Accepting Support

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The overwhelming amount of love and support that started coming my way was incredible. I never realized I knew so many people and amazing ones at that. It was very difficult for me to accept help in the beginning. I wanted to keep doing everything for myself and didn’t like the thought of having to ask for help. When I look back now I probably should have let more people help when the offer was there. For me I felt a sense of normalcy to be able to continue with the day-to-day routine. Even though there were many times I couldn’t cook dinner or do the laundry or go out with friends or take care of my son. I can never thank or repay the people who helped me on a daily basis. I was extremely lucky to have my parents and my husband really step up and show the most incredible amount of hands on support. Without them I would have been lost. The amount of generosity that came my way was amazing. I still look through all my cards and messages from time to time especially when I am having a bad day. It was so uplifting that I know all the positive energy and well wishes coming my way added to the ease of my recovery. So a huge thank you to all those who sent cards, messages, texts, flowers, gifts, love and prayers. You will never know how much you helped me and how much I appreciate each and every one of you.

Luckily my insurance covered pretty much all the costs of my treatment. I did have the additional costs of co pays for meds /surgery and parking at the hospital but it was very minimal in the grand scheme of things. I know there are many foundations that offer amazing financial support. There are also fundraising sites that you can use to help assist in the financial burden a diagnosis like this can lead to. Below are a few links to some very helpful organizations that might be of some financial assistance.

A few very helpful online fundraising sites:

http://www.gofundme.com

http://www.giveforward.com/p/financial-assistance-for-cancer-patients

Financial Resources for People Living with Cancer

http://ww5.komen.org/breastcancer/financialresources.html

Information on lodging when having to travel to treatment and how you can also get rides to and from treatment:

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/supportprogramsservices/index

More sources for financial assistance:

http://www.cancercare.org/publications/62-sources_of_financial_assistance

This site can help organize meals to be sent to someone in need.

http://www.mealtrain.com

Keeping the Faith

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I was very lucky to have so many prayers coming my way during treatment and even still today. I had many religious icons, oils and holy waters to keep me safe. I know religion isn’t for everyone but whatever you believe in I do know you have to think that the power of believing in something can help. I remember being with my mother in law and husband at church a few days after my diagnosis and after the service we asked the priest to do a special blessing. He brought me up to the alter read a prayer and then leaned in and said, “my wife had breast cancer and that was 10 years ago, she is well and healthy now.” (Side Note: This was at a Greek Orthodox church, priest are allowed to marry and have children.) He said you are stronger than you think and God will protect you. Believing in things much bigger than myself helped me get through some pretty tough moments. I remember really praying almost every night when I would lie down in bed. I don’t consider myself a super religious person but having faith really helped and encouraged me to believe that everything would be okay regardless of the outcome.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is not think, not wonder, not imagine, not obsess, just breathe & have faith that everything will work out for the best.

Lowered Immunity and Preventing Infections

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Because chemo compromises your immune system I had blood work done every week. Each week they would check a long list of things in my blood to make sure everything looked good, especially my RBC and WBC counts. Dr. Tolaney advised me of a few things I didn’t even think about during chemo. Everything she told me I took very seriously and these might be a few points to discuss with your doctor as well.

  • No manicures or pedicures at a salon due to the risk of infection.
  •  Do not have routine dental cleanings and use a soft bristled toothbrush. Because of all the bacteria in your mouth a routine cleaning could increase your risk for infection.
  •  Do not schedule any routine gynecologist exams.

*Of course if you are having a problem in any of these departments make your oncologist aware of the situations so he or she can be in close communication with these other doctors if something has to be treated.

*This was the advice of my doctor and you should always consult your own doctors medical advice. I thought these were a few good tips that you might not be aware of and you can discuss with your own health care professionals.*

Who Says you Can’t Still be Glamorous?

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When you completely lose all your hair, especially a female, it is very noticeable. I remember getting many stares from people. Sometimes they were sympathy stares as you could tell by their eyes and awkward smile they were thinking, oh that poor girl with cancer. You would also get the curious stares as if they are thinking, did that girl shave her head on purpose? So when I came across the quote from the collage above I though to myself how perfect and true. All of the photos in the collage above were taken when I had absolutely NO hair at all. I was on a mission to figure out how to fake the perfect brow and lash and do it on a budget. Most of the time people couldn’t believe how good I looked. I think the perception of having cancer leads people to believe that you will look sick and washed out. For me the right makeup really made a world of difference.  So below I share my favorite tips and links to some really great videos!

I attended the Look Good Feel Better program about 8 weeks into my chemo treatments. This program holds free workshops that teach beauty techniques to female cancer patients to help them combat the appearance related side effects of cancer treatment. It is a step-by-step makeover learning sessions led by cosmetology professionals using products donated by the cosmetic industry. The workshop includes a skin care and makeup lesson; nail care techniques, and professional advice on how to deal with hair loss using wigs, scarves, and hats. Not to mention you get a huge bag of brand new makeup to take home. I highly recommend it to anyone going through treatment. To find a program in your area I have included the program link:

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http://lookgoodfeelbetter.org

When I lost my hair I thought okay I can fix this with a wig, hat or scarf but when I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes that was difficult. It was hard at times to look in the mirror and see no hair at all. I think it is the side effect that makes you “look” sick even though you physically still feel fine. I love makeup so I was on a mission to figure out how I could “fake” my lashes and brows to make them look real.

