Monday, November 23, 2015

When the Next Chapter Isn't Quite What You Expected

Just when you think you know what's coming next, life throws another curveball.  I figured it was about time to post an update here for those who hadn't heard my latest news.
While I expected my reconstruction surgery to be the finish line of this particular journey and closure to the story, it looks like that victory dance will have to wait just a little while longer while we write another chapter. 
Everything went well with the surgery itself (the new girls are lovely, thank you very much), but the plastic surgeon discovered a mass above the expander, so she biopsied a piece of it, hoping it was just scar tissue.  Long story short, the pathology report indicated it was cancerous, and I'm currently in Fresno, California for four to six weeks receiving integrated treatment.  I know: Definitely not where you expected me to be, right?!
Once I recovered from the initial shock and fear caused by the results, I got back into the business of researching my best options.  While Mexico clearly worked the first time and put me in remission, we must have been missing something for a recurrence to pop up.  I kept flashing back to the conversation I had with another of the integrated doctors with whom we'd spoken upon my initial diagnosis who focuses on cancer stem cells.  His practice is built around the fact that both conventional and integrated therapies can miss the stem cells, which are the originators of all cells and can continue to create cancerous daughter cells if not addressed.  This doctor, Dr. Nezami, combines conventional therapies with plant-based epigenetic stem cell treatments to achieve remarkable success for his patients, most of whom have complicated or advanced disease. 
As he explains it, it's all about retraining the stem cells to create healthy cells instead of cancer (they don't realize what they're creating is harmful - they truly are confused) and turning on and off the appropriate genetic switches to regulate cancer (epigenetics).  It's truly incredible stuff.  He is literally curing people who were told they had weeks or even days to live.
After meeting with all of the docs on my team and speaking again with Dr. Nezami about the stem cell therapy, I knew it was the right approach for me.  He conducts a number of tests that provide detailed genetic analysis, which allows him to be precisely targeted in his therapies and recommend which conventional tools will be most effective.  He also has extensive research that his treatment increases the effectiveness of conventional therapies, while removing the toxicity and side effects.  Double bonus!
Before I left for California and while we were still getting the diagnostic scans (CT, MRI and PET), I had two visits with Dr. Nemeh, a medical healer in Cleveland.  The man has been the instrument of countless miracles and otherwise unexplained healings.  And I was blessed to receive not one, but two honest-to-goodness healings.  As he prayed over me, the area around the affected breast got very warm and tingly, beyond the feeling of his hands hovering over that spot.  I know it was the Holy Spirit.  Dave was in the room with us and felt the heat too.  They were beautiful experiences and we left not knowing how exactly they would manifest but sure I received healings of some kind.

The amazing thing is that both the CT scan and MRI came back clear, where they should have shown the remainder of the mass left behind.  The oncologist seemed confused, but we knew exactly why.  Miracles!
Unfortunately, the PET scan came back with quite a bit of noise, which was more extensive than we expected.  Of course, PETs are very sensitive, though not specific, meaning they can pick up on cancer, but a lot of other things as well (the way it works is that they inject radioactive glucose to show which cells are taking it on more rapidly; cancer cells take on glucose quickly, but there are other reasons for increased glucose uptake, which I've experienced before via a false positive on a PET).
That said, I knew I needed to address this and felt strongly I was being guided to take advantage of the groundbreaking work Dr. Nezami is doing. So my mom and I set out for Fresno while Dave stayed home with our boy.
We thought we'd be out here for two weeks, but when we arrived, the doc expressed concern over the seriousness of what the PET showed and indicated that I'd need four-to-six weeks of daily treatment before he could be sure we'd stopped any spread and begun to reverse the issue.  Further, I'll require frequent return visits after the initial stay, though we won't know the frequency or duration until we see how quickly I respond to the therapy).  
It was a total shock at first and I was devastated to be away from my family for that long, but I knew it was necessary.  Fortunately, we were able to make plans for the boys to come visit us for a week over Thanksgiving, so this took the sting out of our extended stay and my homesickness.
Last week marked two weeks of treatment, and Dr. Nezami is already putting together fascinating pieces of the puzzle that have been missing.  I spend an hour in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber and receive 3-4 hours of customized IV drips each day.  I'm also seeing an oncologist with whom Dr. Nezami works for some of the conventional treatments I need, which includes hormone blocker therapy.  Best of all, we got great news from the initial test results they conducted before I began treatment. 
While certain breast cancer markers were elevated (no surprises), I don't have any circulating cancer cells in my blood, so there isn't a concern about metastasis to my organs (this is amazingly good news), several of the tests showed there is no active cancer growth, I don't have any inflammation, and my body isn't creating new blood vessels to feed cancer.  These are all great signs.  Dr. Nezami was thrilled with the results and I think almost surprised based on what showed up on the PET.  Again, I believe that the spiritual healings I received before coming out here helped put the brakes on things and kicked my body into gear to deal with this.
I definitely have my up and down moments with all of this (who wouldn't), but I sincerely believe I was led out here for a reason.  I know that I'll see great results and be back in remission for a lifetime of good health in short order.  Of course, it's going to take some time and quite a bit of resources to get there (poor Dave; I'm not a cheap date, haha), but I trust that everything will work itself out.  We've already been blessed with so much love, kindness and generosity and I'm just trying to take things one step - one day - at a time.

