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 πŸ™‚

My oncology team…

I was excited to finally be meeting the team of oncologists that would be overseeing my health. To me, it was a symbol of moving forward. Now, more questions would be answered and with that came a better idea of what my future would be like. My first appointment was with the oncologist. I remember walking into the office that morning and feeling overwhelmed with emotions.

Even though I had already completed my surgery, it wasn’t till I was in a room full a patients all being treated for cancer related issues, that it really hit me. We were all cancer patients. I recall being handed the stack of paperwork to fill out regarding my demographics, insurance, personal and family history. Somewhere in the world there must be one less tree that would have had my name on it as I’m convinced it must have taken the whole tree to make my packet alone.

I began filling out the paperwork and within minutes was called back into a small office. “Already?”, I thought to myself. The young lady asked me to sit in a chair located next to her desk and she began to verify my insurance and demographic information. She also asked me what pharmacy I preferred and made sure to save it in my file. Once we finished the verification process, I was asked to pay my portion of the consultation with the physician. I felt a little strange already paying for a service I hadn’t received but, I did so anyway and after receiving my receipt, I was directed back into the waiting room.

It didn’t take to long before a young man called me into the back room. At this point, the entire waiting room was full and the phones were ringing nonstop. I followed the young man down the hall where we made our way into a room with several recliner like chairs lined up next to each other. I was asked to sit in the very first chair. This room was designated as their laboratory/draw station.

The phlebotomist drew some blood which thankfully was painless. I watched as he processed my lab order and placed a label with my name on each tube. He worked so quickly and gracefully. Once he finished, he turned to me, smiled, and asked me to follow him again. Still with the stack of paperwork in my hands, I followed him into an exam room just down the hall. Here, he asked me to wait patiently for the doctor.

As I waited I finished filling out my paper work. The office was cold but well lit and surprisingly felt full of life. A gentleman knocked on the door, came in, and introduced himself as the physician assistant. He reviewed the records that had been sent to the office as well as provided me with his thoughts on my recovery and treatment plan. He explained himself very well and asked if I had any questions for him at that time. My mind was still processing some thoughts in that moment so I said no. After acknowledging my response he excused himself and returned with my physician.

My new oncologist was a complete joy. I was impressed with his attention to detail, patience while explaining my condition to me, and his ability to talk to me as a real person. When he spoke to me, he genuinely took the time to get to know Elizabeth, the athlete, and not just Elizabeth, the cancer patient. In our conversation I learned that he too was a triathlete and instantly we had formed a bond. He understood my need to get back into my athletic routine which for so long had been very important to me.

This was already an amazing start to our doctor/patient relationship. I remember him taking off the wristband he was wearing and handing it to me. He joked, expressing the wristband hadn’t helped him win any races and that maybe it would bring me better luck. I was touched by the gesture and accepted the gift. The wristband read, ” The power of positive thinking”. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate reminder.

After a small physical examination of the surgical site, he reviewed my records. In summary, his recommendation was for me to establish with the radiation oncologist to discuss radiation treatments, schedule an appointment with my gynecologist to further evaluate the area of concern in my pelvis, and to schedule an appointment with Moffitt for a second opinion on the 1 lymph node positive for a single cluster of individual tumor cells.

I immediately asked if he thought this meant I would need chemotherapy but, he assured me that his recommendation for me to go to Moffitt for a second opinion was not because he thought my condition was worse than I had imagined. Instead, it was him wanting to cross all his “t’s” and dot all of his “i’s” before starting any form of treatment I may or may not have needed.

This was comforting and once again I was filled with peace. All in all, this appointment was full of good news and I was extremely pleased with the doctor and other healthcare professionals that were now involved with my care. I felt safe and understood, two of the most important things a cancer patient could ever feel…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

*** Note to reader ***

You can view the wristband given to me during the appointment in my photos tab. πŸ™‚

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.Β 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?Β 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 πŸ™‚

 

*** Note to reader ***

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!! See you again Monday! πŸ™‚

 

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! πŸ™‚

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.Β 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 πŸ™‚

*** Note to reader ***

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

Is it already over with…

My eyes began to open slowly, one at a time as they tried to adjust to the lighting in the white ceiling above me. I moved my head from side to side and thought to myself, “where am I”? It took another moment before I realized that my surgery was complete and I was in the recovery room. After a few more minutes of looking around at my surroundings, a nurse came over to my bedside and told me that during my surgery there were no complications and that everything had turned out well. I pondered a moment over what she had told me and smiled. It was music to my ears.

Once I no longer felt nauseas the nurse stood me up and transferred me into a chair. My family was then given permission to come in and see me. I was still pretty woozy but it was so nice to see them again. It appeared as if they had been there all night, due to the tired look on their faces, yet to me it felt as if I had taken a short nap. I engaged in a little chit chat but became nauseas again and above all I was starving. I hadn’t eaten all day and it was already late in the evening. The nurse suggested I chew on some ice chips and sip on some sprite but after begging just a bit longer she gave into my request and allowed me to eat some crackers.

