Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Cup Runneth Over

I love this time of year, Thanksgiving. Being thankful. It means a great deal to me because it is the backbone of how I try to live my life everyday. Other than cancer-versaries or the anniversary of my surgery, this time of year really makes me reflect and appreciate what I have like those days can. It makes me think about how lost I was, how far I've come, how grateful I am. Just being present and tuned in to the here and now...and being grateful for it.

At least for this one day, I think (or I hope) people really stop and take the time to be thankful, it's a noticeable lighter feeling. Until Black Friday comes and people are literally trampling over others to get their hands on a TV that’s 75% off!! But for now, for today, you can still feel the warm hug of being thankful, so let’s go with that…

Take some time today to really reflect on the things you are thankful for. Really stop and think about it. Get simple. What are you thankful for? I guarantee you it will fill you up and make you smile. 

All of the little things and the big things. They all matter. Notice them. Appreciate them. Do it again tomorrow. For me, a few would be my big, crazy family, my friendships, my parents, my health (and my health insurance), all of the love that I share, my niece and absolutely EVERYTHING about her. Sunsets, the ocean, living near the beach, sarcasm, inside jokes, family traditions, my job and the work that goes into it, laughing, surfing, sharing waves with my brother, a good cocktail with friends, In-N-Out (if you know me at all, you know I’m totally serious). I could go on and on...

How great is that? I have so much abundance and love in my life. I know this all sounds cheesy, but I'm totally serious. Always take stock. Look at the abundance in your life, how far you've come, how much you have to be thankful for. It will inspire you, motivate you, comfort you, and bring you joy. All that goodness radiates off you, you know? It can be contagious...just a fun fact :)

There's always going to be difficult times, trying times, unfair times, things you want, things you cant have, but there's also always going to be good times, things to smile about, and things to be thankful for. Don't ever forget that.

It is important not only to think about and recognize all the things that we are thankful, but also to live it. Notice and appreciate them, yes, but live with that abundance of gratitude in your heart always. JFK said it best, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

I am thankful for the honesty and clarity this experience has brought me. Never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated. The tough times, the setbacks, the struggle, and the moment you realize it was all worth it.


BE THANKFUL. EVERYDAY.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There's Always Something

In so many ways I'm in such a great place. Just mentally and emotionally, I'm standing tall and proud again, taking big, deep, fresh breaths of air, really inhaling what life has to offer. In essence, I feel whole again. I feel like myself again. Do you know how long it took to get that back? Years. But at the same time, I'm so not in a great place in a lot of areas too. Job, living situation, my bank account (I could go on...). Lacking in those areas can most definitely suck.

There's always something, right? Something that's lacking or missing, something you want or are striving for. It's kind of funny really, but there's ALWAYS something. I guess that's just human nature.

If you told me I'd be thirty, looking for a job, and living with my parents I would have never believed you. I'd been out of my parents house and living in San Diego for over 10 years at the time. But if you also told me that I'd have cancer at 27 and have a quarter of my mouth removed, I wouldn't have believed that either. Life happens. Shit happens. Or whatever you want to call it. I came across this quote recently by Mark Nepo (I loooooove Mark Nepo) "There are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths." I love that, what a great way to look at life! These last few years have most definitely been an unexpected path!! All you can do is roll with the punches and do the best you can with what you've got. And if you can close your eyes at the end of the day, knowing you've done the best you can with what you have, then you should sleep pretty soundly.

Although these last few years have been a very unexpected path, I feel like the forest has cleared. I made it out. I'm ready for the next chapter in my story "The Life and Times of Amy Uruburu" or what my friends hope I title it, "Seriously, WTF?!" We had the "Cancer" chapter, then there was the "After Cancer" chapter and all the shit that went along with it. I'm ready for the next chapter. You know, the 'Amy got a job, is moving out, and is back on her feet' chapter. That sounds lovely....I'm sure my parents would agree! But of course, the struggle is usually part of the process. Finding a job is hard enough these days, try finding a job while dodging and avoiding the fact that you quit your last job because of a medical issue, and god forbid they find out it was cancer......Next! I'm going to do a wee bit of whining here, but whatever, it's my blog and I can whine if I want to. It's so frustrating. What am I supposed to do in that situation? What do you fill in on the application question of 'reason for leaving?' What do you say in the interview when they ask about why you left this job or the gap in resume? Do you lie? Tell the truth? A little of both? Please tell me, I'm open to suggestions because I've tried it all. And if you think I'm overreacting and that really doesn't matter to an employer then you're giving people far too much credit! Ok, the whining portion is now over. Moving on. I just have to keep that good perspective, stay focused and working hard, and know this will pay off in the end. I have learned that the struggle is always worth it in the end, maybe not in the way you expected, but absolutely worth it.

I sometimes wonder if people are sick of hearing me talk about having cancer and preaching about my revelations that go along with it. Because I could seriously talk about this all day. I really could because it really actually profoundly changed my life in absolutely every way. If you have questions or want to see it, by all means, ask. But be prepared, I may go on and on about it. I can thankfully and proudly say that my cancer story isn't simply, I got cancer, it was unbelievably awful and I hated every second of it, the end. The story doesn't end with all of the horrible, it goes on to include all of the amazing. It's not about what I've lost, but more about what I've gained.

I think we are born to experience utter pain as well as utter happiness, all for the most intense understanding...self purpose. I don't think you ever get "there", the journey is ongoing. But I think that's the beauty of it.

Always remember...Be thankful. Everyday.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

...aaaannnd breathe.

Waiting for scan results is the worst. The. Worst. I was very confident everything was going to come back clean. I'd say I was 99% sure everything would be fine, but man is it crazy how powerful that pesky 1% can be!!!! That teeny tiny shred of doubt can be terrifying, crippling even. Oh how our minds can wander. I didn't even realize how much that looming cloud of test results was actually suffocating me until it was gone and I could breathe again.

It took over a week to get the call that my results were in. A week is a long time to wait for that. And it's always the worst when you have the wait carry over into a weekend because that's 2 days you definitely know you won't be hearing any news and are therefore waiting longer. The longer you wait, the more you start to question everything!! Why is it taking so long? If everything was fine they should have had them by now. Maybe they had to send it out for a second opinion (again), so that means there's a problem?! You're constantly shuffling through those thoughts while waiting. And then the phone rings. It's the doctor. Oh shit. Here we go. The entire journey up until now flashes before my eyes, a thousand emotions in like 2 seconds. I'm holding my breath the whole time he's talking. And then finally....exhale. It's hard to fully explain the joy and jubilation of words like "zero evidence of recurrence" and "scan is completely normal"....being normal never felt so good!! Relieved is an understatement in that moment. I've had that moment 3 times in my life and its brought me to tears every time.

It's days like this, moments like this that remind me, God life is precious! I am lucky. And I am grateful. Appreciate every moment, every breath. Be present and appreciate what you have, right now. It can be gone in an instant. It's truly humbling to realize just how little control you actually have in this life. My body has healed and life went on, but never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.

Be thankful. Everyday...... don't ever forget that.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Perspective

I've been in a rut lately. A lot of people attribute it to my birthday and turning 30, that's really not it though. I'll admit, that's on the list, but it's like #12, not #1. I've noticed many things while in the middle of this rut and trying to snap out of it. I've noticed that I don't write as much as I normally do. And I've noticed that learning the lessons doesn't mean shit if you can't actually apply them. It's a major thing to realize something, learn something...but it definitely doesn't end there.

I've written about all the lessons I've learned, changes in perspective, life changing aha moments...but the opportunities to apply those lessons never stops. You can know it and apply it 50 times in a row, but when that 51st time hits, you have to do it again. The fact that you've been on your game the previous 50 doesn't mean a damn thing. Life is always throwing crap at you to test your will power, patience, heart, attitude, nerves, and so on and so on. Whether it's driving behind the slowest driver on the face of the earth when you have somewhere to be, or it's your yearly check up at the oncologist office. Those are all opportunities for me to apply what I've been preaching about on here. Being thankful. Being present and in the moment. Forgiveness. Kindness to myself and others.

