I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2013 and attended my first BB! support gathering in February. By the time March rolled around, I learned about the 2014 Annual Boober! Retreat to be held in May. I was hesitant to register, but my new support gathering friends assured me it would be an experience I would not forget.
I showed up at the Island Hopper house, renamed “Fantasy Island” for the weekend on May 2nd. I was three and a half weeks post TRAM reconstruction surgery. I only knew one person in my house upon arriving, but when I left on Sunday, I had a family of Boober! sisters. Everyone I was blessed to meet, greeted me with a warm smile and a hug. We were strangers before the weekend, but we had the bond of breast cancer. The sisterhood was instantaneous.
If I could describe my retreat weekend experience in one word, it would be “therapeutic.” Ever since my surgeries, I have struggled – would my body and life would ever feel normal again? This retreat surrounded me with so many strong and encouraging women who provided me with so much love. I met women who were newly diagnosed like me, some who were going through chemo, some who had the same reconstruction surgery as me, and some women who were two to five years post treatment and beyond. I learned that even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it WILL be okay on the other side of the hard times. This was a game changer for me. I met other women who have walked the path that I am on, and though all of our journeys are different, the core is the same. Survival. Fight. Win. Love. Live life to the fullest. It was a true display of our motto to “Live life with an exclamation point! not a period.” I am so glad that I went!
With love, Christy Birgen
Young Survivor’s Conference Provides Fresh Perspective for Beyond Boobs! Volunteer
I recently had the pleasure of accompanying staff, volunteers, and members of Beyond Boobs! to the Young Survivor’s Conference in Orlando, and what an eye-opener it was! I’ve been a BB! volunteer for just over a year, and while I could talk and write about BB! convincingly, I can now feel its very heartbeat. That’s because this was my first opportunity to spend time with the young women who attend the support groups and benefit from the fun outings. Seeing is believing.
During the three-day conference, the 40+ members of the BB! brigade visited the 50 or so exhibitor booths representing breast cancer organizations, health advocates, and more that were showcasing the latest products and up-to-date information about breast cancer. Fun stuff, from henna tattoos to makeovers, and belly dancing to modern dancing made the event as much a social event as it was a conference about a very serious topic. The BB! booth was a hubbub of activity, lovingly staffed by Vicki, Celia, and a rotating band of boobers who charmed passersby into stopping for a chat.
Informative seminar topics included: breast reconstruction, integrative medicine, metastatic breast cancer, and genetics. Discussion groups tackled triple-negative breast cancer, mortality, weight, family planning, and lymphedema.
The emotional aspects of breast cancer were also addressed, including sex and intimacy, talking to children about cancer, caregiving, survivor’s guilt, relationships, living with metastatic breast cancer, dating, and advocacy. BB! will be sharing much of this information in the months to come.
And then there was BB!’s very own, “Surviving Survivorship: Living Life with an Exclamation Point!” Presenting to a packed room, Rene and Mary Beth skillfully led their audience on a potentially hazardous road trip that, as it turns out, goes a bit more smoothly when you’re packing the right tools. The ladies had ‘em on their feet more than once during their interactive talk. Among the highlights was Rene’s striptease, during which she morphed from her serious black lawyerly suit into the glittery pink Good Health Fairy, complete with wand, tiara, and high-top sneakers. Energized fans exited in a wave of bubbles blown by strategically placed boobers. It would not be overstating to say they totally rocked the house! Did someone say, “Encore! Encore!?”
Throughout the conference, I observed the genuine love these women have for each other, along with a deeper appreciation for BB! and all it represents. The emotional connection – bonding, learning, growing, letting loose – was the living proof of the BB! tagline, “living life with an exclamation point (!).”
I shared the 13-hour road trip back home with Rene and Mary Beth and now I know something else, too. They never stop. It’s all systems go, all the time. Even as we made our way north, they continued to focus on their work, although “work” is probably the wrong word. It’s truly a labor of love.
I’m a survivor, a boober, but my breast cancer occurred at age 51, and my experiences were somewhat different than that of a woman in her 20s, 30s, or even her 40s. Now, when I do my bit as a volunteer, it will be with a fresh perspective. It did my heart good to watch the women of BB! take care of each other. Each of them has the strength of a family/team behind them. No matter what happens, the group has their back. They need never feel alone.
Young women need what BB! provides – not only the support system, but the fun that can so easily be dismissed while dealing with cancer. I’m grateful to BB! for allowing me to play a small part in its mission.
