Thursday, December 17, 2015

De-stressing....with color

Stress.  It is part of life.  We all have it, right?  I know I do.

Work, money, home, the news, it seems to come at us from all directions these days.

Through the years, I have used different methods to escape the stresses of the day.  I do crafts of all sorts, play games, read, watch tv- many of the same things other do.  Of course, they all get boring after a while and they all have the same problem when it comes to stress relief.  They let me think.  None of them keep my mind so busy that I can't think about whatever thing it is that has me stressing at that moment.

I needed to find something that would make me focus in a way none of these things had before.

As luck would have it, I also watch Youtube videos.  One of the Youtube channels I like to watch is Rainy Day Dreamers.  They do product reviews, often of toys or other 'As Seen on TV' items for families.  I love their videos and just enjoy the family.  (Plug for them- check them out here:

Anyway, they did a review video of an adult coloring book.  They talked about how intricate the patterns were and how challenging it was.  I was intrigued.  I had heard about this in passing, but I started to do what I do best-  GOOGLE.

I found a whole world of adult coloring books I didn't even realize existed.  So, one day in Walmart, I found some cheap books.  I bought some.  I came home and colored my first page.  I was immediately hooked.  This was amazing.  It was like coloring as a child, but nothing like coloring as a child all at the same time!

I was focused on what page to choose, then where to start on the page, then what medium to use to color it in.  So many choices!  Markers, colored pencils, watercolors, actual crayons, if you could imagine!

That first page was liberating.  It may seem to you that coloring in someone else's artwork is not art at all, but I would argue that is not the case at all.  This gives a freedom to the colorist (there is a name for us, you know) in that we have a starting point.  We no longer need to put pen to paper to start the process, we can use a template and add our touch.  We are not interested in taking credit for that template- only in adding our colors.

When I color a page, I am lost in the process.  I don't think about how much money is in the bank, what the status of my project at work is or whether the doctor may call.  I think only about the next section I am coloring and how the pencil is laying down on the page.  I don't hear the world around me, I am absorbed in that work.

People don't understand this and I get that.  Most think it's silly, I don't mind.  It is not for everyone to understand.  I don't get NASCAR Racing, but I don't mind if others do.  I am sure people look at me funny as I am coloring on an airplane during a cross-country flight or in a waiting room.  I will color anywhere, and because this is a very portable hobby, I can and do.

I highly recommend anyone try this- even if you think it's silly.  Don't think you can't.  Don't think you won't be good at it.  The only one who needs to see your work is you and who cares what it looks like?  Just enjoy it.

Here are some of mine:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

This took me hours to write....

I started and stopped this post over and over again in my head.  I want to write this, but I don't.

I wonder if this day will always be a difficult day.  I suppose it will.

Today is July 23rd, you see.

This is Jean-Christine's birthday.

I would like to be able to pick up the phone and call and say "Happy Birthday Jean!  Love You!"

But I can't.

I don't get to have that phone call with the somewhat plaintive, sing-song sounding "hi Sister-bee" that was the way Jean always seemed to start conversations.

I think of that "Hi Sister-bee" often.  I really miss it.

Wherever you are today Jean- looking on us- Sister-bee says Happy Birthday and I love you.

and I miss you.

Friday, May 1, 2015

My First Relay for Life

Hi All-

Today I had the honor of helping to represent the many cancer survivors at the 2015 Relay for Life of East Penn.  This was my first ever relay and I felt a bit out of my element.  I was unsure what to do or where to go.  Everyone was kind and pushed me along in the right direction (happy to tell me where to go!   )

As this year's honorary Survivor, it was my responsibility to introduce myself and tell my story.  Below is the text of my 'speech'.  I thought I would share it with all of you as well.  After some rest tonight, I plan to go back to the park to support my team- Team Atatud.  They are awesome and if you're in the neighborhood of Macungie Memorial Park, stop by.

I remember when the word cancer first entered my vocabulary.  Actually, I don’t think it was the word ‘cancer’ itself, but it was cancer.  I was a small child, probably five years old. 

My mother explained that we had to leave our home and go to help my grandparents.  My grandfather was sick and they needed my mom’s help.  As a result, we kids would go along with her and move in with my grandparents in their tiny little home. 

I don’t remember a lot of specifics about that illness, snatches mostly- he coughed into a tissue and it looked bad.  He was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night- multiple times.  As kids, we were shielded from the scary details.

While I didn't have a name for it at the time, I later came to understand that my grandfather had contracted melanoma in his lungs. 

Those months were hardest on my mom I think.  She watched her father’s body deteriorate as it was ravaged by the cancer and the treatments, and once it reached his brain- it took his mind as well.  Looking back on the photos from those days back in 1967-1968, I see a woman who is hanging on by a thread, trying to make it through.

She did make it through as all good caregivers do.  She took care of her dad and also of her mom who was left behind when his time was done.  As their only child, it was all on her. 

My grandfather died in October of 1968

Flash forward 45 years. 

