Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

When There Are No Words

When there are no words for comfort, we cry.  We hug.  We question why.  We must react with love.

For seven days, our hearts have mourned and grieved for our families in Connecticut.  Heart-break is quickly overwhelmed by anger and rage that something so egregious could happen in a sweet little town, in our sweet little country.

There are many debates that are coming to light as a result of this tragedy: gun control, mental illness, safety guidelines, community investments, etc.

But the purpose of my blog has never been to discuss politics or ignite debates.  This is a place where I come for healing and guidance and support.  The words and comments that people leave for me have the ability to change my minutes, my days and sometimes my perspective.  Unfortunately, this tragedy has provided me with the opportunity to sit back and examine what my priorities are.

I spent last week voicing frustrations over side effects and pain.  I am unhappy with my lack of physical ability. I was nervous about having another surgery and all of the things I cannot do while I heal.  But what do I have?  I have insurance that covers the costs of physical therapy.  I have two legs that can take me on walks and even when I am swollen and uncomfortable, I have a way to enjoy the fresh winter air.  And I always have my amazing family to help me through these tough weeks - to bring Evan to me, to make sure he is cared for, to make sure dinners are on the table, homework is completed and beds are made.  It's amazing that I have the ability to take these things for granted, when I have been in a situation that has caused me to reevaluate what's important.

So, this week, I unplugged.  When I was done with work, I put away my Blackberry and my iPhone and my MacBook.  I made dinner for my family.  While I gave Evan his nightly bath, I sat and sang to him.  I dressed him in his jammies and we read books as a family.  Brian and I snuggled while we caught up on some of our favorite TV shows. I gave more kisses and hugs and "I love you's".

These activities didn't change the heaviness I have in my heart for the grieving families that aren't celebrating Christmasses the way they were planning.  They won't undo any of the pain or take away any of the tears.  But I will make it a part of my daily prayers and focus to love MORE.  Love BETTER.  Love STONGER and FIERCER and HARDER.  At the end of the day, when there are no words, all we can do is return grief and anger and pain with LOVE.

Monday, December 10, 2012


It's been a long time - several months - since I have felt like my breast cancer journey was unmanageable.  It's been a long time since I cried and an even longer time since I have felt sorry for myself.  But last week, the house of cards came crumbling crashing down and it's been a delicate balance to build it back.

About six weeks after my first reconstruction surgery in July, I started to have strong pain in my elbow. Maybe tennis elbow? Haven't played tennis in over ten years, but I suppose it's possible. Twisted it somehow?  Not that I can recall, but crazier things have happened.  So, I went to physical therapy.  My physical therapist, Amy, specializes in breast cancer patients, lymphedema patients and is a survivor herself.  So, to say the least, she has a lot of experience. Amy diagnosed with me axillary web syndrome - also known as "cording".  There is not a lot of research on this particular side effect.  I was educated on lymphedema, something that is common in women that have their axillary lymph nodes removed, but no one talked to me about cording.  Removing the lymph nodes and a build up of scar tissue can both contribute to cording developing.

Cording develops like thick, rope-like structures under the skin. They act like a band on your arm, making it hard to stretch out and extremely painful.  My physical therapy was tough; much of the time was spent with Amy pushing and pulling my arm to get the cords to "pop".  When they actually are stretched to the limit, they making a popping noise, similar to the noise your knuckles make when they are cracked.

After six weeks, I was healed.  My physical therapy worked!  Amy had popped all of the cords in my elbow and significantly loosened the scar tissue under my arm.  I was so excited to be released back into the world of exercise, stretching, carrying Evan, and most importantly, "normalcy".  During my treatment, I was prescribed a lymphedema sleeve, a guard for my hand, had my ribs taped into place and adjustments made to my neck.  Amy said that during mastectomies, the ribs are irritated and can move out of place; that can set off the wheels of motion on the traumatized lymphatic system and swelling and cording.

That lasted for four weeks.

My relapse coordinated with a significant increase in the amount of travel I do for work.  Flying does not cooperate well with cording or lymphedema; the changes in pressure and altitude almost always have a negative effect on your healing arm.  I was on a plane four weeks in a row.

