June 9, 2014

My Favorite Part of This Blog? You.

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to explain how much your love and support have meant this past year.  How reading your comments is like taking a deep gulp of air, and how grateful I am that you embraced me at my most vulnerable. Once again, I am awed and humbled by your wise words.   

That last post?  It was a scary one.  It required a leap of faith in….humanity, I suppose.  So thank you for not letting me fall.    

I wanted to share part of an email I received today from reader Sandy.  She wrote:

I have been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately, and my favourite premise of hers is that shame cannot survive being shared. Reading your posts has got me thinking that fear and pain cannot survive being shared either. This is a wonderful thing to know.

 

Well.  I think we finally found that nugget of profound wisdom I was looking for.  Fear and pain cannot survive being shared.

This is a wonderful thing to know.  It may even be, when all else fails, the only thing worth knowing.

All my love,

S

 

By June 9, 2014 12 No tags Permalink
June 6, 2014

My Year of Breast Cancer

At this time last year, I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Can you believe it’s been a year already?  A year.

I found this old picture the other day.  It was taken after our first visit with the oncologist – the one where we learned that the mastectomy wasn’t enough; I needed chemo.

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I’m not sure why we snapped it (probably for the blog – such an odd thing to do I suppose) but I love the look on my face.  It so clearly captures the WTF of my life.

As I plodded along this past year, recovering from one surgery, then another, from one chemo treatment to the next, until there was no recovering anymore, just a vague sort of blur, of simply existing…I often focused my energies on this point:  one year out.  “Imagine the difference a year will make” people said.  And I would.  I’d dream about it, actually.  Long for it.

I had expected? hoped? that one year later I would be healthy (check), but that I’d also have some answers.  Life answers, big stuff solved.  This is where wisdom comes from, right?  Traumatic, life-changing events?  I feel like I’ve earned a few nuggets of wisdom. I imagined, on my one year cancer anniversary, that I’d sit down and write something profound.

I got nothing.

Instead, if I’m completely honest here, I’m left with this overwhelming feeling of bewilderment, major memory gaps from the last year, and an over-active imagination that turns every runny nose into chemo recovery – complete with imagined symptoms (that feel very real).  You should see the level of drama I’m now capable of over a cold.

Like seriously, who am I and WTF just happened?

My one-year cancer anniversary (Cancerversary?) corresponded with my 6 month post-chemo checkup.  And no worries – all is well.  I’ve become one of the most uninteresting patients at Penn Medicine.  Yay for boring!

But it was surreal, heading to that appointment.  Just like all of my other doctor appointments throughout the year, this one was during the day, Mike showed up, and we walked into that beautiful, awful building at Penn Medicine that we know all too well.  After the appointment, we stuck with our tradition of going out for a drink.   Or two.

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There are a few things I’ve learned while fighting breast cancer, I suppose.

1.  Doctor’s appointments = date nights.  Make it happen.

2.  If you are going to get a breast lump checked out, think PANTS.  NOT DRESSES.  Otherwise you could find yourself clad in only high heels and a thong while clinging to metal bars high above your head as two icy metal plates squash your boobs flat in a room with the same variable temperatures as Antarctica.

3. It’s normal to think your doctors are making this shit up just to f*ck with you.

4. Flirtatiously asking the “Chief Breast Imaging Specialist” if his title is really “Chief Breast Inspector” because that’s all you can read in the folds of his lab coat while he positions the world’s longest biopsy needle above your breast is really not funny, apparently, to anyone else but you.

5. Recovering from a mastectomy is NOT like recovering from a c-section.  Like, AT ALL.

6. Losing eyebrows and eyelashes is worse than losing hair.

7.  If you are going to use this Brian Joseph Lash and Brow Gel to keep your eyebrows through chemo, be sure to follow the instructions exactly and use it for THE FULL 60 DAYS POST-CHEMO.  Otherwise, they’ll fall out within a few days.  Trust me on this.

8. It’s OK to start hating the color pink with a surprising passion.

9. If you are out and about wearing a head-scarf, you will be like an invisible person.  Even if you otherwise look healthy and happy and are wearing lipstick and a cute outfit, no one will look at you because you are a BUMMER.  So ditch the wig on days you need to do errands without interruptions.

