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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.

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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

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I think my head is going to burst. Way too many things running through my mind, and I really can’t focus on any of them.

Today I was 100% focused on helping Tina and family do our best to convince the Parole Board not to release Scott’s killer. It will be several weeks to several months before we will know their decision, but I am confident we did everything possible and pray that justice will prevail.

In fact, I was so focused, it wasn’t until I went to my car and heard the voicemail from the hospital that I remembered I was supposed to call them to confirm my surgery by 3 p.m. Oops. Luckily they were still there and confirmed when I returned their call.

(Pleeeaaaasssseeee do not be offended if you are one of the dozens who’ve asked me this question) but no, right now I am not too excited for surgery. (Tissue expanders are being replaced with implants – finally.) I don’t feel like I have any of that emotion to give. Yes, I am thankful that I will finally get these rocks off my chest and start to feel some semblance of normal again, but no, it’s not the end. It will be months for these wounds to heal, and then I can do the nipples. And even then, although it will be physically over (besides the lovely lymphedema), there will still be somewhere between 4 and 9 years more of Tamoxifen. Honestly, it will never be over, because then, after I go off my wonder drug, I will worry about recurrence…

This feels somewhat like when chemo ended and people wanted me to celebrate. I’m just not feeling it. However, some have suggested a birthday party for my new boobs each year – now that is an idea that makes me smile! I’m not sure how my youngest goddaughter will feel about sharing her birthday with them, but when she’s older she’ll probably get a kick out of it – at least I know I’ll never forget the date! (And it seems so much more fun to remember that date than dates like when I found the lump, got the diagnosis or had the double mastectomy…)

So between the hearing, surgery, birthdays (my 10-year-old Goddaughter and my 102 year-old Nana), holiday parties, decorating, shopping for the holidays, trying to make sure all is wrapped up at work (and push it all out of my mind from now on), etc., etc., I’m fried. I’m actually looking forward to being drugged up tomorrow (uh, well, I guess today now since it’s 1 a.m.). Maybe it will quiet my brain enough that it will reset and all will suddenly be clear. Ha! I can hope, right? At least I know I’ll be amused with mom and Nick taking care of me until Cory’s down this weekend. And with Tara and Mark at the hospital, too, I know I don’t have to worry about anything. And no, Tina, there will be no skyping to laugh at my drug-induced musings – although I’m sure they will have fun telling you all about it…

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With Joncille and Aunt Patsy, October 2011

With Joncille and Aunt Patsy, October 2011

I. Hate. Cancer. I want to scream and cry and hit things. But none of it will bring my cousin back.

I found out this morning that my cousin Joncille – my dad’s cousin, so my second cousin if you want to get technical – passed away. She gave in to stupid cancer. She has been suffering off and on for years, and, according to my uncle, didn’t want to fight any more. I was shocked.

I got to know Joncille when I visited her and her husband in Sugar Land, Texas, on my road trip. (You can read about it here: https://amysamerica.com/2010/11/09/finding-my-roots-on-day-61/) They welcomed me into their home with open arms and I couldn’t have felt more at home. It was like we were long lost friends. It was actually the beginning of a great friendship. Joncille was a wonderful support through my treatment. A constant cheerleader, encouraging me to remain positive, to trust in God and to know that I really would get past it all.

“I would like you to know, though, that this too will pass, and you will move  through this hardship one day at a time and in the bright future it will seem  like a bad dream,” Joncille wrote to me – and she was right. She sent me love, thoughts and prayers for strength, courage and healing. And they gave me strength and will to continue to plow through treatment.

“…grab hold of the positive things. Doing that will absolutely save your life and your sanity,” she wrote to me.

“From one who knows, bald ain’t too bad. One swish with a wet wash cloth and you have washed, dried and styled your hair and are ready for the day. And again,  from one who knows, it grows back.” Yup, right again.

And when I found out I did, in fact, need radiation, Joncille gave me a new way to look at it: “I do want to warn you that when you first see the tattoo that  marks the spot to radiate, you will feel that you have been marked as a CANCER  VICTIM, but YOU ARE NOT!!!! They are marking a survivor. I knew a radiologist many years ago that envisioned the power of the Holy Spirit entering  her patients as she applied the radiation. I held that vision in my mind  when receiving mine. I promise that there is a life after cancer.  It  just seems like a never ending saga right now. Hang in one treatment at a  time and before you know it they will all be over.” I adopted that vision from Joncille, and it was such a comfort…

I feel robbed. It’s not fair. We didn’t get enough time together. I want to hear more of her stories. I want to take her up on her offer to return to Sugar Land with my Aunt Patsy, who was one of her best friends. Joncille and Aunt Patsy remind me of Tara and me, cousins, confidantes, travel buddies and dear friends… and that just makes it all hit home even more.

