Why I Blog and Why You Can Too

Posted on: February 28th, 2015 by
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Years ago I didn’t understand why anyone would want to blog. I mean, why share the sordid details of one’s private life with the public? A private journal is good enough, I thought.

I fell into blogging accidentally.

A local, large-circulation newspaper wanted me to write a medical advocacy column. That’s when I realized I could have some influence in the public arena, and I was eager to share my thoughts in a newspaper, even though I wouldn’t get paid.

Then the deal fell through.

Apparently, newspaper staff couldn’t agree on whether there should be such a column. I was disappointed, as I was now ready to share my advice with the public. Then it occurred to me: I could still have a “column,” but a virtual one, and I would have complete control over its content. So I started blogging, initially referring to my posts as blog-columns.

As time went on, my blog evolved — from columnlike advice to sharing my personal breast cancer experiences.

Having gone through breast cancer and treatments had done its collateral damage — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Blogging was a healthy way to sort out the collateral damage and process the trauma that is breast cancer.

Turns out, becoming a blogger was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

When a person is going through cancer — or any medical crisis for that matter — the world turns upside down. And it’s difficult to make sense out of life. One of my biggest issues was that I felt like I didn’t have a voice while going through diagnosis and treatment. Doctors and nurses would tell me when and what my treatment would be, and I felt I had no choice on how to live my life.

Survivorship and body image issues also plagued me, and writing about them helped me sort through the trauma.

Blogging helps me in so many ways. It is cathartic and liberating — I express my views and lend voice to the breast cancer experience. Writing in the public arena surely makes up for all those times I felt voiceless.

And, equally fulfilling, I found a community of individuals who also write — for a variety of reasons, but we all have one thing in common: we feel the need to express ourselves. When I first started blogging, I never imagined how many blogging friends I would have and how my posts would resonate with many people.

Being a blogger means being part of a community. And who needs a sense of community and voice more than those who have/have had devastating illnesses?

We experience sadness collectively.

We celebrate collectively.

I am so glad I found my way into the blogosphere.

Blogging is cathartic.

Blogging is healing.

Blogging can be something you can do, as well.
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How About You?

The wonderful thing about writing is that anyone can do it. You do not need to be a trained writer or have a resume of publications to start a blog.

Truth is, anyone who writes is a writer.

If you’re curious about blogging, why not try it? And if you are interested in this form of expression, guidance is available. Starting in March, a free, 4-week, online course on blogging will be offered. In fact, educator and blogger Rebecca Hogue will be facilitating this course, and I and several other bloggers will be mentors.

It is a great honor to be a mentor, and I look forward to helping beginning bloggers.

The course will also be offered other months, too, in case March doesn’t work for you.

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To sign up for the course, click here.

Are you considering blogging?

Have you started a blog? If so, feel free to include the link to your blog in the comments section.


Separation Anxiety

Posted on: February 13th, 2015 by
12

Like many patients, I detest going to doctors — especially since cancer entered my life. Whenever I’m in my oncologist’s waiting room I want to bolt out of there, jump in my car, and careen out of the parking garage. It really doesn’t matter that he’s a wonderful doctor and person. I just want to escape.

I also experience panic overdrive when I’m with other doctors, though less intense. I wonder, for example, will my gynecologist find ovarian cancer? Why am I in my mastectomy surgeon’s exam room so long? And the time spent in my internist’s waiting room seems unusually long — giving me way too much time to think about “what-if” scenarios.

I struggle to keep fears at bay.

After all, I expend too much energy in a world of medical memories, anguish, and possible flashbacks. When a doctor’s appointment is over, I feel like a wild animal finally freed from a cage into its wilderness home. And I’m always grateful I made it through another mental crucible.

Tigers in a Cage

Despite my tendency toward medical escapism, you might be surprised at what I’m about to say:

I’m too attached to my physicians.

I don’t want to be with them, but I want to live physically near their offices. This is an oxymoron, but there it is.

