Category Archives: Life and Cancer

A Very Hairy Experience

I’ve been wanting to write about my hair and I haven’t. It’s not because it’s too soon or too sensitive of a topic. Also, hair is just a really weird topic to discuss in my opinion. Originally, I was going to write about the journey of my hair loss and be done with it (because it’s a very unique and special story). Very cut and dry. But my hair loss meant more to me than just some simple story and I couldn’t figure out why. So I waited until I could pinpoint what it was that prevented me from writing this particular post. As it turns out, I placed a lot more emphasis on my hair than I realized. Chances are, you probably do too.

But you’re telling me, “Oh Dana! Outward appearances don’t mean anything, especially my hair! I could cut my hair off and go bald no problem!”

Well that’s great and all, but what if you were forced to lose your hair strand by strand? Would you feel as nonchalant about the matter then? I’m guessing not.

Before this whole cancer issue came to be, I took great pride in my hair. It was this dark brown and… well, here’s a photo. Okay, a few photos. It’s easier than trying to describe it with some cheesy adjectives and comparisons. I apologize for any and all grainy photos. During this process, I didn’t take many photos (for personal reasons) and any that were taken were on camera phones. So you can imagine (and experience) the grainy photo cringe. Moving on.

When I was diagnosed, I knew I was going to lose my hair. Unless the chemotherapy is non-aggressive or nonexistent, hair loss is likely. Since I was 20 and in stage 2 already, my oncologist and I would have no problem doing round after round of intensive chemo. So after that conversation with my oncologist, I called up my sister, Nicole, and asked her to get me an appointment with a hair stylist as soon as possible (note: Nicole is my actual sister’s best friend that I grew up with, so, she’s basically my sister. And, for simplicity’s sake, I’m calling her one of my sisters.) Nicole is some sort of human telephone book who knows anyone and everyone and she got me an appointment with Allure Hair Design in Stevens Point, WI the very next day.

What was I doing walking into a salon when all my hair was going to fall out anyways? You see, I had made a joke to my friends and family that if the lump in my neck
turned out to be cancer, I would let everyone know in a fun way by dying my hair mermaid colors.

And then the joke became a reality so, for obvious reasons, I had to go through with it.

Seven hours and lots of hair dye fumes later, I became a colorful mermaid. I was ready to pay for this whole endeavor in full. If I wasn’t going to be buying hair products for a while, I might was well spend my money on something fun. As I’m about to check out, Nicole looks at me and just says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got it.”

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Nicole if you’re reading this, and I haven’t said it enough yet, thank you so much. I love you and I will never be able to express how much I appreciate your existence and your gratitude. Also your co-mermaiding with me. That was cool.

We get into the car and Nicole is driving me back to my dorm when she says, “Okay. I didn’t want to say anything until we got in the car because she asked me not to, but I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, what is it?” I reply.

“Do you remember the woman I was talking to while you were in the hair dryer chair?”

“Somewhat.”

“Well, she and I were talking about you and why you were dying your hair to such extreme colors, and basically she wanted to pay it forward and she helped pay for your appointment.”

I was stunned. That was so sweet and kind. I have no idea who she was or what her story is, but I’m so thankful to her as well. I’m grateful to a lot of people, but when it comes to making my hair transformation a great experience, Nicole, Allure Hair Design and that wonderful woman are where my thanks are greatest.

So Nicole took me home and when I came home, I found my roommates and some friends dying part of their hair purple for mermaid support! It was very cool and definitely fun to watch them struggle with at-home hair dye, trying not to get it all over everything.

I’ve got to say, mermaid hair was definitely a fun look. I normally don’t do crazy colors or crazy anything with my hair, so, to go from my usual look to this insane amount of color was quite a change and a good one at that. Even as the color faded, I still felt like my hair looked like a glorious coral reef. That is, until I started finding giant blue tumbleweeds scattered across my apartment.

Before I continue, I am not looking for sympathy or pity. I am writing this because it’s an experience that I want to share with you from my perspective. Whether you clicked here because you know me and want to learn more about my experience, or, this is your first time on My Bright Corner, I simply want to share my story. It’s my hope that by opening up about my cancer journey, people will feel less intimidated to have dialogue about cancer or its effects without feeling like they’re being offensive or rude. While I can’t speak for others, I don’t find it off-putting when people have questions about cancer. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Back on subject. Blue tumbleweeds. Hair loss. Again, every cancer patient undergoing
intensive chemo knows that they’re going to lose their hair, and I was ready for it. At least I thought so. I thought that by dying my hair it would prove that I was ready for this journey and all the insanity it would put me through and that started with hair loss.

I know what you’re visualizing: me pulling out clumps of hair out of my head while sitting in the bathroom, but no. It wasn’t like that at all. I didn’t have bald patches or massive clumps of hair fall out of my head. It just started thinning at a rapid rate so you couldn’t really see the hair loss at first unless you watched me run my fingers through my hair and see all the hair left in my hands.

After a couple days, the hair started coming out of my head so quickly that it would get stuck in the hair still attached to my head and it was creating enormous dreadlocks I couldn’t get out with just a hair brush. I texted Layne and Nicole and told them what was going on and told them it was time for a shave. Both of them were very excited but couldn’t do it until the weekend, several days from our initial talk. I would just have to deal with it in the meantime.

