4 Years and Counting….

4 years and countingI recently had my 6 month follow up with my Oncologist, Dr. Elizabeth Tan-Chiu (whom I, along with many others, believe is a genius and real-life Wonder Woman). We were reviewing my chart and were very excited to see that I’m approaching my 5 year anniversary this October.  For those of you who know – and those of you who don’t – 5 years is kind of a big deal when it comes to survivorship.  I’ll be finished with my Zometa infusions, only need to see Dr.T once a year, and, hopefully, be able to stop taking my estrogen blocker, Arimidex. Some ladies have to take it for 10 years – I’m hoping I’m not in that category.  My wonder-woman doctor then told me something interesting – there is a new test called the Breast Cancer Index (BCI) which can help determine how long it will be beneficial for me to take Arimidex. It’s a test performed on the tissue saved from my tumors that were removed and archived – which is another interesting thing I learned – it is mandatory that tissue is saved for 10 years (which was a relief to hear – I thought they had to poke me some more to get breast tissue to test). So, my doc ordered the BCI and it should take a couple weeks to get the results. I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, to find out more about the Breast Cancer Index, visit www.answersbeyond5.com.

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Fear Factor

My life is a lot scarier these days than it used to be. If I get a weird pain or a suspicious spot on my skin – I can’t help but wonder – “is it Cancer?? Did it come back??” Things that I wouldn’t think twice about before my cancer diagnosis, can now send a wave of panic ripping through me. For example, I recently developed this strange clicking noise in my left ear. I mentioned it to my primary doctor, who x-rayed me and told me it was an inner ear infection and that antibiotics should clear right up. Well, they didn’t. It persisted and I eventually mentioned it to my Oncologist’s ARNP at one of my check ups. She prescribed me ear drops and said I might need to follow up with an ENT if they didn’t work. They didn’t. I was so busy going to all my other doctors and losing time at work that I just decided to deal with the strange sound in my ear. Of course, in the back of my mind I’m thinking crazy stuff, like- “what if it’s a brain tumor!” I mean, I have known people who went through cancer in one area of their body, only to have it pop up in their brain, so it wasn’t all that far-fetched, if you ask me. Again, I went to my primary, this time with a sinus infection, and mentioned the clicking in my ear to his ARNP. He gave me antibiotics again and said not to worry about an ENT. A few days after that, I was at another routine check up with my Oncologist and I mentioned the weird sound in my ear. After finding out that it had been going on for over a year and that I was getting frequent colds, she said, ” I bet you have a sinus polyp. Go get yourself an MRI and see an ENT.” Long story short, I had the MRI, I do have a polyp, I saw an ENT, he said the clicking is tinnitus and there’s not much to do about it and I don’t have a brain tumor. Whew. Anyway, I’m getting used to the fact that now fear is a permanent part of my post-cancer life. But I have to figure out how to live with that daily fear and not let it rule me. Actually, I’m a lot less fearful, overall, since I beat cancer. I don’t let the little things spook me as much as before because I know I’ve faced the scariest thing in my life and beaten it. But, fear of cancer coming back is a reality for me and, to avoid going bonkers, I need to use that fear to my advantage. I need to use it to motivate me to take care of myself and do all that I can to stay healthy. I just finished reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and a quote by one of the main characters really caught my attention :”fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up.” Well, I’m wide awake now, thank you!  And trying hard every day not to let my fear shut me down.

Braver

Braver

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A letter to Cancer – part II

Hello, Cancer.  Remember me? You tried to ruin my life a few years ago. Oh, you certainly messed it up for a while and gave my family and friends a good scare, but you didn’t ruin my life.  On the contrary, I think I’m a better and stronger person after having battled you and won. Honestly, I never used to pay you much attention, until you set your sights on me and my family.  But now, you definitely have my full attention. That’s not something to be happy about though, because now that I know who and what you are, I will fight you – and help others fight you – every day of my life.  Watch your back, cancer, I’m not afraid of you anymore – you need to be afraid of me.  Have a nice day.

Aside

Dragon Boating

Dragon Boating

Thanks to Kim Haley, founder of Medebra, for telling me about this really cool group. They are trying to start a team in Broward County. Anyone interested can contact Captain Kim Bonomo at kbonomo@aol.com.

