This Christmas

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. For me, the holiday season has always inspired such a sense of hope. The elusive Christmas miracle. Everyone seems a little kinder to each other, families come together, friends reconnect…all of it seems possible during this time. I love the lights, the food, the tradition of it all. I am usually amongst the first people putting up their trees and jumping into a Lifetime Christmas movie marathon in my fuzzy socks.

This is my fourth Christmas with metastatic breast cancer.

The last few months have been really hard. In September, I found out that my cancer had progressed throughout my bones.  My PET scan also picked up a tiny, unreadable spot in my right lung that had never been there before. I had been taking Aromasin and Afinitor, my fourth and last in a series of available anti-hormonal, CDK4/6 inhibitors that were available to me with the type of breast cancer I have. I was now moving onto more traditional chemotherapy.

This was a terrifying adjustment to deal with. I have crossed the line between the easier, hormone based treatment options into the harsher, more publicly obvious, regiments. Was I going to lose my hair? Is this the slippery slope leading ever lower in my declining health? Is this really it? I’m not going to lie, I was seriously freaked out.

In my mind, once you started down this road, there was no u-turn back to the anti-hormonals. There was only chemo and death. Maybe that is still true, but after two months of adjusting, I’ve regained a little more hope in that regard. In the month following the discovery of my progression, I was probably at the lowest point I had mentally been since my MBC diagnosis four years ago. I retreated into my cocoon of despair, my pillow fort of denial, the place I hide when I cannot deal with the world around me. Going through the daily motions was almost too much. What had been this impossible load for the last four years, had yet another boulder added to the weight of it. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow.

But, like four years ago, my son was there to pull me forward. He still needed his mom.

Since diagnosis, I have tried so hard to keep myself pulled together so that my son, Colin, doesn’t have to see his mom falling apart all of the time. Increasingly, it has been harder to hide the physical pain and issues I am having. Mentally, I can generally hold it inside in his presence. I am always, always, consciously aware of how unfair this whole thing is, not to me, but to him. I can’t be the mother he deserves, physically, when I am in pain, nor mentally when I am rocked with the guilt of possibly leaving him motherless. I know I am lucky to have had these four Christmases with him.

This year, I am struggling to maintain my holiday cheer. We got through Halloween and had a lovely Thanksgiving with family. I am more conscious this year of how precious that time is. I still try to mask how bad the pain is around everyone, even though it isn’t a secret that I am not well. My tree was up the weekend before Thanksgiving and luckily, I am mostly done with my holiday shopping. I have even delved into the rabbit hole that is the Hallmark movie channel, trying to channel that holiday enthusiasm.

Maybe I am trying too hard.

I always talk about the need to feel all of the feelings. That it is okay to recognize the bad days and move forward from there. It is okay to have a wallow, but it isn’t okay to stay there…After letting myself stay there too long a couple of months ago, I am horrified to feel the pull in that direction again, especially this time of year. I have been openly discussing the state of my mental health with my doctor, however and am encouraging anyone who finds themselves in a similar state to do so as well. It is not easy admitting when we feel weak, but sometimes it is necessary.

There is no shame in my game and I freely admit to taking an antidepressant. Who wouldn’t in this situation? I think we all are one phone call away from a proper meltdown. I so admire those of us who put themselves out there, publicly discussing the trials and reality of living with this disease. I do think we need to talk about our mental health more because more often than not, that aspect can make or break our day.

Especially at this time of year…for most metastatic patients, I would be willing to guarantee that the question of it is our/their ‘last Christmas’ has streamed through every one of our minds. Lately, it seems we have lost a lot of friends, people we have met in this community that have now left a gaping hole. Advocates, mothers, daughters, wives, sons and husbands, friends…it is heartbreaking every time. It also throws my own mortality to the forefront of my mind. Some of these people had seemed to be doing relatively well, then poof, they are gone. Anya, Laura, Andrea Z., Caitlyn…Some we knew were struggling but the shock and pain hit us all the same…Andrea P., April, Margo, and so many others.

Struggling this time of year does not mean you are not appreciative of everything. It just means you are not allowing yourself the time to feel and possibly grieve. You can decorate your tree, love every moment of it, and still be scared that it is the last time you do it. Hopefully, we’ll all be decorating our trees, lighting our candles, or whatever else we do to celebrate the holiday season.

