My Words Are In Mumbai

India_storyOn November 12, 2014, I received this email:

Hi. I am a journalist from Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. I have followed your blog for years. It wasn’t by chance that I saw it. Since my sister was first diagnosed and passed away three years after complications from breast cancer in 2000, I have been reading about it. It was during one such search that I came across your blog. I have been reading it since then. In fact, you inspired me to start my own blog, called thinkpinkforindia.blogspot.in

I work for an English newspaper called Mid-Day and would like to interview you about your blog and your journey from diagnosis to being cancer free. The interview will, of course, be on email though I would have loved to meet you. Please let me know if I could send you the questions for the same on this address.

I told her that YES, she could send me the questions. And she did. And I answered them. And this just published:

I needed to dry my tears’

PDF version
Online version

Thank you, Ashlesha Athavale, for the opportunity to share—and for committing to the breast cancer cause in honor of your sister.

 

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You Must Read “Berlin Dancer,” Yo! (GIVEAWAY)

I could not get enough of the TV show “Breaking Bad.” I loved everything about it. (Well, not the reminder that meth and murder are real problems in real life.) I was captivated by the characters, the stories within stories, the edge-of-my-seat moments, the humor. Yo. I binge watched that show whenever I could, although I never did cheat and watch without my husband, who was also hooked. I was sad after the last episode. Lonely. I longed for more. Sometimes, I still crave more. But mostly, I have rebounded.

22922310I could not get enough of the book “Berlin Dancer.” You may not be as familiar with this novel as you are with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, but this gem should most definitely grace your bookshelf because it is gripping. And here is the thing—I would not have picked up this book all by myself because I typically put everything in my life before reading. I need to change that. But my badass breast cancer friend Cindy Hurst wrote “Berlin Dancer.” She poured her heart and soul and many years into her masterpiece, and I wanted to witness what she created. I am so glad I did. No spoilers here because that would rob you of the fascinating journey of reading Cindy’s beautifully and powerfully crafted words, but I am pretty convinced that you will devour the twists and turns of this story of a young girl growing up in post-war East Berlin. This 368-page book weaves together mystery, history, hardship, war, love, loss, revenge, and more. I am sad that I have read the last word. Lonely. I long for more. I have not yet rebounded.

So that you can see that I am telling you the total and complete truth here, I assign you this homework:

Read “Berlin Dancer.”

Throw a paperback or Kindle edition in your Amazon shopping cart, visit your favorite brick and mortar bookstore and have the folks there order you a copy AND/OR leave a comment sharing the name of your most favorite book to date, and Cindy will gift TWO of you with your very own delivered-to-your-mailbox copy. Giveaway rules are as follows:

  • Leave a comment on this post sharing the name of your most favorite book to date.
  • Leave your comment no later than 5:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, December 11, 2014.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Two winners will be selected in a random drawing via random.org.
  • Two winners will receive one copy of “Berlin Dancer.” Book is currently listed at $13.95, with the suggested retail price of $16.95.
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you have won!

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From Breast Cancer to Berlin Dancer

22922310One of my badass breast cancer survivor friends wrote a book.

WROTE A BOOK.

(Which, in Kindle version, happens to cost just .99 cents right now.)

My true test of a good book is making it through the first few pages without putting it down. Cindy Hurst—your book has passed my test, and I cannot wait to keep reading.

Amazon Book Description:

In New York City, 1989, after a man is murdered in cold blood, world-renowned prima ballerina Andrea Brandt is accused. She admits to her attorney that the devil got what he deserves, but tells him that she cannot remember what happened. As her attorney presses her for more information, Andrea begins to tell him her story, taking him back in time to WWII, in what would eventually become known as East Berlin. Step into the past, in an unforgettable journey spanning two generations, in a story of survival, love, revenge, mystery, and murder. See what readers are calling “great historical fiction,” “well-crafted,” and “hard to put down.” Berlin Dancer is guaranteed to keep you guessing until the very end.

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TEN Whole Years

10 years
Ten years ago TODAY, on November 24, my phone rang at 10:00 a.m., and the doctor who had performed my breast biopsy the day before told me that my pathology report was back. “Unfortunately, cancer cells were found,” he said. TEN YEARS. I am lucky.

