Happy Haute New Year.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and I’m ready to send 2016 packing with a cherry on top. It’s been one heck of a crazy year. I’ve been thinking a lot these past couple months about what to write next or if I even should keep writing. Am I dwelling? Is this still a positive thing for me to do? Am I self-indulgent to continue or am I providing value for people? And lastly, because I actually do like to write, should I just start writing about other stuff as well? Maybe a lifestyle blog although that may be a little strange because of the hautecancer thing. The cancer word is a bit limiting. Anyway…I haven’t really come up with any answers so decided I would just wrap this thing up with a little tough love for cancer patients, sprinkled with a few highlights of of lessons learned this past year. Please enjoy.

First, a little rant. I’m not sure what the origin of the term cancer victim is and it really doesn’t matter, BUT…I’ve just gotta say, I hate hate hate the word victim. Always have. It’s weak, emotionally crippling and either annoys people or worse, evokes pity. Ew.

Cancer didn’t happen TO me. It just fucking happened.

A diagnosis is not a choice. You either glow or you don’t. Sorry – no matter how much of a badass you may be, you don’t get to Rambo your way out of a radiology result. Everything subsequent to your diagnosis, though, is an entirely different story. The path you take is paved with choices, each with the potential to influence and empower your mind, body and spirit. So yay for that.

For me, the first decision I made was to believe the words of the amazing nurse who was in the room with me when the radiologist told me the news. She looked me square in the eye and told me, in that stern but comforting nurse voice, that I needed to believe that cancer is NOT a death sentence. It made sense and it felt good so I went with it – clung to it even. It helped a lot those first few weeks and I’ve passed it on to others, attempting to be stern but comforting as well. Thank you, amazing nurse.

I then chose who to tell. I called my sister and my mom. I asked my sister to tell the family my news and instructed her to make sure they knew I was in no mood for meltdowns so no one was to call me if they were going to cry. I asked my mom to be my researcher because she’s good at that stuff. I decided to tell my best work friend because he is very calm and comforting and knows a lot of people. I needed him to help me navigate through the logistics and he did a stellar job of it. Thank you mom, sister and work friend. I love you all and appreciate you more than words can express.

My next series of choices involved care and treatment. I made a few important decisions in this area. I decided to get two opinions from two of the best cancer treatment facilities around. I decided to have a bilateral (both of ’em) mastectomy even though I only had one cancerous breast. I decided to drastically change my diet because I wanted to be as healthy as possible and avoid chemotherapy if it ended up being a “marginal” recommendation. I threw away all the crap in my kitchen that was refined, processed, GMO poisoned or otherwise bad for me. I stopped using plastic storage containers and plastic wrap. I chose RSO and Turkey Tail supplements. Talk about empowering. Thank you, natural healing bloggers.

I chose not to be a victim, to skip the pity party and show up for the rager instead. I chose to find beauty in moments and joy in everything I could. I slowed down and practiced gratitude and mindfulness. I listened more. I loved harder. I smiled when I felt happy. I felt powerful and positive and sincere. I knew that I might die and it made me feel profound appreciation for life. I began a practice of thanking the universe when my feet first hit the floor each morning. I would just say thank you, world – I’m here. Thank you, Jewish prayer ritual that someone told me about.

I chose not to battle cancer but to, instead, adopt a philosophy of working through it – engaging my mind-body-spirit energy with positive thinking, healthy eating and exercise and eliminating negative people and toxic junk from my world. Most of it anyway. It’s a work in progress…

I chose to share my story. First to family, then to friends and then publicly, as I’m doing now. I chose to talk about the emerging lessons, rather than the blood and guts of the situation because it made me feel good. I could have chosen to focus on the associated losses – my boobs, my health, my daily workout regime, my unscarred torso, but why? Not empowering at all. I wanted to feel like I was adding value somehow by sharing my experience. I wanted people to love their lives and the beautiful world we live in and to hold their favorite people closer to their hearts.

