Cancer SurvivorSHIP – Adapting and Adjusting

An out-of-town friend who is in the midst of chemo now for Breast Cancer, wrote and told me, “I just cannot wait to get my life back.”   I cringed and of course, did not have the heart to tell her that your old life as you  knew it is gone.  She will find that out soon enough as she continues down the path.

My sister, Diann, is discovering that right now.  She is now 6 months out of chemo and 2.5 months out of Radiation.  Her hair is coming back and looks like a cute, short cut.  To outsiders, she looks “normal”.  But adjusting to life after cancer is challenging.  You are not the same person you used to be, you feel angry that you cannot get your old life back, and you have no idea what the Cancer Survivor Life looks like.

While Diann was sharing her feelings with me, I remembered this Blog Post I wrote while I was trying to find my way after treatment.  Diann said it exactly describes what she is going through and was helpful to her, so I am sharing this post below.  If you are not a cancer survivor, it is worth the read as it perhaps will challenge you just a little!

Original Blog Post from 2013– Perhaps you landed here because you are a Cancer Survivor and are having difficulties.   Or maybe a spouse, parent, or loved one had cancer, and you do not understand why they are having such a difficult time adjusting to life after cancer treatment.

Six months into being an “official” Cancer Survivor, I made this realization:  Life is not going to be what it was before the cancer diagnosis.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I believed that someday, somehow, everything would shift and it would be business as usual, and my pre-cancer life would come back magically.   I kept waiting for it.

This all started because one morning as I was donning my Lymphedema gear, taking my medicine cabinet full of pills and supplements, trying to walk because of the severe pain (side effect of the drug Arimidex), and inserting my prosthesis in place of my amputated breast,  it finally hit me that “this is the way it is going to be and you damn well better get used to it.”

I was praying and asking for guidance about what I need to do so I can move forward and not stay stuck. The big, burly, bearded husband of television  Southern cook, Paula Deen, popped into my head.  Why is he in my head, I wondered? I don’t even know his name!  So I googled “Paula Deen’s husband” and interestingly, I found out his name is Michael Groover and he is a Harbor Pilot.   Hmmm, I thought, what does that mean for me?

I found this definition and explanation:   A harbor pilot, often known as a maritime pilot, is a boat pilot with specialized knowledge of a particular port or harbor. The pilot is needed to direct large ships into a port where there are specific deep water channels surrounded by shallower flats.     Without the services of a harbor pilot, docking ships would become a big hazard. There would be a real chance of running aground and damaging the ship and the cargo.   It’s precision work, and as with the many steps and players involved, safe docking and undocking is crucial to the ultimate success of the voyage. 

HarborPilot2Wow, I need a Harbor Pilot to help me with this part of my journey as I do not have the knowledge or tools to navigate these unchartered waters of Cancer SurvivorSHIP.  While I was out to sea in cancer treatment world, my medical team did all the captaining of my ship.  Now, I needed someone experienced in the hazards of maneuvering my ship into this new port.  And it is okay because I have never been here before, and it is all new to me.

A friend had told me a former pastor of mine from 20 years ago, who was a gifted counselor and a cancer survivor, would be glad to speak with me.   He is a survivor of a rare cancer.  He was not expected to live, but 4 years later, he is still here and celebrating life.  We shared cancer stories.  And when I heard about all that he had to deal with on an everyday basis because of all the damage done because of Chemo and high dosages of Radiation, it was inspiring and uplifting.

He then listened to me and was able to immediately assess where I was on my survivor journey.  “AA” he said, “Adapt and Adjust.”  He told me that the biggest learning curve for him in the past 4 years was adapting to what he can do, eliminating what he cannot do, and adjusting to new, yet exciting ways to live life. 

Two simple words, but because he has been there, he knew exactly what I needed.  He is a Harbor Pilot.    The imagery of my Cancer SurvivorSHIP coming into a new port, with new things, new possibilities, and new opportunities resonated with me.  Sure, in order to adapt and adjust, I have and will have to give up things that I can no longer do, no longer take care of, or that no longer serve me.   But I have, I can and I will. For the first time in a very long time, I felt real hope and not manufactured hope!   There is a big difference.

