Cautiously Optimistic

Chemocation, oh sweet chemocation. You sure have been good to me.

Since holding the Taxol my hands have returned to their original size. My appetite is much improved and the consistent nausea is all but gone.

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I am grateful for this break to rebuild my body as it has been taken a slow beating over time.

Well folks, let the good times roll because we have decided to continue to hold Taxol and only pursue Avastin for the foreseeable future. I believe I touched on this a few weeks back when I mentioned that we would do a CT scan and “re-evaluate” come summertime.

Ultimately it seemed silly to go back on Taxol for one cycle knowing we may hold it again shortly after. So here is the new plan-

  • Avastin (the antibody) infusion once every three weeks
  • Check up with the oncologist every six weeks
  • CT Scan on May 13th

If the scan shows improvement or at least no new disease, we can stick with this plan. Otherwise, I have the option to go back on Taxol. In any case, there is really no harm in just seeing if Avastin could be enough to keep me well.

One might be asking, “if Taxol has been working, why would you voluntarily drop it?”

My answer lies in faith and trust. I have faith that Avastin (alongside nourishing food/exercise/holistic practices) could be enough to give me the quality of life we have been striving for and slowly achieving after all of this time. I have trust that should this plan reach a point where is must change, we have safety nets in place. As Mom so perfectly stated today, it is perfectly okay to be cautiously optimistic.

So with that, let’s get excited for what is to come. Hopefully improved health, a new home, and a fresh chapter.

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Recovering as George

First, I must thank you for the outpouring of support over the past week while I spent four nights in the hospital resolving the obstruction in my small intestine. The words of encouragement mean more than you know especially when you feel like much is out of your realm of control.

I was discharged on Wednesday and have been trying, successfully I might add, to proceed with a high level of self-care. I pretty much needed to fight all of my natural instincts. So basically I’m operating on the “Constanza Principle”…

 

  • Instinct #1: I haven’t been at work in many days and I have to go back on Thursday or the world will explode
    • Opposite action: I was strongly encouraged and well supported by my supervisors and colleagues to return on Monday when I was feeling better. I was admittedly starting to feel anxious as my inbox piled up with questions that I couldn’t necessarily answer from home so I made a compromise with myself. I slept in on Thursday and at my leisure went to my office for an hour MAX, closed my office door, knocked out enough to feel less anxious, and went home.
  • Instinct #2: I am discharged which should mean that things are improving. There is nothing to talk about.
    • Opposite action: The night I was discharged one of the first things I did was email Dana, my social worker, at the hospital and ask for an appointment this week to “debrief”.
      • I will write more about this next week but one thing I have learned time and time again and not properly addressed is that when you are hospitalized you have experienced a trauma (anyone who truly understands what it’s like to have an NG tube placed while you’re awake can give me a chorus of “amen sister!”). Trauma’s are not all blood and gore- you are in a vulnerable position, you are not in control of what is happening to you, it is a trauma, period.
      • I went into my appointment not fully knowing what I wanted to talk about. Truly, I walked in there feeling pretty stable. As I anticipated there are issues that bubbled up that started with the hospitalization and weaved into other concerns both medical and non-medical. This appointment was the best gift that I gave myself this week. To express certain concerns out loud, to validate feelings, to have a good cry in a safe space where I don’t feel inclined to edit my thoughts- it was truly healing. I’m glad I nipped this in the bud.
  • Instict #3: Resting = Sitting in pajamas and binge watching TV
    • Opposite action: 
      • Ok fine I totally binge watched The Wire and old episodes of Veep on HBO. BUT I honored myself in other ways too!
      • I invested in my body by booking a massage at the Alayne White Spa. I didn’t truly know how many knots existed in my back until I got on that table. At one point I was face down and was so relaxed that I dosed off. I woke up to my mouth gaped open like an idiot and I was totally drooling on the floor through that little face hole. I’m 99.9% sure I didn’t drool on the massage therapist’s sneakers. Fingers crossed.
        • Funny aside: As I was on my way out post-massage I ran into Heather (infusion center nurse manager) and Nancy (4th floor oncology nurse). They were there for facials that they won at a silent auction. One would think that any reminder of the hospital the day after a hospitalization would conjure up negative feelings. I was just so happy to see these lovely faces outside of a medical setting I had to fight back happy-tears.
      • In addition to the massage I also treated myself to some time in one of the more peaceful venues in Providence, The Duck and Bunny. I enjoyed a quiet snack of crusty break drizzled with olive oil with Narragansett  Creamery ricotta and a pot of chamomile tea. It was calming and so good for the soul.
  • Instinct #4: I’m out of the hospital which means I’m capable of doing things for myself
    • Opposite action: Sucking it up and letting people offer their help because it just makes life easier
      • Mom and Dad cleaned up and did my laundry so I could come home to minimal work (seriously, gems). Also after arriving home after 15 minutes of me trying to convince them that I’d “figure out” something for lunch, I gave in and let them indulge me in a sandwich from Olga’s. I would have probably made a PBJ so they called my bluff.
      • Katie “Mamamamamabear” Carlson gave me a ride to Beth and Brendan’s house to dye easter eggs with her family. Sure, I could drive myself but it was very nice to have a ride. (p.s. I’m not very good at dying easter eggs #jewishkidproblems)