When I was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, I drove a half hour from home for each doctor appointment/treatment. I realize that some people have even longer commutes, but for me, the commute time was discouraging: I was driving myself to these exhausting appointments alone.

When my then-husband and I split, I knew how important it was for me to be physically close to my medical team. So I moved to an apartment that was a 10-minute drive from the hospital and my physicians’ offices.

And for years, I enjoyed the proximity of my doctors — as long as I didn’t have an appointment with them, that is.

I just liked having them around, nearby, just in case of an emergency, like a recurrence.

I had plans to stay in this apartment until retirement at the very least. It had everything I wanted and needed: proximity to my physicians.

But it also had a hefty price tag.

Rent skyrocketed right before I received my daughter’s referral from China. I could barely afford to live in the apartment by myself, let alone afford all the costs involved with parenting.

So one month before I traveled to China to get my daughter, I moved into a small house in a drastically cheaper suburb, where we live today. While this has been our financial and lifestyle salvation, I feel we have paid a price: we are now a 45-minute drive from our hospital and doctors. That’s without the famed Chicago traffic.

Still, I realize that, relatively speaking, our doctors are close.

But I still experience separation anxiety at times. My 10-minutes-from-doctors apartment spoiled me.

While I wish I could live closer to my doctor’s offices, I realize that living farther away might be a blessing in disguise. I have no medical memories in our suburb. And that is liberating. Besides, doctors leave their practices and retire. Nothing is forever, and this can be a good thing.

Related posts:

Game Face has Cracked

How Do I Distrust? Let Me Count the Ways….

How important is it for you to live close to your doctors’ offices?

How do you handle anxiety in your doctors’ offices?


Fun

Posted on: February 6th, 2015 by
11

At the beginning of the movie Frozen, young sisters Elsa and Anna are playing. Elsa, who has ice powers, accidentally strikes her younger sister Anna in the head with a bolt of ice. Their distraught parents take the guilt-ridden Elsa and the unconscious Anna to trolls for help; the magical troll in charge informs the parents that Anna would recover and assures them that she will forget about Elsa’s ice powers but will always remember the fun.

Throughout the movie, Elsa struggles with her fear of her powers and is tarnished by life, while the more carefree Anna seeks out the fun she remembers having with her sister.

I loved this insightful movie, but this post isn’t a movie review.

This post is about fun.

My energetic six-year-old daughter always reminds me about the importance of fun. A typical child, she enjoys playing and would do so 24 hours per day if I didn’t remind her about schoolwork, straightening her room, and the need for sleep.

On the other hand, like many adults, I get weighed down by life’s daily problems. That’s the price of growing up; we become painfully serious and jaded, we lose our innocence to the heaviness of life — and we shelf the fun.

Here in the Chicago area, we recently received a nice dumping of snow. While snow is beautiful, I always wince when it falls. To me and many adults, snow means work: lots of shoveling, challenging commutes, and constantly wiping off the snow from cars. And don’t get me started about when snow melts and then a cold snap freezes it into ice!

Like most kids, Ari views snow as yet another opportunity to have fun. And she is teaching me how to enjoy the snow again. On our way back from school, she initiates snowball fights. We pelt each other with white fluff, and she chases me, eager to hit mama with snowballs. Hearing her peals of laughter and screams of delight warm my heart in the coldest of days.

Ari in Snow

Lately she’s been pushing me into snow banks. I pull her in with me. We laugh, as we lay in the snow, look skyward, and taste the falling snow flurries. We have difficulty extricating ourselves from the deep snow banks, but we just keep laughing as we stumble and keep falling backward. Ari enjoys trying to “swim” in the snow, and I am entertained. Then she gets mischievous and places pieces of snow down my pants. I scream, feigning horror. More peals of child-laughter.

Let it Snow

So then I get this idea. I purchase a plastic toboggan so we can slide together down a nearby man-made sledding hill over the weekend. This is probably not the wisest move, I reflect, as I’m a clutz with balance problems and haven’t sledded since I was a kid. And I know I will be sore at the very least. And going at fast speeds tends to make me want to vomit. But I don’t care. I’m sliding down the hill with Ari, dammit! I so want us to have fun, I’m willing to go out of my comfort zone to do it.

But we can’t wait until the weekend to have toboggan fun. The day the toboggan arrives, Ari is in school. When we get home, we take it out for a spin (OK, several spins). I run on the snowy-icy shoveled paths pulling the rope, as Ari sits confidently on the toboggan laughing and yelling “mush, mush!” I spin the plastic “vehicle” around and run again pulling joyful Ari around, as she shouts, “faster!”

I notice our neighbors unhappily shoveling their driveways and cleaning the snow off their cars. They glare at the noisy duo tobogganing around.

But then I get an idea for more fun. My hours of shoveling had resulted in a rather large snow bank near the house. We put the toboggan on top of the “hill” and Ari gets on. I pull her gently as she gleefully goes down the mini-mountain. We do this repeatedly. When I ask if she’s having fun, Ari yells “More than fun! This is awesome!” A friend later stops by and sees the toboggan tracks on the mini-mountain and says, “It looks like you held the Winter Olympics here.”

Princess Party

The fun continues indoors, as well. We recently attended a princess party at a local country club. Ari (and many of the girls) dressed as Queen Elsa from Frozen. In a magnificent setting befitting princesses and queens, Ari and I danced.

Princess Party

Several famous royal characters showed up, including adults Princess Anna and Queen Elsa. The princesses sung on stage; Ari and the rest of the girls seemed to be in a trance. Then the royal highnesses came to the dance floor to dance with the transfixed girls, then did face painting and took photos with each girl.

Overall, this was one of the best parties I’ve attended.

Watching my daughter’s face light up while the princesses talked and sang to the audience brought me happy tears. I loved her look of wonder as she sung along with the popular songs from Frozen.

I’m grateful for all the fun Ari and I have. Sometimes adults get so weighed down by stark reality that we forget that fun is also a part of reality. And tapping into our inner child is an immeasurable gift.

Ari near the ballroom entrance

Ari near the ballroom entrance

Ari and Queen Elsa

Ari and Queen Elsa

How do you have fun?

Have you tapped into your inner child? If so, what types of things do you do?

Anyone have tips on tobogganing?


Matter Over Mind

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by
36

In a previous post, I said I was too scared to write what I deemed a risky piece on my blog. This is that post.

Throughout my pre-cancer life, many people have admired my fortitude and tenacity. Tarnished by life’s traumas, I still kept my platinum mind focused. Many folks used to tell me I was the strongest person they knew: No matter how difficult the road, no matter the odds against me, I was a locomotive — confidently and courageously accomplishing my dreams and goals.

Then breast cancer came in 2001.

I am fortunate to have been NED (no evidence of disease) for so long. And I’m grateful for all my abundant blessings. Those with metastatic cancer have it so much worse than me, that it’s almost embarrassing to write this post. After all, comparatively speaking, I have it easier.

But now is the time for me to come clean.

I’ve been living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder for 14 years.

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Breast cancer and, more specifically, its treatments assaulted my physical health. But this life-threatening trauma shoved in my face has truly been my Achilles’ heel.

My mental health has been compromised. My brain chemistry is forever altered — and not in a good way.

In my case, untreated PTSD results in sensory flashbacks, such as re-living the cancer experience every night, smelling the chemo room, feeling I am in ICU again, feeling the prick of an IV needle, tasting the metallic sensation of treatment, and generally living terror-filled days. Any thought, emotion, and/or image can cause some mighty heavy triggers.

It is hell.

It is isolating.

During the time of my chemotherapy and radiation treatments, my oncologist introduced me to a low-dose antidepressant and my internist prescribed a low-dose anti-anxiety medication. I had admitted to running into bathroom stalls at work to cry. My car was my confessional chamber, where I would collapse, curl up, pray, cry, and isolate myself from the cruel world. I had several public break-downs. My doctors sought to decrease my mental anguish.

