It ends with good news…

This weekend has been a little rough. I mentioned the other day that I’m incredibly exhausted. It hit me hard this week, which could be because this week back to work, and all aspects of life, was chock-full.

The right side of my back has been bothering me for a few days. It’s not horrible but it hurts. I am getting a chest xray next week though, so I’m not too concerned for now.

So then I woke up before the sun did on Saturday with insane heartburn. I had it horribly bad with chemo in 2015 and radiation last year but this time might take the cake. Just like before, it hurts in my esophagus as if I have burning actually in that area. It almost feels like a pill or 10 got stuck. So I started back up on my medications from before and Googled whether or not it is a side effect of Afinitor. It’s not, which is surprising. Something like 17000ish people were asking about their side effects and 7 of them reported heartburn. I’m gonna go with no… 😉

Anyway, so then Joe & my mom both mentioned the same issue – ridiculously painful heartburn. Joe even takes medicine for it and it’s not helping. So as much as it sucks, we are hoping that perhaps it is just something that we ate and will go away in another day. Otherwise, I I’ll be asking my oncologist before vacation.

So between exhaustion and heartburn, I’ve spent most of the weekend in bed. I feel as though I could sleep for days. I’m curious when they take my blood on Wednesday if they will require a transfusion or not. Perhaps there is something else that they could give me to help…who knows. We shall see this week!

Anyway, so then there’s my tumor markers. They were drawn this week and I debated on whether or not I wanted to see them. It’s a rather hard decision because I am cautiously optimistic of this Afinitor and afraid that seeing the numbers continue to go up will hurt. I debated on whether or not knowing is worth it if my numbers are still rising. A true struggle, right?

In the end, wanting to know won. I kept touching my neck and wondering if I’m not touching the right area and maybe it’s actually still swollen. Or maybe it’s the essential oils that are helping the cancer on my skin. Or maybe a hundred other things. And do I want to go on vacation wondering if this is the last one I’ll ever take?

I decided that I needed to know if this drug is working because I want to tell my son that our next cruise will be just as incredible…and know that I am telling him the truth.

I had my tumor markers taken when I had pleural effusion and my CEA was 11.4 and my Cancer Ag 15-3 was 23.3 on December 19th. It was up from November 30th, when my CEA was 8.7 and my CANCER AG 15-3 was 18.3.

My Cancer Ag 15-3 has always been within the normal range (under 31.3) but it has always gone up and down with treatment and progression. My CEA though has always been a solid indicator for me (anything under 3 is considered normal).

On January 5th, my CEA was 10.2 and my Cancer Ag 15-3 was 17.5. 
They went down. Yes, it’s just a little. Yes, my CEA is still high. But they are down now. And they were climbing in December. 

Down. They are down.

Oh, this makes my heart smile. I know things can change in an instant and with cancer they often do. But right now, my numbers are down. This treatment, though not standard for me, may actually be working. 

I may be number 2.

Happy Sunday to that, my friends. 😙

Spreading the love…

Imagine yourself walking down the beach and finding a decorative stone or two. You look at it and smile – the sentiment bringing warmth to your heart. “Believe”, “Wish”, “Love”. You keep walking but leave the stone behind. A few feet further and you find another. The color catches your eye this time and you can’t help but pick it up. Perhaps it’s the Red Phoenix (😉). Perhaps it’s a heart. Maybe a beautiful word of “Hope”. Whatever image is there, you hold that stone and stare deeply at it. You feel the love that went into each stroke and the tears begin the fall. Walking away, you take the stone with you…feeling it’s presence, the love that it filled you with. It is exactly what you were looking for that morning. It was exactly what you needed to find.

My aunt and her family have started creating these amazing stones. She walks regularly in a beach up north and finds beach stones along the way. Her family collects them and brings them home to paint and leave behind at their next visit. She even recently started making small chemo bags out of burlap sacks and painting rocks to match tick-tack-toe boards to give away.

Such an incredible gesture of selflessness, kindness and pure LOVE. I wanted to share this moment with you all. It brought me to tears and I love seeing the pictures of her and her family creations. They wrap themselves up in the love that they find each and every single day. I don’t think I could be more proud. Team Red Phoenix! 💚

The rule of 3?

On the radio this morning, the conversation was around things happening in 3’s. The radio hosts were discussing things that had happened to each of them recently that added up to 3 total occurences, typically bad or unpleasant things. My mind immediately wandered to high school, when I can recall my best friend making that very comment of “bad things happen in 3’s, that’s two, what’s next?” It always added up.

I began thinking about the last two weeks of my life. I have had a truly incredible couple of weeks filled with amazing and fun memories that I will never forget. But there were in fact three separate instances of unpleasant, rather significant, occurences. It has me a little exhausted and a bit ready to yell – enough! – at the universe. That being said, I typically try to find the good or positive things in every situation. I believe that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t know the reasoning just yet. And perhaps we never will. Maybe the universe is trying to change someone else’s life and we are simply a catalyst or a means for that change to occur.

So I’m curious tonight. Have you had an encounter of something(s) in your life happening in 3’s? Was there a positive outcome in the end? Please share, I’m anxious to hear about your experiences! 

Today’s firsts

When my husband and I bought our house years ago, I was super excited for each holiday in it. Since it was our first home purchase, I wanted every holiday to be celebrated within our walls. We hosted each event and took pictures of every detail to create a scrapbook of our first year. When our son was born, this first year of excitement was amplified. Every holiday we decorated, did arts & crafts and celebrated that it was the first of many to come. Each milestone brought pictures and smiles (and books!) and traditions that we were determined to create for our little man. All of the firsts were filled with pure joy and lots of passion. Each day felt as though it brought new excitement.

Though it’s still early in the day, today has been a great day so far! After surgery, I wasn’t able to do much. Each day showed improvement but in general, the everyday tasks were not possible. Thankfully, I have an incredible husband and support system that has continued to help throughout this journey.

Today though…today was a day of firsts for me.

  • I woke up in my very own bed. I have spent the last 2 weeks sleeping in the recliner in our living room. My sweet husband has spent every night next to me on our couch, often with little man snuggled in next to him. But not last night! I am still sleeping at an angle and mostly upright but just being in our bed was wonderful. I was surrounded by a sea of pillows, my warm comforter and my husband by my side. I was even able to get up into it and out of it all on my own!
  • Morning snuggles. Little man woke up in the middle of the night and Joe brought him into bed with us. After waking up this morning, Jacob cuddled up next to me and snuggled into the nook under my right arm. I haven’t had those sweet morning snuggles in two weeks. My goodness, how I missed them.
  • I unloaded the dishwasher. Though this is a relatively mundane task and often something I dread when coming home from work or waking up in the morning, I did this with a smile today. It is the little things in life that bring the purest joy and today’s joy had to do with being able to handle my own dishes.
  • I made breakfast – not just for me but for Joe too! Despite growing up with Chef Dad, I am not an excellent cook. Sadly the knack doesn’t reside in me, save for a few recipes that I have mastered over time. Today though, I made breakfast that consisted of roasted potatoes, bacon and eggs. Simple? Yes. Easy? Usually. The first I’ve made food for myself since surgery and therefore super exciting? Yes!

These firsts may not be things that I ever expected to get excited about but today, they made me smile ear to ear. I am tired despite the early hour and will probably go nap soon but I will enjoy this moment of progress for just a little while.

Today’s thoughts

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When I first started this blog, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure how my posts would be received or if anyone would care to read what I had to say. I took the plunge anyway, knowing in my heart that it was something I needed to do. I have been pleasantly surprised by the continued positive response that I have received.

Today I noticed that my Facebook page has 250 followers. How cool is that?! This prompted me to look at the stats for my blog site and I was shocked to see them! Since starting this blog, I have had over 20,000 views and over 8,000 visitors – WHAT?! I never imagined that I would reach that many people or that so many of them would come back again to read what I have to say.

Though this journey was unexpected and has had its share of ups and downs, I am grateful for the experience and for what it has taught me along the way. I have grown in more ways than I can account for…as a person, as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, as a woman, as a friend.

Life does not always go according to plan and as a self-proclaimed controller (eek!), I have learned that there are some things that need to be left to God and others that I need to embrace & fight with all that I have in me. Knowing that I am now cancer free is a reminder that I have done just that.

Though I do not know what the future holds, what I do know is that I am grateful for today. I gladly welcome each morning that I open my eyes and have the opportunity for a fresh start to a new day. I am grateful for my beautiful family and incredible friends, who have loved me unconditionally throughout this entire journey. And I am thankful for the new friendships that have formed along the way. From within my community and across the world, people have continued to support me and share their love and prayers for me and my family.

My heart is full. To all of the people that have followed my journey, whether from the very first day or just recently, I thank you.

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The lonely Herceptin

It was odd going to treatment today. I didn’t need to bring a bag of fun with me to occupy my time, just a book to read. My appointment was a little later in the day, unlike the usual 745am that we need to be there. I was able to check a few things off my pre-surgery to-do list while trying to drink enough water to hydrate myself in preparation for treatment.

The infusion center was running a little behind today, which I didn’t mind much. One of my fellow warriors, a woman I look up to for her strength, courage and kind heart, was also at the treatment center today for an infusion. It was great to see her and give her a nice big hug while waiting to be called.

Joe was with me today, as he always is. My biggest supporter and the man who gives me strength daily throughout this journey. I don’t know how I ever got so lucky to have him by my side for life.

My blood work looked great, which was good to hear. Thankfully, I was lucky that my blood work remained in the good “low” range throughout the first 6 treatments. I received a little hydration while waiting for the blood work results and then for the pharmacy to fill the Herceptin request. Herceptin is the drug that is blocking the HER2 receptors in my body, therefore prohibiting the cancer from growing.  I will continue to receive it every 3 weeks through September.

I was excited that my Herceptin was given in just 30 minutes today!! The first treatment it was given over 90 minutes and the subsequent 5 treatments it was given over 60 minutes, so I was anticipating the 60 minutes again. The gradual decrease in time is done to ensure my body doesn’t react negatively to the Herceptin. What a difference that 30 minutes made, the time flew by once the Herceptin was started.

I feel pretty good so far. It’s a nice feeling to not be dreading the next few days and how I would feel if it were a full round of treatment. I’m quite tired and took a nap as soon as I arrived at home. I felt a little nauseous but took medicine to help. I’m curious to see if I have any noticeable side effects over the next few days but either way I know it will be easier compared to what I’ve been through so far.

Since today was my first Herceptin only treatment, I thought I’d share a few photos from my last treatment – when I was able to ring the bell. I was blessed to have my husband, my baby sister and my friend by my side that day – not to mention all of the incredible nurses at the infusion center. These pictures are a nice reminder of how far I’ve come on this journey.

The new countdown

Two weeks from today I will have surgery. I have been thinking about how this countdown to surgery feels similar to the prior countdown, and yet different. The first phase of this journey is complete and though there are still more phases before this journey ends, I still feel an odd sense of calm.

I was starting to feel the pressure of the looming surgery and all of the things that I want to get done ahead of time. It started to make me feel a little frantic and a bit nervous. My mind wandered a little and the fear crept in…but I reminded myself it’ll be ok. I can’t solve for everything but I can prepare. For me, that means that I’ve made my lists of things to get done prior to February (and started tackling those to-dos!), began the necessary paperwork for surgery and ordered a few books to catch up on reading.

I know recovery is going to be tough and I am dreading the pain/discomfort, the inability to lift and not sleeping in my own bed…but this is one surgery. (I will have reconstruction later in the year but it shouldn’t be as intense as this.) It isn’t 6 treatments that knock me on my butt for a week or more at a time, just to do it all over again once I start feeling better. It isn’t 1 day with 5 more looming behind it.

Yes, it is major surgery. Yes, it will be emotional. Yes, it will take time to heal. BUT I will heal – in so many ways.

Every day I will heal.

Every day I will get stronger.

Every day it will hurt a little less.

Every day I will be one step close to picking up my little man.

Every day will be one closer to my husband hugging me as tight as he can.

And every day I am one step closer to being completely done with this phase.

So I am ready for this countdown to begin, for the clock to start. Because at the end of it, I will be cancer free.

To friendships

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On the street I grew up on lived a girl my age named Liz. We lived just a few houses down from each other and grew up the best of friends. We played outside together until the street lights came on, walked to the bus stop together and car pooled to school together. Even after high school, we continued to hang out regularly. When I decided to move to Florida, she offered to take the road trip with me and help move me down.

So the day after Christmas 2004, we loaded up her gold cavalier with as much of my stuff as we could fit in it. We even managed a little room for her suitcase! We drove straight through, only stopping for bathroom breaks and snacks – each hour of the drive the temperature rose a little more. The following day, we arrived in the beautiful sunshine of Florida. We unloaded the car, took a nap and then headed out to explore the new city that I would call home. It is a great memory of mine that I will always hold in my heart.

Over the years, Liz & I stayed in touch but not as frequently as we had in the past…until a few years ago when she moved to Florida. Though she moved to the Gulf side opposite of me, we have traveled to see each other and even met halfway in between over the years.

This past weekend, Liz and her fiancé traveled to our side of the state. We spent the weekend catching up, laughing about old times and dreaming about what our futures hold. It was a wonderful weekend that mixed a bit of my childhood in New York with a lot of my life in Florida with an old friend.

We spent time at the beach (where else?!) and while the boys fished, Liz & I watched Jacob stare in awe at the dolphins swimming about. Jacob even had some fun with his own fishing pole while the sun set in the distance. Such a fun weekend!

Life continues to inspire me. Moments like this, spent with an old friend reminds me of how much I have been blessed to experience in my life – and how many incredible people I have had by my side through it all. To friendships – old and new – may your life be forever blessed with them. Have a wonderful Monday everyone!

My sanity

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When I was pregnant, I had a large spiral notebook that accompanied me on a daily basis. It went to every doctor’s visit, every ultrasound and all of the classes. I used it to keep track of the things I needed to accomplish, the items left to purchase and the research I did throughout pregnancy. Once Jacob was born, I often looked back on those notes to find an answer to a question that I had or to jot down the questions that I had for an upcoming checkup. I still have the notebook now, though I don’t use it like I once did. I smile when I happen to glance at it, knowing all of the scribbles and love it is filled with.

Though the yellow spiral is no longer my go-to notebook, it has been replaced by multiple notebooks. I’ve mentioned chemo fog before, and I promise to spend more time on it in a future post, but I had no idea how real it was until I was in the thick of it. I consider myself a relatively organized person and I now find myself needing to write down everything to keep my head straight. Setting aside work hours, my weeks are filled with follow-up phone calls, checking on claims, (re)submitting documentation, scheduling (and rescheduling) appointments and trying to figure out who I need to call next. And that’s just for me! Then there’s the day-to-day activities of bill paying, little man’s checkups (and surgery consults) and everything in between. Life is quite busy and I need a way to keep it all straight.

So, I turn to notebooks. I have a notebook for each activity in my life. The ones that you see pictured are the ones that I touch almost every day. Two are filled with notes about the two weddings that I’m blessed to be a part of this year, one contains the ins-and-outs of everything that is cancer related (and has lots of post-its for easy access to the parts I need often), one for little man’s adventures, one that is filled with writing specific to my cancer experience, one that is filled with ideas that I have for the book that I want to write….and that doesn’t include the planner that I carry in my purse to keep track of the appointment times and locations. I try to put it all in my phone but sometimes it’s easier to see it on paper.

It’s a lot…but it keeps me sane. All of it. I write it all down so that I can clear it from my head and yet go back to it later and be able to recall the conversation or the outcome. I carry them with me so that I can grab one to jot down a note or two when it comes to me.

I’m anxious for the day that I will be able to look back on the cancer notebook and no longer need it – the appointments and the labs and the claims no longer needed. Though, I don’t think I will keep it around to remember fondly like my yellow spiral notebook…I think I may have to burn it. That doesn’t count as burning literature, right?


The Love Jar Project


They are complete! Although simple in their design, I hope that they will have a positive impact on the lives of those who take them.

Joe & I were not alone in this creation -they are made by Team Red Phoenix! The jars and fabric were both donated and my amazingly artistic friend painted the Red Phoenix symbol on them (which she created). She switched the ribbon out for other types of cancer too!  Even the stickers were bought with money donated just for these jars.

Each Love Jar is filled with sheets of folded paper.  Every piece of paper has a sentence or two that is meant to inspire positivity and hope.  Joe and I cut each saying, folded it and tucked it into the jar for someone to enjoy.

I am thrilled that one was taken almost immediately! I cannot wait to see how long it takes before I need to make more. I just love that they have the potential to brighten someone’s day, when they may need a smile.

If you are reading this and have one of the Love Jars – YAY!! Welcome!  Please share your thoughts on what it is like to have one. I would love to hear from you!

Spread the love, my friends!