Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lance, a true hero

Years ago, long before I got cancer I read Lance's book, "It's Not About the Bike."  I was a cyclist and had been following his cycling career.  Each year, I watched him win the Tour de France, but in all reality, what drew me to him wasn't his athletic talent and incredible skill on the bike.  It was his story and fight with cancer and how he came back, after being told that the odds of survival weren't in his favor.  Lance, not only ignored and defied those odds, but he surpassed what doctors thought he would do.  He not only beat cancer, but trained for and won the Tour de France SEVEN years in a row. 

We know that story though.

Recently, Lance has made headline news with his doping allegations.  After decades of allegations that Lance was blood doping and using illegal substances during his Tour wins, and after a two year legal investigation with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Lance has decided to walk away.  Consequently, he faces a lifetime ban from competitive cycling and even possibly having his Tour titles stripped.

Some might think that Lance is quitting this legal battle because he is guilty.  Well, the jury is still out on that one.  Sure, he has never failed a drug test (in over 600 drug tests), yet countless team members attest that Lance is guilty.  The question if he is guilty or not might be the question of the century.  We will probably just never know.  Do I think Lance is guilty?  I am not the judge of that.  I won't come to my own conclusions on the issue because it is not my place.  At the end of the day, Lance is the one accountable for his own actions.  Only he truly knows if he is innocent or guilty and only he can feel good or bad about his actions.

The thing is, nothing can take away from the fact that Lance has done amazing things for this world.  Lance has made this world a better place.  Guilty or not, his cancer foundation, in my opinion, is his greatest success.  Raising 500 million for cancer research and patients is awesome, but nothing trumps the vision he has created for millions of cancer patients.  Lance has given hope to so many cancer survivors that there is hope, that we must never give up fighting, and that we must stand up and fight against cancer.  And because of him, millions of people are cancer SURVIVORS.  They are alive because Lance helped people realize that they had "it" in them to defeat cancer.

The yellow rubber bracelet that I wear on my wrist (and have worn for nearly 8 years now) is a reminder to me to never give up hope, to continue to be optimistic, and to look forward with optimism and faith for a bright future.  It truly is a reminder to LIVESTRONG.

Thank you, Lance.  I don't care if you doped or not. You will always be a hero in my books.

Here are some of my favorite Lance quotes, a few from his books:

"What ever your 100% looks like, give it."

"Knowledge is power, community is strength and positive attitude is everything."

"What are my chances? It was a question I would repeat over and over. But it was irrelevant, wasn't it? It didn't matter, because the medical odds don't take into account the unfathomable. There is no proper way to estimate somebody's chances, and we shouldn't try, because we can never be entirely right, and it deprives people of hope. Hope that is the only antidote of fear."

"I'll spend the rest of my life puzzling over my survival. Cancer no longer consumes my life, my thoughts, or my behavior, but the changes it wrought are in me, unalterable."

"You know, I would rather have one year of wonderful than seventy years of mediocre. That's how I feel about it. Life's an unknown. You don't know. Nobody knows."

"Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions. The fact is, no one ascends alone.”

And of course, my favorite...

"If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or Fight Like Hell.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dear Fellow Melanoma Warriors

The melanoma "world" seems to be a rather small place.  I meet people all the time from all over the country, even the world, that share this melanoma link, this diagnoisis, this life.  Even though our personal stories may vary, we all share the same feelings--the same anxieties and worries, the same fear, and even the same hopes and dreams.  Some of these people I know in person and blessed to call a "dear friend" now, others I only know from Facebook, or from a melanoma forum, or through following their blogs.

This melanoma world is a delicate and interesting place.  Often I hear the most inspiring stories of survival--people who are years out from their diagnosis and doing well.  Like my friends Tina and Sue, who are both 5+ years out from Stage 4 and still in remission.  Or Erick, who I recently met at a melanoma gala, who is nearly 10 years in remission from Stage 4!  Another friend of mine, Kari, is almost 10 years out from Stage 4, and even though she is fighting the battle (bravely) again, she is still here--kicking and screaming.  This other friend, Carol, that I know, has an incredible story--10 years into remission from Stage 4 and she had 77 tumors in her body!  Her story is miraculous and one that I will be sharing on my blog soon.  She not only beat Stage 4 melanoma, but has beat breast cancer 3 times!  Then, there is Lisa, whom I met on Facebook and is treating her Stage 4 melanoma through holistic and natural methods.  She is alive and doing well!  I could go on and on--Mike, Jen, Robin, Ruby, Lisa, Janice, Kim, Bob, Kristina, Tammi, Michelle--so many melanoma warriors and survivors who I have met and who have inspiring stories of survival.