Then cancer treatment eventually ended — and I know how lucky I am for it to have ended — and my loved ones expected me to get on with life. But, instead, despite the psych meds I was on, my mental condition kept deteriorating each year with increased flashbacks, panic, and depression — thanks to having had cancer, the gift that keeps on giving.

The strong, rambunctious part of me was dying, it seemed.

Eventually, hesitatingly, I sought out the help of a kind, brilliant psychiatrist who ultimately figured out the right medication cocktail. I was initially wary of increased dosages and types of psychotropic medications. I was so afraid I’d become addicted to them. And I thought that seeing a psychiatrist and taking psych meds would dull my emotions, as well as label me “crazy.” Like so much of the public, I attached a stigma to those with mental health problems.

But I surrendered to my psychiatrist’s directives. And thus — with medication and psychotherapy — I fought my way back to mental health.

The side effects of the medications include balance issues that are difficult to live with. It’s hard navigating stairs, and I can fall easily. I’m unsteady on my feet. In fact, I can’t walk a straight line (yes, I would flunk a sobriety test). And there’s the weight gain (ugh). I exercise and mostly eat right, but these psych meds make losing weight seem insurmountable.

My internist reminds me, though: “It’s better to have weight gain and be mentally stable as you are than to be off the medication and lose the weight, but compromise your mental health.”

Psychotherapy

For me, medication alone wasn’t enough to quell PTSD. Right when chemo and radiation treatments ended, my relationship with a gifted psychotherapist began and continues to this day. We work on effective ways to cope with panic and depression. With her help, I’ve developed a rather effective toolbox, which includes art, exercise, writing, deep breathing, and being with friends.

But my salvation in eradicating flashbacks for the most part has been a treatment successfully used for war veterans, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). You can click here to find out more about it, but basically, EMDR is a therapy where a patient recalls a trauma while receiving sensory input, such as watching an object move from side to side. The thought is that eye movements help one re-process trauma and emerge with new insights.

I’m lucky that my psychotherapist is trained in EMDR, and I have responded exceedingly well to this treatment. I’m glad to say I rarely have flashbacks, though I still get triggers and have to be careful what information I’m exposed to.

What is great about this treatment is that there is no additional medication involved. What is not so good is that, unless one is a war veteran, insurance often doesn’t cover it. I paid out of pocket for two EMDR sessions. They weren’t cheap, but they were worth every penny.

After all, one cannot put a price on mental health.

For me, the road toward sound mental health is ever evolving and always enlightening. Nonetheless, I have no illusions: Every day still presents challenges for me. But, while PTSD and panic disorder are here to stay, I am living a quality life nonetheless.

And now that I’ve written this post, I finally am free.

As the American rock band The Eagles say in their song “Already Gone,” “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains. And we never even know we have the key.”

A special thank you to my friends Sharon Greene for being so honest about her PTSD and Nancy Stordahl for writing her post “That Other ‘F’ Word.” You both gave me the courage to write and publish this post so shortly into the New Year.


Courage, Fire, Tenacity

Posted on: January 16th, 2015 by
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Many in the blogosphere have shared their two or three words to guide them during this year. I am no exception: so without further ado, here are the three words that will serve as my guides for the upcoming year. I originally thought this post would focus on only one word, but two others popped off my fingers as I was writing this post.

The words, which make up this post’s title, are all intertwined.

Courage. When I was planning this post, courage was the only word on my radar. The year ahead sees me challenging myself in many ways, especially regarding what I reveal on my blog. Pushing oneself to expose one’s inner feelings and workings is not for the feint of heart. Right now, despite all I’ve revealed about myself in this blog, I’m too chicken to publish a post I’ve wanted to for quite some time.

I’m hoping to change that chicken into a jaguar and finally do it.

I cannot falter.

I cannot allow fear to rule me.

I also want to get ready to publish my book. Fear has kept me back, and I will do my best to get my book on navigating the medical system out. In 2014, I was courageous in soliciting agents, and I must continue the momentum to get my book out. Despite their rejections, the agents who responded seemed to genuinely like my work. This has encouraged me. I must believe this book has a place in the world.

Before cancer, I was fearless and goal-driven in many ways. But since cancer worked its way into my life, I’m less sure of myself. I no longer have that fearlessness in going for a goal. The “what-ifs” creep into my mind daily.

This year I will be turning the negative “what-ifs” to positive “what-ifs.”

Fire. I need to rekindle the fire deep within me and go forward with my goals. The embers of inaction have been burning quietly for years, but I’m hoping a dose of courage will ignite the flames.

I will embrace the flames and act in spite of my fear.

I cannot be afraid to go forward.

Tenacity. The other two words relate to the tenacity I’ll need in accomplishing my goals. An act of courage is a one-time act. I need to have long-term endurance and determination for many acts of courage that will outlast my fears.

I must not quit.

2015 is my own call to action.

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Readers, What do you hope for yourself for 2015?

What’s your call to action this year and beyond?


Reflections on Blogging

Posted on: January 9th, 2015 by
23

For years, I’ve aired my dirty breast cancer laundry with the world. I’ve chosen this path — to publicly document my authentic narratives and points of view on this blog — for many reasons: to achieve catharsis by lending my voice to the breast cancer experience, to help others by assuring them they are not alone, to be a part of a community of writers, and to exert some level of balance and control over my life, just to name a few.

Now about that last point. People diagnosed with a serious illness often feel their lives spiraling out of control. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt the bottom of my world drop. And to make matters worse, my doctors and nurses were running my life by telling me when and where I had to have treatments. It didn’t matter that my radiation appointment conflicted with a work obligation; I had to show up for treatment.

I love my medical professionals for doing all they could to save my life. But nonetheless, going through a life-threatening experience where I had no control and its cancer aftermath left me feeling derailed, voiceless, and unheard.

So I found refuge in blogging and sharing my voice to gain more control. While I can’t determine all that happens to me in life, I can control what I say and don’t say on my blog.

This post addresses what I am and am not willing to say on my blog posts.

My Life’s an Open Book, Sort of

My family believes divulging personal information is taboo. I was always a private person who embraced this philosophy. Then came cancer. And I no longer wanted to be quiet.

As a blogger, I’ve organically departed from my family’s point of view and publicly share my heart and candor about my experiences and feelings. While I write about topics such as motherhood, my main focus is cancer and its repercussions.

I’ve been open about topics such as my time in ICU, my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, and cancer’s emotional aftermath, just to name a few. Popular posts include those dealing with divorce after cancer and moving on after divorce. And I’m no stranger to addressing controversial topics or disagreeing with someone’s public stance. I’m also open about my body image issues as a result of all the surgery I’ve endured. I even have a post idea brewing about my belly button!

Stay tuned for that one.

Some people would be embarrassed to share such intimate information, but I feel the need to express what I’ve been through and my sloooow recovery; in doing so, I am able to help others going through similar trials and tribulations. I am able to lend voice to experiences a good number of people share.

I’ve developed a bond with my readers — ironically and unfortunately — through our common suffering and shared pain. I care deeply about my readers. It’s always wonderful to get comments on a post (even the ones from people who disagree with me), but some posts simply don’t attract comments. And that’s okay.

Overall, I’m not afraid to state who I am and what I stand for.

My Life Has Closed Chapters

While I tell my truths, I know when not to reveal parts of my life — past, present, and future. Let’s face it: like everyone, I have skeletons in my closet, but that doesn’t mean I have to spill its bare bones.

I can be authentic and still omit things.

Blogging involves risk vs. benefit decisions. I’m willing to take risks for some topics; others are too risky for me personally. For example, my internal censor won’t allow me to focus on non-cancer-related trauma.

We all have traumatic times, but I believe blogging should be therapeutic, not therapy.

I want my blog to serve as a source of meaningful content, not a dumping ground.

I won’t deliberately write hurtful things about people. That’s not how I roll anyway, but it’s really not a good idea to say something negative about others. Others’ ideas, yes, but not bad mouthing other people. I avoid the topics of politics and religion, although I wrote a rather benign piece on how cancer changed my faith.

Even though I’ve said a lot through my blogs, truth is, they cover only an iota of my life, and that is as it should be.

What’s to come in 2015? There is something I’ve wanted to blog about for a couple of years, but there is risk to that. I think it will resonate with others, but I have to be ready to accept my vulnerability yet again to write about a topic so near to my heart and mind and spirit. I’m not making any promises, but I’m hoping to gather the courage to write about this topic this year.

In the meantime, I will continue to love the writing process. And that is as it should be.

For a related piece on my writing process, click here.

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Are you considering writing that long-awaited post or starting a blog? Feel free to share your thoughts.

If you are already a blogger, why do you write? I would enjoy hearing about your motivation(s) for writing, or even your challenges.


Cancer: The Best Way to Die?

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by
22

We have just dipped our toes into the New Year, but someone’s outrageous views on cancer death has already caught the attention of the public.

On December 31, Richard Smith wrote a post for The BMJ blog titled “Dying of Cancer is the Best Death.” And this is Smith’s thesis: that it is far better to die a slow death that cancer affords than from a sudden death. According to Smith, “So death from cancer is the best, … You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.”

What a nice picture of cancer death.

Unfortunately, this short-sighted, oversimplified view omits the truth about dying from cancer: it’s a horrible, frightening, terrible way to die. Cancer is ugly. It doesn’t matter whether patients can say their goodbyes and express to their loved ones how much they love each other. Death from cancer involves suffering unimaginable to people like Smith.

My friend Faun, who died of metastatic breast cancer, got to say her goodbyes in her 40s. At the end of her life, she and I exchanged our “I love yous.”

Although we achieved closure before she died and she got to live out some dreams like getting married and owning a home, I watched her die for four years. It was horrific and involved incredible amounts of suffering — not just for her, but for her loved ones.

And not all terminal patients can live out their dreams, Mr. Smith: Faun had desperately wanted children, but chemotherapy stole her fertility. We shared the same dream of perhaps adopting children. Cancer stole that dream from her. Oh, and she couldn’t visit special places for the last time, unless one counts the hospital. She was so ill, she needed to constantly be near her doctors.

My friend Virginia died of leukemia. She was so ill and suffered for so long, it was unbearable for me and her other loved ones to watch. Like Faun, she was also too ill and too tied to the hospital and her physicians to jet-set and see special places. Prior to cancer, Virginia was a naturalist who was no stranger to adventure. She had lived in Africa for awhile and went to Costa Rica, just to name a few of her excursions. When she got ill, she was still a naturalist, but her travels ended.

She did take up the ukulele towards the end of her life, which Mr. Smith would say that had she had an instant death, she would have never had that opportunity.

Such an illogical, twisted way of thinking, really.

Virginia had many more dreams to fulfill, but in the end, she never got to accomplish them, thanks to cancer. She died, leaving a husband, three grown daughters, and two young grandchildren. Her dream of watching them grow up was not realized.

Smith ends his post with the following delusional, misguided assertion: “This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.”

This flippant statement makes me wonder if Smith was on morphine and whisky while he was writing his post.

Surely he believes that love and painkillers are sufficient to alleviating suffering.

Well, he is wrong. My friend’s mom, who had metastatic pancreatic cancer, opted out of treatment; she just wanted to be kept comfortable with morphine and not to suffer from the effects of chemotherapy. She died months after the date of diagnosis. During her last weeks, she became bedridden and, although she was lovingly cared for by my friend and comfortably on morphine, the patient got to the point where she just wanted to die and go to Heaven. A religious woman, she was hopeful that each day would be her last. But whenever she woke up to cruelly discover she was still on Earth in her cancer-riddled body, she suffered.

