Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Year: 12 Months, 56 Weeks, 365 Days

Within the week I will turn 54 and I will honor the day I was told I had cancer. It’s a lot to absorb within a few days but so is my life these days. I received a call from my doctor that will forever change my life one year ago. It’s a call NO ONE wants to ever receive. I have been told that one becomes a cancer survivor the day they are diagnosed. Since, I have spent 38 weeks out of last 56 weeks undergoing chemotherapy, survived three surgeries, and can now say I survived cancer. I hope it’s forever, but of course the frightening thought that I may be among the 20% of women who will experience a metastatic re-occurrence, will forever follow me and Liz as we try our best to find a “new normal”.

They say, “never a better time like the present”, and life with cancer will drill those words into your brain like nothing else can. And so, I’m pleased to let you know Liz and I have decided to leave the home we have known for over two decades and re-locate to our condo in Fort Lauderdale. And it’s a good thing.

I have called the DC area home for almost 30 years. I moved to the area immediately after college in the winter of 1986, to work for Senator Harkin as an unpaid intern. After a few months with no income, I moved to the Boston area and fell in love with the Red Sox – staying in contact with the Senator’s office and hoping for a paid opportunity to work in his office.  That opportunity came in 1989, and I have lived here ever since.

I met and married my wife here, I have filled my resume with incredible opportunities here, and conversely have had my heartbroken professionally too many times to mention here. And I have worked for and beside tremendously talented individuals here. I have made life-time friends here. I grew my village here. I have lived a full life here. I also was diagnosed with cancer here. 

The decision to re-locate our lives closer to my brother and his family, to warmer weather, to a less stressful atmosphere, to a condo – on the wonderful intracoastal with a view of Atlantic Ocean - we spent blood, sweat, and a few tears to remodel to our heart’s content has been comforting. Leaving our friends, our neighborhood, the wonderful District of Columbia and all it affords culturally and historically, and the superb medical teams we’ve both been able to cobble together over decades will not be easy. But nothing truly worth your time is ever easy.

Professionally, I don’t know where I’ll go or where I’ll end up. I have been privileged to join a few Boards and to work on a few projects with special nonprofits in the south Florida area already, hoping to lend my voice, my experience, and my love of management to hopefully make a positive difference. The importance to give back and to lend a hand has surfaced to the top of my “to-do” list.  

My 53rd year has been a year for the ages. It’s been horrifically tragic and wonderfully uplifting. As it comes to an end, I can honestly say I understand who makes up my village. I will not take any moment of any day for granted. I see the world - my world - clearer than I ever have. I recognize that my time on this earth is measured, and that many women diagnosed with me are not here to celebrate another day. So I’m really happy to see my 54th birthday. 

Lift a glass to me on my birthday, January 19th and again on January 24th to honor the day I became a cancer survivor.

And make plans to visit us in Fort Lauderdale! Go Vikings, SKOL!!!!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year - Happy New Beginning

Yesterday I took the last of my cancer treatment. Chemo has now ended for me. After an entire year of chemo, surgeries, doctors and meds, I can say my treatment for cancer is over.  Now, I will see my oncologist once every three months for blood work and for a discussion of how I feel. Every three months for the next three years, this will be my cancer-screening routine. The months, weeks, days, and minutes in between I will struggle to find the new me and to live my life free of cancer - and as free of worry of its return - as I can.

I have found monthly support groups with other survivors and intermittent one-on-one counseling to be extremely helpful. I practice my mindfulness mediation every day. Focused on the here and now. I search – and hopefully find - what the day provides for me to be as happy, healthy, and in the moment as possible.

I have been told by survivors and my doctors that time out of treatment can be the most difficult. More than once, my oncologist has mentioned this and to “let her know” if it gets too overwhelming. During treatment, your days are scheduled for you. Doctor appointments, treatments, medicine schedules - all meant to fight the disease - are structured for you. Your job is to stay the course, pay attention, speak up, and follow doctors' orders. Once treatment ends and hopefully you are declared “disease free”, your medical team cuts you lose -  in what seems as a quick and cruel fashion -  to rediscover yourself and to find your own path in this new life you’ve been given.

So that’s where I am. Figuring out what and how much cancer has changed me. Whittling away those things that are no longer important to my happiness. Determining how much stress I can handle, how much excursion my body can take, how to deal with disappointment without feeling defeated.

Anyone of us can be gone tomorrow. Today, I’m as cancer free as you are. But those of us who have stared at having no tomorrows have a deeper understanding of how precious each day can be. Living a life satisfied and content. Not taking anything, anyone, anymore, for granted can open up new possibilities and a lightness to how to live a life. 

I look forward to a tomorrow, but I live for today. I breathe deeply and see more sharply. Putting off until tomorrow is no longer in my vocabulary. If you knew me before cancer, you may not understand me as well afterward cancer. But I invite you to try. Be my friend. Listen to my fears without allowing them to frighten you. Just hang out sometime over a beer or a glass of tequila.  

Happy New Year. I’m really glad to be here with you.