Finding Your Life after Cancer Treatments End

Kelly is 18 months post breast cancer treatment.  She told me she is still trying to find her life.  Sound familiar? Once treatment ends, you are left with a self that you barely recognize.   It takes time and real effort to evolve into a thriving Cancer Survivor.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are one year, two years or five years out and still feel stuck or feel very little forward movement.

Before, during and after cancer, your world shrinks and becomes so small.  In an effort to help understand how it has affected you, please answer the following questions:

1)  I used to  ___________which brought me great joy.

2) Physical limitations have kept me from doing ______________.

3) Lack of energy has prevented me from _________________.

4)  Post traumatic stress syndrome has caused me to ____________________.

5) Social anxiety or fear has kept me  _________________________.

6) Depression has made ________________ almost impossible.

7) Anger has been ______________________ for me.

As I was filling in my own blanks to these questions, I realized the biggest things I have been missing in my life are being spontaneous and traveling.  It was common for “Old” Denise to wake up and decide I’m taking off for an unknown destination on the spur of the moment.  That part of me has been lost since diagnosis and answering the questions made me realize how much I missed that part of me.

So I decided I had to do something about it by taking a small step forward.   On a recent Saturday morning, I woke up, looked outside at the 75 degree day and thought, “I am going to a Detroit Tigers baseball game today.”    Ever since cancer treatment ended, I kept telling myself I wanted to go to a Tiger game when I had the energy.

I called my nephew and his fiancé and asked them if they wanted to join me for a Tiger game – no tickets – let’s just go, I’ll pick you up in an hour.   They were all in, and off we drove the 60 miles north.   I felt my sense of adventure returning as we rode the People Mover Monorail to Comerica Park after arriving in the Greektown area of Detroit.  Purposefully, I chose to take the People Mover because it was too easy to park next to the stadium.  Needing spontaneity and adventure, I had to take a more exciting way to get to the stadium.  When we got to the stadium, we were able to get tickets at a reasonable price (which is often hard to do because the Tigers frequently sell out), and we had an amazing day!

At the end of the day, my nephew told me he could tell I was “getting my mojo back.”   Those were words I needed, and it made me so happy that he noticed!  Being spontaneous and doing a little travel, no matter how small, made me feel energetic and vibrant.

Small StepMy advice is perhaps you are not able to run a marathon like you used to, but you can run a mile.  Maybe you can’t jet off to Europe, but you could take a day trip to a town with a German restaurant.  Perhaps you don’t have the energy to go to a concert, but you could take in a movie at the theater.   Maybe you cannot make afghans or do needlepoint work because of Lymphedema, but it could be time for that new hobby.  You may not have the energy to garden, but you could handle some pots of flowers or herbs.  You have felt “the calling” to volunteer to help newly diagnosed cancer patients…. you can make that first phone call to your local cancer center.  Going to a Day Spa may not be in your budget, but maybe you could get a half-hour massage.

A friend who spent over two years hospitalized for a number of life-threatening illnesses, told me she had become so fearful of even the smallest things in life, and she was especially afraid to drive.  I challenged her to drive one mile to her local grocery store.  Once she made that small step, she was never afraid to drive again and is back on the road!  Her world has opened up once again.

Promise yourself to make a SMALL STEP FORWARD!  It will reap great rewards for your emotional and mental health!  And I would LOVE to hear from you how or what you did or have been doing to move forward!  Email me at b4Denise@hotmail.com  or post a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spice Turmeric and the Prevention of Breast Cancer and Recurrence

If you are a breast cancer patient/survivor, chances are you have heard about the spice, Tumeric, and that it is good as a weapon against breast cancer. I’ve certainly read about it, but other than once in a while try to add it to my food, I have not done much about it.

That is until now!

Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD is with M. D. Anderson in Houston, the #1 Cancer Hospital in the USA. He is a professor of cancer research, biochemistry, immunology and experimental therapeutics. His book is “Healing Spices – How to Use Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease.”

In the book, Dr. Aggarwal talks about Turmeric which has the active ingredient of “curcumin” which is the powerhouse. What really got my attention is that Dr. Aggarwal and other researchers at M. D. Anderson found Curcumin as effective at “thwarting breast cancer cells as Tamoxifen, a drug widely used to stop the spread or recurrence of breast cancer.”    WOW!