I also started working out frequently at the gym.  Hour long workouts, long(er) runs and lifting weights.  I don't think I'm Jane Fonda, but I am anxious to regain the strength I have lost in the past year.  Amy said that I should resume normal activity and push myself as far as I could.  I was aggressive. I ignored the warning signs. Push-ups.  Planks.  Personal Training.  I should have laid off at the first sign of pain, but I was excited to get back in to shape.

These two things can result cording development, worse and more severe than the first time.  As of today, Amy thinks I have about 10 cords in my arm.  The fluid was measured in my arm and my wrist is about 3 cm  larger than it was just a few months ago.  The swelling has started.  The pain is intense.

This is a picture of cording - this is not my arm.  My arm has to be twisted to show the cords.  But this is what my arm looks like when Amy is working on it - times 10.
This is how my under-arm looks - with about five cords.

Axillary Web Syndrome
**Photo taken by Elisabeth Josenhans, Hamburg, Germany

The cords run from my armpit, gather in my elbow and then continue down to my wrist.  I cannot lift a weight.  I can't hold Evan in my left arm.  I can't even really run because the swinging makes my arm swell even more.  So I am frustrated.  And out of shape.  And sore.

Then, I started noticing weird spots on my body.  A few on my ankles.  One on my thigh.  Two on my face (the worst place to have any out-of-the-ordinary blemish).  I have an appointment with the dermatologist next week but am driving myself crazy.  I bought anti-bacterial soap and scrub my skin with it twice a day.  I am use creams.  Lotions.  I am looking at pictures all over the Internet.  Is it skin cancer?  It is eczema?  Is it ringworm?  The later two can be problematic for former chemo patients that have compromised immune systems.  I'm just thinking, "Let the madness stop."  Enough.

Stop with the pain.  Stop with the weird skin things.  Stop. Stop. Stop.

I can feel my anxiety building up as I head into my third reconstructive surgery on December 20.  This will be my sixth surgery in 12 months, all for various issues. I just want it to work; I want to be fixed; and I want my chest to be even.  I want to feel the benefits of having fake boobs - not the frustrations of having reconstructive surgery.

I have chemo brain which is becoming more and more evident everyday.  I forgot to pick Cohen up from wrestling last week (worst mom ever).  I can't remember words.  I feel sloppy and thick and slushy in my head.  I used to be crisp and sharp.  People used to ask me things because I had a great MEMORY.  Now, Brian just smiles when we get in an argument because he knows I won't remember the details of it two days later.  I am sure this is resulting in a lack of "make-up presents" and it's just another thing to pout over.  I can't even remember why I am mad.

So, I'm frustrated.  I have to fly again on Wednesday and am apprehensive about how large-and-in-charge my arm will be when I land.  No one likes big, fat arm.  Although, I suppose I will take one big, fat arm as opposed to two.

And since I can't remember to get "make-up presents", I might as well start cashing in on my physical therapist recommended arm-massaging.  I hope Brian is up for that while I drink wine tonight.  Substituting wine for working-out?  I guess so.  I know there is no worse pain than chemo...or radiation...or surgery...so I do keep that in mind.  But I'm ready to kick all of this to the curb.  Wait until I get going about Tamoxifen next time...hot flashes, moodiness.  Don't I sound fun to live with?!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Murray Family Pictures

I forgot to post them last time!  We have the most amazing photographer - Lori Turner of Davinci Photography has a laid back attitude and is great at working with the gaggle of boys we bring with us.  Her prices are amazing so I can always count on getting all of the pictures I want in the sizes I need.

Our Party of Five.

This was a candid moment!  Evan was so intrigued at the hole in the barn!

And then he wanted to run away from what he thought he saw!

These boys have such an amazing bond.  

Evan smiled the biggest when he was being snuggled by Gavin and Cohen.

Evan at 18 months old.

Gavin is such a charming, intellectual boy.  He is quickly turning into a young man.  9 years old.

Cohen has such a heart of gold.  Loves playing Legos and football.  He is always the first to ask how I'm doing.  7 years old.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Halloween and Family Pictures

Here are a few highlights over the past few weeks!

My sweet little monster.

When Evy saw his costume, he gave it a hug.  Then he kept touching the eyeball!

Gavin was a nerd.  Cohen was a Ghoul.  Evy looks like he has bell bottoms on.

Brian decorated the yard with spider webs, a fog machine and strobe light.

