excuse me? That is a very random question. Who is this? And how do you know I’m waking up at 5am?
Well this is a blog I wasn’t expecting to write anytime soon, but the good Lord seems to always have different plans than I do. I found out today that I never experience remission, and the small amount of stubborn disease that was left slowly spread over the past two months. While I had the highest of hopes that I was done with the Big C for good, I have come to terms with the fact that will likely live with cancer indefinitely.
Before you start to cry or get all sappy on me, notice I said LIVE with cancer. If being cancer free isn’t in my stack of cards, I will happily take living with cancer over dying from cancer any day of the week. So let’s rejoice in the fact that God has blessed me with a manageable disease, and not curse the fact that the disease is present. I try to always look at the glass half full, and when it comes to my battle with this beast, it is full of blessings.
With this mind set, I will now provide you with the complete update my many friends, family and supporters are waiting to hear.
I have been dealing with constant nausea and frequent vomiting for a little over a month now, and experiencing several symptoms of ovarian cancer recurrence as well. After a CT scan, ultrasound, and upper GI scope, not a single answer was found. I had a PET scan performed on Tuesday, and finally ALL of my questions were answered.
Upon the decision of stopping chemotherapy in August, there was a small area of low-grade activity appearing on both CT and PET scans. This area was stable for months; therefore it was unknown as to whether it was a little stubborn disease, or scar tissue. Being the optimist that I am, and having the desperate desire to quit treatment, I went with the assumption that it was scar tissue. If I had a buzzer I would press it really hard right now. WRONG! Turns out the area is disease. I have always said that my cancer is as stubborn as it’s owner, and that apparently holds true to this day.
This small area has slightly grown and spread throughout the lining of my abdomen. Luckily I know my body extremely well, knew something was wrong, and was persistent in identifying the problem.
What happens now? I will go back on treatment, which entails an infusion of Avastin every two weeks, and a daily oral dose of Cytoxan (aka: daily pill of chemo). I will follow this protocol and have a PET scan every three months. Once I have a stable scan (two scans in a row showing no change), I will stop the Cytoxan, and do a regimen of maintenance Avastin for six months to a year. At this time I will take a break, and monitor the diseases progression. Once it starts to grow again we will repeat the process described above.
Dr. Jacob Estes “the awesome”, explained my disease in a manor that finally gave me a piece of mind. We have to view this as a chronic disease. A disease that I will have to live with, but it is controlled and managed with treatment. Compared to the alternatives, I am more than content with this situation.
I have lived with the chronic disease of asthma for the past 27 years, and I plan on living with cancer for the next 60 to 70 years.
These are the cards in my stack, and I am determined to win the hand no matter what!
“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” – Josh Billings
In Forrest Gump, Forrest explains, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” Well Forrest, my life is a little more complicated than a box of chocolates, in fact it’s even more complicated than a roller coaster, I think life is more like a Tilt-a-Whirl.
Sure we never know what we are going to get, and of course we all have our ups and downs, but the older I get, the more I realize it is so much more complex. I think the Tilt-a-Whirl symbolizes life, as I know it, much more accurately. You have about eight different seats on this ride, and they each individually spin at their own pace. Sometimes seat one is spinning out of control, while the next second it’s mildly teetering back and forth. All eight seats operate in this manner, meanwhile the platform that all the seats sit upon is spinning also; at one moment fast, the next slow, sometimes to the left and then it jerks to the right. This, my friends, to me, is life!
We have work, school, our health, family life, relationships, friendships, and kids, volunteer work, etc. I think we all have enough aspects of our lives that we could each easily fill all eight seats on the Tilt-a-Whirl with something. Everyday I notice more so that there is NEVER a time when all eight seats are just contently teetering back and forth. There are always at least two or three seats that are spinning out of control.
I find not only with my life, but also in the life of friends, family, and colleagues, we are all just doing what we can to not fall off of our Tilt-a-Whirl. And the most interesting part is the tactics that each of use to keep from being thrown into the wild by our ride.
