it’s not goodbye… it’s see you later…

They’re not kidding when they say time flies… it really does. And time flies faster the older you get.

It’s two years to the day since I had my double mastectomy. Once again, life has changed in ways I never expected. It’s beautiful, frustrating and surprising all molded into one emotion I can’t quite put my finger on.

Beautiful because life continues to teach me that setbacks can be blessings in disguise.

Frustrating because I continue to be challenged every day by my health and the struggle to understand what’s next, what my purpose is, and if I’ll ever really feel healed, even if the current paperwork says I am.

Surprising because sometimes people come into your life and flip it upside down in wonderful ways that remind you, what’s on paper is only a tiny fraction of the story.

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Over the last 19 years, I’ve listened to doctors tell me, “this is it Mary, after this, you’ll be in the clear… you’ll be cured.”

There has clearly always been a twist to that.

Today I am cancer-free, but the fine print says, you’ll take medicine for the rest of your life to stay that way. Seems simple enough… until you realize that medicine is not only impacting you physically, but also chemically, mentally and emotionally.

I’ve always said the mind is a powerful tool… I’m now left wondering, what do you do when you turn that kind of power over to medicine?

The only thing you can do… have faith. Trust the process. Believe the struggle is leading you somewhere better. Pray the better part comes sooner rather than later.

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I discussed in my last post the challenges I’ve had with clinical depression for most of this year. I’m grateful that I was aware enough to realize it and attempt to treat it. I’m learning that depression can be as hard to treat as curing cancer.

When I think back to last year, it feels like a lifetime ago… I was in excellent physical shape and I wrote a beautiful blog post to commemorate how far I’d come since my surgery. I spent more than a month writing, editing and planning that post.

This morning I woke up and didn’t even remember this anniversary until Facebook reminded me of all of the wonderful messages family, friends and even strangers had sent me.

Maybe that’s a good thing… but then why does it feel so bad?

It brings me to the question that constantly remains unanswered… is it better to preserve your body or your mind? How do you choose?

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I miss the energy, ambition and creativity I had before Tamoxifen took over. I miss the passion I had to write and to educate and to better myself.

These days I pat myself on the back if I take a shower and leave the house.

I’ve lost my spark… I’ve lost my inspiration.

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But as I always do, I try to find the good in the situation life has put me in. I listen to my heart, and my gut, which will always be more powerful than my mind. I trust my instincts to make decisions, rather than go with the popular vote. I remember to count my blessings every day… I’m still here. I’m still breathing. I’ve still got potential.

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When I feel lost I’ve always brought myself to the water. I love the sound it makes and the ripples that form. I take my shoes off and lay in the grass, walk on the rocks and bury my feet in the sand. And I try to remember, the tide goes in and the tide goes out, just like the challenges life brings. Sometimes the water rushes fast and you hit a waterfall. Sometimes the fall is steep, but when you hit the bottom, you’re coasting along again, smoothly, and let’s face it… waterfalls are incredibly beautiful.

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my new backyard… Beacon, NY

And when the water brings me the sense of clarity it always does, I remind myself, everything is temporary. Beautiful sunsets fade to black. Seasons come and go. People enter and exit. And this time next year I’ll have a brand new story to tell, as I always do.

Today the waters told me it’s time to end this story for a little while. Tougher Than TWOmurs saved me in more ways than I thought possible, and saved a lot of others in the process, as I hope it continues to do. It seems fitting on my TWO-year anniversary to commit to a new story, one where I find myself again. One where I evolve into the next phase, ready to face the good and the bad and learn from them both. One where I love as hard as I can without fear of falling.

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This last post is a testament that my spark is still smoldering, somewhere deep down. It hasn’t gone completely out.

It’s just time to turn the page… So that’s exactly what I’ll do. It’s time to say so long to the TWOmurs, maybe not so much the Tough… that I’ll always have.

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To all who have supported my journey thus far, I thank you from the bottom of my brave heart. Thank you for being a part of my journey, for sending me your love and light and for sharing Tougher Than TWOmurs more broadly than I could fathom. I hope to be seeing you in the next story. Much love now and always ❤

the D word…

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this…

I’m the last person I ever expected to suffer from clinical depression.

But I’m here now… and I have to talk about it.

Because that’s what I do.

I talk about things people usually try to avoid talking about.

So here we go…

Back in December, depression hit me like a ton of bricks. At the time, I of course didn’t think I had depression… in truth, I didn’t think much at all about how I was feeling. But I know I was more tired than ever before… like ridiculously tired.

I guess I figured I was recovering from the craziness of an amazing comeback year, and from the craziness of the election season and shocking outcome, and from the holiday hustle and bustle… maybe I was a little tired from having to constantly visit doctors because of an ailment or new side effect from Tamoxifen.

I didn’t think much about it until it didn’t go away… and when it started to get worse, I thought about it a lot.

And let me tell you something… depression is fucked up.

But it’s not like that ridiculous commercial that says, “depression hurts…” it doesn’t hurt, at least it doesn’t hurt me… it’s worse.

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It’s incapacitating.

It’s like trying to walk through cement… nearly impossible to put one foot in front of the other.

You feel ashamed of yourself in the worst ways. Like when someone you love looks at you with genuine sadness and tells you how disappointed they are in you.

It’s the loneliest place on earth, because it forces you into seclusion… you don’t want to engage with anyone, you don’t want to talk on the phone, you don’t want company.

You feel like a foreigner in your own exhausted body.

All of the things I have always loved to do, I either struggle to do or can’t do at all… can’t go to the gym. Can’t go to the grocery store, even if my fridge is barren. Can’t write. Sometimes I can’t leave the house.

And I have no fucking idea why… I just can’t.

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I could sleep for 24 hours straight and then sleep a little more… sometimes I don’t get up until 1 p.m. and then I’m up until 3 a.m. Even after hours of sleep, I yawn all day long and caffeine does nothing to keep me up.

My head is constantly in the clouds. I’m disorganized. I’m forgetful. I wait until the last minute to do most things.

I’m eating terribly because I’m not motivated to be strict with my diet and prep my meals like I did all last year.

And the worst part is… sometimes I care, sometimes I don’t give a shit.

I know this isn’t normal, so when I have a lucid moment, I ask myself, why am I acting like this? In those moments, I actually question whether I’m just being lazy… and this is where the shame comes in. It’s embarrassing to act this way and have zero control over it, and you wonder if anyone else has noticed the changes in your behavior… it’s a total mind-fuck to a person who’s used to being busy, constantly on the go and juggling a million things with no problem whatsoever. That’s the me I remember.

That’s the me I want back.

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I think a small part of me can’t believe this is actually clinical depression, because in truth, I don’t have anything to be sad about… my life is carefree and flexible. My businesses are successful. I live in a beautiful house and am surrounded by wonderful, positive people. For the first time in my life, I’m truly happy with how I’m living it… until this started happening.

You know what I’m sad about? The fact that I have clinical depression that’s causing me to act and feel this way, and it’s all because I have to take a medicine that’s supposed to be saving my life… once again, thanks a bunch, Tamoxifen, for the crippling side effect… please mess with the chemicals in my brain a little more.

I didn’t realize that in order to live a longer, healthy life, I needed to trade in my sanity.

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I’ve heard that some cancer patients and survivors get PTSD… I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. I did not experience this aftershock as a kid who’d survived Hodgkin’s Disease, but kids are resilient. At 35, I know too much about the world, about myself, about my health risks and what I want in the future. But I am certain this is from Tamoxifen… there are limited clinical studies to prove so, but there are thousands of testimonials in breast cancer forums all over the Internet that claim once a woman stopped taking Tamoxifen, she was fine.

I’ve already said I won’t stop taking it… I’ve got to soldier through it.

What I find even crazier, is that more people than you’d ever realize are also suffering from various forms of depression… they’re just hiding it well, understandably.

Because that’s what depression does… it makes you want to hide under the covers forever.

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More than 15 million Americans suffer from depression each year… just imagine how many more go undiagnosed. In the last couple of months, when friends or family members have asked me how I’m doing, I’ve been honest… I’ve told them, not so good. And then I’ve told them what’s been going on and that I’m pretty sure I have clinical depression… and more than half got real quiet… and then eventually they’d either shared their similar experience, the name of a great doctor or what they were taking to treat it.

One friend told me if he misses a dose of his Wellbutrin, you literally have to peel him off the floor.

You guys… depression is a fucking epidemic that nobody wants to get really real about.

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I’ve spent so much time these last few months in my own thoughts, and it occurred to me that when depression is written about in the news, it’s usually when it’s too late… when someone’s already experienced a sadness so deep that they took their own life. A few years ago, it was Robin Williams, one of my favorite actors who shocked the world with his passing. And more recently, Chris Cornell, a brilliant artist, devoted husband and father with an unparalleled talent. A fellow blogger posted about Cornell’s passing and the struggle with depression, which he describes much more eloquently and accurately than my brain has been allowing me to lately.

