murphyormel

wacky reflections from a nutcracker wannabe

Category: Siteman Cancer Center

The elusive bell that taunts.

These past five years have been a long, damn (Sorry, Sister) time to hear that sound, applause and tears for strangers – other patients winning their journey with cancer  – when I wanted for myself.  But today it arrived for me.

The elusive and well-respected bell at Siteman Cancer Center announces a patient is clean. It is loud. It is overt. It is a prize.

No longer will I be mistaken for a pharma rep and asked for directions as I head for my own body scan.  No longer will I cry BEFORE the physician walks in to give me the latest results. No longer will my parents have to live with the worry of another phone call saying it remains present.

Nope, from here out, checkups are like an annual well visit of health and gratitude.

My junior mint of cancer is no longer elusive, no longer a tease. Today, the bell was mine.

Thank you to my friends and family for all the love and support along this emotional journey.

Mel

#SitemanCancerCenter #RingtheBell #Standup2Cancer

#SitemanCancerCenter #RingtheBell #Standup2Cancer

Bright Red Mary Janes.

Ever really think about the depth of some of the movies we enjoy?  In the Wizard of Oz, for example, clicking a pair of bedazzled mary jane shoes can take Dorothy home.  But along her path and before she goes safely home, she endures fear, the unknown of the next curve, darkness, laughter, a lovable puppy, tears, a new friend who needs courage and a new friend who seeks love.  She isn’t even aware that the shoes she is already wearing can take her home.  Click three times, Dorothy, Click three times!

The last few days have been hard.  Heck, the last two years have been awful.  I’m tired, terrified of what watching all this madness will do to my sweet daughter long-term, and my concentration isn’t always 100%.  Thankfully, I have a career I love, a daughter who continues to thrive amidst the ‘red mary jane/Seussville swirl’ and a family that loves me.

Siteman Cancer Center is moving up my second go round of radio iodine to early January. I wasn’t as scared the first time.  Something about everything else I had just endured and then cancer on top of all that pain seemed like just another nasty entity to cross off my list and move on.

Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t work that way. There is no fairy godmother or good witch to shake out the bad.  And just because I don’t have time for it, doesn’t mean it goes away.

But like Dorothy, I have met new friends on the path, enjoyed laughter, endured my share of tears and darkness, loved a new little puppy, and kept hoping that around every curve, I would and will find peace.

Just like Dorothy, I own bright red Mary Jane’s.  Perhaps the script had it wrong, and the writer intended “kick” not “click” three times.

I pray for peace, acceptance and strength.   I ask the same from you.

Mel

Tiny Delights.

In an earlier post, I used the phrase, “Grief is not a straight line”.  Well, after a fabulous gala fundraiser event for the hospital where I was lucky enough to have my dad as my date, and we had a ball together, I felt the approach of ‘the backwards slide’.  Now, while the old Mel would have made “the backwards slide” some type of dance, I instead felt myself feeling the old sadness and realization of being alone after seeing so many happy married couples.

I have felt the backslide of Seussville indeed.  We don’t plan the old feelings to pop up. Feeling unlovable or knowing I am “sick” simply catches me off guard. I suspect I’m not alone. And for all of us, these feelings come in different ways and at different times.

In three months, I will head to Siteman for treatment number two, and while I am again confident inside and out THIS will be the end of the treatments, fear is still real, and my body is still not 100%.  (Even when I reread the sentence, I can’t believe it is me about whom I write.)

Regardless, I found this tiny piece of peace as I changed purses today. I choose to believe, I saved all these years to bring back in a new medium without knowing where and when it might need me to reread.  I delivered the following words probably 10+ years ago in a holiday card to friends.  It speaks to me again today.  I hope the same for you.

Most of us miss out on life’s big prizes.

The Pulitzer. The Nobel.

Oscars, Tonys, Emmys.

But we’re all eligible for life’s small pleasures.

A pat on the back.

A kiss behind the ear.

A four pound bass.

A full moon.

An empty parking space.

A crackling fire.

A great meal.

A glorious sunset.

Hot Soup. Cold beer.

Don’t fret about copping life’s grand awards.

Enjoy it’s tiny delights.

There are plenty for all of us.*

Today, I made a nice meal for my sweet girl and took a nice Sunday nap.

Small pleasures.  Tiny Delights.  And seeing these small pleasures take me forward once again.

 

What Tiny Delight did you enjoy today?

namaste’,

Mel

* – corporate ad (United Technologies)

The smack down of STL humidity is a lot like life. It just happens.

