Welcome to my world

I am a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister and a friend.
I've learned that who you have in your life matters more than what you have.
Thank you for stepping in to my world!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 337

What an interesting day I've had.

Let me start by saying that I live in Texas.  It is the last day of July, which is smack dab in the middle of summer...and I had my heated seat on in my car.  It was barely 70 degrees, cloudy and misty on my drive to Dallas.  I needed the air conditioning to keep the muggy away, but then I'd get chilly.  Hence the seat warmer.

I had a therapy appointment with my lymphedema specialist this morning.  These are always interesting.  Not because of the therapy, but because of my therapist.  She does a ton of lymphatic massage and stretching, which hurts in a good way.  She also does a lot of talking.  Most of the talking is her complaining about her husband who spends too much money, her stepdaughter who doesn't like her and her son who is twenty-five years old and unemployed.  She's very nice, and funny, and I enjoy our chats, but the more I see her, the more I feel like I'm a therapist for my therapist.

I had three hours in between my Fort Worth appointment and my Dallas appointment.  I spent that time navigating the traffic-inducing alwaysunderconstruction highways of the metroplex to go visit Allyson.  Her family wasn't kidding when they told me the cemetery is "out in the country".  They also weren't kidding when they said it was beautiful.  Allyson's resting place is so peaceful and pretty...it couldn't have been more "her" if it had been designed specifically for her.  I know Hubby was worried about me going there today alone.  He knew this wasn't going to be an easy thing for me to do.  There were things I needed to say to her, though...the goodbye we never had.  Someone had placed wind chimes in a tree near where she is buried.  If you can love something about a cemetery, I loved that.  I stood there trying to make peace with the fact that my sweet friend is no longer in my life but is now in God's hands, and the tinkling of those chimes soothed me a little bit.  The blaring of the train engine from the railroad tracks next to the cemetery sort of ruined the moment, until it hit me that Allyson might have been giving me a little nudge.  I could almost hear her saying, "Why are you leaning against the tree crying and being sad?  Good Lord!" 

I miss her laugh.  I miss her sweet heart.  I miss her silly imagination.  I will miss talking to her, I will miss comparing notes on mothering moody 12 year old boys, I will miss reading her blog.  I will miss her guidance and support in my fight against my own Monster.  What I won't miss is her pain, and her sadness.  She is whole and happy, and while I know her first priority is to watch over her boys, I claim her as my guardian angel.

I brought a little garden solar light for her.  I hope it stays.  I promised her I would bring one every time I visit (in case it's gone) so she's not in the dark.  I want that little light to shine as a symbol of the goodness and light that was Allyson.

I finished the day at my appointment for yet another scan in Dallas.  The CT technologist was extremely nice...and also extremely chatty.  I learned that her ex-husband in Phoenix had an affair with a fellow resident and she caught them red-handed - and naked - in the hospital.  (WHY do people tell me these things???)  I also learned that she scanned a lot of people in Phoenix who had the same reconstruction surgery I'll be having, and that she was "flashed" by the last patient she saw because the lady was so proud of her reconstructed breasts.  The IV hurt like hell and the contrast gave me an instant headache, but the scan only lasted ten minutes and I was out of there in time to beat the 5pm traffic.  Before I left, as she walked me out to the elevators, she hugged me tight and said "Don't worry, you're doctor is a good one."

It's purely dumb luck that I ended up at UT Southwestern for my care, but I am so grateful.  Everything is so streamlined and efficient (except for doctor visits) and everyone is so nurturing and supportive.  These people see hundreds of patients, and yet I leave there feeling like they care.  They hug me and hold my hand and encourage me every step of the way.  Good thing, because I'm having to take a lot of steps!!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 336

I'm frustrated.  

When you have surgery for breast cancer, you don't just carry scars from losing your breasts. There is trauma to the entire chest and underarm area.  Under and behind my arm?  Still completely numb, and probably always will be.  Muscles are affected and the lymphatic system can be damaged.  Thankfully I haven't (knock on wood) shown any signs of lymphedema swelling in my arm, but I feel like my entire left side has a whole host of spiderweb-feeling THINGS that make everything feel tight.  I don't know if it's the 'dead' lymph cords from having so many lymph nodes removed or if it's scar tissue from surgery....All I know is it feels weird!

I am fortunate that I didn't have any real complications after my surgery, but I had no idea I'd still be feeling the effects from it almost seven months later.  My muscles are so tight regardless of how much stretching I do and my range of motion is nowhere near where it's supposed to be. I have been seeing an occupational therapist/lymphedema specialist for my left side where the more extensive surgery was done.  She gave me some exercises and stretches to do at home (which I've been doing somewhat faithfully....sometimes).  She told me the goal is to be able to lay on the floor and make a snow angel.  Ha.  She's delirious.  There is no way this arm is anywhere close to doing that!

I know it will get better the more I work on it.  I hope.  But it's SO.DARN.FRUSTRATING.
And painful.

One day at a time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 335

I wish I was more outgoing.

