Alone with Your Thoughts

Have you ever actually been afraid to be alone with your thoughts for whatever reason? I sometimes get into this mood where I will do whatever it takes to distract myself to make sure that I won’t have a chance to have a clear head. My most common escape is work. I cannot begin to count how many times the word workaholic has been used to describe my behavior. Which is a lot easier to let someone believe than to just say I work because I’m afraid to let my mind wander. I also try charity work which is why working on the PinkforPam foundation has been beyond awesome. Sometimes, the most therapeutic solution in helping yourself is to help someone else.

Regardless of what you do whether its reading a book, watching reality tv, and a list of probably a zillion other hobbies. You still at some point have to deal with your thoughts at some point.

Prayer for me is powerful. I actually pray for the day my faith will allow me to believe to the point in moving a mountain. But sometimes even that seems scary to do. And It begins with the fact that I don’t want to have to admit what’s in my head to myself. As always, I think the main thing to remember is that… It’s normal.

And I personally know that even a tiny thought/prayer; “Help Me” has equal power as to a two hour concentrated prayer fest. Its definitely about quality and sincerity, than quantity. My most recent time of getting to this point, I ended up visiting a friend and I slowly just found myself talking about death and admitting to how I think about it more when things are going well rather than when things are going bad. It’s as if I will have to pay a price for the blessings and moments of happiness. It was if God put that person in front of me and gave me the okay that I could talk without freaking anyone out (this has happened before; I ended up having to cheer the other person up).

Whatever thoughts you may have, just remember your not the first, and your not the last. Just don’t allow yourself to not become a slave to the negative ones.

My Street Cred Never Changed

Most of you know that last month I was honored to participate in the nationally broad casted, star studded, humongous Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon.

Some people told me that I looked nervous but the reality is, I wasn’t. (How could I be nervous when after having a zillion hot flashes my hair stayed curled and my makeup stayed on).

It would have been easy to be intimidated. Especially after I found out that I was the only non-celebrity to take the stage on eight major networks and whose broadcast was considered bigger than the superbowl (just sayin’).

But me and my punkish ways knew I honestly had more of a reason to be there than most of the celebrities did. Why pray tell? Because I stand up, sit down, turn around, do flips to cancer every day. Some of the celebs are fortunate enough to never have to think about cancer again unless they look at their free t-shirt.  I join the other millions who stood up to cancer when they get out of bed and decide to breathe.

The only street credit we need is to decide to either fight cancer or support someone who already is doing so. Here is the reality: the people behind the stage were the celebrities of the day. Most donated their time to be there.

Here is another fact: one day I will hit the popularity of Oprah (and possibly beyond) but nothing will change except that I will have paid off my student loans, bought a yacht to travel the world, ended world hunger, provided money for anyone who has a chronic illness to get not just their needs or wants. The main thing is we have to live and own our street cred. We got this!

Is Cancer a Good Wingman?

Some of you may have watched the movie 50/50. There is a scene where they go to the bar and use cancer as a method of picking up girls. For some people, that might work, but I think generally for single people with active cancer, dating is difficult.

First of all, there are the questions:

  • Is it fair to try and date anyone?
  • How quickly in the dating process do I need to let them know I have cancer?
  • Can I handle someone being freaked out if they either see or feel any battle wounds on me?
  • Will they be the type who likes to take on “projects”?

There are a dozen more questions I can come up with, but for the sake of the story, I’ll move on.

I once wrote into one of the speeding dating agencies and shared that I thought it would be cool if they have one for people with cancer (if you can have a speed dating even for people who have red hair, why not?). Needless to say, they didn’t get back to me.

The dating world as a whole is scary especially for those of us who are not dating savvy.  It can be like navigating through a corn maze. So WHAT THE MESS do I do now with this monkey on my back of cancer and loneliness? I have tried a few of the big name online dating sites because I have heard so many success stories. I decided to drink the Kool-Aid and jump in. But for some reason, even before this sickness, I have always had nut job magnetism; all the nuts try to find me. So I had my doubts that it wasn’t going to work out well for me. **Disclaimer – I know quite a few married couples who have met in that world and they’re doing well. So I believe online dating works for some.***

I promise to share some of my nightmare dates another time.

Right now, it’s been a bit easier to focus on God, myself, friends, family, work and sharing my story. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t hold my two precious godchildren and wonder about my own future as a parent and the fact that I will need to look into options such as surrogacy, adoption and foster parenting since I didn’t think to freeze my eggs before treatment began. Or even the thought of not having kids since I’m still sick.

So, that brings up another question: will that person understand that we may not be able to have blood related children together?

