Tag Archives: My Lipstick Journey Through Cancer

Unlucky

27 Apr

mountain

Unlucky. I recently had a medical issue pop up (unrelated to cancer) which led to a surprise surgery. Not to worry, it was an outpatient procedure, and after resting a few days I was feeling better. I was in my (now former) doctors office that morning when she said, ‘I scheduled you for surgery later today. This can happen, you’re just unlucky.’ Excuse me? My response, ‘You know I have cancer right? A surprise surgery is not great news.’ Doctor, ‘I know and that’s right, metastatic thyroid is rare too…seriously unlucky.’ Yes, I called the office after I left begging for a different doctor, anyone else in the multi-physician practice but yes, this is the woman, the only one available, who was to perform the surgery later that day.

In elementary school during gym class and sometimes at recess, there were those times when the teacher would pick a ‘captain’ to a team and those kids were tasked to pick people to be on their teams one by one. Considering I was a girl, shy, and one of the only minorities in a predominantly Caucasian school (after we moved to the suburbs from Detroit), I was generally picked last. I was actually a pretty good athlete unbeknownst to them. I don’t even know why I remember this but whatever team I was on would always lose. Even when whole classrooms would compete with each other on ‘Field Days’, my class would lose. Of course moving on to Jr High and Sr High running track, playing tennis, etc, this was not the case anymore, but in those formative years of my very young youth, I felt like I was the ‘omen’ to any team I was on. I honestly do not know why I felt like that but maybe it was because I was the outlier, the minority, the shy girl who barely talked, but every time whatever team I was on lost, it was no surprise to me.

Fast forward to the doctor calling me unlucky for this medical mishap and also my ‘rare’ cancer. It brought back memories and maybe the underlying shame that I’ve always carried of being the girl who brought bad luck to a team. None of it was fun and bad memories/feelings tend to stick. I have not always been on a losing team. In fact, I’ve been on winning teams most of my life whether it be in high school sports, competitions, pageants, or even my work teams. Looking at my life now, I found an amazing husband who loves and supports me in everything I do and everything I think about doing and who holds my hand at every scan and appt. I have amazing kids and great friends, a great career and now a lipstick company that helps people and has brought me new life despite having cancer. Strangely though, the ugly feelings of not being on a winning team still bubbled up at that doctors office, caught me by surprise and gave me that insecure feeling again. For a brief moment I questioned my ‘unlucky-ness’.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.’~Romans 8:26-28 The Message.

You can’t believe in luck if you have faith and if you truly trust God and His plan. I am a Christian and that’s how I believe but I’m also human so it’s ok to experience fear and doubt too. What’s not ok? Shame. Words from your past that have imprinted onto your heart and brain…blog for another day. Life is a series of alternating bad or uncomfortable things that teach us lessons in love, patience, overcoming fear, resilience, etc,; and good things that bring us love, peace, joy, and calm. Both lessons to either rely more on God and less on self, or to be grateful to God for our blessings. It’s called being alive. Our histories and past make us who we are today but don’t dictate our future or who we are ‘supposed’ to be. Lucky or unlucky? No such thing. Things happen, we move forward, staying grateful, and trusting God.

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Fierce. I’m feelin’ it. Cheers!

 

 

Strength and Story

23 Mar

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Yesterday I had the chance to tell my story for a podcast that will be broadcast in a few weeks. I have to admit I was nervous for a few reasons; I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t receive any questions ahead of time to prepare answers for, and I’m a little insecure about my voice because it is weak and ‘breath-y’ and a podcast is all voice. When Lauryn first called to get ready to record I asked what part of my story she wanted to hear, the cancer part, the lipstick part, how the cancer opened up the lipstick business, etc. She said, ‘Your whole story, beginning to end, everything you want to tell me, just keep talking.’ Woah. That’s a lot. I started with, ‘ I was born…’ I’m sure that freaked her out a little but I quickly jumped to my passions growing up then to the first time I had cancer. I described everything from finding out, to the procedures, work, kids, people, emotions, home life, etc. I described those things for every single time I was diagnosed until now. I spoke about being a mother to young kids the first time I was diagnosed and what that meant, then now being a mom to older teens/young adults and what being diagnosed with Stage 4 means to me and to them. And of course, I spoke about lipstick and the part it has played in my messy journey.

