Start at the very beginning.

Hi! I guess I’m done posting. Life’s getting back to normal, or some kind of new normal, and I think I’m moving on. I know I owe you some stories. A lot has happened since my last post. I have a new last name. I had my implant exchange, my port taken out, my ovaries removed, and my favorite: through a program called “New Beginnings,” I had my top radiation tattoo removed for free. (I know!!!) The short, short version is everything was (is!) amazing even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

Getting back to everyday life feels more difficult than fighting cancer. I’m busier than I’ve ever been but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m just so happy to be doing things or if it’s because I’m afraid to sit still, like if I keep moving, it can’t come back. (Serpentine!) There’s a balance. I just have to find it, which I guess is what I’ll be working on for the time being. Maybe when I get my feet under me and a good rhythm going, I’ll come back and fill in the details. (That’s how you end a story so there could be a sequel!)

I love you all. Thank you so much for the incredible amount of love and support. I know I said it before, but I felt it. I really did.

The end.

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Here are links to all the posts, going backwards, so you don't have to scroll through 10 pages to get to the beginning.  November 7th, 2016 was the first post. 

Battle All Day with Alala

I know I've been telling you all along about the amazing people I've met while on this little journey of mine. Funny story- at my job, a client we have been working with for a few years, Alala, is big supporter of the Breast Center I go to. The leggings I got in the mail while I was in chemo were from them. I had no idea they were so involved and they didn’t know I had cancer and was being treated at the center they support. After the leggings showed up, we made the connection. I can’t say I’m surprised since this whole year feels like it’s been a series of amazing coincidences and lucky breaks. 

Alala is selling a special collection called “Battle All Day” and 30% of the proceeds will go directly to the Breast Center, specifically to support the free therapeutic services offered to patients- the one that helped me (and is still helping me) prepare for and recover from surgery with yoga, reiki, and meditation.

To promote it, they did a little interview with me and it went out in an eblast. Check me out.

Posing in my leggings.  

Posing in my leggings.  

   

And, here’s a link to the Battle All Day collection in case you want to do a little shopping. I have the Ace Seamless Tights in black & rose and I just bought a few other things that got me so psyched to start moving my body again. I’m really inspired by my friend Melissa. She’s the lovely lady who sent me those tights. She also did a Q+A with them here. She was really into fitness before her diagnosis and wasted no time getting right back into it as soon as possible. Like, seriously, ASAP. She was back in the gym as soon as her drains came out. I think it was 6 days after surgery? Push-ups and handstands after a bi-lateral mastectomy? No problem. Amazing. She’s another strong woman in the incredible new club I belong to, who I never would have met if it weren’t for cancer. She documented a lot of her journey on Instagram.

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The weather's getting cold and dreary. Fall always makes me a little sad. I'm a summer girl through and through. So, while lots of you are all excited about pumpkins and sweaters, I'm usually mourning the loss of long days, warm nights, and flip flops. I start questioning if I spent enough time outside, got enough sun, went to the beach enough (I didn't), if I took full advantage of the season. I start dreading the cold and the sad, sad day when we all push our clocks back.

This year, Fall marks the anniversary of The Day I Found Out. And, I guess I'm a little extra down because this time, it feels like I missed out on a whole year of my life, not just a few beach days. It makes me think of this thing my sister told me once. Some of you know my sister, LauraLea, is a rockstar. She's a musician and makes a living full time out of it. I don't know too many artists who've managed to support themselves fully on their craft, without some sort of side job to supplement income, but she 100% financially supports herself with her talent (and brains). And, she's not a "struggling artist" either. She owns a house, drives an Audi, and her daughter is in private school. She's a hero to me. (So's my little sister, btw. I have good role models on both sides of me.) 

I might have this story wrong. It’s been a while. I remember LL was working full time in corporate sales for a hotel chain. It was a solid job. She was making good money, good benefits, and was able to stay for free at any of their hotels all over the world. She was singing on the side and teaching herself how to play guitar. The job was getting to be less and less important to her while her music started to dominate her spare time. She said one day she was having a conversation with someone. He was saying how he’d never run out of sunsets to watch because they were infinite. She realized immediately how wrong he was. That, in fact, one day we will run out of sunsets. There is a finite number of sunsets that will happen in her lifetime and how many she had left directly corresponded to the number of days she had left on this planet. After her last day on earth, she’ll look back and count all the sunsets that passed while she was here.

