Sunday, June 4, 2017

Thank You Cancer

Tomorrow I start my next step in this recovering-from-cancer process. It is what I hope will be the
beginning of the end of reconstruction.  What a great word! I am moving towards reconstruction of
my body and reconstruction of my life.  Often we focus on the struggles with a cancer diagnosis, but as we move towards "reconstruction," I want to take a minute to say "thank you cancer."  Through this process I have learned so much about myself and about those around me.

Thank you cancer for allowing me to see myself as the strong, beautiful, amazing woman I really am.  I was in a situation where for a long time I lost myself.  It took losing all of my hair to see the sparkle in my eye and my true beauty both inside and out. Whether it is a big meeting at work or a party, it takes courage and confidence to walk into a room with my head held high and smile on my face. I even have a bounce in my step that wasn't there before. 

I used to care a lot about what people thought of me, but as I have fought through this battle I care less and less what others think of me.  Recently, I walked into a room and I could tell that they had just been talking about me.  I used all that confidence I had learned and I didn't let it phase me.  People can talk, but I am comfortable with who I am.  I know who I am. I predict this will help me personally and professionally for years to come.

Thank you cancer for the confidence.

Maybe it was cancer or maybe it is the divorce, but I have a feeling it was both, that have helped me become more self-aware.  Being more self-aware of my feelings and my emotions has taught me a great deal about myself.  I am using this self-awareness to make decisions about my future, to apologize when I should, and to love myself and others in new ways.  I am learning that self-awareness is a pathway to being an effective leader and a happy person.  With my new self confidence I know I'm pretty great, but with self-awareness, I know where I need to grow.  Thank you cancer for this insight.

Thank you cancer for helping me become more self-aware.

 My daughter and I have this thing that started when I first got diagnosed with cancer.  I couldn't help but to be afraid of my own mortality.  I would tell her no matter what happens in life to always remember the love.  Now, when I say "always remember..." she finishes with a big "THE LOVE!!!!!!"  I, will always, always, remember the love.

I have seen the love in long ago reliable friendships and in completely unexpected hopeless places.  I have felt the love of family and friends in their big actions and sometimes in the smallest of actions.  Whether it was my brother's best friend moving me into my new place or my mom's best friends rushing in my apartment at 10pm on a Saturday night to make sure I had air conditioning and would be comfortable I have felt safe and loved.  I have felt the love in meals bought, delivered and cooked in my kitchen.  I have held on to the love in the worries, the fears and the tears, but I have also swam in the love of laughter.  I have kept the love in the daily "how was your day" messages and I'm never letting it go.  Love is taking me to a BBQ joint and walking right out when I couldn't handle the smells.  Love is eating sushi with me at midnight.  With every hair cut, every piece of pie, and every cranberry and vodka I have felt the love.  In this experience, I have learned not to focus on the people who haven't been there, but to live embraced by the love of the many people who have been with me every step of the way. I have learned to be motivated by the love of all of those who believe in me.  

I have never in my life felt so loved.  I also don't think I have ever felt so worthy of the love nor have I accepted love the way I am able to now.

Thank you cancer for allowing me to experience love in all of its many forms.

Though no one wants to battle cancer, I can see the gifts it has given me and I am grateful.  I am becoming who I am meant to me.

Thank you cancer.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Next Steps

Not all cancer is created equal and therefore all treatments are different.  I have been very open about my experience, but I know that even with my openness, I still have family and friends that are left with questions.  I try to reassure them that it is ok to ask those questions.  Sometimes what we imagine is much worse than reality. I wanted to write a quick update on my treatment and for those who are left with questions, please go right ahead and ask them.   

About 6 weeks ago I finished chemotherapy treatment.  While I am elated to be done, I still have a few lingering side effects.  I mainly suffer from nausea and fatigue, but every week I feel the side effects less and less.  The chemo I was given was more preventative in nature.  There are no tests to perform to see if it worked.  In 5 years if I'm cancer-free, then it worked.  If not well...let's hope there is no "if not." 

Next week I will have surgery to hopefully finish reconstruction after my double mastectomy last December.  The surgery is expected to be very easy in comparison to December's procedure and I hope to be ready to join you for coffee, tea, or a more adult beverage very soon.  Maybe I'll even have hair by then. 

