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Health is wealth

In the last 2 weeks I had a health scare…two more tumors showed up on my mammogram and ultrasound, but the biopsies came back BENIGN. Praise God! The results confirmed my commitment to healthy eating. Now, I’ve completed my lunch prep. A big part of my weekend is spent preparing meals for my family and vegan/vegetarian meals for my work week. I’ve found a sweet spot of being mostly vegan/vegetarian during the week day, then eating meat in the evenings and weekends. I may deviate from time to time, but I don’t deviate from my daily green smoothies. 

I was tired today, as usual, but I went ahead and prepped my lunch bowls. I could easily not do this because it’s time consuming. However, I care about my health too much and enjoy eating healthy foods. I haven’t decided if I’m going to have a smoothie as an afternoon snack in addition to having one for breakfast, but I blended two pumpkin green smoothies. Yum!

Pumpkin green smoothie ingredients

Lunch prep: one down, three to go

Lunch bowls: quinoa, sweet potato, egg, sauteed peppers

This week I plan to work on this sweet tooth I developed after returning from Chicago after my mom’s funeral in July. I’ve been on a cookie habit…one or two every couple of days.  I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, but I went months without eating sweets aside from fruit. 

Roasted Garbanzo beans & spices

All in all, I make healthy food choices. Health is wealth and a large part of being healthy is eating well.  Thank God my latest tests were benign. My oncologist again told me I’m healthy and to keep doing what I’m doing. For a while I have been slacking off a little, but I haven’t veered off course.  The recent health scare reminded me of what’s important in life and reconfirmed my commitment to take care of myself.

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Oh September

September has been difficult for me emotionally. Last September (2016), mummy came to Austin for a two and a half week visit. The whole time she was here, I was undergoing multiple tests to determine what the tumor was in my left breast. I didn’t tell her what I was going through and I wasn’t planning on it until it was confirmed by my doctor.  I don’t regret it either.  The day she left, my husband and I took her to the airport, then headed to my doctor’s appointment for the news. I already knew. I had been researching breast cancer obsessively. September 28 marks one year since my life changed drammatically.

It’s been almost 3 months since mummy passed away and it’s been a struggle. Most days, I’m well, going through my normal routine and then it’ll hit me. I become overwhelmed with emotion and start crying. It especially hits me when I’m driving home from work because for about 5 years, it was my routine to call her during this time. I miss her voice. My Facebook memories feed also reminds me through pictures that she is gone. I’m glad that I’ve taken so many pictures with mummy when she’s come to visit or vice versa. My sister noted that she and my other siblings didn’t think to take as many pictures with mummy since they all live in the same city and saw each other frequently. I happen to enjoy selfies plus I didn’t have the luxury of seeing mummy often, so I loved commemorating her visits.

On September 1, I had my annual exam with my primary care doctor and it was also emotional for me because the last time I saw her, she told me that I had breast cancer. She was on the verge of tears when she told me. Of course, I was happy to report that I’ve been well and healthy, but I soon found out that I need more tests for some other potential issues.  Her words were, “You’ve been through a lot this past year already. There are still some questions.”  I had testing on my breasts yesterday and things didn’t go as smoothly as 6 months ago. The radiology technician called me back 3 times for more testing, then Iltheu requested the ultrsound. This was all too familiar, but last year, I didn’t think anything of it. Apparently, I’m not completely out of the woods yet on this cancer thing. I need a biopsy. The doctors want to be sure about the 2 new spots on the same breast.

I’m generally a positive person, but I don’t want to go down this road again. However, this does put things in perspective in terms of what is important in life. I needed the reminder. The hardest part of all of this is that my biggest supporter will not be around to take care of me for whatever procedures/treatment I may need. Last year, once it was confirmed that I had breast cancer and after we had met with the surgeons and oncologist, I told mummy of my diagnosis. She took it hard, but was back in Austin by the end of October to be here through my two surgeries in November. How will I get through this next phase of whatever without her.

Whatever happens, I will do what I need to do to be alive as long as I can for my family.  I am strong and brave. I just wish September wouldn’t be so hard. On the positive side, the weather has changed. The expression, “seasons change”, just rang in my ears and we all know that to be true. Only God knows why I’m faced with these health challenges in this season of my life. I will go through this season with everything in me… like a champ or chump, by fighting hard or barely hanging on, but I’ll get through it with her spirit within me. I’ll get through it with the support of my family and friends. I’ll get through it with God.

