TBT: The Cancer Series-Part 6 (The One Where Radiation Tries to Ruin the Valentine’s Day party)

Crunchy Parent- Alina's preschool valentine's party & my last week of radiation

If you want to read earlier posts from the Cancer Series or learn more about why I am posting these personal blog posts years later, you can do that here. This particular excerpt comes from the private blog that I maintained through MyLifeLine.org at the time surrounding my cancer diagnosis and treatment. It highlights the emotional and logistical struggles that I was moving through at the time as I tried to be present as a mom to my three young children while fighting cancer in my spare time.

This entry was originally published on February 16, 2011 following my 24th round of radiation.

Tomorrow (Thursday) will be my final day of radiation. It was supposed to be today but that whole blizzard snow thing a couple weeks ago pushed it back a day. I can’t say that it’s coming too soon. I’ve been exhausted once again this week. From what I understand the radiation, or at least the way they’re doing the radiation for me, builds up over time so that the largest doses of radiation are reserved for the end. I’d have to say that it feels that way. On Valentine’s Day, my beloved valentine put the kids to bed and took care of all of the other nighttime tasks while I crawled into bed at 7:00 pm and slept clear through to 6:00 the next morning. I still woke up feeling like someone had filled my body with sand.

Actually, Valentine’s Day was it’s own little comedy of errors, although in the end it was delightful. Alina had a party in her classroom at 10:30, which is of course not too compatible with my 10:15 radiation time. Knowing this, several weeks back I changed this one and only treatment to 9:30 so that I could make the party. I even anticipated the whole “Monday meet with doctor day thing” and asked about pushing my sit down with Dr. Radiation to Tuesday this week. Sadly no change could be made because she was not going to be in this Tuesday. She promised instead that we would make it a quick meeting. In truth, our check-ins usually are pretty quick, but last week she was running crazy late and I sat around waiting for almost an hour before they told me to just go home and try back the next day. I was a bit anxious tacking the appointment on to what was already going to be a day when I was tight on time.

Anyway, I got to the Cancer Center at 9:30 on Monday, only to be told that my radiation machine was down and was being repaired. Now, it’s not exactly my machine or I assure you that I would have already received the bill for seven million dollars, but radiation is a pretty exacting process. I do need to have my treatment done using the same machine every day. I also have five little permanent black tattoos scattered across my legs and a custom mold to navigate my lower half into on the radiation machine so that they can position my body in the absolute same way every time. There is no “close enough” when it comes to this whole radiation game, so when I heard that the machine was down, my heart sunk. It was not helped much when the tech said, “We thought for sure that they’d be ready by the time that you arrived, but we were wrong.” (evidently).

I hung out in my hospital gown for a bit and then the tech ran in and said that they were going to use a different machine. She said that it used different films but that the doctor had approved it, so I was good to go. I did not really feel good to go on the different machine with the different films (I want to do cancer just right, thank you very much). The Universe must have sensed my hesitation because as the tech was walking me to the different machine all the other techs started shouting, “No No No! He’s done. She can get on the other machine!” So the tech leads me back to my machine and I jump on. She starts to get me all positioned and another tech comes over the intercom and says that they haven’t calibrated the machine for the day yet so I need to jump off, and it will be about ten more minutes. I am crying inside. On any other day I could roll with this, but all I can think of right now is sweet, little Alina excited for her mama to come to her party, and I can’t get there because, cancer.

At this point the tech takes me to see Dr. Radiation so that I can at least get the appointment part out of the way while they ready the machine. As I’m waiting to be seen by her I borrow the phone (because I’m in a hospital gown this whole time with my phone locked up in the Women’s Changing Room). I make a quick call to school to relay the message to Alina’s teacher that I will be late, I just don’t know how late. I’m having visions of a very disappointed Alina when all of the parents file into the classroom and her mommy just isn’t there.

I meet with Dr. Radiation who is aware of my tight party schedule. I’m trying to figure out some way that I might be able to run over to the 10:30-12:30 party, drop Alina off at home with Rich and Asher after school, scoot back to radiation, and then back home to get the kids to hightail it back to school by Eva’s class party at 2pm. I really don’t think that there’s any way for me to make the pieces fit. Dr. Radiation suggests that if I can’t make it work they can just skip my treatment today and add another day on at the end of my run. I don’t even want to wrap my brain around moving this much-anticipated radiation finish line back another day, but it’s really a non-issue. I am scheduled to be done with my radiation treatments on Thursday and I already have my follow-up MRI and CT scan scheduled for Friday morning so that I can have the results in time to meet with my surgical oncologist next week (sigh).

Dr. Radiation gives me the once over. This is our last official weekly appointment. From here, we just cross our fingers and hope that it did what it was supposed to do. Dr. Radiation says that she wants to see me again 4-6 weeks post-op, and gives me a farewell hug. The tech scoops me up and runs me back to the machine while telling me that they have only done my “energies” on the machine but that at least it’s ready for me. I have no idea what the first part means, but I understand the “ready” part and so I hop on. They do what they do and I’m changed and running out to my car in a flash, which is no easy task because my leg really hurts these days. In all, I left the Cancer Center approximately five minutes earlier than I would have on any other day when I hadn’t moved my appointment up 45 minutes (best laid plans…).

The running was worth it. Despite my racing heart and knotted stomach, my sweet girl was sitting in a circle with her friends as the teacher ushered them through a singing game. I made it to school in time to see Alina skip around the circle of her peers as a little pink blur with her braided pigtails bouncing and her smile beaming as everyone sang “A Tisket, A Tasket.”

A Tisket, A Tasket.....Alina skips around the circle to put a valentine in a friend's basket

A Tisket, A Tasket…..Alina skips around the circle to deliver a valentine to a friend’s basket

After the song we ate fruit salad from the shared party goodies and some gluten free banana bread that I had baked and brought to the party to share. I got to spend time with her while she played outside, watching her run and seeing her smile framed by rosy, wind-kissed cheeks. We came home for a quick lunch, and then were back at school again to enjoy more fun and games at Eva’s party before returning home for the remainder of the day, which I can now scarcely remember due to the exhausted stupor.

Party #2 with Eva's class

Party #2 with Eva’s class

All things being equal, it was a pretty successful Valentine’s Day. Last year the girls and I spent the entirety of Valentine’s Day in bed. They were both home from school with whooping cough, and I was on week 19 of my bed rest stint with Asher’s pregnancy. They missed their class parties and valentines from friends, and I couldn’t have come to school for their parties even if they had been there. By comparison, this year was a step up, I guess. Next year I’m aiming for total health and well-being for us all, and maybe five conscious minutes with my husband to wish him a happy day too.

My sweet boy's first Valentine's Day outside the womb.

My sweet boy’s first Valentine’s Day outside the womb.

So in summary: Radiation=tired. Almost done. MRI and CT on Friday to see how things look following the radiation. Meet with my surgeon next Wed (the 23rd).

Anticipated needs for assistance in the near future: 1. if anyone is coming up this way from the St. Louis area and can bring a cooler of milk from our donor, that would save us a really long drive; 2. our school carpool partners are going to be out of the country for the first half of March, which will also encompass my surgery date. If any of our school friends wouldn’t mind dropping Eva off at our house at the end of the school day at any point from 3/1-3/15, that would be a big help to cut down on multiple trips to/from school. All the driving and coming and going with Asher and Alina in tow really saps my energy (see above) and also requires me to wake Asher up from his naps every day.

Thanks all!

So today’s video is a flash mob, because I have a bizarre fascination with them. I know that it’s a bit late on the notice, but if someone wants to organize the doctors, techs, and other patients at the Cancer Center to bust out into a flash mob tomorrow when I finish treatment, it might just make the whole five weeks worth it….After surgery, I’ll be tumor free. No cancer for me…….

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TBT: The Cancer Series-Part 5 (The one where I wean my baby)

If you want to read earlier posts from the Cancer Series or learn more about why I am posting these personal blog posts years later, you can do that here. This particular excerpt comes from the private blog that I maintained through MyLifeLine.org at the time surrounding my cancer diagnosis and treatment. It highlights the emotional and logistical struggles that I was moving through. I was trying to reconcile the attachment parenting choices that I wanted to make (i.e., exclusive breastfeeding and child-led weaning) with the gravity of the illness that I was facing, coupled with my intense desire to do everything in my power to increase the likelihood of the success of my cancer fight. It recounts my attempts to meet my infant son’s nutritional needs in a way that was healthy for both him and for me.