My rut started about a month ago. The nerves had been looming for a few weeks because of my upcoming annual PET scan. So that already is a BIG trigger for me. To keep it short, I still haven't had my PET scan, it's still hanging over my head as this unresolved thing, which in turn means, the nerves are still there. Since last year, I have had to change my health insurance, and apparently, my new health insurance won't cover my PET scan. My doctors have personally spoken with my insurance, explaining I am 2 years post cancer and getting yearly scans is important. They even requested a "Peer to Peer" which is basically a formal meeting to present "my case" of why a PET scan is necessary (as if it needs to be explained). Both were denied. I still can't quite wrap my head around the fact that medical professionals, medical doctors, who have years of education and experience say that this scan is necessary for me, but my health insurance thinks otherwise. And that their say is the final one and the one we go with. It's a total mind fuck.

All the back and forth between doctors and insurance companies got to me quickly. I slowly started to feel myself unraveling. And I couldn't get a handle on it. It was this unresolved thing, and it looks like it will remain unresolved for now, that left this very unsettling feeling in my stomach. It triggered so many things in my head that just had me going in circles. I'm not having a necessary and important scan because my insurance won't cover it. My insurance won't cover it because my insurance changed and isn't as good. My insurance changed because I quit my job and have since lost that insurance. I quit my job because I was a wreck and needed some time to heal. I was a wreck and needed time to heal because I had cancer. That was on repeat in my head and I couldn't stop it. I literally felt myself shutting down.

I was being open and honest about it with family and close friends, letting them know I was struggling and that this PET scan thing was really getting to me. But I just couldn't snap out of it. It's weird how one thing can lead to a trickle down effect on so many other parts of your life...and without you even noticing it! I was suddenly less sure of myself and my path, I was more sensitive to the words and actions of others, and I was definitely more snappy and on edge. My ability to deal was non existent. It hit me one night after I snapped at my mom over something so stupid I honestly can't remember what it was. But I bitched her out and stormed upstairs to my room and immediately thought, "Woah." That had absolutely nothing to do with why I was so angry, but I took it all out on her.

This had been going on for several weeks and it kept building. Good time to turn 30...NOT. That was just the sprinkles on top of yet another shit sundae. At least that's how I was seeing it at the time. My birthday was about a week away, a bunch of my good friends were leaving to go on some epic vacation to the British Virgin Islands, one that I was supposed to be on, but had to back out because I still didn't have a consistent full time job. Which just triggered that loop in my head all over again. I don't have a job because I decided to quit. I decided to quit because I was a mess. I was a mess because I had cancer. We can so easily put our sad stories on repeat and let them define us. That's what I was doing. My good friend, Christine wanted to take me to lunch since she was leaving on the trip and would be gone for my birthday. I let her know, I'm kind of in a funk and have been super emotional and kinda crazy lately, just as a warning. She reassured me that we were going to have fun and to snap out of it! We went to a spot we go to often and her and the waitress kept bringing us farther and farther to the back of the restaurant, which I thought was weird. We turned a corner and "SURPRISE!!!!" a bunch of family and friends were there to surprise me for my birthday. She was right, I had fun and I snapped out of it.

That day, surrounded by family and friends, many of which who drove a long way to be there, I snapped out of my rut. I just needed a reminder. That reminder was a bunch of people that I love showing up for me because they wanted to be there and yelling at me while I stood there confused. They were there the whole time, they always are, that's why I'm so lucky to have such amazing family and friends. I just needed to remember that. Nothing changed that day. I still haven't had my PET scan, I still don't have a job come September, and cancer is still a word that can unravel me. The only thing that changed that day was my perspective. Sometimes, that's all it takes.

Never forget...Be thankful. Everyday.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Choices

My mom always says, God only gives you as much as you can handle. I'm not sure if I totally agree with that statement because there were definitely times throughout this journey where I was thinking, are you kidding me?!?! With that being said...I'm still here.

What I have found, not only with this, but with other jolts throughout my life, when the worst possible outcome happens, the scary truth comes out, or my greatest fear is realized, I have found that 10 seconds after, 5 minutes after, 2 days after...I'm still here. Life went on. The world didn't end as I so greatly feared it would.  It might not be pleasant, it might not be good, but it keeps going. There is a choice to make with that. To make it good and continue living. To keep going as life does.

"Your power is always in your response, never in your circumstance." I love that quote by Mastin Kipp, it is so true and so powerful.

Everyone is faced with that moment. That crossroads (we're actually faced with "it" many times). Are you going to face it and accept the challenge head on? Or are you going to turn your back on it? Run and hide from it? Running and hiding was my specialty. "It" being anything negative, bad, scary, etc. that I didn't want to deal with or face. I was a master at stuffing things away, putting it on the back burner until enough time would eventually pass and I had convinced myself and others it was no longer an issue. This was different though, you can't run and hide from cancer and its aftermath. I have an every second of the day reminder of it in my mouth. Every time I swallow, bite, chew, smile, I am reminded of it. I had to face this, which in turn meant I had to face myself. I'll say it again, your power is always in your response, never in your circumstance.

Everyday it's a choice, not just with this, but with anything. The good, the bad, and the ugly...what are you going to do with it? You have that power. Life's lemons usually hold with it a major opportunity to learn, grow, or change. We just usually don't see it that way. Joseph Campbell was right, we're all on a heroes journey, we just don't know it. Some answer the call, some don't. I can proudly say that I have. This experience has forced me to face things that I've buried my entire life...and I love it!! I want more. I crave the stories, experiences, and lessons others have learned. It's lead me down a more open hearted and open minded path full of meditation, juicing, authors, books, and ideas all of which I would have shunned away from prior to all this.

One of the very first books I read once I began to deal with this had an opening line that instantly grabbed me, I remember thinking "Woah." It's still one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors with one of my favorite quotes, "Broken Open" by Elizabeth Lesser:

"How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be."

Always remember...Be thankful. Everyday.
 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Fear

I've gone through a lot of changes as a person throughout this journey...physically, mentally, spiritually. My entire perspective on life and what matters has changed, and I think for the better. Other than some of the physical crap...I mean changes, I've had to go through, I think almost all of it has been for the better. It's been positive changes of growth for the most part.

One of the changes I'm not a fan of is how my mind has changed in relation to the fear. At the time I discovered my tumor, I can honestly say the word "tumor" and certainly the word "cancer" never crossed my mind. I'd never had a tumor before, why would I think this ginormous lump in my mouth is a tumor, and even crazier...cancer?! Those thoughts really never entered my mind. But now, I feel any sort of weird bump, or I'm more tired than usual for long periods of time and I am instantly convinced its back. The cancer did that, that fear. I hate it. I was never like that. A 'think the worst' type of person, even when it was blatantly clear and a tumor was literally staring me in the face, I didn't think it.

Hearing that you have cancer is a cancer in itself; it gets into your mind and infects it just as cancer does. Hearing those words forever changes the make up of your mind and thoughts. It is forever altered, the fear is always there, just like a cancer, eating away at you. Extracting that is a whole other type of cancer battle.

There have been a few times where I frantically called my doctor and was convinced I had another tumor and the cancer was back. There was a lump towards the back of my neck that I found while I was stretching and rubbing my neck one day. It was a legitimate lump, you could feel the outline and its random placement. It was instant panic. Instant sweat. Instant pit in my stomach. This blanket of fear just took over me, its back. Doctors visits ensued and scans were ordered, turns out its a skeletal mass that I just randomly have. Nothing to be worried about. Also, pretty much anytime I have a PET scan, it doesn't come back clean. I go through this whole roller coaster ride of these few lymph nodes lighting up in my neck, which of course sends me spiraling, but after further review it's just due to the ongoing sinus infection I have from my surgery, and is in fact not cancer. You have to understand how quickly you revert back to that terrifying place. If there's an ounce of you that believes that it's back, you're transported to that place in your head instantly and you're fighting you're way back out all over again.

It's about that time of year again for my yearly scan and those nerves are starting to kick in. I know it's totally normal to be nervous and freaking out, but I still hate it. It's a constant battle in my head to not let my mind wander too far. Of course all the 'what if's' start playing, along with the long list of already bad memories, moments, places that are already associated with this. It just stirs up a lot of emotions and memories, none of which I ever wish to visit again. I don't know if the nerves around scan time ever go away?? The therapist I was seeing specialized in traumatic injury or illness and was a cancer survivor herself for almost 25 years. When I asked her if that fear ever goes away, she said "No, not really." I don't know if that made me feel better, knowing I'm not alone in that, or made me feel worse, knowing it's never going to go away.