Evan was in awe of everything Brian was working on, including candles!

Stay tuned!  Family pictures will be coming next!

What an Honor

Many times during the past year, I have expressed the joy at finding the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  Not only are there amazing, selfless people that keep the foundation going, but much of the work is done by SURVIVORS. People that HAVE cancer, FIGHT cancer, and say F-OFF cancer give back to others and work to spread awareness.

I was thrilled to be invited to the "Wings of Hope" gala; the second annual fundraiser in West Michigan.  I like being in a room full of women that are EMPOWERING themselves instead of COWERING in fear.  I like wine.  And I like pink.  And all of them were together.

A few weeks before the event, I received a phone call from an amazing woman, Denise Blunk.  Denise shared her cancer journey with me.  She is a 14-year survivor that was diagnosed when she was 25.  I was inspired and encouraged to hear her story.  In 2011, Komen honored Denise with the first-ever Denise Blunk Award.  Denise was honored for living life, practicing self-love, being responsible for her own joy, living courageously and making God real to others.

I was shocked when Denise said that I would be receiving the 2012 Denise Blunk Award.  To me, there were many times throughout the year that I didn't feel self-love or courageous.  There were many days I felt like I was just hanging on to the edge by my fingertips. But, I was honored and felt it was important to live up to the values of the award.

I had three life-changing events happen within six months of each other; getting married to my best friend, getting cancer and getting EVAN.  Some days, dealing with all of these changes seemed overwhelming.  Not overwhelming like, "Aww, I need to take a nap and go shopping" (which happens to be my favorite kind of overwhelming.  It was overwhelming like, "I am going to drive far far away and hide in my car and hope that I am never found".

But I PROSPERED.  I learned how to be a wife (kind of).  I am stumbling (hopefully gracefully) through motherhood.  And I try really REALLY hard to be positive about cancer.  I wanted to convey these thoughts when I had the chance to get up and tell the attendees of the gala all about my journey.  I wanted Brian, Mom, Dad, Meghan, Ed and Cindy to be proud of me as they sat in the audience and remembered how far we have come.

Here are the comments I shared on November 8, 2012, at the Wings of Hope Gala.

·      Thank you, Denise.

·      I am honored and humbled to receive the Denise Blunk Young Survivor Award.

·      20 months ago, I had no idea that my life journey would lead me here; into this room of amazing survivors, co-survivors, caretakers, volunteers and community leaders.

·      As breast cancer survivors, we all have our own story; it is about the triumphs and challenges that lead us to who we are now and how we  overcome adversity and hardship.

·      My journey started as many of yours did; unexpectedly.  I was 29 years old. I was a newlywed. I was six months pregnant with my first child.

·      I had to learn terminology like, “Triple positive.”  “Lymph nodes.”  “Double mastectomy”.  “Chemotherapy”.  “Radiation”.

·      These are words that breast cancer patients incorporate into their daily vocabulary.  They are matter of fact.  Black and white.

·      The words that were harder for me to grasp were, “Side effects”.  “Extreme fatigue”.  “Nausea”.  “Insomnia”. “Patient”.  “Survivor”.

·      I won’t say that my journey was easy or that I always handled everyday gracefully.  I was facing Stage 3 cancer with my unborn child onboard.  Some days I cried.  Some days I sulked.  I never asked, “WHY ME” but I ALWAYS asked, “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?”

·      Evan and I did three chemotherapy sessions together – the tough stuff – Adriomyacin and Cytoxan. 

·      My team of doctors and my husband and I made the decision to induce Evan a month early; I delivered my life-saving baby boy, two months after my diagnosis.

·      As any new mother knows, there are amazing feelings of love, responsibility and attachment that are born with your new baby.  I also had feelings of guilt and concern; did my life-saving treatment hurt by baby?  Will Evan be okay?  Will I be able to raise him?  Will he know who I am, as I lay sick in bed exhausted from treatment?

·      The medicine and treatment used is just one small step in our breast cancer journey.

·      For me, the critical piece was the amazing support and love I received from many different outlets.

·      My husband, Brian, had no easy task.  He had to deal with the trauma of our diagnosis and watch me cope emotionally and physically.  He was also the primary caretaker of Evan and my two step-children, Gavin and Cohen.