A couple more days past and I was fed up with these stupid knots. I bought a metal comb and the biggest bottle of conditioner I could find. I then sat in the shower for well over an hour and a half and proceeded to comb out every last knot. What I didn’t realize until I was done was that I had combed out over two thirds of my hair. What was once a full braid was now a
faded blue rat tail that I’m pretty sure a rat wouldn’t even want. I was just ready for the hair to be gone. I was scared about being bald but I was done with whatever this thinning crap was. To put me at ease until the big day, Layne and Nicole would send me pictures of bald women celebrities who rocked the look either for a role or because they wanted to embrace the bald look for personal reasons.

The big day came and it was my turn to embrace the look. Layne was
giddy to live out her childhood dream of shaving off her little sister’s hair and I was nervous as could be.

What if it didn’t look good?

Could I handle being bald?

Did it even matter?

Too late. The hair was gone. And I looked pretty good! Bonus was that I felt pretty good too! Being bald was such an easy look in that I didn’t have to do anything to maintain it. I saved a ton on hair products and I got to sleep in a little longer in the morning. Even though I was bald, I still looked and felt like me. The worst part of hair loss is shaving the head. It had to be, right? I had conquered the worst part, right?

Nope. When you go through chemo, you lose your hair. All of it. Your legs, armpits, nose hairs, all of it goes away. I think that’s something people forget because all they see are the movie versions of cancer patients and most celebrities aren’t willing to shave absolutely everything. I know I had that impression as well until I shaved my legs and the hair didn’t grow back. Or when the hairs on my arms turned into thin, blonde hairs and then were gone altogether.

Or when my eyebrows and eyelashes fell off.

You know those pictures of celebrities without eyebrows or hair and they don’t look like themselves whatsoever? That was me every time I looked in the mirror except I couldn’t just walk away from it. That was what I looked like and I was stuck with it. I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t look like me. I wasn’t me.

I am a huge advocate for loving yourself inside and out, especially after this. But sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to love yourself completely when you can’t even recognize yourself in a mirror.

I kid you not, going out in public was incredibly difficult. If I did go into public, I could guarantee at least three people who would openly stare at me with either pity, horror, disbelief or some awful concoction of all three. I didn’t know I placed so much importance on my appearance, or how self-conscious I truly was. Maybe it’s because I was horrified at the concept of looking weak in front of others. Without hair, eyebrows and having skin that was practically translucent, I officially looked like my disease. And my disease was ugly. The photo underneath this was really hard for me to post so please be nice. It was one my mom took of me when we were having a heart to heart right before the last chemo session. Again, it might not seem very dramatic for you, but when I see this photo, I see a different me. A sick me. But still me somewhere in there.

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I tried to joke it off with friends and family and let them know that I was okay by being confident in my appearance. When I was alone? That’s when the doubt set in, which always seems to be the way: your fears and doubts striking when you’re at your most vulnerable. My internal struggle continued. How do I become okay with the person that I look like? How do I become okay with not feeling pretty? With not feeling feminine? With not feeling like me?

The truth is, it took a long time, but at some point, I came to the understanding that my femininity’s source doesn’t derive from my looks or my hair, that’s just how it manifests itself to the outer world. I could still be feminine without eyebrows and eyelashes, I’d just have to figure out a different way to let it out. The me I know doesn’t vanish just because what I see in the mirror is different. My friends and family don’t love me any less because of it. And dammit, I shouldn’t either.

I know that these seem like very petty lessons to learn, but when you’re dealing with them first hand? They’re a whole lot bigger than the petty surface level. It took a lot of self-motivation and reinforcement to deal with these lessons and reach a point where I actually believed what I was telling myself.

I cannot emphasize enough how lucky I am. It’s not lucky to get cancer, but it is lucky to get cancer with a very high remission rate and relatively fast treatment process. So many people go through chemotherapy for years and have these internal battles for years. Sometimes for the rest of their life.

So I lost my all my hair. You know what? This was an opportunity for me to have everything be put into perspective, whether I knew I needed it or not.

I am so lucky that my body responded to my treatment and I’m in full remission, all within a year’s time. And every day I see the effects of the chemo fading from my body. My hair is getting thicker, color returning to my skin. My eyebrows are coming back. Every day I look a little bit more like myself and feel a little more like myself too. And, I am beautiful!!

 

Until Next Time,

 

Dana Qualy

 

Bonus photo of me that I took today so you can see the total progress! As you can see, my eyebrows are almost completely filled in and my hair is coming back thicker, stronger and better than ever (Layne told me that I have now achieved Chia Pet status).

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A Meal for Miracles

I’ve been wanting to do a charity event that raises money for the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Marshfield, WI since receiving a clean bill of health back in February. Hope Lodge is a program that houses cancer patients and their caregivers for free while they are undergoing treatment. I had the opportunity to stay there a few times while I was going through my treatment and it was an amazing experience.

Yes, they provide a nice room, free dinners (donated by local restaurants or community groups), a workout center and so much more. However, it wasn’t the facilities that made it a good experience. It was the people, volunteers, staff and guests alike. They were so friendly and personable. It didn’t make the chemo treatments easier, but it made them more bearable.