….and we embrace, endure, unleash our creative spirit, and take the journey back to ourselves.

I tend to run at 100mph most of the time.  It’s perhaps an escape mechanism, long legs and heels, or perhaps it’s just type A madness from which I cannot escape.  But regardless, I too must crash from time to time to refresh, renew spirit and ask for spiritual alignment.

My supervisor teases me that as an extrovert, I am in my element when “on”, and as such, the energy pushes me through even the toughest of anxious situations.  But these moments do test my ability to be “on” in the same way I have always known, when my personal life “storm” isn’t as obvious publicly.  So, sometimes the crash is even harder on my spirit.

Frankly, at work, with my sweet girl or with a close friend or family, I can either escape totally from the “storm” or be candid about the real me.  And here too, I get that same release in some strange way.  But when the escape moment is over, there is not a metaphor more suitable than like walking outside into the STL humidity that smacks you in the face to bring you back to the reality of our lives.  The wall of heat that hits you hard as you walk out of a cool, safe place.

We all carry “stuff” with us on our journey.  Just this week, I learned of a peer who has been facing an emotional wound he keeps close to the vest.  And while his family enjoyed incredibly loving and optimistic news to remedy this wound just this week, it reminded me again of how we break a leg and stay home but an emotional wound hits, and we still get up, drink coffee, make the bell for the early morning meeting and go home to that reality.  It’s all around us, and yet we don’t know who embraces what and what path they take to heal themselves.

It affirms I am where I am meant to be, meaning the people who cross my path at a given moment and reach out to ask if I am ok even when they don’t know the big picture.  I am incredibly honored by the folks that read this blog and tell me when I had no idea it reached as many, and in as many ways as it has.  My original intention was a cathartic way to reach anyone when I was overwhelmed by my own loneliness, and instead, I learned so many of us face these same anxieties, fears, loss on a day by day, and sometimes moment to moment basis.  You are not alone, my friend.

Yesterday was a vulnerable day.  Last weekend was full, lovely and healing.  Folks see me and forget I have cancer, OR know the other losses, and assume the cancer is gone because the early treatments are done.  And yet, I can’t forget either.  They are my personal humidity smack down, and no one can live in my shoes but me.  The road ahead is long and windy…..and frankly, still pretty damn scary.

But my daughter and I are just two entities in God’s plan.  And we are still keeping it together- day in and day out.  My daughter is my role model for resilience and acceptance.  And she doesn’t even know the strength and love she gives me each and every day to get through this madness and mess.

I remember the first time I could see myself in the mirror after Lasic surgery years ago and thinking “where did those wrinkles come from- they weren’t there before”….lol.  I guess life is a lot like that.  We take off the glasses and reality presents itself in full view.

And then we move forward with vulnerability in some moments, with grace in others.

Om Shanti,

Mel

The Sacred Lotus rises towards the light.

Sometimes called the Sacred Lotus, this flower often symbolizes beauty, perfection, purity and grace.  The lotus flower grows in muddy water, yet the dirt and mud fall off its leaves and petals, keeping it clean and pure. A lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises from water to stand above it unsoiled, raised in the world but having overcome the world, or living unsoiled by the world. In turn, the lotus is often viewed as a symbol of aspirations to rise towards the light. *

51,183 participants walked yesterday for the 14th Annual Susan Komen Walk for the Cure.  700+ teams of survivor family and friends and an epic energy for one cancer filled downtown STL.  A veteran motorcyclist was individually saluting each survivor as she passed.

As we passed him, I wondered how many other folks like myself are facing some type of treatment for their own internal pain and offering daily prayer for good health and energy along with these 3000+ breast cancer survivors.  I noticed parents, sisters, brothers, grandkids, spouses and those on the brink of being married, celebrate their loved one in pink clearly at their side through the fight and continued success.  The morning hit me in a way I didn’t expect- 1.  we all need a survivor team of dedicated love and support, and 2. cancer has a ripple effect.

Just as the melancholy began once again to set in, I looked to my right and saw I wasn’t alone.  And I was ok.

In the evening, I was lucky enough to visit the profound and peaceful Chinese Lantern Festival.  “Elaborate outdoor sets crafted of silk and steel celebrate Chinese culture through bold color, dazzling light and striking design.”**

The Lotus Flower exhibition felt timely after the morning of both powerful group energy and a silent internal reality.  But once again, I wasn’t alone.

