Experiences, not things

Since Brad and I have been married, every year we’ve made a photo book out of our digital pictures through Shutterfly. While I was going through our 2019 photos, I noticed how much we did. We had so many new experiences throughout the year. I feel like every year we do a little bit more and I love it.

One of my reflections is to enjoy experiences, not things. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be collecting mugs, shot glasses, and other kitschy stuff. I just want to see more, to do more.

Brad and I have been talking about that a lot lately. We only get one life, you know? We can do the same stuff we always do, or we can experience new things. In 2019 we went to concerts, visited new places, painted, went to a hockey game, and spent time at the beach. We spent time with friends and family, doing new things in old places, like renting a cabana at the pool while on vacation. Tonight, we’re going to one of the local bowling alleys for a New Year’s Eve party. We’ve never gone out-out on New Year’s Eve before.

A while ago, I had a conversation with one of my sisters about stuff. I have my grandmother’s china and I hid it away in the cabinet because I didn’t want to damage it. She told me to use it. I have a bottle of wine I got at a vineyard in Sonoma Valley, California. She told me to drink it.

She’s absolutely right (and that’s not something I’d openly admit to, haha). What am I saving that stuff for? Plates are meant to hold food and wine is meant to be drunk. Drank? Drinked? I’m still sober, I promise. I’m just not good at grammar.

Things are cool. I’m not gonna lie. But why have stuff and not enjoy it? Open that bottle of wine and drink it with friends. Instead of staring adoringly at the bottle on your shelf, remember fondly the memories you made with people you love while you drank that wine.

Back to the cabana at the pool…we go to the same resort every year and we love it. We always have a great time with family. Out of all our vacations there, the time we recall and enjoyed the most was when we rented that cabana. It was something we’d always wanted to do and it was new and different. We had such a fun time, acting like royalty for a day. It was nothing epic, it was a small way we could enhance our experience and it certainly did.

It’s the little things, you know? We got a park pass this year and went to the beach and the Festival of Lights. We traveled to New York, North Carolina, Florida, and West Virginia. Man, seeing the beautiful mountains in and on our way to West Virginia was something.

We can’t take things with us when we’re gone. Some may say we can’t take our memories of our experiences, either. Maybe that’s true. But I’ll tell you what…when I’m in my final hour and I’m thinking about my life, you can bet I’ll be reminiscing about the good times I had. I’m not going to be thinking about my clothes or my car or my computer or even my shot glasses. I’m going to be remembering all the good times I had. Isn’t that what we do when we celebrate the life of a lost loved one? We remember the times we had with that person, rather than the stuff that person had? We remember the type of person they were, not the things they bought.

May your new year be filled with experiences that will last a lifetime.

xoxo
Jen

Aunt Life

I shared in my last post that my family has experienced some loss lately. The most recent was my Aunt Barbara, my dad’s sister. She had breast cancer, not the same as mine, and it eventually spread to other areas of her body. I last saw her when I was in New York for my other aunt’s funeral, but I’ve talked to her on the phone since. I can still hear her voice and her sass. I hope I never forget what she sounds like. I have a lot of my father’s traits, and I’d like to think I have some of my Aunt Barbara’s, too.

I used to spend a lot of time with her when I was little. I went to stay with her and my grandmother occasionally and we’d go shopping, play bingo, and hang around the house. I’d bring my toys or my bike and just play. I remember that I would spend hours using the staircase as some kind of apartment community for my troll dolls or Barbies. We’d also do most major holidays at her house, too, since she lived downstairs from my grandmother. It was a home away from home.

All losses suck, but hers really sucks. She was an awesome aunt and, until my sisters talked about it, I hadn’t really thought about her as a teacher. She taught us how to be aunts. Yes, we have more than one aunt, but she was our constant. Birthdays, holidays, milestones…she was always there. She set an example for how an aunt should be, and while I have absolutely slacked here and there (who doesn’t?), I intend on changing that. I want to be the Aunt Barbara of aunts because she was so good at it – the gold standard, if you will. She may not have been perfect in all ways, but no one is. She loved me and my sisters hard. Years from now I want my nieces and nephews to remember me in the same fond way.

This was something else I’ve been thinking about lately. How important the role of an aunt is in a child’s life. We’re friends and we’re family. We are full of love and tons of fun. We’d do just about anything for our nieces and nephews. The same could be said for uncles, I guess. I can’t wait to watch my nieces and nephews grow up and turn into awesome people, and I’m looking forward to being there and supporting them (or spoiling them, haha) along the way.