The bottom line is, too many people succumb to depression everyday and this can be avoided. But I no longer look at related suicides as cowardly or selfish. Instead, my heart breaks for those who didn’t get the help they so desperately needed.

And let me be VERY clear, I’ve never had a suicidal or self-loathing thought… any sadness about my diseases has always been accompanied by the bright side that I’m a strong survivor with a mission to help others… but when I think about what I’m experiencing now, and the isolation that comes with it, I can completely understand how someone can get to that point of uncontrolled anxiety and sadness if you continue to let depression spiral out of control.

Depression has a ridiculously tight grip and the mind is one of our most underestimated tools.

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If anything good has come from having depression, it’s a better understanding of my surroundings. It has reminded me to always be kind and to be less judgmental of others. It’s reinforced that challenges need to be dealt with, not brushed aside or ignored.

And so I decided to share what has felt like a shameful secret because I know more than half of the people reading this are feeling the same way. Or, they know someone who is. And when I started this blog, I promised myself, and my followers, that I’d chronicle my experiences, good and bad, with integrity and openness.

So, now let me tell you what I’ve decided to do about all this bullshit.

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After my surgery in February, I visited with a family friend and Reiki healer, Tim, someone I saw after my mastectomy who helped me immensely. I visited with him because I felt blocked… creatively and physically. I was only just starting to figure out the problem.

We talked about the symptoms I’m having… insomnia, fatigue and lack of motivation. He asked me, what’s keeping me up at night, and what kinds of things am I thinking about while lying in bed. I told him, nothing cool, nothing crazy. Years ago I had insomnia due to work-related anxiety. Now, my mind wanders around absolute nonsense… nothing that has me worried or fearful. Sometimes I sing songs. Sometimes I daydream about weird shit. He told me to follow the things I’m seeing in my mind, playfully, the way a child would… because he equated where I am in life to being somewhat childlike… starting over in a lot of ways. A rebirth after having gone through two simultaneous traumatic events. My lifestyle is now vastly different from what I’d been accustomed to for more than a decade. For several years, I was always extremely busy, regimented because my career forced me to be. The job-related stress was insane, completely unhealthy. I’d become so used to living that way, that I accepted it as normal.

My life now is normal… perhaps my mind is in shock from it being too normal.

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As I laid on Tim’s table, facedown with acupuncture needles in my back, neck and legs, he performed Reiki. His hands were hot, like he’d stuck them in an oven. He kept his hands on the back of my skull for about 15 minutes and I allowed my mind to wander. As I teetered between being awake and asleep, I saw an image of a little girl playing, which eventually morphed into my grandmother’s face, which eventually morphed into a bud blossoming into a bright pink flower. About halfway through, my face started to vibrate and I felt energy moving through the back of my head and down my neck. After the treatment, Tim and I discussed how I was feeling and he said, “You’re right, you are blocked… at the base of your skull.”

He was relieved to hear that I’d felt the energy move through that area… the Reiki was successful… but a big part of me also wanted to say, can we do this every day?

Sadly he hadn’t cured me of my problems… he’d just opened my eyes wider. I felt validated.

After that, I tried sticking to a strict morning routine, setting my alarm for 8 a.m., getting right up and putting water on for tea, washing up and taking all of my meds. I added vitamin D and B12 to my mornings. I drank tea with matcha for focus. I ate a healthy breakfast.

This worked when I stuck to it. If I woke up to a rainy, gloomy day, I was bedridden.

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I thought leaving the tundra of the Northeast for Florida and California to spend time with family in the sun would cure me… I thought maybe I was just experiencing seasonal depression.

It did help a little.

I was surrounded by my family, people who were acting normal, getting up and going to bed at normal hours. It encouraged me to follow suit. When I returned home a month ago, I was thrilled to see that life had bloomed outside while I was gone. Everything was so green. No more winter to bring me down… it didn’t matter.

I’m pretty sure I spent more time in bed in May than I did out of it.

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And so back to the doctor I went. My oncologist, who in the past has brushed off my complaints about the side effects I’m experiencing, perked right up when I told him what was going on. He ordered blood work, but told me what I already knew… I likely had depression and I should see a general practitioner soon to deal with it.

As much as I wanted to avoid prescription anti-depressants, I know I can’t. I’m desperate to feel like my old self and I’ve never been one to steer clear of proven science.

So I spent my Memorial Day Weekend getting acclimated to a new drug. Day 1, my body buzzed all day and I had a raging migraine, it was awesome. But every day since has been better and better, and today is the first day in what feels like forever that I got up at a normal hour and didn’t go right back to bed.

Maybe I’ll finally make it to the grocery store today… if I do, I’ll celebrate, because if this crazy life has taught me anything, it’s that you celebrate the small victories.

But my message to you is this… if you’re feeling how I’ve been feeling, you’ve got to speak to someone NOW. If you have nobody, speak to me. Life is too short and precious to spend it behind closed doors and under the covers alone. Don’t let the demons fester. This shit is too absurd to allow to take the wheel.

I’m taking it back… it’s time to slowly put one foot in front of the other and live the life I know I deserve.

deja vu…

I just turned 35, but it feels a little like life is going backwards

I spent all of 2016 getting used to having a new body, after undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstruction in 2015. Despite the tragic circumstances, when all was said and done, I was truly happy with how I looked and how I felt, probably for the first time in my life… not because things were perfect, but because I took care of myself from the inside out, and it showed.

I was surprised to feel that good about myself.

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And now, despite teetering on the edge of perfection, I’m about to do my reconstruction all over again… because of a flaw that could potentially worsen and will definitely never go away.

The problem is, this flaw stares back at me every day. I feel it and see it every time I move.

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The flaw is called “animation.” When my plastic surgeon did my first reconstruction, he placed my implants underneath my pectoral muscles. This is probably the most common method of placement, whether for reconstruction or augmentation, because the muscles help protect, lift and disguise the implants.

The drawback is, with implants under the pecs, the pec muscles are no longer where they’re supposed to be… they’re much closer to the skin’s surface, and hugging an implant. Back in 2015 when I was recovering from my mastectomy, I knew it would be important to strengthen these muscles that had been completely traumatized during a 7-hour surgery. For one, because stronger chest muscles help form a better shape as your body heals. But also because I’m a natural born fighter… my first thought upon returning to my home last January, as a newly single person, was, what if someone breaks into my house, or tries to grab me off the street, how will I protect myself if I’m not physically strong?

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And I’ve come a long way a year later… but now, whenever I move my arms, my chest muscles flex, the right more so than the left, and I’m talking aggressively, no matter how slight the movement. When the muscles flex, the implants jump, causing the skin to look clenched… the result very closely resembles a combination of cellulite and sagging skin.

It’s ain’t pretty… but what a conversation starter. 🤣

You can barely notice the animation on the left side, but, as you can see, the right side looks pretty ridiculous.

When I visited my doctor back in December I’d hoped fat grafting could help disguise the puckering on my right breast… I didn’t expect my doctor to recommend a complete do-over. Unfortunately, he told me animation is a very common problem that you really can’t predict or prevent. Working out my chest didn’t necessarily cause it, but physically, the clenching sensation feels more pronounced as time goes on and I continue to get stronger… and it’s really annoying.

But the answer is not, stop working out… the answer is, fix the flaw you can’t stand.

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So what my doctor needs to do is go back in, remove the implants from underneath the muscles and place them on top. To preserve the symmetry, he needs to do this to both sides, even though I really don’t have a problem with the left side. He’ll use AlloDerm, cadaver skin, to create a harness for the implants underneath the skin. The AlloDerm will also create a protective barrier between the implant and my own skin.

Something I didn’t decide until I went for my pre-op consult, was to swap the implants I currently have for new ones. Right now I have Mentor brand, high-profile, smooth, round silicone implants, which feel great. A newer implant has recently been FDA-approved, by Allergan, and it’s also high-profile, smooth and round, but the silicone is more cohesive than my Mentor implants. What that means is, the silicone gel is more firm, which helps reduce visible rippling that would be more apparent if I’d kept the Mentor implants, since the implants won’t have the muscles to shield them from the skin. Here’s a video that describes it well.

I wrote about most of this a few posts ago, so rereading this might feel a little deja vu to you too… when I wrote about this in December, I was feeling reluctant, but optimistic. As surgery has drawn closer, human nature has kicked in and I’ve naturally started to doubt the process and worry about all the “what ifs…”

What if the pain is excruciating like last time… what if I hate the shape… what if the implants feel too dense and I hate them… what if I develop an infection… what if I regret leaving well enough alone…

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I’ve also grown more and more frustrated with having to start over. This surgery is going to be more intense than my last, because my doctor has to manipulate my muscles, rather than just exchanging expanders for implants. And I’m having some traumatic flashbacks of recovering from my mastectomy… this kind of recovery isn’t just painful, it’s totally disruptive to my independence. Once again, I’m back at my parent’s house, for who knows how long. I’m grateful they’re here, willing and happy to take care of me, but I know I’m going to be pretty useless for the next couple of weeks. And I fucking hate it.

