International Women’s Day

I scrolled my pictures thinking about all the inspirational women I know. Friends, cousins, nieces, grandmothers, aunts, doctors, teens, advocates and thought “wow I am surrounded by some badass women”. I am embraced by women that are both vulnerable and strong. I have watched my nieces, cousins and goddaughter evolve into such beautifully wise women. They grew into who they are because of their mothers. I see my best friends who are caring and supportive and I am thankful. I am lucky enough to have been a part of their daughters life, these young women are the future and I am hopeful because of them. I have women who advocate for their health and to watch them fills me with strength. I even have a young woman that I call my cyber daughter who every day I am in awe of her brilliance. I was going to make a collage of them then I stopped here.

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Most know I never knew my mother, don’t remember her voice or touch or any of her sayings. I have no idea what she was really like with her friends only stories I hear. I was never parented by her so I have no concept of her as a mom. I don’t know what she liked to cook or how her food tastes. Sucks. But some how every day I strive to be the strong, smart, respected woman she was. When I think of fighter she is the first one I think about. She set the tone for my future to be strong in the face of evil. She reminds me to know your surroundings and to look for the good but be aware of the bad. To look out for each other no matter how scared. That some times you sacrifice yourself to save others. My mother’s life made me prepare for any struggles I have ever had. My mother gave me life and that solely is profound and I should live that life in her memory and honor.

Being an inspirational woman isn’t always about who’s right in front of you. There is something to be said for those that hold a place in your heart for you to reflect on and gain perspective and strength. My mother fought until the end. Her fight was for all her friends, her daughters, nieces, future granddaughters and her mother. Yes I know she has men in her life but shoot its international women’s day after all. My mother is the most inspiring woman that has ever been in my life no matter how brief it was, the impact is real. While her impact wasn’t global or socially forward , her accomplishments, struggles and fight have 100% affected me and my family. My mother affected our world and I am so proud and honored to be her daughter.

Some days I put my tiara on, straighten it and say “thanks mom for being so courageous”. And that’s all the strength I need that day.

Showing UP

“Thanks for inviting me to party/book club/dinner/lunch/event. I will try my best”

The response I usually get is “You have to come” or “Why wouldn’t you?”.  I wonder if people really want the truth. About 7 years ago I would not miss a thing, ever.  I do not nor have I never needed anything to loosen up, be ridiculous and have a blast. Not to say I did not partake in some things to enhance the experience. I just did not require it. So going out was always fun-pure fun. So why is it so hard to show up now?

A day in the life of someone living with relapsing MS and what it is like to show up……

After a sleepless nights sleep I lay there, usually on the couch it is the most comfortable. I lay there trying to assess the amount of pain and where it will be the worse. Maybe my back today which will make sitting up difficult and breathing impossible. Could be the throbbing cramps in my legs that will make it hard to swing them over to stand. Or possibly my feet and the pins and needles yet numbness making those first morning steps shear terror. Well time to get up make lunches, breakfast and get ready, here goes nothing.

Oh standing up from laying means I need to gain my balance first. I stumble and wince as I make my way to the bathroom then to the kitchen.Every step is hard and I fight to show the kids what pain I am in but they are not fooled.  I grasp the walls because my brain is not telling my feet to move and I am looking like a drunken sailor. I have stumbled and almost fallen twice already. I heat my fishbellie (corn bag) and place the hot bag on my feet or leg or back. AHHHH that is perfect. Coffee, a little snack then 11 different pills and vitamins for breakfast. I say goodbye to my humans and then the nausea sets in from the meds. It is so bad I have to use some CBD to try to gain balance. With the pain that feels like my muscles are not there, the nausea and my “dead leg” I get on the treadmill. Yes the treadmill. If it is a good day I am a speed walker, a great day I run but this day I walk slow with no incline and grasping the rails. Why you ask? Because no exercise means stiff joints and even more pain. After thirty minutes I am done. Seven years ago I worked out for 2 hours a day, this wrecks me to think. The mental part of a chronic illness sometimes out weighs the physical.

