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The End… for Now

The last couple of nights I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with nightmares. They were very different, but both had loose ties (very loose) with my old life when I lived in Blackstone and got married. I know it’s probably because I’m at that place again – major changes are happening in my life.

Today is two years from the day I had my double mastectomy. I felt like I was one person when I went under the anesthesia and another when I woke up. I mourned the old me for a long time and found that the only way I could cope with being cancer girl was to share my journey and hopefully help others who were struggling through the same shock.

Well, I can’t say I’ve come full circle as I will never be that girl again. Cancer will always be a part of me (hopefully more figuratively than literally). But I am done thinking about it every single day. I’m ready for it to be just a small part of me rather than the main focus. And that’s why I’m “ending” this blog.

I discussed this with fellow blogger Jypsy J. Book last night and she convinced me not to actually end it completely, but to evolve it once again. “Why start over with a whole new blog,” she asked. “You’ve built this one up so much and you’ve already shifted it once from your original travel blog to your cancer blog – just evolve it again.”

So this morning I texted Cory and told him that today, on the two year anniversary of my surgery, I was going to put my blog on hiatus. My phone immediately rang. “This doesn’t mean you’re going to stop writing, does it?” he asked. And that is one of the many reasons I love him.

No, I will not stop writing. I just need to figure out what I really want to write about.  I’ve felt guilty letting so much time go by between these entries – like I’ve let my readers down – but I haven’t wanted to dwell on or analyze every single cancer experience and thought that I’ve had lately. So I know it’s time to move on.

I am going to change the “About” section in the header of this blog to direct people looking for my breast cancer experience to those dates, and the travel readers to the earliest entries. And – probably in a few weeks or months – I will be back with a new focus. Of course, I completely understand if you want to unsubscribe if it’s only cancer-related stories that you’re interested in. (This is starting to sound like a break-up letter…) Otherwise, I hope you’ll stick with me for my next adventure… Thank you ALL for ALL of your love, support, positive thoughts, prayers, kind words and friendship – I never would’ve made it through the cancer journey without every one of you by my side!!!

xo

Amy

p.s. Some have asked why I’m ending this today and not after next Thursday. To be honest, this simply felt right: the day they cut the cancer from me. Everything won’t be done next week – I still suffer from lymphedema; I am on Tamoxifen for another nine or so years. But I leave an open invitation for any breast cancer sisters who want to know about the 3-D nipple tattoos to e-mail me and I will be happy to give them a play-by-play on the entire experience! I am always here to answer ANY questions – big or small – for anyone dealing with breast cancer. The silver lining from this is that I can help others through it, and that will never change.

Today is my check-up with my oncologist. Driving here – the whole two miles – I was biting my nails (sorry mom) and tense, and of course what comes on the radio? Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying. I’m already on the verge of tears with the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, I really don’t need this, too. Not sure why I didn’t make the connection when I confirmed the appointment…

Nonetheless, I’m here now. I’ll be able to tell Dr. M about all my aches, pains, side effects and symptoms, all of which are constant dull voices in the back of my head, saying, “it’s back…” I know I’m crazy, I know most of its nothing, and I know the simple blood tests and physical that are being done today will not be able to tell if a secondary or other cancer is lurking within me. No full body scans or other tests to say for sure I am cancer free. I know that is for my own good, with all the false positives and questionable images. And I know that even after talking to Dr. M the voices will linger. But I also know I will feel a bit better having shared all my worries and hearing her tell me not to worry.

I guess one cancer makes you an instant lifetime hypochondriac.

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I don’t know why, but I’m suddenly feeling shy and hesitant to post certain things. I got the best news in a long time this afternoon and wanted to tell every stranger I walked by that (spoiler alert) I can now get nipples, but as soon as I got home and thought about updating this blog, I got nervous. Then I saw on Facebook “Duke Porn Star on What People Don’t Understand About Sex at Work” and I thought, “Jeesh, if she can talk about that, I can talk about nipples!”

I found the first lump on March 14, 2012 and this Thursday will be exactly two years from the day I received the call informing me that I had cancer. This is, and I think will always be, a tough week for me. But Tara and I often talk about rewriting memories and maybe getting this news puts a new, happier anniversary on my calendar.