It's times like this that remind me that this journey isn't over. Sure I've learned some life lessons and gained some perspective, but now what...life isn't over. Its a daily reminder and sometimes seems like a daily struggle to keep those things in perspective and practice those life lessons. Things don't magically get easier with some newfound knowledge. It takes work, constant work, to stay on that path with the right frame of mind. It's ok that the fear is still there, I just can't let it run me or ruin me. Once again, cancer = teacher. At a certain point, you have to be ok with the fear and the idea of not knowing what's going to happen. Life is full of uncertainty, and uncertainty is a necessary part of getting where we want to go.

Always remember: Be thankful. Everyday.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends (and Family)

I can dedicate an entire blog, not just blog post, to the importance of having a support system and what mine means to me. So I'll do my best at giving everyone on my team the proper praise. I'm not one to ask for help or show that I'm struggling, and I definitely never want to talk about it. This whole experience has been a hard lesson in why the hell not?! Not just to ask for help, but to let people in. We all struggle and we all can use help at times, its ok to admit that. There's something to be said about those that put on a brave face, carry the entire burden, and stand alone...good for them because that's hard! But there's also something to be said for those who are brave enough to say, I am struggling and I need help. That's putting yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position, and I am usually not a fan of that. But this time, I had no choice, I needed to lean on those closest to me in all kinds of different ways.

First and foremost, my parents and brother. I literally would not have made it through this without them. There were many dark days, painful days, starving days, miserable days, no matter what kind of days...they were right by my side. It's not quite as scary when you roll into the doctors office with your entire family to hear what your fate will be. It's still pretty damn scary, but they were all there at every one of those big appointments and that was comforting. My surgeon and his assistant know my parents and brother personally and well! It's hard to fully articulate the unending support and love through thick and thin that I got from my family on this journey. They are amazing and I am so blessed to have them.

A lot of different people played a lot of different roles in showing and giving me support. This whole experience was one long roller coaster ride filled with ups and downs, twists and turns. Depending on the day or the hour, I needed different people in different ways. I am lucky enough to have amazing people in my life who wore several different hats in trying to make me feel better. There's the friend who's a good distraction from everything and helps you forget. The one who you're totally comfortable around and the jokes and conversation are normal and unchanged given the circumstances. There's the ones you can be totally sad with who will coddle you. Some friends who can put you in check and not let your mind wander too far. Then there's the friend to go deep with and have those scary, important, deep life questions and talks with. Another important role, in my opinion, is the therapist. Someone completely unbiased and unattached to your life, who is solely there to listen. I was very resistant to hop on board the therapy train, but I am huge supporter for it now!! Then there's the groups or people who have gone through something similar. It was very helpful for me to get in contact with someone who went through exactly what I have. They have all kinds of insight and understanding to your journey, it helps with the whole 'feeling totally alone' thing. You can be complete strangers, but in this one way, you share something so unique that only they can understand, which creates and instant closeness. Then there's those you come to realize who also share a common understanding...those who have been through a lot, who know struggle, suffering, and pain. Whatever caused that can be completely different from what you've gone through, but you'll come to find out those emotions and the work that goes into them are very similar!

It's cliche, but it's totally true, friends really are the family we choose for ourselves. We might even like our friends more than our family at times! My closest friends, my other family, all majorly stepped up for me in different ways throughout this journey. My cousin Nicole, who isn't just family, but someone I consider a close friend. She was there from the get go, like, literally always there!! She volunteered/was assigned as the person to come and stay with me in the early stages of it all. To keep an eye on me, to make sure I didn't go off the deep end, to simply just be there with me in whatever way I needed. The job was given to her because she's probably the only person I can stand to constantly be with during a time like that. We have a similar sense of humor and understanding about things. She knows when to be quiet and watch TV in silence, she knows when to crack jokes or throw in a sarcastic comment, and she knows when to get real. She was there during the ugly, miserable, early months of recovery while I was at home. There were some pretty gnarly days in the beginning and she was there, with the entire series of Laguna Beach in hand, to ride it out! My friend Kevin, who was a major support for me when those dark days hit. He was there to help me talk it all out and figure it all out. He was like my other therapist, only I didn't have to pay him. He literally gave me his house to live in, practically rent free, so I didn't have to move back to my hometown, San Pedro, and officially have life as I know it be over. It was incredibly generous of him, just to make a totally miserable time a little more bearable for me. Then there is one of my oldest and closest friends, Christine. Who was whatever I needed her to be from the beginning, middle, and current. She knows me better than anyone, (which I sometimes hate), but there's a comfort in that. She would be a distraction if I needed it, a laugh if I needed it, a couch and ear to listen if i needed it, or a reality check if I needed it. Whatever it was, she was.

There were countless others of course. My best friend Erica and her entire family were so present and generous in any way they could. Their house was literally my only outing other than the doctors office for those first few months. My roommate, Melissa, who I lived with after it was all over and my breakdown began. Poor Melissa, I was a mess and she was amazing. So many people, so many things. I could go on and on (I already kind of am). I kept every single card I received during that time, I have them in a little keepsake box and I still read them from time to time. It truly is amazing the amount of love and support I got from so many people.

This is just how it worked out for me, you don't need to have all of these people and all of these different types, I am just lucky to. But it is important to have just one. One person to lean on, confide in, laugh with, cry with...just one. You can go it alone, but I can tell you right now, you won't get very far. Let people in, lean on them, it will make the journey so much easier if you let it.

My good friend, Diana made this little booklet for me and these are a few pages out of it. It always makes me smile and reminds me of how much I am loved (Arnold was the name of my tumor).

Remember...Be thankful. Everyday.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Enough

Its crazy how in an instant, your list of priorities or things that are important can suddenly vanish. We can so easily get caught up in the day to day. Getting that promotion, getting that new job, or new car, and then like that. BOOM. That list vanishes because life steps in. Reality check time whether you want it or not. It's pretty humbling when you realize how little control you actually have in this life. At the time my life changer hit, I was on a new job high. I was just about to start a new job that I was so damn excited about (if you read my previous post, you know how well that turned out). My priorities were getting new work clothes, what to wear on my first day, and impressing my new boss. In a single instant those things vanished. My list of priorities became making it through the surgery, getting a clean PET scan, not throwing up from all the meds I was on, and keeping my weight up.

Healing hurts and recovery sucks. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. I don't care what it is you're going through, that statement is fact. To say my surgery and recovery was horrendous would be an understatement. Without having any choice in the matter, things got scary simplified for me. Getting enough sleep and the adequate amount of protein and calories without actually being able to bite or chew was all that was on the agenda each day. My body automatically shifted into survival mode for the sole reason of...it had to.  I would have traded anything for a clean PET scan or simply a piece of bread during those brutal months. I dreamed of the day of finally sinking my teeth into a cheeseburger again, of not having a dozen doctors appointments each week, or being able to physically be outside all day. I slowly stepped out of survival mode and into a much more demanding place...the real world. I wanted a clean PET scan and I wanted the closer parking spot in my complex. I wanted to be able to eat again and I wanted to go on that vacation with friends. Basically, I began to hope for more, other than simply making it out of this. Not that long ago, I was simply asking to be cancer free, now here I am, asking for a little bit more. Can't I be cancer free, and have a new job, and live in a new place, and go on that fun summer trip with my friends?

Its so easy to get caught up in that mentality of always chasing or wanting something more. Something better. It is important to have those goals and to strive for better, but don't let it take over your big picture because in the end, that stuff really doesn't matter. Be thankful for what you have. The simple things, the good things, it usually is enough. A new job would be nice, my own place would be nice, and a trip to the Virgin Islands with friends would be pretty damn nice too, but without all that, what I have is definitely nice. What I have is enough. And I am enough.

Who says tomorrow is guaranteed? It's a scary thought, but it's the truth. Life can flip you upside down in a single moment. The course your life is on can get thrown a major curve ball whether you want it or not. I'm not saying don't plan for your future, but don't get caught up in it either. What really matters is the here and now because that's all we get. It's times when I'm looking back at the past is when I can get depressed, sad, or angry, and times when I'm looking forward to the future I can get anxious, worried, or stressed. But when I am in the moment and focusing on the present, I am thankful. I am content. That usually is enough.