And then I read stories of melanoma warriors who are still in the fight--fighting with every ounce of bravery, courage, and strength they can muster--to try to win the fight.  My fondest desire is that every melanoma warrior will come out on top and beat this monster. Unfortunately and all to often, I hear of those who ultimately lost their lives to melanoma.  These stories sadden me so much, that sometimes, I have to temporarily cut myself off and take a little break from the melanoma "world".  I stop reading others' blogs, I don't pay much attention on Facebook, and I don't read the forums.  It makes me feel selfish and guilty for not being supportive for these fellow warriors and I feel awful for not recipricating the kind of love and support that I felt from so many during my own fight.  But it is my only coping mechanism.  It is the only way I can seperate myself from all the discouraging and devasting stories.  It is how I balance my emotions and not let them get the best of me.  I just have to go into my little bubble.  Shut off the "noise" around me and focus on me for a time-- my health, my family, and my life.  I have to regain optimism and hope and then move forward again.

For any readers out there that might feel that I haven't supported you in your journey, please know that I am truly sorry.  Please forgive me for not being there for you.  But please know how often I think of you, pray for you, and send my love and positive thoughts.  There isn't a day that goes by that I think of all the people I know who have fought bravely or are currently fighting this disease.  I want ALL of us to win.  I want melanoma to lose the battle and disappear into oblivion! 


Here is what I want to say to each and every melanoma warrior out there.  Melanoma might be big, bad, and terrible.  And yes, it takes too many lives.  But that doesn't mean that you should surrender to it.  It doesn't mean that "it" is bigger than YOU.  It doesn't mean that you can't come out on top.  One of the most beautiful blessings that has come into my life as a result of my melanoma diagnosis is hearing these amazing stories of survival and meeting and becoming life-long friends with these fellow warriors.  Their stories have uplifted me, inspired me, and most importantly, have been the glimmer of hope in a dark tunnel of darkness when the world seems to be crashing down upon me.  If it weren't for these survivors and friends, I can openly and honestly say, that I might not be here today. 

These people have given me everything I need to believe that I can do this.  I can be one of them.  I can be a miracle just like them.  I can and WILL defy the odds and statistics.  I will be a success story.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who have strengthened  me, (which is ALL of you) in some way or another.  We must stick together, we must lift each other up, and we must seek out those that need a little bit of encouragment, hope, and courage to face the fight. 

To those who are in the midst of the battle, keep on going.  Don't stop.  Take one day at a time and know that there are so many miracles happening around you.  Surround yourself with optimism and hope, surround yourself with people who lift you up, and look forward with faith and an unconquerable spirit. 

You can do this.  Just believe.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Game plan

So, I'm back in CA.  Again.  After 3 weeks away from home (2 weeks visiting my folks in CA and then 1 week visiting family and friends in UT), I'm back in CA for radiation.

5 radiation treatments to my right lung nodule in 10 days.  High dose.  And then I'm done.  That is the plan.  We will re-scan in 3 months in hopes to see this nodule as a "sliver" of scar tissue.

I can honestly say that there was a time when I wasn't sure if that day would come.  I mean, I know very well that things can always change, but I can almost taste those three little letters.  N.E.D.

And how sweet they taste.  Let's keep our fingers crossed.

My happy place.  Celebrating the miracle that is life.  It is glorious to be alive.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lisa Formato

Lisa is a unique and incredible melanoma warrior in that she is healing herself naturally.  I have SO much respect for Lisa and her decision to turn down "conventional" or western medicine and chose a more holistic path to ridding herself of Stage 4 melanoma.  I think that takes a lot of courage and I commend her for the path that she has chosen.  Because I am also very into health and doing everything you can to ensure a strong immune system, I believe Lisa is doing so many great things.  Please follow her blog if you chose to learn more about what she is doing to heal herself naturally.  Lisa's story is written below (in her words), and can also be found on our website.

Hi all. The name is Lisa, the age is 29 and home is Long Island, New York. When I was eighteen, after a pre-college physical, it was discovered that I had stage I melanoma. I underwent a wide excision surgery and was then sent on my way to college to live my life, practicing sun safety and regular visits to my dermatologist.

Then eight years later, I found a very enlarged lymph node under my arm and knew right away it was related to the melanoma years ago. Sure enough, BAM!  I now had Stage III melanoma.  I underwent a lymph node dissection, radiation, and a month of Interferon, a drug with horrid side effects. At that point, the doctors told me that they “got it all”.  I tried to return to normal life, but all three of the treatments left me weak, with frozen shoulder and plummeted my immune system.  Only a year later, the melanoma had spread to my lungs, spleen, liver, hip bone, and various other lymph nodes. I now had stage IV melanoma.