I talked for over an hour without interruption describing every nuance. I realized that this was the first time, if ever, I have shared all of those details out loud. Not just all of the times I was diagnosed, the when, and what happened, but all the emotions and most of my thoughts surrounding those times. Yes my voice shook, yes we both cried at times, but there was also laughter. I was literally exhausted for the rest of the day. The thing is, I let myself be super vulnerable and was able to open up, and after hearing myself speak about all that I had gone through up to this point, I felt strong. I have always thought that throughout my journey I did what I had to do to just keep going for me and my family and that was not strength, it was just will, and just because. After the interview I felt REALLY strong and realized that ‘the story’ was not really the big moments, it was every piece, fragment, emotion, in between. It was the filler in the pages between chapters and that is where the strength was really necessary. ‘You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along.’~Eleanor Roosevelt.

At the end of my hour of babbling on the podcast, Lauryn had one question, ‘After everything, has your belief or faith in God changed?’ Good question. I have to say after the first 3 times with cancer I never asked God why. I just figured God had a plan and was generally at peace with whatever outcome. Total trust. This last diagnosis of metastatic cancer I finally asked God the why question. Not, ‘why me’, but more ‘why can’t my life just be good for awhile. Why can’t I just rest?’ I don’t know the answers but I still have peace with whatever. I absolutely still believe in God and if anything my faith has gotten even stronger. I told her that in the darkest of moments for me and with all the unknown, God was/is my only solid and that’s enough. ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.’ -Corrie ten Boom 

I started my day yesterday seeing this quote on Lauryn’s Instagram and it was perfect,’Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.’~Morgan Harper Nichols. Amen and amen.

Today I’m wearing The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Playful which is a bright plum/berry. It’s the brightest color I created and it’s actually not super bright (meaning still wearable every day, not neon). I chose Playful because it’s spring and I’m feeling funky. Cheers!

 

Stable

13 Mar

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I am stable. I love the word stable. The definition of stable in the dictionary says ‘firmly fixed, not deteriorating, sane, sensible.’ I’ll take it. As a metastatic cancer fighter stable is the best possible word whether you’re on treatment or not, stable is the goal. Stable means I am not deteriorating. So here I am with the best news and not on any type of treatment yet. Awesome. I got the news via text from my doctor. [Note, YOU ARE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. Find a doctor that fights WITH you and cares enough to tell you news you want, no, NEED to hear right away.] Anyhow, I get to soak in more life for awhile and I’m good with that.

Last week was a whirlwind of a week. Had my scan on Monday, got my news on Tuesday, then flew out for work Wednesday. I honestly did not have time to process news I had been waiting for for 6 months. After working Wednesday with my co-worker, I found myself sitting at a bar in a nice restaurant eating by myself. I ordered an appetizer, had a delicious dinner, and ordered the best wine. I pretty much ordered whatever the waitress recommended. At the end of the meal she asked about dessert and I said ‘no way.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Get the dessert, don’t you have anything to celebrate?’ That was it. I burst into tears. I realized that through the busy-ness of life and having to travel for work, I had not processed the news of being stable. IT IS SUCH A BIG DEAL!! She ended up crying with me then not charging me for this extravagant meal (there are fantastic human beings out there), which made me cry even harder. I left the restaurant and drove to my hotel still a blubbering mess.

After my work trip I was asked to share my story at an International Women’s Day celebration back in Detroit(it was a full week). I have to say I was SUPER nervous. I’m not sure what I even said but I do know I was able to touch on the major parts of my story…like my four trips with cancer and starting the lipstick company out of my need to have purpose and meaning from having cancer. What I realized afterward is that the ‘story’ really happens in all of the in-between times; in between those big events of diagnosis, surgery, and treatment. The stories are the waitress and the free meal, the moms on my sons basketball team making a shirt to support my cancer journey and surprising me with it by having all the boys wear it at a game, the tears I cry thinking about the kids and their future that I may not be part of…there are so many moments in a day that make up our stories and 15 minutes couldn’t touch the surface of those. ‘Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments.’~Rose Kennedy  Never forget to notice the moments and soak them in.

