Hope to the Third Power

 

All dolled up to launch the Liberty Collective!

Last Saturday, June 11, we held a launch party for The Liberty Collective, a non-profit organization that I am starting with my phenomenal sisters Erika and Kelli. Our goal is to help spread hope and light to people fighting cancer, in the form of three silk scarves gifted to every person and the stories that go with them.

Danny MC'd the night in various states of scarf attire. Looking good, my friend.

As I explained to the crowd that gathered last weekend, the idea of scarves came from my own personal experience as I was going through a summer of cancer treatment and the healing season that followed. When I hunted and gathered silk scarves online, I experienced a real emotional ride.

The power of a beautiful scarf!

I was awed at the craft of these rich pieces that were often hand stitched and sometimes a little worn on the edges. They were almost always stunning in color and form and I was amazed at how unique each one was.  Often when I bid on and won a vintage scarf online, I would weep when it came to my mailbox and I ripped open the envelope. I could almost feel the presence of the women that wore it before. I swear some of those scarves almost hummed with this energy.

Kate and Dan looking sharp!

 

Sam and Emma were dedicated to hanging scarves in our scarf gallery. They did a wonderful job!

And the fresh ones that were especially purchased new for me from dear friends carried an equivalent amount of life force. I could almost see through their eyes as they had carefully picked out the pattern they thought I’d like, feel their hands as they must have swept them across the silky texture and hold their hearts as they wrapped the scarf up to share with me when I needed it most.

Beautiful Rebecca, wearing one of my favorite scarves that was gifted from some good friends last summer.

Last Saturday night, that emotional connection was exponential. Surrounded by amazing friends and family and a beautiful setting at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland Oregon, we were steeped in love and support.  We raffled off some great prizes, we auctioned incredible desserts baked by wonderful friends and most of all, we had a great time. All in all, we received over 120 insanely gorgeous and unique scarves and were so touched by the generosity of the donations. It was a sight to behold.

Ricky's table wins big in the dessert auction!

One of the many donated, home baked delicious desserts. This one was called, "Mama told me there'd be cakes like these."

Today I am still aglow and wish I could tell you all how sincerely thankful I am.

 

I should climb to the top of Mt Hood and fly a giant banner for all to see.  I should paint each of your names on the side of every boat on the Willamette River.  I should tie a giant scarf on the neck of Portland’s neon white stag!

Good friends looking good and doing good. We are bringing the scarf back into fashion people!

Thank you Nancy, Pat and Jenny!

And if I could, I would.

Instead, I will do what you did. I will honor those ahead of me in their fight with cancer. In the coming months we will focus on trying to build up our bank of scarves so that we can reach as many people as possible.  We will also be working on the digital community that will enable us to connect each scarf with the story of the person that donated it and the person that is wearing it through their own journey to Cancer-land, and hopefully back.

 

Spencer rocks a sweet scarf.

My good friend Kori, a fellow breast cancer survivor, startled me a few weeks ago when she looked me in the eye and said, “you know, we will lose some people in the Collective. Some of those scarves will come back but the people wearing them won’t.” While I had of course known this in my core, I hadn’t really faced that harsh reality.

I took a deep breath and resolved myself to launch and nurture the Liberty Collective. I am committed to ensuring that the eyes, the hands and the hearts of those we lose will continue to live on, as the three scarves they each wear get mixed into others and handed on to the next member of The Liberty Collective.

And in that way, we will not mourn their loss, but celebrate their life, exponentially.

Lovely Asia.

 

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We’re Girls. We Share.

Sister tribe from way back when! (me on the left, Erika in the middle, Kelli on the right). Hear no, see no, speak no evil! ... Not sure what to say about the shoes?!?

Sister weekends have become something of a tradition in our family. Every six months or so we try to fit a joint journey into our mutually hectic lives. Last fall, I needed to travel to Boston for a conference, so I promptly talked my two left coast sisters into meeting me there.

We had an amazing time exploring the city, satisfying our retail itch and driving up the coast for a day. But what we most treasured together was the chance to investigate, debate and plan each meal. As I’ve written about before here at Amongst the Waves, good food equates to deep love in my family. It is serious business.