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Believe It, Girl

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Photo: HOME: Living in the Heart of Florida magazine

That girl. In the pink wig. And the tutu. And the date 8-19-14 written on her shirt. That is my friend Jenn. She received her breast cancer diagnosis just after she returned home from dropping her fifth- and eighth-grader kids for their very first day of school. She rang me shortly after her devastating call arrived. Still in shock following a previous opinion indicating that it was highly unlikely she had cancer, she asked me, “How did you stay calm?”

I did not stay calm, I told her as I worried that her unraveling emotions may get the best of her. I knew the crushing blow of a cancer diagnosis, the fear of leaving children behind, the weeping and waiting and wondering. I knew that her insides were in turmoil and probably would be for some time. What I did not know was that this girl would emerge an ass-kicker. Now, more than 2 months post-diagnosis and after one lumpectomy, two chemotherapy infusions, and one buzz cut, Jenn is rolling with the punches—the after-chemo bone pain, headaches, sore scalp, baldness, fatigue—and is, on the outside, one truly spunky and spirited survivor.

[See photo exhibit above.]

“You are the toughest cancer girl I know.,” I told Jenn the other day. “Way tougher than I was.”

“I find that hard to believe,” she replied. “But thank you.”

Believe it, girl.

And believe this: You are going to CRUSH cancer. Actually, I think you already have.

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Babbling About Breast Cancer

My voice is on the Internet. I am not quite sure how I feel about that, but if you have 45 minutes to spare and want to hear me babble on about breast cancer, well, then, here you go.


World Changer Sessions
offer behind-the-scenes access into the journeys of forward-thinking, big-hearted, conscious individuals who are pioneering positive developments in technology, society, food production, education, and more. Listen to additional podcasts here.

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I Can Give Her Presents

chemo care

Today, I passed on my wig and a bundle of gifty items to a friend who will embark this week on chemotherapy for breast cancer. I do not know if my almost-40-year-old pal will use the wig because she has already chosen one that makes her look like a young college kid. But I do hope that she can use the goodies I packaged together for her in a brown paper gift bag. I selected each item for its significance in the chemo game: A REAL SIMPLE magazine for passing her minutes in the infusion room, a bottle of water as a reminder to hydrate, some Club crackers to soothe a maybe-queasy tummy, cozy socks because they were my favorite chemo gift, a small journal and pen so that she can jot down notes and questions and concerns, and a bling-y little bell she can ring for assistance when she least wants to exert herself. I wish I could give her total peace of mind that she will be OK and that this will be her one and only encounter with a life-threatening disease. But I cannot even give myself that gift; I can give her presents, though. And I can tell her that I am confident she will crush this stupid cancer. Because I do believe she will.

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A Night to Remember

It has been almost TEN YEARS since I stood with a malignant tumor in my left breast and watched my sleeping 3-year-old in his big-boy bed and my sleeping 18-month-old in his comfy crib and tried like mad to crush the panic in my gut that told me I may not see these beautiful beings grow up. And now, tonight, the 6-footer kid, who is dangerously close to 14 years old, is out on the town with a bunch of boys and a few girls and no adult supervision (except during chaperoned trips to and from destinations, which include the movie theater and a local high school football game). His first night without grown-ups orchestrating and helicoptering his every move. That kind of scares me. It also makes me super happy.

joey
I am in awe of this kid who is growing up in front of me, despite cancer’s threat. It is a true joy to watch him take baby steps into the world. He is mature, confident, kind, social, and funny. I am sure he will sometimes stumble along his path to independence because that is just normal, but I mostly expect he will smoothly transition into a life that does not involve constant parenting. I will miss him, like I do tonight, and that leaves a little hole in my heart. That hole, however, is filled with the knowledge that he is one of my greatest accomplishments, and I am honored that I get to witness him spread his wings and fly. It also helps that his 11-year-old brother still plans to live with me forever, maybe even with his wife. I am so not ready to wrap my head around his first night out.

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On Paper

Numbers
This is me. On paper. In black and white. Defined by numbers. Like 1.1 (size of my breast cancer tumor in centimeters), 1 (stage of my disease), 4 (number of lymph nodes removed), 12 (number of Herception infusions I received), 93 (percentage that predicted my survival for 5 years). The numbers go on and on.

