Sweet T's Story

The Chronicles of a Survivor


May 2013

the flip side

We’ve all heard it a million times…cancer effects all of us.  Some of us are smack dab in the middle…battling with all we have. Others know bad ass survivors who are thriving and inspiring people everyday. And unfortunately, most of us have lost someone to cancer…and for those, we celebrate and remember fondly the memories we have with them.

For the most part, I’ve experienced cancer from the inside. The side where you know first hand what cancer feels and looks like…the side where you have some control over the situation, the side where you don’t  have to feel helplessness and fear for someone you care deeply for. For those of you on the outside…the flip side…mad props for realz. I don’t know how you do it.  You think I’m strong…I say YOU are the strong ones. Y’all are my rocks…the support system that is inevitably there for me at the drop of a hat.  You help me through the bad days and embrace the good alongside me. You feel emotions that I can’t even fathom. You make me smile and inspire me to get better and live an amazing life. We often celebrate the courage of cancer fighters and survivors, as we well should. But we don’t celebrate enough the courage, strength and importance of those of you who are living and breathing cancer right along side us. So…Cheers, to you!

Most of you have no way of knowing what cancer feels like.  When people hear the word”cancer” a lot of times they think it’s a death sentence…that people battling this disease are sick and miserable all the time. I can’t speak for all survivors, but I can tell you from my perspective, cancer is not all that bad. (HAHA, cancer.  You got nothing on me.) Thanks to medical advances and wonderful organizations that are making strides in early detection and treatment, the negative stigma that cancer once held is no longer a reality. My doctors have my back…I have a pill that remedies pretty much any side effect that comes along with treatment. My hair is going to grow back.  My scars will fade. There are far worse situations that one could be in and I count my blessings every day.

My hope is that this message brings those of you on the outside a little comfort and peace…knowing that we survivors are just fine. That although cancer blows a big one, it’s nothing that we can’t handle. You don’t need to feel helpless or scared or sympathetic for us.  Although we know you would, we wouldn’t want you to change places with us.

p.s. I passed the 1/2 way point with chemo last week…only 4 more to go! My spirits are high and according to my doc, I’m handling treatment like a rockstar. Oh, and here are some pics of what cancer REALLY looks like…lots of smiles, friendship and bad ass bandannas.

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For memory’s sake…

“…I try to think of bad times.  Good memories are all I have.” -Avetts, One Line Wonder

I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia. There’s something special about escaping into a memory and living in it even if it’s only for a few moments…remembering where you’ve been, the places, people and things that are near and dear to you and ultimately how they’ve shaped your life as it you live it. I have a beautiful library of memories that I keep deep in my soul and I find it so lovely when a smell, a song, a taste, a friend can bring those memories to life and take me back to that place.

Lately, I’ve been even more caught up in the magic of my memories. I don’t know if it’s the glorious hours that I’ve been spending hanging in my backyard letting my mind wander and the sun shine down on my face, or the heaviness and reality of this whole thing I have going on with cancer.  Or maybe it’s all the time I’m spending at my parents house and the drugs I’m on…but my sense of nostalgia is at an all time high and I’m loving it!

Last week, I was taking a leisurely stroll through my beautiful neighborhood soaking in the sights and sounds of the city…Mt. Washington…Pittsburgh and I’m all of a sudden overwhelmed by the smell of fresh cut grass and gasoline. The space between the city streets of Mt. Washington and the lazy barely paved roads of Washington County where I grew up couldn’t be further from one another. But the smell immediately takes me back to summertime in good old Southview, PA. I couldn’t help but smile as memories of long summer days, tan legs, neighborhood kickball games came flooding back to me. I had very vivid recollections of good times spent in the swimming pool and trampoline in our backyard, fishing with nothing but nets and our bare feet down at Galati’s pond, and riding my bike for miles upon miles. I can remember feeling free and happy and loved. For me, that’s the epitome of childhood.

I love James Taylor. For many reasons. His voice is like velvet and his music is mellow, comforting and peaceful. I’ve seen him live more times than any 29 year old should ever admit to. Other than having the voice of an angel, JT’s music is special to me because some of my absolute favorite memories of my entire life are tightly stitched to his Mudslide Slim Album (read up on music-evoked nostalgia if you get a chance…it’s fascinating). The summer of my junior year of undergrad at Gannon, I took a biology class that afforded me the opportunity to spend 2 weeks exploring Yellowstone National Park. At that point in my life, I had never been west of Ohio, so the vast beauty and greatness of the mountains and wilderness completely captured me…mind, body and soul. We hiked, camped, explored, animal-watched for 2 weeks straight. I experienced all of this with some very special people including one of my very best and most dear friends ever, KT. It was heaven to wake up in the wilderness and breathe in that brisk mountain air and have no idea what the day would entail and what we would see or discover. I met a new part of myself on that trip. Reminiscing makes me warm inside.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m thankful.  Thankful that round #2 with the big C and this medical leave has given me the opportunity to truly disconnect and escape from the stresses of everyday life and to reflect and focus on what makes me genuinely happy and what is important to me. It’s pretty damn great.