I get ready for the day, shower and log on to work. Here is where I am lucky. I do not have to go to an office. My work is virtual, my meetings could be done in my pjs sometimes with no pants. Thank you Wisdo for that. It still is mentally exhausting, brain fog sets in as the day progresses. Some of my meds take effect by making uncontrollably tired at 2pm. I fight to stay awake but realize I must sleep for even 15 minutes. Kids arrive home and I can not move,my body is mad at me everything hurts especially my side radiating to my back. Hurts to sit, to stand, to be. I push myself to make dinner, kids clean up I can not stand another minute. But first I take those 11 pills again. The white one burns as it goes does no matter how much water I take and the after taste is like death. This is my reality.

I was invited to that “thing” and now I must decide can I handle it? Loud crowds can stress my thinking out. My eyesight is terrible so night driving can be difficult. Every single step is excruciating. If I sit the pressure from my back is so painful it burns, if I stand my pins and needles are worse. But maybe my mood will lift so I go. I take myself and go. I laugh with everyone, cracks some jokes and smile. Oh shit sorry I cannot have a glass of wine my medication says no alcohol. I get asked “may just one”, no even one can causes damage. I get the look, the don’t be so dramatic look. If only. I have been here only an hour but the pain in my back is intense and I can not walk.I am both sad and embarrassed. I say goodbye and people wonder why I am leaving. I get asked “Isn’t there something I could take?”, if there was a magic pill I would. Trust me showing up was hard walking out is harder. I feel like a failure. My body has failed me.

Some days I say no, I just can not. Some days I do not show up, Some days the cramps in my legs are crippling. Some days I can not move my hands.Some days I can not think and forming words is impossible. Some days walking is more work than I ever thoughts. Some days I just can not keep that tiara on.

But some days I just show up.



Posted on February 28, 2019 .

Your body your mind

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There is this saying “your body listens to your mind careful what you say”. The issue is when you had an illness like cancer your body says a lot. What should you listen to and what should you ignore? Who do we call and will they listen? These are real questions and concerns we have. I have found myself not telling what is going on because I do not want to seem like a hypochondriac, plus that look. You know the “omg is she for real?” look. I have for the past 3 years try to deal with a lot of my health issues on my own, mostly because I do not want to seem like I am crying wolf. The truth is I am in pain, constant pain. When I write it all out I think “what the hell is wrong with this person?”. I have told my neuro some, a little to my gastro, some to my oncologist, a little to my breast care doc and a lot to my GP but I held most in. Plus you see where I am coming from-which doctor and how much? Not to mention no one had an answer.


Recently I could not take any more “false positive” results, what does that even mean? The “there is something there, we just do not know what” comments were too much. I was sick of the pain with no explanation. So I sought out a new doctor that looked at everything. Heidi Puc is an integrated doctor. Now chill let’s look at the word integrated, it means combining allopathic and complementary therapies. I needed a change and she was it. I sat with her for 2 hours and she combed my case and listened to me. I mean listened to every ache, pain, twitch and tingle. I am curious why more doctors do not do that. She even had about 50 symptoms to ask me about. I feel like I am getting the answers.

Fear-that is a huge issue. We are so scared to get an answer or a DX we do not go. The anxiety and stress of knowing all too well how an illness can change you is mounding. The truth is the unknown is just as scary if not worse. It is time to take that fear and say  “bite me”. We can run from fear or run through it. While I am not a runner I am sick of letting fear consume me.

I am being tested and scanned like a mission in the task force. I am slowly getting answers. What is my point here’? Stop being worried about what the doctor may think or how you may look. Talk to your physician, if you can not fire them and get another. The aftermath of cancer or any illness of that severity is extreme we need to be our own advocate. Now I am not telling you to go to the doctor for every sniffle or hangnail. However issues that are persistent or nagging need attention, go I urge you go.

So while my doctors all listen to me and try to find the source of my pain I will try different meds to help. I will get blood draws and scans. But I will not be quiet any more. This is my body and I am tired of living in fear of it. Someone grab my tiara, I ready to face it head one!


I live with depression

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It is ok to be sad. It is normal. We become sad for so many reasons. Sadness can be overcome, it is just a passing emotion. It is temporary. Depression is long term, it is both physically and mentally painful but you can not describe the pain. It lasts. Depression is a mental illness. Do not argue with me it is a fact. You can not let depression just pass like sadness and fade away. Some medications give us depression too which is a whole other element. Depression is real and effects so many that hide it or even can not admit.