Although I did not know it at the time, in addition to Asher dealing with a mommy who had cancer, I was dealing with a child who had multiple food allergies and feeding delays (we still attend feeding therapy regularly four+ years later). This is our journey through weaning. I am posting it here to relay my experience and my story. It is not to be construed as medical advice, or any kind of advice for that matter.

This entry was originally published on February 9, 2011, approximately three weeks after I began my radiation treatments.

Let’s cut to the chase. I’m tired. Actually today is better than the past two days have been, which is why I have the energy to at least get to item #26 on my “to do” list for the day and post a little update. Undoubtedly, the fact that three weeks ago Eva was home sick the whole week, and two weeks ago Alina was home sick the whole week, and last week the Blizzard of the Century kept everyone home most of the week all contributed to my general exhaustion. I think there’s more to it than that. I’m not sure if the current fatigue is due to the radiation itself or to the need to get to radiation every day or both. I’m hoping that at least a big part of it is due to the need to get to radiation every day, and will thus be temporary.

I go to radiation every morning right after I put Asher down for his nap. This means that the time that used to be my least parentally-demanding portion of the day is now unavailable to get laundry, dishes, cleaning, cooking etc. done. Nevertheless, all of those things are just sitting around still waiting for my attention later in the day without regard to how tired I am feeling. This brings me back to the radiation itself. I do think that the actual radiation is making me tired too. The last two days I woke up wondering how soon it would be before I could get back into bed, and my limbs felt a bit too cumbersome to both lift and move. Bleh. But enough about the tired, let’s move on to the next thing.

Weaning. It’s been almost 48 hours since Asher last nursed. It makes me sad. He’s doing pretty well with it overall, but it makes me sad. And did I mention the sad? In a quiet moment, I took this video of me and Asher on my third day of radiation, when I knew that our days of nursing were numbered. Rich offered to take it for me, but I really wanted to just remember what it looked like to gaze down at Asher while he nursed to sleep. He always rubbed his hand back and forth across my stomach while nursing. I think that it was his comfort object. I guess that’s the best reason to have a soft mommy belly.

To clarify, according to several of the most respected breastfeeding authorities, it is believed to be safe to continue nursing through radiation. In fact, the only instance in which nursing is thought to be contraindicated with radiation is in the case of breast cancer. Even then it is believed to be okay to nurse on the side that is not receiving the radiation. Tuck that away as an interesting fact, because both the nurse at the radiation oncologist’s office and the La Leche League leader with whom I spoke told me otherwise. If I hadn’t challenged them based upon other research that I had done, both they and I would have continued to believe this incorrect information.

So, you ask, if it’s safe to breastfeed then why am I weaning? (Side note: Did you all know that Rich, Alina, and I were the “faces” of La Leche League’s national capital campaign in 2007? We were. Did you know that I have spent every day of the past 8+ years either pregnant or nursing or both? I have. Do you still wonder why I’m tired? I don’t.).

Jokes aside, breastfeeding is very important to me for many many reasons and has been a big part of my mothering relationship with each of my babies. I was not eager to wean Asher so soon. In fact, I have never weaned my children. I followed the girls’ lead on that, but by the same token it is very important to me that I do everything that I reasonably can to restore and maintain my good health so that I can mother my children until they are parents themselves.

I had the very strong feeling that I needed to stop nursing to allow my hormones to regulate. My body does not seem to respond well to the hormone fluctuations associated with pregnancy/nursing (menopause is going to be FUN!) I didn’t want to make this fight any harder on my body than necessary. I also wanted to conserve my body’s energy for healing rather than producing food. In addition, I was hoping that not nursing at night would allow for better sleep, because radiation is exhausting and my body needs the sleep time to repair from the damage done by the treatment. Most importantly though, was my desire to be able to really pursue cleansing and detoxifying my body following radiation, cancer killing, surgery, etc. I can’t detox while still nursing, or my body will dump the toxins into my milk, and then into my sweet boy, and that’s not a good option. So, here we are at weaning.

Now, this is an appropriate time to remind all that both of the girls are on gluten and dairy free diets as they seem sensitive to gluten and dairy. Asher too showed sensitivities to gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts through my milk, so I rarely ate any of those. This presented me with the challenge of what to feed him if my milk, and soy or dairy-based milk substitutes weren’t going to be an option, and he was heretofore exclusively breast fed. I tried him on some food (mushed avocado and applesauce). That was a disaster. He hated both, and clearly kept trying to figure out how to get the liquidy evil off of his tongue (he tried gagging, drooling, crying, etc.) He also got all rashy, and the whole thing was generally bad news.

My next step was to look into breast milk banks to see about acquiring alternative human milk for him (before you judge: just how well do you know the cows making milk for the local grocery store? I figure that at least we’re talking the same species here). Well, guess how much milk from a milk bank costs. Just guess…..Okay, so milk from a milk bank costs four dollars AN OUNCE. So after writing Alina a bill for three trillion dollars and talking with my insurance company who said that they would not cover the expense because Asher did not have a medical need (no, just the lady who MAKES the stuff), I looked into other resources. I found two, well, actually three.

1: Friends who know people who lactate 2: milkshare.com 3: Eats on Feets. The latter two are organizations designed to connect moms in need of donor milk with women willing to donate milk. Through these three channels I have been able to find four generous and kind women who have agreed to provide milk for Asher. They have also provided me with copies of their pertinent medical tests and patiently answered all of my many questions (there are questionnaires to guide moms through what to ask potential donors).

Now my freezers are stuffed with milk for Buddy, and we’ve been able to take on the weaning process. *FYI for those still concerned, we follow the recommended procedures for flash pasteurizing Asher’s donor milk to kill potentially harmful viruses or bacteria. This surely degrades some of the amazing health benefits of breast milk, but it seemed to be a reasonable and responsible compromise versus formula feeding. Check out this video if you too want to learn how to flash pasteurize for some such reason.

**Second FYI, no I can’t find donors who are gluten, dairy, and nut free AND other mothers do things like take medication or drink caffeine GAK! The loss of control has me reeling, but I’m trying to be very zen about it all. That said, Asher has developed a white coating with a big white spot on his perfect formerly-pink tongue since starting donor milk, any suggestions? (I don’t think it’s thrush by the way, but what do I know?).

Weaning has been a series of fits and starts (Ha! I so did not mean for that to be a pun, but I guess it is. Yuck. I don’t even like puns. Anyway, moving on). At first we started with night weaning and after a bunch of sad and screamy nights it seemed to be going pretty well. Then Asher got the cold that Eva and Alina had. That put the kibosh on the weaning and he was back to nursing at night.

He never really took a bottle, but we were able to get him to consider using a sippy cup. He was taking in about 6 oz. of donor milk each day, and nursing the rest of the time. Over the past few weeks we have worked his donor milk intake up to 25-30 oz. per day, although he was still nursing once or twice a night.

Last night, Rich and I finally got our acts together enough to flash pasteurize milk and set it on ice in our room in anticipation of Asher waking up. I warmed the milk in our sink and fed Asher that when he woke up at 2:30am rather than nursing him, and voila! Just like that it’s been almost two whole days since I’ve nursed.

I’m not ready for it. I knew that in a way I would probably never be totally ready to wean my last baby because it means closing a chapter on a very special and unique aspect of mothering. I really was not prepared for it to happen so soon or for this reason. That said, I feel confident in my decision. I know in my heart that if the adult Asher was talking to me right now he’d say, “Mom, I’ll be okay. Take care of yourself.” That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have tears streaming down my cheeks as I write this.

I will note though that it hasn’t been all bad. For 10.5 months Asher has almost always fallen asleep nursing. Whenever he is tired or hungry he makes a rather violent horizontal dive bomb for my chest to make his desires known. Since the weaning process has progressed, Asher has stopped diving to nurse when tired. He now cuddles his head against my shoulder, a move that he had previously reserved for Rich. Now, after I give him his sippy of milk before bed or naps, I stand up and hold him. He snuggles into me and I get to kiss his head and tell him how much I love him, before putting him down to sleep. It’s not the same as nursing him to sleep, but it is still loving and special, and I know that he feels cared for by his mom. I’ll take that.

That all got way longer than I’d planned. Sorry. According the MyLifeline.org, I’m supposed to try to end on an entertaining and uplifting note. Here, I like this. Enjoy.


