Friday, July 31, 2009

Associated Reactions. . . Ever Have 'Em??

In my recent post on how smells affected our memory I neglected to write about my associated reaction with the Metro North Train to NYC.  Since surviving cancer my love of NYC has been somewhat tainted.  I had all of my surgery, treatment, and followup visits at Sloan Kettering in the city.  I feel very grateful to have found doctors I love at such a great hospital.  But all the trips into the city for chemo, and multiple train rides to followup tests and the like now tend to make me sick.  And I mean that literally.

Whenever I take the train to one of my doc appointments I start to fell sick from when I wake up that morning.  I feel nauseous, have a headache, and get the runs.  This happens without fail.  By the time I am boarding the train the first whiff of the pleather seats and urine sends me into a tailspin.  It reminds me of being sick, of needle sticks and  MRI machines.  So when I would hop the train to something fun in the city like going to dinner with my husband, or meeting a friend for a day of shopping the same thing would happen.  It has been so dam frustrating.  Who wants to feel sick when you are supposed to be going to have fun.  I didn't know how to tell that part of my brain that my train ride wasn't about cancer.  I theorized that the more fun things I went to the city for I would feel less of the associated reaction.  The bad experiences out weighted the good ones.

Until yesterday.  I think I finally had a breakthrough.  This past month I have had 3 trips to the city which is alot for me.  I saw a friend for dinner a couple of weeks ago, then Tuesday on my birthday and then yesterday I hopped the train by myself to meet a friend for lunch.  I woke up yesterday with trepidation hoping I wouldn't feel the headache and stomach pains.  And amazingly I didn't.  By the time I got to the train station and was boarding I happily noticed that I did not feel sick at all.  I actually felt pretty good.  No anxiety or sickness.  And that made me happy!  Finally a good train ride!  I had a great time with my friend and on the train home felt good that I have made progress.  I can only hope it continues.

Do you ever have associated reactions such as this?  Does it ever make you anxious or frustrated?  How do you deal?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm 40!!! And I'm Still Here!!

Today as I celebrate my 40th birthday I can't help but feel relieved to finally let go of something I have been carting around in my little head for the past 8 years.  Something I wish I hadn't worried about.  Something that was said to me by a doctor I had been working with at the time.  

He was a cancer survivor too.  I thought that would fix the bad bedside manner I had so often seen him exhibit with his patients.  He asked me how my treatment was going.  At this point I was in the middle of my chemo.  Then I told him I decided to not take tamoxifen.  (Let me just say here that it was my personal decision, one that I felt was the best for me.  I am not against the use of that drug for the treatment of breast cancer.)  I explained to him my reasons and then he dropped the bomb on me.  

"If you wanna live to see 40 you better take the tamoxifen."  he said.

My stomach dropped to my knees.  It made me want to reconsider my decision.  It made me scared.  I just wanted to live.  What if I didn't because I wouldn't take that drug.  

All of that has been rolling around in my head taking up residence there for all these years since I have survived breast cancer.  With each birthday I celebrated it popped up.  I tried to ignore it but as this birthday crept up on me it was full on in my face.  I hate that I let it.  

So as I watched the clock strike midnight I thought "Well, 40, here you are and I am still  here! It felt weird and all good at the same time.  Having never thought I would make it to my 32nd birthday it feels pretty good.  

Then I thought about the voice in my head that had been there for so long.  His voice.  He is no longer here....he has since passed away.  Like so many others.  

I am still here and all I can do is make the best of the life that I have.  I need to be easier on myself, be more forgiving to myself, and have more fun!  I don't play nearly enough.  I don't want to get so caught up in the worrying.  There is just no time for that.  I hope I can take my own advice this time!

So I am off to spend the day with my husband.  Nothing crazy, just the simple things....those are what I miss the most...

How do you celebrate your birthdays?  Did you feel as though your life was shortened when you heard the words  "You have cancer" ?  How do you deal with it?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Had Cancer. . . . Does That Revoke My Right to Sweat the Small Stuff??

I have been pondering this a lot lately.  Probably because I have been struggling with an anxious mind in recent days.   When I am anxious I worry.  When I worry I tend to complain.   I hate when I am like that.  

