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

Returning to Chemoland

My 39th Birthday lunch with Auntie L & Miss M.   Looking swollen already.

My 39th Birthday lunch with Auntie L & Miss M. Looking swollen already.

I’ve been sucked into a vortex.  A seemingly endless space of sadness, self-pity, and pain.  It’s no fun living in this space.  I’ve been here before.  I don’t want to be here again.  And yet I can’t seem to pull myself out.  Out of the endless crying, the emotional eating, the depression, the self absorption.  I feel i’ve lost my spark.  My fight.  My mojo.  My inner warrior.

Sigh…

Three days ago I made the decision to move forward with more chemo.  I start today.

I’m not thrilled about the decision but feel it’s necessary at this point.  In the last 3 weeks the pain has gotten out of control.  My tumor markers rose from 90 to 245.  The circulation is practically cut off in my shoulder and arm.  Most mornings a few of my fingers are numb.  When i went to put up Miss M’s hair in a ponytail for ballet class the other day I couldn’t twist the elastic with my left hand.  My entire left arm is swollen.  Cancer swollen.  Swollen that reminds me of my mom’s body when the cancer took over and she was spiraling toward death.  I need help.  Hopefully chemo will be the help I’m looking for.

So off we go again to chemoland…

I had a new port surgically inserted into my chest Monday morning by a wonderful radiologist who did her medical training at NYU (instant brownie points).  As they wheeled me into the operating room, I felt the love, support, and prayers of everyone surrounding me and it brought tears to my eyes.    I was awake for the whole procedure (which I actually preferred) and the pain has been manageable with lots of good ol’ extra strength Tylenol.

Yesterday I went in for an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is strong enough to handle treatment.  Which has never been a problem before so I’m assuming it won’t be a problem now either.

Now this morning I meet with my oncologist and start chemo.  I’m set to do 2 of the 3 drugs I took the first time around (almost 2 years ago) – Taxotere and Herceptin.  I’ll be taking the medications through my port once a week.  We haven’t discussed end dates yet.  Right now I’m just trying to get the tumor load reduced before December so I can take my trip to Europe without being in pain.

Because let me tell you, being in pain completely sucks!  After living with chronic pain for the last 3 months I can sympathize with those suffering from painful chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia and arthritis.  My lord!  The pain just wears you down.  Takes away from your enjoyment of life.  How can you enjoy anything when your body is constantly screaming at you.  I just want to tell it to “shut the f*~k up!  Leave me alone!  Let me enjoy my walk in the woods, my meditation, my family dinner!”

And while I know it’s well & good to feel our feelings I also know that staying stuck in them is not healthy.  I know that negativity, stress, fear, and depression compromise my immune system and feed the cancer.  I can’t get stuck in this.  I’ve been here before.  In this depressed place.  I wrote about it on my blog here.  And I’ve pulled myself out before and I will do it again.

I watched a couple of clips from Oprah’s last Super Soul Sunday show with Kris Carr and Mark Nepo and their experiences with cancer last night.  You can watch the whole episode HERE, or just check out a couple of clips here:  Kris Carr and Mark Nepo.  I realize I need a lot more of this.  I need to surround myself with lessons, and wisdom, and gratitude, and acceptance, and spirit.  I feel most alive when I’m learning, growing, or connecting with other spiritual folks.  This is integral to who I am.  I need to make this a priority.

Although I have my doubts about the effectiveness of ALL forms of cancer treatment the one thing I never doubt is the importance of the mental and spiritual piece of healing.  I don’t think anyone can truly heal until they address the truth of their lives and come to a place of acceptance and understanding of the universe and their place in it.

I know I need to make life about living again and not just about avoiding death.  As Kris Carr said, I may never be “healthy” on paper but I can still be healed, healthy, and whole at my core.

Hopefully this chemo will kick my cancer back to the curb.  But i know I am the only one stopping myself from achieving my dreams and truly living life – for me.  Not for hubby, or Miss M., or the cancer.  For me.  It’s time I get out my own way.  Put the excuses aside.  Step out into the fear of the unknown.  And truly live life.

Here’s to living!!!!  – T

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Climbing Alice in Wonderland at Central Park

Climbing Alice in Wonderland at Central Park

It’s been a wild week!

With the housewarming party…  Auntie ‘Cole’s visit…  A quick bop up to Massachusetts…  A trip to my beloved NYC…  And a ton of appointments…  I definitely got off track.  Indulging a little too often…  Cheese, white bread, sugary desserts, a glass of wine or two or three…  Plus, not enough sleep and no time for meditation…  When I returned from NY a few days ago I was inflamed, tired, and in pain.  The sight of me triggered some serious fear in hubby.

