Past vs Present…

It’s been a little over a week since I started my new job, and although it’s made me happy to be working again, it has truly been something difficult to adjust to. I wasn’t prepared to physically feel the way I do and needless to say it has affected me emotionally as well.

I spend every day reminding myself of all the challenges I’ve overcome since being diagnosed with breast cancer, but once again have found myself saddened by my levels of exhaustion, resulting from my medications. I keep getting flashbacks of the girl that used to go on long training runs after a hectic day at work, and how refreshed I felt after running an easy 5-6 miles. It’s hard to believe that was ever me when the thought alone feels so foreign.

I have blogged about my experience in hopes of helping someone else cope with there own journey, but I would really love to hear from anyone willing to share their story, and what has helped them get through their challenges as well.

The truth is, there are many emotional ups and downs that come with a cancer diagnose, and I have personally realized that it never really ends. The damage is done, and you just have to learn to work around it and make yourself a stronger person in the process, in order to really move on. You just can’t reflect so much on what was. Instead, I continue to try and find peace in thinking about what will become of the new me…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

Paws & Recovery…

There are moments when no amount of words could ever express the way you feel. This was often an issue for me while going through my journey. In fact, many of those moments lead to frustration. I would often find myself creating distance from everyone so that I wouldn’t even have to make an attempt to explain what it was I was feeling. I just needed my emotions to run their course in hopes of finding the answers later.

There is one little guy however that I found comfort spending my time with. He wouldn’t try to hard to make me happy, or ask me to break down in detail why I felt the way I did emotionally. Well to be honest, it’s because he couldn’t speak. That however, shouldn’t take away from the importance he’s played in my journey.

The little guy I’m referring to is my toy Chihuahua Chico. “Agh”, you must have thought out loud. “Now I get why he couldn’t speak”. Though I must say, if he did, that would certainly have been a very interesting topic to be blogging about. 🙂

Because of Chico, I now realize how much better my recovery had been. What do pets have to do with recovery? Well, in the midst of all the craziness that occurred in my life once I was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was only one thing that kept me focused on “the now” and provided me with the non-stop “unconditional love” I needed. That one thing was my little boy Chico. He’s been the perfect therapy for me. He made me laugh with the silly things he did and kept me warm when I just needed to be comforted.

I’ve had Chico for 6 years now and consider myself lucky to have had him. For those who don’t already have a 4 legged child at home, I highly recommend it. You do need to be sure however, that you can make time for them, give them a good and safe home, and have the financial ability to take care of them. A great option is to adopt. I know its cute to have a little puppy, but there are 2 very big advantages of adopting an older dog.

#1. They have often times already been potty trained. You’d be surprised how time consuming all of that can be.

#2. The most important advantage point, you are providing a great home for your new addition.

As the time passes you will both become inseparable, the best of friends, and have helped each other live a more fulfilling life. There is truly no greater gift. If adoption isn’t something you can commit to, you can always visit or volunteer at a pet shelter if your health permits. This works well for anyone unable to take on the responsibility of a pet, and you will find that it still helps you emotionally as well as the pets you interact with. Visiting a friend who has a pet can also do wonders.

Regardless of your decision, I give K9 therapy a two thumbs up. I know I couldn’t have done it without my little guy…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

The End of an Amazing Vacation…

That night, after visiting Machu Picchu, we explored the city for the last time before heading back to Cusco the next morning.

Enjoying every moment spent in the city of Machu Picchu. :D
Enjoying every moment spent in the city of Machu Picchu. 😀

The following morning we took the train back to Cusco and settled into our hotel.

Arriving back into Cusco...
Arriving back into Cusco…

The next two days in Cusco were spent exploring the main square and visiting nearby ruins, such as the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. This was also the perfect time to break away from all of the touristy restaurants and eat like the locals. There is nothing worse than visiting a place and not experiencing the culture. The food was absolutely amazing! It was fresh and cooked to perfection. We even tried Alpaca while we were out there, and to my surprise, it was delicious! (I apologize in advance for any vegans reading this post)

Asked the locals where they liked to eat and got some great recommendations. The food was delicious! :)
Asked the locals where they liked to eat and got some great recommendations. The food was delicious! 🙂

Since we were there for Palm Sunday, we were able to visit the cathedral for their mass. It was beautiful, and the largest I had ever seen. Certainly a great way to end the trip. After leaving Cusco and arriving in Lima, we spent a little time on a guided tour, exploring the city before it was time to board the plane again. We stopped to eat at a place called Tanta Tanta. The food was delicious and although it was dark out, there was a nice view.

