Happy New Year! Oh and Some Life Lessons

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything.  I've been a bit of a slacker the last few months so allow me to cram everything into one post.  I actually started to write an update in November, but never got around to finishing it and then the holidays came around and here we are.  First let me say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and is looking forward to what lies ahead in 2013.  I am excited to see what this year holds for me and I have a lot of personal goals I've set that I can't wait to accomplish.  I thrive on goal setting, which I feel I've been missing the last couple of months as I've gotten into the same old routine of life.  I'm re-focusing for 2013 and can't wait to see what happens. 

October 27th was the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis.  Hard to believe it's been a year-but at the same time I find myself thinking "it's only been a year?".  I really can't remember what it felt like to not have cancer in the back of my mind 24/7.  Not that I obsess about it; it's just become a part of my identity I guess.  I've certainly gotten on with life and feel amazing.

My anniversary gift to myself was running a 10k.  Yes, I'm serious.  Some of my boot camp buddies and I committed to running the Snohomish River 10k which happened to fall on the anniversary of my diagnosis.  I couldn't think of a better way to say F-YOU to cancer, can you?  Let me be clear, I do not "enjoy" running.  What I do enjoy is a challenge. Setting a goal to run a 10k was definitely out of my comfort zone and not something I ever thought I'd CHOOSE to do.  I trained and prepared, and with the help of my buddies, managed to complete the whole 6.2 miles without stopping-which was my ultimate goal.  I didn't care about the time, just finishing.  It really was coming full circle for me.  One year ago I wasn't sure if I would be alive (sounds dramatic but true) much less physically capable of pushing my body like that...I am so thankful.  I plan to run a half marathon in April, the Ragnar relay race in July, and potentially the Susan G. 3 Day again in September.  Who is this person????

Leading up to the anniversary, I couldn't help but think about where I was and what I was doing a year before.  I had no idea what the next few months were going to be like.  That my world would be rocked and flipped and would never be the same.  I remember the terror and helplessness, but I also remember the outpouring of love and support from everyone around me. 

Here are a few of the things I learned during the past year.

1.  There are some really great people in this world.  Seriously.  People that would drop everything to help me or my family, even people I hardly knew.  I was stopped on the street on more than one occasion by people who just wanted to say some encouraging words.  I wasn't embarrassed at all, but grateful.  I absorbed every ounce of hope I could get.

2.  Oncology is the least appreciated specialty in medicine.  Nobody wants to talk about Oncology, but chances are at some point in our lives we'll all have to deal with cancer-for ourselves or a loved one.  I was constantly amazed at how kind and compassionate the majority of the doctors, nurses, lab techs, and support staff are to patients.  They have always been willing to answer questions-no matter how silly.  They ooze hope and optimism, which is critical when you are facing a deadly disease.  We are so lucky to have access to such amazing health care professionals in this area. 

3.  Get over yourself and love the people around you, even when you don't feel like it.  This is a biggy.  It is SO easy to get complacent with life.  There's constant pressure to be this person, or have that.  Perfect marriage, perfect parent, perfect house.  It's all a bunch of crap.  When the s*** hits the fan, nothing matters but the people you love, and the people that love you.  All of the unnecessary stuff falls away and your focus becomes waking up one more day to see your child, or husband, or dear friend.  To be alive and see the snow, or the Christmas lights, to cuddle with my cat.  Very simple.

4.  Take care of your body.  Yeah, who doesn't need a reminder?  Watch what you eat.  Exercise people!!!!  Don't smoke, drink in moderation, get some sleep.  Don't let stress and pressure rule your life.  IT. IS. NOT. WORTH IT.  I am certainly not perfect-not even close.  But I have definitely learned how important it is to take care of yourself.  If I had not been in such great physical condition prior to being diagnosed, my experience may have turned out quite differently and I may not have bounced back as quickly.  Change just one bad habit-just one.  You won't regret it.

5.  YES YOU CAN.  How many times do you catch yourself saying "I can't do THAT".  Ummm...yes you can.  "I can't lose weight".  Yep.  You can.  "I can't live through cancer!".  Be quiet, yes you can.  "I can't walk 60 miles in 3 days".  Whatever.  "I can't run 6.2 miles-are you on crack?!"  Oh reeeealllly? You know what's coming-yes you can.  Guess what?  There are very few things in life that are impossible.  Going through this experience really taught me that.  It might be uncomfortable or hard, but "can't" is rarely a given, it's a choice.  Don't sell yourself short.  There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than doing something you thought was impossible. 

I've mentioned this before, but it my favorite quote in the whole world.  I often say it to myself when I'm having a bad day, or when I'm running and miserable and want to stop.  It was especially important last year when I was in the midst of the crisis and I needed some inspiration.

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do. " 

Eleanor Roosevelt

My favorite part is the last sentence- "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."  I had a t-shirt made with that on it that I wore during the race with "Survivor-One Year" on the back.  I'm proud to have walked through this and made it out the other side with optimism and a sense of purpose.  I'm grateful for that aspect of it.

I had my second post-treatment mammogram in November and all was well.  I will continue to have them six months apart until I'm two years post-treatment then will go down to once a year.  I met with my oncologist recently and other than being a little low in calcium, all of my blood work was great.  We had a frank discussion about recurrence and the future.  He told me the first two years are the most crucial-as that's when they see the most cases of recurrence in the same area or the other breast.  We talked about what a toll going through this takes on people physically and emotionally, and he made it a point to tell me to be patient.  I must admit that I've really been "lazy" the past month in terms of eating right and exercise.  I started missing more and more boot camp, got sick and slacked on my running routine, and took full advantage of the holidays and ate TERRIBLE!!!  Like most people, it's easy to fall back into old bad habits, but I don't have the luxury of denial anymore.  I know it's imperitive to be healthy.  I don't want cancer again...EVER!

Sadly, breast cancer continues to touch my life.  I found out recently that my best friend from grade school was diagnosed.  We've communicated some and there is so much I wish I could say but can't find the words.  I wish it weren't happening to her-I wish it didn't happen to anyone.  I want to fight her battle for her, but also know she will learn so much through this and is strong and will be okay.  It still sucks.  I hope anyone going through this or who knows someone going through this knows that there is HOPE.  That surviving is the goal, but don't stop there.  LEARN from it and pass it on.  Don't be embarrassed by or selfish with your story.  I was inspired by every person that went through it before me.  I knew if they could do it, so could I.  I knew that if there were children in the world battling cancer, who the hell was I to think I couldn't handle it.  Puts things in perspective. 

So, that's the 411 for now!  Thanks for taking the time to read my story.  I truly do appreciate each and every person in my life...I am so lucky!