Vacations & Expectations

*Blows dust off of keyboard*

I have been slacking on the entries this month. Not for lack of interest or not having any thoughts to share but every time I sat down to articulate them I just couldn’t. But here I am- on a plane with several hours to go. I might as well use this time to collect my thoughts.

Right now I am en route to beautiful San Jose, California for a real, much needed, vacation. I will be visiting my brother and hoping so see some of the friendly faces that make up his adopted “west coast family”. I already told Adam that since my appetite is in working order that an In N’ Out Burger (animal style of course) was a necessity.

I opted for the cheapest flight through Southwest and was blown away by the affordability. To no one’s surprise that means flying from Providence to Baltimore to San Diego THEN San Jose. Despite a long day of flying I have been fortunate to be seated next to some lovely people (and avoid the Detroit airport for once).

As I lined up to board my first flight, distracted by matching up ‘B17’ with the appropriate place in line, I hear a familar voice in front of me say “oh hi!”. It was Erin, a resident at Women and Infants.

If anyone is new to the blog or needs a refresher, Erin was the doctor that was responsible for inserting an NG tube into me during the first intestinal obstruction. It was traumatizing for all parties involved. She felt so badly about it that she visited me in the hospital after her shift every single day. In fact, she always seems to find me when I am inpatient which brings a smile to my (often delirious) face. In short, a surprise catch-up with Erin on our way to Baltimore was beyond exciting.

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With the exception of a surprise plane ride alongside Erin, I am free of the hospital for this week. My oncologist kindly granted me a week off to travel. Actually, Dr. Robison mandated that since I am in California I must eat a burrito, like a good one. Welp, doctor’s orders.

A week off from treatment couldn’t have come at a better time. The time I would have spent this morning getting blood drawn and rushing to work was spent entirely in bed easing into the day. Bliss.

Over the past few weeks I have gone through periods of feeling a little deflated. I recently had a discussion with my oncologist about expectations. Dr. Robison can see that I am disappointed that there is no established “end date” for when the taxol (chemo part) might end. We had a healthy discussion about, based on what we know, what this means for my immediate and long-term future.

From a clinical perspective, the goal is treat to prevent new tumors. From a patient perspective, my perfect-world scenario would be to treat to prevent new tumors and get rid of the ones I already have lurking around my abdominal cavity. I constantly toggle between feeling wildly optimistic that I can achieve a cancer free life (someday) and settling with the fact that the cancer may never entirely leave me but with treatment/maintenance I could still live with a pretty good quality of life.

After I left treatment last week I was frustrated, I didn’t want to be made to reconsider my expectations. After a week of sulking, crying, writing and rewriting I think the only conclusion that I can draw is that it is important that I recognize that this process is going to continue to be long term. It is important that I dig deep and accept that if these tumors are going to be freeloaders and live inside of me for the long haul but aren’t growing, I am still winning. Most critically, it is essential that in accepting these realities I still allow myself to believe in a world where I no longer have cancer.

No one knows the outcome of this story. Establishing realistic expectations and dreaming do not necessarily negate one another. So I choose to accept and believe simultaneously to the best of my ability.

I know it sounds like I have this all figured out in a nutshell but I assure you that I will continue to grapple with it until the cows come home. Friends and family are ever important in maintaining the balance. Strangers too…

I am currently sitting next to a woman on the second leg of this journey (Baltimore –> San Diego). It feels like a chance encounter where we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. This woman noticed that I was drafting a blog entry and asked: “are you a blogger?” from there we discussed blogging, writing, etc. Naturally it came out that I write about living with cancer to which she responded: “I am a cancer survivor too, breast.” Her name is Billie and she is a minister. She is returning from a trip visiting her grandchildren in Virginia. She has overcome many devastating tragedies in her life, yet maintains such honest and positive perspective.

We spoke a lot about our common thread, cancer. Treatments, surgeries, being bald, confronting changes in the body, menopause, relationships evolving and dissipating. We also chatted about books, goals, and bucket lists. Billie is the type of person that has a lot to say, but no words are wasteful. She opened herself up to me in a way that was not imposing and I found her to be most insightful. She is a walking, talking, breathing reminder to keep living and finding comfort and joy in the simple pleasures.

