Exactly one year ago today, my life was forever changed. It's incredible to think of how a few small words can turn your life upside down and transform your entire world in an instant. Although a year ago I knew I had a battle ahead of me, I never could have dreamed it would become such a daunting one, with such a dire diagnosis. In so many ways, it still feels surreal.
I spent some quiet time alone last night, reflecting on everything that has happened throughout this past year. I re-read all 108 comments written on my very first post on this blog. The love and outpouring of support was overwhelming then - and it still is today. The first paragraph I wrote on that first blog entry says it best...
"I guess I should start off by saying that I am so incredibly blessed to have so many people in my life that love me so much! I have a truly AMAZING husband that is the absolute love of my life (please excuse the cheesy, lovey-dovey stuff- I can't help myself sometimes), a mother and step-father that are the best, and a brother that has put up with me for 29 years and loves me anyways. (Yep, turned the big 2-9 on Monday and then found out about the big "C word" 2 days later...happy birthday, huh?!) In addition to these wonderful people, I have the most loving aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and grandmother ever!...and my friends...let me tell you, I have the most incredible and supportive friends ever!"
Those words hold even more truth today. I am beyond blessed to have the most incredible support network of family, friends, and even complete strangers. I truly have no idea how anyone gets through times like this without that. I have made it through these last 365 days because of your support, your love, and your prayers.
For 365 days, I have known that I am living with cancer.
For 365 days, I have looked at the world differently.
For 365 days, I have lived with first hand knowledge that life is a precious gift.
And for 365 days, I have endured more physically, mentally and emotionally than I ever thought I would in this lifetime...
3 bone scans
1 MUGA heart scan
3 CT scans
1 port surgically implanted in my chest
1 shaved head
Many lost eyelashes and eyebrows
15 rounds & more than 60 hours of chemotherapy
1 terrifying loss of consciousness
28 radiation treatments
Hundreds of trips to Karmanos
1 car ride spent vomiting
1 night in the hospital
3 annoying surgical drains
2 tissue expanders
Seemingly endless amount of days awaiting test results
Thousands of tears
1 bout of the flu
Too many days of nausea
Many, many needle pokes and blood draws
210 days of Tamoxifen
6 painful injections of Zoladex with a 14 gauge needle
5 injections of Xgeva to strengthen my bones
2 shut down ovaries
22 pills every single day
Ridiculous amount of hot flashes
Countless appointments with my medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, PM & R doc, occupational therapist, nurses, genetic counselors, and support groups
I have prayed, meditated, juiced and blended my fruits & veggies, practiced yoga, tried reiki, been massaged, began a gratitude journal, learned deep breathing techniques, became a member of 2 support groups and started a third. I have attended fundraisers, spoke to high schoolers, and travelled to conferences. I have made new friends, reached out, and shared my story to try to help others.
I have learned how to let go of stress, accept help from others, and learned how to say "no". I have learned how to take even better care of myself, how to truly relax, and how to live in the moment. I have learned to have more patience, to not sweat the small stuff, and to let go of the things which I cannot control.
I have slept a lot, celebrated a lot, and even travelled a lot.
I have laughed and cried, laughed and cried...and cried some more.
I've revised my hopes and dreams - but haven't stopped hoping and dreaming.
I've prayed, promised, bargained...and maybe even begged.
I've figured out what my true priorities are in life.
I smile and laugh every day. I tell my husband, "I love you" every day. I talk to my mom at least 5 times every day. I talk to at least one friend every day. I cuddle my pup every day. I try to eat well and care for my body every day. I thank God every day.
I don't take anything for granted.
I appreciate the small things in life.
I count my blessings.
I've been reminded of how many people love and care about me.
Reminded of what an incredible caregiver and best friend my husband is.
Reminded of how lucky I am to have an amazing mom.
Reminded that I am not the one in charge.
Reminded of my faith in God.
I've been reminded that each and every day is a blessing...all 365 of them - whether they were filled with injections, infusions, and tears - or smiles, laughter and joy....they were 365 huge blessings and I am grateful for every single one of them.
Thank you to every one of you reading this for your love and support over these past twelve months. There are no words to adequately thank you all but please know that your comments, notes, calls, texts, meals, and visits have made a huge impact in my life and have helped lift my spirits each and every day. I look forward to another 365 days of blessings...and many, many more years beyond that!
ps. Happy, happy birthday to my wonderful step-dad, Douggie. ;) Thank you so much for all you have done for us this year. We are so blessed to have you in our lives!
