Sneaky People

Have you ever had one of those dreams…? You know, the ones where you’re at a familiar location; somewhere that you might typically be, but you keep running into random people. First you see your boyfriend’s step sister, then you run into your mom, then one of your best friends, then your aunt…

That’s exactly what it feels like when your family and friends are able to plot and scheme their way into throwing you a successful surprise party (or in this case, bridal shower).

I should probably back up a little bit. I was entirely opposed to having any sort of shower. I hate the attention. I don’t like opening gifts in front of people. I’m an anti-bride. And I don’t think it’s fair that the groom gets out of all of this when we’re a couple getting married. I think I gave everyone involved a very clear “hell no” to the idea of a bridal shower. 

I thought I was safe. It seemed like everyone had dropped it.

This weekend, one of my best friends, Jackie, came into town. We decided to have one of our hotel sleepovers on Friday night. I was preoccupied with our plans: cruising along the beach in her rental VW Bug convertible, having wine and cheese at the hotel, and having her help fix my brain. Jackie is a mental health counselor. She’s smart and exceptionally good at helping people deal with trauma. After feeling so messed up over the Nalie relapse, I was very much looking forward to having some time to sort it all out. 

Jackie helped me to reframe my thinking. She helped me to let go of my doubts. She helped me to refocus and trust in my beliefs again. Together, we examined everything and figured out the purpose of the cancer. How lucky am I to have a friend like that?

…but I digress. 

I should have noticed when Jackie tried to get me to bring a dress or something cute to wear for our Saturday activities. We were just going to meet up with my mom, like we usually do, for which yoga pants are entirely acceptable. I should have noticed that my mom was being rigid about what time we would meet up. I should’ve picked up on the fact that my mom had “car trouble” and didn’t want to go far from Boca Raton, even though she doesnt live in Boca Raton. 

Sneaky people.

That morning when we got dressed, Jackie tried to get me to wear something cuter than yoga pants. It was chilly out so I wanted to wear my warmer comfy clothes. I wasn’t in the mood to get dressed up. I was tired. My eyelashes were falling out. My eyebrows were completely drawn in. I wasn’t feeling much like dressing cute. My wonderful friend dressed down to match me, despite knowing that we would be considerably underdressed.

We drove around, went to a coffee shop, killed some time, and then headed over to the restaurant that my mom picked. As we walked up, I noticed a sign on the side door that said “Reserved for private party”. I commented on how big of a birthday party it seemed from the outside. When we walked in I first noticed the face of Brian’s step sister, Jen. Oh, how weird that she’s here for a birthday party right now.

SURPRISE!!!

I looked around at the other people, my mom… Brian’s mom… my sister… My aunt… HOLY SHIT THIS IS MY PARTY!… Brian’s grandma… my friend Marisa OMG, hi!… 

all these people are here for me!!!… 

OMG I am basically wearing my pajamas to my bridal shower.

I was passed around the room from one person’s hug to the next, reeling from the shock of it all.

“Are you mad?” Judy asked. 

I wasn’t mad. How can you be mad when people love you enough to throw you a surprise party!? 

As was expected, I didn’t enjoy the attention or opening presents in front of so many pairs of eyes. What I didn’t expect was just how special it was to have so many people come together to celebrate with me and to shower me with love. I can only imagine how beautiful it will be to have EVERYONE together in April for the wedding. 

Thank you to my loved ones who plotted and schemed and lied through their teeth to make sure I was surprised. My mind was blown!

Radiation, Eyebrows & Anxiety

It’s amazing how quickly radiation is passing, especially in comparison to chemo. As of today, I have completed half of my radiation treatments. 

Fifteen down. Fifteen to go. 

I feel good. I don’t feel tired, the way people have warned me I might. My skin looks and feels like a mild sunburn. 

My body is recovering well from chemo. My hair is growing back (everywhere). I welcome it. I appreciate the need to tweeze and shave my healthy, annoyingly fast growing hair. My eyebrows are finally making a comeback, but only after they fell out… COMPLETELY. Today I pulled out the remaining few hairs from my old eyebrows. They were hanging awkwardly from unnatural angles, waiting for a breeze to come and blow them away. I just gave them a gentle tug with my fingers and ended the waiting. Eyebrow makeup works very well and nobody seems to notice. 

