Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Mindful Shmindful

Frankly, this is not an area I ever thought was important or needed for me personally. I thought, bah! I am managing everything just fine and day to day stress is all normal and expected, right? I'm holding it down. I'm a good person. I'm being deliberate and graceful and kind and intentional and present and authentic and all the buzz words that surround positive mental energy.   

I posted a shorter version of my insights today on my IG and FB but it all really got me thinking and I needed to get some more meaty thoughts out about it for my sanity’s sake, so here we go. 

Let’s rewind to yesterday when I had my Integrative Oncology appointment at the Mayo Clinic. Integrative oncology, or integrative medicine, is the use of complementary, or integrative, therapies along with conventional medicine. These therapies work together with standard treatment methods (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) to treat the patient's body, mind, and spirit.  

To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about the idea when my oncologist referred me to have an integrative medicine consult, because really, another appointment, and it's all a little touchy-feely for my taste. But, I am committed to maintaining an open mind and continual learning, so I agreed. I am happy to report that I am very pleased with my experience and grateful for the nudge. 

The doctor made a few adjustments to my supplements but was overall very pleased with my nutrition and physical activity. I was told recently by my oncologist that three hours per week of physical activity is as effective at reducing recurrence as the year-long immunotherapy trial I just wrapped up so that was a big a-ha moment for me. I already get at least eight hours per week, but that news really settled in regardless. She said the only feedback she could really give me was that I needed to give up my foo-foo creamer (✔) and no more plastic water bottles (also ✔). It was good to hear that I’m doing everything I should be doing.

Most importantly, I wanted to share one of the tools that was given to me. I’ve been struggling with non-productive stress (stress about the things I can’t control). It's a lasting gift from cancer along with chemo brain and numb fingers and toes and all the other wonderful things. 

*going to be oversharing and vulnerable here so plug your ears if you don't want to hear it*

My two biggest non-productive stressors:

The vulnerability I feel (and the anger and negative self-talk that comes with it) regarding the changes to my body and how that relates to and  shapes my perception of self, whether that means my overall health, my longevity, my relationships, my reflection as I look in the mirror and see the side-effects of having zero energy for workouts the past two years while in treatment, having nothing left inside or out that medically defines me as a woman when I have always identified as very feminine. Or, my sexuality, desirability, and being emotionally prepared for a meaningful partnership.  I have had post-cancer relationships that have showed a glimmer of hope and for some reason or other have not blossomed into more.  Then sets into motion what I know to be the completely irrational but at the same time understandable, “was it the cancer”, “was it my scars”, “was I too needy/not needy enough”, “it’s because I’m not a ‘complete woman’”, “what is wrong with me”, “what did I do”, and/or the “I am not worthy or loveable” narratives and they can eat me alive.  I feel like pre-cancer relationships were so much clearer on why they were successful or not.  Maybe it is just me but I do know what I deserve. Anyway, I am happy and content for now.

Cancer blew up my connection to my previous self and redefining and reconnecting all the dots is frustrating, and sometimes very devastating, especially when it's shoved down your throat. As confident as I am in myself, I would never talk to anyone else how I talk to myself at times and although I am incredibly intentional about extending grace to myself, it can be an all-out battle. AKA non-productive stress.

Additionally, and most frequently, my fear of recurrence which can absolutely paralyze me. Am I doing enough to prevent it? How would I deal with that? Who would take care of the kids, the dog, who gets what, is my will up to date? A constant barrage of what-if's and rabbit holes. That, and I am terrified of dying and my odds of doing just that before what I feel is “my time” are spoon fed to me almost every day.  Exhausting. AKA non-productive stress.

In a nutshell, my mind is often out of alignment with what my heart and my body feels and ultimately, wants.  I know I am healthy.  I know I am happy.  I know I am beautiful.  I know I am kind.  I know I am thoughtful.  I know I create joy for myself and others.  I know I am funny.  I know I am honest.  I know I contribute value. I know I’m successful.  I know I work hard.  I know I make a difference.  I know and believe all of these things in my mind and yet that very same mind is yelling at me about all this other non-productive stuff.    

