I am as back to “normal” as I think I will ever be. I actually feel like my brain and my body are up to par with pre-treatment Mandi. I may not quite remember what it was like before, but I am better at taking care of me, so maybe it all evens out in the end? I may have to try a little harder to remember some things from last year (I think your brain starts to intentionally forget things or chemo brain kicks in, but either way, some emotions and experiences may best be forgotten). I don’t care to block it out of my life completely, as much as I want to pretend like it never happened, it did happen. I am also fine talking about it with other people (down to the details of my surgeries, because I think surgical options, even with complications, are worth having).
Springtime has come to Utah and with that comes outside time which makes me so happy. I missed the sunshine. When Mike was working from home a gentleman who does yard work stopped by and asked if he could trim the 50 year old ugly bushes out front, Mike called me and I suggested that the gentleman could rip them out instead. So he did, and I came home to a yard with huge uprooted bushes all over.
We have spent the entire weekend digging in the dirt (which apparently my lack of chemo this spring means I don’t have a good excuse to get out of yard work, darn). The bushes took up a lot of space so we have been planting bulbs, smaller bushes, grasses and decorating with rocks. You can actually see the front of our little house now. So strange!
Now we just need more grass.
Mike and I have lived in this house for almost seven years now. I have been itching to buy a new house, but I have been saying that I want a new house for years, so for now we will just keep making this one nicer – at least now that you can see it (I wish I had taken a before photo).
I had planned on going to an Image Reborn retreat in November, but we had too many things going on and I ended up not making it. November was a tough time for me, I was slowly getting my energy back from chemo and radiation. I had promised my nurse Vicki that I would go to one of the retreats (plus I can’t complain about spending a lovely weekend in Park City, considering the last time I stayed up there was when I broke out in a full body rash). This weekend was the retreat that I was finally able to go to. They had even had some last minute cancellations so two amazing women that I know and adore were able to come up this weekend and keep me company.
I learned the couple of days before the retreat how much less I had been thinking about breast cancer because I was suddenly thinking about it a lot more (which is why I called this post “A Trip Back to Cancertown”). I knew that I would be spending the weekend talking about breast cancer with other women, and that we would all be coming from different stages and different lives. The one thing we had in common: breast cancer had impacted us.
I drove up to Park City with Michelle who has been my friend, and hero, throughout my treatment. When we arrived we were graciously invited in and allowed to explore the gorgeous hilltop Park City mansion tucked away in a bunch of aspens. Michelle and selected the guest room at the bottom of the house (which we soon discovered that the many flights of stairs to the main living area would be a great method for working off all of the munching we would be doing all weekend). After we got settled in, the other ladies arrived (there were a total of seven women there this weekend). We then had dinner (which involved salmon, if you know me well, I hate fish… but I gave it a chance and it was actually pretty tasty). My surgeon Dr. Leigh Nuemayer spent time with us and had dinner answering questions everyone had about breast cancer (my main one was what “extensive” meant in my lab reports about the DCIS I had, the short version of the answer I got was that it means my breasts were good at making cancer).
Dr. Nuemayer brought everyone a copy of her book Meet Virginia (<– the site is graphic), it is about the initial type of mastectomy that I had, my reconstruction was a different kind from the book. Dr. Neumayer noted that only 25% of women that have a mastectomy choose to have reconstruction and works hard to educate women about their reconstruction options (hoping that more women will choose to have reconstruction). We stayed up late chit chatting and all wandered off into our own sleeping areas.
Saturday we woke up and had breakfast in our pajamas (this is a retreat right? That means we should stay comfortable!). Breakfast was served by a nutritionist that was involved in a study about diet and its impact on breast cancer recurrence. She touted carrot juice as a major part of the diet and make us carrot/peach/ginger juice that was actually pretty tasty, she even snuck some flax seed into it. After that several of us opted to go for a walk and once we were about 30 minutes into walking I realized that I forgot to bring sunscreen and that I was starting to burn. We turned around and headed back up to the house so that my rudolph nose wouldn’t burn anymore than it had. We relaxed, had lunch and then enjoyed an AMAZING facial and massage.
After a really nice dinner (with dessert of course, life is too short to not eat dessert). We had an art project that kept us occupied for the rest of the evening. We were asked to create collages about our breast cancer journey. Sunday morning we shared our collages and explained them with each other. We then had portraits taken (luckily one of the ladies was nice enough to let me borrow some foundation to tone down rudolph).
I was also excited to discover that Michelle and I both had recently decided to work on our photography skills. Mike bought me a new/used Nikon recently that I have been learning to use. Here are some of the photos I took this weekend:
Aspens near where we stayed.
Scenery on our walk.
Views on our walk. I love the variety of colors in the bushes.
Waiting for dinner!
More lovely ladies.
Notice how my red face is excluded from this photo set?
Tea and scone. I didn't have my pinky finger out though.
So, to give you a little background on myself. I am not the most positive human being in the universe (I am a cheerful person that likes to smile), but skeptical is my middle name. Quite frankly I don’t have anything to complain about.
I am going to a breast cancer retreat this weekend. I think it is amazing that people and groups organize events like this. They help women like me, manage life with breast cancer in it at some point in time, emotionally and physically. I love local organizations that make a huge difference in the lives of patients and survivors such as the Christi Anderson Rack Pack Foundation, The Cancer Wellness House and Image Reborn Foundation. I am trying on the survivor title, but it doesn’t stick. I still think funding research is important, but I personally I am a bigger fan of the groups that impact individuals and their families.
I am started to wonder if it is like there are cancer clubs. If you have had breast cancer you get to go to this event, but those with cervical cancer can’t come. It could be that I just know about breast cancer groups because that is what I had, so I could be completely wrong in my perception of the cancer universe. I made a classic error when I was at my first day of chemo. I had been given some extra breast cancer gifts I had received because I was young with breast cancer. The person who sat across from me was the mother of someone I knew in junior high and high school and I offered the additional gifts to her. Everything had pink ribbons all over it and I found out later she had just had a recurrence of colorectal cancer. Gah! I am embarrassed.
Those that have been through cancer of one kind in one stage or another face different adventures in life. I can’t turn to a lung cancer patient and ask their advice on a chemo regimen for breast cancer, but we can’t never discount one cancer for another. Someone with bone cancer may not understand what it is like to have a mastectomy, but I will (hopefully) never understand what it is like to have one of the bone cancers. Rare cancers don’t have clubs, groups or organizations (I take that back, there are a lot of organizations for cancer), but it isn’t like the groups centered around one cancer or the other. Cancer is LONELY, you are surrounded by so many people that love you and help take care of you and in my case other women who had had the same chemo and radiation and I was still lonely in a strange way.
I also think about men and women that have debilitating diseases from which there is no possibility of remission and it humbles me.
Cancer is a bunch of mutant cells on a rampage, finding a cure for all cancers would be a major feat! I no longer feel like I belong at a cancer hospital (really, it is awkward). I also feel like I have an ounce of room to complain about the fate that life gave me. I didn’t always make the best choices, but it is what it is. We were/are all dumb teenagers at one point in time and everything causes cancer (yes teenagers you are dumb, you will learn this some day when you grow up, if you grow up…). I am learning to live my life without regrets, with my eyes focused forward and hoping for the best. Life is pretty awesome (if you weren’t fully aware).
Groups which have directly helped me through treatment and beyond (if you are in Utah and seeking breast cancer information, support or other online resources):
P.S. I did update my blog design (evidence I have found time and energy to spare on the weekends), but I still don’t like pink.