As a final note, I cannot possibly post this without extending a very heartfelt thank you to the many mothers who fed my son when I could not. It was the greatest possible gift that we could have received at that time; making it easier to do something very difficult. I will never forget it.

I wanted to share this story that I came across today. It is from a mother who donated milk as a way to connect with, and honor the baby whom she lost (I do not know this woman, only her story). Donation is a beautiful and special gift from child-to-child and from mother-to-mother.

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What I Learned By Taking My Daughter to My Cancer Yoga Class

Photo credit: Patrick Savalle / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Patrick Savalle / Foter / CC BY-SA

I’d mentioned here a while back that I was bumping up my self-care commitment to include yoga class for me once again. In the spring, I started taking a weekly class at a nearby cancer center. There were a few reasons why I chose the class, not the least of which being that I feel compelled to keep myself involved in a community of people living through and beyond cancer. It keeps me grounded and connected in a way that a traditional yoga class cannot. I also remember that when I was first diagnosed almost five years ago, it was very important for me to see and be around survivors. It gave me hope to interact with people who were okay and living their lives, knowing that they had once been as scared and overwhelmed and uncertain as I was. I want recently diagnosed people who are at the cancer center to see me, to talk to me, and to know that there is hope beyond diagnosis and treatment. I also appreciate that the class strongly emphasizes mindfulness and meditation in addition to the strict yoga practice. It helps me to actively tune into calm.

As the school year was winding down in the late spring, Asher was enrolled in a morning camp program held at his school, and Eva had a summer school program on her schedule. Alina however was not interested in the idea of camp or classes at all. It was a difficult time for her. She was coming to the end of the school year, having finally become settled at the school where she had started in October when we moved from our old home into my parents’ house. She knew that we were looking for a new house of our own, and that although we were committed to staying in the same town and school district, it was likely that she was going to have to change elementary schools again before the next school year started in the fall. For a child who craves security and is slow to warm up to new people and situations, the idea of another new school, her fourth school in four years, was daunting. She was adamant that she was not going to go to camp over the summer too; too many new people and places in the recent past and on the horizon. She did not want a new school and she WOULD NOT go to camp. Despite many attempts at revisiting the conversation from every angle, she was adamant, and I was going to respect her limit. I decided that it might just be what she needed to have some one-on-one time with me during the summer while her siblings were away in the mornings.

I enjoy Alina very much, and she is an easy companion. Unfortunately however, that left me with the challenge of having to figure out what to do for the hour each week that I had set aside for my Cancer Yoga class. The easy answer would have been to just take a break from the class for the summer, but I hoped to find a way to meet both of our needs. I took a chance and asked the yoga instructor if she would mind me bringing my nine year-old to the class on occasion when there was nobody available to stay with her at home. She was open to the idea, and even a bit excited when I told her that Alina might be tempted to join in; she has an enviable tree pose.

It has only been within the last year that we have been talking openly and more frequently with the kids about me having had cancer. There were many reasons for that decision that warrant their own post entirely, but nevertheless my cancer is now part of the family culture. This class was going to be a chance for Alina to take a step with me into the cancer community at a deeper level. Before the first class, I talked with Alina a little bit about the cancer center and who would be attending the classes. I wanted her to be prepared for the possibility of seeing people in different stages of their cancer treatment and recovery; some might be bald, many would be wearing compression sleeves to address lymphedema. I wanted her to know that everyone there would be doing what they could, and what they needed to, so that she wouldn’t be upset if she saw someone take a break or sit out during a pose. We talked about what she could bring to keep her quietly occupied throughout the hour-long class if she decided that she wanted to observe rather than participate. She opted to bring a notebook and colored pencils to the first class, and to watch from the sidelines.

The yoga class is held at the cancer center in a large room with a wraparound window and a view of a pond across the street. As I prepared for class, I once again offered to lay out a mat for Alina next to my own in case she wanted to join in on any pose. She declined and seated herself on the floor near the wall a few feet from my mat. The teacher welcomed her and began instruction. Alina watched quietly while she drew a picture in her notebook. On occasion, as I moved through poses I would sneak Alina a little wink or a quick kiss. She mostly smiled shyly and watched. At the end of class the teacher acknowledged her for being a good observer and presented her with a small gift of candies and tumbled stones carved with some inspiring words. Alina was in heaven.

As the weeks wore on, there were many times when my parents were home to watch Alina during my class, but Alina still wanted to come with me. She did not bring a book or pencils after that first class; she preferred to watch me and to watch the instructor. She only joined in once after repeated invitations. She stood in front of me on my mat as we did tree pose. Her little body stood straight and strong in front of mine. She did not waiver until the teacher tried to snap a photo of the mother and daughter trees; then she quickly retreated back to her safe space by the wall. She would not return to the mat for yoga the rest of the summer. Slowly however, she came to take comfort in the rhythm of the class. After a while, I was able to entice her to come snuggle up next to me under a blanket at the end of the classes. We would relax in our “spooning shavasana” and listen to the guided meditation together.

I often thought that I would have found the experience rather uncomfortable and boring if I had been in her position. Spending an hour each week during the summer watching a bunch of grownups do yoga doesn’t sound like much fun to me, yet she always wanted to come with me to class. As I observed her in life, it became evident that she was gaining more from the class than I had realized. In quiet moments of our days, especially when we were out in nature, she just started to assume poses on her own. It became her own silent practice; something that she did in her comfortable space and at her own pace. The experience of attending class with me also helped her put faces to cancer; to demystify what is often a scary and overwhelming word. She saw many people, standing straight and strong, breathing their way through challenges and stretching themselves just a little bit beyond what was comfortable.

Tree pose at the lake.

Tree pose at the lake.

As summer drew to a close, we found a house and moved in a week before the start of the school year. Alina was leaving her grandparents’ home and going to a new house and a new neighborhood across town. She would be attending another school in the fall, as she had feared. She was miserable. Beyond miserable. It was a lot of change. One day, just prior to the move, Rich took the kids to the park so that I could focus on packing. He sent me a picture from the park with the message, “I think that this is your influence.” It made me smile. She was breathing her way through challenges too. Finding space for peace and calm amidst tumult.

"I think that this is your influence."

“I think that this is your influence.”

The first day of school was approaching, and the energy within the house was pretty intense. Three kids starting new schools, and for Alina it was especially difficult. She did not want to go. We made the decision to have Alina and Asher ride the bus on the first day so that they could get any initial instructions about bussing to school, and begin to become familiar with the routine. I then drove to the school on my own to attend a meeting that was being held for the kindergarten parents just after the school day began. I had not told the kids about the meeting because I thought that they would balk at taking the bus if they knew that I was going to be driving. I was also afraid that Alina might refuse to get out of the car if she rode to school with me, and this would send her brother into a tailspin too.

I arrived at school while all of the students were still standing outside waiting to be let into their classrooms, which I had not anticipated. My eyes found Alina, standing alone, head bowed while the other fourth graders around her chatted and laughed with their friends. Before I could even think about the wisdom of my action, I approached her and gave her a hug. As soon as she saw me, she burst into tears. I held her and promised her that this was the last first day when she wouldn’t know anyone. I reminded her to breathe. I took a few deep breaths myself as the bell rang, she wiped her tears, and she headed in through the doors.

Parents’ Night at school was the following week. It was a chance to meet teachers and to see the classrooms. Alina wanted me to be sure to introduce myself to a couple of moms because their daughters were her newfound friends. As I walked into the fourth grade room we were encouraged to look around before locating our child’s desk. Strung up along the perimeter of the room were essays that the children had written and mounted on bright construction paper; “What is something fun that you did this summer?” This is a start-of-school essay that my kids tend not to enjoy. They have never attended fancy overnight camps or gone on a family vacation like many of their classmates, and it sometimes leaves them feeling sad about what we haven’t been able to provide. We try to encourage them to remember the simpler, but still fun things that we do, and to write about those. I saw Alina’s essay “Yoga with My Mom.” As I started to read, I found myself fighting back tears.

cancer yoga with my mom essay

The thing is, we all find ourselves at times having to do something that we really don’t want to. Not just math homework or eating blue cheese, but something that we would give anything to avoid, like saying goodbye to our friends and being the new kid at a new school again, or being diagnosed with a scary disease that makes you wonder if you will live to make any new memories with your children. What began as a creative solution to a logistical problem became a life lesson for my girl, and for me. Sometimes life is hard in ways that nobody can change. When it is, look for the simple joys, find peace in the quiet moments, turn inward for strength, and outward for support. Above all, remember to breathe.

