Friday, April 21, 2017

Almost There

Guess what day it is? My one year Cancerversary! I’m not married… yet. Where are you Prince Charming?! I like a good celebration… so dang it… I’m celebrating an anniversary! On this day last year I heard those three years. “You have cancer.” This year, I’m turning the frown I had last year upside-down and turning it into one big Cheshire Cat smile! 

One year later I am done with surgery. I am done with chemotherapy. I am done with radiation. I am done with physical therapy. I have two more Herceptin infusions to go and many years of hormone therapy ahead, but I Wished Upon a Star and now I See The Light. I was talking to someone at the hospital this week when they asked what I learned over the year. One sentiment I did take away you can find in a song in the Disney movie “Moana.”

There comes a day
When you’re gonna look around
And realize happiness is where you are

Whenever I feel something negative begin to drown me I take a deep breath and remember where I am. I am not in the same place I was last year. Ask me what my priorities in life are now and they are different. Now my daily activities reflect what is important to me. I’ve always been a lover of “the little things.” Now I’m so much more deeply in love with those things. The “bless you” after I sneeze by a random stranger. The “like” of a Tweet I posted. The taste of food. I realize the happiness of where I am at that moment. It doesn’t have to be a good moment. It could be that some boob just bumped me over on the subway platform to catch a train. I pause, roll me eyes, take a deep breath and re-set my reaction. I can create happiness. I am responsible for my happiness. My thinking is no longer of annoyance, but of gratitude … thankfullness that I’m standing on that subway platform to be knocked into and not bedridden with chemo caused fatigued. 

Being happy is healthy. Being happy takes courage. That said, I’m on my way to the Happiest Place on Earth! I’m marking the milestone by going to Disney World with a dear friend. I haven’t been able to take a vacation for over a year. I’m putting on my Hakuna Matata hat and… as I wrap this post up… reminding you to think happy. As a wise fairy said, "All you need is faith, trust, and a little bit of Pixie Dust."

Monday, April 10, 2017

Yom Tov

It’s Monday! Happy Monday everyone. It should be. However, I woke up this morning with tears on my cheek and a pocketful of anxiety. Oy vey! So, I said “Screw you anxiety!” I took a few deep breaths and hit snooze. This was not how I wanted to start the beginning of my favorite Jewish holiday… Passover! I wanted to re-set this day and the tone of it. So, 8 minutes later my alarm went off again and I’ve decided to start it with an F(#)!% You to anxiety, a cup of tea, a handful of Dark Chocolate Powerberries from Trader Joe’s and a trip to a spin class I haven’t been to since my chemo days. Take that anxiety! 

Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. I have so many fabulous memories of my grandma, Seder and my family just having a blast over our abbreviated Haggadah. I usually am home for the first night of Passover. This year I will be at work. Last year (Passover was later in April) I was stepping out of O’Hare airport and onto my new path as a newly (less than 24 hours new) diagnosed cancer patient to celebrate the holiday with my family. I’m a bit annoyed that cancer has screwed with my happy Passover memories. So, I’m making this Monday a marvelous one and this first night a celebratory one. I’m allowing my anxiety tears to fall for one more minute as it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling. It’s not okay to let it overcome me and mess with my day. So, as I take a sip of my tea I hit re-set as I hit “send” on this blog.  

We should all celebrate something this Monday. We have all made it to another week. We all can find something to be grateful for as we rise out of bed. What am I grateful for? I am grateful that I am not on the path I was last year. I’m taking a right turn onto a new, less mountainous path. The Angel of Death passed over me. I’ve left the hell of Egypt, that the Jewish people endured thousands of years ago, and am making my way to the Promised Land. I am moving forward. Have a marvelous Monday! 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Crossing of Paths

Okay guys. Get ready for this doozy of a blog. It’s about the people you meet. The lessons you learn from them and the paths they lead you on. I am one of those people who believes that every person you meet is a teacher. I believe it’s pre-destined. Whether that person allows you to grow, teaches you about love, compassion, community, friendship, heartbreak…they all… no matter how briefly you cross paths or how long the relationship… have the ability to teach you or lead you to something new.

Heartbreak. I was as going through my journals and found this passage. I didn’t date it.

The other reason I was sent here was to fall in love and get my heart broken just to put it back together again and still love that person. Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets about why I’m in the place I am now and who has what pieces of my heart. I am thankful for every moment of every experience I have had and I love you for letting me fall and having me learn how to once again pick myself up… a stronger and better person.

