Final check ups before the big move…

Once the high from the half marathon wore out, it was time to countdown the days before my last radiation treatment. It was a bitter sweet good bye but, on February 14th, I completed my last treatment and said goodbye to the group of technicians that within a short period of time, had become family. Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly the time passed. On my last follow up with the radiation oncologist, I was given the 2 thumbs up and a, “we’ll see you again in a few months”.

Next I had to follow up with my oncologist so that he could start me on my medication, and let’s not forget about the gynecologist. I still needed to get his opinion on the area in my pelvis that had raised a red flag before.

I went first to the gynecologist and after reviewing the results of the tests that were done, he was pretty convinced that there wasn’t anything I needed to worry about. He did however, recommend I establish with a gynecological oncologist once I moved so that I could have it monitored. I made note of the recommendation, and with great relief, crossed off “get a second opinion on pelvic results”, from my to-do list.

The last person I checked in with was my oncologist. After finishing my radiation treatments, he started me on a medication called Tomaxifen. Since my cancer cells had come up 100% positive for both progesterone and estrogen receptors, it was imperative that I take this medication to help reduce my hormone levels. I was warned of the possible side effects but lets face it, the pros out weighed the cons.

I was happy to report back to him that so far I had been handling the medication very well except for a small visit to the gynecologist. Unfortunately, the medication can increase your chances of an infection because it throws off you bodies natural flora. It didn’t take long before I got one, but luckily, the nurse practitioner at my gynecology office was able to recommend a few things that could prevent it from happening again.

So with future my appointments in hand, I said goodbye to my doctors. It was amazing to feel like I could finally focus on my move. It was however, sad to be leaving everyone behind. I loved my co-workers and was going to miss my friends and family more than I could ever imagine. I hadn’t mentioned it before, but for a small period of time I began seeing a therapist to help me through the emotional part of my journey. You didn’t think I was going to leave all up to the antidepressants did you? No way! I needed to reach out as well and find a comfortable place for me to share what I was going through. It is something I would recommend to anyone going through their own struggles, regardless of what your journey is.

Leaving her behind was hard too, because she had helped me get through some really tough times. I was beginning to wonder if I was ready to make such a big change until I reminded myself of the gift that came with a pink ribbon. I had already gone through such a difficult journey, and if I kept the same attitude, there was nothing I wouldn’t be able to accomplish in the future.

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

Want to find me on facebook? Click here http://www.facebook.com/giftwithapinkribbon

Today, June 18th 2014…

Though I’ve begun to fulfill what I feel is part of my purpose in life, I still feel like I’m meant to do something more. I’ve begun to share my story but, what’s next? Is what I’m doing enough? Am I really helping others to my fullest potential or is there more I can be doing? It’s a question I hope to find an answer to soon, but in the meantime, I just have to trust that my life is unfolding the way it’s suppose to, and do my best to learn from each experience I encounter.

On a completely different note, I have some growing concerns about the upcoming appointments I have next week. I’m scheduled to see my oncologist and radiation oncologist, as well as, have my first follow up mammogram since my surgery. It will be a busy day and, can I be honest with you? I’m really nervous about it. I’ve been feeling discomfort and at times pain since my radiation treatments and it terrifies me to think that something else could be wrong. I’ve reminded myself time and time again that it will be a while before things are back to normal but, a small part of me still fears the “C” word.

I’m sure it sounds crazy after how well everything has already turned out but, I suppose it’s just a natural response to the experience I had. Actually, it’s a relief to feel anything at all, considering how much time I had spent closing myself up and pretending all was well. And let’s face it, I’m in no way the poster child for perfection. I worry just like everyone else no matter how much I try to look on the bright side. It’s taken some time, but I’ve come to accept these feelings, and have learned that it’s not thinking about negative things that will hurt you, it’s dwelling on them that will keep you from moving forward and accomplishing the goals you’ve set out for yourself.

As my appointment date gets closer, I will be sure to pop back into the present and give you an update. For now however, I will continue to share what I’ve already experienced. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

*** Note to reader ***

You can find me on Facebook by going to http://www.facebook.com/giftwithapinkribbon . Be sure to click the “like” button to stay up to date on any daily posts or messages I send out.