Hope Lodge has great facilities and fantastic staff and volunteers. They truly care about the guests that come to stay at Hope Lodge. They are a non- profit organization, meaning that they receive all of their funding through donations. This means that if they want to continue to run, they need the support of their community. If you’d like to learn more, you can read more about Hope Lodge and its mission statement here.

This is where my desire to fundraise for them derived. The staff and volunteer team can’t do what they do without help and since I experienced their generosity first hand, the absolute least I could do was get the word out and do some fundraising myself. 

I had no idea where I was going to fundraise or when, but I knew that I was going to do it. When I attended Women Who Cook at the Forage in Eau Claire, WI, I got to talking with the owner of the facilities and she offered to let me use her place on my birthday! Then, with the help of my sister and one of my best friends, A Meal for Miracles was created.

A Meal for Miracles was a fundraising event my sister (Layne), her boyfriend (Brent) and I put on in the Eau Claire area. It consisted of a four course dinner (which was DELICIOUS) with wine pairings and an evening of conversation and laughter. Layne and Brent are fantastic chefs with years of culinary experience and education under their belts. We figured, “Hey! Why not use that to our advantage!” So we spent a few months preparing, advertising and working on this project. It was exhausting but so worth it.

And people came to the event! To put forth so much work for the sake of an organization you care about and to have your friends, family and strangers alike support them? There’s no better feeling in the world. I continue to be astounded by people and their open hearts. I am hoping that one day we will be able to do an event like A Meal for Miracles again soon.

If you are able to do so, please consider donating to Hope Lodge or sharing the Hope Lodge main page with friends and family. Hope Lodge is a great facility and deserves all the love and support.

 

 

Until Next Time,

Dana Qualy

The Last Chemo Session

The last chemotherapy treatment is DONE! I have so many thoughts and feelings about it that I don’t really know where to begin. For starters, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on this whole journey. More specifically, on my first day of chemo.

I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be?

Of course, being me, I put on a brave face for my mom, the chemo nurses, for myself. I’m sure it didn’t matter how cool and calm I thought I sounded. They could all see right past it. There is no way to quiet the fear in your eyes when you feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs about to get a painful shock you can’t get away from.

I remember being scared that the needle going into my new port was going to hurt. I remember my oncologist looking surprised at my mermaid colored hair. I remember thinking that receiving chemotherapy was going to physically hurt me. I remember thinking “Get in. Get out. Be done.”

Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple even for an easy case like mine. I remember a lot of the fear from that day, but I didn’t process any of it at the time.

I didn’t process those awful things because a lot of good came from that day as well.  I remember my sisters coming into my chemo room with a big gift bag filled with stuff from friends and family to make my chemo treatments easier. I remember all the love and support my friends sent me through messages and snap chats. I remember being excited when I found out getting a needle in my port didn’t hurt at all!

I remember a lot of joy from that day and I am so grateful for it. I have met some of the most incredible people on this little side quest of mine. They are truly amazing. There’s this one person, one man, I met only briefly on the last day and he may have been the most significant person I met. I’m not someone who believes in aligned stars or fate, but I met this man and his family and had one of the most important conversations I believe I’ve ever had.

While my mom and I were in the waiting room (the last time we were waiting for chemo!), a man sat in the rocker next to my mom. He was in his late 70s, early 80s. He seemed to be nervous. I got up to go sign my mom and I in for our session and as I did, he began to strike up a conversation with my mom. When I returned, so had his wife and daughter. I sat down and joined in on the conversation. I learned that the man was about to go through his first chemo session. I looked at his daughter and she seemed to be incredibly nervous. She and I swapped some medical stories and hospital horrors before she asked for advice on how to combat chemo side effects on behalf of her dad.

My first thought was, “Hah! You fool! I know nothing. I haven’t done this enough to know anything about combating these side effects. You should ask literally anyone but me.”

And my second thought was, “Dana. You’re an idiot. You’ve been doing this every two weeks for the last six months without a break. You have no hair. You’ve combatted extreme nausea this whole time. Your skin is probably more white than a ghost. You know at least something.”

So I told them what worked for me and explained that all cancers are different, so to are chemo side effects and that they should find something that works best for them and stick to it. Most importantly, they shouldn’t let this disease overpower their minds. Then the nurse called me back for my last session, I wished them well, and went on my way.

As I sat in my chair receiving my concoction of various toxins, a horrifying thought came over me as I was reflecting on the conversation I’d just had:

Cancer will never end.

I’m not saying that I’m going to have cancer forever. I’m done (thank goodness). I couldn’t be happier to have that portion of my life be over.

But cancer didn’t start with me. It didn’t start with my friends and family who survived their cancer and those that didn’t. It didn’t start with the strangers that sit in the waiting room. And it’s not going to end with us either. And that is what is so terrifying to me.

This needs to end.

So my cancer journey isn’t over. I am going to take some time to recover and then do anything I can to help find solutions. Whether it be volunteering or fundraising or something in the middle, I will be there helping others find their cancer freedom as well.

I walked into Marshfield Clinic with fear, but I can assure you I left with determination and it because of that man and his family and I don’t even know their names.