Merry Christmas!

Brad and I had a great holiday spent with family. We were spoiled rotten, as usual, and indulged in some delicious food.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting these past few weeks. As we near the end of every year, I think we all spend a little time reflecting. Maybe more so this time around since it’s the end of a decade. What were we doing 10 years ago? What were we doing 20 years ago? How have our lives changed? How are they the same?

I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff lately and I’ve wanted to write about it, but I’ve felt like I needed to organize my thoughts so I’m not bouncing all over the place. I’m still not quite sure my thoughts are organized, but I’m working on it.

I guess my biggest take-away from the last few years has been mortality. I was diagnosed with and survived cancer in 2017-2018. Part of me feels like I’ve been given a second gift of life and I need to take advantage of that. I had a conversation with a fellow cancer survivor recently and he told me that I didn’t owe anyone anything. I believe that, but I do feel like I owe a little something to myself. I feel like I need to take this chance and use it. I need to take care of my mind and my body. I need to live…because that’s what I’m meant to do. I’m meant to live, and I think I’m also meant to do great things. Things I won’t be able to do if I don’t live every day to its fullest potential. How cliché, right?

Anyway, I’m a work in progress with all those things. I’m working on my physical and my emotional health. I’m exercising daily and I have a great fitness and nutrition support group. I also got this fun little book that has me spending a little bit of time each day on myself, it’s called Zen as F*ck. Excuse the language, but it’s so appropriate for my mindset and attitude. I’m also volunteering with the American Cancer Society, and that’s helping me on the “do great things” thing…that and my day-to-day work as an ABA therapist. It’s some of the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done in my life.

2018 and 2019 had some lows that also had me thinking about mortality. We lost three loved ones in 2018 and three in 2019. I’ve heard people say that death comes in threes, and I wish it weren’t true. Four out of the six deaths were cancer related. Two of them were friends who were taken far too soon. I went to two of the four funerals in New York. It’s always bittersweet, because the loss of a loved one sucks, but getting to see my relatives is nice. If only we weren’t always meeting up for a funeral.

So, this is part one of my year-end reflection. A summary of sorts. I’ll be back in the next few days to share more about some of the bigger things I’ve been thinking about.

Seasons Greetings

I’ve wanted to pop in and say hello for a while and kept forgetting. Thank you, chemo, for the short-term memory loss. And, you know, for still being alive and all that. I have so much to update!

I’m still cancer-free. YaY! I’ve been to my oncologist, gynecologist, and my breast surgeon for regular exams and all is well. I’m still going every four weeks for the Lupron shot and taking the Femara. That’s where I’m at with all that.

I’m still volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. I’ve decided not to do the golf tournament again this year. I might revisit it next year, but this year I’m volunteering for the event. The local director would like for me to be a community champion and try to recruit some teams and sponsors. I’m excited to give it a whirl. I forget that I worked in a small marketing and development role for quite some time at a previous employer. I’m excited to pull those skills out of my bag and use them again.

On a sad note, we lost another friend to cancer this year. On Halloween, our friend James passed away. He would have been 40 in January, I believe. He left behind a wife and two daughters. He was such an amazing guy, the best kind of friend. It really sucks that he’s gone. Like the sun got a little bit less bright in so many lives. It was actually kind of special that he passed on Halloween because it was his favorite time of year. If he could have picked a time to go, it would have been this time. We’ll miss him every day.

On a happy note, I just submitted my last exam for the Verified Course Sequence for BCBA certification! I still (STILLLLLLLLLL) need to finish my thesis so I can finish my Masters, but that’s okay because I need to finish accumulating my supervised independent field work hours, which will probably take me through March. I need 1500 hours and there’s a lot that comes into play with what’s acceptable for experience hours, so I end up with anywhere from 80-100 hours a month. So I’m hoping to have everything I need completed by the end of the spring semester. Then I’m going to study my butt off over the summer so I can take the certification exam. And fail. Like 900 times. Seriously, I have so much test anxiety.

No travel planned for the immediate future. Our last trip was to West Virginia, Staten Island before that. The drive was absolutely gorgeous, through the mountains. Makes me want to walk the Appalachian Trail. With a weapon, of course. For the creepers.

