Another week has flown by in the blink of an eye, and I can't believe Thanksgiving is upon us. This past week was busy with more doctors appointments, 2 1/2 days with no heat, and daily 2 mile walks which are making me feel stronger every day. But the most special part of the past week was being able to speak at the school Mike teaches at during their Breast Cancer Awareness Week. Mike's friend and co-worker, Jesse put together an entire week of festivities to help educate the young students all about breast cancer and she asked me to come speak on Friday, along with her mom and grandmother who are both breast cancer survivors.
Although you all know that I am not a shy person, public speaking is definitely outside of my comfort zone...especially when we are talking about 200 high schoolers! Mike gave such a sweet and touching introduction that almost made me lose it right then and there. Thankfully, I held it together and shared my story and the lessons I have learned with all of the students. I stressed the importance of trusting your intuition if you feel that something is wrong, knowing your own body, and becoming your best advocate when it comes to your health. It went really well and the students were completely respectful and attentive while I shared such personal experiences with them.
After the assembly was over, a few students came up to me and said they really appreciated my talk and gave me huge hugs. It was so sweet and I appreciated it so much! When Mike came home from school that day, he gave me this note from a tenth grade student of his...
Dear Mrs. Malley,
I'm writing you this note because I loved your speech at our school about your story on breast cancer. You were very strong for being someone who doesn't really speak in front of groups of people. I was devastated to hear that you have stage IV cancer. I will pray for you as I did for my grandma and mother. You story was very touching and I'm glad to see how strong you are. I have faith in my heart that you'll fight off this battle. Mr. Malley as my teacher is amazing, so I'm sure to you he's an amazing husband. I just wish you'll feel better soon.
That note totally touched my heart and made me so grateful that I did this. I left Kettering High School feeling empowered and uplifted from turning such a sad and tragic situation into a positive one by hopefully helping others through education.
Well, Thanksgiving couldn't come at a better time for me this year. I was in a little emotional funk after feeling so bad for a few weeks and feeling that way makes it hard to see all the blessings that surround us. Thanksgiving is so much more than a day off from work, an excuse to stuff ourselves with yummy food, and watch more football. It is a day that should truly be spent giving thanks for all of the many, many blessings in our lives. I have loved spending time with my family every Thanksgiving - but have I really taken the time to think about how grateful I am for them? How blessed I am to have them in my life? How lucky we are to have endless amount of food, laughter and love surrounding us every holiday? Although this has been the single most difficult year of my life, I know now more than ever, how blessed I am. This Thanksgiving, I will be taking a moment to step back and watch my loving family that surrounds me and I will be thanking God for every single one of them.
There are so many things I am thankful for this year...so many blessings...more than I could ever count, and for that I am grateful. But, I do want to truly thank God for continuing to bless me with another day filled with love and laughter. I want to thank my doctors and medical team for helping me rid my body of this disease and regain my health. I want to thank all of my fellow cancer survivors, especially those that live with this disease each day as I do -thank you for giving me hope and endless amounts of inspiration. Thank you to my friends for your amazing and loyal friendship, for always being there for me, and reminding me of how much I am loved. Thank you to my family, especially Mom, Jeff and Doug - there are just too many things to thank you for...thank you for being the most loving and supportive family I could ever hope for. And to my best friend and husband....where would I even start? Thank you for making me the happiest woman on the planet almost four years ago when I became your wife. Every day since then, whether good or bad, has been an absolute blessing because it was shared with you. Thank you for always telling me I am beautiful - even without hair, without breasts, and with tears streaming down my face. Thank you for making me laugh - every single day. Without fail, you always find a way to crack me up and make me smile, even on the toughest days. Thank you for being my rock, my calm within the storm. Being alone with you is when I feel the safest, the most at peace, and the happiest deep down in my soul. Being your wife is the greatest blessing I could ever have in this life and I thank God for you every single day.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and spend time giving thanks for what matters most in this world. Thank you for all the love and support you have given me each and every day. I truly feel blessed and thankful!
One of the times I feel most thankful is on my morning walks with Mike and the pup. Feeling healthy, breathing in fresh air, and spending time with my boys - can't beat it!