Today I went for my follow-up with Dr. H, my super fabulous reconstructive surgeon. As Cory pointed out to me today, I’ve been worrying about this visit for weeks. Even though I’d been told that the right one would heal differently due to the radiation, I wasn’t sure that the way it was healing differently was the right differently. I’ve thought over and over about friends who have had trouble with their implants – one who said it was like a baseball, another who just had it replaced for the third time - for a total of five surgeries in the last 11 months!

So as Dr. H inspected it with his normal dead-pan expression – he must be a great poker player – I mentioned nervously some of the things I’d observed, like some of the scarring being hard in places, and an end that just didn’t seem as healed as the rest, and I asked if it was healing normally or if it was worse. His response? “It’s healing abnormally well!” He explained that it’s actually better than he expected and really as good as we could hope for a radiated breast. Phew!

So then I asked the question I’ve been waiting to ask since the April 30, 2012, when I lost my breasts: “Can I make the appointment to get 3D nipple tattoos?” Dr. H smiled, nodded, and replied, “Yes, you certainly can.” Woo hoo!!! I also found out that I don’t need to go all the way to Maryland for them (although Vinnie appears to be the Michelangelo of areola tattoos and amongst the pioneers of 3D nipple tattoos). Dr. H recommended Juli Moon right down the road in Lynn, assured me he’s never heard anything but good things, and showed me her portfolio.

Needless to say, I called as soon as I got in the door, before I even got my coat off. I didn’t make the appointment yet as I need to check some things with my schedule, but it looks like in early May I will feel just that much more normal again…

And for some of my friends who are just in the beginning stages of this journey – recently diagnosed, just finished surgery, in chemo or radiation – it may feel like forever, but that will be over soon! You’ll be through treatment, your hair will grow back, you’ll regain your strength and so much of your life. It will be your new normal. And it will be wonderful, and you will be stronger for all you’ve been through! And this is all for you! I wouldn’t be on here talking about nipples if I didn’t think it would help answer some of your questions and ease your road ahead! xoxoxo

 

I was always taught if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. I also really hate to bad mouth a company, especially one that has a strong charitable giving arm. But this has been bothering me for weeks and I’m sick of it. And I think you need to speak out when you truly believe something is wrong.

Nearly every day while driving my very short route to work I hear the same commercial: Avon’s Walk for Breast Cancer. And it makes me want to scream. In fact, when I hear the ending, I sometimes do scream back at the radio. (Yup, people probably think I’m crazy – or that I’m on blue tooth.) I’m sure you’ve heard it. Because it’s on so often, it’s possible you just tune it out and haven’t really listened to what they’re saying. Well, let me share: the last line is “Will you walk, or will you walk away?”

That’s when my blood boils. How DARE Avon accuse people of turning their head from breast cancer just because they don’t sign up for their walk??? I think their walk is great, I am glad they do it, I simply choose not to participate because I only want to do one major thing per year where I beg people for financial support – I don’t think it’s fair to solicit your friends year-round. And I choose to do the Jimmy Fund Boston Marathon Walk for a million reasons including the fact that Dana-Farber provide me and my friends such fabulous care and that the money supports multiple types of cancer research and treatment. And especially because it was one of my dear friend’s ideas to have a team.

So I think it’s great that Avon has their walk and does so much for breast cancer. But don’t use guilt advertising! I don’t go for guilt in religion, in life or in advertising. In fact, it makes me want to do the opposite; it completely turns me off. So do as you do in the TV version, Avon. Leave that line off your radio commercials. It’s not helping your cause, which happens to be one of mine, even if I don’t do your walk.

 

So as I wrote these I thought how cliché and dippy some of them are. I erased them all and started over multiple times. But they kept reappearing on the screen. Because even if they are dippy and cliché, they are true. They are the things that I’ve finally learned and come to know as true, and they help me every day in my quest for a happy life…

21. Do what makes you happy. Not because someone told you to. Not because it will make you money. Just do something because you love it. If you’re passionate about something, everything else will follow.

22. Happiness is contagious. It’s hard not to smile back. Make someone else smile today. It’ll make you happy. It’s a fabulous circle!

23. You know what else can make you happy? Running. I never would’ve believed it, but once I tried it, I found it’s true. That whole endorphin thing, I guess. I actually always think I hate running when I start out, but once I get going my mood totally improves, and after I always feel better than when I started.

24. Music. Another thing that can totally change your mood. (And why is it that you can always remember the words to songs, even (especially) the ones you can’t stand???)

25. Travel. Explore. Discover. Whether it’s by the Mediterranean Sea, the streets of San Francisco or the mountains of New Hampshire, you’ll find new aspects of you along the way.

26. Be yourself. Don’t try to be anyone else. You’ll never succeed and it’s not worth your time or energy. Love yourself as you are. But…

27. Know that if you are not happy with yourself, you are the one person who can change things. You have control over you. Don’t waste your time being miserable.

28. And don’t waste your time with people who don’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. If they make you cry more than smile, it’s a clue that you should get out. (It took me way too long to realize that one. Please trust me on this one and if that sounds like your relationship, get out now!)

29. In fact, don’t waste any time. Your time. Other people’s time. Nothing is more precious.

30. Guilt is a wasted emotion. If you feel guilty, do something about it. Change it. Or get over it.

31. Your parents probably do know best. And they will always worry about you, know matter how old you are. And when you become a parent, the worry will never end. It just comes with the job.

32.  Every day is another chance to start something new. Or start over. It can be whatever you want it to be.

33. Don’t let anyone else put you down, discourage you or tell you that you can’t do or be something. Usually they are the ones with the issue.

34. Encourage others. Boost them up. Help them find their way and thrive. It takes nothing away from you – you both win.

35. Spend time talking with your elders. Learn their stories. They are your stories, too, and they’ll be lost if you don’t listen… and spend time with the younger people in your lives, too. They can benefit from your experiences, and you can learn a lot from them, too – like how to relax and play! (Something I’m always trying to learn – the relax part…)

36. Learn the art of compromise. I’m trying. It’s something I’m still learning, but what I do know is that you can’t have everything your way all the time. And that’s ok.

37. Everything happens for a reason. We may not always understand it, but the reason usually becomes clear later on. (I’ve often thought that maybe the reason I got cancer was to help raise awareness and save others. So do your self checks people!!!)

38. Say thank you. Be grateful. Appreciate everyone who is there for you, helps you, loves you. Thank you are two words you can never say too much.

39. Pray. No matter where you are, what time it is or what’s happening around you, you can pray. It’s one thing that always helps make me feel better. And the other…

40. Deep breaths. Breathe. Just breathe.

If you read my last blog entry – Vanessa’s reflections – you know I started this list last month. So now I’ve been 40 for almost a month rather than 9 days, but other than that, everything else still applies…

I have been 40 for exactly 9 days now and it was just when writing that headline that it started to sink in. Wow – I’m 40! There’s just something so different when you write it versus when you say it… Anyway, I won’t dwell in awe (at least not here). I’ve learned a lot in my 40 years – especially the last two spent in the cancer world – and thought I’d share some of it here. No, none of it’s brain surgery (and much of it’s splashed in pretty graphics on Facebook posts), but sometimes it’s nice just to be reminded of the simple things we all, hopefully, eventually come to realize. So here are 40* things I’ve learned in my 40 years:

  1. Smile. Even when you want to cry, scream, throw something, hit someone. Seriously, just smile. It does help.
  2. Don’t overanalyze. Anything. Men/women, doctors’ faces, actions, words, whatever. It’s doubtful you’ll figure out what they really think/mean/intend anyway. Why waste your time?
  3. If you don’t know, ask. Ask anyone anything. It’s the only way you have a chance at discovering the truth. And it’s the best way to learn.
  4. Never stop learning. Take a class, read a book, go to a seminar, join a club. I’m going to learn French (for real this time). And maybe even how to cook. (Nah, maybe I’ll leave that one to Cory.)
  5. There are at least two sides to every story. Even the one I’m telling right now. We all come at things from different perspectives, so can rarely see the full pictures ourselves. (Like Nick says I cook better than I give myself credit for, but I wouldn’t win any contests.)
  6. Speaking of – did you know that you have to enter contests to win?! That includes the lottery. Which probably explains why I haven’t won.
  7. It can take longer to convey your thought in 140 characters than it can in 500 words. (Just ask Jessi!)
  8. Listen. To everyone. Think about what they say. Consider. Absorb. Don’t just rush to respond, explain or prove your own point. Sometimes we need to just listen.
  9. I know that takes patience. Patience is truly a virtue. One I’ve often admitted in this blog that I don’t have. (Just ask Nick – he will confirm this.) But I am trying. If you see me taking lots and lots of deep breaths, you’ll know I’m trying to be patient. It definitely doesn’t come easy to me…
  10. Keep breathing. Literally and figuratively. Yes, there are some things beyond our control in this area – like getting the cancer diagnosis at 38. But there are so many things we can all do to improve our health and that will help us breathe a little easier – especially when walking up many flights of stairs!
  11. Any day can be your last. Or your loved one’s last. So make that day – and every day – count.
  12. Tell people you love them.
  13. Don’t hold grudges.
  14. Spend your time where it truly matters – with the people you love. Yes, we all have to go to work and other obligations, but…
  15. No one really cares if your house is clean. Probably not even your mother. She’d much rather you visit her than stay home scrubbing the tub.
  16. We don’t have to do everything for everyone. Even when we want to do it all, it doesn’t mean it’s the best idea – or even physically possible. So…
  17. Learn to say no. It’s really not a bad word. It’s not even four letters. You can say it nicely: “I’d really love to but…”
  18. Learn to ask for help. Or at least accept help when it’s offered. I was struggling to lug two suitcases and a giant purse the other day when a guy offered to carry one. What did I say? “No worries, I’ve got it.” Why? Why did I say that? Accept the help, Amy!
  19. Be kind. (That means to yourself, too!) Even when others are not. You never know what is going on in someone else’s life.
  20. Share. Share what you learn, share your experiences, share your thoughts, share your opinions. We all have a story to tell. And your story may just be the one that makes someone realize they’re not alone. That’s why I write this blog. If it can help just one person, it’s worth it.

*Disclaimer: I have learned more than 40 things in my 40 years. This is just a sampling of some of my favorite things I’ve learned, not an all-inclusive list.  And yes, I realize there are only 20 above. The final 20 will be in the next blog – an exciting two-part series! ;)

 

Ever since my birthday, I’ve been thinking about what to say in this blog about turning 40. Finally, last week, after the idea kept coming back to me, I decided to write “40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years.” I wrote 30 of them, decided that it was much too long for one blog entry, and split it into two parts. I was about to publish it when I decided I’d better write all 40 (both parts) before publishing one of them in case something that came at the end would fit better at the beginning, or vice versa. (You writer friends know what I mean!) Since at that point it was well past midnight on a work night, I pressed save and closed the laptop.Fast forward to the next day after work. It was my first night in a long time that I got to just go home after work (at a normal hour) and actually have a few hours to do whatever I wanted (rare, precious time). I decided what I most wanted was to go through the bags of gifts from my birthday and write thank you cards. (Kristen, you’ve taught me well.) More than anything, I love the thought put into the cards and gifts from my dear friends and family. And amongst them all, I found a letter that I hadn’t seen in the craziness of the party. I opened it and laughed out loud! It was from Vanessa: a list of things she’s learned since she turned 40! I figured it would be similar to the list I was making, but was surprised to find that it’s not. In fact, the things I’ve learned in my barely 40 years hardly overlap with the things she’s learned since turning 40. I thanked Vanessa profusely for sharing her wisdom and asked if I could include it here – and she said yes. Thank you, Vanessa! Enjoy all! (And I’ll share my 40 things later this week…)

February 3, 2014

Happy Birthday, Amy!

Hi there,

I’ve been thinking about what to buy you for your birthday for some time now. I thought about donating to causes and non-profit organizations in your name. I thought of milestone pieces of jewelry. I thought of kitschy-mementos to honor your birth year. They were all good, but they all rang hollow. Besides, what do you buy for the person who has everything? I mean, turning 40 is huge.

That’s when I knew what I would get you. Turning 40 is a distinct rite of passage. If you’re a woman, that journey is colored with complexities, shaded by doubt and confronted by bold dreams. I wish someone had told me that instead of texting me an unimpressive nursery rhymed, rhetorical “Lordy, Lordy, looks who’s 40” message.

