Alpha Sigma Cancer Pi

I’ve said this many, many times before but I feel like the luckiest person alive for the support system that I have had through the past seven months. As time passes, this support system continues to grow in unexpected ways. It feels as if everywhere I turn is another person with their own cancer story to connect with whether they be survivors, caretakers, or medical professionals.

Having cancer in this respect is like pledging for a sorority. You meet all these great, new people who do awful crap to you like cut your guts out and pump you full of poison. You are alongside other women undergoing the same “torture”. When it is all said and done you have a bunch of new friends who identify with and support you (the only difference is that you don’t rip shots and do keg stands with these people. Or maybe you do. I just haven’t found them yet).

My phlebotomist is a great example of one of these “sorority sisters”. Today I had to get blood drawn. A few months ago I would have dreaded this. I mean, who wants to get stabbed in the veins with needles on the regular? (acceptable answers include: masochists and heroine junkies). Today was different because I hadn’t seen her in a while and I really enjoy our encounters. We chatted about work and her daughter that is going off to college in the fall. It was warm and familiar. She tortures me with those needles but her vested interest in my life and health makes me feel oddly at home in her little blood drawing chair. This is what I was getting at in a previous entry, that familiarity of a GOOD medical staff. They become your friends, family and confidants. They see you cry, they see your pain, they experience it with you. Even better, as you progress through the stages of your illness they celebrate your victories with you because those victories are theirs too.

Speaking of great medical professionals, my chemo nurse and I are total buddies now. We even went to yoga together tonight at W&I. She introduced me to another young woman with cancer (also named Jess) who I am looking forward to getting to know better. We all know that nurses are dedicated but when your nurse is willing to do shoulder stands with her patients in her spare time, you know she’s amazing. If anybody ever has the pleasure of meeting Sheila Enderby give her a giant high five.

Aside from the medical staff there are your fellow “pledges”, other cancer survivors. This network of people grows for me regularly at this point.  Three separate people at work have revealed to me that they have had cancer and had undergone similar treatment. Two of these people revealed themselves to me in the last couple of weeks. In fact, I complimented a woman in the staff dining room on her haircut. She leaned in and whispered “it’s a wig” so I leaned in and whispered “mine too”. The next day she invited me to lunch and it turned out that not only did we both undergo cancer treatment, we also had the same social worker AND chemo nurse. Of course I would never want anyone to have to go through what I did but at the same time it has been really nice to connect with others on such a deep level when I probably would not have otherwise.

Though I never pledged for a sorority, I am certainly a lifetime member of an ever growing “club” anway. With every “sister” I meet, the mutual understanding helps me to feel a little less alone.

(p.s. our sorority house is called Women and Infants Hospital and we ran out of beer. All we have left are bags of saline, taxol, and cisplatin. It beats the hell out of natty light though)

On a totally unrelated note we are quickly approaching wedding season! Two of my friends from college, Katie and Molly, are getting hitched to long time boyfriends. I had the privilege of attending their showers this month:

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Oh and I have also decided that this handsome fella is going to be my wedding date to Katie’s wedding. I’m sure her parents won’t mind if I borrow him for the day…

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When these lovely ladies got engaged I told both of them that come hell or high water I would be there to dance at their weddings. To be perfectly honest, at times I had my doubts that I would be well enough to attend these beautiful events. Health-wise, I am so much better than I expected to be at this point and I don’t just think, but I know that I will continue to progress in a positive direction. I cannot wait to tear it up on the dance floor with the future Mrs. Carlson, and Mrs. Solari. If watching these beauties get married isn’t motivation to get better, I don’t know what is 🙂

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Someone has got a case of the Mondays

Health update: So far so good. I’ve been on Letrozole for over a month and so far I just have crazy hot flashes fairly regularly. The only concern I have is minor. I have had some occasional pain/cramping in my pelvis/abdominal area. It could be scar tissue breaking up but I really don’t know. It could be anything so I’m not going to worry yet. Like Dr. Robison says, IF it’s time to worry she will let me know. I have a check-up with her next week so I will address it then. Until then, as far as I know- I’m okay.

Life Update: Something interesting happened today. I was driving to work especially anxious. It was the first day of freshmen orientation at Bryant and I had to give two advising presentations for incoming students for the first time. It’s not that I didn’t know the material and it’s not that I am shy of public speaking. I just knew that I had a TON of information to deliver in a small window of time. When you’re delivering to an audience that is already inundated with information, not making their heads spin is generally a goal.

