I can’t believe you would rather run your dogs than save your own life!

Angry words spoken by a plastic surgeon at my choice to not undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. Just one statement of hundreds made by doctors who didn’t share the goals I intended to achieve through and beyond my health opportunity. In spite of our lack of shared goals, I did appreciate her as she was the only Dr. Plastic who was totally honest with me about the degree of invasion and total recovery time involved with said surgery. Three other Dr. Plastics were not so honest, but that is a conversation best saved for another post.

To move forward, I will first take you back… My love affair with dogs and rescue began at age six with Sheba: a wiry Terrier/and Lord knows what else mixed-breed my sister and I rescued along with several puppy siblings our neighbor was trying inhumanely euthanize. Life Lessons 101 began with this dog. A glimpse into the best and worst of human nature, the responsibility to care for creatures who need you (and eventually you mature enough to realize you need them more), the recognition that your actions, good or bad, always impact someone or something else, and a capacity to love and forgive beyond imagination.

When I was seven, my sister and I received Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for Christmas and within two days my sweet Sheba chewed the buttons off of Andy’s pants. I was afraid (unfounded) my parents would make me give her away for being bad so dug a hole in the frozen ground and buried Andy, willing to take the chance of being punished for ‘misplacing’ him vs. potentially losing a dog I already loved more than myself.

So what is it now? Why the crazy, over the top dedication to all things dog? First, it is the dogs themselves. My friend Paula says God never gives us a dog that isn’t meant us, and I believe her. I’ll start with Sasha, the beautiful senior who brought people into my life I love like family. People who enrich me and without whom I wouldn’t have had the mental and physical fortitude to survive last year. Sasha was my road buddy, a guard dog, and a sweet and gentle companion who introduced me to Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a breed I will always love and favor.

Royal, who I can’t think of without having tears fall from my eyes, was my Heart Dog. In less than two years this boy taught me more about myself than most other life experiences. One month after adopting him, I discovered he had an auto-immune disorder initially considered treatable. He was a young dog and because Layla and I loved him fiercely, I spent an insane amount of money over the course of two years to treat him medically and surgically. Crazy? Maybe, but he was my responsibility and I now believe God always had a plan for me through this dog. When I was diagnosed, I made a decision to not follow my instinct to go to OHI due to the financial commitment involved. I shared my decision with a friend, who looked at me in shock and asked how I could be “ok” with spending more money on my dog than I was willing to spend on myself. Perspective… I went to OHI, a life changing and I believe a life saving experience for me. I like to think Royal would have approved.

When Royal died, Layla and I were both lost. She grieved so strongly she ended up in the ER for four days. The vet said she had a broken heart (and an obstruction from obsessively eating grass/throwing up over and over and over due to stress) and recommended I bring another dog into the house. While I wasn’t ready for another dog I also wasn’t happy with the moping attitudes Layla and I were sharing. This is how Axel, the failed foster formerly known as Ray, came into our lives. Axel is my ‘ray’ of sunshine. He is sweet beyond measure and possesses so many characteristics of Royal I tell Layla God knew we still needed him and gave us a younger, healthier version of Royal in Axel. Axel is the dog who just wants to be with me. When I am down, he is the dog who lays his velvet head in my lap or lays along side of me and calms my spirit. Now, as I am healing he is the dog that refuses to walk on my right side forcing me to use the left arm damaged by surgery which I otherwise would favor. He makes me stronger.

And finally my Layla, my Sassy Pants, Bi-polar Satanic Baby, Princess (both good and evil), Little Monkey who I now know I need more than any other dog. Layla is the dog who will never let me stay down. She insists on a minimum of one outing and one training session every day. She is loud (part coon-hound), scary smart, and likely the funniest dog I will ever have. Layla is in the business of living life to the fullest, and she expects me to make it happen, every day.

The day I was officially diagnosed I came home, laid on the couch and sat there numb, tears streaming down my face not quite knowing what to do next. Axel came and licked my tears, crawling up on the couch and curling behind my legs. Not my Layla. She stood three feet away from me staring with a look of stern disgust. She didn’t care that I had cancer. We always go for a walk when I get home and this laying on the couch having a pity party for myself was not to be had! She barked at me, charged me, and when I yelled at her to go lay down she jumped on the couch and pawed at me until I was laughing so hard I got my butt off the couch and took the dogs for a two-hour walk. I felt refreshed, calm and didn’t cry about cancer again. Layla is in the business of living…

But it isn’t just these dogs. It is also the people they bring into my life. People who lift me up, support me, challenge me, and make this healing journey seem so much easier than it might actually be. My friend Jamie said of Celia (RR Rescue coordinator), a woman I admire, respect and love for her spirit, kindness and incredible selflessness: “I consider her closer to God than anyone I’ve ever met–her entire existence is spent serving those who can never thank her. The way I see it, Celia probably has major points with God and can put in a word for quick healing.” These are the kind of friends I want in my corner. I am blessed beyond measure to have dog people in my life. The generosity, sacrifice and day-to-day thoughtfulness my friends provide in support of my choices related to healing are humbling and amazing.