To be honest, I am not crazy about the taste of Turmeric, so I probably will be taking it in supplement form.  Dr. Aggarwal says if you take it in supplement form, be sure to take a supplement that contains both Turmeric/Curcumin and Pepperine (or black pepper).

Turmeric and Black Pepper

Turmeric and Black Pepper

Black pepper helps the absorption as does olive oil and yogurt.  So if cooking with it, add black pepper and olive oil and/or yogurt!   He recommends taking 500 mg a day for general health, but it is safe and has no side effects according to his research.  So I will probably take 1000 mg per day of Organic Turmeric/Curcumin with Black Pepper.  There are several brands for sale on Amazon.  Since I do not have any experience with it as yet, I cannot make a brand recommendation.

His book is quite fascinating, and I found it very interesting reading about many spices and various diseases.   It is quite encouraging to know that the top cancer hospital in the country is doing spice research!   Plus, there are quite a few ongoing clinical trials about Turmeric and cancer!

Unrelated to spices, if you have had or are facing a Mastectomy/Lumpectomy/Reconstructive surgery or have Lymphedema, I cannot recommend this Breast Pillow enough!   I use mine every day and get rave reviews from customers at http://www.hellocourage.com

Breast Buddy - $19.90 with FREE SHIPPING

Breast Buddy – $19.90 with FREE SHIPPING

 

 

 

When Will My Energy Return after Cancer Treatment?

“When will I get my energy back?” is one of the most asked questions I receive.   If you are in the middle of chemo, you know what little energy you have. Many people tell me they have 10% to 20% of their old energy during Chemo.  That was my experience as well.  No matter how far out you are from Chemo, you NEVER forget those no energy days.   For those of you who have never been through chemotherapy, the best way I can describe the huge energy drain is imagine how you feel after 12 hours in the hot sun at an amusement park as you are walking to your car in the evening – totally drained.   This goes on for an endless amount of time. And no matter how much you sleep, the energy does  not return.

Since you never forget how it feels to have 10% energy, I am certainly more careful how I expend energy now.  No longer do I run to the grocery or dollar store on a whim.  I think about it first to determine if it is a necessity.  During chemo, I had to do without.    Never do I enter a grocery store now without remembering when I did not have enough energy to make it to the back of the grocery store.  I could only buy produce, canned goods, and frozen foods because they were in the front of the store.  If I went to the back of the store, I did not have enough energy to make it out to my car and drive home.

So when will you get your energy back?  My experience is, it depends.  Sometimes women who are in their 70s sometimes gain their energy faster than women in their 30s.  There is no rhyme nor reason.

My pivotal energy-changing moments came at the 13 month post-chemo mark and just recently at the 2 year post-chemo mile marker!    The 2 year post chemo energy boost surprised me!  I wasn’t looking for it or expecting it.  Only when I was out trimming trees at 6 am one morning, able to garden longer than I have in 3 years, and then able to watch my niece’s 4-year-old and 2-year-old did I realize, “WOW, I have more energy!”

Even if you are more than 2 years out from Chemo and feel like you still do not have any energy, one day it may just appear!   Recently, I was talking with Lisa, my neighbor who is a Stage 4 Lymphoma Survivor.  She said it was almost 5 years before her energy returned.  A 25-year-old Ewings Sarcoma Cancer Survivor told me it took her 3 years to start having more energy.

Don’t give up hope for that energy to return.  And always protect what energy you do have as it is such a great gift!  Use it wisely!  And I have found these things have really helped me:

1)  Take a good multiple vitamin.  When I began taking Nature’s Way ALIVE vitamins (I buy mine through Amazon), I had a HUGE increase in energy!  It was amazing to me and that is why I recommend them!

2)  No matter how tired you are, take a walk.  It really helps even though often you don’t feel like you can even start the walk!  If it is difficult for you to walk outside, I recommend Leslie Sansone’s DVDs where you walk inside your home!

3)  Try to go to bed early to just rest, not necessarily sleep.  I’m not a napper.  I only took two naps during chemo and radiation!  But I did go into bed early and read or watched television.  Being in the prone position helped me gain energy!

