Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Oh What A Year Can Bring

“I want to feel my life while I’m in it.” ~Meryl Streep

This time last year, I was dealing with life changing news that changed the course of my life. I learned so much about friendship and family. I chose to look at the good that came out of the bad. My friends and I grew closer. I gained more patience. The quality time with my daughters is priceless. When stuck in the house and nothing but walls around you, you are forced to be in the moment and sit in your thoughts. For me, my thoughts brought out more creative ideas and things I want to accomplish while I’m still here.

I ask the question: “Are you really living? Or are you merely existing?” To live is to step outside of your comfort zone. To live is to follow a dream or take a chance at something in which you believe. When I read that quote above by Meryl Streep, it made me want to live more…

Life can be scary, and things will happen for which we just can’t plan. I’m always reminded that there is always someone experiencing something much worse than whatever it is that I may be going through. Have you ever called someone and all they did was go down the list of bad things that is going on in their life? I call this the ‘black cloud.’ I try to stay away from the black cloud. Sometimes that can be a habit that is hard for someone to break. Some people don’t even realize they do it. It is true that a lot of people are more interested in bad news than they are good news. I hear people say all the time, “You can’t share everything with everybody.” I will never understand that one.

I’m at a point in my life where I realize I have no complaints. It’s the little blessings in my life that make a smile creep across my face. I watch my children sleep and thank God for blessing me with them. I wake up to another day each morning with the ability to do whatever it is that I choose to do. I’m healthier than I have ever been in my life, and I am surrounded by positive people who truly love me. I am also realizing my dreams. I am truly living…

Last week I had a private celebration in my home. I was celebrating life! It was a year to the date of my diagnosis, and I was in the midst of launching my own clothing line. “Oh what a year can bring!” was all I could say. It took me going through this life changing experience to get the courage to just do it. This is something I have been working on for years. I wanted to do it when it felt right. Well, it was time, and the response has been phenomenal. This is only the beginning…

Here’s to a new year, new beginnings, and living life to the fullest…

Check out Tracy Nicole Clothing now!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Wish for Awareness the Entire Year...

Thursday was the last day of breast cancer awareness month. Throughout October, I was blessed to be a part of some great events and participate in media that focused on raising the awareness of breast cancer.

Ask Miss A article on Dr. Jackie Walters' 50 Shades of Pink Foundation Luncheon:

Interview with one of my closest friends Rashan Ali and the 94.5 Streetz Morning Show:

It's my hope that this heightened awareness can continue on throughout the entire year because breast cancer education is essential. Early detection is key. It's my hope that women can be informed and be cognizant of their health. A breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence, and if it’s detected early it’s treatable.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Telling My Story...

On October 13, 2013, I spoke to an audience about my story. The audience was a room filled with women--mostly breast cancer survivors and those with breast cancer--at this year's annual 50 Shades of Pink Luncheon. I was moved by the beautiful spirits that lit up the room. It's both fascinating and incredible how I find myself growing stronger every time I step outside of my comfort zone. 

I have to thank Dr. Jackie Walters for inviting me to be a part of this amazing event. When she asked me to speak, I told her I would let her know. (I was really scared as hell to get up and tell my story). I sucked it up and stopped thinking about my fear. Instead, I chose to focus on the positive. I started thinking about how my experience could touch the lives of others. I thought, "If my story helps inspire one person in this room, then I am serving my purpose." That thought threw fear out of the window as I settled in at the mic. Here are some pictures from that fantastic event.


This year has been a roller coaster ride that I've never been on and have no clue of what's coming next. When someone told me 2013 was my year, they weren't kidding. 

October is breast cancer awareness month, and the world is talking about something my life has been affected by the last 10 years. My mom is a three-time survivor (yes, she beat cancer's ass three times!). I feel truly blessed to be able to say I am a nine-month survivor and am healthier than I've ever been in my life today! It's important that we understand that early detection is key, and breast cancer is not a death sentence. As my survivor sister Jaquitta Williams would say, "I'm still here!"

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

There's No Journey Without Miracles ...

“Your life’s journey is about becoming more of who you are.” ~Oprah Winfrey

Like Oprah, I truly believe my entire life is a miracle. There are so many things that happen in our life that we do not plan but the important thing that I have come to know is to look at what we go through and be sure to learn something from it. This traveling the journey is how we come to know who we are. 

