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Moving on

It’s hard to believe how quickly 2020 is moving…at least in my world. Every year in October since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2016, I write at least one post about my breast cancer journey. The days seem like a blur since teleworking for more than half a year now. Just like I don’t want COVID-19 to define my life, I don’t want breast cancer to define me either. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my progress.

As of today, I’m cancer free and have been for almost 5 years (January 2021). My initial treatment was a lumpectomy, followed by breast reconstruction surgery on both breasts, followed by 3 weeks of daily, intensive radiation treatment, and followed by oral medication, which I will continue to take for possibly another 5 years. I started the medication almost 5 years ago.

I continue to meet with my oncologist every 6 months in addition to visiting with my primary care physician and endocrinologist annually. I also get a 3D mammogram annually. My lab results (drawn every 6 months) on my blood continue to be within range with some markers being impeccable and some below range. My oncologist likes to say all of my numbers are “right in the middle”. My glucose even decreased by 10 points at my last visit. All in all, I’m healthy.

For me, breast cancer came into my life with a BANG, turned it upside down for only a period, but then turned it right side up again. I was very intentional about adhering to treatment so I could heal faster. I was intentional about self-care. Being physically fit prior helped my recovery tremendously. Though it was a difficult experience, particularly the 4 months post diagnosis, I’m amazed I got through it. I suppose that’s part of the reason why they call us ‘survivors’.

I thought I’d be one of those people who participated in all the breast cancer walks, marathons, etc., but I haven’t participated in any walks, marathons, etc. I’m not sure what that is about but it’s not a requirement for a complete experience. I think one factor is that I like to keep my world small. It’s more manageable that way. Also, I don’t want breast cancer to occupy so much space in my life. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I can best support the breast cancer community.

In the fall of 2019, my husband and I attended a conference for cancer survivors and I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve kept up with the group that put on the conference, the Texas Oncology Foundation, since then. I’m a person that enjoys learning new things. That format was more in line with what I’d continue to participate in.

Since breast cancer entered my life, my outlook is generally positive as it was before. I’ve been feeling more exhausted in 2020 though. It’s no wonder why with everything going on with COVID-19, the political climate, and racial unrest. My sleep could be better. I could stand to lose about 15-20 pounds. I need to reduce my work stress. Of the three, the last is what I want to focus on the most because stress can negatively impact health in so many ways. I’ve been setting work boundaries. I’m constantly refining how I manage.

Once you have cancer, there’s a nagging fear that it will return despite treatment. In some cases, it does return as the same or a different cancer. I’ve mostly heard of cases being more aggressive upon cancer’s return. I’m at higher risk for other cancers since cancer appeared. Those thoughts are not at the forefront of my mind, but they show up when it’s time to get my annual mammogram, at other medical appointments, or at other random times.

I have scars from my surgeries. Although mostly faded, I can still see the circle on each side of my body by my ribs from where the tubes were placed after breast reconstruction surgery. I had to keep the tubes in for a week post surgery. Yup, long tubes were hanging from my body. My husband drained them several times a day for that whole week.

My left breast has a significant dent which you can’t tell too much from the picture of me in the cover photo. The dent is the result of the location of the tumor and my first surgeon removing the tumor along with extra tissue to be sure he got it all. The plastic surgeon completed the breast reconstruction surgery and I also received a breast reduction. I went from a double D cup to a C cup.

Breast cancer has changed my life but it doesn’t define me. No question it has made a huge impact on my life. I’ve learned and am still learning from it. I have moments where I’m laser focused on how finite life is. I have moments where I worry about my kids risk. I have moments where I worry about putting on weight because I don’t want to increase my risks. There are moments where I succumb to stress.

Overall, I think I’m doing a great job of moving on with my life post diagnosis. I have struggled at times like others with keeping things in perspective. I’m grateful for access to tools and resources to help me navigate life.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, get tested with a mammogram early. If you’re at least 40 years old, get tested with a mammogram. I was aware that my breast looked different so I made an appointment to see my doctor. There was no pain or lump. I had already been getting regular mammograms since the age of 35 due to family history. I was due for another.

Pay attention to your body. See a doctor regularly. Eat healthy. Exercise often. Reduce stress. Surround yourself with loved ones. Get a pet. Spend time with God.

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I’m not political but…

I’ve been seeing this line a lot lately on social media during this intense season of political divisiveness in America. Many people are tired of this current administration and the buffoonery that has taken over our federal government. I almost forgot to start the post with my disclaimer that I might OFFEND someone. Good thing this is my site and I can exercise my voice freely. It’s ok if we disagree. We don’t need to fight. Life will still go on.

That line (see title)… I’ve noticed it mostly from women so I want to address us in particular. What does it matter that you aren’t political? The mere statement implies you are about to express something political. I read a while ago that politics is really about relationships. I’ll unpack that in a different post. There does appear to be a negative connotation with being “political”.

My impression of what you’re trying to say is that you aren’t that versed in political affairs. You might not be that versed in each of the parties including understanding the history. You might not be that versed in the government process of creating laws, selecting a President and cabinet members, and knowing what they do in, or the terms of, their office. You might not be up to speed on foreign affairs and the United States’ relationship with all countries. You might know the nuances of climate change and what that means for our future. You might know all the policies the Presidential candidates supported and implemented and the details of their plans for the future.