So here’s to cancer freedom! May I have it for life and may many others get to celebrate theirs real soon!

 

Until Next Time,

Dana

Cancer Freedom, Fundraisers and Fun!

 

Hi all! How’s it going? Hopefully well because I have lots to tell you so make sure you stick around until the very end. The first bit of news I have is a little old but still really amazing:

I AM CANCER FREE.

You did not misread the last sentence. That’s right, folks! Dana Qualy can no longer be pushed around by cancer and its sidekick, chemotherapy. Mind you, I still have one more cycle of chemo to go, but that’s it! Then I’m done!!

Here’s why I still have more chemo:

Way back in November at the start of this little adventure, my oncologist told me I’d be receiving 4-6 cycles of treatment. After the third cycle, I would go get a PET scan and its results would determine exactly how many cycles of ABVD chemo I’d get.

Three months go by and it is now the beginning of February. Time for the scan. I have never been so nervous for a test in my life because I knew that if I were to “fail” this test (aka large masses were still present in my chest and neck), then the treatment would only get more aggressive. It was also more likely that the cancer would come back within five years and I’d live in the never-ending cycle of treatment and hospitals.

So I do the scan on a Thursday afternoon and wait four agonizing days to hear the news. The cancer was gone. Any large growths that were there three months ago are nowhere to be seen. However, because I had started with so many large growths in my neck and chest, it was decided that I was to continue with all six cycles of chemo and no radiation to make sure the cancer would stay gone. Between you and me, I’d take an extra cycle or two of chemo over radiation any day.

As cheesy as it sounds, that PET scan was the ticket to getting my life back. Before the scan, my family and I stopped any and all long term planning. There were no summer events, no birthdays, and no future. Sure there’s stuff we wanted to do and MAYBE we’d get around to it IF I was feeling okay, but as far we could tell, chemotherapy treatments and hospitals were the main source of our future. Possibly for life. But it wasn’t.

That PET scan proved that cancer wasn’t going to be my family’s future. My family got to start planning again. I got to start planning again.

I’m going back to school.

I’m going to get a job.

I’m going to celebrate every event and holiday.

I’m going to celebrate the people I love even more.

I’m going to celebrate my birthday.

Which leads me to my second topic: birthdays. I have one coming up in May and for once, I’m very excited about it. I decided to donate my birthday to the American Cancer Society and do a fundraiser. It’s called $2100 for 21 Years. You can read more about it in the link, but basically I want there to be more birthdays in the world and I want to do my part to make it happen. And in celebration of my birthday, I want to help more people.

Over the next month or so I’ll be sharing more about the fundraiser on My Bright Corner. If you can, please consider donating or sharing this fundraiser with anyone and everyone because everyone needs more birthdays with loved ones!

Thanks!

Until next time,

Dana

Let’s Chat

Hi everyone,

13269362_495596163976343_2083116012_nHow are you doing? Well? Not so well? Hopefully you’re doing well. If not, I’m putting a picture of my dog in this blog post to brighten your spirits just a little. Look at that adorable face!

How am I doing? That’s a hard question to answer. Things are… seemingly good. My blood work is good, my apartment is not on fire and it is not a chemo week. Things are good. So why am I still making that grumpy face when I know something isn’t good?

It’s because we don’t talk anymore.

I’m not saying you and I don’t talk anymore. There’s a good chance I have no idea who you are so we’ve never met (Hi, by the way. Nice to meet you). I’m saying people don’t talk about the hard subjects anymore. When I say hard subjects, I’m referring to tragic events that have happened and once they’re over, no one calls it by what it is anymore (ex: bombings, suicide, abandonment, etc.) Why don’t we talk about them?

The easy answer would be “technology has ruined the future of communication,” but I don’t believe that. Others would argue “it’s not socially acceptable to bring up such things,” but I don’t believe that either. There are YouTube videos and blog posts and news articles about challenging content that we as a society choose to click away from. The opportunity is there and we do not take it. There are people telling their most personal stories to inspire others and we step away from them hoping that they’ll stop for our convenience. People pour their hearts into that work and we ignore it. For whatever reason, we don’t want to know. We don’t want to ask. I catch myself doing that all the time. In fact, I did it to a fellow woman who posted about her cancer story. I got about halfway through her story, realized that it was going to have a very sad ending and CLICKED AWAY LIKE A MONSTER. Who does that? Me. I did that. Why?

The answer is hard to admit: I was afraid. I was afraid to finish the story and to get to know this person even if I never got to meet her in real life. I was afraid to make a connection and care. I was afraid that what she had to say would alter the world that I live in now and I didn’t want my world to be screwed with. I have a whole blog dedicated to positivity and good vibes for people. To bring a smile to someone’s face when they need it. I could’ve reached out and sent her good thoughts or at least finished reading her blog post. But I didn’t do that and I should have.

So let’s talk for a second. Can we do that? Are we at that level yet?

Everyone has something that has touched their lives and yet they won’t talk about it because they’re afraid. Afraid of what others will say, afraid of the answers they’ll receive, whatever it may be. For me, it’s cancer (insert scary music here). I’m beginning to believe that there’s some folklore where if you say “cancer” in a darkened bathroom three times, a nurse with chemo drugs will pop up in the mirror.