Somehow all of the social genes from our mother went to my big brother, and I got the introverted and quiet genes from our dad.  Most of the time I don't mind.  I'm shy.  I prefer to watch rather than be watched.  I'm a wallflower and hate to be the center of attention.  In my quiet little life, all of that works quite nicely.
Most of the time.

Being a cancer patient presents a conundrum... you get so sick of being focused on cancer, and having people focused on helping you because of cancer, that it seems like you're never alone.  Between all of the poking and prodding involved with exams, surgeries and treatment and the well-meaning (and much appreciated, believe me) people showering you with love, prayers and assistance, you are constantly surrounded and can sometimes feel on display.  Your cancer becomes everyone's business.  On the other hand, while it's not private, cancer is a very lonely disease.  Even though cancer is everywhere, unless someone has walked in these shoes, they can't possibly understand what you're going through or how you're feeling.  That alone separates you from the pack.

My BFF has walked in my exact shoes (well, actually, she went first, so I'm walking in her shoes), so she more than anyone knows how I'm feeling on any given day.   She's known me for almost three decades and has seen me through many of life's ups and downs.  Unfortunately she lives thousands of miles away.  I've recently met two women from a Facebook group (my Bellas) who have been there, done that and have the scars to prove it.  They are kick-ass women with hearts of gold.  They are also my social opposites.  If we hadn't met and formed a friendship online through our kindred breast cancer spirits, I doubt we'd have anything in common.  I was fortunate to meet another of my online friends who seems to share a lot of my personality traits, or at least those regarding the way I feel and how I react to this whole stupid breast cancer thing.  We were able to talk fears, insecurities, vulnerabilities, etc.  While any of these women are just a click or phone call away, they are not here to share in my every day life.

Two of my good friends recently moved (thank you, U.S. military), taking away not only two of my kids' best friends, but also ladies that I really counted on.  They each offered support in their own way, but the theme of our friendships was decidedly not cancer.  They were women I could count on for a meal and a laugh, or a ride from school for my child, or just someone to hang out with.  They walked all night with me at Relay for Life because my friendship means something to them.   I'm still trying to come to terms with the loss of my friend Allyson.  While geography kept us from sharing everyday life, I always knew she was there...for twelve years she was there for me...to call for advice, to pop in for a visit, to look to for guidance on this rocky road of living with cancer.  It's going to be a long time before I travel to see one of my doctors in Dallas and I don't automatically think, "Maybe I can see Allyson this visit".  

Why the meloncholy today, you ask?  It's hard to make friends.  It's even harder when you're not a social butterfly and feel awkward making conversation with new people.  When I picked J and his friend up from football camp today, my sense of "alone-ness" really hit me hard.  I got there early so I sat in my car to wait, and I observed all of these people sitting together, chatting, etc.  These are parents of J's classmates, people I've been acquainted with for years, and I can't help but wonder why I don't fit in.  I know most of them, and I'm friendly with a lot of them.  But not one of them is someone who would call me up to say "Hey, do you want to have lunch?"  Maybe it's because I don't put myself out there.  Maybe my shyness comes across as standoffish.  Maybe I'm not as nice and fun and interesting as I think I am.

It's more likely to be something as simple as the fact that everyone else has a busy life, too.  It's just sucky, and lonely, that my life is busy because of cancer.

I have many good, good people in my life - you know who you are, and thank you.  I've always been of the mindset "quality, not quantity".  I am perfectly happy with my little circle of friends who have my back and who I trust to give me true friendship in return.  I've never been one to like being part of a big group, but it saddens me that my little group just keeps getting smaller and smaller.  If you're in my posse, get ready for me to tighten the reins, because I am not losing another friend (and yes, I'm shaking my fist and stomping my foot)!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 333

Happiness is becoming engrossed in a really good book. 

Chemo brain.  A lot of people who've been through treatment complain about it.  They start talking and can't remember what they were saying, or they can't think of the word they mean to say.  It hasn't really caused me to forget things too much (I don't think), but it has stolen my ability to concentrate.  Most of the time I feel like an adult with ADHD, and for an OCD, organized, type A person, that really sucks.
However, I've been working on improving my concentration. I've been able to read more, and I enjoy reading more lately.  Maybe it's simply because the further I am from my last treatment, the better it gets.  Whatever the reason, it makes me happy.  Getting something back that cancer took from me makes me even happier.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 332

I love when I have little moments of normalcy on this wild ride of fighting cancer.

Yesterday I sold some things on Ebay that have just been sitting around collecting dust.
Last night J's friend came over and spent the night.  
Today we all went out to lunch (and all three kids ordered potato soup, not a chicken nugget or french fry in sight!  Ok, maybe that's not so normal.).
This afternoon I baked brownies with my daughter.

K's BFF came home from vacation and joined us for swimming, burgers and brownies.

Aside from getting a postcard in the mail for my next oncology appointment, I've invested zero energy in thinking about breast cancer today.  Hopefully soon I will have more days like this and less where my health takes up most of my focus.

One day at a time.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 331

What's worse than having a summer cold?
Have a relapse of that summer cold.

