Good-bye 2022

As 2022 comes to an end, I want to reflect back on what was a pretty transformative year for me. To my surprise and probably everyone else who knows me, I am ending this year in such a great mind space.

The biggest highlight for 2022 – my cancer has been stable, and I remain unremarkable. That is absolutely my number one highlight. If I can go a whole year without any surgeries and/or progression, then that’s a big win in my book. I have seen the struggles that my friends who also have stage 4 have gone through in 2022, so I remain grateful and appreciative that I have been okay this year.

I probably do need to get a cane to help me walk in certain situations because concrete surfaces make my back hurt and ache. It took me awhile to come to terms with that fact, but I got over it. Who cares if I need a mobility aid to walk long distances on concrete? My other option is to just stay home, and I don’t care to do that. I want to keep moving, and I should not let my weird pride get in the way.

I had a handful of big wins at work this year. I really enjoy figuring things out and working with data. I participated in an initiative this year that focused on data analytics. Because of the work done in 2022, I am confident that an audit I have kicking off on Jan 3 will go as smoothly as possible. I have big plans for 2023 because your gal here is gunning for a promotion. I know when I go back to work next week, my life is going to get super hectic so I’m just enjoying this week off (aka calm before the storm).

The transformative part of my year happened during the later half of the year. I really thought my ex dumping me was going to destroy me. We had been together for 6 years, and I really didn’t have any issues with him like I did the ex before him. He didn’t gaslight me or cheat on me with prostitutes and Sugar Baby websites like the Other Guy did. The breakup did negatively impact me and that period afterwards was absolutely brutal. I rebounded though, and I came through it stronger.

You know how and why I came through it stronger? Easy – supportive friends and years of therapy, baby. (Plus, I blocked him on all social media because once I’m done, I am 100 percent done.) I credit therapy with helping me quickly realize I needed to channel my feelings into something productive, and I did. I went back to the gym a month ago. More importantly, I’ve been cooking more in these last four months than I probably have in the last four years. I fucking love it, and I am having so much fun learning new techniques. These wins in the kitchen have done so much for my self-esteem and self-worth.

I am not hopeless. I am not a lost cause!

2022 has ended on such a high note. I’ve met a new man, and he makes me so ridiculously happy. I’ve been grinning so much in the last month or so that sometimes my face hurts from smiling so much. I am looking forward to what adventures await him and I in the new year.

Every year, my new year’s resolution is the same – Read More Books. This year, I’m going to add a new one – have more fun with Boyfriend (name redacted) in 2023. I’ll be successful.

Progress Report

In my effort to get up swinging again (see what I did there), I joined a local gym several weeks ago that offers personal training for an additional cost. I had heard from a friend who joined the gym already that a personal trainer I worked with previously now worked at this gym. I saw Anthony for personal training pre-Covid and pre-Stage 4 diagnosis. Every week, he would kick my ass during these sessions. I would leave the trainer appointment just an absolute sweaty mess and legs that felt like they were jelly.

Even though I am immuno-compromised, I decided to join the gym for a couple of reasons: 1) I am fully vaccinated, 2) When I do go to the gym, I go in the morning when there’s not that many people there, and 3) I needed to make a change when it came to my health and throwing down hard-earned money gets my butt in the gym.

I see Anthony twice a week for 30 minutes in the early morning. Right now, he has me doing high-intensity interval training just to get me back in the swing of things. I jokingly called these sessions my training wheels, but honestly, that’s a good descriptor. I’m a create of habit (both good and bad), so these sessions every week will get me back in a good routine. Also, given that the weather is shitty now and I’m not hiking on the weekends anymore, these sessions will also ensure I do not fall back on my sedentary ways.

Not going to lie, though. Getting back into a physical routine like this is not easy. I am carrying 30+ pounds more on my frame, and I have zero upper body strength anymore. Thanks to hiking, I still have pretty impressive quads, but the upper half of my body – no strength. I keep reminding myself that I’ve had to start over again before. I can do it again… maybe. Haha.

Time to get up swinging

During my most recent appointment with my oncologist, I talked to him about my desire to get back to the gym. Before undertaking any physical activity like this, I need to clear it with him to make sure I’m not going to do anything dangerous and hurt myself. The goal, as always, is to avoid ending up in the hospital. After our talk, he told me that he did not have any restrictions for me. My oncologist agreed with my idea for me to see a physical therapist just to get that peace of mind.