A couple of months ago, I got a phone call from Dr. Jackie Walters (you may know her from the reality show Married to Medicine) detailing her plans for a fabulous gala to launch her non-profit “50 Shades of Pink.” She went on to say that there would be a fashion show and she wanted me to design the clothes for it. She had a vision that I could truly feel through the phone. Dr. Jackie said she wanted these clothes to be comfortable for women who have undergone surgery after breast cancer and that she was passionate about the models being survivors or connected to a survivor. We traded stories on how when you look good it makes you feel good. We both acknowledged what an important role that played in recovery. (I know I wanted to look cute every time I went to the doctor!) I just felt like, ‘I can’t control what’s going on in my body but I can control how I look and that made me feel good!’

I was both thrilled and honored Dr. Jackie asked me! With my background as an Occupational Therapist, designing this line would be a perfect match!! Dr. Jackie told me she didn’t want to just do a fashion show—it was bigger than that. It had to have purpose, and she knew exactly what she wanted. Now, I was still recovering myself and had one more procedure to go…but if you know me then you know I said ‘Of course I will!’  (There were sooooo many moments I felt in over my head, but I didn't stop!)  While we were on the phone I began to sketch, and before I knew it I had 10 designs. With the help of Beverly Keys, a designer and one of my former interns from Clark Atlanta School of Fashion, I was able to design and construct every piece on the runway. It was amazing!! Yes, that was a miracle!! The driving force was the purpose behind the fashion show. Launching 50 Shades of Pink was a celebration of the inner and outer beauty of breast cancer patients and survivors. Here's one of my sketches:

The event took place on Saturday, July 27th at the The Ballroom at Carlos Center in Atlanta. Dr. Jackie gave a remarkable, touching and honest presentation. To watch a woman beat breast cancer twice and give back so much was not only inspiring, it motivated me to want to give more of myself. The event was a true success. They raised over $100,000 with plans to help so many women. I was honored to have been a part of it.

This experience allowed me to meet some really wonderful women who graciously wore my clothing on the runway. Each had her own unique story of survival, and it was an awesome experience to become a meaningful piece of their journeys.

It was a surreal moment as I watched these models on the runway. I was struck by the beauty of the women in the clothes—my clothes. Even more so, I was moved by the magnificence of how my story, my journey, has so beautifully come full circle. Not only was it a dream come true but the road traveled to get to that moment was nothing short of a miracle…

For more information on ‘50 Shades of Pink Foundation’ go to http://www.50shadesofpinkfoundation.org

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jumping Back In ...

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

Last week, I received a phone call from my mother. “Tracy, you didn’t finish!” were the first words she said. “Finish what?” I said, a little confused. She said “You didn’t finish telling your story. People are waiting to hear the rest. You didn’t even get to the surgery yet.” Immediately I felt nervous. She was right. I didn’t finish. I had to stop and think about why I slowed down with the story. I know that at times I questioned whether people really wanted to hear more. But the real truth is I was having a difficult time writing about my journey—especially the part of it where I had left off. I didn’t realize how traumatic the experience had actually been, and writing about it was bringing out all of those emotions. I’m not an emotional person, so this was uncomfortable for me. As a result, I just pulled back a little bit and didn’t realize it.

My mom’s phone call helped me to recognize that I have not written about the hardest turn of events that occurred (probably on purpose). The comments, feedback and encouragement about this blog have helped tremendously. I guess the best thing to do is to jump back in and keep moving forward…  I have the best people in the world in my corner!!! So here goes:

The day of the surgery, my sister drove me to the hospital. I know she sent messages to all of my friends, but, to this day, I have no idea what the messages said. All I remember is getting sedated and then waking up. My surgery lasted 4 ½ hours. I had assumed that when I woke up I would be all bandaged up. I wasn’t. I was however definitely heavily medicated! I woke up, looked down inside my hospital gown, saw these perky breasts and I yelled out, “Did you do the surgery?” No one responded, so and I yelled again. “Hey! Did you do the surgery? Did you get all the cancer out?” (Yes, I really yelled that! I guess I need reassurance that it was removed. When they initially told me about the cancer and its location, I kept thinking I could feel it and that it was going to move somewhere. The cancer was messing with my head so much I couldn’t wait to get it out!)
A nurse came over to comfort me and said, “Yes, your surgery went well. You are in recovery until you completely wake up from the anesthesia.” I think I dozed back off because the next thing I remember was being wheeled into a room filled with flowers and cards. Everything seemed so surreal. I don’t really like hospitals or sitting still, so I knew this was not going to be easy. The best thing I remember was not being in any pain. I was on pain medication that was connected to my IV, and all I had to do was push a button to administer it anytime I felt uncomfortable. The staff really took care of me at Northside Hospital. The nurses were the best. These were some strong meds that kept me extremely comfortable!! I emphasize this because everyone that came to visit would look at me like I was suffering, and actually I was really comfortable. The surgery was the easy part (if there was an easy part). It was the next step, the recovery, that was definitely the hard part…
(to be continued)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Guest Blog Series - A Test of Sisterhood

A close friend of mine unexpectedly lost her twin sister due to complications from cancer.  I asked her to be a guest blogger today.  Please read her journey below.