Now, how am I doing mentally

Hearing about Nalie’s relapse last week shook me to my core. It triggered me. It uncovered feelings of dread that I forgot I had. Feelings that seemed to have been destroyed with the administration of chemo. I had accepted a full recovery as the only possible outcome. 

It might seem naive, but I had accepted my misfortune as some sort of divine intervention. Something made the tumor hurt so I would catch it early. My cancer had a purpose. It was a catalyst for change.

I could see the the changes happening around me. My life was shifting and evolving into what I always dreamed it could be. The wedding. The house. The timing. 

And then just like that, with Nalie’s news, my confidence was blown to bits. I was alone in a Godless world.

I’m trying to get back on track. The fear is dissipating, finally.

I’m trying to focus on happier things.

The wedding is in three months. 

The home inspection is tomorrow.

I have only 15 treatments left.

I have things to look forward to. BIG things. 

All I can say is cancer is not invited into the next chapter.

A Weird Day

I often feel like I live my life tethered to cancer. Some days the leash is longer with a little more give. I can distance myself. I can breathe. I can imagine that my life is normal. Then there are the days that the leash feels more like a noose, choking the life out of me. Stealing my air. 

Today I felt like I was attached to a bungee cord. Moments of free falling and elation. And also moments where your heart jumps up into your throat as you brace yourself in terror.

This afternoon I went onto YouTube with the intention of searching for something wedding related. Something on my home feed caught my attention. It was Nalie Agustin, a 28 year old breast cancer survivor and vlogger that I watched often early on in my diagnosis. She was looking out at me from her video above the title “The Relapse”. Fuck.  Nalie is an inspiring, positive young woman who helped me feel like I could beat my cancer at a time when things felt bleak. Do I really want to open this video? Do I really want to know what this says? I opened the video. Her cancer came back… in her lungs. Stage IV. Incurable.

I felt the bungee cord catch. I felt my stomach and my heart tighten. I stopped the video. I just couldn’t hear anymore of it.

Literally a moment later, my phone rang. It was Brian. “I have something to tell you…” oh God, what now? “We got the house!” 

My lungs were suddenly filled with pure, soft, revitalizing air. I was floating. 

After years of searching for a house, of being heartbroken and disappointed by numerous offers falling through, this one finally sticks. This one, in the midst of cancer treatments and wedding planning. This one

I suppose, in my case, things happen all at once, or not at all. 

We still have the inspection and negotiations to get through, but I feel it in my soul that this one is meant to be.

All of these things swirled through my head as I arrived at the cancer center for my 9th radiation treatment. Nalie returned to my thoughts and stayed there while I changed into my robe and waited. While I layed on the table for treatment.

She’s just like me. She’s young. She’s vibrant. She has goals. She wants to buy a house and get married and have a family. My heart  breaks for her. I feel like I am tethered to her. Like her pain and fear travel through that cord, paralyzing me for a moment. What if that happens to me?

Sometimes this happens. Sometimes I begin to fall faster than I can handle and I need to pull the rip cord. 

Enough. 

I have to bring myself back down to earth slowly. I need to remind myself that I’m ok.

I’m not her.

I had earlier stage cancer. I had cancer that wasn’t traveling. I’m doing probably more than is necessary to stay alive. My cancer is not her cancer.

When I was ready, I went back and watched the rest of her video. She’s in shock. She’s angry and sad, but she’s going to fight. Of course she’s going to fight. “Just because my cancer came back doesn’t mean yours will,”she says. It’s amazing that she can still take care of her followers even in her darkest of times.

Not that she’ll see it, but this feels appropriate:

Radiation

Things that cross your mind while receiving radiation therapy:

  • How safe is this really if the techs have to be behind a wall when a focused beam of radiation is being directed at me?
  • Part of the radiation machine looks like a Pin Art toy.
  • This beam better not be touching my heart.
  • Is this thing really on?

As of today, I have received 7 of my 30 prescribed treatments. 

I suppose that if this were my first and only course of treatment after surgery, I might have felt a little scared, but that wasn’t the case. After diagnostics and chemo, radiation just doesn’t seem that scary. Of course, I have things that I worry about, like Will the radiation come in contact with my heart? and Will my skin burn over time?, but the truth is that radiation is a cake walk… so far. 

My treatments started on January 5th. I arrived at the cancer center and was guided to the changing rooms. I put on a blue gown and waited. A tech came to collect me, then led me back to the treatment room where I was instructed to lay face up on a table in the middle of the room. My arms were guided into position over my head. The radiation techs lined up my tattoos with the light beam and taped a breathing sensor on my stomach. Photos were sent over to my radiation oncologist for approval of the positioning, then the treatment commenced.

The techs went to the other side of the protective wall and talked to me through a speaker. “Take a deep breath in – hold it,” 10-30 seconds of radiation, “breathe.” They repeated this four times, two from each side. And that was it. You feel nothing. You see nothing. Highly anticlimactic.

So far, my skin seems to be gaining a little bit of color. My left breast, in comparison to the right, is beginning to possess a rosy glow. I religiously apply creams to my skin, drink lots of water, and wash with moisturizing soap.

Brian and I can’t help but make Silence of the Lambs references, but more sinister, if you can imagine… “It puts the lotion on the skin, or else the skin gets burned into a festering, rotting wound.”

Other than feeling aggravated by the driving and the obligation, I’m feeling really good. The hair on my head is filling in all over:

6 weeks of hair growth

The weird part is that my eyebrows have continued to thin, which I’ve read isn’t actually that unusual. Many people with my chemo lost their eyebrows after it was all over. My right eyebrow is hanging in there, but the left is noticeably thinner. I hope they fill in soon, but those hairs grow so slowly! Before chemo, I always felt like such a hairy beast! Constantly taming all of this hair. When you don’t have it you definitely miss it.

I guess that’s all for now. 23 more radiation treatments.

Twelve Wishes

Last year, Brian and I spent New Year’s Eve at a friend’s party. While we’ve spent many Eves with this friend, this was the first one that included his new wife. We did the usual things. Drank. Talked. Played beer pong. Wore silly hats. Danced.

Shortly before midnight I saw the new wife sprint to the kitchen, shouting something about grapes. A few minutes later, she emerged and began handing them out with a glass of champagne. “What’s this for?” I asked. I was told that at midnight I should drink the champagne and make a wish for each of the 12 grapes. It was a Hispanic tradition, one that was clearly very important to her. 

She managed to get her grapes out to everyone just in time for the last 10 seconds of 2015. As the countdown began I started thinking about the things I would wish for. I looked around the room at people I’ve known as long as I’ve known Brian. People who used to attend these parties alone, but now had spouses and children who were running around or were sleeping in one of the bedrooms. I thought about how frustrated I was with my life. How stuck and stagnant things were feeling. 

4… 3… 2… 1… Happy New Year! Everyone kissed their loved ones as they made the arduous journey into the new year, then we all frantically downed our champagne and grapes. 

I don’t remember what my wishes were, specifically. I do know that I desperately wanted for things to be different. I wished for something that would force the changes that I could not make on my own. 

I’ve said it before, but I often wonder if my cancer was the response to my desperate pleas for change. That night wasn’t the first time that wished/prayed/asked the universe to help. What if I asked for this?

This year, Brian and I didn’t have any big New Year’s Eve plans. We went out for cheeseburgers, then on the way home we stopped at Wal-Mart to get some champagne… and grapes. 

We watched a Law and Order: SVU marathon until about 11:30. I prepared our champagne and grapes and we watched the ball in Times Square begin it’s descent. 

4… 3… 2… 1… 

We welcomed the new year. A year that will hopefully be significantly better, happier, and easier than the one before. 

Then we sat together and shared our wishes as we ate our grapes. I wish the cancer won’t come back never ever again. I wish we get a house. I wish for health and happiness for our friends and family. I wish for a new job and career (Brian). I wish for peace for our service men and women. I wish for good trips and adventures. I wish that the new research confirms it’s safe to get pregnant at 3 years out. I wish for no cancer for anyone we know this year…

What if it’s real? What if our wishes really do float up, away from our lips, out into the universe and reach the ears of someone or something with the power to make a change? 

Last year was a hard year. I was challenged in ways that I never imagined. I became the person I always hoped I could be. Relationships were forced out of their comfortable little boxes, leaving me with an army of people who love and support me. No matter the reason for my cancer, my wishes came true. I can see the blessings that it brought to me. I have more love than I know what to do with. Things are shifting. I no longer feel stagnant. 

And now it’s time to start anew. 

