Eager for a New Year – Cancer Free, We Hope

This time last year, I had big plans. Grow my business, travel internationally, and play tons of golf with Mathis. On February 22, 2015, I was shocked to learn my cancer had returned as Stage IV after 2 prior occurrences. Right after losing Tracy, my womb-mate in May, 2014. Since then, surgery, 20 weeks of chemo, another surgery, radiation and pills for life.

Who knows what is around the bend in 2016? Nobody. And that’s my new reality. Living with cancer for the rest of my life will be a true test of my emotional strength. That reality also sucks because it impacts my family and friends around me. I wish I could erase 2015 by using the Men in Black neuralizer. But I can’t.

What can I do? Believe me; I’ve spent many days thinking about this, day and night.

My Key #1: Control what I can control

Here’s what I can do:  (and what I enjoy doing)

  • Exercise – Half-way through radiation, I started Pilates on a reformer at my Club Pilates in Bellevue and I’m addicted to it. For me, it’s exercise with stretching, breathing and within a safe, stable environment with great instructors.

    20151227_110029 - cropped


  • Laugh – Mathis and I kicked in the New Year with watching Amy Schumer live on New Year’s Eve and we’ll be going to more comedy shows and concerts going forward. If you have ideas, count us in!DSCN3718
  • Spend quality time with family and friends – I’ll be home a lot, especially in the first half of 2016 since I need foot surgery on February 3. Unrelated to cancer, I need to repair my big toe with surgery that requires a long recovery. So open invitation to come on over!
  • Love – I’ll treasure all the times I’ll spend with Mathis, my children, family and friends. I’ve learned to just “be” and not feel the need to go out or entertain.VZM.IMG_20160101_102422


My Key #2: Face my fears and talk about them

Although I appear optimistic and upbeat, which I am, I do have moments of pure anxiety. Fear of the unknown, sadness, tired of being the patient, and worry. I am seeing friends who are further along in their stage IV path and it’s hard.  While I don’t want to wallow in my cancer life, I can’t stuff it, either.

So, warning: if you ask me how I’m doing, you can expect a wide variety of answers, depending on the moment.

My Key #3:  Take one day, week and month at a time

While I will keep planning things for the long haul, I’ll also just continue through the steps my great Virginia Mason medical team advises. Here’s what’s coming:

  • I just started new cancer treatment pills, called aromatase inhibitors, which will block estrogen production. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anastrozole. I will be on this the rest of my life.
  • In January, I will start another pill. It’s a new use of a drug used for osteoporosis; however, now used for metastatic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metastasis), post-menopausal breast cancer patients. The theory and recent findings show that by strengthening the bones, we may be able to prevent my cancer from spreading there.
  • January 26: big scan day with the findings that same day. Then every 4-6 months after that.


The following helped me, so I thought I would share it: My dear friend, Mary Foss-Skiftesvik, shared these wonderful insights from her friend, Dr. Dale Atkins, a psychologist, speaker and consultant:

In times of illness, particularly prolonged illnesses, people often have a difficult time adjusting to the significant changes we experience in our lives.  Old familiar habits and rituals that shape our daily routines often become more challenging.  The inability to do something as well as before (or not at all) has the potential to zap hope and add to a feeling of despair.

Generally, when we are ill, our energy levels decrease. Sometimes this is hard to accept.  We may be used to, consciously or unconsciously, equating our productivity and energy level with our personal worth.  Even though we are learning ways to adapt that help to maintain our health (making previously “simple” tasks, doable), we may still feel frustrated and disappointed that we cannot to live up to our image of who we were before the illness.  We may judge ourselves harshly, questioning that we lost our “work ethic” because we no longer perform at our previously high standard.  We may compare ourselves with others, feeling guilty that because we need to attend to our illness (need to rest more, attend to side effects of medications that affect the way we think, feel, or move), we haven’t “accomplished” much.  This thinking can result in our overextending ourselves when we are just not able, inhibiting both the healing process and living healthfully.

