Friday, February 28, 2020


Feet. The word brings up an emotion, a feeling, a smell…. A thought. Come on, you know it. Say it with me.....Feet.  

I don’t personally care for feet. I understand most of us have two, most of us use them to get around. And therefore, kinda important, I just don’t care for ‘em. Don’t want to see feet - mine or yours. Anywhere. Or any portion of 'em. Like toes. A "no open-toe shoe" policy is in every Employee Handbook I've ever authored.

So, I have a beautiful toe I’d like to introduce you to. A big toe. More specifically, my big toenail. On my right foot, actually. “She” (if you don’t mind) didn’t get out of the gate like my other nine toes. Nope. The nail on my right big toe from my earliest memories seemed discolored, odd, different. It looked for most of my childhood like it would just fall off. But the skies parted sometime around my high school years, and my toenail “cleared up”. Yep. She eventually fell in line and looked just like my other toes. Great. Ok, let’s move on. Remember, no open-toed shoes. Ever.

So why introduce you to her? Well, she’s not just a big right toenail. She represents renewal, resilience, persistence, survival. She reminds me to be grateful. She makes me smile. She gives me a sense of normalcy. She has become an important element and signal of my recovery.

Each of my fingernails turned black during chemotherapy. It was known, potential side effect of Taxol, which I had infused every week for 12 weeks. As a precaution, my team suggested I use tea tree oil on my nails each evening and like a champ, I was faithful. Still, my fingernails turned black. All of them.  I was certain they would all fall off and I would be forever left with these nail-less, finger stubs. Not to be left out, one single toenail joined the dark, shadowy team. Yep, you guessed it…my big right toenail. The rest of my tootsies looked fine. Other than a pestering, sometimes clumsy numbing due to neuropathy or being victim to “hand and foot” syndrome – blistering and soreness - courtesy of my “extra credit” chemo, Xeloda, they looked “normal”. All but my big right toenail. It, like my fingernails turned black, just a nasty color. And like my fingernails, I hated looking at it. Collectively, they reminded me that something horrible had happened to me. That a poison, powerful enough to burn through hospital linoleum flooring, had been infused into my body for 38 of the 52 weeks of 2017.

I painted my nails (actually Liz painted them for me) when I cared enough to hide them. To not look at them – or to keep from anyone else looking at them. My hands looked dirty. It was comfortable for me to be in public. Not having hair was far easier to accept then having black fingernails. Gratefully, within months of finishing my treatment, my fingernails began to clear up. I was convinced they would just fall off in my sleep. I’d wake up, find them in bed sheets, and be that nail-less-stubby-fingered cancer patient. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, my nails evidentially came back to looking “normal”. Today my fingernails are brittle yet oddly thicker, and weirdly shaped if you look closely, but to the average Josephine they look fairly normal. 

Then there’s my big right toenail. Like a shrine to the power of all things chemo, it remained black, a bit greenish - 30 months post chemo. Really thick as it had lifted up off my nail bed, easy to catch on socks. Pushed down by the top of my shoe, often sore. A constant reminder of what I had gone through. Just another reminder of cancer.

After 2 years of “black toe”, I decided perhaps this is NOT normal side effects of chemo and something else may be amiss. Nail infection? I didn't know. I just wanted it to be something other than cancer. Something other than a permanent reminder of cancer. Actually, I just wanted the damn thing to just fall off. But at this point, I would be ok with a diagnosis and prescription or an over-the-counter ointment to make it go away.

Tests were negative for any infection. My podiatrist shaved and trimmed it down to a reasonable size using electrical Dremel-like instruments and a pair of clippers similar to what I use on my bonsai. She hadn’t seen anything like it. Didn’t know what to do with it. So I returned to the hope it would just fall off.

Look, it may not seem like a big deal. After all, it was just one toenail. Covered 90% of the time with either socks or shoes – remember, no open-toed shoes allowed in my house. But for me, it was how I started and how I ended every day. Looking at my feet. And to be reminded of an awful time of my life. Of the effects of an awful time of my life. Constant. Reminding me of that awful time. How can I possibly escape reminders of cancer?

So, when my big toenail recently began to change. Began to look like a big right toenail ought to look. I was delighted. Over the moon, to be exact. Three years post diagnosis. Can’t describe it actually. Today, I look at my right foot and I see nothing ordinary. Nothing out of place. Nothing odd. Nothing. It makes me smile to look at my right foot. All toes, all toenails look like each other. Look like they looked “before”. My nail has a pink color to it, like the others. The thickness and soreness have dissipated. I have cried over my right foot. Cried because it seemed I couldn’t shake the physical affects of cancer. Look, I will never again have breasts, I will always get those looks from folks staring at my chest ink, peaking from my shirt, and wondering – trying to figure out - what is missing. I’ve made peace with that.  But I hadn’t resolved my big right toenail.  

