I know I promised I would write more about my chemo this week, and I started to but then realized how negative I was being. While its important for me to be honest, and I will be, it was putting me in kind of a bad place emotionally. My 2nd chemo was a less than pleasant experience for me, and was a pivotal moment for me in my treatment. I promise to put that information out there but I really wanted to write about something a little more fresh on my mind this week....and something much happier!!!
I have always believed that certain people cross our paths for a specific reason. Whether it is for 1 minute or for a lifetime. I am one of those people who looks back and really appreciates the timeline of events and the people that have gotten me to where I am today. While there are definitely some people in my life I probably could have gone without meeting...I know in some crazy way God put that person in my life for a reason.
I am going to back track to the very beginning of my journey when I was told by that doctor there was no way I had breast cancer. She might be one of those people who I wonder why God would put them in my life. I have convinced myself it is because it is my job to encourage her to pay more attention to her patients and to not let a patient walk out of your door with clear and obvious signs of breast cancer. I have to say this, though. There is a reason that she did not diagnosis me. She wasn't meant to diagnosis me. I wasn't meant to fall in the hands of her care. What came from her not diagnosing me, was a team of doctors who God strategically put in front of me. There is no doubt he had a plan in store for me. When I called this specific doctor and told them about the lump I found, I was told to wait 3 weeks. This was not acceptable to me. I wanted answers immediately. I have inherited the lovely ability to have zero patience what so ever and this would be the first time it actually benefited me. I called my old OBYGN that same day, was scheduled the next day and diagnosed within a week.
Where I was once bitter that this other doctor had shown such little concern for my health...I have now realized that it was for the sole reason that I would fall in to the hands of the most amazing team of doctors. I didn't realize this until after my double mastectomy and this is why...
I was diagnosed by a doctor at Oak Hills Women's Center in San Antonio which neighbors a breast reconstruction clinic called PRMA. I was then referred to Dr. Rosenthal who would be my general surgeon, who would refer me to Dr. Lang, my amazing oncologist, who would then refer me to my plastic surgeon back at PRMA. I will come back to my plastic surgeon in a minute because that becomes a pivotal moment in all of this. I was not the patient who went and got 2nd opinions. While I definitely encourage women to do that, I had my husband and family with me at almost all of my initial appointments and we loved my doctors and trusted them immediately. When it came time to talk more seriously about my surgery, as I neared the end of my chemo, Dr. Lang asked me if I had talked with a plastic surgeon yet. I replied that I had only been referred to PRMA but not a specific dr. The way that she presented Dr. Ledoux to me was in a way that I had no doubt, without even meeting him, that he was going to be the perfect doctor for me. I don't know that I can put this in to words but it was almost in a way that she was referring me to her best friend, someone she trusted, someone she knew who was going to be a perfect fit for me and my personality.
This would be the beginning of how all of this would come full circle for me. When we left our first appointment with Dr. Ledoux, we all got in the car and said...well what did you think? Needless to say, we all approved. I wouldn't actually see Dr. Ledoux again until the morning of my mastectomy. What's odd is that you meet these doctors only once or twice before this major surgery but somehow they become such a huge part of your life. The morning of my surgery Dr. Ledoux came in to the pre-op room and talked with me for a few minutes and right before we would go back he asked if he could say a prayer with my family and I. We all held hands and I really only remember him asking for God to guide his hands as he would perform this surgery that day.
Because the few times that I have seen Dr. Ledoux since then have been a little happier, I have never expressed to him what that moment meant to me. I was sitting in that pre-op room crying, scared out of my mind. When he said that prayer, I was calmed. I knew that God was going to pull me through this and in that 6 hours that I would be under anesthesia, that I was in the hands of the absolute best doctors possible.
As you know from previous posts, I have been going through the difficult emotions you face after such a "traumatic" experience having cancer. I attended my first support meeting last night which happened to be held at my plastic surgeons office at PRMA. My nurse, Jenny, had encouraged me to go because the woman speaking was a patient of hers and she knew our stories were very similar. As I sat there listening to Staci's story, I felt like I was talking to myself. About 1/4 of the way through her story she asked that we try and focus on the similarities in our journeys and not the differences. This is a piece of advice that I highly encourage anyone to follow as you read my blog, listen to other survivors stories, and even as you're telling your own story. We may not all share the same exact journeys but I believe we all share the same scary feelings when it comes to a breast cancer diagnosis.
