“Some people grumble that roses have thorns ; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” – Alphonse Karr
I am a LUCKY girl. How many times do we feel “off,” but chalk it up to being tired, or thinking we just have a headache or pulled muscle? Sometimes this is the case, but this time it was different. After months of ignoring and denying, and convincing myself that what I felt was nothing, I had to admit that I was scared…for the first time in my life, I was scared of knowing the truth. Racing from one day to the next, living this beautiful life at the speed of sound, I was finally still, on our annual family vacation this past Spring. Sitting by the pool in the hot desert sun, I turned to my Mom. Memories of childhood came flooding, as I thought about how my parents have always been there for me, through triumphs and tragedies throughout my life. My biggest fans, my advocates, the first loves of my life, and the best grandparents you could ever want your children to have. In her early adulthood my mom was an R.N., and to this day friends and family call upon her for advice. She either talks you off the ledge, or tells you to get your butt into the doctor immediately. “I need you to tell me if you think this feels like more than just a ‘lump,'” and I raised my arm. It felt different than anything I had felt in the past, but I, like millions of women have very dense breasts. In other words, they sort of have a lumpy life of their own. But somehow, this one felt different. Deep, deep down, I knew it. My mom, never showing her internal fear, calmly told me not to worry and that she was going to make some calls. Two days later I was in the land of mammograms, which did not pick up my 3.8cm lump. The next step was an ultrasound, then biopsy which quickly detected the mass. The next day I was at a client and got “the call.”
ME AND MY GIRLS WHEN I BEGAN TREATMENT
It’s amazing how we handle things when we have children. None of us are perfect. We all do and say things we aren’t proud of in moments of pure exhaustion or frustration. But I will tell you, the minute I heard “You have cancer” I immediately went into Mama Bear mode, thought of my children, and told myself “You are going to be fine.” I knew if I didn’t believe that, my children wouldn’t either, and I needed to protect them from the tidal wave of fear that would ensue when I would be forced to sit down and tell them my prognosis. It was going to be a rough adjustment any way you sliced it, so I took on an attitude of gratitude and told myself that a positive outlook was all I had and the rest was out of my hands. Though I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it publicly at first, I began posting my day to day ruminations on Facebook titled “365 Days of Gratitude and Beauty.” Whether it was a flower on a sidewalk or a letter from an old friend, and when you stop to look, that beauty is really everywhere. What began as tremendous support from my inner circle, began to branch out to complete strangers and acquaintances reaching out. Offers of advice, support, meals, rides to appointments, you name it, began to overwhelmingly flood in as people read my posts. Two lumpectomy surgeries later, 4 months of chemotherapy, and now the final stretch with radiation, I was ready to share my story.
MY PENGUIN CAP AND FIRST CHEMO TREATMENT
For those who know me, I don’t like hearing something isn’t possible (just ask Jess my store manager). Even if it isn’t, I always have to try. Knowing the side effects of chemo from watching others go through their course of treatments, I began to visualize how it would be. Because my cancer was diagnosed as Stage II B, I knew that I had caught it in the knick of time, and was going to keep as much of my life “normal” as I possibly could. I didn’t want customers and clients knowing I was sick and realized that would be hard to hide once I began losing my hair. My brilliant oncologist Dr. Cathie Chung introduced me to an amazing solution, used mostly in Europe, but gaining momentum in the U.S. Meet my Penguin Cap. This turban like helmet helps save up to 80 % of the hair on your head and I thought, I have to at least try it. Worn before, during and after on the day of chemo treatments, this frozen cap cools hair capillaries and therefore puts them in a hibernated state preventing absorption of chemo into the hair bulbs on the scalp. This wasn’t an issue of vanity (though I have always coveted my long locks), it was a way of making me appear ok on the outside so no one had to know what was going on in the inside, unless I chose to share that with them. I didn’t want any one to pity me and therefore think I wasn’t capable of carrying on with my business and day to day life. Why you ask? Because being able to continue working in a job and life I love is what kept me going each day. Knowing a client was ready to make their home more beautiful and comfortable gave me a reason to get up each day. With my kids gone at camp for most of the summer, I needed to be able to carry on with daily life or I would have fallen apart.
MY HUSBAND, THE CALM TO MY STORM
Then of course, there is Danny. This handsome, silly, rock of a man who I am blessed to have just celebrated our 19 year wedding anniversary with and father to my three beautiful children. Always one to lighten the tension and approach life with a smile, he kept me grounded. “I’ll wear the caps too,” he joked. “Then you won’t have to feel alone.” For all the times I said to everyone else, “I’m good.”, “No problem.” ,”Yes, I’ll be there!”, he was the one who saw me at my most vulnerable and held me through the night. He took control of whatever I couldn’t bring myself to do, all the while sharing my attitude that it was all going to eventually be ok. He was and is my partner in every sense of the word and I am truly humbled by how fortunate I am to have that. Many people in this life don’t have a support system, family or a spouse to help them through the good and bad, and I thank my lucky stars every day for him to walk through this life with me, side by side.
I am now officially in the home stretch of my course of treatment. What looks like a beauty mark is my tattoo for radiation so they can properly pin point the area needing treatment. A permanent mark that will always remind me how fortunate I am to have been diagnosed in time.
MY CHILDREN – ROSE, MIA AND JACK
This year has had as many ups as it has downs. I had to take pause when my body told me to, and that has helped me heal. I had to cancel my annual buying trip to NY for my store and business, but received a huge award from my industry that same weekend. I had to get chemo within a certain time frame, but my doctors arranged my treatment schedule so that I could pick my daughter up from sleep away camp and take my son to his first year of college. I have had to learn to let go of the trivial and mundane things that rile me up, and concentrate my energy on the simple and beautiful moments in life. It is still my greatest struggle. William Arthur Ward said that “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” I am grateful to every single person who has touched my life in these past months, and pray that I never have to do the same for them under these circumstances. I am grateful to every nurse and doctor that treated and helped treat me, and hope they know how much I appreciate what they have done for me and patients around the world. So what can I possibly do to show my gratitude back to everyone? Help raise awareness within my community and support a foundation I believe in that is striving to help as many women as they can. I am lucky enough to live in a city with some of the finest medical care in the country, and Dr. Kristi Funk is an inspiration who also happened to save my life by diagnosing my cancer at the Pink Lotus Breast Center. As beautiful inside as she is on the outside, (see her appearance on Good Morning America yesterday here), she and her husband are striving to help women with no insurance or who are unable to afford services with the newest chapter of her practice, the Pink Lotus Foundation. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am giving a portion of all sales at my store for the month of October to their foundation. What can you do? Get an ultrasound WITH your mammogram, tell your family and friends to do the same, and join me in making a donation to this foundation to further screenings and early detection for those who are not in a position to do so. Listen to your body. I will never silence mine again.
Love and Gratitude,