If you are a Cancer Survivor, please take time to focus on those simple words – adapt and adjust.  Perhaps, like me, you have been waiting for life to go back to the way it was before cancer.  Unfortunately, it will not go back.   But with some adapting and adjusting, you can be ready to accept the new life that awaits you.  Also, look for a Harbor Pilot to help guide your way to this new port – a support group, a counselor, or someone who has been there.  You cannot navigate these treacherous waters alone.

If you are not a Cancer Survivor, I’m not going to let you off the adapting and adjusting hook!  Perhaps it is time to review your life and see what you are holding onto that no longer serves you.  Oh, there can be many things:   a job, a relationship,  a certain way of doing things, a grudge, old habits, clutter, painful thoughts…the list goes on.  Time to adapt and adjust to new ways, new thoughts, new ideas, and new hope!  And if you cannot maneuver those waters of change, find or hire a Harbor Pilot to help you.




Transitioning from Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

Kelly from Missouri wrote and told me her devoted husband is worried sick over the fact that she has not bounced back yet from breast cancer treatment.  He has flashbacks because Kelly’s dad had a cancer diagnosis, then sat around the house for two years, then died.  Kelly’s husband is concerned Kelly will have the same fate.

Kelly and I were discussing that even though she has completed active treatment, she still feels very much like a Cancer Patient.  She does not feel like a Cancer Survivor.  When I reviewed Kelly’s journey over the past 10 months, it is understandable that she has not been able to make that transition from Patient to Survivor.  I think you will agree with me.

In 10 months Kelly has endured a triple lumpectomy then a bilateral mastectomy because she had cancer in both breasts and each was a different type.  Kelly then had separate surgery to remove more lymph nodes.  Three weeks later Kelly started 4 months of dose dense chemo followed by 33 radiation treatments.  In the midst of this, Kelly found out she had the BRCA/2 gene mutation.  She finished Radiation on January 2, 2013 after having severe burns that caused her horrific pain and discomfort.  Radiation had to be halted then restarted.  And at the end of treatment, Kelly had a Hysterectomy on January 11, 2013, also related to breast cancer!!   In between all of that there was port placement, port removal, tests, tests and more tests, scans, scans and more scans, and medications galore.  Is it any wonder Kelly does not feel like some amazing Cancer Survivor?

It is frequently said that the two most difficult days in a Cancer Patient’s journey is the day they are diagnosed and the day active treatment ends.  Once you are finished with active treatment and are declared cancer free, the world looks upon you as suddenly you are all better again and are now some marvelous, heroic survivor.


Please check out my online shopping store at   or click on the sign below – I had these custom Subway Signs made with words that were important to me to make the transition.

Survivor Sign Black



When you go from Normal Person to Cancer Patient, it is forced upon you.  Most of your choices are made for you, and you become a puppet for the medical teams that treat you.   However, when you go from Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor, suddenly you are thrust back into the world from the cancer bubble, like a bird thrown out of the nest.   Once you get thrown out of that nest, I have found that so much of the journey has just begun.  I shared that with Kelly and her husband.

Here is what isn’t over when you finish that last treatment:

1)  Fatigue and exhaustion from a year or more of treatment.  I was cautioned by my Oncologist that it can take one to two years to get through this part of the process.  Blood counts are still recovering and so is every part of your body.  It takes time.

2)  Chemo Brain – this is really overwhelming and very frightening.  In my case, I’ve always had a good memory and very good cognitive abilities.  Suddenly, those were gone.  That absolutely terrified me, so I started a rigorous training schedule for my brain.  I am happy to report after six months, I have improved dramatically.  I am now able to carry on a conversation without constantly searching for words and no longer do I get lost while driving in familiar areas.

3)  Side effects from ongoing medications – The majority of breast cancer patients take either Tamoxifen or an Aromatase Inhibitor like Arimidex.   These can cause severe side effects.  I have severe hot flashes and night sweats which wake me up a minimum of four (4) times per night.  And the joint pain is horrible.  However, I have it easy compared to a lot of women.  These drugs will be part of your life for 5 to 10 years, so it is necessary no matter what the side effects, you make the most of it!  And that is difficult.

4)  Lymphedema – If you had lymph nodes removed during surgery and suffer from Lymphedema, you know the many long-term effects of this condition and how it is something you have to deal with on a daily basis.  Because I recently picked up a heavy item without thinking (a heavy bag of groceries), I had a huge flare up of Lymphedema which requires much attention and treatment.