What I took away from this meeting and from hearing Staci's story, is not something I am sure I can explain. She was close to the same age as me at diagnosis and is now 14 years free of cancer. Knowing that there IS HOPE, that it IS POSSIBLE, that cancer is NOT a death sentence...and hearing that come from someone who has gone through every emotion I have felt is extremely encouraging. I would speak with Staci after for awhile and I truly felt like I was having a conversation with my best friend. For the first time, since I was diagnosed, I was having a conversation with someone who fully understood every single emotion I had. There is a certain range of emotions that come along with being diagnosed in your early 30's and finally relating to someone on that level was an amazing moment.
"We meet people when we are suppose to, when the time is just right".
If my journey had not taken the exact path that it did, I have no idea where I would be right now. I cannot say enough about my doctors or my nurses. I now feel as though they have become such a huge part of my life. They aren't just my doctors, they are my protectors, they are my guides, and I feel as though my nurses have become my friends. I don't know that I ever really appreciated the role of my doctors so much as I do now. Sure they receive a huge paycheck for what they do, but the compassion that comes along with that is not something you can put a price tag on. It takes a very special person to display that to someone going through such a difficult time in their lives. For my nurse, Jenny...her job isn't to listen to my emotional problems but she did. She knew that I needed to hear Staci's story and it all came at the perfect time. There is something to be said for that special attention that a doctor or nurse puts towards their patients.
Had I not been falsely diagnosed by the first doctor, I never would have met Dr. Anca...who would put me in the hands of the best surgeon for me...Dr. Rosenthal, who would send me to the best oncologist for me...Dr Lang, who would then place me in the hands of the most amazing plastic surgeon...Dr Ledoux and amazing nurse...Jenny who would introduce me to a women who I am confident will encourage me to life my life and find myself again. It was that part of her story that really spoke to me. In my mind, I had referred back to a few weeks ago when I wrote about finding your routine again post cancer. I am pretty sure I was just sitting there smiling, shaking my head "YES" the entire time. While I have sat here and wondered how I will find the routine, what will that routine be, who will I be after cancer, I realized that I don't have to answer that question right now. Right now, I just need to live and enjoy being alive. Its amazing how one person, and one hour can change your way of thinking. I am thankful for every single person who has been a part of this journey so far and I look forward to meeting so many more women, sharing my story, and encouraging women in a way that Staci has encouraged me.
With all this being said, I highly encourage anyone reading this to attend local support meetings. If the first one doesn't work out, try something else. There are tons of resources out there and so many options available to you. I am learning of new organizations daily. Whether it be through social media, going to support groups, or doing my own online research. It took me awhile to admit that I needed to attend a support meeting but it was clearly the best decision I could have made. You don't have to be ashamed or feel like its a sign of weakness. I spoke with a few women last night and I swear I could have sat there for hours sharing stories and laughing with them. Regardless of their age, we all share a very scary and life altering experience with one another. Most importantly, you NEVER know who you are going to meet along the way or what roll that person will take in your journey.
I am certain of one thing though. God has put some very special people in my life and I will forever be grateful for them all. I am certain if you look back at the people you have crossed paths with you will find purpose in every single one of them. I hope you have the opportunity to meet someone who inspires you, brings happiness, and gives you hope for your own personal journey.
I didn't wake up planning on writing this. I woke up planning on driving 10 minutes to get my favorite coffee, working out, and then going to the doctor this afternoon. Every way I could have possibly gone to get my Caramel Monkeyata, was backed up in traffic. I kept turning around, trying to find a faster way. None worked. I think this was God's way of making his presence in my life this morning. Though I have never questioned what I am about to type...it was a pleasant reminder of many feelings and words, of which, need to be said.
As I was driving, taking my 10 different routes to get a simple little coffee, I put on my favorite artist, Sara Bareilles. Honestly, I have listened to this CD 10,396 times. I randomly put on a song called "I just want you". I listened to every single word of the song and couldn't help but lose it. By lose it, I mean, I couldn't see the road while I was driving because I was crying so hard. Don't worry, Mom, I'm home safe...typing this of course. Of the many times I have listened to this song...for some reason this morning...it took me to an amazing place that reminded me of something so important that cannot be left unsaid.
One side of this song made me think of my faith in God throughout my cancer. I have asked many times for him to continue to make his presence in my life, to give me strength to find simplicity again. As the song says:
"Give me a heart to hold the godlike truth
Give me one good soul that I can tell it through
Give me good reason to believe in you
And give me strength if you have time"
"Saying “Give it all back, it don’t mean a thing”
You got a short-lived life and a song to sing
And the only way up is believing
And never looking down"
I am so fortunate to have everything in life that I DO have. I have to pull away these thoughts that anything was every taken from me. I was and have been given so much in this life. For this, I am thankful and I will continue to remind myself of this daily. God put me in the hands of a man who took such great care of me through out the hardest time in my life. Through sickness and in health...this man truly lived up to that and I truly do thank God for bringing this man to me.
