Persevere: A Life With Cancer

In January, 2014, I wrote a post about Lisa Bonchek Adams, a women who was being publicly criticized for her choice to fight the breast cancer that was slowly killing her, rather than deny medical treatments and “slip gently” into death. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I supported Lisa’s right to fight.  Sadly, Lisa passed away in 2015 at the age of 45.  Since then, her mother and brother, Drs. Rita and Mark Bonchek, have complied a book of Lisa’s writings entitled, Persevere: A Life with Cancer
Reflections on love and loss, family and friendship, compassion and courage

I often get requests to do book reviews on my blog and I generally oblige.  However, when I read a portion of Lisa’s writing, I wanted to share her words with my readers, not out of a sense of obligation, but because they are so eloquent and moving, it would be a shame not to share.

Here is an excerpt from her book:

You Look Great; You’d Never Know

It’s true:

you’d never know.

I look great. I look healthy. I’m not gaunt or drawn or pale. I wear makeup most days, and some days I even wear boots with a heel on them.

I smile, I laugh. I take a slight jog up the front hall steps when I feel like it. I crack jokes, I roll my eyes when standing in a long line, I gossip with my friends.

I wear gloves a lot, I have to moisturize my feet and hands at least a dozen times a day. I buff my feet, I examine them for cracks and bleeding. I stick ice packs on them when they burn from the chemo. I can’t feel my fingertips, yet portions of them crack and peel and are painful and raw. I can’t hold a pen or twist off a bottle cap.

I take pills all day long. I’m swollen, I’m tired, my mind can’t stop racing.
I tell time by “on” weeks and “off” ones. Of course the doctors understand my situation. They know what this diagnosis means. Even ones that have nothing to do with cancer call to check on me.

When I go to my sons’ school some of the teachers and moms cry when they see me. “You look good,” they say. This is a compliment. Sometimes they say, “You don’t look sick at all. You’d never know.” That is shorthand for, “You don’t look like you’re dying but we know you are.”

I hear people in line to buy holiday gifts complain about the sniffly cold they have or the poor night’s sleep their child had. They might be complaining about something more serious, but still something that can be fixed. Time will heal what ails them. I am not so lucky.

I am jealous. I am jealous that this is their only medical concern. I’m not jealous of what they wear or the car they drive or the house they live in. I’m jealous of their health status.

I’m not in denial. This diagnosis is a nightmare. My life will always be full of chemo and side effects and worry and monitoring and drug refills and hospital visits. But my life will also be full of great memories, of laughter, of smiles. There will be tears. There will be pain. There will be heartache. But there will also be joy, and grace, and friendship.

I don’t know for how long. I don’t know if they will be in equal measure. They say I look good. They say, “You’d never know.” For now I know it’s true.

There will come a day when it’s not true. And they will lie. And I will know it. And someday, then, I will know the end is near. But that day is not today.

December 30, 2012

You can buy Lisa’s book here: www.lisasbook.com.

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Help! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference

I would like to introduce to you Joel and Rebekah Hughes, who live in Irvine, California. Rebekah is originally from Southern Oregon and Joel is a Southern California lifer. They often jab each other as to which place is better to live. But for better or worse, So-Cal is home.

At the age of 23, Rebekah was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.   Her oncologist said that she was the youngest patient their office had ever seen with breast cancer. She made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy. She did seven months of chemotherapy and then three years of the hormone therapy maintenance drug, Herceptin.  When Rebekah had been cancer free for three years, she met Joel and the two were married one year later.

Just eight months after they wed,  Rebekah was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 cancer is considered incurable. After many tests and scans, they learned that not only had Rebekah’s cancer returned, but it had metastasized (spread) to her liver, lungs, kidneys, bones, and brain. They found at least 9 tumors in her brain. One radiation oncologist that reviewed her scans said that even with treatment, she probably had 4-6 months to live. She was 26 years old.