·      For any spouses that have traveled on this journey, I must say, I think the role of the patient is easier than the role of the spouse.

·      While I was physically fighting the battle, Brian was on the sidelines.  He had to watch me fight.  He watched me cry.  He watched me struggle.  And he was so strong for me everyday.

·      My mom and dad, practically moved in with us after my diagnosis.  They came to every major doctor’s appointment.  They were by my side at my first chemotherapy.  They hid their tears when they saw me without hair for the first time.  My mom jumped back into the world of “babies” and got up, several times a night, with our newborn.  She would bring Evan in my room and lay him next to me after my treatments; she would give him to me to hold during the “happy times” and tried to console him during the “fussy times”

·      My sister provided updates to family and friends.  She sent cards in the mail, daily.  Meghan told me how beautiful I was, everyday, as my lack of hair and eyelashes and eyebrows made my face look like it was disappearing.

·      My in-laws and brother provided daily comfort, concern and conversation.  My friends provided dinners.  My co-workers provided amazing coverage.  My nurses and doctors were a team that provided me advice.

·      But this still is a time, when many loved ones don’t know what to provide.  They don’t know how to help. They don’t know what to say and how they show they care.

·      The answer is easy.  SPREAD AWARENESS.

·      I want everyone to know my story.

·      I want people to know breast cancer happens at 29 years old.

·      I want women to understand self-exams.  And Mammograms.  And Knowing their own bodies.  And How to raise concerns to their doctor.

·       I want our community to know about the amazing work of Susan G. Komen. About how Komen provides for under-served women.  About how our community donations STAY in West Michigan. 

·      And I want our family and friends and caregivers and volunteers to talk about how the money that goes to Susan G. Komen goes to research that provides LIFE SAVING TREATMENT.

·      In August, I received word, that I am currently cancer-free.

·      I understand now, how precious my time is.  I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life watching Evan grow up and growing old with Brian.

·      But I also understand, that in my precious time, I have a responsibility to spread awareness.  I am grateful and honored to be accepting this year’s Young Survivor Award.  I thank you so much for this amazing responsibility and opportunity.

What a way to re-cap an amazing year of growth, love and fight!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mommy Guilt

I knew that I always wanted kids.  From the time I had my first dolls, I had them named and groomed, treating them like my own babies. My favorite doll was Molly.  She had long brown hair with big, bouncy curls and eyes that fluttered opened and closed.   When I was 6 1/2, my brother came along.  That was the next best thing; he was like MY real baby!  I could feed him, play with him and give him away when he started being a grumpy fussy baby.  Eventually, I evolved into using water balloons as babies.  My friends and I would fill up the biggest balloons we could find and then spend the summer days carrying them around in blankets.  I decided I wanted twin girls at that point and brilliantly named my balloons, Molly and Polly.  The timing of the water balloons also worked out because BK wasn't interested in being my baby, once he reached the age of knowing what the hell I was doing.

After our wedding day, I pretty much said to Brian it's time to get going on this baby thing.  We wanted our child to be close in age to Gavin and Cohen and I was already 29.  My plans of being a young hot mama were slipping quickly through my fingers, with each passing day that was pushing me towards 30.

As the story goes, we got pregnant on the first try, (encountered a bit of drama) and delivered our wonderful, bouncy Evan.



I had no pre-warning.  I had no clue these emotions would overwhelm me.  I didn't know MOMMY GUILT would become the crux of my life!

Within hours of the birth comes the first major question: "Do you want your baby to stay in your room with you or would you like to send him to the nursery?"

Mothers of first-born children tend to resignedly say, "KEEP THE BABY HERE".

Mothers of every other child say, "TO THE NURSERY YOU GO.  I NEED SLEEP."

Regardless of the decision you make, the guilt factor is dancing in front of you.  Guilt if you send your child away to get much-needed rest.  Guilt if you keep your baby in your room since you know that will make you irritated that you aren't sleeping and taking that annoyance out on your husband seems like the logical choice.

I sent Evan to the nursery; I took advice from my doctors and family that I needed rest since I had to gear up for chemotherapy. But my mommy guilt made me unable to sleep, so I walked down and stood outside of the nursery for hours at a time.  I should have saved myself the trip and just kept him next door!

