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Guest Blogger: Dana Cox

Florence asked me a LONG time ago to consider being one of her guest bloggers.  Well I am FINALLY getting around to it…now that her 100th perk is just around the corner!!  I had been corresponding with Florence long before we’d even met!  I came across her blog and felt the need to contact her, being a breast cancer survivor myself, and having spent a few years on the Burin Peninsula! I read a few of her posts and immediately fell in love with her sense of humor and how she approached this beast we call breast cancer. She reminded me so much of myself!  So, I immediately called a close friend of mine, who just happens to be the organizer of the Annual Breast Cancer Retreat,  and said, “If you don’t have a guest speaker for the retreat, then you have one now!  You HAVE to check out Florence Jarvis and her Perks of Cancer!” Well, I am happy to say that I had the pleasure of meeting Florence in March 2012, and then in May 2012 at the Breast Cancer Retreat! What a fabulous guest speaker she was!!

This was my second Breast Cancer Retreat!  Sitting in a room filled with almost 200 breast cancer survivors is a feeling I will never truly be able to describe! It brings me back to last year’s retreat!   I remember walking into last year’s retreat like a Warrior!  Less than a month post-treatment, I was ready to kick up my feet and celebrate my accomplishment!  I, Dana Cox, had taken down the beast!  You see,  I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in June 2010 at the ripe old age of 31.  My husband and I had been married for 9 years and were blessed with three beautiful children (Spencer-6, Bella-4, and Claire-2, at the time of my diagnosis).  The last thing I had ever imagined would be a cancer diagnosis.  And so the story goes….6 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments.  If there was ever a “good” cancer story, I had it! Through all six chemo treatments, I was healthy as a horse!  No sickness, no vomiting!  Just the occasional “blah” day!  But otherwise, perfectly healthy…well…you know…!!  Then came the radiation treatments….all 30 of them!  I chose to drive to St. John’s every day rather than stay in St.John’s for the 6 weeks of treatments.  Remember, I had three small kiddies at home that needed their momma!!  So, off I went!  Sometimes I’d take the kids with me (and a babysitter to watch them while I was getting “zapped”).  Sometimes I would go alone….just to get away from the little animals…..God love them! But when it was done, WOW!  What a feeling!!   So, you can imagine my excitement as I walked into that breast cancer retreat a few weeks later,  having beaten cancer!  I was unstoppable!

I was ready to get back to my life…back to being a normal mom, a wife, a teacher, a daughter!  To stop being “that poor young woman with cancer,” “The reverend’s sick daughter,” “That sick one with three small kids…poor thing!”  I am sure you get the point!! I still laugh at the “How are you doing?  Well, you LOOK good!” comments.  I mean, I had beaten cancer….shouldn’t I start going back to looking normal, or bad, or whatever they thought I looked like before I got the cancer in the first place?   LOL!  Well, unfortunately, I didn’t get many months to look normal, before I was “looking good” again.  In January, 2012, just 9 months after my last treatment, I was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer.  After a few months with a bad back and some x-rays, low and behold, the cancer had taken up residence in my lower posterior rib!  The nerve of it!!

This new diagnosis made 2012’s Breast Cancer Retreat a little more difficult to swallow!  I was really looking forward to the retreat, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “When will be my last retreat?  Will this be the last one I get to attend?  I was lucky the first time….but…..”  Sitting through the memorial service was a moment I will not soon forget!  I would look at the names on that banner of those who had fought hard but lost the battle, and I could just picture my name there.  It was brutal….but I made it through…..barely!!  It was time to move on…..or in the words of my friend, to “Frig off!”  I won’t let myself go there….often!   I try not to let myself think about the long term!  I mean, it’s in my bones now!  It’s no longer curable!  I remember what my doctor said to me after giving me the news.   She said “Go home!  Live your life!”  It  hit me like a ton of bricks….live my life? Was this the beginning of my death sentence?  How much longer did I actually have?  Were they not telling me something?    But now I look at it differently! I look at it, not as a death sentence, but as a life sentence – a reason to get out there and LIVE! Would I love to be able to take my family and travel all over the world?  To do everything that we ever dreamed?  You’d better believe it!!  But unfortunately when you are told to go home and live your life, they don’t send the Bank of Montreal home with you!  But I AM living my life!  I am enjoying my family, my husband, my three children, my friends!  Taking in all I can!  No one knows how long they have on this earth – not me, not you!  So the only thing ANY of us can do is go and live our lives – making memories that will last an eternity!