Rebekah’s diagnosis and cancer remain a constant battle but a huge part of fighting her cancer is that they try to not let it dominate their lives. In fact, they try to live as though she does not have cancer.  They are both Christians, and their faith is a central focus of their lives.   They like to read, bargain hunt at garage sales and thrift stores, refurbish (upcycle) old furniture, decorate their house, hang out with friends and family, spend time with (Joel’s) kids, and watch Netflix in bed while eating ice cream (double fudge mouse tracks).  They also enjoy helping people who are hurting and struggling since they know that pain so well.

It is this desire to help others that inspired Joel to write this book

One of The Best Books for the Cancer Journey

How You Can Really Make a Difference in Helping a Loved-One with Cancer

7-10-18 Irvine, California

“Within two months, my dad and new young wife were both diagnosed with stage four cancer. My wife was only given 4-6 months to live. I didn’t even know what cancer was, except that it was really bad. I didn’t know what to do or say. The world fell out from below me and the future went black.”

When someone you love gets diagnosed with cancer, what do you say? What do you do? What do you NOT do? These questions and many others are answered in a new book: HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference. The answers come from a young couple who are in the trenches and valleys of fighting cancer and learning to love through it.

In 2014, Joel and Rebekah were married. Seven months later, Joel’s dad was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. Two months later, at the age of 26, Rebekah was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. One chapter of life closed and a new chapter opened. Their cancer journey began.

They are now three years into the journey. Along the way, many people have come alongside to help: family, friends, strangers, and some out of the woodworks. Many are helpful. Joel calls them “Cancer Angels”.  Others try to help but end up doing just the opposite. Joel calls these folk “Well-Intentioned Dragons”. The book is clothed with many stories of encounters with these “dragons”. This book will help you become a Cancer Angel and, hopefully, not be one of the dragons.

“Most of the dragons think they are helping and have no idea that they are actually causing harm. I wrote this book to inspire people with our story, to help people learn what cancer is, and show people how to really help a friend or loved one walking the cancer journey.”

The book will be available on Amazon on 7-10-18. He is also giving it away FREE for a limited time here: http://www.cancercaretakerbook.com

Joel Hughes is a husband and father. He is also the author of In Your Corner (coming soon), co-producer of the movie A Brave Hope (coming soon), and director of Rebekah’s Hope. He holds degrees in Christian ministry and philosophy. Joel lives in Southern California with Rebekah and his two kids.

Contact Joel at: joelhughes63@gmail.com

contact@rebekahshope.org

 

www.cancercaretakerbook.com

Donna

Left to right: Paula, Donna, Flo (me) and Susan, December, 2016

Donna was a woman who showed us how to put the FUN back into FUNeral!

I first met Donna when she joined my breast cancer support group, Sharing our Strength (SOS) in 2016. With her bubbly energy, infectious smile and love of fun, she brought a breath of fresh air to SOS. Our group is a large one, and there are many whom I cannot call by name, but Donna was not one of them. Everyone knew her. Everyone instantly loved her. It was her energy. Not a sweet, angelic energy, as you might imagine, but a no-nonsense, old-school nurse, always-do-the-right-thing, kind of energy. When something went wrong, her motto was “Fuck-fuckitty-fuck”. But most of the time, everything with Donna was “best kind.”

Donna instantly embraced our SOS group. Although she was surrounded by a very loving family and more good friends than one could count, she found something within our group that she could not get elsewhere. SOS is about unconditional love and acceptance, and a camaraderie that goes beyond understanding. Who else but those who have looked death in the eye, and have buried our beloved sisters, can really understand what it is like to be a breast cancer survivor?

Donna planned every detail of her funeral, and it was the most beautiful service I have ever attended. Our SOS group, dressed in black with pink scarves, stood in honor guard as we held an archway of pick roses the length of the church. It was very moving to behold the family, followed by about 50 nurses in uniform, walk though this arch of roses. There was no ordinary choir singing for Donna. She had none other than local celebrity Shelly Neville leading the choir. Although Shelly’s voice could have easily over powered the choir, I sensed that she “reigned it in” so as to not make it a “Shelly Neville concert.” An actual full band got up at the closing and sang an up-beat version of “I’ll Fly Away”, as people exited the church. Outside, my friend Dave, dressed in full Scottish attire, played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes as Donna was carried away.

