My Dog Grace: Grief Counselor

Anyone who knows the love of a dog will likely tell you that dog is their baby. What many folks don’t share is that said dog is their world. I’ve been admitting that since the day I found Little Miss on the Wake County Animal Center website. I met her, and my heart melted. She was mine, but more importantly, I was hers.

I was going through a tough time when I adopted Grace, and it is no secret that she rescued me as much as I rescued her. She was homeless, emaciated, and had heart worm disease. I had just moved back to my condo and found myself alone for the first time in decades, and I was only beginning to deal with the psychological aspect of breast cancer. Grace and I were destined to save each other, and you will not convince me otherwise.

That was over three years ago. Fast forward to two weeks ago when I lost my Mom, my first best friend, and I couldn’t conjure the emotional strength to leave my bed. I got up at 7 a.m. to let Grace out for her morning business, but then went right back to bed and curled up with my heart aching. I could have stayed there until it was time for Grace’s evening break.

Typically, Grace will fuse to the sofa or the bed right along with me during a Netflix binge or while I read a book, but on that particular day, she got restless. She had stretched out next to me with her snout on my chest long enough. Around 10 a.m., she made a show of jumping out of bed and left the room. I could hear her huffing somewhere in the house. Large inhales followed by audible exhales.

I got out of bed to see what was going on, and this is what I found right outside my bedroom door:

Waiting for her Mum

She was feet from my bedroom, impatiently waiting, giving me the gentle signal of her huffing and puffing until I got myself out of bed. As soon as I stood in the doorway looking like an extra from The Walking Dead with bed head, puffy eyes, and still in my PJs, Grace jumped up and greeted me as she always does. With joy, gratitude, excitement, and unconditional love.

With her beautiful, soft brown eyes, and her gentle flicking of my hand with her muzzle, she convinced me that a walk was the best thing for us. And so I got dressed and we walked. Exercise, fresh air, and my whole world walking next to me. Just what the doctor dog ordered.

I recommend letting your friends and family help you through difficult times, and talking with a professional counselor. I’ll likely seek that out in the weeks to come. Also, I highly recommend adopting a dog.


Three Years in Remission and I’m a Nervous-Nellie

March 14 marked three years of survivorship for me…excuse me while I do my happy dance! But wait, what is this anxiety I feel? In 2014 and 2015, I made a big deal about my cancerversaries. My work peeps heard about it for weeks leading up to the big date, my friends were invited to celebrate, and I felt a sense of giddiness to mark another year without a recurrence. What happened to the party this year?

I’ve had a lot on my plate recently, and quite frankly the date nearly slipped my mind. Work has amped up, and Miss Grace and I will be moving soon to a new home. The process of house hunting, purchasing, packing, and moving is overwhelming in and of itself. Add the stress of transitioning Mom from living independently to assisted living, and watching the person I love most in the world decline, well it is heartbreaking.

But there has been something deeper than family, career, and domicile that has kept me from making a fuss. Most remissions occur in the three- to seven-year window. There it is.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation notes that most recurrences occur in the first five years. The American Journal of Managed Care refers to the three- to seven-year window. At 10 years after initial treatment, the recurrence rate drops drastically, which is why my oncologists are fixated on that 10-year mark.

Meanwhile, I’m living in the three- to seven-year space.

I’ve been asked if cancer is always on my mind. If I obsess over it. That’s tough to answer, because cancer is part of me. I didn’t ask for this. I had no choice in the matter, but I have to accept that it is, and always will be, part of who I am. I wrote shortly after my diagnosis in this post that cancer would not define me, but there is no denying cancer either.

It’s a little like asking if breathing is always on one’s mind. Yes and no. You know it is part of you, you don’t think about it every moment, but you are innately aware of the fact, on some level, that you are breathing at all times.

So, my answer is yes, cancer is always on my mind; and my answer is no, I do not obsess over it because it is often not intentional thought, it is an awareness. Except now I’m three years cancer-free. That three- to seven-year window just cracked open, and I’d love nothing more than to shut this sh-t down. But I can’t.

I’m dealing with my fear of being overconfident, of jinxing myself, and I will celebrate. I’ll rally my friends and do it up good. After all, regardless of health, wealth, age, luck, or lack thereof, you still only live once!


Komen Race for the Cure 2015

First and foremost, thank you to everyone who supported me in the Race for the Cure this year and in years past. Your kindness and generosity are astounding, and I am humbled.

The topic of breast cancer is near and dear to me. The disease is near, well, because I’ve had it and am in remission, and the fight against it is dear to me because I would love for all the little girls growing up now to never have to worry about such things. How great would that be?

