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.
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
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.
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?
I’m thrilled to be a recipient of the 2014 Pink Power Mom award.
The Kids II Foundation’s, Pink Power Mom network is a nonprofit organization that honors eight women annually who have used their breast cancer battle as a catalyst to make a difference in the community. I’m honored that I was selected because of my efforts with Pretty Wellness. As a winner, I will receive a sizable donation for my charities of choice, so that I can continue to advocate for meaningful breast cancer treatments and resources.
My 2015 donation will be awarded to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. As a former Disney/ESPN employee, I have fond memories of supporting the V Foundation. I participated in many fundraisers and sat on a departmental committee to help build awareness and raise funds to support their mission: curing cancer. On the day I was diagnosed with stage IV disease, one of the executives reminded me that I am not a case study and recited the wise words of coach Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up…Don’t ever give up.” It uplifted me and was the reminder I needed to embrace my positive spirit in the face of hardship.
Another charity that is near and dear to my heart is The Get in Touch Foundation, founded in my hometown by fellow cancer survivor, 2010 Pink Power Mom, author, and friend, Mary Ann Wasil. The foundation’s goal is to provide initiatives to educate girls and boys about early detection. Their Girls’ Program/Daisy Wheel tool has been implemented in 26 countries and teaches children about how to do their own breast self-exams. I sat on the board in the early stages, now years later I’m amazed at the progress and global reach of their efforts.
Here is the official press release for more information on Kids II, Inc. and the Pink Power Mom recipients.
I’m excited to join the sisterhood of this amazing group of breast cancer survivors and can’t wait to meet them at the award ceremony in early 2015.
I’m not sure when to celebrate my cancer-aversery.
Is it the day we found the first lump (12/18/2004?)
Is it the day of my first official diagnosis (12/29/04?)
Now, that I’ve had a reoccurrence, should I commemorate the day when scan reports outlined the probability of metastatic disease (8/29/13?) Or, should it be the night of Friday the 13th (9/13/13) when my oncologist’s voice quietly gave me the official word – “It IS cancer.”
Whether this disease has been a blessing, a curse or none of the above, I’ve stumbled upon amazing organizations that have helped my family and others navigate through this experience. So today, in honor of “International Day of Charity,” “Giving Tuesday” and all the other holidays benefiting charitable organizations, I’ve listed some of my favorite cancer charities. Their missions serve people in different ways. Some focus on research to find a cure, while others promote early detection to prevent it altogether.
People often ask me what to give a friend or relative who has been recently diagnosed. Thoughtful cards and gifts are always kind. I also suggest donating money (or time) to a cause related to their cancer.
It’s powerful to think that my life may have been saved because of breast cancer awareness campaigns. After discussing the lump on my chest in 2004, my husband told me to get “one of those mammogram things.” Thank you to Susan G. Komen Foundation, Avon, #SU2C and all the people who have participated in their events promoting the importance of early detection.
New surgical techniques and medications available through extensive research and trials are key to improve a patient’s quality of life. I’ve experienced this first hand. My first surgery, performed in 2005, was slightly less invasive, due a new technique. Also, the medication combination I take today is relatively new.
I can’t even begin to thank and promote all the wonderful services and products available to support cancer patients. These organizations need volunteers, funding and often publicity to continue to serve those in need.
So, for all the times you have wondered how to help a friend fighting cancer, here are a few of my latest favorite cancer charities/organizations that I’ve found legitimate and helpful for the patient, their family and the cause.
My Favorite Places to Donate
As a cancer patient, I’ve spent nearly 10-years in hospitals. Both Greenwich Hospital and Yale New Haven Hospital raise money to support their respective causes. Their efforts improve public health for the local and global community. I’ve seen the awareness campaigns, educational events and research trial information readily available for the public to embrace.
Big Cancer Research Hospital
The big cancer research hospitals like MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Yale New Haven Hospital all conduct research to find new treatments. The drug trials tested here are often offered across the country, once they have been approved by the FDA.
The Cancer Couch Foundation
Founded by a brilliant neuropsychologist, mother of two, loving wife and wellness warrior with a super power spirit, Rebecca Timlin-Scalera is an undeniable positive force. Within months of her initial stage IV diagnosis, she created The Cancer Couch blog sharing her stories with wit and wisdom from the other side of the couch. Then, a few months later, with a goal to cure stage IV disease or at least find more livable treatments for metastatic patients, she and her husband Tom founded The Cancer Couch Foundation. The foundation is set up exclusively to fund research focused on accelerating treatment for metastatic breast cancer. And they have done just that! Within less than six months, The Cancer Couch Foundation raised over 1/2 million dollars for metastatic breast cancer research trials with leading doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering and Dana Farber.