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TBT: The Cancer Series – Part 4 (the one with the Snowpocalypse)

If you want to read earlier posts from the Cancer Series or learn a bit more about why I’m posting these personal blog posts years later, you can do that here. This particular post takes place just prior to, and shortly following a storm that quickly became known as “The Snowpocalypse.” There was a lot of buzz and concern about the “storm of the century” that was headed our way. It turns out that the buzz was well-deserved. Parts of Northern Illinois were hit by a massive blizzard that dumped over twenty inches of snow in a matter of hours. Rush hour traffic from Chicago quite literally came to a standstill as cars were abandoned on major roadways or drivers spent the night in their vehicles. It was a storm unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime, and it took days for the cities and roadways to recover.

The girls "helping" me prepare to shovel the post-Snowpocalypse driveway.

The girls “helping” me prepare to shovel the post-Snowpocalypse driveway.

As someone going through cancer treatment at the time, the Snowpocalypse added another layer of fear and loss of control to my treatment plan. I continue to remember being afraid that I would have to miss out on one or more days of my radiation schedule and how that might impact my prognosis. After the initial storm, I was desperate to dig an exit route out of our driveway so that I could get to radiation if it resumed the next morning. Our snow blower had broken, and I was outside with the girls while Asher napped and Rich navigated conference calls from home. My leg was really hurting from the radiation and my shovel was barely making a dent in the massive piles, but I had to keep going. I was at it for about an hour when our new neighbor who I hadn’t even formally met and who had no idea of my cancer status, completed his driveway and brought his snowblower over to help me finish up with ours, even though it had started snowing again and was pretty brutal outside. It was an act of kindness that made a real impact for me during a true time of need. You just never know what battle someone else is fighting. Remembering that day has propelled me toward many acts of kindness since. I can only hope to lighten someone else’s load the way that he did for me.

A lot of snow standing between my car and the Cancer Center.

A lot of snow standing between my car and the Cancer Center.

This entry was originally published on Tuesday February 1, 2011 in the heart of The Snowpocalypse.

You might have heard that the Chicagoland area is expecting nine feet of snow within the next day or so. Consequently, you might be wondering how Corrie is going to get to radiation tomorrow (Rich hates when people speak of themselves in the third person, but I think that as it’s meant to be you having a thought about me, he’ll forgive me this time). Anyway, here’s the skinny on that one. Yesterday, when I had my weekly meeting with my doctor I asked her about the impending storm and what I should do come Wednesday in the event that the sky opens up and dumps a ton of snow. She assured me that they’d be there, adding that she might even spend the night at a friend’s home closer to the hospital since she herself lives far away. That said, I live 20 minutes away so I figured that it was worth asking anyway because even though they might be open, it doesn’t mean that I can get there. She said that it’s no big deal, they’d just tack on an extra day at the end of my run. As it turns out, it’s a good thing that I asked.

Driving to the Cancer Center this morning, I had my Grandma B.’s voice very loudly in my head. She would have called me today if she could have because she knows that the weather is bad and that I have treatment tomorrow. She would be very worried about me planning to drive in inclement weather. Frankly, she wouldn’t have liked me going this morning just knowing that bad weather was scheduled to begin six hours later. After she got off the phone with me, she would have called Mom and said the same thing. I miss her. It’s nice knowing that she would have woken up today thinking of me, and wanting to take care of me.

When I arrived at the Cancer Center you’d have thought that they were giving treatment away. The Cancer Center section of the parking garage was totally filled and I had to bring the minivan around to my valet boyfriend to park for me lest I be late. (Did I not mention that I have a valet boyfriend? Well I do. His name is Vlad. At least in my head it is. His name may actually be Jeff or Craig, but I have my doubts. Nevertheless, more on that another time). So, the place was packed and I figured that the predicted weather conditions were prompting people to come in early to receive their treatments. Sure enough, when I was done getting my radiation I asked about tomorrow and the tech said that there was now a 90% chance that they’d be closed, but I should expect an official call later today (no slumber party for Dr. Radiation, I guess).

When I got back to the women’s dressing room Stage 3 Endometrial Cancer (turns out that her name is Helen) and Lady with the Grumpy Attitude were there waiting. I broke the news to them that tomorrow looks like it’s going to be a bust. Lady with the Grumpy Attitude was really disappointed. Apparently tomorrow was supposed to be her last day of radiation. She’s really been looking forward to it. She actually wondered aloud if maybe they’d just let her do today and then be done. Helen and I surmised that Grumpy’s plan would not be well received. I figure that if the medical establishment gets mad at you for not completing a full course of antibiotics, they probably don’t want you flaking out on the end of your cancer treatments. I told Grumpy that we’d throw her a party on Thursday to celebrate her being done.

Grumpy and I kibbitzed a bit (Helen got called back for her turn after me). She told me that the last 10-14 days of radiation are pretty tough and that sleeping gets hard once the skin starts to blister. Hmmm, I’d kind of hoped to avoid the blistery skin thing. It sounds painful. She added that from that point until about two weeks after treatment ends I’ll be pretty tired and uncomfortable (this ain’t Grumpy’s first time at the rodeo. Maybe she’s not so grumpy after all, just really really tired).

I’m not looking forward to the prospect of painful blistery skin that keeps me up at night. I’m not sure how exactly to explain to three young kids that they can’t run or jump into me. Well, I know how to explain it, I just don’t know how to get them to actually remember, and Asher is always dancing/pushing off my lap. That’s sure to spell trouble. I have no idea what one wears in a blizzard when they have to keep fabric from irritating their blistery leg skin. Nine feet of snow is not yoga pants weather I’m afraid. I guess we’ll all know soon enough what those last couple weeks will look like. I’ll be there at the end of the week.

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TBT: The Cancer Series-Part 3 (the one where I talk about hair)

I sometimes wonder if I am being self-indulgent or living in the past when I post these excerpts from my personal cancer blog from early 2011. I may be, but I also think that although these experiences and feelings are in my past, they are very much present for others who might relate to my words. A longtime friend-through-a-friend whom I have known since college will be having surgery to remove cancer from her body tomorrow while her children wait at home wondering why mommies and daddies get cancer. I saw her recently and it was clear that so much of what I struggled with is washing over her. I hope that for her, and for anyone else who might be fighting against cancer right now, these words serve as some form of empathy and validation. Just keep moving through it. If you want to read parts one or two of the cancer series, please do. This will be here when you get back.

This entry was originally published on January 28, 2011; six weeks after receiving my diagnosis and about two weeks into my radiation treatments. It reflects in part on my gratitude for looking well despite being sick; this allowed me to protect the kids from some degree of my vulnerability. However, the mismatch between my outward appearance and my internal state also reminded me a bit of being in one’s first trimester of pregnancy; so much is going on, you may feel exhausted, sick, concerned and yet to the average passerby there is no hint of a deviation from normal, unless you tell…

Several people have commented lately that I’m looking great (thanks!) It makes me think of a t-shirt that I saw when looking for cancer advocacy clothes (I’ll show you the t-shirt that I settled on once I get a picture of me in it).

My mirror selfie in the women's changing room at the cancer center. It was Feb. 4, 2011; World Cancer Day. I wore my t-shirt as my battle armor before changing into my hospital gown for radiation.

My mirror selfie in the women’s changing room at the cancer center. It was Feb. 4, 2011; World Cancer Day. I wore my t-shirt as my battle armor before changing into my hospital gown for radiation.

Anyway, the shirt that I saw said something like, “Nobody told me I looked this good before I had cancer.” It took me a second to get the joke, but once I did I found it quite funny, and it’s true. I am hearing with much greater frequency that I look good. No complaints, I’ll take it thank you very much. I’m not sure though if the joke is that people say that you look good because they’re trying to make you feel better, or if they don’t know what to say, or if they are in fact surprised that you don’t look more “sick” given the gravity of what’s going on with your body. In my case though, there has been one recent significant adjustment that I imagine factors in to the observed change in my appearance as well.

