Before This and After This

 1 full year and couple weeks after cancer treatments and I’m not over it.

It’s not “old news”. It will never be old news to me.  Even after everyone stops asking about it- I still live behind the cancer curtain.  I have grown in my journey with enough strength to peek from behind it. Thank God for that- but it was due to the loving support I have received from my  friends and family.  Miraculously, it doesn’t drape over me with an unbearable heaviness.  I know eventually, I will wear it as a cape. 

However, I couldn’t shake the fact that my very thought process has shifted and I see my whole life as a “before” and “after”.

I was married “before” I had cancer. I took a job “after” I had cancer.  I had my kids “before” cancer.  I started the bog “after” cancer.  People I met are defined as those who know I had cancer and those who don’t. The friendships that I currently have are defined by  their involvement before and after my cancer diagnosis. 

For those who have endured some kind of tragedy in your lives:

Doesn’t  this resonate with you?

Everything that happens to me here on out,  will ultimately be categorized as the after. There just doesn’t seem to be any way around that mindset.    Honestly, I am okay with that.  Everyday gets a bit easier. This is why:

 

 Cancer has not limited me.  I am limitless. I rely on Him.

 “Our Lord is great, with limitless strength; we’ll never comprehend what he knows and does”. ~ Psalm 147:5 MSG

It hasn’t defined me, but it has REFINED me.

SO my life story is this- my chapters defined as Before and After.  Cancer will always be a driving force in my decisions but it is not motivated by fear but faith.   I’ve resolved that to me, my cancer diagnosis will never be old news, even if the questions stop being asked and I’m 100% cancer free. I don’t have to live in fear, instead I know living an unlimited and empowered life feels too good- why would I want it to be old news?

Thanking God for another day.

So what’s on the agenda today?  Just hanging out with that family and knowing that I have GOD’s unlimited potential in me. 

Much love,

H.

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Transformation of a Breast Cancer MERMAID ~ one

send-me-on-vacation-logo

The transformation was subtle. It began the moment I was accepted into the Send Me on Vacation – Mermaid’s Journey and read the letter aloud to my husband.  It was only a couple of months away and I was already day dreaming about sleeping in, ordering room service and reading by the pool. 

Those quiet moments were what I was most excited about.  I didn’t make that a priority in the past and going to Mexico would reset my expectations for myself and my family.

 I would finally have the skills to put into place healthier living after cancer.

187

I arrived in Puerto Vallarta on Friday afternoon to beautiful cloudy skies. The air thick, hot and humid.  The resort was only 15 minutes from the airport and I easily transported there by taxi. 142

I stayed in a 5 diamond  resort on the 4th floor called the Grand Luxxe at Vidanta. I had a wonderful “suite” mate that shared the other half of the suite with me. The resort is enormous. I explored elegant pools adorned by comfortable poolside beds and cabanas.  I had my fair share of piña colada and cerviche.

Seriously, breathtaking!

016

Since I had arrived a couple days before , “Mermaid Meet and Greet”, I took along with my new breast cancer survivor friend and suite mate, Jennifer, and we explored the enormous resort via shuttle bus.    We took a tour of downtown Puerto Vallarta and went to a tequilla tasting.  We made our way to dinner along the beach and watched the sunset. We were found pinching ourselves and exclaiming our deepest gratitude for the opportunity of a lifetime.

img_0686 

My sanctuary was the spa called Spatium.  It was the ultimate self care experience.  I would jump into the eucalyptus vapor room, then the Swedish shower, followed by the sauna, another shower, relax in the hot Jacuzzi with cucumber slices and a cold cloth on the eyelids.  I would then end with a a dramatic dip in cold water to close the pores. Repeat if so desired.  It seems like a lot of work, but it was incredibly relaxing and self satisfying. img_0668

It took about 2 full days to remove the guilt of being away from my family and creating these memories without them.  I hadn’t been away from my children for that long.  I had never purposefully vacationed without my husband.   It seemed so dreamy, but I missed them.  They have always been and are my life. I truly struggled those first couple of days.  But there was that small voice, the one we all have before marriage and having children, hidden beneath the piles of laundry, online bill paying and taking out the garbage.  That little voice that spoke for you and advocated for your deepest wishes. It came back to me  joyfully and with an abundance of freedom.  I was gently reminded that I am in Mexico for my own HEALING.