I’m mad I have to put the life I’ve come to love on temporary hold for this shit.

I’m mad that I don’t know if this is the last surgery I’ll need.

I’m mad, once again, that this stupid disease, while gone, still pulls shit like this to remind me, you’re still broken.

And I’m sick of being told, “but you can handle this, you’re a champ,” when the truth is, I shouldn’t HAVE to. Why do I deserve this life?

And so, true to every single time I’ve had surgery in the past, earlier this week I had a total breakdown, called my best friend to come scoop me up so I could cry about anything and everything I hate in life while chugging Prosecco until 1 a.m.

Those kind of nights are necessary… my head pounded the next day… but I got it out of my system.

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post-bar “ugly cry” mug shot 😬

And of course, now that I let all the crazy out, I’m still a little annoyed, but I have a healthier perspective.

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And it got me thinking about something a spiritual healer once told me. I may have already written about this too, but it’s worth repeating…

About a month or so before I had my mastectomy, I spent several hours with this healer, who kicked off the session with a reading. This man, who only knew my first name before we’d met, started to tell me things about myself, my character, how I make choices, how I operate on a daily basis. Everything he said was spot on. He is a believer in past lives… something I’d never really thought a lot about, but what he told me shook me to the core, because as he delivered the message, I knew what he was saying was true, with every fiber of my being.

He told me I have the soul of a warrior.

He told me my soul has lived through many lives, but that my soul chose each life path to learn and grow. He told me that my soul specifically chose each life because it was challenging… and the bigger the challenge, the greater the life lessons. I’m a soul who WANTS the challenge to constantly improve.

He explained what religion often claims “heaven” to be, which is the place the soul goes after the body dies… and he told me, most souls prefer to stay in that place, because wherever it is in our enormous and complex galaxy, it’s beautiful. It’s ecstasy. It’s perfect. Most souls aren’t brave enough to leave that place and come back to the hardships of life as we know it on Earth… I’ve not only chosen to leave that beautiful place, time and again, but I’ve left it to go and do some serious warrior shit. Every.Single.Time.

And so it doesn’t surprise me that I’m now choosing to put myself through what feels a little like torture, because I know deep down, some risks are worth taking.

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there…

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Surgery is tomorrow. I’ve made it this far. I’ve been here before and I survived it. Now I need to go in, go to sleep, wake up and kick some recovery ass while floating on my morphine cloud.

I know my body and mind are stronger now than they were when I started this journey.

I know to hope for the best but to expect that some things may not go as planned… whether that’s good or bad is yet to be seen.

I know my body can do amazing things and will heal as it did each time before.

And I know that things could always be worse… I could have bigger complications than I do right now… I could have my hands tied, with no choices.

I grateful that I’ve always had a choice. I’m proud that I always choose the roads less traveled.

So watch out world… this warrior has another mission to slay.

I’ll see you on the other side. ✌🏼

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the tamoxifen diaries…

Remember all the times I said, “I’ve had cancer my whole life?” Well it’s true… and things haven’t changed. The actual cancers may be gone, but unfortunately, the life of a cancer survivor is riddled with risk potential, endless doctors appointments, screenings and medical procedures.

And fear… can’t forget fear.

Why is that? Quite simply, because successful cancer treatment does not come without short- and long-term side effects.

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For many childhood cancer survivors, dealing with the side effects of treatment is really no different than brushing your teeth or taking a shower… you just do it. You don’t really think about it.

After all, we’ve been conditioned to save our own lives.

When I was 16 and diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, a type of lymphoma, I was assured that my cancer was roughly 80% curable and I’d be in remission within six months. I was also told that after 10 years of clear screenings, I could consider myself officially in the clear from a Hodgkin’s Disease relapse.

However, it was made crystal clear that I’d be at risk for other complications and cancers as a result of the chemotherapy and radiation that cured the Hodgkin’s Disease.

It doesn’t matter how clear and constant the warnings were… I was still shocked as hell when I was told I had cancer again, nearly 20 years later.

And the only reason I developed breast cancer in 2015 is because the chemo and radiation I had 18 years ago elevated my breast cancer risk by 30-40%.

Cool, right?

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Even cooler, after I had a bilateral mastectomy, which was supposed to “cure” me of any future cancer risk, the pathology concluded my breast cancer was actually an invasive cancer, and the risk for developing a third cancer was thrown right back in my face. Those tiny, microscopic breast cancer particles that broke through the milk duct, invaded the surrounding breast tissue and swam into my blood stream are now floating around my body, scavenging for food, looking for somewhere to quietly settle down and build an empire.

This time, I was told if my breast cancer ever comes back (metastasizes), it will be too late to successfully treat it… stage 4 metastatic incurable breast cancer, likely taking up residence in a vital organ like my brain, liver or lungs… all thanks to “life-saving” chemo and radiation.

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However, I was also assured not to worry about getting cancer a third time, because there’s an effective hormone therapy for women still in their child-bearing years, called Tamoxifen, that if taken for at least 5-10 years consecutively can reduce the risk of cancer recurrence to 5-6%. If I don’t take Tamoxifen, the risk of cancer recurrence increases to something like 15-20% (these numbers are specific to my tumor and are speculative).

So, what does Tamoxifen do… Tamoxifen is an estrogen blocker, which means it doesn’t allow estrogen to bind to cells that need it to live. It’s effective at reducing the risk of a cancer recurrence if the previous cancer was the type that needed estrogen in order to grow and multiply, which mine was.

In short, Tamoxifen will starve the microscopic cancer cells floating around my body so they can’t grow into something life-threatening in a vital organ.

But as as you can imagine, when a woman purposely fucks with her hormones by throwing Tamoxifen into the mix, she confuses the shit out of her body.

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When I started taking Tamoxifen, I was aware of the most common side effects, but I purposely avoided getting sucked into the Internet’s black hole of forums and misleading information. I didn’t research anything about side effects. I didn’t want to be jaded by anyone else’s experience, because I’ve always — for the most part — tolerated medications very well.

What I did know was, because Tamoxifen blocks estrogen, it tricks your body into thinking you’re menopausal. Many people believe a falsehood that Tamoxifen actually causes menopause… perhaps if you’re in your mid-40s/50s and on the cusp of going through menopause naturally, it can push you over the edge. But right now, my body is just mimicking symptoms of menopause…

Hot Flashes…
These are actually ridiculous. Chemotherapy messes with your hormones too, so I’d experienced hot flashes as a teen and knew what to expect this time around. A hilarious older woman I worked with while in college once empathized with me, very accurately describing hot flashes as “terrible orgasms…” you feel this intense build-up deep inside your chest, this incredible furnace that just gets hotter and hotter, in the core of your body, and it’s jolting… you almost panic, because you can’t imagine it’s possible to get any fucking hotter, but it does. You start to desperately peel at your clothes as you burn up and when the fever breaks, the flood gates open and a deluge of sweat covers you. Your head sweats, your eyebrows and upper lip sweat, your entire torso drips with sweat and you pant like you just ran a mile.

And five minutes later, you’re freezing your ass off because you’re soaked from head to toe and it’s wintertime and you’ve just stripped down to a tank  top in 30 degree weather.

It’s especially amazing when this happens in public… #HotMess

This goes on unexpectedly, all day, and all night. And it’s so fucking annoying.

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Insomnia…
What a strange and annoying phenomenon. Lots of people experience insomnia, and I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure most insomnia is caused by stress. I have to be honest… despite the seemingly depressing tone of this blog post, my life isn’t all that stressful these days. I don’t obsessively worry about things as much as I used to (at least not until Trump became president). But still, I lie in bed with my eyes wide open, tossing and turning, trying anything and everything to fall asleep, to no avail.

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Dragging ass syndrome…
When no matter how many naps you take to combat the insomnia, no matter how well you eat or how much you work out, you still have ZERO. ENERGY. This wasn’t always the case, in fact, in the earlier part of 2016 I felt invigorated. Now, I mainline caffeine to stay focused and generally walk around feeling like a zombie with baby brain. The simplest activities exhaust me, I have no idea how I have so much trouble falling asleep…

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It’s been 15 months since I started taking Tamoxifen. Clearly, I had a pretty bangin’ 2016, so Tamoxifen didn’t initially slow me down all that much. But my body was still getting used to it. And only three months into starting my treatment, my doctor found little abnormal growths, called polyps, in my uterus.

This was the first real “what the fuck” moment I had… at the time, I didn’t realize Tamoxifen could cause uterine polyps… in fact, I was told that the risk for developing a uterine cancer while taking Tamoxifen was only 1%. A biopsy, while excruciating, came back benign, as expected, and my doctor told me to let her know if I started having any “funny symptoms…”

Well what the fuck does that mean, doctor?