We went to a hockey game recently. It was Hockey Fights Cancer Night at the Stingrays. We had a really nice time and want to try to make it to some more games this season. They won, too, which made it even better! What else? My entire family was here for Thanksgiving, so that was fun. I always enjoy seeing my nieces and nephew. I’ve started a mug collection…thank you, Marshall’s. It started with one, “Make it Happen.” Then there was, “She believed she could, so she did.” And then there were cats, and Peanuts, and Nightmare Before Christmas, and…you get the picture? At less than $5 a pop, it’s hard to not buy one or two whenever I’m in Marshall’s or TJ Maxx.

Oh! Brad and I did the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in October. We had a nice time at the event. Our friends Chanda and Ms. Beth joined us, which was great.

I feel like I’m forgetting something I wanted to share and as soon as I hit publish, I’m going to curse. I guess that’s all for now. I’ll try to pop in more frequently and share a little bit more about Life After C.

❤ Jen

A little bit of inspiration

Hello! I’ve got a lotta little going on at the moment. Brad and I designed a few t-shirts. Some are for the upcoming American Cancer Society’s Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk and others are just for general cancer badassery. You can find them through the website www.freedomroadink.com. Proceeds from the shirts will go to the American Cancer Society. I’ve also decided to do another golf fundraiser in the spring, and am working to put together a committee. Proceeds from that event will again go to the Relay For Life!

I can’t take the credit for this little bit of inspiration called “six little stories,” I found it on a friend’s Facebook feed. Can’t locate the original source.

Enjoy!

{1} Once all villagers decided to pray for rain. On the day of prayer all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella. That’s FAITH

{2} When you throw babies in the air, they laugh because they know you will catch them. That’s TRUST.

{3} Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning, but still we set the alarms to wake up. That’s HOPE.

{4} We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future. That’s CONFIDENCE.

{5} We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children. That’s LOVE.

{6} On an old man’s shirt was written a sentence ‘I am not 80 years old I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.’ That’s ATTITUDE.

Have a happy day and live your life like the six stories

Chemo Brain Revisited

Today I realized the importance of the after c part of this blog. I thought all the important stuff was in all the during posts. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I worked this morning, then made lunch before I had to go to an appointment with my oncologist. As I was putting my sandwich together, my phone started to ring. It was one of the universities I requested information from, and I wasn’t going to answer. I wanted to eat my lunch in peace. But I hadn’t picked up the last couple times (because they always called me when I was at work), and I really wanted to talk to them, so I picked up.

So I answered, and we talked about the program I was interested in. I talked about my goals with finishing my masters, including my thesis and graduate certificate, and then my plans of taking the BCBA certification exam. I mentioned how I wanted to take next summer to focus on studying for the certification exam, and didn’t want to start any new education programs until the fall, at the very earliest, assuming I pass the certification exam on the first try.

I told the guy about how I was apprehensive about the certification exam because I still struggle to read and retain information due to chemo brain. That tiny little statement changed the entire course of our conversation. It turned out, the guy I was talking to is also a cancer survivor. He told me that he knew exactly what I meant about the chemo brain, and told me that he talked to his oncologist about it when he experienced it, and his oncologist made recommendations that assisted him in overcoming it. I won’t mention what his oncologist’s recommendations were, both because he had a totally different cancer and the actual treatment was irrelevant. The point is that just because my cancer is gone doesn’t mean there aren’t still going to be things that I should consult with my oncologist for.

I thought chemo brain was just something I was going to have to live with. I play games, try to read, and otherwise keep my brain engaged as often as I possibly can. I thought that would help exercise my brain back into shape. I didn’t know they were other options. Now I do.

And I think it’s important to share this information because other people might feel the same way. They may finish their treatment and think that there’s nothing else they need to do, or that there’s nothing else they can do, because the cancer is over. That’s simply not true. And these are things I may not have even considered if I hadn’t picked up the phone.

So at my appointment today I talked about two things. One thing was the chemo brain, for which he referred me to a neurologist. Dr. YB said the neurologist might have different activities and exercises for me to do to help alleviate the symptoms of the chemo brain. The second thing is the aching in my toes, feet, ankles, and knees. Whenever I get up after sitting for a while, I struggle to get moving and am so sore in those areas. Dr. YB knew exactly what I was talking about and said it was a side effect of the hormone blocker. He advised me to stay off it for two weeks, then resume for two weeks, and see how I feel. If it is the hormone blocker, then we may switch to Tamoxifen. So I’ll report back on that.

We talked about some other things, and I’ll share more about that in another post!

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

Hello, hello!