In three weeks I will start tamoxifen.  Tamoxifen blocks the activity of estrogen in my body, reducing the risk that the cancer will reoccur. Estrogen is the food that fueled my tumor.  I get to take tamoxifen for 5-10 years.  Yes, you read that right, "I get to."  It was recommended that my mom go on tamoxifen, but she decided not to.  After 9 months of chemo, she was done with medicines and drugs that gave her similar side effects. After finishing chemo, my mom didn't live 5-10 years.  I am once again learning from her experience.  I don't see this medicine as an option, I see it as a privilege.  It is another opportunity for me to live a long fulfilling life.  I plan on getting remarried when I'm 80, and tamoxifen is going to help me get there.  

While chemo is finished, the journey continues, and I welcome it.  I welcome every hot flash and mood swing, because it means I am alive.  <--------- And when I get tired, sick, or sad someone remind me of that line right there.  

In about a month, I hope to be in a nice routine into my new life, my second chance.  And I look forward to sharing the everyday strides of life with you too.  
As always, thank you for your continued love and support.        

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


There was a day last week I thought I was physically going to die from the body aches. I got the flu while recovering from chemo treatment. Of course I didn't die. I didn't have time to die. I am learning how to balance being a single mom and recover from cancer. Dying would interfere with both.  Divorce and Cancer are life altering events, and some how, I'm managing.

I don't know how or where the strength has come from, but I find it always comes. Don't get me wrong, it is hard. Last week I had to throw in the towel and stay with my parents. It was a horrible feeling knowing I couldn't take care of my child and myself. But a friend wisely told me that I made a good mom decision. Maybe that's how I'm coping, one good mom decision at a time.

Next week, I will undergo my last chemo treatment.  I hope it will be my last one ever.  I hope that I can move on with my life and never look back, but the truth is, I will always look back.  This is my rebirth.  This is where I become the new me, the me I was meant to be. I feel myself changing every day.  I feel the new found confidence growing.  I feel peace and love fight the bitterness.  I know that I am exactly where I need to be at this point in my life. I know that it is springtime, the time of renewed life and rebirth.

I have been blessed to have been so supported through these experiences, and my wish for my support network is that they too may enjoy the renewed life of spring, though maybe a bit less dramatically.

April Showers...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Village

I have a village.  My village is large.  It spreads from coast to coast.  It crosses oceans and continents. I am blessed to have this village of support.  They say it takes a village to raise a child and that village is curing me and helping me raise my daughter.  If I am seen as strong, it is because of my village behind me.  It is my stepmom who has always welcomed and cared for my daughter and me.  It is my aunt who takes me on walks, doctor's appointments and shopping. It is the many, many meals family and friends have bought and cooked with love.  It is the care packages and greeting cards that show up randomly and bring a smile to my face.  It is the old friends that have reconnected and the new friends who have become like family. My village is vast and strong.  

As I walk into the doctor's office for my next chemo treatment this week, I don't walk in alone.  I walk in with hundreds of people behind me, with countless greetings of love and prayers. Even when I am worried and scared, I never feel lonely.  I have never felt this supported in my life.

THANK YOU for being being part of my village.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bald takes Courage

They say that bald is beautiful, but I think bald takes courage and courage is beautiful.  Whether it is a big meeting at work or a party, it takes courage and confidence to walk into a room with my head held high and smile on my face.  Even with a scarf on I get stares and questions that are both unasked and asked.

I remember my mom being uncomfortable with her bald head and how beautiful and happy she looked when her hair started to grow back.  Part of it was that she was cancer free and part of it was her new found confidence that had disappeared because of her bald head.  I remember how physically uncomfortable she was in wigs and the fears that it would fall off.  I remember thinking 'she is going through so much, and now she can't even feel comfortable in her own skin.'  I have a wig, but why should I make myself more uncomfortable, when this is my reality?  This is me.

Last week, my daughter said "mommy, you need to buy new hair." I told her, I don't need new hair, because I'm beautiful without it.  I told her that no matter what is on my head I am beautiful because beauty shines from the inside out.  We had a conversation on how other things make women beautiful like being caring, kind, generous, and of course smart (I had to throw that last one in there).  And I told her that mommy is happy and that shows in my eyes.  The next day, I happily rocked my bald head, because I wanted this lesson to be more than empty words I teach my daughter.  I want her to know they are real and in order to do that I must live them.  During parent teacher conference, my daughter's preschool teacher said my daughter is very self-confident.  I like to think that I had something to do with that.  When I am doubting myself or in the midst of an awkward conversation about my lack of hair, I remember the beautiful girl I am raising, and I continue smiling. 

Yes, bald takes courage, and courage is beautiful. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Haircut

Fifteen years ago, my mom's hair started dramatically falling out from her chemo treatments.  She asked my uncle to shave her head so it would be less dramatic.  She was heartbroken.