Introspectively, I know the things I choose to allow in and create stress for me are the things I cannot control. Because the timeline of my life, since my formative years up until recently, is comprised of more than its fair share of sadness and loss, all of which were things well out of my control, I crave control over all aspects of my life. Which, as you know is a lofty yet impossible goal. I pursue only happiness and joy for myself and the people I love. When shitty things happen that I can't control (like cancer), it's not because it just happened, it's because I failed. That is a heavy burden and letting it go is not as easy as one might think.

Hence, I’ve begun reading Dr. Amit Sood’s book and subscribed to his daily insights and practice (which are based in science and art, and less in the "kumbaya", which is a must for me) to help me develop muscle memory around intentional attention and a resilient mindset. This is a stretch for me as I’ve always been a little, well, skeptical, but I also recognize that this resistance is likely contributing to more stress. 

A few things that I found surprising (and quite relatable) about his research at Mayo Clinic found on his website:

1. The human brain spends >50% of its time with a wandering attention processing neutral or negative thoughts; this predisposition fatigues and stresses our brain.

2. To recharge, the brain needs rest, uplifting emotions, and motivation every 60 to 90 minutes.

I found today’s practice particularly insightful due to what’s going on in my life and the state of current events: “validate and love, particularly to children and the vulnerable”. Like I said, a truncated version of this hit my social media today and I really believe it's worth a share here too. I had someone I had worked with years ago call me out of the blue today and I believe I have this concept, in practice, to thank. 

Moral of the story: this kind of stuff really wasn’t ever “my thing” and it may not be yours, but I am prepared to acknowledge and embrace that I will be better with it.

I hope you enjoy and find something to take with you!  I feel much better unpacking all that and getting it out into the universe. 

Thanks for listening.


Friday, October 30, 2020

I am still alive!

I have been meaning to post for a long time but I've been so busy it just kept getting pushed down on the list.  I didn't realize it had been almost a year though!  Wow time has flown by!

So for now, I'll just be flying by at Mach One to pass on this article that was posted by OHSU News today and it will pretty much update you on where I am at as far as "the cancer".

I will have extremely exciting and non-cancer related news next week and I will be shouting that at the top of my lungs as soon as I possibly can.

Hint: rhymes with "gravy toot stamp".  Just wait.  It's worth it.

Here's the article: OHSU 96,000 Miles Blog

Bye for now and Happy Halloween!

Monday, November 18, 2019

So about that echo....

Q.  How are you supposed to act when you get an abnormal finding on your recent echo that is a predictor for a "major adverse cardiac event"?

A.  Yeah I don’t know either. But this will work for now. 

And no googling. Definitely no googling.

Friday, November 15, 2019

My brief escape from reality....

Hi everyone!!  Been wanting to post for a while but it's been crazy town here!

Since recovering from my wonderful Xeloda side-effect experience I have been keeping very busy!  I traveled to New Mexico for work, and on my flight in to ABQ I experienced what they call a "bailed landing" as a result of an air traffic controller error and needing to avoiding another airplane.  Do not recommend.  Without knowing what was going on, it was very scary and it got real quiet on the plane until we landed.  On a happier note, on my off time before my return flight home, I visited Santa Fe.  I've never been before and it didn't disappoint.  I also took this amazing picture and I think I can die happy now.  Maybe it's because I love orange and blue together so much that makes me love this picture, but I think it's just lovely.

The next week I was up in Seattle and had a much less exciting flight, thank you Delta airlines.

After I returned from Seattle, I was off to my most favorite place, Palm Desert, for a much needed reset.  David went with me to make sure I was safe.  Funny because I have done that trip so many times without incident but I get it.  Protect the mommy.  Good kid.