When Eva was born, amidst all of the drama and stress and confusion my hospital bag was brought back home even though I had not been. I was stuck in the hospital for six days with a brand new baby, limited ability to move, tubes in my hands and plastic hospital bracelets all up my arms that kept scratching her new baby skin, and no ability to pull my hair up and out of the way because my hair elastics had been brought home in the bag. I remember thinking that my hair was such an annoyance and always in the way as I struggled to figure out how to mother this new little person from the confines of a small bed in a miniscule room tethered to machines seemingly everywhere (Interesting Fact: Rich hit his head 112 times on the TV suspended from the ceiling in that room). About fourteen minutes after we got home from the hospital I assumed my “mommy hairdo” of my hair pulled back off my face in either a ponytail or makeshift bun. For eight years I’ve pulled my hair back to keep busy little fingers from tugging at it or tiny faces from wiping their noses in it as they snuggled against my shoulder. Wearing my hair down became relegated to the extremely rare adult-only outing, so much so that Alina developed a unique Pavlovian response wherein she would burst into tears any time that she saw me take my hair down even briefly for fear that I was leaving her to go off somewhere.

When I go to radiation each morning, I tend to see the same group of women moving in and out of the women’s changing room. We smile and chat briefly. There’s Breast Cancer, Colon Cancer with Metastases to the Kidney, Stage 3 Endometrial Cancer, Round 2 of Chemo, Lady with the Pretty White Wig, Lady Who Won’t Wear a White Wig Because She Always Dyed Her Hair Dark, Lady with the Grumpy Attitude, etc. I can’t help but to notice that among them I am clearly Young Lady with the Baby as they are all between the ages of my mother and my grandmother. I can’t help but notice that I’m also The One With the Hair Who Doesn’t Need Chemo, as all but one of them comes to radiation sporting a wig or a hat to protect her against this windy cold weather and this evil disease. I hear them talk about chemo and the nausea and the debilitating pain and I am acutely grateful that at least for now that component of the cancer trifecta (radiation, chemo, surgery) is not part of my future. Truth be told, there is not really an effective chemotherapy for liposarcoma, which is why it has not been recommended as a part of my treatment. Regardless of the reason, I have been spared the physical and emotional pain of losing control of one more part of my life, and I have been allowed to keep my hair and at the same time allowed to remain healthy looking regardless of my cancer status. To my children their mom looks and is healthy, and for that and many other things I am thankful. So if you’ve seen me you may have noticed that after an eight-year hiatus I am once again wearing my hair down. It’s my very small tribute to the others who have needed to sacrifice so much more than I have to this illness, and it is my personal expression of gratitude that I still have my hair to enjoy, even though Asher has been wiping his nose in it all week.

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TBT: The Cancer Series-Part 2

Counse / Foter / CC BY

As I’ve mentioned before, this blog began in its original version back in 2007 when I was a crunchy parent trying to live a healthy and mindful life with my husband and two children. The blog got sidelined when we were faced with a series of health challenges that started in the summer of 2008. I kept thinking that life would settle down and I could return to my writing at CrunchyParent.com, but amidst the years of chaos we forgot to pay the annual web hosting fee. As a result, the blog content vanished. I had backed up some of my posts, but far from all. Those that I saved are on a computer that has been languishing in storage with the majority of our possessions while we have been living with my parents and house hunting these past nine months. I hope to retrieve and re-post some of what I had written in the past because I think that it provides context, perspective, and maybe even helpful information.

Until I am able to post some of the “greatest hits” from CrunchyParent.com of yesteryear, I wanted to periodically share some of what I had written on a private blog that I maintained through MyLifeLine.org, a free website service for individuals with cancer, back when I was going through my cancer treatment and early recovery. For more about why I’m revisiting my cancer treatment days and to read part 1 of The Cancer Series, take a look here.

The following entry was initially written on January 26, 2011 five weeks after I had received my diagnosis and almost two weeks into my radiation treatment.

Radiation warning sign

Radiation #9

I had my ninth session of radiation yesterday, which I only know because the nurse told me that, right before saying that I’m almost done! I’m not sure how 9 out of 25 equals almost done, but I appreciate her optimism.

I meet with the radiation oncologist once a week to discuss progress, symptoms and whatnot and yesterday was the day. It is supposed to be Mondays but she was not in on Monday so I guess Tuesday was the day this week. Before leaving for treatment in the morning, Rich asked me if I had any questions that I wanted to bring up when I saw the doctor, and I did….

Question #1: Lymphedema-what is my risk and what if anything can I do to minimize this? (See here if you want to know more about lymphedema. Don’t go to Wikipedia unless you want to lose sleep trying to remove the images from your brain).

Question #2: Radiation-why is nothing done to protect the rest of my body during the daily x-rays and radiation treatment? Haven’t they heard that radiation can cause cancer?

So here are the answers…secondary lymphedema can result from damage to the lymphatic system following radiation, removal of the lymph nodes, surgery etc. Although my lymph nodes have not been impacted by my cancer they may be compromised by radiation (scar tissue) and the whole lymphatic drainage system will be disrupted by the tumor removal. The surgeon should be able to comment more about the degree of the disruption. In any case, I am at a lifelong risk of developing lymphedema in my leg although the doctor suspects that it would be mild and hopefully transient. To prevent this I have to try to avoid overuse/underuse of the limb (e.g., standing for long periods of time, immobility during lengthy air travel, etc.); infection (cuts on my leg, pedicures at a salon), and injury (no sharp objects for the kids and a suit of armor for me). She also wrote me a prescription to be evaluated at the lymphedema clinic at the hospital to discuss anything else that I can do before or after treatment to reduce my risk.

Now for #2…I can’t help but notice that every day I walk into a room with a great big door that bears a rather threatening-looking sign saying, “CAUTION very high radiation area.” I recognize that the picture above shows a sign with a less aggressive warning but that’s only because my sign is in a restricted area and I don’t bring my fancy phone with me when I enter the restricted area. I was unwilling to enter the restricted area later to snag a scary-sign picture because I’m basically a rule follower (*unless the rules make no sense, in which case all bets are off). Anyway, every day I pass the scary sign and enter the room and lay down on the strange table under the giant machine with the robotic arm and whirling parts and I have only a hospital gown to protect me from the beams so strong that they warrant their own special sign and an eight inch thick door. Asher has his thumb x-rayed and I had to wear an iron apron, yet for this daily adventure, nothing.

So the doctor tells me that the beams are targeted and that there is some minimal internal scatter but no protective garment would impact that. There is some external risk as well, but I’d have to wear a protective garment the size of a house to provide sufficient protection so no luck there either. She adds however, that the residual radiation is less than I would receive flying on a plane from New York to LA (which I did every day for 25 days straight LAST month). So, asked and answered I suppose.

There you have it, my first official update. Mylifeline.org has kindly provided me with tips for making my update “great.” In brief: 1. Post a new photo with updates for more visual appeal (check); 2. Write the truth. People want to know what’s really happening. (yup); 3. Even though the truth may be hard news or a serious setback, try to end the message on a positive note. Can you share a special memory from the past, or an endearing moment from the day? (*I would like you all to take a moment to recall an experience in which I may not have exactly been an unabashed rule follower. One might spring to mind without too much difficulty). 4. Add a video from YouTube. Copy and paste the embed code from the YouTube video and post it into the content area of your Connecting Update. Okay, there were a whole lot of instructions there that I don’t understand. I’m sure that Rich can translate later. In the meantime, check this one out. Nothing to do with cancer, but it makes me laugh:

Oh wait, I just re-read the instructions and I think that’s what I just did. Woo hoo!

Love to you all!

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Doing Yoga With My Face: My Search for Greener Glamour (and a review of Jeffree Star Cosmetics)

I was at my Cancer Yoga class this morning. We were working on a balancing pose, and I was challenging myself with a more advanced version of the pose than I have been able to do before. Balancing is not my strength, especially after losing one of my quadriceps muscles to cancer. It is something that I have to work on consciously. As I was focusing on my breath and on the pose, aware of every wobble, I was actively reminding myself what we are often taught in yoga. This is my yoga practice. This is my practice to follow at my pace. The teacher or the person next to me are focusing on their practice; this is mine, and I am to focus on me. I may be at a different place in my practice from them today, or from myself last week or next week. This is my practice. This is my practice. I was grateful to be able to do more with the pose today than I had before. It is where I was today. It was not important how I compared to someone else, or even to other versions of myself.