Always remember...Be thankful. Everyday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I Quit or I Surrender??

I am fully aware that there is never a good time to get cancer. Ever. But the timing of my cancer bomb was pretty ridiculous. I had just put in my 2 weeks notice with the Marriott. I had worked there 2 years, but I was leaving because I accepted another job opportunity. My new job was starting in less than 2 weeks when I discovered the tumor. The whole new job thing was just another major stressor to an already scary, stressed time. This also meant my insurance was about to end and all I had was the insanely high premiums of COBRA until my new employers insurance kicked in. In the early days of figuring out what was going on, I actually thought maybe if I get this surgery done ASAP I can still make my start date and not have to miss any work. Ha, yeah right! My family and I actually brought this up to one of the first doctors I saw, like, I'm starting a new job in 2 weeks, so the sooner we get this done and over with the better because I have work. He looked at us and kind of chuckled as if we were kidding and said something along the lines of, yeah I don't think that's going to happen.

The new job thing was hard to play. I wanted to be upfront and keep my new employer in the loop so I called to tell them what was going on before my start date. At the time though, I hardly had any answers other than I have a tumor and I will be having surgery. What kind of surgery, I didn't know, when the surgery would be, I didn't know, how long I'd be out, I didn't know. I didn't even know it was cancer yet. All of these questions were still up in the air by the time my first day came around. I brought all of this with me on my first day of work at a new job, it was awesome. After orientation and all of that first day stuff, my new colleagues were released, while I went to a meeting with the HR Director to discuss my medical situation. Exactly what everyone wants to do on their first day of work at a new job!! This was obviously not the way I wanted to start. I surprisingly made it to my second day of work. While everyone else was paying attention to the training class we were in, I was frantically and secretly checking my phone for any updates. My biopsy results should have been in by then and my mom was keeping me updated if she had heard anything from my doctor. I was physically at my new job, but I was definitely not there. It was impossible to pay attention or care about anything they were saying. Here they were going over our absentee policies, and there I was waiting to hear if I had cancer or not. We all know how that turned out. I managed to make it to day 3, all while waiting for them to just fire me and avoid me and my situation entirely. My third day of work would be my last for 4 and a half months. My leave of absence started then and my surgery followed shortly thereafter.

Surprisingly, my new job didn't let me go. Although they would have been huge assholes if they did since it was a health care company. Looking back, I returned to work waaaay too soon. Body and mind were still in survival mode, I was desperately trying to distance myself from everything that just happened, and I was trying to convince everyone, myself included, that I was fine. It caught up to me pretty fast and I returned to work just as I had left...a nightmare of an employee. The first few months back I had doctors appointments constantly. Taking half days here, 3 hours there, I was constantly missing work. I tried to avoid it as much as I could though. I was bending over backwards for work, trying to pull off a totally normal, no problems employee. I was trying to be ok for work, for myself, for my family, friends. That's just what I do, I suck it up, put on a brave face, and carry on. That whole act failed miserably this time around. It was exhausting. I was not ok and needed to just simply be not ok. My boss would ask me every now and then how I was doing, in my head I'm thinking 'horrible, I shouldn't be here'...but you can't say that to your superior. I walked in there every single day just waiting for them to fire me, some days I actually wished they did just to put me out of my misery.

My return to work went from bad to worse pretty quickly. As a result from my surgery (aka head trauma) I began suffering from migraines and a really severe case of vertigo. The vertigo was so unbelievably awful and the medication they put me on just completely flattened me out, I was a zombie. It was horrible sitting at my desk feeling as if I was spinning while squinting at my computer screen due to the horrendous migraine I had. And that's just the physical symptoms I was dealing with. The mental aspect of stuffing it all away was catching up to me quickly. Everything I had gone through was all finally starting to sink in. Work somehow got wrapped up in the same ball as cancer. They were one in the same. The stress of one triggered the other. I guess it was maybe the timing of it....got a new job, got cancer. Or maybe how I started the job with cancer, I don't know. But work quickly became like my own personal cancer hell. I felt like I had the word "Cancer" stamped on my forehead from day one, either that or "The Girl Who Never Shows Up".  I white-knuckled it almost 6 months before I finally quit. I was having anxiety attacks, I'd get so worked up I threw up several times, although I'm not sure if that was because I was freaking out or simply the horrible vertigo. Every morning I'd drive to work racking my brain on how I could get out of going that day. This wasn't your typical 'I hate my job, I want out of here' type thing. It had nothing to do with the job itself, but everything to do with the cancer. I often drove to work thinking, maybe if I drive into this center divider right now, or ram into the back of that car, the accident would be bad enough where I didn't need to go in for a few days. How scary is that, I actually thought that?!! That freaked me out. That's when it was very clear that I was not ok and I needed some help. I want to be perfectly clear and not worry anyone, this wasn't any sort of suicidal thoughts I was having, that was never the case. Once I got to work, the anxiety got so much worse. Approaching the building my heart would start racing and it was like big huge red alarms were going off and flashing CANCER CANCER CANCER!!! That was literally the scenario playing in my head everyday. It was like I was walking into a war zone in my head. I'm not even sure what I was afraid of by being there, it was just a reminder of what happened I guess. Just like hospitals or an approaching scan can get my mind racing back to those terrifying times, being at work did the same thing. Everyday. I was a wreck. Needless to say, I was never awarded employee of the month.

I fought it for so long and tried to turn it around, but I was just the shell of a human being by that point. I needed some time to just work on myself and get myself better. Looking back through my journal I kept during that time, I started writing about how I needed to get out of my job in September. I finally ended up quitting in February, almost 6 months later. It took me that long to be ok with what that decision actually meant. It would mean going against the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to, especially my parents, it would mean I might ultimately have to move in with my parents, and it would mean quitting a job in this economy with nothing lined up. To most people, that is crazy and stupid to do. What about insurance? What about an income? What are you going to do? To all those people, I completely agree with you. I can't argue with any of those points. What I ultimately concluded though, were those things going to be my bottom line? The answer I was finally able to trust was no. I was really suffering and I needed help. A paycheck and insurance wasn't going to come before my own sanity and health.  I am also in the incredibly lucky position in that I have the family that I do and I was able to completely lean on them during this time. There is no way I would have ever made it out of this without them!

I had the white flag up for months. If anything, me waving the white flag was me surrendering to putting myself and getting better at the top of the list. Everything else must go, getting myself better is all I can and need to focus on right now. Me quitting my job actually allowed me to do that. I was mortified when I went to talk to my boss to let him know I was putting in my 2 weeks. He was very understanding and sympathetic, knowing more of my situation and how much I was struggling there than most. He was also probably relieved I was leaving, the nightmare of an employee is finally gone...that might just be the tape playing in my head again though. I was surprised with how I felt after walking out of his office. I felt powerful. I felt like I took some power back by doing that. Like I had a say in this dammit, and I'm no longer going to continue to put up with suffering. After all the changes my life had taken in that year, none of which I wanted or chose, this was a change that I had a say in. It felt good, like a weight had been lifted. I had to let go of what everyone was going to think (and still thinks) about quitting a job with nothing else lined up. I had to realize my parents were never going to give me the ok to just quit my job because that goes against everything a parent tries to ensure... safe, secure, taken care of, etc. It took me so long to come to terms with all of that and go completely against what every person was saying and do what I knew in my gut was right. That's a scary decision to make, when the world is telling you otherwise.

I have absolutely no regrets about quitting my job, it was hands down the best thing for me. My parents would actually agree with that statement now too (I think). It was a huge factor in actually giving myself the opportunity to heal. The place was toxic for me. My therapist and doctors said it was like a PTSD effect, just one big trigger. It was a decision I made and I was well aware of the scenario I was putting myself into. No, it's not my ideal situation, but I figured if finding a new job or moving in with my parents was my biggest problem after the year I had, then I can't complain. I am working now, its a seasonal position so I'm still looking for something more permanent, but it's something and I am grateful for it. When your world gets rocked like mine did and you come out the other side, putting things in perspective kind of just happens on its own. 6 months ago I couldn't even eat, chew, or bite into solid food, something that is so basic, so I guess looking for a new job or living with my parents isn't the worst thing in the world after all.