Smith’s final proposal — that we stay away from oncologists and stop donating funds to cure cancer — is so short-sighted, ridiculous, simple-minded, and erroneous, it’s not worth addressing.

His ignorance of what defines a quality life and a quality death speaks for itself.

Truth is, Mr. Smith, there is no best way to die. And if there were, cancer definitely wouldn’t be it.

To read his entire blog post, click here.

Mr. Smith’s thesis is that cancer is the best way to die. Please feel free to comment on this statement or any other he makes.

Please feel free to share your and/or your loved one’s stories. I would like to hear them.


Gratitude 2015

Posted on: January 1st, 2015 by
12

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; instead, I set goals throughout each year and try my best to follow through. So, rather than make New Year’s resolutions on this first post of the New Year, I am expressing my gratitude.

After all, I have much to be grateful for.

Family. I’m so blessed to have wonderful people in my family. Arielle and I — plus our cats and a goldfish — form a great family and a loving household. Of all the children in the world, the right one for me was placed in my arms on a hot day in China.

Ari Gotcha Day

I love her immeasurably. We are not only mother and daughter, but we are friends. I hope she continues to confide in me and come to me with her problems, and that our lines of communication stay open.

Although my family is a distance from me, I’m still close to them. I’m lucky my parents are still alive. We speak on the phone weekly, and I know how lucky I am to hear their voices on the other end and to visit them. I’m fortunate to have an aunt who forged a close relationship with me from the moment I was born. We are close to this day and have Skyped.

My only sibling, my brother, is a rock star. He has been a supportive, rational force throughout my cancer diagnosis and treatment, and he was present for two surgeries. Though I did radiation and chemotherapy alone, he made sure I knew how much he loved me.

I’m blessed to have a sweet sister-in-law, whom I consider a friend. And I’m grateful to have two wonderful nephews, one who is in high school, and the other an adorable two-year-old.

Though my grandparents are deceased, I was fortunate to know them well. They taught me a lot, and I am so glad they were in my life for a long time.

Friends. I have amazing friends — both in-person and online ones. I wasn’t in the online arena when I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, but my in-person friends supported me.

NED. I’m so grateful for having no evidence of disease for a good number of years. I do not take this stroke of luck for granted.

Medical team. I have amazing doctors and nurses. I love them all.

Career. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. When I was 13 to about 18 years old I wanted to be a veterinarian, but truth is, deep down inside, I really wanted to be a writer. I’ve been lucky in college to have an important mentor, my freshman English professor. He nudged me — OK pushed me — to become an English major. Although I initially resisted, I ultimately gave in, and it was the best decision I made.

I now teach English and Humanities at a local university and get to write, too. The best of two great worlds. Through my writing, I am able to connect with others. Teaching gives me the opportunity to help students, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve been able to provide a safe place for students who confide in me about their personal challenges. I’ve helped students in dire circumstances, and I find it amazing — and a blessing — that students feel comfortable enough to confide in me. I enjoy inspiring others to keep learning and to aim for success in all aspects of their lives. I’ve also taught students the value of giving back to the community.

My readers. I’m grateful to you, dear readers. Your reading my posts and your comments mean a lot to me. Happy New Year from Calling the Shots; may your year be filled with joyous moments.

Fireworks

What are you grateful for?

Would you like to share any New Year’s Resolution(s)/goal(s)?


Virtual Families Face to Face

Posted on: December 27th, 2014 by
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Last Saturday, Arielle and I got to meet a wonderful family: Tami Boehmer, her husband Mike, and their lovely daughter Chrissy. Tami comes to the Chicago area once a month for a clinical trial. We agreed to meet at a restaurant for dinner in Skokie, IL.