Until I can face myself in the mirror and answer these questions, I am not sure it’s safe to attempt to bring someone else in the mix. If I need to keep hope about overcoming a sickness, why not apply that same hope that the right person will be there at the same time. All those questions that I am assuming I need to answer will most likely get thrown out the window with the right person.

Like it or Not, We are All Politicians

I have a horrible confession. The first time I ever voted was the 2008 Presidential campaign. Even when people used to say, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” I just wouldn’t complain. At the time, I belonged to the group that felt as if my vote didn’t make a difference.

I’m so disconnected from politics that I don’t even know my local congressman.

When originally diagnosed with cancer I didn’t feel empowered. I had no experience with the craziness of cancer so I decided to go with the flow of what my doctors said to me. I would not recommend this as one of my smarter ideas even though at the time it seemed to be very logical.

This line of thinking took me through a path of hardships that I might not necessarily have had to go through. I was too shy to disagree with a doctor if th

ey said something that didn’t make sense or I didn’t agree with. I never questioned any portions of my treatment plan. I felt trapped, as if the only way I had a chance of survival was by listening blindly to any person who had a title in front of their name.

But once I was diagnosed the second time, I thought, if I did it your way and it didn’t work, I need to try things differently. That is when I decided to elect myself as my own advocate. I am the primary person who should be aware of the treatment plan and be able to argue what does or doesn’t work.

That means asking questions, researching and taking a vote with yourself on what the next plan of action should be. This has caused such a big change in my life. I have found there were more options than what I was aware of from the beginning.

It is a well established fact that no one will take better care of yourself than you. So, for those who like to leave the politics to someone else, please think again when it comes to your own personal well being.

Pole Dancing is Not For Everyone

A few years back after receiving radiation on my hips and pelvis my doctor had given me a lot of precautions. No heavy exercise, no using the treadmill, no high-impact exercises, very minor elliptical and most definitely yoga and water aerobics. This was a bit hard for me to take due to the fact that up until I was re-diagnosed, I was playing soccer on an intramural team. In fact, the day of the re-diagnosis, before I had learned the cancer had metasized to the bones, I went to the gym and started a membership. To me, it felt like a tug of war with cancer; it was holding all the cards and had control. Besides, I am the type of person who just needs to keep actively moving. If I’m not sweating (besides my hot flashes) I don’t feel like I’m doing anything.

When I got the “yellow” light (to this day my doctors have never really given me a “green” light, but have decided to share their heads and recommend I take it easy and be safe when I tell them of my adventures). I decided I needed to find something that could help strengthen my upper body. I am always on guard for lymphodema. So, I thought about pilates and learned about the Reformer machine which I like but is very expensive. I also tried a few different types of yoga (which was okay) but I still needed something more. I found an ad about pole dancing for exercise. In my head it was very logical. I could only imagine that it was a job requirement to have a strong upper body to do things people do on the pole. I decided to sign up for six classes figuring the only way to commit to the workout is to commit my wallet.

Keep in mind, I signed up for the absolute beginners classes which I figured would be a breeze. Back in my hay day, I was pretty good on the monkey bars and I still sear if my mom had let me continue my acrobatic classes after third grade I could have been an Olympic gymnast.

I go to my first class. I didn’t realize there was a wardrobe requirement. My shirt, sneakers and sweatpants weren’t quite cutting it. Next problem was the class for absolute beginners was filled with intermediates since the other class was held too late in the evening for most people to attend. I was the only true absolute beginner. Everyone around me was flipping around, swirling and not to mention wearing heels that by just trying them on would have broken my ankle.

My initial instinct was to run but I figured I had some athletic skill and I could figure it out. I took my spot in the front of the classroom and the class began. Needless to say, it was one of the worst 45-minute sessions I ever lived, which is saying a lot because I have gone through some aggressive chemotherapy.  The teacher wasn’t ready for my level of beginner.

I spun around once and hit my left side, which was still inflamed (I originally had a translap but had to switch to implants due to wanting the breast even after the second mastectomy).  I did a bit of damage to myself, which didn’t hurt, but it’s hard to say when you’re bleeding from your chest “it’s okay. I’m just in the middle of getting my breast reconstructed because of a mastectomy,” and consider myself logical.

When the class finally ended, I ran as fast as I could. I realized I had eaten a seriously big piece of humble pie and had the urge to shake hands and feel the arm muscles of anyone who was in the profession of dancing on a pole. Most importantly, realizing I need to do a lot more research and potentially take a sample class to figure out what would work best for me.

Hindsight is beyond 20/20; it’s amazing how smart I am after an experience. I could have really hurt myself but as my mom always says, “God takes care of babies and fools, which category do you fit into?”

