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Looking Back

At least once every couple of weeks, another person tells me a friend or family member was just diagnosed with cancer. And it’s often breast cancer. I honestly had no idea how common it was until I entered the cancer world nearly two years ago. I now know so many (mostly) women who are all at different stages of their cancer journey. I have one message for every single one of you, no matter what stage of treatment you’re at now: you will get through this!

Treatment will end – and, honestly, that will be one of the hardest parts. But you will move on. You will get your hair back – on your head, your eyelashes, your eyebrows, all of it. You will get (if applicable and you choose) new boobs. You will stop feeling so tired. You will start remembering things again. Your head will clear. The tingling will go away. Your visits to the hospital – your home away from home for so long – will grow further and further apart.

People will no longer be able to tell by looking at you that you had cancer. In fact, many will forget you had cancer. You will never be able to forget, but you will stop thinking about cancer constantly. You will go a full hour without thinking about it, then a few hours, and then even a full day! (I haven’t gone longer than that yet, but expect eventually I’ll even go a week or more without thinking about it – at least I hope!) Your life will resume a new type of normal, which, if you want it to, can at least resemble your old normal.

For my friends just starting their journey, considering their options and deciding their route: it may seem like forever, but honestly, one day (maybe about two years from now) you will be looking back, amazed at how much has happened in such a short amount of time – and happily moving on with your life…

Curt Schilling, the former World Series Champion Red Sox pitcher just announced to the world that he has cancer. Tears welled up in my eyes. Not because I know Curt personally, but because I know exactly how he felt when he heard those words, “You have cancer.” It was probably the same way my friend Monica’s mom felt when she was diagnosed. And Greg. And Lisa. And Patrick. And Bonnie. And Giuliana. It doesn’t matter if you’re famous, if you’re young, old, a guy or a girl. The world as you know it has ended.

Cancer doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. You can’t buy your way out of cancer. And the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and I’m sure other hospitals, treat you the same regardless of your bank account. They want to help you beat it, whether your name is in the newspaper or not.  

I hate that anyone has to go through what I did – and some much worse. If I knew Curt, I would tell him the one thing that matters most: It’s all about your attitude. Stay positive, truly believe you will beat it, and (with lots of prayers, support and your dream team of doctors) you will. Be like Monica’s mom who, when she lost all of the hair on her head, simply said she’s happy to be saving money at the hairdresser. Because when it comes down to it, she’s no different from you, Curt. Cancer doesn’t care. But luckily people do.

Think and plan

There is never enough time to think or plan. There is always so much going on! When does it ever stop??? I guess that’s what I need to learn: to not let it get that way. To make time to think and plan. Otherwise it will never happen. Of course, we all know what happens to the best laid plans – things like my 2012. But  you can’t let that stop you.

There are such things as over thinking and over planning. I’m constantly coaching my girlfriends (and reminding myself) not to over-analyze things their boyfriend/husband/lover/dream boy does – we’re never going to figure them out, anyway. And sometimes when you over think a decision you end up with the wrong one – sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut. Over planning is something I can definitely fall into. Nick was telling Cory the other night, “Just wait ’til you go on vacation with her! She’ll plan your every second and have you going so fast, you’ll never be able to catch up! You should’ve seen Gramma and me trying to keep up with her in Rome.” And my mom chimed in, “That’s why we just gave up and went to the pub.” I admit, I was bad on that trip – and I vow to never over plan a vacation like that again!

What I have to be careful of now is to not over plan my life. I am so thankful to have my life and energy to really live it (and my eyebrows, eyelashes and hair on my head), that I’ve had a tendency to say “yes” to most everything, and to try to fit everything in. I’m always going, going, going, when one of the things I vowed less than a month ago was to slow down. (I think I need to print my resolutions and keep them with me to make them actually stick…)

I did pass up a few things this week, like I resisted buying concert tickets to see shows I’ve already seen – I don’t need to see every country show that comes to town! What I didn’t pass up were things that really matter to me:

  1. I signed up for the BAA Distance Medley. That is the BAA 5k in April (two days before the marathon), the BAA 10k in June and the (GULP) half-marathon in October. There it is – I said it in my resolutions and now I have a date to work toward. And boy do I have work to do! I haven’t been running much since I hate the cold, and I found out that they have a mandatory finish time of two and a half hours. That means I will have to cut my 13 minute plus mile down to 11:45. We’ll see… luckily I have connections with a certain running team and trainer who I am sure will give me a few tips…
  2. The second thing that I didn’t pass up actually caused me to tear up. I received an e-mail from Olivia Achtmeyer inviting me to be a model at this October’s Runway for Recovery event! I don’t think I’ve been to a more moving fundraiser than Runway for Recovery 2013. Seeing all those women (and some men) with their families, celebrating the survivors and honoring those they’ve lost, in such a supportive, energetic environment – I can’t even do it justice trying to describe it. Go to the site and check out the  video. And mark your calendars for October 16, 2014 to see me walk (dance, strut, I don’t know – just hopefully not fall!) down the runway at the Revere Hotel in Boston, all to raise money for children who’ve lost their mothers to breast cancer. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my second year of survivorship.
  3. Finally, I am going to book a flight to Florida for a few days to see my Dad, Maggie, Steve, Kelli and my crazy handsome nephews. I miss them and don’t see them enough. And there’s never enough time or a good time – so sometimes you just have to make time!

These are the kinds of events I’d like to fill my calendar with…

 

I woke up and heard Cory telling his sister on the phone that it was going to be a rainy day. I reached over and grabbed my phone and saw that not only was it not raining yet (only 60% chance at 9 am – yes, I slept until 9), but it was 46 degrees out – woo hoo! Because today is the first day I’m allowed to start running – again.

I’ve had more starts and stops in this short running career since I was inspired by Tara and the Genzyme Running Team to take it up in the late fall of 2011. Ran my first 5k that December (the Jingle Bell Run – so fun!), then found the lump and got the breast cancer diagnosis in March 2012. Surgery quickly followed. No running for a long time. Start back. Chemo. A little running but not much energy to run – then afraid I’d fall with my numb toes and soles of my feet. Lymphedema set in – so glove and sleeve when running from now on until eternity. Then a bit of running, but winter and radiation and the combo was not my favorite – and still little energy and numbness. I ran my first 5k back, the BAA 5k, the day before the Boston Marathon – it was strange that I got to cross the finish line when so many of my friends and family didn’t get to the next day. I worked my way to my first 10k – the BAA 10k, their first event after the marathon. Since then it’s been some running, walking, a stupid fall – and then surgery again. (Oh and winter – which we know I hate to run in the cold.) But now hopefully the last surgery is done and I’m allowed to start running – again.

So back to realizing it was warm (relatively) out. I know me. If I didn’t roll out of bed and get in my running clothes and out the door right then, before the rain, it wasn’t going to happen. And I have new sneakers to break in!

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So I did. And the second after I got outside and snapped that picture of my new sneakers, it started to pour. Of course it did. I thought about going back inside, but thought “Amy, you just posted a picture saying you’re going for a run – you have to run at least a mile.” (Well, run/walk – remember, I do intervals.) Argh. Fine. I turned up my music, turned on Map My Run, tucked my phone in my sleeve and started to run. (Quick side note and shout out to awesome Matt O’Shea for sending me info on how to make Nike+ show my map while running - I remembered the tip halfway through, tried it and it worked! May switch to that app from now on. I like the cheering. :) Thank you! )

Luckily, after about a mile the rain stopped and it just remained… dreary, and at least not cold. And heck, I’d gone a mile – I might as well go another half before turning around, right? Which brought me to Kenmore Square:

20140111-104108.jpgAll the restaurants made me realize I hadn’t eaten anything, so definitely time to turn around. As I was running by a store window I caught a glimpse of myself and realized: it’s the first time I’ve been able to run with a real pony tail!

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Kind of silly, I know, but a milestone that made me smile… And as I ran I had various aches and pains – first my knee, then my hip, then my ankle, and always slight throbbing on the right side of my chest, but all things I can work through. I think my body is just shocked it’s moving again!

I made it back, slowly, but having put the first 3.1 miles on my new sneakers – so basically a 5k. Not bad for the first venture out. It will be a long road to my goal of a half marathon this year, but I know I can do it. And hopefully no more start/stops in the foreseeable future…

Lisa’s List

My friend Lisa had her first chemo session at Dana-Farber yesterday. I think I was more nervous for her than I was when I went through it! There was no need, though, as she is one of the bravest, most positive people I know. There is no way she’s going to let this stupid cancer mess with her and her fabulous family. Frankly, cancer chose the wrong woman when it entered her cells.

But because I was nervous, I wanted to make sure I passed all I learned through my experience on to Lisa. Not wanting to forget anything, I made a list (on a bright pink post-it note, of course):

Lisa

  • All different
  • Tired
  • Food tastes
  • Eating/weight
  • Eyelashes
  • American Cancer Society (Wig website/Look Good, Feel Better)
  • Wig fitting
  • Lymphedema (sleeve/massage)
  • Insurance
  • Nails
  • Super B vitamins
  • YOU

Pretty random, huh? That’s the thing – so many of the things that are a big deal in your cancer life, you’d never expect. And there is so much happening, so fast, so much to read and absorb, it’s hard to distill what you really need to know. So during lunch, I ran over to Dana-Farber to sit with Lisa and download what I found to be the most important, like…

  • The all important disclaimer that every single person is different. Everyone’s body reacts differently to things – while my arm would get cold while the poison traveled through the IV into my veins, it didn’t bother Lisa. While I loved having my girlfriends at every chemo session (kind of like Sex and the City / Hospital Episode), she may prefer to be alone or just with her family. I was really lucky and didn’t get as sick as I expected from the chemo, and hopefully Lisa will be the same, although I have friends who didn’t want to do anything but sleep through it.
  • You can’t anticipate if you’ll lose or gain weight. Right after my first chemo, my mouth got the metallic taste and I thought for sure I’d hate food and lose weight (yay!)… but of course that only lasted a couple of days, my taste buds returned and food was what made my nausea go away. So of course I gained more than 20 pounds. But you know what? It didn’t matter! My mantra was “whatever makes me feel better” – which included food and retail therapy. And yes, I’m still losing those last couple pounds and trying to pay the credit card bills, but heck it was worth it, because those things made me feel better.
  • Part of that retail therapy were my many wigs, which I passed on to Lisa yesterday – and encouraged her to let her children play with, to help them get used to the idea. She texted me last night that her youngest put on her Little Mermaid dress with the red wig – love it!!!
  • Along with the bald head, I reminded her that EVERY hair on her body will fall out – not just those on her head. I encouraged her to relish the time that she doesn’t have to shave, as it will be back before she knows it. And I also warned her of what was most traumatic for me: losing not my eyebrows but my eyelashes… I was so happy the day they started growing back!
  • Yes, the stupid cancer can do a number on your self-esteem, but it’s so great that there are programs out there like the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program that not only teaches you how to apply your makeup (including creating eyebrows after yours disappear), but gives you a fabulous bag of goodies! A must to take advantage of.

I could’ve gone on and on, but knew I could never tell her everything, and didn’t want to overwhelm her, especially during that first chemo session. (Luckily, Lisa is happily married, or I’d have had to give all my “single cancer girl” tips, too! ;) ) Really, everyone who goes through it has a different experience, and all we can do is pass on our experiences, hope the tips help you not feel like you’re the only one going through this and reduce the surprise of things people didn’t warn you about. And that’s the number one thingto remember: it’s all about you.

Resolutions

I love lists. Nothing helps me feel more organized and in control than making a thorough list. I make lists for everything: to-do lists, topics I want to cover in this blog, places to visit, lists for Nick. And I write the lists on everything from napkins to the back of receipts (and sometimes even in my iPhone) and hopefully they eventually get transferred into my Arc notebook (best invention ever: moveable pages, so I no longer agonize over what to write on the first page). And it’s the time of year for the list of all lists: New Year’s resolutions.

Before I jump into my latest list focused on 2014, I want to take a minute to look back on 2013. I can hardly believe it’s over! It definitely beat the 2011/12 combo hell year by eons – especially the last few months - but wasn’t exactly a cake walk:

With Nick and Tara, ringing in 2013.

