Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we all know what that means.......THINK PINK!

Two years ago on October 3, 2016- right at the beginning of the month that most of us have come to think of as the, "Think Pink-Breast Cancer Awareness Month," I first heard the words, "Pam, you are positive for breast cancer."

It was a bright and sunny Monday morning, and Ray and I were nervously waiting for the results of the ultrasounds, biopsies and other diagnostic tests that had been done on the previous Friday. After sitting in a small room for what seemed like an eternity, Dr. Quill, whom I came to know and trust very much over the next few months walked into the room. He didn't beat around the bush. He looked me in the eye and said, "Pam, you are positive for breast cancer. Are you ready to fight??"

Although I already felt in my gut that it was cancer, just hearing those words made me feel as though I were in the middle of a tornado and my life was spinning out of control! At that moment, I felt a bit like Dorothy must have felt when she was on her journey along the yellow brick road! 

Dr. Quill said this was curable and that we were going to hit it with every weapon available to make sure that we got rid of every cancer cell and to ensure they didn't come back. 

He explained that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I would later learn that it was-

Grade 3
Stage 111C
HER 2-Negative 

Over the next few months, I received 3 rounds of a type of chemo that is lovingly referred to as "The Red Devil." Yep, pretty accurate description! 

Almost immediately after beginning treatment, I lost all my hair. I also lost my eyebrows which for some reason bothered me more than going bald! I tried to paint on eyebrows occasionally but usually ended up looking like..........

I was quite nauseous most of the time, I had mouth sores, bone and muscle pain, and I couldn't sleep, but I got through it because I was so determined to be stronger than that old red devil!

I also had 12 treatments of another type of chemo drug called Taxol, but that wasn't nearly as bad. The worst part was probably the fact that my white blood count was so low all the time that I couldn't go out around people or have visitors for fear of picking up a bug of some sort which my body would not be able to fight. Since I was no longer nauseous all the time, I wanted to get out and LIVE again! Talk about cabin fever!

Anyone see The Shining?? Cause I was starting to feel a bit like........

Next up was the removal of my right breast and 11 lymph nodes.

And then came 33 radiation treatments. I had to take some time off at one point due to the burns and blisters on my chest, but overall, radiation wasn't too bad!

As bad as things were at times (I won't even go into the part where I lost my insurance while undergoing these treatments and how I now owe roughly a gazillion dollars to the hospital, doctors, etc.) I saw so many people who were having side effects that were so much worse than mine. It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch some of these people.

I am so thankful for the arsenal of weapons that have been available to me during this battle! From the meds, doctors, nurses, and medical research, to the MOST essential weapons-my friends, family, and faith-I am grateful and blessed! 

As I have mentioned before, there are many differing opinions on the whole idea of wearing pink for breast cancer awareness. I talked about my personal opinion here in a previous post. Many of us are buying pink and wearing pink to show our support, and to raise awareness and funding for some much-needed breast cancer research, support, and services.

Whatever your personal thoughts on the subject may be, I urge you to PLEASE use this month of "awareness" to remind yourself that you should NEVER put off that mammogram that you may think can wait until a less busy time. 

Also, if you know someone (who doesn't?) who may be in their own battle against breast cancer, or any other type of cancer-please reach out to them and let them know you care. Don't worry about not knowing what to say, or perhaps saying the wrong thing. Send a card. Make a phone call. Even a message on social media. Just let them know you care because believe me, it can get lonely and scary sometimes while battling that beast.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Purpose. Reflection. Renewal.

Hey, Y'all!

One year ago I signed up to participate in this study-
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Fitbit are partnering to support a potentially ground-breaking study that investigates the impact of weight loss on breast cancer recurrence. The Breast Cancer Weight Loss (BWEL) study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, will enroll nearly 3,200 overweight and obese women with early-stage breast cancer to test if weight loss can help prevent their disease from returning. You can read more about this study here. 
Although I enrolled in the study in September of 2017, I wasn't actually assigned a coach and didn't get started until the beginning of December of 2017.