I’m not sugarcoating cancer. It does suck to have it or care about someone who does but here’s the thing…if you take the stance that cancer has happened to you like a curse or a death sentence or a punishment, you approach it with a significant disadvantage. Why would you want to do that? Not only is it negative but it breeds even more negativity because the people in your life will take your cue and act accordingly.Then what? Negativity City, that’s what.

Back to what I said earlier. Cancer didn’t happen to me and maybe, strange as it may seem, it actually happened for me. I know I’m a stronger and happier person today that I was on May 5th, 2016. I had cancer and now I don’t. What remains matters more than anything else has ever mattered. On this eve before New Year’s Eve, on a beautiful beach in a beautiful country I am accompanied by my three favorite things. I have love. I have peace. I have gratitude.

And in lieu of a long list of resolutions, which I would probably break in a week anyway, I wish my favorite things for you, and that you may find them within and around you and that they keep you stronger than ever. Happy New Year, Beautiful Ones. Stay haute!

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LOVE PEACE GRATITUDE 4LIFE©

No, I don’t love cancer.

It occurs to me as I’m writing these posts that the word cancer can be substituted for just about any other malady that has festered its way into one’s world. It could be a disability, like the loss of vision, hearing or mobility or something more complex, like depression, anxiety or other mental illness. Cancer is something crappy that happens and, when it does, your world is seriously rocked. You are forever changed and will learn to approach life differently, readjusting to the new norm as you would if you had lost a limb or the ability to see.

Cancer, whether defined by the invasive cells that were threatening to kill me or, from my current perspective, the word for that thing I “used to have,” will always be a part of me. Through my experience with this thing that was, is, and may or may not be again, I have come to realize that as our relationship becomes more ambiguous, I need to find cancer a home because, frankly,  it’s starting to seem a little like a house guest without a departure date.

Maybe it’s the increasing distance between my life now and my pre-cancer life that leaves me anxious to strike some sort of balance. I’m at a point where I can’t imagine being able to just think without cancer dominating my thoughts or, at best, chiming in on nearly everything like an annoying know-it-all. On one hand, it seems almost inevitable that this life changing event has gained some level of permanence in my psyche, although it would be nice to take a breather now and then.

I read the stupidest article ever a few weeks after I was diagnosed. It was so stupid I don’t even want to reference it but I can’t help myself. It was so stupid that I don’t even want you to read it. Don’t google it. It would be like me saying “smell this, it’s so gross” or “eat this, it’s rotten meat.” Take my word for it. The premise of the article was that you should LOVE your cancer. No kidding. It was clearly written by someone who hadn’t had cancer because if she ever had I believe it would be more along the lines of “why it’s okay to use explicit language to describe your cancer as in, my f@*#ing cancer, f@*# this cancer, or I canimages-1‘t f@*#ing believe I f@*#ing have cancer.” Love your cancer? People are so whacked out.

There’s a reason that the word cancer is used to describe other unpleasantness, such as, “oh my god, I’m so glad they broke up, he was like a cancer…” Let’s face it,  we have probably all lived with a metaphorical cancer at one point or another. And let’s face it again, it was probably a bad relationship. Let’s say, for example, you have a husband or boyfriend or even just a close friend who is bad for you, like, really bad. They attack and weaken you, try to eradicate every ounce of your positive energy, all the while compromising your physical and mental health, relentless in their pursuit to bring you to your knees. For instance.

Btw: If you happen to have the misfortune of being diagnosed with the real kind of cancer, and you find yourself with cancer on top of cancer, take action. For me, this situation resolved itself. If it hasn’t for you, you need to make it happen. One cancer is plenty. 

Back to it…so then…Joy of all joys, the cancerous relationship is severed! Divorce, break-up, job change or otherwise, you are liberated. You slowly rebuild your health, your self-esteem and at long last, your strength is restored. Your spirit is renewed. You are one of the more fortunate souls who has undergone this cancerous experience because you are able to learn from it and evolve out of your negative patterns, growing healthier and happier by the minute. Or maybe you were just scared straight. Whatever the reason, you are moving on in the right direction and know that the thing that threatened to break you is gone and will stay gone.

