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Tsunami Waves Washing Over Us All

The devastation in Japan is unspeakable and horrific.  The television shows the same video over and over, tsunami waves rushing over the beach, into villages and beyond.  Lives in literal upheaval, with no rhyme or reason as to who survives and who does not.  I’m painfully aware again of how brutal life is.  Each one of us is at risk every moment of every day.   Be it an earthquake or cancer diagnosis, we humans are often at the mercy of forces much greater than ourselves.

It’s easy to watch and feel hopeless; like the world is ending right before my eyes.  I feel such sadness and dread…when will it all stop hitting the fan?  There’s been a lot of bad news lately: the economy, my health, wars, hurricanes, terrorists, earthquakes, tsunamis.  I’m ashamed to say that I feel the weight of it all; despite the fact that most of it isn’t my tragedy to experience.  It helps to do something, but what?  Besides donating money and praying, we, as cancer survivors, can also add our names to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure petition, which calls upon the Government of Japan to "release all information regarding the tragedy and migrating radiation effects, and to partner with the global cancer community to help protect the long term public health of their people and others around the world."

Although the news broadcasts are painful to watch, I also see resilience, hope, faith, joy and love – an outpouring of human compassion and spirit.  We seesaw between the dread and the hope, the dark and the light – and somehow we survive.  I'm afraid to trivialize others' pain by talking about how it is affecting me, but I don't know how to avoid it.  I’m wondering how it’s affecting you.

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Living in the Moment in the ER, or at Least Trying

I ended up in the ER the other night with my son.  I was supposed to be somewhere else that night, but these are the moments that remind us how little control we really have over life.  We were there for several hours and, in the end, everything was fine.   But the sitting, waiting and worrying crept up on me again like an old nemesis.

I keep bumping into that wall – the fear of not knowing and having to wait for answers.  It didn’t help to be sitting in a hospital room, the site of so many bad memories.  It was just a few hours, but a significant microcosmic reminder of what I went through from September, 2008, throughout 2009 – the year plus from hell.  It’s funny how it brings it all back and all you can do is try to rationalize how it’s not the same.  But, emotionally, of course, it’s exactly the same.  How can I not recognize that threat of something bad brewing while I sit here desperately trying not to panic?

I attempt to calm myself by focusing on the here and now.  By being present and not wandering off too far into what was, I can try to take it one moment at a time.  I also remind myself that I never had complete control, life has always been messy.  In fact, after my first child, Emma, was born, I started referring to my new mother life as a "beautiful mess."  This memory helps put cancer in perspective - it's certainly one of the more dramatic examples of life having its own trajectory, but it's hardly the only example.    

So, I am reminded again of Woody Allen’s quote, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  My plans are to keep going, attempting to be aware and accepting of what is, and despite my emotional memories, to keep myself as focused as I can on the here and now.  I am hearing a definite guffaw from above.

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A Fake Diamond Ring with Very Real Meaning

Several weeks after I had my mastectomy at Overlook Hospital, I received a very real gift which took me by surprise.  I was in the Cancer Center to meet with Kristen Scarlett, my oncology therapist, when Sarah Mandel asked me if I had received my “bling” during my hospital stay.  No, I hadn’t, but it sounded interesting……

The three of us went into her office and she produced a collection of sterling silver cubic zirconium rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets.  I was happily told I could have my pick of an item.   The three of us had fun rummaging through all of the possibilities - it was a real girls moment.    I picked out a beautiful ring with a modern three “stone” design. 

I learned that the “bling” came from the Operation Bling Foundation, which was founded by Chris Ferdinand of Ferdinand Jewelers in New Providence, NJ.  Chris began the foundation with her husband, Bill, as the result of a visit they made to a friend who was in the hospital battling ovarian cancer.  The friend, who was also a client, complained that she missed her “bling” while in the hospital.  The next day Chris brought her friend a gift:  a sterling silver cubic zirconium ring.  Her friend was so touched, she cried.  From that pure act of kindness came the inspiration for Operation Bling Foundation, whose mission is to “give sparkling jewels to cancer patients during their hospital stay, bringing them cheer and pleasure.” 

I walked out of that hospital feeling so supported and blessed.  Not because I was given a beautiful piece of jewelry, but because of all the emotional support I received from Kristen, Sarah and people I didn't even know at Operation Bling.  I looked down at that ring on my finger and I saw a perfect symbol of that support.  The first stone symbolized my family, the second my friends, and the third, all the amazing people like Kristen, Sarah and Chris Ferdinand who came into my life solely due to my cancer experience. 

I just picked that ring because it was pretty, but its true value as a symbol of the gifts I was receiving made itself clear soon after I put it on my hand.  I had to admit that, right there beside all the losses, were some very real gifts just waiting to be recognized.  I hope you had an experience like that.  If so, let me know how the gift of emotional support helped you during your cancer experience.

Comments

Marion's picture

Try doing some adventurous  things, may be go for a hiking. I guess that is what we really need. A change from our usual daily lives is really something. We have to think out of the box.  <><>

Debbie's picture

Thanks for your suggestions, Marion!

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Can Uplifted Feet Lead to an Uplifted Heart?

