Tag Archives: singing

Another Year: Reflecting on 2013 and moving forward to 2014

Just like that another year has passed. My cancer experience was confined to 2011, and since then I kind of defined my time based on that – 2013 was 2 AC (after cancer). 2012 was a rebuilding year; I literally rebuilt my body and figuratively rebuilt a “normal” life after cancer. When 2013 started, I saw it as a year of bursting forward in spectacular new ways. I quit a job that I was starting to resent, I traveled on my own to a foreign country for a month, I applied and got into graduate school and I moved from DC back to Philadelphia, where I grew up, to attend said grad school. This past year, in a lot of ways, brought me closer to the path to happiness and fulfillment that I so desperately seek and that feels so much more urgent now that I’ve had cancer. 

Sometime in 2013 however, probably in the summer, I stopped thinking of time in terms of cancer. My hair was long enough to put into a ponytail, and I was making new friends who, absent of any context clues, had no idea that just a year and a half ago I sat in a cushy chair while adriamycin and other such pernicious drugs coursed through my veins. Now I struggle with whether or not to tell my grad school friends, and my bf and I say things to each other like, “Hey, remember when I had cancer? That was crazy.” 

In 2013 I was easily moved to tears many times. Fortunately, I think it is not because I watched many romantic comedies but instead because I let beautiful moments into myself so deeply. I was moved to tears by great pieces of music, well-written books, and natural wonders like a night sky full of stars or sunset over the Teton mountains. Considering I made a resolution in 2012 to stop and fully experience small moments, 2013 was a smashing success. 

But there is still a lot that I have to work on, so here are my “resolutions”, of sorts: 

  • One: I have to settle on a whether or not and how to tell new friends that I had cancer. It was a whole year of my life and left me with stories to tell, but it is often strange to start a sentence with “I had cancer and…” while at a bar surrounded by beer bottles or at a friend’s house enjoying a home-cooked meal. 
  • Two: I have to continue learning not to beat myself up over feelings like jealousy. As was written in the book I just read, A Map of the World, “…feelings are never wrong. Emotions in varying degrees exist, of course, and have to be acknowledged, but they in and of themselves… do not have moral weight and should never be judged.”
  • Three: I have to stop being timid when it comes to going for the things I want in life. I always seem to apply to jobs that are below my skill level because they are easier targets. I take unpaid internships because it’s easier than trying to find paying part-time work. For many years, I’ve said that I can’t make a living from singing because auditions are too hard. All of that needs to stop. I know it can’t all happen at once, but I want to acknowledge that I have this problem and work on it.

And that’s about it. Not sure how any of this relates to cancer, except that cancer lit a fire under my ass to get my life in order and realize what’s really important. 

Anyone else have resolutions they want to share? 

Speaking at Survivor Luncheon

This month, I had the privilege of participating in the George Washington Breast Care Center Survivor Luncheon. It was a beautiful event celebrating the patients from the Breast Care Center – with great company, great remarks, and last, but not least, great food.  I was honored to be asked by my surgeon, Dr. Christine Teal, to sing, but I also said a few words about my experience.

Andrea Roane, anchor of a local TV news station and champion of breast cancer awareness in DC, and I.

Here are my remarks, here’s a video of me singing! Sorry for the tilted-ness and sound quality. My dad took it from his cell phone.

“Hello. I am so honored to be participating in the program today. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2011 and, though I’ve been out of treatment and surgeries for almost a year, I am still trying to find out what being a survivor means. I still feel fear and sadness on a regular basis, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, and that makes calling myself a survivor difficult.

During last year’s luncheon, they played a video profiling my story and featuring the wonderful people at the Breast Care Center. I was so grateful to be able to share my story, and I hope that people found it powerful. The video described that my cancer was genetic, from the BRCA 1 gene mutation passed down to me by my mother, who unfortunately passed away from the disease when I was just 3 years old.

For me, the most moving part of watching my video at last year’s luncheon was seeing my mother on the screen. She could have never known that her story would be broadcast to so many people she didn’t know, but people she had something in common with. And that really made me feel like the video was not just about me, but also about her. It was a way to tell a story that she never got the chance to tell.

I relate that experience to a similar experience I had in September. I was lucky enough to go on a trip with First Descents, an organization that takes brings young cancer patients and survivors on week-long adventure trips. I was rock climbing in the beautiful Colorado Rockies, and on our last night, we had a ceremony where we all floated a candle on a small pond to honor those who weren’t able to be with us. I, of course, thought about my mother, and I found myself thinking that I was on the trip both for myself and for her—because she never had the chance to be a young survivor and go rock climbing in Colorado.

I see a theme emerging in both of these examples. There are so many people who were not given the chance to survive, and that makes it so much more important that us survivors live each day like it is precious. We’re here to celebrate surviving, and I don’t think we can do that without remembering those that we’ve lost, and being grateful each day that we have the opportunity to continue experiencing all the beauty, joy, and even hardship that life brings us.

As much as I like philosophizing, I’m actually here to sing. I’ve been singing my whole life. As a child, I’m sure much to my parents’ chagrin, I belted out Disney tunes at any given opportunity. Much to my boyfriend’s chagrin, things haven’t changed much. During treatment, singing and listening to music provided a great tool for channeling my sadness and cheering me up.

I’ll be singing, “You Walk with Me,” from the musical The Full Monty. One of the characters in the show sings it at his mother’s funeral, so of course I think it is a fitting tribute to my own mother and to anyone who couldn’t be with us today, but who we still keep close to us to remind us that we have been given a gift that not everyone receives.”

Creating new cleavage

Today was my first tissue expansion! It was actually kind of a “yay” moment amidst all my anxiety about starting chemo (Thursday… eek). For those of you who don’t know, during my mastectomy, the plastic surgeon implanted expanders under my chest muscles. Throughout the next couple of months, these will be gradually expanded so that my skin and muscle stretch enough to make room for the real silicone implant, which I’ll have inserted after all my chemo is finished. That’s called the exchange operation – when the temporary tissue expanders are swapped for the real implants.

Because of the revision I had to have a couple weeks ago, my surgeon had to take down the left expander to almost nothing, and I was quite lopsided. But today, she filled the left side with 120 ccs, almost 2/3 of the way to matching the right side!

Yay for being a little less lopsided and a little more womanly. Yay for being so healed from surgery that my surgeon is okay with expanding me. Yay for not even feeling the small pinprick of the saline tube needle, which was inserted into a port on the expander so the saline could be injected in. Yay for not feeling much tightness or soreness at all, at least not yet. Yay for preemptive Tylenol.

And yay for this article, which totally excites the singer in me: Cancer charity gets funding for choirs after proving the pyschosocial benefits