Always remember...Be thankful. Everyday.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Moving Forward

February and March are big months for me, they hold a lot of anniversary dates for my cancer and surgery. They tend to stir up a lot of emotions and can get my mind wandering back to those deep dark corners that I used to frequent often. It might seem silly to some, but each anniversary, each year is big deal for me. Each year its like I let out a big sigh, I made it, I can do anything now. I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty damn proud of myself for how I've handled these last few months. I've managed them quite well. I know what my triggers are that can send me spiraling, and I know what tools work for me to manage them. When I do have bad days, (because I definitely still do) I am not hard on myself for it, I take a deep breath and try to get back to center...which sometimes can take a while, but that's ok!

I think back to only a year ago at this time and I was a complete wreck (seriously, just ask my roommate at the time). I was still in the middle of a major depression, still on anti-depressants, still seeing a therapist, and basically wearing a "handle with care" sticker across my forehead. I'm proud of my progress and where I am now. The journey is not over and my work is not done, but I have come a long way. It's funny, you don't even notice you've turned a corner until your halfway down the next block with all this new space and room to grow. You take a look back behind you and its like, hey look at that, look how far I've come. It feels good. Makes you stand up a little taller. I'm getting to the point now where I can wear my story like a badge of courage. Yeah, this happened, and yeah, I'm ok. I can share my story now instead of running and hiding from it. A year ago, talking about everything that happened like I am now with all of its dark and dirty parts would have been impossible. Talking about it means actually admitting it all happened, and a year ago I wasn't there yet. I am there now though and I am ready for the next chapter. There was a time when I needed to be lost and miserable, to just sit with my thoughts and figure this all out. It was perfectly acceptable given the situation, to take some time off from everything, to recover both mentally and physically. But that time is over. I no longer want to use this traumatic event as a crutch. Don't get me wrong, it was traumatic and I did need some time, but I am ready to move on.

What I have found with all of the things I have learned is that it has nothing to do with cancer. These lessons and aha moments I have come to learn are universal to all of life's lemons. They are not limited to cancer patients or someone whose struggle is similar to mine. Everyone struggles, everyone has something to overcome, or some kind of suffering to face. I most certainly will have other obstacles to overcome, although I hope to god it's not this again. But if you let these struggles or tragedies teach you and grow from them, you are so ready to take things on the next time around. With impossible situations comes great opportunities. Pain, suffering, defeat...it's truly a humbling experience. Nelson Mandela said it best, "after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." Through this journey, I've learned to tackle life, not cancer. My cancer journey has not been about what I've lost, its been about what I've gained. My mouth may have shrunk, but my heart has grown and my perspective has broadened, and here I am, thriving more than ever.

Never forget...Be thankful. Everyday.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The other part of my story....

This part of my tumor, cancer, surgery story is still like an open wound for me. Whenever it comes up I still get pretty infuriated and I tend to ramble on and on about it because I get so worked up...so bare with me. Up until recently, I usually just leave this part of the story out, but after getting involved with some oral cancer organizations, I've been told that this is very helpful information and critical that I share. So here goes...

About 6 months before I ever found a lump in my mouth, I had an MRI head scan for something totally unrelated. At that time, I was having some fainting spells the doctors could not get to the bottom of. To be safe, my doctor referred me to a neurologist to get an MRI of my head to rule out any seizure activity. After a brief examination by the neurologist, he told me he highly doubted I had any kind of seizure disorder, but he would order the MRI just to be safe. He told me not to schedule any sort of follow up appointment, depending on the results, I may never need to see him again. I did the scan and he called me about a week later with the results. This phone call lasted three and a half minutes (I know this because I later got phone records of this call for the lawsuit). He told me over the phone that everything looked fine in terms of my brain, everything came back normal as he suspected. He mentioned there were some "unidentified signal changes" but that it is completely normal. Not knowing what that meant, I pressed him on it. He reassured me it was common and most likely just a false positive. I pressed him again, suggesting maybe I do the scan again just to make sure. He again reassured me it was very common and nothing to worry about. He cleared me of everything. I never spoke to him or saw him again.

Fast forward 6 months, the tumor in my mouth has been discovered, and the tornado of doctors appointments is just getting started. One of the first doctors I saw wanted to do an MRI head scan to get a better look at my tumor and what we were dealing with. Dreading my head being strapped in that tiny box while lying in that tiny tube again, I told him I had one 6 months ago, did I really need to do it again? He asked if the previous scan was done within the same health care network that he was a part of, if so, he could access it right then and there. It was and he was able to access the scan within a few minutes. Sure enough, after going through a few slides, there was my tumor. I think his exact words were, "Ope, yeah, there it is." I couldn't believe it, I could see it with my own eyes. My family and I surprisingly were not up in arms about the fact that it was there and the neurologist missed it...not yet anyway. It was extremely unfortunate, but at the time he was looking for seizure activity, not lumps in my mouth...maybe that's another area of expertise. There was so much else to focus on at that time, we just saw it as unfortunate. We weren't thinking lawsuit, malpractice, and burning this guys house down....that came later. I was going to see a head and neck specialist in Mission Viejo who would later become my surgeon, he asked me to bring any reports, x-rays, or scans including the original MRI I had done. I picked up the copy of the original MRI on my way to the appointment and read the report for it in the car for the first time. I was beyond shocked. All I remember was that F bombs were flying as I read the last 2 paragraphs

"...there is a nonspecific area of abnormality within the left of the oral cavity....apparent enhancement/lesion within the left side of the oral cavity incompletely evaluated here. The patient should have immediate further evaluation with CT or MRI scan with contrast to further evaluate this area of abnormality."


Shocked would be an understatement. This was the first I had heard about it...6 months later.

I was infuriated. Enraged. Confused. Shocked....a thousand things. Now we were definitely thinking lawsuit, malpractice, and burning his house down. A lawsuit was definitely happening, but I had to focus on my surgery and recovery first and deal with the dumbass doctor later. In typical big brother fashion, I remember my brother wanting this doctors name and address...you know, to go kick his ass. Honestly, at least for that first day, I think that's exactly what he intended on doing, we all had to talk him down a bit. (love you, brother!!)

My case would prove to be malpractice, but you'd be surprised how hard it was for me to find an attorney to represent me. It was incredibly disheartening to learn that attorneys in the field can acknowledge that yes malpractice occurred and my situation was definitely sad, but since I'm not dying, I have all of my limbs, I can walk and talk...it just wasn't worth it to take. I literally had people tell me that --- it's not worth it because it is too low level. It was infuriating to hear this. How dare you tell me its low level, let me take my mouth out for you right now and poke at my eye socket from inside my mouth (because I can do that) and then you tell me this is low level. It came down to money, not right and wrong or being held accountable. That was a tough pill for me to swallow, which is ironic since that is literally hard for me to do now. I finally did find an attorney willing to represent me and a lawsuit was filed. It was me vs. a big ol' health care network (which I won't name for obvious legal reasons) and 2 of their doctors. It was a classic case of big fish vs. little fish. The big fish and their attorneys drowned me in paperwork that would mentally break me several times over. So many specifics, so many details, so many questions having nothing to do with what happened, but about me and my character. It was so unbelievably draining to relive every tiny detail of what happened over and over and in ways I never even thought of. Most of it was all bullshit, just busy work to make you loathe every aspect of the lawsuit, which I will admit worked quite well.

All of the lawsuit stuff was definitely not helping my mental recovery from everything else. I was already so broken trying to process what happened, and anything related to the lawsuit just knocked me back down over and over again. My dad was even skeptical of going through with the lawsuit in the first place, worried about how it was going to affect me mentally. I had to go through with it though, for my own sanity, this guy needed to know what he did. It was never about money for me, I didn't want a dime, I just wanted an apology for what happened. Just for him to admit that he messed up and is sorry for what I had to go through, that would have been enough. I would have signed and agreed to that and dropped the whole medical malpractice lawsuit in a heartbeat.

