I’ll Hold a Light for You

I have previously written about my experience with pregnancy loss, and I want to thank everyone for their love, support, and comments on that post.  I just found out that tomorrow, Wednesday, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  The idea is that people all over the world will light a candle at 7pm their time and that it will create a Wave Of Light in support of those that are grieving the loss of a little one.  I think this is a lovely idea, especially since miscarriage can feel so very lonely. It is one day for all those who have lost a baby to know that they are not alone and that their little one is gone but not forgotten.  If you would like more details or have recently suffered a pregnancy loss, this site has some good resources: www.october15th.com.

I am planning on spending an hour or so in thought, meditation, and prayer around 7pm by lighting a candle and holding our Hufflepuff in my heart (it might be a little later since I will start whenever Curly and Flopsy go to bed.) I would like to pause here and say unequivocally that every single day I am grateful for Curly and Flopsy, they are amazing little people, the lights of my life, and I love them more than I ever dreamed possible.  Even as I remember the hufflepuff, I know that had he/she gone to term I would not have my twins.  So this is not a time of wishing that anything had gone differently, I believe that the Hufflepuff was never meant for this world.  It is just a chance to acknowledge the loss of a little one I never got to meet but loved from the moment I saw that heartbeat on the monitor.  If you would like to join me (and everyone else participating) that would be wonderful.  I would also like to go one step further and for that, I need your help.

I once had a therapist tell me that sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to “hold a light for them.”  Meaning that you sit and quietly listen to and support them without interrupting, judging, or giving your opinion.  Just be a place they can talk and feel safe.  I think it can also mean just quietly be someone who understands and sends them positive energy.  I would like to hold a light for anyone that would like me to by including specific names of my friends, family, and internet friends into my thoughts while I actually physically hold my candle.  If you aren’t religious, don’t worry, my prayers in this case will consist of briefly speaking the name of the parent and/or baby (or nickname) and holding them in my heart and thoughts for a moment while sending love, healing, and light to the family.

If you have lost a little one of any age, or know someone who has, and would like me to send a little love your way, let me know by commenting with whatever info you want to share- your name (or pseudonym), the baby’s name (or nickname), how many weeks you were, part of your story, or a link to something you have written about this topic.  This is open to anyone who feels a pregnancy or infant loss: miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, IVF babies that never grew, the miscarriage of a surrogate, or even if you terminated a pregnancy and want a little light shined your way, I am here for you.  My point is not to judge but to send a tiny bit of support in the best way I can think of.  You can comment here, on my Facebook page, on Twitter @natalieehowe, or if you prefer it to be private, at my email supercrazymommy@gmail.com.  And if you see these names and want to incorporate them into your own thoughts and prayers, or light a candle, or just send a little mental hug, I am sure that would be appreciated as well.  We who have lost a child in any form are a community who is here for each other, let’s remember that and give a little kindness to each other.

I'll hold a light for you

On October 15th, I’ll be holding a light for my Hufflepuff and I would be honored to hold one for you.

Best Buddies and Brave October

I am continuing my campaign for people to participate in Brave October and as part of that I am trying to push myself to be courageous.  I am really skinny right now (seriously, I’m like all elbows and knees) but I am by no means in good shape.  It has been probably two years since I exercised and more like 3 and 1/2 since I did so regularly.  I have gotten cleared by my doctors to start working out again as I feel up to it (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you need to catch up on my many health issues) but with my severe anemia and exhaustion I have not felt like starting.  Also I don’t wanna.  I have never been one of those people who enjoys exercise- I strongly believe that running is only for when something big and snarling is chasing you.

And the truth is I have been frightened to start.  I know I am not very strong right now and actually going to the gym seems completely daunting, and an exercise class is so intimidating- I feel like everyone will stare at me and think I am a huge wuss when I am gasping for breath every 5 minutes.  Now, most people probably don’t really care what the person next to them in class is doing, but the reality doesn’t really matter-I have built this up in my head to a point where I am really anxious about it.

Full disclosure here so that no one thinks I am being sneaky and doing a puff piece review- about half my family is somehow involved in SpeedFlex, a workout facility that opened recently in Dallas.  SpeedFlex is supposed to be “revolutionary” because it is a high intensity workout (you only do each exercise for 20 seconds) and there are no weights, just these cool machines that go off your own resistance.  As my father has pointed out to me every time I said I was too weak or tired to go try it, the machines are even being used in clinical trials for chemo patients and in rehab facilities as well as with training for elite athletes.  I still resisted because a) I’m really tired, b) I’m scared that I won’t be able to do it, and c) I don’t wanna.