In Key West, everyone gathers at the end of the day in Mallory Square to watch the sun set over the water. Sailboats glide back and forth creating these postcard-worthy scenes. When the sun finally dips below the horizon, everyone claps and cheers as if it were a show. It’s beautiful. The first time I went and heard the crowd break out in applause, I thought, “This is what God intended.” He puts on these shows for us every day. Sunrises in the morning. Sunsets at night. Am I watching them? Do I take enough time to appreciate them? Am I grateful enough? If I’m being honest, no, not usually.

Back to LL- She went into work the next day and quit. She had nothing lined up, no idea how she was going to pay rent. She only knew that she couldn’t waste any more time losing days to an unsatisfying job, missing sunsets. By the end of the week, a full-time lead singer position had opened up for a well-established band in the PA area. They came to see her play at the now-closed Abilene on South Street in Philly and she was hired. When you show the universe you’re serious, it will move mountains to meet you where you are. About a year and a half later, she started her own band and ran it like a business. She handpicked her band mates, got sound guys, hired a management company- truly built it from the ground up. LauraLea & Trippfabulous has been alive and kicking for 15 years. So, you know, when LL offers advice, you take it. 

Anyway, the whole point was losing days. It feels like I spent a year in bed. That’s an exaggeration, but I definitely lost time. I used to say that about my drinking days  I lost a lot of time. I remember when I first got sober, I hated going to sleep. I felt like Rip Van Winkle. I felt like I had finally woken up from years of sleep and I was alive again. I was afraid I’d go to bed and when I woke next, another 10 years would have passed, so afraid of losing more time. Vlad once told me that of everything in this world that can be lost, broken, or taken, the only thing you can never find, mend, or get back is time. It’s the one thing you can truly steal from another person that cannot be replaced. 

David and I listen to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson podcasts. They’re really dense, filled with so much information. I say that as a disclaimer in case I got what I’m about to say wrong. This is just a snippet of a much bigger conversation and it’s very sloppily condensed and oversimplified. (If you want the real conversation, listen to his series of lectures on the Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories. It’s mind-blowing.) One of the things he talks about is how self awareness is understanding mortality and time. In the story of Adam and Eve, when Eve bit the apple, the knowledge we gained was awareness of our own mortality- there is a future and we will die in it. So, now we have the concept of time. He uses zebras grazing as an example. When lions are nearby, in sight, but lying down, the zebras are not afraid. They don’t run until the lions stand up because to an animal that cannot grasp the future, a lion lying down is not a threat. But, we humans know that a lion will stand up eventually. We know it can kill us, so we have to take precautions. We have to prepare. Being kicked out of Eden was not necessarily “punishment,” but a natural progression. We are no longer living on instinct like animals so we can no longer play all day. Now, we have to “toil in the fields.” No more Eden.

And I’m thinking, we’re over here, toiling away for an uncertain future we’ve completely projected- made up in our minds because who really ever knows what’s going to happen. Meanwhile, my sunsets are getting ticked off on some list somewhere, one by one. Maybe that’s why dogs are so awesome. They are always living 100% in the present, no clocks, no calendars.

Speaking of the future, my final implant surgery will be the day before Thanksgiving, which coincidentally is a year to the day I started chemo.

I’m really good at ruining Thanksgiving.

Hey Guess What!

I'm married!

Hi! 

Lots has happened since we last spoke. I'm sorry I disappeared for a bit there. I needed a break. 

There's too much to write in 1 post so I'm gonna do a few recaps and back date them. 

The short, short recap is: finished radiation, got married, finished filling expanders, waiting to schedule final implant surgery. 

Radiation itself wasn't that bad, but adjusting to the schedule was difficult and the change in my sleep schedule was giving me migraines about 3-4 days a week. 

I was going in the mornings before work 5 days a week for 5 weeks. The worst part was the tattoos. I'm sure if I had read the stack of paperwork they gave me, I would have known it was coming, but I didn't. So, on the day I went in for mapping when the tech said, "Okay. We just have to do your tattoos and then you can go," I was too confused and taken aback to argue. She saw my confusion and was concerned no one had told me about them. But, here's the amazing part, she had one on her hand and showed me, so I'd see how small it was. That is such dedication to your job. I was so touched by that small gesture that I let them do it without arguing. So, I now have 4 small permanent black dots. One front and center on my chest, one about 6" below at the base of my sternum and 1 on each of my sides on my ribs. And, I hate them. 

