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The love continues….

I decided after my New Year’s I would share each day on my blog about a friend or family member who has helped me with the biggest revenge of my life. My revenge against my body and the cancer. After losing my grandmother on Thursday I didn’t feel like writing. Today I feel like sharing once again. Hence, the love continues……

When my doctor called me at work to break the news to me about the cancer before I called my husband I told Janice.

Janice is my boss. We have worked together for nearly nine years. Over time we have become friends. So my first friend I told was Janice. She knew I was waiting for the biopsy results. She knew that I had gone through this a few years ago and everything was fine then. She had been telling me to practice thinking positively. She was  positive it would be fine once again.

The phone call came. I was dumb founded and surprised. I walk back to the office and tell her, like the fact that it is. She jumps up, hugs me and grabs my hand and reassured me it is going to be okay. I simply agree and then ask if I can be excused a little longer to call Keith.

During my battle she was my constant supporter and listener at work. While I was fighting she was dealing with her brother fighting his battle with throat cancer. Sometimes I think seeing me doing so well and her brother struggling so much was difficult for her. He lost his battle midway through my year.

She came and visited me the day after my surgery while I was in the hospital. She texted me about work while I was in recovery. She prayed with me, listened to me and made sure that I kept my job.

We started off as boss and employee. We became co-workers that were friends. To friends that work together.

Life finds a way to bring the right people into your life at the right time.

and so it is that love continues….

 

 

 

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Love is…….

My grandmother……..

When my parents divorced years and years and years ago my mom would ship me off to California to visit my grandma. I have so many wonderful memories of that. We would go to the beach, Disneyland and parks. My favorite times were when we would stay at their house and play dress up with Grandma’s old clothes, or hear about our family. The memories are intact because Grandma made a photo album of one of our trips that I look through often.

My grandmother made sure that my mom always felt welcome and part of the family. Even though her son was married to someone else my mom was always welcomed in her home.

As we grow up and life happens we visit with distant family less and less. It just happens. I made several trips over the years to California with my family to visit once in a while. Never long enough. Never often enough. When my grandma moved to Florida with my Aunt Kathy I had plans to visit. My Aunt Marilyn was very sick (breast cancer, again) and we decided to go and see the family in FL. Hurricanes ripped through the state and we didn’t make it. I missed saying goodbye to my Aunt. I missed another chance to see my family.

Aunt Kathy and Uncle Tom then moved to Georgia. Grandma in tow. One day Aunt Kathy called me and asked me to come see them. They made the trip happen. I flew to Georgia by myself. Wore my ‘I’m a Pepper’ t-shirt so they would recognize me at the airport. Was so excited to see my grandma, my aunt and uncle and my cousins Jenny and Becky! It was a great visit. Very healing for my heart. I never knew how much of a Pepper hole I had in my heart.

I was lucky enough to go back the following year and ‘granny sit’ for my Aunt. A whole week with my grandma. We played games and watched movies. Her mind sharp as a tack so she reminisced about her childhood and family, my family.

Then two years ago, Aunt Kathy calls and says please come out again. Bring your husband. All the grandchildren will be here. We went. It was awesome. I reconnected with my cousin Eric that I hadn’t seen since he was in high school. The trip was wonderful.

I am so thankful that over the past five years I had the chance to reconnect with my Pepper family. I don’t know how else I would deal with the news that came last night.

My grandmas heart has stopped.

My heart is aching.

That is my grandmothers hand. I snapped this picture when they dropped me off at the airport after the first visit in GA.

My grandmothers heart may have stopped beating but her heart, full of love is living on in my Pepper family. It is living on in my sister and my mom. It is living on in mine.

Love is a grandmother

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What is love……

my son…..

Today is throwback Thursday on Facebook, I figured I should use a really old picture of my son. This was taken nearly 28 years ago. He was just a wee little thing. Four pounds and four ounces and nearly two months early. Who knew that tiny little boy who relied on me would one day have the tables turned and I would have to rely on him.

He was angry. When I called him and told him I had cancer he was in shock. Or perhaps disbelief or like me ‘dear in the headlights’ lost. When it sunk in he became angry. Not at me directly. He was angry at the cancer. Angry that there should have been something that I could have changed or done in my life that would have prevented it from happening. Angry.

I think Richard and I have a decent mother/son relationship. He genuinely likes me. He likes that I don’t pry into his life. I wait for him to come to me. We have similar tastes in literature, food and movies. Hanging out with him always blesses me.

The day I was released from the hospital he was there with Keith and my sister Windy. Assisting me from one side while Keith had the other. He would come and sit on the bed with me and watch hours of ‘Daria’ and ‘Pysch’ He came and sat with me so Keith could get out of the house. When someone was here to ‘watch’ me he went with Keith to a college basketball team. It was great Keith could get out. It was greater that his son was there to keep him company. Keep him distracted. Keep him encouraged. Keep him comforted.

My son has always been my biggest ally. When I was losing weight he pointed it out. When I would do a funny skit for his school, he wanted to be in it. I made spicy potato soup he bragged to everyone. Always my greatest cheerleader. Having him near me during recovery and chemotherapy meant a lot. To my brain and to my heart. Every minute I get to spend with him reminds me of what love is.

What is love? My son.

 

PS If this seems rambling I plead doped up on cold meds. I should be sleeping. I think I will go to bed now. Thank God it is almost Saturday.

Also here is a more recent pic of us…

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Love is…….

my mom………

The day that I was diagnosed with cancer I called my husband and my son. Late afternoon I called my sister. I put my mom on the call list for ‘last one’ on that day. My friend Erin ( you will get to meet her soon here too) told me that the hardest part was telling your child about the cancer. She was wrong. The hardest for me was telling my mom.

My mom had just gone through her bout with breast cancer about three years before me. She opted for a lumpectomy no radiation and lots of prayer. Around the same time as she was healing from the surgery my dad fell ill. Very ill. She was so distracted from taking care of my dad that she didn’t worry about the cancer or recurrence. My dad passed away in January. It was hard on my mom but she kept telling me she was okay. The cancer was gone.

When I had a surgery date planned she made sure her schedule was cleared so she could come up and help Keith take care of me. Truth was she just needed to see me in person. She needed to see that I was really alright. It is a mom thing. I totally get that.

Mom was here for about a week. She did the dishes, made some of my favorite childhood meals and just visited with me, Keith and my son. She fell in love with adult coloring books, made friends with my neighbors, enjoyed going to the big, fun bookstore (think Powell’s Books in Portland then knock it down about 12 notches)

It was nice to have her here. It gave Keith the chance to get out of the house and run errands or check in on work. He didn’t have to worry about me being taken care of, mom was there.

My mom prayed for me daily, probably hourly for months. She sent me the book she used to meditate with. During chemo she sent happy things in the mail hoping they would be there the day of treatments. My favorite was a magazine entirely about Lucille Ball.

Every Sunday my mom and I text. It is not a long labored text. It simply says’ Happy Sunday’ Love you. We have turned it into a game of who texts first. Currently I am winning because of the time change.

As good as the visit was to help Keith and I out, I think the visit was a trip of recovery, healing, comfort and discovery for my mom.

Love is my mom. 

 

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What is love?………

My sister.

I don’t know where to begin so I will pick a random spot and go from there.

This is a picture of my sister. She is three years younger than me. She loves to remind me that she is younger. I am much shorter than her so many people believe me when I tell them that I am the younger one. That pisses her off to no end. Truth is it takes forever to even convince them she really is my sister.

I often describe us as the movie Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito. She is the Schwarzeneggar character that ended up with ALL the good parts, and I am like the Devito character that ended up with all the left over awful stuff. That pisses her off to no end too. I think I like pissing her off. After all we are sisters, so it is a right of passage.

As we grew up we drove each other nuts in school and at home.  As we really grew up and became adults and wives and mothers we became closer and closer. We actually became friends.

I remember when I was moving and she came over to the house.  I had a whole box of empty hangers, Pampered Chef pans and other odds and ends I wanted her to have. Mostly I didn’t want to pack them. When she saw the box of hangers she started to cry. My moving away was becoming a reality. One she wasn’t ready for. It was also the first time I had doubts about leaving AZ. I missed her so much and we were in the same room.

She came to visit me once in WA a few months after we moved here. Mom came too. It was a lovely surprise that my husband kept from me. It was a very short trip. Over time it seemed like it would be the only trip.

After my diagnosis in Nov. 2015 I called her to tell her the news. She was in denial and told me she would believe it after I get my test results back. I told her three times that the tests have all come back. I had cancer. It took some talking but she finally realized all the tests have been done. I was telling the truth.

I recall one morning I was getting ready for work. I had this overwhelming depression settle on me like a blanket. I was never going to see my sister again. I was trying to open the closet door and it was stuck. I had to pull and pull and pull. I didn’t have the strength because this blanket of sudden depression was too heavy. I started to cry. It was the first time I had cried. I accidentally woke Keith up. He said it’s okay to cry it is really scary. I told him I wasn’t crying about the cancer. I was crying because I knew in my gut I would never see my sister again. Oh how thankful I am that my dreams were wrong!

As the whirlwind of scheduling took place for what was next, I kept her up to date. Mastectomy was on January 15th.

It turns out that it was a three-day weekend for her. She is a school teacher and Monday was Martin Luther King day, no school. She called to let Keith and I know she was flying out for the surgery. I was so excited!! Even if we only got to see each other for a short time I get to see my sister.

This picture is taken the day before my surgery. We are sitting in the waiting room of the plastic surgeon doing my reconstruction after the mastectomy. After this I had my friend Julie (you will learn more about her later) come and meet her. I sometimes see my sister in Julie. Then we went and had a lovely last meal downtown at a local restaurant that has history on display. You can even go into the middle of one of the old smoke stacks. I was thrilled to share this place with her. This moment with her.

The next day we had to be at the hospital early. When she was allowed she came into the hospital room and visited with me. While I was under the knife, 8 and 1/2 long hours she sat with Keith. They went out to breakfast together. They watched television in the waiting room together.  They lunched and “dinnered” together too. He needed someone there. My sister was there. Right where she needed to be.

When I was released from the hospital and home again she visited with me but felt like she wasn’t helpful. She was, she really was.

I have a little white board in my bedroom. She wrote the words ‘Today is’ on it for me. Every time I changed the date I smile.  I love seeing ‘Today is’ in her handwriting.

Blessed to have her as my sister. Blessed to have her as my friend. Blessed that she was right where she needed to be.

What is love? A sister…..that is love.

 

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It’s my New Year’s Day…….

This is going to be a long one today….fair warning. But first I need another cup of coffee…

TODAY!! Happy New year to me today. I know it is January 15th. Let me explain….

Keep in mind today is my husband Keith’s birthday.

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY:  At this time one year ago today I was checked into the hospital for  my double mastectomy/reconstruction surgery. They also had to pull out a cluster of my lymph nodes since the cancer had spread there too. Eight and half hours later I was in the recovery room. Completely oblivious to my surroundings and forever physically and mentally scarred.

November 3rd 2015. That is when I got the phone call at work. My primary care doctor calling to tell me about the biopsy results. It was defiantly cancer. At first it was a stage 0, pretty much around the nipple area, a lumpectomy would easily take care of it. Many tests later and an MRI revealed that it was actually stage 2B and that I had the BRCA2 gene. I have now upgraded to a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The surgeon that I wanted and I spoke to for my initial consultation was now sick and could no longer follow through on my care. I was switched to a new surgeon I have never met, during Christmas holiday. This was challenging and scary. When I met her she told me that I had to have a sentinel lymph node surgery done at least a week before the mastectomy. Basically I was in the hospital for this surgery by the end of the week!! Yikes!  Caught us completely off guard.

The plastic surgeon I met way back in November but at that time I was only going to get a lumpectomy so I really didn’t pay much attention to what she told me about reconstruction. Suddenly I am having surgeries one week apart. I am having a double mastectomy and reconstruction and I find out the day before that I have to take shots for a week in my belly! Nope. I did not sign up for that. Neither did my husband. He had to give them to me because there was no way I was going to do it for myself. NEEDLES…a big fat NOPE.