When the fog rolls in, it starts slowly but the next thing you know, it surrounds you. It doesn't matter which direction you turn, how far or how fast you run -there it remains. It builds and builds and sets in to the point where you cannot even see what lies directly in front of you - the green of the grass, the orange in the fall leaves, the blue of the sky. Just the thick, dark fog weighing you down like a heavy cloak that you can't lift off your shoulders.
When the fog rolls in, fear and worry accompany it. It penetrates your heart and soul and despite your best efforts, the fog engulfs your mind and spirit. It is so dense that you can be in a crowd of hundreds and yet feel completely isolated and alone. It can make you feel like it's the beginning of the end. That all the happiness and joy you have known is now lost to you forever.
The fog can overtake you and mask all of your hope and all of your dreams. You may be able to talk and even smile in the midst of the fog - but it's tainted. It's poisoned by the doubt and darkness that the fog carries with it.
And then one day, there is a ray of sunshine that is so bright, it's able to penetrate through the fog. It illuminates your dark world and slowly but surely it burns the fog away. The heaviness lifts from your shoulders, nature becomes lush and colorful, and you can once again hear and feel the love and laughter that surrounds you. It is in these moments that I am most grateful. Grateful that all that is good and wonderful in my life is once again shining bright before me. Grateful that the burden of the fog is no longer consuming me. Grateful to be reminded that every day is a blessing - no matter what that day may bring - good or bad.
But behind the smile, the gratitude, the joy -lies remnants of the fog. It is much less dense, and not even noticeable to the naked eye as the sun shines straight through it. But it does linger, always lurking in the background - no longer invading the mind and soul - but it is there and in a moment of weakness, it can quickly rise again, taking over everything it touches. It is a daily struggle to keep the fog at bay, and let the bright sunlight shine through...but it is worth it - every bit of struggle is worth it.
I am grateful that my fog has lifted over the past week. Boy, is this journey a tough one. It is not the recovery from surgery that is the most difficult, or the chemo, or the hair loss, or even the prospect of not being able to have children. It is simply the fear of dying.
I would go through all of this again - the testing, the port, the chemo, the hormonal drugs, the surgery, the hair loss - all of it...I would go through it year after year, after year if it meant I would be able to live a long, happy life with Mike. But there are no such promises and as positive and optimistic as I may be, fear and doubt always live in the back of my mind. When I become sad it easily consumes me and thankfully I have amazing people around me that help me through those times. But also know that when I am happy, when you see me smile and laugh - the fear and doubt still live there.
I wanted to share this with you because I have heard and seen so much suffering lately. Not just my own - but that of many others. I have been hearing so many heartbreaking stories of children battling cancer, young mothers losing their cancer battles, and long time metastatic breast cancer survivors entering hospice. Please be there for those that you know who are fighting disease and illness - even if they seem to be doing well - because you never know who is silently struggling and your caring words may be that ray of sunshine that is able to break through their fog.
Thankfully, I was able to get my last drain out last Wednesday and I have been feeling so much better since then. I am so thankful for the little things, like being able to take a shower without any help or the ability to roll over in bed without increased discomfort. I have started exercising again for the first time since March and I am hopeful I will regain my energy, strength and arm range of motion back soon. It is a slow process after being on near bed rest for about a month, and my body continues to send me very clear signals when I do too much. But, I am so happy to be able to get out of the house and spend more time with family and friends. The rest of this week is a busy one, filled with doctor's appointments, plans with friends, and even a speaking engagement at Mike's school to help educate the students on self exams, trusting your instincts, and being your own best advocate.
Thank you so much for your continued love and support. I am so blessed to have you all in my life to help me through this.
ps. I didn't want to freak anyone out and share my post-surgical pics on the blog. But, if you would like to educate yourself on what we have to go through physically while enduring this disease, please check out The Scar Project. It is a very raw and real series of portraits of young women survivors by acclaimed photographer, David Jay. It is extremely eye-opening and a beautiful depiction of strength, courage and hope.
It felt so good to finally pick my camera back up and take some pictures. What better subject than our sweet Goddaughter, Alice. How adorable is she?!
Well, it looks like I am starting to return to the land of the living...(very) slowly but surely. I finally started to feel better this past Tuesday, and I couldn't be more grateful. It truly felt like it was never going to happen. Each day since then, I have started to feel a little bit better than the day before but it is amazing to me how drained and exhausted I feel even though I do nothing but lay around all day. It's the craziest thing and I have to try very hard not to let it frustrate me too much. I have never in my life spent this much time doing nothing, staying indoors, and actually staying in bed or on the couch all day. I can tell I am feeling better because I have started to feel very antsy and bored.
