What’s In Your…Backpack?

Just a quick note as I prepare for my next infusion…that alone is an assumption! There will be blood tests, spot checking, scans, and evaluations. It’s a time of mixed emotions; I always hope that I pass with flying colors and get the immunotherapy that may be saving my life, I also feel the anxiety of what might not be okay.

I’d really love comments from others on what you do when faced with challenges ahead. Do you take that nervous energy and just go out and have fun? Or do you take on a project to keep your mind and body busy, expending dark energy? Do you get lost in your worry?

And That’s Why It’s Called a Nervous “WRECK”!

A few days out from the process and it’s a rainy day. The beach walk I thought I’d squish in this morning was given a literal “rain check”. Travel bags are now packed, some small projects completed, and next up will be the cats! Wow, to the World Series but it also means no more Red Sox to keep me inspired. I prefer to have bills paid and administrative duties completed. Clean sheets are always a good thing. Diversion, good! Nervous? Hell, yes!DSC01632

All of this seems silly but in having things in order for now, I expend some tension. Doing that leaves more room for things I will need while at Dana Farber Cancer Institute; it’s my emotional backpack. We all have them and when cancer treatment is imminent,  it’s important to NOT fill my emotional backpack with negativity, nervousness, and worry.

Get Ready (by The Temptations)

Here’s a brief list of what I will put in my emotional backpack:

  • belief in a tomorrow
  • courage
  • hope
  • inspiration
  • integrity
  • love

Hokey as hell but in putting in positive feelings, there is less room for the emotions that drag one down. Sure, they are there (those scary thoughts), and yes, when I walk into the medical facility there is a pit in my stomach. Metastatic melanoma, stage III, is one deadly disease. I’m well versed in what I’m up against.

Choosing to bring all those positive emotions and desires with me gives me strength, strength to get through a long day.  I put a positive spin on something I never thought would be a part of my life; I believe that I’m part of something bigger and that satisfies my soul. Cancer research is imperative and clinical trials matter.

Balancing Act

Balance will be skewed on my medical day, no doubt. There is no way to discount the possibility of a questionable scan, bloodwork values, or other concerns. This is how those cancer cells are found, this is the chance we cancer patients have. Packing the positives in my emotional bag become the bulwark for whatever this trip brings.

Exhausting, the Yervoy infusion is only one part of the depleting feeling of cancer treatment. Finding your emotional infusion may take time, but look high and low; positive emotion may just be the reserve you need to pack. Take the time to discover what it is for you and how to pack it up for when you need it!

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Balance is a building process!

We all need to have emotional reserves for challenges in life. I’d love to hear what works for you. Please share in the comments as we all will benefit from learning what to pack in life’s emotional bag! What works for you?

We can-cervive!

Janis

#melanomatheskin #wecancervive #cancer #worldserieschamps #cancer #melanoma #TuesdayThoughts

Scary Masks

Radiation mask 2017
Radiation mask 2017

And Other Melanoma Frights

This blog idea has been a long time coming. There are hard parts with cancer treatment; there are parts that are nearly as tough as our mind makes them! It’s that balance idea and also, I’ve learned to not suppose, guess, or imagine how things will be.

This is written not to frighten, but to inform. It’s a brief description of my radiation experience in 2017. It’s taken some time to process this part of the healing. I’ve kept my mask in the basement, stumbling on it every now and then reminds me of how challenging this was and hopefully, how life saving it is. The pictures were taken the other day, just to show what the mask looks like. If you are considering radiation, remember each experience is unique. Ask me a question if you’d like!

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Words of encouragement found on my fridge magnet from Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Learning takes on many forms, and this treatment taught me that I don’t always know how I will react, that I am human, and that I am braver than I think. One piece of my metastatic melanoma treatment was radiation. After multiple excisions and healing, the time came for radiation. Conferring with radiation oncologists at Dana Farber, a local team was most sensible as treatment is Monday through Friday.

Mask Making

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As a Mom and librarian, I’ve always enjoyed projects with children and teens. Mask making was a favorite, whether paper mache or natural construction. I’d never really thought I’d have my own face sculpted, much less my own personal mask!

This took place at yet another location; the measurements, the warm towels, the casting of my mask. Precision and professional knowledge are key; the medical staff of two worked well together, and in no time at all the drape of some mesh, fishnet substance formed a likeness of me.

Well, not really. My mask fit me but there was little likeness to the flesh and bones person that was to wear it. The real me had another lesson ahead!

Lock Down

Mentioned earlier, there are parts of treatment that we cancer patients don’t quite anticipate. Questions are asked, caregivers take notes and listen hard, but no oncologist, medical person, counselors, or others are able to understand the human reaction, the emotional element. Humans are unique individuals!

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Claustrophobic tendencies are not me; I endure scans, MRIs, small closets, and tiny spaces with no concerns. On the first day with the local radiation team, more measurements were noted, the irradiation location exposed on the mask, and equations exchanged. No problem.

Turn of the Screw (by Henry James)

And then, while I lay on the platform they screwed my head to the table. I knew this was coming, I knew the process. Momentary, solitary panic only known to me ensued. Tense body parts, mind wondering how I could ever escape if need be, and a foreboding feeling in every inch of my body.

Fear was trying to drown me. to hold me down, so I pushed back with courage, the desire to heal, and hope beyond this damn radiation. The staff was professional, moving through their routines with more measurements, a warm blanket, and conversation to access my level of comfort.  What great acting I did! This was the greatest mask of a lifetime, the emotional one!

Radiation treatments to my left cheek continued for weeks, 5 times each week. A friend had mentioned that he had found waiting room comaraderie in his Boston radiation treatment; my more rural setting meant less of that, though two of us passed each other daily, bestowing sincere well wishes on each other, smiles robust with empathy.

That Healthy Glow

Ironically, my face, the same one that has had multiple melanoma excisions most likely do to sun damage, was brilliantly red after just a few treatments. This “hot spot” focused most of the controlled dose very specifically. My mask provided boundaries for the radiation staff, a way to zero in.

Risks are many when considering radiation. For me, the lack of alternatives meant this was the next step in my path to being disease free. Side effects vary depending on the course of radiation; each situation requires different radiation calculations.

Treatment left me exhausted as it has a cumulative effect. My face was, and still is, super sensitive to the sun. I also have dental trays made with my dentist. Radiation damages salivary glands which helps protect teeth so daily use of the trays with fluoride may protect my teeth. Hearing is questionable as something has changed in that regard.

Radiant, Just Like Wilbur!

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I’ve always been one to shy away from various drug solutions and to work through to a healthier me. Cancer is different and fights back with vengeance, learning new ways to work around medical treatment. This time I’ve chosen to try all options that make sense for my metastatic melanoma because I need to kick this thing called cancer.

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RADIANT!

Radiation treatment was trickier for me than any other part of this process and I surprised myself with the emotional challenge of being so helpless (and literally stuck!) while the immobility was essential to safe treatment. Each day, each moment I knew it to be the right decision. I learned that each of us reacts differently and that I’m stronger than I think!

Inspiration came when treatment was over, my body whooped, my face fried, and my grandson gave me a hug. Sometimes that is why we go through the scary stuff.  It’s really ALL about the hug!

#melanomatheskin #cancer #melanoma #FlashbackFriday #Halloween #maskmaking #scarystuff

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Harvesting the Three Sisters Garden

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Planting the Seed

This time of year we reap what we sow, right? Well, not always. Choosing to focus on gardens this year, I ambitiously planted seeds, a lot of seeds actually. Mostly started indoors, seedlings were everywhere. My husband found humor with corn growing in the living room, along with a plethora of other seedlings. Hey, that’s where the sun is most prevalent in our home! While I mask from the sun because of melanoma, life needs sun.

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The starting of garden ideas last January while poring over catalogs, morphed into purchasing Fedco seeds, and notes on what to plant when, which reminds me that I have yet to record the endgame of the garden. YIKES! This gardening thing is involved. Coming full-cycle, it’s time to consider successes, failures, and modifications.

Gardening is my thing, my husband the willing lifter and mover of that which this weak cancer body hasn’t the ommph to move. He easily accepts my need for help, though his favorite part of gardening is watching it grow! Greenery, life, and plentiful harvests remind both of us how beautiful life is, how simple things bring hope, inspiration, and balance; a meditation of sorts!

Nurturing the Sisters

One area of the garden was dedicated to the Three Sisters Garden, consisting of butternut squash, corn, and beans. The belief is that each of these plants sustain the others with needed nutrients. Additionally, the pole beans could grow up the corn stalks, the rambling squash could provide needed shade on scorching summer days. My sisters’ cancer deaths was the emotional piece driving me to create a nature garden honoring us!

