Honouring My Hubby

The good ol' days...

The good ol’ days…

Today, on our anniversary, I am sending love to my hubby.

It’s been 11 years since we tied the knot in a two minute ceremony at city hall in NYC.  My parents were the only ones in attendance.   Later that year, we honoured our union again with a spiritual ceremony on the cliffs of San Francisco along with 30 of our closest family and friends.  Now we get to celebrate two anniversaries each year!

Many marriages have crumbled under the pressures we faced in the last 11 years…   Depression, death, moves, homelessness, cancer…  But somehow we survived.  There were many times when we could have said, “Screw this!  This is too much.  I’m outta here.”  But we never did.

In the day-to-day struggles I often forget to tell my husband how much I love him.  How grateful I am for his support.  How I treasure our bond.  How I appreciate all the little (and big) things he does for this family.

I know it’s not easy being the sole breadwinner.  Feeling the weight of our endless medical bills.  Credit card debt that never seems to go away.  Always struggling to make ends meet.  Knowing your family is depending on you to stay afloat.

I know it’s not easy being married to someone whose sex drive is not what it used to be.  Having a wife whose energy is depleted by the time you get home from work.  You must wonder if things will ever get back to “normal” again.  If the confident, sensual woman you married will ever reappear.

I know it’s hard picking up the slack.  Taking on many of the things your wife used to do – before she had cancer.  The cleaning…  The laundry…  The cooking…  On top of everything else you do.   I know it gets exhausting.

I know it’s scary to have a wife with a terminal diagnosis.  The fear that circles around in your head.  The uncertainty of our lives.  The anxiety surrounding treatment decisions.  The sadness that enters your heart when you think about the possibility of losing your wife…  Your partner…  The mother of your child.

I know you feel that life is unfair.  I know you’re angry at God.  I know you question why we’ve had to carry the weight of so many challenges.  I wish I had the answers for you.  But I don’t.

I remember what our lives used to be like.  How much fun we had.  How manageable it all seemed.  How frisky and in love we were.  I understand the deep wanting for things to go back to how they used to be.  I get stuck there too.

But somehow we must forge ahead.  Enjoy the good moments when we have them.  Learn to accept and hopefully embrace our new reality.  Build a new life.

After 11 years of marriage I need you to know that I am still madly in love with you.  I still think you’re totally hot.  You make me laugh with your crazy antics and our inside jokes.  You’re a terrific father.   You’ve got a kind and generous spirit.  You’re a hustler.  A survivor.  And I know when the chips are down you’ve got my back.  You always have.  Please know that you are adored, appreciated, and loved.

We’ll make it through this just like we made it through everything else in our crazy lives.

Happy anniversary!  xoxo  - your Luanna

Gleaning Perspective From The Latest Scan Results

me and auraThe latest PET scan results are in.  The news (as far as I’m concerned) is pretty good.

There are spots of cancer around my left chest/neck/shoulder/armpit/sternum area which we already knew were there.  I can feel them through my skin (now that the lymphedema swelling is going down) but they don’t seem to be getting any bigger, which is great.

A few new areas lit up in the bones of my back and shoulder.  But the SUV numbers are on the low end (5-6) and I’m not having any pain.  I’ve had areas on my back light up on prior PET scans and then disappear entirely or not show up on other scans.  So I’m not too concerned about this either.  [Besides, when I was first diagnosed my PET scan SUV ratings were 13-15.  And a rating less than 4 can often be simple inflammation or scar tissue].

The other good news is that the two “suspicious” spots from my recent brain MRI did not show up on the PET scan so it would seem that the brain is clear.  And nothing came up in any of my organs either which is fantastic.

The only slightly weird thing is the appearance of a pleural effusion around my left lung.  A pleural effusion is a build up of fluid in the tissues between the lung and chest cavity.  This fluid could be a bunch of different things.  It could be cancer.  Or not.  It could also be from the blockages in my lymph system that prevents my bodily fluids and blood from going where they need to go.  Or a result of the chemo.  Or from the blood clot I had in my lung.  I’m not having any symptoms or pain.  And my oncologist does not seem overly concerned.  For now, I think we’ll just watch it.

So that’s that.

I don’t put a tremendous amount of weight into my scans.  With all the scans i’ve had over the last two and a half years I’ve learned that they (like the tumor marker numbers) are not fool proof.  Nothing is I guess.  There’s always room for error and false positives and inaccurate readings.  For me, the best gauge of how i’m doing is how I feel.  And these days I’m feeling pretty good.

I also made the decision to stop taking one of the three meds I’m currently on – Taxotere.  It is the only chemo med i’m on.  I will continue to take the other two meds (Herceptin and Perjeta) which are specific treatments for my HER2  positive cancer.  They target my cancer cells specifically and don’t harm my healthy cells (although both drugs can cause heart problems so we need to monitor that with regular echocardiograms).  Some may think it’s a gamble to stop one of my meds but it’s a gamble I feel good about.  Plus, I can always change my mind.

When I asked my oncologist what the usual treatment protocol is for people in my position she explained that most do the drugs until they achieve “maximum response” and then take a rest or try something new.  The reality is that for most stage IV breast cancer patients ‘maximum response’ is just a shrinking or stabilizing of the tumors.  I think it’s only 2-5% who actually get rid of them all together for an extended length of time.  For the rest, it becomes a life-long chronic illness.  Trying one drug until it no longer works and then switching to another.  Always hoping the cancer doesn’t grow or spread further while managing horrible and annoying side effects that may never go away.

And i have to say that living with the side effects of treatment is a pain in the ass.  But it’s interesting how the body adapts.  With the fingers on my left hand barely functioning and the nails on my right hand about to fall off I’m surprised at how the everyday stuff still gets done (albeit with way more effort, frustration, pain, and time).   And you realize how much you take for granted…  Typing…  Buttoning up your pants…  Washing a dish…   Doing your daughter’s hair…

Plus, the sheer exhaustion I feel most of the time drives me crazy!  I want more energy!  More energy to be with hubby and Miss M…  To live life…  Travel…  Be with my favorite people…  Pursue my dreams…  It was great having people here visiting and helping out the last couple weeks.  Now that they’re gone I’m struggling again.  The housework doesn’t get done (not a big deal, I know.  But it’s been 3 days and the dishes in the sink eventually must get done).  Making a meal and cleaning up after takes every ounce of energy I have.  But I plug along…  And eventually the most important stuff gets taken care of somehow or another.  Plus now, at the urging of family and friends I am going to inquire about having a home health aide come in to assist with the household stuff.  And hubby and I are considering asking his parents to come up from Brazil to stay with us for a while too.

