The Pine Cone

 

I had lunch with  a friend at work today. She is a fellow cancer crusher and beat the crap out of some breast cancer last year. Unfortunately due to the timing of my recurrence, the holidays, traveling, busy work schedules, and what have you, I was never able to tell her that I had recurred. In some respects it was harder for me to tell my cancer-crusher friends about my recurrence. I feared that I would trigger any lingering fears they had regarding their own medical challenges. It did not feel right to just send something like this through a work email:

To: Judy

From: Jessica

Subject: Womp womp

Hey Judy,

Any fun holiday plans coming up?  Oh by the way I have cancer again. How are you?

Keep it classy,

Your pal Jess

Needless to say, Judy ended up finding out through my blog. Two months later we were able to meet and talk about it. Now something you should know about Judy is that she has a phenomenal perspective when it comes to illness. We share a similar viewpoint that all of this chaos has to serve a purpose. With her insight came a bonus gift:

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She said that this is a very special pine cone. It came from a Sequoia tree.

YUP this kind of tree:

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Impressive, no?

Judy explained to me that in order for this little pine cone to turn into a massive and beautiful tree, it must burn. In order for Sequoia trees to regenerate, they must be exposed to the extreme element of wildfire.

The pinecone is now in my possession to remind me that through the chaos of the fire (cancer), I am on the other end determined, wiser, and stronger than before. No longer a mere pine cone.

What a beautiful metaphor.

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Cancer as chronic

Recently I feel as if I have been on an upswing. Perhaps I can attribute this to being back at work, going back to the gym (slowly), and socializing per usual. I have really enjoyed the way I have felt, both emotionally and physically.

Last year I wrote about a mental state that I fondly refer to as “cancer purgatory”. Cancer purgatory is when you’ve been treated but you’re not totally sure if you have no evidence of disease. Cancer purgatory haunted me last year. I hated the uncertainty of it. I despised the “living between the lines” as my mother so perfectly phrased it. I was not in the wrong for feeling that way. In fact, I am likely in the majority of cancer crushers that just want to do what they need to do and put it all behind them. It’s easier to compartmentalize in your head if it is black and white, cancer or no cancer.

Since having a recurrence my perspective about what this all means for my life is a lot different. Both Dr. Robison and Dr. Dizon have made me feel secure in the fact that medical science is in my favor. Just yesterday I went in to W&I for a check up and Dr. Robison told me that there is a MEK inhibitor trial starting next month that the most current literature finds to be quite promising. That didn’t exist a year ago. Basically I know that if this disease continues to “be a nuisance” (as Dr. Dizon put it) we will have more and more tools to fight it as the months and years go on should we need them (for the record, I do not need this trial at this time). I am in a place emotionally where I think about cancer on a regular basis but how I regard it is different. I feel that I am able to stay more present and can buy into the notion that this is a chronic and manageable disease instead of the Loch Ness Monster of medical conditions.

Right now I don’t know if there is evidence of disease or not. Regardless of the answer, it will not change how I continue to operate. Cancer has a funny way of scaring you and empowering you at the same time. As of this moment, it is fueling a lot of positive opportunities. I’ll take it.

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Shop & Support OC Awareness- SUCCESS!

I’ve been neglectful of my little blog since throwing together the Alex and Ani fundraiser to benefit the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition but I am here to report that it was a major success! Not without a few hiccups. The event was originally scheduled for Wed. Feb 5th but of course the mighty snow gods were not in cooperation with my plans. Work was cancelled that day but the Alex and Ani store was open so they gave me the option to still have it or postpone it.

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For whatever reason it was a stressful decision but I wasn’t about to make anyone come out after a snowstorm. The roads were too dangerous and most people would be a bottle of wine deep and in jammies by 4 that day. As my parents could attest to, I called them crying wondering if I was making the right decision. This is an example of me sweating the small stuff. Immediately after I thought to myself “you had cancer, THIS ISN’T A BIG DEAL IDIOT.” Turns out it wasn’t a big deal. We pushed it back one day. I thought that the short notice would prevent me from having a good turnout. I was very wrong.

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I would like to first say for the record that the staff at Alex and Ani Providence were rockstars. From the minute the event began at 7 to when they locked their doors at 9:30 the store was PACKED. The phones were ringing off the hook. I didn’t picture this great of a turnout on the original date let alone postponing it on short notice. Shout out to: Hilary, Jessica, Vanessa, Alexa, & Allison for their incredible service and professionalism. I don’t think they anticipated it being as crazy as it was. Regardless, I didn’t hear a single complaint about service.

With having to push the event back I was concerned because I had entertainment lined up. Providence’s own The Sugar Honey Iced Tea was scheduled to perform. Luckily Kate (see below, top- left) was a sweetheart and rounded up most of the members of the band to perform the next day. They played beautifully! I also must mention that they played a Destiny’s Child cover of “Survivor” and it made my life complete.

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The whole evening really breezed by so quickly. There were so many familiar faces that I would start a conversation then turn around into another one. It was like seeing snapshots of my entire life. There were friends from childhood, college, grad school, colleagues from Bryant, hospital staff, friends from previous jobs, and other wonderful people that have come into my life in the most unexpected of ways.

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…and of course Mama and Dad came to cheer me on!

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Overall I would say that the event was a massive success. We will not know the final totals for another week or so but I am eagerly awaiting the final count! It was a pleasure to partner with NOCC RI and Alex and Ani.

**PHOTO CREDIT: The beautiful Beth Hart (and Adam Hart for editing some of them!)

THANK YOU to everyone that came out or called in orders from coast to coast! Every bit makes a difference. 

Izspiration

When I speak to others about my experience I can’t help but always discuss the silver linings. As I have discussed at length in this forum, one of these silver linings was finding the perfect medical team. 

I was fully prepared to take an Ativan every time I walked in the door at Women & Infants Hospital. As it turns out, these people have become like family to me and some are legitimately close friends. My chemo nurse Sheila and I hang out at least once a week. It is clear to me that the right people come into your life at the appropriate time.

Last night I got dressed up to go to Feb Fest, a casino night to benefit “The Izzy Foundation”. This non-profit was started to help my oncologist and her husband fund medical expenses for their daughter who was diagnosed with Stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma two weeks after her first birthday. Izzy passed on two years following her diagnosis. From the stories I was told she was happy, vibrant, loving, and generous.

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She “Izspired” people all around the world. Now, in her memory, The Izzy Foundation lives on to help families and children with debilitating diseases. 

Last night’s event brought in a great crowd! Not only did we get to contribute to an amazing cause, but I also got to spend quality time with my medical team. I mean, how often does a patient get to do wine tasting and play blackjack alongside her doctors and nurses? 

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Here are some highlights:

1.) Our fabulous black jack dealer! It as no secret that we were inexperienced so he would offer tips like: “are you SURE you want to hit?” or “MAYBE you should double your bet”. 

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2.) Sheila & Sarah just killing it at the black jack table

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3.) Dr. Robison and her husband announcing the raffle winners. Unfortunately I did NOT win the tropical timeshare I was hoping for. Oh well. My money still went to kids with illness so that is a win regardless.

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4.) This is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met. We have been through a lot together in the past year and I am standing here today because of her brilliance. My beautiful oncologist, Dr. Robison!

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5.) Of course, the trifecta: Chemo nurse, Gyn. Oncologist, & Patient. They crush cancer for a living and I crush cancer to live 🙂

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What a great start to a big week!

To come:

Today: Superbowl/eating until I feel sick

Monday- I am back to work full time! 

Wednesday- My fundraiser for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition!

 

Updates to follow 🙂