5)  Medical bills – the reality of the expense of cancer can be overwhelming.  I have received letters from so many who have unbelievable deductibles and co-pays or no insurance at all.  This can quickly add up to thousands and thousands of dollars or with no insurance, hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The stress for these women and their families is incredible.

6)  Relationships – Also, I receive numerous letters from women who have realized their marriages or relationships with their significant other are in bad shape after the stress of cancer.  Some women have actually become victims of domestic violence while going through cancer!  Some are now dealing with separations, divorce, lawyers and the court system.   They are not only worried their children won’t have a mom to raise them because of cancer, they are dealing with the break-up of their marriage.

6)  Earning a Living – perhaps you have had to quit working during cancer treatment or find that your old job no longer is a match for the new, post-cancer you.    Certainly, that brings its own unique set of challenges.

7)  Fear of Recurrence – Learning to live with this is probably the most challenging thing.  Ask any cancer survivor.

But here is the encouragement.  At the 6 month mark of finishing active treatment, I began to notice a major shift  in how I was feeling.  I began to feel a little more like a survivor and less and less like a patient.  Going from daily or weekly medical appointments to monthly or every 3 months drastically contributes to that fact!  Just being away from medical facilities is healing!

I’ve written before about the dangers of depression after active cancer treatment is over.  Be on the lookout for this and do something about it before it becomes debilitating.  When treatment ends is when depression often sets in.

The best wisdom I can impart is give yourself time and lots of it.  No longer can you say yes to every committee that comes your way, every social event that you are invited to, or every cry for help that comes along.

I do observe that some Cancer Survivors feel they have to really live life to the fullest and be busy every second, because they do not know how long they have to live.  This could prove dangerous over the long haul, I believe, as it may be causing too much stress to an already overtaxed system.  Balance is the key.

It is time to refocus, rebuild, and renew.  Now is the time to see a counselor to help you focus on new goals, new dreams, and new hopes.  Do not be too hard on yourself.

And to Kelly and her husband…give it time. You have both been through a war.   The healing will be slow and steady.  Try to enjoy the process.

The Lessons of Cancer Continue…how much stuff do you need?

I am finding joy in putting into place the lessons I learned during one year of cancer treatment.  They are important lessons that I cherish and will write about.  Today I will focus on “STUFF”…

Number one is I don’t need so much stuff.  I’ve never been a hoarder, and it’s always been easy for me to give things away.  However, I still have many things I do not need.  So I have been busy giving them away.  Like how many Russian Nesting Dolls do I need that I collected back in the 1980s?  The answer is none!   I do care about my grandmother’s dishes and keepsakes, and a few treasures from my late father.  I also care about the treasured gifts that were given to me during cancer treatment by my amazing and wonderful family and friends.  Those things matter to me because I really know how much my friends cared about me and are a constant reminder of that love and compassion.   Clothing that I was holding onto that will be totally out of style for some unknown event is on its way out.   And Christmas decorations are another whole blog post!

I learned that the things I do need are really cozy pajamas, really comfortable socks, amazingly comfortable shoes,  clothing that makes me feel prettier, and healthy food.  Since I have to use all paraben free make-ups and non-estrogen causing soaps, I’ve really scaled down in that department.  Now I am using Dr. Bronner’s Castile organic soap both liquid and in bar form for my face, body, and use it periodically on my hair.  Now I use aloe for my face which I discovered while going through radiation.   Now all the rest of the hundreds of dollars of miracle cosmetics that really didn’t do a thing are headed out the door!

As for makeup, I am still trying to figure all of that out.  Some of the natural things haven’t proven to be that great.  I’m researching and see where it leads me!  In the meantime, I am using up what I had stocked up and what I received at the wonderful Look Good Feel Better (  seminar put on by the American Cancer Society for women undergoing cancer treatment.

