Here’s my annual list of advice throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ll continue to update everyday and post. Enjoy!
Day 31 – Well, this is it. (Although, if you’ve ever dealt with cancer, there is never an end. Not really.) Love yourself. Love your family. Love your friends. Be grateful for what you have. Trust your instincts. Be brave and forge ahead.
Day 30 – Four years ago I was in the midst of chemo, doing my best to keep our girls’ lives ‘normal’ and preparing for Halloween. I didn’t know that I was going to end up OK. I didn’t know what a toll it would take on my family, my friends, my body. I didn’t know that two years later Penelope would admit that it was a scary time. What I did know was that I had to do everything in my power to keep life as ‘normal’ as possible for me, as much as for them. Enjoy this time. You just don’t know if you’ll get it again. Have a safe Halloween!
Day 29 – 29 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness, although by now it seems all of the marketing and sponsorship dollars have been spent and the last days of the month are lost. Seriously, when was the last time you saw the color pink (except maybe on the hands and fee of the NFL. I mean, I love my football, but I friggin’ hate the color pink!) and thought to yourself, ‘Oh yeah, I need to schedule that mammogram!’ Or did a self-exam all on your own? I’ll repeat as I stated on Day 1 – ONE IN EIGHT women is diagnosed with breast cancer EVERY DAY! And they still don’t know why. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for the one company in Utah to hold a patent on gene testing for cancer a mere two years ago, we’ve yet to see any other genetic testing come forth to tell us how this happens. My genetic chart looked like a family tree with chicken pox with all of my cancer-ridden relatives, yet I’m an ABSOLUTE NEGATIVE. I was literally told, ‘It’s just dumb luck.’ Our breasts are sponges, and early detection CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE! As it has saved mine. So please, right now, wherever you are – FEEL YOURSELF UP!
Day 28 – Never do bills while drinking homemade sangria, aka ‘No-No Juice.’ So today’s advice – don’t try drinking while on chemo. Man, I can hold my liquor (ok, for the most part) but could barely finish a glass of wine during my second round of chemo. Also, Utz potato chips and French onion dip don’t mix well with chemo either.
Day 27 – Never apologize for cancer, unless you truly think you’re the cause. Before I would have easily said, “I’m sorry,” at the word of diagnosis. Now I make sure I make an effort NOT to apologize. Instead? “Ugh, that stinks, sucks, blows donkey ass, friggin’ ridiculous!” But never, if you can help it, apologize for cancer. It doesn’t deserve condolences. It deserves an ass-kicking!
Day 26 – When losing your hair during chemo, the carpet does indeed end up matching the drapes…..just sayin.
Day 25 – You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of when you have no other choice. I appreciate when people commend me for what I’ve gone through, I do, and looking back I sometimes am not quite sure how I got through it all. Believe me when I say that I could feel all of the positive love and energy. But there’s a part of (maybe that part that got kicked out of the President’s office in college) that says, ‘what alternative did I have?’ And ‘you would have done it too if you had to.’ I know it’s different for everyone. I mean, there are women who go through treatment WHILE THEY’RE PREGNANT! So, never underestimate what you are capable of. When looking death in the eye and seeing your family standing right next to it, well…it’s not even a choice. We are all capable of great things when there’s no other choice.
Day 24 – When around anyone going through treatment or their loved ones, please be more conscious of hand-washing, staying healthy and keeping clean. Immune systems are weaker in some, more than others, and unfortunately you don’t know just how weak until it’s too late. One sneeze can mean another few days in bed. 102 fever can mean a trip to the ER. One handshake or hug can mean a week in the hospital.
Day 23 – the bills. I’ve had health insurance my entire life. Even as a struggling artist, I had health insurance. My bills over 10 months wiped out everything we had and then some. I got a bill 2 years after a procedure. No wonder people go bankrupt, get divorced or even worse. We’ve got to figure out this insurance thing. No one should ever have to choose between their medication and a meal on the table.
Day 22 – The deepest depression for me hit between the time when I was done with treatment and when I had to wait until I found out if it was all worth it and worked. One month of waiting. Waiting is the worst.
Day 21 – Yep, having cancer is exhausting. Taking care of someone with cancer is exhausting. Worrying about a loved one with cancer is exhausting. Waiting to find results, making a decision, getting consults, continuously filling out paperwork – all exhausting. I hate cliches, but it is truly one day at a time.
Day 20 – Screw Cancer! It’s my husband’s birthday! My best friend, my love, my confidant. Words can’t express…..so I’ll do the dishes.