Generally, painful cramping, heavy menstrual bleeding or any bothersome irregular bleeding outside of my normal monthly period.

Almost a year to the day after starting Tamoxifen, I started bleeding Every.Single.Day.

This isn’t just annoying… it’s not just painful… it’s disruptive. I’ve ruined half the clothes in my closet. And let’s be clear, dating is difficult enough in this twisted, technology-obsessed world… I don’t need another embarrassing excuse as to why I can’t get busy at 35-years-old.

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So it was time to take care of it… my doctor ordered an ultrasound of my uterus, which revealed one of the polyps had in fact become quite large. My doctor speculated that my body was trying to naturally abort the polyp, which would explain the bleeding… how about that… the female body is a force to be reckoned with.

img_1421So last week, my doctor performed a D&C (dilation and curettage) to remove the polyps. It’s a good thing she did, because when she went in, she found more. Luckily, it was a same-day procedure, didn’t require any incisions and I’m free of pain and no longer bleeding every day.

But of course, my first question was, is this going to happen, like, all the time while I’m taking Tamoxifen?

The doctor said, maybe, maybe not… I’m going to guess… probably.

What a huge pain in the ass.

I’m super annoyed. But at the same time, I can’t deny my symptoms are manageable… shouldn’t I be grateful? Or should I be worried that more is in store for me?

And so I did the thing i promised myself I wouldn’t do… I researched.

And I’m going to be the hypocrite who jades you by sharing what I learned.

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I polled women in my favorite breast cancer forum on Facebook, Beyond the Pink Moon, as well as close friends who are badass breast cancer survivors. I asked everyone what they thought about Tamoxifen… and what I learned blew my fucking mind.

  • “I had to stop taking Tamoxifen because it caused endometriosis.”
  • “Recently stopped due to it (apparently) wreaking havoc on my previously beautiful cholesterol numbers…”
  • “The hot flashes were bad and frequent, my joints aching, my hands and feet cramping, the 10 lbs. weight gain which made me feel very sluggish. I felt like I was carrying around a big ball and chain of weight all the time. The fatigue was overwhelming.”
  • “Made my triglycerides and cholesterol skyrocket. Triglycerides were in the 900s! After going off Tamoxifen for a month, they were back in normal range. I’m back on Tamoxifen and being closely monitored; once they start getting super high, I get to add statins to my list.”
  • “I took it for five years as recommended. It completely destroyed my joints. I have arthritis throughout. It also ravaged my ovaries and uterus and I ended up having a full hysterectomy because too many questionable things started growing.”
  • “I was on it 16 months and it caused auto immune rheumatoid arthritis, mass bone pain, hot flashes and mood swings.
  • “Was on it for about three months with just hot flashes, except blood work shows my lipid profile has gone nuts…”
  • “Hot flashes and depression – big time. I have not been able to rise above the sadness and it’s been three years. I feel like it has slowly changed my personality from extrovert to reflective introvert.”

Of the 20 women who responded, half said they have opted not to take Tamoxifen, against their doctors’ recommendations, and would rather “roll the dice” than deal with side effects.

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So I could have let this information scare the shit out of me. I admit it was discouraging. But instead I choose to see the lesson… things can ALWAYS be worse. I should  be grateful that I’m faring well, all things considered. I’m grateful the universe guided me toward a career in the healthcare field, where I’ve learned to appreciate and understand science-based facts. And science shows that more women survive cancer-free when they take Tamoxifen.

But the truth is, part of me wishes I had the guts to defy science, toss the Tamoxifen aside and take my chances.

Well… I don’t have the guts… cancer is too sneaky… and I don’t ever want to hear the words, “you have cancer again,” again.

So I’ll take my chances with Tamoxifen and pray the effects remain just a nuisance and not  something worse.

Instead, I will choose to be grateful that I’m here another day, enjoying success that came from years of hard work and luxuries others are not as fortunate to have. I’ll continue to remind myself that blessings sometimes come in disguise and that the universe has me on a path I’m meant to be on, challenges and all.

Most of all, I’ll remember how precious life is and how important it is to show others compassion… I choose to blog about my experiences and share the good, the bad, the shocking and even the embarrassing stuff with the world in hopes that my message might reach someone, somewhere, who really needs it. But my way is not for everyone… there are so many people fighting silent battles and suffering from the residual fear, anxiety, depression and isolation… be careful what you say and how you treat others. Love always wins.

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This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Yelica Sare, who knew all too well the same exact struggles I face and who passed away suddenly last week, just two days after my procedure. Yelica and I met after I spoke at a Rodan + Fields event last year, just days after I’d started taking Tamoxifen. We bonded instantly, because like me, Yelica survived Hodgkin’s Disease as a teenager. Her Hodgkin’s treatment also caused her to develop breast cancer, which she successful beat.

After all of that fight, she was still taken too soon.

Yelica was a bright light who always lifted me up and gave me hope for my future. I’m shocked and heartbroken that she’s gone. But at the same time, I pray that she’s found peace… her life, like mine, was not easy.

You can click here to donate to Yelica’s family. Funds will be used to cover funeral expenses and college education for her two children.

Rest easy, beautiful girl ❤

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birthday boobs

A year ago today, I got my new boobs… can you believe that shit? Time flies when you’re living life.

I had to go back and reread my posts during this time last year… I almost forgot how miserable I was, of course for good reason. I was worried and self-conscious. I was frustrated that I’d lost control of important things in my life. I was annoyed by my lack of independence.

I was certainly not in the Christmas spirit.

Today, I’m the complete opposite.

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I’m surprised at how into the holiday season I am, because a few weeks ago, I felt like the world was ending… I’d actually planned a completely different blog post that I decided not to publish.

It should come as no surprise that the presidential election got me thinking about the state of the world we’re living in… not because of who won, but because of the embarrassing and shameful ways people have been treating each other throughout the entire process. And for the first time, I felt censored. I knew some would applaud a political blog post that was balanced and thoughtful, and others would pick it apart, misinterpret it and sling mud at me. And that’s pretty fucking lame.

But you know what else is lame? Cancer… last year I had it… this year, I’m pretty sure America has it.

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And so, as someone’s who’s survived cancer twice, when I look at how America is suffering from its own, I understand the outrage from both sides… I understand the illogical displays of anger. I understand the frustrations. I understand the fears. And I understand how opposing sides do not understand each other.

That’s what cancer does to you… it never makes sense.

What I don’t understand is why we’re treating each other so badly. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the last thing you’d ever do is berate that person, let alone publicly, even when they’re losing their ever-loving minds and making no sense. Both times I was diagnosed, I had many breakdowns, many moments of temporary insanity… and people were patient with me. The people in my life supported my bipolar decision-making… they held their tongues when I snapped at them out of my own frustration… they didn’t try to fuel the cancer with negativity.

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And so I’d hoped to shed some wisdom and love with the masses by drawing parallels between what it’s like to battle cancer and what we as a country are battling, and more importantly, what Americans who want to live in harmony must do to survive this cancer. And then, like it does, time passed… the verbal social media assaults have started to fade into the background… most people are moving on with their lives, perhaps now with a new, more focused mindset on change, despite (or maybe as a result of) a relentless cycle of political news.

And then we officially entered the holiday season… the most wonderful time of the year…

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And I realized that this time last year, I was preparing for what I hoped would be my final reconstructive surgery. And at the height of my depression, I prayed that the holiday season would save me… and it really never did.

But this year, it has.

I have so much to be thankful for. My year was a terrific one. Exactly one year post-surgery, my breasts look pretty fucking remarkable. People don’t know they’re fake unless they’ve read this blog or know me personally.

But they’re not perfect… and humans are constantly striving for perfection.

So when I visited my plastic surgeon a few days ago, and he recommended another reconstructive surgery in February, I was not surprised.

Why? Because reconstruction is so fucking complicated.

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After spending several weeks last year paralyzed with anxiety over which reconstructive surgery to have, I opted for a less than popular option for someone like me who’s previously had radiation to her chest. I opted to forgo using body fat or muscle in my reconstruction, and instead went with just silicone implants. I’m still grateful I made the right decision.

During my surgery last year, the implants were placed underneath my pectoral muscles, which not only helps to protect the implants while you’re healing, but also disguises any rippling from the edges of the implant, because there’s a layer of muscle between the implant and the skin.

The problem is, now that I’m healed, and have been exercising like a boss, my pecs, which are not in the right spot, contract with the simplest movements. The imperfections with my reconstruction are much more visible when I’m doing simple things like brushing my teeth. My right pec flexes so impressively Arnold Schwarzenegger would be jealous. The left side does not have this problem at all.

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Visible right breast animation.

This involuntary flexing and movement is called “animation” and it creates visible gaps, puckers and other deformities. It also feels weird because it happens with the slightest movements. I’d hoped my doctor could fix it with a less invasive procedure, but consistent with my shitty luck, it requires a real deal surgery… he must basically redo the reconstruction altogether, on both sides, because what you do to the right has to be done to the left.