I saw my doctor on Monday, one week after my scan. It was a generally good visit. He was smiling when he said, ‘All looks good! Still stable, no new tumors. Any questions?’ We chatted for awhile, he looked at my bloodwork, then looked at me and said, ‘I’d like another scan in 3 months instead of 6 this time.’ Hmmmm. There it is. That question in the back of my mind that’s been sitting there since the beginning, ‘When’s the scan, what will they find?’ I’m back in my scan cycle of life but instead of every 6 months, I’m back at 3 months. I read a blog written by another cancer warrior and it perfectly describes how I feel. The writer described her cancer as a bomb strapped to her chest not knowing when it was actually going to blow and that is pretty much how I feel. Categorized as stable is exactly that, still with cancer, but with stable and slow growth. Going back to the bomb analogy and combining it with statistics for my particular ‘brand’ of cancer it goes something like this…in 5 years, 50% of the bombs will have exploded and in 10 years, 9 of 10 bombs will have exploded. Barring all scientific advances, that’s a little rough to think about and that is what keeps my heart heavy and my mind focused on time. The other side of the coin is this, science is advancing faster than the doctors can keep up with so it seems statistics change on a daily basis, hallelujah! More time.

Today I wear a combo of two Lipstick Journey lipsticks, Stormy on the bottom and Fierce on top. It is my favorite combination, it deepens the red and ‘lightens’ the storm. Perfect. Cheers to a new day!

 

Scan Day

3 Mar

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Here it is again. Tomorrow is scan day for me. Living with ‘stable’ metastatic cancer is so weird. First let me explain stable; stable disease means that although my cancer has spread to other parts of my body (namely my lungs), the tumors are either not growing or not shrinking, there are no new tumors, and the cancer has not spread to any new regions of the body. Bottom line, with a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic cancer with tumors in my lungs? Stable is an awesome thing. I have been stable for over a year so at the one year mark my doctor decided to stretch my scans from every 3 months to every 6 months. Well, it’s been 6 months. In a blog I wrote over a year ago I quoted author Bruce Feiler who referred to his scans as his ‘regular date with digital destiny’ to show whether his lung nodules had grown. He goes on to say, ‘Scans are like revolving doors, emotional roulette wheels that spin us around a few days and spit us out the other side.’ Yes, yes, and all yes, I’m going on a date tomorrow with my digital destiny.

I have to say I think the spread to every 6 months has been beneficial to my well-being. It has given me enough time to recover from the scan, infuse a little hope, resume normal life, and on occasion, forget the cancer exists. The problem is, internally this weekend or even this whole past week leading up to the scan I’ve been a wreck. Of course nothing visible to the public but anxiety I can feel in my stomach, heart, and mind. This past week I haven’t slept that well and have had a harder time breathing. This weekend I’ve been pretty emotional. Giving my son a morning hug and a nice note from one of the sponsors of my launch party this morning has brought tears to my eyes. I want to both crawl into bed and not get up but also jump out of my skin and run like the wind (even though I can’t really run anymore because of my breathing).

I will make it through. Just another day and another step in this crazy beautiful life. Ultimately, having scans on a consistent basis has also served as a reminder that life is short and that it’s precious. It’s a reminder to stop and be truly grateful for everything and everyone you’ve been blessed with. I think that’s why I get so emotional, not because of fear, but because my date with the scan forces me to stop and really think about my life and all the people. Dang, I love living so much surrounded by people I love. Monday is just another day and by Tuesday or Wednesday, whenever I get the results and whatever  they may be, I will be a little stronger than today.

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.’~ Leonardo da Vinci

Today I wear The Lipstick Journey lipstick in Promise which is beautiful, soft, shimmery pink. On the website I described wearing this color to remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day, a color full of hope and promise and a ‘pinky promise’ to yourself to be gentle to you. For today (and tomorrow) I pray for peace. Cheers!

 

Possibility

27 Nov

restaurant

There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying’.~Lauren Roberts

When I read that quote it really spoke to me and helped explain a little of what has happened to me since getting diagnosed with metastatic cancer in July of 2017. The world got quiet and I heard (and continue hearing) my heart. It’s really been an incredible year feeling every emotion from the depths of sorrow from the diagnosis, to having moments of pure joy just from being alive. In the quiet is where I’ve prayed and poured my heart out to God. In the quiet is where I’ve wept and in the quiet is where I’ve learned more of who I am and what my dreams and goals are.

This past Thanksgiving was one of those times of pure joy. My two older kids were home from college and all I felt was joy having everyone around. Even though I did most of the cooking and there were only a few moments of silence the whole weekend, I pretty much had a smile on my face the entire time. It was awesome having a crazy, active, and alive house for awhile. I do have to say, there are still 3 teens at home so our house can still get crazy and loud but school, sports, and work break that up a bit.

