Coming together as a community…

Good morning everyone! I have a huge favor to ask of you all. Someone I hold very near and dear to my heart has been asked to have a biopsy done, after finding a mass on her mammogram and ultrasound results. Would you please include her in your thoughts and prayers?

My wish for her is that the results come back negative, and that this simply be an opportunity for us to come together again as a community, to support one another just like you’ve all supported me. Her name is Josefina. Thank you so much and I wish you all a very blessed day.

With endless gratitude,
Elizabeth 🙂

Another milestone…

The day has finally come!

I’m officially on my way to Naples this morning to follow up with both of my oncologist’s, and to have my first follow up mammogram and ultrasound since the completion of my radiation treatment.

Though I feel all will turn out okay, I can’t ignore the small part of me that is very nervous and anxious to know my results.

I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on my outcome…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

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 ***

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

 

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 🙂

 

 

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 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 🙂

*** Note to reader ***

You can view the wristband given to me during the appointment in my photos tab. 🙂

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! 🙂