Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Love Story

     "Welcome to my life - the good, the bad, & the in between." These are the words that welcome you to my life, however - so far, it seems all I have let you in on is the bad: cancer, my brothers' deaths, anxiety...but to be honest, there is more good in my life than there is bad; in fact there is something - or someone I should say, who is pretty fantastic.
     In August 2003 I decided to pick up a summer job just for the hell of it; my best friend, Ashley worked at a local retail store so I thought why not? I filled out an application and the next week I was called in for an interview and began my first day a week later. Along with picking up some extra cash, I was making another lifelong friendship with my friend Natalie, and, ultimately, my husband Chad. I wish I could say I acted cool, confident, and put together from the start, however that is the furthest from the truth!
     As do most girls while growing up, I watched cheesy, over-the-top, romantic movies about couples falling in love at first sight, conquering the odds together that life threw their way, and living happily ever after but even though I watched those movies about love at it fullest, I had my doubts. I had relationships throughout my teenage-years but by the age of 19 I was single, not looking, and pretty sure I would spend the rest of my life alone. That’s normal, right? Well, life proved me wrong on a random day at a random time. 
     I was just ending my shift and clocking out when I first saw Chad - he was coming out of the lost control office & was wearing a light-blue, V-neck sweater with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. My heart immediately starting beating in a rhythm I had never experienced before…I was in love…and it was at first sight. As we passed each other in the close-quartered hallway, he whispered a shy “excuse me” and I felt my knees buckle. Who was this guy that I had so quickly & unexpectedly fell in love with? It wouldn't take me long to find out - between Ashley & Natalie (and there super-secret insiders) we had the “411” on Chad within a few days: he was 24, had recently moved here from North Carolina to go to school and, yes, he was single. SCORE! So, once again, you would think knowing that this gorgeous guy was single could only help me maintain a semi-normal, put-together, calm but welcoming aura, & would help me mentally prepare a game plan to make him mine and, embarrassingly & sadly enough, once again, that was definitely not me.
     Falling so completely hard for someone who had mentioned 2 words to me made me spastic, extremely nervous, and brought out my “inner Urkel”. When someone mentioned he was coming my way, I would run in the other direction…and I’m not exaggerating, I would literally jog to the furthest register away from him trying to pull-out an Oscar-worthy performance of “busy customer-service representative”. I was fine daydreaming for afar, but bring the boy close to me and all composer left my body. Example: it was around the holidays so our store was ridiculously busy; once we would finish with one customer, three more would be in line, so that left me little time to have my radar on maximum level. I was squatting down in front of the return desk trying to read a UPC off something a customer was returning when I heard a voice behind my say “busy enough up here for you Lisa?”, without thought, I turned around ready to answer the familiar, but not at that very second, voice and saw Chad standing there, clipboard in hand. Oh my gawd I thought, he knows my name! “Um…yeah, it’s um…it’s…it’s…busy, yeah…busy…it is!” I managed to spit out after trying my damnedest to form a normal, basic response. He smiled and walked away; I dropped my head in embarrassment. “Seriously?!” I thought “busy it is?!” who am I, Yoda?! It was a legit "Dirty Dancing" 'I carried a watermelon?!' moment.  Before standing up, I put my hands on my hips and felt that my pants had slipped down a bit, we’re not talking a Britney Circa 2007 flash, but they were definitely down a little; I stood up and pulled my pants back up on my hips, ran my hands around the rim of the waistline & discovered my underwear had been sticking out above my pants the whole time! And the worst part?…they weren’t even cute underwear!

