I knew the fall would be busy, but boy is it giving me a good run for my money. We have had a lot going on over here at the Malley household but there are no complaints here. We are just busy living our hectic lives that we enjoyed before cancer barged in. The fall photography season continues to be booming and I am so grateful that within my first year of becoming an official business, I couldn't be busier! I apologize to my friends whom I haven't been able to spend as much time with lately, but starting this business is really a passion of mine and I am so grateful for the chance to do it -and to feel well enough to do it! A huge thank you to all of the clients that have trusted in me, while I continue to learn and grow. You can check out my most recent work here on Facebook or on my blog.
I am also gearing up to add more hours at The Recovery Project, and I am really looking forward to that. I am so blessed to love my job as a physical therapist and to work at a place that is so completely supportive in every way. I was really worried about returning to work earlier this summer. I was worried if it would totally exhaust me - which it did in the beginning. Would it cause my back to hurt? Would I feel like my physical limitations hindered me as a therapist? Would I remember everything I worked so hard to learn for 7 1/2 years of college? ....The great news is that although I may need to brush up on some skills that I haven't used in awhile, it feels really good to be serving my patients again. I love interacting with my patients and co-workers (who are awesome, I might add!) and it feels even better to be using that good ole' left brain again. :) I am beyond grateful to be feeling well enough to be able to increase my hours again next month (once I am all healed up from surgery), and grateful to have employers that allow me to make this transition at my own pace.
There always seems to be so much I want to catch you all up on but lately the thought of that alone, makes me feel tired which then deters me from updating the blog at all. I promise I will eventually get around to sharing some pretty big things that have happened recently, such as my dinner with Nancy Brinker and my trip to Chicago for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network National Conference.
Another wonderful event that recently took place was the 18th Annual Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute Heroes of Breast Cancer Awards. I have been treated at Karmanos ever since I was diagnosed and I have nothing but exceptional things to say about everyone I have worked with there. It is truly an incredible place and I am so thankful that I can receive the highest level of care so close to home. I was completely blown away a few months ago when I received a phone call notifying me that I was being honored with the Community Service Award at this years Heroes of Breast Cancer Awards. It was so unexpected and so meaningful to me on so many levels - but mostly because I have always said that although I would never wish this disease upon anyone, if I can at least turn it into something positive, then it's not for nothing. Then all the pain and heartache are at least worth it in some way to help a greater good. Although I never set out to be recognized in any way, I am extremely humbled that I was.
Karmanos hosted a beautiful evening at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit on October 30 and I was able to invite my family to attend along with me. There were over 200 people in attendance (including my oncologist and the oncology social worker that I started our support group with) and it couldn't have been a nicer evening. There were ten awards given that evening to various people and organizations and I was so surprised to even be among them. It was a night filled with smiles and meeting new people, feeling hopeful about the incredible research that Dr. Lum is doing with metastatic breast cancer that earned him the Scientific Distinction Award, but also a night with moments of sorrow and tears as a strong and heartbroken mother accepted an award on her daughter's behalf after she passed away earlier this year from this disease.
What touched me the most about the entire evening was an anonymous quote from a member of the support group I helped create at Karmanos. I was holding it together pretty well as they were introducing me but after that quote was read, I struggled to maintain my composure as I walked on the stage to give my acceptance speech. It was her words that meant the most because the women in my support group truly mean the world to me. I like to think that creating that group has helped, and will continue to help many women that travel this road, but truly it was a selfish endeavor as well - because every time I meet with them, I feel better. I feel more hopeful. I feel uplifted. I feel grateful, and happy, and blessed. And most importantly, I never feel alone. As I said in my speech that night, I am so humbled to have received this award, since it truly belongs to all of the young women in our group that have given so much back to me - and for them, I am eternally grateful.
You can read more about all of the Heroes of Breast Cancer here.
Surgery is in 11 days! I'm getting a little nervous but trusting that all will go well. Thanks for keeping me in your prayers.
It's often quite overwhelming and daunting to think about how much can go on in the span of a couple weeks....how many emotions I go through...how many highs and lows there are...and how my the status of my health can change.
The past few weeks have been nothing short of exhausting and overwhelming. There are times when I want to share with you all what has been going on but I don't even know where to start, and it makes me feel exhausted just thinking about trying to catch everyone up to speed. I apologize for that because I know you are all waiting for updates and want to know how things are going. Prior to my last post about the loss of my uncle, I was prepared to tell you about my trip to Vegas for my friend Nikki's wedding. It was great to see my old college roomies and have a few days of R & R - although I actually got a little extra time than I bargained for since I accidentally booked my flight home on the wrong day. :) So, I got a little extra fun in the sun and enjoyed not only the warm desert air and sunshine, but laughs with friends, good food, a great Cirque du Soleil show and even won a few bucks! I am grateful for feeling well enough to travel and spend time with friends!
