Grateful for My Breast Cancer Mentor

I will never forget February 8, 2008.   The date of my breast cancer diagnosis.  I immediately went back to 1988.  Remembering, the eight weeks I was a caregiver to my sister-in-law who had breast cancer and died quietly in our spare bedroom.   Caring for her was a gratifying experience, but it was painful and heartbreaking to watch a loved one slowly departing this life.  On February 8, 2008, I saw myself going down the same path.

But several days after the diagnosis this wonderful woman, who is a breast cancer survivor, entered my life.  She was the founder and president of a newly formed organization, Sisters Network, Inc., – Milwaukee Affiliate.   An organization dedicated to providing supportive, educational, and advocacy outreach services to increase breast cancer awareness for African-American women in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and surrounding areas.

At the time, she was employed as a full-time nursing instructor and simultaneously implementing this new and innovative non-profit organization.  Yet, she found the time to lend individual support to a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient. 

My Breast Cancer Mentor was there or within reach as I went through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation.   Utilizing the information and tips she provided, I navigated through the treatments with little or no distress.

For the past five plus years, I have watched my Breast Cancer Mentor build a strong organization.  One that is well respected throughout the city and surrounding areas known for providing survivors, caregivers, and others with a broad range of programs, events, and activities designed to increase breast cancer awareness.

Because of the long-relationship with my Breast Cancer Mentor and the other survivors at Sisters Network, Inc., I have been able to make the transition from:

  • being a Victim – I lived in fear of the “unknown.” Always seeking an answer to the question, “breast cancer, Why Me?”  
  • to living as a Warrior – I will not let breast cancer define who I am.  I live in the present moment expressing and demonstrating gratitude, daily, for the wonderful Gift of Life.

As my Cancerversary date grows closer, I wanted to honor and express heartfelt love and appreciation to my Breast Cancer Mentor, she continues to:

  • inspire me to look beyond my condition;
  • uplift me spiritually (a praying woman)’
  • educate me on the positive benefits of mindfulness, wellness, and spirituality.

Thank you, Phyllis Holder, for all you have done, all you continue to do, and all I know you will continue to do in your untiring effort to promote breast cancer awareness for the under diagnosed and undertreated population in the Milwaukee community.

My Mentor – Cancer Retreat

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Cancer Help Program-The New School of Commonweal

My Mentor – Top Row and Center

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NAACP Young Professionals Adult – Fundraiser:  A Tribute to Services Provided by Sisters Network to the Community

Happy One-Year Blogging Anniversary to ME

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This past year, beginning with writing the first post for this blog, I started down the path of a life-changing journey.   In search of peace, love, and happinessI stepped out of my comfort zone to look for ME.

As I walked this path, I paused along the way to

  • Publish a Weekly Blog Post
  • Socialize on Facebook
  • Practice Yoga
  • Attend Aqua Zumba Classes
  • Transition from Windows PC to Apple Mac Software
  • Meditate Daily
  • Express Gratitude
  • Pray and Praise God
  • Make Positive Affirmations
  • Perform Random Acts of Kindness

In 2014, I want to continue to release the “unnecessary burdens” of 

  • Negativity
  • Fear
  • Self-Judgment
  • Anger
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Gossip

These things block ME from being the person God created.

In this second year of blogging, I will write about MY continued journey to create a peaceful, loving, and happy life through:

  • Self-AwarenessAs you become more clear about who you really are you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.”  (Oprah Winfrey)
  • Self-Care – “Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.”  (William Shakespeare)
  • Self-Acceptance – “You don’t need to be accepted by others.  You need to accept yourself. The only person who can pull me down I, myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.”  (C.  JoyBell)

I am a work-in-progress.   I grow stronger and wiser each day.  I no longer regret what happened in the past or fear what may happen in the future; Moment-by-Moment, I choose to live in the Present.  For, this is the only timeframe within MY control.

A Grateful Five-Year Breast Cancer Survivor

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First in a Series of Four Posts

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  And, I am a Grateful Five-Year Breast Cancer Survivor choosing to share my journey by:  (1) stepping outside of my comfort zone; (2) moving beyond the “mere act” of wearing pink; and (3) writing this blog series.

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First and foremost, I express gratitude to God for the Gift of Life since my Breast Cancer diagnosis in February 2008.

SEEKING ANSWERS

In the early stages of my journey, frustration, anger, fear, and depression prevented me from expressing gratitude and appreciation to God or anyone else.  Instead, I was seeking answers —

  • HOW?             I had a clean mammogram seven months ago.
  • WHY?             There is no history of breast cancer in my family.
  • WHAT?          Is my survival rate?

TREATMENT

While I never received a clear medical answer to the HOW and WHY; my five-year survival rate is 97% based on the success of the following treatments:

  • Lumpectomy (Left Breast) – removal of the cancer and some of the normal breast tissue around it.  (Medline Plus)
  • Chemotherapy – IV Injection, eights hours one day per week, for 12 weeks
  • Radiation – Five days per week for eight weeks.

Prior to the Lumpectomy procedure, they warned me about the possible pronounced and disfiguring breast asymmetry.  For me, this was not an issue.  At the time of diagnosis, I was 66-years-old, married to Hubby for more than 48 years, and knew HE would continue to love ME as well as MY lumpy and disfigured left breast.   The size difference between my breasts never concerned me.   If I had been younger, it might have been different

Beyond the five daily treatments, irritating skin burns, and feeling worn out; there were no significant problems with Radiation therapy.

I faced several challenges during the Chemotherapy phase.

  • Challenge #1 – After working for almost two years coordinating a Family Reunion scheduled to take place in our city, I could not attend.  Two days earlier, based on lab findings, the Oncologist placed me on home quarantine; and I was told to continuously wear a surgical mask.  Not because I was dangerous to “others,” but “others” were dangerous to ME.   Feeling miserable and alone with over 200 family members arriving for a full weekend of fun and activities, Hubby and the Middle-Aged Kids allowed those who were closest to visit me at home for a short time.  No hugging, no touching, no bodily contact and they were only allowed to stand outside of my bedroom door.   Not sure if my Oncologist would have approved.  But, in this case the benefits outweighed the risk – at least I thought so.
  • Challenge #2 – I did not complete the full 12 weeks of therapy as ordered.    In Week #7 the Oncologist cancelled my chemo; after, I reported unusual sensations in my feet and toes.  The Oncologist said this was a side effect of one of the chemo drugs.   I was diagnosed with Peripheral Neuropathy (Nerve Pain).  I knew there were side effects.  But, the benefits of the chemo drugs outweighed the risks.  So, I now must live with another chronic condition for which there is no known cure. 
  • Challenge #3I was depressed.  It was difficult to watch my hair fall out braid-by-braid, a little more everyday, and, finally total baldness.  Eventually, I was able to overcome the depression by repeating over and over  the proverb, “This too will pass.

Ever Grateful to God

for the

Gift of Life

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It’s A Pool Party: Aqua Zumba

Four weeks ago, I went to a fun pool party; and, I have “partied” every Saturday morning since.  Our community’s YMCA added an Aqua Zumba class to the Spring/Summer 2013 Group Exercise Schedule.   Taking an Aqua Zumba class was on my long Bucket List of “things to do before I die.” 

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About five years ago, my Baby Girl and some of the women who worked in our family-owned business started to take Land Zumba classes one evening a week.  They encouraged me to come along.   I wanted to join them, but I knew Mr. Arthur’s joints (Rheumatoid Arthritis) and Ms. PN’s feet (Peripheral Neuropathy) could not withstand the floor pounding steps of the cha-cha, merenque, salsa, reggaeton and mambo dance movements.

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Last year, I did venture into a Land Zumba Class at the YMCA.  Though, it was a beginning class, I was intimidated by the younger, fitter, and hipper women in the class.  Here I was, a fast approaching 70-year-old whose grace and rhythm, as a dancer, disappeared more than 40 years ago. This class was a painful experience for two reasons.  One, the physical pain to my deconditioned lower extremities pounding down on the hard floor; and, two the emotional pain of feeling inadequate and being judged by others in the class.   I finished the 60-minute class, but did not go back.  

