The Big 2-1

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Well, as of tomorrow (Friday the 29th) at 1:15pm I will no longer be 20 years old.

I am a big lover of birthdays. I love my own birthday almost as much as I love other people's birthdays. I think everyone should feel special every minute of their day. I love to decorate for parties and surprise people. Birthdays only come once a year and I am a total believer in celebrating as much as possible!

Needless to say, I am not spending my 21st birthday the way I imagined. I remember thinking about how cool it was that this birthday happened to fall on a Friday. Not that I ever planned to go out and party super hard, but I probably would have gone out with some friends to do some celebrating. Instead, I will go out with my mom for brunch and then my family and I are going to a nice dinner. I am just as happy to do that, it just wasn't what I had planned (but what about this past year was really ha!). I am still hoping for a fun day and a nice weekend. 

I have had some awesome birthdays the last few years. Two years ago (my first birthday at school), it snowed and classes were canceled! It was nice to have the day off and we braved the roads that night and went out for dinner. Last year was probably one of my favorite birthdays ever. My friends made it SO special from the second I woke up (literally one of my best friends stopped by my apartment on her way to class that morning and put balloons all over my floor and left me pancakes!) till the second I went to sleep. It was awesome. I am really, really, really going to miss them tomorrow. 

I can't type this post without some reflection of my 20th year. Not my favorite year to say the least. I experienced a lot and I think I really grew some as a person. I am kind mad I got somewhat robbed of my year, if I am being honest. I feel like I want a redo of being 20. It is kinda funny because I do not usually dread birthdays or getting older, but for some reason I had a hard time with 20. Maybe subconsciously somewhere I knew it was not going to be my best year? I don't know, but I feel a lot better about 21! 

On another note, my birthday last year was one of the last memories that sticks out before everything happened. I still have all the pictures we took on my phone because I just couldn't delete them. I had that we are getting into the "last year at this time" phase of this journey, but we are. It makes me sad, but also relieved to not be there. Just as everything so far has been, it is a weird feeling. 

So, I won't be celebrating my 21st like most people do. I spent enough time nauseous and dizzy these last ten months anyway ;)! I am still excited to turn 21. I have decided that turning 22 will actually be better (not just because the Taylor Swift song says so), but because all my friends will be of age by then. The majority of my close friends are not yet 21, so I think the real celebration will be next year anyway! 

Of course, my license expires tomorrow as well. This would happen the year I have NO HAIR on my birthday! At first they were going to make me take a new picture, but we found a nice lady when we called the DMV who agreed that would be ridiculous. Instead, I will be getting another five year license with my same picture on it. So yes, my 16 year old self will be on my license till I am 26! Just a small thing that is not something many would think about, but I had to! 

Speaking of hair, all I really want for my birthday is a bit more coverage and my eyebrows and eyelashes back! I have some baby hairs coming in and my head is fuzzy, but I would really like my head to be covered! Plus it is cold! 

So *cheers* to 21. May it be filled with fun and friends and NO hospital visits or sickness! I feel like I should have some deeper thoughts on this subject, but I spent all day in the second grade class I am working with so I am exhausted! Maybe I will have some more thoughts after I get some sleep! 

I am another year older, wiser, and more grateful. Picture Quote #1

Obviously the Bachelor drama isn't enough to keep Stanley's attention.

Not the best picture, but he fell asleep like that! In my arms! I was so happy!

I love everything about this picture

This is his "seriously a button up shirt AND a bow tie?" face


Just thought I would include some pictures from my birthday dinner last year! I hope to have hair that long again soon!

A List of Advice I am Sharing

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Full disclaimer for this post before I go any further:

I truly debated whether or not I would actually post something like this, but several people encouraged me to just do it! I just want to say that this is from MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE and OPINION. I did not title this post "what people with cancer do not want to hear" specifically because I do not know what other cancer patients do not want to hear. I only know from my own experience going through what I did. I also 100% do not mean to call anyone out or offend anyone at all! I honestly have no specific incidents in mind for any of this, just simply looking at things overall. I know I have definitely said or done some of these things before I went through this. This post is NOT meant to make anyone feel bad or apologize (mainly because if you had done one of these things I probably do not even remember so no need to bring it up again ;) ). I totally understand it can be hard to know what to do or say. I really do get that everything is said with good intentions. I hope you read this post with humor and understanding :).