CancerCare’s goal is to take care of the patients’ needs outside the medical chambers. They provide phone, online, face-to-face counseling, support groups, education, publications and financial assistance. Oncology social workers offer personalized care, free of charge. When we were trying to decide whether or not to tell our 5-year old about my re-occurrence, a well-informed, sweet oncology social worker guided us to our decision. (We decided NOT to tell him now with her advice.) She also provided a fun, family, pillow-making package.
The V Foundation for Cancer Research
“Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up,” taken from Coach Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech, inspires me and many others daily. Those exact words were said to me with such hope and authenticity from an executive at The V Foundation on the day I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic disease. So, I have a special place in my heart for this organization. The V Foundation funds critical cancer research at prominent cancer centers nationwide. Valvano’s dream of curing cancer might be a reality someday, with the help of research grants and talented medical professionals.
The Get in Touch Foundation
The Get in Touch Foundation is near and dear to me because the founder was one of my first cheerleaders (and a fellow breast cancer survivor) when originally diagnosed in 2004. The mission of the Get In Touch Foundation is to provide breast health initiatives to educate kids about their bodies and provide information to help inform them about the importance of early detection. If detected early, many diseases are treatable. So far, I can relate. Both my cases were found relatively early and because of it, I have a lot of treatment options.
Runway for Recovery
I walked in the Runway for Recovery fashion show a few years ago because I was touched by how passionate the founder was about her cause. After losing her mother to breast cancer, she wanted to raise funds to help children and families who have lost their mothers to the disease by assisting with financial, logistical and emotion burdens associated with caring for a loved one with cancer. The proceeds primarily benefit the Massachusetts General Hospital Patient and Caregiver Fund.
Please tell us how you want to donate or volunteer to support the cause.
June 1 marked National Cancer Survivor’s Day. Being a two-time cancer survivor, I thought a lot about what this meant to me. What lessons did I learn that made my life better and can be applied to my friends, family and the greater community?
The first time around, cancer gave me confidence. I shopped for wigs with enthusiasm, bought new makeup to highlight my smile (rather than the thinning eyelashes) and had chemo parties to make the IV treatments enjoyable. I conquered breast cancer with positivity and grace. So, when I jumped back into my fast-paced corporate lifestyle, no monumental presentation or top-executive meeting could rock my world. I knew I could master it, because I overcame the greatest battle of all – I beat the big C.
Though the confidence was powerful and definitely a badge of courage after surgery and chemo, my approach to life was to “get back to normal.” I enjoyed forgetting that I once had cancer. My workaholic ways and successful career momentum reinforced that “I was back.” What I know now after my second round of breast cancer is that I missed the bigger lesson. Rather than go back to my normal life, I should have recognized the importance of taking care of myself. Like many in this world, I probably just thought that overhauling my routine was too hard. What I realized is that making a few small changes, little by little, eventually equals big changes in my health.
20 Simple Lessons on How to Take Care of Myself I Learned from Surviving Cancer
1. Being bald, I noticed my eyes and learned they were truly beautiful. Wow – maybe I am pretty after-all.
2. Feeling tired, drained, nauseous and pain can be a downer. It is ok to be in a funk. Accept it and don’t beat myself up over it.
3. Even having cancer, I can be happy, have fun and laugh a lot. The first time around I was a newlywed and vowed to focus on silly little activities to keep us laughing. Who would have thought?
4. Cancer brings clarity, which makes life a tad bit easier. I didn’t care that I lost my breasts and hair because I just wanted to live. Nothing else was important but that.
5. Grappling with mortality reminded me to be grateful for everything in my life ranging from my relationships to my personal assets.
6. Sleep is ever so important. Cells can’t revitalize unless my body sleeps well. Farewell to the 3-hour slumbers I would subject myself to so I could wake up and work on a presentation or send emails at 4 a.m. Now, I sleep at least 7.5 hours and even nap, too.
7. Move around: walk daily and find an active hobby. Studies continue to support moderate exercise to prevent many diseases.
8. Eating whole foods, rather than packaged artificial items will give me more energy throughout the day.
9. My favorite foods changed, whether it was from treatment induced cravings or eliminating items for long periods of time. I learned that I don’t need Diet Dr. Pepper, Hostess Snowballs and gummy Coke bottles in my life.
10. Staying hydrated will help any toxins eliminate themselves.
11. Water doesn’t have to be boring. Add mint, basil and some fruit and it smells and tastes yummy.
12. Drinking hot water and lemon first thing in the morning, helps rehydrate and balance my body’s alkaline-acidic state for better overall functioning. I also have tons of energy since I’m not dehydrated. I now look forward to this drink instead of my mocha.