There were enough numbers to cover the floor and tables of the space where I spoke this morning to two small groups of Univesity of Florida medical school applicants. The purpose of my talk was to bring to life my numbers, to demonstrate that for each digit strewn across the place, there is a story. Like 18, which represents the months I spent in counseling trying to wrangle the tears that continually poured from my eyes and anxieties about living to see my baby boys grow up. And 2, which is the sum of my individual hospital stays that lasted for 10 total days. I talked about the first low blood counts (700) that landed me on the bone marrow floor (because the oncology floor was full) and earned me a blood transfusion, the second low blood counts (1200) that recovered much more quickly and without donor assistance, and the 4 infusions of chemotherapy that robbed me of my hair but gave me 10 extra pounds.

I also shared some happy stories. Like how my blog reaches 80-plus countries, how my wig has traveled across the United States 4 times so that other women could benefit from the comfort it gave me, how I now have a 0 chance of recurrence because my cancer only returns in the first 5 years, and how I will have survived for 10 years in November. I was 34 when I was diagnosed. Now, I am 44. My kids, then 3 and 18 months old, are now 13 and 11.

I do love numbers. They fascinate me. But they do not reveal sadness, suffering, pain, hope, joy, relief. Patients are so much more than the numbers that fill their charts, and my message to today’s applicants was this: Find a way to personally connect with those you will treat. The connection does not need to be long or lasting; it just must be meaningful.

If these applicants attend the University of Florida for medical school, they would be wise to model the manner of Dr. Lynch (pictured right)—my warm and loving oncologist and friend—who continues to invite me to speak during interview days because he thinks it is critical for prospective students to learn about real-life medical journeys so that they can become compassionate patient-centered physicians. I think he is right.

After my chat, one applicant shook my hand and tenderly said, “I will definitely think about things differently now. Thank you.”

I need nothing more to confirm that my message matters.

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Why I Posted a Skin Selfie

My intention today was NOT to post a no-make-up selfie (or any selfie at all, really) on Facebook, but I did because these photos tell a story of a girl who did not listen her to wise grandma when she warned of the dangers of tanning, a girl who cried her mascara off this morning from numbing injections to the face and ear, a girl whose biopsies may reveal skin cancer (again), a girl who, if she could do it all over again, would not bake in the sun or scorch in tanning beds.

I posted this no-make-up selfie today because I hope that it will maybe nudge someone else to take caution with the sun. Like I did not.

skin-cancer

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Hair It Is

wig_real_hair
I knew the day my nurse walked into my exam room post-lumpectomy and pathology with wig catalogue in hand that I would receive chemo for breast cancer. I was devastated.

DEVASTATED.

But I managed to survive baldness for the few months it lasted because I found a wig that kind of tricked people into thinking I had not lost my hair. It was that super-fantastic. My mission while enduring breast cancer was to look and feel as normal as possible. At times, it was hard to pull off. But my wig helped. A LOT.

NOW, this is not an advertisement for the company that sold me the best camouflage ever, but I do highly recommend underhair (a halo hair wig worn under any hat, cap, or scarf) for anyone who is as freaked out by hair loss as I was.

OK, quiz time:

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NINE Years, NINE Days

There are so many milestone days on a cancer journey—diagnosis day, surgery day, start-of-treatment day, end-of-treatment day, and so on. Diagnosis day (November 24) is a biggie for me, but surgery day is pretty powerful, too, because it is the day cancer was officially NOT in my body. That day (NINE years ago) is tomorrow, December 3. What I love about these 2 days is how close together they are. My cancer was removed 9 days after I found it. I am grateful for that. EVERY day.

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Thank You, Doctor

My oncologist invited me to share my breast cancer story with University of Florida medical school applicants. Today, I shared. It was grand. But better than speaking was watching Dr. Lynch present to the group a mini-lecture about breast cancer. He almost made me want to BE a med student. Almost. Thank you, doctor, for (1) saving my life, (2) staying in touch and including me in your world, and (3) inspiring me.