No, life is not fair. I guess we all know that by now. And life is short. So don’t waste it. Spend time with the people you care about. Tell them that you love them. Be a real friend. Cherish the time you have. You don’t know when it will end.

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“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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The other night I was at a family party, laughing and eating and chatting away with everyone, when another guest arrived. She walked slowly, tentatively as if it hurt to move. She wore a heavy coat even though it’s August because she gets chilled so easily. And her face was pale, with sunken eyes. I heard one of her relatives whispering about her having just taken a Compazine to try to calm the nausea. 

A feeling of nausea suddenly rushed over me – it brought me right back to one year ago. Getting poked repeatedly to try to find a decent vein for the IV before we gave up and had the port put in. Feeling sick on the way to the hospital just because I knew what was coming. Sitting in the big comfy infusion chair, wrapped in heated blankets. Trying to smile and laugh as my family and friends tried to distract me and keep my spirits up, as the poison rushed through my veins. Feeling loopy on the ride home – and then sick for days.

I am so lucky. That was a short period in time for me – and every day it gets buried further in my past and becomes a smaller percentage of my overall life. This woman – as so many others – is not so lucky. It’s too late, they explained to me after she left. They’ve done all they can but it’s spread so much there’s nothing else they can do, except try to keep her comfortable. My heart ached for her and her family. And my mind raced, repeatedly thanking God for letting me find that lump when I did, and for being able to stop the cancer in its tracks.

I am scared all the time. I, like many survivors I know, see Tamoxifen as my wonder drug. As long as I’m on it, it will ward off the recurrence. I should be safe. But what then? There is no telling. A lot can happen in a few years – particularly in research and development. Maybe by then they will be able to not only detect earlier, but prevent – and cure. So I have hope.

It all takes money, though. This is why I’m doing the Jimmy Fund Boston Marathon Walk on Sunday, September 8. I want to do everything I can to stop this monster of a disease. Please join our team – Team Inspire Boston – and walk with us, or sponsor me. You can walk 3 miles, 5 miles, 13.1 miles or the full marathon: 26.2 miles. No matter what you decide – to walk or sponsor us (and no amount is too small – every cent counts!) – you will be helping to kick cancer and helping people like me (and maybe you) live a longer, happier life. Thank you.

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Yesterday was a beautiful day – the perfect day to run home from work. Nick dropped me off in the morning and I was looking forward to it all day. I was psyched when I was lacing up my sneakers and heading out the door. I even planned how I could make the two mile route longer by running past the BU Bridge and over the Mass Ave. Bridge instead, then back to my place.

Things always happen in threes, right? The first not so great thing that happened was I realized I forgot my headphones. Ugh! I hate running without music! Oh well, I decided that since I run with my phone in my hand, I could just have the music on low and it shouldn’t bother anyone. I ran across the Western Ave. Bridge and down Memorial Drive.

It was a nice run, I was feeling good – and then (number 2) there was the huge flash of lightning and crash of thunder. Oh crap, I thought, I better run a bit faster, since there’s really no shelter, and I’d rather not get struck by lightning…

So I picked up my pace, praying the storm would hold off, when – yup, here’s number three – I tripped on the sidewalk and (in seemingly slow motion) I went flying across the sidewalk. It was very similar to the Christmas Tree Shoppe fall just over a year ago, only this time my knee was spared and it was my iPhone and right elbow that bore the brunt of it.

Thank goodness I was wearing my compression sleeve and glove. It really saved my right arm quite a bit. Of course, now the $200 sleeve is all ripped up and bloody, but I can only imagine how bad my arm would be had I not been wearing it! (And luckily I do have two others.) (Sleeves – not arms.)

This fall should have been no big deal. But when you’re living with lymphedema, the number one thing they tell you is “Avoid trauma/injury” – I’m not even supposed to have manicures (but I do). So really, having a big gash in my right elbow is not a good thing. Not only do I need to take extra good care of it so that it doesn’t get infected, I need to really watch for swelling, too.

I really thought that when chemo and radiation were over, I could go back to regular life. I hate that life will never be normal again. That there’s always something to worry about. That I should wear my sleeve every day (but I don’t). That I need to do my exercises and massage every day (I do try). That I need to constantly monitor every scrape on my upper right side. It’s just so frustrating!!!

But I am thankful. That I am no longer in chemo (and have hair again). That there are ways I can control the lymphedema. That I don’t have cancer any more. So while I wish falling while running was no big deal, I am thankful that I can run at all.

 

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