Saturday, March 23, 2013

Support and Staying Alive

Rest In Peace Seamus The Famous.

One of the nice things about blogging is you become a member of the blogging community. Like-minded bloggers start following each other and before you know it, you've got a whole new circle of virtual friends. I call them my "blogging buddies."

So it was when I stumbled upon Teresa Rhyne's blog, The Dog Lived And So Will I. Teresa discovered she had breast cancer a year after I did. Just before her diagnosis, she was up to her ears in vet bills trying desperately to save her beloved beagle Seamus--who was also diagnosed with cancer.

Teresa was touched by Seamus's brave battle with cancer and felt it made her own battle that much easier. Four years ago, the vets gave Seamus four months to live. They were wrong. This inspired Teresa to write her memoir--The Dog Lived And So Will I, which was released last October.

Both Teresa and Seamus soldiered through their cancer battles and beat it together. That is until last week, when it was discovered Seamus had a tumor in his lung. Unfortunately, the tumor burst making it difficult for him to breathe. Teresa compassionately opted to put Seamus to sleep to prevent further suffering.

This story poignantly illustrates the power of love and support when someone is battling cancer. It doesn't matter where it comes from. It can be a supportive husband, friend, parent, sibling and even a pet. Regardless of who gives it, it makes all the difference.

I was lucky. I had tons of support when I battled breast cancer. There was an army behind me that included a boyfriend, friends, family, a boss and a team of co-workers. And of course there were my three cats. I can't imagine how I would have carried on without them.

Here's the thing. Sometimes, when you are facing death, you need to have a reason outside yourself to live. Often that reason is a desire to stay alive longer so you can continue to be with the people you love.

I have a friend who had a massive heart attack at about the same time his first grandchild was born. The doctors told him the only way he would live is if he stopped smoking. He tried to quit smoking and failed many times before. But this time was different. He refused to let death rob him from seeing his grandchild walk her first steps and utter the word grandpa for the first time.

Just last month, my Londoner friend celebrated four years as a non-smoker.  His granddaughter is walking and talking and spends many a weekend with her grandpa.

Teresa's love for her beloved beagle powered her dog to defy the odds and live well beyond four months. In fact, he partnered with Teresa four years later during her book tour.

Never underestimate love and support. It can restore health. It can beat cancer. It can save your life.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stay Grateful

If you've come to visit this blog, thanks and take a moment to scroll down and look at my Blog List. So far, three bloggers on my list have died. They are fallen victims to this dreadful disease, breast cancer. Their blogs are now their obituaries.

I often wonder if my blog will end the same way. Every time I look at the mounting blog sites with their last entries: The Fight is Over,  Daria's Funeral Service, Dina's Memorial Information, I think, who's next, me?

This past week marks two important anniversaries. On Wednesday, March 12, I celebrated five years as a cancer survivor. And tomorrow, St. Patrick's Day March 17, will mark three years since my dad passed away.

This weekend I am spending time to reflect on these important days and how they impacted my life. Last night, Melissa's twin sister posted a video of her sibling undergoing chemotherapy to battle lung cancer. Just two months after she passed her five-year anniversary as a cancer survivor, she died last December. Melissa was my co-worker and we battled cancer at the same time. I made it,  she didn't. After six weeks at Yale Hospital on a respirator, she succumbed to the dastardly big C.

My dad had a less hideous death. Thankfully he passed away quickly after a perfect day with my mom, coming home from a St. Patrick's Day party. Unknowingly at this soiree, he kissed and hugged everyone goodbye.

Today I am healthy. I have a roof over my head. I have family. I have friends. If there are parts of my life that I am not happy about, I take full responsibility to change them.

Today I am going to sit in a place of gratefulness. After five years of learning I had cancer, I am still alive.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Five Years And Still Kicking!

This coming week will mark five years since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. For anyone who's ever battled cancer, hitting that five-year benchmark is a big deal.  The reason? Your chances of recurrence are supposed to fall significantly--according to medical statistics.

As I have stated in previous blogs, I prefer not to hang my hat onto a false sense of security. I have heard of too many cases when breast cancer has reared it ugly head again 10 to 15 years after initial diagnosis. I prefer to act as if that dastardly disease is silently sleeping inside me. So I must do everything in my power to keep the monster from reawakening.

It gives me a reason not to drink alcohol and sleep more. It helps me get my ass off the couch and walk outside for a while. I don't want to forget that I had cancer. I don't want to pretend that my life went back to the way it once was. Somehow, some way, I got cancer and even though no doctor can pinpoint exactly how I got it, abusing my body certainly wasn't a help.

Then again, there's probably more to it then just exercising and eating right. There's been a lot of hype about stress lately and how it fuels illness and disease. So it's no surprise that meditation is having a renaissance. When Oprah starts praising it, you know that's the beginning of a trend. If you sit still for awhile, it holds stress at arm's length, keeping it from totally invading your brain.

Beyond that, there are two decisions I made this past year to better my health. I quit drinking and started seeing a therapist. These choices required hard change from me. But now that I have the perspective, I know they were so very smart and right. The sobriety gave me clarity and the therapy gave me insight.

Armed with these newfound tools, I feel as though I have slowly climbed out of hole. I don't think feeling hopeless is good for fighting cancer. To hit the five year mark, you've got to attack on all fronts--physical, mental, spiritual. Every battle is personal. It' is up to you to find the weak links and fix them.

I don't claim to have a blanket remedy for everyone.  I do I know I'm still healthy and alive five years after being told I had Stage 3 breast cancer. For me, kicking cancer keeps me on my toes.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fighting The Fight

Someone I know is in the midst of battling throat cancer. She was diagnosed last December. Unlike breast cancer--that has no known cause--throat cancer is often brought on by smoking and drinking.

That would make sense. This person smokes cigarettes around the clock. I have never seen someone smoke as much as her--not even my dad. Her smoking is accompanied by alcohol, which I understand helps dissolve the nicotine deeper into the throat membranes. It's a lethal combination. Upon her diagnosis, she was told to quit smoking and drinking immediately. She didn't. She kept on with her deadly habits even as she started radiation and chemo. I wanted to say: "Why bother with treatment when you are counter-acting the purpose of it?" But I held my tongue.

Now, only two weeks into her cancer treatment, she is hospitalized indefinitely because her body can't withstand the combined radiation and chemotherapy. Her white blood cell count is dangerously low. The pain is so immense, she must take morphine intravenously--constantly. These are the reasons she has been laying in a hospital bed for more than a week.

I understand that some cancer treatments are more rigorous than others. There were days when I felt nauseous from chemo. And towards the end of radiation, I got really tired. But for the most part, I carried on with life--even working. Perhaps I was lucky.

Luck is not on this throat-cancer stricken woman's side. But I believe she spent so many years abusing her body, she doesn't stand a chance. I am beginning to wonder if the treatment will do her in before the cancer does. That's what happened to a neighbor when I was a kid. The neighbor ultimately died in the hospital due to all the complications brought on by the cure, not the cause.

As I watch this woman become progressively ill, I think about my own state of health. I recall how--unlike other women in my chemo ward--I was never hospitalized for a low white blood cell count. The only thing I got was an ear infection due to diving in my pool. For the most part, I was healthy at the outset of my cancer diagnosis.  What's more, there was no way I could have prevented it. Today I try to take care of myself. I am not perfect, but I do make an effort to eat well and exercise. I don't smoke. I don't drink. When you get to be in your fifties, every little bit of self care counts.

As for this woman--who is a business associate, not a friend--I  can't help but feel she brought on all this herself. I have no respect for someone who deliberately destroys her body. It is utterly beyond me. As far as I am concerned, she has chosen a slow path toward suicide.