A Perfect Night for a Luau

8 08 2011

Yes, that's a REAL Star Gazer Lily in my hair! Photo by Donald A. Neilson.

The theme for my bff Mollie Finch’s 30th Birthday Bash on Saturday night was Hawaiian Luau. And it just so happened…that Katherine Rose, a local florist and friend, had sent me an amazing, four-foot-tall Star Gazer Lily plant overflowing with fragrant blossoms last week.

I looked at it as I was getting ready Saturday night and thought, “Why not?”

I picked a pretty one, just the right size.


A few bobby pins and it was all good.

And yes, people not only leaned in to hug me all evening, but to smell my flower as well. I insisted.

Star Gazer lilies are my favorite flower. I first noticed them in the late 1990s, when they were part of a centerpiece at an event I was attending at my alma mater, Oakland University. I couldn’t get over how their sweet fragrance filled the room and I just love the flower’s other-worldly name.

So, I made a mental note, and when I married Don on July 4, 1999, I carried a large bouquet of Star Gazer lilies so that my wedding day — and my memories — would be infused with that delicate, sweet scent. Don gets me a bouquet of them every year for our anniversary, and as a surprise several times in between. That’s how the local florist, Katherine Rose, knew just what to pick out for me last week.

Don, Theo and I all had the Hawaiian theme going for us in one way or another. It was a fun night filled with great friends and happy times. Those are not only good for the soul, but good for the body and healing, as well. I continue to read and study about the mind-body connection. There’s a lot of scientific evidence to prove that indeed, people who are surrounded by loving friends and family statistically live longer, much longer, than their lonelier counterparts.

A few people at the party, who hadn’t seen me in a little while, remarked that I’m looking dramatically healthier than I did even a few months ago. I feel it, too.

I am very blessed to have all of you surrounding me with your love, prayers, and strength.

Keep it up. It’s working.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

All Systems Go!

5 08 2011

I missed chemo again this week. Drag. Serious drag. I need to get back on my regimen.

When I went for my pre-chemo check-up on Monday, I was running a fever. I had no idea. I felt great. Just coming off our trip to Indy and a fabulous week with my little boy, I was on top of the world. And then.

And then I had a fever. Which threw the office into a tizzy. What did the fever mean? Was the infection that had landed me in the hospital still unresolved?

As I had completed my round of oral antibiotics two days earlier, the consensus was that likely a small amount of the infection remained, was trying to gain a foothold, was behind the fever. And I can’t have chemo treatment until all systems are go.

Here we go again, I thought. Blood draws, cultures, pokes and prods. I began to panic that I was headed for the ER and even worse — readmission. It’s only been a few weeks since my hospitalization, so I’m still shell shocked and it doesn’t take much to get my mind going down that path, my heart racing, beating so hard I’m sure it’s going to explode out of my chest.

Long story short, the docs put me on one more week of antibiotics. Whew. That could have ended so badly, but thank God, it didn’t and I was home Monday night snuggling in bed with my boys.

No fever since Monday — and that was the only time that day I had a fever. Strange.

Saw my Infectious Disease doc yesterday (I didn’t even know there WAS such a thing until my recent hospitalization!) and she said I’m looking great. In fact, when she walked into the office, she looked at me, then at my cousin Lori Parker and said, “You both look terrific! Who is the patient?!” Quite comical.

All is healing, inside and out. She cleared me for chemo for next week. That is excellent news. Let’s get on with this and get it over with, as I’ve given my cancer a deadline.

Yes, a deadline. It has until Jan. 1, 2012 to GET OUT. I’ve been telling it that daily — that it’s not welcome in my body and it’s gotta go. Vamoose. Skidaddle. Bye-bye. And it will listen.

There is a huge mind-body connection in all of us that we are just now beginning to understand and take advantage of. I’ve been learning all about that, as well as the importance of including exercise, meditation/yoga, supplements and the right foods as complements to a chemotherapy regimen.

I had a hidden agenda when I was in Indy. As the people who know me well often say, I always have a hidden agenda. Those wheels in my brain are turning, and very quickly at that. They are flowing freely — no oil necessary.

I’ve been delving into the world of biochemistry and it is not only fascinating, it is a huge component of both the “now” and future of successful medical treatment. Understanding our biochemistry — each of us on an individual basis — can also keep us from ever having to go down the “sick” path by keeping us healthy. So, in Indy, I saw one of the foremost biochemists/MDs in the field. He will follow me and I will follow his advice to the T. More, much more on this soon.

One small nugget to share with you: peaches have been found to be an amazing food for us. They’re in season now. The branches of the peach trees at the orchard near our house are drooping under the weight of these juicy treats. I’ll soon be making peach jam with my bffs Lisa and Lindsay, as well as freezing some fruit for winter. Get out there and get yourself some peaches to munch on. Your body is craving them. Trust me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been cleared for something else — waterparks! No lakes, no hot tubs, per my ID doc yesterday. But…pools are A-OK, so Theo and I are off to the waterpark today with our friends Marnie and Nate. And the weather for this outing couldn’t be more perfect. Yahoooeeyyy!

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

Stats Aren’t All That

3 08 2011

Artwork courtesy of The Pink Fund.

When I read Tami Boehmer’s post on The Pink Fund site today, I knew I needed to share it with my readers. Tami is an amazing woman with an incredible, inspiring story. What’s more, as I was reading through her blog post, I realized she referred to the very book I’m reading at this moment: Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. I was just lying in bed with it last night, highlighter in hand. What are the chances? The book was recommended to me a month or two back by my friend Scott Orwig, who was diagnosed earlier this year with prostate cancer. I’ve done a ton of reading and sifting through preventive and curative cancer information in the past several months and I must say that the perspective that Anti-Cancer and Tami Boehmer take are spot-on. Right after I hit “publish” on this post, I’m going to see if Tami’s book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds is available for download as an iBook. Wish me luck. I’m so anxious to read it that I hate to have to wait for an Amazon delivery or find a Barnes & Noble. Oh, one last thought: I’m going to print out a copy of Tami’s blog post and put it up on the wall to remind me at those scary moments that there is indeed hope, no matter the prognosis. You might wish to do the same. — Amy Rauch Neilson

By Tami Boehmer

I don’t believe in statistics. They’re great when you’re told they are in your favor, but they stink if you’re on the wrong side of them.

It felt good to have a chat with my oncologist and learn he feels the same way. He told me he doesn’t like them! I do believe these numbers lump everyone together, no matter the age, lifestyle or whether or not they are taking an active role in staying healthy. Those people aren’t me.

I told this to my oncologist and he commented that about 80 percent of his patients don’t take care of themselves at all. They go to get chemo, but little else to help the process. So I feel like I’m ahead of the curve.

In sharp contrast, I also go to another city to see a top oncologist who is on the forefront of groundbreaking research. He tells me about great new trials that sound promising and how there is more money being spent on breast cancer than any other cancer. But he also talks about the grim realities of metastatic breast cancer and makes remarks about the unlikelihood I’ll be around in 15 years. That’s his opinion, and I don’t accept it.

Here’s what Doug Ulman, president and CEO of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and three-time survivor, told me when I interviewed him for my book, From Incurable to Incredible:

“Lance often tells the story of how one doctor said to him, ‘I like your chances.’ He said all he needed was that confidence, someone who believed. People want to be inspired and hopeful.

That’s why I don’t often see the value of statistics. It might be helpful if you tell someone that people with their diagnosis have a 90 percent chance of surviving. But telling someone they have a 20 percent chance? What does that do but demoralize them? Could you make a statement about the gravity of the situation and still offer hope? I think so.”

I know there is much more to the equation that goes beyond the medical model. After all, I’ve talked to people all over the country who are alive and well today after doctors told them otherwise.

Medical stats lump everyone together – people who lead a holistic lifestyle, are happy and have purpose in life; and people who eat junk food, don’t exercise, and are stressed and depressed.

David Servan-Schrieber, MD, PhD, in his book, Anti Cancer: A New of Life (Penguin Group, Copyright 2008), talks about the bell curve of statistics from which median survival rates are derived. I recommend you read the book to get the full story; it’s wonderful. When I read it, I highlighted this part and put a star by it because I think it’s so important:

“Statistics we are shown on cancer survival don’t distinguish between people who are satisfied with passively accepting the medical verdict and those who mobilize their own natural defenses. … And within this “median” are those who live much longer. This is most likely because, along with the benefits of the conventional treatments they receive, they have somehow galvanized their natural defenses. They have found harmony in this simple quartet: detoxification of carcinogenic substances, an anticancer diet, adequate physical activity, and a search for emotional peace.”

Don’t bet your life on statistics. There is hope no matter what the prognosis.

Tami Boehmer is a metastatic breast cancer survivor, speaker, blogger and author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. You can visit her at http://www.MiracleSurvivors.com.

Quiet on the Set!

2 08 2011

On the set with The Pink Fund founder Molly MacDonald. Photo by Elaine Schultz.

I had the privilege of spending the morning “on the set,” as one of the participants in a video production by The Pink Fund on the value of the Fund’s mission. The filming took place at The China Closet in downtown Birmingham, Mich.

Filming began at 9 a.m. and I was up first.

It was unscripted. Molly MacDonald, the founder of The Pink Fund, settled me into a comfy chair and simply and gently asked me some questions off camera. Not surprisingly, I had no problem filling the space, answering the questions, sharing my story. Shy I am not, and as time goes on, I have become more and more comfortable in front of a camera and speaking to crowds. There’s a message God wants me to share and I’m on it. It’s part of my mission.

The Pink Fund will use this video for upcoming promotional and fund-raising purposes, as the Bloomfield Hills, Mich. based Fund will soon be going national. (I hope to be able to link the video in its entirety to my blog as soon as it’s ready.) Molly’s efforts and commitment to raising funds for newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients is nothing short of amazing. I know, because I experienced it first-hand following my second breast cancer diagnosis in January.

Not only did I not want financial assistance of any kind at the time (the word pride comes to mind, perhaps coupled with the word foolish), but even when one of my bff’s tried to persuade me to apply, I refused.

Then one day in late January, Molly called me. We talked for a long time. I saw the value and the beauty of her mission. The Fund could help take away the burden of some of our basic bills for up to 90 days so that our family could concentrate on getting a clear diagnosis and treatment plan underway, rather than worrying about keeping the lights on or the furnace running. What an amazing blessing she — and all the people who work so hard to make The Pink Fund a reality — is.

Come hell or high water (yesterday was quite medically challenging to say the least, and a story for another time), I was determined to be on the set in Birmingham this morning, bright and early. I wanted nothing more than the opportunity to give a little back to the people who have given me, and others like me, so much.

I think it’s called Paying it Forward. And it feels really good.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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