I live with depression.  


I describe my depression as being in a dark hole. I know that there are people trying to help me I see them but in my depression they are just kicking the dirt and burying me more. I can not see any light because my world went black. I am exhausted but can not sleep. I am irritable but playing happy all at once. I feel guilty for no real reason and like I have failed so many. I have thought about my death and how everyone would react. And it sometimes does not phase me other times brings me to tears.


I have been hospitalized for my depression. It was the worst time of my life but it saved me all at once. I have a failed suicide attempt that I shoved under the carpet because of the stigma. I am not embarrassed any more. After talking to my son about it I realized hiding it was only hurting us and me.  I am a constant risk factor. Trauma, so much trauma. Cancer diagnosis. MS diagnosis. Drug abuse. Medication adjustment. All play a heavy part in my depression. Yes I still hide because “I am strong”, “I can it” it is all too much.


Strength looks different on so many but how we view it for ourselves is a game changer. I hide behind my strength. It is easy to be strong for that friend or happy for that family member. It is hard  to say “I can not today”. The pressure comes when people expect strength. When what you are really craving is “It is not your fault”, “Do you need space?”, “How is your mental health?”. But what you get is “You can handle anything”. Bull shit some days I want to go back to that hole and find my release.


Some days I want to be done. Others I celebrate the small victories. And some days are ok. It is ok to be just ok. Striving for happiness is a thing of the past. I strive for content. Some days I am on edge and anything will set me off. Some days I need a random call from a friend to save me.


A safety plan is always in place for me. Who do I call, what should I be doing, how do I get out of the hole. I am not writing this because I am in the dark hole but because I stand on the edge daily. Yes I know my family, my friends my life are all things I should remember but when you are on that edge and the pain is real your mind tells you how they will be ok without you.


We do not know who is depressed or who is struggling in life. That is why we must talk. We must open up. We have to grab those hands and pull each other up. It is vital to all existing in this world. Stop hiding behind the stigma and being embarrassed of this. I am not and I will stand with you. Discussing depression or suicide will not increase any thoughts or actions, it will only show you care and we are not alone.


Some days my tiara is not adjusted. Some times my tiara needs a friend to help me straighten it. I know who those friends are and I thank them for saving me.


Posted on October 19, 2018 .

My Other Side of Breast Cancer By Marianne Sarcich

This is a guest blog post by Marianne Sarcich

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The other side of breast cancer treatment. That’s where I am now. And grateful to be here. But every moment I’m here, I realize how little I understood about recovering from breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter. Do you know that I truly believed as I headed into my mastectomy on September 26, 2016, that I would be ‘good to go’ by Thanksgiving? And that all of this would be behind me?



Are you laughing with me? Or should I say at me? Go ahead. I’m laughing. If you’ve cancered, you know that is not even close to being the case for most of us. Here I am, just over two years out from surgery, and I am still dealing with post-cancer anxiety. And, I didn’t even know it was a thing that could be headed my way.



The anxiety didn’t hit me until my oncologist told me I was NED -- no evidence of disease. That was late October 2016. Shortly after that appointment, I began to feel it, the fear, the panic. How did she know they got it all? What if I still had breast cancer? What if I get it again? What if she’s wrong?



I directed that panic into cleaning up my eating and my kitchen. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a pretty clean eater for some time. But with the anxiety raging that suddenly wasn’t good enough anymore. I needed to ditch every preservative. Every toxin. And, I needed to do it NOW.



And don’t get me started on the plastics in my kitchen. They’re gone now, as you can imagine. Replaced with glass containers. But, one evening that December, I literally was on the edge of a huge panic attack as I poured my daughter’s nightly Zyrtec into a, oh yes, plastic cup. The security of having a clean kitchen suddenly vanished. I remember turning around in my kitchen and seeing all the other plastics that somehow I had missed -- the salad in the plastic container, the baby carrots in the plastic bag. I couldn’t take it. I walked out. Because a clean kitchen was my shield, and it was just shattered. At least, according to my anxiety. And we all know that it can trigger irrational thinking.



I worked very hard on managing my anxiety as soon as it hit. In fact, managing my anxiety became my part time, sometimes full time job. I turned to holistic tools and booked my week with as many as possible. Support group. One-on-one counseling. Art therapy. Writing workshops. Yoga. Exercise. Acupuncture. Reiki. Mindfulness. Meditation. And even gratitude work. My dance card was full for months and months.