I was so happy to be done with my surgery. It was the symbol of my starting with a clean slate. I understood there was still a long road ahead but, in that moment I felt that I had jumped my tallest hurdle. The nurse began to give me instructions on my post operative care but, after a while all I wanted to do was go home. Once she finished, she handed me the packet of instructions she had just gone over. I then said my goodbyes to all of the amazing nurses and people who took care of me and we were on our way home.

We arrived at the house pretty late from what I could recall and we were all exhausted after such a long day. When I finally got to my room I laid down with the intention of watching a little tv but, as soon as my head hit the pillow it was good night and sweet dreams…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

*** Note to reader ***

Here is a short post-op video I thought I’d share with you all. It was taken in the recovery room by my family. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

Elizabeth here checking in for surgery…

The day of my surgery had finally arrived. There were still so many questions to be answered but, the one thing I knew for certain is that I was going to leave home that morning with a cancerous tumor and come back without it.

My mom and my partner accompanied me to have my lymphoscintigraphy scan done prior to checking in at the hospital. I’d say I was pretty calm when we arrived but, once they called my name, I began to recall the steps of the procedure and became very nervous. It would be similar to the biopsy I had done only there were more injections and they didn’t really contain a numbing agent. I felt every single one. The worse one was the one right by my nipple. I’m glad I was strapped down because I might have knocked the technician and doctor out with just one swing!

The injections did finally came to an end and with my partner by my side the scans began. My mom was later brought in as well and it wasn’t long before they both just sat there laughing. I finally asked, “why are you laughing?”, and they both replied, “we’ve never seen someone go through something like this and yet have so much to talk about. You won’t stop talking.” I admit I’m a bit of a chatter box but, that day I was non stop like the energizer bunny. I suppose my nerves had gotten to me and instead of crying I was talking to anyone who would listen. Personally I think they enjoyed the entertainment as a lack of humor would have made the whole experience very boring.

It didn’t take to much longer before the scans were done and I was on my way to the hospital. My stepdad worked in the OR so he was already there. My dad had come straight from work and arrived moments before I did. The gang was all here and now we just had to wait for my name to be called.

We weren’t in the waiting room long before someone arrived to get me. I was so nervous that to tell you the truth I couldn’t even remember if it was a male or female. In that moment all that was running through my mind was, “when will I see my family again? Will it be before or after surgery?” It was such a quick goodbye. Fortunately, I was brought into a private room and only minutes later a nurse was already in there giving me my gown with matching socks and a bag for my belongings. She informed me that once I had changed and she had prepped my IV along with a few other things she had to do, my family would be allowed to come in.

With that being said, I changed as quickly as I could and once she was done my family was brought into my room. It was great to see them again. Even my boss stopped in to see how I was doing. Of course this later became the joke of the century. You see, I was completely calm before my boss showed up but thanks to today’s technology, everyone was alerted of my increased heart rate when he walked in the room.Β How embarrassing! It’s not that I had a crush on him, it was more the respect I have for him as a doctor. My partner refers to it as a professional crush and says it’s completely normal when you look up to someone so much. Nevertheless, it was still something I was teased about for months to come.

I had so many loving people around me and it was extremely comforting. The surgery was delayed by several hours and within that time there were videos made, pictures taken, jokes told and a whole lot of silliness going on. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. As they rolled me away on my bed I waived and gave them all a big smile. I dare to say in that moment I was even excited. Till this day I can’t figure out exactly why but, I can tell you it was short lived.

There I was, being transferred from one bed to the next and strapped down to the surgery table. The lights were shining so bright and the room was so cold. I was so nervous and it was then, while talking to one of the sweetest nurses I now have the pleasure of knowing, that I broke down into tears. It was as if all of the built up fear was pouring out of me all at once. She did her best to calm me down by reminding me that I was in good hands and that she had made a promise to my step dad to take good care of me.Β Between breathes I tried finding comfort in those words as they placed a mask over my mouth but, before I knew it, the anesthesia had kicked in and I was fast asleep…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

**** Note to reader ****

I’ve attached a short video clip of me taken prior to my surgery. It will give you a good idea of what my nervous chatter and building an image of fearlessness looked like. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

The importance of a good support system…

I thought I could handle it all. In fact, my main focus at the beginning of my journey was how I was going to balance having cancer with keeping a positive outlook around my loved ones. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry or to think I was weak and feeling bad for myself. It’s not that I didn’t accept this gift and find in it the opportunity for greatness. It was just that even though my mind was able to understand that logic, there was also the other side of me that was to proud to admit that I was in pain, confused, fearful and uncertain.

So many of the answers I had received still felt so vague. I didn’t know what my life would be like after surgery and what my treatments would consist of. There were still talks of other tests and possibly more surgeries after the one I was already scheduled for and it just made my mind wander. I researched as mush as I could and listed out the many scenarios but it got to a point that it all just consumed me. It was all I could think of and the things that once kept me sane were no longer apart of my daily routine. I was no longer running or training for any event. I thought to myself, “what’s the point of training when I don’t know what’s going to happen next?”

That was the second worse thing I could have done. Not only was I isolating myself while trying to build this image of strength, I was also keeping myself from doing the things I loved and that kept my mind and body balanced. With only a few days left before my surgery, I realized that I needed to embrace my support system. I had so many people who loved me and wanted to help in anyway they could. I needed to let them in and also learn to let go of that control I was still longing for. That’s one of the most important things my journey has taught me.

It’s okay to accept help from others. It is in no way a sign of weakness. Instead, it taught me to be humble. You can’t always go around life thinking you can handle everything it throws your way. Sometimes it requires assistance from those around you to get the job done. I reached out to my mom and partner for the most help but humbly accepted help from others as well.

From day one I kept everything in order. I had a copy of every test result, office visit, payment made, everything! I kept it all organized in a binder and to be honest, that too kept me sane. All of that organization was me still having a little control over a situation I had no control of. This was also a huge help to those closes to me. They would have all my contacts and appointments at the palm of their hand and the ability to answer any questions necessary without my needing to be there. I was letting them in and you know what? It felt amazing to know I could do that. To know I had such a strong support system backing me up and with me every step of the way…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

See you Monday for surgery! πŸ™‚

 

It’s really happening…

The following day on my way to my PET/CT scan I was thinking about all of the things I needed to address prior to my being off for surgery. I would be away from work for 2 weeks and home bound for at least the first week. Then, moments before arriving at my destination I had a flashback of what had occurred only weeks before. It all sunk in within those few moments. I had put in my notice at work and had planned to leave at the end of December. We had even found a replacement. How could I move away from my doctors and what was I going to do about my insurance? More than ever I needed to be certain I was insured at all times. There was already so much on my plate. I didn’t need something else to worry about.

I called my mom to express my concerns in hopes of some helpful advice but instead I got something better. It was like my angels were telling me to relax and that everything was going to be okay. My boss of 11+ years and his wife had already spoken to my mother. They told her that my job was secure until I was finished with my journey. I couldn’t believe my ears!! The support I had all around was overwhelming. I never realized how much I meant to so many. They had even spoken to the young lady we found for my position and she was willing to wait and sending me prayers for a speedy recovery. It was like a ton of bricks were lifted off my shoulders and once again I was able to focus.

I entered the facility and signed in. It was early and it didn’t seem very busy. After a short wait the technician whisked me away into another one of those fancy closets with the designer blouses I had mentioned in my prior posts. I was becoming more and more familiar with this luxurious lifestyle. When I finished changing I was brought into a room filled with several recliner like chairs divided by privacy partitions. As I sat in the back room waiting for the technician to inject me with my radiation cocktail, I watched as the other patients were directed to their seats. It was starting to get full but, my cocktail did eventually arrive and it was administered intravenously.Β After an hour of relaxing and going through the many possible outcomes of my results the scan was performed and I was on my way to my pre-op appointment.

At the hospital, I went from one waiting room to the next before sitting down with the nurse to go over my preoperative instructions. She drew some more blood and asked a number of questions. Then she handed me an antimicrobial body wash. She explained I had to use this on the day of surgery and the day prior. It didn’t smell pretty but I smiled, thanked her and was on my way. I hadn’t eaten all morning and I was starving. I headed to a near by bagel place and there I spent a little time organizing all of my thoughts and paperwork.

This was really happening. In just a few days I was going to be having surgery. Most importantly, I had to face another challenge. I had to tell the people closes to me. I chose since the beginning to tell no one until I knew for certain what my diagnoses was but, then everything started to unfold so quickly. I could no longer hide it from them. How could I explain my 2 weeks of inactivity? I was always off doing a race or training and I had only told a hand full of people prior to my diagnoses. It wasn’t easy for me to announce I had cancer. Who wants to be the one to say, ” Hi there, I know you have a lot going on but hey, I have cancer.” I didn’t want to be a Debbie downer. I liked delivering good news, not dropping that kind of load on someone. Regardless, now was the time to start explaining what was happening to those around me.

It was hard to talk about it because the approach many had was, “Maybe they are wrong, these kinds of things have happened to others before”. I didn’t want people to be sad or feel bad for me but at the same time I didn’t want to be filled with false hope. I knew my doctors weren’t wrong. I also knew what my body was telling me. It was an emotional roller coaster but in the end it created an even larger support system and that was a true blessing. I just had to learn that everyone’s reactions were different and I couldn’t take it personal.Β Some were upset they didn’t know sooner, others were there supporting me every step of the way with prayers and words of encouragement.

All in all I had an overwhelmingly positive response. It felt great to start sharing my journey and having so many people to talk to about it. It kept me strong and I am eternally grateful for those amazing people in my life. Near and far, you are all apart of my journey and I couldn’t have made it this far without you…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

 

Road trip!

Heading to beautiful Naples this weekend to visit family. It’s gorgeous out and if I’m lucky I might even make it to the beach while I’m there. πŸ™‚ Rest assure however that you will have the continuation of my personal journey waiting for you Monday morning as my story has only begun.

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth πŸ™‚Β