A Test of Sisterhood  -  By Courtney Waller
            I watched in awe as Kim ordered a second pouring of the $11 glass of white wine. I rarely spent more than $10 on a whole bottle. She was in town for her annual Christmas visit. This was our one chance to go out alone. ‘Is this how cancer survivors live?,’ I remember thinking. Kim ordered the meal and drinks that she wanted that night. She had decided to put her MFA in Creative Writing to great use and write a novel. I was honored when she suggested we do the project together. In April, Kim, our parents, my husband and our two children were planning to go to Disney World for a family vacation/celebration. We were also making our plans to visit the Dominican Republic together, just the two of us.
            Kim celebrated the conclusion of her radiation treatment a few months earlier with friends in an all-inclusive Miami resort. I was invited but did not go.  How could I take time off work that time of year?  How would I pay for the flight from Atlanta to Miami?  We could always have our own celebration later. Kim had survived Hodgkins Lymphoma. We had time—at least that’s what we thought…
            A month after our night on the town, Kim called our home to ask my husband Jacquay for iPhone advice. We joked about the “real” reason she called: to wish our son a happy third birthday. Somehow, Kim had managed to send the gift on time but hadn’t remembered the correct day to call. No one could talk to Kim McCoy without responding to her contagious and genuine laughter. That night was the last time I’d ever hear my twin sister’s voice.
            At 3:19AM, the following day, I found myself staring at the large red numbers on the alarm clock, unable to sleep. Two hours later, our father called to let me know that Kim was in a Florida Emergency Room with pneumonia. Unexpected calls from my parents still make me nervous. By the end of that day, my parents, husband, his mother, several of Kim’s friends and I had made their way to the hospital at various times throughout the day by plane and by car. My children were now in the care of my father-in-law. My mother-in-law wanted to stay with us longer, but was needed to help with the children. As a nurse who specializes in treating cancer patients, she was able to help my parents decipher the medical talk and what we could expect next.
Kim’s ex-husband visited the next day. I tried to warn him of Kim’s condition over the phone. However, the sight of her attached to machines and unable to breathe on her own forced him to stumble backwards. That was also the day that a nurse informed me that Kim had coded around 3:00 AM Saturday morning—the same moment I was suddenly awakened and unable to sleep.
On February 1, 2012, my twin sister Kim passed away peacefully in the hospital. I held her right hand. Mommy held her left while Daddy stood close by with my husband at her feet. Her illness was the result of a rare infection related to her cancer treatment. We were both thirty-three, just a few months shy of our next birthday and now a lifetime away from all of our plans.
To this day, Kim is always on my mind. Dealing with the pain of losing her is a continuous part of my life now. I struggle not to dwell on how unfair this all seems. Yet, tears cloud my vision as I write this post. I am thankful for the thirty-three years we had together. At times, the memories of peace and her joy that I felt visiting her in the hospital confuse me. I know she waited for us to get there. I know she waited for me. We began our lives together as tiny cells in our mother’s womb, invisible and undetectable. Even now our bond may be invisible to others, but it is so very real and tangible to me. 
Courtney and Kim

Friday, June 14, 2013

Just For The Fathers ...

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection.”

Someone recently said to me: “All Dads are good. Some just never learned to be a man.” I found this simple statement so impactful—and upon reflection, so true. It can be interpreted in many ways. This made me think of my biological father and his inability to be there for his children. There are many things that happened in his life that contributed to his absence. As an adult, I can now understand and accept that he was a good person but just never learned to be a man…

With Father’s Day fast approaching, thoughts of strong men from my life run through my mind. My grandfather comes to mind first. Affectionately called D.L. by his peers, he was known to be a very wise man. As I was growing up, he stressed the importance of living by “The Golden Rule” long before I even understood what this meant or entailed. It took many years for me to grasp the true meaning, but I can remember his voice saying it like it was yesterday. “Always treat people the way you would want them to treat you.” I would call my granddaddy everyday as a child and read to him. He would listen to every word. He would also let me read as many books as I wanted to him each time I called. (Really, I could read 20 books, and that amazing man would still be on the other end of the phone listening!!) My granddaddy told me I was special and would say, “You’re going to make it happen!” I would light up each and every time I heard those words. They still ring in my ears today, and it boosts my confidence whenever there is doubt.  He is truly missed…

