Been a while

Anything new in the last year or so?

It’s interesting how many life events can happen in such a short period of time. Since last writing, my family and I have moved states, had two separate medical emergencies, 4 out of 5 of us had covid and I have had two new jobs and dyed my silver hair pink for the month of October, it is still pink even now in November.

The concept of choice has been occupying my mind lately. Not in the political sense but in a very personal way.

For many years I encountered situations dominated by angry or toxic or hostile or down-right mean people and have allowed them to choose my mood for the remainder of the workday, maybe work week, maybe even longer — including personal times. How silly is that?

This wasn’t apparent until last April. I let an extremely dominant person at work determine my mood for the last time — well for the last time of any significant length. This person cared more about being the alpha and being seen and acknowledged as the alpha than they cared about those in their charge. The funny thing is that even as I type this, I can feel my heart beat faster, muscles tightening in my shoulders and neck and my fingers pressing the letters on the keyboard with a bit more authority. But it passed as quickly as it came.

Why give a person that truly doesn’t care that they have this ability a level of control over my moods that I would not allow a person I love and trust to do? This was such a weird concept, but when the realization struck, it was like a cosmic collision.

This isn’t a victim-y situation or a lack of control situation, it’s a realization that mulling, stewing, replaying, reliving, ruminating, rehashing don’t have to be the way it is. I had convinced myself that doing all of the above was a choice, a way to develop armor for the next time such a situation presented itself. It always did. It never worked. A much shorter version is to simply ask what needs to be learned from this situation, learn it, apply it and accept it could happen again and reset my current mood to one of my own choosing. Making the choice for myself to be in a mood of my design isn’t burying or denying the one not chosen, instead I see it as more of an alert for something that needs to be learned and/or accepted. The more I do it, the easier it becomes.

It really is that easy — once I realize that I am not in the mood I would choose for myself. In the end, choosing your mood for yourself is a much more satisfying way to live, even though it’s only been six months, I highly recommend it! You might even choose to remind yourself about the mood you have chosen for yourself by choosing a new hair color!

Pay attention to the question

Have you ever gone into a situation where there was no way , I mean no way at all, to avoid an uncomfortable question? Not only can you not ignore it, but it is making it way directly to you, unwavering in its path?

Covid has been a challenge for everyone. Everyone has their unique perspective, their unique issues and their unique circumstances. No one has walked away unscathed in some fashion, at least no one I speak with on a regular basis has.

I have started a new job that I love, the work is great and the people are better! We are moving. Moving during covid is something I would not recommend. Selling a house in one city to move into an AirBnB in another city is a challenge, more on the other city challenge later.

Selling a house requires disclosures, they are interesting, the things you would expect, has there ever been a flood, fire, tornado, lightning or other natural disaster that required major repair work. There are a few questions you might not expect, one question asked if the dwelling had ever been used as a meth lab while we were living there. Seriously, it is a question on the disclosure form.

The realtor finally asks the elephant question I’d been dreading– has anyone been sick in the house. I answered yes, sheepishly yes, I had breast cancer 2 years ago. Almost apologetically, like somehow I invited cancer, or signed up for it in some fashion, that it was somehow my choice and I chose cancer sorry to say. She laughed. Laughed. Out. Loud. and said, “no honey, has anyone had the covid?” Aaahh, a different elephant.

No one in the household had covid. I explained to her how we were careful, safe, we wiped down all common areas twice a day, in the morning and night, with boiling water and bleach. We haven’t run out of toilet paper or gotten close at all.

We managed schooling three daughters in three different grades, schools and electronic systems. We also managed to create a home network that could support five computers online during business hours with at least three google meets going at all times and four smart phones. I was working from home exclusively. We ran a virtual 5K as part of gym class and just to get out of the house complete with T-shirts.

We created an oasis in the backyard complete with gazebo outfitted with curtain fairy lights and a table with inlaid chess boards, as well as potted garden complete with a two room tent. The front yard was a socially distanced gathering spot, us on our driveway, with the neighbors on theirs having a glass of wine or something stronger while other neighbors walked around the lake periodically stopping to chat or the reverse when we needed to walk.