For more information you can email your questions to info@giftwithapinkribbon.com

 

The Half Marathon…

Race day had finally arrived. I had mixed emotions about it since I’d been feeling so tired and sore from the radiation but, my partner reassured me we’d finish it together, even if that meant walking to the finish line. It was just the support I needed before heading to the event that morning.

We arrived and I remember being amazed at how many people had registered for the race. This was by far the largest half marathon I had ever participated in. The music was insane and you could feel the energy and excitement as you walked through the crowds. The count down finally began and the race was off to a great start. I was back and loving every moment of it! It was breezy and still dark out, so the running conditions were perfect. It wasn’t till around mile 7 or 8 that my body felt like it was giving up on me. By then, the sun had come up and the heat was really getting to me. I was tired and had become frustrated with how long it was taking me to get to each mile marker.

Slowly, I began to lose site of why I was running. My goal was to finish the race and to have fun, but instead, I was focusing on my speed and setting unrealistic goals. I hadn’t trained enough nor was I in the physical condition to be pushing myself as hard as I once did. My peers and doctors thought I was a bit nuts for attempting to run the distance but I wanted to at least try. I suppose it was my own way of telling myself I could still do it if I really wanted to. However, it stopped being fun and that’s the opposite of what I wanted to accomplish.

That’s when the universe through me a curve ball. Left and right I was running passed participants with physical disabilities far greater than mine. They were happy and so full of life, living their moment the way I should have been living mine. This wasn’t suppose to be about speed or breaking my own record, it was suppose to be about having fun and finishing what I started. I was inspired once more and for the remainder of the race I made it a point to soak in my surroundings and appreciate the fact that I was able to be a part of something so amazing.

The crowds cheered us all on as we crossed the finish line. It was a beautiful race and I was happy to say that regardless of the pain I was in or how tired I was, my treatments didn’t stop me from doing what I enjoyed most. In that moment, I couldn’t have been happier. It was as though I had gotten a little piece of my life back…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

 

** Note to reader **

Be sure to check out my photos to see my medal for the half marathon. 🙂

 

http://www.facebook.com/giftwithapinkribbon

My thoughts on what I’ve learned along the way…

Writing and sharing my journey hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. It’s made me relive a lot of moments I’ve learned now I hadn’t dealt with. On the other hand, it’s allowed me to work through those emotions with all of you as my support system, and for that, I’m extremely grateful.

The truth is, no matter how severe it is, cancer is scary, period. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “breast cancer is such a popular thing now a days and is so much easier to treat, you’ll be fine”. It’s true, there are many treatment options today, however, that doesn’t change the fact that cancer is frightening, and that there is no way of determining if treatment now will guarantee you won’t have it again in the future. Nevertheless, I found myself thinking those very thoughts and even repeating them in conversations with others. I had brainwashed myself to think that my journey wasn’t that big a deal.

If you are currently going through your own cancer journey, please know that you are entitled to feeling however it is that you are feeling. It may be sad, scared, angry, confused or all of the above, and hiding it from the world, or denying those feelings will only make it harder to deal with later. It will also make it hard for those around you to understand your needs. If you come across as though everything is perfect, people will do the same and not offer the assistance you may need. My experience showed me that it wasn’t others that didn’t understand my feelings, it was me that wasn’t being honest about what I expressed to them. Communication is key, and though it doesn’t mean you wont ever deal with a difficult situation, it will keep you from creating unnecessary road blocks along the way.

It doesn’t hurt to be forgiving either. If you do come across a person that has a nonchalant attitude regarding your situation, try not to get to worked up about it. Often times, the response comes from lack of knowledge or the inability to express themselves well. The news will come as a shock to them, and their first reaction may be to say the first positive thing that comes to mind. It may not be what you want to hear but, do your best to put yourself in their shoes and take that opportunity instead to educate them by sharing your experience.

One other very important thing is remembering to do your part. As a cancer patient, it’s easy for us to lose site of the struggles our loved ones are going through because we are thinking of our own. At times it even feels like we are going through the worse parts of the journey alone. Just remember though, fearing the loss of someone you love or watching them suffer is also hard on your loved ones. They too are confused and have no control of the situation. No matter how much they wish they could take your place or make it all better, they can’t, and that can be difficult to cope with. So be patient, communicate and just like they do their best to make things easier for you, try to plan a “time out” for them so that they too can be physically and emotionally balanced.

Lastly, I want to thank you all again for reading and continuing to follow my journey. I don’t have all the answers and still have more to learn but, I’m embracing the changes that come my way and looking forward to sharing them with you in hopes that someone out there will find it helpful… 🙂

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

 

 

A few weeks into radiation…

I was starting to wrap things up at work when I looked at my watch and realized I needed head over for my daily radiation treatment. I had grown more and more excited about going with each day that passed. Not only was I one day closer to finishing, I was also meeting some really nice people along the way. To my relief, I hadn’t been experiencing any pains or serious burns either. I had started mountain biking again and was even feeling confident about running the half marathon with my partner. It was only a week or so away and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I really couldn’t understand why I had read stories of so many people having such a terrible time.

To my surprise however, shortly after those couple of weeks, my energy level did start to decline and my left breast had become inflamed and extremely painful. It began to interfere with my work, sports, sleep, and was wearing me out emotionally. I had tried several over the counter creams to help alleviate the burning and itching but nothing worked. I eventually mentioned it to the radiation oncologist during my weekly check up. She suspected the possibility of my having mastitis of the left breast and prescribed me an antibiotic along with  a cream to help with the itching and burning of the skin. Within a couple of days I was starting to feel a difference in the amount of pain and swelling I felt but, I was still tired and worn out emotionally.

Psychologically, I had reached my max. I know it sounds crazy, but I would compare the way I felt to the feeling you get after eating a meal to fast. Think about it, you eat really quickly, ignoring your stomach’s chemical signal telling you to stop. You than realize you ate way more than you could handle and now you’ve given yourself a stomachache. That’s how I felt. I had filled my emotional storage space to its max without even picking up on its distress signals and was officially on overload.

During my previous episodes of emotional ups and downs, my radiation oncologist had suggested the use of an antidepressant. I refused it, feeling that it would be a symbol of my weakness and inability to balance my emotions on my own. I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need medication to do that. I had already been down that route years ago and had found a better way to cope with my stress through running and staying active. I remember asking myself, ” If there were other people out there that got through this without medication, why should I be any different?” I now realize that, not only was I comparing myself to other people , adding unnecessary pressure, I also wasn’t considering everything else going on in my life that made me feel so off balance. I was leaving my job after more than 11 years. I was moving away to another city leaving my family and friends behind. These were major life changes I was going through, all while juggling everything that came with having had cancer.

I continued on this slippery slope, hoping I could wake up one day feeling different but I never did. The closer I got to finishing my treatments and moving away from everything I knew, the more anxious and depressed I became. Going to my treatments was like a safe haven for me. I felt like cancer couldn’t come back while I was being treated and I feared what would happen when it was all over. I could no longer focus on work, family or my relationship with these thoughts clouding my brain. I wasn’t even enjoying my running and biking anymore. It was then I realized I was in over my head and agreed to take an antidepressant which turned out to be the best decision I could have ever made…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

 

 

Preparation day…

After sitting with my oncologist and deciding what steps we were going to take, I scheduled an appointment to see the radiation oncologist. Together, we went over what the next couple of months would look like. All in all, the plan was quite simple. I was to first undergo 33 radiation treatments then, follow up with my oncologist so that he could start me on a medication called Tomaxifen. This medication is designed to block the hormones our bodies make naturally. Since my cancer cells were 100% positive for both progesterone and estrogen receptors, my hormones needed to be blocked in order to prevent them from feeding any cancer cells that may have been left behind.

They began preparing me for radiation by first “mapping” the area being treated with a non-diagnostic CT scan. This would ensure the radiation would only be exposed to the breast area in which the tumor had been removed, preventing any damage to my heart or other organs near by. It’s actually quite fascinating to know we have the ability to be so precise. In order to pin point the treatment area, an adhesive containing a tiny silver bead was placed in 3 different locations. One a couple inches below my left arm pit, the second, on the right side of my left breast and the third, a couple inches below my right armpit. These markings would later help them calculate the distance between the area being treated and the organs around it. Once the scans were finished, the tech tattooed the area where he had placed the tiny silver beads so that later, they would know where to focus the laser beams when positioning me on the treatment table. The tattoos are about the size of a small beauty mark so they are virtually invisible to anyone unless I point them out.