This trip was no exception. Accompanied by a big nor’easter wind, we reveled in the local goodness of lobster rolls, oyster shooters and cannolis. We pulled our hats down low and tightly linked our gloved arms as we marched around town, exploring all that we could. We also made it out to some excellent restaurants each night. At one such white table-clothed establishment, we met up with a waiter who was not exactly feeling the love.

Grumpy waiter, forever remembered as Charlie.

You see, nine times out of ten when we three sit down to a nice dinner out, we all pick something different.  But then we rotate a third of the way through so that we all can try each dish. When it became clear that this was our epicurean method on this cold night in Boston, the waiter (who bore a striking resemblance to Charlie Brown  – no kidding), stuck his nose in the air and got quite offended at our communal approach to dining.

We carried on with our sibling chatter and our pleasure in the good food, disregarding his discomfort.  Soon a young woman came by to freshen our water and clean some crumbs. She took one look, smiled and said, “sisters?”.

My older sister at that point nodded and declared… “We’re girls. We share.”

And that was that.

Big sis Erika helping me to Livestrong last summer.

Today my sisters, Erika and Kelli, and I are launching a new adventure. Together, we are starting a non-profit organization and social community called The Liberty Collective. Our mission is to provide inspiration, community support, and information to people fighting cancer and those who support them. At the core of the program is our quest to send three silk scarves to anyone battling cancer.

A scarf library of sorts.

Why scarves?  Why now?

Thanks fam! XO

 

Past readers will recall my own personal travails of hair loss and growth, wig wearing and Liberty of London scarf sniping. Having beautiful silk scarves made me feel and look better and was also a great antidote to the overwhelming feelings that at times threatened to sink me.

One of my favorite scarf photos. This is me perching a smooch on my beautiful Grandma Betty, just a short time before she passed away at age 97.

Each scarf will include a story of those that donated the scarf or the people that wore it before. Through Facebook and a digital community, members from around the world can find out more about where each scarf has traveled, communicate with others for peer-sourced support on cancer treatment and prevention and also share their own story.

It’s about “hope, wrapped in a scarf, wrapped in a story.”

We are still building our site, crafting the right social strategy and working through the best way to help the most people. I will be asking some of you to come along with me on this quest to give back and spread hope. Right now we just are working to build up our bank of colorful, silk scarves. To find out how you can donate a new or vintage one, click here to our facebook page. If you are feeling the love,  ”like” the page and we’ll keep you posted.

We want to start a new epidemic together. We want to create an outbreak of inspiration. And we believe we can.

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The Gift of Forward Motion

The other day in yoga class, my teacher Savonn was talking about how February can often feel like a month where we are at loose ends. After the full on attack of the holidays and the hurry up offense of January, February just kind of stares us down. Not yet spring but no longer really winter either. Neither here, nor there. February, you are a difficult month.

To get us out of the rut, Savonn had us all do back bend poses. As she explained it, taking on these postures can force forward movement and increase energy. But these poses can also be pretty hard and down right scary, bringing forth a lot of emotions for people.

Beautiful Savonn.

I was no exception.

Since I had started treatment last Spring I had studiously avoided one pose… the Full Wheel. Essentially this is when you put your hands behind you and pop up into a full backbend.  It had always been a frightening proposition for me. The thought of it instantly brought me back to the awkwardness brought on by gymnastics when I was 10. But it was especially daunting after treatment and surgery this past year… I never thought I’d get up the courage after that.

Emma demonstrating Full Wheel.

Fast forward to about two-thirds through the aforementioned class when Savonn asked me to come to the center of the room to demonstrate. She then proceeded to give me one of the best gifts I have ever received. Savonn carefully stood back to back with me and then raised her arms high overhead, asked me to do the same, and then entwined her hands with mine. As she curled slowly forward into a little ball, I was carefully lowered backwards into a backbend. Then she rolled out of the way and just like that, I was up on my own and breathing into the Full Wheel pose, feeling strong and so satisfied.

