Monday, December 31, 2012

Simple Gifts

As another year comes to a close, it is human nature to take a moment and reflect.  Since the cancer diagnosis and treatment, each year that goes by is viewed as a gift.  Each day and all the moments are the extra, the icing on the cake – the things that may not have been if the cancer had won. 
With each passing day and month and year, I find it harder and harder to live each day with a feeling of gratitude.  I was so overcome with that feeling when Kelly 2.0 emerged from beating cancer.  But now, the worries of daily life sometimes cloud my ability to see past those things that aren’t important.
But stopping to reflect helps me re-center and to focus on the right things.  The things that matter.  The things that make humanity awe-inspiring.
Moments worth remembering were plentiful this year.  Many days were spent in the sunshine enjoying laugher with friends.  It was a year in which we made new friends.  I gazed upon the Golden Gate Bridge in wonderment.  I loved watching the joy that making a great batch of wine brought my husband.  There were many beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  I stood at the top of NC watching the clouds roll in and feeling totally alive.  There was much creating – whether with words or ideas or with my hands.    
And yes, there was sadness at times.  Losses.  Struggles.  Unspeakable and unexplainable things that happened.  But all the darkness only emphasizes the need to focus on the light.
I will make it my goal this year and every year that I am given to live a life of gratitude and of joy.  To not just enjoy great moments, but to find ways to create them for myself and others.  And I ask you to do the same.  Together we can make the world a better place – one moment at a time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Haunted by Somebody I Used to Know

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  For the most part, I could not be more excited.  I love the holiday season, and I can’t wait for the weeks of festivities.
I find myself preoccupied by events that took place in the fall of 2010.  I can’t help but to try to mentally walk through the many firsts that happened – all between Mid-November and Christmas.  It was this very week that I had the critical ultrasound and biopsy.  Two days before Thanksgiving I received my cancer diagnosis.  My first meeting with the oncologist and PET scan occurred the following week.  My first chemotherapy happened the very next week.
I am grateful that I kept a blog.  I can remember the big moments – some as if they are in slow motion. But a lot of the detail of that time has now faded.   But having captured it in writing, I am able to read and trigger my memory.  It is a peculiar sensation though, because I feel like I’m reading someone else’s story.  And in reading that story, I am so very proud of the humorous and strong heroine.
Glumly, I am haunted by her.  She is an impossible role model.  She got out of bed everyday with a kick-ass attitude.  She was able to beat cancer!   And even in illness, she was so full of life and so grateful for the people in her life and for all the moments that we take for granted.
It’s hard to live up to her.   She conquered the Big C!  If I’m lucky, I might conquer the Starbucks drive-thru.  She woke up grateful to be alive each day.  I wake up wishing I could sleep another hour.  The small stuff meant nothing to the mighty heroine.  I am sometimes so buried in the small stuff I forget to notice the sunshine peeking through.  She knew her mission and never detoured from it.  I’m no longer sure what my mission is. 
I need to consult with the heroine.  She must be around somewhere. Surely she can give me some advice on how to be more like her.   Strong.  Grateful.  Focused.  I want to be more like this somebody I used to know.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Coming Out

In August I had my routine post-cancer PET Scan and then went to see my oncologist for a follow-up visit to receive the results.  It was not the news I wanted to hear.  My tonsils and adenoids had "lit up" on my scan and they recommended a follow-up visit with an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist.  Keep in mind, a PET Scan is not a "cancer" scan.  A PET just shows any area of metabolic activity which can include inflammation, pain, infections, etc.

I went to see the ENT and she recommended removal of the tonsils and adenoids.  She said that it could be nothing, but that in order to really check it out the most comprehensive course of action would be complete removal.  Her logic was that if did end up being cancer related, we could not only diagnose it, but also go ahead and potentially get rid of the problem in one procedure.

And as much as I didn't want to be a 40-year old woman getting her tonsils taken out, I agreed that it was the best plan and we scheduled it.  I had outpatient surgery the Tuesday after labor day.  This was my first real surgery and it went very well.  I was home by lunch time and well-medicated.