I recently received the goodies below as a one-year anniversary gift from my BWEL Study Team!

During my first session with Coach Judy, I was asked to think about my "why," or my "purpose" for wanting to be involved with this study. I was asked to write down my answer so that I could look back and reflect on it whenever I needed an extra boost of motivation.

I didn't really have to spend any time thinking about my answer to the question about my "purpose!" During my cancer treatments, I never once asked, "why?" or "why me?"....I just kept praying, "Please, not YET, God! Please just let me be here for my family for a while longer." My family has always been my purpose.

I was also asked to answer a few questions in my Bwel workbook.

Here are a couple of the questions along with my answers.
  • Why did you join the Bwel study?

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I have read quite a bit about the role that being overweight plays in developing some types of breast cancer. I WAS overweight when diagnosed and there is nothing I can do to change that, but if there is even a tiny chance that losing weight can prevent a recurrence, then I want to do everything in my power to get to a healthy weight and stay there. When my doctor told me about this study, I felt that it would be perfect for me.

  • What do you hope to achieve by taking part in Bwel?

Obviously, I hope to lose weight in hopes of preventing a recurrence. I also hope that my participation will provide the help I need to get healthier overall so that I can be around for my family for many years to come! Last, but certainly not least, I hope that this study will help future cancer patients.

  • If you'd like-write down a "pep-talk" phrase to repeat to yourself when things get tough during the program.

I've GOT this-I am stronger through the storm!

to think deeply, or carefully about.
synonyms: think about, give thought to, consider, give consideration to, review, mull over, contemplate, meditate about/on, muse on, brood on/over, turn over in one's mind.
"She reflected on her responsibilities."
Here is the question I am asking myself today-

Have I been giving enough thought and consideration to the responsibilities that go along with my participation in this program?

I am ashamed to say that I have not been giving enough thought and consideration to those responsibilities.

On the first day that I spoke with my Coach, we discussed how this would be an opportunity to build a healthier lifestyle for myself. I had already taken the first and most important step in that direction-I had made the decision to make some changes that could improve my health and well-being!

But this study is not only for me. I have a responsibility to countless other women. This study will test whether losing weight through diet and exercise can help women avoid a breast cancer recurrence. The results will determine whether weight loss programs should become a part of the treatment for women with breast cancer. Important stuff here.

renew (an activity) after an interruption.
restart, start again, come back to, give fresh life or strength to.
"She would face the future with renewed determination." 
Renewed determination?! YES! Instead of beating myself up over the fact that I have veered off course occasionally in regards to my eating, exercising and living an overall healthier lifestyle over the past year, I intend to acknowledge my achievements, as well as my failures and move forward.

Although I am far from reaching the weight loss goal I had set for myself last year, I AM down over 10 pounds from last year at this time! So, at least the scales are moving in the right direction! Maybe not as fast as I would like, but hey...I'm striving for progress, not perfection!

So what is the number one thing that I feel I need to focus more attention on in the coming weeks as I renew my commitment to this program? 

Using my program tools!

I received many tools to help maximize my potential for success with this program. A Fitbit Scale. Fitbit Charge 2. Food Scale. Workbooks. Cookbook. Lifestyle Coach.

So I need to utilize these tools EACH and EVERY day. It's hard, but in the long run, I think it will be well worth the effort! I will share more about these tools and how they are helpful in an upcoming blog post.

Stopped for a selfie on my 2.11 mile run/walk this morning!
Another thing I'm really trying to focus more on is stress management! I'm currently working on some new (for me!) stress management and relaxation techniques that I will share with Y'all soon!

So what is your purpose? What keeps you striving for a healthier, longer life?? 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Importance of Exercise-6 Tips To Help You Get Back To Running After A Break

Hey, Y'all!

I am linking up with Running On Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for their Friday 5 2.0 linkup.

Today I want to talk about the importance of exercise! Everyone benefits from an exercise program, regardless of sex, age, or physical ability. It can be especially beneficial for cancer survivors like myself.

Research has shown that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of many cancers recurring, including breast cancer.

