Thursday, October 18, 2012

Go Team Thunder!

Ten months ago, in this post, I announced that I had signed up to run a half marathon in this year's Detroit Free Press Marathon.

A lot has changed in 10 months: I rejected conventional treatment, accepted alternative treatment, got rid of cancer, turned 29, got cancer again, rejected a bone marrow transplant, accepted radiation, celebrated my fourth (!) wedding anniversary, got rid of cancer again.

Phew.

So here we are, just days away from marathon day and no closer to being able to run 13.1 miles than I was in January.

It's not that I didn't try. I really did. I set up a training schedule. I woke up early most mornings to get my runs in. I ran. A lot. But in the middle of this training, I started going through radiation, which in itself takes a toll on the body.

But I was determined.

So most mornings (with the help of friends), I would wake up and run before my 8am daily radiation treatments. The warrior came out. There was no way I was letting Cancer take this away from me.

But about two weeks in, I started to notice a shortness of breath. Not only did running become harder, breathing became harder (a common side effect of having radiation so close to my chest and lungs).

So I stopped running. I told myself it was temporary. That as soon as I was done with treatment, my lungs would improve and I would start up again.

My condition didn't improve. Here I am, two months later, still unable to take a true full breath and expected to run 13 miles on Sunday.

But, this will not be another thing cancer tries to take away from me. On Sunday, even if it takes me all day and I have to crawl across the finish line, I will complete my 13.1 miles. And luckily for me, I don't have to do it alone. Not only is The Hubby "running" with me, but my sister and a great friend are joining as well. We also have a team of friends coming to cheer us on throughout the day, decked out in Team Thunder shirts. It's pretty incredible to have friends that are willing to stand all day in a crowd of people, waiting to catch a glimpse of me as I walk a half marathon. That's love.

Even though cancer may have slowed me down (literally), it will not stop me from finishing the race. After all, it's not just my ego on the line. As I mentioned before, I am also running in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. And any foundation that strives to make a kid's experience with cancer a little brighter deserves our support and money. If any of you would like to support me by supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation, please go to my fundraising page and give whatever you are able to.

Again, thank you all for your constant support throughout my journey.

See you at the finish line.

Go Team Thunder!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Breathe Easy

Last week I got good news. Really good news. Last week, after 23 radiation treatments, I got a clean scan. This officially puts me (for the second time this year) in remission.

But this time was different. I didn't run around yelling, "Suck it cancer!" This time, Mama Bear didn't cry when she heard the news. The Hubby, although ecstatic at the outcome, seemed more relieved than anything else.

This time we understood that this news, although reason to celebrate, is only the first of many hurdles.

Last time I got good news - the "you're cancer free" news - within a few months, it was back. And being told "you relapsed" is a prognosis that was, in some ways, worse than the initial diagnosis.

Right now I am extremely grateful, thankful, and excited with the news, but also cautious. 

I was told by my oncologist that it was expected to get a clean first scan, but it is the next several that really matter. His exact words, "After two years, then you can breathe."

Great. Thanks Doc.

In the meantime, besides holding my breath, I'm trying to stay focused on living a healthy lifestyle by juicing, eating right, and doing regular yoga. I'm trying to not let the fears of my oncologist's words flood my thoughts. I'm more focused on the optimism of my radiologist who believes in the success of my treatment path.

And most importantly, I'm trying to keep things in perspective. Rather than focusing on the uncertainty of the next scan, I'm constantly reminding myself that this holiday season (unlike last year) will be minus one Little Hodgy. I am constantly reminding myself that I am in remission.

And even though the future is uncertain at the moment, I'm looking forward to the day when I'm allowed to breathe. Then, I'll take it all in and finally tell Cancer to "Suck It" for good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Waiting and Worrying

I'm not sure I can top today's post from The Hubby as he perfectly sums up what we're going through with such eloquence, but I think it's important to voice my thoughts as well.

This fucking sucks.

Here I am a year later and still waiting to see if I have cancer. This whole year has been one long waiting game.

And not just waiting, but worrying.

Waiting and worrying.

This is not to say that I don't thoroughly enjoy my life in the middle of all this waiting and worrying. I do. But underneath every thought, word, and action is "do I still have cancer?"

This constant thought gets really fucking old.

But tomorrow, I get my PET scan, which means by Wednesday, the waiting will be over.

And hopefully, for fuck's sake, the worrying too.

via

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Georgia On My Mind

Yesterday I started a 5 day health detox at the Living Foods Institute in Atlanta. It was one of the original places I researched back when I was first diagnosed and - in Mama Bear's loving panic - booked us tickets before Little Hodgy had even a single second to grow.

As everyone knows, I ultimately went to a similar program in Arizona that I felt blended both natural and medicinal treatments, but leaving us with a credit to the program here in Atlanta.

So far this program has been less than healing.

When I think of healing, I think of the ocean and my toes buried in the sand. I think of music and dancing. I think of bike rides. I think of laughter with friends. And yes, sometimes healing means sitting on my deck with The Hubby enjoying a glass of wine.

I do not think of healing as sitting in room ALL. DAY. LONG listening to a series of lectures.

To be fair, I do have more knowledge than the average person when it comes to the alternative therapies. And I knew coming into this that I would have to listen again about the benefits of greens and wheatgrass and infrared saunas and all the other things I've already done. I just figured it would be spread over 5 days, in between actually getting therapies.

So far, I haven't left my chair.

Not very healing.

I'm going into today with an open mind (naive perhaps) and hoping we actual do something besides listen.

If not, this chair just might be the death of me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Red, Red Go Away

When the doctors and nurses told me about the immediate side effects of radiation, no one mentioned the fact that I would start to look like the Batman character Two Face.

Currently, from my chest to the bottom half of my face, my skin is raw, peely, and a range of blotchy shades of red, white, and tan.

So not a good look.

I know this is temporary and if it means Little Hodgy is gone for good, it's totally worth it, but I'd really rather not spend the final days of summer hibernating because I scare away all the children I come in contact with.