The seat that I haven’t been able to keep from spinning for over a year now is my health. Of course there are others that spin and spin, but this is the seat I have to worry about spinning off of the platform, with me in it, the most. I for the second time in the past year realized my tactic of not falling off my ride, was not such a great one. When my health is out of my control, and I’m stressed and scared, I tend to cling to someone who makes me forget about my troubles, and expect them to just make everything better.
The problem with this, is that EVERYONE else has their own Tilt-a-Whirl to stay standing on, and if they are trying to stand on theirs, while simultaneously trying to hold you up on yours, well you are both going to fall face first into the gunk on the fair grounds. We all know this is about as pleasant as planting face-first on Bourbon Street.
I’m not the only one at fault. People use all sorts of tactics to keep from falling off, such as substance abuse, drowning themselves in work, or exercise, or faking a smile all day to everyone, pretending to have it all together, and then taking stress out on those closest to them. There are a number of tactics that we as people use to get through the tough times, and I think everyone could benefit from evaluating those tactics and making a few adjustments.
I have recently discovered that no matter how stressful life gets, the power to handle that stress and stay standing on my Tilt-a-Whirl is within myself, and no one or nothing else. That is not saying I am making it on my own, but I have to choose to take the appropriate actions that will keep me at my best while I’m trying to not fall off. I have to find the things that keep me standing, and step away from the things that might push me off.
I think I have finally found a balance of activities that keep me planted sturdy, and I have eliminated those that push me to the edge. I take dance once a week, I just started tennis lessons once a week, and practice once a week, I try and write on regularly to just get all of my emotions out, and I am also starting to hit the gym on a daily basis. Additionally, church is once again a frequent activity, so is leisure reading and just taking better care of my body in general. The key is to find activities that make you feel like your Tilt-a-Whirl stops spinning. Activities that only have enough room for you, and not all eight of your spinning seats.
So I challenge you to take a good look at your life, and try and find two extra-curricular activities that take you away from life, stress, and worries. These additions to your life will keep you standing strong, while your Tilt-a-Whirl is spinning out of control.
This may be sports, church, meditation, reading, writing, dancing, singing, therapy, riding a bike, music, art, or even traveling. But one thing is for sure, if you don’t find the appropriate balance, and you are not the best you possible, you can’t expect to be happy, nor can you expect be a stable partner, friend, brother, sister, mother, father, daughter, son or co-worker.
Something very new I found that creates a sense of peace in my mind everyday is reading encouraging quotes. Below are a few that I have come across. My hopes are that one strikes a cord, and is a catalyst for you in finding stability during stressful times.
“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself” – Henry David Thoreau
“If God sends us on strong paths, we are provided strong shoes.” – Corrie TemBoo
“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” – Booker t. Washington
“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” - Napoleon Hill
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” - Marcus Aurelius
“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have. “ - Norman Vincent Peale
“It has been said that our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.” - Charles Spurgeon
“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.” - Josh Billings
“Going on with life, it only gets more and more intense as time goes by - and the challenges only multiply. “ - Martha Reeves
“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.” - Marilu Henner
Everyone knows that after an earthquake, there are after shocks. Well I’m here to inform you that after “The Big C,” there is anything but rainbows, unicorns and lollipops. I don’t think I’m the only one that had the misconception that after I had a clear scan, things would only be uphill from there. Much to everyone’s surprise, it was about two months of absolute bliss, and then I hit a speed bump and have done nothing but encounter roadblocks for the past month.
First there were the UTI symptoms that can often be symptoms of ovarian cancer, followed by the weight loss, nausea, anxiety, and everything else under the sun. Had a CT scan, all clear. The scan was stable from the last one. Whew! BIG relief.