And still I count my blessings and always know it could be worse.

I can’t believe how many strong young mothers out there are facing cancer.  Dealing with extreme pain and the loss of life as they know it.  So many young kids watching their moms die.  This shit is no joke.  And it sucks.  And you can’t help but ask, “Why?”  How is the loss of so many vibrant amazing women part of the master plan???

I try to remember what Sylvia Boorstein said…  Life is painful.  Suffering is optional.  And I am determined not to let cancer run my life.  Determined to have the most fun I can while I’m here!

On that front…  I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a dance & movement therapist.  I applied to the summer intensive 3-year program for mental health professionals at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.  I even have a dance audition at the end of the month!  Fingers crossed I get in.   (And yes, my oncologist knows all about it).  I’m thrilled at the idea of being able to help other cancer patients heal and process their feelings through music, dance, and movement.

Some may say I’m crazy for trying to take on so much while in the midst of treatment.  But I say, “Why not?!?”  We all need more fun in life.  More passion.  More stimulation.  Something to look forward to.  Something to live for.  Instead of terminal or chronic illness being the end of everything, why not let it be the beginning?  Why not use the “free pass” to truly live your life?

Life is too short to sit on the sidelines.

I understand that life is painful.  But I refuse the optional suffering.

Peace.  -T

Miss M & Papai's special hand crafted carnival mask!

Miss M & Papai’s special hand crafted carnival mask!

Sunday arts and crafts time

Sunday arts and crafts time

Biopsy News & Finding The Courage To Set Sail

Spring is on its way!  I can feel it in the air.  The birds have returned.  The snow is melting.  The sun is shining.  What a difference it makes in my spirit!  I’m feeling renewed.  Hopeful.  Full of gratitude.

Last week we had an amazing visit with Auntie ‘Cole who showered us with her playful spirit and love.  It always warms my heart to spend time with her.  And hubby, Miss M and I seem to be settling on a church finally.  We’ve gone to the same United community church the last three weeks in a row.  And i’ve actually been thinking about purchasing a Bible and reading it!!!  A previously incomprehensible thing for me.

The latest news on the cancer front is that we received the biopsy results.  And i’m glad I went through with the biopsy because it confirmed my suspicions (and the dream I had) that the cancer is different this time around.

Previously my cancer was “triple positive” meaning it tested positive for estrogen (95%), progesterone (90%), and HER2.  Now, my cancer is still HER2 positive (which is good because two of the three drugs i’ve been taking are targeted HER2 treatments) BUT it is no longer hormone positive.  Meaning, this cancer no longer feeds on excess estrogen or progesterone.  Which to me is amazing!  Especially since I refused all hormone treatment (aka: Tamoxifen) and surgery (aka: an Oophorectomy – removing my ovaries) – Despite continuous pressure from my western medicine doctors who thought I was crazy not to as a young 30-something pre-menopausal woman.  But my gut said not to do it.  And instead, I chose natural methods…  Using targeted supplements like DIM and Calcium D-Glucarate (among others)…  Getting rid of as many xenoestrogen chemicals as possible from my diet and personal care products (choosing organic whenever possible, switching to 100% natural lotions & largely shunning shampoo, deodorant, and sunscreen)…  Plus losing 30 lbs of extra weight (fat cells store and produce estrogen)…   Apparently it worked!

I’m so thankful I listened to my intuition.

This also means I have fewer drugs available to treat my cancer (which according to western medicine is a bad thing).  But for me, I wasn’t going to take those medications anyway so I’m thrilled.

Now I’m faced with more decisions.  And my gut is telling me something I’m not sure I’m ready to hear.

The last few days when I’ve quieted my mind, meditating at the beach I received the message that I don’t have to do chemo.

Of course this goes against conventional wisdom (as well as, what I’m currently doing for treatment).  And I know most people will be horrified that I would even consider stopping chemo (which is why I haven’t told anyone about this till today).  But I know that when my intuition speaks I need to consider what it’s saying.  My gut is telling me I’ll be fine either way.  But the chemo isn’t necessary.  I can do this other ways.

Plus, the Universe keeps sending me similar messages.

I was guided by my husband’s psychic/medium in Europe to read a book by Brandon Bays called “The Journey”.  In it, the author heals herself from a basketball size tumor without conventional treatment and speaks loud & clear about physical dis-ease being a manifestation of unresolved trauma, unexpressed emotion, and disharmony of the spirit and soul.  From the beginning I’ve shared my belief that I think so much of physical disease is tied up in traumas of the spirit, mind, and emotions.  I think this is equally, if not more, important than the drugs you take or the food you eat.  You can exercise every day and eat a totally healthy diet and still get sick.  Isn’t the most important thing to live a life that honors who you are?  Nourishes your spirit?  One that is filled with joy and love?  And heck, even if you do end up dying at least you’ve lived the best, happiest, most authentic life you could live, right?

Then, in the middle of writing this blog I received a call from a new healer I’m working with.  She is a medical intuitive who is trained in a number of healing modalities and came highly recommended.  She primarily uses muscle testing to tap into what the body/mind/spirit needs and wants.  Coincidentally, in the weeks leading up to my session with her I read an article by Martha Beck in an old Oprah magazine that also talked about muscle testing – You can read it here.  And what came up in my session (among a ton of other stuff) was that chemo may not be the answer.

So where does this leave me?

The question I keep asking myself is if I’m strong enough to honour my truth.  To once again, go against the grain.  Against conventional thinking and treatment.  Am I strong enough to shield myself from everyone’s fear and judgement?

I listened to my gut when it came to hormonal treatment and my gut proved right.  Why does this seem more difficult?

I’m scheduled for regular chemo this week plus one more dose of the new drug Perjeta next week.  Then we’ve got a PET scan scheduled for the second week of March to see where we’re at.  I guess my plan is to wait and see the results of the scan, set up some appointments to get a few other opinions and then ultimately make a decision.

As my daily meditation from Simple Abundance said today, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.  [So] set the sails.  Pull anchor.  Cast away…  Or stay on the shore.  But choose.”

It’s so much easier to stay on the shore.  Stay in the comfort zone.  Stay stuck.  But even that is making a choice.

