Joy To The World – I’m Cancer Free!!!

The beaches of Playa del Carmen where we'll be in 6 short days!

The beaches of Playa del Carmen where we’ll be celebrating in 6 short days!

For those of you not on Facebook…   We have BIG news today…  Apparently I am now CANCER FREE!!!

I am still in a state of shock.  Although it is what I willed and wished to happen, it is still a little hard to believe.

This morning I received the results of last week’s bone scan and X-rays…  And indeed they are both clean!!!   Hallelujah!  We will continue to monitor the one potentially suspicious spot from the PET scan – which could be something or nothing at all.  But Dr K says I don’t have to do another set of scans until sometime this summer.

After leaving the doctor’s office I cried big tears of joy.  I smiled at the sky.  I thanked my mom.  I took some time to go for a walk in the woods and meditate under the trees.  The birds serenaded me from above.  I tried to wrap my head around the news.

Hubby and I decided to take a family vacation to the warm sunny beaches of Mexico to celebrate.  We leave on Monday.  I can’t wait!

But my journey is not over.  I must continue to stay on track with my diet, exercise, supplements, removal of toxins and chemicals, and deep psychological and spiritual work.  This is my new life.  These things are not optional.  They are necessary if I want to keep the cancer away.

Meanwhile, I continue to seek beauty in the every day moments.  As my Aunt Dori says, “… Find the joy in an ordinary day.”  Playing in the rain with Miss M…  Making hot pink homemade playdough (which turned out great)…   Staying present…  Being mindful.

One of the little things I really look forward to each day is my morning cup of tea.  I drink Yogi brand organic chai.  And each teabag has an inspirational message on it.  I get such pleasure from reading these.

Today’s message was, “We are here to love each other, serve each other, and uplift each other.”  How beautiful.

Along those lines…  I am psyched to join forces with Eryka Peskin who is offering a free month-long program of daily inspirations called “28 Days & 28 Ways to Jumpstart Your Abundance“.  Each day during the month of February she will email a thought, tool, or exercise to help bring more abundance and inspiration into your life.  The program starts this Friday – so sign up now.  It’s going to be amazing.  And I am one of the featured guests.  (See more about Eryka and the program below).  And yes, it is FREE!

I just want to thank everyone again from the bottom of my heart for your continued support – financially and emotionally.  Thanks to all those who traveled to Ohio to help us…  To those who organized, performed at, donated items, and attended the benefits held in my honour…  To everyone who reads this blog and sends me advice and encouragement…  To all the people who continue to chant, pray, and send healing vibes my way…   It worked.  It really worked.  I didn’t do this alone.  We all did it together.

Thank you.

Much love and deep gratitude,  – T

More about 28 Days and 28 Ways to Jumpstart Your Abundance…

Eryka Peskin is a licensed social worker, an abundance coach, a fierce
cheerleader, and a registered representative with a leading financial
services company. She is co-founder and director of the Red Tent
Women’s Project, an organization dedicated to empowering and educating
women and girls of all backgrounds. She combines all of these approaches
to support her clients in cultivating an abundance mindset and overcoming
their limiting beliefs and behaviors, because few things sadden (or
irritate!) her more than incredible people not living their lives to their
highest potential!

Find out how an abundant mindset can transform your relationship with your health, money, sensuality, love, work, outlook on life and more!  Check out Eryka’s FREE program 28 Days and 28 Ways to Jumpstart Your Abundance–she’ll show you how!  Details HERE:

Playing in the rain with Miss M

Playing in the rain with Miss M

The joys of home made play-dough!!

The joys of home made play-dough!!

The Scan Results Are In…

And basically, in my mind, the news is great!

The PET scan showed only two spots of concern and I am convinced that both these spots are related to inflammation and scar tissue from my mastectomy and ongoing breast expansion.   And everything else is clear.  :-)  Hooray!!!

The first spot is a lymph node measuring less than 1cm with an SUV rating of 2.2.  (Generally an SUV rating of 3 or below is considered inconsequential).  So I figure we can just go right ahead and cross that one off the list.  My oncologist agrees.  Done.

The second spot is in the subpectoralis region of my left breast at the top of my ribs at the site of my mastectomy.  It is 1.4cm and has an SUV value of 5.9.  My oncologist has ordered a bone scan and x-ray to evaluate the area further.  We’re not sure yet what to think about this spot.  Hopefully further scans will clarify what’s going on there.

But then, on my way to pick up Miss M from school after my appointment I was pouring over the scan results in my brain.  I remembered that tumors in previous PET scans all had SUV values of 13-16.  Nothing as low as 5 or 6.  Then it occurred to me that the lymph node that lit up was in the same area that I had a lymph node removed during my mastectomy.  Could it just be coincidence that I only had one lymph node removed during surgery and now only one lymph node, in the same area, was lighting up on the PET scan?  You know me, I don’t believe in coincidences.

