The Day I Lost My Mojo

It will probably seem stupid that I am posting about the middle of my cancer journey, rather than starting from the beginning. I have honestly been so consumed with the journey itself that writing about it almost seemed like overkill. Now that I can see the finish line, I find that specific moments come back to me to remind me of the life lessons they represent.

I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the medical profession while going through treatment. Surgeons, lab techs, nurses, radiologists, oncologists, their staff members, even the pre-admissions nurse at the hospital, all have treated me with amazing kindness, understanding and courtesy. It makes you think about how much of the painful side of human life they see every day, and how they manage to keep their balance and humor, in the face of so much tragedy and trauma.

One person in particular came to mind today. I don’t even know his last name, although I do remember it begins with a “C”. I think of him as Dr. Michael. (I should mention that the 10 days I was in the hospital for my surgery, I honestly never remembered a single last name – but I can see their kind faces and mostly remember their first names!)

Dr. Michael is a resident, and we met as I was going through pre-surgical prep. One of the people who come and talk to you, and explain what is going to happen. A nice young man, reserved and proper, with his clipboard and white coat. I was, typically, cracking jokes and laser focused on the whole positive energy thing. It had been working for me so far, and I wasn’t about to fall down on the job at the critical moment. I think he walked in as I was explaining to one of the nurses that I had them paint my nails in what I was calling “Cadaver Grey” in case the worst happened, because I always like to match. (I am not above using sick humor when necessary.)

I caught him hiding a smile, and I was determined to make him crack. He kept his professional attitude, but unbent enough to join in, just a bit. I think he was humoring me. Fine by me. I like being humored, especially by intelligent young people.

Dr. Michael was in the operating room and checked on me every day I was in the hospital. He was a welcome presence during the first days I was in the ICU. I had never had major surgery, and I admit I found the whole thing scary. It is both humbling and frightening when, after running your own life for 60 years, you find yourself unable to function without the kindness and assistance of other people. I don’t know how other people react, but I kept looking inside for my balance, my mojo. I knew it was there, even if the light was dim.

However, on the 4th day in the ICU, I had some problems and they had to put me on IV feeding. Having tubes stuck into your nose and down your throat really sucks. The tape they put on my nose felt like some honking great beak, and when I spoke, I sounded like some nasal old hag with a Queens accent. I was tired; I was allergic to the pain medication, which meant that every time I gave myself a jolt, I was looking around for the nurse with a shot of Benadryl so I didn’t itch on top of everything else. In other words, I was a hot mess.

Late in the day, Dr. Michael came in to check on me. As usual, he asked me “How are you feeling?” Instead of my usual reply, I said “I’m afraid I’ve lost my mojo”. He looked at me with the greatest kindness and said in a very firm voice, “No, you haven’t. You will get it back.” He sounded so sure, so confident in me and my ability to rise back up and fly, that I felt my heart lift in hope.

I looked at him then, as if I was the youngster and he the wise elder, and said “Are you sure?” He smiled and nodded at me, and replied “Yes. I’m sure. Nothing could keep you down for long. You will get it back. Don’t worry.”

Words can’t really describe how empowered I felt at that moment. Even as he maintained his professional demeanor, he allowed himself to offer me the reassurance and connection I so desperately needed. His respect and confidence in me reminded me that I had the power all along. Just like Dorothy had the power to go home by clicking her heels together, I could bring my mojo back once I believed in myself.

This small exchange was just one of many moments in my journey, and yet so full of revelation. I hope I never forget how I felt, and I hope Dr. Michael goes on to be a wonderful healer, using that instinct for empathy as skillfully as he uses his medical training. The human touch makes all the difference.

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The Tenacious Leaf

cancer1I was diagnosed with Cancer at the beginning of December. I thought I just had an “old lady” problem with peeing when I laughed. Instead, I found myself facing a fight with a very aggressive tumor.