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As one of three sisters (along with a wonderful brother), this was the year to try it. Everything  sounded so very easy. NOT! I had metza metz results and LOVE the concept of this type of garden. Throw in treatment, fatigue, weather, and suddenly, I have more than I realized to work on. What a great way to leave medical concerns behind. Somehow, win or lose, my soul was harvesting some sister love! The nuture was on, the experiment reminding me of my clinical trial. You win some, you lose some!

Harvest Moon

Corn was started in the house and did okay. I actually had it knee-high by the 4th of July. I grew bush green beans and Scarlett Runners to climb the corn stalks. The only trouble was the corn stopped growing! So we had tiny, inedible corn on short stalks that tipped over with the weight of the lofty Scarlett Runners! Winter squash did well though I still have many baby squash, too late to catch up to the larger, edible specimens.

Pondering the Three Sisters Garden, I know I watered faithfully, carrying buckets of water to the garden from the cistern. What I didn’t do was add much manure over the summer. The plants were close together and it seemed impossible to work anything into the soil. Wanna know what really worked with this garden? The idea of this:  the simple concept of creating something to remind me of the nurturing and love that will always carry on with The Three Sisters. What are you doing to satisfy your soul? I’d love to hear from you!

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Will I do this next year? That remains to be seen; perhaps a smaller garden ensues for 2019. But then, we did expand one area….and I’d love to see improved bounty… and the seed catalogs are coming out soon…

#melanomatheskinwerein #cancer  #melanoma  #threesistersgarden #garden #fedco #naturalskinrocks #sunsavvy365

We can-cer vive!

Janis

He Said, She Said; Finding Balance in a World of Words

This blog isn’t political though I have deeply strong thoughts about my government, the direction I’d like to see the country move, and the lack of integrity everywhere. Instead of talking about Kavanuagh or Ford and others in today’s hearing, I want to discuss language. The use of language in medical scenarios, such as melanoma cancer as described my Mayo Clinic.

Cold Calling

Health information is critical to making sense of a frightening diagnosis, mine was a second cancer diagnosis in 2017. The first time the biopsy came back positive for melanoma, my dermatologist left a terrifying message on my phone, the second time the same. I appreciated knowing up front that I have metastatic melanoma, and each time returned his call for more details.

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It’s what I describe as a cold call, learning that something is seriously wrong but needing to call to find out the details. Somehow, it would be more fitting to do this in person, but keep in mind time is of the essence when fighting cancer. After each of these calls, life went in to hyper-mode to learn what was next. The power of words, right?

Words can be critical to how we feel, our perspective on healing, and where we find our hope and courage. I want to hear what words have brought challenge to your life, what words have brought joy? Something as simple as clean scans are ginormous in a cancer patient’s life.

Them’s Fightin’ Words

Medically speaking, I’ve had some curiously frustrating situations. For example, in talking to my first local oncologist when I felt my cancer was back, she told me not to overreact. My local dermatologist made an illustration of how my excision was done and described the healing process. Unfortunately, I believed what they said, there words the gospel of medical belief.

cancer tablet

Except I pushed for a biopsy, except something felt wrong, except I needed to believe in myself because metastatic melanoma was in another area of my face. No blame as these medical professionals felt they were right, but jeez the time lost while I am feeling the he said she said of medical mistakes. Meanwhile, time had gone by….

My Hearing – No, I’m Not Up for SCOTUS!

Working with Dana Farber has been an incredible experience, the level of knowledge, the cancer research done there, and the integrity of the staff is amazing. Though my local radiation doctor didn’t feel I would have hearing loss, one of my Dana Farber oncologists, said it was very probable. Another he said, she said…I am going with what I know: my hearing is poor, I no longer have ear wax (just what you needed to know, right?),  and my left ear just feels different.

Sorry to complain, it’s not my point here at all. This writing is really a reminder to the collective we. We know our bodies, our minds, our spirits. Believe in yourself and find your inspiration. Balance is critical to our healing from disease; accurate information is essential and professional staff builds confidence.

Doctor, Doctor Give Me the News (Robert Palmer)

In August, I had a CT scan at Dana Farber that found a questionable area, and the minute I went in to see the best skin cancer oncologist ever (okay, I may be prejudiced!), he greeted my and immediately disclosed his concerns. He also let me know it was not melanoma, and that this was not his area of knowledge.

