Archive for the ‘Michelle’ Category

Breast Cancer Awareness, Day 23

Today’s personal cancer account is from Michelle who has posted here before.

My name is Michelle, and I’m a two-time cancer survivor.  Since April, I’ve been shaving my head — the chemotherapy I was on caused itching and sensitivity on my scalp.  This outward symbol of my fight has often prompted conversations with strangers, and I’m surprised at how many people assume that, because I’m a 30-something woman, I have breast cancer.

Usually, these conversations center around someone telling me about their mother/sister/aunt/friend/cousin that battled breast cancer, and that person’s story, and how the well-meaning stranger just knows I’ll beat it and be a survivor and…

Then, they see my blue bracelet on my wrist and stop, and look at me with a perplexed smile on their face.  Or, they ask how I was diagnosed, and I tell them I had a colonoscopy.  I’ve even had someone ask me where I had my reconstruction done, since “they” look so good.  *sigh*

These moments can (and often do) become a teaching moment.  I’ve become, whether I like it or not, a walking billboard for colon cancer.  I tell my new friend that I’m a colon cancer survivor, and more often than not, the reaction is confusion.

“But that doesn’t happen to women.”

“I didn’t know it could happen to someone so young.”

Colon cancer does not discriminate.  Traditionally, it’s diagnosed in people over the age of 50.  However, recently, there’s been an increase in the number of people diagnosed under the age of 50.  Matter of fact, the age group with the largest increase in diagnoses is 20-29 years old.

There is a lot of research currently taking place to try to determine reasons for this disturbing statistic.  I won’t use this forum to speculate on those reasons.  I will, however, provide you with a few things you can do to help lower your risk.  I’ll also provide you with some of the most common signs and symptoms, so that you are armed with what you need for early detection.

Consider your car: you put fuel into it, you get the oil changed, and you perform routine maintenance on it.  These steps are required to ensure that it will start when turn the key.  Your body requires the same upkeep — proper fuel, routine check-ups, etc.

It is a proven fact that cutting down your intake of red meat can decrease the potential of colon polyps, which are the pre-cursors to colon cancer.  I’m not asking you to never eat steak again.  Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and increase your intake of whole grains.  Remember that the food you eat is fuel for your body.  If you don’t put the proper fuel into your body, it may not run as well as you’d like it to.

Exercise is a must — it’s not an option.  Our bodies are meant to be used; if we are sedentary because of our jobs, it is our responsibility to make sure that we carve out regular time to work out.  I’m not recommending that you go out tomorrow to run a marathon – but, start out by walking for 20-30 minutes daily.  Regular exercise increases your body’s ability to fend of disease, recover from illness, fight off germs, and increases your endorphins (those feel-good hormones).  It helps provide your body with the strength and endurance to fight and recover from the awful things that can (and, let’s be honest, will) happen to it.

Be aware of the signs of colon cancer.  Be aware of your body, and be strong enough to talk with your doctor if you have concerns.  Colon cancer is much easier to beat when it’s found in the earliest stages.  If you have blood in your stool, changes in your bowel movements, unexplained weight loss or gain, or you feel like you are not emptying your bowel after a movement, talk with your doctor.

Typical screening for colon cancer begins at 50, if you are asymptomatic and you have no family history of colon cancer.  However, if a first- or second-generation relative (parent, sibling, child, grandparent, etc.) has a history of colon cancer, you should start getting colonoscopies 10 years prior to that person’s diagnosis.  For example, I was originally diagnosed at the age of 31 — my children will need to start getting colonoscopies at the age of 21.

In addition to the above, you must also get screened if you have symptoms.  You may be able to explain away some blood on your stool, occasional diarrhea, constipation, or bloating…but, wouldn’t it be nice to know that what you’re experiencing is nothing more than a hemorroid, a reaction to your diet, or dehydration?  That peace of mind?  Yes — it’s worth it.  Believe me, it’s better than the alternative.

This month, the pink ribbon is everywhere.  We are all more conscious about breast self-exams, mammograms, and general awareness of this awful disease.  Please remember that you need to be aware of your body all year long, and to talk with your doctor if you have any questions.  If something doesn’t feel right, don’t blow it off.  In my case, talking about my concerns saved my life.  Because I had an uncomfortable conversation with my doctor, I’m here to raise my children.

And, for the record, while my fight isn’t over yet, I’m winning.  🙂  Michelle 2, Cancer 0.