That was the sad part. Then it was off to O’Reilly’s pub for beer, food and live music. Just as Donna had planned. We said some nasty toasts in her honor. Just as Donna had requested. We laughed and we cried as we remembered our dear friend. As SOS members, we are no strangers to funerals. However, Donna has raised the bar on funerals for our group. As we toasted her in that festive setting, we pledged, no more sandwiches in church basements following a morbid funeral. Like Donna, we intend to put the “fun” back into funeral! That is how she rolled, and that is how we want to be remembered.


On the day before her funeral, my deceased friend, Donna, sent me a message. Many will call it coincidence, but I know it was her. I was in need of a pink pashmina scarf to complete my SOS honour guard uniform. Driving home from work the day before the funeral, I said out loud, “Donna, I literally have 15 minutes to find a pink pashmina scarf. Not pale pink, I want hot pink. And it can’t be any kind of scarf, it has to be a pashmina.” Now, let’s consider that the odds of finding such a specific item anywhere in the city is pretty slim. It is not like I was looking for black leggings, which can be found anywhere. It is more like I was looking for a purple Blue Jays baseball hat, dated 1995. It is a very specific item and not one that is currently in vogue. It was no easy task to lay before my recently deceased friend!

I walked into the thrift store and was directed to their tiny collection of scarves. “Slim pickings”, I thought with disappointment, “Not a chance I will find it here.” Then, to my delight I reached into the basket, containing only about a dozen scarves and pulled out a hot pink pashmina! What are the odds? I went to the check out to pay for the item, reasonably priced at $2.50. I reached into my coin purse and took out two loonies ($1 coins) and two quarters to complete the transaction. I was surprised when one of the “loonies” was pushed back to me. “You must have mistaken that for a loonie,” said the sales clerk, “But it looks like some kind of a religious medal.” I picked it up and saw that it was actually a St. Theresa medal. St. Theresa is no stranger to me. I have been faithfully praying to her since I was a child. But I will swear on a stack of bibles that I had never seen that medal before and I have no idea how it found its way into my purse! Later, as I held the medal in my hand, I said aloud, “Donna, I don’t even think you were Catholic, so why did you use St. Theresa to send me a message?” I flipped over the medal and saw the words, “I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” A vison flashed before my eyes of her SOS sisters standing in honor guard with a shower of roses. I understand, Donna. It is your way of saying good-bye to your pink sisters. Best kind. Rest easy, my friend.

Happy Cancerversary!?

THE GIST

Happy Cancerversary.

It’s not something I ever thought I’d be saying to my daughter at the age of 15.

It’s not something I’m even sure how to express.

But we have celebrated her cancerversary for the past three years and each year it means something different.

This week was Grace’s third cancerversary, and again we attempt to honour her journey through Leukemia.

Three years ago we moved into an altered state of existence and I feel like we are just beginning to  wake up!

Just starting to live more fully again.  Just starting to breathe more deeply.

To relax into the possibility that everything will be ok.

Cancerversary #1

Still struggling with the disease.  Still struggling with fear and the heartbreak of not knowing.

Chocolate cake to celebrate.

Grace and her brother Harry, had a taste and then beat it up – smashed it to pieces.

Wrestling with what was…

View original post 251 more words

Suffering in Silence

“I’m having these weird thoughts about having sex with my mother.”

“God is telling me to kill my boyfriend.”

“I keep getting visions of having oral sex with my three year old cousin.”

“I don’t want to die, but I can’t get rid of these thoughts that I am going to kill myself.”

These are actual statements that I have heard from clients in my Psychology practice over the past few months. If you are now picturing my client as some creepy pedophile or deranged serial killer, you would be wrong. My clients are typically young (aged 18 to 30), intelligent, educated, come from loving families and are in healthy relationships with a significant other. Yet every day they face an overwhelming battle with their own minds, trying to convince them that they are suicidal, child molesters, incestuous, or potential murderers. What these young people are suffering from is an anxiety provoking phenomena called intrusive thinking.