     After the very embarrassing (til this day) “Underwearmelon” moment, little by little I began gaining courage to be in the same vicinity of Chad, first in a group setting and then a little more personal. Slowly but surely my speech began to rise above that of a pre-schooler and my actual personality began to show. Soon enough, we were taking our breaks together just talking and getting to know more about each other. In January of 2004 the, at one time, unbelievable happened and we had our 1st kiss outside Ashley’s house before we both got in our cars to go our separate ways for the night. Needless to say, I, of course, grabbed my phone and called Ashley before I reached the end of her driveway. The next day at work the news had spread and our work buddies were literally coming up to me giving me high-fives for finally showing Chad the mega-awesome person that I truly am. ;)
After that, we became pretty much inseparable and by the end of month, January 31, 2004 to be exact, we officially became “Chad & Lisa” when he called me his “girlfriend” for the first time. Here I was: 19, not single, no longer thinking I would spend my life alone, and very much in love; I had found my other half and for the first time in my life felt complete and whole-heartedly knowing that I had found my soul mate. Five years later, to the day on January 31, 2009, we became husband & wife in a small but perfect wedding surrounded by our families and friends.
     I fell in love with Chad the second I saw him; we conquer the odds together that life throws our way, and even though cancer has derailed a “normal” happily ever after, we’re on our way, but unlike those movies I watched growing up…our love story doesn’t end after the credits. 
     I love you Chad: now, then, forever, & always. <3

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Way I Am

     It’s been 2 months since we found out about my recurrence and we’re still pretty much in the same spot now as we were then. The only “progress”, if that’s what you would call it, would be the 2 visits to have consults with my new surgeon in Pittsburgh, another trip to the burgh’ to meet a urologist and plastic surgeon who will also be a part of my surgery, and a colonoscopy for good measure (through my stoma for those of you who are like “but…how??” Don’t feel bad, I asked too!), which actually brought us full circle since that is where my cancer journey first began back in April 2010. Maybe that seems like more progress to you than it does to me; I’m just so frustrated these days. Frustrated, nervous, anxious, angry, scared - all of the above and every other emotion you could think of….which, when all mixed together, as they are now, equals an emotional mess, which equals me. Up is down, down is up, left is right, and right is left - at least that is how it seems to me lately. I feel such an urgency to get this tumor out of me…that’s the first step back to remission and I would really like that first step sooner rather then later. After all, remember I have super-tumors that grow at an astronomical rate every second it's in my body that doctors around the globe have never even seen before…well, at least in my mind they do. :) Oh, I guess we could definitely add paranoid to that list of emotions I mentioned shortly ago, yep - definitely paranoid. I don’t understand why it seems like such a task to get a surgery date…a date…that’s all I’m asking for…is that too much for a girl to want? We know it will be on a Thursday but just give me a friggen date already! Geesh! I understand that my specialist deals with my type of cancer everyday but, it’s his job and this is my LIFE. To me, every day that passes is a day that could, potentially, be a day that is used fighting this disease. I think that fuels my frustration…I’m ready now for surgery; I’m ready for the pain, for the healing, and ultimately, I’m ready to have this surgery behind me and be moving on to the next step, whatever that may be. I’ve stated in earlier entry on this blog that I’m the type of person who, once placed in a intense position, I will, most likely, convince myself that a baseless, ridiculous, off-the-top outcome will without-a-doubt happen. It’s something I do a lot and I’m not afraid to admit that. It’s silly and usually just fuels my anxiety, but it’s just what I do. What I haven’t told you yet is why I do what I do and why I am the way I am.
     Over the past 7 years, my family has been through hell & back, even before my cancer diagnosis we knew what tragic really meant and what havoc it could reek on your lives. In 2004, my older brother John (24) passed away from smoke & soot inhalation in a house fire. I was 20-years-old at the time and had never experienced a death before, so for it to be my big brother was more than tragic…it was…well, it was something that I can’t really describe in words, but I’ll try. It’s like a sucker-punch to your gut that you can’t get rid of and, much like cancer, you can’t truly understand the feeling until you, unfortunately, may experience it yourself. You feel so alone even though you surrounded by the world & you feel so smothered even though that world is giving you room to breathe. You feel lost and wonder if you'll ever feel "found" again.
     My family grieved, as we still do & will forever do, and eventually began to rebuild our lives minus one. However, 28 months later, in 2006, my brother Jay (32) suddenly & unexpectedly passed away from “Acute bronchopneumonia” after experiencing flu-like symptoms for a few days prior - we had no clue it was anything more. He had promised to go to the doctor the next day but once again, our world was shattered, smashed, shred to pieces and we found ourselves in a familiarly tragic & unfair position. In a little over 2 years, I had lost both of my big brothers. I didn’t understand why and really, to this day, I’m not sure I do now. The only comfort we could find was that my brothers were best friends and even though they were not with us, they were together and that, for me at least, gave me a slight hint of peace. Jay’s death would eventually lead me to meet someone half-way across the country who, to this day, holds a very special place in my heart and still helps me get through some really dark days (Love you Shelley!).
     So maybe now that gives you a little understanding of why my mind is constantly spinning and coming up with the “glass half-empty” mentality. I don't like being like that so I’m working on myself and I have full faith I’m going to kick cancer’s ass…again. It’s not going to be fun, in fact, it’s going to be hell - but, like I just told you…I’ve been to hell & back a few times and still, here I am. On the plus side, I have a little extra help from 2 handsome guardian angels on my shoulder to guide me through this cancer fight.
     Along with being mentally exhausted, the physical aspects of recurrence are definitely making their presence known. The all-too-familiar tailbone pain that I had ignored for so many months before diagnosis has returned full-force, extending up to the middle of my spine. My joints from my fingers to my toes feel every step I take during the day, my knees usually feel like I ran a 5K after climbing our stairs, and finding a comfortable position to sleep in is an obstacle I have yet to conquer (Sorry Chad ILY). Last week I swallowed my pride gave in and got a cane, I know, I know…but don’t worry, it’s super cute! I can’t let something like cancer ruin my fashion, that would be absolutely unfair justice!



Sunday, August 7, 2011

What I Know

     I can't believe how much has changed in the past month; it blows my mind how quickly cancer can change your life over & over again. I remember sitting on the beach of Oak Island in early June of this year, smelling the ocean air, feeling the sand between my toes, & telling Chad how cancer had tried to take that experience away from me but had not succeeded. I would have never thought 2 months later I would once again be putting on my armor & gearing up for battle - but that's the thing about cancer, it's unpredictable & it's ruthless.
Although I try not to, I often find myself thinking about the year or so before I was diagnosed. During that year, I was ignoring symptoms because I didn't have the knowledge that they were symptoms. I can't help but blame myself sometimes; maybe, just maybe if I had seen a doctor sooner I wouldn't be in this mess...but that's something that I, or you, will never know.
     What I know now is that I hate being back to the days of feeling the constant ache in my gut knowing the fight that lies ahead of me. I hate running out of energy trying to make it up our steps; I hate the fact that it's getting harder & harder to pick of my 4-yr-old niece. I hate having to explain to my 8-yr-old nephew why I have so many doctor appointments & I hate having to hide the fear from both of them so they always believe I'm still the same "LaLa" I was before cancer. Bottom line: I hate this disease.
What I know now is that I have one hell of a battle coming up: surgery to remove my tumor, my uterus, & my ovaries - not because the disease has spread but because my new surgeon has fears that they could have been affected by cancerous cells & have not yet matured. We agreed that removing them was a better decision than leaving them in & increasing the chance of having ovarian or ureutal cancer in the future. I'm not going to lie - that was a mighty hard pill to swallow.
     Although our radiologist told us very early on that treatment would make me sterile, I think I still held out that small hope that I could pull out a miracle & one day, when we were ready, Chad & I would be able to have a child of our own. Not everyone knows this, but Chad actually took MY last name when we married because both of my older brothers had passed away, leaving no males to carry on our last name...we had hoped to have a son to do so. I know, I know...there is adoption & for some very strange, unexplainable reason Chad & I have always talked about adoption since we met. So, when we are ready, we whole-heartedly intend on adopting a child who will be meant to be our's & we'll be meant to be his or her's. I have full faith that my brothers will lead us to that baby when the time is right.
     As for now, I'm enjoying spending time with my family & my husband (and the countless # of appointments with various doctors) - we live our days as normal as possible but cancer is never far from any of our minds. I've beaten this disease once & this time, the only difference is I know what lies ahead - surgery & chemo, but experience never hurts, right?
When it comes down to it, cancer is a part of my life - it doesn't define me, it doesn't consume me, & it doesn't stand for who I am as a person. I'm a wife, a daughter, a sister, a "LaLa", & a friend. There is so much more to me than what hides inside my body & everyday that I remind myself of that fact & live by that fact...well, that's a victory for me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