“The greatest thing a FATHER can do to his children, is to love their mother.”
~ Anjaneth Garcia Untalan

My dad, the man that raised my sister and me as his own, was truly heaven-sent. Witnessing the way he has loved my mother has truly been a gift. He has been by her side through everything and has never missed a beat. The lessons he taught me helped mold me into the woman I am today. My dad had four girls and wanted to make sure that his daughters were independent. He was a true entrepreneur and not afraid to take risks. He can certainly take the credit for how hard I work at being a serious business woman…also unafraid to take risks. Life is way too short! He’s the best PaPa my daughters could ever have.

This Father’s Day I want you to reflect on the many men that are present and enhancing the lives of others. Today let’s celebrate the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and godfathers. We love you and we need you!! Happy Father’s Day!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Over 5500 Views!... Thank You!

My friend Courtney sent me a quote the other day:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  ~ Anias Nin

It moved me…It got me thinking about the many conversations and emails I’ve had over the past few months—the numerous calls saying, “I followed up on my mammogram appointment because I talked to you.” Or “I can’t believe you are sharing this. I went through the same thing, but I didn’t share it with people I don’t know.” And “I’m so proud of you. You are inspiring.”

I recently realized that I have stood in my own way when it comes to accomplishing the goals I set out to accomplish.  (How many people can relate to that?)  A lot of times when we do something that is effortless to us we don't think of it as a talent.  It usually takes a lot of feedback from others to build up our self-confidence enough to believe we can make big things happen.  I believe that, in any situation, your attitude about it is everything. Throughout this entire journey, it was extremely important for me to keep constructive, encouraging people and positive energy around me. Just the thought of helping someone else through my words is touching. Life is about taking risks and stepping out on faith. I believe that now more than ever ... 

At one point, someone asked me, “Weren’t you afraid of what people might think?”
It wasn't just the question.  It was paired with a look of "I can't believe you are doing this."

Well, if I went through life making decisions based on what others think, I would be crazy. When faced with the difficult decision such as the one I had to make, there would have been so much more at risk if I had chosen to do nothing. Then after going through all of this, I found myself in a place where I felt like this experience has to have a purpose.  (It was a powerful feeling that wouldn't go away.)  I couldn’t just go through all of this and then simply move forward like nothing had happened. It’s still a vulnerable and personal decision to share my story, but sharing for me right now has a purpose. It helps me heal and strengthens my spirit. I am reminded everyday by the positive feedback and comments (most of which I receive privately) about this blog and my journey.  It's a great feeling to have had over 5500 views already!   To everyone who has taken the time to not only read this blog but also to respond with words of support, I would like to say thank you. Your messages motivate me and encourage me to continue. I know that I am forever changed by this experience…

I would love to know about an experience that happened in your life that forever changed you! Please see this blog as a platform of sharing, inspiration and healing.

(to be continued…)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Unexpected Angels…

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.  ~Rumi

This journey has had plenty of unexpected moments and places from where strength and courage had to be pulled. One of the most unexpected surprises was a phone call I got from a friend (we will call him 2Trillion!) who told me he was taking a trip to Texas to visit Joel Osteen’s church. Pretty much everyone is familiar with Joel Osteen and his family ministry. I told him to let me know how it goes and to have a great trip. I wished I could have gone.  Not only did he go there and visit the church, he had the opportunity to talk to Dodie Osteen (Joel Osteen’s Mother) about me. He said he told her all about me. Dodie Osteen is known for her ministry of love and compassion. She is also a cancer survivor and has the most powerful testimony I have ever read. She wrote a book called ‘Healed of Cancer.’ I was truly honored when she gifted me her book complete with a personal inscription inside. I have read this book at least five times already, and I carry it with me everywhere I go. The messages in the book are so powerful. I believe the spirit and the mind have a lot to do with our physical state, and this book helped me get my spirit and my mind right! If I ever got the opportunity, I would love to thank her in person. I would love to express to her how that book she so kindly gave me played such an integral role in my healing process.