We made personalized masks. We sewed extra for the neighbors and had contactless distribution. My husband went shopping alone, with a mask and had contactless pick up. We had zoom and facebook get togethers and a birthday party. We survived a few knock down drag out fights (also contactless) with the girls over the continuously close proximity and a couple with each other. We made vision boards of how we would like to emerge from this crazy cocoon of a situation situation.

When I finally took a breath and stopped explaining how we managed to survive this time with little to no outside contact inside the house and minimal contact outside only from a distance, she looked at me calmly with her eyes just a little bit wider and said that maybe a meth lab would have been easier. This time I laughed out loud, maybe a little maniacally, but it was good to laugh all the elephants in the room away.

Knowing and learning

When an activity doesn’t go as planned are you more likely to say something akin to dangit or that’s interesting? I am more likely to say that’s interesting especially if I get to learn something new or unexpected from it. I love learning something new, applying it and helping others with the newfound knowledge or skill. I often use as my personal tagline when I doodle on notes and it is the motivation for almost everything I do.

There was no point in having cancer and surviving it if I cannot apply from the experience.

Another view of the world is the need to know before attempting something new. Know it will work, know it will be worth the effort and know it will be viewed positively.

For me there are times when I am perfectly content giving something a whirl to find out what happens and other times when I have a very strong need to know what I am about to try will work the way I need it to.

It’s not hard to predict. As long as it is safe let’s give it a whirl. When I have any doubt or worry about its safety more proof is required.

When my oldest daughter was tall enough to ride Diamond Back, a huge roller coaster at Kings Island in Cincinnati, I experienced terror at a whole new level. It is a seated roller coaster with a shoulder harness that my husband and I had ridden many times before. This was her first time and a girl not much older than her checked to see if her harness was down on her shoulders properly—-while texting. Seriously, the safety of my daughter was entrusted to a texting teen. I clicked her harness down one more time. As we went up the first big hill I clicked her again and held on to it as we went down the hill, you know, because I could hold it down in the event of a failure. When we got off the ride she complained that her shoulders hurt a little from the pressure of her harness. To this day, eight years later, she remembers her first trip on Diamond Back as the best ride ever, it hurt a little and scared her mom so much!

My husband was rather put out by my behavior because of all the dozens of times we rode Diamond Back together I never once so much as asked him if he was in safe let alone clicked him in myself. To this day my husband will point out each time I am worried about the girls safety and don’t even check in with him, I roll my eyes very loud at him.

I knew the ride was safe, been on it many times. Never heard anything bad about it on the news or anywhere for that matter, living in Cincinnati, we would definitely have heard something. But put my daughter on the ride with the person checking her safety and texts simultaneously and doubt enters the picture big time. Did the person who determined minimum height requirements really know she was tall enough? What if she slouched on the ride? Is there something visual that the girl checking missed?

Where was my let’s give it a whirl this will be fun attitude?

It was gone. Just gone. Replaced with doubt and worry.

The same was true for receiving a cancer diagnosis. I needed to know. I wasn’t really interested in giving any part of treatment a whirl to see if it works. All of a sudden I became a ‘need to know’-er. I knew my reasoning, I had cancer and wanted to live, that is pretty compelling. I knew that I wanted it to all work properly the first time, also pretty compelling. There were also a hefty amount of doubt and worry. I wrote them all down, no matter how silly it seemed or how unrelated it might have been and went over them with my doctor. We didn’t move on until I was satisfied with the answer to the question.

When I run across a person with a desperate need to know I start asking questions. If we are going to be able to proceed all doubts and worries need to be prioritized and addressed together. Why prioritized? Addressing the largest concerns first often negate the need to address the smaller ones. Why together? That is the only way to ensure they are being addressed properly.

Look at the texting teen at the roller coaster. Does my concern about the text being really important need to be addressed when you let me know that she is in fact a youthful 30 year old roller coaster designer using an app on her phone to determine the exact clicks needed for someone my daughter’s height and weight to optimize safety and enjoyment?

Try it for yourself if you don’t do this already, try this with other people who are exhibiting a need to know when you need to get something done. It is amazing how you can turn worry and doubt into a give it a whirl attitude.

The halfway point

Motivation is an incredibly personal thing. What motivates one person is likely to demotivate another person. What may motivate one person in one situation may demotivate that same person in a different situation. For example the halfway point.

