There are signs everywhere…

12238065_449477678577635_426028636529326597_oLong ago I read a quote by Melody Beattie that said…

“Remember the words you were told when this last adventure began, the words whispered quietly to your heart: Let the journey unfold. Let it be magical. The way has been prepared. People will be expecting you. Yes, you are being led.”

This resonated with me on so many levels. First, when I realized after being diagnosed with cancer that I wasn’t alone, and that those who came before me, had placed in my path an abundance of tools to help educate and guide me through the process.

I came back to this quote recently and the words, “let the journey unfold”, now made even more sense, when I took a leap of faith and started my nonprofit Gift With A Pink Ribbon, Inc. Everything I had gone through in my journey, and even in my new career, were tools to prepare me for my new venture.

Have you ever asked yourself, “why am I here” or “why am I going through this journey”?

I encourage you to “let the journey unfold”, by trusting the process and experiencing what may come of it. Sometimes the mere process of what you are going through, is preparation for something greater than you could have ever imagined. Embrace it, and with “the words whispered quietly to your heart”manifest in your life what you are most passionate about.

 

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth ❤

 

You can find Melody Beattie’s, Journey to the Heart, on Amazon by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! 🙂

 

 

Decisions, Decisions…

Before I talk about what is currently happening, it’s important that I bring you  up to speed with what has occurred over the last month. I’ve provided a brief summary below for your reading pleasure. 😉

  • I was informed in February that my AST and ALT exam (commonly referred to as liver function test) returned with abnormally high readings. I was then asked to stop my medications temporarily, to give my liver time to recover from the side effects of the injections and oral medication I was taking.
  • I also had  a CT scan of the abdomen, full body PET scan and pelvic ultrasound. The recommended MRI I was scheduled for, had to be canceled because of the type of expanders I have had in place since the start of my breast reconstruction. Unfortunately, the MRI will have to wait until after my expanders have been removed.
  • In March, I received news that my AST and ALT bloodwork exam had returned within normal limits. Yay! 🙂
  • During this past month, I had also scheduled my surgery to have the expanders removed, and replaced with my final implants. I’m nervous, but at the same time excited to finally be changing out my expanders, for something I am told is far more comfortable.

As you can see, a lot has happened since my last post, which brings me to present day.

This past week I received a call from my doctors office and essentially, the recommendations based on all that has occurred, are as follows…

  1. Resume my Zoladex* injections, and begin taking the Tamoxifen* I had taken once before prior to my second journey with breast cancer.
  2. Have a hysterectomy*, and as a result, not have to have the injections administered every month.
  3. Not take anything at all, and assume the chance of recurrence.

So what are my thoughts on these options?

Let’s take a closer look…

Option 1

My doctor suggested this option because she felt as though I may have had a recurrence of cancer, as a result of my not having had the Zoladex injections, while being treated with the Tamoxifen. This may be true, which in turn makes it something to consider. The medication has worked for so many of the women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and it could be a way for it to work for me too.

Option 2

This is one I have strongly considered however, my plastic surgeon is not willing to do two surgeries at once since I have had radiation treatment in the past. My risk of infection after the surgery would be much to high for him to even consider the option. Once again, I’m thankful for physicians that tend to play it safe, because I personally didn’t even consider this consequence, when suggesting a 2 in 1 surgery.

With this being the case, I will unfortunately have to wait a year or so for the hysterectomy, because it’s something I would have to plan around my work schedule. After some additional consideration, I think I’d also prefer to close one chapter in my journey, before opening another. Having a complete hysterectomy at this age, with no children, will have it’s own emotional challenges to cope with.

Option3

After realizing that the choice to not take any medications, does not resemble my white flag of surrendering, I began to reflect on my current way of life. The side effects of the injection, as well as what I have experienced with the Tamoxifen in the past, is more than I am currently willing to tolerate. This may be a bit selfish, but it’s been very difficult to deal with daily pain and inflammation, memory loss, severe hot flashes, emotional ups and downs, and to top it all off, a decreased libido at the age of 33!

I did after all experience a recurrence, even though my chances then were said to be slim to none, so why make myself miserable now for something that might not happen, or could still happen even with years of treatment?