I'll spare you pictures of what I currently look like, but here are a couple pics of the radiation room where I received my daily treatment:

The evil machine that made me look like Two Face


Me, in the radiation machine

Friday, August 17, 2012

Radiation, Check!

Today, after 4 and a half weeks of treatment, was my last day of radiation. 

I have to say, the process wasn't terrible. I've been a little more tired than usual (but that's what afternoon naps are for), my throat has been extremely sore, and my skin looks like I fell asleep in the sun, but nothing too unmanageable.



Like most things with cancer, it's the emotional toll that was the most taxing. 

Everyday for over four weeks I had to go sit in a waiting room with women more than twice my age. Not once did I ever see any patient under the age of 60.

This, frankly, is a constant reminder that I shouldn't be dealing with this.

What should I be doing? I should be finding my dream job. Or I should be traveling the world. Or, hell, I should be having babies (or at least another puppy). But early in this process I learned to give up on the idea of "shoulds".

As we all know, life doesn't always obey our "shoulds."



The mere fact that I had to start every day in a hospital took its own emotional toll. It's hard to move forward when your wake-up call is a daily dose of radiation.



But today, I am finished.



Now all I have to do is wait...

And wait..

And wait.

What will inevitably feel like a lifetime (aka 6 weeks), is how long I have to wait to learn if the radiation was even successful.

Everyone, keep your fingers crossed...

Because you should!

I certainly hope so!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Difficult Patient

It's a strange feeling going through a treatment plan that no doctor completely agrees with. I disappointed the conventional docs when I chose to go to Arizona for IPT and I have now disappointed the alternative docs with my choice of radiation. Between my two choices, I have managed to alienate, in some way, every doctor I've spoken with.

Sorry, docs.

I'm not trying to be difficult (despite what my doctors might think). But cancer is tough. Some people die and some people live - regardless of the path chosen.

Recently I read a book called "Love, Medicine and Miracles" by Bernie Siegel. I avoided reading this book for almost 9 months because, honestly, a book about love and miracles seemed a little too new age-y for someone who believes in the facts. I didn't want to read another book about "visualizing" or "finding my inner goddess" to rid myself of cancer. Plus Mamma Bear really wanted me to read it (I currently have four copies, all from her) and I guess that stubborn "parent pushes/child pushes back" relationship doesn't necessarily go away as we age.

Eventually I realized that the book was written by an oncologist who decided to study (with facts!) the success stories of his patients; instead of studying why treatments were failing, he began to study why certain treatments, or more importantly, patients, were succeeding. (Siegel might want to consider changing the name of the book to "How Cancer Patients Succeed").

If two people are given the same diagnosis, why does one live and the other die? Why do certain people defy the odds even when the odds are stacked against them? What makes a patient thrive?

Siegel says there are three categories of patients.

"About 15 to 20 percent of all patients unconsciously, or even consciously, wish to die. On some level, they welcome cancer or some other serious illness as a way to escape their problems through death or disease. These are the patients who show no signs of stress when they find out their diagnosis.

In the middle of the spectrum of patients is the majority, about 60-70 percent. They are like actors auditioning for a part. They perform to satisfy the physician. They act the way they think the doctor wants them to act, hoping that then the doctor will do all the work and the medicine won't taste bad. They'll take their pills faithfully and show up for appointments. They'll do what they're told -- unless the doctor suggests radical changes in lifestyle -- but it never occurs to them to question the doctor's decision or strike out on their own by doing things for themselves that just "feel right." These are the people that, when given a choice, would rather be operated on than actively work to get well.

At the other extreme are the 15 to 20 percent who are exceptional. They're not auditioning; they're being themselves. They refuse to play the victim. When acting out [the role of victim], patients cannot help themselves, for everything is being done to them…Exceptional patients refuse to be victims. They educate themselves and become specialists in their own care. They question the doctor because they want to understand their treatment and participate in it. They demand dignity, personhood, and control, no matter what the course of the disease."


What's up now doc?

Turns out I'm exceptional. And according to the book, the patients doctors deem most difficult end up doing the best over the course of their treatment. The difficult patients are the ones who live.

So go ahead: call me difficult, stubborn, and controlling.

The truth is, I've struggled a lot over the last 10 months over this idea of control. Who do I listen to? Who is the most knowledgeable? Do I trust my gut or theirs? Who has ulterior motives? Who sees me as Dana Frost, the person, not case number 347?

But what I've realized is that none of these doctors have all the answers. In their own way, they all want to help me, and help get rid of the cancer. But patients die at the hands of the alternative doctors and they die at the hands of the conventional doctors. The reality is, there is no right answer (if there were, 30% of the world wouldn't be suffering from cancer).

So, I'm stuck listening to myself. And as someone who was average at best in science class, and in no way an expert in the field of medicine, it can be quite a discomfort putting my opinions ahead of those of the doctors. And because of this, I am considered a difficult patient. I ask questions, I refuse treatments plans, and I change my mind - often.

There are times I wish I was more of an average patient. It would certainly be easier to be one of the 60-70 percent of patients who never questioned and just listened. I can imagine the relief one feels when they are told what the decision is and they never have to think about whether or not it's the right decision. And I'm sure it's easier to play the role of the victim. To wallow in this terrible thing that happened to me. To give up any sort of control of the outcome. There are days I wish I could be more like that. Days where I could just give up control.

But that's just not me. Besides, who wants to be an average patient anyway?

Call me difficult. Call me demanding. Just don't call me average.


And whatever you do, don't call me a victim.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

May The Odds Be Ever In My Favor!

Last week, I got my first tattoo.

I've thought about the hypothetical tattoo for a long time -- what I would get, where it would be -- but I never imagined I would get this tattoo.

Last week, I got a dot on my chest. That's it. A tiny little dot.

If you ever watched Friends, then you might recall the episode where Phoebe decides to get a tattoo and then chickens out after the needle touches her, leaving her with one tiny dot. She went on to describe the tattoo as "the earth as seen from a great great distance."