Then came the Best Buddies SpeedFlex-a-thon this past Saturday.  They did an all day workout event and for every calorie burned got sponsors to donate money to Best Buddies- they raised over $80,000 which is pretty incredible!  I love this organization (more on that later) and I figured I can’t be all #BraveOctober and then not do it myself.  So I put on my big girl yoga pants and started going in a few weeks ago to build up my strength to participate on my family’s team.  The first time I went, I had to bail after 7 minutes, but I actually felt pretty good about myself afterward.  And then I found that each time I could do more and more, and on Saturday, I did a whole 30 minute workout session and burned 347 calories!  I felt great that I helped raise money for Best Buddies, excited that I was actually strong enough to get through it, and really proud of myself that I was brave enough to workout in front of so many people (the place was packed for the event.)  I also felt a little annoyed because now my whole family gets to say “I told you so,” but that’s a separate issue.

Flexing my awesome chicken arms!
Flexing my awesome chicken arms!

The event was also eye opening for me in another way.  If you are unfamiliar with Best Buddies, please click on that link and learn about them, it is an awesome organization.  They pair people up (like a Big Brothers/Big Sisters thing) to help foster one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  They start pairing buddies in middle school and continue through high school, college, and with adults.  Having met and talked with a few of the Buddies on Saturday, I can absolutely see how much this program could enrich the lives of both the volunteers and the Buddies.  I spent a lot of time talking to Jeremy, who is a Best Buddies ambassador, and has been with the program for about 12 years.  He is interesting, articulate, and one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met- seriously his smile is the epitome of contagious!

Tyler was another Buddy who had worked out in an earlier session that day but stood to the side in the room when I was exercising.  Every time I was feeling exhausted or like I wanted to quit, I would look over at him and he would wave and clap and cheer me on, which was almost as good as another B12 shot!  I spoke to his mother and she told me how wonderful this program has been for him in the past few years.  When he came over I bragged to his mom about how helpful his cheering was and his response was, “Yeah, I’m the man!”  Yes, Tyler, yes you are!

Jeremy, me, and Tyler.  I am by far the least cool person in this pic! :)
Jeremy, me, and Tyler. I am by far the least cool person in this pic! 🙂

The Best Buddies program to me is an embodiment of my idea of #BraveOctober.  Sometimes just being yourself in a world where you are different is an incredibly courageous move.  I hope my girls get involved with the program when they are old enough, because, as I have mentioned before, I believe that the best way to raise children who are open-minded is to introduce them at a young age to the fact that people have differences and those are not frightening, they’re beautiful.  I want my kids to be brave enough to loudly stand up for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability because they know first hand what a great buddy that someone can be.

Being Brave Isn’t Pretending You’re Fine

“Gosh, it’s been so long!  How are you?”  I said to a friend I accidentally butt-dialed while trying to call someone else.

“Good…Well…OK… We were really excited because we were pregnant with twins, but then I had a miscarriage.”

And I paused.  Honestly, I was kind of shocked that she just led with that.  I mean, it had been over a year since we last spoke, and we aren’t even close friends.  That’s a pretty personal statement to just put out there.

Why though?  Why isn’t it OK to just tell the truth about how you’re feeling.  If you just lost a baby why should you have to pretend like everything is fine?  It’s not.  And what a brave thing to do.  We often hear the phrase “putting on a brave face” which means covering up your true feelings and going on with your life.  But in reality, what takes courage is to acknowledge those feelings, to let people in.  That is really scary.  Because when you let people in to how you are really feeling, to the struggles in your life, it makes you vulnerable.  It opens you up to people saying stupid, hurtful things, or getting super awkward, or just ignoring your comment and pretending like you didn’t say anything- which can be even more painful.

And miscarriage… well, we really don’t talk about that.  I remember years ago a friend of mine was pregnant and I hadn’t seen her in a while.  When I asked her how she was she said, “Well it’s been a rough summer… I was pregnant, then I wasn’t, and now I am pregnant again.”  I remember freezing, thinking, “Oh wow, she just told me she had a miscarriage.” But I was too scared to acknowledge it- ’cause what do you say?  So I just kind of pretended I didn’t really notice the comment and we skipped over it.  Yeah, I’m not very proud of that.

