Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pink Ribbon Journey

Thank you for visiting my blog.  Since August of 2014, I've been fortunate to be part of the Fredericksburg Parent and Family magazine blogger community.  Please check out my posts at:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Release Thy Self

The last time I posted here in my original blog, The Daily Gin, I wrote about taking some time out from writing about my health.  In true Murphy's Law fashion, the minute I said that, I had so much to write about. Between the awkward exercises at physical therapy, prescription drug mishaps, and an entertaining OB/GYN appointment, I most definitely could have written a blog or few.  But, I decided to channel my anxiety and frustrations into other areas like home renovation projects (we move into our new home on June 11).  I did write a little bit about my health in Pink Ribbon Journey because, some of it was just too good not to share with the greater Fredericksburg parenting community.

My last blog post, Moving Forward, spoke of my friend and kick-ass drum-major, Amy who died from complications of breast cancer.  I have been following her parents (who defined the best band parents around) on Facebook as they journey across the country to honor Amy's memory by visiting places she loved.  It is such a beautiful and meaningful way to remember, to grieve, and to find peace.  Seeing these updates is a reminder of what Amy's family asked us to do as her time on earth was coming to an end -- to not put off what you want to say to your loved one, make that call, send that message, take that trip.

I imagine there have been some pretty tough times on this bucket list trip for Amy's parents - my respect for them is so very deep.  I've had quite a bit of reflection time these past couple of weeks because I've been helping out with state testing at the middle and high schools - it is so very quiet.  I'm inspired by their courage - in many ways, they are fighters too, warriors here on earth while Amy is forever our Angel Warrior.

I wasn't prepared to be diagnosed with cancer, I certainly wasn't prepared to die, and oddly, I wasn't prepared to survive either.  Living after cancer is a strange existence riddled with survivor guilt and other emotional and physical setbacks.  It's a weird cycle of I'm tired/ill of not really knowing why I still feel tired, but that's o.k., I just had cancer, so it's o.k. to still feel tired (but, secretly, I'm really angry and fearful for feeling this healthy version of sick and then feel guilty for feeling angry).  These feelings make it hard to feel like planning for the future, so I usually try to combat that feeling by listening to some music and connecting with some resources.  Getting involved with the community, in particular looking for ways to help with breast cancer fundraising, research, and support programs makes me see the bigger picture instead of just wallowing in my own situation.  I think that's the trick, to not make "objects larger than they appear."

If you know someone going through a trauma, I suggest contacting them weeks after a treatment, a loss, or other serious issue.  It's understandable that this time frame is sometimes forgotten because everyone thinks the person is doing fine, that the trauma is "over", but in reality, that is often when the person is most lonely, vulnerable, and fearful.  Think about reaching out when nobody else would think to and offer something specific to the friend.  Try to refrain from saying, "Just let me know if there is anything I can do to help", this puts responsibility back on the person and that actually can be even more stressful.  Take the extra steps, even if they are uncomfortable, to offer tangible help.

I love the Dalai Lama's concept of being motivated by love so that your actions are fearless and free.  This philosophy can certainly apply to just about every aspect of our global society.  But, I can't help but think that if I took the time to love and recognize my accomplishments more, I might not be as paralyzed by the guilt and fear that drives my actions or in so many cases, lack of actions.  Why do you suppose it's so hard to get out of guilt jail when you own the key!?!

(I look at this sign each time I volunteer at the hospital.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Moving Forward

Hi everyone,

Since being told that I was in remission last Thursday, I've been pretty overwhelmed with emotions of gratitude, disbelief, and, well, pride.  I don't think it's a bad thing to feel "proud" that you've accomplished something such as eliminating the signs of cancer in your body.  But, then, I was reminded, in a very personal way, that not everyone gets to experience that feeling.

As I was coming out of my painting class the following night, Friday, I got word that an old high school friend was fading fast.  Amy had bravely fought breast cancer for five years, but it just never wanted to let go of her.  I had talked with her via Facebook, especially since my diagnosis and just like in our high school days, she was a presence of toughness and great humor.  I always considered her an original, kick-ass, take-no- crap kind of woman.  It's really hard to reconcile losing someone like that from the landscape of our lives.

Sadly, when I woke up on Sunday morning at my mom's house in Vienna, I found out that Amy had died.  Seeing that, reading that kind of finality took my breath away.  The weather was getting pretty bad outside - snow and sleeting rain.  It's weird how the weather will either be gloomy to match that feeling of someone passing or be sunny to help you sense that God has made your loved one an angel.  Whatever you need from the weather, in that moment, Mother Nature will provide.

I know my mom just wanted me and the kids to get going back to Fredericksburg, but at the same time, she knew I had to get to church to see my sister and her kids, to possibly see friends who have known me since I was a child, and to say a prayer for Amy and her family.  I did all these things, and more, actually, because people were where I needed them to be when I needed them to be there.  I got to talk to our pastor and I had my own private concert while the choir was practicing and I prayed for Amy, I thanked her for teaching me how to live this life as a pink warrior.

Amy's family asked us all to make sure we take the time to reach out to those we love and I couldn't echo that sentiment more.  My writing The Daily Gin and Pink Ribbon Journey have been such important life lines for me to cope with the past year.  For my own recovery (and sanity), I will be taking a break from writing about my life as it relates to my health and will be focusing on some lighter writing pieces such as road trips with babies and toddlers and the lessons learned.  I hope you enjoy reading the blogs as much as I'm sure I'll enjoy writing them.

Thank you for your love and support and I look forward to sharing the next phase of my journey with you soon.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Mirror Mirror On The Wall

I remember teasing with my radiation techs that after all this poking and prodding, my boobs deserved a shopping spree.  I thought I'd make it fun and even did a poll on Facebook to see what brands of bras my friends would recommend.   I deserved a do-over, right?

Well, that was a mistake.  I wasn't ready.  Not even close.

Since May of last year, I've spent most of my time in either a sports bra or a sleeping bra; my nursing bras were just too comfortable to give up.  (Yeah, I'm that cliche of keeping maternity clothes).  My other "regular" bras have seen their days or have been ruined by the extreme amounts of Sharpie marks that were all over my chest for the 7 weeks of radiation.

I'll be the first to admit that any attention given to feeling "sexy" has probably not been at the forefront of my mind for quite some time (maybe even as far back as December 2011 when I had my car accident).  That lack or void that I feel can be incredibly difficult for me, Steve, and our marriage as a whole.  It's not a good feeling to have even in "normal" circumstances.  Some days, I feel like I'm damaged goods and I just wish that feeling would disappear.

I think I thought that buying new bras would magically bring the sexy back.

Then I saw myself in the dressing room - those things suck.  I'm an intelligent person and I know the lighting, the mirrors, all of it, is just bad.  But, yikes, was I so not ready for it.  I felt bad for the poor assistant (at the first store) who was trying to help me find a bra, but all she could see on my face was a mix of horror and sickness.  I'm glad my mom was with me to recognize that we probably needed to stop, purchase one bra, and try this "spree" another day.

Over a 3 week period, my mom and I went out exploring different bras.  Clearly, I can't be asking that much out of a bra.  It's me that has the work to do and that's just exhausting to think about when I've already expended a lot of energy.  I've made it through the tough parts of cancer treatments, so it's like I'm wanting time to just hurry up and do the work so that I will feel like myself again.

Whether it's wearing a sexy bra or getting my hair back, these extensions of vanity should probably mean nothing, but they mean just enough to make life hard sometimes.  As they say, it's the little things, and here's hoping I can get all these little things pieced back together to find Gin again.

(If you are interested in learning more about what I learned about bra fit and brands - check out my blog post at Fredericksburg Parent and Family Magazine.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Caregiver Guide - Thank you, Cellmates!

I am so very thankful for all the love and support that has come our way since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Everything, and I do mean every single gesture of kindness has meant the world to me and Steve (and the kids, even though, they don't quite understand why).  

When I've had the opportunity to spend time with people, whether it be in person or on the phone, Skype, gchat, etc. I was often asked what can they do to help during my chemo and radiation.  And some also ask, what shouldn't I do, what wouldn't be helpful?

So, I thought I'd offer you, from my experience, what you might consider doing (and not doing) if you ever are faced with supporting someone through cancer.

Let's start with the "think before you speak" stuff first.  Remember, every single person and the cancer that is in his or her body is different.  Diagnoses and treatments are truly all over the place these days.  Often times when people ask me about my cancer, it's natural for them to want to talk about a friend, family member, etc. that "had what you had."  I completely understand the need to do this, it's that urge to feel helpful that drives the telling of someone else's story, but by doing so, the conversation shifts away from the person standing in front of you...the person living with cancer in that moment.

When it comes to the desire to feed your friend, check first, the fridge and freezer can only hold so many lasagnas and really, who needs their children hyped up on the 6th dozen of cookies.  Also, be mindful of sending flowers.  I love them, but volunteering at the hospital has shown me that allergies or unexpected sensitivities can happen when your whole immune system is compromised. 

Now onto what I found beneficial to my journey.  I am so very thankful for getting gifts of all shapes and sizes and I know that many of these gifts also helped Steve tremendously.

1)  Mail:  I love getting texts, e-mails, Facebook posts, but snail mail offers a little something extra.  Greeting cards are just such an awesome pick-me-up.  This is a recent favorite of mine...

Inside it reads, "A friend like me would be in the next cell."  I have cards posted throughout the house and some have traveled with me to chemo.  Receiving mail has helped me to not only feel loved, but remembered.  

2)  Time:  The amount of time I have spent driving to, waiting in and receiving treatments in medical facilities equates to a job.  I was fortunate to have my mother join me for many of those hours and I know it helped - she can keep me laughing in just about any situation.  When a friend of ours offered some specific ideas and time frames for when she could come and take the kids off our hands, that was really helpful.  She took the pressure off of us trying to decide how to figure all that out.  That was such a great gift, being offered something specific and feeling empowered to accept that help.

3) Convenience:  Being provided meals was definitely helpful (again, offer something specific to see if it's needed).  Grocery gift cards and restaurant gift cards (ones with good carry-out/delivery service are nice) gave us flexibility as I became stronger and my appetite started to return to normal.  Also, it helped to feel "normal" to take the restaurant gift cards and have some family time out too.

4)  Comfort:  Something I have found to be rather common with cancer patients is that we take lots of baths during chemo.  I have received all kinds of wonderful bath salts, bombs, and moisturizing bubble baths.; lotions, lip balms, really anything that will help keep the skin moisturized is welcome.  As I was losing my hair, my head was quite sensitive.  I was fortunate that there were various free knit hats available to me at my doctor's office - they helped soothe my balding head at night.

My journey began on April 24, 2014 and as of January 21, 2015, I have completed the major milestones of surgeries, multiple scans and biopsies, chemo, and radiation.  July 9th is my next target date as that will be my last Herceptin infusion date.  I couldn't have managed this full-time job without the love and support of family and friends (old and new).

Thank you so much and know that I continue to fight each day knowing you are in that cell next to me.

Love, Gin

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Daily Gin is 1 year old

I've been having trouble today - or maybe it's today's date.  I felt pretty hopeful and content on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, but now that it's January 2nd, the reality of the new year and all the expectations I have for it are overwhelming me.

I had my infusion treatment today and sitting for a couple of hours, attached to an IV snaps you right back into your current existence; kind of ruined the YMCA-Uptown Funk-New Year's vibe I had going.  So, I'm not the best person to be around today.  Jack came into the bedroom saying, "Mom, we haven't seen you in awhile" and although I simply said to him, "yeah, I'm not feeling so great", I thought to myself, "mom is not in today."

I started this blog one year ago - January 1, 2014.

I said on that first post, "I write this blog with the hopes that a new year will inspire me to write about the important moments and catalysts that helped me get to my 40th year and share the new stories that hopefully get me 40 more years."

As I read this sentence, I just shook my head and laughed out loud; that sentence makes life and what you write about it sound so simple. Of course, it isn't.  Life is full of all kinds of messy unexpected complications and interruptions.

As my health was getting worse, I was really nervous about writing the blog.  I felt conflicted about what to write.  The Gin one year ago had an entirely different plan and now, this Gin, is living in an alternate universe with a uncharted course ahead of her.

Reflecting on this past year, I can (usually) recognize how much I (and Steve, Jack and Anna) have been through and accomplished.  It's a weird feeling to accomplish something you never wanted to do - no one really plans on having a cancer to-do list.

It's every accomplishment, no matter how big or small, that I know I need to be proud and thankful for.

So, I'm glad I kept writing and I thank you for reading.

I am also thankful for the Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine for adding me as a blogger this year. Please check it out at

Here goes year #2 - the toddler years.  Happy 2015.  Be kind to one another.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Unexpected Gifts

Since my last post, I've been trying my best to come out of the fog that was my last chemotherapy treatment. I think in some ways, looking ahead to the holiday season, my mind, body, and spirit were just not ready for it all.  I keep reflecting back to December 28, 2013, my 40th birthday.  It was a gorgeous day and my mom hosted such a beautiful party - it was so great to see family and friends come from near and far to celebrate. I look at this picture and I think how crazy my life became just 4 months later and how quickly 2014 has gone.

We headed to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving this year and I think the change of scenery was good for all four of us.  I know it was good for me, it was my first week since April that I didn't have any medical appointments.  The road trip and time with family was a good way for me to recharge my batteries, my can-do attitude that has gotten me this far.  I do, regardless of my current circumstances, have plenty to be thankful for and staying positive, accepting help, and helping others is how I've managed to cope (hopefully, this attitude has helped others deal with me!)  I'm glad I "met" someone to remind me of that.

We went to the Carnegie Musuems of Art and Natural History.  These, along with the Carnegie Science Center are excellent museums (Pittsburgh, despite some rumors, is a great place to visit).  We focused on exhibits that the kids would like and then we stumbled into one entitled, Maggie's Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care

Maggie Keswick Jencks was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer and died in 1995.  Because of her experiences as a cancer patient, she was determined to help people "not lose the joy of living in the fear of dying."  Even after given only months to live, she worked tirelessly with medical professionals, architects, and designers to create a different kind of support for cancer patients.

The first Maggie Centre opened in 1996 and focused on providing those diagnosed with cancer and their families a place to receive a variety of emotional and social services.  One visitor said, "Maggie's provided me with a refuge - a sanctuary - part of the real world but somehow detached.  The world hadn't changed but cancer had totally changed who I was and I needed help to learn how to live again."  Yes. That. Exactly.

As I walked through the exhibit, I was so energized by Maggie's spirit.  I couldn't wait to get home and read more about her and the centre.  No matter who you are, where you are, you can make a difference, big or small.  I am so very grateful to know that Maggie Keswick Jencks walked this earth.

Today is #GivingTuesday.  I hope my post inspires you to further research the causes that are near and dear to your heart and that you find a way, no matter the footprint, to help those in need.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson