I just love the fall! It really makes me miss living in Central Florida because being just a couple hundred miles further north really makes a huge difference in the weather. Yesterday, I was finally feeling like I was recovered enough from surgery to take some pictures. There's a local farm here that does an amazing pumpkin patch. They even plant cucumbers to make it look like an actual pumpkin vine. Unfortunately, this awesomeness makes it insanely popular. I knew after a couple of weekends of it being open, it would be torn to shreds, and it was killing me not to get out there sooner!
I looked back at our pumpkin patch pictures from the past couple of years, and it is amazing to see how much both Nicky and my photography skills have grown! I still have a lot to learn, but wow! I am shocked at how far I've come looking at these pictures side by side!
Nicky was just about 10 weeks old here! I took this with my old point and shoot camera.
I got my first DSLR just a few days later!
I can't believe how much Nicky's face has changed in a year! This was right after I got my 35mm lens, which pretty much lives on my camera now! We went to the pumpkin patch in the middle of the day, and I quickly learned how hard it is to take pictures in such harsh light!
And this year...same camera and lens, but this time we went as close to sunset as possible!
This one is out of focus, but it was one of the few pictures where he actually looked up at me!
One of the first thoughts I had when I got my diagnosis was, "why did I drink so much Diet Coke?!" Now, I know this may have happened to me regardless of how healthy I was eating and how much I was exposed to chemicals through things like make-up, hair products, deodorant, etc. But when you get a 60 year old woman's disease at 29, it makes you wonder if something in the environment triggered it so early. The incidence of breast cancer is rising in young women. There has to be a reason for this!
So I started making small changes. I immediately stopped drinking soda and instead drank seltzer or just plain water. I started making a point to eat more fresh produce and slowly started spending the extra money on organic. My kale and spinach smoothie became a new and delicious addition to my morning routine. Even the boys love them! I looked into "clean eating" and paleo diets and started cutting out refined sugars and flours. I stopped buying "low fat" or "low carb" because they usually just have more chemicals in them. One day it really hit me as I was reading the ingredient lists while grocery shopping.
How did it become okay to put all these chemicals in our food? Is there any REAL FOOD even in the grocery store?
I remember so many times where I've said that a certain new diet food was okay and only tasted like chemicals a little bit. Really? How did I let myself become so brainwashed by the food industry to think that my food tasting like chemicals was ever acceptable? I know so many people, who like myself, hate taking medications of any kind unless absolutely necessary. Yet we eat chemicals in almost every bite of food we take.
So I started doing some reading. I found the blogs 100 Days of Real Food and Food Babe. I read some of the books they recommended. So far my favorites are Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food , Robyn O'Brien's The Unhealthy Truth. I'm currently in the middle of Michael Moss' Salt Sugar Fat. These have been eye opening. I always turned a blind eye to the politics behind food. Because it's scary to see a handful of people making such greedy decisions and to face the fact that our system is broken. The country I love so much and believe in is letting me down. Isn't it my right to know what is in my food? I had heard of GMOs before. But what I hadn't realized is that I've been regularly eating them since the mid 90s, as they are in almost every bite of processed food in the grocery store. And I'm a highly educated person who studied microbiology. And I still didn't know this. These GMO foods are expressing new proteins and producing their own pesticide, but no studies have been done to see if they are safe. Meanwhile, the incidence of food allergies, autism, and asthma has increased in children since the introduction of these foods. Now, I'm not saying that they definitely are the culprit here, but I'd like to see some studies to show otherwise before I feed them to my child. But our government doesn't require them to be labeled like European countries do. The same goes for artificial coloring and preservatives. Kraft has even reformulated their Mac & Cheese to remove artificial coloring in the UK, where a warning label is required for foods containing them. So why do they continue to sell the one with artificial coloring here? This is just the tip of the iceberg of the scary things I've learned. Here's Robyn O'Brien's Ted talk. It's a great summary of what's going on if you want to learn more. (And the e-books and audiobooks of In Defense of Food and Salt Sugar Fat are both available through the Broward and Palm Beach County Libraries for my local friends. You can download them to your phone/tablet without even leaving the house if you have a library card!)
I almost wish I could unlearn what I now know. Because it makes me want to move to a farm and grow all our own food. It makes grocery shopping such a chore right now because I scrutinize every single ingredient list. I had to google whether Boar's Head cheese is made with hormone free milk while standing in the Deli section (some are, but not all of them). I realized that fresh bread in the Publix bakery isn't really fresh bread at all. It's still loaded up with preservatives and other chemicals. I thought I had been eating fairly healthy before. But almost everything I had been buying is still full of scary chemicals.
So I've been making a lot of food from scratch lately. And it is time consuming and exhausting and sometimes overwhelming, but it helps me to sleep a little easier at night to know that I'm doing the best I can for my family. Nick even has commented on how much better everything tastes. The block of cheese that I shredded myself tastes so much better than the pre-shredded one that is covered in powders like cellulose to prevent it from sticking together. The grass-fed butter is soooo much better than regular butter (and doesn't even compare to the fake "healthy" butter I had been making us all eat before). Nicky won't even drink regular homogenized and ultra-pasteurized organic milk that he had been drinking for a year now after tasting the un-homogenized, low temp pasteurized grass-fed milk. The organic fruit we eat is so much better than most of the conventional fruit we had been buying. As I streamline our new way of eating, I'm able to better budget and manage my time. I just hope that this will become a new way of life for us, even in the future when I return to work and life gets really busy again.