Living an active lifestyle can:
  • Promote a healthy weight
  • Increase happiness
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Build strength and endurance
  • Improve self-esteem

And my own personal research has shown that it can be an effective way to keep the crazy away! 

Although there are many forms of physical activities that can be beneficial, my chosen activity is running.

I have never been a fast runner (well, not since high school), but for most of my adult life, I have considered myself a runner. There have been long periods of time when I would let "life" get in the way of consistent running, but there was always that runner lurking inside, just waiting for a 5k, 10k, half-marathon or even MARATHON to present itself and fill that runner with a longing to participate in the said event!

I thought a lot about running while going through cancer treatments, but unfortunately, I was too sick and weak through most of it to actually get out and run. I did some walking, but even that became difficult. And yet-I never doubted that one day I would become a runner again. A slow, tired, OLD runner, but a runner nonetheless!

Now that I have made it through the treatments being older, wiser and even SLOWER than before-I have no expectations for my running, other than putting one foot in front of the other and moving this old body forward! I'm sure as I progress I will set goals for myself, but for now, I will just keep plodding along. Some days I will only manage a pleasant walk, some days I will run. And I will try to remember that the "inner runner" inside is at this time, a work in progress.

I thought I would share some tips that I hope might be of use to anyone who is trying to get back to running after a long break. Regardless of what made you stop running, whether it was an injury, illness, lack of motivation, or just life in general, getting back into it after a hiatus can be a bit difficult.

6 tips to help you get back to running after a break:

1. Think baby steps. 

I'm sure you've heard the old, "You need to walk before you can run?" It's true. Walking will not only help re-establish the exercise habit but will also recondition muscles, and improve your lung capacity. After walking for a while, you can progress to a walk/jog, and then on to a full blown run.

2. Don't be too hard on yourself. 

Even after progressing to running, if at any time you need to take walk breaks, that's okay. If on some days, you only feel like going for a walk, that's also OKAY!

3. Listen to music. 

Listening to some of your favorite tunes can make a big difference. Just remember to use safety precautions when using headphones.

4. Find an event to work toward. 

Working toward a goal such as a 5k charity run can be a huge motivation. Knowing that what you are doing can help raise money for a cause you believe in can help get you out the door on those days when you might be a bit low in the motivation department.

5. Find a partner. 

Having someone to run with can make a big difference. Perhaps you can find someone who is also returning to running after an illness or injury.

Last, but certainly not least-

6. Listen to your body! 

If it hurts, stop! Now is not the time to ignore pain. You don't want to hinder this process by ignoring signs that you may be doing too much too soon. Also, if you are just feeling too exhausted to continue, it's okay to end your exercise session earlier than you had planned.

I know it's difficult, but we must all learn to find the balance between challenging ourselves, and just being stupid!

Have you had to start back to running after a long hiatus?

Do you listen to your body when it comes to planning, modifying, or even skipping your daily workout? 

Please share any advice or tips you might have that I have not mentioned here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Crazy How Time Flies!

I can't believe my last post was over a month ago.  It's so crazy how time just flies by! WHAT have I been doing all this time??

I guess I will get the health news out of the way first. Last month I went for 2 CT scans, which I'm pleased to say showed "no CT evidence for local tumor recurrence, or metastatic disease of the chest, abdomen, or pelvis." There were a few issues showing, but none that are life-threatening at this time, so I'm feeling very blessed! I did find out that my cholesterol is high, but more about that and my plans to get those numbers down in a future post.

Hubby Ray's new band played their first gig out together, and that was a fun time! They were great, and were quickly asked to come back and play again! All of the band members and their wives are so nice and a lot of fun, so I really look forward to future gigs!

The end of July, my sweet, smart, beautiful daughter Alex visited Boston to interview for a teaching position at a high school North of Boston. She was so excited to have been hired for the job, but in shock to learn that she would have to move there right away. Since she had recently moved back in with us, she decided to have a huge garage sale and try to get rid of a lot of her stuff before the move. I decided to take advantage of having her dig through stuff in my garage and have her drag out some things for me to put in the sale also. That was quite the undertaking, but we did manage to sale some things.