10. It’s OK to not feel strong.  Strength has absolutely nothing to do with it.

11. It’s OK to be annoyed when everyone tells you how strong you are.  They obviously haven’t witnessed your tearful ‘why me’ Dynasty moments while you gazed at your bruised, bandaged, alien reflection.

12.  It’s OK if your reflection makes you cry.  It won’t always be the case.  Promise.

13. Even if your pre-cancer life was all organic, paraben-free, hippy-happiness, it’s OK if you want to throttle those who suggest that vitamin C could take the place of chemo.  I’m PRETTY SURE that if Vitamin C ACTUALLY WORKED, doctors WOULD USE IT.

14.  It’s normal to start seeing “signs” of your impending death.  As a wise woman once told me, you can’t believe everything you think.

15.  It’s normal to want to see pictures of other’s massacred, post-mastectomy boobs.  And it’s OK to think of these things dramatically, using terms like “massacred”.

On that note…I have a slideshow from the last year.  It’s a tad self-indulgent, made primarily for myself as a way of…lessening my bewilderment, I guess.  Of providing closure, if I want to be cliche.  But here’s the thing:  there are a couple of pictures of my post-mastectomy boobs.  Not pretty.  Consider yourself warned.

Why did I include those pics?

Not only are they so. totally. part of this story….I remember, a year ago, being frustrated at the lack of imagery of the in-between state.  Plastic surgeon’s offices have entire books with pictures of completed breast reconstruction (and the nipple tattoos are amazing)…but no one had pictures immediately following a mastectomy.  I was frightened by what I would see, what I would have to live with for a few months until my reconstructive surgery.  Sometimes the knowing – even if it isn’t pretty – is better than the unknown.  (And I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the awesome Mama who emailed me pics of her post-mastectomy self one year ago.)  And all things considered….it’s actually not that bad.

Here’s a little peek into my year of breast cancer.

 

 

I have no words to properly express our gratitude for all of the love and support this family has received over the last year.  We are humbled, grateful, and so very blessed.  Thank you for being a part of our journey.  Thank you for helping me fight like a girl.

xo,

S

 

 

 

By June 6, 2014 134 No tags Permalink
March 4, 2014

Hair Update: 3 Months Post-Chemo (Or That Time I Went From Bald To Pixie)

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So.  It’s been three months since my last chemo treatment.  I’m feeling completely back to normal.  I still get tired (like, really tired) by the afternoon, but I can no longer remember if that’s a chemo-recovery thing or a mom thing.  Probably a bit of both.  And I am making peace with my short hair.  I even…like it?  Mostly?

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By March 4, 2014 52 No tags Permalink
January 27, 2014

My Favorite Products for Chemo-Stressed Skin (Think: Insanely Dry and Sensitive)

The upside of chemo was the consistency.  The first three days after each treatment I'd be manic from the steroids.  This is when I would typically go shopping.  (I could distract myself and keep moving – perfect, no?)  And if I was going to get nauseous, the nausea would hit sometime during this period.  But thanks to a drug called Emend, it never really did.  Days Four through Seven I'd be in what I like to call "The Chemo Crush."  It's like a really bad, seriously aching, awful bout of the flu.  It sucked.  Dark, dark days.  Day Seven was the day I could expect a little bone pain from the Neulasta shot (used to keep your white blood cell count high).  Oddly enough, Claritan helped prevent bone pain – and worked!  So mine was never too bad.

And by Day Eight I would start to feel miraculously better.  On Day Eight, I knew I would be…ok.  I could even joke.  Gosh, I loved that Day Eight.

But when I woke up on the morning of Day Nine – each of the four times I had chemo – my face would be covered in what looked like horrible, teenage acne. 

Welcome to the Day Nine Chemo Rash.

The doctors think the rash may be caused by the steroids you take along with your chemo drugs.  And the good news is that this is a rash, not acne, despite it's appearance.  I say 'good news' because it means that roughly five days later…the rash is gone.  Every. Time.

The chemo rash that popped out after my first treatment was the worst.  It was the most red, the most widespread, and actually hurt – it felt like I had been slapped on both cheeks.  Oh goody – I have a pic:

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After that first treatment, I was able to reduce the severity somewhat by having my docs reduce the steroids and by giving my skincare routine an overhaul.  The main thing when going through chemo?  Hydration.  Drink water* and slather on cream.