So maybe it was GMO foods or hormones in milk or birth control pills or aluminum in deodorant or pesticides on produce or parabens in my beauty products or a million other things that caused me to get breast cancer at 29, despite being BRCA negative. I just don't know. But it's not a risk I'm willing to take anymore.
Well, I've been done with the "hard" treatment for just shy of a month now, and I feel great! I say the "hard" part of treatment because I'll still have to take Tamoxifen, an oral pill, for the next five years (and probably more like ten with the newest studies that are coming out). I started it about three weeks ago, and so far, no bad side effects. I am a little tired some days, but that could just be normal 2 year old mom tiredness, or my body dealing with the fact that I beat the crap out of it over the past six months! My oncologist may also want to shut down my ovaries with monthly shots
in my stomach of a drug called Zoladex for the next few years in
addition to the Tamoxifen. It's all a hormone game when it comes to my
type of breast cancer. Unfortunately, there are no hard studies yet
that have tested whether shutting down ovaries helps in pre-menopausal
women. So we are still on the fence for that one.
It's strange to not have a place to be all the time. After going to radiation Monday-Friday for over six weeks and oncologist appointments 2-3 times a week during four months of chemo, I am enjoying having some free time for play dates or just to sit around in our jammies if we want.
So most of you have been asking me what's next?
No, there are no more scans in my near future. The cancer was all cut out of me back in January. Breast cancer is a sneaky little bastard that likes to spread, so that was why I had all the treatment. There is a good chance I was completely cured as soon as they took me out of the operating room. But, there is just no way to tell if there are some ass hole cells hiding out. So I just go on my merry way and pray I don't have a recurrence. I'll have routine 3 month follow ups with my oncologist for now to make sure I don't have any long term chemo side effects and that I don't have any symptoms of a recurrence. I also am still following up with the breast surgeon every 3 months, but I think that will be going down to every six months after my next visit in December. My radiation oncologist just discharged me from his care this morning after my one month check up, so I am all done with him now.
I will, however, be seeing a lot of my plastic surgeon. My third surgery is this coming Thursday! He will be redoing Righty and putting in a new tissue expander (the old one was taken out during chemo when I developed an infection). So hooray for cleavage again! It's not quite as big a surgery as the mastectomy, but he will be doing what is called a latissimus flap (using some skin and muscle from my back), so it is still a pretty invasive procedure, and I will have to stay at the hospital overnight. He said in the end, things will look just as good except the scar will be a little bigger and I'll have a small scar on my back as well. Battle wounds! I'll be seeing him weekly for my tissue expander fills until Righty catches up to Lefty, and once everything is healed, I'll have another surgery to switch out the expanders for my "soft squishies."
So that's where I'm at! I've also been making some major changes in how I eat, and we were just approved for a family scholarship at the YMCA. As soon as I am healed from this surgery, I will be heading to the gym to get this steroid weight off of me! Tamoxifen can make losing weight a little trickier, so I'm hoping it isn't too frustrating for me.
As much as I want to forget these past few months, I want to remember them. I cannot ever let myself forget what I have learned about life through this.
I want to remember how my family all pulled together and supported me through it. I want to remember the generosity of my friends (real life and internet) and even some perfect strangers opening their hearts and their wallets to help us. I want to remember what it is like to be stripped of my appearance and shed my vanity.
I want to remember what REALLY MATTERS on those days when I let the stupid little things get me down.
So here I am...bald and fat from chemo (yes, chemo can make you gain weight with all the steroids you have to take). But I'm alive, I feel great, and I get to be with these two guys everyday!
It's hard for me to pick just a few to share. Tricia, your talent is amazing, and I will forever treasure these pictures!
I just can't believe I have a 2 year old! My baby disappears a little more each day, and a little boy is taking his place. He is talking so much more, and he is learning new things every day! He counts to 20 on his own and has started to learn his letters, too! His favorite foods are still hot dogs (nitrate free, of course!), chicken nuggets, and Pirate's Booty. He favorite toys are his Choo-Choos, and he loves animals. He still loves Mickey and Elmo, but his new favorite show is Super Why.
I bought Nicky a giant Elmo balloon he had spotted at Party City when we were there buying supplies for the Penguin Party. We still had a ton of decorations left over from his first birthday party last year, so I also blew up some more balloons and decorated his door with streamers. He loved waking up to all the balloons!
The girls at radiation all wanted me to bring him in on his birthday. They were so sweet, and they bought him some little gifts and a balloon. He loves his new Matchbox Cars! We brought them some Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts to say thank you for all their help. Nicky had a donut when we got home for his special birthday morning breakfast.
After his nap, we had a playdate with his two girlfriends at Chuck E Cheese. He was a little hesitant at first. Once he warmed up and went on a couple rides, I couldn't get him off them!
When Nick got home, we took a drive over to the beach for a little bit of family time. We need to start doing this more often. He LOVES the beach now!