So like Phoebe, I got a tattoo of the earth as seen from a great great distance. Unlike Phoebe, I didn't end up with a freckle size tattoo because I chickened out at the sight of the needle.

My tattoo, my freckle size dot, was not done by a tattoo artist, but by my radiologist.

My tattoo is a marker for my radiation therapy, which I start today.

After much soul searching, research, and second opinions, I finally settled on the decision. A difficult decision for a girl that always tries to come up with the right answer and is in a situation where there is no "right" answer.

This time around, I didn't get the 85% survival talk. This time, I wasn't told I had the "easy" cancer. This time, I was simply told to make a decision and hope for the best.

So that's what I'm doing. In a shitty situation, where the odds are no longer in my favor, I am hoping for the best with my decision.

For the next 4 weeks, I will spend every morning getting radiation. Personally, I'd rather get my morning jolt from a cup of coffee than a set of laser beams, but honestly, I believe it's better than the alternatives.

Come hell or high water, I'm determined to get rid of Little Hodgy.

And maybe then, I can appreciate my worldly tattoo.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fill in the Blank.

I'm having a hard time writing this time around. I feel defeated. I've started writing three different posts but can never find the words to finish.

The first time I went through this, I took a risk and took control of my treatment plan. It was unique. It was revolutionary. It was _________.

I was called things like Brave. An Inspiration. A Warrior.

Honestly, I feel like a failure.

The first time around I wanted to write. It was therapeutic. Not only was it my way of sharing my story with friends and family, but it became my way of digesting what I was going through. It was my way of coping.

But now, it seems as if there are no words. 

Maybe it's tough because there was a "first time". When I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn't think it would be for the first time. I certainly never thought I'd have to deal with this a "second time."

And shit, please don't let there be a third time.

This time, I'm tired of stealing the thunder.

I think that maybe I'm at a loss for words because I'm at a loss of what to do. I've consulted with 6 different doctors and received as many different opinions. I'm grasping for someone (anyone!) to tell me what to do. I partially expect God to come to me in my sleep and proclaim, "This is the answer!"

This has yet to happen.

So for now, I'm being left to trust my gut and tell the world again what I’m going to do—what my decision will be…this time.

But even my conviction – much like my words -- seems to be missing.

So that decision, THE DECISION, my friends, is for another post at another time.

A time when, hopefully, I can find my words.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Huffington Post: The Things I Wish I Were Told When I Was Diagnosed With Cancer

Jeff Tomczek is spot on in his article, The Things I Wish I Were Told When I Was Diagnosed With Cancer. When I read this article, I felt like Jeff went in my head and stole my thoughts. Nice work, Jeff.

Read the article here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why Worry When You Can Panic?

Here we go again. The researching, the questioning, the attempt to make a decision.

I feel like I am back at square one. Back at the beginning.

But I feel a surprising calm. A lack of panic. This is how I know this is not square one. I've been through this already. I've already tasted success.

The Hubby once read a profound quote on a bathroom stall of a bar: "Why worry when you can panic?"

He immediately thought of me. I am a worrier. I always have been.

Right now, I have every reason to not only worry, but to panic.

What if I make the wrong decision? What if people judge me? What if I lose my hair and am ugly? What if I get so sick I can't get out of bed? What if I never get rid of the Cancer? What if I die?


But I am calm. I've already worried about all of those things.

Right now, I want options.

Last week I met with my oncologist in Detroit to hear his options. I rejected his option in the past and was nervous to hear what he had to say.

Yes, I worried.

What if he hates me for seeing someone else? What if he refuses to treat me? What if he judges me and yells at me?

After going over my scans (which is much better off than my original scan from November - no major tumor, just infected lymph nodes), he gave me two options:

1) Radiation only. The cancer hasn't spread and is in the identical spot so there is a small chance (10%) that radiation alone will cure me. It's unlikely, but if it works, I will have "hit the jackpot" (his words, not mine). I would receive radiation every day for 2-3 weeks and hope for the best.

2) High Dose Chemotherapy followed by a Bone Marrow Transplant. This process involves using regular chemo to put me in remission, take out healthy bone marrow, freeze it and then give my chemo at such high doses that it kills EVERYTHING. It does so much destruction that my body can't recover on it's own. After this process, they put back my healthy marrow and hope it regrows in my body, creating a "healthy" environment. This is about a 5 month process requiring a 1-2 month stay in the hospital. This has a 60% chance of working.

These options are not ideal. The best case he is giving me leaves me with a 60% cure rate.

But oddly enough, I still don't panic.

These statistics don't apply to me. These statistics are for people who did conventional chemo and it failed to work. These statistics are for people who never responded to the drugs. These statistics are for people whose cancer is so powerful not even blasting their body with drugs could get rid of it.

There are no statistics for my situation. Most don't toe the line between alternative and conventional medicine - truly open to both and just wanting to find the best cure. Most people heavily lean in one direction or the other. The passion people feel about medicine is similar to the passion felt for politics. You pick your side and stick with it. Being stubbornly liberal, I understand that sentiment.

But with medicine, I toe the line. Classic middle child syndrome, I guess. Indecisive and noncommittal.

I'm not sure which treatment path I'll choose, but I do know that I'm not thrilled with the options presented to me. 60% cure rate plus a host of terrible side effects just doesn't seem good enough.

My plan? Head to DC for a couple weeks to meet with everyone from chinese medicine doctors to oncologists at John Hopkins in hopes of finding a treatment plan I can get on board with.

And in the meantime? I'll try not to panic.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Recurring Thunder Stealer

Well, it looks like the universe has decided the Thunder Stealer is not quite ready for retirement.

A couple weeks ago I found another lump in my neck. After several doctors’ appointments and a PET Scan, my suspicions were confirmed that Little Hodgy is in fact back.

This, to put it mildly, is not what I had in mind for my summer time activities.

So, because of the unique path I took in the first place, there is no specific protocol on how to proceed. I'll be spending the next couple week's meeting with different doctors and oncologists to decide on the best treatment plan for me.