Another unexpected angel in my journey was Dr. Jaqueline Walters--many of you may know her from the show ‘Married to Medicine.’ A two-time cancer survivor, she was someone I connected with last year through a mutual friend because I knew she had the same surgery. I had met and spoken with her a few times over the past couple of years, but I didn’t know her very well. That quickly changed. Our first of many phone calls lasted for an hour. She helped me mentally prepare by telling me things I should get ready for that she knew from having gone through the same procedure herself. A lot of people say, “I’m here if you need me.” Or “Call me anytime.”  When Jackie said it, she really meant it. Every time I had a question or concern, she was right there when I reached out. Before going to the hospital, she told me all the things I needed to make sure I had. The day of my surgery she showed up with a big box. She said it was just a gift. (Who doesn’t love getting  gifts!) I opened the box and it was filled with pairs of beautiful pajamas ranging from casual to cute and sexy. She said, “All the pajamas button up because you won’t be able to put anything over your head for a while.” I was speechless. The action was so thoughtful. Of course I had not thought of that. It meant so much that she cared enough to do that for me. She knew that only someone who had gone through this would know things like that. When the pain and muscle spasms got unbearable, it was Jackie that I could text at 2am and she would hit me right back with some encouraging statement. She always knew just what to say because she had been there not that long ago. I would shake it off and get my mind right. Jackie also came out to my house to visit me while I was recovering. Unexpectedly, she had another gift in hand. She brought me the softest blankets and booties that you heat in the microwave. They smelled like lavender -- soothing and beautiful. Talk about feeling good! I am thankful for her and her kindness. There are still people in the world that just do because they care about helping others. This connection was only the beginning. Now, I am preparing to help Jackie with her non-profit for breast cancer called ‘Fifty Shades of Pink.’  Don’t worry, you will hear a lot more about that real soon!

There are so many great things that came out of this bad situation… (to be continued)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Mom Saved My Life …

“When you are a mother you are never really alone in your thoughts. You are connected to your child and to all those who touch your lives. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”   ~ Sophia Loren

I have always thought of my mom as my hero. She is the strongest woman I know. I have never witnessed a woman overcome so many obstacles and handle life with such grace. She instilled the most valuable life lessons. She is the ultimate survivor!  My mom has always played the hand she was dealt (no matter how crappy it was) without complaining. Her beautiful spirit is unforgettable, and her smile is sure to light up any room. Growing up we didn’t have much, but I never felt like I missed having anything. Her caring, comfort and compassion were much more filling than any material things would have been.  She taught me the importance of being independent and how to be responsible.  I grew up fearless believing I can do anything…

I put off writing this particular post because it is very difficult to share this part of my journey. One week before my surgery, I had to face the most difficult task—telling my mom about my diagnosis. I had avoided it for as long as I could. This was the third attempt at telling her, and I knew it was time to follow through. I knew she would take it hard, and I knew I had to be strong. I found myself worrying more about how my mother was going to handle it than worrying about my surgery. I visit my parents often so my coming over was not unusual. It was before I was getting ready to leave that I announced that I needed to talk to them. I turned the television off and then turned to face my mom and dad. My dad says, “What? You’re not about to say you’re pregnant are you?” We all laughed. He certainly broke the ice. I stayed strong and turned off my emotional side. I just said what I had to say head on. I told them I was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was going to be okay. My mother immediately broke down. There was no consoling her. Her youngest daughter had just told her the news she dreaded the most.  All I could say was it was going to be okay and it really was going to be okay!!  She kept saying that was all she prayed for was her children to be spared from the disease she had battled twice in the past nine years. It took a while, but after convincing my mom to listen I explained to her that I had been going to the doctor and that my surgery was set for the following week.  I told her every detail. I know you may be wondering why I waited to tell Mom. I didn’t want her to worry about the decision I had to make or to fret about the details. I know, from being a mother myself, you always want to make everything better for your children from the moment they are born. I didn’t want to put a burden on her knowing there was nothing she could do to make it better. I feel like she felt as if there were something she could have done to protect me from this ‘monster’ that had chosen to invade my body. When my mom pulled herself together, she gave me a look of amazement and said, “You are so strong. I can’t believe how strong you are.” To that I simply replied, “I got it from you.”

I told my Mom that she had to look at it as if she saved my life. It’s the truth. Had she not gotten breast cancer the second time, I would have never thought about getting a mammogram when I did. My mom spoke with a friend that echoed this very thing. She told her, “I had to go through it a second time to save my baby.” She told me that was when she realized that her prayers had been answered. And I agree they were…

Throughout this journey, I got support from some of the most unexpected places that you would not believe…
(to be continued) 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mom and The Polka-Dot Boo-Boo

Telling the Kids ...

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I will start by saying that everyday is Mother’s Day to me. I wake up each morning to the best two gifts I’ve ever gotten!! Not a day goes by where I don’t thank God for my babies. (They are actually still at the age where they don’t mind me calling them my babies.)  They were both so strong throughout this entire ordeal. I found myself struggling before my surgery with: “How am I going to tell my babies about all of this? They look to me for everything. They will be here and they need to know what is happening…” I believe in telling children the truth. (They are always smarter than we think.) How do you explain breast cancer to a child?