As I completed the class that day in final-resting-pose (where you lay flat on your back with deep breathing), tears slowly ran down my cheeks. These were mixed up tears… not sad, but not exactly happy either. It was kind of a relief and release all shaken together. I have learned that the power of touch is very important in healing and, like so many times before in my classes, the gentle, knowing placement of Savonn’s hands had helped soothe wounds that were not just on the outside, but the inside too. You see she knew I was afraid, and stalled, and she found a way to guide me forward and literally be the force to support me.

In one of my favorite new books (“Anti-Cancer” by David Servan-Schreiber), the author concludes with a section called “The Anti-Cancer Body.” He says, “Touching is a very old way of healing.  Touch as a mother would touch a child, because what a mother is saying through her touch is “live.” Something in touching strengthens the will to live in us.  Healing is evoking the will to live in another person.  It comes about not by doing something but by letting another person know that their pain and their suffering and their fear matter.  They really matter.”

Heather's hands lovingly rubbing out the neuropathy.

Looking back on it, I realized something.  Through my weekly acupuncture sessions, my every-Sunday shaitsu session with Kenshi, my stylist Patti’s warm scalp massage when she washed my barely there hair, my friend Heather’s sweet commitment all last summer to catch my hands and rub out the numbness from the chemo or especially, the tender pressure of my yoga teachers’ hands at the end of class, I was steadfastly healing at the hands of another.

The incredibly talented and very kind Dr. Murphy.

Last week I had my last surgery, a final step in the reconstruction, and I am now healing from the work of some of the best hands in town… my super-amazing surgeon Dr. Murphy. I won’t be doing any Full Wheels again for a while. But in the meantime, I’m in full forward motion. And despite the frigid cold this weekend, the earth is also moving forward. Budding daphne, blooming daffodils and chirping birds all seem to be calling me ahead.

Hello spring.  Hello me.

Fitting lyrics from the new Decemberists album...

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Coming Full Circle

So I said I was done with my blog. And I think I am. But these days, as I (and you?) continue to live “amongst the waves,” I keep bumping into situations and thoughts that I feel compelled to share.

I’m in London this week on work travel. Just about a year ago I visited this fine town for the first time and stayed at the same hotel. Being in the exact same surroundings at the same time of year in cold, brisk London made me reflect on who I was 365+ days ago as I ventured out alone. Something about exploring a great big heaving city for the first time makes you feel so alive.  New sites, new smells and new rhythms of city life bring about new emotions. I definitely felt that way last year. But as I think back to that time BC (“before cancer”), I realize I might not have been living as full of a life as I thought.

Back at beloved Liberty...the obsession continues

Since things turned upside down, people ask me all the time, “how have you changed your behavior after becoming a cancer survivor?  Are you a vegan now?  A fanatic exerciser?” Definitely the answer is “no” to the first question, although I have a budding romance with carrot juice and kale.  And to the second question, my answer is sadly, no…sigh. But I’m working on it.

The area I have decidedly and definitively changed for good is this idea of living with intention. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, every time I wake up, it is an opportunity to embrace the day and be fully present in each moment. I still scan my iPhone at inappropriate times, get caught up in my Facebook newsfeed when I should be working, text while driving (shame on all of us for that) and let my thoughts drift when I’m in the middle of a meeting. Guilty as charged. BUT, I also have a different take on the little things that I know, hand on heart, will never leave me (spoken like a true Londoner?!?)

This trio of good friends escorted me to my first real football match. You can't help but live in the moment at an Arsenal match!

Today I had coffee with the granddaughter of some very good friends from Alaska that helped look after us when we naively moved there in ‘96 (Steve and Cassy, who you can read about in a former post here). Stay with me if you can for this twisty tale.  It’s rather random but maybe it isn’t…

Yesterday, sitting in my meetings doing the dirty deed of checking my email while pretending to pay attention, I suddenly got an email from Katrina (the granddaughter in question).  She had graduated from school last summer and had been interning with the Fulbright Scholar administration and living in London. She had no idea I was here but was just reaching out to let me know she’d be moving to Portland soon and was going to be looking for a job in communications. Lo and behold we were in the same city at the same time, many moons and miles away from the small Southeastern Alaska town where we first got to know each other when Katrina was growing up.