It seems appropriate that I leave you with some images from my garden on this special day. Last year at this time, I included an image of a tiny tulip popping up in my flower bed. Spring has sprung even earlier this year and my flowers are looking great already. It's only fitting that my birthday and this milestone anniversary occur during the first week of spring...a time of re-birth, growth and renewal.
Hola amigos! Well, Mexico was just what the doctor ordered. We had perfect weather - in the mid 80's and sunny every day, we had a beautiful beach, a fun pool, and great company...what more can you ask for?! I met my Mom and Doug in Playa del Carmen on the afternoon of the 7th and later that night we were joined by my friends, Emily and Lindsay who flew in from Chicago. We all stayed until the 13th, and as always, vacation just flew by way too fast. I have had a lot of great trips lately but they were packed with plans and didn't leave much time for relaxation. This trip was nothing but relaxing and it was just perfect. We woke up around 7am, worked out, went to breakfast, laid out at the beach or pool all day, went to a nice dinner, maybe had a drink (or two or three!), then off to bed early so we could repeat it all the next day. I even got a little tan on this pale Irish skin! Thank you so much Mom & Doug for this incredible birthday gift!
A view of part of our gorgeous resort...
This was the view at the end of our hallway in the hotel...paradise!
We survived a wild afternoon of snorkeling in huge waves, guided by men that spoke no English, and avoiding a poor guy puking in our boat!
I couldn't believe the weather here in the mitten when we got home! It was beautiful - and has stayed beautiful. It sure made coming home from Mexico much easier. This past week and weekend, we have been outside as much as possible. Mike has been super busy with baseball try-outs and this weather has been perfect for it. We had a great St. Patty's Day spent with friends and a little family time too. This upcoming week is a super busy one - and a pretty special one too.
Aside from having a lot of great plans with different friends this week, an appointment with my plastic surgeon to prep for my next surgery, my two monthly injections, and a support group meeting...it's also my 30th birthday on Wednesday and Friday is not only Doug's birthday but it marks the big 1 year cancerversary! Then on Saturday, Mike has planned a bday party for me at one of the local watering holes. It's going to a busy and emotional week for me, I am sure!
My mom has always made birthdays a big deal in our family, but this one is definitely extra special - and I have a feeling each birthday from here on out will be a pretty big cause for celebration. Although a lot of my friends have had a tough time coming to grips with turning 30, I couldn't be happier. I am so grateful for every day, every month, and every year. I am grateful to be celebrating my 30th birthday this week and I pray I am able to celebrate many, many more. It reminds me of a quote shared with me by a friend...."Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many". -Unknown.
Friday marks one full year of this official cancer journey. I just can't believe it's been a year. In some ways it's just flown by in the blink of an eye - and in other ways, it feels like I have been traveling this road for eternity. It's daunting to think of how much my life has changed since this time last year. I am not sure how to process everything I am feeling about this milestone - it is a mixture of gratitude and joy for all the support we have received and for how well I am doing - but mixed in there is a deep sadness and grief over the tremendous losses I have suffered this year, the dreams I had that will no longer be, and the life I thought I had ahead of me. I am sure I will be thinking a lot about this all week and will share more reflections on Friday. All in all, my life is abundantly blessed and when I blow out those birthday candles, my wish will simply be to continue to live a life full of happiness, health and the love I feel surrounded by every day!
I wandered through a sea of women-nearly 700 of them, in fact. I didn't focus on their smiling faces, their cute post-chemo hair do's, or their spirited pink wardrobes. I was focused on one thing and one thing only...who is wearing purple beads? Where are the young survivors with purple beads? I started to feel panic rising in my chest. Am I the only one wearing purple? When they look at me are they just feeling sorry for me because of the color of my beads? I need to find other young women with the purple beads!
Upon registering at the start of the Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer (C4YW), each attendee was instructed to don a strand of beads to signify certain categories. Pink beads for those that were 10+ year survivors, blue for healthcare professionals, green for diagnosed 1-5 years ago, and so on. Mike wore gold beads indicating he was attending the conference as a caregiver. I wore two necklaces all weekend - white beads indicating I was diagnosed less than one year ago, and the purple beads that no one wants to wear - the ones for "advanced stage" or metastatic disease.