coming to you LIVE from chemo room #1 at AGH!!

photo (22)Ladies and Gentleman! I’m coming to you LIVE from Allegheny General Hospital’s Cancer Center in Pittsburgh’s beautiful Northside neighborhood!  You’re about to get an exclusive sneak peek into exactly what treatment is like.  Exciting, I know.  Please try to contain yourselves. This is chemo #3 of 8. You know what means…almost 1/2 way done. YAY! Everyone is always asking about chemo and treatment and what it’s like, so I thought I would take this opportunity to  let you all in on the true life of a cancer patient. Think of this as an episode of MTV’s Real World, only without all the booze, illegitimate sexual relations and bad ass house on the beach (I got nothin but love for ya, East Deutschtown…yinz would rock the real world).  Ok, so realistically this is nothing like the real world, but I hope to entertain you either way.  And I just really want to say this…

You think you know, but you have no idea… Chemo day is always long.  My appointment was at 11:30 and it’s currently 12:51 and I’m just starting to get my pre-meds and other drugs. There’s a lot of prep work that needs to be done before the nurses start to actually administer the chemo therapy…like exams, accessing my port, vitals, pre-meds, gossiping, etc. I typically see my oncologist (who is also my buddy and saving grace) before each treatment.  She gives me an exam, making sure that the chemo is doing what it’s supposed to do and that there’s nothing peculiar going on. I have nothing but good things to say about all of my doctors and nurses.  They’re just the smartest, most talented and genuine group of people a gal could ask for in a medical team.  On a side note, AGH should probably hire me to do their communications and PR. I would be a superstar. After my exam with my oncologist, I head back to the treatment room which is basically a huge room with lots of big comfy chairs and all kinds of top notch, super cool medical equipment.  It’s really quiet, aside from the constant beeping of the machines that administer all of the drugs, so I typically pop in my ear buds and rock out to the avetts while mi madre plays on her ipad.  She’s fairly new to facebook so I assume she’s probably tagging and sharing and stalking like there’s no tomorrow.

Fast forward. Check-in and exam…done. Prep and pre-meds….go!  All of the pre-med drugs they give me are used primarily to control and even prevent the nausea that comes along with getting the red devil chemo.  Before every treatment, I am injected with aloxi, emend, decadron and ativan and they are all given through Spike, my port, and have to slowly drip into my system, so it can take a while.  As I type, I am currently being injected with ativan, which is making me feel all loopy and warm inside…and kind of like I want to watch the discovery channel all day. Not gonna lie…it’s pretty awesome.  I’ve never blogged on narcotics before…this might be good.

photo (20)photo (26)1:55pm Chemo time.  The red devil chemo comes out in two huge syringes and has to be administered manually by one of the nurses, it usually takes about an hour for all of the chemo to be injected.  The chemo is literally bright red…that’s where the idea for my next tattoo came from.  I had always liked the meaning of the word sanguine (cheerfully optimistic) but it wasn’t until I saw the other definition of sanguine (red in color) and heard of the type of chemo I would be having that I decided I like it enough to get it tattooed on my body and have it live there for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to get it. Any artists out there want to work with me on designing it?? I also get another type of chemo after the red devil, cytoxan, which is set up on the drip just like the pre-meds.  It also takes about an hour.

2:27pm.  Ok. The drugs are kicking in. I’m starting to feel pretty tired (which is completely normal).  When I had my last round of chemo I slept for like 72 hours straight no joke.  I barely got up to pee.  It was good though (not the peeing part, the sleep part)…I slept all the way through the bad parts of chemo… the nausea and being uncomfortable.  It really worked out.  I think I’ll leave you all for now before I start crazy talk…drug induced rants about how much I love candy or how the 5-day work weeks is the worst idea ever invented. Or even worse, who is getting my vote for mayor in the primaries.  I choose to spare you all.

Before I sign off…I was left the loveliest of messages from one of my sisters friends that touched my heart and brought a smile to my face and I want to share it with you, friends.  “…I am not gonna lie I was heartbroken to hear this T…. so undeserved. But as I read your blog I get it…I can see the “why?”. You are changing hearts minds and lives kiddo!” I wouldn’t touch the “why question” with a 10 foot stick before this.  I just didn’t see the point in wracking my brain for an answer that I will likely never get.  But Meg, you’ve opened my mind to a new perspective and I thank you.  Now I know that understanding the scientific and medical reasoning behind my first AND second battle with cancer isn’t what’s important here.  Understanding why I’m here, going through what I’m going through is the real question and I already know the answer to that:)

Until next time,

One Love -T

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