I understand why they were important. In order for the radiation to be effective, it has to be in the exact same spot every time. When they mapped out where the beams would hit, they positioned me on a giant inflatable pillow. They took a bunch of X-rays, adjusting my position a little bit between each one and the doctor signed off on the last one. Once they nailed the correct spots, they used a vacuum to suck the air out of the pillow, which left a perfect Faith-shaped imprint. Every morning, I climbed onto the table and into the mold to make sure I was in the correct position. Then, they used the tattoos and a set of perpendicular laser beams to move my body and the table around so that I was in the exact same place every time. 

The radiation machine wasn't scary at all. It's open so, no claustrophobia issues. I laid on the table in the middle of the room. It rotates on a giant arm that moved around me, blasting any little stragglers from different angles. It whirs and clicks the whole time because it's using these little metal bars that change the shape of the beam so that it matches the shape of the tumor or precise area it wants to hit at each angle. Here's a little 50 second video, if you're interested.  

I had the same team pretty much every day. There were 4 "regulars" and 2 subs. 2-3 of them were there every morning. Always at least one familiar face. They were a really good crew. They treated me like a person. I started to look forward to seeing them. (Stockholm Syndrome?) I actually kind of miss them. On my last day they said, "Good luck! We hope we never see you again!" 

But, I still hate the dots, especially the one on my chest. It's so visible. I feel like damaged goods. 

I had a fun week after the plastic surgeon removed the air from my expanders and replaced it with saline (which we had to do to make sure they stayed the same size during radiation) There was still some air in there and until it dissipated, every time I moved, jumped, walked fast, etc., you could hear a strange sloshing sound. It sounded like someone was shaking a carton of milk. I recorded it for posterity. I also spent the entire week "shaking it" for anyone who would pay attention to me. ("Hey! Listen to THIS!")

All in all, it wasn't that bad. I was tired and the migraines were rough. But, I enjoyed the one mile walk from the hospital to work every morning. It was a nice way to start the day. That and there's an Au Bon Pain in the lobby so I treated myself to a pastry a few days a week. There was also a chapel with a meditation room. So, every morning after treatment and before the walk to work, I stopped in there and took 5 mins to close my eyes, breathe, and be grateful. 

I took a weekend to visit Sara. She moved to Philly which is very close to where we grew up. It's so nice to have her "home." Settling in isn't really her forte. Since we left high school, she's lived in North Carolina, North Jersey, San Francisco/Oakland/Bay area, NYC (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Astoria- some of that time with me. We lived together for FIVE years and are still best friends. I think that says a lot about us.), Massachusetts, South Jersey, Indiana, Atlanta, Doylestown, and now Philly. I may have missed one. I'll update that if I have to.

After radiation ended, I dove head first and did everything I could to look "normal" by my wedding day. My skin was so ridiculously dry. I went to a dermatologist, got a dermaplane facial, bought all kinds of creams and serums and oils. It was crazy expensive but I actually got some life back in my skin. 

I went to Make Up For Ever where a super chatty 18 year old woman taught me how to camouflage my dot and tone down the red and blue on my port. She had a ton of questions, which was really cute. She thought my port was a body modification implant, like on purpose for aesthetics. And, she said my tattoos were "rad," and didn't quite understand why I wanted to cover everything up. Ah youth. Adorable. I loved her. 

I went to Sephora and got a tutorial on how to fill my eyebrows in. It took some practice but I think I got it. She also talked me out of the really dark colors. I want my old brows back so badly, but she explained that since my hair is lighter now, super dark brows would dominate my face. I'll get you back one day, my bushy, unruly caterpillar friends...

I went to the Giorgio Armani counter at Bloomingdales and had my skin matched to get the perfect foundation for my wedding day. None of my old stuff worked anymore. My face has changed so much since chemo. I wanted something more opaque that could cover my freckles which I'm still getting used to. Madelaine, who did my makeup for the pre-wedding-wedding pictures and was also doing my makeup for the wedding suggested GA. Specifically, a woman named Melissa at the GA counter who was so great. She even offered to come out and do my makeup for free. I love how Madelaine does my face so I didn't want to switch but it was really sweet of her. 

I TRIED to get eyelash extensions but 2 different women said my eyelashes are too short, sparse, and weak and they'd just fall off, probably taking whatever natural lashes I do have with them. So, I had to stick with false strips. 

