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Archive for the ‘Alone’ Category

“All you can change is yourself, but sometimes that changes everything.” – Anonymous

The past two weeks I’ve been beat up, beat down, sucked in, worn out, and had more extreme highs and lows than a rollercoaster  – definitely felt the whiplash. Worst of all, it did such a job on my self-worth that I didn’t even feel like or recognize myself. I felt helpless and lost. (And dumb and unattractive and naïve and…) And I just went with all of it. Let it happen. I was at the mercy of the people and circumstances around me. And I was seriously worried that I’d never be me again – I didn’t know how to get the strong, independent, positive woman back.

“Time heals what reason cannot.” – Anonymous

I know it was not a very long time (although it felt like years) but somehow, I’ve snapped back. I feel like me again. I don’t know if it was time, telling my story (see below), the tattoo (also below), the Red Sox going to the World Series (woo hoo!!!) or what, but somehow this morning I woke up for the first time like “I’ve got this.” I can take my life back. And I’m going to.

“When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.” -Harley Davidson

I love that quote! It’s so true. Take control. Be you. Don’t let anyone else dictate your happiness, make you feel like you’re not good enough or think that there is anything you can’t do. (And don’t ever try to ‘fix’ someone else’s life – especially if they don’t want to be helped.) I used to know (and live by) that, and now I’m going to again. To be honest, I’m a little ticked off that this happened during the month of pink, when there were so many events with such great people, but then again, maybe it was keeping busy and doing all the events and seeing everyone that helped me snap back so quickly?

This has been a whirlwind of a Breast Cancer month:

  • Started at the end of September with the Komen walk, followed by the incredible Runway for Recovery event, and then the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk – all of which I already blogged about.
  • Last weekend the fun continued in Providence at the Gloria Gemma Flames of Hope run/walk. Alicia pulled together a team, including her fellow Rhode Island Charity pageant queens, their families and my friend Abby. In addition to all of us walking in the 5k, Alicia even ran the Pink Pump Palooza 50 yard dash in heels!
  • Friday mom joined me for Dana-Farber’s Breast Cancer in Young Women Forum. Because of how I’ve been feeling, I couldn’t even focus or make myself really think through what I was going to say until that morning. I’ve been in such a fog, I really didn’t want to do anything except what I had to. Luckily, I knew I had to do this, so that morning, mom and I left early, went to Dunkin Donuts and thought for a few minutes over tea. Then I told her, “Ok, I’ve got it. The most important thing is to have 1-3 main points. Here’s mine: You’ll hear lots of stories today – that’s the best part of days like today. But the most important thing to remember is it’s all about you. Everyone is different. Some things work for one person, but not another. You are unique: do what’s right for you.” And then, thinking through my story and all that happened since March 2012, I came to my second point: “It doesn’t matter if you’re married, single, have children or live alone – surround yourself with people who love you, who make you happy. That’s what got me through – all the incredibly loving and supportive people I’m so lucky to have in my life. And let them help you – it will help them through it, too.” (See, Tina, I do listen sometimes…) And the talk – and the day – went well… and I started to feel a little more like me…

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  • Friday night, while not breast cancer-related, I went to Salem with friends from our running team, to experience some of the haunted happenings. I know that just spending time with these friends who inspire me with their marathon runs and overall kindness and determination in life helped me feel more like me again…

halloween

  • And finally, Saturday night was one of my favorite nights of the year: the Nashua Harley-Davidson Fashion Show and Live Auction Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Benefit. As you’ll see in the pictures below, Nick, Alicia, Vic and I all had a blast! Robin Dixon, of Nashua Harley-Davidson, is such an amazing supporter of the American Cancer Society and makes the event even bigger and better each year! In addition to winning things in the raffle and auction (and losing a few things like my TV, darn it!), we had fun with people asking to wear Alicia’s crown, the great food and… my first tattoo! Not only did I do one, but Nick also got a pink ribbon – his with wings…

So I’m not sure what actually did it, but somehow, thank God, I am me again. I love my life, am so blessed by all the fabulous people in it, and I will not let myself get lost so easily ever again.