Then started the 24-7 nausea and twice a week vomiting. That was REAL exciting! So after the third week I decided it was time to see a GI specialist regarding this issue. I find out it could be an array of issues including my gallbladder, an infection, a small obstruction somewhere, some sort of blockage, or even worse, cancer causing blockage. So we do an upper GI scope, and nothing. THANK GOD!
So we moved on to the ultrasound, hoping to find some gallstones, this problem having the easiest solution. So I wait all weekend for the results and what does the nurse tell me? “It’s all clear. Except for several small cysts on your spleen. But you know cysts are no big deal, they come and go.”
At this moment my heart starts pounding 90 to nothing and I say in a very condescending voice, “Do you know I’m a cancer patient? And I used to have lesions on my spleen. So that dear is a big deal. That is important.”
The clueless nurse then continues babbling, and finishes her tongue-tied explanation saying she will send my results to my oncologists.
Good thinking woman. Because the last time someone gave me an ultrasound and told me I had cysts, it ended up being a shit ton of cancer. So why don’t you get your head out of you a$$, and have a doctor talk to me about these results. Because you are obviously clueless!!!
So I immediately text my GYN Oncologist and tell him the deal.
The next step you ask? Well the next step is doing a PET scan, and seeing if these cysts are benign or malignant.
If you know me personally, or have read my articles, you know that I’m Mary Freaking Sunshine 90% of the time. And I stay positive through almost everything. But I have to admit; I’m about to hit a breaking point. I just can’t take any more scares, and this waiting on those results is just about to give me a heart attack. The past month has literally sucked almost ever once of all my good ju-ju out of me.
I of course know that in the end, I will be okay. But I think it is just now sinking in, that every breath I breathe from this moment on will be a fighting breath. Normal life as I know it, just may be extinct. There is a good possibility that I will be living with and fighting cancer for the rest of my life. That is a gut-rinching realization to swallow. I have denied that possibility for a year now, and here it is, staring me in the face.
But even if I’m fighting every second of every day, I’m up for the challenge. My family, my friends, the strangers praying for me, each one of you makes every moment of my life worth the fight. I heard some devastating news today. I officially broke down today, and it took something as simple as hanging out with my best friend for an hour, and BAM! I feel better. Hours like the past hour of my life are the hours I will continue fighting for everyday. As much as a pain the rear end this new life is, believe me…I WILL NEVER GIVE UP!!!!
“Nobody knows exactly how they’re going to behave until they’re faced with certain challenges. It’s one of the great things in life — putting yourself in positions to meet new challenges and not being afraid to do so. It’s what keeps life interesting and ultimately makes you the best person you can be.” - Nico, Candace Bushnell’s Lipstick Jungle
Three months ago I found myself in a position to try on a new relationship for size. At this point, I was full of what I can only define as fear. It was a mere four months prior that I found myself cleaning up the mess of a failed engagement, and part of me thought I was absolutely insane for entering the dating world so quickly, and the other part of me held the thoughts of the quote above. I thought, what is the worst that can happen? Okay, he could maybe be a serial killer, but in reality, it won’t work and you will pick up and move one. And if you are really lucky you’ll move on with a new friend and a handful of lessons, not only on relationships but also, about yourself.
And friends, I was lucky! While I type this with teared-up eyes and a pocket of emptiness in my heart, I am so thankful to myself for conquering my fear, and taking the chance on a new relationship at a pivotal point in my life. I did gain a new companion, someone who I often confided in before anyone else.
He was the first person to know I was cancer-free (so we like to assumed), was a strong hand in decided whether I should stop treatment or not, he was the first person to know I thought I had a reoccurrence, and the first person to know it was a false alarm. He stood beside me as I helped raise awareness for GYN Cancers at the LA Capitol steps, he helped me make this blog a reality, and most importantly, he helped put together the last few pieces of a once shattered heart. I am so glad for the past three months I had such an amazing person to share those monumental moments with.