So when I got home I started to do some research…  Turns out scar tissue and inflammation can cause false positives in PET scans up to 6 months after surgery.  One woman told how her PET scan lit up after surgery and the doctors ended up doing a biopsy of the area, thinking it was cancer, only to find out it was just scar tissue from her mastectomy.

I also looked up my old scans and realized previously suspicious areas with similar SUV ratings in the 5-6 range were dismissed with a simple note to keep an eye on the area in future scans.  And all of the seemingly suspicious areas disappeared in subsequent scans.

So now I am seriously thinking that both the areas are scar tissue and inflammation from my surgery.  Which means that in a roundabout way my scan was essentially clean.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it (until proven otherwise).

I also told Dr. K about my plans to take a break from the Herceptin.  His first question was why.  Although he did seem concerned, he did not try to talk me out of my decision.  I told him about my fears and presented my reasoning, to which he said that I offered a very good argument.  We agreed to take a break, at least till my next set of scans…  Then, who knows…

He also asked me yet again about my plans to take the estrogen repressing drugs Tamoxifen or Arimidex (as he does every time I see him).  And again, I told him I had no plans to take these drugs.  I’m not sure how many times I’m going to have to tell him before it sinks in.  Even when I told him about the good results of my hormone tests with the naturopath, he still encouraged me to consider having my ovaries removed as an alternative way of lowering the level of estrogen in my body.  I told him I’d think about it.  And I will.  I have been.

I truly love Dr. K.  He has been amazingly attentive, warm, caring, and open minded oncologist.  But I get the sense that he believes there is no way to keep cancer from spreading without the use of pharmaceuticals.  After agreeing to my sabbatical from Hereceptin and hormonal suppressing drugs, he asked if I was aware that the cancer may come back and spread if I don’t use these treatments.  And my response was, yes, I’m aware.  But I’m also aware of many women who do the treatments and have the cancer spread anyway.

I know everything can change in an instant.

But I keep coming back to the idea of uncovering the roots of why I got cancer in the first place.  Not just trying to cut off the infected rotting branches but addressing the roots of the tree, the soil, the environment, to ensure no more infected branches grow.

In my case, I am pretty confident in the knowledge of how my roots became diseased…  Ultimately, it was the combination of a bunch of different factors that eroded my soil and left me prone to disease…  The hormonal surges of pregnancy and breast feeding…  The incredible amount of stress I was under that severely compromised my immune system…  The fact that I started smoking cigarettes again…  All the horrible foods I stuffed in my face to deal with the stress and sadness…  The lack of exercise…  The 20+ pounds I packed on…  My poor coping skills…  My inability to ask for help…  Taking care of everyone else but myself…  Pretending like everything was ok when it so wasn’t…  And most importantly, the immensely heavy grief I carried from losing my mom to cancer…

It was the perfect storm.  A rare occurrence.  A convergence of factors that together left my body ravaged and vulnerable.  Each ingredient compounding with the next to send my previously dormant cancer cells into a flurry of activity.

These days, I think a lot about a question my therapist asked me…  When the next storm starts brewing (because we all know storms will come) – how will I handle things differently?

I think about this every day.  So I’m making changes.  Preparing for the storms.  Addressing the root causes.  Tending to the soil.  Changing the environment – both inside and out.  And this I believe will keep the cancer at bay way more effectively than just cutting off or treating the rotten parts of me and never addressing why I started rotting in the first place.

I encourage everyone to take stock of their lives.  Take a look at your roots.  Your soil.  Figure out what’s helping and what’s not.  Fortify yourself.  Nourish yourself.  Prepare.

Are your roots strong enough to make it through the storm?

Peace.  -T

The News Is In

And the news is both good and bad.

First, the good news…   My bone scan was clean and the PET scan showed no evidence of cancer in the bones, lymph nodes, organs, lungs, brain, or anywhere else in my body.  All the cancer is still contained in my left breast.  So it looks like we’re good to go for surgery next week.  Yay!!!

The bad news is that the cancer in my left breast has grown.  Both of the original tumors doubled in size since April.  PLUS – there is now a new tumor that has taken up residence in between the two old ones.  This was definitely not what I wanted to hear.  And it’s taken me all day to process the news.

Although I am genuinely happy to find out the cancer did not spread again, I was totally freaked out and upset by the fact that it was still growing.  To me, the cancer growth meant something wasn’t working.  What was missing?  What were we doing wrong?  What could we be doing better?  Maybe I need to try harder, eat better, exercise more…  Be more vigilant…  Cut out the occasional wine drinking all together…  Stop straying from my prescribed diet…  Make a renewed commitment to my meditation practice…  Be more conscious of my defenses and entrenched behavioural patterns…   Figure out the lessons that the cancer is here to teach me…

These thoughts tumbled through my head all day long.  I did a lot of crying and a lot of processing.  Thank god I also had my therapy appointment this afternoon and my breast cancer support group tonight – both of which allowed me the chance to process further, feel what I needed to feel, and ultimately end up in a better place.  Turns out I’m actually getting better at feeling the feelings instead of just stuffing them down.

And at the end of the day, I do recognize that the good in the situation outweighs the bad.  Next week I’ll be going in for surgery and will get all these tumors removed from my body.  Going forward, I will continue to do the necessary work to keep the cancer at bay.  And hopefully the future will bring many years of being cancer free.

Thanks to everyone for sending all the positive and supportive comments, emails, phone and text messages.  I feel the love.  And it is a beautiful thing.  I couldn’t make it through this journey without you.

Warm hugs,  – T

The Waiting Game

Splashing in puddles & dancing in the rain with Miss M

Tomorrow I find out the results of my most recent set of scans.  The results determine a whole host of things – most importantly whether or not surgery is still an option.  As long as the cancer has not grown or spread since my last scan in April I’m good to go for the mastectomy.

Friday marked the end of this round of tests and scans (5 in all) and since then I’ve just been trying not to get caught in the “scanxiety” trap.

On top of all my breast cancer exams, my dermatologist also removed a suspicious mole from my head at my appointment on Friday.  So now I’m waiting on the results of that biopsy too.  Of course the potential for having skin cancer (yet again) seems minor in comparison to having stage 4 breast cancer.  If it can’t kill me – then who cares?!??  Basal cell carcinoma I laugh at you!  I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

So what am I doing to stave off all the ‘scanxiety’?  Just trying to be in the moment.  Trying to have fun…  Spending time with my girlfriends…  Dancing in the rain with Miss M…  Going on mini retreats with hubby…  Making time for the people I love…  Reading books for pleasure (instead of just books about cancer)…  Watching trashy reality TV…  Going for rides on hubby’s new motorcycle…  Trying to be in the here & now and not allow my mind to wander to the place of “what if”.

One thing I’ve noticed lately is that by taking care of myself again – making fun a priority, meditating, listening to my heart, honoring my spirit, communing with nature, working on my mental mess – I’m finding important lessons everywhere I look.  For the longest time I couldn’t see these lessons.  I was too caught up in the stress of my life, getting through the day, being there for everyone else and not taking the time to step back, pause, and see what was all around me.  Now I see the lessons everywhere…   In my everyday tasks… In the trees and the sky…  Even in the shows I watch on TV (yes, even the trashy ones! :-).

This past weekend hubby and I went to Harmony Farm for a couples massage & mini-retreat to celebrate our 9 year anniversary.  While there I took a walk through the beautiful brick & stone labyrinth they have on site.  As I slowly made my way along the path to the center of the labyrinth I noticed how each time I looked too far ahead I lost my balance and went off the path.  I realized the key to staying centered was to just focus on what was right in front of me.  And I realized how that was a metaphor for life.  When I try to look too far ahead into the future it gets me nowhere.  To stay balanced I must remain in the moment and focus on today (and maybe tomorrow) but not much further than that.

In my own path to healing I am reminded again and again just how important it is to be still.  To quiet the mind.  To leave space for the lessons to appear.  And try not to look too far ahead.

Peace.  -T

Receiving the lesson from the labyrinth at Harmony Farm

Miss M trying out the new motorcycle

Let The Scans Begin!

Tomorrow commences the scanning ritual I must now endure every 4 months for the rest of my life.  Except this time around I’ve got some extra scans thrown in for my surgery prep.  It’s so freakin’ time consuming.

My schedule tomorrow includes a 10am injection (for my afternoon bone scan), an 11am psychotherapy appointment (in another town), a 1pm bone scan, and then a routine EKG and chest x-ray.  Insane!

The week continues with an MRI and PET scan.  Plus, I have an appointment to visit my dermatologist for my 6-month check-in to make sure the VERY early stage melanoma I had surgery done on in 2008 does not come back.

On top of this, I’m trying to coordinate all the details and paperwork for my upcoming surgery on September 13th in NYC…  Filling out medical forms…  Fedexing scan reports…  Obtaining biopsy samples…  Coordinating temporary housing referrals…  Booking flights…  Figuring out logistics…  Getting blood-work done…  It’s never ending.

