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, 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, 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 quite 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 path 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 getting me anywhere. 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 where I didn't get outside for a beach walk or weeks where 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, a bunch of family was over at the house hanging out with me, as they did during those early days, 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 and 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 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 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......