HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE POST-CHEMO BLUES (AND OTHER LITTLE KNOWN SIDE-EFFECTS OF CANCER)

Have you ever experienced a let down after a large event in your life?  A wedding?  A party?  A holiday?  A landmark birthday?  A vacation?  A new baby?  An event for which you have been waiting, saving, planning for months…maybe years?  There’s a huge build up of excitement and fervor over this event.  You are completely invested.  Your family is invested.  Your friends are invested.  Your heart races in anticipation of this event.  You are running on adrenaline, moving so quickly and accomplishing so much in the months/weeks/days leading up to the event that you barely have or take time to breathe.

Everything builds to that event.

And then the day comes.

The event happens.

It’s over.

Silence.

Real life.

Business as usual.

If you are anything like me, the post-event quietude can be devastating.  Once an event is complete, I have nothing to look forward to.  Nothing to plan for.  Nothing to hang my hopes and my happiness on.  I have no direction and no focus and, most disconcertingly, I am left alone with…MYSELF.

The horror.

So here I am, one week after being informed that my cancer is officially in remission, and I am STRUGGLING.  Now don’t get me wrong, I may proclaim to love cancer, but I prefer it not inhabit my body.  The cancer journey, however, was a huge event in my life that received a lot of my time and attention.  And I was a changed person.  I allowed myself to focus on what needed to be done.  I was gentle with myself.  I didn’t push.  If I wanted a nap, I would nap.  I gave myself permission to decline or delegate work.  If I couldn’t keep a commitment, I knew others would understand.  And I knew I could forgive myself for making that decision.

And best of all (at least for this girl), I had a mental vacation from obsession with food.

I have struggled with food my entire life.  I am a compulsive overeater and a binger.  In the last 4 years, I found myself some recovery and began to foster a healthier relationship with food.

But when the cancer treatment began, and nausea and other side effects dictated what food I could or could not eat, I allowed myself a reprieve from vigilance over my food choices.  And it was the right thing to do at the time.  I needed to listen to my body and nourish myself as best I could.  But I allowed the numbers that appeared on the scale to begin to play with my mind.  I would be weighed once or twice a week and because I seemed to lose (or not gain) weight each time I visited the doctor, I decided all was well.  As if the number on the scale was ever a proper indication of a healthy relationship with food.   It never has been and never will be.  At my skinniest (124 lbs on the day of my wedding to my first husband), I was obsessed; restricting entire food groups and allowing myself to binge on the weekends on piles of sugary snacks.

I worked very hard over the years to create a balanced meal plan that nourishes and sustains me and protects me from obsessive food thoughts and behaviors.  And I have worked very hard to accept that my body has found a happy home 10-15 pounds heavier than my brain would prefer it to be.

But here I am now, ten weeks post-chemo, back in the grips of food-obsession and watching the numbers on the scale creep higher and higher.  It’s been an emotional week for me.

I write this to tell you all that just like anything in life, cancer is simply one of many possible life events; an event that we can become obsessed with and allow to take over our lives.  And if we aren’t vigilant about creating mental and spiritual balance around us before during and after this event, we could be left on the other side feeling empty and less than.

Why did it take a cancer diagnosis for me to allow myself a break?  To be gentle with myself?  To forgive myself for not wanting to do something or go somewhere?  Now that life is heading back to “business as usual,” I find myself resisting the urge to push myself harder and criticize myself more.  “No more excuses, girl, back to work!”

This line of thinking is not okay.  I know it.  But I also know that this is not the authentic me.  This is the me that is created from a mind saddled by addiction.  My unhealthy food behaviors creep in and the negative, controlling, critical, impatient Tiffany begins to overshadow the happy, joyous, relaxed and free-spirited Tiffany.

My mind and spirit are trying to find equilibrium again after being pitched so high and so low for so many months.  So I pledge to be as kind and as gentle and as forgiving with myself now as I was in the midst of treatment.  As all of us should be to ourselves, every day of every week.  We are each doing the very best we can with all that we have been given today.  And we should be PROUD of that.

And perhaps most importantly, if we hang our hopes and our happiness on anything in life (event, person, place, thing), we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, depression and resentment. Happiness is an inside job. And you are the only qualified employee.

Has anyone else experienced the post-illness blues?  How about the post-wedding depression?  Or any other PLED (Post Life Event Disorder)?  How are you working on balancing life NOW to prepare for the next life event?   Because it’s coming.  I guarantee it.

The Luck O’ The Irish

Care-Bear-Good-luck

“What? Me Worry?”

I had another heavy couple of days leading up to today’s follow-up MRI.  Boy oh boy, scanxiety can do a number on the ole psyche.  But I’ll save that heaviness for another time because I am happy to announce my St. Patrick’s Day gift:

NO CHANGE DETECTED IN THE LIVER!

in other words…

NO CANCER!  REMISSION!

I have yet to receive the official report or get a chance to sit down with my doctors to go over details.  For now, we are chalking the false positives up to “post-operative abnormality.”  Or “liver with a naughty sense of humor.”

Either way, I’ll take it!

Let us all breathe a collective sigh of relief shall we?

Ready?

Breathe in….

AND….

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

I’m feeling very lucky indeed.

XOXO

We will never win the war on Cancer. And here’s why.

Photo on 3-11-14 at 4.34 PMWe wage war on a daily basis on many different perceived enemies.  War language is so pervasive in our culture, we don’t even notice it anymore.   Type “War on” into Google and see what pops up.  We have a “War on Drugs,” a “War on Terror,” a “War on Poverty.”  Heck, we even have a “War on Christmas.”  We can’t stop ourselves.  Our culture sees everything as a fight that needs to be won.  As a battle that needs to be waged.  We must have a winner and a loser.  We cannot let down our defenses.  We will never surrender.

But at what cost?

Every war has casualties.  Every war has pain and heartache.  Every war creates residual misery and trauma.

I was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2013.  For me, the most difficult part of this entire journey was that first few weeks.  You walk around in a bit of a daze, just on the edge of holding it together, ready to burst into tears at any moment.  You are bombarded with paperwork and information and appointments and scans.  You weigh treatment options and interview doctors and figure out how to tell friends and family.  How are you going to work?  Are you going to work?  How will you keep friends and family informed?  Will you keep friends and family informed?  How are you going to pay for this?  Are all of your doctors in network?  Are you making the right decisions?  Are you making the best decisions?  Have you researched enough?  Made enough calls?

So many decisions to be made in a very short amount of time.  Enough stress in a few short weeks to last an entire lifetime.

But once I had decided on a course of action, once I was settled on a treatment protocol, once wheels were set in motion to get the show on the road, the whole process got easier.  Sure, I was receiving chemotherapy between a series of surgeries, but I had a plan and I was moving forward.  My life had simply been re-directed.  I was living a new normal.

I soon found myself not only accepting my new life, but enjoying it.  My cancer diagnosis made me grateful.  For the first time in my life, I could appreciate completely with no “ifs” “ands” or “buts.”  I was finally able to accept others and genuinely love and accept myself.

So it didn’t take long before I began to consciously reject the traditional language of cancer.  I found myself bristling when my journey was described as a “fight” or a  “battle.”   Those words felt wrong.  I wasn’t battling anything.  In fact, I had stopped battling for the first time in my life.

I have lived through decades fighting my weight, hating myself, demanding more of myself, battling injustice, and hanging onto resentments.

Cancer snapped the world into focus, prioritized life and melted so much negative thinking away.  I now walked around in a giant euphoric love bubble, reflecting and radiating the love from family and friends that had encircled me.

I finally achieved an inner peace.   How could I possibly speak about this gift in negative terms?

Language is powerful.  We must choose our words with intention.  If I were to call my relationship with cancer a “battle,” or a “fight,”  my body and brain would simply follow suit.   I would seize up and harden and I would be less likely to recognize all of the good that has flooded into my life since my diagnosis.  I would focus on what cancer has taken from me, not all that cancer has given me.

When we get into a car accident, our instincts tell us to “brace for impact.”  But the medical community will tell you that the people who are relaxed (or sleeping or passed out) during an accident are less likely sustain injury.  When your body is less rigid and less tense you are less likely to break bones.   Your body simply moves with the impact because you are not fighting against it.

Cancer is no different.

When we talk about cancer or any other life-threatening or life-altering disease in terms of aggression, the weapons we are wielding are pointed directly at ourselves.  We deprive ourselves of the opportunity to grow and heal because we are so mired in anger and resentment.

We become casualties of our own friendly fire.    No winners at all.   Only beautiful souls who have lost the opportunity to live life to its fullest.

I choose to love my cancer for all of the gifts it has brought into my life.  I call my cancer a “journey.”   I tell people I am “living with cancer.”  I have a “life with cancer.”  Sometimes I even “dance with cancer.”  Life is better because of cancer, not despite it.  So I embrace cancer and give it a loving squeeze.  It just feels right.

I’m Giving Up the Fight Against Cancer. And You Should Too.

Photo on 3-3-14 at 2.20 PM #3What I am about to tell you may not be very popular.  And truth be told, I’ve been hesitant to write about it for fear of offending or insulting others.  But there’s that word again…FEAR.   I no longer want fear to dictate my life or my decisions or my desires to share my personal belief system with the world.  Especially a belief system that seems to be working some seriously great things in my life.

So here it goes.

Are you ready?

I have given up the fight with cancer.

I refuse to engage in the struggle any longer.

The battle is futile and the war on cancer is a waste of my time, my energy and my talents.

Allow me to explain.

Our society has embraced one way and one way only to discuss cancer – via the language of war.  Those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer must “fight” and “combat” our disease.  We hope to “win the war” against cancer.  Some of us may “survive” while others may “lose the battle.”

Those of us with cancer are called “heroes.”  We are “brave” and “courageous.”  We are “warriors” against this “enemy.”

But here’s the thing.  I wasn’t called to military service.  I didn’t enlist for any war.  I wasn’t drafted.  I’m not a hero.  I’m not brave.  I was simply diagnosed with a disease and offered a few options of treatment.  I chose one and went with it.  Nothing more than that.

I have cancer. I have a disease that terrifies the heck out of people.  And we have no other way to talk about it.  Hey, I’m not blaming anyone.  This is a world-wide phenomenon.

I simply wonder if we might be going about this the wrong way.  Is there an alternative way to talk about cancer?  Can we choose language that fosters a kinder, gentler, softer way of being?

I find that when I get angry, when I get worked up about something, when I prepare to engage in a fight, my body tenses up and I become stressed. And stress leads to a lowered immune system.  And a lowered immune system is the last thing a person with cancer needs.

When I’m worked up I also become more scattered, more erratic and less productive.  I am apt to give into pessimistic thinking and engage in unhealthy behaviors (overeating, overspending, procrastination, picking fights).  I make myself miserable and the people around me miserable.  And that is no way for a body to heal.

And here’s another thing…my cancer didn’t appear out of thin air.  My body created this cancer.  A few errant cells in my colon went a bit haywire and decided to take a whacky field trip to some other areas of my body.  Am I supposed to get pissed at myself?  Am I supposed be angry with my own body for what it has done?   I refuse to hate any part of myself – even a few naughty microscopic cells.

Whenever we wage war on something, we give it power.  We build up this perceived enemy and perpetuate feelings of hatred and anger and vitriol.  Cancer doesn’t need any more power than it already has.  If we decide to fight, cancer has no choice but to fight back.

What language can we use to embrace this disease and move beyond it?  How can we accept it into our lives, co-exist with it while still working toward a cure?  Kris Carr, who was diagnosed with a slow-growing, inoperable and untreatable form of cancer over 11 years ago calls herself a cancer “thriver.”  I love that.  Talk about spinning a negative into a positive.

I simply tell people that I am “living with cancer.”  That statement has a deep meaning for me.  I have never felt more alive, more appreciative of life, more blessed with the gifts of this world than I have since my diagnosis over 9 months ago.  In some ways I feel like I am truly living for the first time in my life.

I challenge you to think about alternative ways to speak about cancer or any disease or illness.  I understand that this is a difficult proposition.  It’s unorthodox.  It’s counter-cultural.  It’s definitely the road less-traveled.

But I tell you…it’s a beautiful way to live.   And I feel like I’m only just beginning to learn.  So much more to come, my friends.

CONGRATULATIONS!

baby girlSo you catch the cancer.

Then you start a blog to keep friends and family posted.

But your blog turns into something unexpected.  It becomes a method of healing on a journey of emotional turmoil.  It becomes your lifeline.

And then you heal from your surgeries.  And your treatment ends.  And though you have a future of periodic scans and procedures and the associated anxieties, you are are expected to simply retreat back to life as it was before.  You are now a survivor and you can wear that badge of honor with pride.  But move on, girl!  Business as usual.  Back to life as you once knew it.

Only you can never truly go back.  You are changed forever.  You see life differently.  You appreciate.  You love.  You let go.  You try new things.  You aren’t afraid of failure like you were before.  You don’t let a silly thing like fear stop you from participating in life to the best of your ability.  You are less embarrassed.  Less timid.  Less shy.  You are playful.  You are less serious.  You are less concerned with other people’s opinions.  You are more empathic.  More understanding.  Kinder.  Gentler.  Serene.

I don’t want this to end.

It’s been just over 9 months since my diagnosis on May 7, 2013.  And it’s no coincidence that the journey thus far has lasted the length of a human gestation period.    This last 9 months has been a time of growth.  A renewal of life.  A rebirth.  Cancer has brought forth the most beautiful bouncing baby the world has ever seen!  And I want to share her with more people.  I would love this feeling to spread like wildfire.

And that’s where Marie Forleo comes in.   I found Marie through the great and powerful Kris Carr.  Marie provides some practical marketing advice to people who are looking to get their personal projects/businesses off the ground.  Marie offers an online course every year.  And she provides a number of scholarships each year.  So what did I have to lose?  I applied with THIS VIDEO.   And I asked my peeps to put in the good word for me.  And I am SO PROUD to say that out of nearly 2000 entries, this beautiful blog was chosen as a 2014 recipient!   I am SO GRATEFUL to Team Forleo for taking a chance on me, and for extending such a wonderful opportunity to so many.  And I am SO VERY MOVED by the many readers, friends and family who took the time to repost, tweet and comment on my behalf.    THANK YOU.  THANK YOU.  THANK YOU.

I promise to make you proud.  I will raise this baby right!!

My (Dirty Little Secret).

I’ve got a (not so dirty) (not so little) (not so secret) secret:  I want cancer to continue to take me places.

My experience with this disease has been a powerful, beautiful, magical thing in my life.  Transformative.  Life-changing.  And I don’t want to keep this for myself.  I want this attitude toward cancer to catch.  I want it to become contagious.  I want to reach out to a wider audience and let them in on the secret to being slapped in the face with the hard cold hand of reality, falling to your knees and then standing back up and…smiling.  Laughing.  Dancing.

This cannot be talked about with hushed voices.  This can’t be swept under the rug once this is over in my life.  I can’t pretend like it never happened.  I need to share these experiences with the world.

So I am working on learning about marketing this website to a wider audience.    My goal is to someday write a book and to get out and speak to live audiences about my experiences and philosophy.  Heck, I wouldn’t mind participating in a little thing called a TED Talk.

I’ve shared some big ideas on this site.  And I’ve got more to share!

So this is where you come in.  I’ve applied for a scholarship for an online marketing class through MarieForleo.com.  I may work in advertising, but I don’t have any formal training in advertising or marketing.  And I certainly do not have any training in internet marketing.  To apply for a scholarship, I created a video and posted it to youtube.  An audience choice scholarship is given to people who drum up some serious social media activity.  ((Smart cookie, this Marie Forleo, no?))

You can help by doing any or all of the following:

1.     Go to the youtube video and post a comment underneath

2.     Find my facebook post and post a comment underneath that

3.     Repost my facebook post

4.     Go to Marie Forleo’s website  and post a comment mentioning Tiffany Staropoli and lovingcancer.com

5.     Send a tweet including the following: Tiffany Staropoli and #winBSCHOOL and http://joinbschool.com

6.     Share any of the above with family/friends!

Winners will be announced on Friday, 2/21/2014.  So feel free to post your little hearts out until then.  And I thank you from the bottom of my mine.

And PS…I’ve worked in film and video production for over 18 years, but I haven’t edited anything on my own in about 16 years.  I’m learning already!  YAY ME!!!

The Liver That Cried Wolf.

FEBRUARYSo…funny story…got the MRI results:

“No convincing recurrent metastatic disease in the right hepatic lobe.”

In English: ”NO CANCER IN THE LIVER.”

What the WHAT???

So it appears that the “something” that lit up the CT and PET scans may not be cancer after all.

My liver apparently thinks it’s starring in its own hilarious episode of “Punk’d.”

I’m a medical mystery.

After talking to two oncologists, we feel good about taking a conservative “wait and see” approach.  We will MRI again in 6 weeks to see if the area shows any signs of change.  Our trip to Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC for a 2nd opinion has been put on hold for now.

I would love to celebrate, but I don’t feel like I can, really.  Not yet, at least.  I’m relieved to a certain extent, to be sure.  But the fog of uncertainty that surrounds us is thick.  Makes it difficult to party hearty.  I still want to be vigilant.  I would like to get a few more answers.  But I must grapple with the possibility that I may never find out what the heck lit up the PET/CT.  The MRI did confirm that I have some sort of “defect” in the concerning area of my liver.  The radiologist just doesn’t think it’s cancer.

But heck, I’ll take “you’ll never know” to “you’ve got the cancer again” any day.

What a mind twist, eh?  And what a life lesson.  Cancer — even just the specter of cancer — forces you to live in the moment.  Live day by day.  Let go.  Give up control.  Trust.  I can’t say that I passed the last few weeks with flying colors, but I’m new at this!  I’m learning!  And thank you to all of you for hanging in there with me (us) and for your prayers and energy and never ending support.

For now, I’m taking this new information as a Valentine’s Day gift from the Universe.  And I’ll just leave it at that.  Drink some champagne tomorrow and toast to the hepatic comic inside my body!

Cheers!!