You can stare joyously at the Christmas lights and still feel that ache of ‘what if’. Just recognizing it in that moment, you can acknowledge the feeling is there, and find a way to say to yourself, “maybe so, but maybe not”.

The reality is this may be my last Christmas. That was hard to even write. Maybe it is, but maybe its not. So that is how I am going to acknowledge my emotions this holiday season. That is how I am going to approach the next few months before scan time. I am going to remind myself that cancer is trying to kill me, but “maybe not” this year. Maybe not the year after…

I wish everyone, all of the people taking the time to read this, a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday. I hope as everyone is feeling the emotions the season brings, that you also recognize the joy and wonder that still lives in your heart this time of year. And of course, that elusive Christmas miracle…for all of us, I pray that comes with a cure and time. Time being the most precious commodity we all have. Enjoy yours this season.


Happy Holidays! xo



Do you ever just need a break from your life?

The last few weeks have been challenging, to put it mildly. I feel as though I’ve been darting around stressors and issues like a gawky teenager in a dodgeball game. After finally being hit smack in the face, I am calling uncle!

This morning as I was driving into work, I thought about how deeply I’ve been letting things get to me lately. And how much more negatively I’ve been seeing the world and even my life because of it. This is not me. I have prided myself on my growth as an adult and my ability to still seek out the positive even in the most trying times. Falling down the rabbit hole of despair is not how I choose to spend the time I have left to me on this Earth. Yet, how do you pull yourself back up when the bad hooks to you like an anchor?

Rip off the Velcro of Negativity

Every little thing, and most of them are little, that causes you grief attaches itself to your person like stepping in hot bubblegum. (I am heavy on analogies today.) That bill you are having a hard time paying? The argument you got into with a family member? Stress at work, stress of kids or spouse, your house that needs a hazmat unit to come in and clean it. All of these things build up to become one large storm of stress and negativity. Now sprinkle that sundae with a cancer topping and you have a recipe for an historic melt down.

I have been in the thick of my own for weeks and have not been able to shake it off. So instead of looking at everything piling up as one big tornado, taking my happy mood and goodwill toward man with it, I decided to break down each one and tried to see it in a different light. This is something that is a learned practice for me and one I’ve been improving upon for years. I don’t want to be the frowning faced lady with cancer. That is not how I see myself and it surely isn’t the memory of me I want to leave behind.

Turn that Frown Upside Down

So what is stressing me out, driving me mad, and making me miserable right now? Let’s take work first…this time of year is always stressful at my job. Deadlines to meet, performance reviews to write, and audits to perform well at. I have been pulling my hair out and working myself to the point of exhaustion every day. But aside from the negative aspects, how can I set this into a positive motion? For one, I love my job, I always have. I am so lucky not only to enjoy my work, but to also love the people I work with. My work family has become a cornerstone of my life and I am thankful every day for them. I am also lucky, and I know how fortunate I am, that I am still able to work with my illness. I have the support and trust of my colleagues as well as the empathy from my upper management. When I remember this, work doesn’t seem so antagonizing after all. I am placing additional stress on myself because I want to do a good job for those reasons.

How about that argument with a family member? I think family and cancer is probably the most difficult dynamic to navigate. Some are afraid to hear about it, afraid to ask, or don’t know how to approach it. This can be taken as uncaring, however that is probably stemmed from my own insecurities. Then there are those that need to be seen as the caring, unwavering, member of the support system when the truth is, they really don’t want anything more than to be included in the attention a cancer diagnosis brings. Without going into specific details, I am madder at myself in this situation than the other party involved. I had so wanted to believe that things had changed, that old hurts were memories, and that we’d learned from our mistakes. I was naïve. I allowed myself to be pushed right back into a familiar situation and this time? I carried my son right in there with me. The fact is that some people, even those who claim to love you, will never respect the boundaries you set. Sometimes when you open that door a crack, they come barreling through like a bull in a china shop. The realization I have come to is that I need to forgive myself. I can’t blame myself for taking a risk and believing in the best just because it didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