About 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, that’s huge.  And yet, nobody talks about it, it is kind of a taboo subject in polite conversation.  If your mom or even your dog just died and someone asks how you are, it is perfectly acceptable to say you are feeling pretty lousy because of that loss and people will comfort you accordingly.  But announce that you just lost a baby and eerrk (my impression of a needle scratching across a record,) sometimes conversation just stops.  And if it is acknowledged, the platitudes come out.  “Oh, well at least you know you can get pregnant!”  “You’re young, you’ll have another one!” or my personal favorite, “Well, it probably meant that there was something wrong with the baby anyway.”  Right.  Because I would rather have my baby die than be born with a disability, is that what you are saying?

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I had a miscarriage myself.  I was only about 9 weeks along but I was devastated.  I have been through a lot (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you don’t believe me,) but losing the baby was one of the absolute worst things I have dealt with in my life.  Everyone’s experience is different, but I loved that baby fiercely from the moment I knew he/she exsisted.  My husband and I called it the Hufflepuff since we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl and we talked about our plans for the baby all the time.  When I started spotting, I knew in my gut that the baby was gone, but I still made my husband leave on a business trip because some crazy part of me believed that if I asked him to stay home to go to the doctors appointment with me, my fears would prove to be true.  But sending him away didn’t help, I still got the horrible news at the ultrasound that the heartbeat was gone.  And then I had to make decisions about what to do, and suffer through a lot of pain and weeks of bleeding.  I won’t go into that now, but I remember how hard it was.  And most of all, how lonely I felt.

We have decided as a culture not to tell people we are pregnant until 12 weeks, since miscarriage is so common before that.  But that means that if you lose a baby, most people didn’t even know you were pregnant so how can they be invested in that little life?  My husband was wonderful to me at that time, but even he could not understand why it affected me so deeply and why I became so profoundly depressed afterwards.  We have funerals in part so that we do not have to mourn alone, because that is a huge weight to bear.  But most people don’t have funerals for miscarried babies, so that burden is not shared.

Friends and family turned out in droves to help me and send flowers or cards or lend a word of comfort after each of my surgeries, which was wonderful.  But my miscarriage was when I really needed the most support, and I have never felt more alone.  A huge part of that is because no one knew, and I “put on a brave face” for those who did.  I went back to work and just said I had been sick for a few days, but inside I wanted to scream, “How can you people not see that a part of me just died with the baby that was inside me?!”  I went around pretending I was fine, but I was far from it.  Eventually, Sebastian sat me down and said that he thought I needed to see someone and I found an amazing counselor to help me work through my depression.  A few months later, I got pregnant with the twins and was so happy and so very scared at the same time!

I have been talking a lot about #BraveOctober and being brave, whatever that means to you.  To me, today, it means finally speaking up about my loss.  Telling people that if you are hurting, the courageous thing to do is to let someone know.  Not to bottle it up inside and think that you are being “brave” by hiding yourself from the world.  Maybe being honest about your struggles might just let someone know that they are not quite as alone as they feel in whatever pain they are going through.

So I paused.  And then I said to her what I wish people would have said to me.  “I am so sorry for your loss.  Do you want to talk about it? I’m here for you.”

The 5 BEST Things about Major Surgery

Today, a friend of mine is going in for surgery and it made me start to remember all of the things that I thought and worried about before each of my 5 major surgeries in the last couple of years (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you just went, “wait, WHAT?”)  I can go on and on about how scary and difficult and painful surgery is (wouldn’t that be a fun blog to read?!) but I realized that no one really talks about the good parts of having misbehaving organs ripped out.  So here it is…