13. Don’t trust the Internet. Let it be a tool to help gather information, but go to experts to help answer the important questions. This applies to all areas in life.
14. Every patient/person needs a buddy, one who will attend hard doc appointments or monumental events to ask assorted questions or lend themselves for support.
15. Ask questions often. I politely call or email doctors and nurses (or business associates) when I have a random question or concern. It’s their job.
16. Doctors don’t always agree. Get second and third opinions.
17. Some people say the wrong thing, others say nothing…but that’s not important. Cherish those people who make you feel good about yourself.
18. Ask friends and family for help. They want to be there. Give them ideas to help them help.
19. Nature, music and animals are truly soothing. Building a steady relationship with the outdoors is invigorating.
20. I can get through anything because I have a true, non-toxic, loving and supportive best friend. He’s been my rock, my chauffeur, my cancer counselor, my roommate, my partner and my true love – my husband. Love and treasure family and best friends.
These lessons I learned from cancer, but can be applied to any aspect of life. What life lesson do you hold most dear to your heart?
We’ve all experienced horribly gut-wrenching days, the kind that turn our worlds upside down and permanently alter our lives. For many, the initial reaction to being slapped across the face with such awful news is to collapse into a puddle of dark tears … or fall into a state of shock … or maybe even a sense of denial. Any one of these reactions is expected and perfectly acceptable. I would have thought that my world would have crashed after my cancer diagnosis. But, through the haze of anguish, fear and the unknown, I realized that life can still be fun even with cancer.
I first realized this shortly after receiving my first cancer diagnosis in 2004. That’s when I officially became “Caryn with Cancer,” and vowed not to let that awful title define me. I remember being incredibly hungry as I left the doctor’s office. I was tired, and desperately wanted to shake the icky feeling I had in my stomach. So after stopping for lunch, I wandered into my favorite makeup boutique. “Caryn without Cancer” would’ve analyzed NARS cosmetics, discussed her Chanel wedding perfume with the girl behind the counter, and found a new plum colored lip-gloss. So that’s exactly what I did on this day, and I felt rejuvenated for a moment. The lesson I learned? Buying a new lipstick and laughing with the retail staff about silly girl stuff actually made me feel better about what I was about to embark on.
As the weeks progressed, I became inundated with doctors appointments, researching a healthier lifestyle, and figuring out plans around my new “crappy life event.” But luckily I was able to find small nuggets of delight that helped me feel better momentarily. Everything that came with being a girl with cancer was so exhausting, so quick pick-me-ups like buying lip-gloss became extremely important. Each time I allowed myself to have a little fun, I felt like I was infused with a new batch of positive energy that helped me move forward with all the to-do’s.
I realized that even with cancer, I could be happy. I was a newlywed and was determined to enjoy the lifestyle that went along with being a new wife, despite the dire cancer diagnosis just weeks after our wedding. I focused on the positives or filled my life with things that were fun. Of course, this strategy doesn’t cure cancer, but it sure helped me and my family cope during a difficult time.
As I take a laugh down memory lane during this difficult time, here are some unique, silly, and fun bad-mood busters that made me laugh.
10 Silly Pick-Me-Ups That Helped Me Have Fun with Cancer
10. Exercised to Carmen Electra’s Strip Tease videos. The worse I was, the more I giggled.
9. Dined at a Japanese restaurant with tatami rooms (it was private – so no one stared at my bald head or sneezed around my immune deficient body.)
8. Watched Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, and Adam Sandler flicks. The sillier the humor, the better.
7. Asked friends to reach out to acquaintances and had them mail silly notes, photos, and pictures. I smiled every time I went to the mailbox and the efforts meant more than email.
6. Hosted a cartoon night. My son raided the party store, then decorated our house with streamers. Dinner was served with Thomas the Train plates followed by a cartoon movie.
5. Visited Barnes & Noble and bought three magazines. I sat at home, read and relaxed with red wine. Sometimes I put candles in the bath and did the same, but with vegan cocoa.
4. Camped out in our backyard or guest room. Forts, flashlights and ghost stories are always amusing.
3. Created a date night at home – made a new playlist, grabbed takeout and used our wedding china.
2. Hosted a virtual dance party. I emailed my friends a song and they sent videos of themselves, their kids or animals dancing to it.
1. Danced naked by myself jamming to music before jumping in the shower – seriously, it was ridiculous but hilarious.
What are your favorite fun or silly pick-me-ups?