20 Days

    It’s been exactly 20 days since we first learned cancer cells have again decided to take house within my body; 20 days of tests, doctors, & waiting - which is, without a doubt, the worst & most difficult part of it all. Hearing “you have cancer” is no easier or any less scary than it is the first time you hear those 3 words; it still makes your knees buckle & your stomach come up to your throat; it still makes your breath leave your body & your words escape your mind. It still turns your world upside-down & puts your future right back in limbo. Bottom line...it still shakes you to your core.
    In the past few weeks, I’ve been referred to a new surgeon who specializes in Colorectal surgery - the only problem? He’s about 2 & ½ hrs away, which when it comes down to it, it wouldn’t matter if he was 1000 miles away - if he can help me, we would be there. We took our first trip to meet him last week; I, once again, had those little butterflies in my stomach - wondering what would be the next step in this oh-so-unpredictable journey. So far, all we know is that there is a (around) 1.0 cm tumor “somewhere” down in the rectal canal. Our new surgeon (“Dr. C”) is concerned it may be attached to bone somewhere - perhaps the tailbone or the sacrum, which could make surgery a little more risky in comparison to a “free-floating” tumor. If the tumor is attached to bone, then we move on to how high or how low it is "fixed" - that specific information is what will determine if it’s operable, because wherever it may be fixed, that portion of bone will have to be removed along with the tumor. After we decide whether it is or is not operable, then we move on to my old friend, chemotherapy. Aside from that, the only next step we know is tests, tests, & more tests!
     Yesterday, I was lucky enough to spend 2 hours under an MRI machine, enjoying the very calming & soothing sounds of the very massive, very claustrophobic piece of technology. 2 hours you ask? Well, after I spent the first 45 minutes laying as still as I could, a tech came in & told me they had made a “little” mistake - they did a complete lumbar take when, in actuality, all I needed was a sacrum take. So, lucky me, I was, again, able to lay in the overwhelmingly peaceful array of beeps, screeches, and a variety of other lovely sounds for another 45 minutes, oh, and let me add - -it felt amazing on my tailbone! (*Please note the very sarcastic tone behind this entire paragraph!) So, a big thank you to the state of WV for spending $5000 in 2 hours for my medical needs. Go Mountaineers. ;)
    As for what’s next - I have a CT (...contrast here I come!) scheduled for next week &, hopefully, after the results are sent to Dr. C, we’ll be able to set up a game plan & get started.
    I’m not going to lie - I’ve done my fair share of (daily) crying and “why me?” over the past 20 days. I’ve been mad, sad, & every other emotion in between & I’m sure that will only continue over this journey, but I’m ready. The gloves are back on & I’m back in the ring.
  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Round 2

     I originally started this blog to tell you the story of what my life once was: a way to look back & reflect on the past year I had spent within the cancer world. I started this blog as a “survivor” & now I will continue this blog as, once again, a cancer “warrior”. On July 01, 2011, after a CT guided biopsy of a 1.2 cm tumor that showed up on my latest PET scan a week earlier, I was again diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer.
    It has been a little under 11 months since my first surgery where my tumor & entire rectum were removed, along with a permanent colostomy fixed to my stomach. It has been a little under 5 months since my last cycle of chemotherapy entered my veins; a little under 4 months since I was officially in remission - a short, but very much appreciated time of my life. It’s feel so surreal to find myself in this strangely familiar territory of conflicting schedules, calendar dates, & introductions to new doctors and staff. As of right now, we have a very rough, undefined game plan: I will, again, have surgery to remove my tumor - this time in Pittsburgh, PA and will, then, receive an unknown number of cycles & dosage of chemotherapy. I invite you to tag along on this journey with me - I will be updating as regularly as possible. Here we go again.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Anxious