So I’m chugging along on my normal commute, sitting at the stop light in front of campus, waiting for my green arrow and I smell something odd. I see white smoke start to billow upward in front of me. My first thought was “hey someone’s car is smoking” (I think it was a moment of wishful thinking). My second thought was SHIT it’s my car. My temperature gauge couldn’t be any farther on the red end of the scale. I was incredibly fortunate to already be at work and not stranded on 95 somewhere.

I would like to tell you that I just parked and said “suck it up Sally! You have a presentation to give. Deal with this later!” but unfortunately I cannot. I did deal with it later because I needed to dive into the madness of orientation but I certainly did not forget about it. Most of the morning my train of thought went a little like this:

Actual Voice: Welcome to Bryant! What are you planning on studying?

Voice in my head: YOUR CAR IS BROKEN! HEY! JESS! YOUr CAR IS BROKEN!

Actual Voice: Well it’s great to have you here! In your yellow folder you’ll find your schedule. You’re pre-registered for…

Voice in my head: HEY! LISTEN TO ME! YOUR CAR IS JACCCCCKKKKKEEDDD UP.

Actual Voice: …so tomorrow is when we will come together as a group and guide you with registering for your final two classes…

Voice in my head: $$$$$$$

The worry associated with not knowing what was wrong with my car in addition to the anticipation of speaking to a room full of young adults made for an anxious morning. The presentation was okay. I didn’t bomb it or anything but I think it could have gone better. My colleagues assured me that the first one is always the toughest (luckily I have six more opportunities over the next two weeks to nail it). Despite the reassurance I didn’t feel great about it and still beat myself up all afternoon for not being automatically amazing at a presentation that I’ve never given before

So much for not sweating the small stuff right? Over the last few months I’ve preached about how much perspective I’ve gained and how the little things don’t matter. Well I’m only human. I don’t think I necessarily let it derail my whole day but it certainly bothered me more than it should have (my Mom is going to read this and tell me to stop “shoulding all over myself” hehe). THEN I got mad at myself for being mad at myself!

When I sit back and reflect on the anxiety I had today there are several positive counter points that help me to realize that my day really was not all gloom and doom:

1.) The owner/mechanic from A&W in Smithfield actually came to campus to pick up my car FOR FREE.

2.) I have been squirelling away a little money for months should something like this happen. I can afford the repairs (oh I forget to tell you, my radiator is shot and the something-something valve is seriously leaking oil). It’s expensive and annoying but manageable. 

3.) I have rides to and from work and my car will be done tomorrow.

4.) No one threw eggs at me during my presentation.

5.) I have SIX more opportunities to improve my delivery of the presentation as I have to present to many other groups over the course of the next two weeks.

(Stephanie Perry, my colleague, was key in helping me collect my thoughts in order to draw these conclusions since she made me sit on the other side of my desk and tell her what was wrong. Thanks “Dr.” Steph!)

In reflection of today’s events I forgive myself for letting them bother me because it’s a normal human response. If I threw confetti in the air and popped champagne over the hood of my my overheating vehicle I would be certifiably insane (or potentially the star of a hip hop music video). I realize that all of these events are in my control to correct or improve. That realization is critical. After dealing with serious illness that makes you feel anything but in control much of the time.

I’d like to end on a couple positive notes. Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to help me celebrate kicking the crap out of of some cancer. It is nice to share smiles and laughter with you guys for a change 🙂

Finally, thank you to Aimee Audette for sharing this link on facebook because it definitely perked me up:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/things-to-keep-in-mind-if-youre-having-a-bad-day

Hey Mom- I updated my blog just for you…

Good morning supporters,

I have been slacking on the blog updates as my mother was kind enough to point out…several times (love you Mom).

I went to Women and Infant’s for a check-up on Friday. Dr. Robison checked how my incision was healing, did a pelvic exam, and felt my stomach to check for fluid or abnormailities. Everything checked out ok! I have another appointment scheduled in a few weeks toward the end of the month. I will have a blood test a couple days prior. As long as everything remains relatively normal or unchanged, we may move our check-ups to once every two months. I am excited that my doctor is confident enough in my progress to space out our appointments. On the flip side I am starting to feel a little void in my life. Isn’t that messed up? After months of praying to be done with this nightmare there is a part of me that has become attached to the safety and support of Women and Infants. Not going every month just feels off. It is something that I have discussed with my social workers and other survivors before. It’s not that I need the reassurance of Dr. Robison telling me I’m okay every month- I just miss the people and routine of it. I need to find a way to stay connected in a different way whether it be seeing social work more frequently or even getting a massage there. I know that I’m not articulating this well. I am honestly trying to figure this void out  myself. I’ll elaborate more later I’m sure…