I could wax all poetic, but rest assured friends, I made Little Hodgy my bitch once before, I have no doubt I'll do it again.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right??

Cue cheesy, pop empowerment song...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bills, Bills, Bills

Today's mail: In addition to my usual J. Crew catalog and fashion magazines, I received a stack of medical bills. 28 to be exact. I stopped opening them after the third bill when I realized I was already in the quadruple digits.

I knew some bills would continue to trickle in over the next several months, but I didn't expect 28. And I certainly didn't expect them all on the same day.

Talk about ruining your Monday.

While in Arizona, we were charged somewhere in the vicinity of $70,000 for my treatments. I just kind of expected that to cover everything. But as they say, and I am constantly learning, expectations are a bitch.

Cancer is a bitch.

Days like today, I feel stuck, like my life is at a standstill. I try so hard to put cancer behind me, but it's impossible. Evidence of it is literally showing up in piles in my mailbox.

How can I move forward when I am constantly dealing with my past? How can I move forward when I am constantly fearful that my past will once again become my present?

Like most of my peers, I should be saving to buy a house or planning a vacation or discussing whether or not I want kids. But how can I do that with mountains of debt and a medical history that refuses to be "history?"

I've thought about selling my eggs to make money, but once you have to start checking the "cancer" box on medical history forms, your eggs are no longer attractive options. I've also thought about trying to win thousands of dollars on the nickel slots at the casino, but I've never really been lucky win it comes to gambling. The lottery? I'm 35,000 times more likely to be hit by an asteroid than win it.

So how do you move forward and escape a cancerous past when a steady flow of bills constantly show up on your doorstep? As the Hubby's best friend said, "Move."

That would certainly be easier than winning the lottery.



Update: The Hubby finished opening and adding up all 28 bills. The total? $8,563.47. Seriously, after spending $70,000 on treatments, how am still getting $8,563.47 dollars worth of bills…in a single day?

Perhaps we should move after all. Or, just wait for that asteroid.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

So You Have Cancer: 10 Things to Do Now, Even if You're Not Warren Buffett

The Huffington Post gets sassy in this article on what to do if you are diagnosed with Cancer.

Number 1: Blame Canada.

Read the full article here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Great Expectations

One month. That's how long I've been home.

Turns out the process of returning home -- returning to "normal" -- isn't so easy.

A big part of me thought I'd come home and things would be simple. I'd be done with the chemo. No more full days of therapy. I'd be home with The Hubby, sleeping in my own bed. Being home would be a breeze.

Oh, the power of expectations.

Being home is definitely not a breeze.

Part of me thought I'd get a clean scan, come home, and Cancer would just kind of fade into the background.

Honestly, over the last couple weeks, I haven't even wanted to write about cancer. Actually, I didn't even want to think about cancer. But a clean scan doesn't mean the cancer actually goes away, certainly not mentally and oftentimes, not physically.

Not a day, no, an hour, goes by where I don't think about cancer. When I prepare my meals, when I try and convince my too lazy self to work out, when I think about my future, when I feel a cold coming on, when I'm having a completely unrelated conversation with a friend - Cancer is there for all of it.

Not a day goes by where I don't feel my neck, just to make sure I don't have any swollen lymph nodes.

I spent my first month home trying to forget about the cancer and just live my life. I celebrated my return with friends, watched a lot of bad daytime television, pretty much did what I could to get cancer to fade away. I still took my supplements, stuck to a vegan diet, got regular Vitamin C IV treatments and massages.

It's not that I got home and fell off the "health" wagon, but I certainly didn't embrace it.

I was pissed that I had to work out (so some days, I didn't). I was pissed that I had to juice in the morning (so I slacked on that too). I was pissed that Momma Bear would tell me she was having a tough time with the new lifestyle, but the reality is, she didn't have to live it (so I stopped returning her calls).

Generally, I was just pissed. I felt like my life was no longer my choice.

So I spent the last month on a roller coaster of emotions. I celebrated the results of my scan. I mourned the loss of my old life, the freedom of a worry free existence. I made poor decisions, which some days I could justify away and other days resulted in me wallowing in my own guilt of not being strong enough to make all the right choices. And some days, I was a bitch for no reason at all.

I put in a lot of effort trying to live in denial of what I was going through. But cancer would inevitably sneak its way back into my thoughts, jerking me out of my blissful pause.

Basically, I got home and put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect. I was going to make all the right decisions. Not only would I live a healthier life, but I was going to figure out how my experience would make me a better -- no, the best -- person!

But now, not only did I have to make all of these lifestyle changes, I also had all of these unreal expectations to "figure it out."

Life is short. Live life to the fullest. Carpe Fucking Diem. Every cliche you can think of added pressure to my every day.
via

When I didn't come up with answers, I felt like a failure.

Even on days when I made all the right decisions (I juiced, exercised, took supplements, got 8 hours of sleep, ate a strictly raw/vegan diet), I still didn't have answers to the bigger questions: What should I do with my life? How has this experience changed me? What am I doing to pay it forward? What are my passions?

So even on my best days, I still felt inadequate. I still felt like a failure.

You hear about people who go through a traumatic experience or get a glimpse of death and they are immediately changed. Just like that. Their past no longer matters because they have now seen the light! They now realize the fickleness of life and wouldn't dare waste a moment of it! So they just move forward and start making all the right choices. These people make change seem so easy. These people would be extremely disappointed in my daytime television habit. Why watch TV when you could be out bettering yourself and those around you?? (I have since come to the conclusion that these people are either a) fictional people in romantic comedies or b) liars).

Because of these crazy expectations, I spent the last month trying to look forward and had a hard time not looking back. Actually, I felt like I was being dragged forward, kicking and screaming, as I watched my past life slip further and further away.


via

My life had changed and I didn't have time to decide if I was ready for, or even wanted, that change. And that loss of control was infuriating.

Until it wasn't.

I'd like to say that I had some huge life altering realization, that I became one of those people. But honestly, I was just sick of wallowing and feeling bad over ridiculous things like missing BBQ and cheap beer.