Breast Cancer between the hours of midnight and 7 AM….
by Shawn Huddy
Any of us who have heard the phrase, “I’m sorry to tell you that it’s cancer,” know that feeling when time and sound come to a complete stop. When the silence in our own heads becomes a struggle to tolerate. And all the movement around us, within our line of vision, is jerky and slow. That single moment, we all remember it, when reason and sanity temporarily leave our body.
The First Wave
The next motion, for me, in that horribly vivid chain of events, is tattooed on my brain. It was with a shaky hand that I grabbed my phone and with a shaky finger began to dial numbers that I had memorized. No searching through my contact list. I had to physically press each number, feel the keys, hear the beeps through my phone speaker. I was calling those closest in my circle, and delivering the news with a shaky voice, because I needed someplace to go, to be with people and fall apart.
That night with those people who love me was critical. It was with those who love me that I was able to express how frightened I was. To vocalize my desire to live – or rather, my aspiration NOT to die. My insistence that my daughter KNOW me, and NOT from stories that other people tell her about me, either. And that I get to watch her grow up and participate in the goal of raising her to be well-rounded, respectful, smart, compassionate, funny, and loved. I told Cancer to be damned – it wasn’t claiming me.
I cried a lot that night. I asked a lot of questions of people who had no way of answering them or easing my fears. But I was still in the company of loved ones. I knew I wasn’t in this battle alone. That felt so reassuring. So warm. I stayed that night with family. With the emotional safety blanket wrapped tightly around me.
The next day, when I knew I had to go home, I assured my family and friends that I was fine, fine. FINE. Not to worry. I would call if I felt like I needed to. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep in my own bed. Get a good night’s sleep and have a clearer picture of things. A better attitude, perhaps. With a deep breath and phony smile, I got into my car and headed home.
Have you ever traveled to a familiar place, lost in thought, when you suddenly realize, and well into your journey, that you have no recollection of the trip thus far? Well, that was my drive home. I was close to my street when I even remembered what I was doing or where my intended destination was. On that drive I wasn’t driving – I was itemizing my belongings in my head for the attorney, visualizing the attendees at my funeral, imagining my little girl shopping and laughing with her “new” Mom and forgetting about me. I was trying to choose friends to be in charge of educating her about me. I knew her Dad wouldn’t do much, as he and I were going through a nasty break up. I figured my eventual demise would bring him freedom and happiness. In short – my mind traveled to very dark and depressing places and conjured up very upsetting images and thoughts.
I walked in through the front door as if my home was foreign to me. I was afraid of the dark all over again, like I was as a child. I went through the house, just turning on the lights and staring. I don’t know what I was seeing. Not sure of my purpose. But everything I looked at seemed to represent this daunting chore or responsibility and I became overwhelmed. How will I maintain my home, care for my daughter and pets, manage a full time job, and keep up with friends and family. HOW??
Alone in the Midnight Hour
I walked into my room and the bed looked unwelcoming to me. How will I ever sleep again if my mind keeps putting me in the worst possible of scenarios? Sleep wasn’t coming. Not that night. Not the next. And when it did come, it was restless and filled with crazy body temperature fluctuations and bad dreams.
After a few nights with virtually no sleep, I had to shake hands with my new best friend — the Graveyard Shift. Yep – the two of us, we go waaaayyyy back. We shared a lot of late nights together…watching TV, reading books, organizing and re-organizing my sock drawer…all to try to fall asleep. Lots of boxes of Kleenex went by way of the graveyard shift, too. The moment I’d get into my bed and close my eyes, I’d start to forge into scary and upsetting thoughts. I’d question the validity and benefit of the medical tests and treatments I’d had, I’d question my physicians, and even my Maker. Why me? Wasn’t I a pretty good gal? I was kind. I paid it forward. I appreciate the beauty in everyone. I find silver linings. I volunteer. I help others. WTF???
Something happens to you when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer (or any potentially terminal illness or disease). You carry on as best you can through the day. You can usually find a slice of the day to smile and laugh. To hug and hold the hand of a caregiver. To appreciate what you do have. To feel grateful for the chance to fight the illness or disease with the help of professionals and family and friends. The sun on our faces helps create an optimism about our prognosis.