This was a struggle I put off for as long as I could. I had spoken with both of my children’s teachers about what was going on, and one of them suggested we go to the library and look for a book to help explain.  I was all for it.  She told me that she had unfortunately dealt with this issue several times in her classes over the years.  We went to the school library and got on the computer. As we scrolled the screen I thought, “Note to self: There are not many books out that explain cancer on a child’s level.” Then one jumped out at me--one of the merely two we found. It was called “Mom and The Polka-Dot Boo-Boo.” I knew right then that it was perfect without even reading it. I couldn’t wait to tell my Mom about it.  When I did, she was so excited that she jumped right on the computer to order it.

The girls and I sat down with the book together and read. “Mom and The Polka-Dot Boo-Boo” is a gentle story explaining breast cancer through rhyming text to a young child. It includes things that may come along such as loss of energy and hair but emphasizes there is never a loss of love… It’s written by a Mom (Eileen Sutherland) and illustrated by her young daughter (Maggie Sutherland). My daughters loved the child-drawn pictures. This book helped by making such a difficult step easier for me.

The book starts off like this:

I have some news to share with you, to help you understand.  I have a boo-boo in my breast.  It is called cancer, and…
It’s like a polka dot that neither you nor I can see.  It’s settled in behind my skin and we need to set it free...

They were not scared learning of this, and I reassured them everything would be okay. (That’s always the strong thing to say.) I think it helps that I always believe it when I say it. They understood things so well and asked tons of questions. The book even helped them understand what they had seen my mom experience during her battle with cancer.

Although there were some nights of crying and a few episodes of getting scared, I was happy that my babies were not afraid to talk to me. I reassured them by saying, “Look, Mommy is going to be okay! And guess what? You get to brag that your Mommy is a survivor! Did you know that?” Sometimes it was hard trying to turn their tears to smiles without crying myself. They always see me being so strong (something I picked up from my Mom), and I thought it was important to let them know that it’s okay to get scared and it’s okay to cry. (I still have to remind myself that.) I had to explain to them that I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things for a little while. I was on a lot of meds and was in bed most of the time.  I couldn’t raise my arms or pick anything up for weeks after the surgery. My youngest had a hard time getting used to me not being able to pick her up. (Yes, I still pick my seven-year-old baby up!) LOL! They even learned how to hug my arm and be very gentle when they touched me. They were so strong. I am so proud of them. My babies!!

I have a lot of love and respect for Moms, especially single Moms like myself. The day-in and day-out never ends, but you wouldn’t change it for the world—because it’s all worth every minute.

Now the hardest part of it all … I had to tell my Mom …

(to be continued…)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Inspiring Journeys – Featured Blog Series

When this journey began, I started looking for stories of other survivors to read. I wanted to know what someone else’s journey looked like in her own words—from her own unique perspective. It led me to several articles and blogs. (At this time, I had not thought about starting a blog or even sharing my journey.  It still felt like such a private experience to me.) I read story after story. Some I couldn’t read because it was just too painful. I was thinking, “Where are the good ones—the ones with the happy endings and the celebration trips at the end?” I wanted to read something that could lift me up. I was seeking stories that would give me inspiration through showing strength and courage. I needed to know how people were sharing this emotional experience that’s so hard to understand and accept. Then I came across one blog which was simply unforgettable. It’s called Cancer In My Thirties http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/ 

When I clicked on her 'About Me' section, it read:

“At 33 I was told that the lumps in my breast were probably nothing. So I did nothing, believing I was ‘too young for breast cancer’.

Shortly after my 34th birthday – and now no health insurance – I discovered that Cancer didn’t care how old I was. On my twin kindergartners’ birthdays, the Diagnosis of Her2 positive Stage 3C breast cancer rocked my foundation and changed my world in an instant…”

Okay, I have to be honest and say I was afraid to read anymore because this brought tears to my eyes. I soon learned this woman’s story was just what I needed to read at that time. Her spirit and her attitude still take my breath away. I wanted to hug her through the screen for being so open and honest and most of all—brave. Not only did I read more, I signed up to follow her blog. As a writer I enjoy being moved by words. I love the way she is unafraid to venture out with other topics and just write about what is on her mind and in her heart. The images of her adorable and innocent twin boys stay in the back of my mind still today.

Her post that really made me think was ‘Things I Don’t Think I’ll Get To Do Before I Die’ 
(I know… I had to read the title a couple of times myself.)