I am practicing in my motherhood as well. The balance poses are the hardest for me there too. I have so often been completely consumed with my desire to meet the needs of my children to the highest degree and at the most advanced level, that I have been totally unable to find my balance at times. When the children were younger and nursing, waking at all hours, or needing to be sung to sleep, it was nearly impossible not to have my life revolve almost entirely around their needs. There was an extreme imbalance of self-care and child-care. I am not suggesting that is the way that it must be or should be; that is where I was in my practice at that time. I was at the bottom of my own list. Sleep was the most luxuriant indulgence that I could imagine when I could get it. Nutritious food (or any food sometimes) was the next. Focus on flattering clothing, cute shoes, or pretty makeup was beyond my scope. There was a considerable shift after I had cancer. Balancing became something that I needed to work on consciously in my yoga practice and in my “mommy practice” too. I am consciously striving to advance in my balancing in all aspects of my life. I want to acknowledge where I am today, each day, and focus on my practice as a mother, and as a woman too. I try not to compare myself to anyone else.

I received my July Birchbox in the mail recently. I imagine that I may not be the Birchbox target demographic. I find that the some of the products that they send are not a good fit for me and my green beauty preferences, but I have also discovered some great crunchy-friendly brands through them that keep me holding on to my subscription. I generally put some of the samples to the side and focus in on the healthier, greener choices that arrive. This month, Birchbox’s theme was “Go Bold.” They emphasized the point by including a bold, saturated, liquid lipstick in every box. The color that Birchbox selected for me was a bright, no-nonsense RED. This lipstick would have had no place on my face when I was a sleep-deprived new mother and it was all that I could do to make sure that the diapers were washed, the breast pump parts were cleaned, and the food was packed for the next day of work and daycare. It would have had no place on my face when I was a not-so-new mother and I was juggling the needs of a baby, a preschooler, and a second grader while trying to keep my eyes open as the toll of daily radiation treatments washed over me in a wave of exhaustion. This was not a “mommy” lipstick, certainly not a natural, crunchy mama lipstick, right? Natural, crunchy mamas are not bold. They are muted, and subtle, and Earthy. Then I remembered, this is my practice. It is about where I am, not the woman next to me. Not my perceived definition of what I am supposed to be. This is my practice, and I may be in a different place today then I was before; a different place than I will be the next week.

I had a moment of uncharacteristic impulsivity. I swear that the entire score from Kinky Boots started playing in my head and I grabbed for that red lipstick without even so much as glancing at the ingredients. This completely unprecedented move resulted in a bold, confident pout that had me looking for Mr. DeMille and mugging for my closeup. I felt glamorous in a way that tipped the scales drastically. This was not your mommy’s lipstick. I wore it out for a night on the town (well, I went and saw a movie with a friend, but that’s kind of a big deal for me these days).

The next day I sobered up from my lipstick euphoria, and took time to research the ingredients. I couldn’t help but notice both methylparaben and propylparaben. For those who are less familiar, parabens (methyl, ethyl, butyl, and propylparaben) are used as preservatives in cosmetics. There is increasing evidence to suggest that parabens can disrupt the endocrine system and may be linked to cancer. I avoid products that contain parabens. The lipstick was destined to be a one-hit-wonder for me. Now that I knew better, I was going to have to do better.

So with bold, glamorous dreams to motivate me, I went off in search of a liquid lipstick that would mirror the matte finish, bold saturation, staying power, and above all, gorgeous red shade of the Birchbox lipstick, but with greener, friendlier ingredients. It was no an easy quest, I tell you, but it led me to Jeffree Star Cosmetics, an indie brand with a cult following so strong that there are purchasing limits on each lipstick shade. (*Warning, Jeffree Star is bold in more than just lip color, you may wish to wait to view the website away from children or work as it is on the daring side.)

Jeffree Star Liquid Lipstick Ingredients

Although not marketed as a green beauty brand in the traditional sense, the gorgeous liquid-to-matte lip colors are free of parabens and gluten, and are vegan and 100% cruelty free. Enough to make me take notice. A definite step in the green beauty direction. I ran the other ingredients through the EWG skin-deep database, and they all looked pretty good; not perfect for a hard-core, crunchy-greenie, but pretty good overall. I scanned the colors to assess what might be the best match to the bold Birchbox red, and I settled on Redrum, described by Jeffree Star as, “the perfect red.”

Jeffree Star Redrum Velour Liquid Lipstick

When my lipstick arrived, I began my much anticipated side-by-side comparison. I could not believe how spot-on the color was. The shade and saturation of the two liquid lipsticks were almost identical. It seemed that I had found my perfect “greener red.”

Jeffree Star Redrum on the top. Birchbox bold red shade on the bottom.

Jeffree Star Redrum on the top. Birchbox bold red shade on the bottom.

Much like the Birchbox contender, The Jeffree Star lipstick went on easily and took just a little practice to achieve a neat line. In about a minute it had dried down from the shiny liquid to a stay-put matte. The Jeffree Star formula was ever so slightly more tacky to the touch and left a whisper of a mark on my water glass, but stayed bold and beautiful for hours. Most importantly, I loved how the color looked on my lips. Without a doubt, this was me being bold.

Trying on Jeffree Star Cosmetics Redrum Liquid Lipstick

I found that with both lipsticks removal was an adventure in color, and I looked strikingly like the Joker in The Dark Night, but it was only temporary. A cleansing oil followed up by a foaming cleanser removed all traces of the color.

I will continue to be on the lookout for ever greener options, but I was thrilled to be able to find Jeffree Star Cosmetics to scratch my newly sparked liquid lipstick itch. I was impressed by the staying power of the lipstick and the rich, saturated colors. I am pleased to see that even brands who do not market themselves as “green beauty” are being mindful about avoiding parabens, gluten, and other unnecessary ingredients in their products. I am glad to have a healthier choice that I can feel good about when I am in the mood to reach for that more advanced “Glamour Mama” pose in my life practice. After all, it’s all about balance.

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TBT: The Cancer Series-Part 1

Counse / Foter / CC BY

As I’ve mentioned before, this blog began in its original version back in 2007 when I was a crunchy parent trying to live a healthy and mindful life with my husband and two children. The blog got sidelined when we were faced with a series of health challenges that started in the summer of 2008. I kept thinking that life would settle down and I could return to my writing at CrunchyParent.com, but amidst the years of chaos we forgot to pay the annual web hosting fee. As a result, the blog content vanished. I had backed up some of my posts, but far from all. Those that I saved are on a computer that has been languishing in storage with the majority of our possessions while we have been living with my parents and house hunting these past nine months. I hope to retrieve and re-post some of what I had written in the past because I think that it provides context, perspective, and maybe even helpful information.

Until I am able to post some of the “greatest hits” from CrunchyParent.com of yesteryear, I wanted to periodically share some of what I had written on a private blog that I maintained through MyLifeLine.org, a free website service for individuals with cancer, back when I was going through my cancer treatment and early recovery. Although it has been almost five years since that time, so much of what I had written feels like yesterday to me. When I attend my Cancer Yoga classes or interact with others going through cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery right now I see so much of what I experienced; fear, uncertainty, confusion, loss. I feel a particular connection to parents of young children who are struggling to battle cancer while simultaneously trying to care for the needs of their kids, juggle work and financial demands, and plan for a future that has suddenly become unclear. Cancer survival statistics often only extend out for five years, which can seem especially discouraging when you are in your twenties, thirties, or forties. I know that when I was first diagnosed, I was actively looking for survivors who had lived many years beyond their diagnosis. It gave me hope and a brighter vision for my future.

As I begin to approach that five year survival mark, I want to acknowledge how I felt when I was there, and also say that I am (very gratefully) still here, and plan to be here for a long time. If you have found your way to CrunchyParent.com because you or someone who you love is battling cancer right now, I hope that you find a connection and know that you are not alone. No one fights alone.

This post was initially written in January, 2011 about a month after I had received my diagnosis.

As many of you know, I spent much of last year on bed rest growing Asher into a strong and healthy baby. For the majority of those 166 days, I was in bed lounging on my left side and counting the milestones in his development. My most exciting activities were short walks to the bathroom and visits to see my various doctors. Somewhere in that time I began to notice that the front of my left thigh seemed to be raised relative to my right thigh. I speculated that maybe it was unequal muscle development since I was supporting all of my weight with my left side while my right side atrophied. I was also concerned that perhaps it was a blood clot from excessive horizontal time. I showed the raised area to several of my doctors but they did not seem impressed, so I dismissed it as another pregnancy-related oddity.