I found these videos so extremely helpful when I lost my facial hair. Some people do not lose their eyebrows and lashes but if it does happen these videos and this girls blog might be of some interest. I know their are amazing salons that do the lash applications but it can be very expensive and the budget of a stay at home Mom didn’t allow it. So if you want to try it yourself from time to time its kind of fun. I love doing makeup so this part I had fun researching. I came across this amazing blog by a girl named Carly that has alopecia. First I thought to myself wow I should consider myself lucky as I will only have to experience the hair loss for a short time while this girl will experience it her whole life. (Again, putting everything into perspective.) The tricks she shows in the video are super helpful. Watching her video gave me hope that I could look normal on the days that I felt like an alien. It’s a bit surreal staring at yourself in the mirror completely bald and hairless. I seriously would think I look like an alien or a character from some sci-fi movie.  After teaching myself the tricks of the trade I felt good again and honestly l loved my falsies… I still wear them from time to time.. They just make your eyes POP!

Helpful Links:

Here is her blog!

http://eyelineher.blogspot.com

And the top three videos I learned so much from.

1. Applying Brows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4lajZWeEyE

2. Applying Eyelashes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMBmS-v-w5

3. Bottom Lashes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEX1uibBJUM

The false lash brand I used the most is Ardell you can get them at any pharmacy or ULTA beauty sells them too.  Sometimes I would do individual ones but the strip lashes are easier to apply.

http://www.ardelllashes.com/lashes/styles/natural

Here is a link to Ulta Beauty and all the Ardell lashes they have:

http://www.ulta.com/ulta/a/_/Ntt-ardell/Nty-1?Dy=1&ciSelector=searchResults

Chemo Sucks, but if it Sucks the Cancer Right Out Then so Be It

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I felt extremely fortunate my body tolerated Taxol /Herceptin chemo so well. I took every piece of advice my doctor gave me. She said if you can keep up with exercise then keep on running. So I did, I went for runs throughout my treatment. I would do a 5K here and there and when I couldn’t do that I would go for walks. Of course there were days that I was so completely exhausted.  Usually the 2 days following treatments and especially the day after, would be most difficult. I listened to my body and when I needed to sleep I did.  I was afraid that I would be getting sick all the time and not be able to take care of Charlie but it was pretty much the opposite. Thankfully I had all hands on deck for the few days after treatment to help me get back on my feet and back to feeling normal. My parents and my husband were an amazing support system that really saved me when I wasn’t feeling well. Although I had an incredible amount of support around me I tried to do most of the day-to-day things myself. I think it helped me feel normal to be able to keep my regular routine. Keeping very hydrated and eating healthy also led to my recovery each week.

Thankfully to the advances in cancer medications the anti nausea meds worked wonders. Different meds work for different chemo’s as I remember the A/C treatments needing a very different drug to control the nausea. There are many integrative therapies, such as acupuncture; massage, yoga and reiki that might help fight nausea and other side effects during treatment. I included a few links about anti nausea medication and integrative therapies that might be of some help.

During Taxol chemotherapy my doctor prescribed:

Decadron: a steroid for allergic reactions

Compazine: for nausea control

Here is a link from the American Cancer society on the medications used to prevent nausea and vomiting during treatment.

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/nauseaandvomiting/nauseaandvomiting/nausea-and-vomiting-drugs

Here is a link to Managing Symptoms During Chemotherapy:

http://www.dana-farber.org/Health-Library/Managing-Symptoms-during-Chemotherapy-Treatment.aspx

Here is a link to find out more about integrative therapies:

http://www.dana-farber.org/Adult-Care/Treatment-and-Support/Patient-and-Family-Support/Zakim-Center-for-Integrative-Therapies.aspx#Available_Therapies

She Wears Many Hats

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I did wear my wig from time to time but my treatments were right in the middle of the summer and it was a very HOT summer. Wearing a wig in the summer is like wearing a winter hat. So imagine wearing that winter hat around when its 95 degrees outside! (A hint if you need to wear your wig in the heat: take baby wipes and put them in the freezer, pop one under your wig when you have to go out somewhere and it will keep you nice and cool). When it was too hot or I simply didn’t want to wear my wig I put on one of my many hats. I have always loved wearing hats so for me it was an easy transition. I always hear people saying I’m not really a hat person, but honestly you don’t know until you try and it can be a super stylish accessory. My hat collection grew and grew throughout my treatment and I plan on wearing them even when my hair grows back.

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Some of my favorite places to shop for hats:

Anne Taylor LOFT

TJMaxx and Marshalls

Macy’s

Forever21

If you’re not into the hats I know that scarves are also a good alternative to the wig. There are so many beautiful scarves out there that you could literally match one to every outfit!

Below is a link I found useful on tying a headscarf:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaPNix3z-Aw

Good bye Hair, Hello Bald

Here is a video of me shaving my head. It was about 8 weeks into my Taxol / Herceptin chemo treatments that I decided to pull the trigger. My hair was really thinning at this point and I joked with everyone saying it was like having a dog in the house with all the hairs everywhere. I was afraid I would clog the shower drain. So the time had come and I felt ready as I would ever be to go for it. As scary as it seems it was really not bad at all. I just kept saying to myself its only hair and it will grow back. This was a temporary situation that would lead me on a path back to good health so it was all worth it. I hope seeing this video gives others the strength and courage to go for it. Who says bald can’t be beautiful? Salon 10 helped me pick out a fantastic wig and shave my head when I was ready. Patricia the owner is amazing and helped me more than she will ever know. http://www.salonat10newbury.com/hairreplacement/home