And just for the record, I don’t blame my doctors for this recurrence. There truly is no way a physician can ever guarantee that cancer will not return when undergoing treatment, and it would be unfair for me to put that kind of pressure on such an individual. I ultimately consider myself blessed to have such wonderful doctors taking care of me. 🙂

So after what I hoped to be the shorter version of all that’s occurred, this is where I stand today; Confused and very uncertain of the “right” decision to make.

11227564_462241210642353_6687398771114331328_n

The only thing I do know in this moement, is that my gut is telling me to live for today, and to for once stop thinking about the “what if”.

In other words, perhaps no meds for now,  followed by a hysterectomy in the future. At least this way, I can enjoy a better way of life for the time being and than later, decrease the chances of recurrence with the recommended hysterectomy.

That’s all for now, but until then…

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 😉

 

 

 

What are your thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you! Click Here to provide your feedback. 🙂

 

 

Helpful links

 

Information on Zoladex- http://www.drugs.com/zoladex.html

Information on Tamoxifen- http://www.drugs.com/tamoxifen.html

What is a hysterectomy?- http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments_and_procedures/hic_What_You_Need_to_Know_About_Hysterectomy

 

7 Month Treatment Update…

It’s hard to believe at times that it has been almost a year since having a double mastectomy. It’s also been close to 7 full months since I started my monthly Zoladex injections and daily Arimidex oral medication. Where does the time go?

While the journey hasn’t been all bad, I can safely say that I have spent more than 70% of the time struggling with the side effects. The most common side effects were swelling in my upper and lower extremities, major hot flashes, itching and changes of my skin, nausea, joint pain and most definitely mood swings.

I am now fully convinced that every woman going through menopause should be given her own superhero name! LOL 🙂

Lab results
My lab results from 1-22-16. On 7-16-15 my readings were…. AST-24, ALT-27 and LDH-130

It was about a week ago that I got the results of my lab work, which showed that my ALT and AST levels had increased significantly after being on Arimidex for only 6 months. On July 16, 2015, my ALT was at 27, AST at 24 and LDH at 130.

I’ve since stopped the medication while my Oncologist decides what alternate medication to place me on for my continued treatment, and was asked to have a CAT Scan of my abdomen.

 

This brings me to yesterday morning’s barium cocktail. I spent years handing out these bottles of barium to my patients, and it was only yesterday that I finally got a taste of what I was previously serving up.

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I will admit, the taste wasn’t horrible but, if I can make any one recommendation, it would be to chill the barium a bit before drinking it. It reduces the after taste significantly. (Please read storage temps prior to refrigerating, to avoid damaging the barium)

Other than that, the consistency and light flavoring tricks you into thinking you are drinking a smoothie so, bottoms up! 🙂

So what’s next you ask?

Chat before IV prep
A chat before the needle 🙂

 

Well… I arrived early to my 9am appointment and after going through my financial obligations, was escorted to a holding room, where I eventually changed out of my clothes and into more of those top designer hospital gowns I’ve previously sported.

Moments later, a kind gentleman nurse came in to prep my IV for the intravenous contrast that was needed for my CAT Scan. I thank god and all of my angels that watch over me for his skilled hand, as I barely felt the needle stick.

 

IV prep

 

After my IV was prepped, the technician performing my CAT Scan escorted me to the room where my exam would be performed.

 

It didn’t take long at all, thanks to advances in technology. Other than inhaling and holding my breath a few times, there really wasn’t much to it.

 

There is one tiny little detail I’d like to share in the event you have never had one of these tests done before. Once the iodine is administered through your IV during the last part of your scan, you may feel this rush of heat enter your body followed by this terrible sensation of having urinated on yourself. Please know that this feeling is normal. It has happened to me both times I’ve had a Cat Scan done and the feeling lasts for about a minute or so until it starts to fade away.

You may even get a funny taste in your mouth which is also normal. It happens to me even when they flush my IV with saline. Just make sure you drink plenty of water after your test to flush the iodine out of your system. 😉

While I anticipate my results will be just fine, I will know for sure sometime early this week, and will hopefully then find out what new medication I will be taking to continue my treatments.

Until then, I wish you all a Happy Sunday and lots of good health. 😉 ❤

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂

 P.S. Do you have suggestions of medications you’ve tried or want to share your experience? Please email me at elizabethplaza@giftwithapinkribbon.com. I’d love to hear about your experience and/or any recommendations you may have. 🙂

 

 

It’s Video Time- Zoladex Injection #7…

IMG_4432That’s right! This is the segment where I get to share one of my videos with you. 🙂

Click on the link below to see how my Zoladex injections are administered.