Presently, I’m sitting in the backseat of my car while me, Brad, and his brother, Jeff, head to Charlotte for a concert. We’re going to see Breaking Benjamin (can’t resist one of their concerts if it’s within a 200 mile radius), Chevelle, Three Days Grace, Diamante, and Dorothy at the PNC Music Pavilion. It’s a three hour trip so I have plenty of time to marinate on the different ramblings in my head.

First, we’re doing the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in North Charleston on October 27. I’m excited. Team More Than Ribbons is back! If you want to come walk with us, please do! I want lots of people to join! If you can’t walk but want to make a donation, that would be amazing!! Here’s the link to join our team: click here.

This is the second trip to Charlotte Brad and I have made this summer. We went up back in July for a book signing. We had a great time and even brought Barkley along. The little guy had to have surgery last month because he broke a tendon/ligament in his knee, so we didn’t feel right leaving him behind when he was recovering. He’s doing great though, it’s like there was never even anything wrong with him. Before his surgery, he was running around on three legs like he didn’t even need the fourth leg. Anyway, he goes for his six week post-op checkup next week. He’s a maniac though, so you’d never guess he had surgery.

We have a couple more weekend trips planned this year. We’ll be heading to New York for a book show next month, and West Virginia for another in November. We’re also entertaining the idea of heading to Universal Studios in Florida in October to do their Halloween stuff. Busy, busy, busy, but always looking for an adventure!

In other news, I’m taking the last two classes for my graduate certificate in the fall, beginning right after Labor Day. I sent my thesis proposal in to my adviser for feedback, and hoping to get the go ahead from him on that. I’d like to present it at a conference here in November, so that’s my completion goal. It’s my priority for the next two months, so hopefully that’ll get rolling soon.

At work, we had camp for our kiddos this summer. It’s always such a great time and it got me thinking about the long term. I volunteered to help my boss organize Social Saturdays at our clinic for our kiddos during the school year. This is something I’d love to continue to do in the future. I was thinking about what I want to do with my degree and certification once I’m finished and while I would absolutely love to continue to do home-based therapy with kiddos with autism, I think I’d also love to run a camp, too. It’s something that’s always been a little niggling thought in the back of my head, but not anything I thought I could really implement. But our camp at work has really inspired me and I’d love to do more. In fact, I’d love to start with a summer camp and grow into a year-round school for kids with autism. It’s such a long term goal, but it’s there, and when I get an idea in my head, I tend to aim high and go for it. (If you haven’t already figured that out, haha.) So I’m looking into special education and autism education doctoral programs to help make this dream a reality. I’ll keep you posted.

Ok, I’m getting a little nauseated from trying to be productive in the car and I still need to post to the More Than Ribbons website and make some fundraising notes.

xoxo

When the going gets tough…

I heard someone on the radio talking about how people often quit when things get too difficult. They use some idiom about how it wasn’t meant to be or it’s not the right time, etc. when in reality, it IS the right time, they just have to push through the tough parts.

This resonated with me, particularly at this time in my life when I’m working on finishing my thesis for my masters program, and completing a graduate certificate for my certification all while going to school, trying to get my fieldwork experience in, writing, trying to be the healthiest version of me, and so on and so on and so on. The end of my academic journey is so near, but it’s so much work! I’d never give up after getting so far, but when I heard that guy saying that stuff, I was like HECK YEAH!! Absolutely!! It always gets harder at the end. Look at those obstacle courses on the ninja warrior shows, they never have you finish on a downward slide, it’s always an uphill climb.

So yeah…something to think about.

Sedentary.

sed·en·tar·y
/ˈsednˌterē/
adjective
· (of a person) tending to spend much time seated; somewhat inactive
· (of work or a way of life) characterized by much sitting and little
· (of a position) sitting; seated

When I hear the word “sedentary,” it makes me think of any time I filled out a questionnaire that was calculating my calories or determining some other kind of wellness recommendation.

Activity Level: Sedentary

Years ago, I lived a fairly active lifestyle. I was a nanny for some pretty great kids (one of which just graduated high school – let’s let that sink in!) and they kept me on my toes! We were always on the go and I wish it had been in the days of the smart watch because OH BOY! The steps I would have logged on that thing.

When I left my nanny gig, I moved to a desk job and proceeded to work behind a desk for the next ten years. The weight gain didn’t happen overnight. It gradually happened over the course of those ten years. I never really had to exercise before because I was active and my metabolism was mostly on my side, so I wasn’t inclined to start then. One day I realized, whoa, you need to do something. So I wasted money at an assortment of gyms, did some walking, and never really made much progress.

Now I’m back to working a job where I remain active throughout the day, AND I’m exercising regularly. Part of my job requires me to be seated and writing also requires me to be seated, but that’s where the exercise comes in handy. I think one side benefit to being active is that you want to STAY active. You want to keep moving. Sure, sometimes I get tired and want to take a mid-day nap, and there’s no shame in that, but for the most part I’m of the mindset: what’s next? I want to go Go GO!

Back to that term…sedentary. I’m not anymore, and it’s a good thing because WHOA health risks.

– Physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers.
– Physical inactivity may contribute to anxiety and depression.
– Physical inactivity has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases.
– People who engage in more physical activity are less likely to develop coronary heart disease.
– People who are more active are less likely to be overweight or obese.
– Sitting too much may cause a decrease in skeletal muscle mass.
– Physical inactivity is linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.

Worldwide, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases. In fact, it was recently reported that inactivity is responsible for more annual deaths than smoking.

LifeSpan Fitness
LifeSpan Fitness

Crazy stuff, right? Makes me want to get up and move! I think my next investment will be one of those desks that raise up so you can stand while you work.

For anyone who has a desk job, do a Google search for “exercises you can do at your desk” and you’ll get a wide variety of options to get your blood pumping during the workday. I wish I’d done more of that when I worked behind a desk, or at least had a pedometer to get me going.

Life after C

You guys.

I have an app on my phone called “Microsoft To-Do.” I used to use the regular iPhone “Reminders” app, but when I discovered that the Microsoft app could also be downloaded on my PCs and all sync together, I was sold. I have a point, I promise. Every five days or so, I get a notification that a “blog post” is due. And every five days or so I think to myself, “but I have nothing to say!” So I clear the notification and move on.

I just logged in and looked at my post history…May, April, March, February, February, February, January, etc.

I am so sorry! I know that “no news is good news,” I said that in my last post. But I feel like I’m supposed to be a little motivational and inspirational about how NORMAL life after C is. And maybe the skipped notifications are proof enough of that.

I am on a health and wellness journey, and I DO want to talk about that because health after something as devastating and debilitating as cancer is super important.

So let’s sort of rewind to when my health and wellness journey started. If you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know that last spring, my surgeon told me that in order to have the surgery I wanted to have (flap DIEP), I had to not gain any more weight. That was in March of last year, and that started my journey. I decided that I was not going to gain another pound, and instead lose ALL the pounds. Well, THAT didn’t happen, but I did lose some weight before my surgery.

It was kind of a crazy time to start a health and wellness journey. I was about a month away from having a surgery that would have me out of commission for at least six weeks. I’d develop healthy habits I’d have to somewhat curb for an undetermined amount of time. But I needed to be in the right condition for the surgery, so I did it.

Post-surgery, I had no appetite. I had to practically force myself to eat so I could take my meds, and at that point, I was eating anything I could tolerate. So, unfortunately, I wasn’t eating great. I didn’t get my appetite back for a couple weeks, if I remember correctly. And at that time, I tried to eat as best I could, but with my limited mobility, I was at the mercy of others. I didn’t eat terribly, but I wasn’t on plan and it was disappointing. Fast forward through a long recovery and being unable to exercise, which had me totally miserable in itself, and just eating whatever. Then I had another surgery, it was the holidays, Daisy got sick, etc.

My journey began then a second time. And this time it was a little bit different. I had tried the nutrition plan I used the last time, but I wasn’t seeing the same results and it was frustrating. I talked to my doctors because I was concerned with the visceral fat I now had to get rid of in my abdomen, and they gave me conflicting advice, but I did learn that my problem was that my body is post-menopausal now due to the hormone blockers I am getting. So it was quite possible that I wasn’t seeing results because I was eating too much and my metabolism is slower. So I changed to another nutrition plan, and this one has been amazing! Since the beginning of April, I have lost 10 pounds and a few inches! That’s including a week of vacation with lots of alcohol and not so much exercise.

So I’m still a work in progress, but I’m doing this thing. I also started coaching, and I’ve been helping some pretty amazing women meet their full potential on their health and wellness journeys as well. It has been such a motivating experience and I love this journey that I’m on.

So that’s what my focus here will be, because that’s what my Life After C has been. It’s all about being healthy, both mentally and physically. Hopefully you’ll find some value here.