Since my diagnosis in June 2010, I’ve certainly been on a wild ride!  I survived the first round of cancer!  I wrote a song about my cancer journey!   I have had my “Cancer Song,” as my kids have named it, professionally recorded.  I am in the process of recording a full album.  I’ve met and sang with Johnny Reid (I’m tellin’ ya….when I say I’ve lived……I’ve lived!!!) .  I have met some fabulous people who have changed my life.  How I ever managed to live without them, is beyond me!  You know who you are!!  Can I thank cancer for this??  Hmmm….well, yeah, I guess I can!  In some sort of twisted way, cancer has had a positive affect on my life!  Strange, I know!  But true!

So, yeah, my name is Dana Cox. I am 33, and I have incurable cancer!  But that’s okay!  Please don’t pity me, don’t feel sorry for me!!  Just support me!  Support my many friends who are breast cancer survivors! Support those still battling the disease!  Support organizations that strive to put an end to this disease!  And cancer or no cancer, remember to LIVE – I know I certainly will!!

Dana Cox

Salmon Cove, NL

danacox1@yahoo.ca

Perk # 90: …….And To Adopt Some Good Habits

My son, Donovan, walked into the kitchen one morning and asked, “Mom, why does it smell like someone just mowed the lawn in here?”

“Well, son, that’s my breakfast,”  I replied.

Yes, my friends, I am doing grass; wheatgrass, that is.  In case you are wondering, it tastes every bit as good as it sounds.   However, along with kicking some old bad habits, cancer motivated me to adopt some new, healthy ones.  Juicing wheatgrass is one of them.

I have read a lot of good things about wheatgrass juice.  I am no medical expert, but taking living grass, squeezing the green “blood” from it, and then drinking it, has to be good for you.   The fact that it ranks right up there with broccoli and raw cabbage in taste tests, is further proof to me that it is healthy.   Therefore, while it takes a lot of work just to produce just one ounce of the juice, I plan to continue with this healthy habit.

Tip: Be open to trying new foods  for their health benefits.

Perk # 89: Cancer Motivated Me To Drop Some Bad Habits……

Before getting cancer, I considered myself to be living a healthy-ish lifestyle.  I didn’t smoke, I exercised on a regular basis, and I even ate the occasional green salad.  But ya know, we all have our vices.  For some it is chocolate (I couldn’t be bothered); for others it’s fast food (I’d much rather cook a leisurely meal at home); for me it’s wine.  Nothing brings me more pleasure than sipping on a cold sauvignon blanc.  First my taste buds spring to life, then I feel the warm sensation as it hits my belly, followed by the  comforting feeling of wine-induced relaxation.   Ahhhhh……

 It is not my fault that I was born loving wine.  What did mom expect by giving me a name like Florence?  Obviously with a name which originated in Italy, I am genetically predispositioned to want wine with every meal.  But alas, I have learned that alcohol in any form- even red wine which can be good for your heart- is not good for cancer.   Therefore I have had to break my bad habit of having a glass of wine on a whim.   While I still do engage in the occasional libation, I make sure to limit it to just ONE glass.

Cheers!

Tip:  Limit your alcohol consumption.