In the meantime, I'm focusing all of my efforts on my healing, talking to and encouraging my cells and doing everything I can to maintain the positive, upbeat attitude that has served me so well thus far.  I'll share more later about my treatments and the fascinating new things I'm learning out here, but for now, thank you for your continued support.  All of your prayers, positive energy and gifts of laughter are feeding my mind, body and spirit.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Welcome Letter to My New Set

As I head into reconstruction surgery tomorrow, I feel compelled to write a welcome missive to my new girls to set the stage for their arrival and let them know what they’re getting themselves into by joining my team.  This is admittedly a pretty weird thing to do, but hey, you’re talking to a girl who wrote a break up letter to her boob, so it stands to reason that the replacement pair should get fanfare of their own.

Of all of my surgeries, I am of course most excited about this one, as it represents the payoff for a lot of the not-so-fun parts of this journey.  While I’ve been very cool with the process and have long since adjusted to living “uneven," it will be nice to once again have a matching set and put the major pieces of reconstruction past me.  

Frankly, I’m ready to part ways with the expander, which I guess could be considered my “rebound” boob in relationship terms.  It served its purpose and made me feel whole again, but I knew from the beginning that we weren’t meant to be together for the long haul.  It’s time to move onto a more permanent and fulfilling relationship.

I’m confident the procedure will go well and plan to give my body all the recovery time it needs to regroup, which at this point is looking like two weeks off work and about six total to resume most of my usual activities (lifting, reaching, working out, etc.).  I know my strong, powerful body will heal beautifully and I’ll give it everything it needs to be successful.  Most importantly, I am immensely grateful for my continued great health and have every intention of staying that way.  

As with each step in this adventure, so much of my wellness is a credit to the love, prayers and support of family and friends.  We’ve once again been humbled by the outpouring of offers of love and help for this next surgery.  You people are so incredibly beautiful and we are truly blessed.

So, without further ado, here’s my little orientation letter to my new rack:

Well hello there, you fabulous girls.  Welcome!  Welcome home and welcome to the team!  You are simply awesome.  

I’ve been waiting to meet you for quite a while and I couldn’t be more excited to make your acquaintance.  On behalf of every cell in this healthy, happy, vibrant body of mine, let me just say we are thrilled to have you. You're just the perfect fit.

I recognize there may be a little “adjustment period” while we get settled, as is the case in any new relationship, but I know we’ll be in perfect sync in no time.  Frankly, you’re coming into this relationship at just the perfect time - I’ve never been in a better physical or mental place and your presence serves as an uplifting addition (pun intended) to the overall state of affairs.

For my part, I’m committed to making this relationship work and to giving you all of the support (hee hee) you might need.  And in return, I know you’ll uphold your part of the bargain.

So, on that note, let’s get this party started.  Here’s to a long and happy partnership!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Staying Fresh (Homemade Deodorant Recipe)

Over the past few months, several friends have asked what I use for deodorant now that I've gone non-toxic with my personal care regime. It just so happens that I made a new batch of homemade deodorant this weekend, so I thought I'd share my approach to "staying fresh" and the recipe. Just in time for summer, right?