As I stared out my back door, wondering what was going to happen, I noticed one small leaf on my burning bush. This particular bush was here before we bought the house, and every year it just gets bigger and fuller. Birds love to nest in this bush. Cardinals share space with robins. Blue Jays shake their tail feathers at mocking birds. The dogs all love to lie under this bush. Come summer, they take turns relaxing in the shade and guarding their yard.

In early December, all the leaves had fallen from this bush except for one lone survivor. One small, tenacious leaf still clung to its branch. The branch was low enough that we thought one of the dogs would knock it off. But it stayed on the bush.

During the next 3 months, through surgeries and chemo, I sat in my comfy chair and looked out at the bush. No matter what the winter weather brought our way, this one leaf still clung to the branch, determined to hang on.

It is now almost March, and I have finished my chemotherapy. I am waiting to hear if the tumor is gone, and what, if any, surgery will follow. I have been surrounded by the love and support of family and friends. I am still here, still standing, still going strong.

I am that leaf.

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The Cancer Half Time Slump

TUTTLES-8923SQUARECROPWEBI am halfway through my chemotherapy treatments, and I am discovering what I call the Half Time Slump.

The first week, I was nervous and apprehensive. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard a lot of horror stories, and worked hard to put them out of my mind. I spent a lot of time in meditation and visualization, focusing on positive energy and a positive outlook. The first session was actually somewhat anticlimactic. The nurse was explaining the different meds to me, and the possible side effects. She meant well, but the best thing I did was tell her I would rather not read about them. I’m glad I did. Instead of being afraid, I just accepted the treatment and let it do its job.

The 2 weeks before treatment #2 became a learning curve. I found out how to adjust to any problems I had, and by the second week, I felt really good. I was pumped up, still excited to get down to business and beat this thing. I had the whole “Joan of Arc” thing going on.

That adrenaline rush stayed with me through my second infusion. I had no nausea. I never experienced any side effects from the Neulasta shots. I didn’t even feel slightly queasy until 5 days after the infusion. The seasick feeling came and went for 2 days and then it was gone.

Now, I am getting ready for my next infusion in a few days. And the thrill of battle has worn off. I no longer feel like Joan of Arc. I just feel like my new ‘normal’. Except that my mind is racing at warp speed while my body has speed limits. This creates a sensation of “What’s next” that I find both frustrating and a little scary.

I am not sure what will happen after the chemo. Everything is on hold until we see how successful we are at destroying the tumor. I may need surgery. I may not. I haven’t asked my surgeon because I don’t want to have anything to fret about. I know that I will find out when it is time to take the next step. But right now, I am in a semi-void, and it can be its own black hole!

I have a lot of mental energy, but limited physical energy. I have to be careful not to go out in crowds a lot because my immune system isn’t 100%. It is miserable and cold outside, so I am pretty much just hanging out. I could dust the furniture, but I just don’t want to. Besides, I did it 2 days ago. I’ve done all the laundry. I have shirts I could iron, but for some reason, the prospect doesn’t excite me. It’s that feeling like being all dressed up and nowhere to go.

I’m not complaining. I am glad that I feel like I could wrestle a tiger. Of course, it would have to be a small tiger, and there would have to be a three minute time limit, or it would eat me. I am glad I am able to eat regular food and not regret it. I am a lucky duck and I am grateful for all my blessings. But I kind of wish that Katy Perry would show up at my house and sing a few numbers to make the half time pass with a little excitement!

Given all my available options, I think I will go and grab my Swiffer and tackle the never ending piles of dog hair in the family room. It may not be a noble enterprise, but once I’m done I can feel like I won another battle for the day!


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Christmas Trees, Bright Lights and New Beginnings

My Christmas tree is still shining in my living room. This is a first for me. I was always one of those people who put it up Thanksgiving weekend and took it down the weekend after New Year’s Day. The tradition was ingrained, like never wearing white shoes before Memorial Day. However, there is a method to my madness.