This parenting stuff is no joke.  This is HARD.  It makes me FRUSTRATED and lose PATIENCE.  Of course, there are millions of things that make it worth it - all of the smiles, the first "mama", the way that your child holds your face.  I could go on and on.  Because those are the things people talk about.  The beauty.  The memories.  The love.

I don't remember anyone telling me you will feel like shit when your baby is sick and you have to go out of town for a business trip.  Evan's temperature had hit 104.8 when I was sitting in the airport, about to board my flight to Dallas.  I was on the phone with Brian, who was trying to assure me it was okay to go.  But all I could hear was Evan crying in the background.  That saddening noise was muffled only by my inside voice yelling, "YOU ARE THE WORST.  Why are you abandoning your sick child?"  So here was my thought process:

1. I have a very flexible job and they don't ask me to travel that much.  Therefore, I feel very obligated to keep my commitments since they happen so few and far between.
2. Brian is very capable.
3. Nana Moni was there.  She is not only capable but nurturing and loves Evy just as much as anyone.

All logical choices, but none of those were able to stop the feeling of knowing that when your baby is sick, YOU are the one that should be giving the cuddles.  YOU are the one that should be sitting up with him at night and rubbing his back and giving lukewarm baths.

I got on the plane.  Crying.

Do you think there were any men on the plane crying because they were leaving their sick child at home?

(There weren't).

A combination of Tylenol and Ibuprofen knocked that fever down to 100 degrees within a few hours.  By the time my plane landed, Evan was toddling around the house again.  I was able to sigh with relief.  But it didn't make it easier to focus and for much of my three-day trip, I spent a lot of time trying to juggle in phone calls to home for status updates.  I felt distracted and discombobulated.  Feelings that now accompany me to work frequently.

Sick baby just wanted to snuggle.

And then he gave me the stink eye when I left.

These are just a few examples but they process is non-stop. I have a meeting in Detroit on Halloween.  I'm trying to figure out how I can make the meeting but still see the kids in the school parade.  And not miss Evan's first time trick-or-treating. And get treats for our house.  And by the way, we don't have one single Halloween decoration up.

Brian and I are on this whirlwind trip right now, having been in NYC for a few days and now heading to Denver for a long weekend.  It's magical and wonderful and we NEED this time together.  We are better parents (and people) when we have time to enjoy each other.  I told Brian it was so much fun to have dinner together with a group of people and see him in a different light.  He was charismatic and funny and charming and entertaining; he wasn't Daddy and he wasn't someone to help me get the list of chores done before we crashed for bed. He was MY HUSBAND.  And I LOVE HIM.  And it's such a nice realization to see that we can still enjoy and have fun with each other when we leave the rigor of everyday.

BUT I FEEL BADLY!  I feel badly for leaving Evan behind.  I feel badly that I am having fun without him.  I am feeling badly that it feels GOOD to get away from work and the house and responsibilities.


It happens on every level.  Guilt about not being able to provide material things.  Guilt about spending time at work.  Guilt about spending time with kids and not working.  Guilt about missing after-school activities and parades.  Guilt about not sewing Halloween costumes.  Guilt about buying, instead of baking, the birthday cake. Guilt about skipping story time at night because you are just too tired.

But we get up every morning.  We commit to making each day better than the previous one (unless your previous day was kick-ass and you feel like settling a bit). We say we will yell less, have more patience and kiss and hug instead of pull out hair.

Here is one of my favorite quotes on motherhood: "There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one." - Jill Churchill.  So, we'll just keep doing the best we can.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A New York State of Mind

Two posts in a week has to be some kind of record for me!  Now that I have my list of topics spelled out, I feel obligated to honor my own commitments!

On Tuesday, October 16, Brian and I heading back out to NYC to hang out with our favorite friends from Nivea!  We were honored (and thrilled) when they called to ask us to be a part of kicking off their New Years Eve contest in 2013.  Not only did this mean another trip to the Big Apple, but also a chance to re-visit our friends that we established such close ties with last year.  

Scott, Kevin and Leslie - part of the amazing Nivea team!
What Brian and I loved about this contest is that the people who organized it really became a part of our hearts.  Not only did they know our story, but Scott, Kevin, Leslie and the rest of their team really embraced our well-being.  We made connections with their amazing spouses and kept correspondence up even after the New Years party ended.  Plus, they all knew I loved Guiliana and made sure to help me get lots of pictures with her.