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20130929-152648.jpg This morning I ran the Susan G. Komen MA Race for the Cure along the very foggy South Boston waterfront, at much too early in the morning for a Sunday. Maybe it was the overcast weather, maybe it was the early morning (you know I’m not a morning person), maybe it was the fact that I was there alone, but the day definitely got to me.

I love the breast cancer events – there are always interesting, strong, inspiring women, a shared mission, electric energy, and a lot of pink. So I thought I’d be ok, going alone. I just figured I’d run instead of walk, since I always prefer to run alone, at my own pace. But there was all the build up before: the survivor parade, pictures and dancing warm up. And it seemed everyone had someone there – family member, friend, significant other. I seemed to be the lone loner – although that’s probably not true. Survivor sisters that we are, women around me soon adopted me. “How many years,” one woman asked. “Oh she’s a newbie,” chimed in another, “just look at her new hair! Love the curls!”

Soon I was on my own again as all went back to their loved ones. The bell went off, I put my standard starting song (Fastest Girl in Town by Miranda Lambert, of course) on my iPod and off I went. I tried to focus on the music, but more watched the interesting mixture of survivors and supporters. The little boy with pink knee socks running with his mom, the big teams in their matching uniforms, the moms running while pushing strollers. And then I heard my name and a friendly face! Pat, one of the first people to share his cancer experience with me and to help me see that a positive attitude can beat cancer any day, was walking on the other side of the road. We exchanged waves and big smiles in the seconds that our path’s crossed, and then he was gone. And all of the sudden the tears started flowing and I couldn’t catch my breath. Breathing while running is actually my biggest challenge, so the crying definitely didn’t help. Seeing Pat was such a high point – but then the reality set in. Yes, you can be completely alone in a sea of people. Even friendly, happy, supportive people.

So I guess the lesson I learned is that I just shouldn’t go to these things alone. I go to breakfast alone, the movies alone, shopping alone, but not this. Some things you just need your own team for – even if it’s a team of one friend! Luckily, there are others joining me for all the rest of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month events – and hopefully even more of you will join in. You know my motto: the more the merrier! So check out the dates and events on the right and let me know if you can join us for any – the Nashua Harley benefit is a great night out, and so worth the drive!

Oh – and I should mention that even with the crying bout, I ran my new personal 5k record: 37:10, 11:58 pace. Slow, I know, but fast for me, as I’m typically a 13 minute mile. I think it was all the positive energy surrounding me, and wanting to finish strong, since the bright pink shirt I was wearing said “survivor.”

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For some reason I find it funny that on the same day that Dana-Farber published my blog on Dating and Cancer 101, I went to the House of Blues to see Pat Benatar sing Love is a Battlefield. Yes, I’m a child of the 80s and much of what I learned about love was through lyrics.

We are strong
No one can tell us we’re wrong
Searching our hearts for so long
Both of us knowing
Love is a battlefield

And, as anyone who reads this blog regularly or knows me at all knows, I love music. There’s a constant soundtrack to my life and Love is a Battlefield is definitely one that has been a recurring theme!

Back to the blog for Dana-Farber. I would do anything for that place – and to help others going through the nightmare that was my last year. So when Robbin asked if I’d be interested in writing on this topic, I said sure, why not? No, it’s not easy admitting you were lonely and, well, maybe not quite desperate, but desperate for some attention. And some reassurance that you’re not just still attractive, but actually datable.  But if sharing that vulnerability with others helps even just one woman going through treatment know she’s not alone in what she’s feeling and fearing, it’s worth it. So I wrote it and it debuted on Dana Farber’s blog and Facebook page today.