I swore to myself that if I survived cancer I would never complain again.  Not about a bad hair day or even a bad day at work.  I wonder how I thought I could pull that off.  I felt so grateful to still be alive I was afraid to complain.  I felt as though complaining about anything meant I didn't feel glad to have survived.  I felt like I had no right to.  Sometimes as a cancer survivor I feel as though I should be dancing and singing through each and everyday.  I put this expectation on myself to never feel bad.  And then I just worry about that!  I live with alot of anxiety of my cancer coming back, or losing my husband as I lost my first one.  I don't know how to find balance...inside my head.  

Don't get me wrong, I have many a great day.  I have many days when I am dancing like nobody is watching and laughing, and just being happy.  But I still struggle with my "after cancer" life and feel guilty for the struggle.  I put way to much pressure on myself striving for perfection in my life since having faced my own mortality.  I am kind to others but the one person I need to be kinder to is myself.  

Do you ever feel bad when you sweat the small stuff?  How do you find balance?  Are you a glass half full or half empty kinda person?  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wine, Women, and Song

A few weeks ago at my OT job I had the opportunity to work with a centurian.  At 100 years old this man was still on his feet, taking care of most his own needs, and very willing to participate in his rehab.  Whenever I work with those super old patients I become very inquisitive.  I wonder about their lives and how they live so long.  I wonder if their is a secret.  My inquisitiveness came about after facing my own mortality at such a young age.  And since my treatment ended I have been on a quest fueled mostly by fear to try to figure out how to keep healthy and live a long life.  

I began asking my usual questions, like how did you meet  your wife, where did you grow up, and what was it like way back when.  After that small talk I asked the big question...

"What is the secret?" I asked
"To what?"  
"Living to be 100."  I said.  
"Wine, Women, and Song." he responded with a smile.

We both laughed and he continued with his exercise.  I wondered if he was right.  

I have a man in my life, I love music, but I don't drink wine, or any alcohol for that matter.  Maybe that's what I am missing.  Is that the ticket?  A bottle of red??

Have you ever wondered what the secret is to long life?  Do you fear you life will be shortened because of  your cancer history?  Or do you just move forward and never look back?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Are You A Germaphobe??

I have worked in a hospital setting for 18 years.  As an OT I have had to take all types of patients in the shower and to the toilet to assist them with their daily cares from those on ventilators, to post surgical patients with wounds, and those recovering from strokes.  So I have had my moments of having to dodge phlegm spouting at me, coughs, MRSA, and all other types of germy stuff.  Years ago I never gave it a second thought.  It was just what I did for a living.  I certainly took the necessary precautions like plastic gowns, masks, and of course gloves hoping that would be enough protection.  I wore nice clothing back then, dressy even.  I have had to go through many a lecture on the job about handwashing techniques.  I never obsessed over it.  That is until now.

I think it started when I was going through my cancer treatment.  I had to work full time in a hospital while I was getting poison that killed my immune system.  Needless to say I was a little concerned.  My oncologist said it was ok as long as I didn't have to work with the very sick patients who had the most bugs.  I was lucky to have had a supervisor that made sure of just that.  That was 8 years ago.

Then I started watching Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay and my fear of germs took a bad turn.  I was riveted watching each episode and getting way grossed out each time.  I started thinking too much about what goes on in the restaurants I frequent.  I started to not want to go out to eat, and if I did I was super particular about where and even then would practically all but inspect everything on my plate as well as the plate itself and of course the silverware.  Unfortunately we eat home alot more but that has saved us some dough so I guess it is not all bad.  

Now when I go to my OT job I obsessively use purell.   I wear scrubs which go right into the laundry the second I get home.  And then the rest of me goes in the shower.  Things I never did years ago when I first started my OT work.  I don't know which is worse...the me then or the me now.  I have a little purell bottle that goes everywhere with me.  I run through that stuff like mad.  After I use the carts at the grocery store, after I ride the train or subway in the city, and don't even ask how I handle the public bathroom situation.   My husband just laughs at how obsessive I am with it.  I think I have gone way overboard or have I?