In my experience, the injection site stays sore and bruised (the size of a nickel or smaller) for a few days.

After that, I’m back to my good old self again. 😉

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂 ❤

 

To my newly diagnosed reader…

Dear Reader,

Being diagnosed with Cancer is not an easy thing to swallow, and if I could share some words of wisdom I would say, “let yourself be”.

Of course, there are many other important things like taking notes, asking questions and informing yourself of other treatment options available to you. You would be amazed at whats out there. However, please keep in mind that not every treatment option is the right one for you, which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your own research.

Still, for me the hardest part was allowing myself the freedom to openly feel the way I was feeling in that moment without judging myself.

I would understand if your first thought was that this isn’t really relevant to your care however, it’s actually a key component. Not honoring my feelings made me realize the unrealistic goal I had set for myself. I couldn’t accept the urge to cry, feel sorry for myself or even feel anger because in my mind these were signs of weakness and/or being ungrateful. This emotional roller coaster eventually made me feel physically ill.

The truth is, these are all natural emotions, and you having them doesn’t make you less appreciative for the good things you have in your life. I say this because we’ve all heard the good old saying, “it could be worse”. I do feel it’s true and I use the phrase regularly, only now however, I do a better job of acknowledging that I am also human and am allowed to have a bad day here and there, as long as I also do my best to acknowledge the good that has come from my journey with breast cancer.

My “gift with a pink ribbon” taught me that I am stronger than I had ever imagined. I also believe that this may be gods way of using one of his social butterflies to help others by sharing my story and I am humbled to play such a vital role in bringing awareness.

So with that said, I leave you with this…

Free yourself from your emotional binds and know that it’s okay to feel what you are feeling in this very moment. It will take some time to figure it all out and that’s okay. The important thing is that you embrace each moment as an opportunity to love yourself and who you are in that moment, all judgement aside. This will help you cope with the new challenges that come your way, knowing that you have yourself on your side of the cancer battlefield, instead of working against you.

With all my love,

Elizabeth  P 🙂 ❤

P.S. Sending a special thanks to Cure Forward for encouraging every survivor to share their cancer journey with new patients.

An Exciting Month…

January 2015 has come to an end and we are quickly already approaching the middle of February. Where does the time go?

I don’t know that I’ll ever really find the answer to that question, but I can say I have accomplished a lot since the year started. I wanted to enter 2015 with the same tenacity I had moving into the big city. I was so excited and felt like I could conquer the world!

This small town girl however was in for a surprise. I struggled so much with the cultural differences when I arrived. As the time went by, the aggressiveness of the city was turning me into an overwhelmed mess. Not to mention only recently I had received news of further studies that needed to be done regarding an area in my left breast. Seriously?

I was starting to think of all the bad things that could result from the stress and the ideas that lingered in my mind and they were starting to eat  me up inside.

That’s when I decided to reset my thoughts and focus on the goals I wanted to accomplish, and not on the things I disliked around me.

One of my first goals was to run the Miami Half Marathon I had registered for the previous year. The challenge here was that I hadn’t run since the last one in 2014. In fact, The most I ran the entire year was a distance of 1.25 miles and that occurred less than a handful of times. My work hours had been long, but worse was the way my medications were making me feel. I just didn’t have the energy.

It's time to lace up my sneakers and hit the pavement!  <3 <3 <3
It’s time to lace up my sneakers and hit the pavement!

Nevertheless, I wanted to get back into the game and this race was a special one. I know I’ve said that about many others, but this race was the one I ran while undergoing radiation the year prior. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it than and I could do it now.

The race was a beautiful one as always. I ran the first 6 miles feeling sore but great all at the same time. It was after mile 6 that my body broke down and my emotions were at an all time low. I was starting to break down and so many thoughts were running through my mind. “Why are you putting your body through this torture?”, “You didn’t train and weren’t ready for this.”, “You were so much faster last year, look at all those people running by you.”

You know that saying, “You are your own worst enemy”? It was never more true than in that moment. If I had listened to my thoughts, I would have parked myself on the side line to wait for someone to pick me up and bring me to the finish line.