I also realized that being pissed about what I was going through wasn't making my life any better. Actually, it was making me miserable (and although he probably wouldn't admit it, The Hubby too).

I had a clean scan, my life was supposed to be better, not worse.

I finally got to a point where I decided to make the right decisions, not because I'm in remission from cancer and have to, but because I want to live a better, fuller, healthier life (feel free to roll your eyes at my over-the-top, cliched optimism -- maybe I am becoming one of those people).

I'd like to think that I would have ultimately come to the same conclusions about my life whether I got cancer or not, simply because it's the smart way to live. We all should be more aware of what we put in our bodies, try to stay in shape, and appreciate what we have in our lives.

I'd like to think I'm smart enough that I would have gotten there on my own.

But if nothing else, I will give cancer the credit for getting me there faster, even if I did start out kicking and screaming. As for the other big questions, I just have to be more patient with myself.

For now, let’s stick to taking one giant life-altering leap at a time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

L-I-V-I-N

Today is my 29th birthday.

Exactly 4 months ago, I was supposed to start my conventional chemotherapy treatment. I would receive 8 doses of the drugs and end my last chemo treatment today, on my birthday.

Poetic, huh?

As we all know, I didn't go the conventional route.

In half the time and a tenth of the drugs, I had a clean scan.

Now that's a reason to celebrate.

So today, instead of being hooked up to IVs and feeling sick, I'm going to go out and shoot some guns, get a massage with The Hubby, and celebrate life.

Today, I'm living.

Or as Matthew McConaughey says - L-I-V-I-N.

(Don't worry Momma Bear, I'm not gonna celebrate by banging chicks and smoking pot)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Homeward Bound

Today, I'm headed home! I expect nothing less than this reaction from The Puppy when I see him:

Happiness!
I'd also like to send a special shout out to Canine to Five, The Puppy's surrogate home while I was away! Thanks for all that you guys do!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn

Picc line is out of my arm (FREEDOM!), I'm cancer free, and I'm heading home tomorrow. Shake it out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bad News Hodgy

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Especially me.

So, if you were hoping to say goodbye to Little Hodgy, I'm sorry to say you're too late. One day Little Hodgy was there, encroaching on my heart's real estate.

And today?

Today, Hodgy's GONE. Picked up and moved out. Not a trace left behind.

That's right folks, as of today, I am CANCER FREE!!!

The official scan read: "No suspicious uptake."

No mass. No elevated numbers. Nothing.

I kinda feel like Superwoman. I mean, seriously. Look what I accomplished by going against the oncologists, against the media, and against the better judgement of most people I know. In eight weeks.

I fucking did it.

Peace out Hodgy --  may you rest in hell!

Today, I just stole my Thunder back!

Today, I AM a champion.

Third Time's a Charm…I Hope

This morning I am off to receive a PET Scan to finally see the status of Little Hodgy. It's been over 8 weeks of trusting the treatments, the therapies, and my body and today is the day I will find out the results.

It's been 8 weeks of wondering am I doing enough, did I make the right decision, IS THIS WORKING??

Hopefully this scan, my third PET Scan, will affirm what my gut is already telling me: Yes, I am doing enough. Yes, I made the right decision. And yes, not only is this treatment plan working, but it worked (fingers crossed!).

Regardless of the results, I do take comfort in knowing that I've committed to this path 100%. It hasn't always been easy and it will continue to challenge me once I emerge from this bubble I've been living in, but regardless of today's scan, I won't think, if only I had done [blank].

I trusted my gut and there's comfort in that.

However, I'm still a little terrified. Terrified of all the "what ifs" that go through the mind of someone with cancer. What if it hasn't' shrunk? What if it spread? What if it comes back? What if??

As my husband likes to say, "Why worry when you can panic?"

All I can do is acknowledge these fears and then let them go. Trust the universe (Or at least trust my therapist, who is the wise woman who gave me this sage advice).

So keep your fingers crossed. And hope the universe is on my side.

via

Monday, March 5, 2012

Food Matters.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted this article on facebook about a holistic approach to healing cancer from the documentary, Food Matters. The article really resonated with me, mainly because I'm taking a nearly identical approach at An Oasis of Healing.

According to the article:

"A comprehensive approach to healing cancer includes at least the following eight factors:
      1. Proper nutrition and clean water
      2. Detoxification
      3. Immune building
      4. Oxygen therapy
      5. Natural chemotherapies
      6. Lifestyle changes: adequate sleep, sunlight & exercise
      7. A positive attitude
      8. Spiritual cleansing"

I definitely encourage anyone to read the article that is looking to learn and better understand the approach I am taking with my own life. And if anyone is interested in learning more about the documentary, here is the trailer:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lifestyle Restrictions

Diets never work. We all know this.

People do crazy diets like drink nothing but lemon juice and maple syrup or only eat grapefruits and expect to see their dramatic results last. Diets aren't sustainable.

This is why when someone is serious about changing their diet in a lasting way, they call it a "lifestyle change." A lifestyle change is supposed to be sustainable. A new way of life where you don't feel deprived of the things you love.

Everything in moderation. Everything in balance.

You know what I hate about my new "lifestyle change"? Other than the fact that I call it a "lifestyle change" when it sure as hell feels like a diet?

It's that I fear I may never be invited to another dinner party again.

"Does she have any dietary restrictions?"

Umm, let's see: No meat, no dairy, no gluten, no white products, no processed products. Organic food is preferred. Oh, and if you can make sure nothing is prepared above 105 degrees, that would be great. Thanks.

Yeah, I'm totally that girl.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just Say...Yes?

This week I'll be starting IPT again. This is the low-dose chemo-cocktail that wrought havoc on my white blood cell count and was put on hold for the last two weeks.

My initial reaction was hesitation and fear. I've been feeling so good lately that I hate the idea of going back on the drugs. I hate the idea of doing something I know my body reacts poorly to.

But if I'm really being honest?

Honestly, what I really hate most is the idea of losing what little hair I have left.