     It’s safe to say that on any given day I’m a very anxious person. No matter what situation I may find myself in, I’ve, most likely, already convinced myself that this or that will happen and then focus on that ultimate outcome and harp on it for who knows how long. I think it’s also safe to say that the last 7 years has given me reason to do so; since 2004 my family has had to say entirely too early goodbyes to both of my older brothers; we also had to watch my grandma’s memory slowly slip away day by day until she too passed away - so I think I should be allowed a little buffer room to be anxious about life, even more so since April 28, 2010. 
     I’m thankful that the first six weeks of treatment were pure emotional & physical chaos - it managed to keep my mind off the eminent surgery I would soon be facing, but no matter what I did, August 19, 2010 was steadily sneaking up on me. I remember the first mention of surgery - It was the week before I started any treatment and we were meeting with my surgeon to digest the previous three weeks and prepare for what was ahead. This was the day I would learn just what surgery would entail - the removal of my tumor, the removal of my entire rectum, and a permanent colostomy. Wow. My mind ran in every direction possible. When we got home, I tried my best not to play internet MD &  start googling rectum removal and colostomies, but my curiosity of course got the best of me and soon enough, I gave in. I was mortified, and to be honest, yes, it was mostly the vanity aspect of it that got to me. For years, my body was my instrument - I was a dancer since I was 2-years-old and, in order to live, I would have to give up a body I had for 26 years; but of course it was “no-brainer” - I knew what I had to do to live & I was going to do it…in due time. 
     Like I said, thankfully the first cycles of chemo & radiation gave me more than enough to cloud my brain of surgery, but eventually those six weeks came to an end and I found myself in the final weeks & days before surgery. Within those last weeks & days, my mind wandered from here to there to beyond & back; every possible surgery-mishap crossed my mind. What if, for some unknown reason, I found myself in a situation like the movie “Awake” and I was aware and able to feel what was going on but unable to speak or do anything about it?! What if some sort of surgery tool was unknowingly left in my body and wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late?! Crazy, I know…but this is how my anxious mind works. I would literally lay awake at night, stare at the ceiling, and have various scenarios rush through my mind - one after another after another. I did my best to keep my fears to myself; looking back, I wonder if I did that to protect my family just in case one of those “what if’s” did come to be. In life, things happen that aren’t necessarily fair or what we expect and I think my family & my life are proof of that. The truth is, I was scared as hell & I was mad as hell, but I tried to never let it show. In my head, allowing the fear & anger to show meant that I was allowing cancer to control my life so I became very good at keeping it mostly between my husband, my journal, & myself…and now you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Treatment this is Lisa, Lisa this is treatment.