Last week, I saw a physical therapist who specializes in working with cancer patients. He had me do a series of exercises after going through my medical history. After we were done, he happily told me that he had zero problems with me going back to the gym. The only restrictions I have are avoiding exercises that could aggravate the pain and discomfort I feel in my sternum, such as push ups (haha) and fly exercises. Other than that, I’m good to go.

The day after my appointment with the physical therapist, I signed up with the new gym that opened up in the North Hills. I have an appointment tonight with a personal trainer to help me get started. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I miss being active, I really do. I just felt so much better physically (i.e., sleep, weight) when I was a runner and going to the gym on a regular basis.

However, I probably won’t ever be an active runner again because I am too afraid of the threat of spontaneous fractures. Given that I had a hysterectomy and I take arimidex, the risk of spontaneous fractures is too high for my liking. (Again, the goal is to avoid ending up in the hospital.) Maybe I’ll try to do a 5K again? I will keep hiking for as long as I can, but training for races where I’d have to pound pavement and beat up my knees, etc.? Nope nope nope. That’s a risk I’m not willing to take.

I have already shown that I can run a half marathon and shit, marathons. I have the medals and the memories. Now it’s time to pivot and adjust to my current circumstances, and that means doing activities that someone like myself can do. I know that lifting weights will be extremely beneficial for someone who is at high risk for osteoporosis. I also have no idea if going back to the gym will help me lose any of the 30 lbs I have gained in the last 2+ years. I truly hope so because about 80 percent of my current wardrobe does not fit me haha. It was either join a gym or pay a small fortune to replace my wardrobe. I’m trying the gym route first.

My recent breakup really showed me that I was stuck in so many ways, and I did not even realize it. I was emotionally stuck in a long distance relationship with someone who made it clear he did not want to move back or truly commit to me. When someone repeatedly says they never want to get married, you should believe them. Trust me. I kept thinking if I proved to him that I was nothing like his ex, then maybe he might change his mind. All that got me was getting my ass dumped and heart broken after 6 years with little explanation. He repeatedly asked if we can stay friends, which I flat-out refused for several reasons: 1) I have plenty friends, and the friends I do have are open and honest with me; and 2) I have no desire to wait around for more emotional scraps from him. To protect my peace, I have blocked him on all social media that I can found, and it has helped tremendously.

I recently met a new man, but I won’t go into details here. My stalker Randy still reads my blog for whatever reason, and there’s a chance that D might read this too. I’m going to keep this new, amazing relationship that’s been making me grin from ear to ear to myself. Let’s just say that I’m not stuck in this respect, anymore. I will never ever ever do a long distance relationship again.

I am proud of myself for picking myself up after this breakup and being the one to put myself back together. I have been accomplishing so much with my cooking, and I have seen a difference with my stomach issues. Once I get back into the gym on a regular basis, I’m going to feel like myself again, and all it took was for me to remember to get up swinging again.

2 Years

It has been 2 years since I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Two years since my heartbroken oncologist informed me that the bone biopsy I had confirmed that the breast cancer was now in my sternum. It’s not an exaggeration to describe that day as the worst day of my adult life. My biggest fear – dying of stage 4 breast cancer just like my mother – came true.

On top of that, I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer during a worldwide pandemic, squashing all those dreams and fantasies about going on bucket list trips. Now that I’m thinking it’s somewhat safe (with the right precautions) to go on these trips, my boyfriend of 6 years dumped me. He and I talked about going on these trips when the time was right, and the time ended up never being right.

Even with all these setbacks, I’m not going to let this stop my plans. I do not need a boyfriend to go on these bucket list trips I have on my list. He might have broken my g-d heart, but I won’t allow this to break my resolve. I have gone on vacations by myself, and I will do it again. If I am having issues walking and might need assistance to keep my klutzy ass safe, then I am sure I can find a friend that would join me on my bucket list trips. (I can hear some of my friends now thinking, “Lara going on a vacation by herself? Dear lord, she will trip somewhere and we will never see here again!”)

As of right now, I can walk and hike relatively well. I’m 2 years into a disease that on average, kills patients after 36 months. I’ve been stable since my diagnosis, and as such, been on my first line of treatment all this time. I am fortunate that I only have one met, and don’t suffer from any chronic pain. If I wait too long, will it backfire and I lose my chance to have these trips without dealing with pain and discomfort?

I can’t depend on anyone else for my happiness, and it’s up to me to make this happen. Only me.

For the love of g-d, leave me alone

As you probably already figured out, I blocked you on the one dating app because I have no desire to have you in my life. Nothing has changed since 2016 when I said to leave me alone or since 2017, when my then boyfriend sent that email to you telling you to leave me alone. Just because I’m single now, nothing else has changed.