In February I will be done with my cancer treatments. In April I will marry someone that I love so very very much. In the summer we will go on an exciting honeymoon adventure. I will spend time with my loved ones. I will not waste a single moment.

Happy New Year, my friends. May you dream big. Love life. Find joy. Be well. 

Christmas TIME

Most of the time, especially when you’re young, you sit comfortably with the notion that all of your tomorrows are promised. We fill our calendars with plans for the next week, the next month, the next year… but what if the part that we cannot see is that the calendar will end prematurely? Or what if we get sick? What if we get injured? What if something happens that forces a major calendar overhaul? 

The trouble is you think you have time.

I think I’ve been more aware of this truth than most people my age. For example, from early on, I knew that when I selected a career, I needed to invest my time in something that not only yielded a profit of money, but profits of pleasure and philanthropy as well. Time is too precious to spend it doing something that makes you unhappy or doesn’t reflect your worth.

This year flew by, despite the soul sucking, time sucking challenges that were thrown my way. I made sure to savor my Christmas experience this year. Back in October I started watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. We got a (pathetic, mini) Christmas tree on Thanksgiving night. I put up my decorations early. I baked millions of chocolate chip cookies. I made sure not to let the season pass me by.

Christmas eve was wonderful. Brian worked half the day. I made us some Christmas fettuccini for dinner and we shared a bottle of wine. Christmas day was low key and filled with love. We spent the morning with Brian’s family and the evening with mine. 

Upon arriving at my sister’s for dinner, something happened in my heart that I didn’t expect. It was like the thin, protective wall that I had built up to protect myself cracked. Warmth began to spill out, reaching the tips of my toes to the top of my head. Feelings of gratitude, pain, fondness, fear, joy, and love, mixing together. Beautifully bittersweet.

When you’ve spent parts of your year fearing for your life, fearing an untimely separation from the ones you love, time like that becomes more valuable than gold.

I’m not sure why cancer happened to me. I believe these things happen to teach us something. Plenty of people have been touched by my cancer, each of which has their own lesson to learn. All I know is this:

Stop and smell the roses.

Time you enjoy wasting isn’t really wasted. 

Don’t put things off for too long.

Be happy.

Love hard.

Coming to a Close

What a whirlwind week it’s been! One blood test. One minor surgery. A mammogram and ultrasound. One CAT scan. And I got three tattoos… not by choice, they’re for radiation.

They look like ugly black heads.

The CAT scan was quick and easy. They took images of my chest while breathing normally and also while holding a deep breath. I’ll most likely hold a breath while they radiate to protect my heart. They also placed my tattoos so that they can always line up the equipment correctly.

Removing the port was my favorite medical endeavor this week. A “happy surgery”, as the nurse called it. I was almost overjoyed to be there. I didn’t require any medications to help me relax. I actually remained awake for significantly longer than I did before any surgery thus far. I was awake while they wheeled me into the O.R. (it was O.R. 8, which is my favorite number). I was awake while they set up the room. While they hooked me up to various machines. While the doctors cracked jokes back and forth at each other. The last thing I remember was being told I should start feeling a little sleepy and then the medicine making its way, coldly, up my arm. I woke up after a nice refreshing nap, free of my port and in a happy (loopy) state. I drank three cups of apple juice, told one of the nurses that she could get my denim shirt and Old Navy, then she wheeled me to the front. “Thanks for the ride!” I called back as I hopped in Brian’s truck.

And now, the much anticipated winter break has finally arrived. Under normal circumstances, winter break feels like an eternity away. It looms in the distance, like a tiny speck on the horizon as we arrive back at work for a brand new school year. It seems even further away when chemo is mixed in with the normal stresses of life. I made it. I can’t believe I made it. I will now have about a week and a half free of treatment. Free of doctors. Free of cancer.

Time for Christmas. Time to spread the love around. Bake lots of cookies. Hug my family. Do fun things. Watch the Ronda Rousey fight. And celebrate a new year… a year much better than the one that I have managed to survive.

The Beginning of the End

Today I went and had a consultation with my radiation oncologist. The appointment went just as I expected it would. They updated my file to include chemo and then jumped right into what’s to come…

Next Friday I will have a CAT scan for treatment purposes. They use the imaging to determine how much space there is between my breast tissue and heart. Most likely, they will radiate as I hold a big breath to keep my heart protected. 