I met this beauty of a girl in Greenwich market last year. The image of her stuck in my mind. A human connection!

In past lives, I would have brushed away this moment of serendipity and taken weeks to get back to her, if at all, given the pull on my schedule. But, instead I wrote her right back and decided to make time this afternoon to meet up for a few hours. We had a great chat and hopefully I gave her some good career advice suitable for a young, hungry person who’s looking to make a difference in the world. And I realized that this was what it was all about. Living with a real intention to make meaningful connections along the way. And in turn, potentially give back and make good on the amazing support we received from her grandparents when we needed a hand.

As I walked back into the hotel after our chat, I saw the bellman who helped me with my bags the first day of this trip.  He was the very same one who helped me a year before. As usual, I didn’t have cash when I got in from my flight so could not tip him.  But, with intention, I wrote his name down (handsome young American boy named Alex). And today when I saw him, I looked him in the eye, said “thanks Alex” and handed him a few bills.  A small thing, but again, a human connection that I wouldn’t have made (and frankly didn’t) one year ago.

Yes, oysters, pinot grigio and candlelight for one can count towards living with intent!

This week I learned that a fellow co-worker who is a much respected man of very big and sound character was heading into chemo.  I also learned that a girlfriend of mine has been given the tough news of more cancer battles ahead.

This was hard for me.  But harder for them.

I despise this disease and what it does to vibrant, beautiful people.  And there is nothing I can do.  Except to live each day with purpose and add a little more hope and human connection to the world.

With hand on heart, can I ask you to do the same?

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Smile, World.

“To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying is to be a chameleon.
To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.”

Mark Nepo, shared with me by my favorite pilgrim and amazing yoga instructor, Savonn

I have come to the end of this chapter of my life, this long, strange visit to cancer-land, where I blessedly seem to have been issued a round trip ticket. And so while I end my story here, amongst the waves, I bid you a hearty thank you for coming along. And, of course, this is not the end, but rather a wonderful new beginning for me.

The turning point for me was when I walked the Susan J. Komen race back in September. The throngs of pink clad women walking and running in the streets of Portland was a site to behold.

There were two amazing moments on that day that told me I was no longer a cancer patient, but a cancer survivor. As I was rounding a curve, with my proud bald self, a woman with flowing blonde hair and a pink tiara came up right behind me. She slowed for a moment and said over her shoulder, “I looked just like you at this time last year. Hang in there!” She smiled warmly and then explained that the year before another woman had come up to her and told her the very same thing.

When I was crossing the finish line in the special “Survivor” lane, I was amazed to see a long line of smiling faces greeting me, with hands extended for multiple high fives. Some of them held tight to my hand for a second and I could feel the positive energy flow into me.

Race for the Cure!

These brief but meaningful exchanges filled me with both gratefulness and a sense of responsibility to continue the circle of support that I was offered.

In closing (or opening!), below you will find a “Dear John” letter that I wrote to Cancer. I thought this was a very original idea but upon putting it to the google test, I sadly realized that there are many, many such letters already written.

Dear Cancer,

Well, it’s no secret that I was really pissed at you for awhile.We’ve had a rocky union and I’m not sad to say goodbye.

But there are a few parting words I wanted to share.

Damn you for giving me the scariest week of my life last March when I heard, “Kerri, you have cancer,” but didn’t know the why, the how, or the what-next yet.

And for those days that I felt like hell.

For taking away half-a-year of my life. Not to mention my breasts.

Me and my oncologist on the day we got the good news. Not sure who's more happy!

And I will never forgive you for making my little toes and right hand forever numb. (although I intend to defy you on this prognosis.)

But I also wanted to say . . . thank you.

Thank you for this unexpected, unintended, but not altogether unpleasant gulp of air.

For letting me keep most of my eyebrows and even a few eyelashes when I was bald.

Those scarves were good comfort on chemo-daze.

