Life After Hell

“Giuliana Rancic appeared on the “Today Show” Friday morning to talk about her progress post double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. The E! News host, who returned to work earlier this week just two weeks after her surgery, had displayed a transparency and openness about the process that touched many who followed the story, but told Matt Lauer that it hadn’t been easy.

“I feel great considering it’s been two and a half weeks, but I still have a ways to go as far as recovery,” said Rancic, who appeared on the show with husband Bill.

“It was definitely hard. Up until about a week and a half ago, it was hell.”

Rancic described the physical difficulties she still faced — including fastening her seat belt and raising her arms above her head — but insisted for the most part that returning to work was with the doctor’s blessing. Rancic also said she had opted to stop taking morphine for the pain because it had made her ill.

“She wanted to turn a negative into a positive. If you can save one life through this process, it’s worth it,” Bill said.

The 36-year-old first appeared on the “Today Show” in October to reveal the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the midst of one of her fertility treatment sessions, which had been well-documented on the Style Network show “Giuliana & Bill.”

Yes, surgery is no picnic…nor any other possible treatments depending upon the invasive nature of this beast.  In this case, it is not an enjoyable ‘journey’… the destination – healing after – is the goal.  I only had one or two moments of ‘hell’.. relatively speaking, you get through it and to the other side.

It is amazing to feel ‘lucky’ after going through this, but I do.  And although I am still dealing with after-effects of both medication and scar tissue, and trying to manage both, I have been mountain biking and kayaking and planning ahead…something that was also put on hold.  And it is only a short visit to hell…with hopefully, no return.


Warm wishes for the New Year

I cannot begin to describe how much I look forward to 2012 and a new year, putting the second half of 2011 behind me… a new year – a new life.

And I wish all of you a happy and healthy 2012 – may it be like a long-awaited gift of something very special in your life.  For me, and for my breast cancer sisters, cancer-free health is the best gift of all.

This week we’ve been in Charleston.  Once again on the water (limited time for me due to the issues of Tamoxifen and my lower back…yet to be healed)…but glorious all the same.  And temps at the end of December in the mid-70s…. awesome.

We also tried a new biking trail system 2 days in the general area and had a wonderful ride.  I’ve discovered that when I was younger, I would ride as fast as possible.  As I “age”, I do still enjoy riding fast, but slowing at times to enjoy the journey and scenery.  I’m guessing true old age will be simply enjoying the scenery… but no longer hammering.  And that’s not so bad, is it?

Playtime is so important in our lives.  Friends and family also…  I used to say ‘there will be other opportunities” if I missed an event – now I know..there may not be….so live for today, everyday!  And my warmest wishes for a wonderful New Year.

Our own Reality

I truly believe we create our own Heaven and Hell on earth…  we are in a human body that ages.  We have opportunities to play by the rules or challenge them – there are always associated costs for challenging them.  So to what extent is the question.

Accepting the standard answer is sometimes the prudent thing to do… and sometimes we take calculated risks… risks in participating in cancer trials, or risks to start a new business.

We create realities and alternate realities for ourselves in how we choose to experience and deal with our creations…yes, we create or mis-create in our actions and their consequences.  It is healthy to be creative and take risks.  But when do we cross the line and make an alternate reality our primary reality at the cost of everything else…and why.  Do we sometimes wish to regress to childhood and shed all the burdens and responsibilities and escape?

The mind is an amazing piece of equipment.  I know – It was terrifying to have a brain tumor and surgery…wondering who will you be (if you lived through it) when you awoke.  And the influences of various medications and impacts of surgery… and now, recovering from breast cancer.  When ‘bad things happen’, we look to friends and family for support.  And we grow from it because it challenges our perceptions and understanding.

For myself, and the strong women I know, we prefer to resume our primary reality, putting ‘the worst’ behind us, and resuming our passion for life….kayaking, mountain biking, friends, family…. yes, perhaps it may seem ‘boring’, but it is not when you are engaged in helping others and making the most of your primary reality.  It is, in fact, glorious to have, and while it is fun to fantasize (lottery, etc.), its not real, and its not sustainable because at some point it takes over to the detriment of all aspects of your real life…. like an alcohol addiction or gambler.

I heard of another woman diagnosed with breast cancer.  She travels a path of ‘healing and enlightenment’.  Unfortunately, she has chosen not to live in reality because while her mind may be seeking enlightenment, her body is very much of this world and subject to its rules.  She believes that because of her mind, she does not need to do anything at all to treat her cancer…much like Linda McCartney (although Linda treated hers holistically and died).  The sad part of this news is that outcome will most likely come to this “enlightened woman”.  I applaud the desire to expand one’s consciousness in the path of enlightenment, but she has chosen poorly in believing it will protect her.

I used to exclusively practice Macrobiotics, a way of living and eating within a balanced lifestyle, based on eastern culture.  Food itself is not a cure, eastern methods such as meditation, and yoga are not cures… they are helpful, but not exclusive to western medicine.  Believing that would be fantasy healing – and as much as we want to believe that we have that power, we do not. We can only choose how we experience our challenges and how we allow it to take over our mind and life.

Sometimes our path of least resistance is the hardest emotionally, such as accepting your cancer and accepting chemo and radiation treatments.  Sometimes in life, it seems you just do what needs to be done, and even while going through a crisis, living your reality to it’s fullest.





Somber day

It was a gorgeous sunny day today – and we were at Duke Hospital Clinic for post-op…. entered the building about 12:30 and got out at 4pm… always a long day.

They drew blood and checked my liver enzymes with the Tamoxifen (all ok), did exams, and we talked about the margin, risk, and checks daily.

I had gotten comfortable in forgetting all that had happened to a large degree, and moving on with my life (such as one could after a double mastectomy)…but this brought it right smack dab in front of my face again… in not a happy way.  Why do I want a daily reminder that cancer could develop any day and again change my life…. but that is what it is, and it is what I have…. with the unclean margin, my risk is 10-20%… hopefully Tamoxifen will cut it in half over 5 years, but no guarantees…

And I had thought that it was only after having Sentinel Node (Lymph nodes) biopsied that one developed a Lympodema risk..I hadn’t known that it would also be a risk following mastectomy… altho greater on my left side where they removed lymph nodes.

So more talk about Lymphedema and symptoms…. another constant reminder of being ‘at risk’.

I’d like to say I ‘snapped out of it’ after leaving Duke, and I probably will tomorrow when we go mountain biking and I get to forget again…but for now, it is front and center…. and it is and will always be a part of my new life.

Kayaking Again

Went to my first rolling session post-surgery (only 8.5 weeks ago) and all went well.  My body had no restrictions other than the somewhat chronic lower back pain from the Tamoxifen which did get my to leave the pool a little early..but I still consider it a victory.  (Click on this photo for a somewhat funny/quick&dirty photoshop job).

This week is my post-op checkup with the Surgery Dept and Medical Oncology (Tamoxifen) dept…. then next week, its off to Charleston for kayaking and mountain biking!

I’m so thrilled to achieve my goal – to return to my passions in life with so little time lost in the interim…. but nothing comes easy without hard work, and it was…but gladly….and support of those around me too.

So Happy Holidays to all those in  Charleston at the Holiday Party on the 17th – I’m sorry we won’t see you then, but it won’t be too much longer until we can personally wish you a wonderful 2012…. I know I will be welcoming it in with great pleasure.

Feeling …like me

The mastectomy was 8 weeks ago this past Monday.  So hard to believe.  Week 5 of Tamoxifen… Day 1 of the rest of my life.

Right after surgery, it felt like I wore a cast iron bra (going bra-less no less!).  Heavy and tightness were the two primary feeling…. oh, and of course the extra-sensitive skin from being scraped and stretched, pushed, prodded, and cut.

After the tubes were removed, I attempted (with glee) to sleep on my side once more, only to find that the reconstruction stitches were so tight that it felt like I  was sleeping on a rock.  I compensated, shoving blankets and pillows around/under me.

Finally, after stretching exercises daily, weight lifting, and cardio, I can say that I am starting to feel like me…..  I still know that it isn’t of course, but it isn’t present, reminding me every minute of the day… and thats what feels like me too… the absence of remembering and freedom to do things without thinking twice about it.

Of course every day I rub scar cream on the scars and stretch, and every day when I do that, I check for any little nasty surprise lumps, that thankfully are not there…. but the days are returning to a new normal.  And I approach the ringing in of 2012 with much gusto, happy to leave 2011 in the past, with the me that used to be.

Have things changed for me?  Yes most certainly.  Because we cannot control events…and sometimes we are fortunate enough to guide them to our desired direction, but not always…. and so yes, there will always be change.  And there will always be acceptance in learning to adapt and re-create oneself…and perhaps, just perhaps…that is not entirely a bad thing.

Choosing to Live

Today I went to the dentist (he and his staff – truly wonderful) for my semi-annual exam.  Chatting with my dental hygienist, I learn that her mom went through breast cancer recently.  These journeys are not easy, and no one says ‘hey, I just want to see what its like before I die’….

And just now, a reality ‘star’ announced her decision to live and have a double mastectomy…for the same reasons I did. You can’t get more real than this….

Some folks have called us brave, or warriors, or courageous… some think “thank goodness it isn’t me”… but no one who goes through this journey has a choice….actually, there is one choice and one only… choosing to live or choosing to die… and it is just a matter of time.

Some of us wear our scars like medals – that we fought the battle and we’re still here… some of us don’t wish to be reminded and simply live life to the fullest, putting it all behind them. Both are valid and should be honored.

All of us are furious about how the pink ribbon has been exploited for sales & marketing purposes – even Susan  G Komen, one of the biggest cancer organizations, pinkwashed and came out with a perfume for women (of course tagged with the pink ribbon) that was actually toxic!  They’ve been called on it and have amended the ingredients…but why was this even necessary?  There’s a new book out : “Sink Pink – Take Down Breast Cancer Awareness Month’…. it was driven by the fact that every year, when Pink October, aka Breast Cancer Awareness Month, rolls around, dozens of women with breast cancer begin posting online to express one single sentiment: Make it stop.

Another book, Pink Ribbon Blues drives home these points as well. The problem is not just reminding us breast cancer survivors of our ordeal/journey, but that dollars that are being collected have not yet solved this problem – not even close.  Procedures are not as primitive, but still far more invasive than they should be …to say nothing of getting to the real issue of why and how do we stop it.

I proudly wear my pendant around my neck – actually, I have representing my brain tumor and one representing the breast cancer…. but it is an individual and personal choice.  What I am not proud of, is how manufacturers get rich off of disease and not help cure it.  I don’t want my sister to go through this – and I would prefer if no other woman ( or man) has to suffer through this ever again.

Since my preferences are not going to make it stop, all I can do is help other survivors celebrate life too, and get involved to help the serious organizations actually accomplish inroads against breast cancer.


Something beautiful

I want to share with you something beautiful.

The thought that my husband had as I lay on a stretcher heading back into surgery…. how to show how much he loves me and honors what I am going through.  He searched for the ‘perfect’ necklace…. which he did buy and present to me, and which I do wear always.  I could say that the necklace itself is something beautiful, and it is…but far more beautiful and precious is his thought and energy, and wanting to do something for me (in addition to always being there to care for me) …. I have to be one of the luckiest women in this world.

We were best friends first and forever.  We were not childhood sweethearts – our paths waited long into our lives before we found each other…but we did.  We play and work hard together, and we are truly best friends and soul mates.  So thank you sweetheart, for being you and finding me…..


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