Each year the Race for the Cure seems to take on a slightly varied meaning for me, and this year was no different. I walked in memory of my brother-in-law’s mother who was lost to breast cancer too many years ago. Even though I never met her, I was honored to wear Carron’s name and bring her into this beautiful, pink army against breast cancer.

As always, I arrived in good spirits. Truth be told, I was giggling at myself for kindly, and pointedly, explaining that my VIP parking pass was never provided to me when the parking attendant asked me to turn my map over. It read “VIP Parking Pass.” Ha!

Laughing is entirely appropriate because the Race for the Cure is an opportunity to celebrate the fact that we are alive. There is music, there are concession stands, a sea of people, and there is an infectious, upbeat vibe. Yet every year when we actually begin walking, and I start reading the “In Celebration of” and “In Memory of” signs on the backs of thousands of people, I get choked up. I am overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, fear, gratitude, guilt, and hope.

Susan G. Komen Walkers
Each pink sign carries the name (some list several names) of someone diagnosed with breast cancer, either “In Celebration of” or “In Memory of”

Whether my friends notice how quiet I am for the first minute or two, I’m not sure, but it’s because I am on the verge of tears. If I speak, I will cry. I think of those who were not as fortunate as me, those whose battles have been long and painful, and the loved ones left behind. I give myself a minute to process that load of emotions, and I have the self-talk. Kelly, get it together–this is a glorious day. And then I walk.

Writing my message on the Susan G. Komen Wall of Hope
Writing my message on the Wall of Hope

Thank you for understanding why I walk, for supporting me with your generous and thoughtful donations, your well-wishes and prayers, and for walking with me. It truly means the world to me.


Chicago: A 5K Fail

Things don’t always go as planned, especially when weather is a factor. Two dear friends from back home met me in Chicago to a) catch up, visit, eat, drink, giggle, and generally be silly; and b) walk a 5K together, along with my sister who lives nearby. The three of us girlfriends are cancer survivors and we thought walking the Annual Cancer Survivors’ Walk & 5K at Grant Park together would be grand. What could be better than a weekend in Chicago with old friends and another state checked off my “5K in Every State” list?

From the time we arrived until the time we disbursed, it rained. Sometimes it poured, but it never sprinkled. It was 48 degrees on our way to the walk, which isn’t all that cold, but add to it bone chilling wind and the fact that we were soaked, and it was nothing short of miserable. We were terribly under-dressed in our layered shirts and light jackets. The Chicagoans were wearing North Face winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. We had umbrellas.

Rain and fog
It was raining when we arrived
Rain and fog at Grant Park
And it was raining when we left

Since I visit the area often, I suggested we skip the walk and I would hit up the Land of Lincoln for a 5K another time. It took a hot second for everyone to agree. According to the race results, 315 people ran. I applaud them. Loudly. But it wasn’t for me. When I did the Trample the Trails 5K in Wisconsin, it was 36 degrees at race time. No wind, no rain, no problem. Well, I say no problem now; it took me nearly an hour to finish that one. But you get what I mean. It was not miserable.

So we hung out at Navy Pier until a big yellow taxi took my friends away, back to their homes and families and routines. But not before we got some good girl time in: food, shopping, food, wine, food, and lots of laughing.

Ferris wheel at Navy Pier
Navy Pier in the rain
The three survivors, enjoying the great indoors!
The three survivors, enjoying the great indoors!

That’s what the weekend was about anyway–celebrating life, friendship, and family. So really, this was not a 5K fail, it was some special time with my dear friends who just happen to be cancer survivors too. Cheers to us, ladies!


Komen Race for the Cure 2014 – A Different Experience

It’s been one week since the Komen race, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve talked about my cancer. I think about it pretty much every day, but I typically don’t discuss it unless someone asks. I’m not averse to the topic but don’t bring it up, and I have a few ideas about why, but that’s for another post.

What brings up the word at least annually is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. This organization has done so much to fund research, education, and screening; and it has raised awareness of breast cancer to the level of being an everyday topic of conversation. That, my friends, is awesome.

I’ve done the walk in years past, before I was touched by breast cancer. It was another walk to do, an event. Then, as you know, at last year’s race I was a three-month survivor. I think I performed well and held it together as graciously as anyone would have at that point, but looking back, I now realize I was an emotional mess. I knew factually what my situation was – survival rate, etc., but I hadn’t had time yet to fully process how I felt about it. What it really meant to me personally and not simply statistically.

