Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Our Fall Family Pictures

Thank you to Mallory Taines at NotSoUsual Photography for an amazing photo shoot!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Friends From Afar

I have met so many wonderful people through this blog.  During the past year or two, I have corresponded through email with several other cancer survivors and new mommies.  I feel so blessed to have met these people online, since they are from all over the country and world.  A few weeks ago, I actually got to experience the excitement of meeting a blog reader (and fellow breast cancer survivor) in real life! 

During our last trip to Florida, I met J, her two adorable children, and their two dogs.  Our stories are very similar so we had plenty to talk about, just as if we were old friends.  It felt comfortable and almost therapeutic to spend time with somebody who really understands what it feels like to go through chemo, double mastectomy surgeries, and reconstruction, all while being a young mother and wanting to be there for your babies.  

We had such a fun visit, playing on their swings and slide, exploring the sandbox, and chasing the dogs around their huge yard.  Ryan is going through a “non-sharing" stage these days, but J’s kids were so sweet and welcoming by letting him play with all of their toys.  Thanks so much for having us over, J! We will definitely have to get together again sometime!

I also recently received an email from Heather, a survivor of mesothelioma cancer and mommy to a beautiful 7-year-old named Lily.  Heather’s goal is to spread awareness for this type of cancer, which is caused by asbestos exposure.  She is strong, funny, and super-optimistic, and she asked to write a guest post for my blog.  Be sure to check her out and read the rest of her inspiring story at her blog

Heather’s Story ~ How Mesothelioma Affects People of All Ages

“You have cancer…” Those are the three words you hope to never hear in your lifetime. The words evoke fear and shatter dreams at a time when you most think you’re invincible. For me, I had a baby three and a half months before prior to being diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Now, I have pleural mesothelioma. This cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos.

When I tell them, most people think, “Isn’t asbestos banned? Where were you exposed?” Unfortunately, asbestos is not banned. I came into contact with asbestos when I came into contact with my father’s work clothes. He worked in construction, and he came into contact with asbestos through drywall taping, sanding and mudding. The dust contained asbestos. When he came home from work, it was on his clothes, his jacket and in his car. The dust seemed innocent but contained microscopic asbestos fibers.

It was a rare occurrence that I was diagnosed at the early age of 36. In general, mesothelioma affects older males who work in plumbing, heating, the military or as mechanics or electricians. Wives of the military began getting sick as a result or doing their husband’s laundry. The clothing was full or asbestos, and women would shake the clothes before putting them in the washer. Women who worked as secretaries in schools were also exposed to asbestos.

Because of the exposure, the next generation of mesothelioma patients is emerging. As more young people are diagnosed with this cancer, it is the beginning of an alarming trend.  The more I am involved with the mesothelioma community, the more young patients I meet. These men and women are in their late twenties and early thirties, and they are just starting their marriages, new jobs and are having babies. Their lives have been interrupted to concentrate on overcoming mesothelioma.

The good news is that there are many advances being made in treating this disease. With advancements, more people survive at all ages.

Hearing you have cancer is devastating, but I continue to remain hopeful, as do many other mesothelioma patients. As mesothelioma sufferers, we come together to share experiences and to support each other. We cry when things are not working and celebrate victories when the treatment works.

Many people ask me, “Why do you do what you do?” I share my mesothelioma story to bring awareness to the situation. Without awareness, nothing will change. With my story, I can offer hope to someone who was diagnosed. It can help someone stop from living in fear of mesothelioma. If I can help one person overcome their fear of living with mesothelioma, I have done the right thing.

Thank you for sharing your story, Heather. You are an inspiration!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Themed Playdate

I hosted playgroup the day before Thanksgiving, so of course, I decided to do a Thanksgiving theme.  It turned out to be so much fun!  Ryan was very hyper by the end though, probably because of the sugar combined with the holiday excitement.

*See this post for my Thanksgiving Playdate ideas for 2013.

The Snacks Table

Turkey Sugar Cookies 

Turkey Fruit Dish 

Caramel Grapes 

I also served: salad, hummus/carrots, apples, turkey sandwiches, and Pirates Booty 

Candy-filled Cornocopias

Crustless Raspberry Pie

Quinoa with Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans 
(I used this recipe, but I had to use black quinoa because I couldn't find red)

Crafts for the Toddlers 
Decorating foam photo frames with stickers and coloring scarecrow masks

Our Wednesday Playgroup 
Those of us who were still in town 

Thanksgiving Day at my Aunt & Uncle's House 
Ryan with his cousins T (2) and S (1 month)

Thankful November: What I am Thankful For

1. God’s grace

2. Health and LIFE!

3. My family- Barry and Ryan are my everything and my whole reason for living

4. My extended family- grateful to have aunts, cousins, and in-laws who have remained very close to me after losing my mom

5. Long-time friends- "besties" who are like sisters to me

6. New friends and playgroups- who fill my days with fun, excitement, and friendship

7. Pets- Lucky and Little Blue (aka Fishy)

8. Food/Water/Shelter

9. Education

10. Memories of the past- both good and bad, because they have made me who I am today

11. Freedom- and our troops who make that possible

12. Our community workers- doctors, police, firefighters, and all of the other people who work to make our lives better

13. Diversity- so blessed to live in a place that celebrates our differences

14. Transportation- including airplanes and the ability to visit far away places and loved ones 

15. Hope for the future- so many possibilities

16. The holidays and seasons

17. Coffee/Tea

18. Good Books

19. Music- I love the way that there are many types of songs to go with every emotion

20. Cameras

21. Nature- flowers, gardens, mountains, the ocean, etc

22. Playgrounds- for those of us with kids, these make life a whole lot easier

23. Warm boots

24. My car- an old clunker, passed down from my mom, that I wouldn't trade it for the world

25. A comfortable bed

26. Trader Joe’s- yummy AND affordable

27. Handmade Items- Aren't they just so much more special?

28. Laundry machines- It would be hard for me to find patience to wash everything by hand

29. Random acts of kindness

30. Technology- Social media, a way for us to easily to keep in touch with long-distance family and friends

Being thankful is a conscious, daily act, rather than just something to think about once a year on Thanksgiving.  What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Let me tell you about my fears.  I used to fear silly things like blood draws and clowns.  Now I fear losing another person who I deeply love to a terminal illness.  I fear infertility.  I fear cancer recurrence. I fear dying before my son gets a chance to really know me.

Although I have tried to convince myself that everything is normal, the truth is that I have been having a difficult time these past couple of months. 

Over the summer, I successfully weaned myself off of all of the meds that I had been taking throughout my cancer treatments.  That was no easy feat.  I did this partly for myself, but mostly because I wanted to make sure that my body was as prepared as possible for a future baby (meaning: completely drug free).  I wanted to spend the next few months getting my body strong and healthy enough for another pregnancy.  We have been patiently waiting for the day when can finally add another little one to our family.  According to the doctors, it will be safe for us to get pregnant this upcoming spring, as I will be two years out from chemotherapy and it will be completely out of my system by then.  

I started to feel a little “off” around the time of Ryan’s birthday in September.  I had to really push myself each day to find the energy for things that I used to do easily.  I gained about 8 lbs, so I decided to try to start exercising regularly.  The problem was that I couldn’t even work out as much as I wanted to because I felt extremely tired all of the time.  Granted, I was trying to keep up with the never-ending workload of my grad school classes while packing Ryan’s social schedule full of activities, so I never actually took a moment to rest. 

We were caught off guard in October, finding out that I was pregnant for a couple of days and then immediately suffering an early miscarriage.  I know that it wasn’t the right time for us, but there was certainly a huge part of me that got my hopes up.  It felt too good to be true for something in life to actually happen easily (instead of having to worry about trying to get pregnant and fertility issues).  Of course, it was not meant to be.

The past two weeks, I have felt more fatigued and I lose my breath easily from just doing regular amounts of physical activity. I came down with a cold, so I figured that was the reason that I was so exhausted. But the cold is gone, and I have not improved.  I push myself each day to keep up with my responsibilities, trying to hide the fact that I can barely get Ryan in and out of his car seat without feeling short of breath.  I have sharp pains in my chest, lungs, and in my left shoulder/collarbone.  I also experience hot flashes and heat intolerance, which are probably long-term side effects of chemo.

I went in to see my oncologist and had a bunch of different scans/tests done, but all have turned up inconclusive.  Next on the list is a PET scan, which will determine whether or not the cancer has returned.

I am sure that whatever is causing all of this is something minor.  Maybe it is just stress, anxiety, and/or depression.  I have never had depression before, but I certainly feel less motivated to be active and do a million things.  I am sure that this will just resolve itself on its own, and everything will go back to normal soon. 

I still plan on having a long, happy life with my wonderful husband, complete with our dream of having three children.  Many people have grand, elaborate dreams and goals for their lives, but for me, as long as I am alive and have my husband and children, I will be the luckiest person in the world.  I will be eternally thankful if I can only have that blessing.

But for now, I will schedule that PET scan and keep everyone posted on how it goes. 

I am preparing myself for the worst but expecting the best.  Please keep me in your prayers this week and next.

Update: The results of my PET scan came back clear, as in: no cancer!  I am extremely grateful because it feels like I have been given a second and now a third chance at life.  I have never felt so appreciative of every single moment the way that I do now.  Now that we have ruled out cancer recurrence, whatever has been causing these odd symptoms will be minor in comparison, so I am not too concerned about them anymore.  They might very well just be the long-term effects of chemo that I will simply have to deal with. 

I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by the most sincere, supportive people in my life, and I just want to let you all know how much I love and treasure you!  (You know who you are, amazing family and friends!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween 2012

We dressed up as Dorothy, the Lion, Tin Man, and Toto from The Wizard of Oz.

I love that we didn't spend much on costumes this year. We already had Ryan's lion costume that I found last year at an after-Halloween sale for 50% off. The weirdly short Dorothy dress was $15 on ebay. I already had the red shoes, wig, ribbons, and leggings. For Barry's costume, we just used plain old tin foil and duct tape for the shirt and hat. Since we waited until the last minute to even think about his costume, I didn't have time to make tin foil pants. We figured that it was more important that we made it out for trick-or-treating while it was still "little kids" time.

We got to celebrate Halloween in both Maryland and Florida this year. I took Ryan to a Halloween party with some mommy/toddler friends here, and he got to attend his Fall party at MDO. While in Florida, we stumbled upon a pirate-themed festival, a kiddie haunted house, and a pumpkin patch with palm trees. We also went trick-or-treating in Barry's parents' neighborhood. Ryan made it to less than ten houses before he tuckered out, but that was more than enough trick-or-treating for me.

Ryan had never actually tasted candy before that night, so we let him pick out whatever he wanted to try. He spit out his first bite of a Baby Ruth and managed to eat half of a Kit-Kat before becoming disinterested. Seriously, what kid doesn't like candy?!  We are not too concerned though, since he didn't like ice cream or cake the first time either, but now he loves them. And, of course, having a child that doesn't enjoy sweets wouldn't exactly be the worst thing in the world.

And so, that is how the best part of Ryan's Halloween night revolved around the excitement of lining up pieces of candy and pretending that they were cars. Funnnn.

Here are our Halloween costumes from past years, including Ryan dressed up as a spider, monster, and a cow. My mom was with us last year for Ryan's very first trick-or-treating experience and that is certainly a memory that I will treasure forever. We went in my parents' neighborhood, where I spent all of my own childhood years trick-or-treating. I am now tempted to dig up some old pictures of myself as a baby/toddler in Halloween costumes.

Did I mention that I just love dressing up?

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