Shampoos and hair care have gotten really easy.  So far I am using Aveda Shampure Shampoo and some kind of second-hand hair paste my niece, the hair stylist, gave me!  Gosh, I need that paste.  My post-chemo hair is about 2 inches long now and getting wilder by the day!  If you are old enough to remember Red Skelton and his hair, that about sums it up!  But boy am I grateful for it!  I was sharing some of my hair dilemmas with a valued friend.  She was giving me ideas.  But they were all too complicated for me, and she knew it!  We laughed about it.  Another lesson of cancer for me is that daily hair doesn’t have to be that complex and doesn’t need to have that much energy given to it!   When I think of how many times I let a “bad hair day” ruin my day is just ridiculous and petty, or so it seems to me right now.

Since quite a bit of my lingerie now comes from the medical supply house  (this makes me laugh or I may cry!), I find it important to have pretty lingerie for the items that don’t!  A lace camisole makes all the difference!

And then we come to one of my passions which are books.  I just have to let go of them.  This might be more of a sacrifice, but this winter I am determined to cut my book collection by at least half to three-quarters.

As for cleaning products, I need to be so careful about these and their toxins.  So I have it down to two cleaning items – apple cider vinegar and white vinegar.  Okay, I do sneak in a little Bar Keeper’s Friend on my stainless steel sink!  But I am ridding my household of the other toxic cleaners that don’t do that great of a job!

And in the food and vitamin department, well that is where it gets complicated.  If you start researching what keeps cancer at bay, you will be more than overwhelmed.  So far I am committed to real and expensive Pomegranate Juice, walnuts and parsley.  There is real research on these foods with Her2Neu Positive Breast Cancer.  I’ll write an entire blog post about this at a future date!

One thing I do know, I cannot go back to my old ways.  It won’t work for me any longer.  So I rejoice about the new path and appreciate the lessons along the way!

Caregivers of Breast Cancer Patients

I have gotten so many emails from caregivers of breast cancer patients – from daughters, spouses, partners, and friends.  It is such a difficult and challenging job.  If you are a caregiver, I deep compassion for you because you feel so helpless and don’t know how to make your loved one feel better.  And the ages of their patients have ranged from in their 30s to in their 80s which obviously makes a huge difference.

I’m single and my mom was my caregiver.  I don’t know what I would have done without her.   She cooked me pancakes, made me banana cake, and mashed potatoes made with cottage cheese.  Not the best diet, but it was all I could eat and craved during A/C Chemo!    It was good just knowing she was there if I needed anything.  That was the greatest gift she gave me – her presence.  So often there was really nothing she could do for me.  And because of steroids, I probably got a little testy with her to say the least.

That is the greatest gift you can give to any cancer patient.  Just being there for them.  It sounds so simple, but so much of the process just has to be endured by the patient.  It is tempting to try and push them to do more than they are capable of doing because you so desperately want to see them well.   They will get there.  It just takes so much time.

My best advice would be this:

1)  Don’t try to make them eat things they don’t want to eat.  Do attempt to add protein in creative ways to things they might want.  Example – the cottage cheese blended into pancakes or potatoes or noodle dishes, peanut butter into anything, and whatever other ideas you can create!  I could not tolerate any meat, but your patient may be different.

2)  The steroids change their moods dramatically.  For me, it was like I was living in someone else’s body and emotions.  Try to be as understanding as possible which is tough.  And realize that the mood swings are the drugs talking.

3)  If they are in the middle of A/C Chemo, don’t let them go to the grocery store alone.  It is so hard to go to the grocery store.  They may feel up to going, but once they get in there, it might be overwhelming because of the smells and the stamina it takes to do so.  One lady wrote and said her mom felt like going but passed out in the checkout line because her blood sugar dropped.   Once they switch to Taxol or another chemo drug, they will be able to go alone.

4)  Make sure they are getting enough fluids, especially the day before Chemo, the day of Chemo, and the day after Chemo.  Drink, drink, drink that water.  It helps the way you feel.

5)  If you accompany them to Chemo, try to let go of the patient.  During Chemo, the nurses are in control and will usually take care of the patient’s every need.  This would be a great time for you to get a little break and go to the cafeteria, leave and go get a cup of coffee, or do something for you, the Caregiver, while they are being taken care of by Chemo Nurses.  If you feel comfortable enough, leave and go shopping.  I really enjoyed being alone during infusion time as it gave me a chance to talk with other patients, the nurses, and the staff.