I have prayed, A LOT, through my cancer. Though I was brought up with a very religious mom...I am confident for many years I took my faith for granted. I will say that I am 100% confident that I am where I am right now because God has guided me here. When I think about the sequence of events that have taken place in the last several years...there is no other explanation. God presented the most amazing man to me. Don't get me wrong...we have our moments...oh boy do we have our moments. But, as the song says, at the end of the day "I just want you". My husband has been my rock, my boulder, my world.
I think its really hard to acknowledge our husbands as much as they should be acknowledged while we are going through this crap. They deserve more praise than any doctor I have seen. Yes, my doctors saved my life with medicine and guidance to make decisions that would one day hand me a cancer free diagnosis. My husband, however, has been my foundation through all of this. I truthfully do not know how I would have made it through any of that without him by my side. I cant even imagine how I would have gotten through the first day of my diagnosis, let alone chemo, and surgery, and the insanely absurd emotions that go along with it. You think PMS is bad? Try going through temporary menopause at 33 while on chemo, while your hair is falling out and your boobs are being chopped off. I am pretty sure I could have been a great villain in the next batman sequel. That's not what this is about though.
My husband will read this. My friends will read this, my family will read this, my husbands parents will read this. You should all know...this man saved my life and put up with a whole mess of me that neither of us ever expected. Though he thinks he was just doing what any husband would do for their wife....I sometimes wonder how he held it together for me. I think if I would have seen him break down any more than the few times that I did, I would have thought that I was dying. It was good to see him have his moments because it reminded me he was right there, fighting with me, but I am amazed at the strength he was able to pass on to me through out my journey. I know it wasn't easy for him to watch me go through any of that.
I am putting in this blog, what I cant seem to ever find the words to say. To my husband...Thank You will never be enough. I thank God for bringing you to me. I know there isn't another soul on this planet that could have pulled me through this the way you did. Knowing I was loved, being told I was beautiful while I was stripped of all of my physical qualities, picking me up and reminding me often how we will get through this together, supporting me and reassuring me daily that everything will be okay...are all reasons why you own my whole heart. We have been on one insanely crazy roller coaster together and I am unsure of when we are going to get off of this damn thing but as long as your on it with me...I am happy. Who I would be right now, without you, is a thought I cant even process. I honestly have a million more things that I could say. I don't even know how to move on from this portion of the blog but I am sure by now he is probably crying reading this so I will end with it there. Thank you for being my rock...and just like you did in the photo above...thank you for picking me up and carrying me through the absolute most challenging time in my life.
Last week I turned 34. I don't think I have ever been so happy to be a year older than I was this year. It was an emotional birthday for me, for many reasons. While I was so thankful for the day and felt so blessed that I was alive to even turn 34...I became emotional over the idea that my life isn't what it was when I turned 33. I have come to the realization that my life will never be the same. I know I have said it in previous posts, that us cancer warriors will never live the same life we had before, but it seems as though I am constantly teaching myself about this "new normal". Daily, I find myself just trying to figure this out. While the one side of me feels so damn lucky to see life the way I do now...I am challenged by trying to figure out where my new place in life is.
I think it is safe to say that before we heard the news we had cancer we lived our life in somewhat of a routine. Every day we wake up, we pretty much do the same thing we did the day before, and basically...our lives become a scaled down version of the movie Groundhog Day. Your alarm goes off at the same time everyday, you make coffee, go to work, come home, eat dinner, run kids around, and go to bed. Then you wake up and you do it all over again. Most people seem to take these simple daily tasks for granted. Then cancer happens...and your life suddenly becomes one big question mark with no set idea in your head for how the day ahead will go. All of those routines go flying out of the window and your just trying to figure out how to get through the day, wishing you had the ability to do half of those daily tasks. I think this begins from the very first day you get diagnosed. Whether your schedule has become filled with appointments yet or not, the emotional toll a cancer diagnosis takes on you is enough to send you off in to another world.
There are many points in life where you can look back and say you wish you would have done something different. I kind of wish I enjoyed high school a little more. I wish I would have played soccer longer. I wish I would have appreciated my parents more but on a side note, I have thankfully grown out of that and am very thankful for the amazing parents that I do have. I wish I would have cherished all of the amazing moments I got to experience as a child, as a teenager, and even as an adult. When I look back at my cancer, specifically fighting through chemo, I cant even imagine how I would have done anything any different than what I did. My worst side effect was fatigue. I spent A LOT of time in bed. I can look back and say, I wish I would have been more active through chemo, I wish I would have joined a support group, I wish I would have done this or done that. The fact of the matter is, I did the best I could. I know many women who go through chemo can probably relate to that. Every single day is different. I say all of this because I cannot honestly offer any sort of advice on what you should do to get through your chemo days. You just have to do whatever it is that feels right at the time. If it means sleep, you sleep. If it means read a book, read a book. If your able to workout one day, then workout, and if you cant workout for the next 10 then you don't workout until you can again. The whole point of this, is that a routine can be difficult while you go through chemo because every day is different both physically and emotionally. I think this might be what makes it so hard to find a routine post cancer. Finding yourself again, after all is said and done can be challenging.
Its for this reason, I feel as though the quote above is perfect for this particular post. Even post cancer, I find myself having days of total randomness. Some days, I have a hard time coping with what I just went through but the one thing I know every single day when I wake up...is that I have to keep moving forward. For me, moving forward means finding that "new normal", or my new routine, and accepting that it will take time to figure that out. This is something I am currently working on so there is no doubt it will be an ongoing lesson for me until I actually have something that works for me.
I am slowly realizing that it is important for me to discover the "new me". I have a hard time making set decisions on anything. Its almost like I just want everything to happen because I don't feel like putting the effort forth to think about anything. I know this is a sign of depression which absolutely sucks to even acknowledge or say out loud but I, personally, know I am doing my best. I have full intentions of doing everything I can to keep that depression from happening but it's real. It exists and I am not going to lie or be dishonest in this blog about what I am going through. I KNOW I am not alone and its important you know you are not alone either. It is also important to acknowledge your feelings and pay attention to them. When I say pay attention, I mean you have to do something about them or they will eat you away.
So, how do you find a routine post cancer? I am still learning but this is what I have come up with so far. First of all, be patient with yourself. Give yourself realistic expectations. Make lists of things that you want to accomplish and go through that list and check them off as you complete them. I think its rewarding and does so much for you mentally to see what you have accomplished for the day. Try and put one thing on that list you enjoy doing. If it means "read for 20 minutes" or "bake a cake" or "crochet a hat"...just try not to put a bunch of crap you need to get done just to get through the day on your list.
I am not going to tell you to have a set bedtime and set your alarm for the same time every morning. Why? Because, I know as well as the next cancer patient, that you take what you can get with your sleep. If I was confident I could get through a night with 8 hours of peaceful sleep, not waking up to a hot flash or with crazy thoughts going through my brain, then yes that might be an option. For now, I will enjoy whatever shut eye time is given to me.
I've found that I need to immediately put a note in my phone as soon as I think there is something that I need to do or else I will completely forget I ever had to do it. This includes everything, for example: "don't forget to finish the laundry" even after I just put it in the washer. For now, this is what I have to do.
Join a gym. It took me awhile to finally make this decision but I knew how good it would be for me, mentally. Not to mention, it lowers your risk of recurrence....so they say. Join a support group. Find different programs that are offered in your area for breast cancer patients. For example, in San Antonio, they offer a free workout program, artful healing classes, and free nutritional counseling. Not only do you get a great work out but you also open up the door to meet other women who are going through exactly what you are going through.
The reality is this. I have these moments where I think to myself...I cant believe I am at a place in my life where I need to join support groups and make lists so I don't forget to do things, and I need to think more carefully about the food I put in my mouth including alcohol, and I'm 34 and I have no clue what direction my life is going in currently. Following those thoughts is reminding myself...ITS OKAY!!!! Remind yourself of what you have just been through. No one is being as hard on you as you are being on yourself. So I will remind you...to give yourself realistic expectations each day. If you make yourself a list and you don't complete it, give yourself a break. Give yourself time to teach yourself a new routine. Give yourself time to find your new normal. Remind yourself of everything you have to be thankful for in that moment instead of focusing on the things that tore you up over the last several months. More importantly than anything else...Teach yourself how to be patient with you. I think its something very important for us to learn how to do. I've come to realize that I am putting way too much pressure on myself to be "normal" again when I don't even know what "normal" is right now. I don't know how long it will take for me to figure out what my "normal" is but I am confident I will figure it out. I am confident that I will learn how to live with all of this, it just may take time, and that's okay.
Ive realized that I am not going to learn how to live my life again overnight. Its going to take time but for today....if I cant fly, then I am going to run, and if I cant run then I am going to walk, and if I cant walk then I will crawl...and if for some reason I cant crawl...then I will just continue moving forward because the other option is giving up on life...and that just simply isn't an option. If nothing else...if nothing else at all...I will be thankful for the day that lies ahead.
Fill your schedule up with positivity and a positive mind will follow.