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Rest Part Deux 

Today, I succumbed to my body’s cues and spent the early part of the day resting. It was difficult initially because I have a Saturday morning routine of cleaning. I’ve missed writing in my blog, so I finished up a post I started last week. After that, I took a shower, attended to my charred breast, warmed up some leftover chicken noodle soup, and headed back to bed with soup in tow. On my way home from my next to last radiation treatment yesterday, I could tell by the pain and discomfort that it would be best if I rested. I’ve been feeling a little emotional now that I can see and feel the effects of the radiation. I decided that I would take care of myself, not worry about housework considering that there are 3 able bodied human beings that live with me. I’ve been joking that my fitbit has been controlling me, so I thought about my steps briefly. How would I get my steps in? It can become addictive really quickly. I’m even in a work week challenge with some of my coworkers. However, I decided to ignore the fitbit. I’ll catch my steps some other time. I’m finding that it takes less effort to let go and just listen to myself. I cozied up in my bed without any disturbances…not even from the kittens.

At about 2 p.m., I was rewarded with an energy burst. I felt replenished. The hubby had breakfast, lunch and dinner covered and did some dishes. I took on the kitchen….the stove hood, back splash, and floors (not sure what came over me…?) I assumed my role as captain of the ship and commenced giving orders on what else needed to be done to get the house in decent order. Hey, I managed to get over 3,500 steps in a short period. I felt guilty for a bit, but then when I saw them actually doing the work, the guilt subsided. I can’t do it all. At least, I’d rather use my energy doing other things. I’m also teaching my kids to be responsible people…at least that’s the goal. However, I do want to work on my delivery. It would be great if I could only get them to do it without the poking and proding. Work in progress…stay tuned!

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This is what breast cancer looks like

I’m actually starting to feel normal again…my brand of normal.   I listened to my doctors and rested for the most part.  Over the last few weeks, I gradually started doing housework, cooking, getting organized, primping myself with mani/pedi’s, and have completed a week at the office.  I’ve been exercising for a week via DVD’s from my vast exercise DVD collection.  The desire to do more things has been a sign that I’m getting better…stronger. It’s been 4 weeks post breast reconstruction and I am healing beautifully.  I have to admit that I am beyond pleased with the results…stitches and all.  My breast cancer is Stage 1 and I’ve gotten test results indicating that chemotherapy would not impact my survival rate very much.  Therefore, I will not take part in that treatment.  I’ve since met with the radiology oncologist and had a CT scan last Monday.  It’s just a matter of days before I get a call to discuss my treatment plan which will determine how many radiation sessions I will receive.  After radiation, there’s a minimum 5 years of hormone therapy since my cancer is responsive to estrogen and progesterone.  I’m anticipating living at least 30-40 years once all of my treatment is over. To think that three months ago, I wasn’t even thinking about my life expectancy. I couldn’t be at a better place considering the circumstances.

I intended to write a sarcastic comment about how all of this has been a breeze, but who am I kidding?  I don’t want to bring anyone, or myself, down for that matter, but I want to tell the truth.  My strategy has been to do what I have to do to get better. Period. It hasn’t been a traumatic experience, but it certainly hasn’t been easy.  After the first surgery, I thought “this wasn’t so bad”.  A few days later, I began dreading the second surgery (scheduled a week later), and rightly so, because that was the more intensive one of the two. Post op, I felt like Frankenstein because of the drainage tubes sticking out of my body for a full week. My husband emptied the tubes for me every day, twice a day, helped me take a shower, gauzed up my breasts daily, opened my pill bottles, uncapped the pen  (amazing what strength you lose after surgery) so I could log the fluid amount, brought me food, etc…all because I could not.  The anxiety of waiting on test results, especially those that take 2 weeks to get back, can be overwhelming. There were forced adjustments such as sleeping on my back, dealing with the pain and discomfort, not being able to shower for a period, logging the fluid from the drains, having to expose my breasts at every appointment (still doing this), and not being able to exercise (my preferred form of therapy). This is the reality.