Maybe you fall in love again, or marry again, or make a new best friend. Life is positive and wonderful and you want to think about rainbows and unicorns and sparkly things instead of CANCER. How does that work? Where does your past experience fit into your future? For me to make sense of this, I had to divide cancer into two parts. The first is the disease itself – the tests, tumors, surgeries and rehab. Or, speaking metaphorically – the toxicity, stress, conflict and exhaustion. The second part of cancer is the experience itself – lessons, relationships, heightened awareness and understanding (and yes, you can continue to apply the metaphor where appropriate). Of course, to benefit from the experience piece you need to be willing to extrapolate a few positives from the former. Seriously though, if you can manage that, the experience part is waaaaaaaaay better than the disease part. Go figure.

For me, it’s settled. Experience reigns supreme and will be the part of cancer that I allow to live within me. Going forward, though, I don’t always want it be about cancer. Hopefully it evolves to a point where it becomes less and less about the disease and more about living the best possible life imaginable, right? Maybe in doing so, my happiness affects others in a positive way and the world is a bit better off?  That’d be kind of awesome.

Back to the “I heart cancer” ridiculousness. I’m not even sure why I mentioned it other than to emphasize the point that while I am working to find a “place” in my world for cancer, it sure as heck isn’t because I’m in love with it. It’s not like some kind of a Stockholm Syndrome situation, although I’m sure some other nutjob has written about that, too. I have no idea where cancer will ultimately take up residence in my world but I know one thing is certain – it won’t be in my heart.

I don’t love cancer. I love the answers it helped to reveal and the healing effect it’s had on my soul. Above all, I love the peace, the love and the gratitude I have found as a result of cancer. But cancer itself? She is such a total bitch. We are so not friends.

Love Peace Gratitude 4Life©

 

People and things…

I feel things so much more deeply these days. I was told this would happen…

One of the first “whoa” moments (yes, it’s a modification of the great O’s “aha” but I can’t just be re-using coined phrases, can I?), came a few days after my diagnosis. Gotta stop here to say that if this is the first of my posts you’ve ever read, that weird little parenthesized aside up there came in much earlier than normal. Not usually first paragraph stuff so I apologize, although you may want to just settle in and get used to it. It’s my voice. What can I say?

Back to business – I want to spend a few posts talking about extraordinary people and things that have made me say “whoa” or “oh my god” or “HO. LEE. SHIT. WOW. OKAY THEN” or even rendered me speechless (rare). All of these things, call them whatever cute little catch phrase you like, are synonymous with my amazement in having the universe just flat out drop things in my lap when I have most needed them. The “things” came in various form: answers, understanding, patience, calm, forgiveness, hope, composure, strength, vulnerability, and love like you wouldn’t believe! These things I’ve been given were made possible by the most amazing gift from a relative stranger that, without question, changed the course of my life.

If I was a director setting the scene, as it was, when this life-changer occurred, it would look something like:

Woman, 47, has just been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and has been basically existing in a state of shock and panic for several days. She hasn’t yet shared the news with family, including her children, but randomly told a trusted colleague and friend, perhaps an effort to practice breaking the news although it is unclear. She is sure she is going to be dead in a year and can barely look her daughter in the eye because it’s too painful to imagine not watching her grow up. It’s pretty bad.