All of that did help me. Those are powerful tools. But the progress I made using them was shredded in August 2017 when I found out I needed a uterine biopsy. That's when my anxiety became monstrous, and I was almost not functional. I started taking Lexapro, which I still take. But of course it takes time to take effect. So, I took Ativan along with the Lexapro and drug-dozed through the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced. Thank goodness that biopsy came back negative. So I could focus once more on healing and becoming me again.



Some time that Fall I became aware of just how extremely healing connecting with others in the breast cancer community is to me. There is nothing like talking with someone who absolutely understands your experience and what you feel. So, in January 2018 I created a peer mentor group on Facebook called In This Together Philly Wilmington.



Working on this group is saving me. Connecting others to each other and to the resources they need plus meeting them for group outings...it is like gold to me and managing my anxiety. It calms me and releases me to breathe just a little more freely.



Perhaps it’s because it gives me the feeling of putting some sort of order on the chaos that is cancer. Perhaps it’s because it makes me feel as if I’m protecting people from some of the pitfalls I faced. Perhaps it’s because of the incredible love and compassion that flows throughout the group. It doesn’t really matter why. My group just is my anxiety healer. My new shield that I carry with me.


Today, as I write this, yes, I still feel the anxiety. But it is no longer front and center and defining my life. It’s been back burnered. And hopefully it will one day be gone. And I’m more engaged in my own life now and with the community than I’ve ever been. I’m doing more living in the moment and not in my head where it can still be very dark. So, for me, for now, my other side of cancer lies with healing through deeply engaging. That is my path now.

Worthy

**************************************TRIGGER WARNING********************************************

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Just 8 minutes but it felt like forever I sat there a little dumb founded wondering if that really happened or if I was so drunk it imagined it. I was 16 years old at a party-like always my boyfriend and I were in a huge fight so I was flirting with a guy he hated. Typical high school drama. I am getting sick just typing this. I was drunk which was actually unlike me because I hated to feel that way but I was in a horrible mood. I was sitting on the couch and this guy who was 3 years older and real trouble was next to me. Also typical for me to be looking at danger. I knew better but was so upset I couldn't think straight plus add the alcohol. My best friend sitting on the arm of the couch right next to me. He inched closer telling me all the right things. “You are so cute” playing with my hair. Ugh I feel sick. I can actually still smell the room. The his hand landed on my thigh (I actually am light headed writing this). I told him to get his hand off of me., he rolled his eyes. I was so confused why was he touching me I did not want to even kiss him I was just trying to piss off my boyfriend. He moved his hand into my pants right there with all those people around us. Grabbed my breasts and I said "get your fucking hands off me now". His eyes showed no care much less for me. He laughed he laughed and I was scared, I never got scared. He shoved me back on the plaid couch that was so scratchy I hate that material now, I realized this was happening. My friend was frozen, not her fault. He unzipped his pants how could he be aroused? This was disgusting. Looking at me he pulled my pants down just enough. No one paid one signal attention. I swear I yelled but nothing came out, the music was loud and people I am sure thought we were “making out”. He did it and that was that. I sat there so shook. He zip up and said "you ain't worth it" and like that walked away. It was that easy, for him. My hands tremble as I type.

It was only about 8 minute long but I know it lasted longer I stopped breathing for that time. I grabbed my best friend as fast as I could we ran to the bathroom and I threw up violently. My whole body hurt. I told her what happened and she cried cause she saw and could not stop it. We sat on the floor and cried how did I get here. She knew I couldn't tell anyone but her. If I told my boyfriend he would have went after the guy. I am serious about this. About a month later he ended up in jail so I felt better there. Looking back I realize I should have told but I was so scared of what would have happened I just couldn't. Telling her helped me get the emotions out that was what I needed the most. I do not think we have spoken of it since but certain times she will text me or remind me and I know she remembers.

