Letting Go & Looking Forward

In March, film maker (and now friend), Rain Bennett traveled to Nashville to spend the day with me. We talked about cancer and a few of the lessons its taught me since my diagnosis in 2014. From our time together, he created this video which is one in a series called Fit to Fight sponsored by Lexicon Pharmaceuticals celebrating the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation’s 50th anniversary. I am so grateful to this organization for all it’s done for me and those impacted by Neuroendocrine Tumors.

And a huge thank you to my yoga teacher, Michelle, who runs the yoga program at Lifetime Athletica in Franklin, TN.  Coincidentally (or not) her yoga practice was born from the same yoga studio as me, in Detroit, The Center for Yoga. The teachings from this specific and unique style have (literally) saved my life.

Check it out:

 

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Days of Distraction

Life has been brimming with buckets of happiness and busyness, which has been a welcomed distraction from my April tests, scheduled three months after my last PRRT in Houston at Excel Diagnostics.

Upon returning from The ENETs conference in Spain, we started remodeling our kitchen and sprucing up our living-room. It was a time-consuming, but fun project. We are still searching for a few furnishings, art and appliances, but so far, it looks pretty good.

 

In the midst of remodeling, a talented filmmaker (and now, friend) flew to Nashville to shoot a short film on me for the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation’s 50th anniversary. I am one of several featured patients in a series called “Fit to Fight”. The film will highlight my yoga practice and the lessons I’ve learned along this crazy path. It’ll be out this month and, of course, I will share it here.

8f181893-3f5c-40a8-b76b-525932a99139IMG_0086Two days after the remodel wrapped, my dear friend Christine and I joined forces on a cute, cuddly project. Ever since our beloved German Shepherd, Bear, passed away in 2016, I have been pining for another dog. I’ve hesitated because dogs are a big commitment. Enter an organization called Retrieving Independence. They train service dogs in a local prison for people with disabilities. Originally I signed up for their furlough program, which would give me a dog twice a month to expose them to experiences they can’t receive in the prison. BUT then a big litter of puppies was born and the organization was searching for puppy raisers. Without much thought, my hand shot up. A few weeks later, I had a sweet puppy named Sadie in my arms. She’ll be split between my house and Christi’s, who happily joined us in this venture. Our main responsibilities are to potty train, socialize and just let her be a puppy for the next two months until she turns 16 weeks and heads off to Turney Correctional Facility. From there we’ll get her on furlough until she’s 18 months and is (hopefully) a service dog matched with someone who really needs her. Am I worried about getting attached? Sure, but I also feel good about having a role her changing someone’s life. In the meantime, I am soaking up the puppy snuggles. If you need more Sadie (and let’s face it, you do), click here for her photo stream.

So, you see – much goodness to distract us from my upcoming tests in Houston, but eventually the days came and there was no more avoiding it.

The bad news…  even after stuffing myself full of anemia fighting foods, my red blood cells and platelets barely budged compared to February’s check-in.

The good news… my white blood cells moved back into normal territory.

The annoying news… I did not get the most revealing scan, called a Gallium-68 because hours before my appointment, the machine broke. So, I still have to do that in Nashville.

The great news… the blood tumor marker is in normal territory and the MRI and CT scans showed that tumors continue to shrink. Woot woot! The team of doctors in Houston were so encouraged that they released me to my local oncologist for follow-up.

I can’t say the shrinkage news was surprising. I know my body well enough after years of this to know when something is up. And even with low blood counts, I’ve been feeling great and full of energy. In a premeditated stroke of confidence, Fabien and I planned to leave for nine days of fun in the Costa Rican sun. Having our healthy suspicions confirmed, it was incredible switching into vacation mode with the only weight on our shoulders being backpacks.

Read more about my journey with PRRT here.

 

Back to Spain

Spain will always hold a special place in my heart from my treasured days on the Camino de Santiago in 2012 and 2016. Having spent weeks in the country, it’s unusual that I’m more comfortable following a yellow arrow through the mountains than navigating the streets of Madrid or Barcelona. While the primary purpose of my visit was attending the European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society’s (ENETs) annual conference, this trip wasn’t without fun and yellow arrows.

In December, the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation and the International Neuroendocrine Cancer Alliance invited me to the ENETs meeting in Barcelona. It was quite an honor given the few number of patients invited to this meeting attended by 1,500 medical professionals.

As I was sharing this with one of my best friends, Lara, she told me by pure coincidence she would also be in Spain at the same time for a wedding. So, we coordinated our travel plans to spend some time together.

Lara has been a mainstay in life since she moved across the street from me in 3rd grade. Initially bonding over our love of New Kids on the Block and Beverly Hills 90210, I’m happy to say that our tastes have improved and our friendship has grown into more of a sisterhood. In fact, we were born two days a part. We have seen each other through so many bookmarks and chapters. It’s wonderful to have not just a friend and sister, but someone who has bore witness to your life as we have for each other. Lara is now living in London and while we talk often, it had been over a year since we’ve seen one another.

Her college friend who was getting married, graciously invited me to her wedding.  It  was, hands down, the nicest wedding I’ll ever attend. The Spanish women resembled royalty with their stylish dresses and elaborate hats. The bride was stunning and pulled off a dress that was both modern and timeless. The reception was at the Casino of Madrid, a gorgeous venue containing art, sparkly chandeliers and dramatic staircases. The festivities began at 1pm, but I was contending with cancer and jet lag, so I happily took a taxi home at 11pm while Lara partied until 4am.

After the wedding festivities, we walked around Madrid talking and snapping pictures, followed by laying in bed and snacking to Frankie and Grace on Netflix. Monday morning, we both flew to Barcelona for more of the same. Our trip highlight was going inside Sagrada Familia. It’s difficult to express, but the interior is a dream – the stained glass, the light, the colors, the simple and intricate angles, curves and coves. I don’t say this lightly, but Gaudi was a genius.

After a couple of days running around the city, it was time for Lara to get back to London and the ENETs conference began.

The first day I attended was interesting. Meeting some of the doctors, patients and organizations I’ve only known through the internet was awesome. The downside to the meeting – perhaps it was a bit too much information. Let me share an example. Walking through the exhibit area containing case posters, I crossed a situation similar to mine. Okay, the 34-year-old male was diagnosed, he had this surgery, this treatment, that treatment, was doing well, oh, and then he died. I did the math and based on his path, I died a couple of years ago. So, I was able to talk myself off the ledge, but it was a little disheartening.

However, the second day and the highlight of the conference was meeting a patient I’ve dubbed, my tumor twin. Being a rare case of NETs (1 in 10 million), I’ve never met another person like me and it took travelling to the european continent for it to finally happen. And, I’m happy to report that not only is he alive, 12 years post diagnosis, but very well. He and I ate lunch together where he shared the stops along his path and the lifestyle activities he’s adopted. It meant the world to me and spotlighted the realization that I should focus on the thriving person in front of me rather than poster guy….may he rest in peace.

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Montseratt

Once ENETs ended, I had one last free day on Saturday before flying home on Sunday. Having fulfilled my Barcelona bucket list, I opted to head out of the city to Montseratt, a monastery in the mountains most famous for its black Madonna statue and children’s choir. Another conference attendee joined me and it was a gorgeous and fun day outside the city. I did the math and thanks to my time on the Camino de Santiago, this was my fourth monastery in Spain. In fact, the grounds were riddled with yellow arrows and Camino signs because this is a stop on the Catalan Camino de Santiago.

After a long day in the mountains and the city that night, I was content, spent and grateful for another adventure in Spain.