Ugh.  Somebody send me some energy.  And tissues.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 330

As much as I hate to say it, receiving a cancer diagnosis forces you to recognize your own mortality.  Even healthy people know they aren't going to live forever...but most of us just go about our business until our time comes - hopefully many years down the road.  Almost a year ago I was told I had invasive breast cancer...and even though I'm young, otherwise healthy, and the cancer is gone (hopefully?), I still feel like a ticking time bomb.  That's not to say I'm not optimistic or I don't have a positive attitude.  I do.  I'm happy and loving life (except all of those pesky doctors appointments!), but in the back of my mind, there is and probably always will be a little voice saying "what if it comes back?".

I know there are cancer survivors who live for years, even decades, without recurrence.  One of J's teachers told me he knows the longest living cancer survivor in our county, and he said he hoped one day that would be me.  Heck yeah!  But for every happy ending cancer story, there is an unhappy one.  My BFF had cervical cancer, and after celebrating her 5 year cancer-free anniversary, she was hit with breast cancer.  My dear friend Allyson's Monster came back several times after surgery and/or treatment, and the last 7+ years of her life were spent fighting cancer.  My mother-in-law survived breast cancer and lived for ten years, only to have it come back everywhere.

Unfortunately, it's not only cancer.  One of my KCA ladies lost a sweet friend yesterday in a freak accident.  Another lost her adult son a month ago.  A mom I know from J's November 2001 Babycenter group posted yesterday that her friend's husband passed away, leaving behind his wife and I think six kids.  You just never know.  Your world can change in an instant.  I've said it before, and it's sounds like a cliche, but make the most of every day.  Life is too short to be miserable or take anything for granted.

Every day that I wake up to give my kids a hug and tell Hubby I love him is a gift.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 329

Yesterday I had an appointment with Dr H (my medical oncologist).  
I learned three things:

  1. Our wait time to see him is still ridiculous.  One hour and forty-five minutes in the waiting room, then ten minutes in the exam room.  All for a ten minute check up.
  2. My platelets are low.  (Does anyone know what that means?  I don't.)
  3. I will not have any "routine" scans unless I become symptomatic or my labs indicate something concerning.  If I really, really need reassurance, then he wouldn't be opposed to ordering a CT scan, but he sees no need right now.  
The wait time really sucks.  Every time we see him, it's the same thing.  My mid-afternoon appointment ends up with us basically closing the place down.  You know you've been there a long time when the pharmacy closes and even the receptionist leaves before you're even called back to a room.  I've been contemplating finding a new medical oncologist.  Two problems.  If I switch to another oncologist that comes highly recommended, they'd be in the same practice as Dr H.  Awkward.  If I choose to go with a medical oncologist at the same facility in Dallas where my other doctors are, I will have a three hour drive for each appointment.  Plus I wouldn't have anyone local.  If, God forbid, something were to happen where I needed further treatment, I would have to go back to the drawing board and start anew with finding someone here.  Decisions, decisions.

Platelets shmatelets.

I'm not sure how I feel about the no scans thing.  I get it.  Why go through unnecessary tests?  Why give my body even more radiation than it's already had?  Scans are time-consuming and expensive.  If I look healthy, feel healthy and my bloodwork says I'm healthy, then why borrow trouble?  On the other hand, I want to dance with NED.  It would be really, really nice to have a doctor say "there is no evidence of disease."  

For now, I'll just dance with NED on the sly.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 328


(This sounds waaaaaaaay better than saying chemo turned my hair all gray!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 327

Back in October, on day 61, I wrote this:

Silence is what fills the many, many hours I spend in waiting rooms and doctor's offices during the dozens of appointments I must go to.  Yesterday I had an ultrasound to check out my ovaries and other female parts.  As I lay there on the little table while the radiology tech did her thing, I stared at the ceiling and listened to the silence.  I wished for some kind words.... or some soft music.... and I really wished I had asked for my hubby to come in with me.  He was in the waiting room (of course, because he refuses to have me face any part of this journey on my own), but I really wanted him WITH ME.  Even though it was a minor test, and I wasn't having any problems with that part of my anatomy, I felt really lonely in that room undergoing yet another procedure that I wouldn't have to do if I didn't have cancer.

I really could just repeat that same paragraph today.  Even though the waiting room wasn't silent, and the ultrasound tech was very chatty, I still felt very, very lonely during my ultrasound.  After everything I've been through, I don't have a clue why this one procedure bothers me so much.  Given the fact that numerous doctors, nurses and techs have seen my naked body over the last year, it's a little weird that laying under a sheet and having this scan makes me really uncomfortable.

I've given birth twice, and we all know modesty goes out the window with that, so I don't think that's it.  Between those two pregnancies and the two that ended in miscarriage, I'd need both hands to count how many ultrasounds I've had in the last fifteen years.  Instead of laying there watching the screen and waiting to see the little flashing heartbeat of a baby, I have to lay there, staring at the ceiling tiles while wondering what they are seeing.  Does everything look normal?  Is she taking so long because she found something?  Or is she just very thorough?  It felt very thorough.  (In case you don't know, part of this kind of ultrasound is....er....internal.  TMI - I know.  Sorry.)