 

So there we go, trying desperately to practice self-care that I speak so highly of but don’t often practice.

Off to spend the weekend with my parents and back to work on Monday, hello sh-normalcy!

 

 

 

Make Plans and Cancel Them (Maybe)

We measure wellness constantly. In my world this is mainly accomplished by making me hold my breath while being shoved through an oversized donut (CT scan) or sucking blood out of my veins by a professional vampire (phlebotomist). Just last week my primary care measured wellness using a battery of blood tests that lead me to believe that she thinks I’m malnourished. BUT in the encouraging words of my PCP: (*clears throat for best thick Russian accent) “Just LEEETLE beeet more protein. You be okay.”

Not a week has gone by in recent years where I didn’t have some kind of medical test keeping tabs on me. Are my CA-125 levels up? How are my blood counts? How big are those tumors?

It wasn’t until just today that I realized there is another test of wellness, albeit a very simple and unscientific test…

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My willingness and ability to make BIG plans and keep them.

Now I don’t mean dinner and drinks on a Tuesday night after work (although keeping real pants on after 5pm is a drag). I mean looking six months down the road and saying, “Well, heck yeah! I’m absolutely down to fly to Iceland and explore aimlessly.”

Not that Iceland is set in stone but I use it as an example, a benchmark really, for my confidence in my body’s ability to behave for more than 10 goddamn seconds at a time. There was a time, not long ago, that the thought of leaving the country with this illness terrified me. What if I have an intestinal obstruction? What if I’m too sick to stick to our plans? Straying far from Women and Infants, my medical security blanket, seemed impossible.

Just a year ago there were days where I wouldn’t even commit to going to a restaurant in anticipation of throwing up endlessly and/or having my stomach explode.

Now, I’m in a place where I feel well-enough, more often. Not great all the time, far from it. But well-enough to take greater control of my desires in life and the confidence to carry out those plans. So when Cory pitched the idea of researching Iceland, my first thought wasn’t “holy crap what will I do if I’m too sick?”, it was “holy crap I totally need to save every spare penny to make this happen.”

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One of the best pieces of advice that I have continually soaked in from other cancer crushers is “make plans and cancel them”. Look to the future, always, but give yourself permission to back-out without guilt if you get there and your body isn’t cooperating.

So aside from the tumor markers and scans, my newest (and possibly most important) measurement of wellness is the frequency and manner in which I look to the future and make big plans. To plan beyond the everyday is certainly indicative of a slow and steady increase in wellness, quality of life, and most of all- PROGRESS.

See you under the northern lights.

Twenty-Eight

As of yesterday I am officially 28 years of age and it feels…pretty good, actually.