I could spend hours telling stories or writing books filled with what I’ve learned from my dogs; recounting heartbreaking loss, crazy adventure, protection and companionship provided, the sense of peace, joy, and episodes of side-splitting laughter my dogs bring to my life. When I am with my dogs I truly “live in the moment”. When we are running, hiking, or training, I don’t think about work, finances, the gazillion things that need to be checked off on my to-do list, or cancer. I feel closest to God when I am outside with the wind in my hair and sun on my face watching my dogs do what they do best: live, run and play with unadulterated joy and enthusiasm, excited about every sight, sound and smell, anticipating what is around the next corner, around a tree, or over a hill. This is how I always want to live my life.

Doctor: …Yes, that is what I mean. It will be at least a year and a half before you can run your dogs without causing damage to the surgical site.

Me: That’s not going to happen then. Being happy is part of healing and if I can’t run my dogs or have to ask for help to exercise them for a year and a half I would be miserable!

Doctor: I can’t believe you would rather run your dogs than save your own life!

Me: You don’t get it. Running my dogs does save my life.

With love to members of my “Medical Team”: Axel, Layla, Paula and Andy, Bart and Courtney, Henry and Gabriel, Kimberlee, Don and Betty, Jamie, Jana R, Kimberlee, Marcella, Rebecca, Alice, Jeanie, Beth, Bobby, Joni, Margie, Adrienne, Terri, Terry, Jamie, Neesa, Patrick, Celia, John and Kathy, Sandra, Amanda, Jana M, Kate, Lydia, Donald, Jon, Thomas, Jack, Julia, Shay, Jay, Kelly, every other trainer and person on staff at DogBoy’s Dog Ranch, Dr. Winsett (the one actual Doctor who supports my treatment 100%) and many other friends and my entire family who have always understood my love for all things DOG.

Posted in Personal Healing | 16 Comments

The hardest part about having cancer…

I knew I had cancer when I received a voicemail requesting that I “please call back” a doctor who had never asked me to call back in fourteen years. My initial external response was an incredibly less than profound statement to my friend Adrienne: “Oh great, I have cancer”. I shared three other short thoughts with her and decided there was absolutely nothing I could do about it at that moment and we went on to eat lunch.

I didn’t feel the sense of suffocating panic or fear I’ve heard other diagnosed people talk about. I didn’t burst into tears internally or externally, and I never felt, said, or asked God “Why me”? What I did feel was a total lack of surprise mixed with disappointment, sadness, guilt, and grief.

I wasn’t surprised because I am my Mother’s daughter. My Mom died of breast cancer. Like hers, my diagnosis was preceded by a series of ‘female issues’ that resulted in a number of surgeries and a variety of medical treatments to deal with those issues. Obviously they didn’t work.

I was incredibly disappointed in myself because I watched my Mom hold a disease at bay for a period of time by radically changing her lifestyle and somehow, even given similar health patterns, I apparently thought I was invincible and kept certain habits, foods, and stressors as a part of my lifestyle.

I felt a crushing sadness knowing my having cancer was going to cause the people I love the most- my family, friends and team- to experience fear for their own personal reasons, and pain in having to re-live the loss of my Mom (or their loved ones). I felt sad knowing even though I was the same person, with or without cancer, some people and things would change once my diagnosis became less private.

I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt over my third shared thought, which was: “I am glad my Mom isn’t here to know I have cancer”. WOW! My thought stemmed from the fact I knew my Mom would have felt a completely unfounded guilt had she been alive to see I share the same genetic mutation that likely caused her cancer. Regardless, it was and is a horrible feeling to even think those words and I remain filled with grief for the loss of my Mom whom I miss every single day.

So for me, the hardest part about having cancer had very little to do with the disease itself. It was more about the damage it causes to other people and the emotional scars it leaves behind.

However, remember I am blessed beyond measure. Whether I was inviting Him to lead me or not, God has prepared me for this journey through simple and extreme experiences, and through the gift of the people He has placed in my path.

The emotions of disappointment, sadness, guilt and grief are not conducive to a healing environment. I choose to focus on the blessings and gifts I have been given which are healing to my mind, body and spirit, and for which I am eternally grateful.

Note: This post was written December 14, 2012, which was my Mom’s birthday. The events of the day made it impossible for me to complete the post as I intended on that date.

Many of you know my Mom worked at Campion Academy where she loved and treated the students as if they were her own children. She saved money to buy a large beautiful oak table so she could invite at least eight of ‘her kids’ over for dinner after Church each week. My mom spent hours investing in kids who didn’t fit in, kids who needed a non-judgmental adult to listen and offer objective advice, and kids who simply needed an adult to be present and care.

I can’t count the number of times kids came up to me while I was still attending Campion and after graduation to tell me how lucky I was that Mrs. T was my Mom. I know she made life-changing differences to many of these kids, as she did for me personally.

She used to tell me, my sister, and the kids at Campion she was “accountable to God for how she raised us”. That pretty much gave her the ‘win’ for every teenage argument, as you can’t beat a Mom and God combo.

When my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, she told me: “If my getting cancer brings one person in our family back to God, it is totally worth it”. I know factually that it did, and not just for one person.

The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut would have broken my Mom’s heart. If you knew my Mom, you know she revered God above all. She loved her family more than herself, and would lay her life down for another without giving it a second thought.

I pray I live my life with the attitude and spirit of my Mom. I pray for her strength and total reliance on God, which saw her through every trial she faced. I pray I can be a servant leader as she was and impact the lives of the people around me as she did the lives around her.

Dedicated to the children and adult victims of Newtown, Connecticut, and my loving Mother Donna Jean Trujillo.

Posted in Personal Healing | 16 Comments

At some point, I’m going to talk a lot more about food.

I’m going to talk about the foods and drinks I gave up and why. I’m going to talk about the foods I now eat, and how they keep my body and mind whole and healthy. I am a living testament to the fact that food impacts what happens in and outside of my body. Some, but not all of the changes that resulted from my new lifestyle (not a diet) include:

No more allergies: I used to take up to four Benadryl and two Zyrtec a day. Yes, I said a day. I imagine I said some pretty ridiculous things in the fog-brain-stupor I spent such a large amount of time in.

No more debilitating migraine headaches: I’m talking can’t open your eyes, hearing roaring in your head, make you throw up migraines. I must have been a true party to be around!

Eliminating the inflammation in my feet and knees: My pain was so severe if I sat down after running the dogs, I could not stand up and walk without using my arms to pull myself up.

The loss of 40 big, fat, unhealthy pounds: No comment needed.

The ability to sleep all night: Sound sleep resulting in waking up refreshed and rested.

Absolutely no signs or symptoms of the surgically induced menopause I went into on August 14th: Doctors said I would be begging for hormones.I’m not begging for anything, but I’m praising for everything!

Pathology results that could not be explained by medical professionals: My abnormal, aggressive, quickly growing, Grade 3 tumor did not grow even one millimeter from the first week measurement in May, 2012 to August 14, 2012 when it was removed. The conflicting pathology reports divided the opinions of five Oncologists regarding any potential benefits of my having chemo (did I mention I did not have chemo or radiation)?

I will give the marvelous creation of my body the respect it deserves. God has blessed me with many healthy choices that can and will heal my body and mind.

So yes, at some point, I’m going to talk a lot more about food.

Posted in Personal Healing | 12 Comments

I choose how I live.

I am a doer.

A controller-doer according to the personality assessments we take at work. I am a big picture person who is about results; getting my own and helping others achieve their desired results. It’s what I do. I like a challenge and I always believe the ‘cup’ is full.

Pretty positive right?

It turns out I am also positive for a deleterious mutation. To be specific, I have the BRCA1 mutation, which for me translated into a diagnosis of early stage, hormone positive, intermediate grade 3, aggressive breast cancer.

Hmm. I wasn’t expecting that…

I was (although accident prone, which could be an entirely complete and separate blog), an athletic, energetic, generally healthy, and happy person. I ate a partially healthy diet, I ran 3-5 miles a day, and I tried to maintain some degree of a work/life balance through the day-to-day stressors life brought my way.

Partial. Tried. Some degree. Stress. Given family history and taking an honest look my life style, maybe I should have been expecting it. Regardless… Now what? How do I control this? What do I do?

I choose how I live. I am accountable for the choices I make. These choices can and will impact my mind, my body, and my spirit which all work together to both heal and make me whole.

On May 17, 2012 (diagnosis day), I made an immediate decision that I was not dying of cancer. I was living with cancer and I could choose how my life played out.

By the Grace of God and the assistance of three surgeons, I am free of cancer as of August 14, 2012. It goes without saying that I’d rather not have a recurrence, so I am doing everything within my control to honor the gift of my body and create in it an environment that isn’t hospitable to cancer. As I do my part, I rely on God to do the heavy lifting for this and any other challenge in my path. I know He will as He already is!

I invite you to join me on my personal journey of healing as I document life changing habits, great tasting and healthy recipes, humbling experiences, and overwhelming blessings God has given me as a result of this health opportunity.

I am not a writer. I am a comma splicing run-on-sentence queen, so this blog will require your indulgence. I welcome input and comments, knowing each of us recognize any personal opportunities – health or otherwise – are exactly that: personal. Please respect and support the choices and decisions I make as mine, as I respect the choices and decision of others.

Posted in Personal Healing | 6 Comments