Since I'm having surgery in a few weeks to remove those female parts that were scanned today, I doubt I will have to undergo this particular procedure again.  But if I do, I am going to try to remember to ask if Hubby can come in with me.  I'm sure it's on his top ten list of things he doesn't want to do, but he'd be present if I asked.  That's my silver lining for today - he's my rock, and he'd do anything for me.

I'm also going to suggest they paint something pretty on the ceiling.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 326

I will be the first to admit without hesitation that I have incredible people in my life.  My husband, my kids, my mother, my extended family and friends - they've all stepped up and helped us out this past year in countless ways, and I'll never fully be able to explain all they have done or how much it has meant to me.

Having cancer makes a person selfish.  A cancer patient is almost 100% focused on themselves, and they need to be.  Getting through treatment is overwhelming and all-encompassing.  We don't always take the time to express what we need or how you can help.  We have to concentrate on getting through each day, because each day is a struggle - even the good days.  And cancer changes you.  Our battle doesn't end once our treatment is over.  We carry the scars (emotional and physical) forever.  It takes time, sometimes a long time, to recover from all we have been through.  Our lives have changed and it's a learning process, figuring out how to live as a cancer survivor and all that that entails.  There are side effects from treatment that linger (and may never go away).  Feeling tired is a new normal.  There is a new appreciation for each day, each moment... but there is also an underlying fear, because our innocence has been stripped away.  Cancer happened once, it can happen again.

I wanted to share something I read today, because not everyone is as fortunate as I am.  People get caught up in their own lives, they are uncomfortable dealing with cancer, they don't always know how to help.  The woman who wrote this puts into words a lot of what we wish everyone knew.

What your friends with cancer want you to know (but are afraid to say)

People with cancer are supposed to be heroic.

We fight a disease that terrifies everyone.

We are strong because we endure treatments that can feel worse than the actual malignancies.

We are brave because our lab tests come back with news we don’t want to hear.

 The reality of life with cancer is very different from the image we try to portray.

Our fight is simply a willingness to go through treatment because, frankly, the alternative sucks. Strength? We endure pain and sickness for the chance to feel normal down the road.  Brave? We build up an emotional tolerance and acceptance of things we can’t change. Faith kicks in to take care of the rest.

The truth is that if someone you love has cancer, they probably won’t be completely open about what they’re going through because they’re trying so hard to be strong.

For you.

However, if they could be truly honest and vulnerable, they would tell you:

1. Don’t wait on me to call you if I need anything.  Please call me every once in a while and set up a date and time to come over. I know you told me to call if I ever needed anything, but it’s weird asking others to spend time with me or help me with stuff I used to be able to do on my own. It makes me feel weak and needy, and I’m also afraid you’ll say “no.”

2. Let me experience real emotions. Even though cancer and its treatments can sometimes influence my outlook, I still have normal moods and feelings in response to life events. If I’m angry or upset, accept that something made me mad and don’t write it off as the disease. I need to experience and express real emotions and not have them minimized or brushed off.

3. Ask me “what’s up” rather than “how do you feel.” Let’s talk about life and what’s been happening rather than focusing on my illness.

4. Forgive me.  There will be times when the illness and its treatment make me “not myself.” I may be forgetful, abrupt or hurtful. None of this is deliberate. Please don’t take it personally, and please forgive me.

5. Just listen. I’m doing my very best to be brave and strong, but I have moments when I need to fall apart. Just listen and don’t offer solutions. A good cry releases a lot of stress and pressure for me.

6. Take pictures of us. I may fuss about a photo, but a snapshot of us can help get me through tough times.  A photo is a reminder that someone thinks I’m important and worth remembering. Don’t let me say “I don’t want you to remember me like this” when treatment leaves me bald or scarred.  This is me, who I am RIGHT NOW. Embrace the now with me.

7. I need a little time alone.  A few points ago I was talking about how much I need to spend time with you, and now I’m telling you to go away.  I love you, but sometimes I need a little solitude. It gives me the chance to take off the brave face I’ve been wearing too long, and the silence can be soothing.

8. My family needs friends. Parenting is hard enough when your body is healthy; it becomes even more challenging when you’re managing a cancer diagnosis with the day-to-day needs of your family. My children, who aren’t mature enough to understand what I’m going through, still need to go to school, do homework, play sports, and hang out with friends. Car-pooling and play dates are sanity-savers for me. Take my kids. Please.

My spouse could also benefit from a little time with friends. Grab lunch or play a round of golf together. I take comfort in knowing you care about the people I love.

9. I want you to reduce your cancer risk. I don’t want you to go through this. While some cancers strike out of the blue, many can be prevented with just a few lifestyle changes – stop smoking, lose extra weight, protect your skin from sun damage, and watch what you eat. Please go see a doctor for regular check-ups and demand follow-up whenever pain, bleeding or unusual lumps show up. Many people can live long and fulfilling lives if this disease is discovered in its early stages. I want you to have a long and fulfilling life.

10. Take nothing for granted. Enjoy the life you have right now. Take time to jump in puddles, hug the kids, and feel the wind on your face. Marvel at this amazing world God created, and thank Him for bringing us together.