*With the taste bud changes and fear of nausea, I found drinking water really hard.  So I started getting an IV of fluids before each chemo and again when I'd go in the following day for a neulasta shot.  It really, really helped.

 

Hopefully, no one you know will ever need this list.  But sadly, I've received enough emails from mamas in the last few months to know that this won't be falling on deaf ears.  And heck – some of these products are so fabulous for beating dry skin in general that I plan to keep using them.

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1. SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Mask

If you do nothing else, get this mask.  This mask is intended to be used for 10 minutes, then washed off.  However, my esthetician recommended sleeping in this mask and rinsing it off in the morning.  It made a world of difference.  I still do this from time-to-time when my skin is dry.  One of my new favs.

2. Pevonia Hydrating Cleanser

This is the only cleanser that didn't further irritate my rash.  It's perfect for when water feels too harsh.  You just wet your fingertips, then massage this on to your dry face.  I'd gently wipe off with cotton balls.

3. Pevonia Balancing Combination Skin Cream  

This is the impossibly creamy skin cream I'd use every night.  Pevonia does have a cream that's formulated for sensitive skin, but I actually found this balancing cream to be more soothing.  When I first showed up at the estician's office in tears – my stinging face covered in chemo rash – she spent 10 minutes gently massaging this product onto my cheeks.  Sting gone.

4. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream 

This product is cheap and amazing.  It even rivaled the Pevonia Balancing Skin Cream, above.  However, it's much lighter.  So on days I used this cream instead of the Pevonia, I would need to apply multiple layers before my thirsty, irritated skin would calm down.  Also fantastic for my dry, cracked hands.  I'm still using it whenever I feel a little irritated, and it's worked miracles on Raines' perpetually wind-burned cheeks.

5. Pevonia Power Repair Hydrating Toner 

I ended up using a toner to remove some residual makeup since my skin was too sensitive to rub.  And this toner also helped cool and soothe my itchy, chemo-burned arm. 

6. Korres Lip Butter, Guava

Best. Lip Balm. Ever.  My lips were epically chapped during chemo.  I tried everything.  EVERYTHING.  Like, really seriously freaking everything.  The only thing that worked was this unassuming little pot 'o gold from Korres.  Nothing else was even close.  Shocking, right?  It was the pot that came for free in a set that I bought for the other color.  Go figure. 

7 & 8. Jane Iredale Mineral BB Cream and Primer

These products were the only things that were able to successfully camouflage my chemo rash without causing more irritation.  BUT:  The first time I tried the BB Cream, I looked like a mime.  Correct application is key (watch the video on proper technique).  I managed to shortcut this whole thing by mixing a pea-sized amount of primer and BB cream together, which is what I'm still using for foundation now.  This product is astonishing, actually.  Here are a few un-retouched photos of the BB Cream/Primer in action:

10 days after my Second chemo treatment (right in the thick of the chemo rash period)

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Now - With a wig and fake eyelashes but HEY my skin looks alright. 

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So there you have it.  What doesn't kill you….right?  You know the rest.

xoxo,

S

"Having had cancer, one important thing to know is you're still the same person at the end. You're stripped down to near zero. But most people come out the other end feeling more like themselves than ever before."

                                                            – Kylie Minogue

By January 27, 2014 9 No tags Permalink
January 16, 2014

Post-Chemo Recovery Update (aka IS YOUR HAIR GROWING YET, S?)

Let's do this thing.

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Yes.  I did steal this off the head of a baby.  (No I did not.  I stole it off a box of shoes. (Thanks, Tieks!)  Which may actually be worse.

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(Fellow Flowers - how about some headbands?)

 

ANYWAY…I've never been so excited to shave my legs.  HA!  Add that to things I never thought I'd say.

But this process is weird.  I mean my hair is growing back, but my eyelashes have never looked worse.  And half my eyebrow fell off the other day.  Seriously.  I took a shower, then toweled off and looked in the mirror- BAM.  Half an eyebrow.  (And my nails look dis.gust.ing – don't even get me started.)

