Looks like I made it

Tomorrow is August 9th, also known as my birthday, and also known as the day I turn THIRTY.

Yes, my friends. Little ol’ me who still gets mistaken as a high school student is turning the big 3-0.

When I was first diagnosed, I remember one of the first (of many) frantic thoughts that flew through my head was, what if I don’t live to see 30? I made it my mini goal, to “make it” to 30, because it seemed like a realistic amount of time to still be alive.

And whaddya know – I am alive! A pat on the back for me for being able to check off that box.

I am so happy to be turning 30 and say sayonara to the 20’s. Do you know how many Facebook posts I have seen of people crying and whining over their 30th birthdays, acting as if it is some sort of tragic occasion? So many. And I always want to yell at those folks and remind them that there are many people who are not fortunate enough to see their next birthday, and would gladly trade places. I said it last year, and I will say it again: getting older is a privilege. Getting old is my DREAM. When I think of being truly “old,” I get all weepy, because I worry it might not happen for me. This might already be my “old” stage. I have no idea.

But for now, I am content with having made it through another year, and having pushed my way into another decade. What a glorious thing. I don’t know what my next goal age will be. I’ve been really scared that I won’t make it to 40. So I don’t think I’m ready yet to think that far ahead.

In fact, no goals right now. No wondering about next year, or the year after that. I made it to 30. And that’s something worth celebrating. Another year, and I’m still here.

Happy birthday to me!

**Same deal as last year — If you feel like giving me a birthday gift, please donate to my team and support breast cancer research and programs at the Princess Margaret. Do it! It’s my birthday!

A celebration

When I was still doing chemo, some members of my family had mentioned it might be a nice idea to have a party when it was all over, to give me something to look forward to. I started researching some venues and thinking of who I might invite, but then I stopped. I felt sick and ugly and bald. I couldn’t imagine ever being healthy enough to attend a party. And I didn’t feel like celebrating. My future felt uncertain, a big question mark. Why celebrate when there might be more terrible news lurking around the corner? How would I really know when I was at the “end”?

So the party plans stopped and I told everyone I didn’t want to think about it for the time being and didn’t feel comfortable planning anything.

Then chemo ended, and radiation ended and I started to get better. And I had a scan that I was really scared about and felt some relief from the results. And then I decided, okay. Time to plan a party.

I knew this couldn’t really be a woohoo, I’m cured! themed party, because, well… I don’t know if I’m cured. And no one’s going to be saying those words to me any time soon. But I figured it didn’t really matter. Whether I’m cured or not, whether I live or die, right now I am feeling pretty good and I can stand up for multiple hours without fainting and I can climb several flights of stairs and I can lift a bag of groceries without needing a nap – and all of those things seemed worthy of celebrating. Just being healthy, for the moment, and alive, for the moment.

I also really wanted the chance to gather all the people who had been there for me this past year, in one room. It was my opportunity to say thank you to those people who had dropped meals at my door, sat with me while I moaned, mailed care packages to me, sent funny texts and emails to cheer me up, let me know they were always thinking of me.

We put together a huge candy bar. And we had cupcakes. And mini sandwiches with nutella and peanut butter. There was a music soundtrack provided by yours truly, and lots of laughs and hugs throughout the evening. I even made a quick impromptu speech at the coaxing of my grandfather.

It was so special to have all these people under one roof, and I admit, a bit overwhelming. I hadn’t seen some of these friends in a long time, and it’s very rare to have the opportunity to be surrounded by so many people who care about you, when there is not a wedding or any type of traditional milestone occasion involved. I had a friend fly in from New York to surprise me, and I also got to meet a very special lady for the first time after corresponding with her the whole time I was in treatment. It was an amazing night filled with amazing friends and family. And I am so lucky.

*All photographs taken by Lindsay Lauckner

Are you there God, it’s me, Stephanie

Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. For those of you not in the know, this is one of the holiest and most significant days for us Jewish folk. It’s like our Christmas. Except not at all.

Unlike the North American type of New Year, the Jewish one is a touch more serious, with some heavy lessons thrown in for good measure (the Jews love lessons). The idea is that the Big Guy up there opens up his big book of judgment on Rosh Hashanah, and decides whether you’ve been naughty or nice and if you deserve to be written into his Book of Life. If you’re an evil, awful person, then your chances don’t look so good. If you’re a saint, then you likely have a good year ahead. If you’ve made a few mistakes, but are otherwise pretty alright, then you need to spend the next 10 days repenting for your sins and asking for forgiveness and making things right with the Big Guy, before he seals your fate for the year on Yom Kippur.