So my friend, even though I’m only six months ahead, here’s what I’ve learned since turning 40:

  1. Life is just beginning; it’s not a cliché. Long before I heard Oprah bellow to her audience about turning 40 and hearing celebrity guests like the late Nora Ephron talk about using scarves to cover “your aging neck”, I never understood what the fear was all about. We’re fortunate to be alive at this time. Yes, the glass ceiling has cracked a bit and salaries of professional women have shown marginal increase, but our generation is not judged as failures if we’re not draped on some dashing Prince Charming’s arm by a certain “magical age”. No, women like us are leading the way. We may not have all gone on an 83-day-long cross-country-trip across the U.S., but we’re living by the rules we set for ourselves.  Sometimes there are stops and detours in that journey. When cancer threw you a curve ball, you stared that sucker down and kicked it in the groin—grinding in your stiletto for good measure. You have your whole life ahead of you. A life that’s yours to do what you want, and pursue your dreams and goals.
  2. It’s OK to rid yourself of toxic people. The key to enjoying the next 40+ years is peace. You can’t get peace if your life is full of toxic parasites who inject negativity and depression into your world. We all have them. They masquerade as fun friends, rational-thinking relatives and the occasional acquaintances maligning you with misguided, misinformed missives of mayhem. One of my friends at church reminded me I told her to be careful about who she allowed to “speak into [her] life” years ago.  It’s still true today and it’s a creed I live by now. Hurt and hurting people flock to those with similar experiences and/or those who seem to have it all together. That’s understandable, but it’s exhausting when those individuals drain their sorrows into your generous heart and are too caught up with their own needs to discern when you need an ear. I’ve learned to let them go. I need to be surrounded by people of like mind and attitude who know that friendship is a two-way street. One shouldn’t be forced into caring. Instead, true friends care and are there without being asked because they value precious people.
  3. I’m a big girl and can make my own decisions. For the longest while I felt like I needed to poll those around me, or get the opinion of those whom I respected, to help my decision making. As I’ve gotten older and my outlook has changed, I’ve come to the realization that no one will live with those decisions, but me. What galled me was people’s need to frequently correct and critique my decisions when they didn’t line up with what they would have done. I’m empowered now to kindly, and if need be, curtly thank them for their opinion and reinforce that as an adult I’m entitled to make my own decisions and choices. I may decide to revisit an old relationship or venture into something completely atypical from what my personality dictates. If my decisions come with mistakes, bring it. I’m a big girl and I can handle it.
  4. Turning 40 is empowering! Do you remember how you were in every past decade of your life? Did uncertainty and doubt overshadow decisions you made? Perhaps you found yourself subconsciously acting a certain way to fit in with friends, or saying particular things to impress peers or and even dressing to please a crush or a boyfriend? One of the many great things about turning 40 is you no longer feel pressured to do those things. I frequently hear myself saying, “I’m at an age and stage in my life where I don’t feel I need to (fill in the blank).” It is so liberating.
  5. Even though I’ve accomplished a lot, I still want to do more. Like me, you’ve done more personally and professionally than many people you know. If others were to view our dossiers, our lives would look successful, glamorous and extremely well-traveled. And that’s understandable, but I still feel as though there’s more to do. I still feel unfulfilled in some areas. For a while I listened to others who told me I “was too hard” on myself. Then I realized that I’m not hard on myself. There are things I want (or need) to do. And that’s OK. I’m constantly looking to expand my horizon and conquer new things. We shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting more from life.
  6. Put God first. I don’t consider myself religious, but I have a personal relationship with God. I pray or talk to Him as much as I can. I even have “date nights”. I know. It sounds hokey. Basically, I block off an evening, prepare a fantastic meal, key up some worship music on my MP3 or laptop and spend my evening listening to music, reading my Bible and pouring out my heart to Him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I’m quiet. Whatever I do, I am always deeply satisfied after. You’ll find your own way, I’m sure. But who better to pour out my hopes, dreams and fears to but the One who made me? I couldn’t have made it as far as I have without Him and I tell all my friends the same. Put Him first and you’ll never regret it.

I’m sure you’ll receive numerous gifts and well-wishes. You’ll be surrounded by those you love and who love you just as much. When everybody’s gone and you’re left with your thoughts, I hope you’ll find these observations useful.  Like I mentioned before, we are alive in a time in history where the world is literally at our fingertips. All you have to do is pick up your phone or tablet and you will instantly have access to review opportunities and dreams before you pursue them. You’ll chart your own course, make your own rules, and live your own dreams. So happy birthday, my dear, the best is yet to come!

- Vanessa

With Vanessa at my 40th birthday party.

With Vanessa at my 40th birthday party.

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