6)  A few tips no one may have told you about A/C Chemo –

a)  Patient may have minor but frequent nose bleeds – get them any kind of saline nose spray.  It really helps!

b)  Patient may have rectal bleeding from hemorrhoids – rectal wipes and cream really help.

c)  Make sure they take the anti-nausea meds at the FIRST sign of even a tiny bit of nausea.  You don’t want to wait until it is full-blown nausea.

d)  Let them call the shots about what they can and cannot do.  I had to get out of the house on my good days, but didn’t want to get germs because it was cold and flu season.  So I would just get in the car and drive to get out of the house.  It really helped to make my isolation  more tolerable.

And give yourself some much-needed breaks.  If you are afraid to leave, arrange to have someone come in and stay with them (especially if the patient is elderly).  It is a really challenging and difficult job to be around a chemo patient all the time.  You need a break!  Take it!

The Positive Things about Breast Cancer

I received a touching note from a woman whose 33 year old sister was just diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  She was having difficulty finding positives about Breast Cancer to pass along to her sister until she got to my Blog and was able to find a few.  This woman gave me inspiration to think about the past year in positives.  I am in the midst of  all of my one-year anniversaries of tests and diagnosis – September 25, October 3, October 10, October 17th – cancerversaries as they are called.   Looking back over the past year, these are some very positive things I have learned:

1)  Discovering the fragility of my own life.  This has been a great gift to me because it makes me rethink everything I believed in from family, friends, God and how I live and have lived my life.

2)  Family and friends are amazing and their love shines through.  In some ways it is like one year of being able to attend your own funeral to see what is said about you, how it is said, and what your friends and family truly think about you!   Words escape me to describe the outpouring of love and friendship I have had.  You definitely learn who your friends are which is such a great gift!

3)  The medical profession is full of compassionate, amazing and incredible people.  My medical exposure was very limited as I had always been healthy up until Breast Cancer.  The passion and care I have had from my Oncologist, Nurse Practitioners, Surgeons, Chemo Nurses, Office Staff, Cardiologists and others have overwhelmed me.  Where do they get that kind of love, compassion and dedication?  It certainly helped heal me!

4) Losing your breast, your hair, your coloring, your eyebrows and eyelashes makes you dig really deep as a woman.  It is a tremendous gift to realize how superficial our culture is about beauty and women.  Beauty definitely does come from the inside.  Breast Cancer allows that inner beauty to shine forth.  I won’t say that part isn’t about one of the hardest things you go through, however, once you start to recover you have an amazing gift to see beauty in yourself and beauty in others in a completely new way.

5)  With suffering comes wisdom.  I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating.  In the past one year, I have gained more wisdom about life, love, health, God, relationships than I had in years and years of living.  You cannot put a price on the wisdom you gain from Breast Cancer.

6)  You definitely learn to toughen up through medical tests and procedures. Before Breast Cancer, I had an anxiety attack to have a blood test.  Now someone will be explaining some new test I have to have done and it is like “whatever!”

7)  Every day I open my eyes and am grateful for life.  I know I didn’t do that before as I took so much for granted.  Now I don’t.

8)  I now know my life matters and makes a difference to those around me.  Somehow I always hoped that was true, but now I know for sure!

9)  The weather doesn’t matter so much!  I used to let the weather dictate my moods.  Think how much power I gave away because of a little rain, heat or cold!  I have a deeper ability to see beauty no matter what the weather!

10)  Clarity is the greatest gift I received through Breast Cancer.  No matter what the situation, there is definitely more clarity.  You immediately know what is important and what is not.

If you are in the midst of Breast Cancer treatments, be encouraged.  It does get better.  You will smile again and you will feel hopeful!

When Friends Disappear during Cancer Treatment


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One woman who reads my Blog wrote me about her long-time friends who frequently stayed as guests at her cottage on the East Coast free of charge.   When she was diagnosed with cancer, these friends never contacted her to offer their help or support in any way.   Eight months had elapsed through her Mastectomy, Chemo and Radiation and total silence on their part.  She was so angry at these friends, wanted to share her pain and ask my opinion.  I told her I had no solutions, but understand this to be the experience of most cancer patients as I have seen thousands of posts on this topic.

As a follow up, I wrote her again to inquire what happened with her “friends.”   She said as soon as she completed treatment, they contacted her and indicated they were ready to go to her cottage with her and her husband, never mentioning what she had just been through.  Basically, she told them what she thought about fair-weather friends and let them know they would never be staying with her again.   She said she experienced much freedom emotionally after this conversation.