What will I choose?  What will you choose for your life?  Can we find the strength to make the choice that feels best to us?  And not to everyone else?  The choice that honours our truth?  The choice that feels right, no matter how scary it may seem?

I feel like I’m getting on the boat.  Wanting to set sail.  But still afraid to pull the anchor.

Maybe it’s time.

Peace.  - T

Snowflake decorations with Miss M in preparation for Auntie 'Cole's arrival.

Snowflake decorations with Miss M in preparation for Auntie ‘Cole’s arrival.

 

Pizza making party with Auntie 'Cole.

Pizza making party with Auntie ‘Cole.

 

 

 

 

 

Visions With The Long Island Medium and Beyond

Me and Auntie L moments before our amazing experience with the Long Island Medium.

Me and Auntie L moments before our amazing experience with the Long Island Medium.

I really need to start blogging more often.  So much going on.  So much I want to share.  When I wait so long in between posts it takes me forever to condense my thoughts.  I think it’s time to get back to posting more frequently…  Another resolution for 2014!

Well, it seems that after months of struggling to reclaim my faith and inner warrior spirit I’m finally making some progress.  I’m feeling good.  Getting back on track.  Finding joy in life again.  I realize there’s no guarantee I’ll feel this way tomorrow, next week, or next month.  But for now I’m a lot happier than I’ve been in a while.

I’ve been taking steps to rediscover and honour my authentic self.  I realize how choices I made over the past six years didn’t leave me with much space or energy to honour my truth.  I know it’s time now.  I know honouring my truth and just being unapologetically me will help me heal.

So I’m getting back to the things that I love…  Taking ballroom dance lessons with hubby…  Exploring the idea of becoming a dance and movement therapist…  Traveling…  Seeking adventures…  Spending time in nature…   Researching volunteer opportunities…  Baking…  Enjoying good food…  Going to church every Sunday…

Plus I’m doing things that honour my truth and support my well being…  Like ditching my therapist…  Limiting my time and energy to people who are engaging and uplifting…  Cutting out the unnecessary stuff from my life…  Not getting caught up in other people’s dramas…  And asking for help.

I’ve also been receiving messages that I’m on the right track.  My tumor markers dropped.  My energy levels are good.  My pain still hasn’t returned.  The tumors in my neck have shrunk so much that when I went for a biopsy this week the doctor could no longer feel where to biopsy.  My recent vaginal ultrasound (concerns about me getting my period while in treatment) and echocardiogram (concerns about shortness of breath) both came back fine.  And I may finally be ready to get off my blood thinners.  Hallelujah!

Things were further confirmed this past weekend when I went to see the Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo) live in Providence thanks to the amazing generosity of my Uncle who surprised me and my aunt with tickets for Christmas.  And these weren’t just any tickets…  Our seats were aisle seats mere steps from the stage.  You’re the best Uncle M!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I love Theresa because she is so unapologetically herself…  Big hair…  Crazy nails…  Glittery 4 inch heels…  Wise-cracking sense of humour…  Long Island accent…   Inappropriateness.  She’s just who she is.  Period.

Of course I was praying my mom would come through – But not expecting it in a theater of 3,000 people.  So when Theresa ended up standing in front of us, passing along messages from my dead mother, I was simultaneously shell-shocked and overcome with emotion.  Naturally it was Uncle M’s ancestors that brought Theresa to us.  They were caught in the deadliest nightclub fire in US history at Cocoanut Grove in Boston.  Uncle M and the family have since set up a foundation to honour those who perished in the fire and help pediatric burn victims.  And it was a vision of this fire that sent Theresa to us.

Theresa then acknowledged my mother’s presence and first asked if I was in remission.  When I said no, and told her I was in treatment for stage 4 cancer the audience moaned and gasped.  Theresa then asked if I was doing holisitic treatment.  When I told her yes, she said I need to continue with that…  That she saw tests and numbers confirming that what I’m doing is working…   She said she saw me on the floor, at the feet of the blessed virgin Mary (which I confirmed by telling her about my recent visit to Fatima, Portugal to which the audience let out more audible gasps)…  And she told me my mom was there with me on that day…   And that my mom says it’s not my time to join her yet (which are the words I’ve told my mom since the day I was diagnosed, “Mom, I’m not ready to join you yet!)…  And she also said my mom was sending assurances that I’ll be around for years to come and be able to celebrate the major milestones in my daughter’s life…  She used the word “remission” a few times…  And before she moved on to the next person she wished me luck and gave me a big hug (I was the only person that night who got a hug!)  It was magical.  I left with a renewed sense of hope and faith.  And confirmation that my mother and the angels are truly watching over me.

I will try to carry this hope and faith with me even when the days aren’t so easy…  When my left hand is barely functioning and I can’t clip my nails, type, or fish something from my pocket…   When my skin is cracked, red, and raw from the endless tearing of my eyes and dripping of my nose that is a side effect of the treatment…  When I don’t have the energy to parent the way I want to – letting Miss M watch too much TV or giving in to her whiny demands instead of offering consistency and discipline.  I have to say that this continues to be one of the biggest struggles for me – Parenting through treatment.  Being a full-time mom is a lot of work.  A lot of energy.  I find myself feeling jealous sometimes of those who have the luxury of sleeping all day or lounging on the couch after doing chemo.  Those who don’t have to think about anyone else but themselves and getting through treatment.  But alas, I know they too, have their difficulties.  No one is immune.

That is something I continually realize as I chart my path through cancer…  We all have our battles to face.  Our demons.  Our tragedies and difficult situations to contend with.  Whether it’s cancer, homelessness, bankruptcy, divorce, unemployment, infertility…   At some point we all reach a crossroads in our life.  These challenges shake you to your core.  Humble you.  Jolt you awake.  Then we have the choice to either keep trying to return to what was or to embrace the change and redefine yourself and your reality.  Each of these moments presents us with the opportunity to make our lives even better than they were before.

Why not seek to live a better life?  What have you got to lose?

Love to all.  - T

Miss M cruising the beaches of Luquillo Puerto Rico.

Miss M cruising the beaches of Luquillo Puerto Rico.

Our local beach while in Puerto Rico

Our local beach while in Puerto Rico.

Enjoying some alone time walking through El Yunque rainforest on our last day in Puerto Rico.

Enjoying some alone time walking through El Yunque rainforest on our last day in Puerto Rico.

The view from our balcony on the 18th floor.