Those first couple of weeks were a drugged blur. I remember Keith sleeping on a cot at the end of our bed, listening to my every move, making sure that I would not be in any pain and ready to help me up if I had to go to the bathroom. I remember how proud of me he was when I got home from the hospital and walked up the stairs normally. One foot , one step at a time. I remember him changing out my whiteboard with the dates so that when I was awake I would know what day it was and how much time had passed. I remember him making my coffee for me and bringing me oatmeal. He hated stripping my drains almost as much if not more than giving me the shots. He drove me to every appointment and even to have my hair washed at the beauty school. I don’t know how he did it but he did everything, all the time, just for me.

Six weeks passed and I had been released to go back to work. At this time people thought I was out on vacation and sick leave. I had only shared with a few family and friends. My inner circle, my support team and of course this blog. My breasts by now were the same size as they were before the surgery so outside of being tired no one knew what I had been through.

Then I found out that I should do chemotherapy to kill what ever rogue cells that may have escaped. Also to lower my chances of recurrence. Now I had to go public because the side effects of chemotherapy are hard to hide and I planned on working as much as possible through all of it. Chemotherapy started on my son’s birthday in March. Ironic. Hmm.

Had a consultation with the genetic counselor suggesting I have my ovaries removed. Had those removed in July, the same day that Keith was to fly out to AZ for his class reunion. He changed his plans. I don’t think I could have managed without him.

My final surgery, the exchange surgery ended up being in October. I missed out on my friends Halloween party. First time in four years. Keith missed work for a week and they were busy. He had to play catch up all year because of me.

As things are getting ‘back to normal’ ha! as if it will ever be normal again….I have learned this:

  • My husband loves me more than I ever thought he did, or could.
  • I love him more now than I ever had
  • our relationship is better, even better than when we first started
  • I had no idea it could get better or stronger or healthier
  • I have amazing friends and family in my life
  • I had no idea menopause was so terrible
  • I am not the same person I was before and I never will be again
  • I need people. I need Keith. I need my son Richard. I need my family. I need to focus on the future, on strength, on kindness to others, on love.

Keith and I decided that we want to be healthier together. Eat out less, exercise more, make better food and beverage choices. You know..blah blah blah. We also decided that we would start on New Year’s Day. Not January 1st but OUR New Year’s day. January 15th. That is our new year. Yes his birthday, but our first new year.

Okay, the watching what we eat will actually commence tomorrow because today we celebrate with a party!! My friend is hosting a ‘Renee Kicked cancer’s ass and we are celebrating one year cancer free’ party!! I know a mouthful. Just take a deep breath before you say it… Then breathe in again afterwards.

I don’t think this blog post came out in any way shape or form as I intended. It is what it is. Long. Heartfelt. Truth. Snippets. Healing.

PS: I have signed up for two runs this year so far and I am totally back in revenge mode!! So keep checking in on me… Take that cancer!!

ONE YEAR AGO!!!!!! 

 

 

 

Survival.

This.

Playing by My Own Rules

There is nothing funny about cancer.

I thought starting a blog with humor would help lighten the overwhelming heavy weight this dreadful disease inflicts upon the body and mind.

I must have been kidding myself.

After a while it dawned on me.

I was not laughing at anything that happened during the course of cancer, nor was I laughing reading about it.

If anything, it brought back memories I’d rather have forgotten.

So then I came to the wise conclusion: the heck with blogging.

I don’t care how funny some incidents may appear, I am done with it.

No longer want to think about it or relive the past year.

Emotional scars left behind .

Not funny.

Huge bills from hospital and doctors.

Really not very funny.

Clothing not fitting the way they use to.

Not at all funny.

Too tired to get out the bed most days.

Not even…

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Loving my hair….

I posted a video on my Cancercize with Renee B Facebook page yesterday. I was showing off my hair.

Okay not really showing off the hair, rather the hair straightener I used. As you can tell from this picture it really straightened my hair.

When I posted the video about how well the product worked I had comments from friends. One of the comments was they were glad I started liking my hair. Oh Boy! That is a loaded statement in itself! I try to adjust to my hair and it’s ever-changing “style”. Truth is I do not like it. I don’t know when it will finish changing and what it will do next. I AM thankful that it is growing back thick and full like it was in the past.