It turned out to be nothing of concern, but how reassuring to have my oncologist explain what they saw, what needed to happen, and admit that he was not the doctor for this concern. That’s integrity of words, using language to tell what is known, and what direction my medical challenges need to go.

There is no fake news and real news, no he said she said in the medical world. Find your best possible information and staff, and move toward your medical reality confident in the integrity of what is known at this point. I only wish that we could use the words integrity and government in the same phrase…that would be language I’d be hearing!

water and words

#hesaidshesaid    #melanomatheskin   #cancer   #melanoma #naturalskinrocks #medical integrity #danafarber  #scotus

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

“Garden as Though…

You Will Live Forever”-William Kent

Wow! Where did that week go? My intent to write twice each week has been lost this week. Reminds me of  the lyrics to My Poor Meatball “that rolled right out the door”! I meant to write, I intended to write, and it all slipped out of my hands and right out the door!

Gardening is one of my passions. This year, with the clinical trial for recurring melanoma, I chose to focus on healing, well-being, gardening, and finding balance within the cancer life. The middle of last week found me starting to disassemble my garden beds…bittersweet, for sure.

“If you have a garden…

and a library, you have everything you need”- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Veggies are growing, the Three Sister Garden has had some success and some failure (I’ll talk about this in another post), and my glorious sunflowers are now bending and bowing with the weight of shorter days. Fatigue gets the best of me so my dreams of preserving, drying flowers, saving seeds, and more are not realistic. Healing comes in the form of watching and nurturing the garden, the self.

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Wonder and wonderful beyond words for me this past weekend was the visit from three very dear librarian friends. Adrenaline got me through the basic preparation for this easy gang. Because of the incredible dynamic among this former work team, each of us jumped in and as always, things went as smooth as butter (with lobster, of course)!

Dancing to the Salsa

Tomato season is here, right? I have a lot of sweet cherry tomatoes. Company brought some of the most amazing, BIG tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc. Conversation rambled about fresh salsa ingredients, issues in the world, food choices, mutual friends, healthy diet ideas, and books, so much so that I need to make a list with the titles reviewed. I’ll be sure to share it!

full frame shot of red tomatoes

Amazing Vermont produce, two seaside dinners, and chocolate humus were just the side dishes for me. Nourishment of the soul came around those meals. Laughter, love, and life made our time replete. Sated by friendship, deep and strong, I will remember to carry this soul-fullness on more challenging melanoma treatment days. #melanomatheskinwerein #cancer #laughteristhebestmedicine  #melanoma #naturalskinrocks  #thankyouforbeingyou

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

 

Heroes Among Us

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An American Hero

 

With the passing of John McCain, many of us are reminded of the fragility of life and the opportunity we have while living. Disconnected politically, I admired McCain for his service to the United States, for his integrity of character, and for his clear, well defined opinions. He was a fighter and we cancer patients and caregivers know about that.

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“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” 

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.” 

I could talk about his melanoma or his glioblastoma. I could talk about his side of the isle versus the one I favor, I could say how meaningful his thumbs down was on the Senate floor in an effort to span party lines and vote to keep the Affordable Care Act that so many Americans need.

All of it matters, his list of accomplishments extensive. Inspiration comes to us in snippets of life, people, and example. Disease is an equalizer and McCain taught us to live each moment to the best, to carry our courage close by, and to find the strength to carry on.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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We lost Aretha Franklin recently as well. Not one to follow the celebrity life and finding it caustic for the most part, I admire those in the limelight who are exceptionally talented, use their status to work toward the common good, and have integrity of character. Hmmm….integrity really is key to a life well lived!

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“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

“Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.”

“Sometimes, what you’re looking for is already there.”

Lover of life, lover of people, we lost Aretha to pancreatic cancer. I consider her a hero as she was far more than the Queen of Soul. Aretha fought many personal challenges, aided in the promotion of civil and women’s rights, and had the courage to hold her head high. She taught us what respect truly means.

If You Could Spend an Hour with One Person

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Who would that be? Ben Franklin comes to mind (though I’ve others such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Indira Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Virginia Woolf, Dalai Lama, Vincent Van Gogh, Martin Luther King, Stephen Hawking…).

Ben Franklin, a founding Father and inventor, was also a man of his word, literally. He wrote often and started a “lending library” in 1731. I find his integrity of character to include: being a person of action, in service to his country, and peppered with great wit and humor. He taught us to be true to ourselves, to be real.