He recommends removing both implants from underneath the pec muscles and will instead place them on top of the muscles. To protect the implants and shield them from the skin, he will place a layer of AlloDerm (cadaver skin) over it to hold it in place and prevent them from sagging.

Science is pretty fucking brilliant, no?

The surgery is not a short one… I’ll need to have drains… I’m sure it will be painful… I’m sure I’ll be out of commission for a couple of weeks… and I honestly almost can’t believe that I have to do this again… the truth is, I don’t HAVE to do it… I have a choice. You’d think that with all I went through last year, I’d say, fuck it.

But I’m braver than that. And even better, I have faith that it will all be okay. Because as hard as last year was, it turned out okay. And it will again.

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Of course, I’ve questioned, why didn’t my doctor put my implants on top of the muscle to begin with? And the answer is, because reconstruction is complicated. There are so many factors that go into making reconstructive decisions and in reality, many people have visible issues with implants placed on top of the muscle. There are drawbacks to every option that you must be prepared for. I’ll likely need to have fat grafting a few months after my surgery, which basically means my doctor will transplant liposuctioned fat into my boobs to disguise any gaps or rippling from the edges of the implants. But you know what? A little free lipo never hurt anyone. #SilverFuckingLining

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So it seems this year taught me that time really does heal if you allow it to. I blinked and it was December. As painful as my physical recovery was last year, it already feels like ages ago, and I survived it just fine. Last year I was too busy being the girl who had cancer to think clearly. And because of that, I overreacted a lot, I overthought a lot and I stressed myself out a whole lot. This year, I listened more… to myself and to others. I allowed myself to accept that things don’t always go as planned. I spent the year living in the moments and taking things one day at a time. So in a complete 180 to last year, I’m not scared about surgery this time… I’m excited to fix something that bothers me, and bothers my doctor. And I’m grateful my plastic surgeon is basically a magician.

So today I’m wishing my boobs a happy birthday, I’m reflecting on how far I’ve really come and I’m laughing at the irony that on my 35th birthday this coming February, I’ll get another makeover.

For now, I’m going to enjoy everything this season has to offer and appreciate that what I thought I’d lost last year found me again.

And to those who have struggled this year, my heart is with you… and I promise you, next year will be different.

Happiest of holidays to you and yours ❤

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all summer sixteen…

I know I say this all the time, but fuck… it really is crazy how different life can be in one year’s time.

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At the culmination of last summer, I blogged about all of the great times I’d had, despite having spent my whole summer preparing for, undergoing and recovering from a debilitating double mastectomy, on the heels of a devastating break-up no less. When I posted it on Labor Day ’15, I wrote, “This year you were a schizophrenic bitch. You gave me some high highs and low lows. All in all you did me right. Next year, I’ll be ready for you.”

I’m a woman of my word.

I fucking owned Summer ’16.

I kicked off my summer in May with back to back trips… first to LA to visit my west coast family.

I went straight from LA to St. Barths for an amazing long bachelorette party weekend.

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Once back in the US, I headed straight for the beach with my friends to ring in Memorial Day Weekend and the official start of summer.

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My cousin Lauren and I got floor seats to Beyonce’s Lemonade tour… we danced and screamed in fabulous outfits for two and a half hours in the name of women everywhere.

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I jaunted out to the most beautiful summer house in the Hamptons to chill for a long weekend with my best girl Cathy.

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I bought an adult blow-up pool and sat in it for hours while working on 90-100 degree days, and there were several.

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I hosted friends at my place almost every weekend and often spontaneously during the week… we stayed up until the early AM drinking, belly laughing and playing games on my back porch while thuggin’ out to hip-hop by candlelight.

I got back in my garden and made delicious meals from the veggies I grew.

I hiked, a lot, and fell in love with beautiful spots in my own town that I never knew existed.

I rode my bike pretty much everywhere and did outdoor yoga alongside the Hudson River on the regular.

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I went on my annual summer trip to Maine with my family, ate delicious food and climbed a mountain I haven’t climbed since I was 10. I drove to Maine and back, six and a half hours each way, with the top on my car down and the music blasting.

I had an incredible photo shoot with a dear friend and blogged about my most personal topic to date… I spent most of June and July preparing for it, writing it, editing it, crying over it and reminding myself how brave I was to share it.

My best friend Sofia and I spontaneously went to the Drake concert one night… we got white girl wasted on Bud Light, danced our asses off and sang Every.Single.Word.

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In mid-August I flew to Greece for Sofia’s wedding and spent a week and a half on one of the most memorable trips of my life… Greece is just a magical place. But the company I was in made the whole trip.

I traveled with a bunch of old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in years and forgot how much I love hanging out with. And, I met a ton of new amazing friends who are kind, driven and 100% on my level.

I’d been to Greece before, 12 years ago, straight out of college… this experience was vastly different. Everyone is older now… we’ve got established, successful careers… everyone worked hard for this trip all year… and nearly 50 of us came ready to fucking party, first in Athens, then in Mykonos.

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We floated and frolicked around the crystal clear Aegean Sea, drank Greece dry of Rose, ate every single last bit of fresh octopus and feta cheese and dropped coin like it was Monopoly money, because who fucking cares, it’s Greece.

We drank expensive champagne, danced on tables in our bathing suits after lunches, bronzed our bodies on the beaches and stayed up until 6 a.m. most nights.

We also randomly met and swam in an ocean overlooking the mountains with Team USA’s basketball team, who’d won the Olympic Gold a week or so prior. The look on Sofia’s face, a die-hard NBA fan, is something I will never forget.

Sometimes life really does you right. Or as Sofia put, perfectly, “What a time, to be alive.” 😂

Upon returning to the US, I spent a week puppy-sitting for my uncle in NYC, working from his sick apartment and enjoying the most amazing views of the skyline and the last of the summer’s cotton-candy sunsets.

This summer was truly one for the books… here’s a bunch of things I DIDN’T do…

I didn’t wake up to an alarm clock most days.

I didn’t plan my outfits based on my day… sometimes I got all dressed up just to go grocery shopping… sometimes I rocked sweaty gym clothes and no make-up at Happy Hour.

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I didn’t bat an eye at the cost of the Beyonce and Drake concert tickets, even though they were semi-outrageously expensive… the experiences were worth every penny.

I also didn’t think twice when my mother asked me last minute to “just join her and my dad” on their trip to LA to visit my brother and his family, even though the travel logistics were somewhat egregious. I literally landed from LA at 10 p.m. and returned to the airport the next morning at 6 a.m. to fly to St. Barths.

I didn’t give a fuck about what anyone would think when I asked my brother to tattoo a beautiful arrow on me and he insisted I place it prominently on my forearm.

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I didn’t allow companies I worked with to control my life and my schedule… I didn’t rigorously plan my days… I didn’t beat myself up if I didn’t check everything off my to do list in one day… I didn’t deprive myself of sleep and relaxation… I still didn’t disappoint anyone. And I didn’t go bankrupt in the process of working hard and playing equally hard.

I didn’t beat myself up if I ate pizza and cheeseburgers and fries and ice cream and pitchers of beer… I didn’t stay home from the gym just because it was Sunday.

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I didn’t hesitate for a second when Sofia asked me to join her on two lavish trips to St. Barths and Greece… I couldn’t wait to celebrate the beautiful woman she is and watch her walk down the aisle to join the love of her life.

And I didn’t pause for a second when I saw Team USA swimming in the Aegean Sea from my lunch table dance party… I automatically grabbed my glass of Rose, threw my cover-up off and legit sprinted toward them as gracefully as possible.

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Because here’s the deal people… you are living RIGHT NOW. When opportunity knocks, you answer. You don’t overthink it. You do what you know is right in your gut and in your heart. And if the life you’re living right now restricts you in any way, shape or form, than I encourage you to take a long hard look at it and remember that we should all live a life that we don’t need to vacation from, and you have CHOICES… everyday should feel as free as I did all summer ’16. And opportunities to live that way are right under your nose… you just have to stop swatting them away when they present themselves.

This summer validated all the tough decisions I had to make over the last year, with regard to relationships, where I was going to live and how I was going to work. The truth is, I vowed at the start of 2016 not to make any plans and instead allow the universe to lead me.

So far, pretty fucking outstanding.

I made more new friends this summer than I can count. I networked with all kinds of creative, smart and inspiring men and women. I dated my ass off. And the world didn’t fall apart because I put myself first… in fact, it came together perfectly. I’m better for all of it.

So you know what? I’m not gonna stop here… I’m gonna keep this going… I’m gonna live the rest of my life the way I did this summer ’16.

And you should too. ❤

what you gain when you lose…

A year ago today I lost something.