Speaking of heartbreak and love… I can partially thank a nice guy I met online for leading me to my breast cancer diagnosis. I had to renew a prescription and found myself, less than a week after our first date, getting my first mammogram. The amazing tech found a tumor. The diagnoses forced me to put the brakes on a second date with that nice guy.

While I pray to never hear the words, “You have cancer” again, I am thankful for my cancer journey. It’s an experience I can now share in hopes of helping others. The people I’ve met along the way all have truly left footprints on my heart. 

Compassion  Another journal entry…

August 23, 2016 Dr. Iyengar is not officially a member of my medical team but he’s an honorary member. The rushing chemo nurses… the beeping… the pain… the blurred vision. I remember it all. I remember looking down calmly at my MantraBand bracelet that read “Breathe”… so I took deep breaths. Amidst the chaos, in strolls Dr. Iyengar who smiles and calmly says “So, having a bit of problem here I see. Slight allergic reaction. What’s your pain level?” I look at Elaine (my angel who went to nearly every weekly chemo infusion with me) to attempt to give her a thumbs up. I decided I should focus on breathing instead. “Don’t do that again” she said a week later as we sat in Dr Iyengar’s exam room. LOL!! 

Taking The Ride Elaine was with me on that ride. We’ve all rolled with the ups and downs on the rollercoaster of life, but you really learn you have no control when it comes to the cancer coaster. Thankfully my safety bar was down and locked. I was first told I didn’t need chemo. Then I was told I would need it. Then I was told I might not need it. Then I was told I likely wouldn’t need it. Then, we were waiting for the result of a special test. Basically, the rollercoaster had gotten stuck… upside down. 

Rewind to August 2, 2016. I walked into the exam room filled with anticipation to hear how we were going to kick cancer’s ass… that the cancer coaster wouldn’t be stuck much longer. Nope. I sit down and hear, “Test results aren’t in. It’s going to be another two weeks. I’m not sure if you’ll need chemo.” I burst into tears. I was at the appointment alone. I figured I had this appointment in the bag! I thought the “i’s” would be dotted and the “t’s” crossed at this meeting. I was wrong. The cancer coaster jolted on its way down. A blessing though. That special test result actually came in during the time I was sobbing in the exam room and … yup… I needed chemo. Nobody ever wants to hear they need chemo but I was happy to have an answer. I didn’t write the next thing I’m sharing with you in a journal. I had typed it on my phone at the end of that day. 

August 2, 2016 Thank goodness for Chelsea. This day just sucked. I’m so over this day. I’m mentally drained and just back from a long night at work. Bless Chelsea for opening her door when I texted her after today’s appointment. I was numb. I was blurry-eyed. I was tired. I was frustrated. I felt alone. She answered my text and offered her couch. She embraced me in a cocoon of warmth as she listened. It’s probably not how she thought she’d spend her afternoon before we went to work. I am grateful. I am less shattered. I am ready for a new day. The cancer coaster (at least for the moment) has pulled into the platform.

Speaking of platforms. I work at a department within ABC News. We call shows at the network “platforms.” It took me years of hard work and a lot of slammed doors… but I made it to New York and ABC. I thought that was why I was brought to New York. I thought my hard work brought me to the Big Apple for a job. I realized last year it was to fight cancer. To meet the people I have met at work and on The Great White Way. 

Community So, let’s rewind to 2011. I had moved from Chicago for that ABC News job. That year, my love for Broadway blossomed again with Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but I met the “Priscilla Posse” a bit late in the run. I had gone to see Nick Adams perform in the musical a number of times. I believe we (members of the Priscilla Posse) and I connected through Twitter. A handful of these women are now some of my dearest friends in New York. Elaine… who I mentioned earlier… is one of them. Our love of Priscilla turned to a love for Kinky Boots. Several cast members of Kinky Boots (whom I can now call friends) have left boot prints on my heart forever. 

Fast-forward a couple of Broadway seasons to 2016. January 24th. Hamilton time! It was my Birthday treat to myself. I had no clue Lin-Manuel Miranda had an understudy. Enter… Javier Munoz. Something about him just drew me in. I didn’t know much about him but I knew I wanted to sprinkle some of my Birthday love on him. He graciously popped out of the theatre to meet me a few days later on my Birthday, January 27th. I give gifts to a small number of people on my Birthday. I gave Javi one. Jump forward to the week of August 14th. I was having some sort of allergic reaction. (Yes, I had two different reactions two different weeks.) I was covered in hives. I was lonely. I was miserable. I looked terrible. I was on my second sleepless night. I had watched Scandal on Netflix and needed a new show to start. Netlfix was the only thing getting me through my hive induced insomnia. Two people responded to the below tweet. Javi was the other person.