The halfway point is always a milestone for me. I enjoy the halfway point for chores or during physical activity. I am keenly aware of the halfway point and get a surge of energy to help complete whatever it is I am doing. I take stock looking at what has been completed so far and push on to get the rest done with pride.

There are other times when the halfway point is tougher. Sometimes the halfway point is just a reminder that I have as much left to do as I just did and it steals my energy. I get the rest done looking forward to the energy of a job well done.

Knowing I was halfway through chemo treatments was one of those moments that was a combination of the tough and surge feelings. I remember thinking to myself that I was halfway there–woohoo! While simultaneously thinking two infusions down, two more to go, I hope I make it.

This is where the fear about additional infusions started to creep in and the thought what if I am not halfway there? I almost made the nurse practitioner sign in blood that I was only going to get four treatments. She was very kind and very patient with me and assured me several times that the treatment plan was for four and no one has ever had more added just like that. I heard people have had more added, we just weren’t adding any more to mine at this time.

The thought of adding more infusions caused me to sweat those 19 days until the next infusion. Being completely honest, there were a few of the dog days where I thought even one last infusion was too much and wondered what it would take to get out of it.

At the time of the fourth infusion when the doctor confirmed that there would be no more at this time, I felt a little calmer. Marked the halfway point of the infusion, the side effect days and expected to start to feel like myself again in a few days.

It doesn’t happen like that. The halfway point is harder to find for when you feel like yourself again. I fear, some days, I haven’t reached it yet. I hope, some days, tomorrow is the first day of feeling like myself again.

My doctor and I talked about what I could do to help put the odds in my favor to avoid recurrence of cancer. She informed me about the statistics concerning how I was more likely to have a second run in with cancer than people were to be diagnosed with a first cancer. What??!! I was more likely to develop cancer again than someone who has never had cancer was to get a first diagnosis. I remember thinking very loudly what crap is that?? What can I do to prevent this??

Lose weight, move more, eat smarter, listen to my body.

Lose weight. We had a clear target with a clear halfway point with a crystal clear motivating reason. Can’t really get much better than that. I celebrated the halfway point, got energy, I even got a little greedy to get to the end point. I celebrated the crap out of the end point.

Move more, eat smarter and listen to my body. This will be for the rest of my life, hopefully I will not know when the halfway point is over all, but I know the halfway point for the week and each visit to the doctor. Celebrate accordingly.

If you find the halfway point to be a motivating concept, keep doing it. Sometimes I trick myself by looking a the halfway to the halfway point. If you find it to be demotivating, its ok. If you want to try to make it motivating look at it as a point to look back and appreciate how far you’ve come, how much you’ve done and be proud of it. Mid-task at any point, not just halfway, it is ok to stop and admire your work and accomplishments and celebrate a little.

A question of scale

I used to really like miniatures. Miniature anything, I loved the pieces to Monopoly, my tiny tea set, the tiny food craze was pretty cool too. Big things are fun too, I love a big sweatshirt, oversized hammocks and large computer monitors.

When my daughters were babies I would put them in some adorable onesies and dresses that just don’t work on adults. It’s a question of scale, a baby sized bright yellow dress with ducks all over it is super cute, put that same dress scaled appropriately on an adult maybe not as cute. I have a special place in my heart for people who deal with a lot of kids at once. We have one more daughter than adults in this family, I am not sure that is the correct ratio for daily sanity or organized living.

When cancer is staged, it is all about size and number. The measurement in centimeters of the tumor and the number of tumors determine the initial stage. Surgery and lymph node pathology confirm or change the stage.

In this case, the smaller the tumor and the smaller the number of tumors along with the smaller number of nodes impacted and the size of the cancer cells, if any, found in the nodes. Obviously zero is the best case scenario, when zero is no longer an option the closer to zero the better.

The surgeon will have an idea of what they are going to find through imaging and biopsy, it is still a best guess, a well educated and highly informed best guess but a best guess nonetheless. Everything can change once they get in there and poke around–in either direction– better or worse. If you get to choose, choose better.

I went in with the stage where I was only going to need surgery to remove the tumor. Surgery, healing, move on. Easy, excellent plan, you know, considering.