Add to that some deeply personal issues I was dealing with (the heartache and turmoil of a marriage that was over before it began), the fact that I was running late that morning and was near tears over possibly missing the survivor photo, a sprinkle of chaos finding my team members, and voila! you have a girl walking who is cheery and smiling one moment, contemplative the next, and lip quivering during the survivor parade. The. Entire. Parade. (and cried during the ceremony that followed).

Let me tell you how this year looked. Arrived with time to spare. Simply stood in one spot while every one of my team members appeared over a period of maybe five minutes. Walked, talked and laughed for 3.1 miles, was ravenously hungry by 9:30 a.m., and unabashedly danced and sang throughout the survivor parade. Wow, what a difference a year makes!

I graduated from the under 1 year group to the 1 to 4 year survivor group. I got to enjoy the food truck rodeo this year, and I indulged in a bottle of Coke. You are gasping in disbelief because of the sugar thing, but let me explain…I let myself splurge on the big day, AND, I drank maybe 1/3 of it before it went in the trash. It tasted weird. I was craving a Coke, but when I took a nice big, cold drink of it, I thought why am I drinking thick brown manufactured syrup? It made me more thirsty. Water please!

Team Live. Run. Cure! was ready to walk!
(one team member actually ran the race and another ran to the event, so the team name wasn’t a total bust)
The parade felt a little different for me this year 🙂

I know in previous posts I talked about perspective and how being diagnosed with cancer completely changed mine. Well, it continues to change, and that’s a good thing because as well as I thought I was a year ago, I’m even better now. I am not perfect and there are no guarantees, but I am happy and I am well. I am very well. For 15 months I have not forgotten to be thankful for that.

I hope I continue to celebrate every day like it’s a parade, and I hope I am always thankful.


The Down-Side of Clean Eating

I’ve been yapping about clean eating for about a year, and I can’t say enough about it.  My energy level is up, I sleep better, and I assume those are both a result of better health in general.  So what’s the problem?  I fell off the wagon this weekend.  Woe is me.

If you’ve spent any time with me, you know I eat, and I eat often.  Before the clean eating, I enjoyed a fairly disgusting diet.  Fast food, endless amounts of sugar, and greasy everything.  If it was breaded and deep-fried, it was on my plate; if it was sugary, it was in my belly.

I cut fast food entirely.  After not having it for so long, it isn’t even appetizing to me now.  I cut sugar drastically – I stick to the USDA recommendation of 20 to 25 grams of added sugar per day.  I limit fried foods to a few times a month.  And really, of the three food groups that used to comprise my diet, I only miss the sugar.

But last night at dinner (celebrating my one year cancer-free milestone!) I had dessert.  Actually, I had two desserts.  Key Lime pie and Tiramisu.  They were delish.

A celebration of this magnitude called for dessert!
Check out the woman in green on the right photo bombing us!

Then today for lunch I went to BurgerFi, which I don’t consider fast food (but maybe I’m wrong).  They use all natural, free-range beef.  That sounds a whole lot better than anything the usual fast food suspects serve.  So I ordered up a cheeseburger and onion rings.  This is what I got:

Do you see how big those rings are??
This thing is bigger than my hand!

The burger was good and I had no problem making it disappear.  The onion rings were a problem.  They were huge!  I used to love onion rings specifically for their grease factor.  These were pretty darn greasy.  I ate two of the five rings and was done.  The greasiness was a huge turn-off.  Can’t do it any more.

By 3pm I was feeling like Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me.  Obviously, in just two meals I’m not talking about weight gain or health problems, I’m referring to the colossal tummy ache and overall feeling of yuckiness.  It’s nearly 8pm now and I’m still feeling yucky.  I’m talking really yucky.  I had toast and hot tea for dinner.  It’s likely the combination of dessert last night and the grease today, but right now I don’t ever want another onion ring again.  Sorry BurgerFi, you should have got me when I was a bad [food] girl.

So, as much as I love eating clean, I’ll confess to the down-side: you can’t go back (at least not without some pain).  Once you’ve gotten away from the bad food, it just might sound nasty to you or it might actually make you feel awful.  I’m pretty sure I’ve been cured of my cravings for greasy food.

But isn’t that a good thing?  If you’ve been trying to change your diet and feel like you’ll never succeed, you will.  Know that you will!


Komen Race for the Cure 2013

This past Saturday, June 8 was the Komen Race for the Cure here in Raleigh. I’m pretty sure you all know about the organization, but here it is just in case. Susan Komen fought breast cancer and lost. Even in her last days, she was adamant about helping others with breast cancer. Her sister, Nancy, made a promise that she would do everything she could to end breast cancer forever. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization was created and is “the global leader of the breast cancer movement, having invested more than $1.9 billion since inception in 1982.” Worldwide, no other nonprofit provides more funds to fight breast cancer. This is huge. It’s frightening to ponder where we would be in this fight if it weren’t for Komen. I realize there are other organizations whose contributions are invaluable, and I don’t mean to debase any of them, but what if we were $1.9 billion behind our current position? Research, screening, treatment. That is a humbling thought. Thank God for Nancy making good on a promise to her sister Susan.