Anyone else willing to admit to being a germaphobe?  How do you handle yourself in potentially germy situations?  Do you leave the house with your trusty bottle of purell like moi?  Do you ever wonder what goes on back in the kitchen of your favorite restaurants?  Did you worry more during your treatments because of a shitty immune system?  

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's That Smell??

Throughout my life I have always had a heightened sense of smell.  And that sense in particular has always been very connected to my memory.  Some of my favorite smells are my Amarige perfume, lavendar, buttercream scented candles, fresh linens, my grandma's gravy (what we italians called sauce, oh how I miss it), my  husbands cologne, and the smell of the ocean.  Some of the smells I hate are bandaids, cigarette smoke, fresh cut grass, the inside of a hospital as well as the more obvious ones!

Whenever I enter a room, or my car, or even outside its often the first question I ask.  And depending on what it is I will be flooded with memories. When I go to Sloan for my checkups the second I enter the office building the smell nearly knocks me down...the familiarity of it.  Its a stark reminder of what I have been through.  It brings all fear back to me.   By the same token though the smell of my husbands cologne lingering in the house after he leaves makes me smile and feel a comfort.  When I was growing up my grandma made gravy every Sunday.  I miss that smell.  It always made me feel good in a house that was riddled by fighting and yelling.  On some Sundays when I make that same gravy I smile and think of her.  

During my treatment I would bring something with me that smelled good to me, like a piece of cloth doused with my favorite perfume or lavendar oil.  It helped me to deal with the smell of sickness all around me in the hospital.  Sometimes it worked and other times it didn't but I felt it was worth a try.  

Do you find that certain smells trigger your memory?  If so what are they?  How do you deal with those smells that trigger unpleasant memories?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Caffine, Nicotine, or Ice Cream...What's Your Drug of Choice??

I know I will be presenting myself as a fuddy duddy here but for me it is ice cream of the chocolate variety.  I have never smoked, don't drink, have never even been drunk for that matter although I do believe once I was buzzed from one too many Pink Lemonade's during a girl's weekend away in Newport.   I liked that buzz so much that I made sure I steered clear of alcohol.  Actually it was probably having a father who was an alcoholic  that kept me clean.  And I got cancer anyway which is a topic for another post.  

Back to the ice cream.  When I feel sad  or anxious sometimes I reach for the tasty treats.  Typically for me that is ice cream.  Although I do wish sometimes that I had a drug to take or a drink depending on my level of anxiety so in that sense I can see why some people become addicted.  Both of my parents smoked and when my dad quit drinking he smoked even more.  The nicotine is a depressant, it calms you.  I notice since my mom quit smoking 5 years ago she is now as my grandma would say "high anxiety".  

I think anything in excess is bad.  I try to keep my ice cream addiction under control.  I don't want to see it on my hips.  I suppose there are worse things I could be doing...

What's your drug of choice?  Is there something specific you find yourself reaching for when you feel screwed up in the head?  How do you not let it get out of hand? 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I was surprised I grabbed my camera that morning.  I hadn't so much as touched it in a while.  And I am not sure why.  Photography has become a needed hobby of mine.  Something necessary to keep me grounded.  When my head gets all out of whack spending an hour snapping pictures takes me to another place.  It somehow gets me out of the crap in my head and into the present moment.  

This picture is a small table top fountain I have in the living room.  As I watched the water fall and drip, I thought about what a cool picture it could be.  The light was beaming through the window casting shadows.  Leaning left, then right, then stepping to the other side I smiled as I tried to get the best angle.  I was eager to see the result.  I love the look of black and white and even sepia.  I must have taken twenty shots of that fountain as the sun slowly moved in the sky. 

I often look at everyday things and its like I am viewing it through the camera lens.  Moments like that distract me and quiet the noise rambling around in my head.   All too often  I think about the past, worry about the future and miss the present.  

It is a way to deal with my anxiety and fear.  It is part of how I deal with life after cancer.  And besides all that....its fun!

Come to think of it....I need to get shutterbuggin!

Is there something you do to quiet your mind?  How do you handle fear?  What gets you to stop and feel the moment?