Unfortunately, during surgery the need for chemotherapy became apparent. This would be a change for the worse, chemo is brutal. The thought, as I understand it, if there is a cancer cell in the lymph nodes, there are cancer cells moving throughout the body and chemo is the best chance to kill them before they organize and become a tumor somewhere else. The smaller the cancer cell in the node, the fewer potentially moving about. Four infusions is the going rate these days.


While it is not that far from zero, it is far enough. Chemo is brutal. I am thankful everyday in every way not to have required more and for the job it did in healing me. I would not wish it on anyone, anyone at all.

It has been described as feeling like you have the flu. Again, a question of scale. Not just the flu, but the worst flu you have ever had or ever imagined, resetting the bar for worst each time, because as soon as you start to feel ‘not the worst anymore’ it happens again and find out there is a new and worse worst. And then it is over.

When it is over there is another new bar, for gratitude and appreciation for life. It is amazing, kind of like the feeling of a birthday party as a kid, but every day. Every single day is better than the last, how could you possibly ask for more than that? Even the bad days are still better than the worst days of chemo or a worse outcome. This is a fantastic feeling to scale up, if a little is good, believe me when I say a lot is even better.

When it comes to cancer, zero is best, closer to zero is better than further away. When it comes to appreciation and gratitude, infinite or as close to infinite as you can get is best. Remember it is a question of scale, some things need to be scaled down while others should be scaled up. Keep all that in mind when buying adorable dresses and keep it in mind when supporting good causes like Survivor Sherpa.


I have never had a problem being on my own. I enjoy solitary activities, solitary activities are healing and restorative for me, like a good, long soak in the bathtub or the commute to and from work. I prefer company, given the option, I would enjoy a good, long soak in a hot tub with others and have always preferred carpooling to driving solo. These activities are energizing and grounding for me. I value both my alone time and my time with others.

Every now and then I will be in a very crowded place and feel very alone. This is best exemplified in my life as Christmas shopping in the mall, any mall. Completely crowded and chaotic, noisy and claustrophobic, hectic and pandemonium. I do not enjoy it, in an earlier post I mentioned that Amazon enabled my inner stalker—Amazon also enables my seasonal agoraphobic tendencies. I feel alone in a very uncomfortable way in a mall during Christmas shopping season.

Cancer has a way of making a person feel alone, isolated, sorted out of society. I hate that feeling. The worst part of that feeling is having it around people who care for you, who love you, who are concerned for you. How do you tell any of those people you feel utterly alone?

I don’t want anyone to feel alone, isolated or sorted out of society, especially when they are in the fight of and for their lives. So much is coming at you hard and fast with a cancer diagnosis, so many decisions, so many issues, so much information, so much work and a feeling of being utterly alone does not help matters.

When my family came to the decision to make Survivor Sherpa to help people and families deal with cancer in their lives the line “no one journeys alone’ has so much to it. I wasn’t alone, my family and friends were with me. I wasn’t alone, many,many people have been there before me. I wasn’t alone, the medical team is capable and awesome. Yet feeling alone persisted, cancer stole both my comfort of being alone and of being with others. I hate that feeling and want to help others not to feel that way.

No one journeys alone is meant to help remind people that they are not alone, there is help. They are not alone, there is information. They are not alone, people have been there before them and are here to listen, help and do what needs to be done. They are not alone, people have dealt with medical teams to form healing partnerships and will help you do it, too.

I could prevent a good amount of fear with research and educating myself. I haven’t figured out how to prevent the truly uncomfortable, utterly alone feeling. I have figured out how to combat it though, by reaching out to others, offering a hand, listening to and learning about their journey. It all heals me from that feeling and I hope that it does the same for them.

Donate today to help make this a reality for women and families sooner rather than later, everyone could use a Sherpa during a difficult journey and they really don’t have to journey alone.

Statistics…bring them to your side

Statistics are a great tool for understanding and explaining tough concepts, I like stats and I think they are fun.

Here is one for you: about one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Good news is seven in eight will not. The statistics, or odds, are on your side to not have it and to not know someone who does, that is fantastic. This is the thing though, most people will buy a lottery ticket before ever doing a self exam. Look up the odds of winning the lottery and then look up how to do a self breast exam, .