 

Guest Blog

Here it is, another Wednesday, and time to post a guest blog from one of my favourite bloggers.  I would like to introduce you to Jennifer.  Jennifer hails from Chester, Virginia.  She enjoys hiking, yoga, golf, and the Boston Red Sox.  She took to blogging shortly after her breast cancer diagnosis, and intends to use her experience with breast cancer as an opportunity to improve her lifestyle and get healthy.  She blogs at www.junojen.blogspot.ca

Jennifer

When Flo, our beloved Cancer Warrior, invited me to be a guest blogger on “The Perks of Having Cancer,” I was more than happy to participate. Flo’s blog has lifted my spirits during this incredible experience we share – the experience of defeating breast cancer. Thank you, Flo for your inspiring blog and constant optimism. You’ve made the fight a lot more enjoyable!

 

Please Don’t Call It “The Lost Year”

On Monday, March 5, 2012, I finally reached a goal that had been set for me WAY back in July. I completed my treatment for breast cancer. It’s been a LONG 10 months. Many women face more rounds of chemo and more surgeries than I did. I got off easy with just 10 months.

Many of us face the same five year period of taking tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor to hopefully prevent a breast cancer recurrence. I will start my regimen in April after my hysterectomy. I will also see one of my doctors at three month intervals for the next two years. After that, the doctor visits should slow down. In the mean time, I will do what so many other women have done before me – get on with my life.

I have heard so many women refer to this time period between diagnosis and finishing treatment as “The Lost Year.” I don’t look at it that way. For me, these past several months have been exactly the opposite. I found much more than I lost.

I found the love and support of so many people, it has been overwhelming. I found support from people I hadn’t heard from in over 30 years. I heard from classmates who were not exactly my friends during our school days. They came to my Facebook page and told me how much they admired me. I found a whole group of new friends online, women who blog or are a part of the Crazy Sexy Cancer website community. I have even had the opportunity to meet two of them in person and now consider them my friends “in real life.”

My co-workers took support and encouragement to a whole new level. During the month of October for Breast Cancer Awareness, one of my co-workers would come into my office and present me with a pink themed gift. I received plants, jewelry, t-shirts, hats, tea towels, notecards, pins and mugs. Those that work in remote locations sent me pink Care Packages packed with items they collected at their office. This outpouring of support went on during the entire month and continues even today. Just last week I had the janitor in my office with tears in his eyes telling me what an inspiration I have been to him.

But most important, my relationship with my sister grew even stronger and for that, I am really grateful. She sent me a card after every chemo session. We talked on Facetime. She sent a huge cookie to congratulate me on completing chemo. We spent time together over Christmas. Her support in particular has meant the world to me.

So yeah, I’m done with cancer treatment. I am ready to get on with my life – this time with a much greater appreciation for my relationships and my health.

Tip: A life threatening illness like cancer will reveal the relationships in your life that are the most meaningful and important. Most of us think we know which relationships these are but cancer has a way of showing us so much more. Give thanks for the opportunity to see things more clearly and remember to pay it forward.

 

Perk # 71: I Haven’t Been Sick Since I Got Cancer

Last night, amid hacking and coughing, Shawn turned to me and said, “Darlin’ maybe I should sleep in another room.  I don’t want you to catch this cold.”  To which I promptly replied, “Oh, don’t worry about me.  I haven’t been sick since I got cancer.”   The words were already out of my mouth before I realized the irony of it!  The truth is, I have not had a cold, flu or stomach bug in the past year, despite being surrounded by contagious kids.   Cold seasons have come and gone in my home, and I have nursed each of my three children through the dreaded stomach flu, but for some reason, I have been unaffected.   Even my lifelong companion, irritable bowel syndrome (yes, it is as irritating as it sounds) has taken a hike this past year.

Hmmmmmmm to what do I owe this reprieve from boogers and other un-pleasantries?   I chalk it up to a robust immune system.  Before getting cancer, I took my immune system for granted, assuming that it would ward off the enemy fueled by the likes of diet cokes and Doritos.  While my killer T-cells snoozed, viruses  and bacteria moved in and took up residence in my body.  Then came the ultimate ambush: CANCER.  What a rude awakening.  I knew it was time to make friends with my killer T’s by feeding them  nourishing foods and giving them some exercise.  I even spend time each day picturing these little soldiers traveling through my body seeking and destroying the dreaded enemy.   It has paid off.   Other than the adverse side effects of my treatments, (which cannot be blamed on a lazy immune system), I am one of the healthiest cancer patients you will ever meet.