Moving on!

In no particular order, here is my list of "guidelines" for people who know someone with cancer:

1. "There's a reason for this", "everything happens for a reason"", "maybe you can help someone else in the future", etc you get the gist. Listen, I used to believe the everything happens for a reason quote. I still kinda do. BUT that is so not what I wanna hear while lying in the hospital bed waiting for chemo. Whether true or not, it is hard to focus on those things while sitting in the chemo clinic while all your regular college aged friends are ya know AT COLLEGE where you used to be. I LOVE helping people. I have always liked the idea of being able to help someone (fits my teacher persona). I am happy I can help people down the road, but going through what I did simply for the reason of maybe being able to help someone down the road was not all that convincing at the time. "You have mouth sores so bad you are in ICU, but don't worry because down the road you can help someone!". See how that just doesn't work? I know those words come with love, but maybe just keep them in your head!  Or feel free to share if you know what the reason is or how I will help someone! That would have been better to hear :).

2. Please do not tell me what I should or need to be doing. Unless you are one of my doctors, I do not really care to hear what YOU believe I need to be doing/eating/drinking. You get cancer and all of a sudden everyone is a doctor! I am open to tips and suggestions, for sure. I learned and used a lot of extremely helpful things by people suggesting them to me. If you approach it in a way where it comes off like you are telling me what to do, I do not appreciate that. Instead, try "I suggest blah blah blah" or "You could try blah blah blah". I consider myself pretty open minded and I am always down to hear what people have to say, just don't boss me around unless you are being paid to ;).

3. Along that same line, I truly do consider myself open to hearing about pretty much anything (unless you are trying to tell me why Trump would make a good president...then I would block my ears and run away). I am not a "crunchy" lets all hold hands and sing kumbaya kind of person. I trust modern medicine and I like gluten. I do like to use natural type products when I can, but that Tom's brand deodorant gave me a terrible reaction, so I will stick to my Secret, even if it isn't made from only soap and lavender essential oils.  If you wanna tell me your theory on how to cure cancer, I am all ears. I will smile and nod politely, like I often do when my mom launches into a long story, but in my head I am probably thinking about Harry Styles. If you want to tell me how your sister's best friend's mom's hairdresser's nephew's girlfriend cured her cancer with some special leaf that is only found in the remote forests of South America, I will listen happily and celebrate the success. I can remain polite and think you are totally crazy (kidding!). I know it is said with good intentions, and I appreciate that (plus I like to learn knew things), but I trust my oncologist and surgeon 100%. They are some of the smartest people I know. I truly do not see how anyone who has personal experience in oncology would believe that "cancer is a business" and they are holding out on curing it so people can continue to make money. I am pretty sure most doctors with a heart would much rather be slightly more poor instead of delivering the news they do each day. If that is your opinion that is fine, but please do not share that with me!

4. "Keeping fighting!" or "stay strong!" as opposed to what? What am I gonna do just stop? I know those are common tag lines, and I get it, but seriously who thought of those? First off, I never really felt like I was "fighting". It wasn't like I could feel the chemo and cancer cells having a wrestling match in my body. I am not sure I totally like the word fighting at all, but whatever. I just never got that saying because I wasn't going to just "stop fighting". Did I want to? Absolutely, but "keep fighting" does not mean much to me.

5. Say SOMETHING! Honestly, I totally understand that it is extremely hard to know what to say in tough situations. You do not want to say the wrong thing or maybe you don't want to insert yourself in a situation where you stand on the outside of the circle. I totally 100% understand. I get super awkward when I am put in unfortunate situations. I personally have found that I was happy to hear ANYTHING from ANYONE over the course of my treatment. It is so easy now, in these days especially. I am not expecting page long messages from anyone, but a simple "thinking of you" or "hope it is going well" every once in awhile means more than you know. Even if I don't answer, I just enjoyed hearing from people. Don't worry if you haven't talked in years or weren't close. It just means a lot to know people are thinking of you. I have heard differing opinions on this...that those who are not close do not want to seem like they are inserting themselves, but I can promise that from my POV, it would not be like that. I like to hear SOMETHING over nothing at all!

