More Birthdays after Cancer

The American Cancer Society has a campaign called www.morebirthdays.com fighting for a world with less cancer and more birthdays.  When I first heard about that promotion, before my own diagnosis of Stage 3 Breast Cancer, I thought maybe it was a little silly and a little hokey.  I am sure you have seen the commercials of celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Celine Dion singing “Happy Birthday”.   Now I see the wisdom in the campaign as I reflect on how birthdays have changed for me.

Recently, I celebrated my first birthday post-treatment.    Pre-cancer I dreaded birthdays because of being a year older and everything that goes along with that experience.   No longer am I ashamed of my age and trying to reduce it by a few years.  Everyday is a birthday to me.

Constant tears came to my eyes on my birthday and even a few sobs as I thanked God for the gift of life.   Gratitude truly overwhelmed me for how far I have come, for all those who helped me, and for being alive.   That emotion came from the depth of my soul and rose so strongly that it just came out my eyes like a fountain that had no where else to go.

Surprisingly enough, I got an email on my birthday from a breast cancer patient who is 34 but feels 74.  She was wondering if she will ever feel her real age again.  I assured her she will, but it will take time to slowly return to her actual age.   Finally, I am back to feeling my age.  What an amazing thing to feel 30 years younger than I did just a few short months ago.  I have found the fountain of youth!!  And my sympathy and compassion for older people has increased tenfold because I lived in my 80s for many, many months before returning to the wonderful 50s.

If you are a cancer patient going through active treatment, it does get so much better.  You may feel like dying today as you struggle your way through chemo.  That’s okay, but keep fighting.  There is so much hope.  Perhaps you feel like giving up because you don’t have any more strength or courage to muster.  Keep going.  You can do it. Just get through this hour and this day.   Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t hope.  Next year will be so much better!  Keep remembering that and use that mantra to help you get through!

And if you have a family member or friend who is a cancer patient or cancer survivor and celebrating a birthday, send them an e-card from www.morebirthdays.com    It will be the most meaningful thing you can do!  And while you are at it, consider making a contribution to the American Cancer Society.

Cancer Rehab Programs – do they work and are they worth it?

Cancer Rehabilitation Programs work.  I went into cancer rehab kicking and screaming, but now I am thankful that I have devoted the time, energy and dedication it takes to participate in the rehab program.

Cancer Rehab is a rather new field at many hospitals.  Since there are more and more cancer survivors, hospitals have realized that cancer survivors feel abandoned after over a year of intense treatment to suddenly be thrust aside and on your own. For years there have been rehab programs for heart patients, stroke patients, and just about any other kind of rehab.  Many cancer patients have debilitating side effects.  Prematurely they often decide that this is the way it is going to be.

In my case, since I already had Lymphedema in one arm and was receiving treatment, I thought I would have to live with the very limited range of motion I had in that arm as a result of Mastectomy, Chemo and Radiation in addition to many other side effects.

My local hospitals, the Mercy Health Systems in Toledo, Ohio, recently became affiliated with the STAR Program which is a program from Oncology Rehab Partners.  It was developed by Julie Silver, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, who is a cancer survivor.  A year after cancer treatment ended, Dr. Silver then in her 30s,  realized that cancer survivors needed help to heal.   Here you can find out if there is a STAR Program certified hospital near you:   http://www.oncologyrehabpartners.com/    My Lymphedema Specialist talked me into being a guinea pig for the program – I am Patient #2 at my local hospital.

My course of treatment has been Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy based which has been a tremendous help to me.  Not only has my arm improved by 75%, my body pain has lessened, my fatigue has greatly diminished, and I feel more prepared to handle the stresses of daily life post cancer.   This has taken commitment on my part.   There are other elements to the STAR Program which are done at home like exercises, writing down fatigue levels,  monitoring your diet, and more out-patient hospital treatment.

If you are a Cancer Survivor or Cancer Patient, I would advise you to seek out a good Cancer Rehab Program.  Don’t wait until your Oncologist or physician tell you to, because they may not.  Often, they overlook that aspect of treatment.  You have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort it takes to do the work. But remember, it is worth it.

I had six months after active treatment ended before I started the Cancer Rehab Program.  I needed that six months to have the stamina to face more challenges.  Everyone is different.  Know what is the appropriate time for you before you start rehab.  For some people that might be immediately after active treatment ends.  For others, it may be longer.

Most insurances will pay for Cancer Rehab, but check with them before you start any program.  My insurance pays for 20 Physical Therapy visits and 20 Occupational Therapy visits per year.

Lessons of Chemotherapy One Year Later

Tomorrow I celebrate my first anniversary of my last Chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.   I planted flowers to celebrate as I was unable to plant last year.  As I pondered  this cancerversary in the garden, I realized these Lessons of Chemotherapy remain with me each day.

If you are in the midst of Chemotherapy or active cancer treatment, take time to learn your lessons through the pain and suffering.  They will be valuable gifts to you in the future.  And if you have never been a cancer patient, I hope my lessons can be helpful to you.

1)  You only have so much energy in a day.  Use it wisely.  Plan things that take a lot of energy during your peak energy times of the day and  week.

2) Learn to listen to your body and respect what it needs – exercise, healthy foods, and nourishment from other sources.  Say no to things that do not nurture you or bring you life.  Just ask this simple question:  “Does this help me or harm me?”   Never hesitate to say no to things that harm you.

3)  If anything is not serving you well, people, places or things, begin removing it from your life.  It is a process, but make the first step.  The first steps are difficult, the remaining steps are easier.

4)  Make time for what is important to you and make sure you know what is!

5)  Appreciate all of life each and every day and give thanks.  And when those rough times come, I always say to myself,

“It’s better than Chemo!”

6)  Make plans for the future and dream big.  Picture yourself living life in these dreams!

7) Listen to the still, small voice of God.  He has a purpose for this second chance at life.

8) If you do not have 100% confidence in your doctor, medical facility, or medical staff, find another.  We often spend more time shopping for a new piece of clothing than finding the right fit in a medical professional.  Your life is in their hands.  Make sure you trust them with it!

9) Pray for those who supported you during treatment and return their love and friendship.  Their faithfulness helped you survive and continue to thrive!  Be grateful and show your appreciation.

10)  Begin to forgive those who abandoned you or never went out of their way for you during cancer treatment.  Learn how to be friendly yet keep your boundaries in place when and if your paths must cross.  They have proven themselves not to be friends.  Let them go in peace and remember with love the valuable lessons they taught you.

And check out my cute chemo caps at my store www.hellocourage.com  and other items.  Another lesson of Chemotherapy.  Have cute caps!   Or click on the cap!

CH-blackruffle1

Reconstructive Surgery after Breast Cancer – Survey

If you have had reconstructive surgery after Mastectomy, I would so much appreciate your participation in this poll.  Thank you!  Denise