The 5 BEST Things about having Major Surgery

  1. The Binge Watching- TV shows and movies on Netflix, Amazon On Demand, Hulu, etc. were practically designed for someone in the hospital or in recovery.  My suggestion is to pick a show that you have never seen before that is already 6 or 7 seasons in and then just marathon it.  Personal favs include Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl but I am really sophisticated and cultured like that, you may be more of a West Wing person and that’s cool too.  I wouldn’t recommend Lost though because with all the drugs in your system you will probably get really…well, I think you know where I’m going with that one! Which leads me to…
  2. The Drugs- I have a bizarrely high tolerance to pain meds, but even I got to a point when I started professing my love for the nursing staff giving me the drugs.  Apparently I kept telling my Dilaudid-wielding nurse, “I love you, do you know how wonderful you are?”  This got a little awkward for my husband who was standing there, especially since it was a male nurse!  If you are lucky you get a magic device- the pain pump (my favorite was filled with Dilaudid but Morphine is pretty good too.)  Don’t be a hero, you don’t get any points for not pushing that button, use this liberally and enjoy.
  3. The Love- Your friends and family will come out of the woodwork to shower you with cards, emails, texts, flowers, gifts, jewelry (ok, maybe not jewelry, but if you have a friend in surgery- please consider it.  Nothing says “Get Better Soon” like a pair of diamond studs!)
  4. The Help- Again, at no other time in your life will people be so ready and willing to help you.  Everyone says, “Let me know what I can do.”  Don’t make the mistake I did and just think that is an empty line.  Most people that say this truly do want to help (and if they don’t- too bad, they offered, if they didn’t mean it that’s on them!)  Seriously, let your loved ones know what they can do.  Here’s a list of possibilities- grocery shopping, dishes, pick up dry cleaning, make you food, buy you food, watch your kids, do your laundry, bring you magazines, get your prescriptions, or just come over and keep you company for awhile when you can’t leave the house and are going stir crazy.
  5. The Perspective- I think this is the biggest one.  If you survived a major surgery (or many surgeries) you will probably come out of it a little different.  You don’t know just how much you can live through until you go through it.  The worst of the pain, the hospital stay, and the recovery feel like forever.  But then one day, you wake up and realize that you are starting to get back to yourself again.  You think, how in the world did I get through that?!  And you start to understand that just maybe you are stronger than you ever gave yourself credit for.  Maybe you have a little more appreciation for the good things in your life.  Maybe you hold your loved ones a little tighter because you realize just how precious your life and health are.  Maybe you will one day be able to give support and compassion to someone going through a tough time in a whole different way because you get what it is like to be really down.  Maybe the whole process helps you realize just how many people love you and who your true friends are.  And maybe, just maybe, you have some killer new bling to go with your new look on life.

If you are about to go into a major surgery right now or know someone who is, remember that even the hardest things in life eventually pass.  Enjoy the downtime while you have it, I feel like I’m speaking in cliches here, but the world moves really fast most of the time.  I don’t really believe that everything happens for a reason.  But I do believe that things happen and you call on every bit of strength you have to deal with them, and that you can then choose to find something good that came out of it all.

I can’t say that I enjoyed any of my surgeries or sicknesses, but I can say that I truly appreciate all the love that people showered on me, the knowledge that I have more resilience than I ever dreamed of, and that I am overwhelmed in gratitude that I am alive, on the mend, and able to hold my husband and daughters every night.  Oh and Gossip Girl, I really enjoyed getting to watch that show in a continuous marathon- when you are on drugs and don’t take a break between episodes it is even more crazytown!

When recovering, you never have to get dressed!
When recovering, you never have to get dressed!

Poltergeist Panic Attack

The most terrifying tree in the world!!!
The most terrifying tree in the world!!!

Have you ever had a panic attack?  If not, then imagine being absolutely terrified- heart racing, palms sweating, breathing heavily, feeling certain that something terrible is going to happen and that you could die at any moment.  Then, imagine that there is nothing around you to be scared of, that you are just in your room on a regular day and that this feeling came out of nowhere.  Sounds fun, right?

Everyone I have talked to who suffers from extreme anxiety or panic attacks has different experiences, but the one thing that we all seem to have in common is that horrible feeling of dread, of …well, panic.  It’s something about adrenaline releasing into the body and producing a “fight or flight” response.  Basically, your body thinks that a bear or a dinosaur or something is chasing you, so every instinct you have is screaming at you to run away.  But when there’s nothing to run from it really screws with your head.

In the past few years I have been through a lot (this is kind of an understatement, see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you need the CliffsNotes) but my first panic attack was one of the most frightening things I have ever experienced.

I was between surgeries and having a pretty good day, so my mom decided to take me out to lunch.  We were driving and I started feeling nauseous (which I now know can be a panic attack precursor for me.)  I thought I was just hungry and asked her to pull over to the first place she could find.  We stopped at a La Madeline, with it’s pseudo-French décor and soft music- not really the type of place you see in horror movies.  While we were waiting, I started to get this terrible sense of dread.  It’s hard to explain other than that all of the sudden I was sure that something horrible (like a terrorist attack, or earthquake, or Zombie apocalypse) would be going down soon at this Dallas strip mall and that we needed to get out NOW!

I communicated this to my mom and while she looked at me a bit funny, she humored me and we grabbed the food and hopped back in the car.  On the 5 minute ride home my heart was pounding, and I began thinking that I might be having a heart attack or stroke- cue the “stroke symptoms” Google.  I got in the house and ran to my room.  Then I looked out the window and saw a tree.  I looked again and it was moving (like probably because of the wind.)  I then realized that it looked like the tree that comes alive and grabs the kid in Poltergeist and I told my mom to quickly shut the curtains before it “got me.”