The big fish and their attorneys weren't budging on any sort of settlement, they were going to take this thing as far as they could and take their chances. The neurologist I filed the lawsuit against claimed he told me about everything over the phone. There are so many holes in that story that I wont even get into it, but if calling a patient over the phone to inform them they have a tumor in a 3 and a half minute phone conversation is their standard of care, that is just scary and wrong. What they ultimately said was that yes, neglect on the doctors part did occur since there was no sort of follow up for what he allegedly told me. However, their medical experts believed that since it was cancer, the surgery and everything else would have been the same so there was no damaging effect due to the doctors neglect. You need to have both in a medical malpractice case, neglect AND causation, meaning the neglect caused this big hole in my mouth. They said it would have been the same regardless of the delay in diagnosis. Doctors said that at the time of the original MRI, the tumor was the size of a pinky fingernail, at the time of my surgery it was the size of a golf ball. To me, that's common sense...remove a pinky fingernail from someones mouth and the hole is relatively small, remove a golf ball from someones mouth and the hole is pretty effing big. Whatever, moving on. Since the big fish and their attorneys weren't going to budge, my attorneys said it was best for me to drop the case, mainly because they were no longer going to pursue it on my behalf...again, not worth their money.

I ultimately decided that the stress of the lawsuit, the reliving it, the deposition, the he said/she said, etc. was not worth my recovery. I could have continued my pursuit and found another attorney who would take the case all the way, but I decided to drop it, focus on my recovery, and simply try to move on with my life. A few thousand dollars wasn't going to bring my mouth back or erase what happened. In a way, there was some validation that the big fish's attorneys admitted neglect occurred in terms of their doctors, the rest was all bullshit, but at least they admitted they messed up. That was enough for me. My recovery was more important. I know some people thought me dropping the lawsuit was giving up in a way. That's fine if that's how they see it. I know my decision was best for me and my mental health and I have no regrets.

In many ways I have accepted and moved on from this part of the story. I decided to no longer pursue it and I'm ok with that. What does still get to me is I wish I knew what the hell happened. I wish I could hear that phone conversation again. I can't explain to you how in the hell the doctor just didn't tell me the rest of my MRI report. And as sure as I am that the sky is blue, I am just as sure that doctor didn't tell me anything about any sort of tumor, lump, abnormality, etc in that phone call! My best guess is that everything looked fine in terms of my brain, like he suspected, so he just simply stopped reading and never made it to the end of the report? I don't know. Another thing that I still struggle with is knowing that it didn't need to happen. People get cancer, people get tumors, tragic things happen and it sucks...that is the world we live in. Give me cancer, give me a tumor, give me a horrendous surgery, but don't give me the knowledge of knowing it should have and could have all been avoided had someone done their job right. Knowing that is something I still hate and still struggle with to this day. The icing on the cake was that even after the case was dismissed, I received a letter from that great big health care network here in San Diego saying I was terminated from all of their facilities and doctors. Terminated, meaning I am never allowed to see any of their doctors or have access to any of their facilities ever again. The big fish laid down the hammer on me, hard. I've since had to find all new doctors.

So this is why I talk about forgiveness so much as being part of my journey and healing. I put all of my anger, hate, struggle, pain...this entire ordeal on that one doctors shoulders for so long. I could put some of it on him, but not all of it. I have moved on and forgiven him in many ways though, the anger has most definitely subsided. There was a time when I literally wished horrible things on this man and his family for what he put me through. I am relieved to say that is no longer the case.

I came across this one day online and it hit me like a truck. It was like it was written directly for me.


One last note, I do want to stress the importance of getting copies for your own records of any medical reports, scans, x-rays, etc., which you are completely entitled to...talk about a tough lesson learned!!

If you made it to the end of this post, thank you and well done!! I know it was a long one. This was a very brief summary of what actually went on during that time. Like I said, this part is still tough for me to talk about and I tend to ramble. I am in a much better place now though.

Remember....Be thankful. Everyday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Back to Basics

Once my body was out of survival mode and I actually began to process everything, I realized that this whole ordeal will have some greater impact and meaning in my life other than being a totally shit situation. I understood that if I let it, it will change me into a more whole and authentic person. How or in what way, I had no idea. But I knew it was there, I could feel it, I just didn't know how to let it in. It was like I was standing there with my arms open to the sky, yelling to the universe "I'm ready ...CHANGE ME!!" I know it doesn't actually work that way, you can't force it. I understood the intellectual concept of acceptance, what it meant, but I didn't know how to actually achieve it, how to let it in. To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure if I know now, but one thing I do know for sure is that you cant force it. Acceptance, healing, growth....all of these things take time. I freakin' hated that answer!!! --- it takes time. I wanted it now, I wanted to learn the lessons, find the light at the end of the tunnel, and most importantly I wanted it to be over! I'm not sure if time really does heal everything, but it does help a great deal. You have to give the time some time.

I mulled over this whole 'achieving acceptance' thing for a few weeks. I asked a few friends their take on it, I even googled "how do you achieve acceptance." I wanted an answer, the 'how to' guide for acceptance and the steps that went along with it. Well good ol' google had exactly that! Duh, they have 'how to's' on everything!! I didn't use it though, but it got my wheels turning, along with things my friends said. That's the thing, what works for some people might not work for others, but its important to at least be open to all of it. I knew I had to figure it out for myself though.  One day when I was visiting my little cousins Joey and Massi, who at the time were 7 and 2, it finally clicked. I needed to be more like them. It was so simple. The keys to my recovery and getting out of the dark forest, as I would call it, were all things I learned in kindergarten. Things like forgiveness, love, kindness (not just to others, to myself as well), being gentle, being open, compassionate, etc. If I could be more like Joey and Massi I was going to find my way out of this. I look at them and they just exude love, happiness, kindness, curiosity, and acceptance. Things aren't complicated for them yet. They don't really know fear, anger or pain. There was no complicated answer or formula to find my way out, it was just back to basics. Back to things I learned when I was 5. This reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from author and spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson, "Love is what we're born with, fear is what we learn." This is going to sound super cheesy, but a big part of acceptance is a return to love. It starts inward with yourself and then can be spread outward to other people and things.

I truly believe that nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. I knew that if I ever wanted to move on, I needed to accept what happened and from that acceptance would come the lessons, the growth, the changes. This is definitely one of those things where its not about the destination, but the journey. I haven't fully come to terms with everything that's happened, but just because I haven't gotten there yet, doesn't mean I'm not succeeding. I am still learning, still growing, and still accepting. Every little change in perspective or a-ha moment is a major accomplishment and a major stepping stone for more to come! So be proud!

And remember...Be thankful. Everyday.

Friday, March 7, 2014

#prostheticmouthproblems

You know those times when something is so bad or so unbelievable you can either laugh or cry? I usually go with laugh. Part of that might be a defense mechanism, but part of it is also I'm just a light hearted person. Laughter sometimes really is the best medicine. Don't get me wrong, I shed some tears throughout this experience, but my mom did most of the crying for me...for everyone really. I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humor. Some people would say I'm funny, some people would say I'm a sarcastic smartass...kind of just depends on who you ask. I'm ok with either of those though, sarcasm is one of my favorite languages. As time has passed and I have grown more comfortable with my prosthetic, I've been able to joke a bit more at the whole idea of having a prosthetic mouth and all of the random situations that come along with it. Know your role though. I can joke about it, and you can laugh with me, but you can't make the jokes. Only in rare circumstances and people who I'm incredibly close with (you know who you are) can make the joke. Even then, I'll probably laugh along but still give you a look like, hey...watch it ; )

So here's a list of situations I've come across with my prosthetic where it's so random you just have to laugh. Those times when you think to yourself and the universe, REALLY?! I've dubbed it "#prostheticmouthproblems." My friends get a kick out of these anytime they happen and the hashtag just captures the humor and sarcasm of it all perfectly.