The view from our balcony on the 18th floor.

 

 

Yes, This Really Is A New Post – With Some Final Reflections From Europe

My letter to Padre Pio which I slipped under his still perfectly intact corpse on display in the church at San Giovanni Rotundo.  What a sight.

My letter to Padre Pio which I slipped under his still perfectly intact corpse on display in the church at San Giovanni Rotundo. What a sight.

So it seems my email subscribers have been receiving old posts masquerading as new posts in their in-boxes over the last few days.  Sorry about that.   I am in the midst of transitioning to a new server and host for my blog.  The technicians have assured me the problem is now fixed so you shouldn’t be receiving any more of those old posts.  But to clarify…  No, I am not in Ohio…  Nor did I have recent surgery.  Sill here in Connecticut.  Still doing chemo.  Still soldiering on.

But as the old posts came in I thought it would be neat to re-read them myself.  To revisit life as I went through treatment the first time around – two long years ago.  Everyone points out that I beat cancer once before so why shouldn’t I be able to do it again?  But in re-reading these old posts I realized how different everything was then…   We had so much more hands-on support during my last round with chemo (family and friends stayed with us in Ohio almost the entire time I was in treatment)…  Plus, I seemed to have more determination, motivation, and fighting spirit in me…  I wasn’t experiencing the same levels of pain and discomfort…  I was exercising every day and doing regular visualization and guided meditation.  Back then, cancer seemed like a blip on the radar of my life…  Now cancer feels like my whole life.

Some things haven’t changed between then and now though – Like my frustration over parenting during chemo.  Just like last time I find myself crying and upset because I don’t have the energy to take care of my daughter.  To have fun with her.   To play in the snow.  To come up with creative activities or projects.  To handle her outbursts (which have been increasing substantially as of late).  It sucks.  It’s not her fault I have cancer.  Why does she have to suffer too?  I try to remind myself that in the big scheme of things I AM a good parent.  She WILL be ok.  But in the small moments when she won’t brush her teeth or go up for her bath and I don’t have the energy, patience, or mental wherewithal to deal with it I feel frustrated, sad, and sorry for us.

But you know me, I also refuse to remain stuck in the feeling-sorry-for-myself space.  If given a choice (and we all have the choice each & every day) I choose to make a conscious effort to live in hope, faith, and gratitude instead.  So today I chose to get up early to sit with a cup of tea, read my daily meditation books, and write a few new affirmations for myself.  My favorite is:  ”Today and everyday, I am getting better in every way!”

The last few weeks have been a real struggle.  The new drug I started (Pertuzamab) did a bit of a whammy on my system.  That, plus the cumulation of the other drugs, and this horribly cold weather.  I’ve been unable to pull myself out of bed in the morning (despite 10+ hours of sleep).   I’ve been late getting Miss M to school every day.  I’ve had days where I was glued to the couch, unable to move – literally.  Days i was chilled to the bone and no amount of blankets could warm me.  A whole week with intense stomach cramping and diarrhea.  Days of lightheadedness and being short of breath.  I’ve had to cancel appointments, classes, and resign myself to letting Miss M watch a full 8 hours of television at once.  (Which I posted about on Facebook and resolved my guilt about after all the great comments from other mamas out there!  Thank you ladies!)

My oncologist is running some test to see if these problems are related to something else (perhaps a parasite or a bug or bacteria infection??).  If not, and it really is from the new drug we may hold off on taking it again.  She also wants to do another echocardiogram to make sure my heart isn’t causing the shortness of breath I’ve been having.  To be continued…  In the meantime, I’m still able to continue with the Herceptin and Taxotere (got my weekly dose yesterday).  And I finally decided to move forward with the biopsy of my neck – Only because we’re avoiding surgery and doing a ultrasound guided fine-needle biopsy with a radiologist instead.

And amidst all the medical crap I continue to reflect on my trip to Europe.  Wanting to identify the healing properties from that trip that I can carryover into my every day life.   Because it was that trip that rid me of all my physical pain (which has still not returned!).   That trip brought my cancer tumor marker number to its lowest level since I started chemo (unfortunately the number has steadily inched back up again since then).  That trip was a mini miracle.

I know the biggest lesson from that trip is the importance of finding silence each day.  Silence to just sit.  Meditate.  Watch the sunset.  Pray.  Enjoy a cup of tea.  Clear my mind.  I also know that I need more than just 10 or 15 minutes of this here and there.  Ideally, I’d love to get away on spiritual retreats on the regular but I recognize my family and wallet cannot always support that.  So I need to proactively carve out a good chunk of time each day for this.  It’s hard when you’ve got little kids, a house to run, a million appointments, and oh yeah – breast cancer.  But I am discovering this is a non-negotiable for me.  By taking the time to be silent and reconnect with my authentic self I know good things will follow…  My immune system will be able to ramp up and fight this cancer…  I will get in touch with my wants and needs…  Be better able to find my joy…  Have more patience with Miss M and with life…  And find more beauty in the every day moments…

In order to do this I recognize I need to ask for help more.  I need to let the laundry pile up and leave dishes in the sink.  I need to cut back on the number of appointments I have.  I need to say “No” to certain people and commitments.  I need to be ok with not going full throttle all the time.  I need to focus on me more.  And that’s ok.  No it’s more than just ok, It’s necessary.

I am eternally grateful that I took that trip to Europe.  Travel has always been a source of insight and reflection for me.  Maybe that’s why I love it so much.  A chance to get away from the hectic day-to-day and just “be”.  We all need to do more of that.

So that’s exactly what my family is doing!!!  Tomorrow we leave for Puerto Rico!  Hooray!  We booked the trip earlier in the month but I was awaiting final approval from my doctor (which I received yesterday) – So off we go!  Looking forward to exploring the Island, soaking up the rays, exercising in nature again, eating fresh & local fruits and veggies, and of course spending time with hubby and Miss M.  I’ll try to post some pics on Facebook on the GWW page while we’re there.

I encourage each of you to carve out some moments of silence for yourself.  And just BE.

Peace.  -T

Entrance to the grotto of Michael the Archangel in Monte Sant'Angelo, Italy.

Entrance to the grotto of Michael the Archangel in Monte Sant’Angelo, Italy.

Little houses set against the hills of Monte Sant'Angelo.

Little houses set against the hills of Monte Sant’Angelo.

My favorite meal in Italy at Fil & Max Taverna in San Giovanni Rotundo.

