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Happiness breast cancer

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New Year, New Me

breast cancer conscript

As I approach the anniversary of my three-year median survival rate, I realize I still have a lot I’d like to accomplish.

I’m rather goal oriented. I’ve spent the last week writing out my resolutions, filling in with action plans, reaching out to accountability partners and putting together an overall strategy for success.

My overriding theme is this: How do you accomplish big, hairy, audacious goals while juggling the interruptions of a chronic disease?

I started toying with this idea while battling cellulitis this past fall. I’d been humming along with blog posts and sticking to an editorial calendar when some rogue bacteria slammed me to the ground. All work ground to a halt as I tended to fevers and daily trips to a distant doctor for IV antibiotics.

When I finally overcame the illness I was stuck for a way to get my work life back on track. I know this isn’t unique. One of my mentors lost her job in October and spent the fall and early winter in a frantic search for a new one (which turned out to be a plum assignment at the New York Times).  But for those of us with chronic illness, those life bumps are a constant.

Already I’m resigned that at some point this year my treatment will change. My tumor markers are starting to creep up again even though CT scan results from a few weeks ago show no progression. Still, each CT scan is a game of Russian roulette. The barrel may be empty this time, but one of them has a bullet in it. One of them will be treatment altering and with it a new round of  time-consuming tests, procedures and new side effects to get used to.

On top of the fits and starts of chronic disease, I have the frustration of believing I deserve better outcomes for all the limbs I’ve climbed out on. I deserve success. I knew I was starting to get better this fall when my frustration turned to anger. And anger makes me want to do something different, make a change.

So I compiled a mini-MPA  program- Masters of Philosophical Arts. Thanks to Coursera, a Web site that offers free college courses, I took classes on Resilience, Success, Becoming a Changemaker and Digital Storytelling. They were intriguing and helped me fill in the potholes that keeping me from moving forward on the road to success.

Now I’ve developed a cheat sheet of tools, questions, exercises I can do to refocus my thoughts, chase away the anxiety, regroup and reset. It’s a different approach, one that hopefully leads to different outcomes.

Because this year I do have big, hairy, audacious goals. I plan to finally finish and publish that novel I keep talking about and move on to writing a new one. I plan to launch a podcast, interviewing authors who will be appearing at local bookstores.  I intend to launch a new toy on Amazon. And once I learn how to do that, I intend to launch even more products.

I intend to run a half-marathon with my husband, my sisters and their husbands. And in the summer, there will be triathlons – emphasis on the word “try.”

I intend to become an expert at a few things this year. One is options trading, an adventure that my husband and I have both embarked on learning.  The other is digital marketing.

I intend to be grateful for the things I have, including good health and a stable disease. Statistically, my lifespan is only a matter of months and I have watched sister warriors fight shorter battles and lose.

Most of all, I intend to stay healthy despite what this disease and its side effects may throw at me. Because I still have a lot to do.



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When everything falls apart

I had a plan for this week, an ambitious, experimental plan. I wanted to try a new diet that’s recommended by body-builder-cancer researcher Dom D’Agastino, who hails from my college alma mater University of South Florida.
Dom has found that feeding the body ketones rather than carbohydrates allows healthy cells to proliferate, while starving cancer cells. In laboratory mice, the diet has nearly doubled their cancer-plagued lives.
The diet calls for feasting and fasting, piling on good fats and dialing back on carbs. I’ve been toying with the idea of trying it and this week decided to take action.
The plan was a three-day fast, then going easy on carbs while bulking up on protein, cheeses and lots of vegetables. Sounds simple, right?
It was, until I woke up with this unsettling and unfounded fear that was intensified by the coffee I drank. It followed me around all day, no matter what I tried to do to shake it – walking, meditating, listening to my new indulgence (check it out, it’s worth it!)

The longer I went without food, the worse it got. And the more intense the pressures of the day seemed. By the time my husband got home from work, I threw the towel in on the whole idea and offered to take him out to dinner to share our woes.

Of course, now it’s thrown my whole plan for the week off. So instead about writing about starvation, I’m switching gears and writing about how to get back on track when you get derailed. This is a problem we all face, but moreso for those of us with cancer because our disease can move from the back burner to the front burner at any time. It can make it hard to get things accomplished. It definitely makes life frustrating.

I’m open to ideas here. What do you do when you’re plan gets derailed? What do you do to get back on track? Or do you just abandoned it all and move in whatever direction life has pointed you in? Please share. I’m all ears.


The things you can’t explain

I’ve just come from the doctors office where my blood test results have broken triple digits (they’re in the low 100s). To put it in perspective, normal is 5 for one of the markers and 30 for the other. I should be feeling like I want to crawl out of my own skin. I don’t.

I keep asking myself  Why? What am I doing in this moment that is keeping me calm? Keeping me from walking out on the ledge? I don’t have an answer. If I did, I’d bottle it. Keep it in a safe place for the next time. Share it with those around me who need it.

Part of it, I suppose, is expectation. I’d already thrown this game in my mind. These numbers don’t matter. It’s the next set that should.  Yet even those I’m not anxious about. There’s something – or someone – deep inside me that’s decided numbers don’t matter. That I’m not going to play the numbers game.

I’ve decided instead, to ask myself How do I feel? (Awesome!) Do I have any pain? (Not anything I can’t explain) Any indication this cancer has gotten ahead of me? (No!) Any indication that the good guys are losing the battle? (Not at all).

Yes, I know there are terrorists inside my body, just like there are terrorists in this world, in the state I live in, judging by the news I watch. And yes, they are a threat. Wrong place, wrong time, I could take on collateral damage. Could be game over.

The best I can do is be vigilant. About what goes into my body, what goes on my body, what goes into my head, my mind.  I can’t say what it is that I’m doing today that I don’t always do.  I really don’t know what is keeping me resolute.

I am heading for a conference in two days about clinical trials and new immunotherapy drugs that use the body’s own immune system to fight these rogue cells. It won’t offer answers, but it will offer a direction, one that I’ve chosen to take. A direction that’s unknown, that’s fraught with uncertainty. But where I am has no answers either. So I’d rather forge a new path than tread a worn one that only keeps me where I am.

As a wise woman once told me “When there are no answers, there are choices. And your choices will change, just as you will be changed by them.” Somehow, that advice is less frightening at the moment than the idea of staying stuck on the corner of No Answers and What If.  I’ve made my choice. What If, here I come.