    The first six weeks of treatment were very…real, to say the least. I was soon officially diagnosed as a Stage 3 with a T3-T4 size tumor; (T4’s are the biggest tumor size you can have) to put it into perspective, my surgeon said that my tumor was the size of a goose-egg and was covering 90% of my rectum; go big or go home right?! I very quickly realized that you can watch as many movies or read as many books with characters who have cancer, but until you (unfortunately) - in some form - experience it yourself, you really have no clue, and I hope you never do.
    For five days a week I, very stylishly might I add, carried around a fanny pack that held my 24-hour continuous flow of Fluorocail chemo or 5FU as it is most commonly called; wherever I went, the fanny pack went - to the store, to dance practice, to dinner, to visit friends, to the doctor - it was always & literally, attached to my hips. It took some time to get over the whole vanity aspect of wearing a 1980's fanny pack 5 days a week, 24/7 in the year 2010, but at times - I’m not going to lie - I kind of felt like a badass & I’m pretty sure that someday, sooner or later, the fanny pack will make it’s way back into mainstream & when it does Hulk Hogan & I can say “we brought fanny back”.
    There’s more to the story of the first 6 week cycle of 5FU, but I’ll save that for later when it makes more sense. For now though, I had the most common side effects from chemo: crazy nausea, crazy fatigue, and the beginning of crazy nerve damage/pain in my hands in feet; I did, however, luck out a bit though - only a few hairs on my head fell out throughout the entire treatment process. I’m still not exactly sure how I managed that one, but I did and, for me, it was one less thing to have to worry about; it was almost satisfying, like finally I was able to beat some sort of odds.
    Along with the chemotherapy came the radiation therapy which was also 5 days a week  (it actually ended up being 28 treatments all together because of holidays) & it was more than real, it was…well, it was an experience. I remember my entire body physically shaking for my first treatment because I was so nervous; this made everything seem so real; there was no more pretending nothing was wrong or that it was no big deal - it was a big deal and the time had finally come to start facing it head on. 
    After the nurses get your body aligned to your slide stats ala radiation tattoos, they then leave the room and suddenly you find yourself laying on a hard table, pants down (with a paper sheet for “privacy” of course) arms above your head, staring at the ceiling and realizing, at that very moment, you are completely & utterly alone. I remember wondering how many people had looked at the same ceiling tile that I was now looking at - I wondered what they may have looked like, how old they were, and what their story may be. I wondered if they were mothers or fathers, daughters or sons, sisters or brothers. I wondered who had lived & who had died & I wondered which category I would ultimately find myself in at the end of my battle. Dramatic, I know.
    The radiation itself only took about 5-6 minutes each treatment - I was hit from 4 angles: underneath, left side, right side, and then directly above my pelvis and yes, it was in that exact order. It didn’t take long to build a relationship with the radiation techs (both named Heather) who I saw more frequently then most of my friends. At first, they asked about my story and I got the same “but you’re so young, you’re only 26!” reaction from each of them, but I don’t blame them, I would have said the same thing. Soon enough, the conversations switched from cancer to life and everyday things; they would ask me about dance team or we would gab about what different TV shows we all were addicted to; I would ask how their children were spending their summers and they would ask questions about Chad & I - how we had met (at work), how long we had been together (six years at the time), and how he was handling my diagnosis (“he's my rock”). We often joked about my sexy fanny pack and how every Friday, I would be “fanny-free” because I would be “de-accessed” before radiation.
    At first, I didn’t experience any harsh side effects from radiation but soon enough, they caught up with me and rocked my world. Wow is really the only word that can truly sum it up. About 3 weeks into treatment my “bottom” started turning various colors of the rainbow - from blue to purple to red to orange - they were all in the mix at some point. Of course my precarious mind was positive I was the only person in the entire world this was happening to; it had to be another sure-sign that my tumor was continuously ever-growing and that I was some freak of cancer nature; turns out, I wasn’t…my side-effects were completely normal and were had by most who receive pelvic radiation, but in my mind, who would have thought?!
    There are some more intrusive side effects, but I think even I have to draw the privacy line somewhere…I mean, I think you need to at least take me to dinner and buy me a drink first; or seeing as I don’t drink, definitely dinner. Stay tuned. ;)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Three Weeks?!