Her post was light-hearted, honest, and most of all it reminded me that it’s the little moments and small things in life (often taken for granted) that really matter the most.
This post was a reality check. It made me stop and contemplate, “What would be on my list?”

One thing I vividly remember my grandfather saying was, “Never put off tomorrow what you can do today. Tomorrow is promised to no one.” I miss that wise man. 

It really made me think, “Do your days have to be numbered for you to live like it? and Why not choose to live each day to the fullest?"

So I ask you…What would be on your list?

I want to thank Cancer In My Thirties for allowing me to feature her blog as the first one that truly inspired me! Please check it out.
See her list below:

20 45 Things I’m Afraid I Won’t Get to Do Before I Die:
1.            Watch my kids go off to Fourth Grade
2.            Put my toes in the ocean again
3.            Dance with my sons at their weddings in 15 years or so
4.            Have my overdue eye exam — and get stylish new glasses
5.            Hold a new baby
6.            Be my youngest sister’s matron of honor (she’s 20)
7.            Get a new puppy
8.            Hold my grandchildren
9.            Finish the next season of The Living Dead
10.        See Mumford & Sons in concert
11.        Have the option to opt out of going to my 10-year college reunion (because I don’t feel like going, not because I’m dead)
12.        Visit my family’s homeland (England/Scotland)
13.        Celebrate my sons’ 10th birthdays
14.        Publish my novel
15.        Finish writing said novel
16.        Publish a children’s book
17.        Use my teaching degree
18.        See some of my dearest friends again — jme, Jin, Loren, Sue, Sheri, Gil
19.        Make it to another winter (and I hate winter)
20.        Watch my children graduate from (and start!) high school
21.        See the love of my life again
22.        Experience what it’s like to have hormones again (or go a day without being hot and drenched from night/day sweats one minute and then shivering cold the next)
23.        Shed tears as I pack my kids up for college
24.        Shed tears as I wave my kids off to middle school

25.        See my mother happy
26.        Get divorced
27.        Be with someone who truly cares for me & who will miss me when I’m gone
28.        Listen to a lot more music
29.        Learn to play piano
30.        Live a day where money doesn’t keep me from doing the things I want to do for my kids
31.        Travel more
32.        Start a new job
33.        Hear that there is a cure/vaccine for cancer
34.        Show my kids the world
35.        Fall asleep snuggled next to my kids and my dogs more
36.        Experience a pain-free day
37.        Remember what it’s like to have energy
38.        To stress out about doing next year’s taxes
39.        Turn 40
40.        Turn 50
41.        Turn 60
42.        Turn 70
43.        Grow old
44.        To let go of everything that is holding me back…
45.        To say that I truly lived — and mean it…

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

All Is Well! ...

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” ~William Shakespeare

Growing up living by 'The Golden Rule' that my grandfather instilled in me when I was three years old, I’ve always looked for the best in people and also have always been very forgiving. However, thinking people would treat me as I treated them left me open to a lot of hurt.

When the people in your life that are supposed to be there to take care of you—the ones that you trust to have your back and hold you down—drop the ball and disappoint you multiple times throughout your life, you come to expect everyone to let you down. Disappointment becomes routine. For the most part, that has been true all of my life. Trusting someone will be there when I really need them has always been a struggle.
When I got my diagnosis, I was told to “get ready to find out who your true friends are.” I was somewhat prepared but still surprised at and hurt by the people that were nowhere to be found, even after I reached out. Ouch! It really did hurt...

On the flip side, I learned that the friends who were there are the most amazing friends on the planet! (I mean amazing!!) Not just because they stand by my side but because they actually accept me for who I am. They don't judge me, and they give without expectation. They do all of this without thinking about it, because that's what true friends do. My friends know that when I walk into a room full of people I get quiet because I'm very cautious. They know I'm just taking in my environment. My friends know I try to do everything and sometimes I may go a little harder than I should without asking for help even though I need it. They understand that I put pressure on myself, and I often feel like everything falls on me.