As I was thinking about that I realized that I have never truly liked my hair. I would grow it out then cut it. I would dye it, curl it, straighten it then wash it out and start over again. I would be happy if I could  get all the sides to lay flat at the same time. I would be happy if it would stay in a ponytail during a workout. I would be happy if the gray roots aka groots were always covered. When I couldn’t keep my weight under control I was happy that I could change my hair.

I knew I was going to lose my hair during chemo. I figured since I never really liked my hair it wouldn’t really matter, and hey I have always wanted naturally curly hair. Ha! Little did I know. Now it is so curly it is hard to do anything with it! So I tried a new product that is to help straighten it. It didn’t really work for me but it did give it some soft control.

Today I did not wake up in time to shower. To tame my wild unruly hair I put on a head band and then used clips to hold down the parts the headband couldn’t. Didn’t look to bad. By the time I left the house I put my knit hat on. It was cold out this AM. I never took the hat off at work. Figured a hat is the best way to hide a bad hair day.

When I got home tonight and finally took the hat off I realized I still had all the clips and head band on too. I had forgotten all about them. Funny thing is, it has been hours and I still feel like I am wearing my hat, clips and band. BUT my hair is laying down flat at last!

 

PS I am wearing more of that amazing lipstick my girlfriend sells in this pic. It is why I took this picture. I am wearing two layers of Dawn Rising and one layer of Roseberry. Thanks Julie!

 

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I don’t know who this is….

Something is off.

This week has been a tough week. No reason in particular. It just feels rough, out of sorts, extra long and just plain off.

I know it is me. I know that it is something in me that is off. I can’t place my finger on it. I am starting to believe that it is the medication I am taking to keep the cancer from growing back. At least that is what I am choosing to think.

I ache, all over. I can’t stop crying. My body is not recovering from exercising like it should. I am not even over doing the exercise, so that is not the excuse. I just feel off. I hurt enough to notice it but not enough to stop me from pressing forward. Going to work, working out, being ‘normal’ and to not call the doctor. Just off.

I find it troublesome when something is on the edge of your tongue yet still so elusive you can’t put your finger on it.

Last Christmas we celebrated somberly. I knew about the cancer and at the time I didn’t know what or when treatment was going to happen or by whom.

This year I celebrate Christmas somberly again. Thankful that I am in remission and that I am nearing my one year mark. Thankful that my family is closer and tighter than ever before. Grateful that I can close this chapter of my life.

At least that is the theory. The cold harsh reality is I am still fighting. Fighting to get sleep ( these 4:30 AM wake ups are rough) Fighting to get healthy (ugh, still fighting with the carbs) Fighting to move more (my motivation and endurance are still lacking) Fighting to find the good in every thing and everyone (it is there, I may not have it but I know others do) Fighting to find my new normal (blah I HATE that phrase) Fighting to not let the outside be reflective of my inside (I have changed, I try to hide that)

Things I have learned so far through all of this:

I have many friends. Some that I never knew I had. I also have less friends. One’s I never should have had.

I am way more into my appearance and hair than I ever thought I was. Who knew I had so much vanity? I honestly didn’t.

That no matter how determined and consistent I am, I still lose focus and energy and motivation to keep doing what is right.

That my job is just a job and it no longer brings me joy. I want more. I have also learned that over time doing the same mundane things you lose sight of the goal of wanting more and something different, something better. Changing and doing more was so intense I couldn’t breath or speak. That is gone. Worn away by the everyday. How did I let that happen?

I am different. My body is the biggest give away. My hair is obvious. My weight is even more obvious. All the scars and lack of nipple cements the difference. I am different on the inside too. Most days I am learning who I am now. Who I want to become. What I am made of.

I look at this picture I took yesterday in the bathroom at work. I took it because I was wearing a new lipstick that I bought from my friend and I wanted her to see what it looked like on me. I do not see Renee. I do not know who this person is. I don’t recognize her at all.

I do know that when I look at this picture I will not be her for long. I am going to fight whatever this ‘offness’ is. I am going to keep moving forward. I am going to wear a hat more often. I am going to believe that 2017 is the year of Renee. I am going to believe that there is only going forward, only becoming better, smarter, funnier, prettier and stronger.

I don’t know who this is. I do know that someday I will.