Growing up, I was raised in a religion that told its members not to vote. That is potentially thousands upon thousands of people just in the United States who have or do not vote because a religion tells them not to. The “so called” reason that I can gather is because God is not of this world and as Christian’s we shouldn’t be either. Participating in the political process means you’re subscribing to this world. BULLOCKS!

I’m a Christian and believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God. I believe in God and the Holy Spirit. I also believe it’s my civic duty to exercise my right to vote on matters that are important to me personally and ultimately express my beliefs and values. As someone trained in social work, I support equitable healthcare, education, job opportunities, human rights, etc. for those who experience injustices, people with disabilities, people who are financially poor, people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, and sexual orientation/gender identification. Excuse me if I have forgotten some groups.

So I say to those who feel the need to preface with “I’m not political but”, it doesn’t matter. You have issues that are important to you. You see things you don’t like. You know your values and beliefs. Voice your issues through voting. Also, educate yourself through reputable sources. We have access to so much information through the internet. It’s not too late.

I used to think my vote didn’t matter but it does. I’ve been voting in local and federal elections for over 20 years now and I haven’t looked back. It doesn’t always go in the direction I voted, but I have confidence knowing I did my part and gave it a shot.

I don’t know every single thing in the political arena either but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak my concerns or that I have to announce “I’m not political but”. I bet many people who didn’t vote in the last Presidential election probably wished they had. Hopefully, they learned from that and will vote in this one.

If you’re in the United States, GO VOTE. Your vote matters.

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Soulful Sunday

My weekend started off rocky because I was coming down with something like a sinus infection on Friday. By the end of the work day, my right inner ear was sore, the right side of my face was burning, my throat was raw, and I was exhausted. I signed off my computer, threw on my PJs, and waited for my husband, Bryan, to return with my chicken tortilla soup from one of our favorite, local Tex-Mex restaurants. Although I could barely swallow by the time I ate, the soup HIT THE SPOT.

In addition to the pain I had, I was also irritated beyond my limits. It was like a cloud came over me mid day. Saturday, I felt better after sleeping in for hours, although I was still achy. It occurred to me that I was bursting at the seams with work stress. Could the stress have manifested into a physical reaction? Possibly. What I do know is that it’s Sunday and I feel much better. My inner ear doesn’t hurt anymore, but I’m not 100%.

I’ve been craving cooler weather and hoping that the delicious soul food I made on Sunday would cool the temps down. What I just typed probably doesn’t make much sense(how can food cool down temps???) but essentially, I want cooler weather. Growing up in Chicago, fall was my favorite season. I loved the falling leaves, crisp air, and indescribable feeling. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been craving soul food while trying to recover from “something”. I’m very good at self-soothing myself with cooking. I decided it’s been way too long since I made fresh collard greens. Then, I thought about some delicious red beans and rice, mashed sweet potatoes, and corn bread. And guess WHAT??? Meat wasn’t even the star of the show, just a supporting member.

Big ole pot of nutritious collard greens simmering in chicken stock and other goodies -no meat. LPC
My roasted, mashed sweet potatoes. LPC
Corn Bread muffins. Jiffy mix is what I used but I know how to make them from scratch too. LPC
Collard greens, red beans and rice, and mashed sweet potatoes. LPC

This meal took a good amount of prep. I soaked the greens and beans overnight. I layed out the butter for the chocolate chip cookies (not pictured) and eggs for the corn bread mix and cookies. I started cooking early Sunday morning. I made 2 different pots of red beans: one with smoked ham hock and one without (my daughter doesn’t eat pork because she loved mini pigs). The meal could very easily be vegetarian with a few tweaks and vegan with even a few more tweaks. After our morning walk, we came back to the house smelling like Thanksgiving. This meal was so satisfying.

My light lesson from this weekend is really a reminder and not a lesson. I NEED MY DOWN TIME WITH MY FAMILY. When I’m feeling sick, no matter the reason, a SLOW down is within reach. I don’t need to panic. I just need to nuture myself and take in the nurturing love of my family.

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To all the badass women leaders

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in October 2020, but here we are. I love reading my previous posts because it’s like I’m going back into time seeing what my life was like. Life was good in December 2019 and it ain’t so bad today. I still haven’t finished reading that book by the way, but I’m almost done. I hope you enjoy reading about the women in my life who’ve influenced me and who I consider “BADASS”.

enlightenedsocialworker

Oh dear! This is the last Christmas Eve of the decade! Listen, 2019 has tried to WHOOP my behind and I mean TRIED, but I have a second wind. I’m percolating with ideas and enthusiasm. I’ve been laying low and recharging my battery, particularly my spiritual battery. For anyone in a similar situation as me, we can end 2019 with a BANG, or at least with the acknowledgment that we did the best we could and we’re still standing to tell our story.

My lovely boss gave me an early Christmas gift and I’ve already begun diving into this book. I know I’m a badass and I don’t doubt myself like I used to. In fact, the older I get, and the more experience I gain, the less I doubt myself. However, sometimes the obstacles of life can make you doubt your path, BUT I’m here to tell you to…

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