Rohan Herring at the X-Factor

Rohan is a friend of mine from Australia that was dealt a difficult hand when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 24. He underwent aggressive chemo treatment for an inoperable tumor the size of a grapefruit in his chest.

In the present he is engaged to the love of his life and making his dreams a reality by performing as often as possible. His musical ability is turning heads as he also performed at the World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood, CA. When I lived in Australia, he always talked about his dream to move to America and perform. It is exciting to watch his dreams become reality over time.

It is incredible to see how far he has come since his diagnosis. He was certainly a role model for my attitude when I was diagnosed with cancer a little over a year later. Watching Rohan go through his cancer experience with such a positive attitude and come out the other end helped me to believe that I could not only be okay, but flourish. Cancer was a mere speed bump for Rohan and if anything, has only encouraged him more to pursue his dreams with passion, sincerity, and optimism. Let this be a lesson for all of us.

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As they say in Aus, good on ‘ya Rohan. I am HEAPS proud!

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“Hair so long that it looked like weave then she cut it all off, now she look like Eve”

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The emotional attachment to my hair has ebbed and flowed over the past few months. Some days I feel liberated and empowered other days I feel like my femininity and physical appearance has been compromised. There is really little rhyme or reason as to how I feel on each particular day but I think that is normal for all of us hair or not. Regardless, I have been pretty committed to the wig and rotated through a few different versions of my typical brunette self. The wigs are fun honestly. They have way more shape, body and volume than my own hair has ever offered me but it comes to a point where you’d rather just be dealing with your own mop especially in 90+ degree heat. I more or less committed myself to the wig look because I’m a 25 year old single female. Though I haven’t tried it, walking up to dudes at the bar, winking and saying “hey, you into bald chicks?” probably isn’t my best method of attracting the opposite sex. So wig it was.

Little by little I have been slowly going into public sans-wig. My most recent wig-less act was at Penn Station in NYC on my way home from visiting my Torrington loves. Penn station as you may or may not know is SUPER crowded so normally I would not go without hair in front of strangers in a situation where I was by myself . Tuesday I finally mustered up the courage to go without the wig to work as shown in the picture above. This was a huge milestone for me. I honestly had a knot in my stomach driving to work but my head said “shut up stomach, let’s go baldy”, and so I did.

Exposing my head in a picture in the safety and comfort of my own blog is way different than exposing yourself to your colleagues and students in real life. I expected some people to be polite about it and others to avoid the elephant in the room. Much to my surprise, the response was overwhelmingly positive. I’ve gotten more compliments than I did when I had long hair. How about that? Not that I ever had remarkable hair. It was average at best but it was long and could be straightened and curled and pinned and dyed. It could blow in the wind (usually in the wrong direction covering my face, definitely not sexy and windswept like a runway model). Despite all of the times I’ve tried to make my hair look perfect, the Sinead O’Connor look ended up being the homerun. I got positive feedback from people who don’t even know I had cancer. WILD. Bottom line, the positive feedback made me feel a whole lot better about my circumstances and perhaps I will go without the wig in other settings. If I’m feeling adventurous I may not wear it out this weekend but that is TBD. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

I would like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to a woman at Bryant, a fellow survivor, that went without her wig at work for the first time on the same day that I did. She looks absolutely stunning with or without hair. We had to laugh that we accidentally did it on the same day since we joked a few weeks ago that we would plan a day for the “big reveal” at work.

I guess we can chalk this up to another success.

“The fog is…inevitable” -Reginald

All good news to share today. First, the CT scan that I had prior to my trip came back all normal! Whatever pain I am feeling occasionally is probably something minor like adhesions. I will know more when my doctor calls me but at least that is a relief.

Onto the fun stuff…

I have returned from California in one piece. After the rainy Rhody weather a five days in sunny California with one of my favorite people on earth was just what I needed. I remember being so hesitant to book any trips this summer because I did not know if I would be well enough to stray too far from the hospital. I am so glad that I took a chance and booked the tickets.

This vacation consisted of a lot of sun, pool, hot tubbing, over indulgent food, and adult beverages (sorry Mom!). On the first night Adam and his two friends took me to the Shadowbrook Restaurant in Santa Cruz. It was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time AND you had to take a cable car from the parking lot to the restaurant which was pretty incredible. If you had taken me there during treatment, I would be fat in no time (but with the excessive vomiting post-chemo, probably not). Here is the only serious moment captured during that dinner:

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During my stay I had the pleasure of meeting many of Adam’s friends that supported me during my illness. Adam’s friend Tina even took me out for a manicure followed by cocktails while my brother was at work. Thanks Tina! It was great finally meeting all of the amazing people in my brother’s life. It’s good to know that he is well taken care of despite being over 3000 miles away from home.

The 4th of July started at Khartoum’s for a fundraiser for Blue Star Moms, an organization of mothers that have sons and daughters serving in the military. They had a fantastic spread of BBQ food and drinks. The proceeds went to make care packages for our military overseas. In the process I ate well, met Tina’s extended family, and learned how to play shuffle board (I need to find this game somewhere because I am determined to become amazing at it). The day consisted of a pub crawl around Campbell and ended with fireworks.

Shasta got festive while I got a little sassy drinking swirls:

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And after a couple swirls this happened…

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All in all the 4th of July was a very nice day resulting in a very necessary snooze until noon the next day. Poor Adam had to work.