Eighty five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. I bet you thought you were more likely to be one of the seven if you had no familial history, I know I did. I only had two people in my somewhat large family, my maternal grandmother and a cousin who had cancer at all, neither was breast cancer. A small family history of cancer. I was more afraid of heart disease. One in four women die from heart disease in the United States.

There are 3.8 million Americans who have either completed treatment or are going through treatment for breast cancer right now. There are slightly less than 330 million people in the US, 3.8 million or right around 1% of the total US population and “…about 41,760 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2019 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness. ” Early detection saves lives.

3.8 million Americans. The majority of them are women, men have a 1 in 863 chance in developing breast cancer. How many men do you know do self checks? How many men do you know buy lottery tickets? Do the same exercise from the second paragraph and send the link to the men in your life. I felt extremely alone as a patient during everything, even today really, people just don’t get that it isn’t ‘over’, I can only imagine how isolated a man with breast cancer might feel. Please check yourself and encourage others to check themselves as well. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the survival rate and the less likely chemotherapy or radiation will be needed and I can attest that chemo is brutal.

Slightly more than 25% of people dealing with breast cancer are responsible for children living with them. I couldn’t find a statistic for those dealing with breast cancer being the sole income for the family. There are not enough resources available to help people in need. There just aren’t.

I bring statistics on my side by reminding my friends to do self checks, get annual mammograms and follow up and if anything is different get it checked out right away, early detection is key to survival.

Hope and Vision

Take a minute to read about Pandora’s Box on Wikipedia, apparently translations changed a few things from the original intent and meaning, it’s an interesting exercise. The message I took from reading it as a child was that hope can be a negative because it was kept with other things detrimental to humanity. Hope on its own seemed cruel to me.

Now vision, vision is something very different, right? Companies have vision statements, they brag about their vision, we follow people with compelling vision. Vision is the ability to see what is possible as well as what needs to happen to get there and beyond. A vision statement is the filter for all actions before being carried out, their purpose so to speak. Vision without action seems frivolous to me, so does action without purpose.

There have been times in my life where I have only had hope. Hope the doctors knew what they were doing, hope they got the diagnosis right, hope the treatment plans are correct for my situation. This hope gave me the energy I needed to make necessary changes in my life to support a positive prognosis, lose weight, move more, eat smarter and pay attention to my body.

Making those changes, taking those actions, gave way to a vision for my life including a family free of cancer, growing old with my husband, seeing our daughters and future grandkids grow up, helping other people and families deal with cancer in their lives.

I view hope and vision as a game of leapfrog in my life. Hope for something better leads to a vision of something specific and better which fuels purposeful action. The results of the actions spurs more hope for something even better and the cycle repeats propelling the hope and vision into reality.

I keep this in mind when the cycle stalls or the vision becomes slightly obscured. It happens from time to time. No worries, take a deep breath, make appropriate adjustments and keep working the cycle.

Chemo can obscure a vision pretty easily. When things were tough, I wrote “This family will be cancer free” or another statement that supports the vision of being present for more time as a family on the top of each page of my notebook. I used the notebook daily to take notes about the side effects and what worked and what didn’t work to alleviate them. Seeing it in print helped a lot and helped to filter my actions or even inaction for that matter, because inaction is a decision too and must pass through the vision filter.

Take a minute to acknowledge your hopes, see them as a vision, put words to it, write it down, use it mindfully as the filter it should be. This is how hope and vision become allies and it keeps hope from being cruel and vision from being frivolous.

How are you feeling today?

People ask me how I am feeling all the time since I have been through the treatment portion of breast cancer, it is different from the regular hey, how’s it going question, they are genuinely concerned. It is very nice to have people care and show this level of concern, even with the price it came with. I don’t know how to answer the question effectively. Mostly because there isn’t a quick answer such as fine or ok or something of the like. I often include an unspoken ‘considering’ in my response, it seems the most honest.

On good days, full of energy, good recall and no gaps in memory it is easy, the answer is indeed fine with an inclusion of starting to feel like I might get back to myself again. These days are much more common now a year from last chemo. It usually gives me pause, do I want to feel like I did prior to cancer or do I want more? It turns out I want more. I want to feel like I did at 25. We all do, right? It is vitally important to remember that I am not 25 and when I don’t feel like I am 25 again I shouldn’t judge my day harshly. Hallmarks of a good day are good energy, good recall and no big gaps in memory are called out and a strong desire for tomorrow to be as good or better.