I’ve been trying to figure this out since my cancer diagnosis.  Why do some friends step forward and help you immediately in loving, kind and supportive ways, and other friends disappear never to return until you (1) are through cancer treatment and live or (2) until they run into you and have to face you.  This has been extremely perplexing to me.

Two of the top searches on my Blog consistently are:

1)  What to Say to a Cancer patient

2)  When friends abandon you during cancer

So the first group is wondering what to say to their cancer patient friend, and the second group is feeling totally abandoned.  They both care enough to search the internet for answers.

This all has been beyond me until I discovered an extremely interesting article in The New York Times entitled “Coping with Crises Close to Someone Else’s Heart.”

It is a fascinating article which explains that the people who abandon you are terrified that they will attract trauma into their own lives and are desperately afraid to be close to your trauma.  Of course it explains it in much more psychological depth, so I suggest reading the article!

When I examined my wonderful friends and family members who have supported me in unbelievable and consistent ways, I realize that all of them have been through traumas in their own lives.  They are not afraid of trauma.  They have gone through their trials, learned their lessons, and have become stronger and more balanced individuals as a result of them.

People who abandon others either have had no traumas or had traumas, but always ran away from them either by not facing them, running to their addictions, or by putting a happy face sticker over the trauma and never dealing with the psychological or emotional issues.

This article brought me a little peace and a little understanding.  But I am still working through my anger.   UPDATE:    I am now one year post treatment.  I have cleaned out my friend’s closet.  Those who abandoned me are not part of my life now.  If I see them or our paths cross, I am polite.

When You Are Diagnosed with Cancer You Move to Planet of the Cancers

The day the words, “You have Cancer” are spoken is the day you are transported to Planet of the Cancers.  It happens immediately. You don’t have a bag packed, nothing is ready, and when you get there, you cry to go home to the familiar.  Of course, you have heard the stories of people who have been abducted by aliens.  That is exactly what happens.   An alien illness has taken over your body and as a result, you are forced to live in this painful and bleak habitat.

You will not be prepared in any way for life on Planet of the Cancers. Your life as you know it is over. On Planet of the Cancers most people are bald, they are a lethargic group, and their life revolves around medical appointments and poisonous medicines that drip into you.

Many, many wonderful family members and some amazing and treasured friends will make the journey with you to this isolated planet. Time and time again, they will help you adjust to your new life and make sacrifices for you.   Also, some acquaintances and friends from your distant past may absolutely shock you by showing up on Planet of the Cancers!  You certainly did not expect them to arrive.  They will bring amazing comfort to you when you need it the most, stay awhile, and help you adjust to this foreign lifestyle. You will never forget the heroic acts made by family and friends and all the energy it took them to visit you on Planet of the Cancers to bring you comfort and hope.

Unfortunately, just a few that you think might visit you on Planet of the Cancers, will make a choice not to make the trek.  There will be excuses from these previous adventure travelers,  but finally after a lot of disappointment, you learn that their journeys usually involve more pleasant destinations.   Planet of the Cancers is anything but joyful.  A few may deny that you have even moved to this new world as they want to believe nothing has changed.  You will get over these losses, however difficult, move on, and become stronger as a result.

As with anything else, after time, you start to adjust to life on Planet of the Cancers as much as you deplore it.  You learn to endure.  Many amazing residents of Planet of the Cancers will inspire you, bring you strength and hope along the way.  The inhabitants of Planet of the Cancers are an amazing group!

Along the way, you finally surrender control as you meet up with The Person in Charge.  He tells you that while you are here on Planet of the Cancers, you will not understand why you had to make this difficult journey.  But some day, you will understand.  Then He tells you that in the meantime, He will be taking care of all of your needs, you just have to trust Him.  Is that ever a challenge.  You thought you knew who The Person in Charge was in your previous environment, but on Planet of the Cancers?  This is a whole different reality.

The Person in Charge alludes that one day I may be able to go back to my previous existence as I am being healed while on Planet of the Cancers.  But He prepares me that life will never be the same.  Planet of the Cancers will forever change me.   It will change you too.

To be continued….