I found yoga because of cancer. As I wrote in my first blog post, I operated my pre-cancer life under the assumption that the answer to every question was “No.”  As such, it took me a lot to get to “Yes” and venture out. Plus, I’ve done my share of aerobic classes in which I felt spastic and completely lost. Who wanted to submit to that again?

Of course, my two cancer surgeries took a major toll on my body. I guess I was desperate to do something to improve my body image. Three months after my second surgery, we joined the local Y and I started using the weight room, something I had never done before in my life. I was committed and went regularly, but I could feel my interest waning fast. So, I tried a Pilates class. 

The class was crowded and I was lying on my mat in the middle of the floor. I was doing okay until the instructor told us to lie on our backs and raise our feet off the ground. My feet wouldn’t budge. Not an inch, not a half inch. Not to make excuses, but I had a TRAM flap procedure as part of my reconstructive surgery. I was down to one transverse rectus abdominis muscle where there used to be two. Plus, I was totally out of shape. 

Of course, that’s the intellectual response. I actually responded with shame and total abject grief. I was shocked to find yet another cancer loss - the ability to do something so seemingly simple. I wanted to run out of the room weeping, but I would have trampled other women who could lift their feet off the floor. 

So much for Pilates. I know it works for others, but it just wasn't for me. I thought about doing yoga some time ago, but of course didn’t follow up. I found a class called “Stress Management Yoga,” which I felt safe walking into as a total beginner. Before the class started the teacher welcomed me, letting me know that yoga was noncompetitive and that wherever I was in my abilities was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. I followed along as best I could and it was love at first down dog. 

It’s been a year and I now do yoga every day, Monday through Friday. Just the other day, out of nowhere it seemed, I attempted the boat pose and my feet miraculously went straight up in the air. I had tried it before and couldn’t do it, so I was stunned. I’ve come a long way from that Pilates class and yoga has helped bring me here. It’s been good for my body and my spirit.

Yoga reminds me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be today, and, so it seems, are my feet.

Survival > Existence,

Copyright 123RF Photos


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Here's a Concept to Consider: Cancer as an Amplifier

As an interior decorator, I subscribe to a lot of shelter magazines.   One of my favorites and the one I’ve subscribed to the longest (it’s been a few decades) is Country Living magazine.  In the March 2011 issue, I came across an article about painter Kolene Spicher, who has a husband, three sons, a successful business, and ovarian cancer. 

The Spicher home is a beautiful symphony of collectibles, family heirlooms, and handmade pieces.  Kolene spends most of her time painting in her home studio, which looks out on the Susquehanna River Valley in Pennsylvania.  Although her business produces art for catalogs like Pottery Barn and Ballard Designs, she simplifies her days so as not to exhaust herself.  She credits her illness, which she’s had for most of her adult life, with amplifying her desire to surround herself with beauty, in her work and in her home.” 

As I read an article I thought was just about another well decorated house, I was surprised to feel Kolene's story resonate with my own.  Ovarian cancer has obviously affected her in limiting ways – affecting her ability to travel and live a healthy, disease-free life.  Yet, she also credits it with real positives.  As she states in the magazine article, “It really is the simple things-roasting marshmallows with the kids, watching TV with Mark-that bring me happiness.”

I don’t know Kolene and I don’t know what it’s like to have ovarian cancer, but I related to her obvious appreciation of her cancer gifts.  I don’t think for a second that positive thinking alone gets you through cancer.  But I do know that my emotional health took an immediate upswing the minute I realized it wasn't all about the losses.    I guess it’s about finding balance when you’re on very shaky ground.

Comments

Linda's picture

It sounds as though cancer was not the focus of the article but strongly influenced where Kolene is now and therefore the context of her life and her business that was its focus. I guess nothing exists in a vacuum, which I also guess is the point of WWGN. Thanks for posting this article and your perspective on it. 

Plano & Simple
coach and 'yenta' for entrepreneurs

Debbie's picture

You're exactly right.  Ironically though, when cancer hits, you do feel like you exist in a vacuum.  Your entire world becomes your disease and everything you do, every moment of your day, is consumed by the monster that now lives with you.  The beauty of time, and a lot of support, is that, eventually, if you're very lucky, you start to gain perspective and regain your balance. 

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Well Here Goes Nothing......

I am struggling with my first blog post. Mostly because I never in a million years thought I would write one.  I am a very open person when I get to know and trust you, but we’re not exactly at that point, are we? But, if you’re like me and have gone through all those life changing moments that cancer heaps upon you, you know cancer has a way of shaking you up and leaving you altered.

So, I think I have to start with the concept of saying “yes” to yourself. When I was a kid I remember asking for permission and most times being told “no” before I even finished the sentence.  I’m sure nurture enhanced nature, because I became a championship level “no” person. Every idea I’ve ever had came with my standard long list of cons. Of course, cancer isn’t an idea, it’s a reality - and reality has a way of smacking you in the face.  