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Perfect Timing

Funny how life happens. My favorite oncologist in the whole wide world asked me today if I would share my breast cancer story on Friday morning with a group of medical school applicants. Just 2 days after Friday, on November 24, it will have been exactly 9 years since a surgeon called me at home to say, “unfortunately, cancerous cells were found.” What perfect timing to recall the horror of diagnosis, the terror of treatment, and all the happy moments that have scattered themselves along my journey with a dreaded disease.

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Don’t Judge the Ride by the Photo

I probably look lifeless and depressed in my race photo from the Pink Pumpkin Pedal-Off 40-mile bike ride because, well, I was. I still look a little bit like this (minus the helmet) as a result of ongoing and not-quite-yet diagnosed health issues. But I did have a super-great time on this trek with my Just Ride team. I mean, I would have loved the mapped route to have been 40 miles (as advertised) and not 37 miles because a few of us who trained for FORTY MILES wanted to ride FORTY MILES and were disappointed when the mileage fell short. That’s OK, we added 3 miles so we could claim a true victory. Still, the event was lovely. Wait, actually, lunch was all gobbled up when we arrived at the finish line, so that was not grand, but perhaps the Mexican grub would have still been available had we followed the rules and stopped pedaling at 37. Seriously, and I mean it—a great time. We pushed ourselves physically, we chatted, we laughed, we nursed the fallen, and we decided that we could have conquered the 62.5-mile route (which was probably more like 59.2 miles). Next year, I am pretty sure we will go the extra 20. Next year, I am pretty sure I will have a smile on my face.

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Remember to Put the Glass Down

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook:

In the spirit of sharing the bad along with the good (because rumor has it that Facebook tends to spotlight the perfect lives of perfect people), I want you to know that I spent much of my morning creating a spreadsheet chronicling nearly TWO AND A HALF YEARS of undiagnosed tummy troubles so I can present dates and tests and results to ANOTHER doctor tomorrow in hopes of turning up answers regarding the misery I feel in my gut. I have no idea what I should eat, I have no motivation for exercise due to discomfort, I am gaining weight, and I am nearing full-blown depression (if you talk to my mom and John, you may learn that I have already arrived). Still, I will continue trudging along this mysterious path. Someone MUST be able to help me. For now, I think it will be the person who gives me a pedicure at 1:00 p.m. (Oh, and although I can share this snippet of doom and gloom in writing, I will probably cry if you ask me about it. Just a warning.)

Then, I saw a new doctor, and this is what happened:

I met with a new primary doc who had the great vantage point of looking in the Shands system at ALL of my medical history. She saw every test and every result and every opinion of every doctor I have seen during the past 2.5 years, and as the doctor reviewing it all, she concluded that I have had more extensive testing than the average person with abdominal issues. There is only one test left to order, and she has ordered it—I will get a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. If this does not turn up anything conclusive, her belief is that I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a disorder of exclusion, meaning that when everything else is ruled out, this is often what is left. She cannot rule out completely that chemo and radiation screwed up my insides, and if they did, well, then the damage is done, and I must live with it.

IBS is managed well by some people with fiber, so I will up my intake. It is also managed by identifying and minimizing triggers; some folks are triggered by certain foods, but I have been tested out the ying-yang for food allergies, and I have none. My trigger is most likely stress (yay to all the smart people who predicted this!). When I learn to minimize stress and/or manage well the stress that confronts me, I should feel better. I will start taking (again) an antidepressant to help me cope, I will keep eating a Paleo diet of small-portioned meals and exercising regularly, and most important, I MUST clear my plate of excess. I have too much going on, and I will work on limiting my responsibilities and increasing my attempts at relaxation. (Oh, I will also give up some blood for testing to see if anything is problematic with my thyroid, vitamin D levels, etc.)

I feel good about today’s appointment, and I feel super thankful for all the loving people in my life who have invested so much time and energy into supporting me through my physical and mental breakdowns. You have noooo idea how much your words have helped. Or maybe you do if you have ever been in a similar predicament and felt a wave of love wash over you. It is amazing.

Today, I posted this on Facebook: 

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed—incapable of doing anything.”

Remember to put the glass down.

My new motto: Put the glass down.

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