This day last year I went to sleep around 8 a.m., and for seven hours, two brilliant doctors carefully removed both of my diseased breasts and started phase one of a staged breast reconstruction.

Being diagnosed with cancer for the second time was one thing, but the suspense leading up to the double mastectomy I needed to have was brutal. I was terrified, heartbroken and defeated… and I was mad. Mad that cancer, a demon that first reared its ugly head when I was 16 and seems to have never left, was once again taking something from me… and I couldn’t do anything about it.

But mostly, I was sad… this time was different.

In the past, I’d always been tougher than cancer. I’d always refused to let cancer get the better of me, and maybe that’s because I didn’t think cancer would actually come back. But it did come back… and this time, cancer wasn’t taking hair that would grow back… this time cancer was taking something permanently.

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I tried to be positive, but I worried about how I would look and prepared for the worst. I envisioned myself deformed and disfigured. I wondered if it would be obvious to people who looked at me.

Newly single at 33, I literally mourned the loss of my sexuality… I wondered if any man would ever want to be with a woman like me… and, would I ever want to be intimate with someone, knowing my body would feel foreign, or like nothing at all… I was doubtful. I was devastated.

I feared I was losing my femininity, forever.

The irony is, a year ago today, I had no idea how much I would gain from losing my breasts.

We live in a society that makes it extraordinarily difficult for women to feel confident in their own skin. We strive for a vision of perfection. We compare ourselves to models and set unrealistic expectations. We self-shame. And frankly, we don’t need something like a double mastectomy fucking things up further for us.

When I was younger, I loved my body. I was tall, thin and had curves in all the right places. Once the long-term effects of the chemo and radiation I’d had as a teenager started to kick in, around college, I stopped loving my body.

Looking back, I’m sure I could have done more to look and feel better. Looking back, I’m sure cancer wasn’t the reason for every change my body was experiencing, but I blamed cancer anyway. I felt like my body was failing me, and I had every reason to believe that… each time I visited one of my many doctors, it became apparent… parts of my body were, in fact, failing me.

While in college, tons of boys asked me, point blank, if I’d had breast implants. I had big boobs on a tall, thin body, but I also have two big scars above each breast… one from a biopsy I had as a teenager to diagnose my Hodgkin’s Disease, and one from where my mediport was placed so I could receive three cycles of chemo. These fucking boys would ask, “What’s with those big scars, are those from your implants?”

This is a totally absurd question and my reaction was always pretty amazing… I loved making those stupid boys feel like complete assholes, not just for suspecting such a thing, but for actually having the balls to ask something so ridiculous. But let’s be clear… being a badass witty bitch didn’t make me love my body any more. It made me feel worse… you could clearly see the cancer all over me, and each time someone asked about my scars, I felt compelled to have to explain myself, to defend myself.

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More years passed and my thyroid started failing from the radiation I’d had. With its steady decline, weight piled onto my thin frame much more easily than it ever had. My body image worsened. Eventually my endocrinologist found pre-cancerous cells on my thyroid and said it needed to come out. You’d think I’d have been scared about another brush with cancer… I wasn’t. Not for a second… I was worried about the enormous scar the surgery would leave across my neck, which it did… it looked like someone tried to cut my head off. I gained ten pounds in one month after that surgery and continued to steadily gain up through last year.

The hatred I had for my body seeped into my relationships with men who’d pledged to love me forever, who said they’d be with me no matter what… to me, their words meant shit. Once the exciting spontaneity of the relationship’s honeymoon phase was over, when intimacy naturally starts to dwindle, I blamed myself. I felt overweight, undesirable and projected my feelings on them, insisting that any fight we’d had, or any lack of intimacy ultimately meant that they felt the same about me… that I was ugly and definitely not worth marrying.

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So by this time last year, fresh off the ending of a love that I once trusted and believed in, knowing the torture my body was about to endure, preparing for the permanent physical damage, I almost gave up on myself.

And then I remembered who the fuck I am…

I remembered I’ve always been so much more than what you see on the surface.

I’m a woman with brains as big as the fucking pyramids.

I’m a woman who’s already been to hell and instead of suffering there, I beat down the devil and used the embers he scorched me with to make frozen margaritas.

I have climbed corporate ladders and shattered glass ceilings with my talent.

I have beasted through life like a fucking savage.

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And I’m not alone… I have a family that people would kill to be part of.

I have parents who have never let me down, who never let me smell their fear, all of the years they’ve watched their youngest and only daughter battle the odds… parents who would walk through miles of fire barefoot for my sake, without hesitation.

I have an intuition that has always quietly whispered the answers to all of life’s problems, and this time it was reminding me, I’m not someone who gives up.

I am a woman with a rare power to heal herself and others with her light… I’d done it once, and I would do it again.

I am a woman who has always taken the shittiest situations and turned them into something magical… and that’s exactly why I started this blog.

Every time I felt hopeless about what was on the outside, I fed my insides by sharing the deepest parts of my soul and allowing the love to flood back in.

During my four months of recovery, as bad as I felt, I got myself up, I got myself dressed. I put on make-up. I did my hair. I went outside and basked in the sun and breathed in the fresh air.

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I met with spiritual healers who told me stories of the warrior I’ve been throughout all of my lives, who channeled my angels and guides to cleanse my spirit and who saw my bright future, promising me, my work here on Earth is far from done and it’s going to be brilliant.

I began to look forward to my new beginning, with nervous anticipation.

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When I had my exchange surgery in December, I was so excited to swap my expanders for implants. When the surgery was done, I absolutely despised the way my new body looked. It was heartbreaking… all of my fears were coming true.

My new breasts were not the right shape, they were not the right size, they didn’t feel real and they made my chest look manly. The people closest to me, who tried desperately to convince me I was wrong, couldn’t. They know I can smell bullshit from a mile away, they know I don’t sugarcoat anything and they knew I was right… so they shared my disappointment and cried right along with me… They knew this wasn’t fair.

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So I made up my mind that I’d never be happy with the broken body God had given me. I decided to stop obsessing over how I looked, over things I didn’t think I could change, and instead nurtured how I felt inside.

I surrounded myself with beautiful things that make me happy. I got more sleep. I spent as much time as I could outside in nature. I focused more on pleasing myself instead of trying to please everyone else. I started eating cleaner foods so I’d have more energy. I exercised to build physical strength and endurance, not for my appearance, but to prove to myself that my broken body could heal and conquer major physical challenges.

I started treating my body the way this beautiful vessel should be treated, even if I didn’t feel beautiful.

 

Completely intimidated by the idea of dating again for the first time in five years, I did it afraid, knowing I’d have to eventually explain the scars all over my body to someone new, that I’d have to get used to the strangeness of not being able to actually feel someone touching my numb body… knowing that when I did decide to be intimate with someone, it would be an endless reminder that I’d lost something… worried that I’d just fall back into my old habits of self-loathing and placing blame.

And then, as usual, I surprised myself.

The beauty and strength I felt inside blossomed outward. I had more energy, creativity and peace. Weight I’ve struggled to lose my whole life started falling off. The shapes and curves I thought were a thing of the past started to return. My new breasts changed drastically, for the better, finally comfortable in their new home on my chest. I embraced that my new and old scars will show and people will ask about them (and they have), and I don’t give a shit… I have a badass story to tell.

After nearly two decades, I finally fell back in love with me.

 

Dating surprised me too. Dating is different than I remember, but so am I. I don’t have a ticking clock, I’m not desperately searching for my soulmate, I’m not worried about what I look like and I’m focused on being selective… I get to weed out people who don’t meet my standards and allow the universe to draw me to people who fan my flames. I’m turning heads, I’m forging new friendships and I’m leaving a lasting imprint, not just with how I look, but how I am.

I did not lose my sexuality, or my femininity, like I thought I would… my body may feel different, but it does not feel foreign. It turns out, intimacy is not a devastating reminder of what I lost, but a testament to what I’ve gained.

And so the tough girl who fought and beat cancer twice wasn’t always so tough. She doubted herself. She let fear control her for a while. She didn’t think she was good enough. She forgot that it matters more what’s on the inside than on the outside. And maybe that’s why the universe slowly took parts of her body from her… to remind her that it doesn’t fucking matter. Our souls are here to learn how to love and be loved… our bodies are just along for the ride.

I may have lost a lot to cancer in my life, but I’ve gained so much more in the fallout. I found the person I was supposed to be all along… and now, she’s free.

And I have cancer to thank for that.

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my new abnormal…

You know that feeling when things seem pretty fucking perfect? When most things tend to go the way you planned, and if they don’t, it’s no big deal and you don’t lose your mind in a bottle of Xanax stressing about it? When you feel like you’re getting just the right amount of sleep, you’re getting around to doing all of your chores, errands you normally put off for months are getting done, you’re in the best shape of your life, your bank account is growing and you’re checking things like a trip to St. Barth’s off of your bucket list?

Yea, I didn’t think feeling this great was possible either. Guess what… it is.

