The power of positivity

In June 2005, I was involved in a horrific car accident. I was the back seat passenger in a vehicle that flipped and despite wearing a seat belt, I was ejected out the back window. I cracked my head open and had slight bleeding in the brain but I survived. The driver of the vehicle, my husband’s brother Michael, did not survive. Shortly after the accident, I fell into a depression and began to suffer significantly with anxiety. I struggled with the fact that I had survived this accident and Michael did not. I suffered from migraines for a long time and, frankly, I didn’t feel worthy of survival. I spent a long time asking, Why me?

Looking back, one of the challenges that I created for myself was not opening up and talking about how I felt. I spoke openly about the accident but not about how it affected me inside. I internalized my feelings, which created a downward spiral. This was one of the most challenging, and darkest, times of my life.

One day, I woke up and decided that I wasn’t going to live that way anymore. I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself. I wasn’t going to waste my life away. I was going to create a life that was worthy of survival. It is not perfect. It certainly has its ups and downs. I make mistakes – regularly. But it is my life. I am here, able to live it. And for that, I am grateful.

I am often asked how I am remaining positive throughout this journey. Because I have seen the other side. I have seen what negativity and sadness and anger can do to a person – because I did it to myself. Could I spend the next year asking myself – why me? Absolutely. Would anyone fault me for doing just that? Probably not. But I’m not wasting my time on that. I refuse to let cancer own me. I refuse to let cancer bring me down that spiral.

It’s mind over matter for me – the power of positivity!

Dance Party!

My little man has recently discovered the joy of music. A few weeks ago, my baby sister (she’s in her twenties but is the baby of the family), her fiancé and my family were all seated outside of our favorite restaurant along Mosquito Lagoon. As we prepared to leave, my husband took little man’s hand and started walking ahead of us to show him the water. Halfway down the path, a band started to play on the stage outside. Little man stopped walking, dropped my husband’s hand and started dancing in the middle of the aisle. It was like he couldn’t control himself – music makes him dance!

Dancing has become a regular thing in our house. One of little man’s favorite activities is to walk up to the stereo, hit every button that he can reach and start dancing before the music even starts. Once the music starts, he shakes his little tush, wiggles his hips, claps his hands – whatever the music makes him feel like doing. Sometimes he smiles and laughs the whole time and other times he is concentrating hard on those moves. It doesn’t matter where he is or what he was in the middle of doing, music seems to stop him in his tracks. This always makes me smile and I can’t help but dance right along with him. I love it!

Too often, I get caught up in the day-to-day activities of life and routine. This is especially true during the week, when the hours after the work day seem to fly by and the to-do list doesn’t seem to end. These dance parties with my sweet boy allow me the chance to enjoy the moment. My husband and I, who both severely lack rhythm, stop whatever we’re doing and dance along with him. For a few minutes, the world around us pauses and we succumb to the vibes of the music that plays. It’s our own little dance party – and I love every minute.

When was the last time you danced, just because?

A picture is worth a thousand words…

A few years ago, well I think it was at least 5 years ago, if not longer, but the exact timing is lost on me, my grandma (my Dad’s mom) gave me a scarf. It wasn’t my birthday or a holiday. It was just a gift. She said she saw it and thought it was perfect for me. I thought it slightly odd at the time because of the design on the scarf, but kept it with the rest of my scarves ever since. I wore it once or twice a year to show support and it always made me feel a little closer to her.

My fabulously artistic friend, Seema – who created the symbol that defines Red Phoenix, is also a talented photographer (amazing, isn’t she?!). I was lucky enough to have her take maternity photos and even monthly photos of my little man to show his growth over the first year of his life. When she approached me about taking pictures before beginning treatment, I was on the fence. I wasn’t sure if it would be harder to take pictures than not. Did I really want to see the “me” before beginning treatment? Would I want to look at them again? What do they really represent?

I decided to do it – if for nothing more than to draw closure on the person that I was before treatment. Before this battle. Before beating cancer.

My big sister bought a dress for her honeymoon almost a decade ago. It was perfectly themed for her Hawaii vacation and she looked amazing in it. So amazing, that the other 3 sisters began “borrowing” it regularly ever since. We joke that it is the “sisterhood of the traveling dress” because it is regularly passed between New York, Georgia and Florida. The dress happened to be in my closet this past weekend and it seemed like the perfect choice for these pictures.

Taking the pictures was fun. We decided to return to where Seema took our maternity photos, which also happens to be my happy place – the beach. The sun was just about to set and little man wanted to jump in the water and splash around, which he did despite being clothed. We wore green since it was Saturday and that’s what we do on Saturdays now. Little man was dressed in his TMNT outfit – our little superhero.

The night was breathtakingly beautiful and the weather was perfect despite it being the middle of summer in Florida. Seema snapped away and kept us laughing the whole time, which helped to keep the tone of the evening light and fun.

The picture taking wasn’t as emotional as I had anticipated. There weren’t any tears and it seemed like a nice walk on the beach with a great friend (plus the addition of a camera).

Until I saw the pictures. I cried. A lot. She captured everything that I am feeling, as a person and as a family, in these pictures. It’s as if she could reach in and expose my inner self through her lens.

I’ve shared some of the pictures in this post. Simply because I think the images that Seema was able to capture speak volumes. Enjoy!

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I am blessed

As I pack my bag in preparation for tomorrow and kiss my sweet little man good night, I feel blessed. For so many reasons.  In ways that I cannot begin to comprehend or adequately express.

I have found the love of my life and am lucky enough to call him my husband.

I have the gift of a son, who keeps me on my toes and never ceases to amaze me with his love and sense of wonder.

I have a MASSIVE team of family and friends cheering me on and rallying for me to beat this.

I am surrounded by love and support everywhere I turn.

I have the ability to obtain treatment by an incredible team of people, who I trust have my best interest – and my life – in mind.

I have the beach in my (almost) backyard, where I can go and wash away all the cares of the world just by watching the waves and hearing the ocean.

I know I will beat this.

Because I am blessed.

You never know

Today the official countdown begins. My port will be put in place on Tuesday and chemotherapy treatment will begin next Thursday. One week. Someone told me today that I seemed calm, considering what the next week will bring.

I made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish before I begin treatment – a shopping list of things that will make managing the side effects easier, prescriptions to pick up, blood work, etc. While treatment will not be disabling, it will be uncomfortable and I want to accomplish what I can ahead of time to make life easier once it starts.

The prep work that goes into treatment takes up a lot of time. I’ve lost count of the doctor appointments already, plus the scans that are needed and the phone calls and the paperwork. Experiencing so much in such a short amount of time has given me exposure to a lot of people. My doctors and nurses are amazing – truly incredible. They have embraced me, reassured me and answered questions that I didn’t know I had. The overwhelming majority of interactions that I have had in recent weeks have been pleasant, if not wonderful. These interactions have made the experience just a little easier, whether it was through a laugh over the phone, a pleasant smile or the reassurance that I am making the right decision. They have been through this with other patients before me and understand the toll it can take.

There were a few occasions that went against this norm. People that seemed unhappy in general and spoke to me as a number or the “next in line” rather than a person – a person facing a life altering battle. It generally catches me off guard, when I encounter someone like this. I am ashamed to admit that on one occasion I responded to such a person with, “I have cancer. I just need your help to make this happen.” She helped, without further hesitation.

I learned today that two people I interact with daily are facing their own battles, similar to mine, and have been for many years. They are both strong, happy people who always greet me with a smile. Yet I had no idea that they were experiencing something so similar to me. You never know the challenge that someone is facing.

Maybe I am calm. Maybe I am taking this better than expected. I won’t put my life on hold for this. I won’t let it consume me. I won’t let it cause me to be unhappy. I won’t let it give me an excuse to be mean to other people.

I will continue to greet each person that I meet with a smile. I will continue to be kind. I will continue to treat others as I hope they will treat me. Because you don’t know the battle that person is facing. You don’t know the lives you may be impacting. You don’t know the way your smile may brighten someone’s day.

What’s in a name, anyway?

Last week I visited family. While one of my best friends was talking to me, she said my name. My nephew, who’s 6, quickly corrected her. He informed her that she was saying my name wrong and proceeded to correct her.

“MEGhan. Not MAYgen,” he repeated.

My friend played along and tried to say my name correctly but each time she started talking to me again, he would pipe up that she was saying it wrong. This made me smile.

Eleven years ago, I had the exact same conversation with my husband’s brother, Mike (that says something about my maturity at the time, huh?).

“It’s MEGhan. MEG. Not MAYgen,” I would say over and over again.

“Right, that’s what I said,” he would counter.

As much as he tried, “Meghan” just wasn’t happening.

“I’m just gonna call you Red. It works,” he said, pointing at my strawberry blonde hair.

And thus, Red was born. Many people at the time didn’t know me as anything other than Red. I was introduced as Red and answered to Red. I never thought twice about it.

When Mike passed away suddenly, being known as Red faded. It became a fondness that I looked back on and a memory that I would never forget. I still treasure the nickname because it represents a time in my life when I was fearless and free. It is a moment in time that I have captured and that reminds me to be me.

I told my husband during our family visit that I wanted to start a blog to discuss my journey but couldn’t decide on a name; an identity. I tossed around a few ideas, all of which had “Red” in it. My husband didn’t even hesitate.

“Red Phoenix. You are going to rise up and beat this. This is you.” He said as we drove. I smiled.

It was perfect.

Just as Red holds special meaning to me from a decade ago, so will Phoenix in time. It represents the person that I am now and the person that I will be.

I will rise up from this.

I will conquer this.

I am Red Phoenix.