How vain is that? And what a stupid fucking reason not to do something. Seriously, this stuff has proven to kill cancer cells—my cancer cells. After all, that is the reason I'm here -- not to win some beauty contest.

Do I worry about the idea of consistently having a low white blood count, putting me at risk for infection from the mere cough of a stranger? Of course. Am I thrilled about the idea of IPT repeatedly compromising my bone marrow? Of course not.

But no one said the journey to cure cancer comes without compromises.

Look, as long as I losing Little Hodgy, then great.

If it means I must lose my hair, then that's one compromise I'm willing to make.

Friday, February 24, 2012

March 16th or Bust

Today marks the date of my original departure.

When I first found out that the doctors wanted me to prolong my stay, I didn't handle it well. I was angry. I cried. I even doubted my decision to come here. But once I stopped being a total drama queen, I realized staying longer was the right decision.

Two weeks ago, I stopped doing IPT. Apparently my body does not react well to chemotherapy, even in small doses. My white blood count was consistently low, my bone marrow was being compromised, and as I mentioned before, my hair was (and still is) falling out by the handful.

In order to increase my white blood count, I was regularly receiving neupogen shots -- a solution that in itself is dangerous and can lead to leukemia if given too often.

I was sick and exhausted and my body was spending all its energy reacting to the chemo and not fighting the cancer. Having a healthy immune system is kind of a crucial component in kicking cancer's ass.

I was nervous going off IPT. Would I still make progress? Would the other therapies be strong enough? And most importantly -- how much longer would that keep me here??

I was assured that IPT wasn't necessary; that the other therapies were just as powerful in killing the cancer cells. In fact, Sodium Selenite, in addition to Vitamin C, might just be the future killer of cancer.

I was also told that staying a couple extra weeks could mean me leaving without a tumor in tow.

Sorry Little Hodgy, but there's just no room for you in my suitcase!

So as much as I wish I was on a plane headed home right now, I've decided to give myself three more weeks to get rid of LIttle Hodgy for good. And on the off chance that Little Hodgy needs some more ass whipping, I've found a doctor near my home that does both IPT and Vitamin C IVs where I'll continue my treatment.

Mark your calendars everyone, I'm coming home. March 16th I'll finally be boarding that plane -- but this time, hopefully short one tumor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

40 Days and 40 Nights: Photo Montage (Part 2)

edge of the grand canyon

momma bear and me at the canyon

sunset over the canyon

blizzard at the canyon

wagon wheel

viewfinder

clouds

that's the grand canyon in the background...

dreams

navajo reservation

before the blizzard

raw/vegan pad thai

our first shot dehydrating! those are blueberries, sweet potato chips, and kale chips

homemade raw/vegan lasagna

40 Days and 40 Nights: Photo Montage (Part 1)

I love pictures partly because you get to see what the photographer chooses what to capture in each photo. Look in most picture albums and it is the joyous occasions that are captured. People capture the events they want to remember. These photos are no different. To be honest, these photos probably represent about 3 of the 40 days I've spent in Arizona. I could have captured a more "real" portrayal of my experience, but who wants to see pictures of IV poles, blood, and needles? Besides, I'd rather not remember those.



a rare day of sunbathing

boots

balloons

yeehaw!

raw/vegan quiche

desert sunset

chemo (that's ice on my head and hands)

healing in progress

sedona

representing the 313 in sedona

ghost town

sunset in sedona

route 66

wild west

grand canyon
   
wheatgrass

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Am Not My Hair

You know what fucking sucks? Losing your hair.

We all knew this was a possibility. With conventional chemo, it was basically a guarantee. But one of the perks of doing an alternative treatment and low dose chemo was that I was supposed to keep my hair. In fact, the other week the nurse told me that in the three years she's worked there, she's never seen anyone lose all their hair. Well if I end up bald, at least I'll leave knowing I was the very first person to ever lose their hair doing alternative treatment. Go me…

I don't mean to dwell on the loss of my hair. It's just hair.

But it really does suck. Not just the losing of the hair, but the process of losing the hair. For the last week, I would wake up every day to more hair on my pillow. I would run my fingers through my hair and find a fistful of it in my hand. And don't even get me started about the shower. What used to be an enjoyable escape of dancing to Motown while I lathered, is now filled with dread and stress; the hair in the drain a constant reminder that I in fact, do have cancer.

I'm forced to wear my hair pulled back every day, otherwise I'll leave "pieces of [me] everywhere I go" as Momma Bear so delicately put it. Thanks Momma, but I'd rather my dead hair not be the mark I leave on this world. I was hoping to leave a more meaningful mark.

How much hair does one lose before pulling out the razor and shaving it? When it becomes painfully obvious? When bald spots start to occur? It's a delicate balance between holding on to hope that maybe I won't lose it all and just pulling the fucking trigger so I can stop eating hair in my meals.

With each individual strand being yet another reminder that i have cancer, it would almost be easier to shave it now. Even on days when I feel great and have fleeting forgetful moments of what I'm doing in Arizona, a clump of hair is a rude snap back to reality. But until I start seeing major bald spots, I will resist the razor.

But the worst part? Worse than actually losing the hair? Is the disappointment I feel over being disappointed. It's just hair. It will grow back. I HAVE CANCER. Get the fuck over the hair and move on. Stressing about it will do nothing but make it fall out faster.

Besides, if Demi Moore and Natalie Portman can both rock the bald head and look sexy, so can I.

And as the great India.Arie says: I Am Not My Hair.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A World Without Coffee


When I committed to an alternative route, I committed to the process 100%. I'd receive all the treatments, I'd take the supplements, I'd explore the mind/body connection, and I'd follow a raw/vegan diet. When I committed to these things, I also committed to giving up coffee.

I was never one of those people who needed coffee in the morning to get me through the day. In fact, I didn't start drinking coffee until I received a Kerig one-cup coffee maker as a wedding gift. This was probably The Hubby's favorite (and most used) gift and turned me on to the joy of coffee. It is also because of this machine that I still don't really know how to make a real pot of coffee.