6. I pray I do not come off sounding ungrateful after writing this, as that is SO not my intention! I want to share my experience, so that is what I am doing. I have been SO INCREDIBLY blessed to receive SO many kind gifts from SO many people. I did a terrible job with thank you notes (in fact, I just found a stack that never got addressed...PLEASE forgive me). I am grateful for everything I received as it truly cheered me up. So, here is my word of advice: The beginning days of this (back in March and April) were SO overwhelming. I was overwhelmed with the news, with telling people, figuring out a plan, etc. I received so many gifts at the beginning, it too became overwhelming. I was also extremely lucky in that I received the occasional package here and there throughout  treatment, but I wish the beginning gifts had been more spread out. PLEASE do not hear this the wrong way! I totally get that when you get bad news people just want to do something to make it better. I understand that completely. I was so thankful that anyone spent their time and money and thought of me! I enjoyed getting packages, and I think it would have been cool to have them spread out. I know you cannot tell people when to get you things, but if you should find yourself knowing someone facing a diagnosis, maybe send a card or something small and send the package a few months down the line once things have calmed down. It makes your day to know people are thinking of you!

7. Do not be needy! And be forgiving! I felt I did an okay job of keeping everyone updated on things. I did this to avoid having to send a million personal calls, emails, texts, etc. If the information is out there, do your best to find it. Don't require or make the person feel bad if they do not answer your texts! I am not talking about forgiving bad behavior or unforgivable things, but do not hold it against me if I miss your call or do not answer your message or do not want to visit that day. I sometimes get an overwhelming amount of messages. I read them all and think "oh yeah I need to reply", then I get distracted. I did a good job of this earlier, but lately I have gotten lazy! I have texts I never answered that I need to and I have done a terrible job of responding on Facebook! Please forgive me! (and do not be surprised if you get some notifications that I responded to you on old posts!). I truly read every message and appreciate them more than words!

8. Please do not start a conversation with me and then proceed to tell me all about all your family members who have died of cancer. Cancer is a terrible disease, and yes, sometimes people die from it. That is a fact that no one is oblivious to. However, while in the midst of cancer treatment, I do not want to hear all about your grandma who died of this cancer or your cousin who died of that one. I am deeply sorry and will give you my condolences, but that is just not something I want to hear about. That was their story and my story is my story. Cancer sucks, but I have a positive outlook and would like to talk about other things :).

9. Do not stare at me in the store!!!!! If you are curious or want to know, just ask! I know it is not a "normal" situation, but please do not stare at me. I get kids do, but they are young and are still learning. There is no excuse for the adults in stores I go into to stare at me. I will happily talk to you about my experience and raise awareness. I really want to carry around cards to hand out to people that I catch staring. If you are going to stare, at least smile! Humph...some people!

10. Do not stop sharing your life with me!!! I am happy to hear about your life. I know it may seem awkward because you don't want to sound like you are complaining or whatever, but I always like to stay connected! Just because I have cancer doesn't mean I can't sympathize your problems with you. Just do not try to make it sound like writing a paper is as bad as mouth sores or chemo and we will be fine :)!

I think that is it for today! Should I come up with more, I will add a part two!  My next post will have to be on what I learned through this experience, so we can all share in our learning together! I hope you can find pieces of this post that are helpful. I will be happy to share my experience or answer any questions should you ever have any!! All in all, I am truly blessed with EXCELLENT people in my life. It made going through this crappy ordeal so, so, so much easier!

All the love to all of you!

Cancer Free...Now What?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

As of today, January 13, 2016, I am officially CANCER FREE!

I had a bone scan and a CT scan on Monday. We met with my doctor this afternoon and learned that ( thankfully) the scans were CLEAR! 

My doctor walked in the room and the first words out of his mouth were "looks great!"! Then we high fived and he had to leave to take a phone call, so we got to process the info. While there was no reason to think that anything would show up, you truly never know. I had peace about it, but then would "go there" so it has been a long 3 days. I am excited that I can actually breathe and sleep tonight!! It is SUCH a weight off. I am more grateful than words can say.

So, now you may be wondering what comes next. While my role in the cancer world is now a lot smaller, I will never completely be out.

I will be scanned every 3 months for the first year (the bone and CT scan). Assuming those are all good, I will then move to be scanned every 6 months for the second and third year. After that, it becomes annually. My next set of scans will be in April!