Shortly before Christmas, I found out I have cancer. Kind of like: What did YOU get for Christmas, Sandi? Oh, I got cancer and a really cool pair of sneakers. How about you? This year, our children all got together to make this a wonderful day for us. They brought food. I didn’t get up at 4 AM and put the turkey in the oven. We all sat around the tree, opened presents and spent a couple of hours just enjoying each other and the spirit of the day. It was one of the most beautiful Christmas Days I have ever had.

As the New Year came, I looked at my tree and decided that I didn’t want to take it down. Not just yet. I loved seeing the twinkling lights. I loved looking at the different ornaments and remembering who gave them to me and when. I loved bathing in the glow before sunrise, thinking about my granddaughter’s first Christmas and how she smiled and charmed us all. Why should I put these feelings in a box in the attic?

Overriding tradition was not easy. But I considered what Christmas really means to me. Not just presents, but the promise of rebirth that I was taught as a child. The magic of shared happiness and a time when we all put aside any sad feelings to join in the spirit of love and giving is a powerful vision. I figured that the best gift I could give myself was to keep this as a reminder of my own rebirth, as the chemotherapy destroys the cancer in my body. The promise of a fresh new start on an already full life and a reason to have a positive thoughts every morning was irresistible.

Now, as I wake before dawn, my first steps take me to the tree, and I switch on the lights. I allow myself to take in the twinkle and glow. I remind myself that new beginnings are always possible, and magic is real and working in the world around me. I renew my faith and my pledge to believe and stay touched by the positive glow of my Christmas lights, as I go for every treatment.

My tree will continue to shine its light on me until the day I hear the word “Cured”. I can’t promise I will put it away even then. Keeping magic alive seems like a really good way to live!


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Chemo Hints and Tips

After my first chemo session, I discovered a number of challenges I needed to resolve. I learned that no matter how well you prepare, how closely you listen to the nurses, you will encounter unique problems as your body fights to eliminate the cancer.

Here are some of the things I found very helpful. I hope that they can help someone else out there.

Smells: Like most people I became hyper-sensitive to smells. This is normal. Don’t sweat it. It hit me around day 4 after my infusion. The strongest reaction I had was to the smell of meat. Any kind of meat. Cooking meat was the worst. But let’s be real here; I can’t expect my healthy, carnivore husband to chug smoothies. He needs to eat, and I am blessed in that he was willing to cook his own food for a few meals. My Solution: I used one of those paper masks you use when you are going to be sanding furniture, or doing something that raises a lot of dust. I put a couple of drops of Lavender Oil on the mask, and let it dry. When the smells pushed my smell-o-meter off the chart, I simply put on the mask. All I smelled was the pleasant, soothing scent of lavender. I also put a couple of drops on my hand. If I wasn’t wearing the mask, I just put my hand under my nose and took a couple of breaths. Smells neutralized. Problem solved.

Solid Foods: For 2 or 3 days, I found that a meal of solids was just not sitting well. But you have to eat, and take in calories, because you have to give your body every advantage to fight on your behalf. My Solution: I purchased a Nutri Ninja. It comes with books that have lots of good concoctions! I also doubled up on protein shakes. I did find that anything sugary immediately gave me an awful taste in my mouth. So I look for protein powders with the lowest sugar content and the highest number of protein grams per scoop. Use two scoops instead of one. If you are making a fruit or veggie smoothie, add vanilla protein powder. You don’t really taste it, but you get the added punch and needed calories. The one I am using is called “Designer Whey” and I get it at Trader Joe’s. I also combine fruit and veggies as much as possible in my smoothies. Cuts down on the natural fruit sugars and gives me the added vitamin benefits of the veggies. (Shopping Tip: I ordered mine online from Bed, Bath and Beyond. The price was $159. An automatic $30 rebate was applied, and then I used the 20% off coupon that they always have available. Shipping was free. So, after tax, the cost to me was $102.)

Listen to your body: There was a lot of advice and suggestions that I got from the nurses that did not work for me. In fact, a lot of it had the opposite effect of what they meant. For example, they told me to have crackers and pretzels. I don’t normally eat that stuff anyway, because the carbs convert to sugar, and I have hypoglycemia so sugar is always an issue. But I figured I would listen to the experienced people. The day of my first infusion, I brought a baggie with pretzels. I ate them during the infusion. Kind of like a guilty pleasure. No problem. The next day, I took a handful of pretzels and from the first one I put in my mouth, I had the most awful taste and they turned my stomach. Same with Ritz crackers. I put them down and didn’t have them again. Problem solved.

Another thing I found was an opposite for me was caffeinated beverages. They told me not to drink them because they are a diuretic and would upset my stomach. Wrong. If you have been drinking coffee or tea, and you suddenly stop, you may give yourself a wicked caffeine headache. You have enough going on without giving yourself a thumping headache. Solution: I keep a bottle of water next to my coffee cup. I make sure I drink additional water to stay fully hydrated. No more headaches. I still enjoy my coffee.

Another trick I found was an alternative warm drink. Sometimes, I didn’t want the flavors from tea. I took a cup, put a generous slice of fresh lemon in, and a couple of drops of liquid stevia. (You can use honey – honey is very healthy! I don’t use honey because it makes the drink much too sweet for me.) Fill the cup with hot water, and let it cool slightly. You can sip this, get the benefits from the fresh lemon, and enjoy a warm drink without worrying about flavors that might upset your stomach.

If you are vomiting a lot, you need to be careful not to become dehydrated. Keep a bottle of Pedialyte on hand in the fridge. You can have this over ice, or add it to a fruit juice. This will help you balance your electrolytes and may be easier to keep down than plain water.

Sleep When You Are Tired: This is not the time to push yourself or dwell on those dust bunnies staring at you from under the rocking chair. When you feel tired – sleep. Pretend you are a dog. They sleep all day sometimes and are just fine. They enjoy their sleep, they surrender to it. Play puppy! Your body is working double overtime to help the chemo do it’s job and make you well. Help it along!

Dress for Success: You have been hearing that forever, right? Dress for success in the office. Dress for success when going out socially. We women invest a great deal into our appearance. Our self image is often tied up in how we look, how we are dressed. When we are wearing something that makes us feel pretty, we walk with more confidence, act in a confident manner. The same goes for when you are going for chemo. Yes, you can go in comfy clothes. There is nothing wrong with that. I find that when I am dressed in a way that makes me feel good, my attitude is one of confidence. My good friend, Peggy Nolan, said that when she went for treatments, she always wore bright lipstick and dressed nicely. There is magic in dressing well, and it is a part of our feminine identity. Next time you go for a treatment, dress like you want to look your best, feel pretty. Believe me, it translates into a happy aura that can only help in the journey!

Attitude: A positive attitude is the most powerful drug you have in your arsenal. It is more powerful than any chemotherapy and more powerful than cancer. I have done a lot of visualization and meditation. I refuse to think of the chemo as poison. That is a negative thought that your brain will instantly fight against. I think of it as liquid energy that is shooting towards the tumor, breaking it into bits. When I have fatigue or discomfort, I don’t fight it or allow fear to enter the picture. I think about how hard my body is working for me, and these symptoms are just my body saying that the fight is hard, but it’s on the job. If you must work at something, work at rejecting every single negative thought that pops into your head during this journey!!!!! You can help the meds and your body win this one!!!!!

I just had my second treatment, and one of my challenges this time around is to make sure that I take in enough calories to prevent any weight loss. I will let you know what new hints and tips I come up with to help!

Meanwhile, remember that you can make it better for yourself! Believe that you can do this! Your doctors are in charge of the medical side of the journey. You can be your own leader on the emotional/mental/spiritual front!