The worst part wasn't the assault because I felt like I stood my ground. But truth is you don't have to have penetrated to have been a sexual assault. The hardest part was being told me I was not worth it. What was I not worth? A rape? Sex? I thought about that for days after months really and any time I see "you are worthy". What was I not worth that night and I am so glad I wasn't?! That makes me even sicker than what happened. Our worth is a value that only we can place not someone trying to take from us. Not someone trying to steal a piece of our soul. When we stand up for our selves we are proving just how worthy we are of ourselves. Even when we say no and the speakable happens we are worthy. I recently sent a tweet out and a guy who I went to high school with “liked it”. Well he was more than a “guy” we dated a little. He was pretty awesome but I always thought he was too good for me. Mostly because of not feeling worthy. He had no idea that if it was not for him I would have never felt worth as a teen. He would sneak into my house and one night actually said “that was so worth it”. I realized that I am more than that attack.But truth is when he reacted to my tweet it validated so many years of feeling less than. I sobbed when he did. I am worthy.

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When my oldest son turned 16 and I got sick. What if he becomes one of them? Then the second son and I felt sick again. Where did we go wrong in our society that this was acceptable? That you felt scared to tell you were attacked? That some man thinks this is ok? I raised my boys from the beginning to ask permission, be respectful, never be with someone under the influence, make sure you have protection and always always remember that person is worthy.

Posted on September 27, 2018 .

College

Yes I usually blog about cancer and other crap that I rant about but shit this is my domain so I will use it as I see fit. We had the joy of dropping the oldest off to college this week. It was incredible. I am not sad at all. I am not nervous or worried like you would think. Does that make me a bad mom? I am sure some think so but their opinion is irrelevant for so many reasons. My oldest has OCD which he has freely discussed and anxiety which running has helped curb so college is going to be an exciting adventure. Frankly he has been a complete ass these past few weeks and we are thrilled to get rid of him. No I am not a cold-hearted bitch but I think it is a coping mechanism that kids do to defend their fears. They need to build a wall up so they do not run in the other direction all though we almost beat him down.


My husband and I worked hard to raise these kids to be kind, respectful humans and then for them to leave and go live an amazing adventure. College, travel, bottle collecting across the world we really do not care just go! Figure out who they are and be in the world beyond these four walls. Watching the first one take flight has been so amazing. Seeing him succeed on his own, choose a college, make some mistakes and own them while learning knowing full well you had a part is so freaking cool. I am filled with pride, How can I be sad as he goes off to college? This is his time! And I can not wait to watch him evolve into a really great man. 

Am I nervous? No. He may fail or need to come home or he may soar and have the best time of his life either way he tried! He is doing the best he can with all the tools we provided. He is ready for this adventure and we are so happy for him. He is nervous, yes but he is processing his anxiety and learning from it. Whatever the outcome he is trying. And that right there is enough for me. He is not lying or being fake about any of this, staying true to who he is. Honor and loyal all around. 

Are we fearful? Hell no! He is smart but ready. Time to take risks and learn when he screws up. His fear is guiding him and he is not ruining from it. I am so proud of that. Being 18 is about living life and knowing it is ok to screw up, be scared and learn every step of the way. That even then we will be here but that we will not be able to get you out of it so make smart choices. 

I am completely ok with this, Tom has been a little emotional but more because we are so proud of what he has accomplished on his own. He took ownership of all this we are just here to support. What a great job that is?! His passion has driven him now it is time to take it up a notch. Plus he eats a LOT so getting him out reduces the bill by a significant amount.

When your kid goes off remember all that you have done for them how you set the stage for them. It is their time to perform and you to sit back and watch. What an amazing show we are in for! 

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Posted on August 21, 2018 .

Things to make surgery suck a little less

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When you are diagnosed it isn't just about doctor appointments and making sure you have all of that in order it is figuring out what you need for your upcoming surgeries. This is a list that has been compiled through many different people and what they found most helpful. What may work for one person may not for someone else. Did you have something that worked for you that would like to share, please comment!! We need to reach out and be there for each other....

-Set up a table next to the bed so everything was within arms reach. The first few days the less you have to move the better (for me anyway. I put my meds, music, ipad, phone everything I needed close by, the major pain for me was the drain where they were stitched to my skin, when I moved it would pull and hurt.

-A notepad to keep track of your drains and the amount you dump.Plus keep track of your medication

-A couple of cases of water and opened one case and put them out on the table and used one of those plastic cups with the plastic straw. Easier to -sip a straw then tilt a bottle

-A eye patch and ear plugs to help in sleeping, this worked great!!

