Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Ultimate Question

Is there a god? I think no matter who you are, how old you are or what faith you practice (or in some cases don't) at one point; even if you were young; you have asked yourself this question.

Now let me explain why I bring up this topic. My families background is Methodist but no one actually practices it faithfully or is particularly religious in general. I am included in this as well. I have asked myself the question of is there a god? and to be honest even to this very minute I am not 100% sure. The best I can do is that I have come to the conclusion that I believe there is a God or higher being but not necessarily "THE" God. But I am getting a little off topic as to why I bring this up. As part of me saying that I believe in higher being is because I believe in Karma, Fate, Destiny, that everything happens for a reason, etc. But I haven't decided what or who drives that.

As someone who has had the unfortunate experience of having cancer I think a lot about higher powers.

Pre-Cancer: There was nothing about my life that was what I would refer to as overly bad. Everyone has different events that happen in their lives but then again that goes into that I believe everything happens for a reason and that those events have shaped me into the person I am today and the life I lead. But my life for myself was not much, I didn't take very good care of myself all the way around, I was over weight, didn't exercise, didn't even take anytime for myself to do much of anything. So when I was diagnosed with cancer it came as quite a shock but not entirely unexpected. The way I was going despite my age something had to give eventually. I am actually it happened when I was still young enough to learn from it. So I made it through with flying colors and achieved a complete remission.

Post-Cancer Treatment: It took sometime but I finally came to see that I was in control of me (I know sounds odd when talking about higher powers) and that if I wanted something to happen I couldn't just do nothing and expect things to change. So I started to change but I had lots of help along the way be people and events that I believe I was meant to have in my life and experience. A friend of our family just happened to be an oncology nurse at the hospital that I received treatment and she sent me an email about a cancer transitions program. I would have NEVER known about the program had she not sent me the info. The program was/is amazing you got everything nutrition, exercise, mental health, etc. During this time a doctor came in talking to us about the survivorship clinic they had recently opened and she happened to casually mention that they were working on having more survivor studies and one they were working on was going to be specifically for lymphoma patients. Afterwards I talked to her and mentioned that when they get it up and running I would love to be apart of it. Aside from that I also was motivated to join a gym and I learned about the balance plate which has been my saving grace of eating healthy.

About a month and half later I received a phone call from the same doctor saying they were starting the study. Now mind you this doctor did not write any of my information down but still some how remembered me and that I wanted to do the study.  The study ended up being a cardiac wellness program which was 13 weeks long and included cardio, weight training, relaxation, yoga, nutrition and stress reduction. It taught me so much and gave me so much motivation I loved it.

I also have to add into the whole equation of a very good friend of mine, Sara. She decided last January that she was going to complete a triathlon this past September. I don't think she realize just how motivating she has been for me and continues to be. There really isn't too much I can say because words can't describe what inspiration she has been and still pushes me and challenges me constantly keeping me going.

As you can see the way these events have all transpired all had a connection and I believe they were meant to happen and I was meant to meet people and have certain people in my life. For months I have been working extremely hard and have come a long way in getting towards healthy in all aspects both mind and body. To date I have learned to take time for myself and do things that make me happy as well as give back to others. As far as body goes I have lost 47lbs total, I strive to exercise at least 5-6 times a day although at the moment I am doing 7 days a week due to a challenge Sara proposed  which again is pushing me to be more creative and push myself to try new things. I am also eating a lot more healthier than I ever have before.

Today I went for my one year CT scan follow up appointment. regardless of how I feel I think I will always be worried about what the scans will show. However when meeting with my oncologist this morning he proceeded to tell me that not only am I still in a complete remission but that my scan actually looks even better than it did in June. When diagnosed I had a large mass on my lower vertebra that was 15+ cm, on the CT scan results from June there was small amount still there, about 3 cm, but was not cancerous and is scar tissue. I also have many bone lesions from where the lymphoma was which again are scaring. As of today's scan not only am I still in remission, but there is not visible evidence of the mass that was on my lower vertebrae and most the lesions were still stable or have had more healing done. 