A lot of people say that cancer taught them to live life more fully, because they learned every day is precious. I get that, but I don’t really come at it from that angle. I was blessed to know early on in my cancer experience that I was not going to die. I did misinterpret that good luck to mean that my experience wasn’t going to be a big deal, which meant I had no right to get that upset about it. Of course, that assumption left me unprepared for the emotional toll cancer made me pay. But I went through it all and I eventually learned from cancer how strong I am. So maybe I can say “yes” without fear of failure, and probably fear of success. If I can handle cancer, I can handle anything. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn to say “yes” more easily than I used to. The creation of Where We Go Now is a direct result of learning to say "yes" and letting an idea breathe and grow – to see how far you can take it – or maybe how far it can take you. It’s an exciting and new experience for me and one which I am learning every day to just let happen.

Survival > Existence,

Copyright 123RF Photos

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Comments

Marie's picture

I actually remember reading this at the time you started your blog. Congratulations on your blogoversary. Here's to many more years of happy blogging.

Debbie's picture

Marie:

Thank you very much, Marie! I can't believe it's been two years already. It's certainly been an adventure. Thanks for all of your encouragement and support; it means the world to me.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Claudia Schmidt's picture

So cool to read this first of your posts! I didn't realize that you had just gone through breast cancer so recently, for some reason I thought it was years ago, as there is so much rich content on here. You've done a lot since then, congratulations. I love your writing style and your the site. Thank you for deciding to start sharing!

Debbie's picture

Hi Claudia:

I'm happy to find you here at my first blog post! I had a mastectomy four years ago, in April of 2009. There sure has been a lot to write about since then!

Thank you for reading my posts. I love reading your comments!

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

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Daily Record Article

on Sun, 10/10/2010 - 19:28

Wife, mother, survivor: Morristown resident Deborah Woodbury finds strength in family

by Aaron Morrison

DAILY RECORD • MORRISTOWN THIS WEEK • September 29, 2010

For many breast cancer survivors, the race to health begins at diagnosis. Morristown resident Deborah Woodbury, in contrast, endured a six-month marathon of medical exams before receiving an official diagnosis.

It all began with a routine mammogram in September 2008, which Woodbury thought had gone fine.

Not exactly fine, she discovered later.

Woodbury was called in for a second mammogram in October. Then came a needle biopsy in November. After that, a more serious surgical biopsy in February, which finally confirmed she had stage 0 breast cancer.

"That whole time nobody wants to talk about cancer. That's what I learned in that first phone call," said the 52-year-old retired lawyer and mother of two, who now runs her own interior decorating business. "I didn't have a lump or signs of cancer whatsoever."

She was lucky, they told her, to have been diagnosed at such an early stage. Woodbury said she didn't feel lucky.

Stage 0 breast cancer, or ductal carcinoma in situ, is typically a noninvasive form of the cancer that requires minimally invasive treatment.

In Woodbury's case, doctors were recommending a full mastectomy of her one breast. Opting for such a physically altering procedure would allow her to avoid radiation, but she still didn't feel lucky.

"The breast surgeon started telling me how she was going to do it. I stopped her," Woodbury remembers. "I told her, 'Before you tell me how, you have to tell me why.' "

"I still don't get why I'm so lucky but I'm losing a body part. You're telling me you're cutting it off, but I'm lucky? I don't get it."

Doctors said that by the time they had removed each affected section of the breast, Woodbury wouldn't have much of it left. It was better to remove the whole thing and start all over.

"I came around to accepting that," she said. "The good thing about it was that I didn't have to have radiation."

In telling her children — a teenage daughter, Emma, and a pre-teenage son, Mike — Woodbury wanted to avoid alarming them.

She and her husband, Michael Pallarino, a matrimonial lawyer with his own practice, waited until there was an official diagnosis and treatment plan.

"I told my children it's basically lazy cancer," Woodbury said. "It hasn't gotten up and run around yet and that we caught it that early."

Woodbury described her surgery to Emma and Mike this way: "It's like going in the top of a pumpkin and scooping out what's inside."

Her attempt to keep them calm didn't work exactly as planned.

"They were instantly terrified and crying and quiet," Woodbury remembers. "To this day they don't talk about it. It was very emotional."

This reaction is somewhat expected for teens, says Brandy Johnson, a senior oncology counselor at St. Clare's Hospital's Cancer Care Center.

"This is typical, and it is unique," Johnson said. "Each child, no matter what age, deals with a diagnosis in their own way. Some of it has to do with age, connection with the parent and how they have handled other stressors in their lives."

"I tell all parents to be honest, be available and to be at their level, when talking with their children," Johnson said.

Woodbury had her surgery at Overlook Hospital in Summit in April 2009 — a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

She came home to endure a six-month recovery process. With her family and friends at her side, cancer support services at Overlook Hospital, and Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert to make her laugh (once her physical wounds had healed enough to do so safely), Woodbury has recovered just fine.

She volunteers with cancer support groups and is on the community advisory board of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center in Morristown.

This summer, the family took a cross-country train trip to California. And Woodbury, the owner of Emmi's Interiors, has overseen the remodeling of her kitchen and family room.

"There are very bad days when no amount of positive thinking makes sense and it shouldn't," Woodbury said of her experience.

"You have to do what you have to do," she said. "There are people depending on you. And you have to learn to depend on people."

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