You and I have never been officially been boyfriend girlfriend, and neither one of us has ever said I Love You to each other in the 20 years since we’ve know each other. I have lost count how many fights and arguments we have been with each other, though. You’re the reason I’ve changed my number at least once. Whenever I’ve seen you in public, adrenaline shoots through my body and my fight or flight mode kicks in. THIS IS NOT HEALTHY!

“Our” story isn’t a love story – it’s a cautionary tale.

I am not your friend or your concern, and you are not mine. However, if for some reason, you actually do love me and have genuine affectionate toward me, albeit in a sick and twisted way, then you will do the right thing and leave me alone. You mess with my head and you cause me stress. You are bad for me, and I will not sacrifice my mental or physical health for you or frankly, anyone.

Even though I am not with my boyfriend anymore, he did show me what it was like to be in a loving relationship. That’s what I want again and what I deserve.

I’d rather be content and alone than miserable with someone else in the room.

Consider this my resignation from your life. Just pretend I’ve already died from stage 4 if it helps.

“Handling it so well.”

For some unknown reason, I have had loved ones and acquaintances tell me, “Lara, you have been handling your Stage 4 so well.” Every time I have heard this, I’ve been taken aback by this comment. Why would anyone think I’m handling my disease so well?

I have lived alone for the past 6 years, and I’ve been working from home for 2.5 years now. I’m not around any single person for extended periods of time. I stopped running, so I’m not seeing my running friends on a regular basis anymore. This is the most isolated I’ve been in my entire life.

Yet, I get these remarks about my state of mind. One day, I’m going to respond, “Am I handling it so well, or do you only see what I want you to see or hear?”

The weeks leading up to my 3-month scans always do a number on my mental state. I wonder, “Is this going to be the scan that changes everything?” As of right now, my cancer does not appear to be motivated and content to stay put in my sternum. I used to be anxious and scared out of my mind that my cancer was going to come back stage 4, and now that it’s confirmed stage 4, I’m anxious and scared out of my mind that my cancer is going to spread throughout my body.

How is anyone supposed to “handle this well”? I don’t think it’s socially acceptable for me to be periodically shrieking to people, “Do you know how fucking scared I am?” I have to deal with this the best I can because again, I live alone and there’s nobody coming along to “save me” and take care of me when I can no longer take care of myself. You know how terrifying that is?

What’s going to happen to me?

Living with stage 4 cancer is like staring down a mama grizzly bear alone in a forest. It’s not a matter of if but when.

I honestly believe several of the people who have said this to me wanted to convince themselves that I’m okay and totally don’t need any help. That way, they don’t have to ask or actually do anything. Out of sight, out of mind, amirite?

I am so appreciative of my friends and loved ones who have not assumed my state of mind and sincerely ask how I am doing. I am definitely grateful to be able to still work because it ensures a 40-hour reprieve from all things stage 4 cancer. This disease is full of emotional landmines, plus all the side effects that come with treatment (i.e., joint pain, weight gain, stomach problems, sleep issues, etc.).

I am handling this the best I can, but for the love of dog, don’t ever assume you know what’s going on with me. That just infuriates me.

Deep thoughts by Jack Ha-… Lara

Sometimes, living with stage 4 breast cancer and working full time, feels like living in two different worlds. I have one foot in the “normal” world, and I have the other foot in CancerWorld. I am not a full time cancer patient yet, and that fact never leaves the back of my mind.

I am so grateful that I am still able to keep working, and I truly believe being able to still work full-time job allows me some non-cancer time. At the same time, at the end of the work day, I am mentally and physically drained, as if I am using all the energy I have to perform my job and do so well. Come 5 o’clock, my brain sounds like a long, drawn-out beeeeeep.

At the beginning of the year, I look at my vacation time and occasional absence time and wonder, “Hmm, can I use these vacation days for actual vacation days, or should I save them in case something happens in a couple of months and I need to take time off?” I’m torn between wanting to be optimistic but feeling like I should be pragmatic and prepare myself for potential emergency.

All of this shit is just exhausting. I am coming and going to the pharmacy for my medication, or the hospital for my monthly Xgeva shot and monthly bloodwork. Don’t forget – these medications come with side effects because of course they do. On top of that, I have to get scans every 3 months to monitor my cancer and a year brain MRI for my tumor. I see my oncologist every 8 weeks, and I have other specialists to monitor my thyroid, etc.