One task that I am setting out to accomplish at the hospital is to meet with a genetic counselor. I am trying to set up an appointment for next week to see if I carry the gene for Ovarian cancer and if it would be warranted for my mom to get tested. I found out last night from a friend that this test is not covered by insurance. WHAT?! This is seriously proactive shit and you’re going to tell me that THIS isn’t covered in the least? I am going to put in a call to Blue Cross and Blue Shield this week to inquire but regardless I’m getting the testing. If it can help my family, it’s worth it (too bad pulling the cancer card on your health insurance company doesn’t work).

On a different note…

Lately I have been feeling like I am going in warp speed. I have gone into the aftercare stage gung-ho about maximizing my time on this earth and living fully as I discussed in my last entry. I am trying to say “yes” more and worry a little less. In the midst of all of this, I may have forgotten how to slow down. I was so slowed down (let’s face it, parked) during my treatment that I feel as if I need to compensate for lost time and do everything that comes my way. Oh you want to have coffee? Sure! You want to grab a drink and watch the Bruins? Absolutely! You want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro then stop for frozen yogurt on the way down? Hell yeah! I have thoroughly enjoyed the workouts, the concerts, the mini road trips, and nights dining out but I need to make a promise to myself that at least two nights a week I just come home, clean, make dinner and DECOMPRESS. Being that it is summer and there are so many more fun opportunities I’ll probably do a really bad job at this.

I mean- how can you resist slugging bourbon at 11am only to follow it up with a music festival in Boston during a downpour?

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Other bits and pieces:

1.) My hair is growing back!  This is both very exciting and obnoxious. The ONE perk of having chemo (besides a Benedryl induced nap every other week) was not having to shave my legs for months. The dream is dead. Oh well- on the flip side that means that my eye brows are coming in, some little baby eyelashes, and slowly but surely the fuzzies on top of my head are coming in. Last weekend I actually went without wig in semi-public for the first time. It was really nice to not worry about wearing a wig for a little bit. When my GI Jane look gets a little longer I’ll probably go out more often sans hair-hat.

In the meantime- I was fortunate enough to inherit a beautiful new wig to add into the rotation from my friend’s wonderful girlfriend Pam. She owns a salon in Warren, RI called the Ananda Hair Lounge. Check it out! Another hair related act of kindness- On Friday I needed my head shaved again. It was driving me nuts how uneven it was growing in and my “barbers” (friends with clippers) John and Brian were on vacation so on a whim I went to a salon called Strands in Wayland Square. I used to go there when I actually had hair. At the last minute a woman named Lisa was kind enough to take me and buzz my head. I cannot even begin to explain how sweet she was. She wouldn’t allow me to give her a dime. I believe she said: “if you try to give me any money so help me if I ever see you on the street I will ignore you! It will look very rude but I’ll do it!” Instead she made me promise that I would return in the future to let her work on my hair. Sounds fair to me.

2.) I did a set of 20 consecutive pushups with my trainer last week. The goal was to do 16 (guess I got a little carried away). The pressure is on. Now he wants 30 tonight. DAMNNIT ACCIDENTALLY OVERACHIEVING. What is really awesome is that we started practicing holding the one armed position so I can get used to how to balance and shift my weight when I actually do it. One armed pushup…you are mine.

3.) The most important update of all has nothing to do with me. Through this whole “cancer thing” one of the most therapeutic things that helped me to heal and feel most understood was to read another blog called Eff Leukemia written by a 28 year old named Tony Lanza. In the midst of our struggles, Tony and I connected and really became friends from a distance. Even though our battles are very different, we were able to relate on many levels and that helps when there are few young people around you also facing their mortality. I am pleased to announce that one year later Tony has kicked the crap out of some Leukemia! If you have a chance please look over his blog and maybe throw a “congrats” his way. He approached his treatment with humor and positive energy and it is very reflective in his writing. What he has endured over the last year is unimaginable and I am so proud that he can finally move into the next chapter of this process.

That is it for now. Thank you for continuing to read, send love, and support. It’s not over yet, but every day gets a little bit better. Big things are to come 🙂