With Asher’s birth came great joy and an intense desire to make up for time lost stuck in the house. The kids kept me busy and I was also going to physical therapy 1-2 times/week to recover some of the strength and mobility lost to the pregnancy complications. I thought that maybe PT would resolve the “leg lump” as I came to call it, but the months wore on and there was still no improvement. In fact it seemed that the lump was getting in my way even more, and limiting my range of motion. I asked my PTs to weigh in with thoughts and they speculated that it was an unresolved hematoma and referred me to my primary care doc. This move earned me an MRI which revealed a large mass in my thigh muscle. I was told to see a doctor who, “is familiar with tumors” and sat waiting for the first available appointment with an orthopedic oncologist.

Once the first available appointment rolled around, things began to move rather quickly. I met with the doctor on Monday, Dec. 20th, had a biopsy on Tuesday the 21st, and received my official diagnosis on Wednesday, December 22nd. To my great surprise, I was diagnosed with a low grade myxoid liposarcoma; a rare cancer of the soft tissues. Thursday, December 23rd was a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread elsewhere, and then we waited and waited and waited for results (note: try to avoid being diagnosed with cancer just prior to major holidays). Fortunately, the cancer did not appear to have spread and I was given a stage 1B (“B” for, “Boy, that’s a mighty big tumor you have there.”).

Since my diagnosis I have met with two radiation oncologists and also received a second surgical opinion from an orthopedic oncologist. Our good friend at a respected cancer institute has also been weighing in with his sage advice and bending the ears of the sarcoma specialists out there. It has been recommended by all that I undergo a 5-week course (25 rounds) of radiation to help define the margins around the tumor and then have surgery to remove the tumor after a 3-4 week rest period (to allow residual swelling to subside). I am told that following this course of treatment should result in an 80-90% chance that I will not have the cancer reappear within a 5-year time period. I personally am interested in the statistics for a 50 year time period but I have yet to find them, so I guess we’ll just aim for five years at a time.

I began radiation on January 13th. So far things are rolling along fairly smoothly as we adjust and try to manage the logistical odds and ends. I have been touched by all of the support that we have received from family and friends far and wide. With all of the changes that have been going on I am finding it increasingly challenging to return emails and phone calls in a timely fashion so I am hoping that I can post updates here to help keep people accurately informed and streamline my “workload.” Please know that I receive, read, and appreciate all of your messages and forgive me if I do not get to reply to each and every one.

***As a final note, although the girls know that I am getting “special” medicine and will need to have surgery on the bump in my leg, we have not used the word cancer with them. Cancer is hard enough for adults to manage emotionally and we’d prefer to save the girls from the stress of worrying unnecessarily about my health and future right now, since we have every reason to be optimistic about a cure. We would appreciate if you would please be sensitive around their little ears.***

Thank you!
-Corrie (and Rich and the rest)

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Cancer, Self-Care, and Gratitude

AlicePopkorn / Foter / CC BY

I don’t like asking for help. It is a quality that I am afraid that I have passed along to my children. In all honesty it’s really less about asking for help that I don’t like, it’s the needing help altogether. Logically I know that it is natural to need help with things in life, both large and small. Emotionally however, I do not like to show weakness or need. I want to be able to take care of myself. My parents say that one of my favorite phrases as a child was, “Me do it!” I think that I’m still a “Me do it!” girl at heart.

When I received my cancer diagnosis four-plus years ago, I had to surrender to the idea that I was going to need help. I was going to need help for myself and I was going to need help for my family to do all of the things that I normally did for us that I would no longer be able to accomplish on my own. One of the greatest immediate challenges was being able to go for my daily radiation treatments. They would only be for a short while each morning, but I needed time to get to and from the hospital, to change into a hospital gown, and assume my contorted position on the machine to be shot full of targeted, cancer-blasting radiation. Asher was still an infant at the time and he was not invited to join me in the “mommy microwave” for my five weeks of daily treatments. I didn’t have anyone to help me with childcare. We had never had the resources for a sitter so I had nobody to call. We had used up a lot of our community goodwill less than a year prior when I had spent 166 days on bed rest trying to sustain Asher’s pregnancy. Rich worked from home a lot at that time when he wasn’t traveling for his job, but he was always on seemingly endless conference calls and otherwise working to support us. Managing the needs of a ten month-old while mama was getting zapped daily wasn’t going to be easy for him to take on during his work day. Additionally, we were concerned about the impact of our need for his time on his job security, especially so close on the heels of my extended bed rest stint. His employment was our only source of income and health insurance.

I tried to explore potential resources for child care: could the hospital provide a volunteer to meet me at the cancer center and just hang out with Asher in the waiting room while I spent my 15-20 minutes in treatment each morning? Were the hospital social workers aware of any social service agencies who could provide short-term child care to allow parents access to treatment? Was there any child care available on-site at the hospital? I explored every suggestion or lead. I even recall one conversation in which I was told that if I had breast cancer then there might be some resource available. My somewhat desperate response was, “Well, I have breasts, and I have cancer. Is there any way somebody could help hold my baby so that I can get radiation now?” It was new territory for me. I had gone from avoiding asking for help to begging for it, and I wasn’t getting very far.

I was never able to secure the childcare needed to make my radiation appointments. Instead I did my best to schedule treatments during Asher’s morning nap and Rich suspended work travel for the five weeks, working from home to help in a pinch if Asher woke up before I could scoot back. Despite my childcare assistance failing, I made a commitment that I was going to take advantage of the help that was available to me. I was going to pick up the phone and ask for what I needed, and sometimes I might get it. Specifically, I decided that during the course of my radiation treatments through my surgery date I would do at least one thing each week that would support my health and healing in a way that felt good both physically and spiritually since treatment did not feel good in either of those domains. I was acknowledging my physical and emotional vulnerability and trying to honor it.

Luckily for me, I lived within reasonably close proximity of two cancer support centers and there were additional support and wellness services offered through the hospital cancer center where I went for my daily radiation. Through these resources I was able to schedule no-cost appointments for a range of services such as massage, Reiki, Healing Touch, reflexology, and more. I really wasn’t picky. Anything that allowed me to feel nurtured or cared for helped to fortify my spirit and feel supported in my fight. In addition, these services were provided by volunteers, some of whom were cancer survivors themselves. In those difficult days of treatment when I was kissing my infant son goodbye and trying to imagine how long I could be a healthy and well mama to him and his sisters, it was very helpful for me to see and speak to survivors, especially long-term survivors.

I did a really good job of my once a week appointments through the course of my radiation and up until my surgery. Then my focus shifted to physical therapy, twice a week at first, and then once weekly for 8 months to address pain and help me regain my ability to stand, walk, and increase strength and range of motion to compensate for the quadriceps muscle that had been removed from my leg. Other family needs required my attention as well. Asher in particular needed a lot of support at the time. I had weaned him when I started treatments and quickly discovered significant problems around his ability to eat. In addition we were involved in follow-up care for a surgery that he had to address a birth defect. We were navigating the Early Intervention system, working through a lot of evaluations and home visits, scheduling therapies and trying to rally the support necessary to meet his nutrition needs. My self-care dropped off. I picked it up again later for a bit with a weekend “cancer yoga” class, but that too fell by the wayside when demands became great for me to work over the course of a year or two to renovate our home so that we could sell it and move to an area that would better meet the needs of our family. Our budget was strictly “DIY if at all possible” so I was burning the midnight oil and weekends laying flooring, sewing curtains, painting walls and ceilings, refinishing cabinetry, replacing light fixtures, combing home improvement resale shops, Craigslist, and thrift stores, and learning my way around impressive power tools that I borrowed from my father. In the triaging of our life, I moved myself down the list.

So remember back when I said that this blog is self-care for me? Well, it is in the sense that it allows me a creative outlet and keeps me in a conversation about my interests. It also lets me hear my own voice and evaluate what I am saying sometimes. I recently read myself writing “I may never get to that ‘someday’ list that I always put my own needs on. I keep saying that I will join a gym again or start attending yoga classes at the cancer wellness center again, or make time to spend with friends, but somehow months go by and it just doesn’t happen.” It didn’t sit well with me when I saw those words in black and white. It showed me that I am not having integrity with my commitments. I am committed to treating myself as important; to supporting my physical, mental, and emotional health to live a long life of wellness. I cannot take care of my children if I die an early death that I contribute to from my own neglect. I don’t want “Me do it!” attached to that outcome.