That time when you sneeze and your mouth comes out.
#prostheticmouthproblems
         
That time when you're at dinner, take a sip of wine, and it comes out your nose onto your plate.
#prostheticmouthproblems

That time when you eat a meatball sandwich and then 5 minutes later, blow your nose, and there's marinara sauce all over the kleenex.
#prostheticmouthproblems

That time when you blow your nose and you have to spit it out your mouth.
#prostheticmouthproblems

That time when you eat a piece of taffy candy and it literally crumples and bends your mouth as if it were a piece of foil.
#prostheticmouthproblems

That time you actually thought you could eat taffy candy with your mouth!
 #stupid #whatwasithinking

To better understand, you need to know what I've got going on in that mouth of mine, so here's a little breakdown: The maxilla bone (don't worry, I had never heard of it either) consists of your upper palate and upper jaw...basically the roof of your mouth. It essentially forms the boundaries for the roof of your mouth and the floor of your nose. Well, I had most of my maxilla bone removed. Now there is a big hole with nothing separating my mouth from my nose and sinuses. That's where the prosthetic comes in, it recreates that boundary or separation from my mouth and nose. Without it, I can't breathe properly, speak intelligibly, or eat and drink without it escaping through my nose. It's always in, never comes out, only to clean it... or the occasional big sneeze. It's an awkward thing to have in your mouth all the time, but it's even more awkward without it, trust me. It really is a magical little device. If I pop it out, you can barely understand a word I say, but when I pop it back in, I can instantly speak normal. It's not perfect though, obviously the seal it is meant to create is not perfectly sealed, so things still get through.

My cousin Nicole jokes that with my removable mouth, I have an awesome bar trick now. I told her, if I'm ever out at a bar and take this thing out, take me home immediately because I am obviously waaaay too drunk to be out anywhere!! Someone asked me recently how long it took me to get used to my prosthetic. I replied with, you don't get used to it,  you just choose to move on. It's a big piece of acrylic inside my mouth meant to plug up a big hole, and has a bunch of fake teeth attached to it... how do you get used to that?! It is IN my mouth!! I still notice it almost every second of the day. Anytime I eat or drink, anytime I smile, anytime I swallow, I notice it. But that's all I do, I notice it and I move on....or at least try to. I choose to laugh, I choose to be thankful, and I choose to move forward... prosthetic mouth problems and all.

#Bethankful #Everyday

Friday, February 28, 2014

Be thankful. Everyday.

Just as a heads up to all my readers out there...all 4 of you, I am changing the name of my blog, so the email updates will now appear in your inbox as "Be thankful. Everyday."

I have learned so much about myself and life from this experience and I am still learning, but I can honestly say the biggest take away from it all has been to be thankful everyday. You have to appreciate every moment, everyday. That seriously is the most important thing I have learned. It is so simple, but you'd be surprised how often it is overlooked on a daily basis. Be thankful. Everyday. --- I say this to myself each morning. It's such a great way to start your day or end your day. When you think of things you're thankful for you can't help but smile. I am thankful for my niece's laugh.....see, that just put a smile on my face. I am thankful for the love of my family.....I just thought of my crazy family and again, I am smiling :)

I know its not always rainbows and butterflies, we all have our days, and I'm well aware that life can throw us a shit sandwich from time to time. But that's normal...that's life! I can easily take a turn to negative town and get down on myself for being unemployed or that I'm currently living with my parents. Believe me, it is not my ideal situation...nor is it theirs! But I can always be thankful, and that is what always brings me back. I try to keep a good perspective. I'm here, I'm breathing, I have people who love me and people that I love, I am healthy, I laugh often, I get to see my niece grow up, I get to see sunsets, I get to surf, and can eat IN N OUT when I want. I have so much to be thankful for. There were a good amount of months where I couldn't eat solid food or the amount of medications I was prescribed was over 15 a day. There's always going to be difficult times, trying times, unfair times, things you want, things you cant have, but there's also always going to be good times, things to smile about, and things to be thankful for.

Coming from a place of gratitude is a beautiful thing. It makes you lighter in a way. It can put things in perspective. Cancer has a sick sense of humor in making you appreciate the little things in life, but boy do I appreciate them now. Like I said before, I could let this cancer thing make me harder or it can make me softer. I choose softer. Being thankful is the backbone to that way of thinking and being. What I went through was traumatic, but my life doesn't have to be that traumatic miserable event. I am reminded of a quote from poet, Mark Nepo, "To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken." That quote really resonates with me because I was broken, but even then, there was still so much good in my life, I still had many things to be thankful for. I always will.

Remember...Be thankful. Everyday.


Friday, February 21, 2014

A Day I'll Never Forget

It was Monday of President's Day weekend. I had just spent the weekend in Solvang, CA., wine tasting with some friends. I remember on Sunday, the last day of our trip, we stopped for lunch at a sandwich shop in town called Panino's. I love this place, but that day I barely touched my sandwich. My teeth were kind of sore. It was the first time I noticed it. They weren't killing me, but the pressure made it uncomfortable to eat. So I picked at my sandwich, didn't think much of it, and we drove home. The next day I went to work, my teeth were still sore, maybe even a little more than the day before, and the roof of my mouth felt funny, like I had burned it on some hot food. I hardly ate again that day, finished my shift, and headed home. Later that night, around 9:15pm, I was putting away some laundry, ESPN was on in the background, my teeth were still bugging me so I went to my bathroom mirror to see if I could see anything.

Today is what I call "Tumor Day." Two years ago today, I looked in my bathroom mirror and I found a lump. It was huge and definitely not supposed to be there. I didn't know what it was, but the last thing I was thinking was tumor, cancer, surgery. So many details of that day and the days that followed I will never forget. It's crazy how EVERYTHING can change in a single moment. Like the flip of a switch. I didn't call my parents right away, it was late, and I didn't even have anything to tell them, I didn't know what it was yet, if anything. Calling them now without any information would just make them worry. So I called my best friend, Erica. I was kind of freaking out, explaining to her what I saw and not knowing what to do. I hung up with her, basically took a selfie of my mouth, sent her the picture and called her right back. The picture gave me a better look at it as well. This thing was HUGE. It honestly looked like I had balls hanging from inside my mouth. No joke. Since it was late and there was nothing I could do about it now, we decided the best thing to do was go to my dentist first thing in the morning.

The week that followed was like a tornado. Dozens of appointments with doctors, surgeons, and oncologists. I had my tumor biopsied, my nose scoped, had x-rays and several different scans done. So many new terms and names that I never even knew existed were all too quickly becoming part of my vocabulary. I remember lying on the bed for my first PET scan right before it started, arms above my head, freezing in the gown, thinking....how the hell did I get here? How has this become my reality? It took longer than normal for the results of my biopsy to come back. It was a rare type of tumor and they wanted another opinion so it was sent to Stanford and The Mayo Clinic --- my mom always said I was special. It took about a week for the results to come in and the cancer card was officially dealt (another day I'll never forget).

Two years ago...a thousand things. I remember the time, what was on TV, what I had for dinner, who I called, etc etc. I remember almost every detail in the days leading up to that moment and the days after. I wonder if that ever goes away? It all happened so fast, but at the same time seemed like I was in a slow moving fog. It all seemed so unbelievable, so surreal. I never really had the "why me?" kind of questions. Why not me? Shitty things happen to good people, they just do. I am no stranger to random ass unfortunate situations happening to me, both health wise and life wise. Seriously, I could write a book. My friends think I should call it "Seriously, WTF?!" So I gave up the why me? thinking long ago. I was way past the why me...I was mind numbingly scared.

The stages of processing or dealing with something are an interesting thing. I think the order of the stages vary from person to person, but eventually, you have to go through them all to fully get yourself to the other side. There's the numb/not processing stage, the denial stage, the anger stage, and the acceptance stage to name a few. Some stages are harder or take longer than others, sometimes you bounce back and forth from one to the other, it really just depends on the person and the journey they're on. I started off in the numb/not processing stage and stayed there for a while. So many appointments those first few weeks, I just simply stopped processing. You have a tumor, it is cancer, there will be a surgery, it will be awful, you will lose a portion of your mouth, you will wear a prosthetic to fill that missing portion. Here I am, 2 years later and I'm still processing it, I'm just further along on the journey now. The anger stage came later, but that was specific and directed at a certain person, that's another story entirely that I'll get into some other time. For me, the acceptance stage was last and has been the hardest --- I'm still in it, not fully completed yet. I have come a very long way though, and I am very proud of myself for the progress I have made. But there are still days when I want to take my prosthetic out, throw it against a brick wall and watch it shatter to pieces. Like I said, it's a process.