It’s not that I’m afraid to talk about it but I’m afraid that what I have to say will turn people away so I try really hard to not talk about it unless it’s in a cancer update post. And even then I try to spin it in the happiest way that I can so I don’t alarm anyone.

Because cancer has become such a large part of my life so quickly it only makes sense that I think about it and talk about it a lot. I know that I have friends and family out there who want to ask me questions about it but refrain for whatever reason. So I want you to know something:

You can talk about it with me.

Cancer is a really scary word, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. The only way for our worldview to be broadened is by talking about the hard stuff. Cancer is unruly. It is real. It affects a lot of people, so let’s talk about it. Maybe then we can try to find something positive and good about something that’s really horrible. I’m not one for tip toeing around problems. I’m not a medical professional nor am I an expert on anything, but I am willing to answer any questions I can about it, so don’t be afraid to ask. Being curious about hard subjects is not wrong and shouldn’t be punished. The more we talk about these hard subjects, the more room there is for finding some positivity as we move forward in our lives.

Or, if you’re not ready yet, we don’t have to talk about it at all. We could talk about the weather or some other topic you’re really into. I am also down for that. You just let me know and I’m ready to listen.

 

Until Next Time,

Dana

Another day, Another Round

Tomorrow I go in for another round of chemo! Woo hoo!

Just kidding. I’m not excited about it, but I’d rather get the treatment than deal with the alternative. Could you imagine that conversation with the grim reaper?

Grim Reaper: It is I! The Grim Reaper come to take you into the afterlife.

ME: No! It can’t be my time yet! I still have so much to do! I’m too young!

Grim Reaper: Actually, it is your time. You could’ve had more time, but noooooooo!! You’re stupid and didn’t take the drugs that could’ve helped you live a long and happy life. You’ve gotta come with me. You dummy. Let’s go.

Me: Oh….Well, I can’t argue with that logic.

Anyways, I’m actually looking forward to this round because the last time I went in, they told me my blood counts were excellent. I’m hoping that they’ll still be excellent because that means I’m that much closer to recovery (Woo! hoo!).

So, yes, chemo is tomorrow. I’ve had several people ask me if chemo is scary or hard. Before I answer that, I want to mention that when I answer, I’m answering for me. Cancer is different for everyone including its treatment, side effects and recovery process.

The first time I went in for a chemo treatment I definitely was scared. I didn’t know what to expect and I was overwhelmed with information about the treatment and its aftereffects. But it isn’t hard to go through a treatment. You sit there for a few hours while the nurse does all the work. And then you go home.

The hard part is recovering. Side effects vary greatly from person to person. I have found that I sleep a lot more to avoid some of the side effects like nausea and dizziness. Each chemo treatment brings on a different set of side effects and that’s the hard part: to deal with each new side effect as it comes and determining how serious it is. Also my dog. Not seeing my dog is hard.

But I’m very fortunate that I’m young. My immune system can bounce back pretty quickly. By the second week of recovery I practically feel 100%. Just in time to do it all over again.

 

Until next time,

Dana

16 Ways I Want to Live a Little Brighter

2016 was certainly a year. It happened. I will not be sorry to see it go far, far away. However, that’s not to say that I want to completely forget about it. In fact, I hope that it’s a year that I never forget because you know what? Yes, it was a terrible year. It really was. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn from it and actively try to make 2017 a better year. My sister made this post to her Facebook on December 3rd and it really spoke to me:

“Thought of the day while running: My dad and I played cribbage as I grew up. As he was explaining strategy to me he told me that what makes a player a good player is how they play the bad hands. If a hand has no points, you can still get points while pegging. So, not all is lost in a bad hand. Tying that to my running thoughts, life isn’t always perfect…actually it usually isn’t perfect no matter what Facebook says. But if you can look at how your shortcomings can be positive even in a little way, you’re playing your life cards correctly. Life isn’t about the hand that’s dealt to you, life is about how you play the hand.”

So with that, here are 16 lessons I’ve learned in 2016 and the resolutions I’ve made because of them.

Terrible experiences are always going to happen.

It’s true. It’s a part of life. This year has really shown me that. Whether it be a worldwide catastrophe, death, a personal devastating moment or anything in between. As a young woman, I have experienced more negative moments than the average person does in their whole lifetime. But I’ve learned to accept what I cannot control and to utilize my experiences to help others. I will not be negative even when that’s all the world throws at me.

My Resolution: To laugh as often as I can and to share my laughter with as many people as I can.

It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. What matters is that you’ve learned what’s right for you.

Arguments are good things. I have friends that I debate with pretty much every time I talk with them. We don’t agree on a lot of topics, but we respect each other’s opinions and learn from them. Their opinions aren’t 100% correct and neither are mine, but my opinions are right for me and their opinions are right for them. It shouldn’t be a goal to change someone, but to open people’s minds to see other’s opinions.

My resolution: To actively seek new opinions and thoughts. To attempt understand those opinions even if I don’t agree with them.

Asking for help does not make you weak.