The Confucian scholar, Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073) wrote: “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”

Cheers to the pink that surrounds us all!  The ‘Warriors in Pink’ of Ford say, “Courage has many faces.  And every one is beautiful.”.

So too are you.

Om Shanti,

Mel

* http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/things-to-do/events/special-exhibitions/lantern-festival/chinese-lantern-fun-facts.aspx ** http://www.ksdk.com/news/article/325267/105/14th-annual-Race-for-the-Cure-raises-more-than-24-million-

Never will I be a shrinking violet. Results..the day after the scan.

‘She believed. She could. So, she did.’ – unknown (but purchased at Hallmark 🙂

I had a dream last night. In it, I am walking alone though a set of unknown streets that don’t exactly feel safe, but I don’t see anything that is wrong either. I am alone and don’t feel directly afraid of any one thing in a way that makes me want to run, just a quicker walk to where I need to be. I keep moving, and as I get close to a door, a few people I call my “outsiders” in this dream walk me through to a safe auditorium. I don’t know them, but they feel familiar and most of all, safe.

I woke up.

Now, with a mom who is a psychotherapist and asks me if I’m stressed when I answer the phone with “hello”, I tend to overanalyze, and as such, it made me wonder. Who were these “Outsiders” in this dream, and why was I instantly safe in their company when alone I wasn’t so confident? I didn’t even need my dream book.

They are you. All of you.

See, the dream came last night just after I learned the best news I could possibly hear in this cancer nightmare…I learned my thyroid cancer is contained to the thyroid region only. It had not spread anywhere else in the body. I sobbed – as did my girlfriends who held my hands next to me- both before and after.

Do I get to ring the bell that says cancer-free yet? No, I have blood tests and more blood tests, another body scan and perhaps more treatment, but for today, I am contained and the radioactive iodine will work on the “bad” cells for months. (no worries, I will no longer be a threat to glow when sitting next to you 🙂 But that bell will ring, my friends. And I will eSend each of you a violet on that day and hand them out to the room of staff and friends and family as a thanks for your love, grace, prayers and peace. In fact, you are all invited to the event.

There has been so much said to me in the last few weeks, I can’t even begin to share the amazing sentiments and stories presented my way. We all have “stuff”. We just do. Some ask for help and are rewarded, others suffer privately and work from within. That’s ok. But don’t hide or cocoon for too long.

Even my Bath and Body Works “stress free” body wash says, “Breathe deeply for best results.” That is yoga in a nutshell. No wonder I crave the mat. And that packaging designer likely didn’t know the translation would end up here. What’s great is that my favorite packaging designer, Jodi (who works for a food company that freaks out over a picture of pork chops), said “I have every confidence you will bitch-slap this.”. Love that too! Both are real and raw and say something that kicks us into reality. Life just happens, and we sit in a corner, or we “Fight on” like my friend, Dan said. Or Laurie from SEB who quoted Oprah for me, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you really want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

A lovely old friend from grade school reminded me “we are girl scouts and the one thing we learned is how to survive. Never forget to stay fierce” That rocks, Ms. Leigh Ann Broyles-Roberts.

That’s what my “Outsiders” did. 100’s of you. My circle of loving friends who are always there for me, and in this instance yesterday, Lisa Lindley Durzo, Teresa Helms Ellison, Kim Kastel Hackney and Kirsten Waal Newquist, Michelle Foley (via phone, text, and FB ‘on the spot’ addict). They loved me and held me up in what- thus far- has been my darkest hour. They will stand at my side in one year when we ring the bell together with my daughter and family next to me. They got up at 6am and drove my arse over to STL not knowing what would happen, or what we might face- but the “girl power” as Lisa says would get us all through. And she was right on.

Was this a nightmare or a gift? Is cancer a wakeup call to make change? Was it meant to show me that “outsiders” are not out side at all? Certainly, I am facing some additional challenges separate from this health issue, but I will not shrink in that area either. I will move forward regardless of what happens outside of my hoola hoop. Never have I nor will I be a shrinking violet.

A new and wonderfully loving nurse friend, Sue Beeler, shared an original comment that should be a prayer in its own right (and I will find a way to market its use in some way at HSHS), but her words inspire, “Think from a place of peace, act from intention, do with grace, and you will be ok no matter the situation.” (copyright, Beeler, 2012.)