Some people hate their birthdays. Understandably comparing carefree youth with bills and perpetual acid reflux would sour anyone on getting older. Being that I am only 28, I am not a wise old owl in the position to tell anyone how to feel about birthdays but I am happy to share with you how I have come to regard my own.

From the age of 24 my body has been forced to share space with cancer- an asshole roommate that doesn’t pay rent and ignores eviction notices. I’m not one for focusing on survival rates and cancer stats because they’re not conducive to a positive frame of mind. Let’s just say, the stats are not typically in the favor of women with late stage ovarian cancer. That said, every birthday after 24 is more important than the last. Each passing January 4th is a trophy. It is a symbol that cancer isn’t winning.

Hey cancer- go kick rocks, I’m racking up birthdays here.

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On Sunday my parents passed through Providence for birthday lunch at Red Stripe. Anyone that knows Providence well can appreciate that a chilly-day calls for Red Stripe tomato soup and grilled cheese (with pesto, pear, and prosciutto…nom nom nom). They also kindly treated me with gorgeous flowers and a fruit tart. It was a really nice time to catch up with one another. Who better to kick off your birthday with than the folks that were there since the beginning- you know, that day when the stork dropped me off at their doorstep.

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Celebrations will resume this weekend but my actual birthday was just a quiet day at work followed by a quiet evening. Call me boring but after all of the fun and travel surrounding December’s holidays I’m happy to stay put and have some downtime. The festivities will resume this weekend with friends.

I was so touched by all of the phone calls, text messages, emails and facebook well-wishes yesterday! I am a very lucky girl to know so many thoughtful people.

Reading all of the kind birthday messages left me feeling like Ron Swanson on Snake Juice. THANK YOUUUUU!!!

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Three Years

About 20 days ago I posted a letter to myself in the form of ‘Dear Former Self’. It was an emotionally charged tribute to success in light of illness caught at a moment when I actually felt like I had my shit together. I meant every word of it and I am glad that ’20 days ago’ Jessica wrote it because ‘today Jessica’ really needed a reminder.

Today marks exactly three years since the diagnosis that re-charted my future. I can and do frame this anniversary as a celebration of life and thriving in spite of adversity. Honestly though, ‘today Jessica’ and ‘yesterday Jessica’, and ‘day before that Jessica’ are feeling pretty run down. Exacerbated by another week of chemo and an antibiotic in my system, I feel weak and worn out. My body aches, I’m exhausted, and my stomach is torn to shreds. Moreover, strong emotions float to the surface of my mind.

I left work a little early, curled up with my favorite blankets and watched a mind-numbing amount of Netflix. It turns out this was the best decision I could have made to honor myself today.

 

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(My friend Kerri emailed this to me at work today and it couldn’t have been more well timed)

If I try to pull myself up by my bootstraps any harder I’m going to put my entire foot through the sole. So today, I take the advice of my parents, Cory, my friends, co-workers (and all of the other highly perceptive people that have nudged me to be kinder to myself).

On this third anniversary I do three things:

1.) Re-read ‘Dear former self’ and pat myself on the back for making it this far in spite of crummy circumstances.

2.) Allow myself to be sad (for now). This disease has a thousand silver linings but actually replaying delivery of diagnosis in my mind is incredibly painful and can be difficult to ignore. If only I could use ‘chemo brain’ to selectively forget that moment.

3.) I rest. I shut off my work email, silence my phone, and just allow my body to be still and comfortable. It is working on overdrive to fight the disease and super-overdrive to keep up with the unfair demands I put on it constantly.


 

On a final note, I cannot thank everyone enough that has stood by me over a long three year period of highs and lows. Through the fear, successes, disappointment, and hopeful moments I have never once felt truly alone. I thank you for every pep talk, prayer, or kind “how are you holding up?” check in.

From the bottom of my heart,

Thank-you 

 

Drop it Low

I’m going to be perfectly honest.  I have hit a wall today where I am beyond exhausted. I’ve spend the majority of the day sleeping during and after chemo. SO I’m going to keep this short and sweet:

CA-125 decreased from 455 to 337 !!!!!!