1.  My hair was ridiculously short.  2. I need to learn how to pose like fancy people do.  3. I want G's sequin jacket.

We are excited to be a part of the 2013 announcement and all of the excitement it generates.  For some lucky couple, they will have the same enthusiasm, encouragement and once-in-a-lifetime experience that the contest gave us in 2012.  It allowed us to put our attention elsewhere and celebrate moving forward!

Times Square

We are also EXTREMELY excited to spend some quality time with BK!  It's hard to believe that we haven't seen him since July. Even though we keep in touch by phone, e-mail, FaceTime and text, sometimes, you just need to give your brother a hug.  

Sissy and BK

BK (Bryan's nickname, so we can keep Hubby Brian and Brother Bryan straight!) is finishing his final year at School of Visual Arts in NYC.  This year, BK is working on his thesis, which will be a short film.  BK decided to do his thesis on my journey with breast cancer.  We spent a lot of time talking about my diagnosis and my feelings, over camera, while BK interviewed me.  He spent time with my mom, dad, Sissy and Hubby and was also able to get footage of Evan.  While we are in NYC, I am really excited to see how BK's footage is coming together.  He is doing all of this, while also working at the busiest Apple store in the world - right on Fifth Avenue.  I love recognizing all of his accomplishments and can't wait to share with you all of his brilliance as soon as his movie is finished in the Spring.
This is an oldie, but a goodie.  BK and Evan have a very special bond, even though they only see each other every few months.
Looking forward to sharing our memories and pictures of our New York journey!  Also another opportunity to outfit myself in all new clothes for my NYC trip!  (Brian just loves that part).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


There is so much happening and going on.  I need to start making a list of everything I want to write about.  I mainly need a list to help my chemo-brain recall all of the things I think about.  Why create another list, when I can make it here?

1. New York City!
2. Denver - Hello, Alison!
3. Mommy Guilt :(
4. I Wish I Were a Teacher

Those are all of the things I need to share but there is one thing that is most important to me right now.  It's October.  It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

This is quickly replacing my birthday month (June) as my favorite month of the year!  Everywhere I turn, there is pink!  There are ribbons!  There are flowers and Zumba classes and special e-mails! And October marks one year since my double mastectomy and get-those-lymph-nodes-the-heck-out-of-me day.

The most important part of breast cancer awareness is feeling comfortable enough to talk about the topic and making sure women know how to take care of themselves.  Do you know what a "lump" feels like?  Does your wife or sister or daughter examine their breast tissue monthly?  Did you know you are looking for something, roughly the size of a pea?  Did you know that if breast cancer is in your family, regardless of the BRCA gene, females should start self-exams ten years before their relatives' age of diagnosis?

That means my family - my beautiful Sissy and my lovely young cousins, need to start their exams at age 19!  19 is so young!!  (I was diagnosed at 29). Did you know that I never had a lump in my breast tissue?  By the time I went to the doctor, my tumor had spread over two quadrants of my left breast.  Not only could I NOT have identified my cancer using a self-breast exam, but I didn't know what I was looking for anyway (not good).  But what I did right was bring my symptoms to my doctor's attention right away.  Did you know that your nipples  can BLEED?  I've been embarrassed to talk about this for the past year and a half, but what if my prevention of discussion doesn't help someone else?  That is how my cancer started yelling for my attention.  Did you know that breast cancer can invade your lymph nodes and then you automatically need chemotherapy and then your hair falls out....and we all know how I feel about that issue.

So, please, have the discussion.  And if you don't have insurance, KNOW YOUR RESOURCES.  There are amazing programs out there that ensure women over 40 can get mammograms, no matter what.  And my amazing friend, Rita Rivard, knows these amazing programs and will help ANYONE.  

And that's the second most amazing thing about Breast Cancer Awareness month - is that SURVIVORS rally around you all day long.  My friend, Rita, is a true blessing in my life.  Not only is she an amazing survivor, but she is a RN!  She knows STUFF!  And I can talk to her about my crazy surgery recovery and being a mom with cancer and having mastectomies and she GETS ALL OF IT.
Amazing Rita and her I-Can't-Wait-To-Meet-Her-Husband-Ross!