I still have my port. My doctor recommends keeping it in for 6 months just incase I should ever need fluids or something. He said it truly is up to me, but I see no reason to rush it out. It will be another small procedure, so I would rather focus on feeling good and getting back on my feet anyway! Plus, winter clothes do a nice job of covering it! I don't really mind covering it up, but I do not love how it looks with tank tops. I may consider asking him if it is okay to take it out when it starts to warm up and tank tops become a thing again! In the meantime, it isn't bothering me so I will just leave it.

The port does have to be flushed every 6 weeks or so just to make sure it stays clean and doesn't become a source of infection. This will require a super quick visit to the clinic. I also will continue to get my lupron injections till at least March. This also requires a trip to the clinic, so I can hopefully do both these things on one visit! 

So while I won't be going to the clinic as often or for treatment, I will still be spending some time there! I am okay with that though. I have made a lot of friends there and I will be excited for them to see me well!

Like I said above, my next office visit/scans will be in April. It will be SO weird to not see my doctor for that long!! A good weird though, for sure. 

Until then, I will still be busy!! I am taking one online course this semester. I start PT back up on Monday. I am currently scheduled for three days a week through early February, but that could change. My doctor said today he isn't even sure what the PT will do to me! I still walk slowly and with a bit of a limp, but it has come so far! I think it will be good still just to strengthen it a bit more. I would like to be able to walk fast/run again at some point! 

I have my trimonthly (is that a thing?) ECHO on Tuesday. Assuming all is well, I will have one more this summer. One of the chemo drugs can cause issues months later, so they do one 6 months after you finish chemo. Hopefully all is still good there!

I have always been lucky to know and keep in touch with lots of teachers. One of them is my brother's kindergarten teacher/my old boss/my mom's friend. She teaches at one of the local elementary schools and has offered me to come volunteer in her class! I don't get any credit for school, but look forward to it as something to do! I plan to start as soon as I have a bit more hair on my head...just to avoid having to answer a million kids' questions (shallow I know, but hey I know how kids are!). 

I will also be spending some MUCH needed time with the sweet kids I usually nanny in the summer! We have A LOT of time to make up for and I am SO excited!! I saw them last week for the first time since November and the little girl said "I am glad you are back!!!!". Me too, me too.

I also have some ideas of things I would like to do to contribute to the world of young adult cancer. I have big ideas, just need to figure out how to execute them! I have said all along that I want to make something good come of this. There was just too much suffering for there not to be good.

Other than that, there are a few little trips my mom and I would like to take. I really just plan on embracing FEELING GOOD and being free of doctors or worries about counts. I have to remember what it is like to be a well person again! It may take some time, but I am excited to have the chance!!  I am also SO excited for my hair to be coming in! My head is pretty fuzzy, but doesn't cover yet. I am waiting for my eyebrows and eyelashes to return...I am not a fan of my face without them!

I feel like I can actually celebrate now. The end of chemo doesn't mean anything if the scans are not good, but now I know they are so we can celebrate! My family and I are going out to dinner tomorrow and then who knows what else I will do. My birthday (21st!) Is in 2 weeks so that is exciting too.

I did errands by myself for the first time since the summer last week! I am also back to driving around. It feels SO good to have that back. Little by little, normal is coming back.

I am not gonna lie, I was totally terrified to find out the scan results today. I don't think that feeling will ever go away. I have no reason to ever think anything, but you seriously just never know. I got a bit sad last night thinking about how this is my life now. I do not wanna have to stress like that about whether this cancer could return. I am so scared I will get used to normal, only to have it ripped away again. I want my old life back...the one where I did not have to worry about scans. I hope this feeling gets better with time, it wouldn't surprise me if it does. 

I am so so so thankful to have gotten good news today (and all along really). I know there are so many who don't get good news, and I do not take it for granted. I was so prepared to hear anything at all today. My thoughts and prayers continue to go to all the people who are going through this awful disease. It truly sucks and is so unfair. I will never understand why some have it so much worse than others. I hope that everyone gets their "January 13ths" and that those that don't have peace. Cancer still sucks! 

I also hope and pray for many more days like today for me. May I feel this relieved after every scan result! 

Thank you so much for all the love and support over these last almost ten months. We truly would not have made it without you. I hope you will still keep up here and please let me know if you ever need anything. 

I will end with words I have waited since March 16 to say:


So much love to you all!