Days before my surgery, I sat down at our regular monthly brunch with my girlfriends. I knew I couldn't do this alone. I had accepted this as fact. I looked at the same faces that I have seen for the past 15 to 20 years. We have had our ups and downs. We have weathered storms. We have celebrated good times and have been there for each other in bad. None of us are perfect, but we are there for each other. Even as I write this, words can't explain the amount of love I have for these women who are not just my friends. They are my sisters and my angels. I looked them in their eyesthey know how strong I am (and I don't like to cry!). I said, "I don't want any tears!" I didn't want a pity party. As I explained my situation, I watched my friends look at me with glassy eyes fighting back the urge to cry because that was what I said I wanted. I said, "I am scared and I need you all. I choose to walk in faith. I choose to be strong, and I choose to win. If anyone asks you how I'm doing you tell them 'All is well!'” The looks in their eyes told me they were proud. (I knew my announcement was a lot to take in). I allowed the weight I was carrying to be lifted. It felt as if each of my angels each took a piece to carry. They all sent me a message without words that said, "Don't worry! We got you!" We hugged and smiled, and it was done. I felt light as if God were answering prayers as we sat and continued on with brunch. In two days, my friends (headed by the best project manager in the world!!) set up a schedule to make sure someone was at my home to help me morning, noon and night. They helped with laundry, the kids, cleaning the house and doing the dishes. There's always the friend who steps up and says, “Sit down! We got this!” They just showed up and did what had to be done. It was such a blessing. They knew what I needed without even asking. My dear friend who told me, "The fake friends won't show up!," put together a meal train which had a calendar for people to sign up to bring me breakfast, lunch and dinner. My children stayed on their schedule and had everything they needed. All I had to do was recover. (This is still hard to talk about because my friends were there every step of the way. They never missed a beat.)

My amazing friends are the reason my recovery went so well. They are the reason I look at life so differently now. They are my true friends, and I love them dearly. My mom always says, “Now those are your friends!” I don't use the term ‘friend’ loosely (anymore). They keep telling me to stop thanking them because they said I would do the same for them, and they are right...I love you guys so much!!
“All is Well!”  

(to be continued…)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

There Is A ‘Perk’ After All!!

The time came to face the music. I recall reading an interview of a friend who is also a survivor. She said she went home and had a pity party after being given her cancer diagnosis. When no one showed up for the party, she had to get up and face reality. My friend decided to make lemonade out of lemons. Personally, I am no fan of pity parties; I do, however, happen to love lemonade. I was not nervous on the way to the appointment. It always helps when someone who cares about you calls at the right time and gives some encouraging words. My friend’s positive words gave me strength. I found myself feeling ready for whatever ‘He’ had in store for me. 

I walked into the plastic surgeon’s office, and it looked amazing. From the one-of-a-kind art pieces on the wall to the high-end lingerie store in the waiting area. It felt like an office right out of Beverly Hills. It didn’t feel like I was at the doctor. (That certainly helped!) The furniture was beautiful. It appeared as if no cost was spared. From the chandeliers and marble floors to the end tables, elegance surrounded me. The wait was not long, and I was fortunate to have my sister was right by my side. I scanned the room and noticed no one looked like me although everyone was pretty young. My name was called. My sister and I both went back, and the consultation began. The first thing I said after introductions was, “Ok, I’m still so young, and I’m single--and I may want to have another baby.” I don’t even know why I was saying those things. The words just burst out of me in a blurt. My doctor gave me the nicest smile and said with such excitement, “Don’t worry, you’re going to love your boobs! They’re going to be beautiful!!” Her smile was contagious, and it put me at ease. My worry faded. I was confident I was in good hands. 

I had several questions. I wanted to know every detail about what I was getting into with this surgery. My doctor was not only warm, she was also personable and compassionate. (This made a big difference!) She answered every question I had and them some. We talked for two hours. I had to know every possible scenario that could happen. Fortunately, she didn’t mind. It felt as if she would have sat for five hours if that was what I had needed. By the end of the consultation, I felt like I could trust her. I had seen pictures of her work, and it did look amazing!! At the end of the consultation, she asked me to take my shirt off, and when I did her reaction was, “They are beautiful!” I laughed and said, “I know! I love them!” She responded, “Don’t worry, they will be even more amazing. You will love them even more!” I said, “Whew! So there is a perk to this whole thing?” Still excited she said, “Absolutely!  Don’t worry!”

I learned that the young patients in the waiting area were her breast cancer patients as well, and most of her patients were in the twenties and thirties. That information blew me away!! I had no idea how prevalent this cancer was in young women. Today, I know that breast cancer does not discriminate with race or age. I still can’t help but wonder why women aren’t told to start getting mammograms until they’re age 40. (That seems so crazy to me now, especially having two daughters to think about). 

I left the doctor thinking, “I’m going to loooove my boobs!” My experience at the plastic surgeon’s office had been such a positive one. This guided my outlook on the surgery and allowed me to stay focused on my healing and the recovery. It also gave me the strength to block any negative thoughts from entering my mind. Everything seemed to be happening so fast and now I was ready to get past this. However, I knew I couldn’t—go through this alone. I needed a team of support. It was time to tell my loved ones…

(to be continued…)