For inspiring me to covet vintage silk scarves that were collected from afar and sweetly gifted to me. As I wear them now and someday hand them down to my granddaughters, my thoughts will be woven of silky love and vibrant strength.

Thank you cancer for forcing me to “defrag” my own internal hard drive.

And for putting the twinkle back in my eyes. And for recharging my smile. People tell me I look better now than I did before cancer.

For teaching me how to take better care of myself, from the inside out.

Thank you for giving me a hall pass from life for just a little while.

And for pushing me to see my bald self as beautiful. To grow a new kind of confidence bold enough to shelve a $1,000 wig after only a few weeks of wearing it.

For coming along when the Portland sun was shining and children’s voices filled the summer evenings.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story so other 40+ women who might have put off their mammograms too will get themselves to the doctors right away.

For peeling away the many musty layers of fatigue and cynicism that I didn’t even know that I had.

Toasting with some of the good friends who pulled me through.

For renewing my faith in the goodness of people and their immense generosity.

Thank you for bringing me home to my husband Dan and my daughters Hadley and Emma.

For getting me back into my kitchen again. For turning me on to whole food that does wonders for the body and the senses.

For showing me that life really is short but it’s never too late for a “do-over.”

Thank you for teaching me that when someone looks a little “different” they don’t want you to avoid them or worry about saying just the right thing or feel sorry for them. They just want you to look them in the eye and really “see them.”

And finally, thank you for showing me that when you smile at the world, the entire world might just smile back.

Janet and me, on another day not so long ago, filled with food and laughter!

I dedicate this last post to a good lady named Janet, my dad’s partner of 30+ years, who passed away early today on Thanksgiving. She was a fellow breast cancer survivor and made a mean hot and sour soup, along with many other culinary talents. We will miss her laugh and hope she has found peace at last.

For all of the rest of you pilgrims out there still journeying in this dark and foreign place called Cancer-land, and especially for the ones with the one-way tickets or frequent flier status, I keep you in my heart. And I deeply wish that you find light. I’ll keep mine burning and hope that it’s bright enough for all of us.

So long.
Kerri

Me today, feeling sassy and sound. I will miss this blog and all of your voices. XO_KHP

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The Penultimate Me.

One of the greatest penultimate episodes of all time aired almost 18 years ago...And in this case, an equally amazing finale.

Welcome to my penultimate post. I first learned the power of “second-to-last” through my career in advertising. Penultimate TV episodes were something we often would seek out.  Not as expensive as a series finale, they offered so much more than the sometimes overblown, often disappointing final episode of a season.

There is still room for hope in a penultimate episode of a story. Still room for a final twist of the tale. And opportunity for a unique tension that allows the show to breathe and build in a way that the last episode can’t. It lives apart from all the hype and expectation of the final chapter. Some may argue the point, but I would say it’s like how AFC/NFC Championship weekend is so much better than the Superbowl.

Both the football season and my life are in full swing these days. It’s been a busy few months as I return to work full time and venture forth with the label of “survivor.” And as I do, I can’t help but think of all of this as a new beginning. “KHP-2.0” is a chance to get it right and start new patterns. To see what pressing the re-set button will bring about. To make the most of the second chance that I’ve been given.

My good friend Coco remarked that at 42 and having gone through something like this, I might be at the half-time of my life.  We discussed what a “coach” might say to me to inspire me to get back on the field. To bring home the win.  And the more I think about it, I really do feel like I’m about to leap into the penultimate period of life.  Assuming the first lifestage is 0-college, the second is early 20’s-42 and the last is 65+, you could say I’m about to start my own 3rd quarter.  My version of “second-to-last.”

My friend of 15+ years, Lawrence is on the right. And that's Kenshi on the left.

Which brings me to a tale of one more “angel” that has rested on my shoulder during my journey to Cancer-land. This angel’s name is Kenshi and aside from being the most incredible shiatsu masseuse in history and my good friend Lawrence’s father-in-law, he has an amazing penultimate story of his own.