I think it was at this point that she started to realize there was something really strange going on and she encouraged me to take one of my Xanax and call my therapist.  No answer, so I left a message and continued to freak out.  I could still see the tree through the sheer curtain and it looked even more menacing. I soon came to the conclusion that there was a distinct possibility I was going to die, like in the next few minutes.

I would like to pause here and note that there was still a small rational part of my brain that was thinking that perhaps the tree was not really going to come to life and strangle me with its branches, but it didn’t stop the panic.  I kept leaping up like I wanted to run, realizing I didn’t know where to go, and lying back down.  It was about this time that Sebastian came home and relieved my mother of crazy-person watching duty.

He suggested that I breathe into a paper bag.   So I did- I breathed into a Whole Foods brown paper wine bag for like 5 minutes.  I did not feel any better, but eventually I just felt stupid.  Like I was in some unimaginative rom-com and the girl gets so nervous before the big date that she starts hyperventilating and her sassy (but not as attractive because she wears glasses) BFF gives her a bag to breathe into!

Eventually we got my doctor on the phone and she helped me identify what was going on. With a combination of a licensed professional talking me down and a few more Xanax, the terror eventually faded.  Leaving me feeling exhausted and ridiculous.

See, that’s the thing, I remember the whole series of events and what I was thinking.  In hindsight it seems absurd and even a little funny, (I was scared of a tree!) but at the time the feelings I was having were real.  I can totally understand how a lot of people with panic attacks go to the emergency room.  And I think there is a sort of stigma to that, “Oh, it was just a panic attack.”  Like the person overreacted and the whole thing was no big deal.  But if it happens to you, believe me, it is a huge deal.

That’s why I wanted to share my story, so that if you have never had a panic attack, maybe you will be able to be a little more understanding to a friend or family member who is suffering from anxiety.  Also, if you are someone who has gone through this, you are not alone.  I’ll get it when you say that the crowds in a subway set you off, or a certain fabric stripe made you dizzy and fearful.  But don’t call me if a tree in your yard ever comes to life…that shit is freaky!

5 Reasons I Donated My Hair

Will I look like a creeper when I go to the post office and tell them I want to mail my hair?
Will I look like a creeper when I go to the post office and tell them I want to mail my hair?

My hair has always been long and thick.  I mean, I hear when I was a baby I was a baldie, but for as long as I can remember it has been a distinguishing feature of mine.  I would get angst about cutting off a few inches and the shortest I ever had it is just below my shoulders.

During my long recovery I have spent a lot of time alone in my room, and since there are only six seasons of Gossip Girl, that gave some good thinking time.  At some point I came to the realization that I had never really emotionally dealt with my thyroid cancer.  I had my thyroidectomy and a few weeks later was back in surgery for my colon so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to process (if you need a reference for my unusual medical history visit A Brief Timeline of Crazy.)

But I started feeling this need to somehow acknowledge what I had been through.  So I came up with a plan- I was going to cut off all my hair and donate it.  It was going to be a big dramatic gesture and I was going to feel all self-sacrificing and noble like Jo in Little Women.  I told some friends and family about this plan and they were all like, “okaay, maybe you should take a minute to think about this cause you are hanging onto your sanity by a thread at the moment and the other day when I asked if you could write an email you flung yourself on the bed, covered your head with a pillow and said it was just too much to deal with.  So I’m not saying don’t do this, but maybe wait until you aren’t so physically and emotionally fragile.”

Well, those might not have been their exact words but I got the point.  A dramatic hair change can bring up a lot of emotions.  So I thought about it for months.  And I came up with a list of reasons that I was sure I wanted to do it:

  1. I am extremely grateful, I survived cancer without having to loose my hair to chemo.
  2. I have a lot of hair and it grows quickly, but my donation could really make a difference to a woman who is going through treatment right now.
  3. Getting rid of my hair is symbolic for me of letting go of some of the pain, depression, and trauma that I have suffered in the past few years.
  4. It feels appropriate, like a new start.  By changing my look I am celebrating the stronger person I have become.
  5. I still get to feel like Jo, or that woman in the story we all had to read in ninth grade who cuts off her hair to buy her husband a watch or something… anyway, I love big dramatic gestures!

So yesterday I did it!  My friend Chad Cline at Cline Salon chopped off fourteen inches of my hair and I am now rocking a really cute bob!

Before
Before

After!After!

And I love it, I feel lighter and free and hopeful and ready to start a new chapter of my life!  I am sending in my ponytail to Pantene Beautiful Lengths (in partnership with the American Cancer Society) and it will be used to make a wig for a woman who has lost her hair to cancer.  How cool is that?  If you get a wig from the Cancer Society’s wig banks it could be made from my hair, just treat it well- it needs a lot of conditioner.

If this has inspired you to donate your hair too, fantastic!  Let me know and we will be short hair buddies.  If you have ever gotten a wig from the banks, I would love to hear your story too.  If you don’t have enough hair and want to throw 5 or 10 or 1,000 bucks at your favorite cancer charity, great!  If you just read this and think I am amazing and want to be my friend, visit me on facebook and like My Super Crazy Life for more awesomeness (you can check out a video of the haircut) And if you just want to take a minute and think about someone you know who is struggling with cancer right now, or someone you lost, or a person who is just now getting their diagnosis and trying to figure out what to do, that’s cool too… although you should probably still like me on facebook!

Thyroid Cancer Sucks Too! (Part 2)

First of all, if you want to get caught up please read Thyroid Cancer Sucks Too (Part 1)  I’ll wait, if you want to grab a cocktail also,  go ahead, I’m sure it’s 5 o’clock somewhere… so picking up with my surgery to remove the tumor:

The surgery itself was a cakewalk, but I am probably a terrible judge because I have had 5 major surgeries in the past 2 and 1/2 years and this was the only one that did not include an overnight hospital stay.  My neck was really sore and I felt crappy for a few days, but my surgeon was wonderful and only a few months later I barely have any scar at all.

What no one was prepared for was my reaction afterwards.  See, my surgeon had never removed the thyroid of a patient whose colon was so recently yanked out (I’m special) and so did not realize that when my parathyroid (which processes calcium) went to sleep when it was separated from the thyroid (very common) I would go into severe calcium depletion.  The symptoms of this include sudden numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face.  When this started happening, the Dr. said to take some calcium pills and I would get better.  But without a colon I was not absorbing enough of the calcium and it got worse.  And then I had a full on freak out.

I have had some minor anxiety issues my entire life, but basically since I found out I had to have my colon removed it has (understandably I think) been getting much worse.  When my hands and feet started tingling, I knew in the back of my head it was just the calcium but then my anxiety kicked in and I started panicking that I was actually having a stroke, ignoring it, and would be dead in minutes.   Then my whole face went completely numb, and the top of my head, and I couldn’t feel my legs.  I became absolutely certain that I was dying and that I needed to get up and run to safety, but was scared to stand up on my tingly legs.  Luckily I already had a therapist on board at this point and had a slight moment of lucidity in which I recognized the signs of a panic attack and called her.  One long phone call and an ass-ton of Xanax later, I was finally able to sleep and the next day my surgeon got me on some calcium that worked and I was feeling much better.  Basically, my mind took some very real symptoms I was having and expanded them to my whole body causing a full blown panic attack, which those of you who have experienced them know is pretty much the scariest thing ever.  (Pretty soon I’ll tell you all about the one when I thought the tree from Poltergeist was attacking me- good times!)

Once the calcium thing got sorted out, there was my medicine to deal with.  I no longer produce any thyroid hormone at all so I have to take Synthroid and it can be tricky to get the dosage just right.  Too little and you are exhausted and too much can cause major jitters, anxiety and sleeplessness (all of which are things I have just fine on my own.)  It took some trial and error but now I have my dose at a pretty good level and am doing ok.  Long term I just have to stay on my Synthroid forever and get checked once a year to make sure my levels are stable and no thyroid tissue has grown back.

The strange thing is that I went through all of this without knowing if I actually had cancer or not, we had to wait a few weeks for all the pathology to come back.  When I got the news that it was in fact Stage 2 cancer ( a follicular papillary variant, which is why it could not be diagnosed in biopsies) I had some really mixed feelings.  First of all I was grateful that it was encapsulated and my surgeon was reasonably certain that she got all the nasty cancer cells and that no radiation or chemo was needed.  I also had a weird feeling of relief that we didn’t take out a perfectly healthy organ for no reason.  But I didn’t really have time to process the Cancer part of the whole thing because my next colon surgery was scheduled in a few weeks and I had to focus on that.

It is only now that I am starting to get some of the deep realization that I did in fact have Cancer.  For a long time, I felt that I couldn’t really even identify myself as a cancer survivor because I didn’t have to do chemo or anything.  My cancer suffering was not as bad as it is for many people, so who was I to complain about it?  But then I realized that Thyroid Cancer is a real cancer and it is ok that I feel frightened that I had it and pissed off that my body betrayed me and let those cancer cells grow.  It is normal that now every time I feel a strange ache or a lump somewhere in my body I worry that it might be cancer.  Once that C word is attached to you, it changes your way of thinking.  Cancer is no longer something that only happens to other people, that you do a run/walk to support, or that you eat well to try and avoid, it is a real to you in a way it never was before.

All that said, I do realize how lucky I am.  I have no idea how long that cancer was growing but it was big enough to be felt by a Dr.’s touch to my neck.  I had no identifiable symptoms and would never have known it was there if not for that body scan and a really smart doctor who looked twice at a little blip.  That could have kept growing until it became a much bigger problem.  Of course, the timing was not ideal (being sandwiched in between two other major surgeries,) but I was happy to get that thing out of me as soon as possible so that I could move forward.

I have often felt that I need to do something to acknowledge that I survived, to celebrate that I am doing so well and to mourn the loss of my thyroid who treated me well for 33 years.  So today at 3pm Central time I am getting my hair chopped off and donating it to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths which makes wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment.  So keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post with before and after pics!

Thyroid Cancer Sucks Too! (Part 1)

Did you know that September is Thyroid Cancer awareness month?  No?  Well neither did I and I am a survivor of it!  It is not one of the more “popular” cancers to talk about but it affects a startling number of people.

So I want to do my little part to raise awareness about thyroid cancer by sharing my story.  If you are interested in learning more about the types of thyroid cancer, signs and symptoms, treatment, support groups, etc, you can visit http://www.thyca.org/.

I have an unusual cancer story because I only found out that I actually had cancer after it was already gone.  I realize just how lucky I am that I had a type of cancer that is usually pretty curable and we caught it relatively early, but the truth is- it still sucks.

When I was getting ready to have my colon removal surgery they did a body scan as part of my pre-op.  Nobody mentioned anything strange to me but then I went to see my endocrinologist (for my osteoporosis- yes, I am 34 and have old people bones) and she said, “Hey, did anyone talk to you about this nodule on your thyroid?”

Um, nope.  I’m just here discuss my bone density because of all the prednisone I was on for my Ulcerative Colitis.  (By the way, if at any point you get confused about my host of bizarre medical problems, see A Brief Timeline of Crazy)  So she felt my neck and said there was definitely a lump there and decided to do an ultrasound.  The ultrasound was “suspicious” (was my thyroid nodule wearing a dark hoodie or something?) so she said it was potentially cancer and we needed to do a biopsy.

This is the point where I should tell you that this happened on a Friday and on Monday I was scheduled to go in to have my entire colon removed, knowing that I would be in the hospital for at least a week and would have to go back in to get a second surgery 3 months later!  She said I could wait until after I was recovered from the surgery for the biopsy, and not to worry too much because even if it was cancer, thyroid cancer is one of the “best” kinds you can have.

I’m sorry what?  There is a good kind of cancer? Look I understand that if you know you have cancer and are spinning a wheel to find out what kind it is you are probably hoping for something like thyroid that has a high cure rate rather than say pancreatic or ovarian.  But cancer is still cancer and it is really f-ing scary, there is no best kind.  I was lucky that my Wheel of Cancer landed on thyroid and it was caught in Stage 2 (before it spread), but I would much rather have been on a different game show all together… like American Super Ninja, I wish I were that cool!

But I digress, I managed to keep it together in her office and make it to my car before I had a complete mental breakdown.  I was crying and shaking so much that I could not drive.  I mean WTF, wasn’t I going through enough right now?  No, the universe decided to go ahead and pile on some more to worry about.

This is what I felt like when I heard the news, see bottle of wine!
This is what I felt like when I heard the news, see bottle of wine!

So I let myself freak out for a few hours but then I had to put on my big girl yoga pants and suck it up, I was going into the hospital in a few days for major surgery and had to make sure everything was set up and ready for my kids and myself during my hospital stay and intense first few weeks of recovery.

When I was recovered enough I went in for that biopsy, waited an excrutiating 10 days for my results only to find out that they were “indeterminate.” So basically there was a 50/50 chance it was cancer but no more tests that could help narrow that down.  Awesome!  All the doctors agreed that it was too risky not to operate and remove the lump but I got to make the choice of removing my entire thyroid (which if it turned out not to be cancer would be taking out a perfectly good organ that I really kind of need) or just removing the half with the lump in it (but if it was cancer, I would have to have a second surgery to take out the rest.)  Knowing that I would be having a minimum of 3 surgeries in 4 months at this point I made the choice to take the damn thing out and be done with it.  I could not face the prospect of a fourth surgery.

In part 2 (soon to be blogged) I will talk about my recovery from the surgery, the discovery that I did in fact have cancer, and the complications I came across.  But I just want to pause a moment and say here that thyroid cancer is a real cancer, that it can be serious and even deadly (the girl from The Fault in Our Stars had thyroid cancer) and that if you are having any issues that could be thyroid related (one of the biggest of which is fatigue,) please get them checked out.

I am praying for each of you that you never have to spin the Wheel of Cancer, but if you do, please know that it is ok to be angry and freaked, but that there is a ton of support out there for you.  I hope this blog becomes just that.  A place for inspiration, laughter, and comfort when things get rough.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty more crazy where this comes from!

One Hundred and Thirty Pounds

In 2003 I was living in New York and trying to make a go of it as an actress.  I wasn’t having much luck getting paying gigs and at 5’11” I was always being told that I should model, so I got myself an agent and added aspiring model to my resume.  I got a few modeling jobs but quickly felt the need to drop some weight to be more competitive.  I was about 145 lbs, which is pretty thin for 5’11” but that agent told me that I would do a lot better if I lost 15-20 pounds.

Ok, I thought, I can do that.  Stop drinking so much, eat healthy, exercise more and the weight would fall off, right?  I dropped a few numbers on the scale but was nowhere near my “goal weight” of 130.  So I started throwing up.

Now, I didn’t think of myself as bulimic or having an eating disorder or anything, because I didn’t do it every day and most of the time I didn’t even have to stick my finger down my throat.  See I had a system… I would go all day, running around to castings, exercising, walking everywhere, and only eat 1 or 2 “Zone” bars a day just to keep myself from fainting.  But then sometimes at night my discipline would waver and I would be so starving that I would eat whatever I could find, which would make me so nauseous that I would be clutching the toilet in no time.

And still that magical number eluded me.  I got to 135 and broke down in tears one day when I went into a casting and while measuring me the casting director said, “Oh, you’re a big girl huh?  Might want to lay off the chips for awhile.”

I realized at that moment that I was never going to be what they wanted me to be, that I was not meant to be one hundred and thirty pounds, or at least that I couldn’t get to that weight without doing serious damage to my body.  So I quit.

If a modeling job came my way and they liked the way I looked then fine, but I was done making myself sick for it.  I am not going to lie and say it was easy.  Over the course of a few months I figured out how to get my eating back into better habits and I started keeping track of and celebrating the days I went without throwing up.  I figured out that it was more important to be a happy, healthy me than to be 130lbs.

Flash forward to 2014.  I am 34 and way past my modeling days with twin two-year olds.  I step onto the scale and start to cry when I see the numbers flash until they reach 130.0.

See for once in my life I am trying to gain weight.  I am recovering from my third major surgery in four months and no matter what I do I keep loosing weight.  I had to have my entire colon removed because of an auto-immune disease called ulcerative colitis and now it is difficult for my body to process nutrients.  In addition to being super skinny, I am also deficient in several vitamins, severely anemic and weak and get out of breath when going up half a flight of stairs.

And yet… everyone is telling me how good I look.  Joking that colon-removal is the new fad diet.  Making me wonder if when I am better and start gaining weight again I will miss that little number on the scale.

This was supposed to be a pic of me shaking my fist in Righteous Fury but it really just shows how skinny my arm is!
This was supposed to be a pic of me shaking my fist in Righteous Fury but it really just shows how skinny my arm is!

No matter how crappy I feel, there is still a tiny voice in the back of my head that is pleased that all my clothes are too big and that for the very first time I can remember in my adult life I can look in the mirror and have no criticisms about my weight.  Old habits die hard and old dreams even harder.

I try to remember that now I have different dreams and the ones I have actually make me feel good about myself and my life.  I want to get strong and healthy again so that I can play with my adorable girls without running out of breath.  I want to get back my energy so I can spend time with my amazing husband who has supported me through a really tough period of time.  I want to learn to feel good about my body so that I can teach my children as they grow up that their bodies are beautiful whatever size they are.

I realize that I am crying because 130 is a number I never thought I would reach and because a part of me is doing a little victory dance but also because I realize what a toll it took on my body to reach that goal from so many years ago and hope that I can finally let it go.