I got dressed and within a few minutes the tech returned to the room, handed me an appointment card, and with a big smile on his face, wished me the best of luck with my treatments. It was official! Each time I returned to the office, I would be one step closer to completing this part of my journey. Looking back however, I now realize how little I took into account the emotional ups and downs that could come from this. I became a pro at talking myself into positive thinking but deep down inside, there was still a sadness I couldn’t overcome. I couldn’t explain exactly why it was there so I kept reminding myself to think positively in hopes of one day no longer feeling that way. Sadly however, that’s not how the law of attraction works. You can’t just think positive thoughts and expect positive outcomes. You need to take action. Do things that promote feelings of positivity and love so that you get the same in return. Had I remembered this sooner,  I would have later found myself in a much better place…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

 

Recognizing those who have inspired us…

Has someone made a significant difference in your life? Provided you with the confidence to let your true colors shine brightly so that you could share your gift with the world? If you answered yes to either of these questions, this message is for you. I’d like to feature someone special each Monday on the “Gift With a Pink Ribbon” Facebook page and thank them for helping you become the incredibly awesome individual you are today!!

To participate all you have to do is visit http://www.facebook.com/giftwithapinkribbon, “like” my page, and inbox me a picture of that special someone along with a brief description of how they’ve inspired you. This can be a family member, your friend, your boss, your pet, anyone! We are all unique and inspired in different ways. Looking forward to hearing from you all!!

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth

Finally, I’m running again…

It had been a few months since my last run and I was ready to hear the sound of my Newton’s hitting the pavement. As I was getting dressed, I kept picturing myself running and feeling absolute freedom as each step brought me closer to my goal of running the half marathon I had agreed to run with my partner in January. The thought made me a bit nervous because I knew here soon I’d be starting my treatments but, I didn’t want to go into it already thinking about all the obstacles I might face along the way and keep myself from doing what I loved. I promised myself I would keep going until my body told me I needed a break and, I intended to keep that promise.

We drove over to one of our favorite running spots and parked the car. I got out, did a light stretch while waiting for my Garmin to find my location and remembered taking in a big breath and exhaling as if I was telling myself, “this is it, you’re finally running again”. It was a bit warm out that day but the humidity was low so it made for great running conditions. We started our run and I remember the fireworks going off in my head. It was as if I were secretly celebrating my running again. I felt amazing and unstoppable! At least this was true till about a mile into my attempt at running a short 3 miles.

My chest started pounding and I felt so out of breath. My form was a complete mess and, as I continued, I began to feel a numbing yet tingling sensation in my left arm. I wasn’t ready to admit I needed to stop so I simply slowed down a bit hoping my partner wouldn’t notice. I managed to keep running but not long before my plan proved to be a complete fail and I was busted. I had to stop. This was an instant reality check. I may have been running but, I wasn’t able to run nearly as fast or as efficiently as I had before. How on earth did I get to this place?

My arm had begun to swell a little and I was exhausted. I had barely run 2 miles yet I felt as though I had been running for hours. In that moment, it became very clear to me that agreeing to run a half marathon may not have been the smartest thing for me to have done. How was I going to get myself back into tip top shape within a month. “Hello, earth to Elizabeth!!!!” After a short break, we started to jog, slowly making our way back to the car.

I wanted to crawl up in a ball and just cry. Of all my sports, running was my strength and what I loved most. I wasn’t ready to just throw it all away. I needed to get a grip on my emotions and find some kind of balance. I couldn’t just stop running as it was the one thing that provided me with any kind of sanity so, I did the only smart thing I could do. I modified my goals and started from the beginning, just like I did when I was working with my range of motion.

I couldn’t force myself to run at my previous speeds and distances. It wasn’t fair to put that kind of pressure on myself. I needed to gradually make my way back and remind myself once again that in time, I would regain all I had lost. This wasn’t the end of the world, instead, it was a small reminder that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that regardless of how it all turned out, I could only grow from this experience…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

My trip to Moffitt…

Today I’m hitting the rewind button and bringing you back to December 18th, the day I was scheduled to meet the Oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Centers in Tampa. I remember getting ready that morning and frantically trying to find the perfect outfit. I was looking for something cheery but still professional. It was important to me that I present myself as the knowledgeable and confident person I was. If you take yourself seriously, so will others and my health was definitely something to be taken seriously.