The colleague/friend has shared the woman’s news with his other friend, who is also a highly esteemed oncologist currently on sabbatical. The doctor, not knowing a thing about the woman other than her diagnosis, offers to call her. The friend asks the woman how she feels about that? The woman replies “sure, that’s fine” with little expression. It plays out like this:

And so I was driving, kind of lost. Lost in my thoughts and lost in the confusion of the cancer but also literally lost, as in, I hate my GPS and I’m late and I have no idea how to get back to I-5, lost. I was thinking about being lost, too. About how what I really need now was to navigate through this mess, figuratively, literally, the works. As I am pondering away, my phone rings. It is the doctor, friend of my friend. I had completely spaced the conversation, but found a place to pull over to talk. Honestly, I was thinking it would be about a 5 minute conversation. I doubt he really wanted to be spending his time off (turns out he is also on vacation) talking to cancer patients. I was wrong. Turns out that this man, who has never been my actual doctor, was  about to initiate my healing, over the phone, from Palm Springs.

The first thing he said was that he wasn’t calling to give medical advice, and that because he wasn’t currently practicing, he couldn’t do so anyway. He wanted, rather, to talk about the process I was about to go through. He didn’t use the word journey, which I thoroughly appreciated. He asked me to describe my diagnosis, my family situation, my job, and my life in general. He listened to me go on and on, interjecting only briefly for clarification, until I had, for the first time, shared my story in its entirety. He then spoke to me and, even months later, I can still remember the sensation of my numbness being replaced by something new – hope, maybe? It was electrifying.

He told me that cancer was systemic and that my approach needed to reflect that. Although I would feel overwhelmed by the many doctors and tests and would likely be inclined to look ahead and what is next, I needed to remain in step with whatever tests or treatments were currently being done. All I had been able to think about was whether or not the cancer had spread and to where and how much. He told me that it would be revealed in time and that it was important to stay in the moment. He also told me, as did the radiologist when he unofficially diagnosed the tumor he found, that “cancer is not a death sentence.” A good one to remember.

He also told me that for all the questions and uncertainty that I would encounter in coming weeks and months, there were a couple things I could be certain of.  These “couple of things” ended up being everything – the driving force through which I have been able to manage this crazy ride for the past five months and I am beyond grateful to have them as my guide. Here they are. Seriously, you’re going to want to cut and paste this shit, whether you have cancer or not.

He said (and of course I’m paraphrasing – it’s not like I was writing it down),

“Tracy, there are a couple of things you can be sure will happen.

You are going to experience a lot of twists and turns as you go through this process. You will receive both good news and then you’ll get bad news, repeatedly. It’s just the way it goes. You’ll never know what’s coming next and you shouldn’t waste your energy guessing or worrying. You just need to accept that. The important thing is that you take care of yourself and of your family, and do what you can to facilitate the healing process.”

That was some good stuff, but it got better. The next thing he said is more fundamental to my existence and my relationship to the universe  than I can begin to describe. I have used it to reign myself in when I feel scared by a lump or a cough or a headache. I have drawn on its power when I feel frustrated or impatient or stressed out or when I think I’m too busy writing these posts to sit down with my daughter and talk about middle school girl drama. Most importantly, I use it when I feel like a victim of cancer, or anything else for that matter, and instead, it helps me to feel joy and gratitude for the moments I’ve been given. Again, I paraphrase,

“Lastly, I will tell you this and it is the best news by far. You may not know what the future holds, but know that in the end, you will be better. You will be a better mother, daughter, sister, and friend. And you will be a better person for having experienced cancer. You will be more compassionate, empathetic and grateful and you will help others become better as well. And you know what else? You will love more strongly than ever, and you will hold on tighter to the people who you love in ways that people who haven’t gone through cancer can’t even fathom. I’m sure it’s not the ideal way to achieve this, but it’s going to feel really good.”

This conversation with the doctor – it brought me no closer to knowing whether I would live or not live through cancer. There was no new insight provided that suggested what stage or phase my cancer was in, or whether it was hormone receptor positive or genetic. Months of tests would answer those questions. It was, our conversation, my GPS (one that actually worked) and my salvation. It wasn’t about do I live it was, from then on, about how I would live. It hasn’t all been smooth, and there will always be twists and turns, but it’s good, this living. It’s really, really good.

Note:  I’ve re-gifted this many times, adding my own small pieces here and there. I hope you will, too. 🙂

Love Peace Gratitude 4Life©