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.