This time 2 years ago, I was on a beach with my family. We took a random weekend vacation to enjoy the end of Texas summer. It was a great trip and of course we took tons of pictures. I had no idea at the time, that trip would be my last trip feeling like a normal person. Though I have a favorite picture from that trip, I have a love hate relationship with it. It is one of the hardest photos for me to look at. It is a reminder to me of who I once was. It is a reminder to me of a time when happiness was a simple luxury. It is a reminder to me of a time when I was in great shape and training for my very first 5K. When I took those photos, I had no idea what was right around the corner.
There is only one reason why I appreciate this month and it is because it is meant to bring awareness to the very thing that tried to kill me, breast cancer. It is a reminder to many women to get their mammograms and if you talk to most doctors, they will tell you October is one of the most diagnosed months of the year. That part of it is great. For that reason, I appreciate this month. I, personally, found my lump on a total fluke in October. I was not searching for a lump because it was breast cancer awareness month. It just happened that way.
October 27, I found my lump and this brings me to the title of this blog. October to me is a reminder of the pure hell that I was about to endure. I see breast cancer everywhere I turn. PINK PINK PINK. I actually used to really like the color pink. I don't necessarily hate it now but what I hate is that pink is actually a pretty color - and breast cancer is the ugliest most horrible thing there is. Aside from talking about colors...lets not forget about the cheerleaders prancing around wearing those cute little pink outfits with their "TATA'S" hanging out to supposedly bring awareness to breast cancer. What exactly about your perfect boobs, perfect long hair, and perfect body brings awareness to such a disease? Because here is the reality of breast cancer....
At 33, I shaved my head bald and 2 years later still only have neck length hair - not long beautiful locks. I had my breasts removed. I have no nipples. I have a 3 inch scar that runs across each breast. I have back pain from the surgery. I can't do push ups anymore without looking like frankenstein, not to mention it is probably the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. I can't feel a damn thing anywhere in my chest. In fact, I can't even feel my armpits anymore. I have somehow found humor in the fact that I can't feel my armpit hair growing anymore. I have scar tissue build up, which can be very painful. I have ripples around my implants because essentially - I have an implant and skin and nothing else. I fear cancer every day of my life. While I have really come to terms with this new body of mine - it is definitely not one I planned on having EVER in my life. I would have been thankful for my 60 year old possibly saggy boobs. A mastectomy is NOT a boob job. If I wanted a boob job, I would have paid the $6K to get one...not the $75,000 it cost me to have my boobs, my lymph nodes, and muscles cut and hacked through. Do not get me wrong, my plastic surgeon did an incredible job with putting me back together...but it was not something I ever wanted.
I am writing this blog because this is a real issue. Most of you have never seen a picture of what a women looks like after a mastectomy and while I do not have it in me to post photos of mine...there are women who are more than willing to share that with the world. So when you see those cute little cheerleaders dancing all over the place wearing their cute little pink knee high socks...remember what its really about and what the majority of us really had to go through.
This month I will participate in several events that I feel are most important to me. I will be participating in a fashion show put on by Fabooblicious. Last year, this was by far my favorite event to participate in. There is no other energy that compares to the energy, love and positivity, that you are surrounded by when your in a room full of cancer survivors. To put it simply...it is UNREAL and I am honored to be a part of it again this year.
This weekend I have chosen to participate in the Dallas Cowboys half time show to honor breast cancer survivors, the fighters, and the angels who watch over us. I have chosen to participate because it is an amazing opportunity to bring awareness and to show the world that the face of breast cancer is no longer 50 and up. Its 15 and up. The age of diagnosis is getting younger and younger. I hope instead of feasting your eye on those beautiful cheerleaders, that you will really focus on the women this has affected. Their families, their friends, and us. Notice the tears you might see in our eyes while we remember the struggles we went through and still might be going through. Notice that despite what we have been through, or the hair that we no longer have, or the boobs that might no longer be there....that we still have the ability to put a smile on our face and simply appreciate the gift of another day.
While I love to be a part of these events that bring awareness to breast cancer...there is one particular event that brings so much happiness to my heart and that is BRA day. BRA day is breast reconstruction awareness day. What I love so much about this event is that it gives women the opportunity to physically see the different options they have with regards to their reconstruction. If you know me well, you know I have a huge heart. Helping other women, is honestly, what has really kept me going. When I am given that opportunity...there is no better honor than that. For this event I will model my type of surgery for PRMA (my plastic surgeon). While it can be a very vulnerable time...I know it is helping other women to not feel so incredibly scared about what lies ahead and that there is hope for feeling physically normal after their surgery.
And last but not least is the 5K we are putting together for Pink Warrior Angels (our non-profit). It is our first of many, and I am so excited for where PWA is going and how quickly we are growing. The best part about Pink Warrior Angels...is that it truly does bring everything together for me. Everything I have ever wanted to do. It gives other women the opportunity to do those things as well. Pink Warrior Angels opens up the door for women to help other women, for us to all support one another through our own struggles and I can promise you one day...no one who is diagnosed with breast cancer will ever have to fight alone. It is just not acceptable and I am so proud to partner with Julie on this amazing journey. Big things are coming for us and it is so special and dear to my heart.