Jessica Zellermayer @jaz1976  16 Aug 2016
 What to start watching on Netflix. Hmm? Orange is the New Black or Game of Thrones? Thoughts @JMunozActor or anyone who watch 1 or both?

Yup, Javi responded in my time of need with the recommendation of Stranger Things. Let me just say. That tweet legit saved my sanity for the next two sleepless nights until I got pumped with steroids. So I end this post with community. 

Community To tell you that you’re never alone. There is a community of people who care. You may not always be able to physically see or talk to the people in it, but they are there. They are your sounding board. They are your cheerleaders. They are your reality checks when you need one. They are your teachers. They are there… in the “like” to your Tweet, a smiley face to your Facebook post, in the text they send you or the card they mail you. They are there in the conversations they have with you over coffee or the chat they have with you on the street. They are there… lights on your path.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Carousel of Courage

The in-between. That’s what I’m stuck in right now. No… not the Upside Down like in Stranger Things. Though, sometimes I feel like that. 

I’m waiting to see my medical oncologist. It’s my first visit since starting hormone therapy and one of four appointments this week. What people don’t often realize is that once chemo and radiation is over new challenges emerge for cancer survivors. Our fight isn’t over. It’s just a new ring and a new set of boxing gloves we're putting on.

I’m stuck between Herceptin infusions and adjusting to the new me as I try to ease into my life after cancer. As I look around the waiting room I see a lot of hope. Everyone here is fighting… trying to stay abreast… trying to adjust to their new reality. For me, it’s no longer the roller coaster… the one that newly diagnosed patients buckle up for. I’ve, thankfully, gotten off that ride. I’m now on a carousel. I mean, I like carousels but this one is getting a bit monotonous. There’s nothing merry about this merry-go-round. The music may change but the horses still go up-and-down and round-and-round. I can’t get off… yet. 

Then there is the angst of anxiety and the fears of relapse that sneak into my head just when I think the ride has slowed down. The random rash. The look at the calendar of appointments. The continued lack of appetite. Each of these these could have any warrior feeling lost navigating a new post-cancer life… leaving them to wonder: What happens if the cancer comes back? Will I ever feel normal again? And most daunting of all, how do I move forward with my life? I’m supposed to be better. So why don’t I feel better? I’m told this is all normal, so I’ll keep going. I see the next finish line in the distance. I know the carousel WILL stop. In the meantime, this cancer thriver will try to enjoy the view from the carousel of courage. The view will sometimes be hazy. Sometimes it’ll be sunny and clear. Either way, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not alone on the carousel. 

So, to my fellow warriors out there. To anyone reading this… because we’re all warriors… in our own way. Remember what Steve Harrington in Stranger Things said, “I”m stealthy, like a ninja.” Keep going.

Friday, January 27, 2017

January 27th Forecast: Shower of Kindness

It’s my Birthday! A lot has changed between this day last year and today. What did I do with my 40th year of life? I kicked cancer’s ass! I’m celebrating the gift of just being here! 

There is one more thing I am celebrating today. I finish radiation! This third of four mountains to climb … not as bad as I’d thought it would be. I actually felt fairly “normal” over the daily 6 weeks of treatment. That is … until Wednesday at work around 11pm… when it struck. Fatigue. That nice reminder that I am undergoing treatment still and that radiation isn’t like a quick tanning session for half my chest! The last 48 hours have been tough. I’ve needed people to push me to the top of this mountain. It’s been strangers telling me about the “great energy” I have. It’s been friends and family cheering me on… reminding me I’m almost there. “Keep going,” they say! It’s been reading the cards on my Wall of Hope. It was the truck driver who honked at me and gave me a thumbs up this week. The instructor at Soul Cycle who thanked me for taking his class. It’s been the little things. It’ll continue to be the little things. Those are my Birthday gifts. There have been many not listed here. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I still haven’t crossed that finish line yet. I will though later this year. We all have finish lines we want to cross. I’ve been told I’m an “inspiration," but I'm no different than anyone else who has been thrown into a scary situation beyond their control. We all have the ability to inspire. I hope I inspire kindness. We all have the ability to sprinkle kindness around. If you know me. You know I am a giver. You know I’m a cheesy kinda gal. So, get ready to spread (or eat) that cheese. My Birthday wish is that you do something kind for someone. Anyone. It could be just smiling at a stranger. Buying a coffee or drink for someone. Donating to a charity. It could be as easy as complimenting someone. Whatever you want. Just sprinkle some kindness please. Maybe those sprinkles will turn into a shower! As we know... after every storm, there is a rainbow. 