So there. May I introduce you to my big right toenail. Say hello! She represents renewal, resilience, persistence, survival. She reminds me to be grateful. She makes me smile. She gives me a sense of normalcy. She has become an important element and signal of my recovery. Remember, no open-toed shoes allowed! Onward! #KeepRooting4Me

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Cancer is a Pain (Part Two)

There’s not much written in the “cancer space” about what happens AFTER chemo. Side effects, the lasting memories – physically and emotionally – that stay with you when living with cancer. For the long list of side effects that could manifest at some point in my life, coupled with side effects I currently have as a result of treatment – I needed to find coping mechanisms that would help me physically as well and emotionally survive living with cancer.

Pain can be a tricky deal. You can’t see it. It doesn’t show in blood work, on an x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT Scan, etc, so how do you treat it? Is it just in your head? Is it real? When I swore I could still feel my breasts even though they were no longer there, was that pain real? Sure felt like it. Sustained pain can lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, you get the ugly picture. 

I developed pain in my left (cancer side) clavicle area post treatment. It reaches up through neck area and my shoulder and while not constant, it can be debilitating – physically, and mentally - while its hanging around. Bone scans post treatment confirmed severe arthritis in my sternum.  I also have neuropathy of my hands from the chemo. It's a constant pin-picking, tingling in my finger tips, making buttoning up clothes not only a chore, but painful. And it seems I also retained the real and terrifying anxiety which grew to fever pitches at times during treatment. So of course, when my shoulder hurts, when I'm unable to button my shirt, on days when my chest feels tight as if I'm suffocating, it affects my anxiety levels not just because of the physical pain, but also mentally because pain can be a sign that cancer may be back. Gawd. It is a vicious and unhealthy cycle that I knew I had to find ways to cope with.

As many of you know, I frequent Gilda’s Club of South Florida ( There, I have found camaraderie with others living with cancer. Just being surrounded by others who understand your journey with cancer from a first-hand perspective; to have validation for your feelings, your fears, and your hopes is some powerful stuff.  For me, Gilda’s offers an opportunity to hug, comfort, strengthen, and continue to heal my psychological side effects. It feels good to walk through the red door and be greeted by staff and volunteers who know you and who care about you and your experience at the most difficult time of your life. I encourage you to look into support groups. You will find them to be uplifting, compassionate, caring and hopeful. Not what you might think when a bunch of frightened, “some are dying, some are terrified they will joining them” sitting in a circle staring at each other, with no agenda for the evening except for what comes to top of mind of said frightened, “some are dying, some are terrified of joining them” folks, but truly, give support groups a try – your heart will grow in size and you will be pleasantly surprised.  

I have found it more difficult to finds ways to cope with the more physical souvenirs of having cancer. The fore-mentioned-clavicle issue, body parts that have been removed – not by choice but by “having no choice”- leaving behind a chest that is numb, yet very sensitive, armpits that ache most of the time because of lymph node removal but also because my chest scars reach.  Look, I could on and on, the point is rarely does “conventional” medicines touch them at peaked consistency. And for me, a sustained period of pain, can also weigh heavily on my mental state.

And so I turned to the substance I enjoyed in, let’s just say, “back in the day”………weed.

Yep, I am a proud, card-carrying member of the legal medicinal cannabis club. Legal in the state of Florida, since 2016, medical cannabis helps me cope with living with cancer. I am grateful it is legal in Florida. I recall a certain someone transporting “cookies” from an “acquaintance” across state lines for me during chemo, attempting to avoid making any eye contact with White House patrols and praying for no tire blowouts on the Mall. I can attest to the theories of weed helping with the nausea of chemo. 

Today, being able to see a doctor for a "prescription", walk into a clinic, flash my Florida Medicinal Cannabis Card, and purchase cannabis legally is a freedom in a space that otherwise is set in darkness and constant concern about "what's really in there" and over being detected. I find the THC and the CBD in cannabis provide relief from the physical and as well as from the psychological affects of living with cancer. Yep, I have effectively incorporated pot into my tool box of coping with cancer.

Look, its clear the medical community has a LONG way to go to understand how to effectively utilize cannabis in the areas of pain management (I’ll save those stories for another time). While it is a bit of the "wild, wild, west" out there, it's heartening to see increasing interest in research and in trials with medical cannabis in the areas of pain management and cancer - and many are showing great promise. If its a course of treatment available to you, there exists enough “expertise” out there if you search far enough to get started.  I understand smoking, vaping, and or utilizing oils is not for everyone. Using cannabis today is not just your "pothead" stereotype of yesteryear. Due to precise dosing and standardized growing regulations, many of us are living very controllable, responsible, adult-like lives. Without getting all political about it, I will tell you I am grateful to have found something that works for me.  If you are among the skeptical, I urge you to set aside your stereotypes and judgements - and listen to testimonies of folks who have found relief.

There will be more in this blog about this topic.

Look, this is my life. These are the cards I have been dealt. Weed and all! Onward.