All of that changes when we crawl into bed with the intention of letting go of the day’s worries and ordeals in order to slip off into restful slumber. Doesn’t happen. Our mind and worry and fear just won’t let us let go. Won’t let our heart stop beating at an accelerated pace. Won’t stop the sweating palms. It’s the medical version of Freddy Krueger…in this version he doesn’t haunt our dreams, but our ability to sleep, therefore we can’t relax enough to get good sleep.
Fear of the unknown is always a challenge, but fear of death is claustrophobic and choking underwater and tethered to a hangman’s noose. None of this is more obvious than at night when the rest of the world is peacefully dreaming and recharging their body’s battery.
Since I had gotten the cancer diagnosis right after being forced into singledom, I was so afraid of being alone at night. I wished and longed for another warm body in bed next to me, seeing his slow breaths and chest movement – close enough to touch and lie next to…I was convinced it would help calm my fears. In hindsight, I’m not sure it would have made any difference.
When the Lights Go Out at Night
It’s really THIS black and white…your family and friends worry with you, they worry about you, they cry and pray and keep faith…but when the lights go out each night – you could be fighting for your life – and they are not. You could be facing death – and they are not. So, they sleep without the panic that you try to shush internally.
I don’t have any advice for you. Nothing worked well for me until I got further along in my journey. I came to terms with my diagnosis physically, mentally, and spiritually. I trusted my physicians, I followed my treatment plans without question, I leaned on my support systems, and I re-established a line of rapport with my higher power. Some nights I was just too darn tired to worry, and slept well. Some nights were still restless and difficult. However, the card game Solitaire is helpful. Reading is good. TV can lull you to sleep with the background noise. Sleepy time tea can help make you tired. But I couldn’t give you a one-size fits all remedy for a good night’s sleep. I still can’t.
In time, however, the hours of peaceful sleep each night started to extend and my days and nights were less and less filled with fear and dread. I had to learn to lean on people. I had to share my fears and tears with like-minded individuals. This is a big reason that my support group was key to my mental survival. I can’t tell you how often I’d grab my phone, after midnight, and scroll through Facebook to see that some of my breast cancer sisters were also fighting off insomnia. Those crack-of-dawn posts and chats were priceless. Someone empathized with my worry and helped me off the figurative ledge.
It’s been three years since my diagnosis, and many nights, sleep is still not as restful or as uninterrupted or as regular as I’d like it to be. I have had to adjust my feelings about it in order to not be frustrated by losing the ability to hop in bed and within 30 minutes – out! But the Good News is that these times don’t bother me like they used to because there is always a support group member up when I am. We will catch each other on Facebook posting or commenting on other posts – then we will start to chat. We make jokes, we share stories, we commiserate about how crappy the insomnia is – but it’s not the end of the world …or the end of us.
No Longer Afraid of the Dark
I’m still single, but I’m not afraid of the dark, or the night, or losing sleep. I am not alone. Neither are YOU!!
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the effect on the patient is pretty obvious, and sometimes we forget how much and in what ways the diagnosis may impact the family members and friends. In this school assignment to write about a first time experience, Jacob opens our eyes to what he felt when his mother, Angel, went through breast cancer. We are grateful that he allowed us to share his essay. We think Jacob is pretty amazing, and we are sure you will agree after your read his words.
Hugs, Mary Beth
While I don’t like to talk about this often, as it makes me feel like I’m “boasting” about a struggle that was not truly mine, I’m also often told that it’s a little uncaring to not note my part in it at all. So, for my essay, I will be writing about my first experience with breast cancer in my family.
Before my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I don’t think that anyone in my family (including me) knew that much about cancer, other than the basics: That it has no “cure” yet, that it kills a lot of people, and that a lot of people are working to find out more about it. So, when the news hit, it significantly changed how we saw the disease and, in a way, the world as a whole.
It was April, 2010, when I was told that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in the 7th grade, and was only 12 years old at the time, so I didn’t really know how to react. She said that she was actually fairly lucky, since the cancer was found on a routine mammogram, and it could be removed. We found some comfort in this, but we still were very scared. I had no idea what I could do or what would happen, but I still tried to help her when I had the chance. She tried to comfort us by doing things like bringing home books on how to deal with cancer in the family, ranging from very factual booklets, to childish picture books, but they never really helped me. While I did care, I didn’t want to read about it when it comes to how it would affect me. While I had full faith in my mother overcoming the disease, the books only felt like salt in the wound.