Something I learned on my journey was that it was ok to be lost. I had to be ok with it because fighting it certainly wasn't helping. If you're lost, be lost. It's ok. The best part of being lost is finding yourself. You just can't ever lose sight of the fact that you will find yourself. You have to know that, believe that, and never forget that. You will make it out. The road to getting there might completely suck and challenge you in ways you didn't think was humanly possible, but you will get there. Don't get me wrong, you have to work at it. You can't just lay in bed all day waiting around until you suddenly feel whole again. It takes work. For me, I found that it was a bunch of little things that I had to constantly and continuously do. I say little things because it was things like going outside for a walk, going to therapy, meditating, and journaling to name a few. Those are relatively easy, small tasks, but I know first hand when you're in the middle of it, just getting out of bed is a battle in itself. On days or weeks where I didn't get outside for a walk or I skipped my therapy session, I noticed it. I felt the slip backwards. You have to work at it, you have to stay the course, and you will get there. I remember a day a few weeks after surgery when I was really struggling and my Uncle Pete saying to me "You know you're going to be ok, Amy. You're going to get through this. You do know that, right?" He said it again, until I answered..."You do know that, right?" I held back tears and answered, "Yes." And I did know that. I never lost sight of that. I just hated the road to getting there, it was too long, too hard, and I wanted it to be over. But you have to stay the course. You will get there.

Two years ago my life changed when I looked in that bathroom mirror. This journey began in that moment. Those awful days seem like they were just yesterday and a thousand years ago all at the same time. One surgery, three prosthetic mouths, and a whole lot of ups and downs later... it all still seems like a bad dream. I still often think, did that all really happen?? It has been a roller coaster, a terrible one at that, but I feel like I'm finally off of it. But with any crazy roller coaster ride, you always get off it a little squeamish, holding your stomach and head, thinking "Woah." That's where I'm at now, off the ride, still getting my bearings, but hey, that's progress!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Breakdown. Breakthrough.

After the initial brutal months of recovery from surgery had passed and I was given the amazing news of being cancer free, everyone expected my life and I to get back to normal. The cancer is gone, you can eat and speak again (kinda), and the doctors say you're fine, therefore this is all over. This "get back to normal" was coming from all directions...doctors, family, friends. I mean, I get it...it was all coming from a good place, all anyone wanted was to put these horrendous few months behind us and just simply move on. Believe me, that's all I wanted too. Spoiler alert: getting back to normal didn't happen and I was the farthest thing any human can be from "fine." I desperately wanted to get back to normal, but I was broken into a million pieces and as I found out, when I was putting myself back together, the pieces didn't fit the same as they did before.

At the time, it was like a light had gone off inside me. I was empty, dark, and lost. I felt so disconnected from myself. I didn't care about anything or anyone, I was angry, short tempered, and completely checked out. Turns out I was in the middle of this real thing that actually exists, doctors called it depression. Who knew? ---actually, everyone. But this was a new term for me. Sure I had heard it before, but I always thought of it as this term reserved for people who just weren't tough enough or strong enough to handle the shitty situations life threw at them. But no no, it exists.... depression is an actual, real, physical thing. And I was in the middle of it. Enter: full blown mental breakdown. I was so lost, I felt like I was in a dark forest trying to find my way out, only everything I had known before didn't make sense anymore. I decided I needed to make a choice: I can either let this cancer thing make me harder (angry, bitter, mean, etc.) or it can make me softer (more open, kind, forgiving, etc). Cancer was turning me into this hard, rigid person that had this bitter perspective on life and I didn't like it. It was not fun being this sad, angry, empty person all the time, believe me I know, I tried it on for quite a while. So I began to take steps to get myself out. I was about as low as you can get, so this was a process and it took a while. But eventually the light was turned back on inside me.

A few of the many things I learned from this breakdown are as follows:

You never know how strong you are until you have to be. It really is true, give yourself a little more credit, you will surprise yourself. 

You need to figure out what works for you and you need to Trust the process. Whether its overcoming cancer or depression, overcoming a fear, getting through a bad day, or simply learning a new skill...figure out what tools work for you and trust them. The struggle is part of the process so don't fight it. The struggle is proof that you are there, showing up, and you are working to make it/you better.

You have to breakdown in order to breakthrough. I hate to break it to ya, but the breakdown is usually part of the process. But don't worry, the breakthrough is sooooo worth it!! You need to surrender, give in...to all of it. The fear, the pain, the sadness...all of it. You can't fight it, you can't run from it, eventually it will catch up with you. Once you surrender, the healing can begin. 

I also learned that when you hit rock bottom, you are willing to try absolutely anything to get yourself out. Therapy? Sure. Meditation? Journalling? Why not. I tried it all. Even juicing became part of my program. You know shit has got to be bad if Amy Uruburu is drinking (and enjoying) kale, celery, romaine, cucumbers, broccoli stems and lemons on a regular basis!! That is like the farthest thing from a double double -- what kind of alternate universe is this?!

I'm sure a lot of people will think I'm crazy when I say this, but in a weird twisted way, I'm thankful for what has happened. Cancer and its aftermath has been the catalyst for great change in my life. I have learned so much about myself and about life and for that I am truly thankful.  This horrible thing called cancer broke me into a million pieces, but it also broke me open. I am now more open, more aware and more tuned in on so many levels. My entire perspective has shifted and is leading me down this path that is making me a more open person, and in turn, I feel a better person. And for that I am grateful. 


Friday, February 7, 2014

So what --- Who cares?!

Here goes nothing..... Me writing a blog. A blogger. Blogging. Never thought I'd actually be one of them. I'm not entirely sure what I want this to be yet. I don't want it to be just another cancer blog, but cancer will definitely be a hot topic. I guess its just me writing about my journey. My journey post cancer, my journey to continuously learn, to try new things, to get weird, to get lost, to find my way. Journey to self discovery, I guess. ---god, that sounded cheesy! When I say journey it sounds like I'm on some epic adventure. I assure you I'm not, not currently anyway. I'm 29, I'm unemployed, and I live with my parents....there, I said it. BUT....I can also say that I've got some stories, I've had some life experiences, and I've been forced to learn some life lessons.

I'm mainly writing this because its therapeutic for me, its a good outlet. I write and journal all the time anyway, so why not turn it into something. Who cares if my mom is the only one who reads it and who cares if its because I sent her the link? I've been thinking about doing this for a while actually, but I've always been too scared to just go and do it. To just start. I finally got over it and here I am. As Fred Armisen doing Joy Behar on SNL would say, "So what --- Who cares?!" (you gota make sure you do the shoulder action too when you say it)


I'm sure a few of my friends will give me crap about starting a blog and I KNOW a few of them will give me crap about the name, (ahem) Joseph and (ahem) probably Nicole too! But, SO WHAT! WHO CARES?! They're going to give me crap for something anyways cuz that's just what we do.

On the off chance someone other than my friends or my mom reads this (Hi, mom!), here's a brief little summary so everyone is all caught up with me on my "journey." It's a story that has many different versions and many different authors. This is mine: A cancer diagnosis that turned into an awakening...EVERYTHING changed. About 2 years ago a lump was found in my mouth, it was a tumor, it was malignant, and it needed to go. Oral cancer at age 27 (mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the salivary gland, to be exact). The surgery I had was called a partial maxillectomy, do yourself a favor and DON'T Google that one.....all kinds of fucked up. In all, I lost a quarter of my mouth....permanently: 4 teeth, half of the roof of my mouth and palate, and the adjacent jaw bone. I now wear a prosthetic mouth piece to fill in the missing portion. Yes, you read that correctly, I wear a prosthetic mouth. The surgery was successful and it was deemed that I did not need radiation treatment after all. I am now cancer free.

What I found, at least in my experience, is that no one really prepares you for the aftermath of cancer. Your body, if you're lucky as I was, eventually heals, but the mind....that's an entirely different cancer battle. That's when the battle really started for me, after it was all over. I can honestly say that I didn't even begin to process what happened for at least 6 months. Don't get me wrong, I am aware and unbelievably thankful at how lucky I am, it could have been a lot worse. So there I was, the tornado had passed, I'm left with this thing in my mouth wondering what the hell just happened?! I can tell you that I have found my way out of the dark forest I was in, and yes those videos are right, it does get better. But I am definitely still on this journey of figuring it all out. Life didn't get back to "normal" like the doctors said, but that's ok. It's a new normal....and I'm still getting used to it.

So that's my little story. This is me finding my way in my new normal......