I am independent to the point where it is a flaw. I struggle with asking for help. I always have. After I got cancer, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do mundane tasks by myself like driving or doing laundry. Asking for help with those activities has been the hardest transition for me. I have been learning that it is okay to ask for help. It’s okay to be dependent at times. Be aware of when you no longer need to be dependent and can go back to living a more independent lifestyle.

My resolution: To be patient with myself when I can’t do something on my own. To find the strength to ask for help when I am too weak to stand alone.

You always have a choice to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest, but it should be done.

My resolution: To do the right thing, even if it hurts sometimes.

Being kind is free.

I was in a grocery store and had just shaved my head a few days prior. While I love rocking the bald look now, it took a few days for me to settle into it. I have had long hair my whole life so revealing a bald look to the world was nerve wracking. Anyways, I was walking through the grocery store (with a hat on because I was self-conscious) and I had asked a woman who had had her cart in the middle of the aisle to move it to one side so I could get through. She was not pleased that I, a younger person, had the audacity to ask her, an older woman, to move her cart over. She eventually did but was clearly not pleased that I had asked in the first place.

I was somewhat distressed by this. To prove a point, I walked passed, said thank you and have a happy holidays and removed my hat. She was startled by my lack of hair, mumbled a your welcome and stumbled away. I continued to be polite and kind throughout this process. I didn’t want to start anything, but I did want to remind that woman of something very important:

You have no idea what’s happening in anyone else’s day. They could be having the best day ever or the worst. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be kind to others, especially strangers. If someone chooses to be rude to you, you have the power to stand tall and be kind towards them, even if they may not deserve it. Instead of feeding negativity with negativity, feed it with positivity.

My resolution: I want to continue to share kindness with strangers in hopes of brightening their day and mine.

Without experiencing terrible things, how on earth could you recognize the good parts in your life?

I LEARNED THIS SO HARD THIS YEAR. I got cancer. I didn’t get an internship over the summer that I so badly wanted. I had to leave school. My mom decided to put a hold on her education so she could take care of me. I’m in the hospital. A lot.

But you know what? Without those negative parts of my life, how could I recognize the good things that happened this year? I got to perform in a theatre festival in Ohio where I originated a role. I stage managed my first show. I got to study theatre and the arts for a whole year. I found my passion. I started a blog and I’m writing my first script. I’m doing things I’ve never done before and I really, really love it.

My resolution: To acknowledge and appreciate the negative parts of my life so I can truly love the great parts.

Sleep has value.

As a college student, I have had my fair share of all nighters. Too many in fact. And it isn’t worth it. The affects sleep deprivation has on your body both in the short term and long term aren’t good. Besides, sleeping has unexplained healing benefits. Why not utilize that?

My resolution: To get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Self-care should be a priority.

I wish I didn’t have to explain this one. I wish people would take the time they need to take care of themselves. But some don’t and it leads to increased anxiety and stress and further mental and physical damage. To be truthful, for a very long time, I never focused on my own self-care until I absolutely had to, but that’s not how it should be.

You are worth the time it takes to heal and recover. Whether it be from a stressful day or a rough week. You deserve time for you. If that means taking a day from work or a weekend where you don’t speak to anyone and do what makes you happy, do it. Take care of you. No one knows you better than you.

My resolution: To recognize when I’m overloaded and to take the time I need to recover and heal.

Appreciate your body for what it is.

I have heard from some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met how much they hate their bodies. More so this year than any other year. How they’ve gained too much weight, they don’t feel beautiful, they’re too weak, they don’t like their acne, etc. And it kills me a little any time I hear these people tear themselves down over things that no one else in the universe would ever notice.

Like any person, I too have a love/hate relationship with my body. A couple months ago it had been more of a hate relationship. I was so angry with the fact that my body was/is sick and there is only one way I can fix it. And the way to fix it was not going to be easy for anyone involved.

Now, it’s grown to be an appreciation of my body because my body is mine. And if I don’t take care of it, no one else will. While I don’t love my body all the time, I am learning to appreciate it.

My resolution: To appreciate my body all the time.

No one can ever say “I love you” enough.

My family has a small tradition. Whenever someone enters the house, we give them a hug and a kiss hello. Then, when they leave, we give them a hug and a kiss goodbye and tell them that we love them. Even if we’re mad at them we still say I love you. We do it for a very specific purpose: to remind that person that even if we’re mad, being mad is temporary but love is forever. What would happen should they walk out that door and not come back and the last words they heard you say were something awful? You can never get those last words back. Make them good.

My resolution: Say I love you more.

You will never stop learning.

I had already known this, but never really understood this to the capacity that I do now. Most people limit their learning environments to school and work. I know I did, but by doing so, I was limiting my own ability to learn from even the strangest of moments. To learn from friends, family, strangers, animals, the list goes on forever. We should all be open to learning all the time.

My resolution: To learn at least one new thing every week and to share it with you.

Reroute, reroute, reroute.

Life isn’t going to go as planned. Ever. You will be thrown off guard and trampled. You will be lifted and praised. But it will never be when you plan it to happen. Be ready for whatever may come your way and be ready to go create a new route. Your goals and dreams don’t have to change, but your path to get there will. Just be ready for it.

My resolution: To be open to changing my path to achieve my goals.

Experiencing life does not need to make you hard to the love that surrounds you.