October is not about perfect boobs and pink ribbons. It is about encouraging your mother, your sister, your daughter, or your wife to get a mammogram, to be proactive in their health, and to get a second opinion when needed. It is a time to remember that this disease is a very REAL issue. Sadly we are all beginning to know someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer. I hope by reading this blog, you might know how to support them a little better. I hope you will encourage them to reach out for support. Remission has an after life...and its not an easy one. I feel very fortunate that, for some of you, I can put a real face to what breast cancer actually is. While I hate the fact that it was a part of my life...I feel blessed in the many opportunities that I have been given to bring awareness and comfort others.
I was a little hesitant to post this but I really want you to see the difference a week can make. I went on my first descents trip with the hope in mind that it would pull me out of my slump. I started a journal - just for my eyes - prior to me leaving. I really wanted to be honest in what I was feeling, where my head was at, and what my fears were. I was curious to see how that would change as the days went on through out my trip. Close to a week after my return, I posted how I was feeling and what my first descents family did for me. I am going to share both of those with you. Before I do that, it was really hard for me to go back and reread what I wrote before I left. I almost couldn't even comprehend that I was in such a bad place. It made me sad that thats how I had been spending my time, daily. So then I went back and read my journal entry post trip - and it lit me up to know that I had made that much progress in just one week. I am not going to say much of anything else other than this. First Descents is an amazing organization. What they have done for me and so many others is something I could never be thankful enough for. If you are not aware of first descents, please check out their website and read their story. www.firstdescents.org
So here goes...I am really putting myself out there by allowing you in to my personal journal and in to my very raw and real emotions with this one.
Thursday May 14, 2015
I am 2 days out from my FD trip. I feel like I have been waiting for this trip for so long and now that its here, I am scared and nervous. The shy side of me is nervous to be with 15 people I don’t know for the next week. The scared and fearful side of me is afraid of the flight, as always. I am excited to learn how to surf. I am worried that I won’t have the energy or strength to keep up but I will try my best. I wanted to document my current state of mind before this trip.
While I would love to come back from this trip a new person, I don’t want to put expectations on it. I am hopeful, which I guess could fall within the same category as expectations. Maybe not but here is where my head is at right now.
I wake up every day scared. I wake up every day convinced that I have cancer somewhere in my body and then I go through this entire process of telling myself that I don’t. Its overwhelming and consumes me. It strips me of having any happy thoughts. In fact, I don’t know that happy thoughts even come across my mind anymore. I have struggled to even convince myself that I deserve happiness at this point. Why did cancer happen to me? Why can’t I go back when I didn’t think about death every day. DEATH! I think about dying every single day of my life. That just isn’t right. No one deserves to live the way I have lived my life since the day of my diagnosis. I have no joy. I am not happy about anything. I am sad most of the time and it effects my marriage, my friendships, and most of all ME. I have struggled to admit that I am depressed. I don’t know why. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being depressed. I just don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to live this way any more either.
I have tried therapy, reike, acupuncture, working out, and a few other things. Everything seems temporary. I think this is the one time in my life that I just simply dont have the answers. I don’t know what I can do to make this better and I am starting to believe there is nothing I can do. This is just my life now. Sadness, living in fear, and feeling stressed out all the time. Again, no one should live this way. Laughing is a chore. It almost feels impossible and fake to squeeze a smile out. Its sad. I know it effects my ability to be a good wife and a good stepmom. Its just awful. I want to enjoy my life the way I used to. I want to learn how to accept the new me and accept that yes, life is different now, but it doesn’t have to be filled with misery. I want to get there so bad but I just don’t know how.
So I ask this. God, please give me the strength to release my fears to you. Please take me down a path filled with happiness and joy. Please show me and guide me in a direction that is surrounded by your love and grace. Teach me how to put my faith to you at all times. To release this idea that I have any control over my future so that I may enjoy the current moments of my life. Please make your presence in my daily life. Amen.
Friday May 22, 2015
We all left our awesome bungalow this morning followed by lots of tears and see ya laters. 15 cancer survivors who all shared one common bond with one another. The emotions we all experienced this week were nothing short of amazing. The more I talk to everyone - the more normal I start to feel but I fear going home and no longer feeling that sense of normalcy. The conversations flowed from the minute we got in to the car until the minute we got out of the car and departed to our homes.
I know we all shared tons of compliments for one another. Uplifting each others souls and unintentionally pointing out the amazing qualities to each other - that we ourselves may have forgotten existed. Those qualities we knew deep down that we possessed but ones that got lost in the translation of cancer. Every conversation was pure and genuine.
On the way back to the airport we were talking about cancer again. We talked a little bit more in detail about our specific cancers and started to talk about our friends back home and how our relationships are different. It isn’t just friendships though, its all relationships. You can express your feelings, your depression, your fears, and your hopes until you are blue in the face to someone who has never had cancer. You get a lot of responses of people who just feel bad and don’t really know what to say. So as we were sitting in the car talking…I stopped in mid sentence because there was a lot of huh huhs, and noises of agreement to what we were saying. I realized something…When we are having a bad day and we start to vent or talk about whatever it is we are talking about….we aren’t necessarily looking for answers. We are just looking for validation - and that validation coming from someone who actually REALLY understands….means so much more.