I’ve been a fan of Tami’s since I first became acquainted with her blog, and awhile ago, I reviewed her first book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. She first became acquainted with me after interviewing me on the phone and introducing me on her blog. An instant camaraderie existed between us online. And, one week ago, we met at last.

And our camaraderie was still there.

I had a great conversation with the Boehmer family. I could tell Mike was so supportive of his wife and Chrissy was close to her parents. The family struck me as exceedingly nice, caring, and intelligent.

Tami and Mike have a wonderful, witty, sometimes irreverent sense of humor. I can also be irreverent. So we laughed a lot through dinner. We had a lot in common. We discussed self-advocacy and publishing, among other topics.

Mike has a blog, where he provides a caregiver’s perspective and keeps his readers posted about his family’s adventures. If you can, please check it out.

I am so very grateful I met Tami and her family. This is another example of how wonderful the online breast cancer community is. I never expected to have so many online friends when I hit my blog’s Publish button for the first time. It’s truly incredible.

To purchase Tami’s second book Miracle Survivors: Beating the Odds of Incurable Cancer, click here.

Tami (right) and me

Tami (right) and me

Have you met any bloggers face-to-face?

Feel free to share your comments about the online community for breast cancer or any other disease that you are experiencing/have experienced.


Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by
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This week, someone I know told me her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks ago. She described this experience as a rollercoaster, a very fitting metaphor, and then asked for my advice. My first thought was, “Damn, another person diagnosed with this beastly disease.” My second thought was to offer some advice she and her mother would find helpful.

So I gave some advice.

And that got me thinking that I should write a post to address this very important topic. I remember being a breast cancer newbie as if it were yesterday, and I experienced so much confusion and emotions.

I’m hoping this post helps those who are newly diagnosed and I’m hoping that others reading this post will add their advice in the Comments section. After all, the breast cancer community is a community where we help each other.

That being said, here are just some of my tips for coping with a new breast cancer diagnosis.

You can experience a wide array of emotions — such as grief, fear, panic, anger, depression, disbelief, and sadness. This is normal. Any emotions you are going through are normal considering the heavy weight of diagnosis. Don’t pressure yourself to feel or react a certain way or to react to your diagnosis the way others expect you to. Let yourself scream, cry, punch a pillow, and so on. There’s no right way to handle cancer.

Don’t feel you must rush hastily to make medical decisions. Newly diagnosed people often feel pressured to decide a treatment plan immediately. While you want to address your illness promptly, you have time to consider your options. In addition, you need to make the decision that is best for you.

Choose doctors you feel comfortable with. Too often we don’t speak up regarding our own health care. Seize the reins of your own medical care and advocate for yourself. Feel free to get a second or even third opinion. If you are uneasy with a doctor, following your gut instincts is a good game plan.

Seek support. Having breast cancer can feel isolating. Take advantage of the wide array of support systems available. If you have a supportive family, spouse, etc., feel free to open up to them. The American Cancer Society has various programs and services. For example, when I couldn’t drive due to surgery, the organization paid for my cab rides to and from doctor appointments. Support groups and/or counseling may be helpful. If your location has a Gilda’s Club, I strongly recommend this support network. When I was newly diagnosed, I walked into Gilda’s Club Chicago, and it was one of my lifelines. If you are social media savvy, consider participating in #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) tweetchats on Mondays at 9-10 p.m. US Eastern time. A wide variety of excellent breast cancer blogs are available to help you feel less isolated.

Don’t compare yourself to others’ treatments/outcomes. Each person’s breast cancer is different, kind of like a fingerprint. Don’t compare your treatments and outcomes with those of others.

Don’t pressure yourself to “get over it.” I’ve been told this on several occasions. Breast cancer is a big deal, and everyone heals physically and emotionally at a different pace. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself.

I hope you have found these tips helpful. Seek out the help you need and just put one foot in front of the other, and you will get through this ordeal one step at a time.

"Diagnosis"

“Diagnosis”

For those who have/had breast cancer, what advice would you offer a newly diagnosed patient?