As was told to me by Lawrence, Kenshi started to lose his sight when he was in his fifties.  He was a businessman living in Japan and decided that he needed a “Plan B.” So he went to school to learn the art of shiatsu.  And because he couldn’t read well at the time, he would take each page of his textbooks, lay them on an overhead projector and proceed to read the print enlarged on a wall to study. And this is how he learned his craft.  Page by page.  He started his own very successful clinic and then recently moved to Portland to live with his daughter Mai, Lawrence and their two girls.

Lawrence's beautiful young girls, Hana and Eti.

Kenshi’s strong and able hands have been pure magic to me these past seven months.  Always dapper in his white clinic garb, he greeted me at the door every Saturday morning with a smile and a generous but serious spirit . . . classical music always playing in the background. While we couldn’t communicate well through words and Kenshi couldn’t see me, his other senses are extra sharp.  Through touch, he always seems to know just the kind of help I need each week. Kenshi expertly kneaded and pounded and stretched my embattled body and I walked away relaxed and relieved, with my load lightened considerably.

Kenshi with the magic hands.

I’ll always be grateful to LTA and Mai for sharing Kenshi.  And I will always remember the handsome tall man from Japan who, in making the most of his own “second-to-last,” helped me to find the way forward to face my own penultimate episode.

Tune in to see what happens next.

This is one of Kenshi's sculptural paintings...yes, he's an artist too! A treasured gift.

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New Growth

We have slipped into October and I have never been happier to welcome an autumn. With treatments behind me, I am now back at work and back at life. And while it might be fall everywhere you look, I’m witnessing my own personal spring.

My downy soft 'do.

I have a fresh crop of downy hair that’s softer than you can imagine and has sprouted up into a kind of buzz cut faux hawk. It’s a little bit RiotGrrrl and borders on “tattooed-Portland-momma” style. I’m surprised to find myself digging it. While I still get looks, it’s more of the curious variety than the pitying glance.

In related news, my eyelashes and eyebrows are now growing like fertilized weeds. They help to soften my features, which are prominent once again after shedding what had been an ever-present chemo-bloat. I want to kiss the mirror in the morning when I see the real me staring back.

Having come through reconstructive surgery very well, I am now in the process of “expansion.” My wonderful surgeon, Dr. Murphy, is artfully focused on rebuilding me (Jaime Sommers has nothing on me!) to approximate my former B cup bod. And fortunately a fringe benefit of all this is a chance to defeat gravity.

Oh Jaime...you were such a cool cyborg!

You may be wondering how this all gets sorted out.  For those who want the cliff notes, it goes something like this:  Stiff plastic Tupperware-like expanders are placed under your chest muscles to stretch the tissue to prepare for implants (yes, it hurts…). Each week the doc injects more saline, until one becomes fully expanded (or actually over-expanded in order to give them enough material to work with). Then they go in and swap the expanders for silicone implants.  They give that time to settle and then there is one last surgery to get all the visuals anatomically correct (tattoos are involved… ponder that!).

It’s been a little strange and a lot funny to slowly expand in front of everyone.  The other day my daughter Emma exclaimed, “momma, you’re growing!”

I’ve even surprised myself on occasion. On a recent evening I had ventured to yoga class after having my latest “fill” from Dr Murphy.  As we started to lean into an arm balance called crow pose, I realized too late that my center of gravity had shifted.  And then I promptly fell on my head with a huge crash. It was hilarious and it took everything I had not to bust up.  I went into deeper breathing and steadfastly avoided looking at my sister to keep the giggle fit at bay.  Six months ago I would have been mortified.  Today, it’s just another chance to laugh at life.

This is the Nike YoGirl doing crow pose (now you have the visual!)

Back in the wintery season of removing my bust, my daughter Hadley was, in a word, “maturing.” While Ms. Puberty had been knocking at the door before, she full on entered this summer. I’ll never forget the day that I went wig shopping. Traumatic as that was, it was the same day we bought Hadley her first bra. Hello sweet irony. I gladly pass the torch.