I called the cancer support center closest to where we are now living. I signed up for a weekly “cancer yoga” class. It is a uncomfortable for me. I have to work through the conversations about whether I deserve to be there (I’m not in treatment anymore and haven’t been for a long time); how do I fit in (I am always the youngest usually by decades, can I relate to these people? Can they relate to how cancer has impacted my life?); what am I not getting done while there (I should be getting groceries so that the kids have food for lunches. I need to figure out dinner for tonight. Do I need to skip out on the ending meditation to pick Asher up from school on time?, etc.) I’m doing it anyway though. I try to clear my mind. When thoughts of questioning or doubt creep in I try to picture all of the people who have donated time or money to cancer research and to cancer support agencies. They want me to be okay. They want me to live a long, healthy life and to be able to care for my children. I focus my energy and gratitude toward them. I receive their support. I honor their personal struggles and the loved ones who they may have lost to cancer; who may have inspired the generosity that allowed me to have this moment of nurturing. Lunches and dinner will work themselves out. Asher won’t be stranded at preschool. I am grateful for this day. I am grateful for this moment. I am grateful for this support. “We do it.”

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Ways to Support Elimination of Toxins Following Routine Cancer Tests or Other Medical Procedures

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So today was one of those days on which I get to feel grateful that I am a cancer survivor, while also being reminded that I will always be someone who has had cancer. It is emotionally and physically uncomfortable for me and brings me back to the time of my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I remember what it felt like to go through and I try to process the whole experience a little more with each reminder.

This morning I had my routine CT scan of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis to check for possible metastatic disease and an MRI of the upper half of my leg, where I had my original tumor. Again this is just routine aftercare for me, hopefully no cause for concern. I am generally not terribly disturbed by the procedures themselves, although I will say that today’s MRI was the most uncomfortable one that I have had to date. Overall, it is the prep for the tests that I most wish that I could avoid (Berry Smoothie barium sulfate suspension is gross), coupled with how horribly I feel afterward when I am all jacked up on barium and iodine.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the more that I can do to support my body’s ability to eliminate toxins following these procedures, the less awful I will feel. If I’m not aggressive with the efforts to eliminate toxins, I can count on feeling nauseated, achy, and unsettled for a couple of days following these procedures, and sometimes a week or so later I’ll end up sick with a cold or other ailment.

Now I will take a moment here to remind you all that I am not a medical doctor and you should consult your own before engaging in any interventions or new practices. Additionally, some of the things that I will mention will help your body to mobilize toxins by getting your blood moving; others will help to eliminate toxins by supporting your liver, stimulating your lymphatic fluids, or giving the toxins an exit route. In my experience, it is important not to be too aggressive with mobilizing toxins if you are not being equally supportive of your body’s ability to eliminate them.

Okay, here are some of the things that I have been doing today or have done in the past to help me move the toxins out. Of course, you don’t have to have had cancer or any major medical procedures to benefit from supporting removal of toxins from your body. These tips are great to draw upon during times of illness, or as part of a healthy life practice.

(P.S. I try to link to items to help illustrate the products that I use in case you are not sure where to begin or you just want a suggestion for something to use. I am not compensated in any way by anyone associated with these products, and I am quite certain that they neither know nor particularly care that I am mentioning their products. If that should ever change, I’ll be sure to let you know.):

1. Drink lots of water: They will tell you this anytime that you have procedures such as the ones that I had today, especially since I received both oral and IV contrast. Actually, I was told to drink lots of fluids, with water, tea, soda, and juice all listed as options, but I would assert that water is your best bet. This will help you eliminate toxins by giving them a route out.

2. Dry skin brushing: I’m adding this here because I would have done this today, but my brush is in storage at the moment (we’re currently between houses and 95% of our possessions are living in storage). For those who can though, dry skin brushing is an easy way to help your body eliminate toxins by stimulating circulation and your lymphatic drainage system, as well as by sloughing off dead skin cells. You will want a brush with fairly sturdy natural bristles and a handle long enough to help get those hard-to-reach spots, but not so long as to become unwieldly. (When not in storage) I use this brush by Earth Therapeutics that is made with palm fiber.

Brush your skin with light to moderate pressure (this should be stimulating, not painful) brushing toward your heart. You can brush for several minutes, and this is great to do prior to taking a shower. You can brush your whole body, but you will want to avoid brushing delicate areas such as genitals, breasts, face, any broken skin, and in my case, I avoid the site of my surgical incision because that would hurt a whole lot.

3. Hot and cold alternating shower: This is admittedly uncomfortable for me, but it is effective in stimulating both the circulatory and lymphatic systems to help move toxins out. I do this at the end of my normal shower by first taking the temperature up a bit hotter than I would typically find comfortable and then leaving it there for a minute or two. Next, I turn the shower down to cold water and try desperately to tolerate it for a minute, but if I make it up to 30 seconds for the first go around, I give myself an E for effort. Continue this cycle several times aiming for a minute or two on hot contrasting with a minute on cold. End with cold water. As with dry skin brushing, you get the double benefit of mobilizing toxins by increasing circulation and eliminating them by stimulating lymph flow as well.

4. Lymphatic massage: I try to do this both in the shower and out. While I’m in the shower (before the hot cold alternating part) I use a body scrub, paying attention to the areas where the lymph nodes tend to cluster (helpful diagram here). I don’t focus on my neck with the scrub, because it would be too harsh in my opinion, but I get to that post-shower (more in a second). There are a lot of great scrubs that contain herbs, essential oils, and materials like salt, clay, charcoal, or other agents that can help encourage elimination of toxins. Today I used this Cellular Detox Scrub by Abra Therapeutics.

Post-shower I try to encourage my husband to help me out by massaging the same areas where lymph nodes are most present using a nourishing massage oil. If he isn’t available, I go over those areas myself because I am self-sufficient like that. I am absolutely in love with this Lymphatic Massage Oil that I received in the February subscription box from King’s Road Apothecary (for more information about their subscription box program and other crunchy-friendly subscription services look here). It smells beyond fantastic and has a wonderful feel on the skin that allows for easy gliding without being heavy or sticky. Overall, lymphatic massage will help with elimination of toxins by assisting your lymphatic drainage system in moving fluid and toxins out.

5. Foot soak: This is another one that I did not do today but have found helpful in the past. Our feet have a high concentration of pores, and large pores relative to the rest of our bodies, so they’re a good place to focus detox efforts through our skin. They also dangle off the end of our legs, making them easier to soak in some water when we don’t have time to get our whole body into a tub. A detoxifying foot soak is easy to do: just put some tolerably hot water into a foot bath or large bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of baking soda and a handful or so of epsom salts, which can be found at most drug stores or grocery stores. If you have some bentonite clay on hand, a couple tablespoons of that is a nice addition as is a few drops of essential oil. Ginger essential oil is a particularly good one for promoting circulation. The combination of ingredients will help to get the blood flowing, draw out toxins, and decrease inflammation.

6. Castor oil compress: I hope to do a video soon to illustrate how I was taught to do a castor oil compress because they are so helpful for liver support when your goal is to eliminate toxins, especially when battling a cold or virus, but they are less familiar to most people and a bit complex to explain. In essence, you want to saturate a cloth made from natural material with castor oil (I use about a large scrap piece of an old t-shirt along with Home Health castor oil, although I have also used NOW brand in the past). Place the saturated cloth over abdomen, making sure to cover the right portion at the bottom of the rib cage where the liver is located). Cover the cloth with a wool cloth larger in size (I use a piece that I cut from an old wool sweater that I had felted so that it wouldn’t unravel once cut). You then want to apply a gentle heat source over the compress to help the oil penetrate the skin, and then relax that way for at least 30-60 minutes. I was taught that the heat source should not be something electrical or microwaved, so I use a hot water bottle like this one, that I fill with hot water. In between uses, I store my castor oil cloth and wool cloth together in a plastic bag.

If you prefer one-stop shopping, some companies make castor oil compress kits with your oil and a cloth included. They instruct you to cover the saturated cloth with plastic wrap to avoid staining and to use your own heat source. Here is one example, and another.

7. Movement: A great way to boost the lymphatic system is through movement. I must admit that when I first came home today, I was feeling pretty junky and just wanted to rest, but after engaging in some of the above suggestions I am feeling much perkier and ready to get moving. Taking a walk, bouncing on a trampoline or rebounder, even swinging your arms around will all help to get those lymph fluids flowing faster to move those toxins out and get you feeling better.

I hope that some of these suggestions serve you well. I tried to include a mix of ideas that can be done with little-to-no special equipment along with others that may require a bit more planning, but can be used time and again once you become familiar with their use and benefits. If you have additional suggestions for supporting the elimination of toxins that you have found helpful, please add them to the comments.

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