Building Your Bucket List

I never had a bucket list before I started having health issues. I didn't need one because I had plenty of time to do everything that I had ever dreamed about. After cancer, my perspective changed and I have realized that there are a few things that I really do not want to miss out on in this life time. Some might think it's depressing to contemplate death and to think about kicking the bucket, so to speak, but I don't think so.  It can be motivating! I don't want any regrets, so, I have written down my bucket's official!

I love to travel, but time and money usually keep me from hitting the road constantly. However, I have realized with careful planning, I can complete some of the more expensive items on my list, but I have to start planning. This is our life, right now, and we need to start crossing those items off our list. To do that, you need to first get the top 10 things you absolutely want to do. A few of my top items include adopting a dog, traveling to New Zealand where my grandfather was from and getting my DNA tested to find out more about my family heritage. What are the top things you are dreaming about? What is keeping you from doing them? 

Get a piece of paper and write down 10 things you really want to do. They don't have to be huge things, just things that you have thought about and never completed. Now, take a look at those items and choose a couple that you can do right now. Now do it! Just make it happen! Yes, it really is that easy! I had been thinking about taking tap dancing classes for years, actually decades, since I took my first lessons as a kid. I found a tap class right here in Ojai and signed up last year. It has been so much fun and now I run into my new tap dancing friends around town. I can check that off my bucket list!

There really is no time like the present. I want to have fun and live life and I know that deep down you do too. So, stop with the excuses. Write down those things you want to do today. Once you finish the list, you will probably have new hopes and dreams. I know I will. That's ok, just make a new list. Don't kick the bucket regretting those items you never took the time to do, add some fun into your life! Make your bucket list today!

Check out my next Blog: What is in your Personal Care Products?



Reinventing Yourself after Cancer

A cancer diagnosis changes everything. What you did before cancer may not be possible after you finish your treatments or you might find that you no longer want to do what you used to do. I find myself in the latter position. As much as I loved owning my own nostalgic candy store, the amount of time, effort and stress involved in keeping my retail business going, was simply too much to maintain. I have realized that I need to limit my stress levels wherever possible and focus on work that will be enjoyable and inspiring. I need to reinvent myself...that is definitely easier said than done.

What does your reinvention look like? Who do you want to be? What is your passion? How many hours a week do you want or need to work? Can you find a job close to home that cuts down on commute times? Are you willing to just go back to what you were doing before? You need to take time to ask yourself what you want your life to look like.  Yes, you could just go back to the way things were...but, we both know your life is forever changed. You can use that to your advantage if you are willing to sit quietly and actually listen to yourself. You could go back to school and go into a completely different field. This is the time to do what you want to do.

I have noticed that a lot of people I know are over the fact that I had cancer. They have moved on and think that I should too. It's not that they are not being understanding, but I survived, and I am currently "No evidence of cancer," so I should put it behind me. I wish I could just go back to the way things were, but pretending that my body has not changed physically and pretending that my mind and heart are not changed too, doesn't seem wise. I am the same Holly I was before, but I like to think in some ways I am improved.

I am no longer willing to kill myself for a buck and don't think a 50-60 hour work week is feasible anymore physically or mentally for me. It's amazing to me now, how much we expect of ourselves and others in this society. I don't usually make New Year's Resolutions, but this year I did. I promised myself I would not over schedule my life. It's amazing the amount of hours that are dedicated to being a Wife, Mother to a teenager, managing our finances and household, donating my time to several organizations, writing a blog and writing a book about the last year of my life...and now I need to get a job too! 

I am in the process of my reinvention. I thought it would happen overnight, but now I see that it is going to take time and patience to plan out the next phase of my life as a breast cancer survivor. As my friend Ron told me early on in my diagnosis, "Be Gentle with Yourself." I am trying and you should too. Happy New Year! Here is to our reinvention!

Next week's Blog: Planning Your Bucket List

Being your own Advocate...

In the beginning of my breast cancer journey, I was at a loss for what to ask or what to do to prepare for all of the doctors appointments.  I realized very quickly that I had to be my own advocate.  Nobody, including the doctors, were going to do all of the research and ask the tough questions. They would give me the results from testing, but would stop short from making any of the medical decisions for me.  All of the medical decisions surrounding my breast cancer were mine to make...that is a good thing, but also very tough!  Doctors tend to offer the least invasive treatments first and then it was up to me to fill in the blanks by asking what all of the other options were.

I started taking a small, black notebook to every single appointment.  Before the appointment, I would write down all of the questions that came to mind.  My husband, Wiley, was very good at adding a different perspective and would add many questions to my list I hadn't even thought about.  It is strange how you feel so prepared before an appointment and the minute you get into the room, every question and thought you had disappears from your mind.

Absolutely have someone accompany you to each appointment.  A spouse, friend or family member can help you with this.  My little black book helped me to remember what to focus on, but having my husband at each appointment opened up a discussion which ultimately helped me make my decisions feeling very informed and supported.  I would write the answers down for later as so much information was given to me at some appointments I had a hard time remembering it all when I got home.  Some appointments were so overwhelming that I needed Wiley to know what happened, so that we could discuss it all at home afterwards.  

Trying to go to all of your appointments by yourself is just not a good idea.  I know it is tough to feel like you are burdening someone you care about with all of the cancer information, but you really should not go through this alone if you don't have to.  Find someone you trust to accompany you to at least the big appointments and consultations.

When I had my first appointment with my surgeon, we reviewed my test results and discussed the possibility of having only a lumpectomy in my left breast where the cancer tumor originated.  I asked what the chances of the cancer coming back in the remaining left breast tissue was?  I also asked what the chances were of the cancer coming back in my right breast if I did nothing with it?  Was removing only my left breast in a single mastectomy aggressive enough?  I asked a whole lot of questions and she gave me all of the answers I needed to make my decision based on my stage of cancer and my risk level.