My favorite meal in Italy at Fil & Max Taverna in San Giovanni Rotundo.

The alleyways I had to navigate to find the restaurant.  So worth it!

The alleyways I had to navigate to find the restaurant. So worth it!

Turning Points and More Reflections from Europe

My new hair cut!

My new hair cut!

Happy New Year!

Been a while since my last post…  Guess the holidays do that to ya.  I was just re-reading all the comments from my last post and decided in this moment to make one of my goals for 2014 to respond and connect more with everyone reading this blog.  You guys are amazing!  I also want to connect more with the other awesome cancer bloggers out there whose posts I read on the regular and intend to comment on but never do.  Plus, I’m finally ready to transition to a new format for my blog.  Will hopefully have the new site functioning for my next post.

It’s a new year.  Time for a fresh start.  I love fresh starts.  I try to remember that each day offers a chance at a new beginning.  Each moment can be a turning point towards something better…  (And on that front, I have to give a shout-out to fellow MBC warrior Paulette who preached an amazing sermon on ‘turning points’ last weekend at Community Baptist Church!  Thanks for inviting us!)

I am feeling positive about 2014.

Hubby and I have been on a spiritual quest since I returned from my trip to Europe.  Searching for a spiritual community we can feel at home in.  One that blends nicely with my Buddhist background and hubby’s Catholic upbringing.  We’re hitting up all the local churches; Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, United…  You  name it.  And bringing Miss M along for the ride.  Already I can see that she understands the sacredness of meditation, prayer, and being in church.  And I feel like we’re connecting more as a family since we started our church exploring too.

I continue to draw on the strength and serenity of my spiritual journey to Europe.  I feel like my whole life has shifted since I took that trip.  My depression has lifted.  My decisions are no longer based in fear.  I’m enjoying life more.  Speaking my mind.  Surrendering and feeling more hopeful.  Feeling like the challenges I, and my family have endured are about to morph into something beautiful.

I remember the thrill and joy I felt as I flew into Lisbon.  The tears would not stop coming so I just let them fall as I watched the sun rise over Portugal from my little airplane window.  And the tears continued throughout my time there…  Being in Portugal felt comforting and uplifting.  It felt like home.  Which makes sense when you consider my heritage and connections to both Portugal and Brazil.  I devoured meals of seafood and fresh olives.  I walked the magical winding streets of the Alfama District and listened to live fado music.  I took the tram to see the Monastery of Jerónimos and the Belém Tower…  (And was delighted that the trams run on an honor system with no one keeping track of who pays)…  But that’s the kind of place Lisbon is.  Friendly.  Beautiful.  Charming.  Trusting.  I fell in love.

When I went to Fatima my heart grew even more.  In this small Portuguese town Mary appeared to three shepherd children numerous times over the course of a 6-month period culminating in a “miracle of the sun” that over 70,000 people reportedly witnessed.  I had heard from a friend just how awe-inspiring Fatima was.  In fact it was this friend’s account of his journey there that inspired my trip.  But I was still not prepared for the level of magic and energy and healing that would overcome me as I set foot in the Chapel of Apparitions where Mary reportedly appeared.  Immediately I was overcome with emotion.  I was on my knees crying and sobbing, snot running down my face, puddles of tears pooling by my knees on the floor.  It was as if I felt all of humankind’s suffering at the same time as I felt the radiant and unconditional love of Mary and all ‘mothers’.  My pain disappeared.  My thoughts ceased.  Even though I was only partially sheltered from the outside I was not cold.  I stayed there for hours praying and meditating and crying.  Each time I thought I was done crying I was surprised by another burst of fresh tears.  I prayed for those closest to me, for those caught in the struggle of cancer and illness, for all of us dealing with life’s difficulties and traumas.  I lit candles and said more prayers.  I didn’t want to leave.  But eventually I had to.

Since that day my pain has all but disappeared.  The swelling in my arm continues to go down.  The tumors in my neck and shoulder appear to be getting “softer” and smaller.  My headaches are gone.  My energy is returning.  My attitude has completely shifted.  All of this despite the fact that my tumor marker numbers are not getting better and the strength and dexterity of my left arm and hand has deteriorated to the point where I can’t put an elastic in Miss M’s hair or scrape leftovers from a frying pan.

This Thursday I am scheduled to start a new drug – Pertuzumab (aka: Perjeta).  My oncologist is hoping it will add an extra kick to the Taxotere and Herceptin I’m currently doing.  When I asked her how long she suggests I continue with chemo her response was basically for as long as I can tolerate it.  As of right now I seem to be tolerating it very well.  My white blood counts haven’t dropped at all.  My red blood counts are a little low but nothing to worry about.  My immune system has stayed pretty strong.  And I credit all the holistic treatments I’m doing for keeping me healthy (weekly acupuncture, regular reiki, supplements, diet, meditation, etc.).  But still, I don’t want to stay on this chemo crap forever!

I’ve decided to place the biopsy on hold for now.  Once I found out that taking lymph nodes from my neck is a procedure requiring full anesthesia, a visit to the OR, and possible complications, I told hubby I’d rather just take another drug than put my body through more surgery.

For now, I am choosing to focus on the fact that I’m pain free and feeling good.  The fact that I can still function, be an active mom, and live my life is what matters.  And I’m choosing not to focus on the tumor marker numbers or the things that I can’t do, or the fact that my fingers are cracking open, my nails are falling off, my hair is gone, and my libido is shot.

With the new year upon us I am actively seeking to connect with what’s truly important.  To identify my non-negotiables and make them a priority.  For me this includes daily prayer & meditation, regular exercise or movement, healthy eating, finding time to read & write, traveling, quality time with my family, and connecting with people (those I already know and those I have yet to meet).

Here’s to a fabulous 2014 for everyone!  Let today be the turning point that leads you to discover and prioritize your own non-negotiables of life.  Each day, each moment, offers the opportunity to make a choice.  Are your daily choices in line with what you value and deem most important?

Love to all.  - T

Monastery of Jerónimos in Lisbon.

Monastery of Jerónimos in Lisbon.

The chapel of apparitions at Fatima.

The chapel of apparitions at Fatima.

The new church at Fatima.

The new church at Fatima.

Reflections From Europe – Part I

I wrote this post on the train yesterday.  I should have been back home today but after spending nearly 12 hours at the Milan airport my flight was canceled and now I’m spending another night at an airport hotel.  Sigh… Fingers crossed our flight tomorrow goes off without a hitch.  Despite the insanity I never got stressed or anxious.  I just went with the flow.  And I’m crediting all the calming meditation and prayer I did this week for keeping me sane.  It’s a beautiful thing.  And tomorrow is a new day!

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The view from the train to Milan.

My last day in Europe, and I’m spending it on a 7 hour train ride from Foggia to Milan.  At least the scenery is beautiful – the charming little towns with the sea stretching out on one side and rolling hills and farms on the other.  Even though I’m not out there exploring I still get a glimpse of Italian life.

My spiritual journey through Portugal and Italy was just what the doctor ordered.  I am leaving with a renewed sense of strength.  An increased sense of inner peace.  A quieter mind.  A lot less fear.  And many steps closer to surrendering control and trusting the Universe.

The journey has also opened me up to the Christian faith.  Most of my life I’ve had an aversion to the word “God”.  My parents were raised in catholic families, went to catholic schools, attended mass regularly (heck, my dad even entered the seminary for a brief period in his teens).  But they grew into adults who openly detested the catholic church and as their child, their dislike somehow became a part of me.  So even though my mom was an extremely spiritual person (and even an ordained Soto Zen Buddhist monk) the word “God” was never used in our house and organized Christianity was shunned.  I was never baptized.  We never went to church.  Our spirituality involved walking in the forest or sitting by the ocean in silence.

On this trip I found myself admiring the conviction of the faithful Catholic folks around me.  Their deep sense of devotion.  Their ability to trust in God and surrender.  Now I find myself using the word “God” for the first time in my life and being ok with it.  I also feel compelled to find a church when I get back home and start going every week with Hubby and Miss M.

The healing energy I felt at Fatima, Padre Pio’s church, and the grotto of Saint Michael the Archangel was undeniable.  I spent hours in prayer and meditation…  on my knees shedding endless tears…  asking for guidance…  releasing my sadness, fear, worries, and attachments…  basking in the silence…  soaking up the beautiful energy of unconditional love.

While a part of me had hoped for spontaneous healing.  A miracle of some sort.  An apparition.  Or divine intervention….  It hasn’t happened – yet.  But I did experience many smaller acts of God.

Just this morning I was waiting for the bus from San Giovanni Rotundo to Foggia where I was scheduled to catch the 10:30am train to Milan, and the bus driver told me no, there was no 9am bus today to Foggia.  The next bus wasn’t until 1pm because apparently today is a special holiday and the buses run on a different schedule.  Oh ok.  I’m screwed.  But before I had time to get stressed a young lady started talking to me (luckily she spoke some English) and before I knew it she was calling her brother to come pick us up and drive us into Foggia.  Thank you Universe!  I made my train with time to spare!  I tried to slip them some cash but they wouldn’t take it.  Turns out her father is in Padre Pio’s hospital in a coma.  She, her brother, and mother all take turns traveling from another town where the live to visit with him.  I told her about my cancer and my spiritual pilgrimage.  We promised to pray for each other.  What a beautiful gift.

My whole trip was like that.  Full of gifts.  And kindness.  And beauty.

One of the biggest gifts was the lack of pain I’ve had this week.  Aside from the first day I arrived in Lisbon, when I was seriously jet-lagged, I haven’t had to take any pain meds.  Nothing.  I’ve felt pretty damn good.  This, despite the fact that the cancer doesn’t seem to be shrinking any, the hair on my head is falling out by the fistful, and the swelling in my arm is still pretty bad.  And despite the fact that I’ve totally ditched my healthy diet and had plenty of pasta, sweets, and wine.  Also very interesting, is that any pain or discomfort I did have disappeared entirely when I was at a religious site praying or meditating.

As I prepare to head home I hope to continue to nurture my newfound sense of spirit and faith.  That’s always the real challenge, right?  Maintaining serenity back in the “real world”.

I have some serious decisions to make about my treatment.  One thing I do know is that I’ll be requesting a biopsy when I get back.  In a dream I had this week I received the message that the cancer is different this time.  So I want to get it tested.  Then armed with biopsy results and the next set of scans I plan to seek a second (and probably third) opinion about my options.  One of those opinions will likely be Dr. K back in Ohio.  So all you Ohio folks prepare yourself for a visit from me and Miss M sometime in the new year!!!

There is so much more to tell about my time here in Europe.  Guess I’ll have to spread it out over a few blog posts.  Will do specific posts about my time at each site and each town.

In the meantime I’m excited to go home.  To hold my daughter and listen to her sweet voice.  To cuddle and make out with my husband.  To eat a great big salad!!

As I set off on this journey I thought, “Who does this?  Going on a solo international trip to 4 cities in 2 different countries in the middle of chemo treatment?”  Oh yeah, that would be me!  By doing this I feel I have reclaimed a piece of who I am – the nonconformist, the warrior, the adventure seeker.  I see just how strong I am.  And every time the cancer tries to push me back down I will remember this trip and fight on.

I am still a graceful woman warrior!

Love and blessings to all,  – T

Outside the Belem castle in Lisbon

Outside the Belem castle in Lisbon

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Offering a candle for blessings at the Padre Pio statue.

The stunning tile mosaics at Padre Pio's new church.

The stunning tile mosaics at Padre Pio’s new church.

Watch Out Europe – Here I Come!

Packing my suitcase!

Packing my suitcase!

It’s official.  I’m going to Europe!!   Woohoo!

Got the green light from my oncologist yesterday but didn’t make the final decision until I got into the chemo chair for treatment #4 on Thursday and happened to sit beside a lovely lady named Vivian.  Turns out Vivian’s family just happens to be from the town of San Giovonni Rotundo in Italy where Padre Pio’s shrine is.  Padre Pio is the reason for my whole trip.  Vivian’s family personally knew Padre Pio and used to regularly bring fruit from their trees to keep the friars nourished.  The moment I heard Vivian’s story I knew it was the Universe telling me to take this trip.  Do it now.  Don’t wait.  So I’m going.  I leave tomorrow!  And i’m over-the-moon thrilled!

My itinerary includes a few days in Lisbon, a visit to Our Lady of Fatima, a stop-over in Rome, some serious time with Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotundo, and a final pit-stop in Venice.  The challenge will be to honour my body, rest when I need to, and go with the flow instead of pushing myself to see and do it all.