Why Does Being Selfish Always Sound Negative?

I am fully aware that being an overall selfish person isn’t something anyone should strive for.

But…

I am also aware that we sometimes judge ourselves as “selfish” when we are simply attempting to survive life’s tougher challenges.

I’ve fought many battles in my life. First was depression and low self-esteem when I was in high school and now throw in a splash of stage four cancer as an adult and thegood times are really rolling! By no means am I making light of the seriousness of any of these situations. Any one of these issues brings an end to life, as the individual knows it and a lifetime of challenges.

It has been said on many occasions that “fighting cancer is 95-percent mental and the rest physical.” I truly believe this and that means to get through the day you need to be a little selfish! I don’t mean pushing someone out of the way to get a seat on the bus. I don’t mean going to the mall and erupting into a ghetto tug of war because you grabbed a shirt out of the hands of someone who was looking at it before you!

I mean turning your phone off when every person on the other end demands a piece of you and there aren’t any pieces left. I mean getting a hotel room for a night when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some alone time. I mean going to a restaurant and savoring best tasting and highest calorie items on the menu. I mean buying those cute $20 clearance shoes because they made you feel good – no matter how much you still owe on your student loans.

Whatever the “I mean” is for you, do it when you need it! If brings you back from the brink of mental slump, DO IT! Treasure yourself! God does, so why don’t you?

Caregivers, Who Needs Them?

A caregiver is most easily defined as someone who provides care. And for most of us we think of our immediate go to people such as a parent, spouse, child, sibling or even a close friend. But the reality is a caregiver isn’t just the person who may cater to you if you’re sick in bed. Its so much more than that. I myself can admit that caregivers have come in all shapes and sizes. They have included coworkers, bus drivers, pen pals, Facebook friends, store clerks, people who pass out the daily newspaper, church members,neighbors, etc. One of my favorite sayings is, “we teach people how to treat us.”

For example, when I was diagnosed with cancer I decided I needed to teach everyone how to treat me. And even become my caregiver. I’m not big on support groups as a choice for myself. But there are numerous moments where I need to vent steam, laugh or cry. Since I normally can’t just predict those moments, I’ve learned to have people prepped and ready when I need the services of a caregiver. My definition of a caregiver is simply someone who chooses to care.

At my last job, I had a very rough time. There were times I could feel myself exploding inside. I was literally a ticking time bomb. On one of these many occasions, I just pinged a coworker on instant messenger and said “let’s go”. Without knowing where we were going or why, they got up and left with me and we walked for a while and I ended up stopping for ice cream, which we all know has healing powers. It helped me focus on something different for the moment. With the coworker, we didn’t have any profound conversation, nor did I cry. I’m not even sure if I really said anything until I got the ice cream. But at that moment, they were my caregiver. I’m not sure if they realized how close to blowing my top off I was (maybe they could see the smoke coming from my ears) but it was just insanely good timing that worked it out. They cared to stop what they were doing to take a walk. It impacted me in a big and positive way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, do I sometimes wish I had a dedicated support person in the form of a husband? Of course I do. But the reality is one person is not enough of a system. They may not be around. They get burned out. They are not just dealing with watching someone they care about showing a different, vulnerable side but  they are also trying to still live their own life. It used to frustrate me because people I thought would be there weren’t and others who I didn’t think cared on that level were. I started realizing, who am I to be so picky? Someone being sincerely interested in me and what is going in my life is being my caregiver. Unless you are married, its quite hard to explain to employers that you are trying to take care of a non relative. No matter how close you may be.

What does this mean? You may need to seek out other people and ways to get care. Appreciate the people who are there and realize there is no instruction manual. They may be annoying to you and it might be time to take a little break and utilize someone else. Sometimes when someone says a kind word to me randomly, they are being more of a support system than they will ever know.

Here’s my point. You can recruit caregivers without them even knowing it. Regardless of what we are going through with our sickness, we all have different ways of needing help. Its okay to reach out to anyone who is around you. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how and there are people who don’t want to help because they either figure they aren’t good at it or they have never even thought about it. I genuinely believe in “caregiver burn out”. I figure the more I have, the less likely my core ones will run low on fuel and burn out.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff – That is the Question!

Most don’t realize that I have had a double masectomy (the removal of breast tissue). There are a few different paths people can take: (1) Implants, (2) Transflap (tummy tuck), (3) Prosthetic for the bra and (4) Saying: “I don’t need anything” and going without having replacements.