Don’t Say Cancer is a Gift

Of course, beneath all of this is the boogeyman under my bed. Cancer. Cancer is hard to put a positive spin on, because really? Between the pain, the pills, the appointments, the fatigue, and of course those damn medical bills, there is nothing positive about cancer. One day I am riding a mechanical bull in Las Vegas (bucket list check) and three days later, I have treatment and  difficulty walking. Every day you wake up and do a mental check-up, what hurts, what doesn’t, and what kind of day can I hope to have in respect to that. By the time I roll out of bed, I am already doing a mental calculation in my head to see if I’ll be able to squeeze in a nap later that day. #napqueen

I may not be able to bring forth any positives about cancer itself, but I can bring about positives that have come up in my life the last four years as a result of my MBC diagnosis. First and always, I have met some of the most amazing people, some of the best friends I could ever hope to have, through this awful disease. Friends so strong, so full of life and love, that you would almost not believe they were ill if you didn’t also share in their darkest moments. I am forever grateful for each of them.

I have also found my voice in a way I never understood was possible. Most of my life has been spent trying to make other people happy without really knowing what would make me happy. I have allowed myself to be mistreated, minimized, and manipulated. Even understanding it was happening at the time, I never knew how to stand up for myself, to speak up. That is completely foreign to me now. When you are told your life will be cut short for whatever reason, you find that you do not have time to waste. I am very conscious of my time and how I spend it, including who I spend it with. Someone who brings me down is not someone I choose to waste time on and I no longer have a problem saying it. I will always be a people pleaser at heart, however I now include myself in that conversation.

I have discovered freedom, fulfillment, travel, and the pleasure of having my time to spend how I want it. Depending on the day, it may be a Netflix binge and pizza, another margaritas and dancing. Cancer has forced me to be present, every day, and I don’t want to waste that focusing on the things that bring me down. It is easy to get overwhelmed, but you don’t have to lie there letting things continue to pile upon you. Break it down, one by one, and find the balance. There is one. Things wouldn’t feel so terrible if there wasn’t something wonderful to compare it to.

Find your balance and focus on the upswing.

*Notice I never went back to talk about my dirty house. It’s a disaster. But I’m choosing to focus on the fact that it is lived in with love and creativity. It’s not a mess if it’s for creative purposes, right?


**And Colin, if you are reading this, know you are the light of my life. You drive me insane. Like, bang my head against the wall crazy, but you are the funniest, big hearted, and loving boy. You CAN do your homework; you just don’t want to. You are so smart and make me so proud. I love you more than all of the stars in the sky. I always will.

Living Honestly

Sitting up, wide-awake and late one night, I did some deep thinking. I made an effort to be consciously honest with myself.  What are my priorities?  What do I still want to accomplish?  What is my biggest fear?

Recently, I was told that I might be at the end of the line for my available targeted therapies. My doctor bluntly stated that I had “blown through them too quickly” leaving my next options to be strictly chemotherapy.  My last and most recent appointment showed that my tumor markers had doubled within the month and my pain had noticeably increased.  Like hardly able to walk, increased.  Because of these two things, I was referred to a radiation oncologist for some “spot welding” as my doctor calls it.

Somehow, I had lucked out in my nine-year history with breast cancer and had never experienced radiation before. All I knew were the horror stories relayed by my friends of horrible skin burns, fatigue, pain and further discomfort.  As with anything unknown, I was terrified.  The whole thing makes no sense to me. You are flooding part of your body with radiation hoping it kills cancer cells.  Doesn’t radiation cause cancer?  Not to mention that they take X-rays every day prior to starting the radiation.  I felt like Chernobyl walking.

Regardless, I found myself lying on what looked like a CT scan table, naked from the waist down. Oh, hi strangers, no this isn’t awkward at all.  X-rays were taken, marks were drawn with sharpies, and eventually tiny tattoo dots were placed mapping the area to be struck with radiation.  I was terrified to move in case they missed their target and hit my intestine or colon, the doctor having told me that they wanted to make sure not to hit those areas as that would be bad.  Just that…it would be bad.

I was told I would have ten rounds, or every day for two weeks. Later, I found out that this was really nothing considering I met a woman there who was on her seventeenth week.  I began to feel dumb for making such a fuss about it.  However, here is where it gets cool…after the fourth day, I began to feel…better.  The pain had noticeably decreased. I was overwhelmed with fatigue, but the pain had definitely lessened.