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Dress in Blue Day

Today’s post is from Michelle. Normally, Michelle would post on Fridays, but she has a request of you for tomorrow…

When I was diagnosed with colon cancer in May of 2008, I had no idea what kind of impact it was going to have on my life. I didn’t realize that I’d become such a strong advocate for the prevention and testing for this disease. I had no idea that I’d become friends with so many amazing people, or that I’d suffer the loss of their friendship when they passed. I didn’t know that I was going to be taking part in a national movement to bring awareness to this disease, and to the importance of early detection and prevention.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness month. You’ll be hearing more about this as the month wears on – this cause is being picked up and promoted by several high-visibility outlets, and the message is getting out there. While we spend the entire month working to let folks know about colon cancer, tomorrow is a pretty special day. It’s “Dress In Blue Day.” Around the world, over a million people will be wearing blue, to support those fighting this horrible disease, to celebrate those in remission, and to honor those that we’ve lost.

A lot of people assume that colon cancer is a disease that only affect men over the age of 50. This is not true. In fact, the overall cases of newly diagnosed patients is going down slightly year-over-year, but the number of newly-diagnosed patients in the 20-40 year old range is increasing each year. Terrifying, isn’t it? I was only 31 years old when I was diagnosed, and I had no family history. I can name many, many people who don’t fall into the “typical colon cancer patient” stereotype. This disease does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re male, female, old, or young.

Symptoms of this disease can mimic other conditions, and can often be explained away. For example, my symptoms were blood in my stool (hemorrhoids) and changes to my bowel movements (oh, we had Chinese last night for dinner…). For months, I was able to figure out what “caused” the issue. Thankfully, a doctor thought enough to send me to a specialist, and testing was done. When I woke up from my colonoscopy, they told me I had a tumor in my colon, had colon cancer, and needed to schedule my surgery and a meeting with an oncologist.

I can promise you, that is not what I wanted to call my mother on her birthday and tell her. (By the way, don’t plan medical tests on a loved one’s birthday…trust me on this.)

Before I go off on a tangent, I’ll say that I’m one of the lucky ones, and caught my cancer in time. Others aren’t so lucky.

Tomorrow, I will be wearing blue to celebrate my life, to honor those that I’ve lost to this disease, and to support those currently fighting for their lives. I ask you to find one piece of royal blue clothing in your closet or dresser, and make an effort to wear it tomorrow. Ask people if they know why you’re wearing blue, and engage them in conversation.

You can learn more about colon cancer by visiting the Colon Cancer Alliance’s website. They have some really great information about risk factorssymptomstreatment optionspatient support, and ways you can help.

More information about Dress in Blue Day can be found here.

And, if you have any questions about colon cancer or the advocacy work I do, please leave a comment.

Change in Small Bites — Michelle Is Back!

Michelle contributed two weeks ago and chimes in here again today. She will be writing on a quasi-regular-but-not-weekly basis, publishing on Fridays.

I went to the gym yesterday and struck up a conversation with a fellow treadmill-er.  I learned that she’s a 40-something mom of four, working full-time from home.  She is working with a personal trainer twice a week and is frustrated.

Her trainer is (in my opinion) one of the stereotypical personal trainers that scare people from ever considering this as an option.  Based on what I’ve seen of this trainer, she’s hardcore.  I mean, eating only chicken and rice, working out like it’s going out of style, at the gym all hours of the day.  She expects her trainees to be the same way.

Well, with four kids, working full-time (and not at a gym!), this kind of lifestyle isn’t something that people can jump into easily.  Trying to make such sweeping changes often results in a feeling of failure and disappointment, leading them back to eating ice cream while sitting on the couch watching the latest episode of “Biggest Loser.”  I know — this was me.

While I appreciate that there are very specific ideals and goals that a person should have around what they put into their body, how they train their body, etc., oftentimes this doesn’t jibe with their current lifestyle.  If you’ve spent the last 20 years making all of your food choices from restaurants, it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to jump into a whole food, limited regiment of food choices.  Change of this magnitude can’t happen overnight, expecting your people to do this isn’t helping anyone, least of all the people that need it.  Scolding them when they are already feeling guilty makes them feel worse.  “Why should I continue if she’s only going to yell at me?”

I’ve tried that “I’ll change everything all at once” mentality.  I failed.  Each and every time.  Why?  Because I’m real, and I make mistakes.  They key for me is that now, I have someone who understands that the mistakes and the missteps are just as important as the successes and achievements.  Those mistakes allow us to learn and to grow.  If we don’t know how to eat right to fuel our bodies, yelling at us isn’t going to give us the tools we need to hit those goals.  It’s going to ensure that we never hit those goals.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  taking small, baby steps will allow you to make healthier choices without adversely affecting your lifestyle.  Take, for example, bread.  I made the conscious decision to stop purchasing white bread and instead, purchase and eat only 100% whole grain bread.  Is it more expensive?  Sure — by about $1.00 a loaf.  Even in my family, where we go through 2-3 loaves of bread in a week (we do a lot of brown bag lunches for school here), it’s costing me an additional $10/month.  That’s worth it, to me.  My kids don’t even like the taste of white bread anymore.