So now that I have been home for a few days…I finally had a chance to sit down and really process this amazing trip and what it has done for me.
What I took away from my week is intangible. I am not even sure there are words to explain the magic that happened on the beach, in that house, and at campfire everyday. Though I am speaking for myself, I am confident this feeling is mutual. For one week, we all had the opportunity to be our authentic selves. We all let walls down with each other that I am sure we have a hard time doing at home where we can sometimes feel “alone”. I am confident we all shared laughs like we haven't experienced in a long time. We each had our moments with one another where we would open up and cry - and most times those moments ended in laughter. We shared an energy that was so positive and encouraging to one another. It is something that cannot be put in to words. From the cheers that came from shore to those deep conversations that always ended in a smile and a hug. Yes, we all share one very unfortunate life event with one another…cancer…but if not for that life event we wouldn't have found each other. I am so thankful for each and every one of my fdgnarbars friends. You all know more about me than people I have been friends with for 20 years and theres something to be said for that considering we only had a week to get to know each other. I love you all like family. I miss you all more than words could explain but I have come home with a new outlook on life. Each and every one of you taught me something different about myself and I will take that with me each day I move forward in my journey. I am not alone anymore. I was - for a long time - but not anymore. I have first descents to thank for that. For one week, I was able to be 100% authentic. I was able to silly Jen again - the Jen I thought was gone because of cancer. Before I went on this trip - I was confident I was going through a grieving process. One that was centered around the loss of…me, and who I was pre-cancer. But she’s still there. That girl still exists and you all showed me that. I was able to laugh till my belly hurt - a feeling I haven’t felt since Nov 7, 2013. Though it makes me sad that I am not entirely sure when I will see you again…You are all in my heart and my mind forever. I will never forget the moments I shared with each of you and the inside jokes or the dubsmashes. Thank you for letting me be me and for laughing with me. My hope for us all is that we will continue to live the life we all deserve to live. My hope is that we can all find happiness in this life - and find the joy in each and every day. My hope is that none of us will ever feel alone ever again. From this day on - we have each other. #FDGNARBARS FOR LIFE BABY!!!!
I deserve joy and I will find it in every single day. I deserve happiness and I will remind myself of this daily. Right now, I am happy. Sadly, I forgot what that felt like. I have slept better in the last week than I have in 2 years. I went above and beyond what I expected of myself on this trip and it was a pleasant reminder that I am strong both physically and mentally. I have a new motivation every morning when I wake up and I now know I am 100% capable of pushing myself beyond my own personal limits. And last but not least…I will allow myself to be vulnerable. Thank you FD for restoring my hope, my energy, and my mind.
Before I get started...I hope I am not offending anyone with this blog and if I am then...O'well. But as you know I am very honest in my thoughts and in my writing. Im not one to beat around the bush with my feelings...ever.
Sometimes I will look at women with their long beautiful hair and I think to myself, you have no idea. As you sit there and flip your hair or throw it in to a ponytail....you have no idea how quickly that luxury can be stripped away from you. I don't wish this upon anyone, please don't take it that way. In all honesty, I just wish people were more grateful for the little luxuries they have. The little luxuries that cancer seems to take away from its chosen. And to all of those who complain daily about the little stresses of every day life...I could only wish that my life would go back to those simple days. Don't get me wrong, I was a complainer too, but I find myself getting angry with those sort of people now. You just have no idea. On the other hand, I wouldn't expect you to have any idea and hope that you never will.
I would give anything to go back to the way my life was in October of 2013. Sure, I had my share of stress going on but stress took on an entirely new meaning once I was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of worrying about how the laundry was going to get done, or why my kid wouldn't eat the spaghetti I just made, I now drown myself in the stress of my mortality. The fact of the matter is, I did face death. Thankfully, it did not take me, but I stared it directly in the face. And in a sense, my old self did die. As much as I try to go back to "Jen before cancer", its just not possible. According to my therapist, I am going through a grieving process now. I am grieving the loss of ME. I am resentful, I am angry, and I am sad. I miss her and I find myself doing everything I can to find her again...though it seems impossible. So at what point do I accept that she is gone and move on with this new person I have become? Will those closest to me still love me the same? Do they mourn the loss of who I once was? Why do I continue to let this stupid cancer crap consume me every single day of my life!?
Nothing comes simple anymore but I have learned to find patience with that. I know physically that everything will return to a place of somewhat normal again. My hair will grow back, my bones will stop aching all of the time, and running 1 mile won't feel like my 10th mile. I can deal with all of that. I can find patience in that. I have a hard time finding patience within how I handle all of this mentally. To me, that part of it seems permanent. Though my depression has somewhat subsided and I am able to rationalize my thoughts a little better, I still struggle on a daily basis. I am scared. When I promised myself I would no longer live in fear...I still sit here scared. But my fears aren't that I am going to die in a plane crash or that someone is going to break in my house and shoot me. My fears are that my cancer is going to return and instead of me dying some quick death....I am going to die a slow agonizing death from cancer. I lived this. Cancer was a part of me. It seems like a really bad nightmare or a really sad movie that I swear I have seen a million times it wasn't. It actually happened to me. It. actually. happened.