I have always been the woman who was diligent about women’s health.  Annual GYN exams, my mammograms were done almost on (or actually on) the same day each year.  I rarely missed my screenings and if I was late, it grated on me with an almost physical feeling- I was compelled to stay on top of those things.  

October 9th, 2013, I had my annual mammogram.  Normally, these things were followed by a phone call saying “we need an ultrasound” because they see a cyst or something.  Not this time- It went like clockwork.  Normal!  Awesome!

November 8th 2013, while taking a shower, I noticed I was bleeding from my nipple (TMI, I know, sorry- important info for anyone who should pay attention to these things).  I immediately called my breast surgeon who got me an appointment for the following Monday.  A quick Google search told me pretty much everything the surgeon would later confirm.  This is never a great sign.

While my mammogram only a month earlier had been normal, I actually had breast cancer.  Initial diagnosis was stage zero ductal carcinoma in situ. 

Even though this was a very aggressive treatment decision- I opted for mastectomy.   It would save me radiation therapy and I had much history of issues with cysts and such and I felt it was the best option for me.  A personal decision each woman needs to make, this one was mine.  I wanted to be done with this for good.

A couple of weeks after surgery, I had arranged a consultation with an oncologist to go over my pathology, just to have him review everything to be sure we had thought of everything.  My mom drove me to the consult since I wasn’t yet allowed to drive.  The oncologist, a warm, wonderful man who I have actually seen as a hematologist in the past, reviewed the chart with us.  He went through the pathology in detail and walked the decision trees that the oncologists use themselves to determine the most appropriate treatments.  He explained tumor grades and hormone receptor status.  I understood immediately what he was saying and before he even got there my mind said   I didn’t want him to be telling me that my cancer was worse than thought, and that I needed chemo, with my mom in the room. 

You see, my mom worries about everything where I am concerned.  She got lightheaded if I bumped my head.  How could she possibly hear that I needed chemo? 

I glanced over at her (she looked very scared) and said “it will be ok” She said “I know”
In that moment we became each other’s caregiver.  While the cancer patient has it rough- cancer sucks, chemo is awful and while I haven’t had to do it myself, I know radiation is as well.  Going through it yourself is one thing - watching the person you love suffer and being completely and utterly powerless to take that suffering away- that is truly terrible.  Caregivers are true heroes and their role can’t be overstated.

I had a lot of caregivers- I mentioned my mom, but I had my whole family- My husband who cooked dinners regularly, my kids who worried and drove me and took time to sit with me at chemo.  My step-dad who just wanted to do anything. My co-workers who picked up the slack at work when I couldn’t.  All my friends and loved ones who sent cards, gifts, called, visited or just posted supportive comments on Facebook. 

All of that supported me and got me through.  My role was just to get better.  I didn’t have a choice but to keep going.  Each of those people who took time to do something to be a caregiver had a choice.  They chose to support me, I can’t possibly thank them enough for making the choice to give me their time and support.  It made all the difference in the world.  They were like my own personal army in the fight I was making against this invisible foe.

My mom was the first cancer caregiver I ever knew.  I never knew that she would need do that for me.  I wish she never had to see another loved one with cancer, but I am very glad I had her by my side.  Her and the rest of my caregiver ‘army’

Please remember to thank all the caregivers.  They are my heroes. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Year, An Honor and a Privilege

I have officially reached one year.  The magical one year mark since I completed my chemotherapy.  One year ago today, I was sitting in that big, pink recliner for the last time.  Mugging it up for my daughter's camera.

I expected to look forward to this date.  Honestly, it almost slipped by unnoticed.  I realized it only because I  have been asked to serve as the Honorary Survivor Chair to the East Penn Relay for Life. 

The Relay for Life position is an honor and I feel incredibly privileged to be asked to represent the survivors at this year's event.  

While I have known people who participated in relays, I have to admit that this is the first time I will actually be involved in a relay myself.  I will be learning as I go, but I will do my best to keep up and be where I need to be and not make a fool out of myself or the wonderful person who recommended me.

If you are not familiar with these events, Relay for Life describes themselves in this way (from
At Relay For Life events, communities across the globe come together to honor cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against a disease that has already taken too much. The funds you raise truly make a difference in the fight against cancer just ask one of the nearly 14 million cancer survivors who will celebrate another birthday this year!
Relay For Life teams camp out overnight and take turns walking or running around a track or path at a local high school, park, or fairground. Events are up to 24 hours long, and because cancer never sleeps, each team is asked to have at least one participant on the track at all times.
The first event I attended was last evening.  It was a Survivor Soup Dinner.  I had no idea what to expect, but I had a blast.  While learning about the plans the organization was making for various fundraisers, the great work already taking place to raise money and all the planning for the big event in May was wonderful, the focus of the evening was on the survivors.  

I was one of a number of survivors who were honored during this dinner as we each rose and shared our stories.  Listening to the journey each of these wonderful souls has traveled was nothing short of inspiring.  Some journeys have been longer, some are closer to the beginning of the trip, but we all share a common bond- that big "C" word- Cancer.  