While we may not be thankful for my cancer, we need to be grateful for the physicians and treatments that give me the chance to fight this thing. And if there ever comes a time when the treatments no longer work, please know that I will always be grateful for having lived my life with you in it. I hope you feel the same about me.

About the author
Kim Keller is a Dallas-based mom, wife, teacher and journalist. She is currently receiving treatment for thyroid cancer.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 325

"How are you doing?  Is everything all clear?"

I get those two questions a lot.  And along the same lines as my post yesterday about the hair comments, I'm unsure of how to respond.  A lot of people who've had cancer have regular scans after treatment.  If they're lucky, nothing scary shows up and they get to dance with NED (no evidence of disease).  If they're not lucky, at least the periodic scans give their doctors something to compare to so they can find out just how scary what they're dealing with is.

My last chemo was seven and a half months ago.  My surgery to remove the cancer was six and a half months ago.  My last radiation treatment was almost two months ago.  Over the last few months I've seen my medical oncologist, my radiation oncologist, my surgical oncologist, my plastic surgeon and my gynecological oncologist.  Not one of those doctors has mentioned any future scans for me.  I'm not sure if it's not standard procedure for any of them, or if I just haven't reached the point where they would order them.  I did ask my surgeon's office the other day and their response was that they don't request any imaging unless I'm symptomatic.  

I have an appointment with my medical oncologist next week and I plan to ask him.  While I don't want any unnecessary tests or to put myself through "scanxiety", the idea of waiting until I'm "symptomatic" is beyond scary.  I had breast cancer that didn't even show up on a mammogram...if this beast comes back, think of how bad it might be by the time I actually have symptoms!  I guess in my mind, having a clear scan is a form of closure.  Thinking that no news is good news is a little too casual when you're talking about cancer.  I don't want to assume that chemotherapy, surgery and radiation killed all of my cancer.  I want to dance with NED.

Which leads me back to those two questions people keep asking me.  
How am I doing?  I'm tired all the time, my self-esteem is low, and I feel like someone who has fought breast cancer.  I'm getting through each day.  I'm doing what I can to be healthy, I'm building up my strength slowly but surely, and I'm making the most of every moment. 
Is everything all clear?  That's a good question, and I don't know how to answer it.  All I can say is, "I hope so!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 324

In the last few weeks I've received the same comment (question?) twice, both times from people who haven't seen me in a while.  The first time was when I was on my vacation in New York.  The second time was last night.  Both times it caught me off guard and I felt awkward and unsure of how to respond.  What did they say?

"Oh wow, you cut your hair short!"

Um... no.  I'm not exactly the most outgoing, public person, but I've been eating, sleeping and breathing cancer for almost a year, so it's a little shocking to me when I see someone I know and *they* don't know.  It seems like everyone in my world would know.  The town I grew up in is Smalltown USA at its best, where everyone knows everyone.  And the town I live in now?  It's like three degrees of separation and the gossip mill tends to run rampant.

The person who asked about my hair on vacation was a friend from school.  I've known her since I was about eight, and we were really good friends all through school.  While I only see her once a year when I go back home in the summer, I didn't mind sharing my story with her.  I was a little surprised that she didn't know, considering she lives in the same town as my mother (and all the people my mother knows know about me), but we don't talk or email and she's not on Facebook, so I guess it's understandable.  She also is friends with my BFF so she was very sympathetic that I'm going through exactly what my BFF did.

The lady who commented on my hair last night is someone I know from my kids' school.  She's nice, but at most an acquaintance, so I felt like a deer caught in the headlights when she mentioned my short hair.  I told her no, it was growing back (assuming she knew I'd been through chemo).  She gave me a blank stare and then I got it - she didn't know.  Maybe I'm weird or arrogant to think that everyone that I know knows that I had cancer.  But it's not like I have a neon sign floating over me that says, "SHE HAD BREAST CANCER".  This poor woman who has only seen me here and there at school was just remarking about my much shorter hair - she's not anyone I would normally feel compelled to share my medical history with.

Now that my hair is long enough to pass for some sort of short haircut and not just chemo regrowth, I guess more and more people who see me might make that same comment.  They don't realize the hellish year I've had.  They look at me and see Michelle with short hair.... and they don't know!  Part of me feels very uncomfortable throwing my cancer diagnosis out there.  I may write about it on here, but this is just me talking to my keyboard with a few people reading the end result.  Talking about it with everyone I encounter...not my idea of fun.  The people who really matter know the ins and outs of my life these past twelve months and they're not surprised when they see me.  However, both times I was faced with that comment, I gave the same response.  And I'm glad.

First of all, I don't like the way I look and I want people to know I didn't choose this.  My hair is too short, my boobs are fake and I'm about fifteen pounds heavier than I want to be... and cancer did that to me.  Also, even though there have been many people in my life affected by this disease, including some very close to me, it's something that you truly never think will happen to you...until it does.  I want people to be aware.  I don't want to put the fear of God in them, but I want them to know that it happened to me, it can happen to them so they need to be aware.

Stupid cancer.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 323

My big bro and I definitely had our times of strife growing up (mostly in the form of him teasing me!), but I am thankful that we continue to grow closer the older we get - despite the miles between us.  While I was home visiting in New York, he posted the following on my Facebook page (which should give all of the people with sibling rivalries a little bit of hope!):

Great pictures of you guys during your visit Mis!! You look fantastic!! I can honestly say that I am truly amazed every day at the bravery, courage, strength and grace you have shown during your dominating victory in your fight thus far. I know you'll have battles still left to fight - but that awful affliction never stood a chance against your strength. You've actually grown and become an even more amazing person than you were prior to getting the diagnosis - if that was possible! You've left your big brother completely astounded and proud beyond words with the way you've handled the past 12 months. I love ya little sis - you've shown everyone close to you or even remotely associated to you what it means to be courageous and graceful in the face of adversity. You have so many wonderful years ahead of you in life, and now you'll just treasure them that much more. I miss you guys - wish I was back in NY right now visiting mom and dad with you and the kids!! I may still hop on a plane Friday - we'll see...  Either way enjoy the rest of your trip!! Love, D 

There is something to be said for having a relationship with someone you've shared years with, a childhood with, shared memories with.  He's my friend, he's my family, he's my big brother, and I'm grateful for his love and support.  Thanks D!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 321

Today we celebrated the life of Allyson Hendrickson.  
Her church was packed with people, but that wasn't suprising.  She has touched so many lives in her 38 years.  To know her was to love her, and that was evident by the outpouring of support for her family today.

It was so 'Allyson' to have a memorial service instead of a funeral.  I can just hear her saying, 
"I don't want to lay up there in the casket while everyone in the church looks at me and cries!  Good Lord!" 
 Instead, her family had a private burial this morning and then welcomed her friends to the worship service this afternoon.  In true Allyson fashion, she had everything planned down to the last detail.  The music was beautiful, the flowers decorating the church were stunning.  Her pastor comforted with a good mix of scripture, humor and sadness (and some musical talent on the guitar!).  

I thought I would be ok.  I got teary the other day when I told my mom about Allyson, and started making plans to get back in time for her service today.  The last 36 hours are kind of a blur of packing, driving, flying, waiting and flying some more.  But seeing Hubby last night was like a shot in the arm of instant strength - my rock was once again by my side.  When I woke up this morning, I didn't feel sadness.  I felt ready to thank God for sharing Allyson with us for as long as He did.  I wasn't prepared for the emotions that swamped me at the beginning of her service.  The minute they started singing the first song, and I knew it was one Allyson had picked out, I couldn't hold back the tears.  When the musical director pointed out the pew where Allyson always sat "smiling down on everyone", I wished with all my might that we could look up there and see her.

I didn't completely break down until her oldest son (Goliath, if you've read her blog) stood up in his suit and tie and spoke to us about her, and spoke to her directly.  Seeing that stoic twelve year old with a little boy's broken heart stand up there and talk to us about how incredible his mom was....emotional doesn't even cover it.  My heart aches for him and his two brothers.  My heart aches for Allyson's parents, and her siblings.  Her best friend of more than three decades delivered a beautiful eulogy, and spoke with more strength and eloquence than I could ever have managed.  

Her family requested that everyone wear bright clothes and accessories in honor of Allyson's bright spirit.  Here are me and my girl in our pretty dresses and flip flops in honor of my friend:

While my heart was broken today for those who loved her and will feel her loss for a long time, my heart also aches because I have my own Monster to fight.  Today was a celebration of Allyson's life, but it was also a stark reminder that life is very, very fragile.  I couldn't help but wonder if that will be my memorial service in two or five or ten years.  Will my not-so-little boy stand up and talk about how much he will miss his mom?  Will my BFF have to stand up there and talk about how we used to cruise around in her mom's Camaro or reminisce about our summer concert memories?  Allyson is whole and healed and happy in heaven.  I am still scarred, tired and hurting, and my fight is not over.  Her story shows that this kind of Monster can come back, and if one of the best, most faithful people in the world can not be victorious here on earth, what does that say for me?  

During her eulogy, Allyson's friend Caroline talked about the dates on people's headstones.  There is a beginning, an ending, and a dash in between.  Allyson proved that the dash in between is more important than the first date or the last.  I won't lie - having cancer has made me focus a little more on that ending date, but I want to make the most of my dash.  When I looked down at my daughter singing so sweetly in that church today, with tears running down her cheeks, and felt my son's comforting hand on my back, I could hear Allyson telling me that I may be sick, I may be sad, and life is hard, but I'm still here, I'm on my way to being healthy, God is in control, and it's up to me to make every day count.

Soon after I was diagnosed last summer, I sent Allyson a message to give her my news.  I was so emotional and anxious that I had a hard time talking to anyone, but literally a minute after I sent my message, my phone rang and it was her.  I couldn't not answer it.  If there was one person on the face of the earth who knew how to talk to me in that moment, it was her.  She listened, she cried with me, she gave me advice and she prayed for me.  I kept telling her that she had no business offering her help to me when she was in the midst of her own fight, and I'll never forget what she said.  She told me, 
"Michelle, if my having cancer can help you, can make your journey down this road a little easier, then everything I've been through won't be for nothing."   