During all of this, I found myself in a very dark place. I was just sad. I have never been one to wallow in my moods, but I feel I did a fair share of wallowing over those two weeks.  Maybe even the last month.  So instead of letting fear set my navigational compass, I asked myself the three questions above and really listened to my answers and myself.

What are my priorities?

Obviously, my number one priority always has been and always be my son. Being the best mother I can be and leaving a lasting impression on him is my everyday goal.  That being said, I also need to be better about self-care.  I push myself too hard.  I am so used to having to do everything myself and I resent not being able to do the things I once did, so I push to the point of breaking.  I should not, nor do I want to do that to myself any more.  What I once felt was lazy, is now a much needed self-care day of rest and restoration.

Continuing to work and doing well at my job remains a priority to me. Do I lose sleep over an unfinished report or that one thing I forgot to do that day?  No.  Not at all.  My career gives me an outlet and opportunity to keep some normalcy in my life.  It also affords me to live comfortably and give my son great experiences.  I am proud of my work, but my life happens when I am home.  I do not live to work.

My friendships are another of my great priorities. For the friends who want to be here, that is.  All of us in the breast cancer community have lost friends and family members who, for whatever reason, cannot handle being present for our cancer experiences.  It hurts at first until you remember to show them the door.  I will not ever waste a moment of time chasing people so they are still in my life in some capacity.  I would rather save my energy to have great moments with my friends and family that are still here.

What do I still want to accomplish?

I have realized that I no longer have grand quests to conquer. My accomplishments are much more narrow and close to home.  For instance, I really want to re-paint my bathroom;  What I was thinking with that green is beyond me now.  I want to read more books.  I want to travel and show my son places he will always remember having been with me.  I want to grow my hair out (I think…maybe not). I want to start painting again and find that creative spirit that has been lying dormant inside me for too long.

Large-scale goals are great, but I have found that it puts too much pressure on me. I do not like having the stress of something lingering that I need to do.  I want to do those little things that fill me up and give me satisfaction.  I am not giving up by any means, but I am trying to let go of the control I so badly want to have on my life.  I am learning to meditate and with it, to let go of things that do not fill me positively.

What is my biggest fear?

Recently, I posted a graphic on my social media pages with the admittance “my biggest fear is being forgotten”. For me, this is the core of my fears in this life.  I cannot control my death, either the when or the how, and I have come to accept that.  I fear death, of course, and that great unknown that all of us will eventually face.  However, my biggest fear comes from the thought that someday (hopefully a long time from now) my son may forget my voice, my laugh, my smell, or how it felt when I held him.  He may have that moment where he realizes he forgets something about me, and it crushes me to think of his pain.

A lot of us, myself included, feel forgotten already by our families, friends, and spouses. Feeling forgotten in life makes it so difficult to have sympathy for those you know will be sad at your passing, yet they do not attempt to be in your life now.  This may be where this fear comes from or it may just be a mother’s lament.  Yet, I have realized that this fear has been my motivation for the last four years.  It is there in everything I do, every picture I take, and every word I write.  It is my way of trying to leave something of me behind.

What now?

Feeling as if I am in a good place, I am going forward reminding myself of the things that matter most to me. I am going to travel as much as I can.  I am going to paint that ugly bathroom.  I will show up at work and give it my all, and then I will go home and be the best mom I can be.  I will not fear what comes next in my treatment, whether I get some more mileage out of this medication after completing radiation or if I have to move on to chemotherapy.  And I am going to keep taking pictures, videos, and anything else I want to document not just my life, but my and my son’s life together.  Self-care starts with admitting to yourself what you really need…this is the first step in mine.



*Colin, if you are reading this, I love you more than all of the stars in the sky. My sweet boy.

A Mother’s Day

Yesterday was my third Mother’s Day since my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. I spent the day exactly as I wanted to, with my son.  For being such a commercial holiday, it really does stir up a tornado of emotions.  I am elated to be here with him, to be a mother. I know how fortunate that I am in that regard, for I, too, was told that I would never be able to have children.