As with any scary health illness, cancer is a personal story -so personal and experiential, a person is never again the same…..And I suspect for anyone who crosses its path as friend, partner or family.

At least for me, the gift of the outsiders- YOU- have changed my path forever. 🙂

Namaste’ (the divine in me blesses the divine in you.)

Mel

P.s. Matt Damon, Emelio Estevez, Scott Baio, Patrick Swaze, Tom Cruise…they have nothing on any of you. The swirl of a gift that came with the friends at my side so I would not be alone, prayers, love, wishes, notes, incredible shares, electronic posts, emails, cards, flowers, gifts (yeah, folks give gifts when you get cancer….I had no idea. Next time, I will hint sooner for a car.) Love to you all.

It’s radioactive Friday. Iodine tastes better than a pre-colonoscopy beverage.

FB, Twitter and the email world have shown me love and healing I never dreamed.  I wish I could hug Steve Jobs and that Zuckerberg dude directly.  Wow- thank you to the now hundreds of notes and stories, prayers and eHugs that have come my way.  And check out the jpgs at the end of this post..priceless….

I am officially radioactive but no superpowers yet.  Go to your window and look for the glow.  It might be an early Mardi Gras bead being thrown high in the air of STL parties, but it could just be me. (They said superpowers take a few weeks to kick in. At that point, look for a pink sparkle cape and a big smile.)

Today was the (first) treatment.  It’s called radioiodine therapy*, and it is specifically used to treat Thyroid Cancer.  The anxiety is much worse than the actual beverage.  It’s small and doesn’t taste much more than a little aluminum foil mixed with warm tap water that has been sitting on the kitchen sink too long.  So, really, in the big picture, not a big deal and oh sooooo much better than that which you drink before a colonoscopy.

I love however that the nurse in the room puts on all these clothing protectors and big rubber gloves, but they put a small white paper cloth over my chest (with tape in the back no less) and I sit in my skinny jeans and pink sweater waiting to start.  Not even glasses. Seriously?  Oh well, I guess drinking it is much worse than losing a pair of my favorite Dansko shoes.

Course, we are talking about radiation in a contained lead package that has to be ordered from another facility and isn’t housed in the hospital for safety reasons. Literally. They have to order it once the patient has the consultation to ensure they will go through with it because it is so expensive and well, you know…radioactive.

They also actually measure my radioactivity before I leave AND after I set off an actual Geiger counter. For real! She takes out a human size ruler, stands far away, students are watching, a loud buzzer is going off, and they are watching a Geiger counter score the success of the treatment in my body. Freak’n science, incredible! (Mr. Gattung at OTHS would be so proud of me. And I only remembered his “vette” (meaning chevet). I should really get that A now.) (Thank goodness my brother, HJ, is a PhD radiochemist to explain what I ingested to my parents in a way that doesn’t scare more than necessary.)

Regardless, we go back Tuesday for a total body scan to determine if the tumors have spread beyond the right (and to my surprise, also left) thyroid lobe.  All were in fact papillary so if “you are going to have thyroid cancer, this is the best you can have”.  Comforting.

I will know partial results after that scan and on that day.  There will be blood work in six weeks and six months, plus any additional treatments pending next Tuesday’s total body scan, meaning more scans every one to five years for the rest of my life depending on what we find.

This on top of my every three-year colonoscopy.  Bazinga!

MU alum is kicking cancer's ass!

! 

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine-131#Medical_and_pharmaceutical_uses

** MU Live Strong logo…http://instagr.am/p/mWfOC/

The only time being called a large Mack truck is a compliment…

In the last few days, I have been reminded of who I am to the outside.  That in itself is an immense gift.  Being called a “Warrior” and “Mack truck” are my personal favorites.  No other time except when facing cancer is being called a large Mack truck appropriate.  Never.  But today, I know my friend sees me as tenacious, driven, strong and capable of moving anything that gets in my way.  He is right.

ok, so I actually haven’t kicked thyroid cancer’s ass yet, but I will.  Just around the corner. Doc assures me that “if you are going to have cancer, this is the best kind to have.”  LOL!  Those are words I never expected to hear, much less typing them in a blog I didn’t plan to write until 20 minutes ago.  I also must acknowledge that once I kick this, cancer can always come back.  No worries. I’ve had my share of ups and downs and always land on my feet.

Know that song by Blue October, “Jump Rope”?  If not, get it.