Even in her sickness and suffering, she was thinking of how to help me.  She came to my first doctor's appointments in Dallas.  She brought snacks and games to keep us entertained, and she made me laugh on a day when all I wanted to do was cry.  She sat with me and Hubby while we waited, she took notes while the doctor talked, and she gave me a hug that made me cry.  She also showed up when I went in for my port surgery, which was basically the start of my treatment.  She held my hand and told me everything was going to be ok, and I believed her.  

When I got home tonight, after a day and a half of packing, traveling, grieving, driving and unpacking, I walked into my kitchen and saw a little paper cross hanging from one of my cabinet knobs.  It says, 
"There's an angel watching over you."
 I don't even know where it came from, but in that moment, I knew Allyson was still with me.  I won't hear her voice, or get a text saying "I love you friend", but she taught me so much, she gave me so much, and I will forever be thankful that I was blessed with her friendship.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 320

I don't really mind air travel, but sometimes flying is frustrating!  We arrived in Atlanta early, only to sit on the tarmac because our gate was already occupied.  Then we discovered our connecting flight to Dallas is delayed 90 minutes (and we were already arriving late - 11:15pm).

Driving to New York every year is a huge trip, but at least then we are on our own schedule! 

Oh well...we turned lemons into lemonade. Instead of rushing because of a short layover, we had time to eat at Chick Fil A.   As long as we make it to Dallas and I get to see my Hubby tonight, all's well that ends well.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 319

Today I spent most of the afternoon trying to rearrange travel plans so I can get back to Texas by Tuesday afternoon.  It's frustrating to not have my laptop... technology is great but an app can only do so much.  It's also frustrating how much of a hassle it is to change a reservation.  It was actually cheaper to buy new one-way tickets to get home.

Since Allyson's funeral is in Dallas, we are flying there instead of Abilene and Hubby will pick us up.  We will all spend the night at a hotel (that I mistakenly booked for tonight instead of tomorrow night... Grrrr) and then go celebrate the life of Allyson Hendrickson Tuesday afternoon.

Please keep everyone who loved her in your prayers, especially her family and three young boys.  Consider making a donation to Ally's Wish to help other moms with terminal illness.

Enjoy every day... each one is a blessing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 318

Heaven gained a precious angel last night. My sweet friend Allyson fights her Monster no more. 
She is with Jesus - she is victorious!

Allyson was the most humble, faithful, true, courageous woman and I am proud to call her my friend.  She fought this fight nobody wants to fight with dignity and humor and grace.  

My heart aches for her three sweet boys, her husband, her parents and her siblings. I am filled with sorrow that Allyson's light no longer illuminates our world because she truly made it a better place.  If you knew her, you loved her.  

I will never again have a snow cone without remembering those long ago nights in Abilene when we would "escape" the joys of new motherhood together, sit in the car and enjoy an icy treat.  I will always think of her when I wear flip flops or see the color turquoise.  I will always remember her sweet voice singing along with Willie Nelson and Kenny Chesney when we made a road trip to Houston together with our little boys. 

"The Good Stuff" for sure.

She was loved by many, admired by everyone, and taken way too soon. 

I will miss you, friend.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 317

It was a beautiful day to spend on the Hudson River aboard the Rip Van Winkle. We did this last year for the first time and enjoyed it so much we knew we had to put it on our to-do list again this summer.
Being on the water was so relaxing. We saw gorgeous waterfront homes, a couple of big oil tanker barges and picturesque lighthouses.  J even spotted several Amtrak trains running along the river.

Last year it was just the three of us, so I'm glad we invited my dad and M to join us.

We got there early but it's a perfect area to have to kill some time.  Here I am with my mom and dad waiting to board the boat - walking along by the marina near all of the boats.

J and Grammie took a walk down to the trolley museum (it was closed).  The kids even got to feed some ducks.

The boat ride was dubbed "Kids Cruise" and they had music playing and a magic show. K was thrilled to be the magician's assistant. 

Grandparents, a boat ride, ice cream and a magic show... what more could you want?

Even though I'm pretty worn out from ten days of almost nonstop recreation/vacation, and I have an annoying summer cold/sore throat, I won't let that get me down.  There is no room for cancer on a day like today when the sun is shining, my kids are laughing and we were able to make more happy memories with my family.

Kicking cancer's ass, indeed!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 316

Some things I love about being in New York:

  • my mom
  • my dad
  • NY pizza
  • Lox of Bagels
  • July Fourth
  • tall, green trees
  • walking barefoot in the grass
  • Jolly Cow ice cream
  • no schedule to follow (most days)
  • COLD water to brush my teeth
  • having a neighborhood to walk in
  • winding, hilly mountain roads that are fun to drive on (makes me miss my MR2!!)
  • diners!
  • Krause's Candy
Some things I do not love about being in New York:
  • being away from my hubby
  • rain (I know that's almost sacrilegious for someone living in Texas to say, but I have been here nine days and it has rained seven of them!)
  • slow drivers
  • spotty cell phone service
  • no sweet tea (thank God for Sonic and McDs!)
  • being without my own car (and my own tunes)
  • ONE country music station that is static-filled most of the time
  • missing my BFF and her kids this year

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 315

One of the things cancer has taken from me - temporarily - is the game of golf. For most of the past year I haven't had the time, strength or energy to even attempt it.  I've never been an avid golfer... I certainly don't have the time or the money for that!  But I do love the game, and it's one of the things I look forward to getting "back" most. 

My "golf season" is normally whatever time I spend in New York. My dad and his lady also love it, so that is our bonding activity. I usually play more with them during the few weeks I visit than I do the whole rest of the year. 

Even though I have my doctor's ok to play, I haven't attempted it since my surgery in January. I'm hoping it will be fine and maybe even a good stretching activity for the muscles that tightened up from surgery and radiation. I'm hoping it's not painful like my doc said it would be.  

Since I haven't been to the driving range yet to figure out if I can even swing a club (and I didn't want to pay more baggage fees to American Airlines to bring our golf clubs), the only game of golf I'm getting in with my dad this year is the miniature kind.  Not quite the same, but fun to spend time with him nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 314

Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, 
happy birthday dear Hubby, happy birthday to you!!!

Even though our journey to NY often has us away from him on his birthday, we snuck in a little celebration with Hubby before we left.  

Hubby, thank you for being the most wonderfully supportive and understanding husband I could ever hope for, and the best (and funniest) loving dad to our kiddos.  
Happy Birthday, my love.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 313

For my November 2001 Girlfriends, my May Butterflies, my KCA warriors and my Bella sisters... my life is so much richer because you are in it.  Most of you I've never even "met", but you have seen me through some of the highest highs and the lowest lows.  You make me laugh, you give me advice, you cheer me on, you teach me new things, you are a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, and you let me be me.  The things I have in common with each of you are different, but one thing is the same...

I'm blessed by your friendship.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 312

I hesitate to phrase it this way, but if there is one "lesson" I've taken away from being sick, it's to make the most of every day.  Today was one of those beautiful days that make it so easy to cherish the good times. We had a spectacular day to take a ride on the Delaware and Ulster Railroad - my son's favorite.  We do this every year and it seems like our experience gets better every time.

Spending time with my family, enjoying the stunning views of the mountains from the historic first class train cars, and most importantly, seeing the absolute joy on my son's face made today a picture perfect summer day.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 311

December 5, 2013... seven months ago today I walked out of my eighth and last chemotherapy treatment.  I was weak, sick, bald, exhausted... but triumphant.  The first, and in my opinion worst, part of this journey was done.  I knew I was still facing surgery and radiation, but the dreaded chemo was in the books.

Tonight we are sitting waiting for the fireworks in my hometown to begin. Thanks to the soggy weather yesterday we are a day late for this part of the Independence Day celebration, but the party goes on. 

I miss my Hubby, and the Fourth isn't the same without my BFF and her kids, but I'm happy to be here, alive and well to watch fireworks with my kids.

The tradition continues...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 310

I love the Fourth of July. All of the "kids" I grew up with in my neighborhood love the Fourth of July.  My entire hometown loves the Fourth of July.  In Saugerties, Independence Day is small town America at its best.  It is bagpipes, boy scouts, fire trucks and tractors in the parade.

It is backyard BBQ get-togethers with people we've known all our lives.

It's the Red, White and Blue flying proudly on front porches up and down every street. It is a magnificent fireworks display at the end of a long day.  

And this year it is all of these things rain or shine.  Last year we were sweating buckets. Today it is 59 degrees and raining!  No matter the weather, I'm proud of my little town for its patriotism... from the party house that plays the national anthem at the beginning of the parade to the gentleman who has hosted the neighborhood cookout for over thirty years, we are proud to live in the land of the free.

That, or we really like a party.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 309

If the last eleven months have taught me anything, it's this...

While this is definitely a long, hard road, I'm grateful for feeling a little stronger every day.  I'm also beyond blessed to have wonderful people in my life to support me and lift me up when I'm not feeling so strong. 

Kicking cancer's ass - day 308

We arrived at midnight last night, so today was our first full day here in Saugerties.

I had a bagel from Lox of Bagels for breakfast, some NY pizza from Sue's for dinner and topped it all off with ice cream at Jolly Cow. 

Not a bad way to start off a vacation!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Kicking cancer's ass - day 307

Today is July 1st.  
Today the kids and I are heading to NY.

It was last July, in New York, when I found the lump that would be identified as cancer.  I don't remember the exact day.  I don't think I want to.  That's not the kind of anniversary you celebrate.  I remember calling Hubby in tears that night, telling him about it, because I knew - I just knew - it was going to be cancer.  A lump that size doesn't just show up and turn out to be nothing.  He thought I was jumping the gun, and he tried to talk me down from the ledge.  He did what he was supposed to do, telling me it could be anything and we won't know for sure, etc.  My man who is not known for his optimistic nature was trying so hard to lift me up.  I knew deep down it was bad.  It was an agonizing three weeks before I was able to see my doctor and get confirmation.  It was another four weeks before I would start treatment - four weeks filled with tests and appointments and anxiety and tears.

I've come a long way since last July.  
Lord help me, though, if something bad happens on my trip this year! 
I think I've been though enough, thank you very much.