“What you seem to be, be really.”

“Wish not so much to live long as to live well.”

Who are your heroes?  Be sure to write your comments so we can continue this conversation. My deepest feeling on this is that the hero need not be historically great, in the limelight, or a modern day patriot. Integrity is the commonality; the hero is in each of us, ready to teach.

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You Are My Hero

Unsung heroes are around us. It’s the Mom walking her hairless child through Dana Farber heading for the next treatment. It’s the cancer patient learning that the disease is terminal. Or maybe, it’s that person pushing through the next cycle of cancer uncertainty in hope of more time, another moment to enjoy life. Cancer examples, yet each of us has our own example in life, in integrity. Look at the person beside you; we all wear capes!

We’re in this thing called life together. Perhaps our hero life is small, perhaps it’s a kind gesture, a smile, a hug. Perhaps you make a positive difference today. Perhaps you model the character of integrity…

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“Do you love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”          Ben Franklin

#melanomatheskin #cancer #hero #wecan-cervive #naturalskinrocks #melanoma #Thursdaythoughts #respect

We can-cer vive!

Janis

Genre, Cancer, and Book Bullying

Building the reading list!

Listing

What do you read? With company visiting, this is a common conversation in our home and one that always fascinates me. Titles, electronic or hard copy, are shared. Favorite library tales are discussed and everyone returns home with new lists, fodder in consideration of future reads, not all will be read but all will be considered.

Easy reader!

Hammock Reading

We are readers, my husband and I, with rare common ground. He sometimes enjoys light reading, and Robert Parker is his favorite mindless read when looking for something comfortable and non-strenuous. He tackles other things but loves a-re-read of Parker, The Ancient Child, All the President’s Men, and others. He is voracious, I dive deep into well worded writing. One we both enjoyed and have talked about at length is A Gentleman in Moscow.

As a librarian with a huge focus on family literacy, I am passionate about picture books and will always bring home a stack from my local library. I also love children’s chapter books that I can share with my grand-girl. I find this to be an enjoyable escape from the drama of being a cancer patient and the uncertainty that melanoma brings to the mind. This is my complete area of comfort, my hammock in the library world.

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In working with young adults, I learned to love certain authors; currently I am reading Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone; this title has shown itself in multiple reviews and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show chose it for a summer read. Well, technically, it is the finalist of a handful suggested. With his promotion of reading and libraries, I knew it was a book to read now!

Library lover!

Reading In And Out Of The Zone

I’m out of my element with this book as I’m not a fantasy fan. It’s an allegory of the black experience, gods of color, and the belief of magic. I love it and highly recommend it! This is definitely a series in the making with movies to follow. Check out this interview with Tomi Adeyemi and I’m also loving that she encourages young writers. Thank you, Jimmy Fallon for this suggestion. Sometimes, it’s great to read out of our comfort zone.

So why blog about this and how does it relate to cancer? Reading takes on all forms; an engineer friend who reads technical matter, a non-fiction lover like me, or a light summer read that everyone loves. It’s all GOOD! Reading Matters! Recently, when getting scans at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I asked a technician what she was reading. She joked and said she reads scans. We all have our focus and I’m grateful for that expertise. With an area in question on the CT this time, medical and professional reading is critical.

Awareness of discoveries, studies and clinical trials, and pertinent health information leads me to books and the latest in the field of cancer. AACR medical journal articles editor picks relating current cancer studies involving prostrate, breast, lymphoma, and other cancers are weighty reads, at best. For me, it’s an attempt to understand that which is not understood.

Beyond the Fantasy

But then, aren’t we all waiting for the cure; the magic beyond the fantasy, the scientific moment when healing takes place, when pain is replaced with hope, when that one child is given the reward of life for all his or her courage and efforts to be well. Cancer research is not a facile path, nor is the documentation. Reading snippets works for me; I leave the serious understanding to medical professionals!

Reading Matters!

Skip judgement and don’t be a book bully. People read for many different reasons. Escape/fantasy seems to bring more balance to me right now though next up is a non-fiction book I’ve been wanting to read by Tara Westover, Educated, another New York Times bestseller. So tell me, what are you reading and where do you find your inspiration? I’d love to add it to my list! #melanonatheskin #cancer #melanoma #bookreviews #readingmatters  #Tuesdaythoughts #whatareyoureading #librarylover #naturalskinrocks #wecan-cervive

We can-cer vive!

Janis