Okay, so I think that’s a really simplified version and if any religious Jews are reading this, I apologize, but that’s the best I can do right now. Judaism for Dummies.

Challah, i.e. the best part of any Jewish holiday. (photo by Tori Avey)

Last year, we celebrated the holiday the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so one might say that there was a bit of a cloud hanging over the holidays. Actually, there was a cloud hanging over pretty much every holiday for the entire past year, and some holidays I even had to bypass completely. So I am looking forward to any holiday where I can sit up, eat some food, enjoy friends and family, and not pass out in the middle of it all.

I don’t think I was really deserving of the past year, and if there is a God up there, I’m pretty sure he got it wrong when he decided what my fate would be for the following year. Unless I did some really, incredibly terrible thing that I have blocked from my memory, but I’m fairly certain that I’m mostly a decent person.

So hey God, if you’re listening, you kind of owe me one. I’ll look past your error this time, since we all make mistakes, and maybe you were just having an off day. It happens. But there is no need to waste time judging me this year. I’ve paid my dues. Please just throw my name straight into your Book of Life. Top of the list.  Let’s try to make this year a little better, a little brighter, and a lot less cancer-filled. Thank you.

Shanah Tovah.

I feel better

I received a lot of really kind and encouraging messages after my last post. I know a lot of people out there are concerned about me and I didn’t really have the energy to respond at the time. So I wanted to check in with my faithful followers and let you all know:


In fact, I am doing quite well, both emotionally and physically. As quickly as the sickness and misery from the chemo seems to hit me each time, there is also this wonderful break where I bounce back and wake up from the nightmare. Each time, it gets a bit worse, and each time, I am in such agony and my emotions become completely warped (especially this last time, which I attribute to the high dose of steroids I was on) and I don’t believe it will ever end. This past round, I was convinced that I was dying and would never see a good day again, despite what anyone told me. The combination of feeling awful and being on strong drugs really does crazy things to an otherwise (mostly) sound mind.

But sure enough, it passed, and I didn’t even notice it happen. The puffiness in my face and bloating in my stomach seemed to go down, which I was thrilled about, as I had convinced myself I was becoming obese from laying in bed too much. But I now believe it was steroid-induced, so that’s certainly a nice treat. The idea of being fat and bald had me feeling a bit down.

I also have been gaining my energy back, which feels great. In fact, on Friday, I went on a mission with the help of my mother and decided to redecorate my bedroom. I spent four hours shopping, which I really believe was some sort of miracle. I only had to lie down on a floor model bed very briefly. And I didn’t pass out at Walmart, which is also amazing, as I typically want to pass out in Walmarts even when I am in perfect health. I also helped carry my new nightstands up the stairs, which was quite a feat, considering I couldn’t even get myself up the stairs at this time last week. I set everything up on my own and felt like the most productive chemo patient in the universe.

The next day, I spent another several hours on my feet, throwing out loads of crap that had piled up in my home over the years. Old makeup, expired cold medicine, receipts. The types of things you just ignore for too long, making it progressively more difficult to tackle as time goes on. I went on a complete rampage, tossing things out and reorganizing. I don’t know where the motivation came from. I suppose having less clutter makes my brain feel less cluttered. And as you all know, I have a lot going on in my brain, so any mental space I can free up is a big help right now.

My new and improved bedroom after a bit of a facelift. That radiator was full of magazines and crap before. Crap be gone!
My new and improved bedroom after a bit of a facelift. That radiator was full of magazines and crap before. Crap be gone!

When I feel better like I do now, with only a few side effects present as opposed to several, it is hard to accept that I have to endure another round. I was hanging on by a thread a mere few days ago. Why would any rational person continually subject themselves to that kind of torture, when they know precisely what will happen?

I suppose, the answer, is that the alternative is worse. So, there’s that.

Friday is my last chemo. You’d think I would be excited, knowing it’s the end of this chapter, but I’m not. It’s not like I finish up the day and suddenly feel super. I still have to go through the suffering that comes after. I still have to drop all the way to the bottom once again and wonder how long I will stay there. I also am afraid to let myself get excited. To feel complacent. I am scared to let my guard down and believe that things really might start to look up. To get easier. What if it’s not really the end? What if I have an early recurrence? What if they throw me right back into chemo? What if, what if?

But for now, I’m not going to bother with that. For now, I’m not going to think about Friday and the week following it. For now, I’m feeling good. Almost like a normal human being. And in my peculiar case, that is certainly something to celebrate.

Enjoying my new bed, which I’m currently not stuck in. Hip hip hooray!