Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cancer Survivor Hitting The 5 Year Mark 4/27/14=Cancer Thriver

My blog was started and is really about beauty in life and in products and of course I have spent 25 years in the beauty industry but that  is just a small sample of the years I have been a beauty bug. I was a really small girl when I realized I love all things beauty. This post is about beauty too, but more personal and the essence of beauty ....being alive!

Today I share a small peek into my own life & how rich it feels to reach this 5 year mark after a cancer diagnosis! It's just a little bit about the journey I went thru & the immediate impact hearing those words - "The tests came back positive & you have cancer".

Just a short few years ago, I was driving with my friend and colleague to a meeting downtown with a beauty company. Cheryl and I were beauty warriors in business together and she was more than a colleague she was my dear friend. As is stands I have no doubt God put me in her presence when I heard those words that morning while at work, she was a great person for me to be with that day.

It was an early Monday morning, I just had a romantic anniversary weekend with my husband of 17 years at the time. We spent the night in a romantic Chicago hotel, had a yummy dinner & just enjoyed our celebration weekend. So I would say there was a smile on my face that morning as I drove down the high way, the way a lingering vacation stays with you, you are just moving thru life at a slightly different pace.

I missed a call and thought perhaps it was the folks we were meeting that morning. So as I retrieved the message, I heard my new doctors voice - she left a message that indeed the biopsy we took just 4 days before was cancerous and we had to remove the tumor.

Emergency landing, I pulled over and asked Cheryl to drive to the city. I had to hear that again. Certainly I was hoping I heard it wrong. (And I am sure for Cheryl it was hard to be with me at that moment. and the beauty warriors we are we went to the meeting like we never heard that message!)

And then I made the call to the doc.

She is an amazing doctor, super smart with terrific chair side manner & a beauty on top of it!

(A dangerous combination & that combination = patient loyalty in my book!).

Dr. Dina Elaraj practices medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. And she explained we needed to schedule surgery to remove the tumor. I think I was in shock looking back, scared of course to hear those words.

What does that mean for my life, for my family? And as I thought of Jojo and our young sons, I wondered what impact would it have on them. How do you keep a brave front so you don't burden them with those concerns, fears etc.

My life was so full, this darling little nuclear family, husband, 2 beautiful sons who I adored, a great dog, life in the burbs, wonderful friendships and extended family,  a career I loved and was passionate about, ....everything I ever wanted....all of these things you treasure flood over you, you don't want to think of losing any of them. As soon as I heard cancer diagnosis........ lots of weird & flooding noise rattling around in my head. I knew I had to get past these self limiting conversations in my head.

I started recalling the few days before when I met with Dr Elaraj for the first time. I knew the tumor was growing despite the fact that I had been checking it for a few years. So when I first met her days before to check it out, she said "we are going to biopsy it today". I responded with: "oh no need for that, I have had it biopsied twice and the results were fine". (.... I know, I know... dumb!) She was assertive so I just went along with the in-office procedure (mind you I was not mentally prepared to be biopsied!) and obviously now so glad I did. I can be a stubborn.... patient ;-)

When you go thru the initial shock, you move into ACTION mode. And if you know me I am researching everything. I was on more medical journal sites across the world and learning as much as I could.
Including, second opinions, and how much Radio Active Iodine (The Gold Standard of the type of cancer I had.....and part of the post surgery treatment plan.)

The RAI (Radio Active Iodine/Nuclear Medicine) you have to go into the hospital and be isolated for a period of a few days and then you are released to your home, where you are isolated from your family in a room for the remainder of 7 days.

In my experience, the hospital I was at was near my home, its a special room. A man comes in with a special hazmat suit on protecting him from the poison that was my "life saving" formula. He opens a metal box and inside was a large pill, he has you remove it, gives you a glass of water and instructs you to swallow it and then he snaps the box shut, turns on his heels and bee lines it out of the room!) You are completely alone with your thoughts for what seems like a very long time. Trust me its nothing compared to what fellow cancer warriors go thru with Chemo and Radiation.

Surgery. Check
Send pathology slides to Sloan Kettering in NYC for second opinion on staging and follow-up treatment. Check
Post Surgery treatment. Radio Active Iodine. Check
Annual Body Scans. Check.

Secretly, I was praying thru all of that to get to the 5 year mark. "Let me make it to 5 year mark". Never ever did I think I would want 5 years to pass quickly ;-)

Your survival rates increase so anyone with a cancer diagnosis probably longs for the opportunity to make it to that mark. (And hopefully mindfully living in the moment. so you can soak in every nano second).

This weekend (Sunday 4.27.14) I made it to the 5 year mark! Holy cow! Soaking it all in. So.... so thoroughly grateful. and so much to be grateful for. It is not lost on me how many people do not make it to the 5 year mark, they don't make it to the finish line & I know I am lucky. (My dear friend Maureen said to me to remind me of the hope and promise of the future: "we are lucky people" so I adopted this phrase & made it my mantra.)

So many people to thank for their loving support during the diagnosis phase & after. Those that leant an ear to let pour out my fears, not judging or trying to soothe me but just acknowledging the fact that I had them.

The dinners people so generously made for my family both during the surgery week and again when I went thru the TOTAL ISOLATION period and couldn't cook for my family or touch anything, the special chili that Megan made still lingers on my mind 5 years later, and she included the recipe (which I could never re-create, it was the best chili ever tasted)! Kim sent delish treats that nourished us and delivered from Moveable Feasts in Geneva, Il.

My family for their loving kindness. The amazing flowers that were sent. (Amanda I took a picture of that arrangement it was the biggest ever and I had to find a special place to put them!)

Probably so much more to say that I am forgetting but I trust you know that you left your thumbprint on my heart for supporting & cheering me on!

And today I get to toast you all for your support helping me reaching this goal...if I can quote Emma Stone last night on Jimmy Fallon:

"Darling, you must come over for a restorative glass of champagne". Celebrating!

When you have cancer you feel as tho its another one of your badges you wear.... much like a girl (or boy) scout might have....mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, SpaQueen, beauty expert, cancer survivor...today I am a cancer thriver.

Total Game Changer.

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