The second to last day we had a pool party which was a blast and on the last night Adam and I went to see a comic at the improv. We were seated right next to the stage and mortified because sure enough the comic called on us and proceeded to ask us horribly inappropriate things. Never again will I sit next to the stage at a comedy show.

In conclusion, thank you Adam for making my summer vacation beyond lovely. I basically left San Jose kicking and screaming.

I do want to share an interesting encounter I had. From Providence to Denver I met a girl named Jess close in age to me. We ended up sitting next to each other and pretty much talking most of the way there. She was meeting her cousins in Denver and driving to Vegas. I figured I would never see her again UNTIL I caught her days later in the Denver airport for the return flight. We were so excited to see each other you would think that we were old war buddies. We again chatted the entire flight home which was really nice because it’s a seriously long flight. Anyone who knows me knows that I love life talks and somewhere around the midwest we started to get serious. I told her about my experience with cancer, she told me that her father died when she was 16 of a serious illness. It turns out that her father also wrote and documented his final years. It was an incredibly emotional and deep conversation for a simple plane ride home. It just goes to show that everyone has a unique and incredible story to tell. I am thrilled that she felt comfortable sharing it because we were able to connect on a whole other level.

I am 4 for 4 on incredible trips to California. I need to make this more of a regular thing.

Return on investment

For those who have been following my ramblings over the past few months you know that once I returned to Providence I was committed to getting back to my regular old self as much as possible. At that time I had lost a significant amount of weight. My forced sedentary lifestyle also significantly reduced my muscle mass. To help myself along despite the fatigue (and a ton of vomiting) I forced myself back into the gym. I teamed up with Matt Weese, a master trainer at Boston Sports Clubs on the east side. He is a legitimate miracle worker. I know I have said this before but I am honestly in better shape now than I was BEFORE cancer.

Proof:

April 18, 2013: Still in chemotherapy

5 push-ups on my knees (Jac: please forgive me for referring to these as “girl push-ups”. Totally kidding)

July 2, 2013: Aftercare

30 standard push-ups

My intention here is not to show off (even though I feel totally badass since I could not even come close to doing this before). I’m about to get REAL cheesy but for me each pushup for me symbolizes progress despite adversity. My body started to fail so I built it back up little by little. The payoff has been incredible.

I am fortunate to have found a trainer that has taught me so much and empowered me to exceed what I thought were my limitations. Forever grateful.

29 and feelin’ fine

My weekend kicked off with a visit to m’lady Dr. Robison for a check up. I told her about the sporadic pain that I had been having in my lower abdomen/pelvis. She noted that the area felt dense but nothing felt or looked abnormal when she did an internal exam. To err on the side of caution she ordred a CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis. She tended to believe that it could just be the adhesions from surgery breaking apart as I become more active. I feel that she would have acted far more concerned if she thought it was something serious.

Bits of good news from that appointment:

-Dr. Robison is happy with my progress and moved our check ups to every two months instead of every month.

-Progress was reflected in my blood work as my CA125 is now 29. At the end of chemo prior to starting Letrozole it was in the high 40’s. Typically a CA125 level under 21 is considered to be most favorable. I am thrilled with 29 at this point. It’s cliché to say but “a watched pot never boils”. When I was fixated my CA125 a couple months ago it was creeping upward. Ever since my blood tests have become more spaced out and my last CT scan was clean I have given it very little thought. While I put it out of my mind the CA125 came down. Go figure.

The rest of the weekend was a blast. There was only one slight hiccup…

On Saturday night before we went out I met up with some friends for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. We were having a nice leisurely meal. We ordered cocktails and calamari while we waited for our salads to arrive. I’m sitting in the booth listening to John’s sister tell a story. While she’s story telling I start to feel a wee bit queasy so I drank some water. All of the sudden my hearing becomes muffled and my eyesight is spotty. I faintly hear Brian say: “Hey Jess. You okay?” I recall saying  then….BLACK. I pass out. When I come to John is holding my head up because I must have slumped forward. I’m surrounded by concerned friends, staff, and customers. The EMT’s arrived incredibly quick because I wasn’t passed out for long before they arrived. John walked me to the ambulance outside so the EMT’s could take my vitals as fellow diners looked on. Leave it to me to pass out in a packed chain restaurant in the center of town on a Saturday night.

Anyway, the EMT’s took my vitals and gave me the option of going to the hospital considering my medical history. I declined their offer and went home instead. After that I felt completely fine. In fact, I still went out dancing that night like a trooper (when I rally, I rally). I was well fed, hydrated, and temperature neutral so I have no idea why I fainted out of the blue. The only conclusion that I can draw is that I’m part Polish, part Russian, part fainting goat.

All in all I am fine. I spoke with my nurse and doctor since the “incident” and neither sounded overly concerned. They will note it and told me to tell them if it happens again. I’m not too worried. The silver lining of this stunt was that when Brian went into the restaurant to settle our bill and take our food to go the manager felt so bad that he/she comped our entire bill! The boys told me that fainting for food might need to be my new trick.

To end on a fabulous note I will be visiting my brother in California in T-minus one day. He is one of the most important people in my life and I cannot wait to finally hang out with him on the left coast under non-medical circumstances. FINALLY.

This is pretty much what you can expect from the remainder of my week with Adam:

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The blog will get a full report next week. Until then, Happy (almost) 4th!