It was so wonderful to get some R&R, especially after "Pinktober".  I think it's really great to have all the awareness around breast cancer, don't get me wrong, but there is a certain kind of melancholy that settles in with all the scary statistics that are published during Breast Cancer Awareness month. It can be a struggle to rise above the constant barrage of mortality rates, etc. and move forward with your chin held up high.  As wonderful as the intent of BCA month is, I am thankful it is over.  Bring on Movember please.

So between all that and work, it was definitely time for some me time.  There's only so much powering through on chemo that a girl can do.  Besides some quality time at the pool, David and I traveled to Joshua Tree National Park to star gaze.  There was almost a full moon so the stars weren't as impressive as I thought they should have been, but while we were sitting and chatting and looking up, David, says "what in the heck is that?".  Streaming across the sky in UFO-like fashion was a string of lights.  

Now, I am not all too sure about UFO's  but we did not have cell service at the time and couldn't Google what in the heck we may be experiencing so it was a bit disconcerting (much like the cackling of coyotes that we heard in the distance upon our arrival).  Once we bounced and got back into cell service, we discovered that we had the very rare experience of seeing the SpaceX Starlink satellites in orbit.  To top it off, they had launched them the same day we saw them!!  I'm kind of a geek, so in my book, it was really a cool thing to see!!!!

Here's a few pics that I took at Joshua Tree.  It's gorgeous!


I have to admit, I got a bit cranky at the idea of coming home and getting back to it.  Only because I knew it would be a harsh return to reality.  The day after I got home, it would be time to start back up my next chemo cycle, and to kick it all off, an echo-cardiogram first thing to see how my defective heart valve is holding up.  I am pulling slowly away from that deflated mood, and I am hoping there won't be any changes in my heart function and I won't have to do that for another year.  Cross your fingers!  I also have lab tests for Lupus pending that I have been avoiding and it's weighing on me.  My sister was recently diagnosed with it (please send good vibes her way), and as you may or may not know, the doctors believe undiagnosed Lupus is what took my mom.  Hoping not to add that to my resume as well, because 😐.

This weekend promises to be super busy and exciting.  Boys are getting their senior pics done in Bend and I can't wait to share them with you all!!   Have a wonderful weekend!!  XOXO

Monday, October 21, 2019

Jenny + Xeloda =

Holy f&ck balls this hurts. Those are B L I S T E R S.

Can't even walk.  

Palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia, anyone?

Dear Xeloda, you better effing work.  Love, Me.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Bad News Brownies - One Year Later

"I really hate making calls like this...."

I will never forget those first words out of the nurse's mouth when I answered the phone to find out about my biopsy results.  The conversation is a blur but those words, along with a few others are forever ingrained upon me. 

With those first six words, my heart dropped and I can't even really explain the feeling.  Although I had been preparing to hear the worst, I was still in shock [understatement].  I tried to take the best notes that I could but my head was literally spinning.  These words I heard though for sure:


Rare Sub-Type

Harder to Treat

Less Successful

Higher Recurrence

The call was probably twenty minutes and at the end of the call I told the nurse this, "I literally didn't hear 99% of what you just said.  Just tell me what I need to do next.  Like the most immediate next step because I can't deal with the rest right now."  By the next week I had met with both my oncologists and had a plan, and by the end of that same month my port was put in and I was ready to go for chemo.