And then, there is my gorgeous friend, Bren Flowers.  Many of you know that Brian and I met Bren during the New Years Eve contest last year.  And Bren is so inspiring.  And Bren's husband Ron, is so fabulous.  And it's not fair that Bren is fighting her second battle of breast cancer in five years.  But the point is, she is fighting.  And she is going to win.  And we are sending her our love and support and prayers during every minute of every day.
Gorgeous Bren and Fabulous Ron

I have another courageous friend, Nicole.  Nicole and I met at CHEMOTHERAPY - who knew you could make such wonderful friends there?  And Nicole is YOUNG.  And a mom to two beautiful young children.  And she is fighting.  And thriving.  And it sucks but Nicole and I have lunch and get to spend time just venting about cancer sucking.  (I don't have a picture of Nicole, but you can imagine how beautiful she is).

There is one more amazing thing about Breast Cancer Awareness month.  It's the SWAG!  I feel obligated to purchase anything where funds are going to Breast Cancer Research.  This is an expensive habit, but one I feel very strongly about!  And look at all of the great things!!

This amazing necklace came from LOFT.  20% of all proceeds go to BCRF.

My new Tory Burch I-Phone case!  15% of proceeds go to BCRF.
And my beautiful new leather-wrap!  15% of proceeds go to BCRF.

It's only October 11.  I clearly need the month to be over, simply for my wallet's sake.  I like to buy the Pink-Ribbon bagels from Panera, my new 2013 BCRF desk calendar, little trinkets I see at cash registers....the list is truly (unfortunately) endless.

Celebrate sisterhood this month!  Celebrate our mothers and sisters and daughters and friends that fight so hard and so strong.  Talk to your family about the breasts!  It's a topic that could save lives!  And for that, I will always cheer for October.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Hair Journey

My hair has been a major trauma for the past year and a half.  Most of you know this.  I spent quite a bit of time complaining about my hair when it was long - it's too thick, it's too heavy, it takes me so long to blow dry, it's crazy if I don't straighten it.  It's like the Hair Gods heard me and said, "Fine, snob.  We shall take it away."

So, two weeks after my first chemo, just as the doctors predicted, my hair fell out.  It doesn't fall out like it does in movies, on your pillow.  For me, it happened while I was washing my hair.  I would put shampoo in and instead of coming away with sudsy hands, I came away with full clumps of hair.  Big clumps.  Fistfuls.  On the third day of this happening, I realized that it was too traumatizing to keep watching my hair come out in clumps in the shower.  This is where I followed two pieces of advice that I regret.

December 2010: Three months before diagnosis.  Almost five months pregnant.  Just two girls with fab hair.
1.  Several people suggested that I should cut my longer-ish hair short, so it wouldn't feel so traumatic when it fell out.  I didn't like this idea.  My hair was too thick and I have always felt like I looked crazy with short hair.  It needs weight to pull it down.  I was also thinking that if my hair was going to fall out anyway, why would I have to lead up to it with a bad short hair cut?
Two weeks before diagnosis.  Six months pregnant.  In non-maternity dress.  It looks like I ate Gavin. Who would have thought those big boobs were busy trying to kill me?

I should have done it.  Your hair falls out less when it's shorter and I wouldn't have had to see so much fall out in my hands.  I thought I knew what was best over anyone that provided this stupid advice to me.  This was not correct.

2. I read something that said, "The anxiety about losing your hair is worse than actually losing your hair."  I couldn't get that thought out of my head.   I thought about losing my hair day and night.  Many people will tell you that losing your hair is a superficial thought when you are facing CANCER.  Why on Earth would you care about your hair when you are fighting for you life?  I will tell you why.  Because cancer is scary and unknown and takes all pretty out of you.  And your hair is normal.  Your hair is a routine.  And people without hair look SICK.  I don't look sick in this picture above.  It was taken two weeks before my diagnosis while we were on a family vacation in Florida.  I was feeling GREAT.

Pony tail shot while sitting watching the Disney parade; two weeks before diagnosis.  Six months pregnant.
P.S.  I am carrying Brian's bag in this picture because he hates carrying stuff.  It took cancer and third-trimester pregnancy for him to carry everything.
The thing about my hair is that even though it was thick and heavy, it would do anything!  I could straighten it, curl it, wear it back, braid it, put it in a bun, wear it down.  And I loved that you could change your look so simply by blow drying it differently.  But, I followed the advice about the anxiety and taking charge and had Brian shave my head.