After I got home from Las Vegas, it was back to full blown busy mode with 2 or 3 photo sessions each week, an amazing acoustic Ben Harper concert in Ann Arbor with Mike, doctors appointments & my monthly injections, support group meetings, and a fun fall baking day with girlfriends.
The past week or two so has been an especially difficult one for me. Of course, it all stems from the loss of my Uncle Kevin and all of the emotions that brings. Then last Wednesday, Mike and I were invited to an impromptu small dinner with Ambassador Nancy Brinker - the founder and CEO of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization. My local Komen affiliate has been wonderful about listening to my concerns regarding how isolated the metastatic breast cancer community often feels in the midst of all the Komen events and fundraisers. I will write a more in depth post on this another time but the meeting was my opportunity to voice my concerns and opinions to Ambassador Brinker herself - and that's exactly what I did. I would say that dinner went well but it was the start of another emotional few days for me involving a lot of talk about cancer, cancer, cancer.
The following day, Mike and I left straight from work to be with my family in Grand Rapids as we prepared to lay my Uncle Kevin to rest. Thursday night and Friday were spent remembering what an amazing guy he was and what a great impact he had on so many people. As I said before, these things are even more difficult for me now that I am living with this disease. It makes me wonder - what songs will be at my service? Who will speak? Is this how my family will be talking about me? I am thankful that Mike lets me be free to talk about whatever I need to, at any time. So, as we left Grand Rapids and drove to Chicago, we talked a little bit about my funeral. No, I am not dying - and I don't plan on heading that way for a very long time. But the reality of this disease forces us to discuss these things sometimes. And contrary to what you may think, it actually makes me feel better to talk about it. It doesn't help when someone says, "don't talk about that" or "that's not going to happen". Let us talk about it because the thoughts go on in our minds anyways and if we are free to discuss it, it lifts some of that weight off of our shoulders. ("Our", as in those of us living with metastatic breast cancer and other incurable diseases.)
We arrived to Chicago on Friday night and I was looking forward to just relaxing with our good friends Beth & Ben - and that's just what we did. We were not only in Chicago to visit our friends, but we went so that I could attend the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network's Annual Conference. Although, it was great to meet up with some of my friends living with MBC, the conference was difficult for me emotionally. I think I will talk about it more in my next post, but let's just say I was hoping to feel encouraged, uplifted and empowered and instead, I left feeling emotionally exhausted, frustrated and very sad.
First thing on Monday morning, I found myself back in my plastic surgeon's office. Haven't had the chance to tell you guys, but the swelling in my left breast returned a few weeks ago. I know Dr. M told me that if the swelling ever came back, surgery was inevitable. Well, after discussing the issue once again, asking more questions, and shedding a few tears - I left my appointment with surgery on the books, as well as a decreased sense of confidence that this will be the last of these problems. Of course, I trust Dr. M very much, but there is just no telling what will happen after he opens me back up. He will be removing the mesh tissue that we think is causing all of the problems. He will also remove the implant and replace it with a new one. Not only am I worried about the usual side effects from surgery - infection, pain, and the fatigue that it brings over me - but I am worried about what will happen once that mesh is removed. I obviously needed that mesh the first time around because my skin wasn't strong enough to support the implant on it's own. I am now praying that somehow I will be able to successfully support the implant without the mesh, because if I cannot, it means more complications and more surgeries down the road.
I know that this is nothing major in the scheme of things and that things could be WAY worse. I get that -believe me, I do. But, for the first time last week, I finally hit a point where I just didn't want to try to find the silver lining. I didn't want to have a pity party, but I just wanted to be able to feel sad and discouraged and know that it was justified to feel that way for a little bit. I began to question many of my decisions. Did I do the right thing by having the left breast removed? Should I have just dealt with the mastectomy and foregone the reconstruction? Am I causing my body more harm than good in the long run by going through all of these surgeries and procedures? Once I let myself ask these questions, express these emotions, and work through my feelings, I felt better and could get on with my day.
So, surgery is now scheduled for November 20th - if I told you a later date, that's because there was an earlier opening so they are getting me in a little sooner. Please pray that everything goes very well and that my body can sustain this reconstruction without the mesh, and without further surgeries and complications.
Thanks for your constant love and prayers.
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!
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