And so my journey began, one small step at a time.  And when I say small steps, I mean in the past year I've:
  • become a single mom with cancer and been the very best and very worst at that, 
  • become a blogger and been the most vulnerable I have been in my life to hopefully help and encourage others, 
  • had four surgeries in November, March, May, and July, 
  • gained 25 pounds (thank you chemo), 
  • been through two #crazy menopauses (chemical and surgical), 
  • finally got hormone replacement therapy right, 
  • beat myself up and rewarded myself, 
  • had eight rounds of dose dense chemo, every two weeks for four months,
  • emotionally had to deal with losing all my hair, toenails, breasts, uterus, ovaries, basically grieved the death of my pre-cancer self,
  • lost friends and made new ones, 
  • have numb fingers and toes (neuropathy), I think probably forever, 
  • been diagnosed with a heart defect, (because why not?),
  • reinvented the new me (still a work in progress, but much better than the BC me),
  • began oral chemo, now through mid-December, just in case,
  • started physical therapy so I can try and get my hands above my head and reach that top shelf of the cupboard and wash my hair without bending over and take off a sports bra on my own without my daughter having to pull it off me, 
  • probably will go through more surgeries, including breast revision and nipple reconstruction, 
  • become a wellness ambassador for my company, 
  • been on the news supporting my favorite charity, 
  • got a promotion, 
  • went platinum blond 😍, 
  • assembled a Labrador army,
  • been gifted with the most amazing perspective, like ever.
I am completely excited and freaked out about whatever adventures are yet to come!  Excited about the adventures I can control, freaked out about the ones I cannot.

Looking back at the last year I can't even believe everything I have accomplished.  I was laying in bed last night and as my mind raced, as it does every night I try to sleep, I found myself still in disbelief over the fact that this has all really happened.  It's such a crazy feeling.

My next big battle is overcoming the every day fear of this freaking cancer coming back. It can be all-consuming sometimes and although I am actively focused on living my best life every day (like, I'm thinking Thailand in February), it's hard to escape the gorilla in the room.  If you didn't know, when breast cancer metastasizes, it's considered Stage IV and it has no cure.  After that, it's just a conversation about quality and length of life, so that's nice.  

Also interesting is that 30% of initial breast cancer survivors will develop Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer in their lifetime (which I have a higher chance of doing since I am Triple Negative and carry the BRCA-1 gene).  Misaligned with this statistic is the fact that only 2-5% of all research dollars go to curing Stage IV.  If you've seen how many young women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer, in particular triple-negative, you would be as appalled as I am.  I know it's hard to relate to how this might feel since, until a year ago, I was in most of your shoes and had no clue, but the fact that very little effort goes into Stage IV is scary AF and makes you feel incredibly helpless.  

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would encourage you to check out Metavivor and Michelle's Love and if you are able, support them either through volunteering or donating.  I would also caution you to be mindful of all the breast cancer awareness items you see and may purchase this month. A lot of times, your money isn't going to the cause at all.  And as much as a pink water bottle may be nice to have, your purchase may not be making the real difference that you intended it to.

Anyway, happy one-year cancerversary to me!  One year down, two more years to go for my next cancer benchmark, when my rate for recurrence drops drastically. To honor my body and what we have endured, I have started a modified vegan 30-day cleanse.  When I say modified, I mean I am not moving on my need to have my foo-foo coffee every morning and once a week, there will be a cheat day, because cheeseburgers must happen in my life.  And maybe go to the beach but haven't decided. But right now it's time to go eat some kale.  Killing me lol.

Love you all and thank you for being here with me then, and now one year later.  Can you even believe it?!?!  I cannot express to you the difference and impact having your support has made in my life and the appreciation I feel.

Here's to one year and to as many more years as I can get!


p.s. If you made it all the way through this, just to avoid any confusion, my Day 1 post was called "Bad News Brownies" because the night I found out I had cancer, Jessica sprung into action to make what she called bad news brownies. I didn't get any bad news today.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Day 361

"Nothing to worry about".

One year ago today, at this exact time, I was undergoing a biopsy of a mass in my left breast and lymph node.  I was also scared out of my freaking mind.  I appreciated all those that reached out and offered the most well-intentioned encouragements, saying "I am sure it's nothing to worry about".  As  a hopeless optimist, I wanted so badly to find comfort in their words but I couldn't.  

I just knew.

I can't explain how or why I did, but I knew that life was going to change in a really big way, right then, right there, that day.  

I wish I had been wrong but here I am, almost one year later.  As much as I yearn for my very much more carefree, before-cancer self, I am better now than I have ever been.