Her treatments carried on into high school, and here’s where we all got to see its effects first-hand. They tend to make cancer treatment out to be much simpler than it actually is. Cancer treatment is made out as just chemo, radiation, and hair loss, when that is only part of it. There were many days where my sister (who was about 7 years old at the time) and I would have to be home alone because mom was in the hospital, and dad had to make sure she was okay. When she was home, she was no longer as energetic as she was before. She walked around in a half-asleep state, and didn’t have the energy or strength to preform many basic tasks. For the most part, she may as well have been bedridden. As the time went on, we got to see all her hair disappear. When I say all her hair, I mean her eyebrows and eye lashes as well. She went from having long brown hair, to lacking all the subtleties you would expect of the human head. The strangest thing was that this was the easiest part of it all. We all even found humor in the situation, in how silly it was. My mom even joked about how she “now knows how a newborn baby feels”. You could always get fake eyelashes, draw on fake eyebrows, and get a bunch of silly wigs and hats. However, you could not get a replacement for all the pain that the treatment makes your body feel, nor could you get back the energy that it takes away.
To make matters worse, my dad works in the Navy, and had to deploy a few months after my mom was diagnosed. Combined, these two things had a very powerful effect on everyone. Throughout all of this, I tried to not let it affect me. I told people at school, both friends and teachers, but I tried not to bring it up often. This wasn’t only that I didn’t want to talk about it, but also because it felt like I would be making an excuse at the expense of someone else. My mom was the one suffering, while I was perfectly okay. To me, claiming that it affected me academically would be faking a broken arm after seeing the attention that the person with the real broken arm got. I did care about my mom’s health, that’s why I didn’t want to undermine it by complaining about my “suffering”. While it did affect me heavily, it would have been arrogant for me to “take credit” for the suffering that was not experienced by me.
Eventually, my mom was able to overcome the cancer and successfully had it removed from her body. But, this taught me another thing I didn’t know about breast cancer. A lot of surgery goes into attempting to bring back healthy tissue that was removed. The most surprising thing was that the reconstruction surgeries are the ones that seemed to be the most dangerous. While the chemo made my mom weak and sick, the reconstruction opened up the possibility of much worse things. One of the scariest experiences I had during this was when my mom began to feel unusually sick. We all watched her to make sure she was okay, even calling over a friend who was a nurse. That’s when my mom and her friend realized what was going on. The device put in place to help reconstruction had caused a major infection to begin to develop. This meant that it must be removed, alongside all progress towards the reconstruction. That was when I saw my mom go from seeming okay, to being in great sorrow and despair. She didn’t want to have it removed, even refusing to go the hospital at first. I didn’t understand this, and I’m not sure I even understand it now. The tissue that was lost was not, as far as health goes, important. It also didn’t make her appear strange in anyway, with even having many thing that would hide it if she felt otherwise. But still, she seemed to initially choose her health over losing it. This was the closest I felt to thinking that she was going to die. She eventually went to the hospital and had it, as well as the staph infection, removed.
After a few years of treatment, the worst is now behind us. However, the effects of the cancer are still present. My mom is still going through reconstruction surgery, but nothing even coming close to before has happened. The cancer has not returned, and I hope never will. Her hair has regrown, and she has regained much of her strength. She’s now active in the breast cancer support group “Beyond Boobs!” and has found a lot of people who have or are going through same thing as she did. Everyone in my family is now more aware of the effects of breast cancer after seeing what it can do first-hand.
-Jacob (16 yrs)
One of the many challenges and frustrations of having a chronic condition that mandates wearing a visible device every day is when that disability is relatively unknown outside the breast cancer community. Imagine that you had diabetes and needed an insulin pump to regulate your blood sugar. Someone might catch a glimpse of your pump under your clothes and ask what it is. “An insulin pump,” you’d say, and the conversation could be over.
Now imagine that you have lymphedema and you must wear a compression sleeve every day, and a tighter compression sleeve when you exercise or fly in airplanes. Imagine you are in a yoga class, focusing on your Ujjayi breath, when suddenly you hear the instructor say, “You there – you in the back! Yes, you. What’s that thing on your arm?”
Flustered and aware that a room full of strangers is now staring at your misshapen figure, you stammer, “Uh, um, a compression sleeve.”
“What’s it for?”
“I, uh, I have lymphedema.”
“It’s a chronic condition that involves swelling of the extremities due to insufficient lymphatic fluid movement throughout the body secondary to removal of the lymph nodes and common in women who have had mastectomies to combat their breast cancers. Shouldn’t we all come out of Warrior Two now?”
Okay, that last bit is an exaggeration, but the first part of that exchange really did happen to me during a yoga class. The instructor was tactless and callous, but the real problem for me is that there is no easy answer to “what’s that thing on your arm?”
Variations of that conversation happen to me all the time, mostly by well-meaning people who assume I have sustained some minor injury, like spraining my elbow, and are legitimately concerned about my well-being. Although one person asked me if it was a cover to hide embarrassing tattoos. At a cocktail party. For my work.
It’s been a challenge for me to come up with something to say that is polite and clear, but also firmly conveys that this is not a conversation I wish to have. It’s never easy to discuss your breast cancer with casual acquaintances, and there is really no way to avoid going from “I have to lymphedema” to “I got it because I had a double mastectomy.” And yes, there was chemo. And yes, it was awful. And no, I do not want to hear about your second cousin twice-removed who had breast cancer and cured herself using only vitamins and meditation. Amazing!
All of this is compounded by the fact that the sleeves are ridiculously ugly. (Yes, I know about LympheDivas – they are fantastic, but unfortunately, they don’t fit me, so I’m stuck with the Medi brand sleeves, which are unattractive in a way that only a true medical device can be.) You can’t wear long sleeves all the time because it is difficult to fit your enormous arm into your regular size clothes. So you have to buy one size larger shirts to accommodate your arm, which makes the rest of your torso look like you either borrowed your mother’s clothing or don’t know how to dress yourself. So you start experimenting with sleeveless tops or tank-dresses and we’re back to the original problem of the ugly compression sleeve. And that it’s winter and you’re freezing.
So what’s a girl with lymphedema to do? My personal solution has been to invest in a lot of very sparkly jewelry that makes me feel glamorous no matter what monstrosity is on my arm. I am however, still looking for a good, short answer that would have shut down my embarrassing exchange with the yoga instructor.
Have some ideas? Fabulous. Leave them in the comments and let’s have a conversation on our terms, on our time, in our community. No downward-facing dog required.
Related Reading: On Lymphedema, Serial Killers, and Therapeutic Torture Devices
One sultry morning in July 2010, I sat down to watch an episode of Dexter. I was about two-thirds of the way through my regimen of chemotherapy for Stage IIb breast cancer, and I found something soothing in the blood-drenched gore of early Dexter shows. Plus, if I took my pain meds during the opening credits, by the time Dexter had sliced, diced, and dumped someone in the Miami Bay, my pain would have abated and I would likely feel well enough to shower. Or walk to the mailbox, if I was really up for a challenge.
It Started with a Tingle
Anyway, on that particular day, as the glorious Michael C. Hall fried up his steak and eggs, I felt a funny tingling in my left arm. “Huh,” I thought. “That’s weird.” By the time I watched Dexter Saran-wrap some notorious villain to his table and commence dismemberment, I realized my left arm had swollen to gargantuan proportions. “Well,” I said to myself, “that was fast.”
I quickly scheduled an appointment with a physical therapist and lymphedema specialist after my arm ballooned up to four times its normal size. They took my measurements and said, “Yup. That’s lymphedema.”
Quick Lymphedema Tutorial
A quick tutorial for the uninitiated: Secondary lymphedema can affect anyone who has lymph nodes removed from nearly any part of their body. Women who have had mastectomies with lymph node removal are particularly high risk. When I had my double mastectomy in April 2010, the prevailing wisdom was that the surgeon would check your sentinel lymph node, the one closest to your breast ducts, and if there was evidence of disease they would remove the entire cluster from under your arm.
In my case that turned out to be 19 nodes, only the first one of which had microscopic disease. A few months later, the standards changed: Even if a positive sentinel node was found, surgeons would remove only those nodes that had evidence of cancer, leaving the rest in place. This less aggressive surgery significantly decreased the risk of lymphedema.
I’m not going to linger too long on the causes, risk factors, and percentages of lymphedema among breast cancer patients. You can read about those here (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema/patient), or here (http://www.lymphnet.org/), or here (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/basics/definition/con-20025603). I’d like to focus instead on my own experience and my efforts to control my condition, rather than letting it control me.
Of Sleeves and Wraps and Machines
After a consultation with the lymphedema therapist, I was fitted for compression sleeves and taught how to wrap my arm in bandages. The initial treatment, an attempt to reduce my swollen arm to just two or three times its normal size, involved wearing “wraps” about 23 hours per day. These wraps made my arm look mummified and were a colossal hassle to put on, take off, wrap up, wrap off, etc. I was “fortunate” my first flare-up was over the summer. It is impossible to put a sweater on over these things. I also had to see the therapist every day for an hour, four or five days per week, for manual lymphatic drainage. And I had to learn how to self-massage my arm in order to move the collected fluid out of my arm and into the rest of my body.