We had a serious discussion – with him pushing me to do chemo or take meds and me totally confused about what to do.  I understand that ultimately, we all want the same outcome – for me to be alive and well.  The problem is that we just can’t agree on the best way to achieve that outcome.  I want to do this naturally.  Everyone else wants me to go the western medicine route.

Unfortunately, cancer is a very tricky and complex disease.  There is no one size fits all treatment plan that will work for everyone.  And despite all the advances in medicine the death rate from cancer is virtually unchanged since 1950.  Some live while others die.  There are no guarantees.

I know I have major decisions to make.  I recognize the severity of my diagnosis.  My head is not buried in the sand.  My decisions are not made lightly or uninformed.  There is plenty of research that support the choices I’m making.  And even if there wasn’t, the choice ultimately, is mine to make.  I am learning and changing.  And through it all I always try to keep an open mind.

I am very thankful for the few people that do support me…  My naturopath who gives me the 411 on how we are directly attacking certain cancer cells and their functions with supplements and herbs.  She is truly brilliant!  Plus my fabulous holistic nutritionist who continually fine tunes my diet to maximize cancer fighting foods and work within the parameters of my meds and food sensitivities (I just did the IgG test which showed my body is slightly allergic to lemon, pecans, avocado, pineapple, and broccoli.  Go figure!)  And then there’s my amazing acupuncturist who is constantly enlightening me about the meridians in our body, Chinese medicine, and the spiritual side of my cancer.  He sees the potential in me and believes I have the ability to heal myself naturally.

And as far as i’m concerned my plan is working.  I went for an ultrasound this week and the results confirmed no more blood clots!  Hooray!  So I’m continuing to wean myself off the Arixtra blood thinner with my oncologist while my naturopath re-introduces more blood thinning supplements.  The ultrasound also confirmed that the swelling in my chest and arm was inflammation just as I suspected.  And that my blood flow is constricted because my veins are pretty small and the tumors are pushing on them.

My acupuncturist has been documenting the size of my tumors as we go through treatment and one has decreased in size by half already.  This week I’ll be getting another blood test to check my tumor markers.  Fingers crossed that they’re still relatively low as well.

But one of the big lessons I learned over the last week is that if I plan to actively treat and heal myself naturally I really need to give this 110%.  There’s no pussyfooting around.  I gotta get hardcore.

Some of you may question how it’s even possible to get more hardcore than i already am.  Oh, it is totally possible.  Hubby challenged me to think about if I really am capable and willing to get that hardcore and after thinking about it for 24 hrs I decided i can and i will.  Completely cutting out sugar, alcohol, and refined carbs is not easy.  Especially for someone like me who is an emotional eater and uses food as a crutch to deal with stress and difficult situations.  But I am determined to try.

Yesterday, I had a great talk with Chris from Chrisbeatcancer.com.  He beat colon cancer without chemo 10 years ago and has a great website that showcases stories of natural healing and what he’s learned along the way.  He spoke about the four main causes of cancer (aside from genetics which only accounts for a small number of cancers) – Diet, Lifestyle Choices, Environmental Pollutants, and Stress.  He advised me to get stricter with the diet – Adding in lots more juicing and a diet of primarily raw fruits & veggies, cutting out ALL added sugar & processed foods, saying ‘no’ to certain people and activities, and giving myself the space to truly focus on healing.

So if I start saying “no” more often now you know why.  And I ask everyone to support me as I cut out the late nights and get to bed early.  Limit my travel to only well planned and spaced out trips.  Make time to exercise & meditate daily.  Avoid stress whenever possible.  And continue with my “weird” eating habits.

While a part of me is saddened that I can’t live my life like I used to – Pushing the limits and indulging whenever I want.  It’s all worth it to me if I can live without having to take endless pharmaceuticals that constantly wear down my body, contribute to my toxic load, and bring on undesirable side effects.

I will continue on this path and give it my all until my next set of scans in December when I return from my spiritual pilgrimage in Europe and decide what’s next at that point.

In the meantime I continue to search for the lessons in life.  To remain open to my healing journey in whatever form it takes.  And make a promise to myself not to make decisions from a place of fear.

Peace.  – T

Dylan's Candy Store NYC

Dylan’s Candy Store NYC

 

Peek-a-Boo at the park in NY with all its gritty glory

Peek-a-Boo at the park in NY with all its gritty glory