For weeks, leading up to the first Aqua Zumba Class, I questioned whether —

  • I was prepared to appear in a swimming suit at a busy community pool on a Saturday morning?
  • I was able, given my mobility limitations, to even enter or exit the pool?

I arrived early for the first day of class.   Hoping no one would notice, I entered the pool area in the largest beach towel I could find.  It surrounded my body from chest to knees.  There were a lot of people sitting around the pool deck.  Most of them were relaxing, conversing or observing the preschoolers in their early morning swim class.  Quite frankly, a 70-year-old woman in a large beach towel did not seem to tweak anyone’s interest.

Then, I began to worry about how to make a smooth entrance into the pool.  Using the pool ladder I felt was my best option rather than lowering into the pool from the deck as the other women did.  I gradually and carefully focused on each step as I descended into the pool.  Grateful, I made it without a problem.   Since, I never learned to swim, I chose a spot toward the pool’s shallow end.  Thereafter, everything went smoothly.

The class started with a warm up dance to Latin music.  Wendy, the instructor, demonstrated the different dance moves from the deck.   The tempo changed and we were stretching, twisting, and splashing to the music – shouting along with Wendy.  Every time a new song started, Wendy instructed us on a new and different dance move.   Squatting, jumping and moving my hips in a circle pattern while moving around; then adding hand movements to spray, push, and pull the water was the ultimate full-body workout.

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Aided by the buoyancy of the water, the beat of the music, and the energy of the instructor; I was able to hold my own in a class of younger women

Aqua Zumba rebirthed my rhythm and grace, met my special needs, and opened the door to a challenging water based workout to improve my:

  • Aerobic/Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Muscle Resistance
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Joint Mobility

Aqua Zumba provides a safe haven to lose inhibitions and focus on the exercise.   It’s definitely a freeing and empowering feeling exercising in the water.

The party atmosphere of Aqua Zumba combined with a safe and effective fitness workout is a win-win for me. 

Living Life as One of God’s CREATIONs

The exact day of the week is unknown, but in February of 2010, I made a decision that would change the course of my life.    I chose to begin the journey of  “Living Life as One of God’s CREATIONs.”     On long-term medical leave, bedridden, recovering from a serious illness, bored, and television channel surfing, I landed on a religious cable network.   Immediately, I was drawn into the commentary and lively discussion on the topic of the day.   I have to admit, the religious cable network is not one of my “go to” networks.  My cable channel programming preferences lean more toward Home and Garden TV, The Food Network, OWN, and MSNBC.   But on this particular day, I chose to channel surf.  Why, I may never know, but the information shared in this program led me down a new path that has improved the overall quality of my life.

The discussion topic was the book by Monica Reed, M.D. entitled, “The CREATION Health Breakthrough.”  Dr. Reed, is a former Medical Officer of Florida Hospital and most recent the CEO of Florida Hospital’s medical facility – Celebration Health.  Having a lifetime commitment to whole health, Dr. Reed suggests there are “eight fundamentally, powerful and scientifically proven essentials to reverse the effects of lifestyle, prevent disease in at-risk people, and ultimately achieve total health and wellness.”

I questioned whether it was possible to “achieve total health and wellness.”   If so, I needed to get on board.  At that time, I was a chronic pain survivor having been diagnosed both with Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis more than seventeen years earlier.    After so many years of being by themselves, I guess these two conditions were getting lonely so in a two-year period, I brought them four new major conditions:  Breast Cancer (2008); Peripheral Neuropathy-Nerve Pain (2008); Epiglottitis-Severe Respiratory Distress (2010); and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (2010).