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Channeling the Powerpuff Girls

poerpuffallI love the Powerpuff Girls. They are bright and fun, with just enough snarky adult humor to keep your eyes from glazing over as you watch with the little ones. When I was watching Sophia one day a week, we would sit on the floor together and watch Powerpuff Girl episodes. I would stand up, put her on my left hip, raise my right fist high in the air and shout “Power”, as I was running around the living room.

powerpuff1My favorite Powerpuff Girl is Buttercup. Buttercup is the one with attitude. I immediately identified with her “take no prisoners” approach to bad guys and playground bullies. Underneath that prickly, badger-ish exterior, little Buttercup is actually a big love bug. She has  a huge soft heart, and I always thought that her outward toughness was just her way of keeping her mushy center safe.

When they put in my port last week, they gave me a whole bunch of paperwork, which I promptly put in my Women In Business tote and deposited on the desk when I got home. This morning, I was organizing my tote and I found that paperwork.

powerpuff2Guess what! I am the proud recipient of a Power Port. Not just any old port, mind you, but a real Power Port. I am sure that I could read the pamphlet, and I would know what that means. I don’t really care. I think of it as a Turbo charged port, and it immediately reminded me of Buttercup!

It is so easy to imagine that Buttercup is ready to take that powerful liquid and drag it with her, clenched fist out in front, down to the tumor where she can use her superpowers to punch, kick and smash that bad old tumor into bits! I like the thought of her big eyes watching over the process, giving it a hand in her own special style!

powerpuff3So tomorrow, when they plug in the bag of joy juice, I am going to be channeling Buttercup, and silently humming the theme song. Just one more way I am #MakingCancerMyBitchIn2015!


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Being Freed From Tyranny

BigHeadChickenI admit the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I am not oppressed. I am not making light of true oppression. What I am doing is explaining how I see the next step in my journey.

For one minute, think about how much time, money and effort we spend, as women, on our hair. If it’s curly, we want it straight. If it’s straight, we want it curly. We change the color, length, and style constantly. We are never happy. We buy special shampoo. We buy cheap shampoo. We twist, frizz, grease, straighten, heat, glue and torture the tops of our heads to try to make ourselves look a certain way. And still, we are never happy.

I, for one, have spent tens of thousands of dollars in my 60 years, being a slave to fashion and hair trends. Women my age remember trying to get their hair to look like Farrah Fawcett. I had hair like Kate Jackson on a bad day, but I tried my darndest to make it flip and curl and pouf. I have been so many different colors in the 45 years I have been coloring my hair that I have no idea what the real color might be. I have gotten perms that made me look like I stuck my finger in an outlet. Even my mother used to perm my hair, and cut it with June Alyson bangs. At 8, with my pussy cat glasses and a frizz around my ears and a creepy little fringe on my forehead, I dutifully went to have the Christmas pictures taken. Yes, one of the many childhood memories I am very happy to have put in the “Dead Files” box in my mind.

So now, I am going to be losing my hair. I can look at this with dread and dismay, or I can get real about it. It’s not like I ever had some magnificent set of flowing locks. (Think Amal Clooney.) I have never been one of those people who had a thick cascade they could bunch into a ponytail and stick out the back of a baseball cap, and look sexy. I am one of the very lucky women who will not be mourning the loss of my 60 year struggle with genetics versus fashion.

I am looking at this as a fresh start. I may love the color that comes in. If not, I have a stylist who is a literal magician with goop and foils. I am told it will come in coarser and possibly even curly. Does that mean I can throw away my curling iron? No more burning my ear tips and neck? Twist my arm! I am going to be coming back a new, improved Sandi. And I am excited to see what I’m going to get!

For all you ladies out there who may be facing the same journey: Unless you had Farrah Hair to begin with, maybe you should consider this a way to spend less on hairstyles and more on shoes! For me, I am going to have a party with a few very special girlfriends, and we are going to buzz away my self-imposed slavery to my hair forever!!!!!

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