I finally put something together, packed up my medical records and off we went. It took us several hours to get there and during that time my nerves really started kicking in. What if I do need chemo? Not only was this going to take a toll on me physically, it was also going to postpone my plans to move. I again became frustrated with my current situation. I was so ready to take the leap and start a new life. Why was it all being placed on hold?

My thoughts were interrupted by the view outside the passenger window, we had finally arrived. “Wow, look at this place. It’s beautiful!” I felt as though I had arrived at a retreat, not a cancer facility. It was huge and the landscaping was beautifully done. We left the car with the valet and made our way into the buildings.

The nervousness I had felt in the car was slowly beginning to fade. I was in complete awe walking down the halls and through the lobbies as my eyes glanced at all of the beautiful pictures on the walls and the gorgeous scenery visible through the large glass windows. There were so many cozy sitting areas and cafés to relax in. It was in no way what I had imagined it to be. In fact, what I’m about to say may surprise you. I felt as if I belonged to this special and exclusive club. My soul was being nourished by so many loving and compassionate individuals who were there dedicating many hours of their lives to make mine better. I felt inspired and needless to say I was very emotional.

We finally reached the check in desk of the breast cancer wing. I remember feeling like I was checking into a day spa. Behind the reception area there was a wall with a large soothing waterfall and off to the side was a table with complimentary beverages. I gave the young woman behind the desk my name and after verifying a small bit of information and placing an ID bracelet on my wrist, she gave me a pager and a reusable Moffitt bag with a folder full of information, a pen and other goodies and showed me into the waiting room area.

My partner and I waited patiently and kept ourselves busy making small talk and looking at funny YouTube videos to keep the mood light. My name was called a few different times before they brought us back into the exam room. Once for insurance verification and important documents I needed to fill out and the other to get my vitals. It was a slow process but eventually moved faster once we were in the back. We met first with a physician doing her internship at Moffitt. Then we met with a counselor who provided us with information on programs available to cancer patients. I was on information overload by the time the doctor came in to give us his opinion.

Prior to my visit at Moffitt I had met with the genetics counselor and received the results of my BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 testing. Thankfully, after only a few weeks of waiting, the results were in and they came up negative. This was great news because it meant I wasn’t going to have to go in for a second surgery.

The doctor reviewed all of my records and expressed he was in agreement with my oncologist back home. There was no need for me to have chemotherapy. I would only have to undergo radiation and later be treated with hormone blockers. The doctor questioned my desire to have children as he stressed the importance of my being aware of the inability to have children during the 5 years I’d be on the hormone blocker, as well as the possibility of it decreasing my chances of being able to conceive a child in the future. It had been an emotional topic for me recently but, I reassured him that I had thought about it and was okay with the possible outcome. He also suggested going for further genetic counseling but left that part up to me. It wasn’t necessary but, I qualified to participate in a research study they were doing so he wanted to make me aware of it.

Then came the answer to a question I had been asking my physicians but wasn’t able to get a straight response to, “what stage was my cancer”? He told me I could safely call it “stage 0” cancer. Really?! I felt on top of the world, blessed, lucky and proud of myself for having caught the cancer long before it had grown into something far more severe. I was excited now knowing I could meet with my oncologist back home and officially start preparing my treatment plan. It was a very long and exhausting day but so worth it after the great news I had just received…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

Fast forward to June 6th 2014…

It’s a gorgeous day outside so I’m stepping away from my desk and heading over to the local Botanical Garden to take in some fresh air. It’s the perfect place to meditate and reunite with nature. Then, later this evening I will be going to the observatory to look at the stars. This is my first time going so I’m super excited!! I realize this makes me a bit of a nerd but, I’m okay with that. After all, the whole purpose of me surviving breast cancer wasn’t to just sit back and watch life pass me by. It’s about me making the most of every experience. 🙂 Wishing all my readers an amazing weekend!!

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