Adult tonsil removal is painful and the recovery process is slow.  The first two days weren't so bad because I was still on the many drugs they gave me during surgery.  But as those have worn off, the discomfort has increased.  In fact, the last two days have been the worst thus far.  Additionally, the adenoid removal has caused some sinus issues that make laying down to sleep pretty much impossible.  So between hydrocodone, nearly no sleep, and very little food in my stomach I'm a joy to be around.

I went for a follow up with the ENT today and the good news is that the PET Scan blip was nothing more than that - a blip!  No cancer. My tonsils were apparently just inflammed.  I wish I could drink a glass of champagne to celebrate!  But that would really really hurt.

I can't wait to get this "blip" over with and get back to hot coffee and sleep!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Restore Life - The Way It Should Be.

So, it’s been a while.  I am happy that I haven’t felt the need to talk about “It”.  I’ve been very busy in my pursuit of being a card-carrying member of society again.  Busy working and playing.  Busy trying to forget about the days in which I was a girl interrupted.  And I go for long periods of time without giving cancer a thought!  I knew these glory days would come and they were well worth the wait.
Over the last month though, cancer has crept into my head.  I can name a half-a-dozen people that have passed away from cancer.  No one I know directly, but relatives of friends and co-workers.  Some of these losses are as young as I am.  And although I offer appropriate condolence, in my head I grieve greatly for each of them and their families.  I grieve because cancer sucks and it can hit anyone at anytime.  And we don’t understand who will get it or why.  And I hear about these people who leave children and loved ones behind and the question of “Why me?” rattles around in my head.  Not why did I get cancer, but why did I get to survive when someone else who had a bigger role in humanity was not so fortunate.  I am so grateful that I am alive, but disturbed by the lack of rhyme or reason to the world.
Yesterday I received my appointment for my annual PET scan.  It’s been a year since my last PET scan and about 16 months since I had my first clean scan.  I feel great and I am hopeful for an all-clear, but I would be lying if I said I am not feeling a little bit of “scanxiety”.   Nothing like I felt a year ago, but definitely a little tension in my neck that I can attribute to the anticipation of it.
Enough talk about the thoughts that exist in the shadows of my mind.  Let’s do a dramatic change of topic and talk about my 40th Birthday.  I am THRILLED to be turning 40 in less than two weeks.  After thinking I might be robbed of another decade of life, I welcome it with open arms.  I am looking forward to celebrating it with my family and friends.  This Leo wants to be the center of attention!  Now if I can just find an appropriate tiara for the occasion…