She is now in Boston teaching French which is going well, but she still needs to find a car and an apartment. She is staying temporarily with my older son and his girlfriend, but they live quite a distance from her job, and it costs her a fortune to travel back and forth. She is just so excited though to have her first teaching job in the city that she loves so much, and I am praying she can work out the transportation and apartment issues quickly.

School started back for my handsome guy, Conor, on August 6th, and of course, the week prior was filled with getting ready for his senior year, including yearbook photos, orientation, and such. Did you get the part where I said, "SENIOR YEAR??" My BABY is a senior in high school!!

And THEN......there was this little guy! The newest addition to the Robbins family!

Brady-born June 11, 2018. He's now a whopping 3 pounds. Full of energy, love, personality, and sass!

I will be sharing more about Brady and how he came to be a member of our family in another post. For now though, just enjoy his cuteness!!

Friday, July 13, 2018

July 4th-Peachtree Road Race

Celebrating the Fourth of July!

My son Nick came down from Boston on June 30 and stayed with us until July 5th! I was so excited to not only have him here for the week but to be running our first Peachtree Road Race together since he was a teenager in 2001!

Last year on July 4th, I was nearing the end of my 33 radiation treatments. Nick told me then that he was going to come down this year and we would run the Peachtree together. I quickly agreed, but I wasn't wholly convinced that I would be up for it! I was not only feeling pretty rough physically but emotionally as well. However, Nick planned his vacation for the week of the 4th, and we both joined the Atlanta Track Club in January so that we would be guaranteed an entry into the race.

My good friend Lyniece also somehow managed to get picked in the lottery for the race! This would not only be her first Peachtree, but her first ever 10K!!

Although Lyniece and I had been walking and slogging (slow jogging!) a bit, we only did 6 miles once before the race, and that was on the Saturday before the 4th! It was HOT and HUMID, but at least we knew we could cover that distance! It felt so odd to be worrying about being able to finish a 10k-after all-I'm a marathoner-at least I WAS before that stupid cancer. 6.2 or 26.2 miles.....this would be "just another stupid marathon" for me!

Since Nick and I both opted to pick up our race packets at the expo ($15 extra to have them mailed!) he got us a room near the starting line of the race so that we could just stay in Atlanta overnight and not have to stress about getting into town before the roads started to close. Hubby Ray drove us down for the expo and hung out with us for a few hours before heading back home.

Peachtree Expo

Race Day

I have to tell you that I was VERY nervous! I was more worried about the heat and humidity than the actual running. I have NEVER been a huge fan of running in the heat, and now that I have Lymphedema and have to wear a stupid compression sleeve-I dislike it even more! And yet-I was going to do this run on the 4th of July in HOTLANTA!?!

Nick, Pam, and Lyniece-Ready to GO!

Off We Go!

It was so crowded at the start that you could barely walk when the gun went off. We walked for a few minutes and then Nick said, "Let's run!" He somehow managed to get through some of the crowd. By the time Lyniece and I were able to take off, Nick was out of sight! We gave him a hard time at the finish for taking off and leaving his "poor old mom," but I was happy that he had a good run! He was a bit worried himself because he had mainly been running up in Boston-in an air-conditioned gym!!

Ray, Conor, and Alex woke up very early on race day and drove to Piedmont Park so that they would be there waiting at the finish! Many of the roads in the area of the park close on race morning at 5:30, so when I say early, I mean EARLY!! Lyniece's husband Joel and two of their kids also came down to the park for the finish!

Conor said that he wants to run the Peachtree next year, and Lyniece's daughter, Sarah said she would like to as well! Yep-nothing like 60,000 sweaty, tired, gasping for air runners to inspire kids!! LOL!

Ray texted me this pic of Nick after he crossed the finish line.

Lyniece and I finished a little after Nick (yep, I lost THAT bet!) and after picking up our t-shirts, we posed for the photo below.

I won't say that we RAN the entire 6.2 miles, but we finished the darn thing, and we were both smiling as we crossed the finish line!

And then it was time to celebrate-SO MANY THINGS! Finishing the Peachtree Road Race. American Independence Day. Family. Friends. And most of all, it was time to celebrate..........


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

1 Year Anniversary

Hey, Y'all!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July! I sure did!

I sat down at my computer this morning with my first cup of coffee, fully intending to share with you some of my fun experiences from last week. However, after noticing the date, I realized that today is an anniversary for me, and I decided to postpone the previously planned post and to commemorate this significant anniversary instead.

July 10, 2017

One year ago today was a truly significant event in my breast cancer journey. I received my last radiation treatment! 33 treatments done!

I had made it through chemo, a mastectomy, and now this!!

Time for the burns and wounds to heal.

Time to move forward with my life!

Oddly enough, I was experiencing some very mixed emotions that day. I was so happy to be done with radiation, and yet I knew that I was really going to miss these beautiful, fun people!! No matter how tired or down I felt when I walked into that facility, I always left with a smile on my face thanks to one or more of these folks!

And this guy.....what can I say?? My sweet hubby-Ray was with me every step of the way-taking care of me both physically and emotionally. LOVE THIS MAN!

So here I am today, one-year later-still having some issues from all of my treatments. Still in a LOT of debt due to medical bills. Still very nervous about the possibility of a cancer recurrence. And yet, STILL ALIVE! And STILL THANKFUL for EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Later this week I will share the post that I had initially intended to share today! It will include fun, family, heat, humidity, friendship, photos, and my first 10K (Peachtree Road Race,) since going through cancer treatments.

Moving forward!

Friday, June 15, 2018

My Pink Perspective

Before I even begin, I feel that I must warn you that my chemo brain has been especially aggravating the past couple of days, so I may or may not make much sense as I try to explain my passion for pink!

Many women who have been through breast cancer embrace the pink ribbon. As a survivor myself, I certainly do. Many others, however, do not, and I respect that.

Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I started to hear about the controversy surrounding the pink ribbons. Seriously?? This was now causing controversy??? I read a couple of articles on the subject and determined that a lot of the debate stemmed from people feeling that the breast cancer ribbons were being exploited by companies using the ribbon to advertise their own products and to bolster their image in the process. I understand the concern, but I believe that initially, the pink ribbon was about giving women the courage to speak openly about their bodies, and their illness-not about exploitation and profit. I also believe that for the most part, that still holds true today.

I can only speak for myself, but I for one have gotten through many horrible, scary, and sad days thanks to a lot of amazing women whom I'm proud to call my "Pink Sisters." I have also received some of the most beautiful, heartfelt gifts involving pink ribbons, that have made me feel so very loved throughout my journey.

One of the complaints I have heard is that the ribbon stands for breast cancer "awareness," and that we don't need more awareness of the fact that breast cancer exists. Maybe that's how some people view the ribbon, but I have a different view-I happen to think that the ribbon is drawing awareness to cancer patients themselves, and to the many things that we all need, especially a CURE! Maybe I'm naive, but I think that people are inherently good and that they just want to show their support to someone who is going through a difficult time, and a beautiful pink ribbon, or simply wearing pink is one way of showing that support. Heck, my husband and 17-year-old son, along with some of my dear friends put on pink tutus to show their support of me in my first post-treatment 5K (Paint Gwinnett Pink 5K) this past October! And soon we will be dusting those pink tutus off, putting on our pink ribbon shirts and once again-proudly standing at the starting line of that same 5K!

I'm sure there are individuals, companies, and groups selling breast cancer items and exploiting the pink ribbon for their own profit. I also know that there are many, many individuals, and groups who use that same pink ribbon to legitimately raise funds for cancer research, for mammograms and many other much-needed services for breast cancer patients in need.

I personally think it would be such a shame not to recognize that something as simple as a pink ribbon can mean so much to many of us cancer patients and survivors and that it CAN make a difference in our lives.

Again-we each have a right to our own feelings and opinions on this matter. For myself though, I will continue to embrace the pink. After all, I think I look pretty darn cute in pink!