The reality is also that I received a flood of support from my family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’m on a few prayer lists. People who I don’t know personally, yet know me through my family (i.e., my mom) have sent kind words.  In an age where texts can be impersonal, I’ve appreciated them all because it means that someone has been thinking about me.  I received a lot of texts.  Even a text requires some level of effort, and honestly, at times, I didn’t want to speak to anyone anyway because talking made me tired. The calls and visits to my home with food have been a blessing. One dear friend from Chicago surprised me with a visit.  Another dear friend sent me some coping tools.

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Fxxx Cancer

I’m thankful that my children have witnessed people being kind and personal in a world where it doesn’t seem like such people exists. My doctors and medical team have been wonderful as they’ve eased my mind so many times.  I appreciate their expertise and care.  When I worked as a mental health rehabilitation specialist, I thought about how my client’s lives were in my hands (figuratively speaking) and I didn’t take that lightly.  I do believe that my medical team has the utmost respect for my life and are vested in improving it so that I can have the best prognosis.

I’ve been told that I look great, whole, and healed.  I’ve been told that I don’t even look like what I’ve been through.  Sometimes, I can’t believe that I have cancer. I’m usually focused on plugging through my day, yet every now and again, the thought hits me that I have this disease, or I think about my children’s risk, and tears stroll down my face.  For the most part, I feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually, albeit a little tired since going back to work.  I don’t want to let how I look get to my head.  I think the way to get through something as life changing as this is to: 1) take things day by day; 2) be open to receive the love that people (even 1 person) are so eager to share; and 3) to listen to your body.

I’ve had people remind me to take things one day at a time and I needed to hear it.  Overachievers like me have issues that can impair progress. Also, if it were not for me being vulnerable enough to share my diagnosis, I would not have had so many people expressing their concern, love and support.  As I’ve indicated before, 10-15 years ago, my pride would have prevented me from being so open, but I’ve grown since then.  One of my coworkers wrote in a card to me to let the love that others have for me carry me through this journey.  That resonated with me so much and I followed her advise.  I do understand that some people are private, but I still recommend entrusting a select few with what you’re going through.  God puts people in your path for a reason. And listening to your body is so key. I have overdone it at times.  For example, yesterday I did 2 tracks on my exercise DVD instead of one.  At the time, I felt energized and thought that I could do more. I should have known better since I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as I indicated, overachievers like me have issues.  As the day went on, I started to feel it in my hips, and therefore, we decided not to go to the Austin Trail of Lights because I didn’t think I could do the walking required.

Something so fascinating about sharing that I have breast cancer is that I’ve discovered that there are so many people who have cancer.  When you share, you give others permission to share.  I think the prevalence of cancer is an epidemic.  I don’t know…that’s for another post, but what I do know is that people…people you may know are going through all kinds of challenges.  It’s not easy to judge a book by its cover.  My face is of a person who has breast cancer and although it has made a significant presence in my life at this moment in time, it’s doesn’t define me.  It hasn’t taken away my joy.  It’s not who I am.  However, it has certainly taught me some things that will ultimately make me a better, kinder, more loving and thoughtful person.

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What difference does it make?

“I can’t accept that this happened to you. Why did this happen?  You eat healthy all the time…organic foods even. You exercise all the time”. When faced with life’s challenges, some people can’t help but question why things happen to them or question what someone else did to cause misfortune in that person’s life. I ask,”What difference does it make?”

Those comments/questions were actually posed by someone very close to me regarding my breast cancer diagnosis.  I can’t make this stuff up.  There are several different directions that I could take this post because I’ve been mulling over those comments for weeks now. My initial reaction was the title of this post and it continues to be my response.  It’s what I hear in those words that gets under my skin. What my sensitive ears hear are judgment and blame.

I’ve already written a post on managing judgmental people.  You can read it here I’ve indicated in previous posts that I am a recovering perfectionist, so as part of my self-care, I work hard to banish the self-ridiculing, over-critical voices in my head. Yet, I can’t help what people say to me. Comments such as those ultimately say more about what the other person is thinking more than anything about me.  And they may get under my skin, but that’s when I work that much harder to manage my reactions.  

When faced with life’s challenges, I do think in some cases, it’s important to examine where things night have gone wrong. However, I would take caution in spending too much time there, especially if it causes you to place blame on yourself and/or others. Someone may even be at fault, but you don’t want to risk not moving on and learning from it by staying in that mental space too long. In other cases, it may not be necessary to spend time figuring out what went wrong. It may not even be possible. For instance, I can’t control my body on a biological/cellular level. Certainly life style factors affect many conditions including cancer, but in other cases it does not. I have a family history of breast cancer in that my mom and my grandmother (my mom’s mother) both had it. Whatever the case, it’s best for me to move forward and take the necessary steps to treat this illness. 

Maintaining a thick skin is not always easy, especially when people attempt to test your boundaries, whether unintentionally or not. I’m assuming that you would even want to develop a thick skin, but it’s my way of establishing a boundary and it works for me. Sometimes you realize that things still seap through the thickness and that’s ok. Take a few deep breaths, think before you respond, and channel your higher self. You’ll get through it.



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Fight

By the time this blog post is published, I’ll be somewhere in the middle of breast reconstruction surgery. (Update: It’s done.  We got home after 9pm and I’m very sore.) I never imagined that I would be here, but who am I not to be? I’d much rather be dancing like I was in the photo just a few weeks ago, but I have to put that part of me on hold for now. In fact, so much of my life has to be placed on hold as I do what needs to be done to take care of this…to take care of me.

I am beginning to understand why cancer patients are referred to as warriors. It is most definitely a fight, and for me, at times a reluctant fight…a fight to stay postive, a fight to face fears, a fight to face the needles, a fight to heal, a fight to rest, a fight to get up, a fight to advocate for yourself, etc. I’ve had to  fight to live the life that I want, so I’m well suited for this.

Yesterday, I unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears as I came to the realization after meeting with my oncologist that this fight is going to be longer than I anticipated.  Do you remember that kid in elementary school that got so mad right before a fight with a counterpart that he started crying? Maybe you were that kid? Weren’t you thinking that this is the time for fighting NOT crying? Well, I think that crying doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel weak or that you’re going to fail. I prefer to look at is as mustering up the courage for what’s about to happen. It’s the realization that you know what you’re facing. You know you have to gather up all of your weapons so you can be armored up to fight for your very life.

I might be getting too melodramatic. I hope I’m making sense. They just put in the i.v. To my sheer horror, the nurse had to do it twice. I held my breath the whole time, but I got through it. I’m looking forward to some strong medications shortly. Maybe I’ll dream about dancing like I was in the picture. Maybe, I’ll dream about flawless boobs. Maybe I’ll dream about dancing, flawless boobs. 

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Strength

My mind is strong. My body is strong. I am strong. I’ve spent years doing cardio and lifting free weights to increase my fitness level. I’m one of those rare people who actually enjoys exercising. I tried running for a year and I loved it until I found Zumba fitness.  I even became a licensed Zumba instructor to ensure that I have access to new routines and formats. What I enjoy about exercising is the challenge, the feeling of accomplishment when I am done, the release of good endorphins, and the increase in stamina and endurance. Exercise has been a part of my daily routine and an ingrained habit.  Going for more than a day or two without exercising causes me to feel out of balance.  I am not looking forward to the halt in exercise over the next couple of months as I recover from 2 surgeries.  My last workout session was on 11/3/16 and I miss it already. (Note: A few weeks ago,I broke my favorite yellow exercise band in the picture while training. That really bummed me out. I replaced the band exercises with 5 lb weights. I use 10 lbs for the others.)

Admittedly, in the last couple of years, I noticed that my stamina has decreased and that I was more tired in general.  I attributed it partially to my overactive immune system.  I continued to exercise despite being tired.  I have been seeing an endocrinologist and a neurologist for years.  Now, that I have a definite breast cancer diagnosis, it makes sense that I have been tired.

Yes, my strong body will serve me well in treatment, but not without my strong mind.  I’ve been through a lot in my life, so I’m confident that I can withstand this experience. Like life, exercise has challenged me to push past my comfort zone despite pain. Having completed 1 surgery already, I can attest to times where I will be tired, sore, in pain, and anxious, but I can still be positive while experiencing these things.  I was tired, sore and in pain over the weekend, but I had such an overwhelmingly feeling of contentment, love and gratitude for the support that I’ve received through this process so far that I didn’t focus on it.

That worn out space in my garage has been my oasis. Sometimes, I even like to work out in the dark. I look forward to getting back to it and becoming even stronger.

Here are some garage selfies: