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? 

Pink Power Mom Award

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.

GIT

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.

PPM 8 Image

Research: Acupuncture Adventures

If somebody told me years ago that I would get used to needles pricked all over my body, I would have laughed. Despite always being intrigued by health and wellness trends, my fear of those tiny daggers kept me away. About six years ago, however, when trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, I was desperate to try all-natural methods. It was then that I was introduced to acupuncture.

Acupuncture is an Asian/Chinese modality that’s been around for thousands of years. Thin needles are positioned into certain points (meridians) on the body in an effort to balance the energy flow (chi) throughout. Oftentimes, each patient’s needs are assessed upon the initial visit with a full-body exam and blood work. Once the treatment begins, thin needles are tapped into various points on the skin from head to foot. Treatments last 15-45 minutes, depending on the practitioner. Acupuncture isn’t a one-time fix, follow-up visits are often suggested depending on the symptoms. Many acupuncturists are certified through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM.) In addition, some doctors are integrating acupuncture into their practices and can be certified through the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA.)

Five Reasons to Go to the Doctor

We all have somebody in our lives who rarely goes to the doctor, claiming they are too busy or feel fine. Or maybe that person schedules appointments only to continually bump or reschedule them. I’ve seldom been that person and because of it, I’m thriving today.

Due to my storied cancer past, I scheduled an executive physical at The Princeton Longevity Center to assure that my health was in check. It wasn’t … but having the information from that visit helped fix it. Now a year later, I’m hoping to live a long life keeping cancer in check. I truly believe that whether one is healthy or not, going to the doctor and having a routine physical is incredibly important. I’m not suggesting we should all go to the doc every time a minor scrape appears. I just hope for all my family, friends and readers that they have someone, a doctor or naturopath, that keeps score on their health annually.

TOP FIVE REASONS TO GO TO THE DOCTOR

MY TOP 5 REASONS TO GO TO THE DOCTOR

Maintain Good Health:
We regularly do maintenance on our cars with oil changes and tire rotations every 5,000 miles. So, why don’t we think of our annual check-ups in the same mandatory way? An annual physical means screening for overall health issues* and providing vaccinations to prevent serious diseases.

Use Past Data as a Reference:
My doctors have access to years of my medical data because I’ve gone to my physical annually. Whether I’m sick or not, any changes in blood work or new aches can be referenced to earlier notes. It’s easier for my doc to diagnose or refer me to other specialists knowing my medical history. Also, many doctors now utilize electronic medical records, which are promptly available to network hospitals in an emergency. This is incredibly important and wouldn’t be possible without regular doctor visits.

Know the Problem and Fix It:
I sometimes dread going to the doctor for fear of finding out information I don’t want to know. Then I stop this negative self-talk because it only hurts me. Not knowing there’s a problem also means I can’t fix it. Being armed with information about my health helps me find the right practitioners to treat the illness. Ignoring it can potentially lead to bigger problems down the road. Research shows that early detection is important for better prognosis of the disease and potential opportunity for cure.

Utilize Doctor’s Expertise:
Every time I visit a doctor, I interview them. I do the legwork beforehand, researching information on wellness techniques or healthy diets. Then I discuss with my doctors. Sometimes they provide thoughtful insights; other times they refer me to other practitioners or sources. In both cases, I benefit because I take the research I’ve gathered and confirm its credibility. For those not passionate about wellness, ask for a medical/natural expert’s thoughts on what the media is covering on health and exercise, foods, supplements and mindfulness practices.

Build the Relationship:
I’m not friends with my docs on Facebook or host them at my house for a BBQ, but I do have a nice relationship with them. This became incredibly helpful last year when I couldn’t get a PET scan for 10 days after an initial report noted a suspicious lesion. I then called my primary care doctor asking for help. Because she knew me, she took my call and helped expedite the PET scan.

While attending a routine doctor’s visit is a step in the right direction, *some insurance companies don’t cover various tests. Ask your doctor (or insurance company) what screens are not covered and why. Know that there are other options, like scheduling a comprehensive executive physical including some of the latest technologies (i.e CT Coronary Calcium scans to detect early stage heart disease.) I did it, as a 40th birthday gift to myself, and am clearly happy with the outcome, now a year later.

What would motivate you or a family member to visit the doctor regularly?

 

Sources: Mayoclinic.org, The Princeton Longevity Center, Cancer.org

20 Simple Lessons I Learned from Surviving Cancer

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

20 Simple Lessons on How to Take Care of Myself I Learned from Surviving Cancer

Mind:

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.

Body:

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.

Practical Matters:

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.

Relationships:

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?

A Quick Fix for Peace and Presence

Living on the shoreline for the past 10 years, I only occasionally saw the beauty of the beaches. I knew the sights were pretty, but was running too fast to appreciate the feeling of calmness they could bring to my life. Now, after a second cancer diagnosis, visiting Walnut Beach is one of my favorite pastimes. Just being around the shell-covered sand and glistening water brightens my day and teaches me to breathe, be in the present, and find peace in any situation.

The “old me” thought she knew peace. To her, peace of mind meant being successful in the workplace. Of course, for a working mother, that came with its own unique set of hurdles. But the old me didn’t see those hurdles as negatives. Instead, she looked at them as opportunities to become even more successful.