I was hoping for a manicure and pedicure but my fingernails just aren't growing and if they do get a bit long, they tear or split. So, I waited until the morning of the wedding and pretty much just had them painted. There wasn't much to file or shape. My toenails have started coming loose again (I know. I know. It's so hot. It's such a shame I'm off the market now) so a pedicure was out of the question. I had bandaids on my toes for the wedding, but who cares. My dress went to the floor. :) 

I had no idea what to do about my hair which was getting past the crew cut stage and into need-to-do-something stage. I thought I'd just go to a barber shop, but Sara who's had short hair for most of her life said I should find someone who could both style with scissors and use a razor. I started keeping an eye out for short cuts I liked so I could ask people where they got their hair done. Turns out, the first cut I liked was on the head of a woman who happened to be a barber at a kickass shop called Fellow Barber in Soho. PERFECT. I made an appointment with her and she nailed it.  (I didn't know what to ask for, so she pointed out different dudes in the shop and was like, "that or that or that?"). I got a natural fade. It feels pretty spiffy.

Ok, so here's the deal. I could keep typing, but I keep remembering things I want to tell you. And, if I keep doing that, I will never get any posts up. It's been too long. I've learned my lesson. I won't let it go this long ever again. 

SO, I'm throwing this one up. I'll keep posting mini-posts until you're all caught up. Stories to tell: The journey of the boar's skull; My picnic bachelorette party; The wedding(!!); a body painting/photo session with a bunch of other cancer killers to raise money for research at my hospital. Somewhere in there, I celebrated 4 years of sobriety. And, how fun/scary/comforting it's been to be back at work full time like a "normal" person. OH and SO many pictures! Here are three of my favorite sneak peek pics from the photographer:

Faith-David-Wedding-Preview-0016.JPG
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Stay tuned! 

A prior version of this post incorrectly stated that Sara lived in Indianapolis. While she did reside in the state of Indiana, the town was called Bloomington. (That was for you, Ms. Sara!)

Under Construction

The good news is I am alive, the cancer is gone, I am back at the office, I have lots of hair on my head, and I'm still marrying the man of my dreams in September. The bad news is I do have to go through radiation. The doctor said that while they are sure it's gone now and no longer a threat at this moment, there's no way to test for microscopic cells which would cause the cancer to come back later. While nothing is 100%, radiation is the best chance of complete remission. It will be five days a week for five weeks.

Weirdly, the news hit me pretty hard. It put me in one of those moods where everything upsets me and normal, everyday, small annoyances were day-ruining crises. Three days of rain? I can't bear to go outside. Out of bananas? Tears. Slow subway? Rage. Difficult-to-answer email at work? I'm stupid and I don't know how to do my job anymore. I didn't want to get out of bed all week.

You'd think after everything, this would be a walk in the park. And, comparatively, I guess it is. I think I got my hopes up a little too high and I was just settling back into "normal." The week I found out was my first full week back at work. (It should have been the week before but I came down with some kind of cold/flu/fever and missed two days.) It was so gratifying to feel useful; have a routine; see all my favorite faces. It felt like I was in the home stretch with only reconstruction ahead of me. In my head, it felt over. I was out of the woods and in the rebuilding phase. 

Radiation feels like another monster, and while not nearly as daunting as chemo, it still comes with side effects and setbacks. I'm back to having that small "what if" hanging around in the back of my mind. I'm back to (stupidly) googling all the side effects and looking at scary pictures- this time of lymphedema and radiation burns- and getting myself worked up. It feels familiar. I know how to get my head out of it. I focus on all the things I am grateful for. I turn my thoughts to other people and see who I can help. I googled "cancer brides" and read articles about women who got married in their hospital beds, and women who were terminal and married anyway knowing they only had a few months left. So boo hoo, I can't have my final surgery until after the wedding. And wah, that means my port will still be in. And, poor me will probably have burns on my chest and neck on my wedding day. So what? I'm alive. I beat cancer. I still get to marry David. 

But, sometimes I'm tired of looking for the bright side. Sometimes, I just want a couple of days to be sad and scared and let those feelings run through me. Things aren't working out the way I'd hoped. There are some risks ahead and unknowns coming up. I thought I made it to other side of the river safely, but there are a few more slippery rocks to climb over. It's okay. It's still okay.

The drains were in for 3 weeks. The last one took so long, I got antsy and went back to work with it still in. The first time I went for my post-op check up, he took out 2 of 4. I asked when I could go back to the office and he said we'd discuss it when the other drains were out. The second time I went in, he took out 1 more. That time, I didn't ask and he never actually said no. So, technically I did not go against doctor's orders. 