What’s also kind of funny is that while the experience I wrote about for the blog took place a year ago, I’m in a similar place now. The only real difference is I have some real hair back – which is a very big thing, I must say. And I’m not going through treatment, so definitely look and feel healthier. And with all that comes more self-confidence, which is really everything.  Every day I get another inch further away from the cancer patient label and back to my prefered regular girl designation. But as far as dating goes, it’s not that different cancer or no cancer. Either way, love is a battlefield…

With my friends Gail and Abby at the Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo concert at The House of Blues in Boston.

With my friends Gail and Abby at the Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo concert at The House of Blues in Boston.

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I was called into the Healing Garden at Dana-Farber today. Not literally, but something beckoned me to go through those doors, although I haven’t been since my very first visit to this facility last March. And the second I walked in and felt the peacefulness wash over me, between the lush garden, sweet scent of greenery, subtle lighting and bird musac in the background, the floodgates opened. Clearly I don’t mesh well with relaxing and peacefulness – another thing I need to work on.

I know it was – is, as I’m still sitting here amongst the flowers and the tears writing this blog entry on my iPhone – more than that, though. It is remembering that first time here, how scared and clueless I was about what really lay ahead. It is mourning the person I was before I stepped through these doors. It is the wondering about the different path my life could’ve taken if I hadn’t discovered that lump – and the people that may’ve still been in it – for better or worse. And sitting here, looking through the bamboo branches, out the window at the hospital across the street where we kept vigil for days and then lost my grandfather, in the midst of it all, just 8 months ago. It is the fact that this is the last time I will be here (barring any more lymphedema flair ups) for four whole months. And while that is something to celebrate – as is finally being ‘even’ again after today’s procedure (which really hurts but is worth it) – it is also hard. As change always is, even when it’s for the better.

But I will adjust. I am still struggling to figure out who this post-treatment me is. And I will get there. Maybe I just need a little more time in some healing gardens…

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As I sat down in my reconstructive surgeon’s waiting room at Brigham and Women’s this afternoon for the first time in months, I had this strange surge of emotion. My mind immediately jumped back to May when I was sitting in the very same seat, furiously texting with the guy I was seeing. I remember fighting back tears as I typed, so depressed because everyone else in the waiting room was holding the hand of a significant other except me – and part of me blamed him for not being there even though I didn’t even tell him I had the appointment that day. I knew that didn’t make sense, but not much made sense at that time.

Sitting there today, I thought of how far I’ve come. Today I breezed in there smiling, confidently bald (can I still call it that with the baby hair on my head?), rushing straight from work; in stark contrast to months ago when I slowly trudged down the hospital hall in sweats and no makeup, feeling like all the life had been sucked out of me – and unable to see beyond the devastating moment.

While I don’t love my current situation, I accept it. While I don’t like being bald, I can handle it. And while it would be great to have some incredible guy by my side, I would rather be alone than with the wrong one, or one who doesn’t want to be here.

I’ve even come to terms with radiation. Today was the first step: partially deflating my left breast so it doesn’t get in the way during radiation. I talked through things with Dr. H and he assured me that while this will be longer, it’s the right order and he will do everything he can when it’s his turn. I felt better when I left – although it’s hard getting used to one smooshy breast (like those squishy gel toys) and one that’s hard as a rock! February can’t come soon enough – that’s when I’ll visit Dr. H again and get reinflated. And hopefully I will be able to schedule the surgery then, too, depending how I did through radiation – which I am determined will go well.

For at least the moment, my overwhelmingly positive and determined attitude has returned. I started today practically giddy (I even warned several people). Why? Because today is Tuesday and for the first time in months, I got to go to work! (AKA – No more chemo!) And not only did I get to go to work, but I started the day welcoming people at New Hire Orientation, which I always find invigorating. So by the time I was back in my office, I was raring to go! If only I could bottle that feeling…

Giving Tuesday

I couldn’t let today go by without mentioning Giving Tuesday. Unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this is a day to use your money to make a real difference. It doesn’t have to be today – I know, it is quite late – but can be any day of the year. In fact, I will once again be purchasing most of my Christmas gifts online here:

  • Dana-Farber – Our Giving Catalog is full of gifts that benefit adult and pediatric patients and advance Dana-Farber’s lifesaving mission. Gifts range from supporting clinical trials to stocking our toy closet.