Chin Up, Spirits High

The “busy season” in advising is both exciting and draining leaving me pretty pooped by the end of the week. Today at chemo I will typically fall asleep through most of it once the Benadryl hits my veins. This time I totally passed out BEFORE the pharmacy even approved my blood work. Legitimately I arrived, got situated, Rosa accessed my port and hooked me up to saline while we waited for the green light from pharmacy to let us proceed with pre-drugs/chemo and I was totally out.

It’s just as well since the cable at he hospital has switched up their programming from Law and Order SVU to Law and Order Criminal Intent on not one, but TWO channels. I might need to write an angry letter. Scratch that, write a kind letter and play the cancer card. If there is a time to use the c-card, this is it!

It’s okay detective Tutuola, I’ll forgive.

Anyway, the infusion went fine and I just slept and slept. I actually slept so much I forgot to ask Rosa what my new CA-125 results were!

When I got home I crawled into bed and texted the ever reliable Sheila: “I was such a sleepy head today I didn’t even ask Rosa about my blood work. What’s the verdict dude?” I dropped my phone onto the bed next to me, buried my head in pillows and blankets and proceeded to pass out for another hour.

I awoke to about 14 missed texts, mainly from an excitable Sheila Enderby.

It turns out that my CA-125 has DECREASED from 742 to 455!!!

I haven’t had a CA-125 this low in well over a year and half or more. In fact I never had a CA-125 below 995 through the duration of the MEK inhibitor clinical trial at Mass General.

Here is a nice little recap, thank you Roger Williams for the 8 am required “Intro to Excel” course that made this half-assed graph possible:

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I have had so many days where I have had doubts and concerns. Perhaps in the future I will pursue a revolutionary new treatment that could obliterate the existing cancer but for now I am so pleased to see some REAL progress. Numbers that may reflect moving in a more positive direction.

I am so grateful to start off this next cycle with a bang. If you work at Women and Infants hospital and reading this- be forewarned that you’re going to be getting mega hugs (Heather- I already told Sheila that you get TWO, just ’cause).

Also- this is kind of an after thought but for my friends undergoing Taxol treatment PLEASE listen to your nutritionist and take L-Glutamine 3x per day. I started to feel some neuropathy come on (loss of feeling in hands/feet/fingers/toes) and since starting Glutamine I can already feel the impact! If this is a healthy choice for your body and approved by your doctor/nutritionist please go for it.

Anyway, that is all I have got for today.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Tired & Wired

It’s possible that I’m still recovering from the excitement of the Izzy Gala and NOCC walk and that was almost two weeks ago. I don’t think my body has quite caught up. I have had another round of chemo since and feel perpetually tired and amped up all at the same time.

Sleeping well has been challenging for a combination of reasons. I lay in bed thinking about what I need to do that next day at work, what chores sit undone, what I’m going to eat, treatment schedules, how the new season of Empire will unfold, my hopes, my dreams, my goals… Over and over and over I have these rapid fire thoughts until I finally fall asleep. My weird dreams take over from this point. It’s as if there is a dreamland director saying: “Okay folks, I’ll take it from here. Okay Sam and Diane from Cheers, are you here? GOOD. I need you to make an unexplained appearance in the chemo unit while Jess panics to review a degree audit for a student before the Hamburglar enters the room to stuff Pad Thai in her socks.”

Okay, that’s totally made up but if you’ve ever had a stress dream you get the gist of how you feel when you wake up- totally and utterly unrested.I t’s not that I am even “stressed” in a negative sense, just rapidly thinking. On top of the endless thoughts, eternal acid reflux wakes me up roughly 3-4 times per night.

The reflux should subside soon because Dr. Robison agreed to switch me back to Omeprazole. If anyone reading this suffers from chronic heart burn listen up. YOU NEED THIS IN YOUR LIFE. Omeprazole is a medication that has been sent down from the heavens on a silver platter by actual angels. Your life will change and soon mine will too. If I’m going to have insane stress dreams, without reflux I’ll at least be more likely to ride out the madness until morning.

