September 29, 2009

cognitive dissonance at it's finest...

cognitive dissonance, simply, is when your thoughts, ideas, values, etc. don't align with one another. in this case, i have had, until now, two very strong thoughts...i feel healthy and i have cancer.

you, apparently, can't think these two things simultaneously during treatment.

there's no way to describe it, and i didn't fully understand it until this weekend. the ugly truth about cancer...if you're not sick at diagnosis, treatment will surely change that. no hint of optimism can carry even this bundle of joy through a weekend of treatment induced misery. it sucks. i can't even color a little positivity into it. it ranks right next to bone marrow biopsy on the list of 'worst things you can go through'. it's terrible, and it's the soundtrack to life for the next six months. however, each treatment is a course of fourteen days...i had three bad days, and i'm looking forward to the next eleven wonderful days. then, i'll do it all over again. why? easy. i'll do whatever i need to so that cancer doesn't win.

i can tell you one thing that's for certain...i will forever appreciate every single day, and will always be aware that on the days i feel healthy, someone, somewhere is feeling sick...and i'll think of that and remember that 'it could be worse'.

September 25, 2009

1 down, 11 to go!

it's done! day one of treatment is over! yay! now only eleven more to go.... it's amazing, i woke up today with the most overwhelming sense of excitement - it was the first day that i could work to fight cancer! while there's a lot ahead of me, i'm moving forward now, and it feels wonderful...

i know many of you are wondering what this is all like, so i'll try to pepper in some updates on my experience, although, i don't think too much about the medical side of this...i've got too many lessons to learn...i'll let my doctors handle the details.

the day was relatively easy. the routine is: check in, have blood drawn (to check counts), wait, see the oncologist, head to the treatment room, wait for your drugs to be mixed, get the IV all hooked up, get anti-nausea stuff, the nurse comes and 'pushes' two of my drugs (using a syringe directly into the IV), then a ten minute drip of one, and then the big, long two hour drip with the last one. that's it! the big updates from this appointment...i had my bone marrow biopsy, and i'm not even going to pretend that it wasn't the most excrutiatingly painful thing i've gone through this far - totally worth it though, as it concludes my very thorough pre-treatment tests. once you have those drugs in you, you can't go back, and i'm totally thankful to have so many 'baselines'...i truly trust the hands i'm in with my oncologist, and it feels wonderful to not worry. and, while my oncologist wants to wait on putting in my medi-port (a little port that goes under my skin, attached to a tube that goes into a major vein closer to your heart to save your arms), the nurses have a different plan and want it in as soon as it can be they'll talk it out next week and let me know when that surgery will be. last update, looks like i'm in for six months, not four, of chemotherapy. while it may seem terrible, fear not, with every cycle my chance of it coming back is less, so if six months is what i have to do, i'll do it.

it was my intention to also share my latest incredible cancer driven perspective with you, but, alas, today's events have left me totally exhausted. you'll have to hang on to the edge of your seats, which i expect each of you to actually do...

September 23, 2009

debunking the cancer myths

you should know is that cancer is a lot scarier when you don't have it. it sounds totally crazy, but the things we're most afraid of are things we don't understand. once you have cancer, you are forced to accept it into your reality and you can choose to continue living or shy away in fear. one of the most empowering things i've been able to do throughout the last two months is get as much information about my cancer experience as i can. i ask a million questions (sometimes so many i feel bad for the people doing my scans and tests). i'll never be an expert, but i could teach you a few things about hodgkin's...and most of them wouldn't scare you.

in the spirit of fighting fear with fact, let's bust some rumors...

MYTH = everyone with cancer dies
actually, that's true. what isn't true is that everyone with cancer will die from cancer. in fact, according to less than valid internet statistics, it seems that over fifty percent of people with cancer don't die from it. it would be unlikely for me to die from this cancer - i don't try to pretend it's not possible, but if i focused on it, i'd be fearing something that's not likely to happen, like fearing an attack of killer bees. it's possible. anything is.

MYTH = if you have cancer, you are sick
i hate this one. i have cancer...and i'm quite healthy. i just happen to have a large collection of cells in my chest that don't do what they're supposed to. chemotherapy is likely to make me a little less than healthy, but that's because they have to blast my entire body to get rid of this one collection of cells. really uncool. totally necessary.

MYTH = you will catch cancer
only if i sneeze directly on you. seriously. if you think this, i will judge you a little.

MYTH = you can prevent cancer
this one is a little sad, and i feel a little like debbie downer. there are a lot of things you can control...cancer, you cannot. you can avoid smoking, eat a healthy diet, live an active lifestyle, take your vitamins and spin around three times to the left every time you walk through a door, but there are some things we can't control. enjoy life, and control the things you can...everything else will work out like it's supposed to.

September 16, 2009

finally, a diagnosis!

today is the day i officially was handed the cancer card...hodgkin's lymphoma (nodular sclerosing, stage 1a, bulky mediastinal, etc...)

for those of you who haven't heard my story, here it is...

in july, i went for an annual physical...nothing too extraordinary except my iron levels weren't going up after taking supplements for several months, and i had a respiratory infection that had lingered since late spring. i've always had a fear of telling doctors what's wrong, but, realizing i was in the presence of the most amazing doctor i've ever encountered (who will always have my unending appreciation), i asked when i could tell her if i thought something was weird. i explained all my odd symptoms, and she explained what she thought was concerning (related to chest symptoms), and told me we could go various of which was a chest xray, which i knew, intuitively, was what i needed. she warned me that sometimes the problems with chest xrays is they show something that cause concern, and indicate more tests, when it turns out nothing is wrong. well, several scans later, it was confirmed that there was a cause for concern. i have a large chest mass that's pushing my right lung over (just making a cozy little place for itself). i had an inconclusive needle biopsy mid-august, and had to be thoroughly convinced by my doctor to have surgery to get a diagnosis (you all know how stubborn i am, it was quite a fight). surgery was last friday, and diagnosis was today, finally.

i have a relatively rare (although not entirely uncommon in young adults) form of cancer called hodgkin's lymphoma, and to make it even more unusual, my disease is totally localized in my chest (it's usually in the neck, too). the exciting news is that it's one of the most treatable cancers (in fact, they use the word 'cure' quite frequently) and my oncologist says i have above a ninety percent chance of being cured with first line treatment.

onward to treatment! the plan...six cycles of chemotherapy from next friday through february (one cycle = two treatments = one month). re-scan after three cycles to look for cancer activity. after that scan, we'll determine the final end of chemotherapy and the addition of radiation. i'll continue to update on my treatment as it progresses.

"life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are".

September 15, 2009

who says cancer isn't funny?

the first thing you need to know about getting cancer is there are about three thousand tests you can be put through, and not actually get a diagnosis. true story. the mass in my chest was found 54 days ago. i've had quite a few blood draws, a few physical exams, a chest xray, two CT scans, a needle biopsy, a PET scan, a mediastinotomy, and a partridge in a pear tree. surely, at this time one would assume i have an actual diagnosis. no, no. that's silly. tomorrow? it's likely. so is another test.

in all seriousness, it's not the end of the world. in fact, i feel oddly excited for treatment to start - and for that i credit the excessive delay in diagnosis. the irony? all the doctors need is ONE cell. it's a tricky little cell,'s similar to a "where's waldo" inside this mass (you know, there's a thousand people in that damn park, and waldo's all mixed in with the thousand other people wearing red striped shirts). so, through all this, what's so funny? here it is...the first cancer is funny moment...

the first thing about tests involving radiation...they aren't safe if you are pregnant. as if that wasn't common knowledge, they will ask you a few times if you could be pregnant in hopes that one of the times they ask, you'll trip up and admit that although you haven't had sex in the last nine months, you actually have conceived a child. they take it very seriously - in fact, in the radiology department at maine med, there are posters everywhere that have not been updated since mid-1900's with a picture of a sad looking young woman that ask "is there any chance you could be pregnant? let your doctor know". just in case they forgot to ask you, and you end up like this poster child who, i can only assume, was the result of radiation exposure when her mother was carrying her. apparently, they failed to ask everyone if there's a chance they could be pregnant. the day i had my PET scan (the most radioactive of them all), i was walked into this cold, dark trailer, and was handed off to a tech who was no less than nine months pregnant. she asked me if there was any chance i could be pregnant...i asked her the same thing. i figured someone should give her the warning.

cancer. it's funny. if it's not, it's a less entertaining emotion. you choose. i choose funny...

