We Can Choose Joy

We all have the power of choice. As hard as it might be at times, we can choose to wake up in the morning and be in a good mood. Despite bad weather, a burnt breakfast or any other seemingly annoying thing, we can choose to not let it bring down our day.

I thought I knew how to choose joy. After all, I did it in the hardest moments of my life. Throughout my first and second diagnosis with breast cancer, I smiled and handled myself with grace. I found a way to focus on fun despite the hardship. And I learned it from a wonder woman of positive spirit, Mary Ann. On one of my toughest days, just hours after being diagnosed as a 31-year old breast cancer patient, Mary Ann came to me. A kind-hearted and super-souled woman, she guided me through those first six months, helping me understand the intense physical and emotional toll of cancer. She assured me that even as a newlywed cancer patient, I could be happy. I listened. And I was.

Chemotherapy Tips: Me, Kev, Two Nurses and an IV

I wasn’t scared of the painful side effects from surgery.

I wasn’t scared of fatigue and emotional drain from a packed schedule of cancer doctor appointments.

I wasn’t scared of humongous machines filled with radiation.

And I wasn’t scared of chemotherapy … I was petrified.

When I was first diagnosed, I only knew a few people who went through cancer treatment. And I didn’t know much about their experiences, so I really had no idea what to expect. I feared the worst when I was told I needed chemo; my stomach sank and anxiety filled my chest. I imaged myself regularly hugging a toilet, unable to leave the house and participate in life for 16 weeks of treatment. But this wasn’t my experience at all. In fact, my first chemo treatment was just me, my husband, two nurses and an IV. 

How a Disney Princess Helped Me Discover My New Normal

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the Fall of 2013. The news was shocking and sobering, especially considering I knew very few people who thrived with it. Scared beyond comprehension, filled with sleepless nights and worries dancing through my head, I thought I knew what that diagnosis meant. At the same time, publicity ramped up for Disney’s “Frozen,” but I didn’t pay attention. The movie opened Thanksgiving weekend and after the holidays, the world knew it was not only a box office hit, but the key to a young girl’s heart. I didn’t realize, it would be to mine, as well.

As the world was singing “Do you Want to Build a Snowman, ” I was anxiously awaiting my first set of scans after being diagnosed. My mind was filled with wildly ranging thoughts:

Was this the calm before the storm? Would the results show tremendous growth and I would only have a few months or years left?

If so, would my child really know me? Should we tell him or not?

Will my new treatments debilitate me? Will I feel like myself? Will I be myself?

Guidance for Cancer Survivors and Caregivers

Today marks 10 years since my first-ever surgery, a bilateral mastectomy. Fox CT interviewed me to celebrate this milestone and highlight how others can look to handle a similar situation (video above). Being initially diagnosed young, I learned how to navigate through diagnosis and treatment while finding a few laughs a long the way. Below are some quick links to cancer resources. Cancer survivors and their caregivers can use these ideas as a guide to help navigate the diagnosis, treatment and hopefully be comfortable with being their own patient advocate.

Celebrating 10 Years Since Cancer Surgery

Recent Diagnosis – Patient: 

Everyone is different, know there is not one right way to act or feel. These suggestions worked for me in an effort to stay relatively sane while evaluating various cancer treatments.

Support – From Friends and Family: 

When people mention they don’t know what to say to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, I just tell them to know their audience. Treat a friend/family member in a similar manner, with perhaps a little bit more kindness, in an effort to make them feel some normalcy.

Support – Financial, Emotional for Patients and Caregivers: 

The first few weeks after being diagnosed are filled with many new obstacles, including excessive stress and potential financial burdens. There are many ways to combat these issues, including finding support organizations and using mindfulness techniques.

  • CancerCare – This organization provides counseling, support groups, education and financial assistance for both patients and caregivers.
  • Finding time for exercise and mindfulness activities is helpful: benefits of yoga, acupuncture and walking for cancer patients.

Hope and Inspiration:

Being diagnosed at 31, many of my peers had not faced this disease before. Regardless, facing cancer is life altering, and I wanted to have hope. So I found it incredibly helpful when people shared global survival stories. Here are some quick links where you can find hope, inspiration and motivation from others experiencing hardships.