After my diagnosis the world seemed to go in slow motion, and did get quiet around me. I have spent a lot of time thinking, praying and being intentional. When you’re faced with your own mortality you start to really analyze how you use your time and truly, how you want to use it. This is what I believe the quote meant…the only thing left to listen to was my heart and God, because He owns my heart. Something I knew I wanted to do was help other patients fighting cancer.

The last 3 times I had cancer, surgery was involved and therefore, hospital stays. The hardest times for me was when I was alone in that hospital room and I was alone A LOT. Yes I had visitors and lots of support from family and friends but when you are just laying there 24/7, there’s lots of alone time. When I was going through radiation for 7 weeks I was alone most of the time then too. As I walked past some of the rooms when leaving the hospital I saw many people alone and couldn’t imagine not having support of friends and family. After all of that, the one thing I knew was that I didn’t want other people to have to fight alone or to feel alone.

Over the past year or so I’ve been working on bringing two of my passions/dreams together, lipstick and helping other cancer fighters. Last Saturday I launched my very own lipstick company, The Lipstick Journey, combining story with color. It is a dream come true. I decided what ingredients I wanted and those I didn’t. I decided the formula and how I wanted it to feel. I named the colors and wrote the descriptions. What a fun journey it has been. During my times with cancer (and now) I would use lipstick and the power of color to express how I felt and now, through my company, I want to help others do the same. I plan on giving partial proceeds, as well as time in volunteer efforts once a month to two organizations I have relationships with, with hopes of adding more organizations in the future. This past year I was sent a Fighting Pretty box and loved it, and since cancer #2 in 2009, I have been an angel mentor with Imerman Angels. Both amazing organizations that uplift and help cancer fighters not feel so alone.

TLJIs it ever too late to dream? Never. Stage 4, metastatic cancer? It’s now or never. Keep dreaming. God puts dreams into your soul and sometimes it’s adversity that reveals them. It has been a beautiful and fun journey and has been one thing giving me life. What is it that brings you life and joy? Maybe you should be walking in that direction, just take that first step.

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do’.~Pope John XXIII

Today I wear Fierce from The Lipstick Journey…self explanatory! Cheers!

Why Be Kind?

13 Nov
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Photo courtesy of Nicole Daniela Photography

Today is National Kindness Day…because we need a designated day to be reminded to be kind. I guess it’s fine since there seems to be a day for everything now. Last week I had a short meeting in Chicago. One of the best places to see human nature at its finest is at the airport during the boarding process and also trying to get off the plane after landing. We all know we all have to get on the plane and buckle up and we all know we have to get off so why the insanity? From my previous posts you know that my left arm is significantly weaker than my right and is also losing feeling. What that means for me and travel, is that I panic at the thought of having to lift a bag over my head to place into the overhead bin. On the short flight to Chicago, I struggled getting my stupid carry on bag up into the bin. I didn’t ask for help but as I struggled, broke a sweat, and bumped my head trying to lift my bag up, the man sitting underneath the ‘said bin’ sat and stared up at me with a face that said, ‘Are you serious, that bag is so small and you can’t lift it?’; I’m sure the people behind me wanting to get through were thinking the same thing. Coming back home I had to put my bag in the bin one row behind me. I’m sure you can guess, but trying to walk back even one row to get your bag once you land is not a party. Where does kindness go when you’re rushed, impatient, or inconvenienced?

My church spent a month highlighting random acts of kindness. They created a beautiful board for people to write what they’ve done to help and be kind to others. The acts of kindness ranged from the extravagant gestures to the simple ‘holding the door open for people’ ones. It makes me a tiny bit sad that we have to dedicate a month or even a day like today to be more intentional about being kind to others. Times are so weird right now; not only do we need reminders to be intentionally kind, sometimes it feels like when we are, we need to be recognized for it. We live in a very volatile world right now with hate, mass shootings, and racial tension but maybe, just maybe, it’s because we forgot the basic precepts of kindness, love, and respect for each other to the point of which we need a day to remember to be intentional about being kind. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into this but I do know being pushed out of the way even after waiting until the row behind me got out to get my bag was not pleasant. Had the woman known I had cancer and it would take me a little extra effort to grab my bag because of radiation damage from cancer, would she have pushed her way through me to get out of the plane? Do we need a reason for basic kindness and respect? Even the smallest acts of kindness matter, but if we’re too self absorbed to be self aware then we’ll miss those moments. Be nice, even if no one knows, they’ll remember.

Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.~Lindsay Gordon

The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made of stone, They’re made out of memories people have of you.~from the book Wonder, RJ Palacio

Today I wear Laniege Kiss and Make Up Set. This is a full set of different flavored lip balms that they call ‘masks’ that you wear at night and wash off in the morning. Right now you can buy this set at Sephora for about the same price of a full size container (and you get a full size included in the set). I love it and had to try because it’s a top seller but I’m not attached because I do still love my Aquaphor at night. I chose it because it’s luxurious and necessary right now because of the colder weather and dryer lips. I also chose it because of the name of the set. Cheers!

Pity Party

3 Nov

img_3275I’ve done a pretty good job throwing myself a pity party this last month. That’s right, I’ve been angry, depressed, resilient yet sad, you name it and it was hard getting over the hump. I let cancer get to me and was even mad about that for awhile. Nobody could tell because I’m a fairly high functioning depressed person but it was always there in the shadows; that stupid sadness that just wouldn’t go away. Every day I’d get up, get ready and go to work…why? I’d try to work out…why? I’d try to eat healthier…why? I was plagued by the ‘I have cancer so why and what for..?’ and then I told someone. Not anyone I’m particularly close to but caught at the right place, right time. I said it out loud. I’m mad and sad I have cancer and I feel like I’m forced to compartmentalize all aspects of my life; the part of me that knows I have cancer vs. the wife, the mom, the employee, the entrepreneur, all of it. Yet, because it’s impossible to keep cancer in its own separate category since it actually infiltrates every part of your life and influences your daily decisions, well that was just making me sad. This person looked at me and said, ‘It’s ok.’ That’s it? Yes. I am all those things and I do have cancer. I function as ‘Anna vs. cancer’ with me forging ahead most of the time but sometimes cancer gets the upper hand and it’s ok. I found that it’s good to surrender to those feelings sometimes and to rest knowing that tomorrow is another day and that God is the one in control. I also found that it’s GREAT to tell someone.

I read this amazing blog by Michele Cushatt that really resonated with me. I mean, she expressed the EXACT feelings I’ve had all along but could not verbalize regarding the pain of what she had lost because of her cancer journey, in particular, singing. Like her I was a pianist, vocalist, worship leader, soloist. I grew up in musicals, sang around town, sang on a tv show, did a radio jingle but the first thing I lost to cancer was my voice. Like Michele, my brain tells me I can sing, I hear the notes in my head, but what comes out is not the same. A few weeks ago I finally did tests on my left arm which has been losing strength and feeling since external beam radiation 8 years ago. The doctor basically said my right arm is ‘bionic’ compared to the left and that my left arm could get even worse over the next few years. Depressing. I cannot feel my fingertips as it is, I can’t comfortably lift things over my head with my left arm and it feels like it’s asleep most of the time. It can get worse?? So now even piano is out. Like she said in her blog, it hurts to remember and it hurts to try and forget. Music is a part of me, I literally grew up singing, dancing and playing piano and now my abilities are mostly gone and not by choice. In her words, ‘Perhaps the most beautiful worship is the kind that springs from loss.’ Such truth there because now my heart really knows what worshipping Christ means when you feel like He’s all you have. Read her full blog called ‘A Worship That Costs Everythinghere.

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Here’s the deal, I’m done with my pity party. I celebrated my birthday a little over a week ago and it was great. One of the positives of having cancer is that it forces you to really see the minutia of every moment, good and bad. I let myself take the focus off the good for a bit but realized there is so much good. Gratefulness pulls out joy regardless of circumstance. If you can’t dig out of your sadness PLEASE tell someone, anyone. Surround yourself with good people who give you peace, and absolutely seek solitude and rest when you need to. Focus on things that give you life and tolerate the things you have to do that don’t. Notice the minutia and be grateful. Some of my old passions and dreams have had a forced death but they gave way to the birth of new dreams, and my voice? It’s still here in the words I write. Thanks for listening.

img_0017I do my best to find some kind of glow. I’m givin it some heart and soul now from the darkest grays the sun bursts, clouds break…This is life in color…this is life in motion. And just when I could run this race no more the sun bursts, clouds break. This is life in color.’~Life in Color, One Republic.

Today I wear Kat Von D Studded Kiss Crème Lipstick in Mercy which is a sparkly deep red. These lipsticks pack a punch in terms of color. They’re long lasting, creamy, and not overly drying. I chose this color because hello, sparkly red, but also because of the name. Cheers!

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