Something that I really struggle with is this. They say stress causes inflammation in the body which contributes to cancer. So here I am constantly fighting myself to not be stressed so that I don't get cancer again, but come on. Its impossible. Then I am left feeling guilty for feeling stressed when I am trying to do everything else to remain healthy. How do you do it all? Is it even possible to have a cancer diagnosis and live to see 95? Not to mention that the stress and fears I deal with everyday only enhance all of those little stresses I wish were the only things I had to deal with. Not sure if that even makes sense...
I would love a time machine. Take me back to when I "thought" life was tough. Take me back to when I didn't worry about death every minute of every hour. You can have my hair, take it. That was the easiest part of this entire journey. But just take me back to when every day wasn't consumed with scary thoughts. I am not angry at those people who bitch and wine about their daily struggles with kids or family, or how they had a bad hair cut and so on. I still do find myself bitching. But if that was ALL I had to worry about, my life would be near perfect. I am not sure how many readers I have who haven't ever had cancer or a life threatening illness. I just hope that after reading this you can find some patience and gratefulness towards your life. Be thankful for those little challenges.
Honestly, when I started this particular post I had no idea what was going to come out. I don't want it to sound like I am in some really dark, horrible place right now because I am not. I just find myself reminiscing and wishing I could go back to that life pre-cancer. That wasn't the hand I was dealt though. I need to continue on my path. I have been promised by other survivors, this gets easier as time goes on. Part of my healing is grieving my old self and so I move on to the next stage in this process. I am thankful for each and every day I am given. I am thankful for my current state of health. I just wish it was easier. At times I feel bi-polar because I can't seem to stabilize my thoughts...ever.
This weekend I will be attending the Young Survivors Coalition in Houston, TX with a friend and fellow survivor I met through social media. While there, I will meet up with a few others I have met through this blog. Its a rewarding feeling to know that I have been an inspiration to even just one person or that in some small way I have helped someone else through out their journey. I know this weekend will be an amazing one filled with hope, survivorship, and friends. Thousands of strangers who don't know a thing about each other, but all share one HUGE life experience with one another. I never asked to be a part of this club but I am. The bi-polar part of me hates that I have to attend a conference to find some sort of peace but in reality...I am thankful for the opportunity and people it has and will bring in to my life.
On a separate note, today marks one year since my last chemo. A huge milestone in my book. This day last year marked the end of the most challenging 4 months of my life. At times, I truly thought the chemo was going to kill me. That horrible poison dripping in my veins followed by handfuls of meds to decrease the side effects I would deal with. March 3, marked the end of all of that for me. I had 4 amazing best friends carry me through it. I had a husband who dropped just about everything to care of me in more ways than I ever could have wished for. A mother who left my dad for 6 months to help our family get through it. A son and daughter who embraced my sickness and were never ashamed of their bald stepmom. 2 cousins who I became very close with. 2 brothers who probably had no clue what to do to help me but did their best and without many words said....I knew it was hard for them to watch me suffer. Some of my friendships fizzled out and others became much stronger. But here I am. Alive. I survived that which was meant to kill me. Though parts of me have been stripped away...in time I will find the new me.
It has been a week since I let the ugly truth out about my depression. I have learned through out this process that depression is a roller coaster. Sometimes, it makes me feel bi-polar and I say that in the most light hearted way possible. I am not bi-polar, however, the good moments come and go and the bad moments make their appearances as well. I never know when its going to happen it just does - and I am just along for the ride. With that being said...I have decided I am going to write more frequent, shorter posts going forward. I want you to come along this journey with me both for myself and for you. I want to share with you what works for me and show you that its possible. That life will and can go on after this. My goal is to prove that to you, and to myself.
So what has the last week been like for me? First of all, it was so beneficial for me to put my feelings out there. Whether it was seen by 2 or 500 people, it was good for me to let everyone know where I truly stand. It was the beginning of my "quest for happiness". So this last week I set some goals for myself and I made sure that I stuck to those goals. They were not out of line and they weren't running out and saving the world. They were simple.
Wake up at 8AM
Drink Coffee and EAT BREAKFAST!!!
10AM GYM - NO EXCUSES
12PM - EAT LUNCH
Rest of the day - whatever the hell I damn well please which usually consisted of my daily errands and some work here and there
Right now, my focus is not on my work. It is on me, myself and I. Having those simple goals every morning, set a mood every day. There were 2 days specifically that I wanted to stay in bed and not do anything. I wanted to stay in my warm cozy bed and watch TV all day with my door shut. I was cold, in pain, and tired. I knew I would have those days and I questioned if my depression would stand in front of me. I made the decision ahead of time that I wasn't going to allow that to happen. I have also been texting a good friend of mine, who I met in my support group, every day. Danae, Thank you. Thank you for being who you are to me on this journey. It is people like you who inspire, motivate, and encourage others. It was such a simple thing to do, and I have thought of our texts every day. I didn't want to send Danae a text saying...bad day...didn't work out. I wanted to send Danae a text that said...Felt like shit today but worked out anyways, I feel better now. And so I did. I made sure every day she checked in, or that I checked in, that I was sticking to MY goals. Danae read my blog last week and told me we would check in every day together to push each other. We have done just that and I recommend you do the same. I can tell you it has been that extra little push I needed each day.