I need to be WHOLE again, that I may be the best version of myself for my family- and that includes getting tan!

140

It has been said that breast cancer is not just a physical disease but an EMOTIONAL one as well.  There are many layers and many false explanations.  Just as quickly as it came, it was gone. The chemotherapy, radiation and lumpectomy took care of the actual tumor, but left me empty and sad.  Just like that, it was over and I felt so  physically and emotionally exhausted. 

  The scars, the concerns, the confusion… in the aftermath, so much lingers and cancer has left its mark.

I’m doing my best to work it out and to balance the different hats I must put on.

Organizations like Send Me on Vacation get it. 

 

Their goal has always been, to provide an unforgettable vacation experience for those who are in need of much deserved rest, rejuvenation and peace as they move forward in their cancer journey.

The real beauty and life changing work happened during the four day empowerment workshop. 

With Rebecca Taylor Shaw,  the CEO and director of the Charleston Hypnosis Center (CharlestonHypnosisCenter.com) located in the South’s most friendly city of Charleston, South Carolina.  She is also a Certified Master Trainer in Clinical Hypnosis with the International Association of Counselors and Therapists. She led us through a transformation of empowerment.  Rebecca used interactive guided imagery, relaxation strategies and other meditative strategies and modeled these resources to add to our  breast cancer “tool belt”.

 

Her passion for cancer survivors is evident as she created a gentle journey of connecting to our inner mermaid. Through it, we dove in our fears, insecurities and immeasurable strength.  She simply asked,

“How is that story working for you”? 

 

If you don’t like it, then change it. 

In the next post, I would like to focus on the specific useful strategies that she shared and ones I have actually been practicing since Mexico.   As a breast cancer survivor, or anyone who has suffered through a tragedy, issues that can stem from it are:  anxiety, restlessness, depression, lack energy/drive, fear of re-occurrence, relationship worries… the list goes on. 

These strategies have proven to be life changing. I am thrilled to share these resources with you!

www.sendmeonvacation.org

www.rebeccatayloyshaw.com

 You have helped me heal in your own way. I am grateful. I wish you many blessings and send love to each of you. Thank you for your support. 

Stay tuned!

_mlb9909_snapseed

 

 

 

 

Save

Send Me On Vacation -A Mermaid’s Journey

img_1423

It took me several days to let go of the guilt associated with leaving my sweet husband and adorable kids at home.  It had been predicted that a storm was coming to our precious PNW. I had packed and geared up for a 8 days and 7 nights to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and was filled with a bit of apprehension about leaving but more so with glee-  I was going to MEXICO!!!!  AHH!

Let me pause a minute and give you the backstory.  In August, I had stumbled across a cancer resource page that listed various “retreats” that catered to women and their families who had suffered through breast cancer.  

I found Send Me On Vacation, a non profit organization that started with a vision by Cathy Backus to rejuvenate and provide emotional healing for her best friend who had suffered from breast cancer for the second time. With her knowledge and energy, Cathy created a foundation that enhances the healing journey for many survivors into a new normal that empowers, provides rest, fosters gratitude and creates genuine friendships, all the while experiencing an unbelievable vacation. There were several opportunities within the foundation to choose from and I decided on the Mermaid Journey– with Rebecca Taylor Shaw.

I have sat for a several days in front of my computer determining what would be the best way to describe the experience that I was so very fortunate to have had.  I just can’t possibly put it in one digestible post- I’ve decided to write a blog series on this BEAUTIFUL and EMPOWERING journey.

Transformation of a Breast Cancer Mermaid

img_1544

I want to describe the various facets that a trip like this entails- what it felt like leading up to the decision, pushing aside the guilt associated with saying “yes” for my own healing (way overdue) and many more thoughts and true emotions of my “transformation journey”.   Cancer is more than a health disease, its emotional and spiritual.