Friday, May 18, 2012

Living the Dream in the Valley

I’ve been writing bits and pieces of this post since we returned from California nearly two weeks ago.  It’s been so busy since we’ve gotten back that it has been nearly impossible to sit and capture my thoughts.
Vacation was blissful.  It was filled with the best life has to offer – quality time with my husband, remarkable food and wine, breath-taking scenery, and wonderful people.  It was the perfect time to celebrate life and to put cancer a little further in the past.
One of the things I enjoyed most were the stories shared by the people we encountered.  As I get older and as anyone who has had cancer or a similar experience will tell you, life is about being in the moment.  Furthermore, enjoying life is about recognizing those moments and appreciating them before they have passed you by.  I am grateful that I during my vacation I was able to recognize these wonderful moments as they were happening and fully experience the joy!
A highlight of our trip was a private Napa tour we took with Dave from the Napa Wine Project.  Dave and I corresponded prior to our trip, and I told him that I wanted to have an “off-the-beaten path” experience.  Robbie, being an amateur winemaker, loves to talk to other winemakers about the craft and I knew that he would enjoy this type of tour immensely.  Dave did not dissapoint.
The first place we went during the tour was Sciandri Family Vineyards where we met with Ron.  They have a beautiful 20-acre state and currently produce an estate cabernet sauvignon.  I loved sitting on his back porch eating cheese and drinking their estate cabernet while Ron talked about their family heritage and how they got started in the wine making business.  We listened as he showed us a small row of grapes smuggled from Italy that he had planted for the enjoyment of his grandchildren. 
Next he took us to meet Emil Tedeschi from Tedeschi Winery.  We ate lunch at a picnic table outside of his winery, while he told stories about how he started a winery in Maui of all places.  Robbie’s favorite moment of our vacation was when Emil pulled out his grafting knife and literally showed him how to graft a grapevine.  Emil was one of those salt-of-the-earth types and I loved that he spoke as a farmer that works hard to produce great wine.    
The last place Dave took us that day was to meet with Heather Brakesman at Summit Lake Vineyards on Howell Mountain.  Her parents started the winery before she was born, and she grew up in the Napa Valley.  We spent time enjoying a spectacular view, drinking wine, and playing ball with a relentless labrador.    She told us about how all she longed to do while growing up was to get out of the valley.  Now she is back, and listening to her kids talk about how there is nothing to do in the valley.  Her language was colorful and she had a great laugh.  I could have sat there all day.
Even without Dave as our ambassador, we stumbled onto some great people all on our own.  Our week started with George Hendry’s two hour tour of his winery.  He was a straight shooter who had obviously done some hard work during his time, as shown by the wear of his shoes, the roughness of his hands, and the aged skin that had spent many long hours in the sun.  But I loved his cantankerous demeanor and hearing him talk about wine with great passion and a suprising level of understanding.
I think this is one of the first vacations in which I was content to sit for hours and just listen to stories.  I took photos to remember rather than be able to show the amazing places I had been.  The wine was great, but not nearly as great as sitting on a deck listening to music while we listened to someone’s story.
If you ever make it to Napa, I highly recommend veering off the beaten path and looking for the hidden gems.  The big name wineries are great and we did spend some time hitting a few of those.  But those are definitely not the stops that are still resonating with me after I've gotten home.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Cancer is one of those points in my life that will forever be a marker of time.  For example, this weekend we were planting grape vines.  And I can’t help but to think back to last spring when we were planting vines.  I remember barely being able to help.   I was in between chemo and radiation and exhausted all the time.  I had to keep my skin covered because it was super-sensitive to sun due to the treatment.  And to add insult to injury, I had no hair.

This year my hair was a mess and blowing in the breeze.  I had on a t-shirt and was soaking up the sun with every ounce of my being.  Yes, digging the many holes totally kicked my ass, but in a marvelous way.  And unlike last year, the exhaustion didn’t leave me feeling tired for days.
The experience reminded me that life is good right now.  I love it when I get a moment of clarity and am able to remember to feel gratitude for all that I have.

Speaking of gratitude, I am in full-on vacation planning mode!  We leave in less than two weeks.  We had a trip planned last May that we had to cancel because of my illness.  We had plans to go to Santa Barbara for the Winemaker Magazine conference and we were going to stay on the west coast after the conference and hit wine country.  We both agreed that we would go when I was well. 
A little known fact about me:  I am a crazy psychotic vacation planner.   Robbie tried to get me to use a travel agent once because he thought that I stressed too much about the planning.  But he has come to understand that I enjoy it and that I like having the control.  Planning is part of the fun for me.  As soon as we have a destination in mind, I begin to read travel books, yelp reviews, trip advisor reviews, and vacation blogs. 

Destination Napa/Sonoma has been so much fun to plan.  I have a day-by-day itinerary in development that includes our starting winery for each day (those on our “must visit” list), a tour guide that will give us that private boutique winery experience, and group tours that are more fun and relaxed.  At this point I’m down to planning the second tier wineries as well as the meals.   I have experienced much anguish over picking a place to have Deem Sum in San Francisco and in trying to decide if Morimoto’s restaurant in Napa is worth the price (or do we just stand in front and take a photo!)   
Robbie used to poke fun at my planning, but after a few successful vacations he is now a believer.   I know he does not relish the planning phase, so I try to limit his involvement to seeking the information I need to ensure his enjoyment.  I now know that he could care less about what order I arrange to do things or the specific rental car we will be driving.  He really doesn’t want to hear the cheeses they offer during the tour or what types of linens are on the beds at the hotel.  He doesn’t want to pick his seat on the plane, nor does he want to participate in my agonizing over whether I want to spend extra money to have a great view.   I ask him the important questions:  What five wineries are on your “must visit” list?  Would you rather have a single “base” of operation or move each day or two to be closer to different areas?

Robbie is traveling for work this week, so in addition to spending the evenings hashing out the vacation itinerary, I am also a single parent to our very high maintenance beagles.  Zoe is diabetic and gets a shot twice a day.  Meadow is currently on antibiotics and “happy bacteria” for stomach issues and has to be coaxed to eat her breakfast because she has too much gas in her stomach.  I have to take Zoe to an eye specialist on Friday for recurring cysts she keeps getting in her eye (an hour away from where we live).  Monthly dog expenses:  hundreds (too afraid to add it up).  The joy they bring:  priceless.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One Year. One Hundred Posts.

It seems appropriate that for my 100th post on my cancer blog I get to write about my one year check-up with my oncologist.  I’ve always been very nervous prior to previous visits, but I felt pretty confident that I would get a thumbs up.  I feel great this go-around and didn’t get the phantom symptoms I sometimes get prior to my appointments. 
As I sat in the waiting room, I was feeling so grateful to have my hair back.  I saw a lovely bald woman come into the waiting wear a pink bandanna, and the memories of wearing wigs and scarves during the hot summer flooded my mind.  I wanted to go to her and tell her that it grows back and that a year from now she’ll be dealing with unruly inconsistently textured hair.  But I also remembered how crabby and tired I was when I was going through chemo and that I may not like her response to my “helpfulness.”
 When I was called back for my appointment, I was put in the Lance Armstrong room.  Always a symbol of hope that Lance!  I should note that I didn’t actually get to meet with my oncologist.  I am doing so well apparently that he felt it appropriate to just pass my visit off to a physician assistant.  And in all honesty, that was perfectly ok with me.  Let him focus on saving lives rather than carrying on chitchat with someone who feels great.
She said that my blood work looked good, and then proceeded with the usual list of questions they always ask during the check-ups.  Any fever?  Feeling tired?  Trouble breathing?  Lumps or bumps?  Problems going to the bathroom?  Any vomiting?  Night sweats?  Coughing?  Aches and pains?  And on and on … I was given a clean bill of health and will go back in August.  I will be scheduled for a PET Scan prior to the August visit since it will have been a year since my last one.
Probably the only lingering side effect from the “Cancer experience” (almost sounds like a Disney theme park ride – ha ha) is a continuing struggle to fully bounce back.  I think the break you take from leading a normal/regular life is both good and bad.  Good in that you get perspective and clarity around those things that are important.  But bad in the sense that you took a break from the “game of life” and have to get reconditioned to play again.  Lately, I have been struggling with time management, creativity, balance, etc. and I had an epiphany about this just this week.  I don’t think I’ve lost the ability to do those things, but I do think I’ve lost my confidence.  Believing you can do something is such a HUGE part of actually being able to do it.  Just having that thought process has made me feel so much better.  I can be awesome; I just have to believe it.  I just laughed out loud as I was typing this because for a moment I thought about the blog reader and envisioned them thinking “How ego-centric can she be?  Seriously?  What kind of dribble is this?”  That is completely alright; I know I’m a little crazy.  But I also know that some cancer survivor will read this and totally get it.
Thanks for sticking with me.  If you’ve read all hundred of my posts, I should bake you cookies or give you wine.  But this will have to do for now:   A virtual toast to you wishing you love, friendship, good health, and a spirit of gratitude!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Halfway There

I have a check-up with my oncologist soon.  Next week I’ll have bloodwork and the following week is my appointment.  I’m feeling good so I’m anticipating an “all-clear”.  And getting that all clear will be exciting because it means I’ve made it through my first year of a cancer-free life post-chemotherapy.  The two year mark is a critical milestone.   If it doesn’t recur within that timeframe, your odds of getting it again go way down.  So time can keep on ticking away!  It’s a rare time in life when you want the days to go by quickly.

