A great day to be alive!

Some days I wake up with a song in my heart.  Today’s song is “It’s a great day to be alive”.  This song has always made me smile and I have lots to smile about today.

-Treatment number 5 has begun! While this week was a little crazy, I am glad to be here today. I have made it to the 5th treatment, something that seemed so far away in August.  The fact that I am here today means that I am almost done with this part of the journey!

-Tomorrow brings two of my sisters and one of my nephews! Yay! Although it isn’t a carefree weekend of festivities, it is time with my family to laugh and smile.  That, in itself, makes me feel better.

-I’m going to beat this. My best friend messaged me yesterday and told me that this treatment is going to be one of the hardest because it is going to be the one that takes over the cancer and kills it off, making progress on this tumor & lymph nodes. Ya know what? I believe her. And with all of the people supporting me this weekend, even if it is the hardest one, I know I’ll get through it.

-I dropped off the Love Jars today!!! It took a little longer than I anticipated but I was so excited to drop them off this morning. Everyone loves them and within 30 minutes, someone had already taken one. Yay!  I hope it brightens someone’s  day the way it brightens mine.  I’ll post pictures later!

-At the end of this year, I’ll be able to ring the bell to indicate that I am done with this portion of treatment! Just typing those words brings tears to my eyes!  How awesome is that?!

-Did I mention I won’t be sick on Christmas? My 6th treatment will be the Monday after, which means I should feel good that day!

So today, my friends, is indeed a great day to be alive! Enjoy this beautiful day  and hug someone you love for me today.

New traditions

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Over the years, Thanksgiving has taken on many different forms.  When I was a child, my family would sometimes spend the weekend in Rhode Island & Connecticut with my father’s side of the family. All of the cousins would stay up late the night before, sharing stories and giggles. We would sleep in on Thanksgiving morning and wake up just in time for appetizers at noon. The adults would sit at the main table and the kids would have their own table or two.  We would eat all day, having second and even third dinner, with naps & snuggles on the couch in between.

Other years, my family would spend the day with my mother’s side of the family. We would all gather at my grandparents house for dinner promptly at noon. There were so many aunts, uncles and cousins that we ate buffet style. We would line up with our plates and serve ourselves heaping helpings of food and then sit wherever we could find the room. Sometimes the table, sometimes the couch and sometimes the stairs going up to the second floor.

The first Thanksgiving after I met Joe, he wasn’t planning on celebrating the day because his family was in Florida. Him and his roommate were going to stay home and order a pizza. I immediately invited them to my grandparent’s house and after a little hesitation, they both agreed. “The Joe’s”, as my uncles called them (something they laughed at for years), were welcomed into my family gathering without question.

After moving to Florida, we spend the first few Thanksgivings at my in-laws, with the exception of the year we bought our house when we hosted for the first time ever.

The last four years though, we have taken on a new tradition that has been named the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza. It started with my younger sisters coming to spend their first Thanksgiving in Florida with the windows open and wearing tank tops. This first year was also the infamous year that I dropped the freshly baked apple pie that my little sister made for dessert. The following year, we decided to head to Georgia and experience a cooler fall Thanksgiving, where we were able to bundle up and snuggle to keep warm in the chilly air.

Last year, my baby sister and her (now) fiance traveled back to Florida to spend little man’s first Thanksgiving with us. Jacob, despite only eating milk at the time, was the head of the table (something that seems rather fitting!).

This year, we caught an amazing sale on plane tickets early in the year and we are back in the beautiful late fall that Georgia offers. Though, instead of celebrating today, we are waiting until tomorrow so that my soon-to-be brother-in-law can join us. Today, he is in uniform protecting this wonderful city.  Tomorrow ee will join his aunt & uncle, who are kindly hosting us in their home for a feast and celebration.

So today, though we won’t have turkey and fixings, we are thankful. We are thankful for all of the amazing Thanksgivings that we been blessed to have, for the incredible family & friends who love and support us more than we could ever have imagined, for it being a “good” week that allows us the ability to travel and eat well, for this gorgeous fall weather, for each other and for each year that brings a new spin to our Thanksgiving traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy this beautiful day with loved ones! I’d love to hear what traditions you share!

A girl needs to have a little fun!

A few months ago I purchased an eyebrow conditioning serum to help with my thinning eyebrows. When it arrived, I excitedly opened the package and read the instructions  (yes, I do that!). The fine print stated that it had not been tested for use by patients undergoing chemotherapy. Sigh. Not wanting to take the risk without asking, I emailed my oncology nurse. She stated she needed to do more research and asked me not to use it for now. She also shared with me that there is a program called Look Good, Feel Better that would help me learn how to do makeup while undergoing treatment. It would also help teach about how to wear head wraps and wigs. I googled and read about the program and decided to sign up.  I am not a fashionista by any means, so I need all the help that I can get. Especially now!

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending. I had anticipated that it would be a room full of people and not a whole lot of one on one time. My goodness, was I wrong! There were 3 of us lovely ladies, a cosmotologist who has been volunteering with the program for over 17 years and the coordinator. We were each given a bag of goodies, filled with makeup for each step of the makeup wearing process (apparently there’s an art to this makeup wearing stuff!). We were taught, hands on and even with demonstration help, how to apply all of the makeup. The cosmotologist gave us tips and explained why we should do certain things a certain way (like only using disposable tools while in treatment to avoid infection while the immune system is down).

The makeup bags fit our skin tone (light for me, please!) and a lot of the goodies forced us out of our comfort zone – like wearing lip liner and pink lipstick, something I would never be brave enough to do on my own.

After the makeup fun, we were taught how to easily tie some head wraps and how to bulk them up to make them look like an accessory and not a cover-up.  Next, was wigs. We all had some fun with wigs and totally ventured out of our comfort zones.

It was a great experience and a lot of fun! It was more than I ever expected from the event. And while the free goodies and wig were awesome, the best part of the experience was spending time with these women.  The 3 of us each had cancer of varying forms and stages but we didn’t need to talk about that. We learned about how to feel better about ourselves through the art of cosmotology. We didn’t talk about the side effects in a negative way but instead focused on how to help those side effects by using things like moisturizers and foundation. And we had fun!

This is a nationwide program and is FREE to anyone currently undergoing treatment for cancer. I strongly encourage anyone undergoing treatment to look into this program in your area and sign up if you can.  The time spent with these ladies was priceless!

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So. Much. Love.

When I was a little girl, I loved to write letters. In between visits, my cousins and I would write back and forth to each other. During summer breaks, my closest friends and I would write to each other every few days; often making our own envelopes out of another sheet of paper. Sometimes we would fill them with confetti, which would cause quite a mess when opened! We would even look up the address to hotels and send letters to each other during family vacations. I remember excitedly checking the mail each day in anticipation of the arrival of a new letter addressed to me. There is just something so wonderful about receiving mail.

Although Jacob doesn’t know it yet, I’ve started (try) to pass along this love of letter writing to him. Each holiday, and every vacation, we send him a letter or post card. The letters usually have $1 in it and we share with him a few thoughts, words of wisdom or an event that occurred. We address it to him and mail it out – many times from our own mailbox. They are sealed and stored in a memory box for him to open sometime. We even did this when I was pregnant – addressed to “Baby”.

Where we live now, there aren’t mailboxes (in the typical sense) at each house but instead a large, metal mail box at the end of each road for all of the houses on that street. Typically, it takes a few days for us to check it because it isn’t right in front of our house. Since beginning this journey though, it has become a nightly tradition for us – something that I look forward to doing together. Jacob is strapped into his Radio-Flyer tricycle and we take a family walk to the mailbox together. Most days, that metal box is filled with a letter or a card or a package. Someone reaching out to send their love, their thoughts, their prayers or a surprise gift to let us know that they are thinking of us and that we are not alone in this journey.

Twice this week my husband returned from picking up little man with a gift for me; the first a gift basket filled with goodies from coworkers to remind me how strong I am and today an embroidered tote from daycare filled with goodies to keep me comfortable during treatment. This week, which is the hardest one for us, we have also been given a meal each night so we don’t have to cook.

And the list doesn’t end there – the calls, the texts, the fundraiser, the visits to see us, the prayers. So. Much. Love.

Writing this out, I can’t help but cry. I like to think that words come easy for me when writing but I don’t think I can properly express how much all of your kindness means to us. This is, by far, the most challenging, life-altering journey that we have ever been on and you have all done so much to help us through this. Each and every one of you. We are so humbled and so incredibly blessed with all of your love. There are so many different ways that one can demonstrate kindness, love and support…and I feel like we have seen every single possible way.

A dear friend said to me, “Our prayer is that this helps you and your family, even if it’s just a little.” Oh, but a little it is not. It is so much bigger than that.

Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Losing time

The morning following the accident that I mentioned previously, I woke up unsure of where I was or what happened. I knew that I needed to ask about Joe & Mike somehow but the details of that night are lost somewhere deep in my mind. I once pursued the possibility of hypnosis to recall those memories but eventually decided that my brain was hiding them for a reason. The moment in time is lost on me.

Though the effects of treatment on my memory aren’t quite as severe as that, it is my closest correlation to the time I seem to lose during chemo. The week of treatment is a period of slight chaos as we try to ready ourselves for the upcoming week.  Trying to catch up on passed due chores, paying bills, and organizing our life the best that we can. It is necessary for my own peace of mind to know that our household responsibilities are ready to be put last for at least a week.  While the world continues around me, I am at a standstill while recovering. 

We have been incredibly blessed to have family travel from out of state to help care for me during each treatment, in addition to the help we have received locally through meals and help with little man.

My sweet husband has been a sense of strength for me throughout this, as he cares for all of the day to day responsibilities to keep our home – and our life – afloat during these times.

So while we ready ourselves for the big day tomorrow (number 4!!!), I am reminded that each moment that I feel good is a blessing and that I am one step closer to recovery.

Date day

Back in the early 90s (eek!), I was totally obsessed with the band Boyz II Men. I received their CD for Christmas and listened to it in my bedroom at night on repeat in my new CD player and headphones. Despite the skipping because I played it so much, End of the Road was my absolute favorite!

Every year, Boyz II Men plays at a free concert called Eat to the Beat. Every year we plan to go but something comes up and our plans change. This year we decided we were going no matter what!  We took the day off work and headed out there, not realizing that a few thousand other people did the same thing (It’s a Monday!).  We quickly learned that there were no seats! Eek! Knowing it was totally our fault, we asked one of the coordinators if there was any way for us to see the show. She explained there wasn’t and asked if we could go Tuesday or Wednesday instead. We explained that it was our only day off and that I had treatment Thursday.  She stepped away and came back to share they they would find us 2 seats!!!  My goodness, she made my day!!

So we headed to the concert and it was AWESOME!  They played many of their top hits, including my favorite!  Talk about a blast from the past.  What a great concert.

The day itself was wonderful. Though we missed little man like crazy, we knew he was having a blast with Grandma & Grandpa. It was nice to have a little time together as husband and wife before next treatment comes.

Have a wonderful Tuesday, friends!

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So I cried today

Years and years ago, I was chatting with my best friend about needing an outlet to cry. I wasn’t upset or sad or angry, I just needed a good cry. She recommended the movie The Notebook, which I had never seen. I immediately purchased it and watched. I bawled my eyes out. My goodness, I cried! It was a sad cry, an angry cry, a happy cry and a fulfilling cry. It was exactly what I needed. That movie is typically my go-to for a good cry now.

This morning, I woke up to a Facebook post to me that was inspiring and thoughtful about life. Then I watched a video that someone shared with me. It was a sweet little girl singing to her mother, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer. I bawled my eyes out. I cried – hard. Everything about it brought me to tears and made me start reflecting on my own life.

Cancer sucks. It does. It sucks. It’s painful, exhausting, emotionally draining, time consuming, terrifying and about a million other words. But I try really hard to stay strong. It is what it is and I can’t change it. But I can fight it – and that is what I am doing with all of my being. But it’s not just me fighting this horrible disease. It is my husband, my son, my family, my friends – the entire Red Phoenix community. Everyone who is impacted and chooses to fight alongside of me. I am not alone in this.

Every single day of this battle, I am shown an act of love, kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness. My husband in the way he cares for our home and our son. My family, who puts everything aside to drive / fly down and take care of me during treatment. My in-laws, who watch our son and bring us meals. My family & friends, who send cards and packages and kind words and bring meals to feed us and so many other amazing things. People that I haven’t spoken to in years, who reach out to let me know they are thinking of me and praying for me.

So I cried today. I cried for all of the good great things that I have in my life – all of the incredible people that I am so grateful and so blessed to know.  It was exactly what I needed.

Tomorrow

The days leading up to treatment are bittersweet. Food tastes better, the weather is more appealing, the minutes seem to matter more and the days seem to move too quickly. Yet there is a list of to-dos that haven’t been done and treatment approaches too quickly. The anxiety that I feel is a mixture of “I don’t want to do this again” and “Let’s get it over with!” You can imagine the battle in my head.

I have spent many days in my life waiting for tomorrow. These tend to be happy occasions – Payday is tomorrow! Or – We leave for vacation tomorrow! Or – My birthday is tomorrow! But sometimes they are less exciting– I have a big meeting at work tomorrow. Or – There is a parent / teacher conference tomorrow. Or – I need to schedule an appointment tomorrow.

These tomorrow statements tend to be a point of anticipation. This anticipation can be exciting or sad, thrilling or nerve racking. Having a week of vacation – and an extra week in between treatments – has allowed me to put off the thought of treatment day a bit more than usual. The last day or two, as treatment quickly approaches, my thoughts have continuously returned to Thursday morning, when I will begin my third round of treatment.

The thought of the approaching treatment causes a little anxiety because I don’t know the extent of the side effects and how they are going to affect me this round. The first treatment went easier than expected and the second was harder than I anticipated. Third round could show the compounding effects worse, or it could be better than I imagine.

Tonight, as little man reached up to me so he could sit on my lap at bedtime, I am reminded of why I shouldn’t be concerned about the days ahead. Regardless of the hardships that this treatment causes, or the discomfort following, it is allowing me the opportunity to live a longer life. To eventually be healthier and stronger, so I can continue to raise my son and be around for all of his “firsts”. So that I can dance with him on his wedding day. So that I can be a wife to my incredible husband and cry happy tears when we watch our son graduate college.

So, my friends, remember that as frightened or uneasy you may be about tomorrow…it is helping to build a better future. Tomorrow, I am halfway done with the first 6 treatments.

You deserve it

When Joe & I were planning our wedding, we couldn’t decide on where we wanted to travel for our honeymoon. We tossed around ideas about traveling to California and staying at a cabin near the vineyards, heading over to the Bahamas and seeing Atlantis, flying across the world to Fiji and even the possibility of exploring Europe. Indecision had a hold on us and we struggled with deciding.

One idea that came up periodically was a cruise. It was not something that we had done before and seemed rather pricey so we went back and forth on the idea a few times. After chatting with a few friends and doing some research, we decided a cruise best suited our taste and decided to book it. We booked the cruise on a Thursday morning, just 3 days before our wedding day. We left the following week on a seven day vacation to the Western Caribbean. We had no previous cruising experience, no cell phone access, and way too many things packed.

Booking so close to our wedding day and having the excitement of the wedding to focus on didn’t allow for a lot of time to look forward to the cruise. The excitement built over a few days but the weeks, or months, of anticipation that typically comes from a vacation wasn’t there. We spent the few days prior to cruising researching what we needed to bring, the best excursions to take and shopping for last minute necessities. The vacation itself was amazing. The week flew by – each day seemed to move faster than the one prior and before we knew it, we were pulling back into port. Memories had been made and we still talk about that cruise as one of our favorite vacations ever, five years later.

We booked this weeks’ vacation in the beginning of January, allowing the opportunity for lots of anticipation and excitement to build. We call it our staycation, where we stay at a timeshare locally. Our first stay at this particular timeshare was in 2013, when we were a family of two. Joe & I have been anxiously awaiting this vacation, knowing the fun that little man would have here.

After I was diagnosed, we debated on whether or not to cancel or reschedule our staycation. The trip fell on a treatment week and we weren’t sure what that meant. We didn’t want to risk a change in my prognosis or issues with scheduling if we made any changes to the treatment plan. After speaking with my oncologist and better understanding the timing, we decided to push back my treatment by a week and keep our staycation. This change wouldn’t impact my prognosis and would allow us to have some much needed family time together.

The last week has been filled with silly laughter from little man, lots of snuggles, time outside together as the weather cools, hearing new babbles that little man has suddenly developed, pool fun, relaxation and even a date night with my dear husband. We have created priceless memories and we had the opportunity to forget about our fight for a brief moment in time.

Knowing the battle that looms ahead made this trip much more needed, much sweeter and even more valuable. It was a chance for us to regroup as a family, rebuilt our strength and enjoy time together to focus on us. It was perfect.

Whether a vacation that you take spontaneously, a staycation that you plan ahead or even a weekend getaway down the road…enjoy the time away. Take the time that you need to center yourself, regain perspective and enjoy your family. You deserve it.

101010!

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My cousin once met us at the beach for a day trip and upon seeing us unload our bag filled with the beach necessities, she smiled and said “You’re beach people, huh?”  We hadn’t thought of ourselves as beach people at the time but we were.  Our bag is packed and ready for the beach at all times, so we can grab and go when able.  After getting engaged, we knew that our wedding would take place on the beach because it is our happy place.

The morning of our wedding, Joe and I both woke up early and separated to begin the wedding festivities.  I joined my big sister and her family on the pool deck, which overlooked the ocean, and watched the sun rise.  The sky slowly filled with incredible variations of pink, orange and red. What began as a sliver rising from the ocean, turned into a large, round sun that shined bright and seemed to cover half of the horizon.  I sat in awe as I marveled in its perfect beauty.

While I sat and watched the sun rise, Joe went surfing.  He paddled out past where the waves crashed and waited for the perfect time.  Sitting amongst the waves, he heard a splash and looked over.  There was a pod of dolphins swimming next to him – one within an arms reach.  They played and splashed and seemed not to notice Joe, though he sat in awe at their perfect beauty.

Our wedding day flew by.  It was filled with love, laughter and happy tears shared with family and friends.  We committed ourselves to a lifetime of love, through sickness and health.  When I think back over what the last 5 years have brought, I see the perfect beauty of it all – the perfect beauty that is us.  We have built a strong, indestructible bond throughout this marriage that continues to strengthen each day.  While we did not anticipate this disease attacking our family, we are strong and will continue to strengthen throughout this fight.  We will beat this, together, and continue in the perfect beauty that is our love.