In July of 2009, I received my first breast cancer diagnosis. Although it was early, stage 1b, my oncologist dutifully went over the effects treatment would have on my body.  The hardest pill to swallow was being told that I would likely never have a child, the chemotherapy putting me into early menopause from which it was unlikely I would ever rebound.  Having discussed with my doctor my prior attempts, and failures including a very early miscarriage in 2008, and desire to have a child, he stated that I could look into having my eggs harvested.  That decision would delay any efforts to combat the disease, as chemotherapy would have to wait until that was completed. Obviously terrified, I scheduled my bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy start dates.

Stolen Dreams

I had always dreamed of being a mother. Never the girl to picture the big wedding and fantasy spouse, my priority always lay with my career, my house, and stability.  I took for granted that I would have a child someday, even researching into sperm donations should I end up walking that path alone.  In my early twenties, I remember dreaming of a blue eyed boy with curly blonde hair that I was mother to…it was so real, I can still see it in my mind.  To be told I would never have the chance to meet that boy was a life altering heartbreak.

Imagine my surprise when, the month following chemo’s end, I found myself with a regular menstrual cycle. For three months, I was like clockwork, leading me to think that not all hope might be lost.  Nevertheless, it was a quiet hope, one I did not even voice aloud to my husband at the time.  Trying as hard as I could not to think about it, I found myself crying, on Mother’s Day of 2010 to be exact, because my cycle did not come that month.  Tearfully, I admitted to my husband that it must have been a fluke getting it the last few months.  I finally admitted that my sorrow lay in not being able to have a child.

A few days later, still nothing. In the past, when I had been trying actively to get pregnant, every time I would take a pregnancy test, I would start my period.  So I figured, I had a test laying around…might as well take it to be sure.  Maybe it will bring it on and I can stop torturing myself, right?  Imagine my surprise when those two little lines showed right up.

I’m pregnant!

What do I do now? Have a mild meltdown, it turns out. My mood went from instant sadness to elation, to raw, primal protectiveness.  I called my OB/Gyn for an immediate appointment, after all, it had only been about three months since my last chemotherapy treatment.  What if there were lingering toxins in my body that hurt the baby?  What if, like the last one, I lost this baby too?  All of the common fears at becoming a parent ran through my head, but most of all I felt a sureness that this was my baby, my son.

He may not have curly hair, but he is definitely my blue-eyed wonder. I have said many times, that I believe that I had to go through what I did to be able to bring my son into this world.  For whatever reason, it was not happening prior to my early stage diagnosis.  I have also said numerous times, that I would do it over, all of it, if that were what it took to be his mother.  To bring this boy into this world has always been my purpose.  It is what I am most proud of in my life.  He is my life.

What I did not realize in speaking those words aloud, was that the universe was listening and apparently felt the need to call my bluff. Cue my metastatic diagnosis when my son was just three years old.  A mother’s life is a constant battle between wanting to protect your child from the world and wanting them to be capable of navigating that world when they are grown.  How do you do either of those things when you know you are dying, that you may be leaving them when they aren’t yet prepared, won’t understand, and likely will not recover from the loss?

Which is worse…not being able to have children at all? Or having them, but knowing you are going to cause them possibly the greatest sorrow of their lives?

Selfishly, I still would not change a thing about my life, because of my son. I do not want to ever leave him and I will do everything in my power to delay that moment as long as I can.  I hate, hate, the thought of him growing up without his mother.  Weddings, graduation, childbirth, all with a black cloud of my absence over them.  I cannot stand the thought of my baby in pain because of me.  I also know the only thing I can do about it is love him NOW.  I try, every day, to love him so much that he will never not feel it, even when I am gone.  I take pictures and video of us together so he will never forget what I look like or the sound of my voice.  I even write all of these words so that one day, he can go back and read them if he wants to.  These thoughts fill up my day, every day.

Now that another Mother’s Day has passed, I can only hope to be here for the next one. My heart goes out to all of the mothers with this horrific reality, struggling to hold onto their babies as much as time will allow.  In addition, my heart goes out equally to those who wish so badly for their own baby to hold onto.  Both situations, and everything in between, are so hard in this life.  Neither are to be made light of.


And Colin, if you are reading this, I love you more than all of the stars in the sky, my sweet boy.