  • Kris Carr – Author and inspirational speaker known for the Crazy Sexy Cancer brand outlines her journey toward wellness while living with a rare form of cancer.
  • Gotta Make Lemonade – Public figure Samantha Harris and her husband have created a platform to inspire others to overcome life’s challenges. These include cancer and injury as well as professional adversity. My story was featured here, as well.

For more relevant information about my cancer journey and supportive resources, check out our cancer resources page.

Have you been touched by cancer? Please share your story or recommendations for other patients or caregivers.

4 Books for Someone Touched with A Cancer Diagnosis

As the hours set in after my initial cancer diagnosis, I went from feeling disbelief to craving information. I wanted to know more. So rather than jump on the internet, since I was warned to stay away, my husband and I drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore. I purchased a few “you have cancer” books and quickly learned that any piece of literature, story, infographic or even a soundbite could bring me to tears if I wasn’t ready. Since unfortunately others have been and will be touched by cancer, below is a short list of books that provided me information without scary statistics and overwhelming tales. These delivered inspiration to move forward and take care of myself, while I let my medical and support team take care of me.

What if I Didn’t Have Cancer?

Ten years ago yesterday, I was first told that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, aka cancer. As I look back, I wonder what would my life be like if I didn’t have cancer.

Where would I be? Would I’ve been a stay-at-home mom with four kids? Or possibly a business woman traveling cross-country while my husband stayed home and managed family life?

Do I even begin to play that game, dreaming about what could’ve been before cancer changed my plans? How do I know that even without cancer, life could have been better? Maybe something more daunting would’ve appeared, and I surely don’t want to think about that.

So, when I’m down or feeling a little sorry for myself, I try to think of what I’ve gained from my cancer experience or (insert horrible situation here.) I’m not suggesting we all rewrite a modern version of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. I just think finding positivity clears the mind of the stress and angst of a tragic life event.

 

These are a Few of My Favorite Things – After Cancer Came to Town

Unique Relationships

You hear it all the time, cancer brings about a special bond. Those who understand the frightful conversations dealing with a life-threatening diagnosis can provide relevant advice or tough love. I’m grateful for these cancer friends, otherwise known as my angels, who have taught me about cancer, strength and grace. Some guided me tremendously during the early moments. Others have grown with me beyond cancer and continue to be a shining force in my life. In fact, I’ve played both roles, as well, mentoring, motivating and educating those about the “big C.” Treatments debated and tears often shed, but many times we commiserated about the silly stuff.

It’s also worth noting, that other relationships intensify because cancer brings them to a life-altering other level. My husband and I dealt with frightening decisions in a short amount of time. This taught us how to not only communicate but also work well together under such duress.

Authentic Confidence

I often stressed over the wrong things in childhood. I took every self-help magazine quiz to improve my teenage self-esteem. While I was a confident kid, I had my moments, which trickled through my early 20’s. Beating cancer and thriving with it at 31 catapulted me into a different mental state. With every intense work project, fearful presentation or uncomfortable life situation, I drew upon my cancer survivor skills and thrived. Take that, cancer … you made me better.

Adapting to Change and Evolving with It

It’s one thing to adapt to change, but completely different to evolve with it. Being thrown this curve ball at age 31, when I was just asserting my adulthood taught me how to play ball successfully. If one strategy works for years, it doesn’t mean it will in the future. So when my cancer life began, my old life had to be adapted. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but I’ve learned to grieve any loss and move forward.

New Boobs and Bod

Ok, so here’s the silly, yet surreal part. While I would never wish the surgeries, IV cocktails, shots and scans on anyone, my body looks better. I had bigger boobs, but I never loved them. My post bilateral mastectomy ones fit well in clothes and I don’t even have to wear a bra. Even more exciting, the past year eating clean, sleeping more and practicing yoga has tightened my body and improved my energy level tremendously. I wish I would have embraced a clean lifestyle way back when, instead of counting calories for all those years.

Timing Means Everything

My husband and I wanted to be pregnant within the year after we were married. Our plan had to be altered because I was diagnosed just three months after our wedding. I would have never wanted to wait four years to have a baby. But, thankfully, I did. Kyle is our everything. Since every second/minute/year carries different possible outcomes, had we not waited four years, our baby would not be our precious, silly, thoughtful, caring and creative, Kyle.

 

Have you or someone you love experienced any life altering moments that redefined your life?