Aside from the gym, I started Acupuncture again. I also started doing some pressure point massage through my acupuncturist. I started taking a supplement called Intramax which is an amazing liquid supplement. Instead of going on antidepressants, I chose to take the more holistic route, though I am taking 5htp which is a natural mood enhancing supplement. As I learn more about these different options, I will share them with you. None of these are overnight fixes - its a process - one that I believe in and will continue to pursue.
One thing that I am working on is this. I am trying to go back to some of my old habits pre-cancer. I made this decision so that I could get a little piece of Jen back. That meant joining the gym I was at before cancer and start taking the classes I took pre-cancer. I am focusing on remembering what made me happy before I was diagnosed and I am going to do everything I can to bring those things back in to my life. I think it is so easy to lose yourself in the fog of cancer and to allow it to define you in some way. I decided I needed to rediscover those little "things" that I used to do that brought me joy - like when I did the "bird pose" for the first time in my gym class. Those simple "things". They made me happy. They made me feel good about myself and so I will strive to find those little things again.
I feel slightly better. Doing things for myself, sticking to a simple schedule, and reaching out to those who understand what I am experiencing has been very beneficial for me this last week. Meditation and breathing as gotten me through those moments of anxiety. Sure, I have still had my breakdowns, but I don't feel so lost right now. As much as I would never wish any of this on anyone...I was happy to see the outpouring of support from my readers. Your comments, emails, and posts on facebook truly mean the world to me. I received emails from people, totally unrelated to cancer, but in relation to depression, offering their advice. It really does mean everything to me. I felt so alone last week...alienated. It was YOU, my readers, who made me realize I am not alone, who inspired me to try different things to cope with this, and who have reminded me that there is an end to this. I believe that now.
I am not going to apologize for the lack of posts here lately. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, emotionally, thinks suddenly became very difficult. I have dreaded writing in my blog lately because I didn’t want to pretend everything was okay, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready to face this. There is a side to cancer no one talks about and I have my own reasoning for why this might be. Beating cancer is one thing…living with the effects of cancer is an entirely different story. So here is mine…
There isn’t one specific moment that I can pinpoint triggered any of this. It just happened. I suddenly became depressed…not sad…but uncontrollably depressed. Over the last few weeks, I have tried so hard to figure out why. I was doing so well…why is this happening? Why can’t I move on? Why am I living and obsessing over something so awful that happened? Really, I am not “living” at all. I was happy spending my days in my bedroom. I was happy not talking to anyone. I was happy living in my own little world while the rest of the world had no clue what was going on inside of my head. Even though sleep is all I wanted to do, not much if it was happening because of my racing mind. I love food, but eating wasn’t a priority to me. I have all the clear signs of depression, and at first, it was hard for me accept this. It just isn’t me – It’s not who I am. I like to laugh, I like to be goofy, and I like to be around people. What I don’t like, is crying every day, yet that seems to have become a regular occurrence these days. So instead of hiding it, which only makes it worse, I figured I would write about it. After all, half the reason I write in this blog is because it’s therapeutic. So here goes…
I feel like I am standing still while the entire world is spinning around me. While everyone else is living their lives I am stuck in the last year of mine. My family and friends all took care of me, whether from near or far. Friends from the past popped out of the word work because I was sick. I received cards, and gifts, and phone calls and texts from everyone who was surprised yet concerned about me. Then cancer left my body…and most of those people disappeared. While I don’t demand or need the attention, I sometimes wonder why they even made that appearance. Let me make something very clear to those that don’t understand anything about cancer, because I can promise you, this feeling is mutual amongst most survivors. Just because I am cancer free, does not mean I am okay. In fact…fighting cancer was easier than dealing with the fears and depression I live with daily now. I was confident one day that my cancer would be gone. I never imagined in a million years it would haunt me every single day thereafter. It is difficult not knowing when this is going to go away. I fear this is my life now. As much as I try to not let it be, the fact of the matter is, cancer happened to me. I am scared I will live in fear for the rest of my life and that I am going to miss out on living life the way life is meant to be lived. For someone who doesn’t understand this...it is not as simple as just waking up and deciding to not live this way anymore. Or maybe it is…but right now…I am not processing that option.