     There were three weeks from my diagnosis from when I actually began treatment of any sort. Three weeks! I know, right? Three weeks to digest something you will never be prepared to hear...ever. Three weeks of me to over react and swear that my tumor was only getting bigger minute by minute (I know, I know, I can be quite the cancer drama queen.) Three weeks of “what if’s”, of worry, of doubt, and yet a sense of hope at the same time, well maybe it was more of a sense of hope for more of a sense of hope if that makes any sense. Within that three week span, I was implanted with my chest port - which honestly, is the best kept secret for any cancer patient; arm veins can only take so much poking and by day 3, my arms looked like I was a part of Fight Club, so I was pretty much up for anything to elevate that problem. If you’re not familiar with a chest port, it is exactly what it says - it’s a small port implanted in your chest; it’s then, somehow, connected directly into your heart arteries so it is able to draw blood as well as act as an IV for chemo or anything other IV meds you may need at any certain point. I know it sounds torturous but, have no worry, there is an amazing numbing cream so when your port is “accessed”, you don’t feel a thing. (You know you’re a true cancer patient when Emla cream gets you excited.) Anyway, the remainder of those three weeks consisted of doctor after doctor after doctor visits - meeting our oncologist (I will always say “our”, by the way, because this wasn’t just my journey - it was also my husband’s, my parent’s, and the rest of my family‘s), our radiologist, the oncology unit floor & nurses, the radiation therapy nurses, the 24-hour infusion center and it’s nurses, back to our surgeon‘s office and so on. So, although it was a treatment-free three weeks, it was definitely action packed. Little did I know, but these three weeks would also give me my first introduction into the tattoo world.
     Before you can begin any sort of radiation therapy you have to have positioning slides taken so they can pinpoint the exact (and I mean exact) point on your body which will be exposed to the radiation, for me it was my entire pelvic region. Along with the positioning slides came a CT scan so there was a lot going on in the room; not to mention in my head so it seemed I had a thousand different thoughts running through my mind at the same time; I remember one of the techs mentioning she was going to give me my radiation tattoos so that when I came back in 2 days for a double-check positioning slide everything would be right on. Call me na├»ve, but when I hear tattoo I picture the rub-on kind that my niece & nephew so proudly wear around the house. Suddenly, I felt a needle prick on my right hip, when she said tattoo, she really meant tattoo! After the needle prick came the drop of dark black dye that spotted my skin; 2 more came after - 1 above my pelvic area, and another on my left hip. I have always thought about getting a tattoo of some sort but could never muster up the courage to do anything about it; I thought about various illustrations - maybe a special song lyric or some sort of angel wings in honor of my brothers, but never did I think my first “tattoo” (well, 3 actually) would be 3 black ink dots around my pelvis!
     Today, they are barely visible, but are able to be seen just enough to remind me of the beginning of this journey; a way for me to look back on those three weeks and remember what life was like before any treatment or side effects would set in. A way for me to remember how many people start this fight but aren’t lucky enough to finish it, but I was….and I still am.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

5, 6, 7, 8!

      Right around the time I graduated from college (with my Bachelor's in Psychology) the opportunity came for me to coach a local high school dance team; I immediately jumped at the chance and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the job. I can't explain the feeling when I see one of my girls land a double pirouette for the first time or the smile that, somehow, always smears it's way across my face when I hear "Shimmy!" (a nickname given to me by the girls) as I walk into the auditorium doors for practice. Before long, we were more than just a coach & a team - we were a family who cherished the hours of dance we were able to share with each other every week.
      About a week or so after my diagnosis, I made the decision that I needed to sit down my girls & be completely open & honest with them. On a random Wednesday (which seems to be a strange reoccurring day of important dates during my journey), I drug Chad (for moral support and as a DD for my recent pain pill prescription for tumor pain) up to the high school with me and took a deep breath. Before I could even collect my thoughts, my mouth began speaking and soon enough, in some form, I spit out that I had been diagnosed with Rectal Cancer. At the time, we didn’t know what stage I was at so I couldn’t really go into deep, deep details with them, but I felt like I needed to let them know. Looking back now, I remember trying my best not to make eye contact with them - especially a few that I had grown particularly close to; I just couldn’t and I didn’t want to. How could I put such a heavy burden on teenagers who biggest worry should be about boys or what the latest school gossip was, not whether or not their coach was going to live or die. To this very day, telling my 12 dance team girls about my diagnosis was one of the hardest days of my life and it’s one I will never forget. I’ll never forget sitting on that stage trying to find the words to make what I was saying sound as least serious as possible. In a strange sense, the news of my cancer brought the majority of us closer; I found strength & support in people who knew way to much about cancer at too young of an age and for that, I am forever grateful. I’m slowly but surely making my way back into the dance world with the love and support of my team. I am the coach and survivor I am today because of them. 
     I love you girls.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Looking Back on D-Day