These last four conditions were due to the side effects from medications prescribed to treat one condition causing the onset of a new condition.  Most over-the-counter and prescribed medications will list the side effects – even some carry the statement, “rare but serious side effects.”   It is my understanding less than 1% of people prescribed a medication will have “rare but serious side effects.”    Four incidents in two years, was I qualified to be the poster child for the “rare but serious side effects” ?    I survived four, but what about the future.  I was even more concerned after reading an article on MedicationSense.com reporting that medication side effects are the #4 leading cause of deaths in America.”   So on this cold day in February 2010, recovering from a life-threatening illness, I was more than ready to look at alternative therapies to manage my existing health conditions.

As soon as the program ended, I ordered Dr. Reed’s book, willingly paid extra for the overnight delivery, and read the entire book in one-day.    What resonated most was the section on Lifestyle Diseases, which Dr. Reed defined as,  “a group of harmful behaviors practiced over time, which result in decreased quality of life and ultimately to the onset of chronic illnesses leading to premature death.”   I had to “fess up” to having more than less of the harmful behaviors.

  • Little or no physical exercise
  • Lack of sufficient or fulfilling sleep
  • Sustained exposure to stress
  • Participate in high risk behaviors such as smoking or drug use
  • Minimal or no personal playtime or time for solitude
  • Limited family or meaningful relationship time
  • Lack of a spiritual connection

Yes, regrettably I had a long-time relationship with five of the eight behaviors as indicated by those highlighted.     Actually, there could well be six, if I were to include “smoking,” a 20-year habit until I quit in 1980.  I was ready to get on board with Dr. Reed and the CREATION Health Lifestyle.”

Some three years later, I am grateful and humbled by the improvement in my life since starting the journey to “CREATION – God’s 8 Principles for Living Life to Its Fullest .

  • I no longer control my long-term chronic conditions with medications that carry the label “rare but serious risks.”
  • On March 8, 2013, I will celebrate my Fifth Anniversary as a Breast Cancer survivor.
  • My pulmonary issues are adequately managed with minimal use of an inhaler and nebulizer.

My personal CREATION plan for living life to its fullest is ever-changing, I am happy  to share the latest with you:

C = Choice – The choices I make, in large part, determines my destiny.  Strive daily to make good choices in all areas of my life.  Choose to be happy rather than sad. Choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative.  Choose to show gratitude and appreciation daily for all of my blessings rather than coveting what other have.  Empowered and in control to make healthy choices relating to my health.

R = Rest –Take time out during the day for “solitude time.”   Reading, meditating, and “total silence” is what I choose to do during this time.  Take a full Sabbath Day on any day I feel my body is in need of rest and revitalization.

E = Environment – Home is a safe haven it brings me peace, serenity and tranquility.   I enjoy sitting on the rear patio looking at the vibrant colorful flowers overflowing in beautiful pots brings happiness into my life.  I love the feeling of “isolation.”  Large trees in the conservation area backing up to the rear of our home and flanked by tall shrubbery on both sides creates my own private oasis.

A = ActivityExercise at the YMCA four days per week for one hour.  Recognize exercise reduces my pain and stress levels.

T = Trust – Trust in God.  Develop healthy relationships based on mutual respect and trust.  Trust my other half.  Trust my children.

I = Interpersonal Relationships – Pursue supportive and positive interpersonal relationships beyond my immediate family.  Stay connected with my Wisconsin friends.  Open the door to attract new friends in Florida.

O = Outlook – Far better to find the good as opposed to the bad in any given situation.   Choose to be optimistic rather than pessimistic.  Keep a positive outlook and visualize the unlimited possibilities available during this season of my life.

N = Nutrition – Continue to develop a realistic nutrition plan.  Limit intake of animal fats and cholesterol.  Limit sweets and refined foods.  Increase intake of high fiber foods.

The quality of my life is getting better every day by – Making good Choices; Taking time for Rest; Enjoying the Environment; Exercising four days per week as an Activity;  Learning the true meaning of Trust; Expanding Interpersonal relationships; Maintaining a positive Outlook; and knowing the importance of Nutrition. 

I Am Gonna Make the Rest of My Life the Best of My Life

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