As I walked through the exhibition hall doors at the start of the conference, I felt like I was wearing a scarlet "A" across my chest. Although I know it wasn't true, it felt like everyone was staring at those purple beads. It felt like I was the only one in the room wearing them. After wandering aimlessly for a little bit with Mike, and chatting with a few wonderful women from my local Young Survival Coalition support group that also attended the conference, I spotted the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network table and made a b-line over to them. I met three lovely women at that table, each wearing their own set of purple beads - finally! Someone that knows the heavy burden that comes with this simple strand of purple jewels. I introduced myself and had a nice chat with the ladies for about 30 minutes. As I was talking to these women, who were all metastatic but were likely in their 50's, I saw another woman come up to the table. She started sharing her story with one of the ladies, while I continued to talk to the other two. I wrapped up my conversation and instead of walking away with Mike, I decided to step back and stalk (er, I mean wait for) the young woman that had come up to the table after me. She looked to be my age and I desperately wanted to connect with her - with someone that appeared to be like me.
When she stepped away from the table, I tapped her on the shoulder, admitted I was lurking in the shadows waiting for her, and introduced myself. We ended up talking for over an hour as Mike also chatted with her mom. Although it saddens me so much to hear of a young mother, diagnosed in her very early 30's, with metastatic disease right off the bat - it also made me feel relieved that for the first time at the conference, I felt like there was someone that really understood what life was like for me. My new friend, Genevieve is optimistic, motivated and ready to do anything she can to kick this cancer's butt. We completely hit it off and had so much in common, and lots to talk about. We both believe that eating right, staying active, and having a positive outlook is just as important when fighting this disease as the medications and treatments prescribed by our medical teams. Mike and I hung out with Genevieve and her mom for much of the weekend - sitting together in breakout sessions (we even picked all of the same sessions to attend), and going out to dinner together on Saturday night. I am so grateful that we met and I know we will continue to cheer each other on and support each other from afar while our journeys continue.
Saturday morning after breakfast and the opening remarks, we listened to a panel of women share their stories. I was so thankful that a few of them were dealing with metastatic disease as well. As soon as each of them spoke, I felt a sense of relief. They were speaking words from my heart - the fears, the struggles, the way we feel when early stage survivors look at us like their worst nightmare. I was so grateful that the conference didn't just highlight early stage survivors - they included women that continue to battle their disease - even though those stories don't always bring the cheers and and applause that the stories do when women can say, "I have been cancer free for 5 years!" Not only were some of the women dealing with mets, but one of them was a 10 year survivor. It gave me such hope! And you know I sought that woman out on Saturday night and introduced myself to her too! :) We chatted for awhile, exchanged contact info, and gave each other a big hug. Although her road hasn't been easy, she's been traveling it for a long time and I plan on doing the same!
In addition to meeting many amazing women at the conference, from every stage of diagnosis, there were great vendors sharing their innovative ideas. The very first booth Mike and I stopped at was for Hope Scarves. We talked with Lara, the creator of Hope Scarves and hit it off immediately. We loved her idea of passing along scarves to newly diagnosed women. Hope Scarves is "a non-profit organization designed to share scarves and stories of hope with women who are experiencing hair loss to due to cancer, injury or illness". We chatted with Lara a few times throughout the weekend and we believe the work she is doing is not only meaningful and unique, but it comes from a place of so much love. If you have scarves you are willing to donate, or would like to send a scarf to someone as a gift, please visit her website for more details.
The rest of the conference was a great experience. Mike attended a session just for men, while I went to one on meditation. The other breakout sessions we attended included; A Medical Update for Metastatic Breast Cancer, Integrative Medicine, and Living with Mets: What Young Women Need to Know. In addition to that, all attendees gathered together to hear from respected physicians as they discussed topics from sexuality to nutrition. I truly enjoyed the conference, and left feeling empowered, hopeful and optimistic!
Mike and I also had a lot of time to explore New Orleans on our own outside of the conference. We spent all day Thursday, most of Friday, and Sunday roaming the streets of NOLA and checking out everything from Bourbon Street, the Garden District, the National World War II Museum and live jazz! We had so much fun!
Mike is a huge history buff, (as well as teacher) so when we found out that the National World War II Museum is in New Orleans, we knew that we would have to check it out. We were thoroughly impressed and highly recommend it for anyone visiting New Orleans.
We also enjoyed great meals - although being vegetarians was a little tricky in a city that is known for it's abundance of seafood and carnivorous cajun cooking. I treated myself to a rare glass of wine, and of course no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a trip to the historical Cafe Du Monde for a beignet.