I feel resentful and angry at people for continuing to live their lives around me, while I am stuck. That might sound crazy to you…but maybe it’s more of a jealousy feeling than anything else. I WISH I could go about my life and be “Jen before cancer”. It is frustrating to me that as much as I would love that…it’s not possible. I don’t doubt that I can be a better Jen once I get past this…but getting over this mountain is pretty challenging. When will that time come? When will this get better? I WANT it to all just go away, everything about it. The most frustrating part, is feeling alone. No one around me understands what I am going through. All of the tears and words in the world couldn’t give it justice. It’s a circling of emotions, of fears, of challenges, of wanting to do something and being so determined to do it, but not having the desire. It’s frustrating losing my train of thought mid-sentence and feeling like I sound like a complete idiot. It’s not remembering what I did less than 24 hours ago or being told the same thing 55 times. It’s the physical toll that chemo took on my body physically and mentally. I am 34 and I feel like I am trapped in a 65 year old body with aches and pains and forgetfulness. I have ZERO control over much of anything anymore and maybe cancer happened to me, to teach me that I didn’t need to be in control all of the time. Maybe that was the lesson I was supposed to learn. I don’t know…but I do know this…
You can tell me I am strong all you want but those words don’t register to me. I fought because I had too and you would do the same if you were told the same news. You don’t just give up and let a disease take over your body. You fight back. I am not strong because I did this, I am human. I am still fighting and a battle that I thought at one point I won…now feels like I am losing. Cancer is winning right now…because it still makes its daily appearance in my head. I am so f’ing angry at cancer right now. I have no answers, no timeline for when these feelings will go away – so my only choice is to fight them…just as I did my cancer. I want to make something very clear to those closest to me…
Pardon me for my lack of emails, texts, or phone calls. I am busy taking care of myself right now. If you’re wondering how I am doing ask me. My life isn’t cancer – don’t assume that it is. In fact, I feel the most normal when I am on the phone talking about my life outside of cancer. I am still a supportive wife, the best stepmom you’ll ever meet, a daughter, a sister, and an amazing friend. Those things about me have not and will never change but I am rediscovering what it is about this life that brings me joy. At one point, before cancer, those questions didn’t exist. Sure I was always making changes and working on becoming a better person but this is different. I feel as though I am rebuilding myself. The foundation will always be there but I am building a new home for Jen. Accepting that is difficult but I want to believe it’s going to result in a beautiful ending. On the positive side of that, is that fact that I get to choose who that person will be. I get to rediscover what I am passionate about, what brings me joy, what makes me cry, and what makes me laugh. My hope is that my closest friends and family will join me in this portion of journey. If you haven’t heard from me, reach out to me, it’s probably when I need it most. Please.
I never asked for this. This wasn’t where I wanted to be at 34. My life wasn’t supposed to go this way and I will slowly learn to accept that and move on. Patience. Patience from you, patience with myself, just pure patience. This will not change overnight and I anticipate more tears will fall as I climb this mountain. One day at a time. This has to get better. It just has too. God did not keep me here to live this way. He kept me here so that I could enjoy life to its fullest. Each and every day I will continue to pray for the strength to do just that. Thank you to a very loving cousin for those words of encouragement. Time will pave my road to happiness and I truly believe that statement. With the continued love, support, and prayers…I will win. I will smile a genuine smile again and feel joy in life because everyone deserves that. Including you.
Let me just say...I love the picture above. To me it says, Hey there girl (to myself)...Remember me??? You can still be sexy even through all of the scars and surgeries and I am going to prove that to you...just put me on...and look in the mirror...and smile at yourself. You deserve it!!!! One of the best things about this journey...has been the people it has lead me to. There are many reasons why I write in this blog. Some of those reasons are selfish as its therapeutic for me, however, the reason why I started this blog was to help other women. In that process, I have come in contact with some of the most incredible and inspiring women. I don't believe any of us ever intended to be on the path that we are currently on. While cancer certainly causes a world of anxiety and stress like no other...it also has the ability to send us on an unintended path.
One of those unintended paths came from a woman who reads my blog named Dana Donofree. I have been contacted by a few people who have asked if I would promote their website, or their products on my blog. I have kindly turned them all down because I don't want my blog to become a market place for various products. However, this was different. I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't share this with you...and I mean that. I received an email from Dana a few weeks ago. I wont go in to the details of the email but she found my blog through another site and we started to relate to each other on so many levels. Another "breast" friend who shares an experience with me, we have a lifetime of similarities ahead, and share a bond that only us breasties understand.
When Dana emailed me informing me of her bra line, at first I thought, I don't really need another bra. Then I visited her website and quickly realized, that yes, in fact, I do need another bra. Why? Because there aren't any products that are made for women who have had mastectomies that are cute, sexy, and comfortable. Sure, I have my new bra's from Victoria's Secret that I was thrilled to go out and buy because they make me feel good. Ask me what I have been sleeping in since my exchange surgery? Okay...here is my answer...my binder bra! That ugly, huge, ridiculously tight binder bra. I was sleeping in this because its all I had that made me feel like things were being held in place. Was it comfortable - no. Was it sexy? I am not even going to answer that question. It is quite possibly the most hideous piece of material ever sewn together and I am quite confident you all will agree. I even went to a store shortly after my last surgery in search of something I could wear at night that was even remotely attractive. Bless that woman's heart who was bringing me all of these bras. I am pretty sure she saw the look of disappointment and hurt in my eyes when she realized I was a 34 year old being fitted for a bra only my grandma should be seen in. I am not trying to offend anyone when I say that but it is the truth. I am 34, I want to feel good about what I am wearing. I don't want cancer to make me feel any older than I already feel with the bone pains and what I feel is the onset of arthritis from stupid medications. I may not feel 34 on the inside, but I want to feel like that on the outside. Regardless of your age, you deserve to feel comfortable and to feel GREAT about yourself - especially after everything you have been through.