Operation weight-loss is going well.  I’m thirty pounds down.  I’m losing much more slowly now, but I’m going for long term success and a slow and steady weight loss is the best way to achieve it.  My goal is 10 pounds a month.  So far so good, though the last few weeks I’ve been on a bit of a plateau.  I am going to try to ramp it up a bit over the next few weeks in preparation for our upcoming vacation that is long overdue.

Last May, we were supposed to go to Santa Barbara for a winemaking conference and then on to Napa and Sonoma.  We cancelled the trip for multiple reasons.  I had used every ounce of my vacation and sick time for treatment, and I was just finishing up radiation.  I have finally accrued some time off again, so Napa here we come!  We’re going in early May. 

I am struggling with balance in my life right now.  You make a lot of promises to yourself when you have cancer, and one of mine was to have better balance in my life.  This has been such a challenge lately.  Last week for example, work was crazy busy (although last week wasn’t an exception, it’s been that way for months).  I felt guilty leaving the office on-time, but I needed to do so because I have a diabetic dog that needs a shot every twelve hours.  I was also feeling guilty because I made time to dance/exercise (my new favorite exercise – Dance Central 2).  And I feel guilty because I took myself out for a nice lunch because it was a beautiful spring day and I decided to enjoy it.  I need to reconcile my feelings about these things.  I don’t like feeling like I’m not working hard enough, but I am also not willing to sacrifice a balance that I so desperately need.  If the cancer ever did return, I don’t want to regret that I didn’t take the time to enjoy life’s moments.  It’s too important.  When I thought I could die, I never once thought that I should’ve worked harder.     

Too many heavy thoughts!  I am off to enjoy the day.  Robbie and I had our sixteenth wedding anniversary this week, and it’s time to spend some time celebrating.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'm Worth It

I think entire days go by now in which I don’t actually think about cancer. I thought this day would never come and I could not be happier. It was a year ago this month that I got the news that the chemotherapy was working and that the cancer was nearly gone. 

My obsession with all-things cancer has been replaced with finding nutritious and filling low-calorie foods. Instead of researching the latest in lymphoma treatments, I’m trying to find the best combination of “pick-two” for lunch at Panera. I have lost eighteen pounds this year, and I’m still going strong. This weight-loss effort has been the easiest thus far, and I fully believe it is related to having survived cancer. 

I think when you go through a cancer fight, whether consciously or unconsciously you make a choice to fight. A choice to live. And in making that decision you affirm to yourself that you are worth it. And this may be a peculiar correlation to make, but I think that experiencing such a life affirming moment has helped me want to live a healthier life for all the right reasons. Thus much of the insecurity and emotional eating that I’ve experienced in the past seems to be absent this go around.

Cancer also changes some of your food preferences. I have always liked milk, but now I love milk. I crave it. Luckily I love skim milk so it works within my daily calories. But some days, given the choice of a glass of wine or a glass of milk at the end of a long day – I go with the milk. I hate to admit it, but I used to have a soft spot for greasy fried food – onion rings, fish, french fries, etc. I really don’t enjoy the mouth-feel now and it has the tendency to give me wicked indigestion so I had started to avoid it while I was receiving treatment. I never did get the taste back for it. I am also finally able to drink and really enjoy wine, although on occasion the acidity still bothers me. I think I have scar tissue in my throat and chest that will always make me sensitive to those types of things.

But with the exception of a few wacky food issues, the “new normal” post-cancer seems to be going well so far. Now I’ve just got to get my drive to exercise kicked into high gear. I’ve managed to incorporate some walking a few times a week, but I need to kick up the speed and duration. But I can do it. After all, I’m worth it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Promise Kept; A Promise Broken

When you have cancer, you make a lot of promises.   It mainly happens in the middle-of-the-night when you have insomnia and are lying quietly, alone with so many thoughts going through your head.  These were the times I hated the most.  And it was during those times that I would make silent promises about how I’m going to be a better person.  And one of the things I would promise, is that if I lived through treatment and ever become a “cancer survivor” that I would be a healthier person.  Because after going through all that effort to survive, I should try to make sure I am here a while to enjoy it.
After treatment, I gave myself a little leeway.  I knew I wanted to get healthy, but I also wanted to enjoy freedom for a while.   After so many months of not being able to taste food and during a short time not even really being able to eat – I let myself eat what I wanted.  I particularly enjoyed the holiday season with all the cookies and wonderful meals!
I knew that once the holidays were over, I was ready to make a change.  I want and need to be healthy.  More than ever, I want to live.  And that drive to survive is powerful.  It changes you.  I’ve dieted a hundred times, and I can’t say that survival was ever my motivation for weight loss.  I wanted to look better and  I hated the way I was treated as an overweight person.  But it was never about survival the way it is now.   My hope is that the cancer won’t come back and that losing weight will just be about living well.  But if the cancer does come back, being healthy can only improve my chances.
Robbie and I started the first weekend after New Years.  And in all honesty, it feels great so far.   I’m using a website to track calories and exercise.  It really does come down to calories in, calories out.  There are many different programs out there, and I’m sure lots of them work.  But I want something that is long lasting and easy to manage.  I’m down about 12 pounds and feeling good.  I’m managing my calories well – planning around indulgences that are going to be a part of life (i.e., a dinner out on the weekend or meals on the road when traveling).  Last weekend we went out to one of our favorite restaurants and I looked forward to it all day.  But I was smart and prepared.  I ate very low-calorie meals and avoided snacks to enjoy our evening.  And surprisingly, I couldn’t even finish the food on my plate that evening because I’m finally starting to get used to eating less.
Cancer, maybe you’ll save my life.  Wouldn’t that be grand? 
P.S.  I know I said I was going to stop the blog.  This is the promise I’m breaking.  I was finding that I was in a series of mostly negative posts that were all about trying to mentally recover from the whole experience.  I have turned a page and may occasionally post again since I have a better outlook and am accomplishing some goals related to cancer recovery. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Paranoia or Perceptive?

When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was hard not to be angry at myself. I had symptoms that I ignored for months. And once I found out what I had, I couldn’t believe that I had let it all go on for that long.

I think a promise that all we cancer survivors make, is that we will never do that again. Ever. So now, every little ache or pain is analyzed and googled, and crossed-referenced with symptoms of lymphoma or even other types of cancers.

For the last few weeks I have had a pain in my arm that I’m 99% sure is from pulling a heavy backpack from the back seat of my car into the front seat, yet I’ve checked to see if arm pain can be a cancer symptom. FYI, it is probably not.

So this week’s ailment is a lump in my right armpit. It could be a swollen lymphnode caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It might be an infected hair follicle. Or an even sillier answer is that it could be a pimple under the skin. But it could also be the dreaded cancer. My subconscious tells me to wait it out – that it will probably disappear a few days from now. But the last time I trusted myself; I had cancer for months and didn’t do anything about it.

So today, I broke down and called for an appointment with the oncologist. I will see him tomorrow. And I hope he laughs at me for my silliness and bills me an outrageous amount for the unnecessary visit. I don’t want him to tell me that I’ve been very perceptive and smart. Those are the last words I want to hear. Isn’t that a rarity?

So here is hoping that he laughs in my face.

Just a brief update - it was a "clogged sweat gland."  Woohoo!  Never thought I would toast a clogged sweat gland, but that is exactly what we did!  I told the Doctor that I felt silly and paranoid, and she said not to feel silly, that I earned the right to be paranoid when I was told I had cancer.