When the lymphedema got really bad, I was fitted for a Compression Machine. (See photo.) This torture device involved lying perfectly still for an hour while a series of tubes and air pressure pumps massaged my entire left side. Creepy, weird, uncomfortable, and unsustainable. How many moms with kids under the age of five do you know who can lie still for an hour a night before bed? That’s right: none.
Chronic but Survivable: Time to Thrive!
Finally, after months of intensive therapy, daily maintenance, endless doctors’ appointments, and chronic pain, my lymphedema stabilized. I still wear a compression sleeve every day, but I’ve stopped wrapping at night and using the Machine. I have flare-ups when I fly long distances or when the weather turns hot and humid. The pain is chronic but manageable.
Now, three years later, my lymphedema is under control but by no means resolved. After that dark day in July, I commenced what would be a long, difficult, painful journey toward managing a chronic condition. A journey that, unfortunately, I am likely to be on for the rest of my life.
BUT! I am alive and intend to stay that way for many years to come. The lymphedema is a bitter reminder of what I went through to overcome breast cancer. But it’s also a reminder that I did come through. I did survive. And I will continue to thrive.
Next post! Next week I’ll share some lymphedema tips and tricks and offer some photos of my favorite compression sleeves.
I don’t know about any of you but I am not a fan of winter. It’s still dark when I wake up which makes it almost impossible to get out of bed. Not to mention that I’m falling asleep by 6pm because it’s already dark out! While it’s nice to have the occasional snow day, it’s not fun when you can only be outside for five minutes before you become an icicle. So unless you all want to move to Florida with me, here are some things that I do to fight the winter blues!
Get some sort of exercise
While I am forced to get exercise through lacrosse (though I’d much rather be inside), I think being active for at least a little bit of time every day is beneficial. It’s so hard to get off the couch in the winter but tell yourself, “I only have to do something for five minutes.” Sometimes you may notice that those five minutes become ten! For those of us who refuse to go outside unless it’s absolutely necessary you could do many active things in your own home. Put an exercise or yoga DVD in, dance while you do chores, rearrange your furniture, or my personal favorite, play Just Dance. This game is a favorite for my friends and me and is a great way to exercise without really realizing it. However you choose to be active, you’ll feel great afterwards.
Take care of your body
Taking care of your body is extremely important in the winter. Your skin is exposed to a harsh environment, you’re not getting as much sun, and all you want to do is sit on couch and eat cookies (or maybe that last one’s just me). I make sure that I wear gloves whenever I’m outside. Dry skin is annoying and uncomfortable so make sure you hydrate your body inside and out. Getting enough vitamin D or sunlight is important. It affects your mood and energy. If you can’t get out into the sun, keep things as bright as possible in your home!
Set new goals
I’m a big advocate for goal setting. It helps pass the time and benefits you in the process. These goals could be small, like calling an old friend every week or reading a book. Or your goal could go hand in hand with your exercise. Take up a new hobby, volunteer, spend more time with your family, or if you’re brave, get a puppy (I wish!). Whatever goal you choose, treat yourself for your accomplishments. You should feel proud for achieving this goal! If you make this goal take up all of winter, before you know it, it will be spring!
I wish everyone the best winter you’ve ever had! Stay warm!
This season, we wish you a holiday that is full
Of magic, happiness, and good cheer.
For this is the time to reflect on the things
that bring us a smile now and into the year.
Perhaps you have seen people helping others
With a gift, or a smile, or helping hands.
It’s not always easy to find time to be giving,
With the all that this busy season demands.
“Angels” have appeared in many different forms
In our office, at events, and in our midst.
There are so many, we can’t even begin
To thank all of you on our “nice” list
We’ve seen angels at meetings, in emails,
and on our Facebook pages or posts.
A gift of encouragement, an inspirational message,
Or a hug that is needed the most.
We’ve seen you at events, helping to promote
The message we all want to share
The mission of support, of love, and of hope
To women and families everywhere.
Volunteers give their time, talents, and gifts
Without you, we would be lost.
Some open their homes and open their hearts
Every time, no matter the cost.