Day 19 – Protect your skin during radiation. Buy tons of t-shirts that will get ruined as you apply Aquaphor 3-4 times a day. You’ll be less likely to get burnt. Because a burnt armpit? Not fun!
Day 18 – give yourself a break. This time more than any other you get a pass. Screw all of those things that you think make a difference. Right now, all that matters is you.
Day 17 – Try to make your radiation appointments first thing in the morning. That way it doesn’t interrupt your day and gets you in and out of the hospital as fast as possible. I always felt the exhaustion was more from just going to the hospital every day for 30 days, than the radiation itself.
Day 16 – Poop & poop you must! Chemo makes you constipated. The pain relievers make you constipated. They tell you to flush out your system, but how can you? The majority of chemo patients that end up in the ER are there gracias they become septic. Meaning, the chemo drugs are lining their intestines and they can’t poop. Once you know your ‘schedule,’ a day or so before you have a treatment, take a stool softener and eat non-fat foods. If you can eat something with citrus, do. Keep taking the stool softener until you poop, BECAUSE YOU MUST POOP!
Day 15 – EAT! I know, ridiculous. Metal taste in your mouth like you’ve been sucking on an aluminum pan. The stress of foods that you can’t eat reminds you of being pregnant but with no glory. Citrus burns through your tongue. But you must eat. And eat non-fat products so that you can easily digest and poop……yep, poop is tomorrow.
Day 14 – Give your caretake a break. My husband will be the first to tell you that being the caretaker stinks. You have to be a hard ass to the patient in order for her to do what she’s supposed to do. Everyone asks about her and don’t even think to ask how you’re doing. And that whole ‘don’t be quick to judge?’ Well, I’m sure he’s not thinking about the people on the sidewalk when he’s walking to work or bumping into folks on the subway. Yeah, give the caretaker a break.
Day 13 – yes, you have every right to be depressed. But do everything in your power to feel it, acknowledge it, and then snap out of it. Cancer doesn’t care that you’re depressed. Why would you then give it that much power over you?
Day 12 – Know your family history. For the cancer gene, you need to go back to your grandparents’ siblings. If they had cancer, what kind? What age? Remission? If so, when? If they have died, what did they die of? What age? Growing up I always thought there was more cancer on my mom’s side, but after doing the history, it was my dad’s side that was more problematic. I call it my chicken pox family tree. Now I ended up being a true negative, but only because at the time there was one company that held the patent on gene testing for cancer. Luckily two years ago the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, so expect more tests coming out in our near future. They will cost an arm and a leg though. For the BRCA1 and BRCA2, the initial test is $3500, covered mostly by the insurance company. The 2nd and 3rd, neither covered, cost $800 a pop. Luckily I donated my blood to research, so found out without having to pay. Still sucks though.
Day 11 – Stay ahead of the pain. No point in being a martyr. I’ll say it here and now. Pot works. Like red wine, you don’t need a whole bottle. A glass is all you need.
Day 10 – Don’t be quick to judge. When you don’t ‘look’ like cancer, people have no idea what you’re dealing with. When do ‘look’ like cancer, you get stares. Could be because they just recently lost someone, care for someone, heard news or is dealing with their own diagnosis. So a reminder, don’t be quick to judge. You never know what someone else is going through.
Day 9 – Give your body a break. Rest and relax when you can. Taking one day off is better than having to take five days off. Listen to your body.
Day 8 – Be as honest and upfront with your kids as much as you can. They are incredibly resilient. Giving them all of the information allows them to take ownership of the situation, and deal with it on their own terms. Plus, it builds your trust with them, something that will be much more beneficial in the future.
Day 7 – Stay out of your head. You can do more damage to yourself. Nothing good has ever come out of worrying or ‘what ifs.’ Easier said than done, I know, but mind over body is an incredible gift.
Day 6 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one should go through any traumatic experience alone. Family, friends and colleagues want to help. Let them. You’ll be amazed at the things they can do – big and little.
Day 5 – Always have your advocate with you. When you hear news from a doctor, whether it’s cancer or anything else, your brain can’t fully download what’s being said. Your advocate is your second set of ears. And Graham, as my advocate, confirmed something for me, something my doctor missed. So again, ALWAYS HAVE YOUR ADVOCATE WITH YOU!
Day 4 – It is your body and your choice. Arm yourself with all possible information, and YOU make your own choice about your course of action – surgery, treatment, lifestyle.
Day 3 – Don’t be afraid to question your doctor(s)! You are the product & client, and it’s your life!
Day 2 – Know your body and trust your instincts. Seriously.
Day 1 – One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. CHECK YOURSELVES!