Monday, January 20, 2014

Living Life After Cancer

It is hard to believe it has been two years since I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It seems like just yesterday that I received that call from my doctor telling me I had cancer. Not a day has gone by since that phone call that I don’t think about my cancer and how it has changed me. It has been a very long, hard, journey and, for the first time in these last two years, I can honestly say that I finally feel good and am happy with where I am at.

It’s interesting with these “cancerversaries” because, on the one hand, I am excited to have another healthy year under my belt and I want to celebrate that milestone. On the other hand, in the weeks prior to my cancer anniversaries, all the emotions and feelings of my diagnosis, and what I went through, start to swirl back, causing a bit of anxiety which, in turn, make me want to just get past that anniversary date.  Last year was much worse because it was all so fresh in my mind and I still wasn’t feeling great.  This year my anxiety is not as intense but it is still lurking in my consciousness. I’m hoping with each year that passes, this anxiousness will ease.

When I was diagnosed with cancer it was quite shocking. I felt like a million bucks at the time and I couldn’t understand how this could happen to me. With the help of my family and friends, however, I became determined to kick the crap out of this cancer.......and I did.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that, for me, going through the surgeries and treatment for thyroid cancer was going to be the easiest part of this journey. The aftermath of cancer and the medications I needed to take, and still need to take, to keep the cancer from coming back, proved to be a much greater challenge for me. I had periods of feeling really angry inside because I started to wonder if I was ever going to feel good again. For over a year and a half, I woke up almost every day feeling achy and tired. It was a struggle going out looking good on the outside but not feeling so great on the inside. I had a huge amount of guilt because I felt that I should be grateful for being cancer free, and don’t get me wrong, because I was.  I was also depressed because I was in a constant state of fatigue. Running errands, figuring out what to make for dinner, going shopping, making dinner, driving my four boys to the gazillions of activities they had going on, and trying to make it through my 12 hour shifts as a nurse in a busy emergency room  all were so overwhelming. The guilt of telling my kids I didn’t want to go outside and play with them, because I felt achy and just needed to sit on the couch, made me feel like such a failure sometimes. Deep down I knew my kids were just fine but I yearned to go out, run and play with them.

In the beginning of this journey, I really felt strongly that cancer was going to make me a better, stronger person. I definitely appreciated my family, friends and health a whole lot more than I did prior to my diagnosis. As the days, weeks, and months passed by, and I still did not feel like my old energetic, fun self, I began to question whether this cancer really was making me a better person. I certainly didn’t feel strong. Frankly, it really pissed me off that I might never feel good again. It angered me that I couldn’t control how I felt. I had to rely on a medication to give me the energy that my thyroid used to do on its own but I was required to take more of that very medication to keep the cancer away. That, in turn, made me feel bad. I started asking myself, is this really making me a better person??

I began to wonder if I just needed to come to terms with the “new me”. I even hoped that I would forget what it felt like to feel good because then maybe I could deal with the fatigue better. Maybe if I could just get used to it, the thoughts of my fatigue would not consume me. The problem was that I couldn’t just get used to feeling achy and feeling like my brain was in a fog all the time. It just all felt frustrating and I came very close to telling my doctor that I didn’t think I could deal with the way I felt for much longer.

Fortunately, a wonderful thing happened to me.  I was given the great news that I was still cancer free after my one year testing and, because of this, my doctor allowed me to back off of my medications a little bit.  Over the next 4 months I began to feel less achy and have a whole lot more energy. I felt like the fog was finally lifting and I was getting glimpses of my old energetic self and what an amazing feeling that was! Now, two years after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I have days where I hardly think about my cancer because I often feel “normal”.   It is a beautiful feeling and something I definitely do not take for granted.