#ShowerOfKindness and this weekend I'll post a list somewhere of every act of kindness done.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Breast Thing This Holiday is Gratitude and You

It’s nearly Christmas Eve and the first night of Chanukah. The rain is falling. The air is crisp. I love this time of year! 

A lot can change in a year. Your life can change in a year. It’s not about the gifts. It’s about being grateful. 

I’m grateful because cancer has taught me what’s really important. It knocked me down over an over again, but I’ve gotten back up… like I did today… when radiation kicked my booty yesterday. 

I’m grateful for my doctors and nurses …. who… when I’m in their offices crying out of frustration or covered in rashes…always have a concerned smile and find an answer for me.

I’m grateful for for my family (especially my parents) and friends, because I know it’s been just as difficult for you as it’s been for me. I am grateful for all of you. YOU are my gifts! You are the stars that brighten the sky on those nights all I see is darkness.

Although chemo has some side effects that I’m still struggling with, I am grateful to wake up “healthy.” I know this journey could have been different if this was a different year.

Never take anything in your life for granted. The frosted cookies you’ll likely eat tonight… the candles you may light… the hugs you will get…the memories you will make. Live your life! Share your smile! Celebrate the little things! Never forget what’s really important.

Happy Holidays from my corner of the world to yours! 


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Don't Worry, Be Thankful

April 22, 2016. I’m at work. My cell phone rings. It’s my radiologist. I leave the newsroom to go into the hall and sit on the floor. Why? I know I’m about to learn some life changing and breaking news. I take a breath. “You have cancer,” says the doctor. David Muir walks by as I sit on the floor. “How ironic,” I think, as I try to process what the radiologist is telling me. I hear him say something about surgeons…that the tumor was small… that I should be okay. Everything else is just white noise. I hang up feeling numb and not surprised. Cancers of all kind run in my family. I knew this was the likely diagnosis. I just wasn’t expecting it… after my first mammogram (which I randomly decided to have following a visit to my gynecologist)…at 40. Only two people knew that in the last 38 hours I’d gone in for a mammogram and had a biopsy. They were not my parents. No need to worry them until there was something to say. Now I had something to say but didn’t know when to say it. It was the day before I was to fly home for Passover. Keep my mouth shut until the last day of my short trip home or tell them tonight… while I’m at work. I felt the tears well up in my eyes and knew I had to get some fresh air. Work was quiet. I told my friend/colleague who knew about the biopsy that I was going to Central Park for some fresh air. I didn’t give her details. Just texted her I’d be back shortly. I sat on a bench, put on my sunglasses and let the tears roll down my cheeks. I looked at all the people walking by. They seemed so happy. I was anything but. The world had kept turning for them. My world had just paused. I wiped my tear-stained cheeks and walked across the street and back to work. I sat down and texted my friend/colleague that I had cancer. She was sitting next to me. I just couldn’t say the words out loud. I didn’t want to, but had to share the breaking news with someone. In hindsight, texting people you have cancer is probably not the best way to share big news. However, for me, it was the easiest. 

5 months later I’m happy to say surgery is done. Chemo… check that off the “Kicking Cancer’s Ass” list. Up next is radiation. So on this Thanksgiving… a mishmash of what cancer has taught me thus far or reminded me of. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  1. Be thankful for your parents and friends. I could not have made it this far without my parents and friends… period. 
  2. True friends will step up. Keep these people by your side and never let them go.
  3. It’s okay to be selfish when it comes to your health. You could lose it tomorrow.
  4. Not everyone has the same heart as you. Don’t expect people to treat you the same way as you would treat them. You will just end up disappointed.
  5. Keep going. Physically and mentally. Remind yourself that bad days are just temporary.
  6. You will learn something from every person you meet. (Blog post to come on this one!) 
  7. Some people will make you feel small. But for every crappy person out there, there is a good person.
  8. Just breathe. Anything bad happening at a particular moment will pass. 
  9. One smile from a stranger can brighten a dark day, so share your smile.
  10. You never know what a person is going through. Cut them some slack if they do something  to piss you off.
  11. Nobody fights alone.