My support team and I went from one prestigious conventional hospital to the next looking for solutions to beat the melanoma and keep me alive.  I was offered opportunities to undergo some clinical trials that may or may not work.  Somehow along the way, I was lead to the holistic path.  And boy am I grateful that I was!

My acupuncturist insisted that I start taking this supplement that reportedly reverses people’s cancers and other life threatening illnesses. I was skeptical and thought it was quackery, but still decided to go pursue it since I had nothing to lose.  I heard testimonial after testimonial from survivors who swore by this supplement, so of course, I was intrigued. This was the first step of my holistic journey….

It was at that point that I stopped all visits to conventional doctors, refused conventional treatments and sought out to learn all I could about the world of natural healing. I learned that cancer is not an outside invader and that it is a deficiency of vitamins and minerals within our own immune system. I learned that the toxins in our body are the primary cause of melanoma and the usual culprit, the SUN, is not to blame. I learned that in order to control or reverse the cancer we have to change our body’s internal milieu. I learned that to beat the cancer you have to target the problem that created the cancer in the first place, not just take it out with surgery or blast it with chemo.

Eating healthy, exercising, managing our stress and breathing are CRITICAL. For someone who wasn’t giving very long to live, I am doing very well. My list of holistic treatments is endless…. from juicing, to taking herbal pills and injections, to enemas, to traveling to a biological clinic in Europe, I do quite a bit.  It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly did the trick but all I know is my blood work and test results are all really good.  I realize that everyone has their own path to healing, mine just happened to be the holistic route.  What I do know is that love, an incredible support system and an optimistic attitude is more than half the battle.

I have learned so much as a young cancer survivor. Many things in my life have changed; some things for the better and some things I didn’t want to change. I learned to live in the moment and embrace everyday with a smile and laughter. I learned to not fret the small things and I realized just how incredibly strong the human spirit is. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I can honestly say that a cancer diagnosis changed my life for the better. My life’s destiny is to spread the healing to those suffering and to prevent others from ever hearing the words, “You have cancer.” Parallel to my career of being a mental health therapist I am now a holistic health counselor to help others reach their optimum health and happiness. Please contact me on my blog at www.peacelovemelanoma.blogspot.com if I can help in any way.

Peace and Strength,
Lisa Formato

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

24 months REMISSION!

Well, I made the 2 year mark.  August 2, 2012 marks 24 months in remission from Stage 4 melanoma.  2 years ago, I wasn't sure I would be here.  I am so blessed and grateful that I am though and even though I am still just as nervous for scans every 3 months, I do feel I can breathe just a tad more in between those tests.  When I saw my doctor this month, I thanked him for helping keep me alive for 2 years.  His response, "Kid, you have many more years to go!"  I love his optimism.  Seriously, he is a great doctor.

On another positive note....

After 5 months of fighting my insurance, we were finally able to get the radiation approved!  Ok, so it was kind of a "back door" that we went through, but still, who cares?!  I am on cloud 9 just knowing that the plan that my doctors have set out to do will finally be accomplished.

Even though I currently don't have "active" disease, the one remaining nodule in my lung will no longer be visible after we complete radiation.  Well, maybe there will be a little scar tissue after radiation, but that is certain.  Right now, we are uncertain if what remains is scar tissue or possibly some "dormant" melanoma cells that will misbehave in the future.  By receiving radiation to this nodule, we are ensuring that this tissue is indeed dead.  It is an insurance polilcy.

Oh, and scans were good!  Remission remains and now I am one step closer to the most important status.... N.E.D.!!!!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Alisa, warrior princess

One of the blogs and melanoma warriors that I follow is Alisa.  She is the same age as me, is a mom of 3 boys, and lives in UT.  She is currently fighting Stage 4 melanoma and is fighting for her life. 

This incredible, lovely, strong lady is such an inspiration to me.  Her story, her fight, but most of all, her optimism and faith is truly astounding.  She is something else.  You must read her story, but be prepared, you will need klennex.  Not because her story is heartbreaking, but because she writes and expresses herself so beautifully and perfectly.  Her emotions are real and raw and the way that she lives her life despite the circumstances is such an example to me of someone who truly lives in the present and enjoys the simplicity of everyday life, cherishes her loved ones, and moves forward with faith and hope.

Reading Alisa's story and thoughts continually reminds me to be grateful for my life, to hold my loved ones close, and to not let life pass you by.  I pray for you Alisa, that you will continue to be blessed with miracles, that you will be healed, and that you will continue to inspire all those around you!