(Click on this link to watch a live Killer T cell in action, destroying a cancer cell:  http://www.geek.com/articles/geek-cetera/watch-a-killer-t-cell-in-action-as-it-attacks-a-cancerous-cell-20120211/)

Tip:  Keep your immune system strong and healthy by feeding your body nutritious, cancer-fighting foods, getting plenty of rest, exercising, and reducing the stressors in your life.

 

Perk # 69: Awards and Recognitions

Today I received a “Very Inspiring Blogger Award” from fellow blogger, Dor (http://notesfromtheblogusfear.com)/  , who says, “I have just lost a dear friend to cancer.  She would have so loved your blog.  You are an inspiration to many and I am giving you the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.”  Thank you, Dor, for your kind words and for considering me for this award.

I am sure that my fellow bloggers are familiar with awards such as these, which are passed through the blogosphere in chain-mail-like-fashion.  It may not rank up there with the coveted “Webby”, but I still consider it an honour to be nominated, and I am thrilled to add these badges to my site.   (And just think, now I can refer to my blog as “an award winning blog”!)

Yesterday, I received another unexpected honour in the form of a response to my blog.  If you have cancer, Dr. Siegel, or “Bernie”, as he prefers to be called, probably needs no introduction.     He is an internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer treatment, and best selling author of twelve books.   His first book, “Love, Medicine and Miracles” sold millions of copies and went to Number 1 on the New York Times best sellers list.  It also landed him appearances on numerous television programs, including Oprah, Donahue and 20/20.  (Yes folks, I said, OPRAH!)

In May 2011, Bernie was honored by the Watkins Review of London, England, as one of the Top 20 Spiritually Influential Living People on the Planet.

It is little wonder then, that I am completely over the moon that this man took the time, not only to read my “Healthy Living Challenge” for this week, but also to comment on it, and send a personal response to my private email.  You can read his comment here: (https://perksofcancer.wordpress.com/healthy-living-challenge-2/)

Thank you, Bernie, for reaffirming my belief that behaving like a survivor does indeed make a difference in recovering from cancer, and that miracles truly are possible.

Tip:  In “Love, Medicine and Miracles”, Dr. Bernie Siegel says, “There are no incurable diseases, only incurable people”.   Even if a type of cancer has only a 1% survival rate, that one person in a hundred who beats the odds could very well be YOU.  If you are looking for hope, please read Bernie’s book.

p.s.  As a condition of accepting the “Very Inspiring Blogger Award”, I am required  to nominate seven fellow bloggers who inspire me.   It is difficult for me to narrow my choices to only seven, as I have met so many inspirational bloggers in the five months that I have been part of this community.  Here are some of my favourite cancer-related blogs:

Susan is a breast cancer survivor who is both smart and funny.   She shares her knowledge, research and experience as a registered nurse to present educational information relating to breast cancer and good health in general.  She blogs at www.sisterearthorganics.com

Sweet Rachel is the eternal optimist, who is capable of finding the blessings which lurk behind her cancer diagnosis.  She blogs at www.rachturner.wordpress.com

I feel a special connection to Jennifer because she and I shared the exact same chemo schedule.  While we live in different countries, the blogosphere allows us to connect and compare our stories.  She blogs at www.junojen.blogspot.com

Shanna is a sweet young woman who is one of the most determined souls I have ever cyber-met.   She is constantly coming up with new juicing concoctions, cleanses, and alternative ways of beating her cancer.  You can find her at www.existingstricky.blogspot.com

Marie is the wise one; a strong and intelligent woman who is showing us the ropes of the journey after breast cancer.   She can be found at www.journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com

AnneMarie is making waves with her outspoken and thought provoking blog www.chemo-brain.blogspot.com

Nancy is the spunky Texan who shares the good, the bad, and the ugly of breast cancer.  Check her out at www.pinkunderbelly.com

Ladies, you can pick up your award below: