Saturday, January 19, 2013
Dear Lance Armstrong,
In 2004 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I searched for a story of hope, a symbol of triumph over cancer. You became that symbol of a champion as a cancer survivor who not only beat cancer, but rose again as a champion in sports and life. My friends donned your yellow bracelets in support to remind me that I, too, could beat cancer and rise again.  Whether you wanted to or not, you became the positive role model I so desperately needed to wage the war of my life.

When rumors swirled about doping, I defended you. I would remind people that a stage 4 cancer survivor would not take drugs known to cause cancer. I debated fiercely with my friends that someone guilty of such allegations could not possibly pass hundreds of tests and have the audacity to sue or threaten people who claimed he played dirty.

Many are upset that you lied to your sport. I'm upset that you lied to me.  The example you tried to project told me that your body was an incredible machine that could beat cancer and you were stronger for the fight.  It was all a lie. You weren't stronger or healthier.  You didn't triumph by determination and strength. You took the coward's path. You cheated.

You broke my heart, or so I thought. As I took your picture down from my wall I realized there is something for which I can thank you. You made me realize that I didn't need an example of what appeared to be super-human strength. The real truth is that within me, and others facing cancer,  is champion enough - a champion who faced the raw truth of cancer and is truly stronger for having done so.

Sincerely,

Jeannette
Two-time Cancer Survivor
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
1 chimed in

Thursday, July 01, 2010
Thoughts on Anniversaries, Healing, and Abundant Joy
Each year, on this day, it has been hard not to look back and think about the day as it unfolded six years ago. Each broad-ranging emotion, each action, each word as it was said to me, the look on each person’s face as I told them of my diagnosis. At times those memories sting with the poignancy of the moment as though it happened seconds ago. This year, only one year out of treatment from the recurrence, I find myself facing the day differently.

As 2009 came to a close, I dedicated 2010 to a new start. I needed to put the cancer in its appropriate place in my life – in the past. So I set off on a journey. I had physical side effects that were lingering from treatment and side effects from the hormone-suppressing medication I would be taking for five years. I was trying to heal, physically, emotionally, and spiritually and it led me on a wonderful path of mind body wellness and healing. I began to explore Reiki, yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, and it was all so much to absorb and understand what I needed in my life and how to incorporate as lasting changes. I spent a weekend at the Chopra Center to pull the pieces together and instead it changed my perceptions again.

I learned that meditation isn’t a nice thing to do from time to time, but is the foundation for mind body wellness. I learned that before I could ever begin to heal my body, I had to heal my heart. I had to let go of the pain and the feelings of failure as result of my diagnosis both times. I learned that instead of defensively closing my heart to protect it, I needed to open it to accept love and healing. And the rest would flow, with work, commitment to wellness, and the grace of God it would flow. And it has…

After two months of primordial sound meditation, I am already seeing improvements in feeling a bit more centered, a reduction to my slightly high heart rate, and general well being. I try to always choose colorful, healthy, fresh meals in Ayurvedic tradition. I rededicated myself to a fitness program that seems to be effective so far. My lymphedema issues have stabilized a bit for now. All positive. All moving forward. All blessings for body, mind, and spirit.

Looking back, I am reminded of the beautiful words of Hafiz:

The earth has disappeared beneath my feet,
Illusion fled from all my ecstasy.
Now like a radiant sky creature
God keeps opening.
God keeps opening
Inside of Me.

--Hafiz


In the beginning of this cancer journey, I refused to believe that I was so shallow that lowly cancer would change me. I was determined to disassociate myself with the people claiming that cancer changed their lives in positive ways. Cancer wasn't the catalyst for positive change. Cancer removed my illusions about life and in doing so allowed me to be more aware of the delicate nature of life. It has allowed me to recognize the abundant joys of life on a very different level than ever before. The adundant joys, however, came from somewhere far, far, far from ugly, destructive cancer.

The memories of this anniversary may always be bitter sweet, but I have a most grateful heart today. What more could I ask?

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
20 chimed in

Thursday, April 29, 2010
Time, time, time; Look what's become of me....
...While I looked around; For my possibilities....

I disappear for months and start back with a quote from the Bangles? Well, let me tell you, there are no hazy shades of winter here. Nothing is hazy at all. It's been full speed ahead.

So many times I have started to write and as I write I get this odd feeling that I am either sounding a) whiny about the little things when really I should be grateful to be alive or b) a little full of myself regarding the things I find important as a survivor. Meh, all bloggers are a little whiny and arrogant, no? On with life as a survivor….

This year is going by at lightening speed. Seriously. Where did the first four months go? I started the year teaching three classes in addition to my regular job. I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking with this schedule, but you can do anything for ten weeks, right? But I also fit time in for a new passion: boxing. I have been working out a boxing gym. Love it! When I am in the ring, I feel incredibly strong. I literally have my Rocky moment! And then my trainer gets in the ring and I feel like a breathless, weak, wimp. But what a great work out!

The best part of being a survivor, is that the debates with the insurance company keep popping up (you feel the sarcasm, right?). Nothing like needing a service and having to wait six months to get it. I have been having lymphedema issues in my arm and back. I have been trying yoga lymph drainage massage while waiting for the physical therapy to be approved. I flew across country last week and wore my sleeve, but that didn’t stop my back from swelling (looks lack back fat on one side…sexy, no?). Hopefully the physical therapy will kick in next week. My oncologist also mentioned that recent studies are showing a 30% reduction in swelling with acupuncture. I am hoping that as soon as this study is published and the fields are identified I can start some acupuncture too.

I am paying attention to all of my New Year’s resolutions and this is a record for me. Honesty to be starting the fifth month of the year and still have those resolutions in sight is a personal best. In fact, this weekend is THE weekend I have been waiting for all year. I will be enjoying yoga, meditation, and natural healing with, wait for it…I’m about to name drop….here it is…Deepak Chopra. Not only Deepak, but Erin, my long time bloggy friend and sweet wonderful healer, is joining me. We finally get to hang out in person. How cool is that?

So much change, so much good, so much living in 2010.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
14 chimed in

Wednesday, January 06, 2010
A New Year
Welcome 2010. This year so far promises to bring new dventures, new hope, new beginnings, and new energy. I am filled with more hope than ever before about the future.

My goal is to become physically and mentally stronger which will not only help in my ongoing quest to fight cancer, but it will enhance my overall health and happiness. 2009 was a tough and wacky year that brought me great personal strength and sent me down a new path that involves natural healing. I find myself at the dawn of 2010 feeling inspired to forge ahead on this path.

I started on this journey when I was frustrated how I felt physically after chemo and radiation last year. I arm was aching, I lost range of motion in my shoulder, and lymphadema (the swelling in my arm)was rearing its ugly head (or should I say ugly big fat arm). My physical therapist explained that the main lymphatic vessel is between the lungs and the diaphragm and when we practice deep, breathing (into the diaphragm) we exercise the main lymphatic vessel (from memory here; she talked to me about this while bending my arm in a pretzel). She mentioned that there is some research that supports these deep breathing exercises to help with lymphadema. If nothing else it also helped with relaxation (when you can't sleep because you aren't comfortable because your arm and shoulder hurt).

And about the time I was in physical therapy, a friend offered to send me healing energy (Reiki). I trusted her (still do!) and decided that it couldn't hurt me. I experienced something in the first session that was amazing. The combination of that and physical therapy really helped me with my shoulder and arm issues.

About this time, one of my medications (hormone therapy) was causing this itchy, ugly, scabby rash on my hands (pretty and so sexy). My doctor suggested a topical steroid, but since the natural approach was really working for me, my cousin suggested I visit a natural healer and have him do some "vial" work on me. I wasn't sure what that was, but once again, it couldn't hurt. Within two weeks after seeing him my hands cleared up (except for some scars, but I'm workiing on that!).

The natural healilng engine was really picking up speed for me. Time spent each day doing deep breathing evolved into meditation (a twofer! so efficient). My natural curiosity led me to research meditation which led me to Deepak Chopra and Primordial Sound Meditation. And that led me to yoga and Ayurveda.

And now it is 2010 and I feel great. I am full of energy and hope and a desire to be healthy. I haven't made any resolutions, but I have made promises to myself. If I can make myself healthy, happy, and whole, it will not only bring me peace, but bring peace to those around me. Understanding and embracing the whole mind body connection is the key for me this year. With that in mind, I have promised myself the following:

1. Meditate daily.
2. Practice yoga.
3. Focus on a natural diet (Ayurveda).
4. Physical exercise daily.
5. Learn and practice Reiki.

Welcome 2010! So glad you are here.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
17 chimed in

Thursday, December 17, 2009
Did I just hear Santa?
Christmas greetings from Romeo and Lady.

PS How adorable are they?

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
7 chimed in

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The Giving Tree
When I was young, I remember reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I remembered the story as a poignant story about being willing to give whatever you have to benefit those whom you love. Rereading the story as an adult, I am not so sure I would interpret it the same way; however, I reconnected with the story when a dear friend had a tree planted in honor of my mother.

When my mother passed away, my friend asked if she could have a tree planted in a local park in honor of my mother. It took me a few months to be able to go forward with it emotionally, but in fall 2008, a beautiful tree was planted in a very sweet neighborhood park. When my mom first moved to California she immediately wrote to her family telling them of the purple trees in California. It seemed only appropriate to request a Jacaranda tree with its lovely purple blossoms. My sisters and I have enjoyed picnics by the tree and we have visited the tree on occasions even sneaking my doggies in for a visit at a park that doesn't allow dogs (what park does not allow dogs?). Since the park is so close to my office, I frequently go there on my lunch hour and check on the tree. I feel close to mom there. It feels good to be there.

I have watched the tree grow over the last year or so. It is a beautiful little tree with five strong branches, one for each daughter. It will grow to provide shade for the children who play in the park, it will provide a beautiful burst of purple color in the late spring and summer when it blooms, and it will watch over the weddings and birthday parties and other special events that frequently happen in the park. It is in fact a giving tree, much like my mom who gave everything she had for those she loved.

On November 30, her birthday, I went by for a visit. Much to my surprise there was a beautiful blossom at the very top. Strange because Jacarandas bloom around June. You can't really see it too well on the photo from my phone's camera (try clicking it to see it larger), but it was such a special and sweet gift to see such life and color crowning the tree on her birthday.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
7 chimed in

Friday, December 04, 2009
Faith or Fear?
Life as a survivor has had its challenges. After my first diagnosis, I lived in fear of recurrence. In some ways I felt like I had to go out and do a lot of things in case there was a recurrence and I wouldn't have a chance. Although saying it, it sounds like I went traveling, and sky diving, and other fabulous things. Not so much. I took on challenging projects and got involved in events that have some social benefit (Race for the Cure, Relay for Life, etc.). I tried to give to the greater good thinking in some tangled way that karma would protect me from a recurrence.

If you have been reading along in the last year, you now that is not exactly how the story went. Somehow, through powers greater than myself, I was empowered during the second trip down the cancer journey. I powered (literally) through treatment and have been working on creating the life I want without cancer. I know that cancer will always be a part of my life, but I realized that it doesn't have to be a part of my present or future. Cancer is part of past. This time around I am respectfully putting cancer in its rightful place and moving forward fearlessly.

I determined I have two choices: I can live in fear of recurrence or I can live having faith in my healing. If I can believe 100% in my healing, the fear has no place in my life. I can be afraid that the cancer will come back, or I can live and embrace the life I do have. I thought this would be easier said than done, but really the opposite is so much harder.

Living in fear is hard. It is burdensome. It robs the joy from even the simplest of pleasures. It permeates every fiber of your being and follows you like a shadow. Shedding fear takes a leap of faith: faith in your God (however you describe or call God), faith in yourself, faith in the Universe. Honestly, though, what is there to lose? I can continue to walk carrying a heavy burden or I can simply put it down and move forward without restriction.

Once you leap into fearlessness a whole new world opens before you. It's brighter -- literally there is more light and more color. You can recognize all the love and positive energy around you. You start to attract people who feel the same energy you feel. The difference is amazing.

I welcome the close of a very difficult year and the beginning of a fearless future. Who is with me?

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Is That a Heart on Your Banana or .......










I don't even set ou to look for these. Really.













I am going about my business and suddenly I feel the need to take a second look. There is it. A heart.