Be sure to check out my online store at http://www.hellocourage.com

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An Honor Bestowed Upon Me by Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure

Out of the blue I got a telephone call last week informing me that I was chosen for a great honor.  Every year the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Northwest Ohio selects a breast cancer survivor as their “In Celebration Of” honoree and a person who died from breast cancer as their “In Memory Of” honoree for the Toledo, Ohio race.   This year Komen Northwest Ohio chose me for the “In Celebration Of” honoree.   They said that I was “chosen from many worthy candidates based on your courageous fight against breast cancer and the way with which you inspire those around you every day.”

This is the Survivor Parade that I participated in the last two years.  Each year post-treatment that I have walked in it, I cry from all the emotions and gratitude I feel.  This year, I will be leading the Survivor Parade and all of these amazing women!

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My friend, Anita Conley, and my Aunt Marian Gladieux, nominated me.  Anita asked for my permission to nominate me in early Spring.  Honestly, I was extremely touched she wanted to do it and took the time to do it, but it never even occurred to me that I would be the person selected.  And my Aunt Marian never told me of her nomination.  So I was totally surprised!

Quietly and one-on-one,  I do “my breast cancer work” on my laptop from my home office or couch,  all times of the day or night.  Being publicly recognized is a little overwhelming!  However, I am deeply honored to participate as it will allow me to get the word out on everything I have learned in my own breast cancer journey, my mom’s new breast cancer journey, and all that you, my readers and friends, have taught me!    It is a great opportunity to have a greater voice to tell women “get your mammograms” “do  self-exams” and give them the statistics why.   Plus, it will allow me to give those recently diagnosed more hope and encouragement.

The Toledo, Ohio  the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is Sunday, September 28, 2014.  Here you can find a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure near you:    http://ww5.komen.org/findarace.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

My Mom Has Breast Cancer. . .and Why Elderly Women Need Mammograms

My 80 year old mom (who is more like a 50 year old energy wise) was diagnosed with Breast Cancer during last week.   It has been quite the emotional roller coaster ride for our entire family.   We all felt overwhelmed by the thoughts “Here we go again!”  But today I have good news to report as breast cancer goes.

After spending all day at the University of Michigan meeting with surgeons, radiologists, oncology, etc., mom got great news.  Her cancer is Grade 1, very slow growing, a small 1.5 cm tumor, no lymph nodes, no chemo, 90% estrogen positive, and most likely no radiation, however, they won’t know that for sure until after surgery.  She will have a wire-guided Lumpectomy in about 3 weeks with no drains.  Mom was so relieved about that as she helped me with my drains and hated them!   The surgeon indicated it was miraculous mom ever found the lump.

Mom’s parents lived into their 90s, aunts that lived to be 97, and no cancer ever in generations of  family members on her paternal and maternal sides.    Mom has eaten a healthy diet, been extremely active, and weighs within 10 pounds of her weight when she was in her 20s!  If my mom got it, anyone is at risk.  Well, we know that, but this makes it more clear to me!

The genetics counselor thinks it is rather a fluke that both of us got breast cancer, but it sure makes me wonder about environmental factors.  I had far more reason to have breast cancer as my dad’s side of the family has cancer everywhere.  But mom, they have no idea.

Here is what I can pass on to you that I have learned thus far.

1.  Breast cancer odds greatly increase with age.  As the nurse navigator conveyed to us, breast cancer amps up with age.  She said that so many women feel like once they have reached 65 or 70, they quit having mammograms as they feel their odds go down.  That is WRONG information.  Some older women will tell you they don’t want to look for anything.  Relay to them how early stage breast cancer is far easier to deal with than later stage!  Know your facts and make every attempt to get the elderly women in your life to get their mammograms!  

2.  Be sure to be extra nice and appreciative to your Oncologist!  You never know when you may need them again!   Send them and their staff cards of thanks and appreciation, take simple gifts into their office like candy or cookies or vegetables, or whatever!  It is meaningful to them.   I made one call to my Oncologist, and he and his staff bent over backwards to help my mom.  Make yourself memorable in a positive way to your Oncologist and his or her staff.

3.  Remind your moms, grandmothers, aunts and older women in your life (well, younger ones too) to do regular breast exams.  Show them how and what to do.   My mom accompanied me to my last Oncology checkup in April.  On the drive back home, I casually asked my mom if she was doing regular breast self-exams.  She said she was not and had not done one in awhile.  Later that week, she did one, and found an area of change in her breast which caused her alarm.  That is what got her to the doctor!   There was a lump underneath that breast change!  Thank God she found it when she did!