I’ve made very small choices; several of them, over the course of the past couple of years.  And, I’ve found that when I’m only changing one thing at a time, everyone has an easier time of accepting it.  As mom to two picky eaters and wife to a farm boy, I could choose the easy way out and go to McD’s every day.  But I would weigh a bazillion pounds, my kids would be sluggish, and my husband … well, honestly, he’d probably love it.  🙂

My very long point?  If you’re looking to make changes, make them slowly.  Set a goal to workout three times this week … and, do it.  If you don’t — that’s okay.  Set the same goal for next week.  Do what you think is fun — working out doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym.  Take the kids for a walk.  Play a game of basketball.  Do some yoga.  Play Wii Fitness.  If you’re goal is food-related, make small changes.  Switch to whole wheat bread.  Eat more chicken and less red meat.  Vow to make one meal a week vegetarian.

So, what’s your goal for the week?  Mine: stop eating after 8 p.m.  I tend to snack once the kids are down and I’m finally winding down from the day.  This happens more when my husband travels for work, and it’s so easy (and tasty) to munch.  We’ll see if I can stick to it.

Michelle’s Journey of Self-Discovery: Guest Post

Today’s guest post is by Michelle. Michelle is a thirty-something mom to two kids (9 and 5) who came to Arizona from New York (by way of Minnesota).  She is a colon cancer survivor, avid advocate for early cancer testing and prevention, and recently learned that she is addicted to running (in spite of her many claims to the contrary all her life).  You can read more about Michelle at her blog: http://michellewillwin.blogspot.com.  

Like most women my age, I wear many hats.  My biggest and loudest hat is my “Mom” hat – I have two young kids (9 and 5).  I work full-time, run a part-time business out of my home, and I have a husband who travels all week long.  It’s my favorite hat; my most fun hat.  I wear other hats that are important — wife, daughter, sister, employee, business owner.  I wear them all at least once during the day, and while it’s sometimes hard to balance them all on my head, I do it well, if I do say so myself.

Like most women my age, I have forgotten the most important hat — that most basic one that defines who I am at my core.  I often forget that, while I am all of those things, I am still me.  I am still Michelle.

I tell you this because I’ve recently *finally* gotten the idea through my thick skull that, if I don’t take care of ME, I can’t take care of anything else.  This epiphany comes after 5 surgeries, two children, and a bout with cancer. You’d think one of those might bonk me over the head and make me realize this.  But no — it took back pain.

Something so simple has caused me to finally take notice of what my body is telling me, and reminded me that if I don’t take care of this machine, it won’t work.

D’uh.

If you’ll allow me to, I’d like to take you on my journey of self-discovery.  This won’t be a journey of miracle diets, or crazy workout schedules, or giving up food.  This will be the journey of a mom, raising her two active kids, working full-time, building a part-time business, and trying to figure out how to take care of herself along with all the other things that need to be done.

It’s not going to be easy.  It’s not going to be pretty.  There will be ups and downs.  There will be weight gained, weight lost, good things, bad things, healthy foods, not-so-healthy foods.  But, there will be progress because I’m taking care of myself, physically.  When I do that, I’m also taking care of the mental.  Always a good thing.  🙂

I took a big step today — I wrote my measurements down.  For most women, this is a daunting task — the thought of finally seeing those numbers on paper is terrifying.  It was for me — but, I needed to have a starting point.  Now that I have those numbers in my head, they will be a source of inspiration.

My other inspiration?  My kids, especially my daughter.  I’ve fought with my weight my entire life — I’ve battled being the fat girl in school, the chubby friend, the overweight girl trying to hide her body in oversized clothes.  I don’t want to be that anymore.  But, more than that, I don’t want to be defined by my weight, and I don’t want my daughter to think that the number on a scale is more important that focusing on her health.  I want to be a good role model for my children — active, eating right, and just enjoying life.

And that, my friends, is my journey.  While smaller clothing, better fitting jeans, and compliments from friends and family will be nice, setting that expectation and example for my children is the most important goal.  I may not lose any weight, and I may not get to those goals I’ve set.  BUT, if I can show my children (and others?) that taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be at the bottom of your list, you can make it a priority.

Ready for the ride?

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