Enjoy It The Best You Can

Living with metastatic breast cancer is such an odd reality…  (As I imagine living with any chronic or life threatening disease is)…  You’re caught in a place between life and death.  Aware the days may be numbered.

Facing your own mortality changes you.

I am now supremely aware of the passing of time.  I don’t want to waste precious moments in the day.  If I didn’t have to sleep, I wouldn’t.  I just want to make the best use of each moment…  Sometimes that means sitting back and relaxing or being indulgent…  Other times it means I am productive & getting stuff done…  Often, it involves staring with wonder and pure love at my darling Miss M in all her soon-to-be 4 splendor…

I see the gift of life and I plan to enjoy it as best as I can.

Right now, 6 weeks post surgery, I am marveling at the fantastic job my surgeons did.  I always assumed at the end of all this I wouldn’t like my breasts.  I wasn’t expecting much.  I just wanted my body to look in proportion   For people not to stare.

But in the end, I am startled to discover that I actually like my new breasts.  They look pretty damn fantastic.  (I promise to take a picture soon & post it so everyone can see :-)).  And I am so grateful to my amazing surgeons.  From the beginning I could feel how important it was to them that my breasts look as natural as possible.  They see their work, crafting beautiful shapes, as art.  They take great pride in what they do.  And I am eternally grateful to my good friend SW (a fellow breast cancer warrior) in NY who recommended her team.  Thanks girl!

I’m headed back in NY in 2 weeks for my final follow up appointment.  What a trip just writing that.  After 10 months of biweekly visits back & forth to NY my surgery appointments will finally be done…  Plus, my oncologist Dr. K says he doesn’t need to see me until sometime this summer, after my next set of scans.  My blood no longer needs to be checked on the regular.  I am a free woman!!!

Mind you, I am a free woman who is also fully aware that this freedom may not last forever.  So again, I plan to enjoy it the best I can.  Make my memories now.

I see a summer full of travel and visits to be with all my favorite people…  Hubby & I just decided to take another family vacation – this time to Florida…  We have a wedding on Cape Cod in June…  Plans to go camping with our neighbours…  Another wedding in NY in July…  Trips to Toronto, Vancouver, and Nashville in the works…   And it all starts a week from today when we head back to Massachusetts & NYC to visit the family.  I guess this is one of the ways I’ve survived living in Ohio for 2 years – I get out of town a lot ;-).

How blessed am I to have so many amazing people to visit??  To have the support and love that I do?  To have the privilege of spending time and creating memories with such a great group of fabulous friends and family?

The night before Mother’s Day I had a dream where my mom came to me.  It was my mom during one of the happiest periods of her life…  Young, healthy, at the height of her dance career…  She opened her arms wide and I just went in and hugged her and hugged her.  It was so comforting & beautiful & full of pure love.  It was the best Mother’s Day present ever.

Days later, my therapist and I were discussing the dream and she asked me to retell it, but this time as my mother.  Almost instantly, I am in tears.  As my mom, I tell myself that i am surrounded by love.  Not just from her but from so many others – all my family and friends that have passed on and all those that are still here.  And I feel it.  I feel the love.  And it is beautiful.  And I know it well help carry me through.  I know it is the love and blessings that have helped to get me here, to this point.  Helped me heal.  Helped me cope.  Helped me reclaim my life.  And reclaim myself.

Thank you everyone!

I am in the midst of reading Lissa Rankin’s new book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  For the last few months her name continued to pop up in front of me so I ordered her book and I’m loving it.  Her message of addressing physical illness through a holistic, multifaceted lens that considers mind, body, soul, and environment is exactly how I’ve been tackling my cancer diagnosis.  It’s not only about eating the right foods, or getting enough exercise or sleep.  You cannot discount the importance of mental wellness, faith, support, and love in the healing journey.

My first appointment last night with my new functional nutritionist team was also amazing…  A 45 minute intake session that explored everything from my mom’s pregnancy and the circumstances surrounding my inception, to how I handle stress, and of course my medical history.  They’re also gonna review my blood work, supplements, and current eating habits to create a customized food plan that will optimize my health, boost my immune system, balance my hormones, detox my body, and keep the cancer at bay.  How fabulous!

I know living this way isn’t for everyone.  It takes a lot of time and energy.  A lot of diligence.  A big commitment.  But I have to say it’s worth it.  I’ve never felt better.

I am committed to living my best life possible and enjoying it the best I can!

Peace.  – T

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Whatever Works

Fun adventure with Auntie N to the Newport Aquarium!

Fun adventure with Auntie N to the Newport Aquarium!

Everyone is talking about Angeline Jolie & her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  And everyone’s asking me what I think…

So what do I think?  I think preventive surgery is a very individual decision.  A decision that is best left to the individual to make.  Would I have done the same thing?  Who knows.  My doctors continue to push me to do surgery to remove my ovaries to shut down estrogen production and help “prevent” a recurrence but I have decided (for now) to refuse that surgery.  That’s what works for me.  Undergoing a preventive double mastectomy is what works for Angeline Jolie.

Whatever works.

In general, I feel the medical establishment relies too heavily on surgery and pharmaceuticals to cure all of life’s modern ailments.  I firmly believe everyone would benefit from a more holistic approach to medicine and healing – One that looks at your history, stress levels, outside influences, and mental space just as much as the physical details of our individual body parts. We are so much more than just our individual body parts.  And I can’t get behind any treatment that espouses a narrow-minded, exclusive approach.  Us human beings are complex folks!

The reality is that everyone has an opinion.  A preference.  A different path.  What works for some, may not work for others.  I know I am constantly searching for my path, trying to figure out what works best for me.  Aren’t we all?

My diet is one thing I’m still trying to figure out…  After 8 days with the fabulous Antie N in town my body is still reeling from all the fun we had…  Way more booze than I’ve had in a long time (what I would normally consume over the course of 2 or 3 months I consumed in the span of a week)…  Less sleep…  Lots of indulging (in sweet treats, extra helpings, nibbles of cheese, and empty carbs)…  But it was so worth it!!!   We had a week of fun adventures, play time, girl talk, and truly memorable moments.  So I don’t beat myself up for the indulgences.  It was one kick-ass week with one of my bestest friends.  That’s what life is all about.  My body will re-balance itself.  I’m getting back up on the saddle again. 😉

I actually have Part I of my much anticipated nutrition consult with  Andrea Nakayama scheduled for next week.  I’ve been following her since I read about her in Whole Living Magazine way back in October 2011 – A month before I was diagnosed.  She is a functional nutritionist with a holistic, whole-foods based approach.  I’ve listened to many of her online talks about balancing hormones and restoring the health of our bodies through diet and natural remedies.  I’m so excited to consult with her team about fine tuning my diet and figuring out what works best for me & my body.  If her detailed intake process is any indication of what lies ahead I’m sure our time together will be totally holistic, and very thorough & comprehensive.  I’m psyched.

The other thing I’m still trying to figure out is what’s up for the next chapter of my life.

Auntie N and I are both at a crossroads in our lives.  Having her here this last week, and being able to process that and compare notes was so helpful & therapeutic (for both of us!).  Many people have encouraged me to write.  So I did.  I started writing stuff (other than this blog – which it seems I haven’t gotten around to writing much lately either)…  But I can’t quite seem to get into it.  I don’t feel compelled to write the other stuff yet.  I can’t find my voice.  There’s always something else that takes priority.  Maybe I’m supposed to be writing something different?  Or maybe just doing something different.

One thing I keep feeling compelled to do is use my experience with cancer, the lessons I’ve learned, the insights I’ve gained, and my training as a social worker, to help others through their own difficult periods.  Try to help them figure out what works.

Honestly, I’m just so damn thrilled to even be able to have concerns like this – about my career or fine tuning my diet – instead of living in a haze of treatment side effects and obsessively thinking about my own mortality.  It’s been 5 weeks since my breast reconstruction and reduction surgery.  I’m back to driving again, squeezing in some light exercise here & there, and doing most of my normal every day activities.  The pain is pretty much gone.  I almost feel “normal”.  I guess this IS my new normal…  Normal concerns about what to eat, what job to take, how to stay healthy…  But yet always with this underlying current of questioning, worry, and unknowns.  But I guess we all have that to some degree or another, right?

For now, I will keep searching for answers while still trying to remain open to life’s mysteries.  I will enjoy life and continue making memories.  I will respect other people’s decisions while continuing to honor my own.

And in the end I’ll go with whatever works best.

Peace.  – T

Outdoor painting with Grandpa

Outdoor painting with Grandpa

Nature walk through Wegerzyn Gardens with Auntie N

Nature walk through Wegerzyn Gardens with Auntie N

Making memories at the aquarium!

Making memories at the aquarium!

Terri Got Her Groove Back

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Spring is officially here (well at least in Ohio it is).  My surgery is done.  I have no more treatments scheduled or drugs to take.  I’m feeling good.  Ready to leap forward & embrace life.  Got myself a new pixie haircut and am starting to feel like I’m getting my groove back again.  Hallelujah!

Saw my oncologist Dr. K this week.  He agreed that my NY surgical team did a great job on my breasts.  Said everything else looked fine.  We did some blood work that my naturopath requested to monitor the nattokinase i’m taking (in lieu of the coumadin to prevent more blood clots).  Still don’t have the results on that yet but i’m assuming all is good.  I’m not feeling any of the blood clot signs…  No pain or swelling in my legs.  No shortness of breath.  No headaches.  Knock on wood…

Dr. K asked if I had gotten my period again and I was thrilled to tell him “Yes!” (I’ve only had 3 visits from ‘aunt flo’ since i was diagnosed in November 2011).  To me, getting my period again is a signal that my body is finally starting to re-balance itself.  Detoxing the chemo and other meds.  Getting back to normal.

But of course in the estrogen positive breast cancer world getting your period is something you don’t want.  And Dr. K said as much, encouraging me to consider options like surgery & more meds to permanently put my ovaries out of commission and end my periods once & for all.  I nodded politely, murmured a few “I knows” under my breath, but thought secretly in my head, “No way!”

No way am I going back to menopause land at age 38!  No way am I going back to a world where sex is painful and devoid of pleasure!  No way am I giving up this recent upsurge in my sex drive that actually has me wanting sex with my husband for the first time in almost 2 years!  No way am I going back to hot-flashes, brain fog, night sweats, and sleep problems!  Screw that!  Nobody talks about the sexual side effects of cancer.  But we so need to.

Luckily Dr. K is open to the work I’m doing with my naturopath to naturally lower and re-balance my estrogen levels.  Although western medicine takes the approach that estrogen is bad and we need to remove it all from the body to prevent cancer from happening, the reality is much more complex.  In fact, there are 3 different types of estrogen in our bodies (Estrone, Estradiol, and Estriol).  The first two are more aggressive and associated with increased breast cancer risk when tested at high levels.  But the final type is very healthy and has anti-cancer properties.  So the goal is to lower the first two & boost the healthy one.  This can be done with diet (cruciferous vegetables, fiber, flax, fermented soy products), supplements (calcium d-glucarate, indole-3 carbinol, DIM), and avoiding unhealthy xeno-hormones which damage cells & lead to mutations & cancerous tumors (ie. pesticides, herbicides, & other chemicals in our food, household & beauty products).   Estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries but also in the adrenals and fat cells.  And those nasty xeno-hormones love fat cells!  So it’s really important to keep body fat to a minimum (one of the main reasons I’m looking to lose another 10 lbs).

The full story on hormones is of course way more complex than this.  Which is probably why most conventional doctors don’t address the issue in a more in depth manner.  It’s a lot of information.   Instead most offer the standard response: take Tamoxifen and suppress activity in your ovaries (either through surgery or more meds).  Period.

The last time I had my estrogen levels checked (through urine & saliva tests ordered by my naturopath) was almost 6 months ago.  At the time my Estradiol and Estrone levels were both at the very lowest end of the normal range (2.9 pg/mL and <0.3 pg/mL respectively) .  And my 2:16 hydroxyestrogen level was strong at 8.9 (ratios less than 2.0 indicate increased long-term risk for estrogen sensitive cancers).

So as long as my estrogen levels remain at healthy levels and my body continues to have no evidence of disease I will continue to say no to “preventative” surgery and medication.  And I’ll keep taking action the natural way instead.

Besides, I am loving the fact that I’ve got my groove back again after going for such a long time wondering if it would ever return (and I think hubby is loving it too 😉

Life is pretty good these days…  Having my dad here has been great for both me and Miss M.  She follows grandpa around all day.  Can’t wait to wake him up in the morning.  Requests that he be the one to read her bedtime stories.  Sits as close as possible to him at the dinner table, in the car, and everywhere else.  The two of them are a great pair…  Chatting away with each other.  Listening to each other’s goofy theories and stories.  And just being silly.  It’s adorable.  And it’s giving me a much needed break to write, rest, and have a few moments to myself.

On Monday the party gets even better with the arrival of our beloved Auntie ‘Cole who’s coming for a week-long visit.  Hooray!  Miss M is overjoyed to have one of her favorite “aunties” coming to town (as am I to have my best friend around for some good ol’ girlfriend bonding time).

So far, the recovery from this surgery has been a hell of a lot easier than the last one (for everyone involved).  And I am determined to make this surgery my last.  Although I am not in denial about the realities of metastatic disease, I am confident that I can beat the odds.  That I will continue to heal, grow, and thrive.  I have a strong belief that anything is possible.  And I refuse to live through a lens of fear.

Life is tough.  Shit happens.  Challenges are inevitable.  But I for one, am determined to let go of suffering & fear and stay in the groove instead.

Peace.  – T

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