Some angels have appeared as a host of givers
Who vow to match every December dollar we receive
And donors who’ve hosted events of their own
Donations we definitely need.
Our sponsors are angels, they keep us ‘alive’
For each one we are truly blessed.
When others said no, you answered the call
With a loud and resounding “Yes!”
There are angels who help other ladies in need
Through surgery, through treatment, and more
Ones who say “You are not alone,
I’m here, I’ve been there before.”
So thank you angels, from the depths of our hearts
With your help, we will continue to grow.
We’ll keep up the fight until there’s a cure.
Your angelic gifts mean more than you know.
Becca Ostman is a one-year survivor who was diagnosed at age 32. She prefers to view her cancer as an opportunity to help other women who have been affected by the disease and to educate everyone on early detection and healthy living. Here she offers her offbeat humor and solutions to hefting on the holiday pounds.
Tis the season to start holiday (over)eating for most people. We have company parties, family dinners, and holiday celebrations. We are out shopping and wolfing down $.99 cheeseburgers on the go to maximize the amount of sales we can hit. We are trimming the healthy part of our food budget to allow for more gift giving. And in a few weeks, we will make the annual New Year’s Resolution to lose all that weight we made no effort to avoid in the first place. Why do we repeat these same cycles year after year?
So, as you hang our cherished A Calendar to Live By 2014 and flip the page to January, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to dedicate those New Year’s Resolutions to something more fun? Maybe like the activities we do around Beyond Boobs! — participating in the Dirty Girl Mud Run or Skydiving! Or how about checking items off your “life list” such as seeing a new country or state? Or you could even take up a new hobby? Anything rather than crash hardcore dieting. Again. And failing at it. Again.
There is no need to wait for 2014 to begin healthy eating habits. We can start NOW! There are several tricks to help you out during the season of feasting so January doesn’t become a season of unhealthy fasting.
Dietary Do’s and Don’ts
Have you ever been to a company party, Solstice gathering, New Year’s Bash, or family dinner that was “One Plate Only” style? Have you ever seen Uncle Bob or your CEO standing by the buffet table reminding cousins or temporary employees to pack on as much as you can because you only get one trip to the trough? No, of course not!! Buffet style eating was not created so we can have full sized side and main course helping portions of EVERYTHING on the buffet. It was invented for holiday grazers to get a little bite sized portion of several offerings so they are able to try Aunt Edna’s candied yams AND Aunt Sally’s Green Bean Surprise AND Uncle Mac’s Rum Balls without exploding on the fine china. It was created so we can try a tiny bit of everything. Emphasis on TINY. So, make that first round a sample plate with single or two-bite helpings only. That way, you don’t have to choke down spoonful after spoonful of hideous Green Bean Surprise while Aunt Sally watches with glee, and you can figure out what you WANT to go back for. Many times, the sample round is filling enough that you don’t need a second trip and you can save room for a sample round of deserts!!
Which brings us to desserts. Even though the holiday season is filled with stress and desserts is stressed spelled backwards, it doesn’t mean that eating piles of truffles and Christmas cookies is going to help figure out how to finance that new Batman car your kid is going to play with twice. It’s not going to leave you broke and happy. It’s going to leave you broke and fat and feeling miserable. Also, how do you only take a sample of four kinds of pies?! Well, believe it or not, it is not rude to cut a pie slice in half again or even two more times. Taking a sliver of pie is seen as not being a Piggy to ensure that more people get to sample the rhubarb AND the pecan caramel apple pumpkin cinnamon streusel. And this way, you get to try all four kinds of pie without having to take a whole slice of each and inducing diabetes! You can also pair up with a friend or relative and agree to each take a slice of a different pie then share at the table.
If you are a cancer survivor bringing a dish to a family or company dinner, this is a great way to share with friends, co-workers, and family, the new healthier eating habits that you have developed as a result of your diagnosis. There is nothing wrong with making a little placard on an index card to let people know if a dish is gluten or dairy free, low calorie, vegetarian, or healthy for survivors. It may inspire dinner conversations about how your non-cancerous loved ones can improve their own eating habits to help ward off the evil C-beast. Try to avoid slogans like “Try My Meatless Balls” or “Tofurkey Saves Tatas.” Keep it simple but intriguing so people ask questions.