On our way back home I spent some time thinking about our entire vacation. I felt as though the trip had changed me somehow. It had opened up a new world of possibilities and fed my desire to travel and learn more. It also made me realize that I needed to stop living my life behind the scenes, or how others thought I should live my life, and I needed to share my experience with others. Not my vacation, but my journey. Everything I had gone through and all that I was to become. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew I was going to find a way…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

Results are in…

Good evening everyone!

I’m happy to report that the results of my first check up since surgery and the completion of my radiation treatment are in and I’m clear!

Thank you all again for your prayers and words of encouragement. I really appreciate all of you. 🙂

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

Photos and details to follow…

Saying goodbye…

It was officially my last day at work and time to say goodbye to the people I had worked with for over 11 years. I was excited to be starting a new life on the other coast, but I was also sad to be leaving everyone behind. My coworkers had become my family and my best friends.

These were the people that watched me grow into the person I am today, and taught me so much along the way. To be honest with you, even through the tough times, this was the kind of place people only dreamed of working in. My boss is the kind of doctor that works “for the people” and not “for the dollar”. Yes, we all know it’s a business but, he taught me to be compassionate towards my patients, and by example taught me, that without a good patient/doctor relationship there is no business.

As I cut my cake and we shared a few laughs, I remember reflecting back on my experiences and with a smile on my face thinking, “These people will always hold a special place in my heart”.

Goodbye to my life here in beautiful Naples, FL. It was now time to head on over to the place I would now call home. A place full of new opportunities and adventures to come, Miami, FL.

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

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 🙂

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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

 

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 🙂

The start of my emotional roller coaster….

I was successfully reaching my physical goals during my recovery but, emotionally I was riding the most intense roller coaster of my life. The kind that made your stomach tie itself in knots and could make you lose your lunch. Since the beginning of my journey I tried to keep a very positive outlook. I refused to say things like “I’m going to win my battle against breast cancer” or even refer to it as the “fight against breast cancer”. Why? Well, it all starts with the “law of attraction.”

My partner and I were so turned off by the amount of negativity in words like “fight” and “battle”, that we agreed to use less aggressive words. For example, instead of “my battle with breast cancer”, we refer to it as “my journey with breast cancer”. Did you notice the difference? One almost instinctively sends you into “defense mode” where as the other places you into a sort of “daydream” as I like to call it.

A journey is often times associated with something positive so your mind begins to create happier thoughts allowing you to question the good that can come of your current situation. For a while this really worked for me because I was genuinely ready to explore what this gift was trying to teach me. However, even the most positive people can hit extreme lows. That’s what began happening only days after my surgery. I was motivated to set physical goals but emotionally I had become angry and resentful.

Why me? I’m a good person. I even began to question god himself. With so many bad people out there, why did he choose me? I have never be one to wish anything bad on someone else but I was just desperately trying to find logic in something that I couldn’t understand. I felt like such a terrible person. How could I question god and his plan for me? Why couldn’t I just be happy that I was given another chance and continue to see it as the gift it was? I realize now I was chosen because of my strength but none of that made sense then. I was fearful of the unknown and I felt tainted. I was marked by this disease and I would forever be known as the girl with cancer. I felt like somehow I had lost my identity.

I had so much time to think in those two weeks and all I was doing was feeling bad for myself. At times I would even cry myself to sleep. I was so scared of the cancer still being there after surgery or the possibility of it coming back. My mind was playing dirty tricks on me and making me sick to my stomach. I had reached a new level of weakness and vulnerability. A side of me I never wanted to encounter. I wanted so badly to set a positive example and resemble a woman full of courage and strength but the truth is, I was a frightened little girl drowning in my own fears.

I remember asking god to please help me find my purpose in this journey and apologizing for my ungrateful behavior. There were people losing there lives because of cancer and here I was complaining I ever had it, even after a successful surgery that had removed it from my body. “I’m such a horrible person”, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe how selfish I was acting and how much I couldn’t control those emotions. I think back to that moment and realize now that the emotional roller coaster I was on was normal and all part of the journey but, in that moment, all I could do was write and pray that I would one day regain my sanity and again feel like the Elizabeth I once was…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

 

*** Note to reader ***

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!! See you again Monday! 🙂

 

My 2 weeks of recovery…

I woke up the following day after surgery feeling like a train wreck. I wasn’t in extreme pain but I was exhausted and still drowsy from my medications. I was actually able to get around pretty well. I’d say the only surprise I had that day was the blue urine I had as a result of a dye called Lymphazurin used during my surgery to help locate my sentinel node. I was a smurf for the day, no problem! 🙂

All was going well until a few days after surgery when I finally made the decision to stop my pain medications. I couldn’t take it anymore. They were making me nauseas, constipated, bloated and I was gaining a substantial amount of weight. Within just a few days I had gained about 10lbs. I felt horrible and it had nothing to do with vanity. I just felt like I was accumulating everything and releasing nothing resulting in my body feeling like a toxic dump. It took several days before my body began to regulate itself and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable but, the pain I felt from not taking my medications was well worth feeling more like myself again.

My surgeon called me within the first week to see how I was feeling and to report his findings. I explained what I had been going through and he reassured me it was normal. Till this day I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better surgeon. He kept me informed of his thoughts every step of the way and it made me feel like I too had a say in what was happening. That’s a big deal to anyone let alone an ex control freak like myself. I wanted to be involved in everything no matter how big or small it seemed to anyone else. It was my body and I had the right to know what was going to happen to it.

He made mentioned that after the biopsy of my sentinel node they observed the cells carefully to see if the cancer had spread and, to his surprise he found 1 lymph node positive for a single cluster (5-6 cells) of individual tumor cells. Since it was such a small count he removed only a few lymph nodes but needless to say it was something to consider when I sat down with my oncologist to discuss my treatment plan.

You can only imagine how I translated this in my head. “Why is he so calm? I was told the cancer was incapsulated. If it was, how did any of it, even the tiniest bit, spread to the lymph nodes? Wouldn’t it have been better to just remove them all?” I was scared and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t understand how that wasn’t a big deal. My surgeon reassured me and helped put me at ease.

I later received a separate phone call with the news about my PET/CT scan. There was an area of concern in my right pelvis. “What?” I began to have flashbacks of the times my gynecologist suggested I have an ultrasound to keep an eye on the cysts I was developing. Prior to surgery we had talked about the correlation between breast cancer and cervical or ovarian cancer but, I wanted to believe that since I found my breast cancer on time, it wouldn’t have had the chance to spread elsewhere. However, regardless of what I thought, we had to be certain so I was scheduled for a CT scan immediately.

My family and closes friends were concerned. I hadn’t even finished recovering from my surgery and they weren’t sure if I could handle this or even be up to doing more tests. In all honesty, I wasn’t. I was afraid to know that I could have been wrong and that the cancer may have spread. That would have been the second thing I let go by. How could I live with myself? Than again, how could I live with myself now delaying something so important? If indeed there was cancer, waiting wasn’t going to change that and could potentially make it worse.

I wasn’t cleared to drive yet and since my mom and I worked in the same office we weren’t able to be off at the same time. This again was the perfect example of the importance of a solid support system. Without any hesitation my bosses wife told me she would be picking me up and accompanying me to my appointment. In fact, when the day came, she even sat in the room with me while I had my scan done to make sure they had me in a comfortable position and that I didn’t feel alone.

Between the many beautiful cards filled with words of love, prayer and encouragement, the beautiful bouquets of flowers and edible arrangements and the occasional house visits, I had all of the support anyone could ever wish for. There was still a long journey ahead but I wasn’t going to be alone. I was reminded of that again within those few weeks of recovery and it gave me the strength I needed to continue…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

*** Note to reader ***

Be sure to check out my photos tab to see pictures of me taken during my recover. 🙂