Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It Just Doesn't Matter...

This last month has been such a wake-up call for me, basically in all areas of my life... when you think your health is in jeopardy, you sure do a lot of thinking. It makes you realize very quickly what's important to you in this life, and sometimes more importantly, you realize what's not important.

Just after my surgery I was reaching to put some plates away. I shouldn't have been reaching at all and I ended up dropping and shattering the three plates that were in my hand. A month ago that probably would have stressed me out... I'd probably have sworn, gotten mad, and a little stressed out that my set of dishes isn't a matching set anymore. But guess what? Those dishes don't matter.

Buying a bigger house, moving to a different neighborhood sure would be nice and it's been on my mind for a while now. But a house is just walls and those walls don't matter... what matters is that you're here and you're healthy to fill those walls with love while raising your children.

The fact that your child didn't ace that test this week? So doesn't matter. What matters is that they worked really hard and that they're a really good person. One bad test score isn't going to diminish that.

Focusing on negativity and worry is a really big waste of your time because it really, really doesn't matter. Time is the most precious thing you can waste and it isn't wise to waste it on things that don't matter.

Letting life's little responsibilities win out over an evening of good laughs and good friends is sincerely one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. Cleaning the house and getting a good night's sleep doesn't matter... those things will be there waiting for you when you get home. What matters is that you make time for the important people in your life. Invest in them, because they're going to be the ones who come running without hesitation when you need them the most.

We hear all the time that you never know what each day will bring, that things can change in the blink of an eye... those sayings are so cliche but they're also very true. It isn't until something happens in your life that you realize that you really never do know what each day will bring and that your world really can change in the blink of an eye.

What are the things you feel you must do that you haven't done yet? Time may run out sooner than you think. I've thought about those things in my life a lot over the last few weeks and I've learned that the one thing I don't want to end up with is regret. There are still things I need to do, places to see, people to love, memories to make and most importantly, children to raise. I plan on spending the rest of my days, no matter how many of them are left to be had, doing just that.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Last Few Weeks...

I guess it's time I dust off the pages of this blog and get back to writing. Today's post isn't going to be a fun one to write and perhaps I shouldn't share it with all of the world wide web... but blogging is my therapy, my release, and I can't really move on with this space without getting this out of the way. So here goes, here's what's been going on in my world over the last few weeks...

Over a month ago I started at a new doctor's office getting treatment for my headaches. That treatment has helped SO much, and on that front, I've felt better than I have in a really long time. I still have a long road ahead of me with my treatment as I continue to go every single day, but I don't mind... it's already drastically improved my quality of life in a short amount of time. So thankful. As part of that treatment, just over 4 weeks ago now, they tried traction on my neck for the first time. Traction, if you don't already know, is where they hook you up to a machine that very gently stretches your neck. I've had people suggest to me before that I try traction for my neck pain but this was the first time I'd had it done. The Dr.'s assured me that it would feel good and that it helps 99% of people so I was looking forward to even more relief. But I didn't get relief... what I got instead was an immediate, intense headache. A very different headache than what I normally get. I know my headaches and this wasn't one of them... this was something different. I headed back to work after my appointment but by the time I got there, I could hardly function, the pain was so intense. I headed home, hoping my normal remedies of meds, ice, and resting would help but I had no such luck. The pain continued and I was in agony. I sent my kids off with their dad and called my mom to bring me to the ER... I just couldn't take the pain any longer.

The ER was fairly routine... we knew that this weird headache was a result of the traction so they gave me some meds and then sent me for a CT scan to make sure the traction hadn't done any damage. I've had plenty of CT scans before due to my headaches so it didn't concern me in the least bit. The first meds they gave me didn't help but after another round of some additional meds, the pain started to subside. Finally some relief. Since I was starting to feel better, or at least like I could function, I knew that I'd be heading home shortly. And then Dr. came in the room with the results of my scan. Everything looked fine in my head and neck just like I knew it would... but then he ripped the rug out from underneath me when he said "we found a mass." Excuse me?! There aren't many phrases that can make your world stop on a dime but that's certainly one that will. The mass was in my chest and he had no idea what it was. He mentioned "Lymphoma" and then my head just started spinning. I came here to get relief from a terrible headache, I certainly wasn't expecting to leave with the thought that I might have cancer.

The next few days were a complete blur. Since they'd already done a CT scan with dye that's rough on your kidneys, they had to wait a few days to do more scans. The original scans were of my head and neck, and they just so happened to catch this at the bottom of those scans so I needed new ones to get a better look. Maybe it was nothing... maybe it was just a blur on the scan and all of this worry was for nothing. I'd need to wait another day or two for the results but after talking to my PCP, I had almost convinced myself that it was nothing. I was still worried sick, don't get me wrong... but I was wishfully thinking that it was nothing. And then the phone call came that it wasn't 'nothing' and that I'd need to go meet with a specialist to decide our next steps. A few more days of waiting and worrying, of my mind wandering to some pretty upsetting places.

I went to meet with this new Dr., the specialist that they referred me to, and I figured it would be a quick appointment where we'd discuss our options... watching it for a while to see what happens, maybe taking a biopsy to see what it is. When I approached the door to this new office, I realized I was heading into the cancer center. Once again, I felt like someone ripped the rug out from underneath me. Although we'd discussed the possibility, no one had told me yet that I had cancer. Walking in those doors felt surreal. Sitting in that waiting room felt surreal. There were so many patients around me, young and old... and I made sure not to make eye contact with any of them. I know that sounds ridiculous but I didn't want to be there, I didn't want to identify with them, I didn't want to be one of them.

The first Dr. I met with was a resident, a really nice guy who showed me my scans and the masses they found (there were 3). He talked so casually about different cancers... that it was a strong possibility that it was Lymphoma, but treatment for that is usually very successful. Sure, I'd have to have chemo, but someday I could write a book about it. He was calm and I felt numb. I cried and he held my hands. We waited for the Surgeon to come in and decide what she wanted to do. She was very blunt, there was no sugar-coating. It could be nothing, but she didn't think that was the case. Her thoughts were that it was Thymoma or Lymphoma... if it were Thymoma, removing it would be the only treatment if it was stage 1, some radiation needed if it were stage 2. If it was Lymphoma, I would need chemo no matter what. Regardless, the masses needed to come out, I needed surgery sooner than later. She scheduled my surgery and gave me a packet of info about having cancer. Have I mentioned that I felt numb?! I've felt that way a lot over the last few weeks.

The next two weeks waiting for my surgery were so stressful and upsetting. I wanted the surgery to hurry up and get here so that we could get it over with, but on the other hand I didn't want it to get here. I didn't want to go in for surgery. I didn't want to get more bad news. I had so many fears and anxieties. I carried on as normal but the thought of having cancer was always at the top of my mind. I was there, getting through the days, but that numbness was never far away.

Surgery day finally came and I was a nervous wreck. Some Dr.'s and nurses were helpful and supportive, some were typical Dr.'s and nurses without much of a bedside manner. My surgery consisted of 5 different incisions on my side and a robot that they sent in to extract the 3 masses, the largest of which was almost 3" and right on top of my heart. The surgery took 4 hours and when I woke up in recovery, my Surgeon stopped by and said that we'd talk later, but the initial indicators pointed to Thymoma and that I'd probably need some radiation. I felt a huge relief... no chemo. She warned that these results were very preliminary and could change once we got the pathology reports back in a week. I understood, but it still felt good to move forward with hope that it was the best case scenario. Not that having any cancer is a best case scenario but I certainly would take that over Lymphoma, as if I have a choice in the matter.

The last week and a half has been spent recovering from my surgery while waiting for my post-op appointment with my results. Recovery has been ok... lots of pain and discomfort but I'm making progress everyday. This past Friday was my follow-up. Everyone kept saying that getting the answers would be good, at least we'd know what direction to go, but I didn't want the results. I didn't want to hear an answer, I didn't want to hear my fears turning into reality. But the day was here and I couldn't avoid it any longer. I waited in the waiting room for almost an hour and a half before they saw me... the same waiting room full of cancer patients I'd been in just 3 weeks before. After almost 2 hours of waiting, I finally got to see my Surgeon. She walked in the room, looked at me, and said the two sweetest words I've ever heard... no cancer. No cancer. No cancer. I could type that phrase 1,000 times and I'm still not sure it would sink in. I felt so many emotions in that moment, but mostly I felt about 1,000 pounds lighter than I'd felt for the last month.

There is still some concern to be had... they've classified the masses as a particular disease, one that could grow back and often times does turn into Lymphoma. Something we'll have to keep an eye on in the months and years to come. But for now, no cancer. And I simply can't worry about what's to come months and years from now. I'm simply thinking of the here and now, and the fact that with all of the testing they did, they found zero traces of cancer. I am so thankful.

I've been emotional, and still am, as I try to process all that's happened over the last few weeks. I know that things happen for a reason but I'm really struggling to find the 'why?' of all this. I'll probably never know for certain but what I do know is this... everyday is a blessing, every day is a gift. I will never, ever, ever take another healthy day for granted as long as I live.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Leaning On Some Friends I Know... "

When I was a kid I had a purple radio / tape player that I used constantly. Whether I was listening to the radio and calling the station 8651567812 times to request a New Kids on the Block song or listening to one of my favorite mix tapes, I can always remember a constant feeling: that I never could get close enough to the music. I would lay my head right against that purple speaker and listen to these songs that I loved so much... but even still, that wasn't close enough. I could hear the music in my ears, I could feel the beat in my chest, and I could feel the lyrics make their way into my soul but I always, always, always wanted more. I guess that was my way of learning at a young age how powerful music can be.

I've been going through a rough time this last week... a week that's been filled with a lot of tears, fears, and medical terms that I never wanted to hear. I'm not much of a talker when I'm in the midst of a hard time... actually I'm not a talker at all. I think and then I write, that's my therapy, that's my way of letting things out. Also? I listen to music.

Being on the go so often, I don't get a chance to listen to music as much as I used to. Sure, the radio is always on in the car but I don't truly listen, at least not like I used to. But this week, in the middle of the madness, I've found myself comforted by my favorite music and I truly couldn't be more grateful. I've laid on my couch with my ear covering a speaker, just like I did 20 years ago. And that feeling of not being able to get close enough to the music was still there... and for that I'm truly thankful, too. What a gift it is to have music touch you so deeply that you can't ever get enough.

I'd probably bore you if I listed all the songs I've been listening to that really hit me right now, but this is one of my favorites. I'd actually almost completely forgotten about this song and happened upon it a couple of days ago... perfect timing...
At some point I'll likely blog about this whole experience but that time won't be right now or probably any time soon. For now, I'll be over here listening to my music... leaning on some friends I know, the road and the radio...


Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekend Recap

It's been a pretty busy couple of weeks around these parts. Between going away last weekend, dealing with a flare-up of Ryan's stomach issues this week, my headaches/new treatment/new eating plan, and our usual array of school, work, games and practices, let's just say I was more than ready for the weekend to roll around! And it did not disappoint...
Friday night I rushed home from work to feed the kids and then we headed off to the local high school football game. Man oh man, watching my kids walk around with their friends, watching the game and being all social... they were just so grown up. I still don't feel like it was that long ago that I was in high school walking around with my friends... so to see my kids walking around with their friends at a high school football game just seemed kind of unreal. Time flies, it really does. We had such a fun night though, all 3 of us!

Saturday it was another early morning to head out of state for Ryan's baseball... he had a double-header over in New Hampshire where they won both games. After those 2 games and the drive home, we had to head to a birthday party for a friend of Emily's. It was a super fun party for the kids and although I didn't plan on staying for it, I ended up chatting with other moms the entire 2-1/2 hours.

Sunday was a "me" day... a lazy day at home all alone where I did nothing but clean, laundry, and watch the Food Network alllll day long. It was glorious! A day like that was definitely long overdue and I don't feel bad about it one bit! Notice how I didn't mention a headache? That's because I didn't have one yesterday! That's a big deal because I always get headaches on Sundays. Perhaps we're making progress here! Actually, I know we're making progress because after my treatment today I could turn my head... I know that sounds ridiculously simple but I can't even remember the last time I could turn my head to the left and now I can. It's the little things!

Speaking of my treatment, I absolutely love my doctor! She's amazing at what she does, so incredibly helpful, and she makes going into the office everyday not such a chore. Not that it's a great deal of fun to have to go to the Dr.'s every single day but if you have to do it, she's a great doctor to have to go to. Today we got talking about our mutual love of country music and she told me about the time she touched Kenny Chesney's leg and how it was the greatest day of her life! Ha! Needless to say, we spent a few minutes chatting about our mutual love!

So that's it... a pretty simple weekend but full of fun and relaxation. Pretty perfect!


Friday, September 19, 2014

Living in Pain

I'm not exactly sure why I'm posting this on the blog today... someone's (read: mine) health is a very personal thing... but it's also such a big part of my life right now and this is a lifestyle blog after all, so today you get the (very abbreviated) story of how I live in pain every single day.

For most of my adult life, I've suffered with headaches... and I don't mean a little headache here and a little headache there, where I can take a couple Advil and go on about my day. I'm talking about frequent headaches where the pain is so intense that I can't function. Think migraine-type pain, but not technically a migraine. And I get them often. The frequency tends to ebb and flow... sometimes I get them every single day and then sometimes I'll get in a really good stretch where I'll only have one every couple of weeks. For the last few years, I've been stuck more in the stretch of getting them almost daily. At the first onset of pain I take 3 Exedrin and some days that helps (thank God!) but then some days it doesn't... and those are the days that absolutely crush me.

I've seen countless doctors, gone through so many tests, tried many different medications, all with minimal results. It's such a vicious cycle for me... I'll see a doctor, try something new, it won't work, so then I'll carry on as is since that treatment didn't help. And then I'll get to a point where I just can't take the pain any more so I try a new treatment. This has gone on for years and years and it's beyond frustrating.

This past weekend was one of those moments where I just got fed up. I had an absolutely amazing weekend with Emily and then on the last morning, I was hit with a headache. I powered through and was able to keep on my happy face while finishing our time at camp, but by the time we got back home I was in absolute agony. And that's not what I want my kids to remember. I don't want them looking back on their childhoods thinking "we had such a great weekend until my mom came down with a headache"... that probably sounds silly, but when it's such a major part of your life, it's realistic.

So on Monday I called yet another new doctor and, because I was a crying mess on the phone, they were able to get me in the following day. Today will be my third day going back this week and I'll continue to go every day for the next two weeks. They did all kinds of tests and we're working on all sorts of things... things that probably sound ridiculous if you don't understand, but things that will (hopefully) treat the cause and not just the pain. They're doing work on my neck and shoulders, of course, but they're also doing a lot of work on nerves and muscles and my brain. It's insanely interesting to listen to them explain (in simple terms) how everything works together and how and why they're treating it the way they are. I can't even begin to explain it to others yet... perhaps when I understand and grasp it more then I'll be able to. But for now, I have some hope... hope that in the weeks and months to come that I won't be living with this pain as part of my everyday life.

On Wednesday I mentioned that I had a new nutrition plan and that is part of this treatment as well. It has nothing to do with losing weight; instead it's taking these next six weeks and getting rid of the inflammation in my body that's causing so much pain. The list of things I can eat is pretty limited and it will certainly be a learning experience for me. Like tomatoes, I love tomatoes, they're one of my all-time favorite foods... but I can't eat them. Bananas and peppers? I eat those all the time but can't have them for the next six weeks. Who knew foods like that caused inflammation?! Not me. It'll definitely be a big adjustment and a huge learning experience for me... but one that I'm 100% on board with if it gets rid of the pain!

I'll stop there... there really is so much more I could say but that's enough for today. I know that a lot of people live with chronic pain and it's absolutely debilitating. So if you're there, understand that you're not alone. Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me if you have a story to share... I obviously can't fix anyone else's pain but I sure can listen and relate to your story.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Easy Ways to Earn & Save (Christmas!) Money

Now that we're almost into fall, I have to admit that I have Christmas on the brain! Too soon? Probably. But with 2 kids and 1 wallet, I love to shop ahead, score good deals, and make my money stretch as far as possible for the holiday season. And actually, this is pretty late for me... usually I start my shopping in the midst of the summer! Because I'm all about a good deal, I'll likely be sharing good finds with you from now until the holidays (as you saw last week).

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I earn some extra spending money and a few of you had questions... so today I'm sharing a few things I do nearly everyday to help with the holiday spending.
SWAGBUCKS - I've had this account forever but never really used it much until I started chatting with Erin about it. Basically you earn 'swagbucks' for doing all sorts of activities online... surveys, games, simple tasks, searching, etc. It really is very simple to earn the swagbucks and once they start adding up, you can redeem them for gift cards (Amazon, PayPal, all different stores, etc.).  Right now I have over $150 in gift cards that I'm saving for the holidays and I'm hoping I'll earn at least another $150 within the next couple of months. Totally doable and you better believe those extra few hundred dollars will come in handy when I'm Christmas shopping. I've only been earning on my swagbucks account for the last few months so if you use this all year long and let them add up, you could get a whole lot of your Christmas shopping covered! You can get started with Swagbucks here.
CHECKPOINTS - This one is a website and an app (I have an iPhone, not sure if it's available elsewhere) and it's SO stinkin' easy! Another friend turned me on to this app a couple of months ago and I'm so glad she did! Everyday I 'check-in' to different places locally just by opening up the app and clicking on the locations that are available. Every time you 'check-in' to a location, you get points and then redeem those points for gift cards. There are other ways to earn points within the app or online that are super easy as well. I've been earning about $50/month in Target gift cards with this app... can you imagine how helpful it would be to walk into Target (or Walmart or wherever - tons of different gift cards available!) at Christmas time and have a free hundred or two to spend?! I can't wait! Go online or search your app store for the 'CheckPoints' app and when you sign up, you can use my bonus code of 'shesabigstar' to get free points that will get you started!

GROCERY - I posted about a few grocery apps that I use a few months ago and that info is all still valid and super helpful. I'm certainly not raking in the money with these but they're super simple to use and the money definitely adds up. Read this post for all the details or just click these links to sign up for the ones I use the most and find the most beneficial: SavingStar, Ibotta, and Checkout 51.
SALES - Be smart with sales! It seems like everyone and their mother ran to Bath & Body Works this last week to take advantage of their candle sale. Their candles are the absolute best and usually cost $22.50 each. This week they're on sale for 2/$22, making one of them essentially free. Good deal. You want something even better? Thanks to Kayla, I saw that they have a coupon good right now for $10 off a $30 purchase that you can use in addition to the candle sale. That means you can get 3 candles for the price of 1! Deals like this are too good to pass up and are the perfect opportunity to stock up for your home and also for Christmas gifts!
FREEBIES - There are so many websites out there that will help you score freebies. I don't have time to be checking a bunch of different websites everyday so the ones that I find most useful, I follow them on Facebook. That way if a good deal is available, it will pop up right where I'm most likely to see it! A lot of these freebies can be small sample sizes but you can also score some bigger ticket items as well. A few weeks ago, American Eagle (who has the best jeans ever!) was having a promo online where you could win a pair of jeans, gift cards, etc. So many people were winning so I knew the chances were good and sure enough, I scored a $50 gift card! I was a bit skeptical as to whether or not I'd actually get the gift card but sure enough, yesterday it arrived in my e-mail! A pair of jeans and a new scarf later for a grand total of $2.37 out of my pocket! Yes, please! Like I said, there are SO many sites to follow along but Coupon Clipinista is one of my favorites.
EBATES - Ebates, Ebates, Ebates... I'm always going to tell you about Ebates until every last one of you is signed up because it's simply silly not to! All you do is sign up, and then when you shop online you go to Ebates first, search the store you're going to shop at, and click their link to get to that store. It's a couple extra clicks of your mouse and it earns you a percentage of your money back. That $2.37 I spent on my jeans and scarf at American Eagle yesterday? I got a $2 rebate back through Ebates. They also have a lot of sale codes and free shipping codes for you to use which is always helpful. Once a quarter they'll send you a check in the mail for the amount of rebates you've earned. Free money. And with the holiday season coming up where we'll all be doing a lot of online shopping, you definitely want to keep more of your money where it belongs... in your wallet! You can sign up for Ebates here... simply the easiest money you'll ever make!

Those, along with the ones I posted earlier this year, are just a few of the ways I earn and save money for the holiday season... do you use any of these? What are some of the things that you do to earn and save? I'd love to hear your tips!

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