I juggle all this and still work full time. By the end of each work week, it looks like a tornado came through my kitchen. I’m just so dog-damn tired. I live alone, which can be a blessing and a curse. I’m glad nobody sees the state of what my house looks like the majority of the time, but then again, it’s just me responsible for cleaning this up. If I could fire myself, I would, but then that would leave Boomer and Mal responsible for cleaning anything up.

I know I can ask for help, but I carry this insane amount of guilt with my illness. I am so damned lucky that as of right now, the cancer is just in one spot and I’m stable. As far as I know, the cancer in my sternum doesn’t appear to be motivated, and my brain tumor does not appear to be impeding my physical or mental capacity. Every damn day, I am grateful that I still have some semblance of health, but it’s like my battery is at 45% charged. I see others with stage 4 breast cancer who are doing so much worse and dealing with pain I have yet to experience.

So I hold back for asking for help because yeah, I’m fine. Am I fine, though?

Like I said, I have one foot in one world and one foot in another. I feel like I should know the answer to that. I’m gaining weight, and I know that my face is just aging. Most of my clothes don’t fit me. My eyebags have bags. I’m new to chronic illness and fatigue, and I’m pretty sure I’m not handling it in any awe-inspiring way.

Maybe I’m fine? It varies day by day, minute by minute, scan by scan.

Such is the life of an oligometastatic cancer patient.

Under Pressure

I know I don’t update this blog with any regularity. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. My problem is that I feel like I am holding back so much, and if I open up the floodgate just a little, it’ll be mass flooding everywhere. I’m talking apocalyptic level damage. How do I even begin to vent and let it all out without taking everyone down with me?

I feel like I am low-key panicking pretty much all the time and can’t remember the last time I really felt relaxed and loosey goosey. Granted, I have never been really good at relaxing anyway. I have cried more in this past year than I probably did in the last 5 years. Man, I miss when I used to feel dead inside. All these emotions just bubbling up inside of me – gross. Make it stop.

Work has been a little crazy lately and we have a shorter timeframe to get everything done. Part of the stress I feel isn’t the result of any pressure that my boss or boss’s boss have put on me. Quite the opposite – my managers have made it very clear that they will work with me and allow me to take breaks whenever I need to take one.

That’s just it – I feel guilty. The things I wanted to do in addition to my job so that I can be better at my job – pursuing my CFE, data analytics badge, etc., – I just don’t have the energy to that. I pick up a new data analytics skill here and there, but once 5 o’clock rolls around, my brain just goes “Derrrrrrrrrpppppp.” I put in all the energy and effort I can to my job but I don’t have anything left to try anything more.

My cancer is still stable, and I’m due for my next round of scans next month. This damn disease never leaves the back of my mind. How can it? This is a damn elephant in the room. I get blood work done every month, and I have to go in every month for my Xgeva shot. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about this disease and wonder how long do I have before I have progression?

My stomach hurts pretty much all the time, and my teeth have been causing me hot and cold sensitivity pain. Guess what is causing both of these issues – oh yeah, STRESS. Apparently, I have been grinding my teeth when I’m asleep, and the specialist told me. that’s caused by stress. Gee, what could I ever be stressed about? Whenever I hear about my friends with the same disease as me, but they have great family support to help them out with cooking or going to appointments with them, I feel slightly jealous.

I’m not close to my family, both literally and figuratively. Seriously – what’s it like being close to your family? If I ask my own family that question, my question would probably not be well received. Haha. Well, at least this topic ensures that I’ll always have something to talk to my therapist about. In all seriousness, I don’t have the energy anymore to fight with them anymore and feel like I matter or important to them. Why would anything change now just because I’m sick? They have always made me feel like just a spare and insignificant. My own brother never checked in with me since my stage 4 diagnosis.

I doubt any of them will even read this because that would show concern into my well being. I AM TIRED OF ONE-WAY RELATIONSHIPS. My phone also receives text messages and phone calls. If history is rewritten after I’m gone (“Oh her cancer was so hard on us”), I will haunt whoever I have to. Not a nice haunting either – I’m talking poltergeist level shit. You’ve been warned. (See what I mean about the floodgates?)

I’m trying to manage side effects from treatment, working full time, emotional stress, and this constant stream of depression that my cancer has caused. It’s a lot. Throw on top the pandemic, and good lord. I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with much more. I had to step away from Facebook for the time being because if I saw one more person share an anti-vax post, ugh. Just nuke all my social media.

I’m tired y’all. I’m just fucking tired. I need a break of some kind. Something. If anyone wants to drop off soups and casseroles on my front porch, I would be much obliged. My stomach would thank you, as well.