-Button up jammies.

-Button up shirts to go to your follow up appts.

-You can’t shower for a while, so I bought Facial cleansing cloths and also -Body cleansing clothes to clean your parts.

-Can of dry shampoo, absorbs the oil.

-If pain meds bind you up (like they do me) you might want to start taking a stool softener a few days before surgery and keep taking them as long as you’re on the pain meds rust me, you DO NOT want to get bound up.

-An ipad or tablet or computer right by you to help pass the time.

-Back scratcher

-Lots of pillows, as laying down was not an option. A lot of people actually borrowed or had a recliner to sleep in was the most comfortable to sleep.

-Satin PJs or sheets make it so easy to get in and out of bed.

-The drain pouches are great for keeping those stupid drains in one spot and keeping them from tugging.

-A recovery cami is comfortable and ideal

-The husband pillow is a great alternative to a recliner

Change your shower head to an adjustable one, makes showering so much easier!

-Pre-cut snack like veggies and cheese sticks helps to stay healthy while sitting around and not being able to cut up those items

-The Fishbellie (corn bag) was PERFECT for both heat and keeping cold!

-Draw string pants are fabulous!

-If you have children have a basket of new books, coloring items, movies that you can pull out when you just need a break

gift certificates to local delivery restaurants when there is no way you can cook

-ANY opening in the front bra is a MUST

-The Zip up makes a cute hoodie for hiding those awful drains

-A pill holder for all those meds

-An organizer for all your information.

-Those hot flashes come fast, obsessed with Fancy Fans

Posted on June 20, 2018 .

Sunday Sauce

Sometimes a little chaos reminds us of what matters

We start the week with Sunday dinner. It gives me purpose for the week, a smile on my face and a reminder that all things in life matter but it is the little things that bring us joy. Sometimes I may curse it "Of course Dad we are having dinner ugh" but the reality is it is my heart. From start to finish it may only take 2 hours, the table may extend 3 long or it may just be one, it is filled with family and friends, great food and a lot of chaos. It is the perfect reminder that food brings people together and that no matter what these wild, wacky intense people do they will be there to support and love you. It is how my week starts and by Thursday I am craving and planning Sunday dinner. My kids have fell in love with this tradition and know that they can bring friends but that Sunday is for the family. They will walk into adult life with a tradition that will always bring them to people that love, support and are loyal to them no matter what. Some Sundays it may seem like work but once we are around that table it fills me with the love and gratitude I need to survive. And it all starts on Sunday, which makes my family ready for the week! 

Over a pot of sauce, some meatballs, salad some great bread and cookies we simply touch base put our phones down (well most of us) laugh, connect and remind one another that we are a family. Maybe the week sucked and it was hard to get through and you do not want to talk about it, that is ok cause someone at that table will crack a joke. And for a moment you forget just how bad your week was. Maybe you had a great week and you want to tell everyone, perfect cause during the passing of the sauce you can share that story. Damn sure that someone will give you a high five and spill their milk only to erupt in more laughter. That is not to say there is not an argument or disagreement, someone wanting the last scoop of rigatoni. Point is for just 2 hours we are together. And when Sunday Dinner does not happen you feel like something is missing. I consider it my therapy in a way. Through cancer, through dementia, through divorces, through just crap Sunday dinner is there. That consistency gives me balance. 

Recently, Sam wrote a paper about family. The first thing he talked about was Sunday Sauce. Sometimes I wonder if it annoyed the boys that this was an "every Sunday thing". But frankly, I do not give a shit they can take 2 hours out of their week to spend with cousins and grandfather. Then I realized by reading Sam's paper when he said "This is a tradition I plan to keep" they actually like or better yet LOVE it. Chances are they will not all live in the same town but if even once a month or year my kids and a few cousins came to the table for Sunday Sauce amongst their chaotic lives to find a little balance with each other, wow just wow. I would think that it was worth all those pounds of pasta. 

 

 

Posted on May 11, 2018 .

PTCD

This was written by my BFF Lisa Frost.

