Making Peace With My New Normal

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My heart is fluttering. My heart is aching.

I am sitting on the Amtrak train heading to NY… Heading towards my next surgery (hubby and I check in at 8:30am tomorrow morning)… And heading away from my family, friends, and my darling Miss M. Sigh… I miss her already.

Miss M and I had a fabulous weekend in Massachusetts. Spending time with those we love… Playdates, sleepovers, nature walks, chit chat, lots of hugs & laughter, and some much needed time by the ocean…

Yesterday, she and I spent 2 hours at the beach just playing, running around, collecting sea glass & shells, and meditating on the ocean waves. I shed a few tears thinking about my mom. Feeling her presence around me. And I also felt a profound intuitive knowing that everything was going to be ok. The surgery. The recovery. The aftermath. The years ahead. It was the same knowing I felt on the beaches of Long Island in the weeks after my initial diagnosis back in 2011. Feeling the Universe’s support. A profound sense of peace and reassurance. An understanding and acceptance of the fight ahead and the ongoing struggle… But at the same time, a level of trust that the path will bring more good than bad. More beauty than pain.

I am learning to live with this disease. Learning to accept my new normal. Getting better at navigating the ups & downs. Better at finding the balance between the two worlds I live in – The “normal” world & the metastatic cancer world.

When people ask if I plan on maintaining my new complicated way of living (the diet, exercise regime, supplements, alternative therapies) for the rest of my life, the answer is always YES. It is my new normal. My medicine. And I’d much rather live this new complicated life than be forever popping pills and IV’ing pharmaceuticals with nasty side effects.

And it’s usually only when I travel, that I realize how complicated or different my new normal is compared to how everyone else lives. Especially when it comes to my diet. As my cousin puts it, “Your bad days are my good days.” This coming after I lamented the bloat & sluggishness i felt from indulging in multigrain tortilla chips and a glass of red wine.

This is the balancing act I face for the rest of my life. One foot in the normal world and one foot out. Going through my days like anyone else, yet forever hearing the reminder, deep inside me that I have a terminal illness lurking, stalking, ready to pounce, ready to take over at a moment’s notice. Forever carrying containers of supplements everywhere I go. Forever struggling to find restaurants where I can eat. Forever wondering if each ache & pain is something more serious. Forever anticipating the results of scans and blood work. Forever knowing that I must remain vigilant in my fight.

Yet, all that being said, i truly feel that cancer has brought me to a better place. I like the new person I am becoming. I feel more at peace, more grateful, more in love with life than I have in a long time. While I still would never call cancer a gift, I can see the gifts that cancer has brought me.

And it’s funny how when you’re able to see the gifts and lessons contained in life’s toughest moments, the world suddenly expands and your place in it becomes rich with possibility.

So here’s to life’s possibilities, uncovering gifts, and finding balance in an uncertain world.

I’ll try to write again as soon as I can after the surgery to let ya’ll know how it went.

Cheers. -T

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Making Peace With the Unknown

Nature walk at Harmony Farm

Nature walk at Harmony Farm

“When you are in tune with the unknown, the known is peaceful.”  – quote from my Yogi chai tea this morning

This has been one of the bigger lessons on my cancer journey – Accepting the unknown and releasing the urge to control.  In doing so, I have come to a greater sense of peace.  Both with the unknown and the known.

I know I have surgery in 9 days.  The plane tickets are booked.  The housing arranged (thanks to the Hope Lodge in Manhattan and my Aunt & Uncle on Long Island).  My support team is lined up – Hubby is taking off from work to be by my side, my Massachusetts team is taking over on “mom” duty with Miss M, and Grandpa is flying from Bowen Island to help out post-surgery.  I know my surgeon plans to use LMA sedation and remove my chemo port while he’s in there.  I know today is the first day I’ve been without blood thinners since October (which is thrilling & terrifying at the same time).  And tonight is my last round of vitamins & supplements until after the surgery.

I also recognize that all of these seemingly “known” pieces of my life can change in a flash.  So I keep taking it as it comes.  Preparing for the immediate task at hand.  Thinking about the future – but not carving it out in stone.

Instead of stressing or worrying about the surgery I’m just staying focused on today.  Focused on this week.  Focused on the joyous weekend we have ahead of us in Massachusetts with our favorite people…  Visiting, going to shows, having sleepovers.  Miss M is beyond excited.  Our daily countdown to Friday’s departure elicits a loud “yippee” and a megawatt smile from her each time we talk about it.

Lately, Miss M is talking more and more about her feelings.  Her concerns about the surgery.  Her hatred of the cancer.  Her fear about me dying.  I’m just so happy she’s sharing this stuff with me now.  I know it helps that I’m talking to her about everything much more openly now too.

Our new morning ritual is to answer a question from the fantastic 3-year journal of Q&A for kids that cousin J from Astoria sent us – (thanks again J!).   Each day Miss M and I eat breakfast and ponder our answers to that day’s question.

Yesterday’s question was:  What do you try to forget about but can’t?

Miss M’s Answer:  “I don’t want to remember your cancer.”

Then a few days ago, during one of our kitchen dance parties Miss M started singing her own tune…  And I quote:

Go away cancer…   We don’t like you cancer…  We fight you cancer”  Belting it out at the top of her lungs to some make-believe tune that she made up while we shook our booties all around the kitchen.  It was priceless.

Yes, she’s still clingy.  Yes, she still has tantrums.  Yes, she still drives me crazy.  And yes, I still worry about her.  But less and less so lately.  I am putting into practice a lot of the parenting advice everyone’s offered.  I am sticking to my guns.  Not letting guilt fuel me.  Trying not to baby Miss M or solve all her problems.  Talking openly about what’s going on.  Taking her to therapy.  Taking her to more of my medical appointments (I even brought her in for a reiki session with me at Harmony Farm because she was so curious).  So far, it seems to be working.  So thanks to each and everyone one of you for your suggestions.  I am listening.  And it is working.

I finally feel that life is heading in a positive direction.  For the first time in a really, really long time.

At Friday’s appointment with my Oncologist he actually used the word REMISSION!  And called me his ‘miracle patient’.  Damn that feels good!

And while i know there are no guarantees, I am much more in tune with the unknown these days, and it makes dealing with the every day dramas and “knowns” of life (like surgery) so much easier.

Peace.  – T

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Checking out the animals after the Easter egg hunt at a nearby church.

Checking out the animals after the Easter egg hunt at a nearby church.

The Elasticity of Time

Outside the Neptune Diner on our wedding day - March 25, 2003

Outside the Neptune Diner on our wedding day – March 25, 2003

What a weird & emotional week it’s been.  Full of travel, sickness, milestones, pure joy, memories, and anniversaries…  To name a few.

Plus, I have now officially entered the “surgery prep” zone.

This morning I had my pre-surgery breast ultrasound…  In the exact same room that I found out I had breast cancer back in November 2011.  With the same technician.  She said she remembered me and asked how I was doing.   I still experienced the same nervous energy when she exited the room to consult with the doctor after the scan.  But today, unlike in 2011, the doctor did not come in the room when she returned.  Always a good sign.  This time the news is good.  My ultrasound does not show anything of concern.  Phewww…

Early last week I took a quick 24 hour trip to NY to meet with my plastic surgeon & my naturopath to discuss surgery prep and recovery.  My plastic surgeon assured me the procedure should be less severe than the last.   The surgery will be outpatient.  I will receive a “lighter” form of anesthesia   And I should be able to resume my normal activities much quicker.  My naturopath tweaked my diet and supplements.  Talked about my energy and stress levels.  And outlined her natural blood thinning strategy for post-surgery and beyond.

And now for the big news…  Drum roll please…  I finally get to stop taking Coumadin!!!!  Woohoo!

Friday I see my oncologist Dr. K to complete pre-surgery blood work and discuss my transition off blood thinners.  It’s been 6 months since they found the blood clot in my lung.  Of course going off Coumadin is both amazing and terrifying.  Every time I have problems breathing, a tickle in my throat, a cough that won’t let up, or a pain in my leg I wonder, “Is it that damn blood clot again?!?!”  But after surgery I will receive Heparin injections (another blood thinner).  And then start implementing my naturopath’s plan that I will stay on long-term.  So I’ll still be doing something to keep my blood levels in check.

The past week also brought with it two very joyful days…  Both revolving around anniversaries.

On Sunday Miss M and I went to the Dayton Ballet’s 75th Anniversary performance.  Miss M was transfixed (well, at least for the first 45 mins).  It was her first time at the ballet.  I watched her follow the dancers around the stage with her eyes.  And felt tears welling up in my own eyes as I thought of my mom and felt her presence around us.

I felt my mom’s energy strongly again yesterday – On my anniversary – When Hubby and I celebrated 10 years of marriage.  Wow!  A decade together already!

It was back in March 2003 that hubby and I sealed the deal in a two-minute civil ceremony at City Hall in Manhattan.  My mom & dad were the only guests.  Afterwards we dined at the Neptune Diner in Astoria – right under what was then the Astoria Blvd stop of the W & N trains.  I was 28.  Just back from teaching in Taiwan.  Working in advertising.  Submitting applications for grad school.  Hubby was a 26 year old illegal immigrant from Brazil with a sexy accent.  Driving a delivery truck during the day while attending college at night.

I’m pretty sure my family had its doubts about us.  But here we are.  Ten years later.

Our marriage has definitely had its ups & downs.  Hubby drives me crazy.  He pushes my buttons.  He calls me out on my shit.  And yet I love him.  When the chips are down he is there for me.  When I gain 30 lbs he still tells me I’m beautiful.  He accepts me for who I am & doesn’t try to change me.  When I’m diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer he assures me he isn’t going anywhere.

Time is such an elastic concept.  Expanding and contracting.  Abundant one day & scarce the next.  It can seem like forever and yet go by in a flash.  I can hardly believe I’ve been married for a whole decade…  That it’s been 16 months since I was diagnosed…  Almost 4 years since Miss M was born…  And almost 3 years since my mom died…

Where does the time go?

It is yet another reminder to enjoy the present moment.  Live fully.  Waste no time.  Dive in.  Don’t hold back.  Because time waits for no one.

Peace.  – T

At the alter

At the alter.

Waiting our turn at city hall.

Waiting our turn at city hall.

So Now What?

The great big sky

The great big Ohio sky

So now what?  I find myself asking that question a lot lately.

I’m feeling better – so now what?  I’ve gotten rid of the cancer – so now what?  All major crises are temporarily diverted – so now what?

Even though I’m in the midst of figuring out logistics for my next surgery (now set for April 10th) and my treatment is technically not complete yet, I feel different.  Like I’m ready to step into my new life.  Start the next chapter.

Finding out that my cancer is gone is of course a major catalyst in my new zest for life.  For the last year I refused to commit…  To people.  To plans.  To projects.  My vigilant focus on remaining in the moment kept me sane.  It helped me stay away from dwelling on the uncertainty of my future or the possibility of my own death.  It helped me conserve energy for the fight.  But it also stopped me from living a life outside of cancer.

Now I feel free to consider life beyond the moment.  To make plans for my future.  To make commitments to causes and projects I once believed in.  To take steps towards creating an inspired life.  A life worth living for.

I recently joined forces with some local social workers – to offer my own social work experience and knowledge and help them birth a promising new non-profit…   I signed up for Marie Forleo‘s B-School with the hopes of gaining some clarity about my own career…   I’m entertaining the thought of writing professionally…  I’m using therapy sessions to explore my passions…  I’m starting to believe that it is possible to make a living doing something you totally love.

The whole process is fascinating now because I feel like a different person.  Having breast cancer and facing death changed me.  Better yet, I chose to change.  I refused to allow this horrific experience to break me.  Instead, it infused me with a new drive to live.  It awakened me to the infinite possibilities contained in living.  It is driving me to live the best life possible.  Reconnecting me with my authentic self.  And arming with new-found strength, inspiration, and self-awareness that I know will enable me to give back to the world in a way I wasn’t capable of doing before.  It’s all so exciting!

I have found that there are many ways to respond to life’s horrors.  And I have tried quite a few over the years…  From deep denial and numbing myself with drugs after being raped at age 21…  To pushing down my feelings and running on pure fumes after my mom died in 2010…  But this time, I decided to try something new.  I elected to face the horror head on.  To feel the terror and still go on with life.  To take the difficult steps necessary to transform myself from within.  And actively try each day to use the horror as a lesson on living.

For all of you out there facing your own personal horrors…  You can make it through.

Ask for help…  Search within…  Love yourself…  Face your demons…  Make peace with the struggle…  Seek to discover why the horror has come to you…   Ask “So what now?”…  Then use the journey as a starting point for a new way of living.

Peace.  – T

 

Giving Thanks

Beautiful NYC skyline as seen from the Chrysler Building.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Luquis

Wow!  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything.  Don’t worry, nothing is wrong.  I haven’t been in the hospital.  No new health concerns.  All is good actually.  I’ve been feeling more like my old self.  Enjoying life.  Feeling grateful.  I can’t pinpoint what has changed (if anything) but the cloak of depression is lifting.

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving and I realize I have much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my most recent trip to NYC.  Appreciative of the fact that I’m able to travel back and forth for treatment.  Thankful for the kind and caring family I have there who never get tired of my visits.  Grateful for the time by myself.  To regroup.  Reconnect.  And remember who I was before cancer…  Before I was a mother…  Before I left the Big Apple…

I am grateful that my plastic surgeon wants to hold off on doing my next (and final) surgery.  He says it’s best for me to complete the recommended 6 months on blood thinners before we stop them to do another procedure.  To do otherwise would be tempting fate and putting me at risk for yet another (potentially fatal) blood clot.  Fine by me.  I’m happy to have more time to strengthen & fortify my body before undergoing surgery again.  Happy for the time to explore the suggestions of my naturopath.  Happy to have a few months free to just live life.

I am grateful for my oncologist Dr. K who continues to work with me instead of against me.  Although uncertain about my choice to forgo hormonal therapy (he wants me to start taking Arimedex) Dr. K recognizes that I am not making my decisions blindly.  And he admits that he doesn’t have all the answers and may learn a thing or two from me.  And I appreciate his approach of taking things slowly.  After months of not taking Herceptin we’ve agreed to start again, but slowly – Going back to the weekly dose instead of doing three times that amount every 3 weeks.  So I am set to start my Herceptin infusion again next week.

I am grateful for my husband who always has my back.  Our path has not been an easy one.  Yet, together we seem to be able to ride out the storms.  Our foundation is solid.  His love unwavering.  Our connection deep.  We’re still able to find the humour in life.  Always asking each other, “Are we having fun yet?”  Accepting each other for who we are – the good and the bad.  Looking forward to many, many more years together.

I am grateful for my beautiful daughter who keep me on my toes.  Keeps me laughing.  Helps me stay centered in the moment.  Forces me to cultivate patience and forgiveness.  Allows me to see the world through a different set of eyes.  And reminds me what true unconditional love feels like.

I am grateful for the never ending support of those around me.  First & foremost from my family and close friends…  But also from my little suburban Ohio community…  From the ladies in my young women with breast cancer support group…  From those in the blogging world…  From complete and total strangers…  Those who know me, know how fiercely independent I am.  But there is NO WAY I can fight this battle alone.  Having this support means the world to me.

Of course I am grateful for the basic necessities of life as well…  Our home.  The food in the fridge.  The car with enough gas to get where I need to go.  The clothes that keep me warm.  The freedom to come and go as I please.  Having spent a good chunk of time over the last few years essentially homeless, rotating from house to house, and living below the poverty level, I will never take these things for granted.

And I am grateful that right now I feel good.  I am exercising again.  Regaining strength in my left side.  Not experiencing pain anywhere else in my body.  I can walk.  I can sleep through the night.  I can think clearly.  All the other minor problems I can deal with.

With Thanksgiving upon us the time is ripe for taking a few moments to give thanks.  What are you thankful for?

Peace and love,  – T

My new writing space – In the bedroom closet! The only space I could find in our forever guest filled home that offered some peace and quiet and privacy. :-)

Enjoying beautiful moments in nature with Miss M and the ‘in-laws’.

Finding Happiness at The Sweetest Place on Earth

Our host Cheryl, Auntie L, Auntie ‘Cole, and me loving life at Sugarland!
Photo credit: Heather Pelz

Tractoring around Sugarland.
Photo credit: Heather Pelz

Eating apples off the tree. Yum!
Photo credit: Heather Pelz

I’ve just spent the most amazing weekend with a bunch of fantastic people on a gorgeous farm on Salt Spring Island. Pure heaven.

The magic began on the journey there, when Miss M, Auntie L, Auntie ‘Cole, and I took a tiny 12-seater float plane from Vancouver to Salt Spring Island. Taking off and landing on the water… What an experience. And the views of the mountains rising up into the sky, the majestic ocean with the boats criss-crossing below us, the islands, and the sun blasting through the clouds… Wow! And then to arrive at Sugarland Farm and be greeted by the most amazing hosts… Watching Miss M run around barefoot with all the kids, playing freely, having fun… Going around the farm, picking fruit right off trees and eating it… Fresh apples, berries, plums, figs… It was like being in another world.

They call Sugarland Farm the ‘sweetest place on earth’, and I couldn’t agree more.

While I was there I had a great conversation with one of our hosts about finding happiness. Neither of them ever imagined they would be running a farm on Salt Spring Island. But they are finding such happiness there. It really speaks to them. And more importantly – speaks to what they want in life.

We spoke of how so many of us continue down a path that is not truly in line with what we want. Whether it’s choosing a certain profession or college major to please your parents… Buying lots of “stuff” because media/neighbours/friends/family (fill in the blank) say you need these things to be happy… Living in the city when you really want to be living in the country… Endlessly saying ‘yes’ to everyone’s requests when you really want to say ‘no’…

It is so important to get clear about what is important.

For our hosts, happiness was waiting in the simple pleasures of farm living. Getting back to the land. Raising a family. Living in nature. Growing their own food.

Talking on skype with hubby the other day, we agreed to get out there and have fun – now. Not to wait. To figure out what makes us happy and just do it. Not to wait till next month or next year. Do it now. Take that vacation. Get a babysitter and go out dancing. Buy a motorcycle. Spend time with people you love. Travel.

Having metastatic breast cancer has definitely taken my life in a very different direction. But I also see that it has brought me to a better place. It is forcing me to look at myself. Reevaluate my priorities. Ask the big questions. Figure out what I want. I will never say that having cancer is a gift. But i recognize how having cancer has woken me up and redirected my path in a good way.

Thank you Sugarland for the magic and the memories. And for reminding me to go after what’s important.

Peace. -T

PS – The folks at CBC mentioned that people in the US might have difficulty accessing the radio interview I did on the Fear Itself program. So if you’re having problems, here is another link to try:
CBC – Fear Itself mp3

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