I have broken the series into the Before, During and After, but not necessarily in that order!  Stay tuned for the gorgeous photos, the life changing nuggets of insight from the brilliant Rebecca Taylor Shaw and the tools and resources that have lead me to the stage I am now of renewal and transformation that is rolled up in a pretty bow of compassion.

img_1682

I spoke to a previous breast cancer mom this morning, and she commented on the fact that, only those who have walked through our journey can truly understand the anxiety,fear, guilt and sadness that {we} survivors suffer through. I hugged her and knew that it doesn’t have to be this way- the pain is inevitable, sure- but it doesn’t stay, it comes and goes.  If there is anything that I will do with more passion and heart, until the day I die, is to help eliminate those anxieties and bring about as much peace and joy to my life and the lives of fellow survivors. Let’s all be mermaids!

The Weekly Schedule of a 34 year old Breast Cancer Patient (who is also a wife and a mother of 2 under 5.)

img_8230

I was a bit envious of those older breast cancer patients that would receive their treatments during the same time that I did. I would look over at them, slightly shaking my head thinking “Oh, how nice for you. After this, I bet you are going to just settle into a sweet little nap on a comfortable and peaceful outdoor hammock while eagerly falling asleep to the gentle tweeting of our local birdies.” Of course, any true judgment or jealously is realistically and quickly thrown out the window as I know with or without young children, going through Chemo, just plain sucks- for anyone, young or old.

However, being a young mom, I have a slightly different perspective that is worthy of being shared.

My schedule, thank God, was simplified because my angel of a mother-law and my own sweet mother helped with: Laundry, the kids, meal times, bathrooms, dishes, play dates, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, last minute medical needs, and the list could go on. Basically, everything that one would potentially need to manage life and the life of your family, I was able to pass on to one of these ladies with tremendous guilt. I see now how silly it was to feel that way.  It took me several weeks, maybe months to truly understand my inability to manage the basics. Especially when I was overwhelmed by the displaced emotions and insecurities related to the fact that, “I HAVE CANCER?!”

I did my best with what I knew as I pushed through the 2 major symptoms:

 1.) Unrecognizable and unexpected Emotions

 2.) Lack of Energy

This lead to a new diagnoses that I swear should be in a cancer medical dictionary.

 (Zombie Mom + Chemo Brain = Chemombie)

 

The worst combination ever existed. In the middle of Chemo, I was also trying to sleep train my 2 year old. I thought “Isn’t this the best time to transition him into his own bed?”  I needed to have uninterrupted sleep- so why not now?  Well, that was NOT easy and it was stupid timing.

But the week would look like this:

Monday– Chemo Day

I would have treatment in the am. Sometime around 8:30.   The night before, I had packed my bag filled with inspirational breast cancer stories, a journal to reflect on those thoughtful stories of breast cancer survivors and a fluffy celebrity magazine to balance the seriousness.  I’d have my iPad and my cell phone.  I thought of anything and everything that could keep me comfortable as I sat there with the toxins pouring into my port.

After an hour of the pre-drugs, I’d wait for the Benadryl to kick in and then I would just doze off, putting aside all my preplanned activities and find a comfy position in the chair, with my legs prompted up on a pillow and leaning against another. It took approximately 5 minutes to fall into a deep sleep.  Occasionally, I would wake up to my own snoring, look up and determine how much longer I had by the amount of liquid remaining in the IV bag and drift back to sleep.

After about 12:30, my faithful cheerleader (my husband), would bring a lunch as I gently woke up from the nap and we would both eat, discussing the rest of his plans for the day. He was ALWAYS there for my treatments.  I don’t know if he realized that his mere presence made me that much stronger. I endured more than I thought I would just because he sat there across from me.

img_3051

Always offering a smile. Ugh! So annoyingly perfect!

He is so much better at the spouse support stuff that I am.