So am I a better, stronger person because of this cancer diagnosis? This journey continues to teach me a lot about myself. I am much more grateful for each day.....the good, the bad, AND the ugly days. I might complain sometimes but I am always able to put myself in check.....because I had cancer. I am painfully aware that there are so many others diagnosed with cancer traveling much tougher roads which sometimes lead to death. I don’t take life for granted......because I had cancer. I see hundreds of acutely and chronically ill patients every day in my job and I now know what it means to not feel great for a lengthy period of time. I will never take my good health for granted.....because I had cancer. I often see Facebook posts about how sad it is that the weekend is over and it is only the start of the long new week.  I used to feel the same way, but those types of posts really bug me now. I love EVERY day of the week...especially Monday......because I had cancer.  Life is fragile and things can change in an instant.  I know...... because I had cancer. So, YES, I am a better, stronger person who is extremely grateful to be healthy and I feel blessed to wake up each day and find the beauty in each waking hour.....because I had cancer.

Photo by Brenda Bisharat Photography

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Loss Of A Mother, Friend, and Annie & Isabel Warrior

This past July we received a nice note from one of our customers, Maura, whose mother was battling leukemia. Maura purchased four Annie & Isabel hospital gowns for her mother who was in the hospital for two months over the summer due to many complications from her leukemia.

Christine in the ICU in her "Anita" hospital gown with daughter, Maura

Maura wrote the following email to us:

"My mother, Christine, is finally going home. Unfortunately she is not in remission so she will need more chemo but at least when she goes back to the hospital, she will have her four lovely gowns. She's finally up and having her dunkin donuts!"

"Thanks for everything. Seeing her in your gowns while in the ICU helped everyone see her as a person, not just a patient"

That last sentence from Maura really struck us because it is something we have heard from other customers and was one of the reasons why we felt having your own hospital gown was important when we started this business. It is easy for medical staff to treat every patient as just that…..a patient. Doctors get so caught up treating patients and trying to heal them, which is extremely important, however, sometimes doctors forget about the actual person behind that standard hospital gown. That is an easy thing to do when every patient wears the same standard hospital gown. Having your own, cheery, hospital gown not only provides comfort to a patient but it also often helps doctors and nurses pause and take notice of the beautiful person behind that beautiful gown.

Christine was a fighter! After two months in the hospital, fighting leukemia, renal failure, a bleed in her brain, and ICU psychosis, she was discharged just prior to the 4th of July with plans of what she was going to cook for the 4th of July celebration. You can see her fighting spirit in these pictures.

Smiling in her "Anita" gown with her "Isabel" & "Annie" gowns ready at the bedside

Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, Maura wrote to us to let us know her mother passed away December 3rd. Maura wanted us to know that her mother always felt special in her Annie & Isabel gowns. Maura plans to wear her mother's Annie & Isabel gowns if she and her husband have children in the future in order to help keep her mother close to her heart. LOVE THAT!

Christine & Maura celebrating Maura's special wedding day together
Maura, we are so sorry for your incredible loss. It is very evident how much you both loved each other and she will forever remain close to your heart. Big hugs to you and your family.

Photo Credit: Bharat Parmar Photography

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Radiation Treatments…..In Style

A large number of Annie & Isabel gowns are sold to women fighting breast cancer. They help brighten the spirits of women recovering from their mastectomies while in the hospital and at home. They also provide comfort for women having to go through daily radiation treatments. We have had so many women write to us telling us how nice it was to have their own personal Annie & Isabel hospital gown for these treatments. We recently received a testimonial from breast cancer warrior, Lynn, pictured above. She is currently fighting breast cancer and we would love if you could keep her in your thoughts and prayers as she continues receiving radiation treatments.

Here is an email that Lynn sent to us:

"I was diagnosed in September with breast cancer by my yearly mammogram. I had surgery at Stanford Women's Cancer Center in October and began radiation treatment in November at home in San Luis Obispo. The radiation treatments are every day for 7 weeks.

I received the gift of an Annie & Isabel gown from a friend with the message to keep calm and heal strong so every day when I arrive at radiation, I take my "Annie" gown out of my cubicle and wear it with those thoughts, also knowing how fortunate I am to have been diagnosed and that I will be well soon. Have a mammogram and tell a friend to do the same."

~ Lynn