Once we received this wonder machine, coffee became a morning ritual between The Hubby and I. Before getting ready for the day, we'd top off our mugs, filling our loft with it's delicious aroma. Just like a Folgers commercial, I would literally wake up to the smell of The Hubby's brew. Coffee was our companion on our daily walks with Puppy. And we'd spend Sunday mornings sipping and sharing articles we'd read in the New York Times (okay, sometimes Vogue…). He drank his black, mine was creamy and sweet.

Coffee wasn't just about joint experiences with The Hubby. One of my favorite things to do in the afternoon when I needed a break from work would be to pour myself an extra hot cup of coffee (or a latte if I was feeling fancy) and catch up on my fashion blogs. In a day that was completely consumed by work, it felt indulgent and totally selfish. It was my own ritual where I would take time for two things I truly enjoyed: coffee and blogs.

via

For me, coffee has always been about the ritual and the experience that comes with drinking it. Some people go through withdrawal giving up coffee. They experience headaches and fatigue. My withdrawal was an emotional one - I hated the idea of losing a part of a routine I had grown to love. The process, the smell, the warmth. I knew if I was going to commit 100% to this new lifestyle, then I had to find a substitute.

I spent my first couple weeks in Arizona silently mourning the loss of my coffee routine (This was of course made harder by the lack of The Hubby and Puppy- two critical pieces). I bought enough flavors of tea to last a year, hopping to find one that would satisfy my desire. They all came up short. I tried homemade chai tea lattes with almond milk but they required too much work and I never seemed to be able to get the same outcome twice.

I actually like tea. Sometimes I even love tea. But for me, tea is a part of a different routine. It helps relax me at the end of the day. It's great in bed with a good book before I fall asleep. It's soothing. Actually, maybe it's wine that I'm thinking of…

To me, tea is not energizing. It lacks a boldness, as well as the rich creaminess, of a cup of coffee. I needed something stronger.

And then, finally, I found it. It wasn't easy. It required hours of research and trolling of internet forums. But I found my coffee substitute.

Teeccino Herbal Coffee.

Caffeine free and full of antioxidants, this non-acidic drink is made out of chicory root, carob, fruit, dates, and other natural ingredients. Honestly, it sounded pretty terrible and not like a worthy substitute. But after one cup (and weeks of searching), I knew I had a winner.

It comes in flavors like Almond Amaretto and French Roast and is packaged just like coffee. It can be made in a coffee pot, or my personal favorite, a french press. So fantastically fancy.

Does it taste exactly like coffee? Don't ask me, it's been 5 weeks since I've had any and I was never a purist with my cup of joe. But does it give me a similar experience? Yes. And just like I diluted my coffee with milk and sugar, I'll continue to dilute my teccinno with almond milk and honey, giving it the perfect sweet, creamy texture I crave. I even found a blog with latte and frapuccino recipes made out of Teeccino!

With Cancer, it's all about celebrating the small daily victories and this, my friends, is one of them.

Drinking a cup while writing this post actually made me feel as if I had a piece of my old routine back. Now if only I could get The Hubby and Puppy back too…

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mom Knows Best?

This morning, I had a revelation.

At 28 years old, I am not supposed to live with my mother.

Don't mistake this for ungratefulness. I can't adequately describe how grateful I am for the many, many sacrifices she has made for me. But when I started this blog, I promised honesty.

And honestly, Momma Bear is driving me nuts.

An hour doesn't go by where I'm not asked, "Are you drinking your juice?" And several times a day I'm reminded to take my supplements. "Am I eating enough food?" "Am I eating the right food?"

Even when I was a child, I was never grilled this much.

And this morning? Momma Bear barged into my bedroom and frantically asked if I was okay. I was in the bathroom. I can't even pee in peace.

Momma Bear has this insane amount of energy. And this child like excitement about the possibilities of the world (I now realize where I get that from...). She gets this glow, this high, from all the doors that have opened up because of my "situation." She's always had an interest in health and wellness and Little Hodgy has given her a new purpose. I'm glad getting cancer has helped her to focus on what she wants to do and how she spends her time.

But her energy can be exhausting.

She's like a shaken coke can that's ready to explode but no one will open the top. I wish I could open it for her, but right now my focus is much too narrow. My focus is on the present. My focus is on getting Little Hodgy the hell out of my body.

My focus is not on creating a documentary about alternative treatments. It is not on figuring out how to start a nonprofit to help people in similar situations. It is not on creating my own wellness center/yoga studio/raw foods cafe/magical healing center.

Right now, I have to be selfish. Right now, I can't focus on anything except my treatment.

Right now, I am stuck somewhere between being treated like a seven year old and this superwoman who is going to change the way we look at cancer treatment.

I am neither (although most parents probably view their children in the same way -- some days a little kid, other days, world conquerors).

I am one of many adults with an unfortunate diagnosis. An adult who made a decision, the best decision, for myself. I was not the first person to take this path nor will I be the last.

I am also an adult that has managed to both feed myself and stay hydrated on my own for a very long time. Imagine that -- maybe I am superwoman!

It really is amazing how much Momma Bear is gaining from this journey. She is learning more about who she is and realizing the possibilities of her passions -- passions that in the end will benefit me and my journey. I fully support and encourage this, even if I can't be on the same journey right now.

Right now, I'm on my own journey. A journey where I need Momma Bear's support but not her control. I need her to learn to let go. Momma Bear, I love you dearly, but it's time to cut the cord!

Please, keep pursuing your passions, but please, please let me pee in peace.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chipotle - "Back to the Start"

Anyone who knows me, know I have a love, possibly even an addiction, to Chipotle burritos. Even though they are currently on my "do not eat" list, I still admire the company for their core message of bringing us real (and damn good) fast food.

Check it out:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Love Letter To You

I never liked Valentine's Day. I was always the girl, without a boy, who was forced to witness others prove their "love" with chocolates and flowers.

I now realize I grew up watching one too many romantic comedies and deep down I always hoped some secret admirer would show up outside my window and express his love by holding a boom box over his head. So cliche, I know.




This never happened.