That being said, if you read, “Get a goiter, grow a goiter”- this would be part 2.  You see, that goiter that Ms. Crazy Aunt Delilah designed for the work costume contest and actually became one two years ago, was checked and found benign.  But over time and with repeated ultrasounds that never showed cancer, it was time for surgery to remove.  Mostly it was cosmetic and sometimes I would feel pressure on my vocal cord (perhaps a gift to my friends, as I do possess the gift to gab).  Me?  I was just happy to get rid of that word in my vocabulary. Seriously, who named that thing a Goiter anyway…… “gooooooiter”?  It just says, “make fun of me”.  (And Seinfeld did nothing to help those of us with the curse of the “goooooiter”.)

Regardless, I conceded and took on the surgery when it fit my schedule.  When the doc came back in after discharge to tell me they found malignancies, even he didn’t expect to give me this news.  It wasn’t seen on the previous ultrasounds, and no one seems to know for how long I had been growing the cells. Again, no worries, I get some radioiodine and a total body scan and soon enough I’m back to being a bad ass marketing professional.

But here’s what I’ve learned along this ridiculously insane journey:

– Many folks have thyroid issues, but unless they “get the goiter”, they may not be aware of the cancerous cells.  Ask your doc how you can be sure you are safe.

– Laughter heals.  So too does investing in a good therapist.

–  My 11-year-old  daughter has a capacity for amazing resilience and understanding.  We haven’t yet used the “c” word (not that word, you goof), but I am transparent about needing much rest and meds that will make me radioactive and need to keep me alone for a few days while she stays with her dad.

– “Ask for the order”.  Social networking has a completely new meaning for me this week- beyond a buttload of professional experience.  (oh dear, I may have to rate this blog differently).  An insane amount of emails, notes, personal stories, public thoughts, encouragement and kindness continue to come my way from people I haven’t seen in years.  And it took me weeks to admit to folks even outside my closest six girlfriends what was happening in my life.  Suddenly, I am flooded with white lights, love and healing from around the globe.  Just with a touch of a button and a polite request to have my back.

– Never allow anyone-  a sibling, parent, spouse (!!!!), friend, family member, colleague to hear the diagnosis alone.  Partially, b/c they are likely loopy on  Vicadin or Morphine, as I was and only heard one word, and partially b/c we need to be holding a hand or taking notes or something….and for me, I was still in the hospital gown, arse hanging out, connected to tubes and hair looking rocking hot.  I was in shock and there was no one to hold my hand.

– Some folks you think will come to your side will not. And that is ok.  Not everyone is comfortable and knows what and how to be there for you.  Accept that this is not easy for anyone and move forward with folks who will not pull from the positive energies you need in reserve.

– Toxic people are bad news. Move on.

– I have always been good with “asking for the order”. (Daughter of a psychotherapist and attorney.)  But, I’m not great at asking for help.  Too damn type A and like to believe I can do it all.  This time, I couldn’t. And you know what, asking wasn’t hard and the return has been the best investment of all time. 🙂

– Next time you enter a hospital, consider that every patient – you, your friend, your parent, etc…this is their story.  It is not just a visit from you.  It has a beginning – when they first call the doctor knowing something is “amiss”- to the end diagnosis or worse.  Everything else in between is the plot.  You are part of that plot and can make it even the smallest bit easier- even offering an ice chip or calling the nurse or a trip to the bathroom with someone other than a stranger means something.  Be there and be present. And know it’s their story, not yours.  Even if dinner needs to be made, or the kids have homework, or the laundry isn’t done.  They are scared and need you to be with them.

–  Touch.  People need human contact.  We need to be loved.  Ask to hold a hand or give a hug, or frankly, just let me cry without solving my problems or telling the story of iodine radiation that your uncle bob had.  I am not Bob.

–  I don’t need you to tell me you are sorry.  Of course you are, you are my friend.  Instead, just be there and remind me of all the things you know me to be.  Because in that vulnerable moment, I don’t recall who I was before the diagnosis.

–  Nurses run a hospital.  I can be the lead for the marketing department, but I am nothing but support to the men/women who have  (as my smart, loving, nurse based CEO says) “the privilege to touch the patient”.  She is right.  It is a privilege, and nurses deserve incredible respect.

And finally, Crazy Aunt Delilah may not have been just karma, she may have just saved my life.

Just imagine this next Halloween when she reappears with a new look, a fancy scarf to cover what appears a neckline intruder incident and a rockin’ story about being a cancer survivor.  Probably wearing the survivor card on a tiara……(note to self).

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