On another positive note, I think I’m finally starting to feel better again.  Pulling myself out of the depressive funk.  It helps that the pain has been more manageable.  And I’m back to exercising again (low-key walks instead of running though).  I’m also starting to eat healthier.  My head space is clearing.  My confidence and inner strength seem to be returning.

Plus grandpa has arrived!!!  And he’ll be here for the next 6 weeks.  Hooray!  Having my dad here is a gift.  Just watching the joy in Miss M’s face as they play rhyming games and tell each other stories totally warms my heart.  Miss M loves her grandpa.  And I couldn’t go on this trip without his help.  Thanks dad!

All of this good news despite the fact that my tumor markers don’t seem to be getting much better.  We’re four weeks into chemo and already talking about changing up the drugs or adding new ones in.  My oncologist and I specifically talked about Perjeta (aka: pertuzumab) and Lapatinib.  I’ve gotta do more research before I decide.  Plus, I had an MRI done this week and the results came back with two tiny suspicious spots on my prefrontal cortex that are not confirmed to be cancer but definitely something we want to keep our eyes on in the future.  Oh joy!

Much to think about…  Thank god I have an 8-day solo spiritual journey ahead of me to contemplate what’s next.

In addition to the ‘standard’ treatment, I’m also consulting with an oriental medicine professional that my acupuncturist referred me to.  He’s based in Hawaii and specializes in integrative oncology that blends both conventional and natural/chinese medicine.  Right up my ally.  I’m curious to see what his recommendations will be.  And I have an appointment with a physical therapist when I get back to start dealing with the lymphadema.

Otherwise I continue to go to reiki, take my supplements, drink my green juice, make time to meditate, and see my acupuncturist two times a week.  I am always fascinated by my acupuncture sessions and the inherent wisdom that is contained in our bodies.  This week’s pain in the back of my shoulder corresponded with the acupuncture point for guilt in relationships (as I struggle with my guilty feelings about leaving Miss M for 8 whole days).  Plus, all my tumors and aches and pains keep appearing on the same chinese meridian – the large intestine.  And the main focus of that meridian is to surrender.  Which has been one of the most difficult things for me lately.  Fasciniating!

I realized last night just how much i’ve been operating from a place of fear lately.  I guess it’s hard not to when your body provides a painful reminder each day of your own mortality.  And even harder still when those around you are drowning in fear and leaking their fearful energy all over you.  But it’s gotta stop.  I gotta surrender this fear.  Give it to God.  Reclaim my faith.  Trust that the Universe has a splendid and beautiful plan for me.  For all of us.

While I recognize the need to visit the dark places of life.  I also realize that staying there is not where I want to be.  Once again, I thank all of you for your tough love, your supportive and insightful comments, and wisdom…  The reality checks…  The reminders not to be so tough on myself…  To let go of trying to be so perfect…  To not beat myself up over the emotional eating…  You guys are some seriously insightful and caring folks!!  And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

On Friday I met with my fantastic naturopath (and was accompanied by Auntie L who loved her just as much as I do!).  She is thrilled for my upcoming trip to Europe.  At the end of our session she reminded me to stay open on my journey.  To be aware.  To be fully present to all that is around me.  I am asking the Universe for guidance so I better be ready to receive it.  And to recognize that the answers and lessons may appear in unexpected packages.

All my prayers lately have been the same…  Show me the next step on my path…  Help my ‘family’ heal.  I can no longer live in fear.  It is not a fun place to be.  Just gotta keep focusing on the present moment.  Appreciating the beauty around me…  My daughter’s giggle as grandpa tells her funny stories…  The setting sun…   The smell of the ocean…  Watching the local holiday light parade…  The moments when my body is not in pain…  The thrill of traveling to new places.

Watch out Europe.  Here I come!

Storytime with grandpa

Storytime with grandpa

Walk on the beach with Aura

Walk on the beach with Aura

Questioning My Beliefs

The "old me"...  Back in the day...

The “old me”… Back in the day…

I’m sitting here in the chemo chair as the drugs drip into my body…  Questioning life…  Questioning my beliefs…  Questioning it all.

Life is real confusing these days.  Each day brings new questions, fresh insights, and a tumble of emotions.  I spend my days perpetually on the verge of tears.  I feel hyper sensitive to people’s moods.  I’m simultaneously trying to heal the past, envision the future, and remain in the present.  I know I’m overthinking things and yet I can’t stop.  I know what I need to do and yet it is so hard to just do it.  I’ve been sliding down into the rabbit hole.   It’s all starting to take a toll on me…  The chemo.  The surgery.  The pain.  The exhaustion.  The frustration.  The emotions.  The chemo brain.   Aaaahhhh!!!!

We did another ultrasound today to check my arm once again for blood clots.  It keeps swelling to ridiculous proportions and no body can tell me for sure what’s causing it.  Turns out the veins and blood flow are fine.  No clots.  No edema in the tissue surrounding the veins.  So that’s good.  My oncologist figures the swelling is because of the tumors clogging up the lymph system and preventing it from doing what it needs to do.  A lymphadema of sorts.  So we’ll consider a sleeve for my arm (sexy!) and some physical therapy.  But the hope is that the chemo will knock those tumors down and free my lymph system to start functioning properly again and that will heal the swelling.

But all this swelling, and pain, and chemo exhaustion ends up taking me to the bad place where I turn to food as a quick fix (which would be ok if it was celery and lettuce, but it’s not) – Trying to find a temporary release from it all.  Food has always been my #1 drug of choice.  Plus, I haven’t exercised in 2 weeks.  And I’m not always taking my supplements as I should be.

Sigh.

On this day before Thanksgiving I’m really trying to hold onto the moments of gratitude.  Trying to remember all that I have to be thankful for (and lord do I know I have a lot to be thankful for!!) But I’m just tired – mentally, physically, emotionally.  My body is not happy.  My body is not well.  And it’s hard to move past it.

But all is not lost…  I refuse to go down without a fight.

Even though I was tired I went to my Bernie Siegel support group last night.  I needed it.  And on the way home I had time to reflect.  To take in the wisdom of my fellow group members.  To absorb the uplifting support.  And ponder what I’m doing with my life.  As Bernie says, “It’s not about avoiding death.  It’s about living life!”