Thank you Southwest, you’ve nailed this trip thus far.

Speaking of thank-you’s I would like to thank everyone that has donated to the 2015 National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Walk to Break the Silence. On Sunday, September 27th I will be joining the Rhode Island chapter of the NOCC for their annual walk. I created my fundraising page just two or three days ago and already donations are pouring in! I am in awe of your generosity and support.

I would also like to thank Miss Stacey Applesauce Goldman and Emily Nason for registering as team members. In speaking with other friends, it sounds like we are going to have a solid posse on the day of! If you would like to join this team, Teal All Your Friends, you can do so through my donation page in the top right corner.

Seriously though…

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“Happiness is a by-product of a meaningful life”

I don’t care that the Autumnal Equinox does not occur until September 23rd. Today felt like Fall so I am going to declare it officially fall. I wore a scarf and sweater to work today AND had my first pumpkin flavored coffee; therefore, it is practically official on those grounds alone (BOOM, lawyered).

I love everything about autumn in New England: pumpkins, decorative gourds, apples, crunchy leaves, and foliage- my god the foliage. Not to mention that everyone’s office candy quality improves significantly leading up to Halloween. You can’t walk ten feet without immediate access to a fun-sized Twix (thank you Academic Records). There is a certain charm about autumn that cannot be replicated in any other season. Part of that charm is the sense of renewal that I feel. Working in higher education means that it is still acceptable for me to measure my life in semesters. This equates to September being the beginning of a fresh, new start. I crave and enjoy the renewed energy that the students bring into my office despite the madness of the add/drop period.

Aside from the start of the academic year, it is also the Jewish new year- Rosh Hashanah. Now I must admit that I am not the best Jew in the traditional sense. I am the equivalent of a Catholic person that only shows up to church for Easter and Christmas. But today I read an interesting article called ‘Jews Don’t Say Happy New Year’ by Rabbi Benajmin Blech. What I loved about this article is that Rabbi Blech dissects a common hebrew salutation and supports his explanation by referencing sources within modern positive psychology.

During Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to say “Shanah Tovah” to one another. I always thought that the phrase translated to “Happy New Year” but it is actually meant to express “the hope for a good year”. The article goes on to explain that wishing for a good year versus a happy year alters the intention of the statement. A good year involves hope for meaningful experience despite personal loss or hardship while a happy year is more focused on the “joy of the moment” (as Rabbi Blech puts it). The “good year” is interpreted to involve more acts of giving and finding purpose while the “happy year” is centered around self-fulfillment. The two are both important and the article notes that “happiness is a by-product of a meaningful life”. So with that, I wish everyone an early (Jewish and otherwise) l’shanah tovah.

With that being said,I am looking forward to two events this month that I am honored to participate in. Both are incredibly meaningful experiences that subsequently bring me joy in the moment (starting out the year right Rabbi Blech!)

1.) September 27th is the 3rd annual Izzy Gala. Who doesn’t love an excuse to dress up in a beautiful gown and enjoy a fancy evening on the top of the Biltmore? This isn’t just about ball gowns and cocktails. Ticket sales and auction items benefit the Izzy Foundation.

The Izzy Foundation was created in loving memory of my oncologist’s daughter. Izzy earned her angel wings after battling Stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma as an infant/toddler.
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The Izzy Foundation works tirelessly to support families and children with serious illness. The impact this organization has made in the past few years is incredible. Please check out their organization and read more about my “Izperation” at: http://theizzyfoundation.org/

2.) The following day I will be walking in the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (RI Chapter) Walk to Break the Silence. I am so amazed that only a few days ago I posted the link to my donation page on Facebook and I am already halfway to my goal of raising $1000! My original goal was actually $100 dollars and within 24 hours you incredible people helped me blow past it! I want to thank everyone that has donated thus far. It means so much to me that we can shed light on a disease that is often overlooked. I cannot stress enough that there is no reliable screening tool for Ovarian Cancer which is why over 60% of cases are diagnosed in stage 3 or 4. The more we know, the more intentional we can be in treating this disease and catching it before it gets out of hand.

By no means should you feel obligated but if you would like to make a small monetary donation to my team all proceeds directly benefit the NOCC. You can donate here (no pressure!): http://nocc.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1102597&supId=412190653

I wish you all a wonderful week and will update with any significant news. I am actually feeling pretty energized and normal today (RARE!) so I am cooking Cory a full spread (even more RARE!). I better have a frozen pizza on reserve just in case…

January Unfolds

A few people have mentioned that they were concerned that I haven’t been writing. Not to worry! I am alive and well. The past couple weeks of recovery have been great and I more or less feel back to normal. The only issue I have is still sleep related. I need to figure my sleep issue out quick because I go back to work in ten days and I must be bright eyed and bushy tailed for 8:30 am (thank goodness for free tea & coffee in the Gulski dining room). ZzzQuil has been my most trusted sleep aid but it also makes me sleep for 10-11 hours at a stretch so that is no good. I am sure that when I am working full days again I will tucker myself out enough to be on a more regulated sleep schedule.

So what have I been up to over the past few weeks? I have been taking advantage of programming at the hospital. For example last week I did a meditation/art group. It was SO relaxing. There was about 20-25 minutes of guided meditation and deep breathing. After that the instructor put out paper and paint and said: GO! We were free to create whatever came to us. Mine ended up being some sort of fierce fire goddess? I don’t know where she has been hiding but I definitely unleashed her on canvas.

 

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I loved how therapeutic the expressive arts session was and have done a little bit of painting at home as well. I’m no artist but I think I would have made my Grandma Esther and Uncle Eddie proud. I come from a long line of musicians and arts and I am mediocre at best in either category.

When I am at home I try my best to answer emails from my students. I am getting antsy and cannot wait to return to the office. I have tried to sneakily work my way back in but my director is looking out for my best interest and has told me to stay home until the return date established by my oncologist. I’m only a little more than a week away! Only a few short days until I can return to bantering with Krystal through my office wall and demanding that we have a window installed between our offices. Even though this time of the semester can be a bit crazy I certainly miss the face to face interaction with students. 

Otherwise I have focused my attention to my fundraiser which is fast approaching! I am so humbled by the number of people that have RSVP’d and expressed interest in contributing! I sat down with Donna, the president of the RI chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and we hit it off. I am very interested in the work that this organization does and look forward to participating in their OC walk in September. She told me that at the walk they used to have a moment of silence for our departed OC fighters. They have since replaced the silence with a new tradition. Making as much noise as possible!!! OC is nicknamed “the silent killer” so I admire Donna and her team for wanting to take the silence out of the equation.

What struck me the most about my conversation with Donna was hearing her niece’s story. Her niece, Jessie, was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer at age 18 and lived vibrantly until the very end. Her story left me a bit more than misty eyed. I want to use this opportunity to fundraise for a cause that has significantly altered my life. Now it has a second purpose, to honor the life of a young woman that meant so much to this community. I wish I had the chance to meet her on earth but I know that she is with us, breathing life into what we are doing. 

If you are thinking of joining us the details of the fundraiser can be seen below! Wayland Square is a great little neighborhood. If you’re looking to make a night of it perhaps you can grab a drink or dinner at Farmstead or Redstripe then make your way over! 

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There will be light refreshments served and free LIVE music courtesy of the ever talented ladies of The Sugar Honey Iced Tea. Music will begin after 7:30!

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Again, if you cannot make it you may still make an order over the phone:

1.) Browse a beautiful selection of jewelry at: www.alexandani.com and make your selection 
(*Please note: the NOCC will NOT receive 15% proceeds on any discounted items or items from the Charity by Design collection)

2.) Call: 401-919-5467, the location of our fundraiser between 7-9pm EST and an Alex And Ani representative will take your order. Please tell the store representative that you are calling in support of 
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition fundraiser! Your order will be mailed to you!

I am excited for this event! I cannot wait to see everyone there!