I’m a Survivor

Bless me, friends, for I have sinned… It has been 3 months since my last blog post! I know that so many of you were still checking daily/weekly/monthly for a glimpse of how things are going. I am always crafting a blog post in my head–a witty phrase, or a tender moment, longing to be captured to be consumed by the masses. So, in essence, you never have been far from my thoughts. All I can say is that life is good. I’ve been busy working, mothering, singing, dancing, crocheting, traveling, visiting, grieving, playing, praying, decorating, packing, surprising, laughing, celebrating–yep, I’ve been living.

I was compelled to write today because I’ve reached another milestone… In just a few hours, I head in for my last herceptin infusion. As of today, I officially relinquish my “Cancer Card” since I am no longer a Cancer patient. I am now a Cancer Survivor. I have heard it said that you become a survivor the day you are diagnosed with Cancer. I’m not sure I believe that. It is the one thing that I struggled with the most these past few months… Am I really on the other side? Is it really gone? Can I start making plans for the future? Well, today, it is no longer a question. And nothing says “I’m here to stay” like taking out a 30-year mortgage… We sign the papers on our new home this afternoon!

I have come through the most amazing experience of my life… What I have learned about myself, about my family and friends, is the greatest gift. When I ring that bell again around 1:00 today, I will be ringing it for each one of you. I could not have made it without you. For that I am truly blessed and forever grateful.

God bless.
Kristin

Three Hole Punch

So, the surgery went well. I woke up with only three small holes in my belly and feeling pretty good. My surgeon said that everything looked fine and the initial pathology was good. I will need to wait for a week or so before the full report comes back, but am optimistic that I am still cancer free at this time! I’m home and resting–catching up on my DVR’d shows.

Will write more soon…

A New Woman

The Breathe retreat was amazing! I had a fabulous time with my very best friend. I went with no expectations and an open mind and heart. I left feeling like a New Woman. Just having 72 hours with no real agenda was freeing in and of itself. Sure there were plenty of activities planned for the mind, body, and soul, but none were required. I know now that I did exactly what I was meant to do. One such thing was just sitting in an adirondak chair beading a Chan Luu bracelet. I always have found beading, crocheting, and crafting in general to be cathartic. I also had two (yes, two!) amazing massages that helped me release the stress I apparently lugged to New Hampshire in my neck. The food was so wonderful and nothing like I eat at home. There was no Diet Coke or red meat (or white meat for that matter) to be found. I explored Thai and Indian cuisine and had the BEST granola mixture I’ve ever had in my life. Every meal was truly a culinary experience that will not soon be forgotten. Finally, and perhaps the most significant impact, was the realization that I have the power to do anything I set my mind to and that I am no better or less than anyone else. That may sound like common sense, but I’m a slow learner…

In two hours, I will become a New Woman in a physical way… Since my cancer was hormone receptor positive, my ovaries are basically a “cancer factory”. So, in lieu of going on medication that would decommission my ovaries and put me in menopause, and because I’m taking medication that increases my chances for uterine cancer, and because there really isn’t a great way to scan for ovarian or uterine cancer, I’m having a laproscopic hysterectomy. I should wake up with just four small wounds where they insert the instruments, but there’s always the chance that my doctor finds something that looks suspicious or the in-surgery pathology reports could indicate that trace cancerous cells. It’s difficult not to think about those risks. But, as always, I am trusting that the big guy knows what he’s doing and I won’t be alone regardless of the outcome of my sugery. Although, I wouldn’t mind if you send positive thoughts my way (and pray that I woke up with just four holes and not a big incision)…

Will keep you posted.

Just Breathe

I am in Boston tonight, ready to embark on a journey with my very best friend (of 30+ years). Tomorrow morning, we are driving up to Freedom, New Hampshire for a women’s retreat entitled “Breathe“. After a fun night with my friend and her beautiful kids, we are both so ready to leave it all behind and focus on reconnecting with eachother, with ourselves, and with other women like us that have lives that are just as hectic, families that are just as needy, jobs that are just as stressful and challenges that are just as overwhelming as our own. The special part of it is that all of us have recognized that without some time to regroup and breathe, none of those things are possible. I’m so grateful (but not surprised) that Kenny was supportive and that my friend was able to swing it too. I can’t wait!!!

Warriors

I’ve been planning this blog post in my head for awhile–as I do with most of them. I didn’t know that the impetus for finally putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as it were would be the loss of my dear friend, Ellen, today–the greatest warrior of them all.

Ellen has made appearances on my blog before, as my amazing friend (18 and Life), the inspiration behind God is Good, All is Well, and a good friend (A Draining Day). She was my biggest cheerleader, my source of hope, and my greatest example. She taught me to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend by merely being all of those things herself. She gave the best advice without imposing her own opinion. She drew upon her strong faith for strength and guidance and gently shared her faith with me in some way whenever we spoke. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through the past ten months without her… She knew exactly what to say, because she too was battling cancer.

She lost her battle today. Just two days after being admitted into hospice. Just three days after being told she may have three weeks to three months to live. Just four days after the scan that indicated that the cancer that was found in her colon back in October had taken over her liver and spread into her stomach. And just four days after I hugged her for what would be the last time…

When I saw her and her husband on Monday in the lobby at the Cancer Center, she was on her way to her scan and I was crying on the phone in the lobby. She came over to me and as always, she put her own fears and feelings aside and comforted me. I don’t believe things happen by chance. As far as I know, neither one of us were expected to be there. I believe her scan was scheduled for Wednesday (8/3) and I was there much later than normal for a scan of my own. I was meant to get that hug that day and I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that that is my parting memory of her. She called me on Wednesday and I didn’t realize it was to say goodbye. She knew…

I will remember Ellen on Monday nights, at 9:15 each Saturday morning which was our weekly scheduled time to talk, as Merriweather: my fairy godmother, when I look at her spot on my couch, when I head to New Hampshire in September for a retreat where our friend, Regina Brett, is speaking, when I use my Vera Bradley Poppy Fields Angle Tote, when my son makes his first communion, and especially on November 1st–All Soul’s Day–which was to be our annual celebration of being cancer-free together.

This song touched my heart today:
Gentle woman, quiet light;
Morning star, so strong and bright;
Gentle mother, peaceful dove;
Teach us wisdom, teach us love.

I miss you already, my friend. Godspeed.

Reentry

I’ve been having a really hard time reentering. Back to being a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Back to work full time. Back to just being me–without the “the cancer patient” after it.

I’m not sure I felt much over the past ten months. I don’t think it was officially denial… I was really going on bolstered strength, faith, and love from friends and family. Now that I’m done with the big treatments… have been set loose, so to speak… and things are starting to get back to normal, I’m honestly starting to crash.

A few friends of mine walked in the 3-Day this past weekend. I went to cheer them on. What a beautiful experience for such a great cause. I was inspired and moved to tears several times… Seeing a woman walk by herself. Seeing a middle-aged man with a banner that said, “I walk for my wife”. Seeing women with hair just a little longer (or shorter) than mine that have walked right in my shoes. I haven’t stopped crying since Saturday.

There have been a few legitimate reasons for tears, I guess. I had to have a needle biopsy and an ultrasound this week to address cystic lumps that my oncologist noted in a recent exam. Both came back as negative for cancer. Definitely a relief, but certainly not something I anticipated dealing with so soon after completing treatment.

I also have been experiencing significant swelling in my right arm. Since they took out lymph nodes on that side, there was a chance that I would have resulting lymphedema, but not everyone does. I meet with the occupational therapist twice a week and have to do daily massages to keep the swelling down. It’s not a comfort to know that I may have to do this for the rest of my life. For now, it’s kind of exhausting.

Some of you know that my full-time job allows me the privilege to create training programs for clinicians that care for patients. The irony is that the topic of my one and only project right now is end-of-life care. More specifically, the case study in the script that I am editing is a woman with breast cancer that had a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation and returns three years later with rib pain that indicates that she has stage four metastatic disease. At first, I thought I could handle the life-imitates-art blah-blah-blah. Now, I’m not so sure. I did share my situatiom with my client–a compassionate palliative medicine physician that is also a cancer survivor. I’m quite sure he’ll be sympathetic if it gets to be too much. And it just might.

It’s no surprise to me that I don’t know how to act. I couldn’t have imagined this one year ago. My life was turned upside down and I just focused on doing the next right thing, taking my medicine, and getting better. Now I have to learn how to reenter the world–as a survivor.

In the Rearview

I was so ready to be done. The last day of radiation couldn’t have come fast enough. By the end, by underarm was completely charred black and so very sore, especially since it’s an area that is impossible to keep skin from touching skin. It’s probably better for everyone that reads this that I wasn’t blogging more often. I didn’t want to rehash the details any more than you wanted to read them.

All I can say is that it ended wonderfully–I had a great experience on my last day with a young physician that was filling in for my regular radiation oncologist who was out of town. She normally practices at Main campus and has both brain and pediatric specialties and the conversation flowed comfortably. She spent extra time with me, and made me feel like I was the only patient she had. She even ended up hugging my mom and I before we left. It was really the best way to finish such a difficult part of the journey for me. I truly believe that she was put there to help with the transition from patient to survivor and I really needed the boost after the last couple of weeks of radiation.

I’m so grateful to be done with the major components of my treatment. I still have my Herceptin infusion every three weeks, start hormone therapy at the end of the month, and need to schedule my reconstruction surgery, but for all intents and purposes, I’m done with the big stuff. I can’t tell you what a relief it is.

I celebrated during the week with dinner with Kenny, a night out with our parents, and lots of phone calls, texts, emails, facebook messages, and cards from friends and family. Thanks to all of you for your continued support along the way. I know that I couldn’t have done this without knowing each and every one of you were pulling for me.

Kenny and I just got back from an awesome weekend at Nemacolin Woodlands for some more celebrating. We were upgraded to the Club floor complete with our own personal Butler for the weekend. It was so awesome. I had an 80 minute hot stone massage and then we did an off-road Jeep driving tour. I probably should have had the massage after the off-roading, but both were so worth it. We also went on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water–something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was breathtaking and I’d recommend it to anyone!

My sister and her family met us for brunch and we brought her kids back home with us. They’ll be staying with my parents for a few weeks. Natey was so excited to see them and was super-cute when we walked in the door. Coming home almost makes being away worth it. Almost.

Single Digits

Can you even believe that I only have 6 more radiation treatments left? I defnitely can’t. A few weeks ago I was whining about having 20 to go… Was having a difficult time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and now I’m rounding the last turn. Although it still is uncomfortable and is even starting to be painful, I’m glad to be so close to done. I can’t wait!

To celebrate the end of this phase, Kenny and I are taking a mini-vacation to Nemacolin–a place I’ve been wanting to go for years and could never justify the cost. But, what the hell! I have an 80 minute massage scheduled and we signed up for the Jeep Rubicon instructional course, which will be awesome. We did a similar thing with BMW a few years back and had a lot of fun. I’m just hoping that I’m not so wiped out that I’m not able to enjoy it. Nonetheless, we’re both looking forward to a relaxing get-away.

Thanks for continuing to follow my blog, even though I’ve been a slacker. I have added (and tested) the “Subscribe to PINK by email” link at the bottom of this page that will allow you to receive an email when I’ve added a new post. So, no more checking back every day. Unless, of course, you want to…

Hot, Hot, Hot

I’m SO not a fan of hot weather. I went to Alaska on my honeymoon for that very reason. I don’t like to swim, I hate everything about sand, and I sweat like a boy and from my head. The past few days have been completely unbearable in Cleveland. If you call Spring weather rainy, then we had a spring. But it seems as though we went right from winter to the dog days of summer.

I have now had ten of the twenty-eight scheduled radiation treatments. So I’m 1/3 of the way done. I am just starting to feel some of the effects of focused light beams on my fair skin. To be honest, I don’t really like radiation. People have said that it’s a piece of cake after chemo. I personally think it’s more taxing than chemo was for me. And it’s only day 10.

First of all, my appointment is every day at 2:30pm and I’m always running late. The girl at the front desk where I check in asked me–with a straight face–if it’s just coming to radiation or if it’s other appointments that I’m late for too. I assured her that it wasn’t just radiation. I know for sure that I have an inherited time and distance estimation deficiency. Everything is five minutes away and just down the street. Yeah… there’s no way I’m making it from southern Brecksville on 480 to Fairview Hospital, which is definitely not right off the freeway, in 15 minutes. It’s time to cut back on my work hours a little and give myself some breathing room.

Secondly, I have very sensitive skin. I was told that my propensity for sunburn is not relevant to how my skin will tolerate the radiation. At this point, I don’t believe it. Fair is fair and not only am I prone to pinkness, but If I’m out in the sun for more than 10 minutes even with SPF 50 on, I get sun poisoning. I am already pink and it’s starting to feel itchy and irritated, especially under my arm. Now most people that get burnt stay inside for a few days to let the red turn to tan or just take a break. No, I pretty much have to go back and add to it EVERY DAY for 3 more weeks. Did I say I didn’t like this?

Thirdly, I’m still fighting a mean cough that has been lingering on since mid-Aprill. So I haven’t quite been 100% physically since I started this part of treatment. You can also imagine how difficult it is to remain completely still after they meticulously line my tatoos up with lasers when a body wracking coughing spell hits. It’s completely miserable.

However, there is one positive in this experience so far. I have met some wonderful women in the little waiting room. Everyone has a different story and I have only caught small snippits while sitting there half-dressed waiting to be called and escorted back. But, I know that every single one of them is strong, courageous, and beautiful. We have swapped stories of wigs, treatment plans, lump sizes, and prognoses–our war wounds that tie us together and make us understand one another at a glance.

I actually happened to meet one of the “2:30-3:30″ women a few months back in the bathroom at Longhorn. I had a wig on and she had a hat, and with one passing glance, we recognized one another as sisters. We smiled at eachother and moved on. Not a half hour later, we practically ran into one another at Target. We laughed when we realized we both had gone back to our tables and told our husbands about our bathroom encounter. When she said my name as I walked into that little waiting room on my first day, I knew I was not alone. It also turns out she lost the card I had given her with my phone number and our third chance meeting gave us an opportunity to officially reconnect. I don’t know yet why we were supposed to meet, but it’s clear to me that we were. She has her last treatment tomorrow and I plan on hanging around in the little waiting room to celebrate with her.

With that, I feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be–even if it is hating this part of the process. Going through ALL of this allows me to find hope that comes from seeing other women along side of me. For them I am grateful. And it turns out that I actually know where to find the acceptance and peace that I have had so far on this journey IF I choose to look there…

ARETHA FREAKING FRANKLIN!

I’m a big fan of Oprah. And I’m an even bigger fan of Aretha Franklin. Seeing both of them in one night? Priceless. I created a photobook on Shutterfly with picures and highlights of our whirlwind trip. Definitely a night to remember! Here’s a complete list of who was there: Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Jackie Evancho, Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle, Madonna, Dianne Sawyer, Jamie Foxx, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jordan, Beyonce, Simon Cowell, Kristen Chenowith, Jerry Seinfeld, Dakota Fanning, Halle Berry, Queen Latifa, Katie Holmes, Maria Shriver, Rosie, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Nate Berkus, Stedman, Gayle King, Maya Angelou, Alicia Keyes, Usher, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett, Tyler Perry, Rascal Flats, and of course, ARETHA FRANKLIN!

There were so many amazing moments, and I’m anxious to see what makes it into the final cut. Here’s a few things from an insider’s point of view:

  • Beyonce’s performance was off the hook and we had the pleasure of watching her do it twice!
  • When Dianne Sawyer says that 25,000 oak trees were being planted across the country in Oprah’s name, Oprah said to the audience, “You get a tree… You get a tree… You get a tree” –reminiscent of the now famous car giveaway episode. It was very funny (and I also can’t say that I didn’t get anything).
  • The 400 men from Morehouse College were very moving in person. The photos I’ve seen so far minimize their profound entrance. I’m anxoius to see if TV does it justice.
  • An ultimate fan proposed on stage before the show started. She said yes.
  • There were other celebrities in the audience: Lisa Ling, Charles Barkley, Carlos Boozer, Dr. Roizen, Robin McGraw, to name a few.

Be sure to set your DVRs for Monday 5/23 and Tuesday 5/24. Although we had great seats, it’s not very likely that we’ll be on camera. Doesn’t matter. Was just great being there.

Five hours after landing in Cleveland, I was at the hospital receiving the first of 30 daily radiation treatments. It’s not too bad so far, outside of being really uncomfortable trying to lay completely still. It actually only lasts 10 minutes. I can do anything for 10 minutes… Especially when it gets me closer to being done fighting this thing.

So, the countdown begins: 2 days down, 28 to go.