Cook Forest 25K Trail Challenge

So, I did a last thing last weekend. Several months ago in a running group I am, I spotted a post about the Cook Forest 25K Trail challenge. Normally, I would stay away from trail races because I am a giant klutz, and I cannot afford another accident. This one was different thought – this challenge didn’t have a time limit!

I asked my friend, Tammy, if she wanted to do this trail race with me. She agreed, and thus began our training for this race. We spent weekends doing long trail hikes at Frick Park in weather that could be best described as “swampy.” Not fun, friends.

The conditions for the Cook Forest 25K Trail Challenge were similar. I was hoping for a break from the humidity but Mother Nature just said “Nah.” During the second mile, we kept just going up, and up, and up. I struggled trying to get my heart rate to calm down and had to stop multiple times to regroup. Honestly, if my friend wasn’t with me, I probably would have turned back around and DNF’d the race.

I’m glad that I did power through. I’m stubborn but as you can see from this picture, I took every step carefully. I had two goals for this race: finish and finish without injuring myself.

Cook Forest is gorgeous. This was my first time hiking in this forest, and I am a big fan. It’s gorgeous. Honestly, this race reminded me why I love being out in the trails so much. Some folks like to go to the beach – me, I want to go play in a forest.

The weather absolutely sucked throughout the race, but my goodness, look at the scenery. Plus, I got to spend almost 6 hours traipsing along in a forest with a good friend.

The conditions were brutal, but Tammy and I finished. When the official race results posted, I learned that I actually came in last place. My first DEAD FUCKING LAST at a race. Haha, I am so proud. I am pretty sure Before Cancer (BC), I would have been bummed about my last place. Nope, not bummed in the slightest. I might have been last place, but I was probably the only runner there with MBC. First in my Age Group, baby.

Self-Care

One of the biggest physical issues I have been dealing with since my diagnosis would have to be my stomach. I go through periods where my stomach just outright beats the snot out of me. I’ve cried and been in physical distress, all while trying to keep up the appearance that everything is a-okay.

My stomach has always acted up (or more accurately, acted against me) when I’m stressed. What can be more stressful than stage 4 cancer? (Spoiler: Not a lot.) Juggling working full-time, a social life, and oh yeah, cancer treatment… yeah, it’s stressful.

I’ve been doing whatever I can to reduce my stress and not get myself worked up. First, I hired someone to mow my yard and pick up poop. Good lord, this has to be one of the smartest decisions I have made recently. Every penny spent paying this man to take care of my yard is worth it. Taking that off my plate has been huge for me and my stress level. I am currently looking for someone or a company to come and clean my house on a monthly basis. That’s the other big load that I need to take off my shoulders. Finding a cleaning company is high on my to-do list.

Running has definitely been a big part of my stress relief. The physical exertion is just fantastic for my soul, and I feel stronger overall. I don’t know if it will, but of course I hope this helps with my overall survival rate. Maybe I will be an outlier, a cancer unicorn? I keep running because I can, and during these runs, I can still forget that I’m stage 4, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour.

My other stress relief as of late has been reading, specifically romance novels. I used to be judgmental about romance novels, and I honestly think I was just closed off for whatever hang ups I had. Not anymore, friends. Romance, smut, I do not care. I am about that romance novel life, and I give zero shits if anyone judges me. Life is definitely short. Do what makes you happy.

One of the big stressors lately for me has been certain family relationships. It has been strained for quite some time, and my illness just put a big ole magnifying glass on the trouble that’s been there for years. I had to cut off a family member from my life because they were causing me emotional distress. I am only on the defensive, and if I object to any hate or vitriol my way, I’m the one overreacting. I went nuclear and just did a straight up block, but this didn’t come out of nowhere. This has been happening for the last couple of years. I didn’t want to do this, but I cannot keep having the same fight and conversation. Over and over and over and over again.

I would like to think me just bowing out of this negative back and forth will cause my family member to do some self-reflection. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will happen. They’re going to do what they think is best, and I’m going to do the same. I am going to protect my mental health and in turn, physical health, at all costs. I’m not going to fight anymore, and I am especially not extending myself to anyone (friend or family) who hasn’t reached out to me once since my diagnosis to see how I am.

One thing cancer has taught me – you have to look out for yourself. That’s what I’m going to keep doing. Nobody is entitled to my time or energy, even if you are related to me. I don’t want to keep fighting but the other person has no desire to change, so peace out. I only have room for one cancer in my life.