In the early days of confusion and panic, the prospect of losing my hair and my breasts seemed like the worst thing possible. Today I see that this is yet another silver lining of my journey– one which has been strangely freeing. As I was walking down the street in downtown Portland yesterday, a random stranger literally stopped in his tracks and blurted out “You’re beautiful. I really like your hair.” I lifted my chin, looked him in the eye, thanked him, and walked on.

The sun was on my back, there was a twinkle in my eye, and yes Emma, I was growing.

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Elephant Days

My name is Hadley and I’m writing a guest post for my mom’s blog.

When my mom got cancer, people told me to write in a journal and sometimes gave me books. Not my style. I prefer to sit in my room for an hour and think. One night when I was thinking I came up with something called “elephant days.”

This elephant sits in my room to remind me!

When my family and I lived in China we were lucky to be able to take trips to Indonesia and Thailand.  One time when we took a trip to Bali, it rained the whole week we were there.  Just when I started to get really tired of it, we saw something special.  A baby elephant and his person were swimming in the water.  It was so funny. Thus, elephant days.

Here’s how it works; a sunny day is a good day; a rainy day is a bad day (because you can’t go to the beach!) and an elephant day starts as a bad day but then turns good.

This is the way I feel about mom’s cancer – full of elephant days.

I had my ears pierced last week with my mom to celebrate. Now, that's an elephant day!

By the way, the opposite of elephant days are called sand-in-your-pants days.  These are days that start good but end not-so-good, like when my sister Emma got sand in her bathing suit bottoms another day at the beach.

Life is good and I keep looking out for elephants.

This is my mom and me with my grandma and my great-grandma Betty. I got to see her a few weeks before she died at 97! The best kind of Elephant Day!

-Hadley P.

(P.S. Mom has no more cancer!!!!!!!!!!!)

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Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!

As I look back on this journey (and near the end of this blog), I am struck at how healing solutions and people came into my life at just the right time. Call it fate, kismet, or karma … Yes, the universe had plans for me that I didn’t anticipate. But, it also wanted to arm me with some extra powers to fight the bad guys attacking my cells.

Remember Super Friends hour? (it ran for one year in 1977... I was about 9 years old). Wonder Twin Powers...Activate! Size of a... Shape of...

One of those forces of power was my identical twin sister, Kelli. After living in separate cities, and usually separate continents for the last 20+ years, Kelli and her family had recently moved back to the states. I came back from China last year to find her happily settled in my Sellwood Portland neighborhood, just about 10 blocks from our house. We gleefully reveled in the fact that our kids could now grow up together as close “twousins” (our pet name for our four kids who are cousins of twin moms, thereby sharing half their DNA). Little did I know how important she would become to me in the coming months…

Twousins unite! Emma on the left and Hadley on the right are mine. Dudes in the middle are Kelli's wonderful boys: Sam on the left and Taylor on the right.

When we first heard the news, Kelli and my older sis Erika, immediately closed in and encircled me with tender care, honesty and steadfast encouragement. Those of you with close sisters know what I’m talking about. It’s that effortless blend of pure love and unconditional support that is so special, especially in troubled times. From talking me through the dark days, to going shopping for new clothes that would make my bald puffy self feel better, to weeding my garden, to shaving my head for me, to holding my hand during chemotherapy, these treasured souls have been here for me like never before.

This is Kelli and me (and the jolly green giant ) when we lived in Hawaii in the early 70's. Very groovy. I'm on the right!

Everyone always asks me if we can “feel” each other’s pains since we’re identical twins. The answer to that is kind of. While we don’t necessarily twinge at the same time the other does or in the same place, there is an overall sense or feeling we’ll get if the other of us is out of whack somehow. As an example, when Kelli went into labor with her first son, this feeling came over me that something had happened. I called and sure enough she had just gone to the hospital. Kelli told me that my recent travels in Cancer-land reminded her of when we were in school together. If one of us had a test that day, the other one would worry endlessly and be filled with anxiety. It wasn’t much different for this life-time test, it’s just that the stress and empathy was amplified and the stakes were so much higher. Chemo definitely tops a pop algebra quiz!

Here we are as high school cheerleaders sporting short shorts (yikes!)

