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A side view.

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Another side view.

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Adding glitter onto the lips.

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More time? Let’s add more eye makeup!

 

Once the makeup was complete, I was draped in sequins.  We had a wonderful fashion/costume designer working with us and custom making/cutting all of our outfits right then and there.  All of the fabric and his time was donated.  It was wonderful.

Finally, we had the headdresses placed on our heads by the amazingly talented artist, Darrell Thorne (check out his amazing website!)  He made each of the head pieces and donated his time to be there to make sure they fit perfectly.  My head piece was amazing.  It had rhinestones and twisted metal. It was simultaneously etherial, powerful and haunting.

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IMG_5900IMG_5905Once my headpiece was secured, I was escorted into the studio where my pictures were to be taken.  Before arriving, I was asked to share five songs that made me feel happy or powerful and these became the soundtrack for my photo shoot.  I won’t lie, even though I am an actress, I was totally nervous about my picture being taken.  I haven’t felt attractive in so long so this felt so vulnerable to me.  But there’s something about putting on a mask and costume that allowed me to channel what was deep inside; a confident, powerful woman.  I haven’t gotten any of my final, touched up photos yet but here are some pictures snapped from the computer.

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At the end of the day, what did I get out of this experience?  Number one, I met some incredible women cancer survivors who were inspiring.  I wish that more time could have been spent getting to know them.  That was the one thing missing for me.

The transformation was so much fun and Jose, my makeup artist, was the highlight of my experience.  I loved working with him and felt like he really got who I was and what my Hidden Warrior looked like.  Like Michelangelo, who could see the sculpture underneath the marble slab, Jose could see the warrior underneath the makeup and used his brushes to bring her out.  When the transformation was complete, I did feel empowered, no doubt about it.  But when the makeup, costumes and headpiece came off, I was back to myself again.  I wish that I could say that the warrior you see in these pictures stayed, and I look at her from time to time and feel beautiful and free, but at the end of the day, my scars are still there, my body is still torn.  It’s hard to get rid of that point of view in just one day.  I wish I could.

I do want to try to find a more positive outlook on life.  I know that I will never see cancer as a gift but that doesn’t mean I can’t find the good in my new normal…my after breast cancer life.  I’m not sure what a happy life looks like right now but I know it exists and I want to find it.

I also learned that power can be found in false lashes, glitter, a severe brow and rhinestones!!!!!  No, really!!!!

Thank you, Hidden Warriors for this amazing opportunity.  I’m so glad that you exist and are making it your mission to empower women affected by cancer.  Hidden Warriors can continue only through funding and donations so, if you have a few dollars left over this month after rent, consider donating to their organization.  If you are a woman cancer survivor and are interested in participating in Hidden Warriors in the future, you can get more information on their website.

Here are a few more pictures of some of the other women warriors.

IMG_6004IMG_6006Here’s what happens when you give me a wig….

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Here’s a picture of me and Jose.

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And if you’re curious as to what songs I chose, wonder no more!

Friday I’m In Love

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Winter

Smooth Criminal

Time of Your Life 

Edge of Glory

 

 


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Affirmations That Are Pissing Me Off (Or Am I Just a Bitch?)

Ok.  I admit it.  Since being home from the hospital, I’ve been spending a little too much time on Facebook.  Not that I didn’t before but I’ve taken it to a whole new level.  It’s not healthy.  But it’s been good because I don’t have a huge attention span right now.  I’m super tired all the time so it’s been great entertainment.   That is, until the other day.

I was scrolling through the different posts and I came upon this aphorism from The Breast Cancer Site and it pissed me off.  It got me really angry.aphorism 1

Now, before you decide that I’m a total bitch…and hypocrite, for that matter, let me explain myself.  I love affirmations as much as the next person.  I’ll “Keep Calm and whatever” all over my Facebook page.  There are certain affirmations that help me lift my spirits, remind me of what is important or help me focus on a goal.  Like this one.

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A quote like this, by the glorious Dr. Maya Angelou, reminds me that my struggles are real but I have to keep going.  I can get thrown down but I must get up again.  Why?  Because what other choice do I have?  Maya Angelou, Ghandi, Nelson Madela and many others knew that.

But some of these other affirmations, that have been posted recently on The Breast Cancer Site’s Facebook page have been angering me.  As affirmations alone, they’re fine, I guess. Not overwhelmingly inspiring.  But in the context of breast cancer (or any cancer/illness, for that matter), I find them offensive.  In recent days, they have posted these as well.

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Let’s break this down a bit, starting with the first affirmation.  “Obstacles are put in your way to help you determine if what you want is worth fighting for.”  I think this would be a great thing to say to yourself if you were running the Tough Mudder.  If I had to run through ice cold water while getting electric shocks, this saying would be really fucking helpful!  I’d say it over and over!  But for breast cancer?  Was breast cancer given to me so that I would really know that my life is worth fighting for?  My family?  My child?  My dreams?  I needed cancer for this?  So, I should tell all my friends, “You know, it wasn’t until breast cancer that I really knew that my life was worth fighting for.  I hope you all have this get to experience this as well so you can fight as hard as I have so you realize what you really want in life.”  Fuck no!!!!!!!!!

“It’s time that you realize you’re worth a hell of a lot more than you think.”  Because, my self worth before cancer (BC) was so low, so shoddy, that I didn’t think I was worthy of the good things in my life?  I needed cancer to teach me that, of course.  Thank you so much, breast cancer!!!  I now realize that I’m so fucking awesome and everyone should love me and great things should happen to me all the time because I’m AMAZING!!!!!!  This could never have happened without YOU!

“Once I overcame breast cancer, I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.”  Shall I make a list of things I’m still afraid of, or even more afraid of because of breast cancer?  Why not?  Let’s have some fun here.

  1. Dying
  2. Needles (yep, still afraid of those)
  3. Surgery (yep, still afraid of that)
  4. Infections
  5. Recurrence
  6. Recurrence with metastasis
  7. Mammograms
  8. MRI’s
  9. Any scan that can show that something is wrong with me
  10. Life long lymphedema
  11. Not being around to see my son grow up, get married and have his own children
  12. Cockroaches (the big ones)
  13. Most insects, for that matter
  14. Falling (not to be confused with heights.  Heights are fine, falling from them is not.)
  15. Skydiving
  16. Dogs that bark too loud
  17. Dark, empty allies
  18. Dying before I change the world
  19. Dying before I see the world
  20. Torture
  21. Racism
  22. Donald Trump
  23. Putin
  24. ISIS
  25. Drowning
  26. Ignorance
  27. Lack of Education
  28. The people who run the NYC Department of Education
  29. The people who run the NYC MTA who keep hiking up fares but cutting service
  30. The rich people who are pricing me out of the city I love

I could go on but, I think 30 is a fair start.  Breast cancer is scary.  It’s really scary and I think I was brave as I underwent (undergo?) treatment.  But that suit of armor that we all put on to get through all of the tough shit that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, comes off.  It gets taken away and suddenly we’re left to fend for ourselves without any protection.  Is breast cancer scary?  Yes.  But I’ll be damned if beating cancer for now means I’m not supposed to be scared anymore.  That I’m some fucking Xena Warrior Princess who walks down Broadway screaming “Get out of my way, motherfuckers!  I beat breast cancer!  What have you done lately?”  I’m scared.  I’m scared every day of my life and I can’t imagine that a day will come where I won’t be frightened.

When you put these affirmations on a website or Facebook page for people with breast cancer or those who have survived it, I think you need to be careful.  The intentions are good.  But it alienates us that don’t fit into the “my cancer was a gift” or “my cancer made me stronger” or “my cancer made me a better person” model.  I will never be that spokesperson.

Maybe since my body had been ripped apart again, I’m feeling a little bit cranky.  I don’t know.  But this has really upset me.  Am I overreacting?  Am I being a total killjoy, a complete bitch?  Or are they forgetting those of us who are forever destroyed, in some way, because of this assault on our bodies?  I think it is the latter.

 

**I shared this post on the Visitor Post portion of The Breast Cancer Sites Facebook page, asking them to consider my point of view and to please share it for those who are experiencing breast cancer like myself and many of you.  I checked back this morning and it looks like they removed it from their page.  I find this hurtful.  Simply because I do not have the same cheery point of view, I don’t fit in there.  What a shame.  Sometimes their silly puppy videos gave me a smile.**


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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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