An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. (Wikipedia)

Generally, intrusive thoughts come in one or more of these forms:

-Sexualised intrusive thoughts
-Intrusive thoughts in relation to children
-Violent, harm causing intrusive thoughts
-Religious intrusive thoughts
-Intrusive thoughts regarding your sexual identity
-Intrusive thoughts regarding your family
-Intrusive thoughts relating to death

Intrusive thoughts tend to be about things that are valued by you. For example, if you are an animal lover, you may have intrusive thoughts about harming animals. If you are a religious person, you may have intrusive thoughts about God or a religious figure. In all cases, these thoughts are unwanted and cause great distress and anxiety for those who experience them.

Intrusive thoughts can be difficult to treat because of the air of secrecy that surround them. I am sure you have all heard of anxiety, depression, OCD, and other mental health issues, but very few people are familiar with the term intrusive thinking. Therefore, when these thoughts arise, people tend to think that they are “crazy”, or that they really are child molesters or even capable of killing someone they love. They feel ashamed and guilty for having these thoughts, and try to hide them, even from their counsellors.

I recently met with a lovely young university student whose voice shook as she told me, “I am having bad thoughts.” Before she could finish, I said, “Oh, they are probably about inappropriate sexual actions or killing yourself or someone else, right?” She both laughed and cried with relief as I explained to her that she is not alone, and that there are techniques that she can use to rid herself of these unwelcome thoughts. For the first time in many years, she felt “normal” and had hope that her quality of life would improve.

February is Psychology month, and in honor of this, I ask that you share this article to help raise understanding and awareness of intrusive thoughts. If this article reaches you and you are suffering from intrusive thinking, please remember that you are not alone and there is help. There is no need to suffer in silence.

www.florencestrang.com

The Perks Continue!

For anyone who has followed my blog for a while, or read my book, 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It  you may recall that one of the PERKS of having cancer, was getting free stuff.  For example, my t-shirt drawer is practically over-flowing with free t-shirts from various cancer events.  I am happy to report, that even though my challenge to find 100 perks has long been accomplished, the perks continue.

#thinkpinkbink

October (Pinktober) is breast cancer awareness month, and although the color pink makes some people nauseous, I still love it……especially when it comes attached to FREE STUFF!   I recently received this Pink Bink Mobile Media Table in the mail, just because!

A worthy cause and a fabulous piece of furniture! 

It is a fabulous little multi-purpose table that can be used as a desk, coffee table or even a night stand.  It is strong, light-weight and practical.  Proceeds from each Pink Bink sold will benefit the cancer research efforts of City of Hope®, a leading research and treatment center for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.  You can learn more about the Pink Bink HERE 

Some of you may be thinking, “I can’t believe Florence Strang is taking kickbacks from her blog!”  Getting free stuff in return for a bit of publicity can be an unethical practice.  But folks, I did my homework on this City of Hope  so please, hear me out.

Have you noticed how pretty much everything gets “pinked out” during the month of October?  I mean everything, form a pack of tic tacs, to tins of soup to toilet paper seems to be sporting the pink ribbon.

We consumers are led to believe that by buying these products we are doing something good for breast cancer research.  Not so.  Much of the time the ribbon is there just to raise awareness of breast cancer, as if you did not already know that it exists.  In other words, it is a scam.

However, I did my homework on the pink bink campaign and it turns out, the City of Hope, whom they support, is a very legitimate, not for profit cancer research center.  Best of all, they use their dollars to fund research for metastatic breast cancer.   Read more HERE

The thing that many people do not understand about breast cancer is that nobody dies from it……..unless it is metastatic, or stage four.  A woman could develop a very early stage cancer, have it treated, and months later be diagnosed with stage four.  I know of a woman, for example, who had stage zero cancer, meaning it barely registered on the ole cancer-meter, but it came back months later as stage 4.  Cancer cells are sneaky little things, you see.  You might get all cocky thinking, “Oh I have nothing to worry about.  I have been cancer free for ten years.  It can’t get me now.”  Only to have it come back in the lungs, bones or brain with the intent to kill.

 However, ironically, even though stage 4 breast cancer is the only one that kills, it receives the least amount of research funding.  

So before you support the next product or service that is blinged out in pink, find out for yourself where your dollars are going.  The life you are saving by supporting metastatic breast cancer research could be your own or that of someone you love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Befores and Afters….Furniture Make-Overs

First of all, I am not a creative person. However, they say that necessity is the mother of invention and in my case, poverty was the mother of creativity. Recently, I decided to furnish my empty house in Lewin’s Cove on a limited (some might say “non-existent”) budget. So I spent weeks on Kijiji and browsing thrift stores for good deals. Then, armed with a few cans of spray paint, some chalk paint and a quart of polycrylic, I performed some magic! Here are some of my befores and afters.

Project 1:  Rocking Chair.  When I saw this antique rocking chair on Kijiji for just $10, I knew I had to have it.   This chair had been in the lady’s family for over 100 years, which was evident by the many coats of paint.   One tin of blue spray paint ($7.99) and a couple of coats of polycrylic, and I had a piece that I will cherish forever!  (Note: Polycrylic is a water-based clear coat finish.  It costs about $20 a quart, but it is enough to finish many, many projects.  It is a great finish for chalk paint and a much easier option than wax.)

 

Before

After

Before finishing with polycrylic, I distressed it with a piece of sandpaper, to maintain the antique look.

Project 2:  End Table.  My daughter, Kaitlyn, was throwing out this little table, and I thought it would make a nice addition to my entrance way.  I spray painted the top and chalk painted the legs white.

Before

After

Note: I spray painted the handle black.

Project 3: Nightstand.  Some things, like my rocking chair, are truly antique.  Some things, like this night table, are simply old and out of style.  However, once again, my spray paint worked it’s magic and I have a modern, very heavy solid wood night table. I used a high gloss spray paint ($7.99) which did not require a finish.  The table cost $7 at Value Village.

Before

After (note: I spray painted the handles again.  One tin of black spray paint finished many projects!)

I used this table in my half bath, as a place to store towels.  The jug I got at a yard sale for $1.  The picture originally had a green and burgundy frame, which I spray painted this lovely aqua color, left over from my end table make over above!

Project 4:  Dining Room Set.  Who amongst us did not own an oak set like this in the 90’s?   Most of them have been sent off to university with our kids, or to our cabins.  However, it is solid wood.  They just don’t make them like this anymore.  I got this set on kijiji for $80.

Before.  Note: I had taken out the insert at this stage and used paint remover to take off the varnish.  For the chairs, I used chalk paint so no need to remove the original varnish finish since chalk paint will stick to anything.

After.  The chairs and base were painted with chalk paint, finished with polycrylic.  For the top, I used a rag to apply dark stain after it had been sanded down.  Then I added several coats of polycrylic.

After close up.

Project 5:  Solid oak coffee table.  What a find!  A big, heavy, coffee table for $25.  Two coats of chalk paint, a bit of distressing with sandpaper, and once again, finished with polycrylic.  I also used a hammer to put a few dents and scrapes in it before finishing, to add to the distressed, antique look.

Before

After.  Note: I used country grey chalk paint.

Project 6: Lamps.  I have had these lamps for about 15 years.  It did not really cost me anything to re-finish since I already had a tin of black spray paint.  The shades I painted with two coats of white, latex paint.

Before (beige and gold) and After (modern black and white) side by side.

Project 7:  Fireplace.  Of all my projects, this is definitely my masterpiece!   How to give new life to an old fireplace?  Paint!  I used white melamine, which took several coats, but in retrospect I would have used white chalk paint, which is much less work, and finished with polycrylic.  The bricks I painted with a heat resistant paint.  Notice how even the wall color looks nicer in the after picture.

Before

After

I don’t have a before photo of my living room, unfortunately, but just imagine brown fireplace, brown coffee table and beige walls.  With some paint and a bit of elbow grease, the room was completely transformed.

I have to warn you, once you start doing these projects, it becomes addictive.  I am currently trying to wean myself off kijiji since I have no room for more makeovers.

Where do I get all of my patience to finish these projects, you ask?  I meditate!  If you live in the St. John’s area, and would like to try out a free meditation class, I am offering one on October 22nd.  Register here:

https://www.florencestrang.com/upcoming-workshops