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PTSD, Post traumatic stress disorder is something we all think of when talking about veterans that fought in battle or being victim of a life-threatening crime.  Obviously fighting in battle is a huge stress on a person’s mental well-being, but PTSD is a term that can also be used to describe the aftermath of an experience with cancer as well.  A good cancer buddy of mine and I refer to our personal “syndromes” as PTCD or Post traumatic cancer disorder. We felt guilty putting ourselves in that same category as war veterans and victims of crime.  Looking more closely at it though, I am not sure why we would feel guilty about it. Cancer is a life-threatening illness, it definitely messes with your head, not to mention your body and state of well-being. I have a friend that started chemotherapy a year before I did and is still going through it now, a year after I have finished. The things that her poor body has had to endure in order to stay with us on this planet makes my head spin just thinking about it. I am amazed at all that the human body can tolerate and still function.  PTSD after living with cancer makes perfect sense to me.

You get diagnosed with cancer, you have surgeries (7 for myself) some successful some not so much. You have a port placed (yet another scar), breasts removed, ovaries removed, 20 weeks of chemotherapy, 7 weeks of radiation, 5-10 years of hormonal therapy, and a lifetime of lymphedema issues, just to mention a few. When all is said and done people see you “living” and they think that everything is fine. You are excited to be finished with treatment and to get on with your life. You think that it is all behind you, but then you start having dizzy spells. You have never had these before and suddenly you think, is it back? Did the cancer come back and now it is in my brain? The fear creeps in slowly, you start looking up the symptoms of brain mets on the computer and the symptoms you have match. By the end of the day you have yourself dead and buried. You can’t sleep that night because your mind won’t stop playing over the scenarios of telling your children that their mother is going to be sick again, the things you will miss in their lives when you are not there. The fear that your poor husband will have to pick up the pieces all over again and how can he possibly handle all of this so soon?  The next day you make an appointment with your oncologist to discuss the symptoms you are having and before you know it you are getting an MRI of your brain to rule out brain mets. The MRI is negative! You can breathe again. You have escaped recurrence… until next time. A month later you start having pain in your shoulder, the same side that your cancer was on. The steps repeat themselves. You are back on the computer looking up the symptoms of bone mets. It doesn’t help that a friend of yours that also had breast cancer has had a recurrence recently in their bone. Your cancer was the same is theirs. The mind games begins all over again.

I am not a hypochondriac by any means.  Before I had cancer I was rarely sick with anything, even when my kids were sick. I had never been to the emergency room, never had been hospitalized, and never had surgery. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I really thought it was a joke. I had no symptoms and felt terrific, even though my tumor filled half of my breast and 24 lymph nodes had cancer in them. I am a nurse and I still didn’t believe that it could be true.  Now, 2 years later, every new ache and pain that I have is the cancer coming back. I am an optimist by nature. When my surgeon told me that I had a 50% chance of recurrence the numbers meant nothing to me. I didn’t focus on the statistics. I am a glass half full person, to me that also meant that I had a 50% chance of it NOT recurring. Now after being thrown into early menopause and having my body deprived of pretty much all circulating estrogen I feel a lot older very quickly. Aches and pains are a part of the normal aging process. These days it is hard to know what is normal and what isn’t after all of the trauma that my body has been through. I remember texting a fellow breast cancer friend while waiting in the office for my oncologist appointment. I was feeling silly for being there. I asked her if she experienced these same issues after she was done with treatment. This was my first time being paranoid. Her response literally made me laugh out loud in the waiting room because I knew that she wasn’t lying. She said, YES, of course she did. Initially every day, then every week, then every month for the first year. I didn’t feel so bad after reading her response. This is a very normal fear for those of us that have had a life-threatening illness.

When I think of what helps me the most with my PTSD is sharing my fears with all of the incredible survivors that I have come to know through the internet, social media, support groups, friends of friends, etc. There are so many of us out there that have been through this and know exactly what the fear is all about. Support and a shoulder are huge for me. I know a lot of survivors that feel the same way. We help talk each other down from the ledge so to speak.  Like any other negative stress in your life healthy diet, exercise, deep breathing, meditation/prayer, great music, and wonderful family/friends are always helpful in dealing with PTSD after cancer. Some degree of PTSD is normal for all of us after finishing cancer treatment, but if it starts to effect your ability to function on a daily basis then it is time to seek help professionally.

Posted on May 3, 2018 .