Love is everywhere.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Friday, October 30, 2009
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month Comes to A Close...
I am always on the fence with breast cancer awareness month. I like that there is awareness brought to this awful disease so that women (and men!) can be proactive about their health. We all need reminders and if the sea of pink doesn't remind you, you have bigger issues than getting regular screenings. But then there are the pink haters who tell you about all the companies that make millions off the cause marketing. How many businesses would do anything that does not improve the bottom line? Hello? No company makes a donation without expecting something in return whether that is a tax break, good public perception, good employee morale, or (gasp!) profit. Many companies choose to go pink because it is good for them. Why is this shocking to some?

Now, how I support it is different. I do not purchase everything featuring the pink ribbon. I buy a product if I like or need it. If that company also supports breast cancer, then I think that is a great bonus. Do I support my local neighbor kids when they put up a lemonaid stand? Absolutely. Do I buy soup featuring a pink label? Not likely. The sodium in that stuff will kill you! When my friendly grocery checker asks if I want to donate a dollar to cancer research, I often donate. When I see pink bags of pink candy coated chocolate candies that melt in your mouth not in your hand I run from those too. Sugar? Fat? Not friends if you are fighting cancer. I also simply write a check and make donations that I know go directly to research. Or I get involved in cancer walks and relays. Never once did I think pink marketing would end cancer, but I do believe it makes us aware and reminds to get regular screenings. This is very important.

If you want to buy pink candy, socks, ties, soup, and ribbons, go for it. I won't judge you. I would suggest that if you are doing it to benefit cancer research, then be smart about it. Make sure the label states exactly how much is going to be donated. "A portion of the proceeds..." is not good enough. It should be specific, such as "20% of the proceeds" or "$5 from the sale of this item."


And I will admit, I did my own fair share of shopping this month. I bought the Brighton Power of Pink bracelet (above). I have each of their annual bracelets since they started the collection. This one is my favorite. It is covered in hearts. It was meant for me, right? And I also ran across these. I have no idea how much Master Lock will make off these products, but they do state they will donate $15,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I like them because they are cute and girlie and pink and they are great products. I would have bought a lock anyway, but since they were pink I bought two. Want one? Let me know. More importantly, do your monthly self check and schedule your mammogram already. You didn't forget, did you?

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Thursday, October 08, 2009
Stand By Her
Living through a breast cancer diagnosis or two truly helps you understand people and how they react to certain situations. I have learned so much about people from the faithful friends and family members who won't leave your side to the scared friends who hide from cancer and you in the process. It seems the ones who have had the toughest time addressing me or breast cancer have been the men in my life. First, the issue is intimate, scary, and emotional. All things that some men have a difficult time addressing. Of all the resources available about breast cancer, few address the needs of the men supporting women with this diagnosis. Luckily, that has changed.

STAND BY HER: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men by John W. Anderson (AMACOM Books, October 2009) is an excellent resource for any man who needs help in overcoming the fears and frustrations of seeing loved ones diagnosed with breast cancer. Not only does he share his own experiences with his mother, his mother's friend, his aunt, and his wife, he also provides strategies and support for navigating the breast cancer minefield.

I don't normally endorse products on my blog, but this is a great resource. Let's speak honestly here. Breast cancer treatment is so very tough for women, especially emotionally. A very large component of treatment involves serious hormone manipulation and often times physical changes. And frankly, if men were wired to be able to handle emotions and hormones, well, how do I finish that? It is an area where men and women are wired very differently leaving it difficult for men to understand how to offer the support a woman needs as she battles breast cancer. Don't get me wrong, some men handle all this like amazing champs, but everyone involved in a cancer diagnosis could use all the support available and then some.

Yes, I recommend this book, but I am not alone. This book is also endorsed by the Komen for the Cure Foundation. I like John W. Anderson. He has seen far more than his share of breast cancer in his lifetime, but he has used that painful experience to help others. Our caretakers are truly our heroes and John demonstrates this expertly in his book.

I want to share the love. In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I have a few copies of this book. Leave a message or drop me an email (link at the left) and I will send you a copy. No charge. Really. I'd like to get as many copies of this book into the hands of people that need it. But hurry; once they are gone you will have to find it on your own.

The more advanced we become with treatment and as the survival statistics rise, please know that women make it look easier and easier to fight breast cancer. Don't let us fool you. For many us, it will be the hardest thing we ever do. Anything anyone does to help ease the burden is never forgotten.

So who wants a book? Don't be shy. Drop me a line already.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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    "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12