      I remember the exact moment I was told I had cancer. It was on a Wednesday at 3:21 pm. The news was delivered by my surgeon, Dr. Burns, via phone call because he knew how much trouble and stress I was having over applying & then, immediately, being denied a Medical Card. Yes, that's right, I was facing a disease that could ultimately kill me but I had no insurance - thanks Human Resources! A college graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology; an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice, but alas - no insurance. I remember him saying, “Lisa, you do not have to worry, you WILL,without a doubt, be approved for a card.” I ignorantly replied “but Dr. Burns, you don’t understand…I was there yesterday and was denied…” before I could finish he spit it out “Lisa, the biopsy of the tumor came back positive for malignancy, it's something called Adenocarcinoma” “Adeno what?” I said trying to catch my breath. “It’s cancer, the tumor was cancerous.” I tried to speak but no words came out. I tried to breathe but, still, I couldn’t catch my breath. I handed the phone to my mom as tears began streaming down my face. I literally fell into my sister’s arm and began sobbing while gasping for breath. The only words that could come out of my mouth were “I have cancer. Why? Why do I have cancer? I have cancer.” The next thing I knew I was upstairs waking up Chad from an afternoon nap. This particular week was the longest and most exhausting week of our lives. From the colonoscopy/biopsy on Monday to the diagnosis on Wednesday felt like years. As soon as he saw my tears he knew. He took me in his arms and began to kiss my forehead, “We’ll get through this…we get through everything. I'm here, I love you, I'm not going anywhere and neither are you”. After a few moments of an understanding silence, we went back downstairs where my mom was still on the phone with my doctor. I sat on the couch and immediately across from me was our family memorial of my brothers and Gram, all who had died in the duration of the last 7 years. I thought “oh my God, am I going to be in there too? I don’t want to die, I’m not ready to die, I didn’t do anything wrong.” My mom hung up the phone and sat beside me on the couch. I could see the tears she was trying so hard to hold back. “It’s ok baby, we’re going to get through this; with chemo, radiation, and surgery, we will beat this. Look at this family and what we’ve been through…we WILL get through this too. You have 3 angels up there who will be at your side the whole way through”. My angels…John, Jay, and my Gram. For some reason, that statement gave me a hint of peace. I felt strangely close to them for the moment, it was as if they were in the room with us and we were a whole family again, but in the blink of an eye, I was brought back to reality. At 26 years old you wouldn’t expect that you would want your mom to hold you, but I did and I didn't want her to let go. She opened her arms and I fell into them at the same time. For a second I went back to my childhood, where everything was butterflies and boy band crushes, not cancer or death. We spent the next hour crying, trying to laugh, and just being together. My family, my support system was there for me, and this was just the beginning.

D-Day {Diagnosis Day}

April 28, 2010 (Wednesday)

I have cancer. Cancer, Cancer, Cancer, Cancer, Cancer - Stage 3 Rectal Cancer to be exact, "Infiltrating Moderately Differentiated Adenocarcinoma" to be even more exact. Even when writing the word time and time again, I find myself still trying to distance reality; trying to put some space between what is and what should be: I should be dancing my days away while introducing my love of dance to high school students who not only would steal my moves but also my heart.

How did I get here? Last week I was pirouetting my way through life and now, I'm living hell on Earth. What is is what shouldn't be and what should be is what it isn't. I should be living the normal life of any married 26 year old. I should be house-hunting with my incredible husband who would graduate in May with a History & Philosophy degree; we should be planning when we would start planning to start a family :) , but instead, we are busy scheduling chemotherapy appointments, carefully making sure they don't coincide with radiation therapy appointments. This would be our life for the next 6 weeks: 24 hour continuous chemotherapy Monday-Friday, followed by a delicious desert serving of pelvic radiation also Monday-Friday. I guess, however, I did get to live a bit of every girls' dream, it seems cancer gives you free reign to wear no make-up, glasses, and sweat pants everyday.

When it comes down to it, this is life - scary as hell to live but even scarier to fear not being able to do so. Did I do something wrong? Can I truly "fight" this? These are the questions that now haunt my every thought. I didn't and yes, I can - those are the answers; the only answers that I will continue to tell myself throughout this inevitable journey; because this is MY life and it’s time to start fighting. Game on.