I figure maybe I need to go through all this turmoil, to get lost down the rabbit hole, and come to this bad place in order to tear myself apart so I can then completely rebuild and redefine who I am.  I realize that the last 5 years I’ve been so focused on everyone else that I lost sight of who I was.  I didn’t make my needs, my career, my dreams a priority.  And still didn’t even after I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.  Now this second round of cancer is trying to shake me awake.  Forcing me to truly question who I am and what I want from life.  And I can’t go back to the person I was before.  Before cancer.  Before my mom died.  Before I got married.  Before I had Miss M.  What was right for me then is certainly not right anymore.  I am different now.  Older.  Wiser.  I’ve seen more, done more, faced more.

Last weekend I had the privilege of going to a symposium at the NY Open Center on near death experiences with Anita Moorjani and Eben Alexander.  It was a magical event that was made even more magical because my half-sister came along with me.  Each speaker had amazing insights to share about the meaning of life and what happens after we die.  I found myself in tears numerous times throughout the day.  I think the main lessons I took away from the day were the importance of living from a place of love and not fear…  Making self-love a priority…  Making the choice each moment to seek out joy…  And to surrender…  Surrender control….  Surrender trying to be something you’re not…  Surrender to what is.

Lately I feel like I’m all talk and no action.  Knowing what I need to do but not doing it.  So tomorrow, on Thanksgiving Day, I vow to take action and live from a place of gratitude, love, and surrender.  Then I’ll try to do it again the next day.  And the next day.  Until one day, I’ll look up and realize how much fun I’m having living life and not avoiding death anymore.

Blessings to all.  -T

Hanging In There

The view on my morning walk.  Pure heaven!!

The view on my morning walk. Pure heaven!!

It’s been five days since my first chemo treatment and I’m hanging in there.  It hasn’t been easy though….

First night post-chemo i awoke at 3AM with severe pain that nothing could touch.  I waited it out, watched some TV, and went on with my day trying to survive on 4-5 hours of sleep.  The next night I popped a Percocet and with hubby’s help watching Miss M, I managed to sleep for over 12 hours, which my body desperately needed.

Physically, the pain has ebbed and flowed through all hours of the day, my left is arm is still totally swollen, and the sensation from my shoulder to fingertips is mediocre at best – everyday tasks like typing and washing dishes are becoming more and more awkward.  And it seems I can never fully get comfortable.  There’s always a part of my neck, shoulder, breast, or arm tugging on my awareness, expressing discomfort.

Mentally, I’ve also struggled since Thursday’s chemo session.  Not so much with my decision to do the chemo (which I’m feeling pretty at peace about) but more with trying to swallow and accept my new reality.

My family lovingly took Miss M for the weekend to Massachusetts to frolic, have fun, and take her mind off of her messed-up mamma.  While i normally relish the alone time, this weekend I found not having Miss M around left me simmering in self pity and sadness with nothing outside of ‘me’ to focus on.  I struggled to get through the day.  I ruminated on the unfairness of it all.  Maybe I needed to go there.  But I didn’t want to stay there.

So I read and re-read all the beautiful and loving and encouraging thoughts everyone shared on the blog, via text, or email and it helped me make it through the toughest moments.  I wish I could respond to each and every one of you – but please know that your words really do make a difference.  Your words make me smile, help connect me to my strength, reassure me, and restore my faith.  And I do follow-up on all suggestions that are made.  Even if I don’t pursue what’s being offered in this moment, at least I know it’s out there and can add it to my arsenal when/if the time is right.

I think a big piece of my internal struggle is about fully accepting my life.  Accepting the unknown.  Accepting the bumps on the road.  Accepting that there’s only so much I can control.

Despite knowing the reality of most metastatic breast cancer patients, I believed I would go through my initial treatment, be cancer free, and stay cancer free.   Period.  The end.  I would be transformed by my experience, go on and live life cancer free and always say, “Oh yeah, I had breast cancer – years and years ago, it taught me big lessons & made me a better person.”  And then move on with my life.  I think many others around me assumed this as well.  So I’m not sure I ever fully accepted the reality that I will live with this for the rest of my life.  That cancer may go away and come back again and again.  That I may be under some form of “treatment” indefinitely.  That even if I am in remission cancer is still lurking in the shadows.  I can’t be “done with it”.

I can’t go back to the person I used to be.  I need to flip the script and redefine things.  Redefine my life.  Redefine who I am.

Yesterday, I woke with a conviction to be done with the pity party.  I popped a Tylenol at 5am when the pain woke me up instead of suffering and complaining.  I met the day with a clean slate.  Made myself a cup of delicious organic coffee (life’s too short not to drink coffee anymore!) plus my usual 30 oz glass of green juice.  I took the dog out for a walk by the ocean and stopped at a bench along the way to meditate and express gratitude for all that is good in my life.  And even though I still can’t get a sports bra on to start running again, I pushed myself to do a modified jog down the block and back holding the dog leash in one hand and my one jiggly breast in the other.  What a sight!

I also had a great talk with my Naturopath who didn’t berate me at all for starting chemo.  Instead, she cheered me on and offered supplements to help ease the side effects of treatment.  And over the weekend my old oncologist, the fabulous Dr. K phoned me from Ohio.  I had faxed over my recent test results to get his opinion.  He spent 20 minutes on the phone giving me the biggest pep talk ever.  I was in tears.  Finally for the last two minutes he actually spoke about my treatment plan and agreed that the chemo regime should work just fine.  He said there is no reason to expect that I will not have a complete response again.  Then he gave me his cell phone number and told me to call any time.  God bless his soul.

With all this cheering, and support, and love how can I possibly give up??

So I am trying to harness all the positive energy and strength I can find.  Making lists of the things I can do to boost my soul and pull me out of the pity party madness…  Spending time with uplifting people…  Watching inspiring episodes of Oprah…  Reading practical books (I am in the midst of re-reading The Happiness Project and loving it just as much the second time around!)…  Taking walks in nature…  Spending time by the ocean…  Contemplating the big questions and dreaming about the future…  Seizing any and all opportunities (like the chance to see Anita Moorjani this weekend in NY!)…  Doing research about my upcoming spiritual pilgrimage to Portugal & Italy (can hardly believe I leave in less than 3 weeks!!)…  And of course, through it all, remembering everything I have to be grateful for.

I will meet this challenge head on.  I have faith in myself and the Universe.  I trust that each piece of our lives, each moment, is part of the master plan.  This cancer will not take me down.  Not yet.  Not for a very long time.

Deep thanks and love to you all.  - T