The first time I was diagnosed, time was not on my side due to the fact that it took about six months to diagnose me. The most obvious choice for me was to have a transflap masectomy because I was afraid of waking up from surgery seeing myself without anything on my chest. Side Note – I am a medical chicken. I consider true horror and gore watching the Miracle of Birth and pretty much any medical pictures. What I didn’t know at the time is that you can only have that surgery done once due to the extensive nature of it. I’m pretty sure a woman thought of the idea, while a man figured out how to do it, which is why it’s so intense.

But for most people that is where there story ends. Unfortunately, that is where mine begins. When the cancer came back about two years later, I ended up needing to go the implant route for the other side. But since things do not seem to go on the smooth path for me (the radiation I underwent years earlier broke down my skin cells so much that they couldn’t handle the implant. It literally broke my skin when trying to expand it. And believe me I have never had images of myself as a d-cup. Only a full-c). Needless to say, right now I am currently in a weird place.

I have a temp-implant on my right side and on my left a breast I am continually trying to heal a hole from radiation and an implant. Only the original fat from my stomach acts as a breast, so it does have the appearance of an a-cup. It’s a weird thing because in one sense its nice to know something is there, but it also triggers sadness because I struggle to figure out should I stuff my bra (when I actually wear one) or just accept it.

I change my mind every other day but currently I am deciding to not give up on a solution. Right now, the solution a few doctors have given me would be to have a back skin graft done to help with good skin cells on my left side. But I don’t accept that. Before any further surgery is done I will make sure I know every option that is out there. For now, I have learned to not stuff but rather try to find clothes that won’t make me need to make that choice. I didn’t stuff in elementary school and I’m not starting now.

Guilty Pleasures

Have you ever heard that song by Destiny’s Child? The one what goes “can’t pay my bills, can’t pay my telephone bills, can’t pay my automo-bills!” (well, that’s my version of the song). I am very familiar with that singular line.

I admit to not being the best at budgeting but cancer has definitely made keeping up with day-to-day finances even more challenging. It’s the idea that you have to budget for something you didn’t ask for nor do you want. At least with student loans you’re paying for something you wanted to do and got a lot out of (okay, some so out of it).

Even with great insurance, there are still many out of pocket expenses that come with trying to become more health minded (supplements, organic foods, going to a nutritionist or because you have maxed out your insurance for the year). Now throw in being single, in a single-income home and YIKES we’re talking instant blood pressure spike. THEN sprinkle on top of that gas, carfare for traveling to treatment, a dash of day-to-day bills – heat, electricity, water, etc. Like is expensive and it’s even more expensive paying for a life with cancer.

What you’re about to read is very controversial. It may make you feel uncomfortable but it’s time to throw it out there. You deserve to do nice things for yourself. My brother used to tell me “no one will treat you better than you”. I’m still trying to learn and understand how to apply that to all aspects of my life (in a reasonable way) but it does strike a chord especially dealing with this enforced craziness.

Treating yourself may mean splurging on your favorite candy treat, enjoying a nice meal, a weekend getaway, buying a book or making time to read it. For me, it’s going dancing, spending time with friends, purchasing that dress that I can never find an occasion for but really want, creating a new playlist for my iPod, shutting the world off and watching a good Better Davis movie. My list goes on and varies.

There are ways to be good to yourself without breaking the bank, buy maybe it means calling a creditor and negotiating a smaller breakdown of payments. This will allow you a chance for a little treasure. This can make the difference of that fine line of sanity and a full mental breakdown. How long can you possibly last if you never address the fact of needing to be your own cheerleader even when you have a network of people cheering you on? So fund what will give you a moments pleasure and sit back, close your eyes and enjoy that guilty pleasure.

Can Your Mojo Really Get Dusty?

I recently went to the doctor and my nurse asked me if I was dating someone and I looked at her in amazement and saids “and why would I do that?”

Now, I’m not sure how other single people feel who have cancer but even the moments I feel lonely and would love at least a cuddle buddy, I am not that motivated to actively do something about it.

The movie 50/50 actually did a fantastic job of showing the awkwardness in trying to date but also show some of the issues that may come with an attempt at intimacy.
For me its a bit of a catch 22 happening. I feel like its important to not allow cancer to change you but there is also a consideration which would be great if the person you were attempting to deal just naturally had.

In the end, it is a personal decision to know when or if your ready. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I am told I need to be open or make myself available to someone.
My current constant hangouts are the following:

  •  bus ( I commute about 2.5 to 3 hours total daily)
  • Work (9 to 10 hours but that just wouldn’t work)
  • Hospital for treatment (fluctuates between 3 to 18 hours monthly)

With all that spare time, I should be able meet my future mate, and at least had three to four dates. Unless it is a relationship solely based on skype or texting time then I guess that most likely won’t work.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do some experimentation. My personal challenge is to make sure I wear a billboard and flashing lights to declare my availability.