September 11, 2009

focus on the accomplisments, not the obstacles that lay ahead...

today was surgery day...i've been dreading this day since the day they found an abnormality on my chest x-ray. it's safe to say i'm scared to death of any anesthesia, so, needless to say, the totally unconscious, intubated kind was the scariest of them all. now, several hours out of the hospital, it's my favorite day, so far, in this cancer journey. why? because i feel an enormous sense of accomplishment. not only did i hold it together pre-surgery, but i had a very quick recovery from the anesthesia, met some really wonderful people in the hospital, and was allowed to go home shortly after. it's an amazing sense of relief that it's over, and an even better feeling to know i cleared another hurdle in all this.

yes, my greatest obstacle is ahead of me...treatment is going to be tough. i know. however, with each accomplishment throughout the last couple months, i feel more and more confident that i can get through the next one, and the one after that, too. i have to, i don't really have a choice - well, i do, but it's not a very viable option.

so, again i'm fortunate to be able to have a new insight - one of the things i thank cancer for. life throws things in your way that you don't expect all the time. it's not uncommon...luckily, many of these things are minor. i've always found it easier to dissect larger tasks into smaller, easy to accomplish ones. and, a little at time, i work my way towards my end goal. now, with the same tactic, i plan to break my end goal (free of cancer) into little steps. tomorrow...recovery. next week...determine treatment. and so on. each step takes me forward, makes me feel inspired by what i can accomplish, and forces me to face the next one...

September 6, 2009

the ripple effect

in 06-07, i served as a leader in the collegiate level of a very large international service organization. it was, perhaps, the most defining experience of my life thus allowed me to step outside my own problems and focus on service to others. i learned the importance of selflessness, and how much of a difference one can make by dedicating themselves to something outside of our own lives, even with the smallest effort.

now, two years later, i am able to realize just how much of a difference each and every small act makes...and i am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who make such an incredible difference in my life every single day by doing something they likely don't think twice about.

i realize, looking back, how easy it was to describe the effect of small acts of kindness. however, the impact of people's efforts was never more real than it is right now. here's what i had to say about it then. all i have to add today is 'thank you'...

Think back to when you were a kid and you would throw rocks into puddles just to watch the ripples echo out from where the rock hit. Then think of a time you tried to throw a larger rock into the puddle, and instead of seeing the ripples you may have anticipated, you watched as much of the water was displaced from the puddle in an abrupt splash. Then, with the desire to watch the ripples again, you continued to only throw small pebbles.

I challenge you to consider how you can make ripples by reaching out and touching the lives of the others that you work with. Making ripples by focusing on the small acts of kindness that make a difference. Often times we get carried away and think that we must do monumental things in order to make a difference and see change. If you’ve ever thought this way, next time it rains, go outside and throw two rocks into a puddle, one large rock and one small pebble. Then watch as the large rock creates a bigger splash that lasts only moments, while the small pebble creates ripples that last much longer.

Marian Wright Edelman once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

When I think of the moments that have left the most lasting impact on me, it is always the small moments. They are not monumental acts; however, they are the moments that have had the most impact on me. These have been the small acts that have given me light in my dull moments and motivated me to push forward.

You, too, can have the same impact on others. I challenge you to take a moment to do something little, just throw the pebble and then step back and watch the ripples, and I promise you will be amazed by the things you can accomplish by just one small act.

September 4, 2009

unknown and out of control...that's one thing that fits

i think i believe today, more than ever, that everything happens for a reason, and that our experiences are a physical manifestation of something much bigger than we are. why? because i'm healthy, young, and have cancer. it doesn't really add up (like being obese + eating a lot of sugar = diabetes). thus, i really have to think that there's some other reason for it - and the "at some point your cells in your lymphatic system started to go crazy" doesn't really cut it for me - mainly because i don't understand it. my oncologist told me that if i were a molecular biology major in college, i'd understand it. i majored in psychology. so, here we are, searching for an alternative meaning for me getting cancer. mind you, there will be no references to freud, or my alter-ego...but, if thinking outside the box isn't for you, stay inside and google "histopathology of hodgkin's disease".

everyone finds their own way to cope with adversity. the two things i'm most scared of are those that i have no control over, and those that are unknown. my cancer is both of these things. i have little to no control over how it acts in the course of my lifetime, which is the scariest, and i will attempt to control everything i can to be healthy and live a normal life...but, the rest isn't up to me, and accepting that is a journey in itself. and, i will likely never know the answer to so many of my questions about it. or, rather, the answers will never be sufficient. i can say "my b-cells, at some point, began growing and dying in an atypical pattern and formed a large mass of scar tissue, etc...", but, really, no one knows how this happened...there are no known causes for it, and so it's futile to focus on these things.

in all of this that's unknown and uncontrollable, i find some strength knowing that there's a reason that this crazy little collection of cells is in my chest...i've got something to learn from it. i'm being unwillingly forced to confront my fears, and i think, to some extent, this is just what i needed...