We wandered the streets and admired the French architecture, the talented street performers, and the craziness that is Bourbon Street.
One of the huge highlights of our trip was attending a jazz performance at the historic Preservation Hall. Originally built in 1750 as a private residence, Preservation Hall eventually evolved into a "sanctuary to protect and honor New Orleans Jazz which had lost much of its popularity to modern jazz and rock n roll." Since 1961, many of the most famous jazz musicians have played in this venue and continue to do so today. It was the most incredible experience and a great way to end our time in New Orleans! I was able to snap a couple pics inside before they announced that photography isn't allowed. I was so bummed that I couldn't capture the band in action.
I am so glad that we decided to take this trip. I am grateful that I was able to meet so many amazing women, listen to knowledgable speakers, and feel even more uplifted and supported. I am just as grateful that Mike and I were able to spend some real quality time together - not thinking about cancer. When we weren't within the walls of the conference, we weren't thinking about cancer, or talking about cancer, or worried about cancer. We were the old Meghan & Mike that love to explore new places, go out to dinner, and laugh together - without a care in the world. It was perfect.
Thanks again for all of your love and celebration as we received such great news last week. We are still smiling over here! Tomorrow I am heading to Playa del Carmen, Mexico for an early 30th bday gift from Mom and Doug. I will be meeting them in Mexico and will also be joined by two great friends - and I couldn't be more excited! Well, actually I would be even happier if Mike could come with me but he has to work and hold baseball tryouts. I am so relieved that I will be able to truly enjoy every moment of this vacation now that I received such great scan results. I am looking forward to relaxing and simply enjoying the sunshine, ocean views, and great company. See you next week!
Could you hear the sound of my huge exhale this morning?! I think I let out the biggest, loudest sigh of relief I have ever experienced in my life. The scan results were great - thank you God! I am so grateful, so relieved, so over the moon with hope and optimism.
Leading up to this day, I had been feeling an odd sense of calm about these results. Of course there was a part of me that was nervous, but it was different this time. I felt such a sense of peace and faith that no matter what Dr. F told us, it would be okay. If the results weren't what we hoped, we would figure out a new path and continue to travel down it with just as much determination as we have up to this point. But then my back started hurting a little bit - and the nerves started to set in a little. My back had been feeling great but it started to feel a little more achy and stiff the past few days and I started thinking, "oh my God, is this a sign that it has spread throughout my bones?" Mike reminded me that we spent many hours sitting in uncomfortable conference chairs in New Orleans and then walked 5 or 6 miles a day as we explored the Big Easy. But, I couldn't help but worry that it was a bad omen.
Even still, I felt good this morning - I felt calm and pretty relaxed heading into my appointment. That was until Dr. F walked into the room. Last time, he walked right in and said, "your scans look good". Boom - good news right off the bat - then I could breathe. Well, this time he walked in looking more serious than normal. Immediately, I looked over at Mike and felt worried. He proceeded to ask me about my symptoms and how I was feeling...why is he asking me this first? Does that mean things are worse? What isn't he saying? He then asked about New Orleans and we chatted about the conference, he did a full physical exam and it wasn't until about 8 hours later (or so it seemed) that he finally sat down on his stool and said, "the scans look good". AHHHHH.....I can breathe! And then the floodgates opened. I couldn't help but cry - for the first time ever, I cried in front of one of my doctors. Tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of gratitude.
Overall, the scans showed no new evidence of disease. The medications I am taking are continuing to keep the cancer under control and prevent the further spread of the disease. The spots that have been visible on my spine continue to show evidence of healing. I can continue to stay the course and keep doing what I am doing. THANK YOU GOD!
Thank you to all of you for your continued prayers, cards, emails, texts, etc. I truly believe in the power of prayer and I feel so blessed to have hundreds of people around the country (and some even around the world), praying for me and my family and sending us positive thoughts and well wishes. I can never say enough how much it means to us. I am not only celebrating this news with Mike and my mom, Doug and Jeff - but with my extended family, my friends, and each and every one of you that has followed my journey and kept me in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you so much! Life is good - have a wonderful day and take some time to be grateful for all the blessings in your life!
ps - I haven't had time to go through all my pics from the conference and New Orleans yet. I took over 500 of them! But here are a few quick shots from my iphone :) We had a wonderful time in New Orleans and I can't wait to tell you more about it soon!
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