I Finished!!! 😀

That however was not about to happen my friends! It took a few pep talks but I finished that race with my run/walk combination and it felt amazing!!!! What a great sense of physical accomplishment. 🙂

Could this year get any better???

Yes it can!!!

It was that same week that I was officially turning over my old position as “administrative assistant” and walking into my new one as “assistant property manager” in the building I started working at last September of 2014. This being a completely different career for me felt like the greatest accomplishment. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was able to move up in the company and I was honored to have been given the opportunity to do so.

Yes!!! What an honor. :)
Yes!!! What an honor. 🙂

To make this opportunity even greater, I received news that I had been accepted into the mentorship program I applied for back in October, after working less then 2 months with my company!! I remember reading the beginning of the email and my jaw dropping in excitement. This was such a blessing and was going to be such a great tool to help me grow as an individual in my company. 😀

All of these blessings have helped keep my mind at ease about the uncertainties that have previously cluttered my mind. Most importantly, I learned that all I have is “Now”. I need to “seize the moment” as they say and make the most of my “now” so that I can get to where I want to be in life.

Planning for the worse has only proven to keep me from doing the things I really want to. It made me less adventurous and taught me to always play it safe. Life isn’t always about walking the straight and narrow though. You’ve got to allow yourself to be creative and follow your heart. It may not always make sense but if you want it, you’ve got to reach out for it. Not matter the diagnoses or the obstacles.

So to all of you out there who think you can’t do it, I have a message for you…

If it’s in your heart, you can do it. 😉

Stay tuned…

Elizabeth 🙂

Fairy Falls & Crystal Lake

After our first group meeting, we headed out for our first hike. Our destination, Fairy Falls, was not very far from the bed and breakfast. Once we arrived, we each took the opportunity to enter the fall, giving ourselves a fresh new start to our individual journeys. I remember slowly making my way to the water and freezing up the moment I took my first step in. The water was colder than any water I’ve ever felt. My first instinct was to run and reject the cold water like I normally would. Then, someone said, “come on, who’s going to be the first girl to enter the fall”?

That’s when the insane competitive side kicked in and said, “come on, be brave, you can do it!!” I guess, having a slight competitive edge paid off this time because it was just what I needed to drum up the courage to walk right into the fall and lose myself in the moment. It was so cold and I could barely stop shaking enough to keep myself standing. I remember screaming “Mahalo”, like those before me, and feeling an instant surge of energy run through my body. It was as if my body had finally woken up from the stagnant stage it had been in for so long.

One by one, others followed, as those who had already entered cheered them on. We then found a spot of our own along the stream to enjoy our surroundings. It was beautiful and peaceful. You could hear the wind blowing through the trees, the water from the fall and it flowing down the stream, and the birds singing songs of joy. Though I suppose in their own language they could have very well been asking each other who’s bringing what to the next family gathering. Lol

A quick selfie after an invigorating dip in Fairy Falls :)
A quick selfie after an invigorating dip in Fairy Falls 🙂

The following day after gathering again as a group, we carpooled up to Crystal Lake. It was a short hike to the lake, and the spectacular area where we all enjoyed lunch together while soaking up the nature around us. I felt so lucky to be living that moment. To often, I have a million things running through my head and a to do list, like many, that never ends. There, the only thing I had “to do” is enjoy that moment.

After a group meditation and healing exercise, we made our way to the lake for a refreshing swim. Now, when I say refreshing, I mean it was really cold. Granted, I’m a Florida girl who has been guilty on many occasions of complaining about the beach water being cold where I live, but this really was cold! For me at least. I promise not to complain about my beach again. All in all though, it was very nice, and I had yet another chance to do something I normally wouldn’t have done.

On our way back to the B&B, I received a call that completely made up for the cold water I had jumped in. While at the falls the day prior, I had asked god to please continue to provide me with opportunities for growth and to help me find balance in my career. I was spending so much time on the road, and I wished nothing more than to be closer to home. If only I could move the office closer to me, right? Well that call was just one of the few gifts this journey and god had provided me with. I was offered a job in the city, about 15 mins away from home, making much more than I was currently making, and with many additional benefits. It was the package I had been looking for when I had previously interviewed for the company. At the time the position hadn’t been available, and out of no where, BOOM, there it was!