My chest is under construction. I've been going back to my plastic surgeon every week to get a "fill." The expanders have metal ports. He uses a little magnet to find the port, draws a small X and then sticks a giant needle in (thank God I can't feel anything!) to fill it with more air. It just kinda blows up like a balloon. It's. So. Weird. 

Next week, I'll go in for 1 last fill and he'll switch out the air for saline. The radiation is so precise it requires that nothing moves or changes. The air expander actually deflates a little throughout the week so we have to fill it with liquid to make sure they stay exactly the same for the next five weeks. After he puts in the saline, I'll go directly to the radiation oncologist for simulation which is where they map out the treatment plan. I'll start the next week.

The surgery for my final implants has to be 4-6 weeks after the last radiation treatment. That would put us at mid to end of August. I don't want recovering from surgery to stop me from dancing and I don't want to worry about popping a stitch while throwing the bouquet so we're going to wait until after the wedding. The radiation oncologist did give me the option to do a trial treatment over three weeks instead of five, where they accelerate the radiation a little more each time. But since it's still in trial, she can't predict cosmetic results, which means it could severely burn me and/or create a lot of scar tissue. Scar tissue build up can cause lymphedema and affect implants. Sooooo that's a hard pass. I'm going with the standard 5 x 5.

In the meantime, I'm getting an echocardiogram on Tuesday, and assuming my heart is in good shape (it is), I'll be starting up with the Herceptin shot this coming week. They said not to expect any side effects from that. So, other than getting stuck and infused for 30 minutes once every three weeks until November, I'm not really sweating it. 

David brought up that one of the good things about believing we were in the clear for a little was that we really got to relax for three weeks. I went to a sober-seminar and got some new books and speaker tapes. The author of one of the books was there presenting so I got to meet him and he signed my book. I went to the wedding shower of a close friend. We went to the send-off party of Anthony and Anne-Margaret. (They are currently traveling around the US on their Raise the Vibration Tour. We'll see them again when they fly back to NYC to officiate for us.) We met with our wedding planner at the venue and made some progress with the planning. I went back to work. I went to a bachelorette party I and had an amazing time- it was a Chakra healing workshop followed by a burlesque show. (Mom, cover your ears...I did all that with my drains still in!) Post-drain removal, we went up to Hudson to visit family Memorial Day weekend. We went hiking in the Catskills. And last weekend, we got all dressed up and celebrated our friends' marriage at Liberty State Park. The point is we really enjoyed life. No worries. No what ifs. Just a lot of joy and celebrating. So yes, it sucks a little that I'm back in it. And yes, I'm still a little bummed and worried. But that was a really nice three-week break from all the drama, and I'm really grateful for it.

Aaaaaand you're all caught up. It's a gorgeous weekend- feels like summer. As much as I'd love to stay and tell you more stories, I'm going to get outside, get some sun, and not let the prospect of radiation ruin my day. It's going to be fine. God's got me. Faith walks through fear. (pun intended)

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Awesome T-shirt my BFF, Sara got for me from   Happy Go Lucky Studios  .

Awesome T-shirt my BFF, Sara got for me from Happy Go Lucky Studios.

Hiking in the Catskills. Look at all my hair!

Hiking in the Catskills. Look at all my hair!

David and I all dressed up for the wedding.  (not ours :P )

David and I all dressed up for the wedding.  (not ours :P )

Results.

I am cancer free. I am so cancer free that I may not even need radiation. The cultures were all negative.

We win. 

I feel like I should be more excited, as if that should be followed by 7 exclamation points. But I'm more relieved than excited, and honestly, a little afraid to let myself celebrate too much. It feels like it's too soon to gloat, like in a horror movie when the bad guy jumps up just when you think you're safe. 

But it's gone. The tests have all confirmed it. Part of me was happy to hear that I might get to skip radiation, but there's another part that wants to do it anyway- just in case. Double tap. (Zombieland, anyone?) 

So now what? I still have two drains attached. I can't wait until these are gone and I can go back to work. I have reconstruction to look forward to all summer. (No, I will not be posting pictures.) And, I'll be continuing with the Herceptin infusions until November. In the meantime, there's wedding planning to be done, a marriage to be had, and a honeymoon to go on. 

I probably won't be posting as often, but I think I'll keep the blog alive through the wedding, maybe post some honeymoon pics when we get back, and then close up shop. 

I'm technically just a sober bride now.  😁