I’ve done this race before (walked the 5k and ran the 1 mile), but having an entirely different perspective this year made for a very powerful experience. Ken was with me, and I invited a few of my closest friends to join as well. Being that I’m just three months post-diagnosis and this is all new to me both chronologically and emotionally, my strategy was to keep the group small, intimate, so the whole world wouldn’t see me cry.

The team

Well I didn’t think that through, now did I? Do you know how many people do the race? Ha!  Next year I’ll be ready for a full-court press “Team Kelly” and will try to recruit everyone – the wallpaper if I can!

We were running a little late that morning, which is unbelievable since the alarm went of at 5:15 AND I got up at 5:15. But there we were, rushing to get there in time for the survivor’s photo. I so wanted to be in it. We parked on the street about a quarter mile from the campus, and jogged from the car. We got there in plenty of time. Whew! We had time to walk through the survivor’s tent where I was given the signature pink hat. I was welcomed and everyone was ridiculously kind. Gentle, actually. Thank goodness for the hat because by the time the survivor photo was taken the humidity had already done a number on my hair. Even Ken said I was looking a little frizzed. So Saturday I was a hat girl.

A girl and her hat

We, in our pink survivor shirts, lined up in the shape of the pink ribbon for the photo, and we all cheered and shouted the number of years (months for me) since our diagnosis. Lord did the photographer have patience – every time he snapped a shot a few more ladies would rush over to get in the picture. After maybe four iterations of that, we had it. We (me, Ken and Kathy) bumped into him a little later and we chatted a bit and he took our picture. So far it felt like a scene from Alice in Wonderland. I was interacting with people who were there to support me…not me personally, but me categorically, even though they didn’t know me. It was sort of odd. And wonderful.

At 8:30 we all shuffled out of the Meredith campus and onto Hillsborough Street. You laugh, but yes, we shuffled. There are so many who do the race that if you’re not right up front, once the race begins it takes 10 to 15 minutes to actually get to the start line. We spread out a little bit once we got going – at the 1 mile mark we had some breathing room.

Add caption

People lined up along the route as cheerleaders and to watch and show their support. It truly is an uplifting and powerful feeling to know so many folks are rooting for you. One woman sat in her picture window watching the sea of walkers pass by. She waved and we waved back. It made me wonder what her story might be. Is she 1 in 8? I loved waving to her in that moment.

Some of the homes along the route decorated for the event or put signs out to show support. One house had pink booby windsocks hanging from its porch and had bras hanging from a tree, lots and lots of bras! It was another spot of fun in an otherwise weighty day. We finished in 1.5 hours. Not bad for lolly gagging, taking pictures, and making a pit stop along the way 🙂

See the windsock boobies on the porch?
Bra tree
The finish line!

We got back to campus after 10:00, and it was already time for the survivor’s ceremony. I lined up behind my respective sign carrier in the “under 1 year” group. We marched together onto the field while everyone cheered for us. Enter the lip quiver. I tried to smile but the more I did the more I quivered. Just a tear or two. Because my group walked out first, we were first to settle into our place on the field and we got to watch the other groups walk in. The 1 to 4 years, 5 to 9 years, and so on. It was about as emotional as it could be. Then the 30+ years group walked in. Now it was a cry fest. And for so many reasons. Selfishly, that’s the group I hope and pray to be in one day. Unselfishly, I thought about what those brave ladies have been through. Treatment 30 years ago wasn’t what it is today. I think everyone had chemo back then, and it wasn’t tailored to the individual. I was in awe and admiration and my heart broke.

Getting in line for the ceremony

The highlight: an 87-year-old lady took the stage – a 41 year survivor. 41 years! The emcee kept asking if she had any words of wisdom for all of us out there, and she kept pushing the microphone away (she seemed like a pistol…like my Mom!). She finally gave in and took the mike and said she just wanted us all to know that she outlived her doctor. Inspiration Nation! And thank Gawd for something to laugh about! We cheered for her and we cried for her. We cried for ourselves and for those to come after us. It was a priceless, welcomed, and needed moment. It was perfect.

Then the sky opened up and the rain came and we all ran. It’s funny what we’ll fight and what we’ll run from, isn’t it?