On lesser days, less energy, slower recall, big gaps in memory are obvious and in the forefront it is more difficult to answer. Today stinks seems so ungrateful, every day of survival is a good day and beats the heck out of the alternative. Today I wish cancer never happened, I wish the after effects of treatments weren’t still taking their toll, I wish I were 25 again seems so contrary to someone who had the best possible outcome from a cancer diagnosis, making this a wholly inappropriate response. The checklist for these days is simple, am I still around to experience all of the crap I am complaining about– then it is a good day stop complaining and try for a better tomorrow.

Then there are the bad days, no energy, even slower recall and the gaps in memory are cause for tears, these days are often accompanied by pain, not as much as during treatment, but a presence that is unpredictable. These days when people ask how I am feeling it is different, they know, it is written all over my body and facial expressions. This answer is you know, could be worse, hoping tomorrow is better, grateful to be here. These days very, very thankfully appear fewer and further between with each passing day. The prevailing thought on these days is gratitude at how long its been since the last one and try to make tomorrow better.

It never occurred to me that it would take this long and longer to feel like myself again. I was naive and thought when treatments were over and the rough side effects passed, voila! life would resume and be normal again. I am very grateful for the outcome and even more grateful that so many people care enough to ask how I feel and for the moment it gives me to reflect on just that, what it means I have come through and what I am working toward, a significant number of better tomorrows.

Survivor Sherpa: step 1 to non-profit status

Today marked the formal filing for non-profit status in Louisiana. I went to the Secretary of State and gave them my paperwork and a cashier’s check! It was exhilarating and exciting and a step closer to helping people!

This is such a wonderful step to have taken. There are more, but this is the first official one.

Survivor Sherpa is coming!

Let me tell you why this is so important to me.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer Sept 11, 2018.

While the internet is a wonderful place, it has a lot of scary information out there. I don’t do internet searches on symptoms or diseases anymore because it is almost all doom and gloom with a terrible death thrown in for good measure. Books are great because you can mark them, highlight them, read them without a power cord, carry them around and refer to them easily. There really isn’t a way to ask a book or the author a question. The kind of questions that don’t come up with a doctor, or are embarrassing or only come to mind at 3 am. This is where Survivor Sherpa comes in, when you need a girlfriend to answer those types of questions.

My doctors are wonderful, and they have a ton of experience on their side of the breast cancer experience. While they are empathetic and knowledgeable, they haven’t experienced it for themselves and couldn’t really tell me how to prepare for the emotional and psychological side of things, or the physical things at home. This is where Survivor Sherpa comes in, when you need to know what is coming and how to prepare. For example: clothing alterations and support for adjusting to the new you, meal prep and home adjustments for post surgical healing, and survival kits for comfort and dealing with chemotherapy and radiation just to name a few of the things that come at you hard and fast during cancer treatment.

My caseworker was outstanding dealing with insurance and keeping me moving forward through my work and insurance side of things. Not everyone has an opportunity to have a wonderful caseworker through their insurance or workplace. Survivor Sherpa wants to help navigate through all of that in order to focus on healing, so you never have to make a choice between dealing with your family or insurance or billing or anything else instead of just focusing on your health and loved ones.

My parents raised me to fight for myself with medical professionals. I did a significant amount of research and asked questions and advocated for myself as necessary, when I didn’t have the energy or too many holes in my memory, my husband stepped in for me. Survivor Sherpa wants to empower and advocate for women in treatment who may not be as comfortable fighting for what they need or believe in so they can thrive after cancer.

I would like to open a facility, something similar to a bed and breakfast for women and their families while undergoing treatment who need a place close to the hospital to stay. It will also be a place where a primary caregiver can drop off a loved one when they go to work knowing that they will be cared for in a safe environment during the dog days of treatment side effects. A place for survivors to care for and learn from one another after treatment has ended but life has not returned to normal just yet. A place to learn the skills needed to fully thrive after cancer, or thrive while living with cancer. A haven for anyone who needs it while dealing with cancer in their life.

Today marked an important step in making all of this a reality. Please take a minute to follow this link to donate to help make this a reality Every bit helps to bring this to reality.