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Eden Roc, St. Barth’s, May 2016

How on Earth did I get to this wonderful place in my life after so many difficult months? I’m abnormally happy, abnormally calm and I’m almost reluctant to say it for fear I might jinx my zen.

But if I’m being honest, it feels pretty fucking great to say that on the anniversary of one of the worst days in my life. I almost want to cry about it.

One year ago today, as I quietly celebrated 17 years in remission from Hodgkin’s Disease, I was also given my breast cancer diagnosis. This day last year was cold, rainy and gray. Today, the sun is shining and it’s 75 degrees at 10 a.m. Shout out to the universe for being so cliche.

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But I’ll take it because today marks my 18th year officially cancer-free. It’s a wonderful day.

And there’s that number again…

The irony is obvious. One year ago today, as my boyfriend of five years was packing to leave the home we shared, and I was told I needed to have a double mastectomy, this tough as nails bitch literally face-planted at rock bottom. From that point on, I didn’t recognize myself, for a long time.

But this is not a blog post to rehash the garbage year I had… this post is proof that when you hit rock bottom, there’s only one direction you can go in.

Even though it felt like it, the world, in fact, did not end. It kept spinning… and I spun with it, started over, picked myself up and took the next trail the universe guided me toward.

And the lessons I’ve gained along the way are invaluable.

I hate that 2015 was such a shitty year for so many people who I love, not just for me. For many, a sadness still resonates and it breaks my heart to watch people I love struggle as I float along on my happy fucking cloud. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on how people define happiness, and how I used to define my own happiness. By no means am I an expert on living the happiest life… I just know a thing or two about surviving in a world where there is enough sadness to sink a thousand ships.

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Sadness is unavoidable, and perhaps necessary to balance us out so that when happy times arise, you feel them. But there are definitely ways to maintain the happy mindset, particularly when shit hits the fan.

My method seems to fit somewhere outside traditional norms, but it’s pretty simple… you and only you are responsible for your happiness. Stop expecting other people to fuel your happiness. Start doing the things you love, for you, and happiness will find you.

#BOOM

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I realize I was a victim of the traditional world. Most of us live our lives with expectations that you must go to a great school so that you land a great job, find the perfect husband with whom you’ll build a perfect family with, living in a perfect house and all at the perfect ages, and if you achieve those things, you’ve made it. In my experience, living with those expectations was just as risky as having no plan. I did go to a great school, and landed great jobs where I made healthy salaries, lost some of my sanity, developed anxiety and debts. I found companions who were good to me, but who I also made excuses for when big red flags went up to avoid the relationship ending. I felt pressure from society, and given my own health, to get married and have children and quickly, because time is precious and I didn’t know how much of it I had left.

I felt pressure to make sure I was never alone, because I might not survive otherwise… as if I haven’t saved my own life, twice.

I am not living the life I thought I would be living today, but I’m grateful for the life I’ve found. I’m my own boss and I can truly revel in my own success, rather than having to live up to someone else’s expectations. I’m physically the healthiest I’ve felt since my teenage years, because I’m making fitness and strength a priority. I’m not searching for a soulmate to keep me company and make me happy, out of fear that I’ll be alone forever. Instead, I’ve fallen in love with being alone, being the keeper of my schedule, not having to compromise and being able to choose who and how many people I spend my time with. I’m no longer secretly jealous of my closest friends as they experience big life milestones that I feel I’m missing out on… I’m not missing a thing. I’m right there with them, enjoying every precious moment.

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My tough year, and the hardships my loved ones have faced, taught me to throw out the conventional expectations. Don’t wait for permission from someone else to do the things you love. Don’t settle for relationships, friendly or romantic, that bring you down — end them. Don’t cower in fear over a decision you know is the right one but appears challenging. Don’t look back on the decisions you made with regret just because things didn’t work out the way you expected them to… they worked out exactly as they were supposed to.

For the first time in my life I have accepted that my hardships have hardened me in the best possible way. I have accepted that life is unpredictable and will continue to throw challenges my way, and while I may temporarily fall apart, I’ll always find my way. I have accepted that my life will be one that I can take full credit for… unconventional, abnormal, surprising and adventurous.

And those are the kinds of lives that people remember.

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“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.”

from bad to badass.

As February comes to a close, I can’t help but think about where I was this time last year. February is my birthday month. It’s a month when love is in the air and everyone on the planet gets engaged.

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Last year, this is exactly when life started to unravel for me, beginning with my relationship. The realization that my relationship might end after five wonderful years, and big plans for the future, hit me like a ton of bricks.

I had no idea this turning point would turn into the landslide it became.

I’ve spent my last five birthdays celebrating with Duane in frigid northeastern temperatures. Before I met him, I spent most of my birthdays in Aruba.

So this year, I went back to paradise.

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My best friend April introduced me to the beauty of Aruba about 10 years ago. Lately, she refers to it as “the healing waters of Lake Minnetonka,” also known as “buttajuice island.”

I fucking love April.

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April and I met when she interviewed me for my first corporate job out of college. Soon after I was hired we realized we’d grown up just a town away from each other on Long Island. We put the “LOOOONG” in island, and I’m pretty sure April and I share a brain (we definitely share a language).

She also had a rough 2015. Her mother passed away suddenly over the summer and she’s since been caring for her father from afar. We both needed this vacation badly.

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I stayed with a dear friend who lives in Aruba year round, rented a car, drove myself to the beach everyday and felt right at home.

We bronzed ourselves on the beach, pool hopped, drank fruity tropical drinks and local beers, treated ourselves to massages and ate fabulous dinners.

I also spent time with many other friends who either live in Aruba or who always come down at the same time of year. Aruba is a tiny island filled with kind, happy people and tourists who return year over year. It’s easy to make lifelong friends there. It’s not a bad place to know people.

It’s been five years since I’ve seen many of these friends, so we had a lot of catching up and celebrating to do. It warmed my heart to learn that so many of them have been reading this blog, following my journey and praying for me. It’s a blessing to have friends on a tropical island who care that much… not many people can say they have that.

Wearing a bathing suit again with this new body was interesting…

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Before I left for vacation I tried on every single bathing suit I own. None of them looked the same as they did before my double mastectomy in August. Some that I used to love, looked terrible. Some that I used to hate, looked terrific. My new boobs are starting to settle into a better shape. They are slowly softening and feeling more natural.

I’m actually starting to like them. Imagine that…

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I credit 6-7 days a week at the gym for that. And I credit myself for having the stamina to keep up that pace… I’m officially a gym rat.

And I’m totally okay with that.

While most people become obsessed with the gym because they want to lose weight, that was not my sole purpose.

The radiation I had when I was 16 for Hodgkin’s Disease basically killed my thyroid and caused precancerous polyps. So, I had my thyroid removed in 2010 and have struggled with weight gain ever since, despite medication, lots of attempts at dieting and regular workouts. Since nothing has really worked, I’d just resolved myself to thinking, weight will be an issue that is out of my control, forever. However, I knew I wanted to get blood flowing to the numb parts of my body which have been destroyed. I wanted to be able to do a push up again without collapsing, now that my chest muscles are in a different place. I want to stimulate the nerves in my chest with hopes that some feeling may come back.

I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it… and I have.

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I also never really understood until recently that cancer feeds off of fat tissue and sugar, which seems stupid for someone who’s spent her life as a cancer survivor and who has worked in the healthcare industry for her entire career… how did I not realize these things? I’m still at risk for developing another cancer, which is why I take Tamoxifen everyday. If I can do more to prevent my invasive cancer from becoming incurable metastatic cancer, like trying my hardest to eliminate fat from my body and sugar from my diet, I’m going to.

And now, two months later, I’m noticeably stronger. I have more endurance. I’m sleeping more soundly, except for when I have a hot flash and start sweating profusely. Feeling is starting to return to areas of my chest and the sides of my torso underneath my arms. I’m more flexible. My posture is better. The shape and feel of my implants is improving. And, while the scale has not gone down, my clothes noticeably fit differently… better.

Sometimes when you set your expectations low, you surprise yourself.

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Managing my risk of a cancer recurrence also means keeping up with all of my new “ologists.” And, I’ve already had my first scare… I’d forgotten what being a “new” survivor was like.

Luckily, I’ve had enough health scares in my 30+ years that I know not to completely freak out until it’s time to completely freak out.

My body is going through many changes because of the Tamoxifen I’m taking, which blocks estrogen and hence messes with a woman’s reproductive system. My menstrual cycles have changed quite a bit, which is to be expected, but is also somewhat of a cause for concern. There is a whopping 1% risk of develop uterine cancer while taking Tamoxifen (usually if you are older than 50), and during a very thorough exam with my OBGYN, she detected what appeared to be a polyp in my uterus.

… OF COURSE she found a polyp. She actually found two polyps.