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I just started using Latisse.  I'm tempted to use it on my eyelashes and brows…but my oncologist warned against brows.  Apparently one of her patients did exactly that and ended up with insanely long, curling eyebrows.  Like a woolly caterpillar.  (Which now makes me afraid of the Latisse run-off that sometimes goes down your cheek – GAH!!  GET IT OFF!)

My hair started coming in clear.  Not blonde, but completely clear – no pigment at all.  Except, of course, for the few longer hairs that not only didn't fall out, but GREW.  Even during four rounds of chemo.  Like I said, weird.  So we put a little color in it.  Just to get rid of all of that scalp.

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Can you see my mohawk?  Justsayyes.

I love waking up in the morning feeling like I have enough energy to take on the day.  I don't, of course, not completely, but I can at least make it until 3PM before I crash.  And honestly?  That's HUGE.  I'll take it.

Raines tells me my hair feels as soft as a baby chicken.  "I love your fuzzy little chicken-head, Mom."

Hunh.  That's the same thing I used to say to him.

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Life is so weird.  But ohsogood.  As always, thank you so much for all of your love and support.  You guys have been mind-blowingly kind. 

xo,

S

 

By January 16, 2014 36 No tags Permalink
December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays, Fun Links, and Goodbye 2013

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Raines looked over my shoulder as I was writing this.  "Wow, Mom!  That picture's of Christmas Eve!" he said reverently.

Indeed.  This pic was taken by my mom last Christmas.  Not Christmas Eve, but, you know, close enough.  I'm currently in Michigan, sitting in front of the fire, curled up with my laptop, coffee, and chocolate.  Not a bad way to start a Christmas holiday, no?  

As you may have guessed, things will be quiet at ANMJ for the next couple of weeks.  We'll be off sledding, snowshoeing, and celebrating the end of 2013.  Or, as my husband so eloquently put it, "2013 can go F**k–"

Yes.

 

But before I go, I do have a few fun links to share…..

Reader Aspen swears by this easy Gap tee for pooch-hiding.  "I am a mama of a toddler, living in nyc, and I adore your blog. 🙂 I just wanted to let you know if just got a shirt from the gap that is amazing and pooch proof.  It's less than $30!"    Thanks, Aspen!  That flared back is gorgeous.  

Jenna wrote in to let me know that my new cream cords are now 40% off at Anthro.  GAH!  I hate when that happens…but at least someone else can benefit.  So if you've been debating the AG Stevie straight-leg cream cords (last seen on the blog here)….voila!  Thanks, Jenna!

Bethany was "desperately searching for boyfriend jeans that were flattering without being tight."  She found her boyfriend-jean-holy-grail at ASOS.  Oooo…these Mango jeans manage to get the light-wash, artfully destroyed just right, and are currently on sale for $52.  Furthermore, Bethany says, "When the holes in the jeans started to gape from wear and tear, I patched them with a trendy but subtle grey and cream chevron fabric."  Ummm…that's AWESOME.  Bethany, I want a pic!!

BTW, I bought the chestnut.  Have barely taken them off since.

 Shelley sent me a link to this pic of Sarah Michele Geller hanging out with her kids.  Shelley asked, "Doesn't she look like a cool, but play-ready mom? And note how interesting the sweater is, a little texture, frayed cuffs, and leather tipped! Maybe she reads, too?"  HA!  Yes, EXACTLY, and…probs not.  

Meagan Francis of The Happiest Home was getting sick of her holiday play list.  She found a few lesser-known alternatives to the usual stuff.  Meagan, my husband will thank you for getting Jessica Simpson''s Baby It' Cold Outside and the entire Jackson 5 Christmas Album off repeat.  

I loved Rookie Mom's very practical article, Stuff Your Own Stocking.  It's probably the ONLY way I will ever get a Dyson.  And, uh, the only way I'd want to (don't even think about it, Mike).

I was recently interviewed by OZY, a news and culture site, about how mom bloggers are bringing an end to mom jeans. SING IT.

And lastly…..I made the Babble's Top 100 Bloggers list!  Seriously, WOW.  I'm in the Style section, along with some other very inspiring, talented moms.  Check 'em out – you won't be disappointed.

 

And now we're here, finally, at the end of 2013.  What a wild ride.  I remember thinking, back in August (sometime after the mastectomy but before chemo started) that if I could just make it to the holidays…if I could somehow…get…there, it would all be OK.  I just needed to focus on hot chocolate and snowflakes and sleigh rides and White Christmas and chubby hands tearing wrapping paper.  And now, here we are.  We're actually here, all of us, together.  