I was told to start moisturizing my skin now to help keep it from burning. I was concerned that having fair skin would make me more susceptible to getting burnt, but that’s not the case. Due to the fact that we’re not radiating a mastectomy site and I have actual healthy tissue beneath my skin, it should hold up better. Dr. B recommended using aloe fresh off the plant to soothe and moisturize the skin throughout treatment, so it looks like I’ll be purchasing an aloe plant in the near future. 

Many people have warned me that radiation makes you tired. Dr. B said that since I did so “remarkably well” with chemo, she doubts that I’ll get tired from radiation. Let’s do this!

I will most likely get started the week after Christmas. I will have 30 treatments, 5 days a week. I feel pretty at ease about this, which is a nice contrast to the terror I felt prior to starting chemo. I understand that how these things go is very much determined by my attitude. My attitude about this is that I get to go to a powerful sun spa 5 days a week and get a really tan boob… that is absolutely free of any pesky cancer cells. Those suckers are gonna fry!

Finish Line

I have completed one half marathon, one 10 miler, two 10K runs, three 5K runs, and three mud runs. I have accumulated quite the collection of race bibs and medals, but today I received a medal that truly surpasses the rest. A medal that represents a different kind of stamina and resilience.  It reminds me of how strong I truly am. 

“Deep in their roots- all flowers keep their light.” “We finish together.”

I am finished with chemo. 

I think I should say that again… I’m finished with chemo!

What I’d like to say in this post is how grateful I am for my people. The love, support, cards, hugs, words of encouragement, and prayers were invaluable during this challenge. You all got me through this and the only way to truly make you understand how much I appreciate you would be if I were capable of magic or miracles. You have gotten me through this and you deserve a medal as much as I do.

Thank you

Toward the end of December I will begin radiation, which will last for 6 weeks. We’re almost done. I’m close to reclaiming my body from the world of cancer. I. can’t. wait.

6 down. ZERO TO GO!

Existential

I would lay awake in the darkness, watching the shadows on my walls shift with the movement of the night. Close your eyes. Go to sleep. Laying still did nothing for my racing mind. The thoughts were too much for my 5 year old heart, and so, it too would pick up speed. I’d hop out of bed and venture downstairs into the forbidden nighttime world of adults where my parents stayed up late to watch tv. “What’s wrong?” my mom would ask. When you’re 5, it’s hard to find the words, so I’d simply say, “It’s going too fast.”

Many years later, the night was when my friends and I would embark on adventures to the ends of the earth. We would drive to the beach and disappear into the magic of the sand and shore. We would sit for hours, listening to the waves, contemplating life, and searching the sky for proof that there was more. 

The gravity of existence is something I have been experiencing since I was a young child. I am quite accustomed to feeling small and wondering why and how I am here… why anyone or anything is here. 

As life wore away my innocence, I began to recognize the threats of existence. Car crashes. Hurricanes. Criminals. Drowning. Fires. Potential accidents were hidden behind every corner. When you’re young you believe that you are indestructible. That you are somehow safe.

I now see that safety is an illusion. The reality is that danger walks freely among the innocent, waiting to be triggered by a mental break or molded from a weak constitution. This danger blends in and hides behind political correctness and pragmatic limitations. For a while, I felt safe hiding at home from the terror I saw on the news. I believed that I had some control over my existence. I believed that the walls of my home could spare me from the broken minds and bullets that seemed to pose the greatest threat. I know now that danger can literally come from within.

I never considered that I could develop an illness. I never imagined that anything I could have could potentially threaten my life. You can’t hide from cancer within the walls of your home. 

I used to look up at the sky and feel so small. I used to feel like the possibilities of life were just as vast as that sky. Cancer has kept me indoors, away from the sky, and I have forgotten that existence is much larger than what cancer attempts to control. 

With fall, the sun retreats a little earlier and now my drive home from work is sometimes painted with the most beautiful swirls of pink and blue and orange. 

It reminds me that I have no control over any of it… but it’s ok.

I was beginning to feel like the walls were closing in on me. Life was feeling very tight and small and constricting. I forgot about god/God/”God”. 

Life is going to be what it’s going to be. The possibilities are still there, even if I forgot about them for a moment. Before long, I will be free of these unpleasant extracurricular activities. I am grateful that I will get to go back and live without these walls, under a vast, beautiful, twinkling sky of possibilities.