To be safe, I had them biopsied. I wasn’t worried, I’ve had tons of biopsies in my life and have been fine. So, because I’m very much in the “if I handled breast cancer and a grueling double mastectomy I can handle anything because I’m superwoman” mode, I didn’t think this would be a big deal.

It was totally a bigger deal than I thought.

First off, I had to insert a pill into my lady parts the night before, which the child in me was totally annoyed with.

imageI woke up with some discomfort, but nothing major… I thought I’d be in and out and going about my day afterward.

Now, some of my female readers may be familiar with a colposcopy or a LEEP procedure, both uncomfortable, but very minor and commonly performed procedures in women… this was NOTHING like that…

This hurt like a bitch.

Seconds before my doctor performed the biopsy, she asked if I’d taken Advil before I came in… of course I hadn’t because nobody had told me I should have. She said, “Well, this is going to cramp a little…”

I’m pretty sure I now know what childbirth feels like…

I’m absolutely sure I said “fuck,” very loudly, more than once…

I’m positive I went white as a ghost, almost passed out and started hysterically crying on the table…

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Note to self: if I have to have another one of those, which I’m sure I will, I’m taking a whole lot of Percocet beforehand.

Luckily, the biopsy came back benign. You can breathe a sigh of relief now.

All in all, February treated me right. Looking back, life has certainly taken a 180 for the better. My new flexible working lifestyle is saving me from the stress I used to endure and I’m grateful. I’m able to prioritize staying healthy above everything else.

Most importantly, my mind is clear to continue paying attention to the small things that you miss out on when you’re working around someone else’s priorities.

I could get used to this… Happy birthday to me… in just 365 days, things went from really bad, to seriously badass.

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a whole new world…

So… I took a little hiatus from blogging… it’s because I’ve been busy LOVING 2016 so far. I’m thoroughly enjoying this “new year, new me” shit.

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I’m back in my own house, for good.

I’m basically recovered from my last exchange surgery (although doc says my new boobs are still swollen, I can’t feel a thing).

I started working out at the gym again (and it’s kicking my ass, in a great way).

I’m on a new diet that for once I LOVE (I didn’t think those existed).

I bought a new car and driving isn’t as scary as I thought it would be.

And, I’ve got a line-up of awesome vacations planned for this year… things are so good…

What’s the catch, right?

Well, toward the end of 2015, something serendipitous happened… I lost my job while on medical leave.

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That’s right… in 2015 I broke up with my longtime boyfriend and love of my life, survived breast cancer, lost my grandmother, some of my sanity and my corporate job.

That’s one way of looking at it…

In between all of that crap, I also had a blast… and these were times spent traveling to cities I love, meeting face to face (and drinking lots of wine) with people I don’t spend nearly enough time with and touching people’s lives with this blog.

But these are the kinds of fulfilling things that, unfortunately, my corporate job usually got in the way of. Purposeful connections, thoughtful interactions, meaningful memories, with people in my life who really matter and should be prioritized.

So losing my job didn’t feel like I was losing everything, especially since I thankfully have a reliable stream of income from the skincare business I own (shameless self-promotion, we’re hiring). But also, because during the worst year on record, I actually found exactly who I want to be.

there it is

And, to be totally clear, I knew a long time ago that my corporate job was coming to an end… I just didn’t know exactly when.

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, I was part of an exclusive team tasked with helping to map out what a reorganization of the department I worked in would look like. I was happy to have a voice in the process and was actually looking forward to working on new projects that would challenge me and help me grow professionally. So before you get all “BUT THEY CAN’T DO THAT” on me, you should know, my job elimination was totally legit, not personal and in a lot of ways, my choice.

My entire department was impacted, I was given ample opportunities to apply for a new position and my company was extremely supportive and accommodating.

When my boss called me in November with the details of the new job opportunities, I was caught off guard with how NOT excited I was. I didn’t expect that. I loved my job. I was great at my job. I love the people I worked with. I never once thought I wouldn’t be going back.

But as I tried to envision which new position would be perfect for me, I couldn’t ignore that I’m pretty much a totally different person than I was when I worked there six months ago. My outlook has changed, my lifestyle has changed, my needs have changed and my dreams, passions and sense of purpose are stronger than ever.

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And, if so much could change in MY life in only six months, what kinds of things were different at the company I’d left behind?

Beyond that, when the options were presented to me in November, I still had a pending exchange surgery coming up… what if there were complications (which there were)? What if I needed more surgery (which I might)? How could I commit to a new job with a very different job description when I had no idea when I’d be ready to go back full-time?

More importantly, I’d made plenty of difficult decisions already in 2015… why would I want to rush into another huge decision with all of these unknowns and not very much time to decide?

Something just felt off.

I immediately thought back to my life five years ago. Some of this I described in a previous post about the importance of not being an asshole… and I remembered wishing that I’d had the means to take a break from Corporate America, to find a way to earn a living while ACTUALLY LIVING. To find work that I could be truly invested in because I was passionate about it, and work that would not mean sacrificing the flexibility that — let’s face it — we ALL need.

Well… five years later… I do have those things… and if feels pretty fucking awesome.

People keep asking me… “Aren’t you nervous?”

The answer is, NOPE. I’m beyond excited.

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This is the first time in my entire adult life that I’ve actually been able to take a break, prioritize my needs and focus on myself. I’m sure a lot of people reading this are thinking, “yea, when was the last time I did that…”

Isn’t that terrible?

I’ve spent the last several months searching my soul for the things that truly matter. That happens when you’re faced with a life-threatening illness… you really start weeding out the things that drain you.

Even though this is the second time I’ve been in a life-threatening situation, I think the universe knew that I got stuck somewhere along the way… I’d forgotten to put myself first. I forgot to put my passions first.

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So… 2016, my “eat pray love” year, is about to be pretty kick-ass.

How will I spend it? That’s a good question…

I’ve never been a super religious person, but I am a spiritualist and I talk about the power of the universe a lot. It’s difficult to believe that after all the crap I’ve been through in my 30+ years, I’ve not just survived, I’ve thrived. I have full faith that the universe has put me in equally tough and amazing situations to help me grow, and to get me to the next step.

I also believe strongly in intuition. I know I have guides and guardian angels that I cannot see, helping me navigate the world and hurdles put in my path. And there’s a reason I wasn’t too excited to run back to my old job… it’s because that is part of my old life, and it’s time to explore this great big world.

stop chasing

In September, I met with a new medium who told me some pretty incredible things. She of course knew all about my hardships without me having to tell her. The skeptics will say, she could have Googled it… and they’re right… she could have.

But like most mediums, she said a lot of things she could not have known, because she doesn’t live in my head… and she knew about deep conversations, feelings, even struggles I’ve had within myself, for years.

One that struck a chord was that she told me to stop forcing life.

Childhood cancer survivors can relate to the feeling that you have to LIVE fast. We know what it feels like to stare death in the face. We don’t fuck around with mortality. Part of me was going through life afraid that it might be over soon… because the truth is, it could be over tomorrow… but most people don’t live with that feeling everyday… many childhood cancer survivors do.

And so I’ve spent my whole adult life thus far following the “normal plan.” I was a great student, I went to a great college, I had great internships, I started a career doing exactly what I’d studied in school, I quickly climbed the corporate ladder. I even found some companions along the way who I thought I’d spend my life with. It’s all been very cookie cutter. And I’ve always thought, if I check the boxes on the path to “success” that’s been defined by others, I’ll find success…

Well, I’ve checked all the boxes… and it brought me to 2015… my most insanely difficult year, where I lost so much.

And I’m many things… but one I am NOT, is cookie cutter.

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I’d much rather live life freely, doing the things that feed my soul, because when all is right with your soul, life unfolds before you, the way it’s supposed to, not how it’s forced to.

So I’m going to spend 2016 continuing to do the things I love, while networking and reconnecting with dear friends and former colleagues who should not have fallen on the back burner. And instead of the status quo driving my next career decision, my passion and positive energy will.

So you see, there are more than just traditional cancers that impact your health and well-being… bad vibes, bad relationships, bad bosses, stressful working environments, negative living conditions, poor lifestyle choices, none of us need any of that shit… so to quote my dear old pop, “GET RID OF IT.”

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Physically, I’m still getting used to my new body.

Tamoxifen continues to cause strange physical changes and side effects, but I’m confident it’s giving me more years to enjoy life.

Now that it’s wintertime, my hands, feet and nose are constantly freezing, a typical side-effect when you have no thyroid (not sure why, but I hate it).

My boobs are still not perfect, but I’ve had enough of a dramatic pity party about it and I’m over it. They also continue to change in shape and texture, so there’s no need to obsess over them immediately.

More rigorous work-outs are increasing blood flow to the areas in my upper body which have been numb and sleepy, so some feeling is coming back and with that comes crazy weird itching and little bursts of minor pain.

All of this is tolerable. The worst is really over. The best is yet to come.

And you know what? I can’t wait to share all of the kick-assery of 2016 with all of you ❤

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