I'm a lucky girl, Mamas.  Thank you, beyond words, for all of your support this year.  The love of friends and the kindness of strangers will always be remembered – by both Mike and I – as one of most impactful events of our lives.  Our hearts are impossibly full.  May your holiday season be a celebration of hope, of life, of love.

xo,

S

By December 22, 2013 22 No tags Permalink
November 26, 2013

My Daily Uniform And The End of Chemo Days

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I. Am. Done.  IAMDONE.  That fact makes my head spin a little bit…it doesn't feel real.  I don't have any more medications to take.  No more shots.  No more IVs, or bone pain, or nausea.  The big stuff?  The really tough stuff?  Is over.

 

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There are times when I feel a sense of excitement (Yay for me!  I made it!!!)….but I was expecting to feel a…bigger sense of relief, I guess.  Perhaps it hasn't yet hit.

Mostly I feel bewildered.  Like, WTF just happened?  I mean, it was May.  On May 16th, I didn't have breast cancer.   And now, just before Thanksgiving, I am a survivor

So I get up in the morning and put on my outfits and cover what's left of the chemo rash on my face and hug my boys and make them breakfast.  

But I'm tired.  I'm forgetful.  And I don't understand any of this.  How a few short months ago I was fine, and then I wasn't, and now I'm on this insanely long road to recovery. 

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It'll be OK, I know.  Someday I won't be so tired.  Someday I won't wear a wig.  Someday, perhaps, Pax (and maybe even Raines) won't remember 'that time when Mum was sick'.  I get to be a part of their someday.

And for that, I am eternally thankful.

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[wearing: jeans, sweater, hat, wig, similar boots]

 

Thank you all so, so much for your love, your words of support, your tears and all the laughs over the last few months.  You guys were a huge part of making this craptastic "journey" more bearable.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mamas.  

xo,

S

November 12, 2013

Three Ways To Stay Warm In Overalls

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Do you know what I wore to my very first tailgate?  My sorority had partnered with…Sigma something or Alpha whatever and ANYWAY…I wore overalls.  Over a voluminous plaid flannel shirt and those yellow workboots that were all grunge-cool in 1995.  Mine had a chunky heel, natch.  Five years later, know what my sister wore to her first tailgate?  A belly shirt and a skirt so short it came with attached underpants. Times change

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November 4, 2013

Cheap Leggings? A Few Ideas to Keep Your Bum Covered

We are getting into the car.  It's date night!  "Nice tights" says Mike.  What?  Tights?  "No honey," I correct him.  "These are leggings."

Mike looks confused.  "They are?  Hunh.  They look like tights."

"I'm not wearing a skirt" I point out.  "So these are leggings.  Which are pants."

"Ok" he says, agreeably.  "But they're kinda like tights since they're so sheer, right?"

I freeze.  Sheer?  Does he know what that word means?  I mean, this IS the man who repeatedly confuses dresses with skirts.  

I narrow my eyes at him.  "Can you…expand on that?"

He absentmindedly fumbles with the keys.  "Uhhh…they look silky and thin?  Like tights?"

"I forgot something inside" I tell him.  "Be right back."

Mike groans.  "Babe, what did you forget?"

Apparently, I forgot my pants.

 

THESE ARE "PANTS"  bumcoveragerequired

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I do own thicker leggings.  The J.Crew pixie pant-type things that are thick enough to show some bum.  And my faux-leather leggings…yeah, I'm not as careful with bum coverage in those, either. But for whatever reason (in the above case, I LOVE the pattern)…I do find myself reaching for my cheapie black leggings from time-to-time.  They're easy, they're comfy, and sometimes, heck, they're the only thing clean.  

Here are a few styling tricks I've been using when I really (really, REALLY) need to keep my bum covered. 

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October 29, 2013

Buffalo Plaid Work Shirts….I’m In (And Channeling My Mother)

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Look at me, all sassy.  This is the face of a girl who has had two surgeries in as many months, and has survived one round of chemo.  Yeah, baby.

This girl is, all things considered, feeling pretty good.  (HA!  That'll change.)

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