If I haven’t mentioned it enough, 2016 was a hard year for a lot of people. It was for me. But the bad things that have happened this year for me do not need to make me hard. I do not need to build a wall around my heart to protect myself from the bad things. I’ve learned that instead of isolating myself to protect myself that I should instead surround myself with people who love me and are there for me. They can’t solve my problems, but they can encourage and support and love me if I let them.

My resolution: To share both the good and bad parts of life with the people I love.

Love as wide and as deep and as strongly as you can.

You should never be ashamed of expressing love. Ever. Any form of love. And if anyone tries to make fun of you for it, you just say “I love you too” and moon dance away from them. You being able to express your love for yourself, others, books, movies, guilty pleasures and whatever else makes you a strong and incredible person.

My resolution: To embrace my weird love and to never stop loving.

Crying is good for the soul.

It isn’t wrong for you to feel your feelings, whatever they may be. If you’ve gotta cry, cry and make it count. If you need to laugh, make sure your abs hurt by the end. Make sure that you can pick yourself up and move forward when you’re done.

My resolution: To really feel my feelings, learn from them and be able to move forward.

Never stop being thankful.

I forget to be grateful for the good things in this universe. And right now I am so grateful for the people in my life, the roof over my head and for the fact that this year is almost done.

My resolution: To take time out of each day to recognize and be thankful for at least one thing.

So here’s to the New Year! May it be a brighter year for all. I love you and thank you for reading.

 

Until next time,

Dana

 

A Strange Christmas

This was an odd Christmas. That’s really the only thought I have about it. With the way my chemo schedule works out, I have a treatment on the 27th. In addition to that, weather has not been on our side (thanks Wisconsin). So my mom and I spent Christmas in my apartment prepping for the next chemo treatment. It’s my first Christmas away from home and it’s the first Christmas my mom has had away from my stepdad in 10 years. If we had it our way, we’d be at home, but we are making the most of it with my baby tree, Christmas cookies, hot chocolate and all the Christmas movies we can watch!

Before Christmas even started, I got to host a couple of Christmas parties with friends this year! They came over and we had a potluck of champions. We laughed and talked well into the middle of the night. It was really something special.

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Of course, family wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention my sorority family. I am a part of the Beta-Lambda chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon. My sorority is amazing and is very supportive of each other as we pursue our individual dreams. My family line is probably the best family line out of any sorority ever. As individuals, they are all amazing and are always busy. They’re smart, funny, clever and really well-rounded people. Together, we are a crazy weird group of women who enhance each other’s personalities. We push to make sure each one of us succeeds in whatever we set our mind to. Not all of them could make it but a few of the women could come over to celebrate. So we ate all of the mac and cheese we could and unwrapped our gifts in a giant circle on the floor. I felt like a little kid again, opening gifts on Christmas eve. And then we took the best Christmas photo of all time.

I’m really fortunate that I got to go home this past week, that way I could celebrate Christmas with my dad a little early. The greatest tradition that my dad has is every Christmas eve he reads The Night Before Christmas. The book that we own is made entirely of cloth and each picture is special printed. I remember being a kid and hanging on every word of the story, hoping to hear Santa on our rooftop. Even as an adult I can’t help but smile as he reads it. I didn’t get to hear it this year because I came in the morning but we made a fancy Christmas Eve breakfast which was a pretty good substitute. Who could be upset with bacon on their plate?! And then, of course, we went upstairs and played Nancy Drew and got a couple steps closer to solving another mystery.

 

ba-drama-fam-photoI’m not big into celebrating the holidays, but for whatever reason, this year was different. For the first time in a very long time, I felt the Christmas spirit (or whatever it’s called) and was a little less grinchy.  Christmas isn’t about the day you celebrate it on but who you celebrate it with. I don’t mean to brag but if people were presents I’d have the most gifts out of anyone.

So Happy Holidays everyone and have a great New Year! Be sure to give your loved ones lots of hugs and don’t forget to tell them that you love them!

Until next time,

Dana

But if You’re Going to Get Cancer…

Cancer. It’s a scary word. It’s not something people talk about. In fact, there are tons of ways people talk about cancer without ever using the word:

  • How’s your illness?
  • When do you meet with your doctor to talk about your condition?
  • I heard about your diagnosis
  • How are you with your…. *trails off into awkward silence*

All of these are just as cringe worthy as saying “cancer,” but people say what’s comfortable for them and that’s okay. Cancer is a dark and scary subject that no one likes talk or think about. As a healthy 20 year old female, I never think about it. Why would I? I’m in the middle of getting my BA Drama Major with a Business Administration Minor at UW-Stevens Point. I’m a stage manager and I’m an active member of my sorority. My friends are great, my family is greater and I have an unhealthy obsession with coffee and my english mastiff/golden retriever mixed breed named Chester.

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Well, I was all these things a couple months ago. It started during syllabus week. I was sitting in my business management class listening to the professor carry on about the nitty gritty details of a syllabus that I was sure to lose by the end of the week. I was over this class and it was only the first day. Of course, I couldn’t leave so I did the next best thing when I’m tense: a neck massage! And it was splendid, but there was something strange when I brushed against the left side of my neck. Upon further investigation it was a bump about the width of two nickels sitting just above my collar bone. It was strange but I figured that it was a swollen lymph node and I would feel the symptoms of strep in a couple days.