With Nick and Tara, ringing in 2013.

  • It began with me nearly bald, with just some wisps making their way back, and still going through radiation, with one deflated boob.
  • One of my dear friends became a US citizen, at an incredibly moving ceremony at Faneuil Hall, which I was so honored to witness.
Boston, February 9. 2013

Boston, February 9. 2013

  • My birthday was marked by one of the year’s biggest blizzards – an appropriate end to my hellish 38th year – and getting to reinflate my right boob.
Disney March 2013

Disney March 2013

  • Celebrated new beginnings (and the end of treatment other than Tamoxifen) with Kevin, Tara, Nick, Mike, Shannon, Julian, Janie, Monique, Steve and Kelli, and many other family and friends in fabulous Walt Disney World.
Pre-marathon breakfast in Ashland with our Warrior paint on!

Pre-marathon breakfast in Ashland with our Warrior paint on!

  • April brought incredible highs and lows with our Genzyme Boston Marathon Team fundraisers and celebrations, and then the shocking tragic end when the marathon was viciously cut short for the team, Tara and thousands of others. It was the scariest day of my life, as I know it was for so many others.
One Fund fundraiser at Towne, April, 2013

One Fund fundraiser at Towne, April, 2013

  • And less than two weeks after the marathon, Andrew and I threw together a fundraiser for the One Fund that brought in more than $3,000 for the victims.
BAA 10k, June 2013

BAA 10k, June 2013

  • I ran my first 10k (Thanks Lisa!), and learned to deal with lymphedema. (Note to self: Don’t forget sleeve when running!) I also learned to love headbands – anything to control the uncontrollable curls (but ever thankful for any hair!).

IMG_1336 IMG_1902 IMG_2524 IMG_2534 heath aldeanIMG_3334

  • It was a summer – a year, really – of incredible concerts with my best friends and family.

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  • Fall brought the Jimmy Fund Boston Marathon Walk (thank you so much to all who sponsored us!!!) and Paris.
  • Of course, it also brought the month of Pink – and I was so thankful so many family and friends joined me for many of the walks, runs, fundraisers – and to cheer me on while I got my first tattoo!
  • Both sets of my parents celebrated 30 years of marriage – and I couldn’t be more thankful for all four of them, and that they each found each other. I know I wouldn’t be me without all of them (or have my two awesome, unique brothers).
  • The Red Sox won the World Series!
  • Several of my friends and family celebrated milestone birthdays and either met, got engaged or married the love of their lives… in fact, I have  (I can’t believe I’m admitting this publicly) Tinder to thank for getting Cory and me together, which really has made my whole life happier…
Best second date EVER!

Best second date EVER!

  • And in December I finally had what was hopefully my final cancer-related surgery: the implants. And I can finally pull my hair back into a baby pony tail. A pretty great way to end 2013…

Now, I’m not one who subscribes to the idea that resolutions are only for January 1. I make them – and evolve them – throughout the year. In fact, I just stumbled upon the list I made on the plane ride home from LA in March 2012, the night before I found the first lump and life changed forever. It’s actually a little painful to glimpse the person I was that day, so innocent of  what was growing inside me. I was thinking about cleaning out my wardrobe, getting my finances in order, running more, getting a healthier love life, career development opportunities. So… typical. Most of the list was simply forgotten, as all of my focus shifted to ridding my body of the cancer. Some of the things on that list - like go to France and join a community board - happened in 2013. Some are just making it back to my list now for 2014 - like get more involved in a communications industry organization and run a half marathon. (Half, Phil, half. Not whole. That’s not on any of my lists!) And others will probably be recurring themes on my lists forever: be healthier (run more, eat better), get organized, spend less.

But this year’s list is different. Yes, I am sure I will have sub-lists with many of those same things on it, but I want to prioritize and simplify my 2014 list.

  1. Live in the present. Cory, his mom and I debated the wording of this one, as he insisted on pointing out that you really can’t live in any other time unless you have a DeLorean and are friends with Doc Brown. But you know what I mean! Don’t dwell on the past and don’t agonize over the future. And don’t live on my phone/computer. I don’t need to see every Facebook, Twitter or Instagram update – constantly looking at my phone takes away from the real life I’m living, and the time I’m spending with the ones I love. Let yourself be in the moment, right now, right here, and enjoy it. Which really leads to…
  2. Slow down. I’m always running around, crazy busy. And it’s not always necessary, or for things that matter.
  3. Spend time with the people I love. That’s what does matter. The people in your life. And I am so blessed to have many incredible people in my life and I want them to know how much they mean to me. And nothing says that more than the gift of your time. I know I am happiest when I’m just hanging out with my friends and family…
  4. Be healthier. Ok, yes, this is on the list above, and is ‘typical’ but I can’t help it. I texted Tara the other day that as much as I hate running, I need it. I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, grouchy more than normal and it hit me: I am simply happier when I’m running and eating better. So I’m actually anxious for this mandated rest period while my chest heals to end. Of course, I hate the cold, so the real running may not completely ramp up until spring, but I can start eating better and running on the treadmill. It will help make me…
  5. Be a better person. I stole this one from Cory. I love it. It’s exactly what I want to do this year. I want to be a better person for me, and for everyone around me – and ultimately to help make the world a better place. I want to pay it forward for all the love and kindness you all bestow upon me all the time. I’m going to think more positively and mute the negative. I want to learn – both to enhance my knowledge for my career and for enjoyment. I want people to know they can count on me, I want to realize that I don’t need to do everything myself and I want to learn to trust. I want to help people through their tough times, as so many have helped me these last couple of years. Above all else, I want to say “thank you” more, to pray more, and to make sure that everyone I love knows how much they mean to me. Kind of like Live Like You Were Dying, huh?

I know many others are thinking along the same lines as me on their lists this year. In fact, Tara posted a link to this great list on my Facebook page, and she really is right on: Resolving to Care More and Slow Down in 2014 by Doree Shafrir for BuzzFeed. Can you imagine how much happier we would all be if we all had lists like this – and actually followed through with them? I’m going to do my best to live this list in 2014. Please help me – call me out if I’m not living it!

Wishing you all your happiest, healthiest year yet! And I want to hear what’s on YOUR list!

xo

Amy

Taking It Easy, Take 2

I had my follow-up appointment with Dr. H on Friday. I was relieved to hear that he thought everything looked good, that it’s healing and surgery went as well as could be hoped. Phew. I’ve heard real-life nightmares from friends who ended up with one breast up near their throat, and another who had a large extra round bump, like she had three breasts. I couldn’t be more thankful to be getting more and more back to as close to normal as possible, for the first time in now close to two years. (Has it really been less than two years??? It’s amazing how much can happen in that span of time…)

The other thing Dr. H told me was that just because things are good so far, doesn’t mean I get to resume my regular pace and activities. He explained that we barely escaped without a drain in my right breast (the one that was radiated, hence not as straight forward as the left) and that if I don’t take it easy and limit use of my right arm, fluid could build up and that would not be good. So while I no longer need to lie still (which I really did as much as I could but probably not as much as I should), I do need to be cautious. No lifting anything heavy, running, exercising, etc. for three weeks. Then, so long as all still seems good, I can start running, lifting, etc.

To be honest, right now I am just so thankful to be able to stretch! My arms were supposed to stay down at my side at first and I would literally wake in the middle of the night trying to stretch because my body was so longing for a good stretch! Now I can, but do it gingerly and stop when it starts to hurt. I also feel better because I’m able to massage my right arm again: I had visions of the lymphedema kicking in and my arm swelling beyond recognition. Luckily, that didn’t happen. And I can do pretty much anything with my left side and arm, so that helps.

And everyone has been wonderful as usual: Mom stayed with me for the first few days, then Cory, and then Nick watched over me. (Nick and I ate better than we have in a long time, between mom, Cory and Tara cooking for us!) And I don’t return to work until Jan. 2 so, other than the holidays, spending time with family and friends, and general home stuff, there’s not much I need to do anyway. So I will do my best to continue to take it easy, and simply enjoy the holidays…

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