Last Monday I wasn't able to go to see Dr. M as I had hoped because my drains were still collecting way too much fluid to have them removed. I was super bummed but hopeful they would be out in the next day or so. On Tuesday, I headed to Beaumont to see Dr. R, the physical medicine and rehabilitation doc. He checked out my range of motion, measured me to make sure I wasn't showing signs of lymphedema, and we discussed the possible reasons why I had been feeling so awful. Overall, he said things looked good but unfortunately, I couldn't really start doing much movement with my arms until the drains came out. This is yet another reason that I have been frustrated by these suckers because the longer they stay in = the longer I have to wait to start moving my arms = the tighter my pecs and shoulders become = the more difficult my recovery will be to regain full range of motion and strength. But, I have tried to be patient and respect my body's healing process. This has been a tough one for me as I have often joked with Mike that there is no way I could ever be a teacher like he is because patience has never been my strong suit. ;)
Luckily, by Wednesday morning my left drain had really slowed down and I was able to get it removed. YAY! This means I can now lay on my left side without too much discomfort. I figured that the right one would at least be out by Friday, but unfortunately this bugger is still in and draining a lot! I can't believe I am going on 3 1/2 weeks since surgery and it's still in. I did receive my first fill of my tissue expanders on Wednesday in the hopes that it would slow down some of my drainage. Imagine having a balloon (but one that feels like an aluminum can) underneath your pec muscles and then having someone inject saline into it while you feel it expand within your chest. It's the oddest feeling - and not the most comfortable to be completely honest. I will continue to go in weekly for my fills for about 6 weeks until the tissue expanders are completely filled, at which point I will begin radiation. So, I am planning on heading back to the doctor tomorrow in the hopes of receiving another fill to slow down this drainage. The theory is that the fluid will continue to collect and drain as long as there is space to do so - if we fill that space by filling the expander, then the drainage will hopefully slow down.
I also had to head over to Karmanos' Weisberg Center on Wednesday to get my monthly shot of Zoladex (the med that shuts my ovaries down and puts me into premature menopause). While I was there, I helped represent breast cancer patients as the Detroit Red Wings presented Karmanos with a check for the money they raised during their Breast Cancer Awareness Game. Former Detroit Red Wing, Chris Chelios was there representing the Wings, in addition to Nick Karmanos, Vice President of Karmanos Cancer Institute. Myself and two other young breast cancer survivors posed with Chris and Nick while holding a banner signed by the entire Red Wings team and hundreds of fans. We were photographed and interviewed by our local ABC and FOX affiliates. Unfortunately, I missed the clip of us on the news that night but some of my friends caught it. It was a fun thing to be a part of and neat to meet Chris Chelios.
I have continued to battle fatigue since the surgery, so the rest of the week was spent laying pretty low. A few visits from friends was really nice and helped distract me from these walls that I feel are closing in on me. On Saturday night, I finally busted out of the house for the first time in 3 weeks for something other than a doctors appointment or support group meeting. Mike and I headed to the movies and it was so nice to just have a change of scenery for a few hours, and go on a date with my cute husband.
I am hoping to head back to Dr. M's office tomorrow morning to get another fill for my tissue expanders which will then hopefully slow down the drainage...keep your fingers crossed! I want to give a special thank you to Aunt Bridget for driving me to my appointments this week and for sitting outside with me after I realized I locked myself out of the house. :) Also, to my wonderful next door neighbor, Teri for cleaning up all of my flower beds in the backyard. She spent this afternoon pulling weeds, cutting back perennials, digging up my annuals, and sprucing everything up - it looks wonderful and I am so grateful since I can't get out there and do it myself this fall.
I truly appreciate all of the well wishes, words of encouragement, and prayers I have received over the past couple of weeks. This has been one of the most difficult times I have had along this journey since my diagnosis. I am grateful to be feeling better but it's an extremely slow process and it's a huge reminder that as strong as I think I am, that can change in the blink of an eye.
I hope to update you all soon with nothing but good news of healing and the removal of this last pesky drain!
My blog to keep you all