After my appointment I did a lot of thinking and came to the conclusion that I think the outcome of all of this is all related. I had a life altering event because I needed to have a life altering event. Had I ignored all this and continued the same route I was on I am not sure I would have gotten the same news as I did today. I believe that because I was smart enough to realize that I needed and change and actually put the hard work into working towards that change that I will continue to have these results and hopefully never have an experience with cancer again. 

So as I said before I don't know if there is a God, but there is definitely something out there that saw where my life and health was going and this was the way I got my wake up call. So the next time something happens that you just can't explain or figure out just give it time and something will surface. So many people and places had a huge role in all this and I really can't thank them enough!!! So whether it is Destiny, Fate, God or some other higher power pay attention or just might miss your opportunity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

'Tis The Season

Normally I am a very easy going person and as generous as I can be to just about anyone. I try to be really positive and not let too much get to me but there is one thing that really seems to be bothering. Last year was probably the hardest, most difficult year thus far in my life. Although I tend to make lite of the fact that I had cancer let's face it the truth is I HAD CANCER. No one ever wants to have to even think those words let alone have to hear/deal with them for months on end. It just so happens that mine was in the later part of the year so I missed half of Summer and all of Fall. Well I say missed but really I was just inside, either my house or the hospital for most of it so I consider that missed.
Aside from the physical aspects of cancer (treatment, being sick, etc) there is so much more that goes along with it. There were days where there was nothing more that I wanted more than to be back in my classroom with all my children. There were many reason's for that, 1.) because I missed them, 2.) Because my classroom was in utter chaos and was not being run the way to should and 3.) I needed the adult interaction as much as I needed the child interaction. There was also a huge finacial burden, being sick and not working actually costs you more than just not having a job, go figure. I was at a  loss for most of it, but some how managed to still be able to look on the bright and be positive about most things. Even to the point of just telling myself that I would be done and back to "normal" life soon enough.
So here is the thing that is really upsetting/frustrating me. I love where I work, I love my all my co-teachers and I found that for the most part they were very supportive of me during the whole cancer process. I recieved things to bring with to the hospital to keep me in good spirits, a close co-worker/friend made dinners for me, they even helped me keep my health insurance despite the fact I wasn't working. But this is what gets me, another co-worker of mine's spouse was diagnosed with cancer the beginningof last year. Having gone through it myself I knew a lot about it and could definitely relate to what was going one with them. They are still in the midst of everything, luckily at the moment they are completely cancer free!! However my co-worker has been unable to return to work due to the care she must provide until her husband had recovered more. But as a school there are things that have been done for them that weren't for me. They pushed staff and parents to attend a fundraiser for them earlier in the year (only one person from my school came to the one my friend and family had for me) In fact my director actually refused to ask parents to help make baskets for the raffle for mine as well. Then they have been collecting money and other staff have been doing things to help raise money for them. They even have gone so far as to make a Thanksgiving basket for them and put a giving tree up for them in our staff roomto help with Christmas.
Now please don't even for a second think that I believe this should not be happening. I 100% believe in helping people that need it and have gone about doing my own thing to help out her and her family while her husband is recovering. The thing that gets me is that last holiday season was the hardest for me. I had a hard time celebrating because there was constant worry about if I was better and figuring out how to fincially get through Christmas (cause there was no money!). I feel upset that nothin of this magnitude was done for me. We really could have used help putting together a Thanksgiving dinner or having people do fundraiders for me. I had $5,000 in medical bills alone let alone everything else that was past due because we didn't have the money to pay for it. It is almost a year later and we are still recovering from it and it will probably take a few more months.
I am grateful for everything I have, everything I have overcome and all the support I have and continue to recieve. It just makes you wonder what is different about a staff memebers husband who has cancer vs. and actual staff memeber?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me!

Well since I am sure you have all read the title of this now of course I need to explain. After having a conversation with Julia about this today I decided I want to share it with you all.

As many of you who have been around me recently have probably notice I am a different person since having Lymphoma, but don't worry that is a good thing!!

The entire cancer experience is no picnic that you must all understand however there has always been this thought or saying that it takes some thing drastic to change your life and that is exactly what Lymphoma has done for me!

I have never been a "healthy" person, I have always wanted to be but never really made the time or really cared enough about me to fulfill that desire. Since the time I was diagnosed until about mid May I had managed to gain 30+ lbs then what I was at during the beginning stages of my diagnosis. I know you would think having this awful disease you would loose weight but that is not the case. So as I stated in my new years "bucket list" I wanted to find and stick to an exercise program. I think I have successfully accomplished that. But let me back track a little bit.

So I believe that everything happens for a reason, having said that I have decided that if I had the chance to go back I would do it all again for the sole reason that having lymphoma has had such a positive turn to my life. But because everything happens for a reason I start to think about the events that occurred in finding the lymphoma and you wonder well what if Dr. Langman sent me to a different hospital other than MGH for treatment? What if it wasn't lymphoma? What if I had gotten a different lymphoma oncologist than Dr. Barnes? Even what if Dr. Barnes hadn't said to me "It's treatable, it's curable and that's what we're going to do?" I honestly believe that one statement set the precedent to how everything that happened after that went. So see it all does happen for a reason. I also wonder what if Elizabeth never sent me the e-mail about the cancer transitions program at MGH? Because that whole 6 week experience was an inspiration as well. There are so many things that just fell into place that confirms my belief!

So the cancer transitions program was 6 weeks and we had different sessions each week. 1.) Exercise -Wonderful to learn easy things to do at home that will help bring your strength back and help with fatigue. 2.) Nutrition - The balanced plate is an amazing concept. I love it, it's not a diet because you can have whatever you want just moderation! 3.) Mental health - who doesn't need some help with every once in while? but they taught helpful ways to relieve stress and anxiety! 4.) Medical follow up - great tips on ways to utilize your time with your doctor for follow ups as well as learning about the survivor-ship clinic and how to get involved with that stuff! 5.) Get to know you - There was a whole session on getting to know everyone and sort of more about getting to know yourself and then 6.) Was a where are you now - meaning you looked back on the 6 weeks and talked about where you were when you started and where you are now. That was amazing for me! The whole experience was inspirational because it made me realize that I am the only one who can change what happens in my life. I decided I was joining a gym, which I have done and I am averaging between 4-5 days a week of actually going which I think is great. I have adapted some of eating habits to the balanced plate and that seems to be helping cause I have lost 27lbs in about 16 weeks which is a huge change and I am happy with that!!!

The other part of my life that has changed will sound a little off putting but I think this is a the biggest part. I have changed my mental outlook about things. My new moto is I just don't care. Don't get me wrong I care about everyone important in my life but other than that I really could careless. I don't let the little things bother me especially things that I can't change! And let me tell you I am a happier better person because of it!!!

So all in all cancer was the best thing that ever happened me. I am taking better care of myself and I feel fantastic!! So go live your life as if you had cancer cause life is too short!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflections Are Sometimes Necessary

So I have recently been given the opportunity to help someone who is the same exact position I was in this time last year. I was contacted by a woman whos husband is a little older than myself and was recently diagnosed with the exact same lymphoma with the mutation and all. But that isn't even the biggest thing he is getting the same treatment, at the same hospital (they live close to boston) by the same doctor and the exact same first treatment date. I have been helping them through everything and I am glad I have been able to share my experience and help them see a positive outcome to this terrible disease.

So that little back story leads into why I am writing this blog. This coming Friday is my 9 month post treatment check up with my oncologist. It is also a time when my new friend will be having his first 5 day stay at the hospital for his second round of treatment and I am going to visit him while I am there. I had told his wife that I have a lot of books and materials that I got after treatment that would have been more helpful during treatment that I would be more than happy to bring to them. so I decided that I would start getting everything together for them. As I started to do this I looked around the room and decided it was time to take down all the cards and everything from last summer.
while I was taking them down I of course had to read them. And I just found myself smiling, it strikes me as odd that it takes something like a serious illness for you to find out just exactly what you mean to the people in your life. I found cards from friends, family, co-teachers and children in the classes. Aside from cards I have a beaded necklace, mylar balloons, ornaments. I even found a karaoke slip from a friend that had writen a request to sing the chemo song for me. I also found calendar pages (they had daily calendars hanging int the hospital rooms) that some of my friends that had come to visit me wrote me messages on them so that when the nurses changed the days in the morning I had a new message from them. Just as an FYI September 29th is National Alyson Day for those of you who didn't know that. 

As I was going through things I realized that I am truely loved by many people and that says a lot about the kind of person I have made sure to become. I appriciate everything everyone has done for me so please don't anyone take offense to what comes next. As I was taking the cards down there was one card that I decided was my favorite and if you look at there really is nothing special about it.

All it says is congratulations. However this card is from all the nurses on Phillips 21 at MGH. The reason I decided it was my favorite is that although these people really had no idea who I was and even though they managed to touch my life that I some how managed to touch their as well. It made me feel better that even through all that I went through I was still able to continue to be the real me. I am not sure if this is something they do for other patients but I certainly appreciated and will never forget them. They even got me a gift and made sure it was purple cause they knew that was my favorite color.

I am not exactly sure where I was going with this. I think I was just taken aback while looking at everything at how well it all turned out. I am glad that I was finally able to put all that stuff away and that I am able to help someone else who is having to go through the same situation!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Well On My Way

So I realized that I hadn't written in a while and with all this hype about Hurricane Irene or at this point tropical storm I am sitting here watching Million Dollar Baby (for the first time mind you) and really thinking about what has changed in my life. 

So roughly 3 months ago is when I first started at Planet Fitness weighing a little more than 20lbs then I do now. I find that to be a great milestone for myself. I have managed to lose an average of 1.5 lbs a week which isn't much but they way I look at it is loosing in always better than winning (well at least in this case). 

As lillian dickson says "Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once." This is something that has stuck with me since I heard this quote. I finally realized that only I can control how I "spend" my life. But also that because I decide, I also have to be the one to care. so I am happy to say that I am proud of myself for what I have accomplished! I have worked hard and will continue to work hard so I have no one to thank but myself, I did it! Not anyone else, ME!!

I felt the need to write about this because I was just having a conversation about how most people do things for others and not themselves and that you need to work on yourself and not worry about what other people are doing. I think to some extent that is possible but there is no way to shut off caring for those people that matter in your life but there has to be time for yourself.

I have decided to spend my life taking care of myself! You all should consider doing the same, trust me when I say it is definitely worth it!!

as part of taking care of me I have discovered exercise and healthy eating. If you would like to check up on my exercise please check  me out on daily mile. I will be posting my progress on here as well as far how I am doing working on the exercise/healthy eating/weight lose part of the taking care of me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Fun Day!

Given the fact that I have decided that I need to lead a healthier life that not only means exercising but also eating healthier foods as well. This is something that can be quite daunting especially trying to make everything from scratch. So I decided that sundays would be my day to prepare for the week (or at least get a head start anyway).

So I started my day by going out and getting all of the produce I would like for the week. I bought green beans, summer squash, broccoli, baby spinach, carrots, pineapple, bananas & cherries. When I got home the fun began!

First thing I did was think about breakfast. This is a very difficult time of day for me usually because I waste so much time in the morning doing other things that by the time I get around to breakfast I am already 5 minutes late leaving for work. 

So seeing that I love to cook (and of course eat) I subscribe to Rachael Rays magazine and in it was a recipe for a breakfast burrito which sounded really good and it was something that you can make ahead of time to just grab in the morning.

Breakfast Burrito  
To make this delicious burrito all you need is two strips of bacon cut into small pieces. Saute them over medium heat. While they are cooking take 3 cups fresh baby spinach and mince it. Just before the bacon is done add the spinach. It should take only a few minutes to cook. While that is cooking you need 4 eggs and 4 egg whites. Add any seasoning you would like to it (I added basil and garlic) put about 1/4 cup milk in and whisk away. Drain the spinach/bacon mixture and remove from the pan. Add the egg mixture and cook until it is still a little loose and then add the bacon/spinach mixture into the eggs and finish cooking for another minute or two. Just before you remove the pan from the heat add 1 cup shredded cheese (your favorite will work).

I used 3 large whole grain tortillas but you can use 6 small as well. Add a 1/3 of the eggs to each, roll them up and package it in aluminum foil and they are ready to go. When you are going to eat them cut them in half and one half is your serving. you can also put the egg mixture into a container and then add it to the tortilla to keep the tortilla a little fresher. Easy, yummy and you get something from every major food group!

Moving on to the next process. I cut/preped all the veggies. I like to pressure cook my veggies because it is quick and easy. You just throw them in with a little water, lock the lid, turn it on and once it's wobbling you cook it for max 3mins. Cool under cold running water until lid unlocks. They are all well cooked and ready to go. I usually drain into a colander and then put it the fridge to cool before I put them into containers to lessen the amount of moisture.

Summer Squash, Green Beans & Broccoli!
I then moved onto to lunch. I had some left over chicken from a dinner sometime this week so I took that and sliced it up. I also saved a little of the bacon/spinach mixture from my breakfast burrito. I took two whole grain tortillas put the chicken, spinach, bacon and shredded cheese into them and then made a quesadilla. I was able to use that to make 3 lunches taking 2 triangles of the quesadilla for each day (this is where the getting a head start on the week came in).

I was then thinking about how when I am about ready to head out to the gym it is that in between time of afternoon snack and dinner. So I decided to make my own smoothies, well sort of. I was recently exposed to yoplaits frozen fruit/yogurt smoothy mixture that you can find in the freezer section at the grocery store and you just add milk. However I happen to think that they are quite expensive and you only get enough to make 2 smoothies. So here is my crack at it:

1 cup fresh strawberries (which I already had so I did not purchase them today)
1 large banana
1 cup fresh pineapple
1 cup yogurt (try different flavors)
1/4 cup sugar or you can substitute that for 2 tbls of honey

Take all the fruit and cut it up. Add everything to a food processor. Puree until smooth, then you can pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze it. When you are ready to use it I used 3-4 cubes (you may need more or less depending on what size your ice cube tray is) and 1 cup of milk. Blend it in the blender and then you are ready to drink away!
Frozen Yogurt

I also have some pre-made little baggies of whole wheat pasta in the freezer all set to use for a lunch or dinner. And I was able to make a fruit salad to add to my lunch as well. 

So what I have gotten out of my Sunday fun day today is that by taking a few hours to do all of this I just saved myself probably double that for the rest of the week. My breakfasts and lunches are made. Everything but the protein part of my dinners is made, and I just have to throw some frozen smoothy cubes and milk into the blender and then head out to the gym. I am very happy with what I have been able to accomplish today and I just wanted to share with everyone who like me has a hard time finding the time during the busy week to cook healthy food that if you prepare ahead of time it is a lot easier than we all think and you in the end are benefiting even more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Double Duty

So Today was a double duty kind of day. First off my school went on their field trip to Davis Farmland and then I started my first week (out of thirteen) for a cardiac wellness study I am participating in. Let's first begin with Davis Farmland...

On our way into Davis Farmland.

So we had four classes that went on the field trip ranging from 3 years old - 6 years old (fun I know). Oh yea and we can't forget all the additional parent chaperons that went with us. Let's just say some were a lot more help than others.

We took all our children over to our corral where we would be having lunch and then headed out onto our "tour" of the farm. We started with a hay ride which was fun, all the children got to look at some horns/antlers and horse shoes and then we got to check out some animals. There were many animals that were roaming free and we even had some come and visit us as we rode. The favorite of the whole ride seemed to be the horses however I must confess one of the children in my group constantly says she is going to be a horse when she grows up so I think they were a little biased.

Two horses and two ponies.
We went on to explore the rest of the farm. Now here is where I always get a little confused at the setup of how Davis Farmland does these things. As part of their field trip "tours" they lead you around the farm to different animals and tell you things. I always find this problematic mainly because the children are never interested in A.) Whatever animals they happen to be showing us & B.) Seem as though they could careless about what they are saying. My suggestion would to just let the groups roam around where they would like from the start rather than trying to give a guided tour (Just my opinion probably not every else's that was there from my school). After finally getting about 10 minutes to explore by ourselves we headed back to out corral to have lunch. At which point I discovered that one of the children did not have a lunch, but I have moved beyond blaming others and have just realized I need to double check everything for myself before we go anywhere (which was also reconfirmed while trying to change the children after playing in the splash pad).

Everyone was done eating and we all headed over the splash pad. All the children had to keep their school shirts on in order for us to keep an accurate eye one them. There was plenty to do, they had water tables, water guns, all kinds of sprinklers and things that just got you drenched. Needless to say I certainly did not stay dry at all but I had planned on that happening. 

As we were walking to the corral there weren't many people in the splash pad so I got a good shot of the water guns without having to worry about getting my camera soaked trying to take it later.

After the splash pad we went back to change all the children at which point we discovered numerous children who didn't have underwear and one who didn't have a change of clothes at all (like I said I need to check everything myself from now on). Once fully dressed and cleaned up we headed back to the bus and sang our way back to school. All in all I would say it was a successful field trip even with the minor complications.

Now on to part two of my day, My first class for my 13 week Cardiac Wellness study at The Benson-Henry Institute For Mind Body Medicine.
Week One Done!

We start off each week by taking our blood pressure and weight. My blood pressure was normal and I weighed relatively the same as I did when I went for my initial intake interview a week and half ago. Then we start our hour of exercise. I started on a machine called NuStep which is basically a combination of a stair machine and a bike. It was very interesting. I did that for about 20 minutes and then moved on to the treadmill (Something I am much more familiar with). They come around while you are doing your machines and check your heart rate and talk to you about how your previous week has been and can answer any questions you have as well as give you pointers about different ways to do things or how to help your accomplish your goals. We did about 45 minutes of cardio and then moved into the weight room and did mild weight training for 15 minutes.

The next part in something that I think will be the most difficult part of this whole process for me, relaxation. We started will deep calming breath, moved to stretching/yoga and then a form of meditation. I say this is going to be my most challenging part because I have a hard time just relaxing. My mind is constantly going and I often feel as though doing something like meditation is a waste of time because there are so many other things that need to get done that I could be doing. I am hoping that this will force me to really focus on spending a little more time de-stressing myself and learning to relax will be very helpful.

All in all I think it will be far out weigh the annoying things with good things so I am still optimistic about the program. I think if things progress this way for the thirteen weeks when I talk to the survivor-ship people running the study for Lymphoma patients I might suggest having a separate group for them so that everyone is experiencing the same things rather than feeling like a fish out of water. But given it is only week one I will not jump to too many conclusions.

So after driving home (oh yea I forgot to mention that this cardiac wellness study is out in Waltham so it takes me about an hour to get home) and having a piece of pizza, shower and writing this it is far past my bedtime as I am exhausted!

Thanks for reading and staying tuned for the next one!!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beginning in the midst of an already long adventure!

So I have recently found that writing things helps me process them and since I am also hope full that my experiences will help others I decided to start a blog.

So here is a little about myself just to started off, my name is Alyson but most people call me Aly. I am 28 years old and I have recently discovered no one is in charge of my life but me. During the week days I am a pre-kindergarten teacher which I absolutely love doing (most of the time) and this is a hard time of year for me where I have to say goodbye to all my children as they move onto kindergarten in September. But come on who wouldn't want to act like a kid all day and get paid for it?

Another defining aspect of me is that I am a cancer survivor! Right around this time last year I was diagnosed with stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma with a c-MYC translocation. I under went extensive chemotherapy and by December 20th, 2010 I had achieved a complete remission!! However since then I have become an entirely new person and so this is why I have started to blog.

To get into the blog part there is nothing particular that this blog will be about. I imagine it will mainly be about everyday life however since I am trying to change my life I think that it could be quite entertaining yet informative for others. Oh yea and please excuse my "writing" sometime I just ramble and then forget to edit :-)

So here's to the adventures that have yet to come!