Valentine's Day always came and went and no declaration of love was ever made.

Now I could go on to tell you that eventually I met The ONE and, like so many others, my perception of Valentine's Day shifted. I could tell you vomit inducing stories of how I suddenly became loved and adored by this person and even though there was no boombox, this person did "boombox worthy" gestures on a regular basis. I could tell you how I now have so much love in my life, Valentine's Day is just another day I get to share with this person (where yes, I now get flowers).

But I won't.

While these things may be true (The Hubby will make you sick with his sweetness), that is not the point of this post.

The point of this Valentine's Day post is to not make you nausea of how spoiled I am on this hallmark holiday, but to take the opportunity to by express my own love and gratitude to all of you.

The point of this post is to say, Thank You.

My last post was a tough one for me. Even after publishing it and sending it out into the vast universe of the internet, I wondered if I made a mistake. What would people say? How would they react? I felt like I sent a love letter expressing my true feelings to a crush and out of fear of his reaction, suddenly wished I could take it back.

Part of me wanted to take the post back.

That fear of an unknown reaction can be paralyzing.

The reaction I got? One of undeniable love and support. Family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even strangers, all reminded me just how blessed I am. Some people even thanked me. Imagine that -- being thanked for asking for help.

I was so caught up in my own fear of asking for help, I forgot how helpless people can feel in tough situations. I was so worried about being judged that I forgot that people want to help.

So again, Thank You.

Thank you to everyone who has sent love, prayers, blessings, good vibes, and of course, money. I feel both overwhelmed and grateful for the enormous amount of love in my life. I had no idea there were so many people out there wanting to steal the thunder back with their kindness.

But honestly, I feel undeserving. As grateful as I am, it still isn't easy to accept help from others. Being young and independent, the idea of needing help is still a daily struggle. And as The Hubby says in his own post, actually accepting help can be even harder than asking for it (I'm currently in therapy addressing this very issue, so expect more on that later).

But the point of this post isn't to address my issues. The point of this post is love. This is about the love that all of you have shown me over the last several months, and especially over the last week.

So thank you everyone for your outpouring of love and support.

I'll take that over flowers and chocolate any day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Unconventional Request

This is probably the most awkward post I'll write on this blog.

And maybe awkward is the wrong word. Uncomfortable is better.

This is probably the most uncomfortable post I'll write. So uncomfortable that I've been trying to write this since my first week here. That's three weeks of staring at a blank page.

Three weeks …. just trying to find the words.

How does someone who isn't good at asking for help, ask for help?

How does someone who isn't good at asking for help, ask for money?

When I chose to come to An Oasis of Healing for my treatment, I chose an "unconventional" path. I chose a path that was specific to my body and my lifestyle. I chose a path that doesn't just rid my body of disease, but teaches me how to prevent it from coming back. I chose a path where questions are encouraged. I chose an integrative, holistic path. I chose a path that allows me to be accountable for my treatment and my success. I chose a path that thrives on educating myself.

Like I said, I chose the unconventional path.

And because of that decision, my decision, THE DECISION, my insurance refuses to pay for my treatment.

It doesn't matter that it would cost them less money in both the short and long term. It doesn't matter that the exact same chemo drugs are used. It doesn't even matter that it's the right thing to do.

It's unconventional.

And because of that, I have been cast aside and am financially on my own.

So here I am, asking for help.

But I'm lucky because I don't have to ask alone. I have the most amazing Mother-in-Law who has offered to start a fundraiser on my behalf. It is because of her generosity that I finally got the courage to write this post. She has been a constant source of support, not just for me, but for The Hubby and Momma Bear as well. She is a truly admirable woman and when I'm having a bad day, she has the unique gift of being the greatest hugger on the planet (it's true -- anyone who knows her can attest to this). And unlike other people's in-laws, and all the negative stereotypes that come with that title, I am honored and lucky to call her family.

I also have Momma Bear, who has cashed out her retirement savings so that we can do what we undoubtedly believe to be the right thing. It is because of her knowledge and research and time that I was able to feel empowered to make the best decision for me, my body, and my life. When everyone else called me crazy for even thinking about going against convention, she was a rock of support. It’s because of her we are able to cover a lot of the costs now, but they keep rising, and I can’t on my good conscience let her blow away her retirement funds just for my treatments.

And of course, I have The Hubby, who is working 4 or 5 jobs at last count (granted, 3 unpaid ones – always trying to save the world!) and, a la Tim Gunn, has insisted that we’ll "make it work."  Make it work means stretching bills, bartering services for care of The Puppy, hustling for small consulting projects and calling in help and forbearance from the student loan folks at the US Government. Make it work means tightening our belts and asking family for help when we need to as well. Sometimes it's hard to Make it Work.

Perhaps all of this is a natural response to the love our family shares, but all of it is really unconventional too.

So, as hard as it is for me, I have to swallow the discomfort and ask for your help.

It can be small. It can be big. It can be for treatments or to offset that I had to leave my job temporarily. It could be to stick it to the man at the insurance company or to stay connected to some of the most important (albeit controversial) cancer therapies in the world. Therapies that could save my life and someone you know.

But, as hard as it is for me, I have to ask again: are you able to help?

If you can, I have no way to repay your generosity besides to say, I am eternally grateful. I will also continue to share my story, good and bad, in hopes that one day my experience helps someone else to make their own decision. And, just so you know, anything I raise in excess of my treatment costs, I promise to not spend on shoes, but instead donate it to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

If you are unable to support monetarily, please feel free to simply spread the word. Or feel free to just send your love my way. Love and positive vibes are helpful too.

But, if you can do more, if you can help me, please use the Paypal button on the right side of the blog (it's safe!) or send donations to:

Dana Frost (aka the Thunder Stealer)
200 River Place Drive, Apt. 47
Detroit, MI 48207

And for helping me heal and tackle my cancer in an unconventional way, allow me to say this:

Thank you.
 
UPDATE: Apparently Google Checkout has a maximum contribution of $50. I have added a new Paypal donation option for all you big spenders out there.