If you don't already have one, get yourself a small notebook that is easy to carry.  Take it with you to each appointment.  It was very handy when one doctor would ask about what another doctor or specialist had said about something specific.  I could look back through the notes from that appointment and give an accurate answer.  I have learned to be my own advocate, to ask tough questions and to always take my little black notebook with me.  It has served me very well!

NEXT WEEK'S BLOG:  Making a cancer binder with your medical records...

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: Checking in...

Unfortunately, the cancer journey can be a very long one and can test even the most patient of people.  Some times there is lots to do and other times nothing at all.  One of the things that got me through this journey was the very small group of committed friends and family that constantly checked in with me.  I let everyone know that texting, email or messages through Facebook were the best mode of communication for me.  It was just too exhausting to constantly answer the phone and make pleasantries while I was feeling so badly.  If you know someone that has cancer, decide that you are going to check in on them on a regular basis.  A quick daily or weekly check in will let that person know that you are thinking about them and also gives them the opportunity to ask for help or just have someone that will listen to them.

If you decide that you are going to check are a few Do's & Dont's to reaching out...

Do: Ask what the best mode of communication is for them. Text, email, phone, Facebook…what works best for them?

Don’t: Rely on them to check in with you.


Do: Consistently check in. You are not bothering us. We want to know that people care and are thinking about us.

Don’t: Go on and on about something unless you know they are interested. Especially on the phone. I stopped picking up the phone, because it would sometimes exhaust me.


Do: Simple one liners will do: “How are you doing today”, “Do you need anything?”  “How are you feeling?”  All easy ways to open the conversation & touch base.

Don’t: Send articles that contradict the treatment options they have chosen. That is just so rude and unhelpful.


Do: Send a supportive note. Include flowers if budget allows. I made sure I had at least one fresh bouquet of flowers every week. Some came from friends and most of the time my husband would grab me a bouquet at the grocery store.

Don’t: Drop by their house unannounced. Somedays you are so sick you cannot even get out of bed.


Do: Be careful to not send too much cancer cure info unless they have told you that they are open to it. If they are, then share it.

Don’t: Send awful stories about people that have died from cancer. Really?  We are trying to get better here and that is so wrong!


Do: Invite them to events, but be very understanding that they may not be able to attend. If they say they are coming, but cancel the day of the event. Be compassionate, they have cancer!

Don’t: Pressure them to attend events that you are having and DO NOT make them feel guilty if they say no.


Do: Offer to take over a duty at school or in a club that they volunteer with. When you have cancer, it is best to remove yourself from obligations & let friends and family pick up the slack.

Don’t: Ask them for any favors. That can be a burden for someone with cancer.


Do: Supportively accept any “No’s” that are given to you by someone with cancer. They would commit to it if they felt they could.

Don’t: Create tasks for someone with cancer. We have enough on our plate as it is.


Stay tuned for my next blog; Cancer caregivers need support too...

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: You’ve offered your help…

If you have offered to visit, bring meals or help in any other way, please be respectful of their time, their emotional state and their needs.  Having cancer is like being on a boat and having no navigation tools and no sense of where you will be minute to minute or day to day.  One minute I was laughing and teasing about my cancer, the next sobbing about the overwhelming idea that my mortality was in imminent danger.  This is totally normal.  Emotions, fears & your cancer reality will be ever changing.  I never knew what the next day would bring on my journey. 

On several occasions while I was going through chemo, I made plans with people to come visit me.  I always told them that we would check in the morning of the visit and if I wasn’t feeling well we would have to postpone.  I was a little over ambitious with my visitors one particular day, but I was feeling so good, I wanted to squeeze in as many supportive, loving friends as I could.  It actually was a disaster, as all three small groups of people showed up at the same time and I was overwhelmed trying to talk to 6 people at one time.  From that moment on, I decided that I was not going to try and make anyone else happy on this cancer journey at my own expense.  I was very specific in communicating my needs and If I needed a nap, I was going to take one and plans with friends or family would have to change to accommodate me.

Here are some practical Do’s & Dont’s when offering to help someone with cancer...

Do: If you have made an offer to help, follow up. Make definite plans with exact times.

Don’t: Rely on them to call you to make plans. They are overwhelmed and probably not sleeping, so take the initiative.

Do: If you said you would be there at noon, be there at noon. Do not show up late!

Don’t: Arrive 2 hours late with excuses. If you can’t do it, don’t plan it.

Do: Understand that some days it is difficult to get up, get dressed and wait for visitors.

Don’t: Make someone with cancer wait for you. There is so much waiting already!

Do: Be very flexible!  You might need to change the plan if they are not feeling well or up for visitors after all. 

Don’t: Ever show up sick or fighting off a cold or flu. If you have been around someone in the last 48 hours that has been sick, let them know and cancel your visit.

Do: When you have cancer, you have good and bad days and you need to honor that.

Don’t: Bring your little kids along unless you have already gotten approval that it is ok.

Do: Ask them if they have any issues with perfume or scented items.

Don’t: Show up covered in scented items.  Many cancer patients have heightened senses when going through cancer treatment. Scented items made me extremely nauseous.

Do: Ask if they have any diet restrictions or things they cannot eat.

Don’t: Assume they will be able to eat something without asking; taste buds can be off and somethings look and smell terrible that didn’t before.

Do: Offer to pick up, drop off & pay for take-out food of their choice.  It is such a treat to have a favorite meal delivered.

Don’t: If bringing a meal, limit your visit to let them enjoy the meal & visit another day.

Stay tuned for my next segment; Practical Do’s & Dont’s: Checking in with someone that has cancer...