Smile! You’re on Cancer Candid Camera

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Was diagnosed with cancer (note my swollen belly above. That’s me sucking in. Full of a big tumor and 3 liters of fluid)

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So my friends and I said “eff it” and had my 25th birthday early and threw a rager. Here are the tamer shots.

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I went under the knife on December 4, 2012 for the first of several surgeries. I had a total abdominal hysterectomy. Luckily I had my big brother by my side with my parents before the surgery. In the months following I was cut open a few more times to insert an intraperitenial port and a central line. I learned to embrace the beauty of scars.

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Scars are nothing in comparison to the torture that is the NG tube. WORST EVER.

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A few weeks after surgery the chemo started at Yale.

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In preparation for the impending doom of losing my hair, my mom and I headed to the salon and had some fun trying on wigs and trimming my long locks into something more manageable. I also learned that blondes do not have more fun. Yikes.

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I was reminded by many wonderful friends that “bald is beautiful”

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But that didn’t stop my family and I from having some fun with a few novelty “cranial prosthesis”

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It also didn’t stop me from making my friends try on my wigs for my amusement (p.s. they are all red heads/blondes)

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I rocked a lot of hats after I lost my hair. I grappled with my perceived stigmatization of “cancer patient” without my hair.

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But eventually I put it out into the world.

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Sometimes in the midst of physical and emotional pain and the uncertainty of my condition I got scared. Luckily I had the support of many to keep me afloat. I’m smart to have kept some evidence.

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Sometimes the advice came from the universe.

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Nothing compares to the wisdom of your parents.

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Even on Valentines Day in the hospital I got by with a little help from my friends. Stack was the BEST valentines date…

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…and chemo date…

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…and St. Patricks date.

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When my immune system was compromised, even my tiniest of friends found a way to cheer me up!

Regardless of chemo, surgeries, and general unpleasantness my friends, family and I were determined to have fun…

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And with the fun came some rewarding hard work further fueling me to still pursue my dream of finishing a half-marathon. For now, a messy 5k will do…

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Thank goodness I worked so hard to gain my weight and strength back because I had some weddings to boogie at!

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I also didn’t have any time for cancer because I needed to go on vacation to California to see my brother…

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I also had to jet set to Wisconsin for an Australia 2009 reunion!

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Where I learned how to drive a jet ski and was showered with paper cranes ūüôā

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Cancer had to go on the back burner because I also had to casually hang out with New Politics and The Mowgli’s…

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The most important “rockstar” I met all year was hands down Eff Leukemia’s own Tony Lanza. He kicked Leukemia this year and after many months of being “cancer pen pals” we finally met! Best day.

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But nothing was better than my biggest accomplishment of the year:

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Finding out that I was cancer free and announcing it to the world (despite Chris showing up late and ruining everything hehe)

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And as the result of such good care from my parents, brother, oncologists, surgeons, nurses, PA’s, family, friends, colleagues, ¬†and strangers I am here today. Clearly not many of my darker times were documented. It wasn’t all sunshine but I am really lucky to have captured so many moments that were wonderful. My heart is very full right now.

THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to everyone that ever cared, worried, sent love and support. It’s been a hell of a year.

Diagnosis-aversary: One year later!

It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that exactly one year ago today I was sitting in a hospital bed. A doctor looked me dead in the eye and told me that the “suspicious mass” found in my abdomen the day prior was a 12 centimeter malignant tumor. I looked at my parents stunned and watched their hearts shatter. In that moment it killed me more to see the fear in my parent’s eyes more than the diagnosis itself. No 24 year old should have to face their own mortality but no parent should EVER have to hear that their child is dying.

In the matter of 48 hours I went from being diagnosed with “just gas, you’re fine” to “You have cancer.” We had so many questions that the doctors couldn’t provide answers for. No one told me that I would die, but no one could answer when we asked if I would live.

With uncertainty like that  you can understand how I am completely dumbfounded by the fact that today, 365 days later, I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop by the window, eating a bagel and sipping on a hazelnut latte. A year prior I was faced with the predicament of having chemo first or surgery first. Today, my most frightening decision was whether I was going to order a spinach or cinnamon-raison bagel (totally went with spinach).

Sometimes I go back in my head and think about the more difficult times. The pure physical exhaustion. I think back to vomiting, abdominal pain, falling down, scar tissue forming and breaking up, NG tubes, needles, that nauseating hospital smell, the way my scalp ached as my hair suddenly fell out, ¬†the beeping of the pumps on a chemo IV, the unpredictability of my bowels (ask any cancer patient and they will tell you what’s up)…this list is endless. I also think of the moments where I was immersed in depression and feelings of helplessness. These feelings were especially pervasive when facing the ¬†disappointment and angst of not being able to bear my own biological children.

Sometimes I will have flashbacks when I’m driving home from work or trying to get to sleep of some of the darker times. Those raw emotions still linger and will be slow to heal. Even though it’s physically over, it will never be the same emotionally.

Despite these dark, lingering, memories, cancer gave me the ability to make very pure meaningful connections with others in a way that I don’t think I could have otherwise. I felt unmatched love, unmatched kindness, unmatched friendship. This came from family, old friends, new friends, colleagues, strangers for no other reason than we are all part of the human condition. When you are facing your own mortality, not much else matters. The petty bullshit suddenly seems a little less important. It’s not to say that I don’t have my moments. I still sweat the small stuff but perhaps not to the degree that I did previously.

Whenever I talk to other people about my experience I often hear: “I don’t know how you did it! I couldn’t have.” Here is a little secret. You could. I hope you never do, but you could. The mind-body connection is incredibly powerful and with a lot of science, a lot of luck, and a lot of love it’s possible.

One very important message that I want to put out there is that “survivor” is a funny word. I use it for lack of a better term but it is an awkward label to embrace because it implies that I did something that those who died from this condition did not. I’m not a special and unique snow flake. I just did what I was told to do to the best of my ability. There are people that smoke, drink, piss and moan all the way through their cancer and live for years. There are others that have great attitudes, eat organic, meditate, exercise, and embrace emotional support who pass quickly. When it comes down to it, it’s just science and dumb luck. If ever faced with cancer, you do the best you can, to the best of your ability given your constraints and leave the outcome to a power greater than yourself.

I am lucky to be here, I am grateful to be alive and for first time in my life, I am truly happy to be me.