So what does any of this have to do with MY NEW BRA!!!! So, I received my AnaOno bra in the mail last week. I chose "The Rachel" in black/champagne. I opened my package completely surprised and even more exciting for the ridiculously adorable packaging it came in. I don't know, something about that cute little box made me feel so special and happy inside. Its the little things, I cant help it!!! What was obviously more important than the packaging, was the comfort and appearance of the bra. At first glance, the bra was WAY cuter than I imagined it would be. I am an underwire girl. I have worn underwires my entire life so moving away from that was a huge step for this gal. I couldn't help but immediately put this bra on to see if it lived up to everything I read on her website. It absolutely did!!! Within 5 minutes, I forgot I even had a bra on. It is made of a very soft lace and mesh like material. The band has a really soft velvety touch to it that leaves you forgetting you even have a bra on. The fit was perfect, the comfort was perfect, and surprisingly...I felt sexy in it. For me, this is the perfect, everyday bra. I find my underwire bras get uncomfortable or start to feel too tight as the day goes on. I end up tugging on the band trying to stretch it out and adjusting the straps to find a permanent comfort with them. Though underwire push ups bras make my foobies look amazing...they are not ideal for everyday comfort. Since my surgery, I have tried several bras. By the end of the day I have indentations on my ribs. Not good. Also, I have a lot of scar tissue build up that forms around my left fold in to my ribs. If any of you know anything about scar tissue and how it feels, the last thing you want is something pushing on it. That is one of the things that I absolutely love about this bra. For example, I am wearing it right now and I am consciously trying to feel it on me, and I just don't. It's THAT comfortable.
The reason I felt so compelled to write an entire blog about...A BRA...is because it's that amazing. You deserve to treat yourself to something that is comfortable, that will make you feel pretty, and that makes you feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror. If I find something worth sharing...I will...I am not going to keep this secret from you. I encourage you to visit Dana's website and read more about her story and why she chose to begin this line of bras. I know, for me, it makes my bra feel all the more special knowing it was designed by someone who completely understands what we have been through because they too have been there.
"Dana Donofree and Jill Conley both have a dream to help young survivors feel supported, either with beautiful, comfortable lingerie or various kinds of financial assistance during treatment. With every purchase you make, AnaOno will contribute 10% of the sale to Jill's Wish. You get to feel gorgeous while supporting another woman in her battle"
How amazing is that??? Here is a link to the website and a few pictures of the bras below.
Here I am looking at the day on this blog post...11/7. One year ago today I woke up knowing that I was going to walk in to that doctor's office, and knowing that I was going to be told I didn't have breast cancer. The hardest part of this for me, was that I had never been so confident about anything in my life. I had never been so sure. I am not sure if it was because I had this notion that there was just NO way I had cancer...NO WAY not me...or if I was trying to throw a blanket over a harsh reality to comfort me for the time being. This day last year is one of the most vivid moments through out my journey. I am not sad today. I thought I would be. I thought I would feel those feelings again, but right now I don't. I wanted to write this blog today to document how 1 year feels for me and next year when I turn 2 I'll do the same...and so on until I am old and gray in my rocking chair. Though there is a lot of time left in this day and my feelings may alter as the day goes on...in this very moment...the present moment...I choose to feel blessed that I have today. I choose to feel blessed that I have been given another year to survive.
Oct 15th of this month was BRA day, Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. To be honest, I had no idea this day even existed until I was asked to model as a show and tell girl for my plastic surgeons office. Actually I think I volunteered but whatever. At this point, I would probably offer to do just about anything for PRMA. I have been, more than blessed, with the experience I have had with Dr. Ledoux and his staff. I believe it is so important to feel confident in your decisions and trust your surgeons through-out this process. So with that being said...this is my experience with my reconstruction process.
Almost 1 year ago, I never would have believed that this journey would have taken me to where I am today. Amy says it perfect..."You couldn't pay me enough money to go back and be that person again". This journey has led me to a group of the most amazing, inspiring, and supportive friends I could ever hope for. It has given me the opportunity to help other women through their own journeys no matter how small it might be. It was never an easy road to get to where I am right now, but I am proud of where it has taken me. I am proud to be a survivor and to be a part of such an amazing group of women. I was so honored when I was asked to be a part of this segment on San Antonio Living. The experience itself, was absolutely incredible. Given the opportunity to bring awareness to the younger generation and encouraging them to do self exams and mammograms means everything to me. I am forever grateful to my support group for everything they have done for me and all of our ladies. If you are local, I encourage you to join our amazing group of young survivors - and that goes for the young at heart too! I now have a group of 40 women who have my back, who understand me, who "get it". I couldn't ever ask for more than that. For 6 months, I locked myself away. I was depressed, I felt alone, I had no idea how I was going to go forward in life. I can never thank Sandra and Amy enough for creating this amazing group, for welcoming me with open arms, and for adding me as a board member. I am forever grateful to both of them. So without further or do...here it is. My first TV interview. What an awesome experience. Was I nervous? ABSOLUTELY!!! But life is about being vulnerable and opening yourself up to new experiences. Let your guard down, put yourself out there, and see where life takes you.
For more information on the BFF Young Survivors Group please visit our website:
You can also contact Sandra directly at:
210-562-6502 or via email: email@example.com
Before I start, I need to say this. We got lucky. We got so freaking lucky. Jen caught it early, Jen acted fast, our doctors kicked ass and we kicked the cancer out the door. I have trouble expressing how hard it was and how much our family has been affected, because we are so damn lucky. There are so many others in such worse situations than us, so how can I possibly put down how hard it was, how sad I was and how much it affected me? I’m doing it because my wife is passionate about helping other women and other families. She’s passionate and this is not me feeling sorry for myself or our family, but a great outlet for me and hopefully to help others as well.
My wife was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 33. We had not even been married two years. An absolutely stunning, healthy 33 year old with no family history. She took good care of herself, she ate well, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke and rarely drank. Cancer was never on our radar. It was not in our families, neither of us even understood what cancer was.
The diagnosis left us both in disbelief. It just happened so quickly. She felt a lump, to an ultrasound to a mammogram to a biopsy. Then we’re seeing a surgeon and an oncologist and developing a plan for surgery and genetic testing. I still have trouble believing she was diagnosed with cancer today. I knew nothing about cancer and I knew nothing about what Jen was about to go through. I did some research on the disease, but I did more research on her doctors. I felt confident in them and felt confident that they had a good attack plan. To kill the cancer, in my 33 year old wife. Crazy.
I am a fairly emotional man. Sometimes I am so proud of my kids it makes me cry. At times, I am so in love with my wife it can make me cry. The day Jen was diagnosed I cried. I cried driving my car and I cried hard. I sobbed, I struggled to even see the road. After a few minutes of crying I made myself stop. I had to be strong. I had to be an emotional wall for my wife. She would never know how much this was going to affect me and hurt me. She still does not know today. I made a decision then, that I would be strong for Jen and strong for our family and fight this head on. Just like every other difficult thing I’ve done in my life. No self-pity, no feeling sorry for myself. Stand up big and make it happen. In this case anything and everything I could do to help Jen be successful in her fight.
Obviously the diagnosis was a big shock to both myself and Jen, but telling the kids was one of the most difficult things we had ever had to do as a couple. We didn’t know what to expect, so how were they supposed to understand and know what to expect? They both reacted differently. Eric, immediately broke down and started crying. We hugged him and told him everything would be okay and not to worry. Megan, being older, handled the situation a little differently. She asked some intelligent questions and did her best to try and understand what was going to happen through treatment. She surprised us the next morning with a painted survivor sign she had made the previous night. Still very powerful for me and makes me incredibly proud of her and her big heart. The sign is still hanging in our kitchen today.
The support we received from everyone was overwhelming. My parents called me several times a week. My business partner text me every single morning and asked “How’s Jen?” work colleagues, friends, neighbors, all offered so much support. Jen’s mom moved in to help all the way through chemo. Jen’s mom was a great support for us. We could never thank her enough for leaving her home, her husband, her dogs, and her horses to be here for us. It was all very humbling and it was very difficult for me to accept everyone’s help. But there is no question that it all helped me stay strong for Jen. All the support and outreach that I personally received truly did help me to keep up my front for Jen.
My wife was poked and cut and put under, trauma here and scaring there all as part of her treatment; having to watch Jen go through all this and not me was, and is, a terrible feeling. Even though the pain and recovery from the surgeries was rough, without question, chemo was the worse. Chemotherapy may have saved her life, but seeing what those drugs did to her and having no control over the situation was extremely difficult. Before it, during it, and now after it, I would have given anything for it to be me not her. It was a completely helpless feeling. Watching this medicine take your wife from you. I don’t mean the baldness, or the weight loss, or the energy. No. I mean my wife, I mean her. The fire, the passion, the laughing, the smiling, the affection. Chemo took my wife from me. Tough thing to think about, even more difficult to say. However, I am confident I stayed strong for her through the entire process. I am confident she never once saw me bend and that I supported Jen to the best of my ability. All the appointments, meals, custom bedside electrical wiring, Epsom salt runs to the store, drains and the ten thousand other things I did while staying strong made a difference.
We’re almost a year since diagnosis. Jen has physically recovered. She is more stunning now than she has ever been. She is working hard on healing herself emotionally and is making great progress too. I am so proud of how Jen has taken this terrible thing and turned it into such a positive for others. Her blog, the BFF’s, Instagram and how she has reached out and helped so many other women going through some of the same struggles Jen experienced too. I still have not fully faced cancer head on; and I probably never will. I still have not truly broke down and told my wife all my personal struggles, pain, and how this changed me; and there is no question, I never will. My job was and is to be strong for her and I embrace it today. There’s not a week that goes by without me reminding her, cancer will never win against us. No matter what happens, if we mentally stay strong, we can take on anything together. I love Jen with all my heart and I am so proud to be the man she picked to spend her life with.