As many of you know, I ditched the commercial antiperspirant once I learned that the active ingredients (namely aluminum and parabens) have been tied to breast cancer and other concerns. While I was committed to the change, I was exceedingly nervous that I'd immediately become the "smelly girl," and it was with much trepidation that I tossed the ol' Secret in the trash. But to my great surprise, after a just little experimentation, I found the solution to suit my body chemistry.

For me, using Tom's of Maine as my base, with my homemade deodorant stick as a top coat is the answer. Somehow, neither the Tom's nor the homemade version worked on their own for me, but together they are a dynamic duo. The result is a fresh-smelling Kelly. As an added bonus, I no longer have to worry about that nasty white residue from antiperspirant getting all over my clothes (seriously, that stuff was the WORST. That said, I do recommend waiting a few minutes before getting dressed after application of this to allow the oils in the mixture to absorb).

What I've learned from my limited consumer research (i.e. feedback from the few friends and family members I've coerced into trying this), is that it works great for some, not at all and for others, and can even work as a stand alone for certain folks. That's the thing about body chemistry: We're all different and what works for one person may be totally different for another.

So if this recipe doesn't work for you, I've included below several other natural deodorants we tested in our house (and please offer any other suggestions in the comments!). All of these pass the sniff test for me (get it?) as far as the ingredients.  

You may need to go through some trial and error to find the right fit for you, but if you give it a chance, I think you'll find it's possible to both stay dry and smell lovely, all without the damage caused by chemicals in antiperspirants.

One last note about making the switch to natural deodorants: For some reason, it took about a week for my pits to adjust to the new world order, so see if you can stick with it for about a week before deciding whether this method or any given brand work for you. You may find that day one is a little touch and go, but by day seven, you're as dry as the dessert. The trick to getting through that first week is to reapply often, as the coconut oil will help alleviate any odor that may have been generated.

Homemade Natural Deodorant Stick
(Makes enough to fill about six 1-2 oz. deodorant tubes; Adjust as necessary)

3/4 cup shea butter
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup beeswax
1/2 cup corn starch
2-3 probiotic capsules
Optional: 10 drops of lavender essential oil, 1 drop tea tree oil
6 empty deodorant tubes (you can use recycled and cleaned empty tubes or purchase new ones on Amazon).

A note about the ingredients: The coconut and tea tree oils have natural antibacterial properties. As you may recall from high school biology, it's not the sweat itself that causes the odor; it's the bacteria on your skin. By addressing the bad bacteria with the oils and encouraging the good with the probiotics, it's possible to stay fresh without actually blocking your sweat glands. This is also good because the sweat glands function as a method of detoxification, so you're still allowing your body to get rid of some of the toxins it's so diligently working to clean out for you.

Empty and clean deodorant sticks. Line bottom with a small amount of wax paper cut to fill opening, just to prevent any leakage (I trace the lip of the tube on the wax paper). Wind them down so you can fill all the way.

Melt shea butter, coconut oil and beeswax in a glass liquid measuring cup in the microwave in 30 sec. in increments until melted. Let cool for a couple of minutes. Then add corn starch and probiotics and essential oil(s) if using.

Pour into deodorant sticks and allow to set. You can put them in fridge for a little while to speed up the process. If you don't have empty deodorant sticks on hand, you can use a small round container lined with a muffin cup.

Note, you can also make this recipe without the beeswax and shea butter, which makes more of paste than a solid. In that case, melt the coconut oil and mix in the corn starch, probiotics and essential oils, if using. Pour it into a resealable bowl and use your fingers to apply.

Other Natural Deodorants We've Tried

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Very Own Pot of Gold

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Yes, I realize it's an Americanized holiday that's only celebrated by half of our country's population, and for mostly the wrong reasons (when everyone is "Irish for a day" some of the authenticity is surely lost).  But despite the reality that it's a religious holiday that was basically hijacked in part by the partying masses, I still LOVE St. Patrick's Day.  It's great to celebrate our Irish heritage and is just so FUN.

I'm a girl who's always appreciated a good parade and music that makes me move my feet, so St. Patty's Day in Cleveland has never disappointed. While I've outgrown the drunken debauchery that generally takes over the city every March 17, I'll admit there are a few traditions I still try to uphold every year:

1.  The Spectating of the Parade - Working downtown typically allows me the opportunity to sneak out over lunch to see the mounted police, bagpipers, giant wolf hounds and Irish dance troops march past.  Sadly, I missed this year's parade, but I'll be sure to check out the photos online.  They're always good for a laugh.

2.  The Dancing of a Jig -  I wish I could claim some traditional Irish "Lord of the Dance" moves, but oh boy, do I love me some good old fashioned Irish tunes.  How can you NOT want to dance a jig when the fiddle and the drums play?  I'm making the hubs take me out for a spin on the dance floor tonight, to be sure.

3. The Drinking of a Green Drink - In years past, I'd typically let myself indulge in one (or two) of my favorite green beverages: Green beer and a McDonald's shamrock shake.  Now that I'm older and a bit more health conscious, this year I'll be skipping the green beer and will take a pass on McDonald's frankenshake with all of its scary ingredients, but I'd be lying if they didn't both sound good to me right about now.

The good news is that I had a rare moment of genius today and created my very own minty shake that meets all of my healthy eating tenets.   Dare I say it's magically delicious?  Perhaps there was a wee leprechaun involved in my moment of inspiration?  In any case, I'm telling you, this shake is so good it was like finding my very own pot of gold! 

The recipe is below in case anyone is interested.  It's vegan, gluten free and kid-friendly, using only fruit as a sweetner so there's no guilt involved, with the added bonus of actually having hidden vegetables in it.

So whether you stay home tonight and enjoy a corned beef sandwich on your couch, go all-in at a local pub, or something in between, have a very Happy St. Patrick's Day!  May you find your very own pot of gold, whatever form it takes.


Kelly's Mean Green Shamrock Shake
(vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free, kid-friendly)

1 cup rice or almond milk (or milk of your choice)
1 frozen banana
handful frozen spinach and/or kale
1 tbs cashew butter (optional, but it did give it a nice flavor and consistency)
1/8 - 1/4 tsp peppermint extract (food grade), depending on how minty fresh you want your shake. A little goes a long way, so best to start small and add more if you like.
2-3 ice cubes

Directions:  Blend, baby, blend!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Surgery Was A Success

I don't think Dave has a future as a hair stylist, bless his heart, unless the 80's make a comeback. 

Just a quick update to share the good news that my surgery went well on Friday.  Dave and I stayed overnight at the hospital and I was discharged on Saturday.  I still can't get over how wonderful all of the nurses and caregivers were, both in the operating room and on the floor.  They took such good care of me that I almost didn't want to leave!

The first day was a little rough pain-wise, but it seems to be getting better each day.  It doesn't hurt that they sent me home with a few prescriptions to manage the discomfort, but I'm hoping to wean myself off them in the next few days. 

I still have a drain, but am crossing my fingers they'll be able to remove it by Thursday when I have my first follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon.  

The last few days have sort of run together, as I've been a little like a cat - dozing on and off for most of the time. This is, I'm sure, also thanks to the meds, but I'm not complaining.  It's not so bad hibernating in a warm cocoon while winter blasts outside.  We got a bunch of snow over the past two days, so I'm not itching to go anywhere, and it's nice resting up in my snowy treehouse bedroom. 

Thanks for all your continued love and prayers as I heal.  I think it's time for another catnap for me...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Surgery Has Been Rescheduled

I've spent the past few weeks gearing up for Friday's surgery to place the expander that begins the reconstruction process, coordinating logistics with work and getting our house in order.  So of course I just heard from the surgeon's office that they need to cancel all of her appointments this Friday.  

My surgery will now be Friday, Jan. 30.  While I was initially really bummed out, I've come to terms with it.  Ultimately, the original date was completely arbitrary anyway, and fortunately, it's not a life-and-death procedure.  I'll still have three weeks to recover at home with Netflix and some good books before returning to work, where they've been incredibly supportive of the entire process, and will hopefully be on track to complete the reconstruction surgeries before this summer (fingers crossed!).

Even better, this gives us a few additional weeks to prepare.  It also offers the opportunity to squeeze in a few of the fun things I won't be able to do while I recover, such as play tennis and take Charlie to the pool.

So thanks again to all who've offered your support and prayers.  We'll definitely take you up on them, but you now have a few weeks reprieve.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Girlfriend, You're Going to Be Just Fine

Today marks one year since I had the mammogram that confirmed I had cancer.  As the anniversary approached, I've been working to prepare myself to avoid falling back into the rabbit hole of the raw, terrifying emotions of that day and the entire diagnostic process.  For weeks I was in an almost paralytic state of fear of my own death, grief at the idea that Charlie would grow up without me - and might never remember me - and anger at the possibility that Dave would lose his wife at such a young age.

Fortunately, things got much less scary once I had settled upon my treatment plan and we had moved forward to get on with the healing process.  And here's the thing: While I've definitely had - and still do have - times when I am scared of a recurrence, for the most part, this past year has been incredible.  There has been so much love, enlightenment and growth in my journey that the time I spent riding the Fear Spiral rollercoaster was actually just a small percentage of what my overall life this year has looked like.

During the early days, what I really wanted to hear were two things:  1) Stories of similar survivors who were doing great years later and 2) Reassurance that I would join their ranks.  The beautiful thing is that one year later, I feel like I can give myself that gift, this time wrapped up in one package because I am now a survivor who is - and will continue to be - great, thank you very much.  

We went out with the fam. tonight to celebrate.  Life is good.

I wish I could have benefited from this knowledge as I faced the scariest bits a year ago, so I'm writing a letter to myself to do just that.  Here we go.

Dear Kels,

Yes, today was a bad day.  You received news that rocked your world and has shaken you to your very core.  Over the next few weeks there will be fear and sheer terror and a whole realm of unknown scary stuff dropped on your doorstep and you're going to feel like you're drowning and in need of a miracle.

But here's the thing:  It's all going to be OK.  YOU are going to be OK.  Better, even.  I thought you should know that I (we?) stand here a year later the healthiest I have ever been, with a strong positive prognosis and a heart full to bursting with love and gratitude for everyone who has showered us with so many loving gifts.  I want you to know this as you spiral down even further into despair.  You won't be at the bottom for very long.  You WILL be lifted back up with hope and love, and it will take much less longer than you expect.

Over the course of the coming days and year, you will uncover the following beautiful things:

Girlfriend, you are going to be just fine.  You will come out the other end of this changed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  You'll have found an incredible team of doctors to treat your little cellular dysfunction in a way that leverages your body's incredible ability to heal itself.  You will become empowered to play a role in this process on several levels and it will make you even stronger.  And there are a number people who are a whole lot smarter than you who have given you their best opinion that you have a long and healthy life ahead.  So that's the big one.

You're going to get the miracle you prayed for.  Actually, more than once.  It's going to keep happening over and over again and you'll realize how truly blessed you are when you start to see the little - and big - ones everywhere.  You are positively surrounded by miracles.

You are so loved.  Honey, this one's for real.  You already consider yourself blessed to have incredible family and friends, but your socks are going to be positively knocked off at the outpouring of kindness, prayers, love and support that will flow over you like a soothing wave this year.  You will rekindle old friendships, make new ones and expand the ones you already value so very much.  You will be showered with beautiful words and gestures, and people you don't know (yet) will lift you up in their hearts and prayers.  You will feel this love as acutely as if they are all giving you a great big hug (you'll get lots of those too, lucky girl).  This love is the secret sauce and you are going to sop it up on a biscuit.

You will be lifted up.   Over the course of this year, there will be lows for sure.  You'll have days where the Fear Spiral takes hold and you'll find yourself on a journey into a terrifying series of "what if's" and worst case scenarios.  Unfortunately, your tendency to act like a hypochondriac and jump to conclusions at every bump and lump is only going to get worse (though we can argue it played a very positive role in early detection and saved your life, so let's just embrace it, shall we?).  You'll have days when you question the decision to forgo certain treatment options and times when your confidence is shaken a little.  But somehow, someway, God is going to help you right the ship.  He's been with you this entire year, walking beside you, carrying you when you need it, hovering over your heart at all times.  Sometimes you'll feel the ship righting itself from within as you move from a state of panic and worry to one of calm and confidence.  That's Him helping you.  Other times, He'll send you someone - a loved one or a relative stranger (who won't stay that way for long) to lift you up.  He always knows what you need and will send you exactly the right thing at the right time, often in the form of someone wonderful offering a form of love, treatment, therapy or support.

You will find comfort and gifts in sharing your story.  You've always been a pretty open person, so it won't surprise you that you're going to be comfortable talking about your journey to anyone who asks.  What may surprise you is how often the simple act of your opening up will result in a gift from the person with whom you connect.  There are so many people who have taken similar paths, or know someone who has, and many of these folks will be open with their stories as well.  You'll learn from them, befriend them and share this journey of growth right along with some of them.

This is your new friend Michelle. She's a brave, beautiful warrior princess and your heart will be so happy to share the journey with her.

Despite being pretty bossy your whole life, this is the year you finally take charge.  We both know you've always been a little bit of a control freak, and that's probably part of why this diagnosis is freaking you out so very much. It's hard to feel in control when it seems your body has gone off the rails and you have so much fear about what's ahead.  But the crazy thing is that one of the best lessons you'll learn this year is to take charge of your health.  You will finally put aside the last of your rule-follower vestiges and become empowered to make your own important health decisions.  You'll figure out that you don't have to follow the advice of any particular expert and instead will learn the following important lessons through the wisdom of a number of incredible mentors: 

1. You need to create your own medical team.  They work for you.  Staff your team with smart people who feel like they belong there and are on your side.  Discard those who make you feel bad or bully you.  And don't worry, you're going to find yourself some amazing healers - conventional and integrative - who will be happy to accept the terms of your employment agreement and come along for the ride.

2. You have a right to a copy of every test result and medical record.  Always request copies and keep them on file.  Share them with multiple experts on your team.  However, please resist the urge to try to interpret them on your own. It's a surefire way to freak yourself out.  Those reports are always scarier without an expert there to help make sense of it. 

3.  Take each day and each decision one at a time.  Do your research, ask your trusted advisors and then get quiet and listen to your gut. Reevaluate where necessary, but don't look back.  There is a difference. It's amazing how confident this will make you in your choices.

4.  Welcome all the love people have to offer but none of the doubt.  The thing about people is they're all individuals and not everyone will react the same way to hearing about the path you're taking.  While you will be overwhelmed by an outpouring of love and support, there will be people who aren't going to agree with your decision.  It might be a doctor, a loved one, acquaintance or a stranger, and their comments might sting, but you'll come to see that their fear or doubt is always coming from a place of love, and is based on their own past experiences.  Try to acknowledge their feelings with grace and move on.  The goal is to absorb all of the love and let all of the doubt pass right over you.

 You're going to partake of the best healing buffet everOne of the incredible gifts of this journey is that you're going to give yourself permission to treat wellness and healing like an endless smorgasbord.  Acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and massage?  Bring 'em on!  Energy treatments?  Yes, please.  Medical and spiritual healers?  Sign me up.  Supplements, foods and activities that will fuel your body, mind and spirit?  You betcha.  The best part is you can't get full on this particular buffet, so just keep sampling the goods as they are presented.

You're going to leave one maraca in Mexico.  This sounds weirder than it is, so you'll have to trust me on this one.  You're going to be totally fine with it.

Even with only one boob, you've never been more beautiful.  As I write this, you have only one headlight.  It's been almost a year since the mastectomy, and while next Friday marks the surgery that begins the reconstruction process, you'd be surprised how comfortable you've gotten with being "uneven."  Yes, your love of fashion and MacGyver-like improvisation skills will equip you to come up with some solid life hacks to disguise your flat righty, but here's the thing:  Even without the camoflauge, you're still pretty freakin' amazing (also, you have an incredible husband who's going to tell you this every single morning when you wake up.  That man is straight up awesome).  

But regardless of what you hear or see in the mirror, you're going to cultivate a knowledge deep down that you are good and whole.  You've become more proactive about your health than ever and have made yourself accountable for what you're putting into your body and how you're treating it.  Because of all of this, you're starting to learn that it's not about how you look or what you weigh; it's how you feel.  And you feel great.  

So yes, we are totally going to rock our new set of maracas when this is all said and done, but just know that even in your lopsided state, you've got it going on, girl.  

In closing, please let me introduce you to yourself in a year:  

Love you,