 

The rest of the day was dedicated to sleep. I would go home exhausted from the nap, oh and the chemo drugs. I would nap more and make it downstairs for dinner, if the empty nauseous feeling in my stomach lessened. If not, I would vape through the evening and sleep some more.

Sadly on Mondays, I barely saw my children.  They would come in and give me their sweet kisses.  They would ask,” Are you feeling okay Mama?” I would say, “Just resting. I need my sleep.”  But as I was always left feeling like an old helpless dying person. Sleep was always the answer to those anxieties.

Tuesday:

The day after Chemo was always the worse. The nauseous feeling remained and would grow intense through the day. Going for little walks, going Pilates and yoga was helpful. Tuesdays were dedicated to more rest. I would walk around emotionally exhausted as I probably had to play out another conversation with a friend, who “can’t believe this is happening to you.” And a sympathetic “you look great”. All very sweet and coming from the best of intentions, but Tuesdays are tough.

Wednesday:

More of the same.

3 words- EXHUASTED, TIRED, FATIGUED. Oh wait, they all mean the same thing.

Yup- Wednesdays.

Thursday:

Chemo brain is real. Although the heavy fog lingered, I would wake up on Thursdays feeling better. The drugs slowly exiting my body. It was a constant battle of accepting the toxins and its curative capabilities and cursing it for the irredeemable side effects. Thursdays were always more of an emotional day. More sleep and journal writing occasionally helped. I would have more energy to play with the kids and may be able to participate in a fun family excursion like the park or beach ( although the sun was not my friend).

september-12th-104

  This was the part of the week where I would find my inner “I have cancer and I’m pulling it off because I’m bad ass.”

On these days, I would brave into the grocery store and wear a scarf that would reveal my baldness or I would wear a tank top that exposes my port scar. Thursdays were mostly good days. At times, I would “lose it”. This meant crying uncontrollably to my husband and apologize for “the wife” God had given him.  I was a mess of emotions. Like a crazy person, the emotions would change in a split second and at the same time that I was crying, I’d laugh about the how the wig I was wearing would be pulled too far back on my head and I thought of Worf from Star Trek and his huge wrinkly forehead. Then I would cry again because, I bet Worf never had to deal with cancer.

I was a MESS.

Friday:

Wahoo!  Fun Fridays.  I had enough energy on these days to start planning my weekends, play with the kids or at least be more present. I would have more enthusiasm and joy on Friday. I accepted more visits, invited the hard conversations and took my daughter to her weekly allergy shot to the “big” city about an hour away. After we would have ice cream and go to the park. Those were good productive days and I felt like a human, a mommy and I felt like myself again.puddle-splashing

Saturday:

I would help my husband with our catering company at the Saturday morning Farmers Market. We sold delicious and authentic Spanish paella. I would take the payments and chit chat with customers and he would cook and smile over at me. He really does makes the best food and he is just so handsome- we work well together.

new-photos-045

I wouldn’t have to set up or take down.  I would barter for coffee, croissants, and local vegetables. I enjoyed the energy from the market, the casual conversations, and the unconditional support and love.  Everyone knew I was dealing with cancer, at least that’s how I felt, but no one ever thoughtlessly shared any horrible stories about how “ my Aunt Kathy had cancer, I think it was the same kind you have, and well, it was so hard for her and she looked terrible and she died, but you look great.”  Yes, that has happened to me.

Please don’t say that to any cancer patient. I’ll write soon about what you should “NEVER say to a cancer patient”. Those are always fun.

Sunday:

This was a day that I could dedicate to feeling “normal” again. I was able to dress the children for church, prepare breakfast, shower, and exercise all before 10 am (not in that order). The rest of the afternoon would be dedicated to preparing for Monday. I’d pack my chemo bag, do laundry, clean up the house a little and of course play with the kids. I always felt stronger on Sundays.  It was supposed to be the day of rest, but I wanted to take advantage of the energy and I had less mental stress from the week. I would overdo it on Sundays.

But I’d tell myself, I have all of Monday to rest. “Keep pushing through!” I’d say. I could do it.  And I did.