It is clear that I have quite a bit going on and need to work on quieting my mind before bed. I know what works for me: Hot shower/bath + chamomile tea + no electronics at least 30 minutes before bed + a  Sleep Sonic CD to drift off to = Slam dunk. The key is doing this every night. I’ve had my tea so far tonight so it’s a start.

Aside from regulating sleep and managing fatigue, things are actually pretty good right now. Actually, being the medical anomaly that I am, some odd things are happening to my benefit…

Despite lingering soreness, I am pretty sure that my fingernails have stopped lifting. There was a point over the summer where I couldn’t even scratch my head for fear of losing a nail. Despite the discoloration (they’ve turned blue/black/green/gross) they feel stronger. Why? No effing clue. Not questioning it. Additionally, my hair is growing back! All of it! Even the chunks that totally fell out earlier in the summer. I’m looking forward to growing out my locks again. Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll feel comfortable enough go sans hat to work!

Over dinner last night I told Sheila about these strange occurrences and half-jokingly asked her if they are swapping out Taxol with a placebo. That was answered with an emphatic “NO”. So again, I’ll just be happy that my hair and nails are pulling through and not ask questions.

Final report of the evening is my personal favorite!

At work I have the great fortune of interacting with college students every single day. Every one of them unique, passionate, and engaged in their own way. It is my greatest joy to see students develop as each semester passes. It’s nearly impossible not to feel connected to many of these young adults as their undergraduate advisor.

As of this week, I get to experience that connectedness in a different capacity (don’t worry I’m not changing jobs!). Bryant’s Colleges Against Cancer has approached me to co-advise their club with the magnificent Amanda McGrath. I couldn’t be more excited to use this crummy experience and channel that energy into a campus community that has served me so well through this difficult time.

I’ll chalk that up to another cancer silver lining 🙂

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week. I’m off to fend off some more stress dreams. G’night and continued gratitude.

SO many updates (and lots of pictures!)

Wow, so much to recap. I haven’t been in a writing mood as of late, which is uncharacteristic of me. As of late I have been incredibly fatigued so any free chance to just zone out and rest is usually spent in front of Netflix or a book.

California Trip:

This is VERY late but I first want to talk about the trip that I took to California a couple weeks ago to visit my brother and his “west coast family”. I was in San Jose for 5 days and I would say that it was the most relaxed and zen I have been in months. My brother, his beautiful girlfriend Lacey, and his friends went out of their way to make sure that I had the best experience possible. I felt like an absolute princess.

Adam’s house, first of all, is gorgeous. I am so proud of this milestone in his life. Also- check out this guest room! (deco credit actually goes to his girlfriend since Adam may or may not have had a minor Bed, Bath and Beyond meltdown)

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We really packed in the activities! Adam was sure to take Lacey and I to one of my favorite restaurants in Capitola, Shadowbrook Restaurant. As seen below (in a picture borrowed from the Shadowbrook website) the restaurant is situated on a steep hill and there is a cable car that can take you down to the restaurant. The food is amazing and we feasted on lobster, scallops, steak, and wine. We were also laughing so hard the entire night (mostly due to my brother’s corny temperature jokes) that we were incapable of taking a normal picture.

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In addition to an extravagant dinner I was also treated to club seats at the Giants v. Cardinals game the next day in San Francisco (thanks to Lacey’s company). The weather was beautiful and we had a blast together. I cannot imagine a more beautiful stadium. Baseball to your left, sailboats to your right, hot dog down the gullet.

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The next day was pretty laid back. Adam’s adopted family Tina and Sumi hosted a seafood boil at their house. So the vast majority of the day was spent lounging in the pool and eating our weight in crab, shrimp, corn, potatoes, and other delights.

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My last full day was sadly spent without my brother since he was busy being a star athlete/drunk person babysitter at a charity golf tournament. His girlfriend was kind enough to take the day off from work to keep me company. I’m pretty sure our terrific lady day surpassed Adam’s golf tourney. We had lunch, got massages, and had a glass of vino in an open air wine bar in Santana Row. Lacey made sure that my last day was entertaining and memorable. I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire day.

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All activities aside some of my favorite parts of the trip were simply spending silly moments with my brother whether it be driving in the car or watching garbage tv in our jammies. We live over 3000 miles apart but our relationship as siblings is always loving and steady. The majority of our time was spent joking, laughing, and watching old WWF Royal Rumbles from the 1990’s (no joke- amazing). I will admit I had one small vulnerable moment when I was reflecting on my health challenges and Adam stopped, gave me a bear hug, and reassured me that I was doing better than I feel I am in the moment. I couldn’t ask for a better sibling, friend, and personal comedian.

I want to thank EVERYONE on the west coast that came out to visit, took time out from their busy schedules for outings, and made sure I was happy and comfortable.

Coming home was challenging. Internally I left Adam’s car and entered the San Jose airport kicking and screaming.

Favata-Farrell Wedding:

The weekend following vacation was another busy one. Sam Favata (my longtime friend, Cory’s Sigma Nu brother, and the person responsible for introducing me to Cory) married his college sweetheart, Alicia. The wedding was a blast! Alicia and Sam couldn’t possibly look happier. The music was amazing and as a result my feet were super swollen the next day from endless dancing.

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Congratulations Favata fam! I hope you are having a blast in St. Lucia!

Health Update:

So enough about recent activities. As you may remember from my previous entry my last blood test results were disappointing. Honestly, it upset me and I felt pretty down. It resulted in a frank conversation with my oncologist about expectations. The long and short of it is that I will be in some sort of treatment for the long haul. It doesn’t look like there will be an end to chemo anytime soon.

I had another blood test when I returned form Calfornia and not surprisingly (to me) it increased again. My last recorded CA-125 was 777.

777slider  Why can’t I get that lucky at Foxwoods?!

So the CA-125 was again not the most favorable but still didn’t go up enough to sound off any major alarms. We will stay the course with this treatment and only scan if it increases enough to cause concern for a third month in a row.

As my brother has reminded me- I cannot be a slave to the numbers and there are roughly a million reasons why it could have increased including the week off from chemo that I had for vacation (which I think was MUCH better for my soul and quite necessary). Again, disappointing news but it wasn’t my undoing this week. Let’s just hope for some sign, ANY sign, that we are moving in the right direction next month.

Other than test results I can report feeling extremely tired all the time. Much can be attributed to a combination of chemo, a high-volume time at work, travel, and what not. Every day this week (except for last night) I passed out on the couch for at least an hour after work before I could even make dinner. Last night I had steroids in me (a Taxol pre-drug) so I have unfortunately been awake for 26 hours and counting…

Everyone cringes when I talk about my fingernails but they are still incredibly sore. It can be best described as similar to the feeling of “the aftermath” of shutting your fingers in a drawer. What has helped tremendously is nightly soaking my nails in warm salt water, keeping them painted to hide the disgusting discoloration, keeping them short so they don’t catch on anything, and wearing rubber dish gloves while I wash dishes or clean my apartment. So far I have all 20 nails in tact. Fingers crossed, they stay where they belong.

2015 NOCC Walk:

We are 15 days away from the 2015 National Ovarian Cancer Coalition walk in Roger Williams park, Providence, RI. So far, thanks to your love and generosity, I have raised $1070 dollars!!!! This is amazing.

I also have an amazing team for the day of the walk. Thank you to those that have signed up so far: Stack Goldman, Michelle Fabs, Sarah Breen, Emily Nason, Kelly Blessing, and Brian Eastman! It is not too late to join this rag-tag group of misfits! If you would like to walk with us on Sunday, September 27th at 9:30am there is still plenty of time to sign up online through my donation page.

To those of you that have donated or shared my donation page, my heart is VERY full. Thank you SO much for your kindness. You have no idea how your donations will help to improve the lives and care of women like myself.

NOCC Walk- Jessica’s Personal Donation Page

I hope everyone has a great week 🙂

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.