4.  One of the most difficult things about breast cancer is having to figure out what to do.  Now that we have been through it, we know.  That makes the journey much easier to help someone else.  If you are emotionally up to it, reach out and help someone else just starting the journey.  Your input will be invaluable to them.

That is what I’ve learned thus far!  Thanks for letting me share!   I appreciate all of my readers so much!   Love to you all!

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Check out my new Sun Hat Collection at http://www.hellocourage.com !  You don’t have to be bald to wear these, but you can be!

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Batman v. The Joker and Fears of Cancer Recurrence

My sweet 4 year old great-nephew, Brady, and I play a lot of Super Hero pretend games.  His favorites are Batman, Robin and the crew.  Every time we play, he always gets to be Batman and I’m always a “bad guy”  usually The Joker or The Riddler.  On one of his Batman houses there is a jail.  Brady said to me, “You know sometimes the bad guys are in jail and sometimes they just get out.”batmanjoker2

 

That is how fear of recurrence is.  Some days Batman has all the bad guys locked up, and other days, the bad guys are out in full force.  I know you understand!   For me, the bad guys were out the last few weeks.  Fear of your own recurrence comes barreling down on you when you least expect it which can easily be triggered by every day life and your compassion for others.

My very active 80-year-old mom who was my caretaker during breast cancer found a lump in her breast after a self exam, had an emergency mammogram and ultrasound and is scheduled for a biopsy this week of both breasts as they found one in each.   “Here we go again” are the only words that play in my head.  I know the odds are that there is a good chance that they are benign.  That’s nice, and I know there is that chance, but I must be prepared with a medical plan for her.   I know the phone calls I would make, the cancer center I would take her to, and what would need done if she gets that dreaded phone call.  I’m no longer naïve and unfortunately have lost my ability to think “it will all be fine.”

Then I went to the funeral home to support an elderly woman who goes to my church.  Every Sunday this wonderful woman tells me she continues to pray for me.     This week her daughter died of  cancer.   I didn’t know her daughter had breast cancer until I got to the funeral home.  Her mom kept telling me she had bone cancer.  At the funeral home my elderly friend told me that she never wanted to make me feel bad and did not want to tell me her daughter had Breast Cancer that had metastasized to the bone.  Her daughter was Stage 4 out of the gate and fought for 5.5 years until she could not fight anymore.  Her daughter outlived the medical experts’ expectations.   I had never met her daughter, but I felt such a kinship with the woman.  As I stood by her casket I had to literally hold back sobs and my heart spoke to hers, “I know a little bit of what you have gone through.  I am so sorry.  I celebrate your new life with you!”

And the topper was  a beloved breast cancer sister that I met through my Blog, was diagnosed with lung metastases.  Her world came crashing down even more than it did with her initial diagnosis as she has to deal with a Stage 4 diagnosis.  It all starts over again and her life that was just settling down, is in total upheaval.  I had been telling her that her bad cough was just from a virus she had contracted.  I was wrong.

I’m working on getting those bad guys locked up in jail again.  I prefer they stay in jail, but sometimes they get out and there is not much you can do about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Would You Say to Cancer?

Perhaps you have been recently diagnosed and all the terror of a new cancer diagnosis consumes your mind, body and spirit.  Or maybe you are in the midst of chemotherapy and wonder if the nightmare will ever be over and whether you will survive.  Maybe you have just “graduated” from active treatment and wonder what your life will be like without hundreds of doctor appointments.  Or maybe you have been a long-time survivor, but have an approaching oncology appointment and once again you feel the fear.

The cancer support community, http://www.IHadCancer.com recently asked cancer survivors to post 5 words on Twitter stating what they wanted to say to cancer.  The top finalists were these:   Giving up isn’t an option, The future is not written, You are not your diagnosis, Through struggle came tremendous strength.   For 3 days I thought about it, then decided that I wanted to tell cancer that I am “Living my best life now.”

What are the 5 words you would say to cancer?   To help inspire you, go to their website and read the section “Dear Cancer”    http://www.ihadcancer.com/dear-cancer

This section is not limited to 5 words, but the stories will inspire and amaze you!

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