After making your selection and donation, you can either send someone an e-card or print cards to give as gifts. I think people will appreciate it as much this year as they did last. I know it’s certainly more personal to me this year, and there’s no present I’d rather than this.

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I didn’t want to go. It’s a club I never wanted to join and while I do blog about it, I try to ignore it whenever I can and just pretend I’m normal – or at least as normal as I ever was. But because I think knowledge and connections are better than ignorance, I went to the Breast Cancer in Young Women Forum for Patients and Survivors hosted by Dr. Ann Partridge and The Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at Dana-Farber. While on my way there I was thinking there are so many other ways I’d rather spend a vacation day from work, I have to agree with one of the survivor panel members who called the gathering a gift – because that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

The first thing that struck me as I walked through the door of Lucca, the fabulous Back Bay restaurant where yesterday’s event took place, was that among all the patients and survivors packed into the venue, I was the only one with a naked head. Tons of wigs, hats, scarves, and of course hair, but I was the only one completely bald. I didn’t have much time to dwell on it, though, as I was instantly drawn into conversation at a table by a friendly young woman who asked ‘Are you in our support group, too?’ who, when I shook my head no, replied with a shrug, ‘That’s ok, you can be now!’ And I immediately relaxed and felt accepted.

As soon as the first session started – a patient and survivor panel – I remembered why I really haven’t spoken to many people who have had breast cancer, why I’m not in any support groups and why I am not in counseling: because I hate being vulnerable. I don’t like to cry – especially not in front of other people. There are very, very few people I ever let myself break down in front of, and they see it as a novelty, and either laugh at me (in a most loving way – you know who you are – I have called her when I was crying just so she could smile and SOME good would come of it), or are horrified because they know it must mean something’s pretty bad because it doesn’t happen often.

Needless to say, as soon as the panel started, the tears started flowing. I was not alone, and the well-prepared folks from Dana-Farber had stocked every table with tissues. While each of the stories were heart-tugging in their own way, what it really did was make you think of your own story. How it felt when you first found the lump, had the biopsy, heard the words that you have cancer. It’s a time I try not to think about much for so many reasons. But in a room like that, you can’t help it.

What you also can’t help is feeling rather … normal. My story is just like thousands of women’s: I found a lump, had surgery, am getting through chemo. I’m not running five miles a day after every chemo session like Kristen, I was not about to get pregnant when I was diagnosed like Angela, I don’t have toddlers at home to take care of through chemo like Carie… I actually have it pretty easy. And for that I am thankful (although I wish I had the willpower to run every day).

After getting those initial tears out of the way – necessary as it broke down what few walls were in that room and connected us all; after all, you’re much more comfortable once someone’s seen you cry – it was on to the facts: presentations by Dana Farber doctors, nurse practitioners and social workers. Throughout those sessions featuring the latest research, statistics and Q&A, the little voice in my head kept chiming in:

  • Only 5% of breast cancer patients are 36-40 years old – ugh. Lucky me.
  • Breast cancer is still the leading cause of death for women age 40-49. This has to end. Reminds you why all the pink awareness around is a good thing. We still have so far to go to stop women from dying of this stupid a$$ disease!
  • Good news: research is breaking down breast cancer and the consensus is there will not be one single cure, but multiple targeted, individualized cures for each type in the not unforseeable future.
  • One whole section on why this could have happened – was it because I was overweight? Didn’t heat healthy enough? Didn’t exercise enough? Ate too much red meat? We know it wasn’t because I drank too much, and the fact that I got pregnant with Nick when I was 16 actually reduced my risk for getting breast cancer (although clearly not enough…).
  • Must: stop eating so much ’cause weight gain is a factor in reoccurrence. Must also exercise more because that helps decrease reoccurrence. Because that’s the biggest fear. The elephant in the room. Please make this go away and end my nightmare. I will do anything, including cut off my breasts, which I already did, and poison myself, which I’m doing every Tuesday. So then…
  • Everyone is talking about radiation – am I making the wrong decision, electing not to have it after chemo? Must reassess.
  • Oh crap, I forgot about lymphedema. I need to be somewhat careful. And I have to get a compression sleeve before flying…
  • So much talk about fertility – am I really done? Did I want another child, now or in the future? Should I consider other options? Would be a lot easier to consider if I had a significant other.
  • Am I the only person not married in this room? How is it most women are lucky enough to have a supportive spouse or significant other by their side through all this crap? Thank God for my fabulous family and friends so I am not completely alone. (And much better to be alone than to have a significant other who just makes it worse by giving the pretense of being there for you when he’s really not. Nothing hurts more.)
  • So some kids are embarrassed by their mother being bald. Not mine. He not only shaved my head, but encouraged me to forget wigs, hats and scarves and ‘rock the bald’. You rock, Nick.
  • Stress may not cause breast cancer but it can increase inflammation and other side effects, and make it harder to cope. Which explains my increasing pain as we get to Thursday and Friday each week…
  • And then a glimpse into my future and tamoxifen: the side effects I get to look forward to for five years. On this one, I will pull a Scarlett O’Hara and think about it tomorrow.

There was an upside to being the only bald girl in the room: I was chosen to be the model for the Look Good… Feel Better session put on by the American Cancer Society. Not only did Nicole from Dana-Farber do a fabulous job with my make-up, I got to keep the bag full of make-up that she used on me!

The best parts of the day, though, were definitely those times that you got to talk with those around you. To hear similar stories, to offer advice to those newly diagnosed, to share tips and good books (I’m ordering both the Lance Armstrong one and the one by Kelley Tuthill – thanks Erin!). And to learn more about others trying to help women with breast cancer, like the ladies from the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research Foundation for women in Rhode Island and the Young Survival Coalition. There are so many ways to connect and make a difference. I am going to call this week and see if I can get into the support group that many of my tablemates are in, and if not, I am sure I will make friends with the women in the group that I do join. Because Carie was right: this day was a gift. And I am not going to waste it.

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This is going to sound so stupid. I feel so stupid…

I just got home after a very long day (I went out for a bit after work), and the first thing I mindlessly did was pull off my wig and toss it on the couch. I rubbed my head a million times, all over, as it was hot under all that hair! I then went about my business, flipping through the mail, checking my e-mail, glancing at facebook, grabbing some leftovers from the fridge.

My hunger subsided, I grabbed my book and headed to my bedroom. (Yes, welcome to my exciting life.) I threw the book on my bed, reached up to take my necklace off and turned to my bureau. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and froze for a minute before breaking down in tears. I forgot. I simply forgot I was bald.

All day long when I saw myself in a mirror, I had shoulder-length brown hair. As I walked tonight in Harvard Square and caught my reflection in the storefront windows, I saw myself with hair. All day it was annoying me, getting in my eyes and making me sweat in the humidity. I couldn’t wait to get home and tear it off my head. And even when I got home and did take it off, it still didn’t register in my mind what it actually meant until I saw myself in my bedroom mirror.

It’s been two months now. I shaved my head (because my hair was falling out so fast) on June 30. And I don’t think I will ever get used to it or actually like it. But sometimes I think it’s actually better for me just to be bald most of the time – to make myself get used to it. To force myself to face my reality. To remind myself that I actually am sick and I shouldn’t always push myself so hard, so I don’t overdo it. But I long to be normal so much that I can’t help but put on one of the wigs to play dress up and trick myself into thinking I am a regular thirty-something girl who just blends in with the crowd – not one who people stare at because they’re not used to seeing a bald woman.

I guess there is a time for both. A time for remembering and a time for forgetting. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much each time I’m jarred back from my fantasyland…

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