I literally thought that there was no one out there that want me or look at me the way he did. I was convinced I was damaged goods, and there wasn’t a decent man in the word that would knowingly take on my sack full of baggage. But through him I learned that there are men who see a sexy, funny, strong, beautiful, and courageous woman. And I can now look in the mirror, past the scars, and see that woman too. And for that I will forever be grateful. The past 3 months were a perfect ending to the most important year of my life, and I will forever be grateful to the person I spent those months with.
“It was about hope, she supposed. Hope, and the all-too-human belief that it was possible to go back and try again…And maybe get it right for a change.” - Candace Bushnell, Lipstick Jungle
I hope everyone can take a few minutes today to click the link above or visit http://www.2theadvocate.com/features/105006439.html and read the forth and final story in the Advocate covering my battle with ovarian cancer. Thank you to all of those that have showered me with love and support over the past year. I would not be alive without each and every one of you!!!
I hope you choose to keep following my blog. “What Comes After C?” is sure to be a wild and adventurous ride!
Love and Kisses,
“Cut it out!”
“What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”
“Holy rat trap, Batman!”
“Homey don’t play that!”
If you know me well, you know my love and enthusiasm for television. I will demolish anyone in “Scene It: TV,” or I will stay up all night playing it until I do!
When I am asked what I think about the past eleven months of my life, these famous quotes from some of our favorite television characters often run through my mind.
“Wowza!” is my typical response to the past eleven months. But if I think a moment more, the honest answer is “Thank you Lord!” I know that is probably the last response you would ever expect to answer this question; but that is how I feel. Don’t get me wrong, cancer is an awful battle that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy but there is more silver lining to my experience than I ever imagined.
Sure I lost my baby makers, a doctor basically told me I will die from ovarian cancer, had my heart shattered into a million pieces, missed months of work, couldn’t eat any raw food for eight months, started going through “the change” at 28, shed more tears than I ever thought was humanly possible, and caused my family and friends a lot of heart ache and sadness. This is an awful, dreadful, miserable list of obstacles I faced, but the important thing about these road blocks, is that are all temporary. Now the road blocks are better than gone; I am on an entirely new road!
The number of twenty-something’s that truly grasp the phrase “live like you are dying,” are few and far between, and I believe I am privileged to be part of this minority. The lessons I have learned, my outlook on life, the clarity of my dreams, my gratitude for my Lord and Savior, my ability to not sweat the small stuff, the items on this list are permanent, and priceless!
I can take that first list, and transform it into a list of silver linings that would have never occurred had it not been for cancer. First and mostly importantly, because of my stubborn ways, and talent for always getting what I want, I proved that doctor wrong, and won the battle for my life!
Additionally, one day I will give some very deserving children a home full of love, stability, and trust, and I feel honored to be the person that will give that to them. My heart, it’s whole again, and it’s in the hands of a kind, generous, patient, understanding and amazing man, that I would have never met if it hadn’t been shattered in the first place. During my time on medical leave I had the opportunity not only to travel and spend time with the best friends a person could ask for, but I was fortunate enough to travel the Western Mediterranean. It was a trip of a life time, and the perfect celebration of my well being. The heart ache and sadness my friends and family faced was not fun I know, but through that I learned what an amazing support system I have, and am so humbled by the love, prayers, mediations, and good “ju-ju” I have received in the past eleven months. And lastly, those tears of sadness and heart ache, they turned into tears of joy!
So with my first blog, I leave you with this challenge: we drive up on road blocks during our journey through life, usually many more than we think possible. When you get to your next line of barricades, don’t sit there for too long wondering what you are going to do, but fight to find your way to a new road. There are amazing gifts waiting for you, I promise!
P.S. I want this blog to be about how life is emerging from cancer, not to relive the past eleven months. If you are reading this you likely already know my story, but for those that don’t please feel to explore the links below and read the stories covered by Pam Bordelon, “the fabulous,” for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La.