Fifteen years later, I decided to not wait for the dramatic and asked my uncle to shave my head.  I had my 3 year old daughter help.  I wanted her to learn that it was just a haircut and feel a part of it instead of just coming home one day and finding I didn't have hair anymore.  For me, shaving my head for the first time (we will probably have to shave it all off in a week or two) was less painful.  I felt like I took control and I know there is a valuable lesson I am teaching my daughter.  I had been so afraid of explaining my coming hair loss to my daughter, but for her it was fun. It was not something scary or strange, it was just something we did. She has no reason to think or believe that hair or physical appearance can define you.  I hope that I can keep her that way.  I hope that she never has to know the emotional and physical pain of cancer.  I hope Uncle Bryan never has to give her a haircut.  I hope that she will never look at me and know the gravity of the illness I faced or my true strength.  I hope that for her I will always simply be fun, loving, silly mommy.


I shaved my Uncle Bryan's hair first, then he saved mine.





It is odd that it took shaving my hair off to get here, but today, more than ever in my life, I feel strong and beautiful.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Mother/Daughter Tree

I'm a week out of my first chemo treatment and I'm struck by the connection between my mother, my daughter and myself.  First, while the treatment hasn't been "that bad," it hasn't been easy by any means.  Like with pregnancy and motherhood, I feel incredibly connected with my mom through this experience.  I only have to do four rounds, her first time, my mom did 9. NINE!!!! Nine months of chemo and side effects. I have no idea how she did it.  While her experience taught me much and probably saved my life, I do not know how she got the strength and the fight and yet, I know where it came from.  It came from her desire to be on this earth as long as she could for her children.  My daughter is my strength.  One minute I might be vomiting and the next I have to be making Valentine's Day cards, because that is what my three year old needs.  That is what she understands and deserves, gifts for her friends, not a sick mom.  There is absolutely no time to feel sorry for myself. 

I am indebted to my mom for her fight and courage and I am indebted to my daughter for her joy and inspiration.  

I imagine that my mom, my daughter and I are all part of a tree.  My mom is the roots, sturdy and strong, keeping us grounded.  She is for the most part unseen, but the rest of the tree wouldn't exist without her.  I am the trunk of the tree, beaming and tall, firmly in place because of my strong roots.  My daughter she is the branches and the leaves.  She is stretched out far and wide for the world to see.  Her limbs reaching for the sky.  She is what makes the tree beautiful.  

The three of us are forever connected in this beautiful life and though I am always me, they are what make me who I am.  They make me whole.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Our Daughters Are Watching

This morning Catalina randomly asked me "mommy your owie doesn't hurt anymore?" I told her it does still hurt, and it would likely hurt for a while but eventually it would go away.  Then I asked her if she was worried about my owie. She said, "well when someone has an owie, you are suppose to ask if they are ok."  She was just being considerate or polite. Either way my 3 year old made me proud. 

Though I previously thought chemotherapy would not be part of my treatment plan, later test showed a high likelihood for reoccurrence. Over the next 12 weeks, I will undergo 4 treatments. I thought telling loved ones "I have cancer" was difficult, it is nothing compared to the fear of how I will explain my hair loss to my daughter. We are experiencing many changes and I don't want those spinning wheels in her head that randomly think of mama's owie to worry her. 

I have a few weeks before we need to have this conversation. If I tell her too soon she will ask me way too many questions before then. We are in a why/how stage. I know I will make it fun. A head shaving party is in the works and I need some face painting crayons so I can promise to let her draw on my head. And of course a Wonder Woman scarf is on order. I will need to remember my girl power and that my daughter is watching me. No matter how difficult it might be to lose my hair, she is watching so I will confidently remind myself and her that "I am not my hair." 

I am reminded of the strength of my mom and of countless other women, who in the midst of adversity or even the day-to-day business remember "our daughters are watching."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Not really an update

...more of a random cancer thought.

I'm patiently (read impatiently), awaiting for a pathologist in an unknown lab to look at the DNA of my tumor. If the tumor responds to chemo therapy then I will need four rounds over 12 weeks. Medical technologies and advances are amazing! 

I'm at a place where I understand the chemo would actually be a good thing. Though I remember all too clearly how chemo affected my mother, my biggest fear is very simple...what will I look like without my Frida Kahlo eyebrows? 


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cupcakes and Rainbows

My daughter has been really into the movie Trolls lately.  Princess Poppy (a main character in the movie) believes life is all cupcakes and rainbows.  I like to believe in cupcakes and rainbows, but the truth is the pain is real and the sadness is deep.  

I want to be open and honest about my experience, which means not denying the physical and emotional pain.  There is a limit to what I can do.  I can't drive a car and I struggle to take a shower on my own.  Like clockwork, I can tell by the numbness and pain when it is time for my next dose of pain medicine.  Now 20 days out, I'm afraid of Chronic pain. I'm afraid of what will get better and what will be for life.  I am also afraid of the surgeries I have ahead and the future pain that will inevitably come.  I try to tell myself that the worst is over and I survived it, so I can handle anything that comes along, but with each day I'm more frustrated and more exhausted.  

The shower is where I cry, not only out of frustration on my physical limitations, but because my body is so altered. This is not my body.  It's damaged and ugly.  I find myself hiding from my daughter. I don't want her to be traumatized by the huge scars and deformities.  I am not use to feeling this shame for my body.  These battle scars are bigger and more defining than any of the ones in the past.    

And then...I remember that I'm on a journey of love. It isn't always easy to get to that place of cupcakes and rainbows. Sometimes it is good to allow myself to mourn the loss of my cancer-free self, but the love that surrounds me keeps me grounded.  It keeps me fighting.  That love comes in so many forms.  It is my husband washing my hair; it is an old friend dropping off a fruit salad, lavender oil and tea; it is a far-away-friend sending me superhero fuzzy socks; and it is an empowered Latina reminding me que soy chingona.  The love comes in the meals that are delivered daily and the new years card with a wonder woman stamp and a note "that's you." The countless acts of kindness have been seemingly endless, and they have saved me! 

My journey of love has not been alone, even if I feel lonely at times.  I know that early detection and aggressive surgery has saved my life, but I also know that kindness and love have saved me over and over again.  So like Princess Poppy, I know that life is not always cupcakes and rainbows, but I am choosing to continue on thinking it mostly is, even in those gray moments of darkness and pain. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Final Pathology Report

I am a week out of the operating room and the final pathology report came in today. That is the operating room I was in for seven hours with meticulous Surgeons and staff and the report that will determine my future. As we hoped, the cancer did not have time to spread anywhere else. I will not need chemotherapy or radiation. Merry Christmas to my family and me! This is my big miracle

I keep telling myself the worst is over, but my wounds are fresh and the scars are deep. Sometimes it's hard to believe this isn't the worst. But the truth is, in the journey of love, the worst is in fact over and I continue to be showered with love and support. 

Through the pain and confusion I am filled with a gratefulness that I don't know how I will ever be able to ever repay.

Thank you! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Small Miracles

We often look for big miracles in life. When my cousin Mikey died, I thought I would wake up from the nightmare and realize it was just a horrible dream. I have a friend that physically could not get pregnant. I prayed she would defy science. With a cancer diagnosis, I think people dream of the tumor being gone minutes before the surgery to remove it. I hope for that miracle too, but I've learned to appreciate the small miracles, the everyday miracles.

With the big prayers come so many small miracles, we just have to open our eyes and see them. My husband first found the lump while we were lying down in bed. He rolled over and reached his arm over me. Almost instantly he said "what was that?" The small lump can only be felt when I'm laying down. It can’t be felt if I'm turned or sitting. When the doctor examined me, she said "most people wouldn't have caught that." (Thanks for saving my life A!) It was a small miracle that we found the lump so soon.

When I called to schedule a breast MRI, I was given an appointment in one week and one day. Shortly after setting the appointment the nurse called me back. She said the doctor wanted me to get the testing done sooner because of my menstrual cycle; otherwise I would have to wait until next month. I went in two days earlier. Maybe someone was just really efficient at their job, or maybe it was a small miracle.

When I got the test results to the MRI at 4:15 pm on a Tuesday (the office closes at 4:30), there was one appointment left for an ultrasound and biopsy on Wednesday morning at 7:30 am (the first appointment) or I could wait another day. I took that first appointment recognizing, though not fully, the value of it.

Last week I learned the doctors believe the cancer is in its very early stages, so early I may not need chemotherapy or radiation. The many prayers provided me with yet another miracle. This was the best case scenario!

It was an easy decision to be aggressive with surgery, but with the holidays, there were no surgery appointments available in December. I know the difference a month made with my mom's cancer. It was the difference from them not thinking she had cancer, to having stage 3 cancer. One month, that's what it took! But then...someone cancelled, and I was given two weeks to prepare. A small or maybe the large miracle I was waiting for.

I am a little scared, but with lots of prayers and small miracles I know it will all be ok. My daughter was playing in the first snow fall of the year today and she said "it is beautiful out here." The snow that adults curse and the cold that bites your skin was beautiful to her. I watched her laugh, sing and play. We caught snowflakes in our mouth and we spun around as we watched them fall on our faces. Every snowflake was a miracle. That moment with my daughter was a miracle. She is my miracle. She is right, it's beautiful out here, and I'm not taking anything for granted.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Many Faces

Sitting in the plastic surgeon's office waiting for a consultation on an unusually busy day, I was struck by the diversity of women I knew were there, because they had breast cancer.  When I mentioned that I noticed he had a number of women that were seeing him today related to their reconstruction surgery, he at first was a little taken aback, maybe he was worried he was violating HIPPA laws, but after thinking about it he said, "yeah, you can kind of tell can't you?"  I am, if nothing else, observant. Five years of supporting my mom and I know what cancer looks like.  But I also know what I need new bigger breast looks like versus, this is just part of my process to save my life.  I know what tired and worn out look like.  I know what I'm not giving up looks like too though.  

As I watched the women, I wondered what their stories were, not just their cancer story, but their life story.  "How did you get here?"  "What other battles are you fighting?" I wondered as I looked at the women who ranged in age, race and ethnicity.   White women get breast cancer more often than other races, but African American women are more likely to die from breast Cancer. But in that waiting room, there was no discrimination by the disease. There were immigrants both European and Latin American. There were women who worked and women with flexible schedules.  There were suburbanites and city dwellers. I wanted to hug them all and remind them that they are warriors.  In the end I decided against it, because well that would just make me a weirdo.  But as I continue on my journey of love, I'm collecting mental snapshots in the waiting rooms.  I will take their many faces with me.  I will make silent prayers and give silent warm wishes. And maybe someday, I will hear their survival stories, but for now I will be a witness from the waiting room. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Daughter of a Warrior

Daughter: Mama can you carry me?
Mother: Yes.
Daughter: Your owie doesn't hurt anymore? [worried about the biopsy site]

Mother: No baby, I can carry you.
Daughter: Yay!!!!!!
Mother: You know even when mommy has an owie, or is sick, or is throwing up, mommy is going to be ok, because mommies are strong!

Daughter: Yea, mommy is strong and she has girl power!
Mother: That's exactly right baby girl.  Mommy has girl power. 

I will be the warrior my mother was and I hope that it inspires my daughter to be a warrior too.  The myth is that Amazonian women warriors cut off their right breast in order to better shoot a bow and arrow.  Next steps/current life an amazonian warrior. 


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Journey of Love

...I have Cancer...

I have cancer.  How do you tell people?  "how are you? Me? I'm great, but I have cancer." How do you tell someone you barely know? How do you tell someone you've known your whole life?

I have cancer.  Not all cancer is created equal.  It's not the ovarian cancer that killed my mom, but it comes from the same mutated gene, the only thing her sperm donor father left behind. How do you tell those family and friends who were traumatized by her suffering and loss that her daughter now has a similar battle ahead of her?

I have cancer. How do you tell your motherless-daughter friend who has shared your fears and has healed with her daughter like you have with yours?  How do you share that the breast that fed your daughter has been invaded by a traitor ready to fight you?

I have cancer.  How do you give comfort to those who don't know what to say when faced with their own mortality by fearing yours?

...I have cancer...

Earlier this week, I received the call that I had known for years was a real possibility, and I always feared.  "you do have a form of breast cancer." I scrambled to grab my list of questions and scrolled down to the "If it's cancer..." section.  We didn't have answers to those questions yet.  I didn't cry, not until I said those three words out loud for the first time. "I have cancer." I whispered.  I allowed myself those tears of fear.  Then, I let it go.  

I have this inexplicable feeling.  Everything is going to be ok.  I don't know how I know this, I just do.  It's sort of the same way, before those test results came back I knew this tumor was cancer.  I just knew.  I am scared.  Of course I am scared of the Big C that's not welcome in this C-Club.  But I'm ready to embark on this journey of love ahead of me.  

That is what I have found this to be, a journey of love.  I know the challenges an illness like this brings.  I am not blind to this at all.  I've seen it first hand, but I also know the love it brings. It brings a love  that endures "in sickness and in health." It brings old friends who are ready to add this to the list of challenges and joys they have shared with me.  It brings new friends who are ready to bond with me on whatever level I will let them.  It brings family together to ensure that I don't have to be that reasonable rock I have always been if I don't want to. It brings the strength of the women who endured before me, willing to share their stories, their advice and their warm embraces.  It brings my mom's love that surrounds me and never leaves me. It brings the joy, the hope and the love in my daughters eyes which inspire me day in and day out.  

Yes, I have cancer, but that is just another way of saying I am embarking on a journey of love.