We stood in the shower together so we could keep the mess in one place.  We took scissors and cut my ponytail off so it could be donated to Locks of Love.  Then, Brian took the clippers and shaved my head, row-by-row.  Each piece came off.  And I cried.  And he shaved some more.  And I cried again.

After we were done, I couldn't bring myself to do anything.  I crawled into my bed, in the middle of the afternoon.  I cried and slept and cried and felt bad for myself and cried again.  And when I was done, I got up and put on a scarf.

The night I delivered Evan.  Three chemo treatments in.  36 weeks pregnant.
I wore the scarf to my chemo appointments, where scarves were acceptable.  Everyone there had scarves.  But I also wore my scarf to work, where being 9 months pregnant and bald was not acceptable.  I looked ridiculous.  I participated in meetings with my giant belly and giant bald head.  I walked around in banking centers attracting way too much attention.  I went to company dinners and introduced myself to people and didn't mention why I had a huge scarf on my head. I delivered Evan wearing my scarf and didn't want any of the nurses or doctors to see me bald.
With my new baby...and my bald head.
I spent Summer 2011 without hair.  No hair.  New baby.  Feeling sick.  Looking sick.  I took Evan's newborn pictures with a scarf on (the same scarf I delivered Evan in; it was my favorite one). In this picture, I had to draw on my eyebrows, since they had fallen out too, along with my eyelashes.  Imagine trying to revel in the joy of a new baby when you feel like your entire face is disappearing. Slowly but surely, I watched each piece of it go away.

No hair.  No eyebrows. No eyelashes.  My two week old baby had more going on.

It wasn't until I stopped the "heavy" chemo in September 2011 that my hair started to come back.  It was fuzzy and sparse, but it covered my head.  Even in October 2011, I was still wearing my scarf.
Halloween.  Wearing my favorite scarf.  Two weeks after double mastectomy.  I wore my wig to the Halloween parade at school but would wear my scarf at home.

It was around this time that I saw an evening news show featuring Gabrielle Giffords.  Representative Giffords was shot in the head while hosting an event from meeting congresspeople on a street corner.  Her story spoke about her medical journey, sitting on national TV with a very short, choppy hairstyle.  If she could come through her traumatic journey and wear short hair proudly, I wanted to do the same thing. So, off came my scarf.

Without scarf!  November 2011

It's amazing to look back on it now and realize that I went without my scarf while my hair was so short.  Brian's hair is longer than mine!  But I wanted to fit in and be without a scarf for the first time in months. It was liberating, although, I still didn't love how it looked.

This started the growing out process.  WHAT A CHORE. Chemo-hair is not the same as non-chemo hair.  The texture is different, the way your hair parts is different and it does not cooperate.  I started following the advice of another breast-cancer survivor, to cut your hair regularly until the texture reverts back to "normal".
May 2012: A year after I lost my hair, it now fully covers my head.  And is curly!

My hair is longer than Evan's!
Since my last chemo of any kind was in June 2012, I still have a few months to go before I get my regular hair back.  I finally reached the point where my hair covers my entire head.  I've been able to style it but now it's grown out of it's "super shortness" to medium shortness.  So, that takes this very long story to the last part: The Brazilian Blowout.

The Brazilian Blowout is a chemical technique used to straighten and smooth hair.  It changes your texture!  I was willing to take a drastic measure and consequently, pay a drastic price!  I had the treatment done three weeks ago and I LOVE IT!  I am able to use a blow dryer again!  I can use a hair straightener!  And I can even get a bobby pin in it!  I am on my way to looking like a real, healthy person again.  My Brazilian blow-out was a perfect way to celebrate my cancer free news.

Pictures coming soon.  Unfortunately, I write this blog in the morning and I have morning-hair that looks just as crazy as it always did - long or short.

If I ever have to go through chemo again, I won't shave my head.  I can't stand the thought of doing that again.  To me, your hair represents health and strength and confidence.  I would like to keep it on my head, where it belongs! But my Hair Journey is a part of my Cancer Journey.  This journey has taught me humility and gratefulness and how to appreciate every moment...and every strand.