The rest of the day carried on as it normally would. I went to my classes, attended rehearsals and did my homework. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking of that stupid bump. It was in such a weird spot and it kept bugging me that it was abnormally large. To ease my mind I gave my dad, the only doctor I know, a call to get his opinion on the matter. He had the same thoughts I did: it’s weird spot to get a swollen lymph node but it’s probably strep or something minor and will go away in a few days.

Still urked about the whole issue, I expressed my concerns to my roommates and they said to go to the Health Services Center and get a strep test. I’d feel better mentally and receive the meds I needed to get healthy. One of my roommates actually called the center and threw me on the phone so I’d have to set up the appointment (thank you Megan).

The next day, I went in to my appointment. After some blood work and a thorough examination of the bump, they determined that I was perfectly healthy. In fact, I was excellent. My cell counts were astoundingly normal and my vitals were excellent. Needless to say, I did not have strep. So what then? Well, the next step was to look at the bump a little closer. I got an ultrasound and x-ray done on the site. While the x-ray didn’t show anything useful, the ultrasound proved to be more interesting. Not only was the one lymph node swollen, but all of the lymph nodes in my neck were swollen.

I know what you’re thinking, “Duh Dana! Of course you know it’s cancer! That’s all it could possibly be.” Actually no. At this point I didn’t even think it was cancer and neither did the doctors. While it could still be a possibility, it was barely a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Again, my blood work, specifically my white cell count, T cells, and my thyroid check were all so good that it didn’t make sense that the diagnosis would be cancer. I also wasn’t suffering from any B symptoms which are secondary symptoms like  night sweats, fevers, weight loss, etc. that are seen in a patient and can be used to identify and stage lymphoma cancers. At the time I honestly thought it was cat scratch fever. I still kind of hope it’s cat scratch fever!

Moving forward. My doctor at the student health center couldn’t do much more for me beyond this point so she sent me to an oncologist at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin. It was there in that first meeting that I had more lab work done and was tested for several potential diseases and infections. My oncologist was very pleasant and worked with my family and I to help us understand what he was testing for and why. He wanted to get a better understanding of my circumstances and also to gather as much information as he could before he made any hasty decisions. It was nice to talk to such a steady person after what seemed like weeks of constant questions and being tossed around and just overall stressed out at the lack of answers.

Of course, all the lab results came back negative and we were back at square 1. The only thing left to do was a biopsy. More specifically, an excisional biopsy of the neck lymph node (aka yanking the whole stupid lymph node out). And on October 27, I got the surgery done.

And on October 31, I got a call from my oncologist saying I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

I’m not going to lie to you, I cried. A lot. Ugly tears. The ones you only showed your mom when you were eight because you scraped up your knee on the concrete. THOSE tears. I was scared. Really scared. I didn’t care that there was an 85% or higher survival rate. A trained professional just told me I had cancer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “good cancer.” It’s cancer. And there’s only one way to treat that: by shoving toxins (that can also kill you) into your body until it goes away. That’s some scary stuff and I didn’t get a choice in the matter. No one ever does.

The next couple weeks after that were a hectic blur. During this time I was still in school, trying desperately to keep up with my classes that I was never in because of doctor appointments. I had to get a port put in, go through a series of tests to determine the stage of the cancer and try to figure out what I was going to do. I was overwhelmed and I wanted to be done but the process hadn’t even started.

After the testing, it was determined I had stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The 2 means that the cancer is above my diaphragm and the A means I show no B symptoms. The use of the A and B is a way for doctors to predict, treat and track my cancer. I was to start treatment on November 14th and undergo 4-6 cycles of chemotherapy. For those that are unfamiliar with cancer and cancer terms, a cycle is 30 days and two chemo treatments occur during one cycle: one on day 1 and the second on day 15.

Because the treatment process was so fast, there really wasn’t a way for me to stay in school. That was the hardest news to hear. I had just settled into my major and I was doing well. I had a plan and I couldn’t follow through because my body wouldn’t let me.

So I dropped out of school, moved into an apartment just off campus, and prepared myself to face the next adventure in my life: getting myself healthy again.

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Now, here I am almost two months later. I’ve finished nearly two cycles of treatment and things are going well. I’m not a student right now and I’m inactive in my sorority. I’m not a stage manager. But my friends are still great and my family is still greater. Seriously, without them I’m not sure where I would be. I still have an unhealthy obsession with coffee (decaf now) and my dog Chester. What I’ve discovered is that it’s all okay. I’m not on the path that I had originally set out on. It’s much different than where I imagined myself, but I’m still doing really good things (well, trying): writing a script, taking an online class, creating a blog. And that’s okay. One day soon I’ll finish my degree and get back on the path I had created. I’m eagerly awaiting that day.

Call it whatever you like: an illness, diagnosis or nothing at all. It sucks. Cancer sucks. There’s no other way to put that. It can kill you if you don’t catch it (or in my case, accidentally brush against it during a less than interesting lecture about a syllabus). But you know what? I’m still here. And I’m doing great and I will continue to do so despite it.

 

Until next time,

Dana