Calorie-Busting Family Fun
What about after the family gorge? What can we do to avoid training all those calories to set up shop as lazy fat cells while we watch football? Well, back in the day, Thanksgiving and Christmas were both more active holidays! Families used to play healthy games of regular or Nerf football to work off dinner. But it doesn’t have to be football. You can play bocce ball, soccer, croquet, or any other game the family enjoys. On Christmas, it is also fun for everyone to head outside and watch the kiddos enjoy their new outside toys like bikes, skates, skateboards, and sports equipment or even participate by playing with them. This also encourages the kids to value those toys as well as the obese-inducing movies and video games. It’s amazing how much joy kids get from parents and relatives actually coming outside to watch some tricks on the bike or see how fast they can skate or how great a shot they are with their new basketball.
Family fun time it doesn’t have to always be sitting around the ol’ 95 inch watching Charlie Brown’s teacher practice her nautical radio skills for the 75th time. It may seem silly, but the Wii, X Box Kinect, and PlayStation Move can be very physical and can work you up a darn good sweat!! The sports games are great as well as workout games and fighting games. Even the music and instrument games burn calories while you have good family fun. If you don’t have any of those platforms, they can be bought very cheap at Thrift Stores and Cash Converters.
If you don’t like video games, there are many family board games with physical or charade type components. Shop around and see what you can find!! There is also the good old-fashioned go outside and play option too! And don’t forget how physically challenging securing and hand decorating and lighting a tree or decorating the house or yard can be!! Sure, you will all want to kill each other by the end of it, but it’s pretty to look at and will definitely burn off a few candy canes and Starbucks shopacinnos.
All throughout the holiday season, you can cut calorie build up and offer a preemptive strike against overeating like a polar bear in September by upping your regular exercise routines to offset the added calories going in. Unlike balancing your devastated holiday checkbook, the outgoing calories HAVE to be higher than the incoming to maintain a healthy balance and weight. If you are eating more, you have to be working out more!! Try working out during some of those Christmas movies you could probably recite even after a stroke. Do some crunches, squats, step aerobics, or wall sits while you absent-mindedly mumble about shooting your eye out and leg lamps.
Many gym memberships offer free trials during November and December. Give one a try! You may like it and decide to join, but if you don’t or the fees are too high, you got a month or a couple of weeks of free workout to offset all the extra poultry-loading. And you might have even found some workout stuff you can do at home!
Smart Gifting, Smart Shopping
What are the holidays without gift giving and receiving! It shouldn’t break the bank and doesn’t have to! What better way to avoid expensive shopping than to make some food items for our loved ones or take them to a holiday party gift swap. We can make these treats healthily and then include a little tag that tells them how healthy it is, why, and how to make it for their own families. It is a passive way to spread good eating habits. We know we are going to get some bins of popcorn and boxes of candy. If you know you don’t want to eat them, politely accept, stick them under the Kwanza bush, don’t open them, and then donate them to your local chemotherapy office for the chemo patients to enjoy when they are stuck infusing during the holidays. Many of us know the joy of finding actual chocolate in the Jolly Rancher and mint bowl!
Also regarding gifting and shopping, you know when you leave the house that you aren’t grabbing one thing “real quick” and are not coming home until well after dark. So, to avoid hitting up the fast food and sucking back five-hour energy shots, pack some healthy snacks to get you through the day’s shopping! You can pack homemade energy-boosting goodies, peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread, healthy whole grain crackers, cut up fruit and vegetables, or any other snacks you like. You can even pack a cooler with some low fat yogurt, fruit, green tea, or water.
When it comes to gifts and shopping, there are easy workouts buried within this too! You could always ask for a gym membership or workout equipment like a kettlebell, free weights, or resistance bands for Chanukah instead of one more sweater or throw blanket. When shopping for others, there is nothing wrong with encouraging good physical fitness in your loved ones. You can give light hand weights, jump ropes, stretchy bands, yoga mats, kettlebells, workout DVDs, more active fitness based Wii games, or outdoors toys. You can often find great deals on these at stores like Marshalls, Big Lots, and TJ Maxx and there is a special joy in watching someone struggle to figure out what a set of wrapped three-pound weights could possibly be.
When shopping for others, make yourself workout. Park as far from the stores as possible and get a free walk. More accidents happen in parking lots during the holiday season anyway and you will hit the store in a better mood! You can also park on the opposite side of the mall from where you are going and walk the mall. Who knows, you may spot that perfect ugly Christmas sweater for Aunt Helen on your journey.
Who knows, if you put these things into practice throughout December, you may find you feel better, look better, and have more energy. And you may just decide to be healthier all year long!!