The other overwhelming feeling I had sharing dinner with my new journey mates was Hope.  I know this sounds like a cliche, but it was very much present in that room last night.  There was no 'woe is me' 'I have/had cancer'.  It was much more a feeling of 'This is what happened and I overcame it'

We are strong and nothing is going to keep us down!  

There was also a strong feeling of community around those who need uplifting.  This is a tough community to be a part of, prayers are needed for those who are struggling or have reached the end of their journey as well as those who are left behind.  It is always hardest on the loved ones- they need it most.  The group is right there for them as well.

It was an inspirational evening.  I am grateful to have been part of it.  Thank you to Michele for including me.  

After I got home, I was inspired to do a little art project on the theme.  I had a Munny doll to decorate, so I thought I would do a Relay for Life theme.  The front is the national theme, the back is the one I found on the East Penn page.  She is all decked out in her chemo cap to represent anyone who is or has been going through chemo (crocheted, of course LOL).

I am no artist, but I thought it was kinda cute, so I would share.  
If you would like more information about the Relay for Life, check out my page, the details of our event are available from the page.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hi- Remember me?

I am still here.  Living.  As it should be.

Those are such wonderful words.

The journey of cancer makes saying those words very special, even if you don't want to admit that to yourself, and never to others.  I am one of those people.  I would never admit that anything else would come of this journey than "I am here. Living. As it should be"

My outlook was one of indignant .... I wouldn't call it denial, I never denied the disease or it's process.  Perhaps a place of considering myself the supreme overlord over this situation and nothing else will win.  Delusional? Perhaps.  Whatever works, I guess.  Laugh if you must, it gets me through the tough times.  ;-) 

So, am I winning?  It would certainly seem so.  Checkups are going well so far.  Next oncologist appointment is in April, so we'll see what he has to say.  Not expecting anything to worry about.

The biggest struggle has been rebuilding the house, so to speak.  These girls have not been overly cooperative.  I will spare you the ugly details, but suffice it to say that I think we may have something workable now.  The first step in tattooing was done in December.

 For anyone reading who doesn't understand, that is the coloring of the nipples to make them appear as natural as possible.  My natural nipples were removed during the mastectomy procedure.  Some people are able to do a nipple saving procedure, but as I may have mentioned before- since my cancer was in the ducts that was not an option for me.

Part of my reconstructive journey has been to rebuild not only the breasts, but also to create the illusion of nipples.  You can't replace real nipples.  The tissue that is taken is unique in its function.  It is possible to make pretty good looking replications however.

This is truly art.  In my case, it started with the plastic surgeon.  Once he had the canvas of the breasts of a size and shape we wanted to work with, he asked about what type of nipple reconstruction I wanted.  The choices are:

This is where your breast is a blank slate.  No nipple.  Makes going braless super easy.  But, not such a natural look.

Tattoos only-
This is where the look of nipples are tattooed on the reconstructed breast.  While the tattoos are amazingly detailed and shaded- there is no real dimension.  With the talented hand of a skilled tattoo artist, the illusion of dimension is added through shading.  Again- the no bra thing is a snap since there is no raised tissue.

Nipple tuck alone-
This is where the plastic surgeon uses skin and sutures to create a very realistic looking nipple.  This procedure alone does not create any coloring of the areola or nipple, but it does create a nipple-looking skin structure.

Nipple tuck/tattooing-
This is the combination of the last two techniques and creates the most visually realistic nipple.  It will not only have the coloring of a natural nipple, but also be dimensional.  This is the option I chose.  My fear- the proverbial 'headlights are always on'.  I was afraid of how noticeable this would be. AND- I have never had a tattoo.  Oddly enough, I was afraid of how much it would hurt.  Everything I have been through and this one made me nervous....crazy.

The actual nipple tuck (by the way, that's my word...not sure what they really call it) was done as part of another reconstruction procedure to tweak the breasts.  They look kind of strange in the beginning and then the look of them kind of 'melts' down as they heal until they look very natural.  It's pretty fascinating stuff really.

My last reconstructive surgery was in October.  I had to let the scars heal a bit before we could think about the tattoos.  At my last follow up, it was decided that December would be the perfect time frame to get on the tattoo calendar.

December 19th.  One year and one day after my double mastectomies was the day.  I went to the plastic surgeon's office and met with the awesome tattoo artist.  She asked me some questions, sketched the placement of the nipples, applied numbing cream and, after it took effect, got to work.  It was amazingly fast.  The whole process took less than an hour, including all the prep work.

It was a bit painful, but in the greater scheme of things, it was far from the greatest pain I have felt.

Healing was quick.  I was careful to keep the ointment that was recommended up until the peeling was done.

They looked like natural nipples almost immediately.

I will go back in March for some additional shading and maybe some work on my scars.  I have scars that run horizontally about 8 or so inches across each breast.  They are red and angry looking and she feels she can camouflage them a bit.

I am so impressed by the process.  It almost makes you forget.  Almost.