Never in my life had I done such a crazy thing, but I accepted. In that moment, I couldn’t believe the opportunity I was presented with. I also had no idea how I was going to inform my current employer of the life changing decision I had just made. I had always pride myself in being loyal to my employer, and here I was deciding to leave after only 2 weeks. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity though, and I had to follow my intuition.

I spent the rest of my afternoon thinking of what I would say to my boss. Was I going to tell her by phone? Would I wait till I got back? The new executive administrative position I had accepted was ready for me to start as soon as I got back home. I felt however that I still needed to provide some sort of notice and I wanted to do so as soon as possible, even if it meant doing it by phone. We had a 3 hour time difference and I had reached my room late that evening. The call would have to wait till the following day…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

2 weeks completed, now it’s time for another amazing vacation ;) …

It was only about 2 weeks ago, that I was blogging about how my first week at my new job going. Since then, so much has occurred. My first 2 weeks at the gynecology office had gone really well. My coworkers were great and it felt amazing to be in the workforce again. However, traveling was proving to be a little tougher than I had anticipated it would be. I was finding myself spending anywhere from 2-3 hours of my day, driving to and from work. I didn’t think it would be such an issue considering I had traveled long distances before for work, but it was really starting to wear me down. Luckily, I had planned a vacation prior to starting my new job and it would serve as a good break for me to recuperate.

It was August 16th, when we hopped on a plan heading to San Francisco, California. I was super excited to embark on another new journey. This time I was doing a spiritual retreat in Mount Shasta. I honestly didn’t think much of it at first. I just knew we would be hiking, meditating, and doing some yoga. That alone was a great vacation in my book.

Our flight from Ft Lauderdale, Florida to San Francisco, California was 6 hours long, and Mount Shasta was a good 5 hours away from San Francisco.

And we've arrived to San Francisco!! :D
And we’ve arrived to San Francisco!! 😀
Time to hit the road and make our way to Mt Shasta :)
Time to hit the road and make our way to Mt Shasta 🙂

For the record, I would recommend arriving in Sacramento or Redding, California instead. It will easily cut the drive time in half. If you don’t have that option, plan to stay the night in San Francisco and drive up the next morning. You’ll be happy you did.

Upon arriving at the lovely Mt Shasta Bed & Breakfast, we checked in, I placed my bags on the room floor and passed out like a baby after a heavy meal.

The next day, I showered up and made my way to the dining room where breakfast was served daily to all of the house guests. There, we slowly began to meet some of the individuals that were also partaking in the spiritual retreat. They were all very sweet and pleasant to talk with. Each with a unique background and wealth of information. As much as I enjoy being a social butterfly and talking to others, I found myself happily listening to each conversation, eager to learn more about the people I would be spending the next 7 days with.

Later that morning, we explored the town a bit and decided to rent some mountain bikes. The sun was out and there was a cool breeze in the air. With the view of the beautiful mountains surrounding us, it was hard to deny myself the desire to ride again. We mounted our bikes and cruised through the city and eventually made our way to lake siskiyou. It was so beautiful to see a big lake surrounded by such a majestic mountain. When I took a closer look, I could see the locals swimming and canoeing, while others played fetch with theirs dogs. In that moment, I began to feel grounded again. The fast pace of the city was drowned out by the nature all around me. I could have stayed there all day, only we had to return the bikes to the store and make our way back to the bed & breakfast for our first group meeting.

Lake Siskiyou :)
Lake Siskiyou 🙂
Me+My bike+lake siskiyou= awesomeness!!! :D
Me+My bike+lake siskiyou= awesomeness!!! 😀

Andrew, our group leader, and his partner in crime Lauren, welcomed us and gathered us into a circle. One by one, we were asked to introduce ourselves and express to the group why we were there. In other words, what did we expect to get from the retreat. I was honestly looking forward to some time off. However, when it was my turn to speak, the most natural explanation to leave my mouth was, “Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve wanted to stress less about the little things in life and focus more on living my life and my true purpose”. I can’t recall if I worded it just so, but it’s pretty close to what I remember saying. I don’t even know where the words came from. I hadn’t met any of these people before, and here I was, sharing such a personal experience without flinching a muscle. I have blogged about it, yes, but never have I spoken to such a large group of people about it. In that moment I knew that this “vacation” was going to provide me with more than just time to meditate, hike, and do yoga. I was going to continue my growth in a way I had been longing to for some time and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