I don’t even know how I’m feeling about the surgery itself.  I haven’t had the time to just sit and think about what it’ll be like.  Or maybe I’m purposefully trying to NOT think about what it will be like.  How scary this is.  How much pain I’m going to be in.  How incapacitated I’ll be.

Instead, I just keep focusing on the here & now.  What I have to get done in the next 24 hrs.  The fun moments and memories that are constantly evolving around me.  The beauty in the sunset.  The beauty of my daughter.  The beauty of nature.  The beauty in celebrating my 9 year wedding anniversary.  The beauty of being back home in Ohio and sleeping in my own bed, next to my husband.

It’s so much more fun to think about the beauty that’s all around me in the present moment than to think about the pain and stress of my upcoming surgery.

At my last reiki appointment with Renee she brought me the tarot card of Power or Strength (Renee pulls a new card from her tarot deck each week to give to her clients as a spiritual check-in and reminder of where you’re at).  Reading the power card refocused my energy and reminded me to continue on my path.  It spoke to my unlimited power as a spiritual being and how keeping my body, mind, soul, and spirit balanced can help me overcome any obstacle in life.

As long as I do my best to stay balanced – take care of myself, relax, have fun, eat well, exercise, meditate – I can deal with everything else.  It’s only when I’m not attending to my basic needs and internal balance that I get off kilter, feel stressed, have all sorts of pains, and get overly anxious about everything.

But now when I feel myself veering off course and reaching my tipping point, the new Terri makes a conscious effort to re-balance as quickly as possible.  It’s not easy.  But I’m trying.

Maybe it’s time we all take a step back and assess how balanced we truly are and try to realign ourselves before we get so unbalanced that we topple over.

As I go through the next few weeks, I know that remaining balanced is key.  I also know that through my connection to ‘The Universe’ I have the power to make it through anything.  We all do.

Peace.  – T

Pulling It Together

Miss M and I have arrived.

After a hellish flight from Dayton to Vancouver (including a 6 hour layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and an arrival time of 2am into Vancouver – 5am Ohio time – thank God Auntie ‘Cole was there to pick us up) we are now happily settled at Grandpa’s house on Bowen Island. Miss M and I are overjoyed to be spending time with some of our favorite people… The sun is shining (a rarity around these parts)… The air smells delicious… The birds are chirping… The views of the ocean and mountains are breathtakingly beautiful. It feels good to be back.

The latest news on the cancer front, is that my most recent echocardiogram showed a decrease in my heart functioning (from 60-65% down to 50-55%). Any lower than that and I may want to consider discontinuing the Herceptin. But for now my oncologist Dr. K says not to worry – So i’m trying not to. Apparently my base level when I was first diagnosed was close to the level I’m at now. Guess I have to bump up the cardio and interval training a bit. If anyone has thoughts about how to keep my ticker healthy please send ’em my way.

Dr. K also mentioned that if, after surgery, I remain tumor free for the next few sets of scans we may be able to stop with the Herceptin anyway. Although metastatic patients are often on Herceptin indefinitely, earlier stage breast cancer patients usually take the drug for just one year post-surgery. Apparently, now that I have responded so well to treatment, I could possibly be treated in a similar fashion. Sounds good to me!

The other news is that I have a date for my breast surgery: Thursday September 13th – at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC.

Between now and then I have to do a ton of things to prep for the surgery, including a PET scan, bone scan, MRI, EKG, complete physical, and extensive blood work. All of which will be done in Ohio when I get back from my trip to Vancouver at the end of the month.

Plus I still have to coordinate all the logistics – travel plans, care schedules, Hubby’s paperwork to request medical leave, recovery aftercare… But I continue to trust that the details will work themselves out. That the Universe (and my mom) will help me pull it all together.

And as I contemplate all these details, I am once again reminded of just how amazing my support team is. As I prepare for the next chapter in my breast cancer journey I am so appreciative and grateful for the people in my life that continue to help me (and Miss M and Hubby) through it all. I know that a big part of why I am still alive today and feeling healthy is because of your support. Thank you!!!

I also understand that support is a two-way street. Even if someone wants to give support the other person must be willing to receive it. And having breast cancer has definitely challenged me to let go of a lot of unhealthy behaviours – One of the biggest being my ability to ask for help and openly receive it. But also to not try to do it all by myself… To speak my mind… And say ‘No’ to the things that bring me down instead of lifting me up.

I encourage us all to take stock of our lives and the energies that surround us on a day-to-day basis. To work on letting go and distancing ourselves from the “haters”, the negativity, the people and things that drain us and bring us down instead of lifting us up and contributing to our ability to be the best and most authentic person we can be.

It’s an ongoing task but one I am committed to making. And I thank you all for supporting me on this journey of self-discovery.

Peace. – Terri