Kelli really stepped up to the plate early on when we met with the plastic surgeons to discuss reconstruction options. One possibility is to use tissue from your stomach or your back to make up the difference of what the mastectomy takes away.  Amazing stuff and a chance to get a tummy tuck too. Shockingly I was informed that I didn’t have enough extra inches of flesh for this to be an option. (are you sure, I asked the surgeon?!??). But right away Kelli piped in to offer to be a flesh-donor for me. Between the two of us surely we had enough for a new matched “set” for me.  The surgeon got a little look of intrigue in her eyes and let us know it had never been done before. This was our chance to make Oprah, we laughed! Later I discovered how much muscle tone and strength is compromised with this procedure and opted out for a simpler straight implant/expander surgery. Now we laugh that I’ll be the ever-perky 85 year old and everyone will be able to tell us apart when we’re old and grey in a way we never expected.

I had to "give" Kelli away a little bit the day she got married. I'll still always be her "better half." :-)

This is our acupuncture guru Gerri. She is amazing.

Easily, the best gift that Kelli bestowed upon me was to share her acupuncturist, Gerri. Kelli had referred me to her initially to help me fix a chronic knee problem with great success. I had unlocked the wonders of acupuncture with these sessions and once I learned of my diagnosis, I went immediately to Gerri, another one of my “angels”, for help.

She was on the case right away and the hour I spent with her every week in these past six months has been life saving. Every session was customized to how I was doing that day, that hour… Some days I would literally almost crawl into her office with the need to get “me” back again after being bombarded with chemo. Other times, it was general fatigue and battling neuropathy in my hands and feet. The treatments did a major job combating the side effects I experienced but I believe that they also had a big impact on the regression of the cancer. There is substantial research that shows the difference acupuncture can make and I hope that anyone going through this can experience the same relief. I know that I will always keep acupuncture in my life as another tool in my kit to keep balanced and healthy.

Kelli tells me that when we do yoga together now, she looks over at me in “happy baby” pose with my bald head and gets happy flash backs to when we were twin babies sharing a crib. In those days we spoke a special language that only we could understand.  Today, my twin sister and I stand side-by-side, ready to catch each other when needed. We are learning new languages together of hope, health and strength that I feel certain will help us get through what lies ahead.

Be it cancer, algebra or just a houseful of teenage kids…  life we are ready for you.

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You Came to See a Race.

Look up.   Because that’s where I’m looking.

I’m in full recovery mode now, having come through surgery last Friday with flying colors. I’m achy and taking my time to get all my mobility and strength back. But, my sense of “self” has slowly and solidly come back as the chemo departs from my body. And in even better news, the results of the lymph node biopsy conducted during surgery (bilateral mastectomy) were negative. Basically this means that while the cancer I had was aggressive and invasive, it hadn’t yet spread to the lymphatic system. Hallelujah! This also means that I don’t have to undergo radiation treatment. But the best news of all? Today the doctors gave me the news that I am now essentially cancer free. (can I get a woop woop?)

Emma made me this hat to honor me on surgery day. We are all celebrating the beginning of the end.

One of the advantages of waiting for surgery until after chemo treatment (not the typical order of things) is that I could actually mark the regression of the tumor in terms of the size. So, as I reported every three weeks for chemo duty, I could actually see how fast the cancer itself was retreating. In my case, I started with a tumor the size of a ping pong ball. Doesn’t sound that big but this was considered sizable and an indication of how quickly I needed to start treatment. I’ll never forget when I was initially examined, one of the doctors exclaimed “remarkable!” Not something you want to hear when you’re anxiously awaiting prognosis.

Bling-bling.

After 18 weeks of chemo, the tumor basically shrank to a point that even the ultrasound could barely find it. In order to keep track of things, the doctors inserted a teeny-tiny “clip” during the initial biopsy that was shaped like a breast cancer ribbon and made of titanium. When I did my last round of imaging, the only thing that they could really find was this bit of “inner bling” that adorned the original tumor site.  That was a happy day that found me shining inside and out.   Read More »

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