Save Our Sisters is South Florida’s first dragon boat team consisting of breast cancer survivors and their supporters. The diagnosis of breast cancer has brought us together. Friendship keeps us together. Although we train to race dragon boats, our race is against breast cancer. Team SOS members are from all walks of life, range in age from 30s to 70s with varied interests and fitness levels. Each of us is a powerful example that women can lead a full and vigorous life after treatment for breast cancer. SOS offers an active, health-giving, life affirming opportunity for breast cancer survivors. We are a survivor group whose focus is on living, rather than on the disease that brought us together.

Save Our Sisters (SOS) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and South Florida’s first breast cancer survivor (BCS) dragon boat racing team. Our mission is “To promote a healthy, active lifestyle and provide organized opportunities for physical fitness, wellness education, and psycho-social empowerment among Breast Cancer Survivors and their supporters through the sport of dragon boating.”

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Living my Life in Full Color

I’m a Leo*, but you never would have known it before.  I never wanted to be the center of attention, I avoided the spotlight, and certainly never tooted my own horn.  I was content and comfortable flying under the radar and not standing out in any way. But, that was before cancer (from now on referred to as b.c.).  After cancer (referred to as, you guessed it, a.c.), I feel like a newer, brighter version of myself. Not brighter as in smarter, although I certainly have learned so much from this experience, but brighter as in more fully alive and able to let myself shine.  One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, which says “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone.”

I heard it in a movie several years ago and thought it was amazing – but I didn’t truly believe it for myself.  I always came from a place of self-doubt and self-consciousness.  I would worry about what people would think of me if I said or did certain things, or worry that I wasn’t good enough – that was b.c.  Now, a.c., I’ve learned that I’ve been blessed with many gifts for a reason, and to keep them to myself is selfish. I’ve also learned that it doesn’t matter what people think of me and I wasted a lot of time and energy focusing on others’ opinions of me, while the opinion that truly mattered was what I thought of myself. And, I  figured out that I really wasn’t afraid of failing b.c., I was afraid of succeeding.  Success would have meant people would start paying attention to me and start expecting things from me, and I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations that could come with that.  Now, I’m embracing myself and showing others who I really am – let them like me or not – and I thank God that I’ve been given this second chance to enjoy life and to enjoy the person I really am  – stepping out of the darkness and living my life now in full color.

*In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’m actually a Leo/Virgo.  I was born on the cusp (August 23rd) and some horoscopes say I’m a Leo, some say Virgo. 

A LETTER TO CANCER

Shortly, and I mean very shortly, after I finished my treatment in 2012, my partner was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer.  Several surgeries later, she should be getting her radioactive iodine treatment in a month or so.  I wrote the following letter to cancer on behalf of my family.

A Letter to Cancer

 

Dear Cancer,

No, that’s too nice –

To: cancer

First, I’d like to say – screw you. Then, I’d like to say thank you.  The “screw you” is pretty self-explanatory and I’m sure you’ve heard that, and worse, before. The “thank you” might seem a little confusing at first, but I’ll get to that later. It’s been exactly 2 years since you invaded my life, and I have a few things to say to you.

Now, first things first –

You are a mindless, soul-less beast. You take away people and pieces of people and leave so many scars, on skin and on souls.  You disrupt and destroy lives and tear families apart.

You are a monster.

You put my family through hell. You terrorized my mother and made her fear that she might outlive her only child. You ambushed my partner, essentially turning her into a single parent and bringing the weight of our world down on her shoulders, while I was fighting like hell to get rid of you.  Then, you gave my daughter nightmares – making her ask, at 5 years old, “Is Mommy going to die?” HOW DARE YOU

And now, you’ve set your sights on my family again – on my partner. She, the patient now, and I, the caregiver. Just when we thought we had seen the last of you, here you are again. I wasn’t angry when you came for me – although I had every right to be – but now, I’m furious.  You have attacked and terrorized my family, but you have not won. And, you will not win. I’ve learned many valuable lessons, thanks to you. I’ve learned that I am stronger and braver than I ever knew – and the same goes for my partner, my daughters, my friends, and my mother.  We are all amazing.  I learned that with each new day brings new challenges, but also many blessings, big and small.  That, with God and the power of prayer, all things are possible.  And, if I just let go, God will provide. I learned there can be moments of joy, even when there’s not much to be joyful about. And that courage, grace and humor are powerful weapons against you.  I also learned I look fabulous bald.

Thank you for these lessons.

So, cancer, I have beaten you.  I have survived you. I hope and pray I never see you again – but, if I do, my family and I will be ready for you.  And we will beat you – again.

-Sonia Convery, 2013

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