It is during these times that we are wise to readjust our focus.  Accept what our capabilities are at this time and figure out what we need to do now.  The question is not one of self-definition, “Who have I become?” But rather, one of self-assessment, “Given what I am facing now, what can I do or not do?”  When we compare our self to others, or to what we capable of, we can observe, just take notice.  It is important to resist becoming entangled in a downward cycle of despair and regret.  We can stop our self and tell our self that for now, there is a new standard and we can learn to adapt as we meet it.  This awareness of where we are at this moment helps us to accept and adapt while keeping our sense of self intact.  We focus on what our strengths are, and what remains and can improve, rather than what is gone.  Such self-acceptance can lead us to feel a significant relief of pressure and a renewed sense of gratitude, contentment, and hope.

Illness is about adaptation to change and acceptance.  Along the way, there is an opportunity for spiritual growth.  A spiritual journey during illness can begin with simply noticing the feelings that come up when we think of not being able to work or accomplish projects because of our illness.  Are we comparing our self to others, whether or not they, too, are ill?  Do we view our personal worth as diminished as a result of these comparisons?  When we focus on healing and doing what is necessary to find our spiritual center we are more likely to notice an inner resilience and strength that we may not have been aware of before.


Thank you, Mary        cropped

Happy Updates:

Our family vacation during Thanksgiving in Puerto Vallarta was fabulous. Mathis, Mom (Ilse), Shane, Chad, Milo, Greg and I enjoyed the sun, great meals, zip-lining (the boys) and lots of laughter.  You can see some of the photos here. https://share.shutterfly.com/share/received/welcome.sfly?fid=b348c3c68fb85719&sid=0AcM2LFq1Zt2jJYA

Christmas time was fun, as well, with Shane and Chad flying into Seattle for about 4 days. Lots of eating, watching football and Scrabble.

I’m already loving the new year and there is something magical about January 1st and being able to say “adios” to 2015.

My new year’s resolutions recommendation to you:  Make time for your family and friends; tell them how much you love them (often); listen more than you talk; complain less; and slow down to enjoy the wonder around you!

You don’t know how good you have it until you face mortality.

Love and hugs,




(top feature photo taken by Alison Jensen, friend and wife of the fabulous Paul Jensen)


15 thoughts on “Eager for a New Year – Cancer Free, We Hope

  1. Great post Dana. Thanks as always for the life insights and the rules to live by.

    Happy 2016. Let’s make it a great one.


    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________


  2. Dana–you are pure inspiration. Thanks as always for sharing. We’re here for you and Mathis and the boys and your mom. We agree: cancer sucks. Will see you 1/31 and celebrate good news from 1/26.
    Much love,
    Kay and Bill


  3. Dana, I always appreciate your authenticity in sharing your journey. It is a gift to all who know you that you openly let us in. Let us see the fabulous and the frightening that you are facing. Thank you for reminding me to pause and appreciate the moment and the magic that easily could be taken for granted. Love you. Anna


  4. Dana, I have read through this three times in an effort to really take in all that you are sharing about your excellent approach to controlling what you can control, your fears, your hopes and the fantastic piece from Dr. Atkins. You so have my heart through all of this, and I’ll be so happy to spend some time with you next week. It’s such a good reminder that we are human BEINGS; not human DOINGS. Our worth is in WHO we are. What we do is also important, of course, but it is simply an manifestation of who we are. You are being such a great human! My love to you!Lisa

    Date: Wed, 6 Jan 2016 05:26:13 +0000 To: lisa.burns@live.com


  5. Love you Dana! Wishing you a healthy, happy, joyful 2016 in the moment with loved ones! You inspire us everyday! Hugs Yonca and Massimo


  6. Dana, What a great reminder for us to savor every day. Thanks for the great post and I’m really excited about 2016–rooting for it to be cancer free and full of joy for you and Mathis and the gang! Betty Hedrick


  7. Dana:

    Congrats a great 2015 because you made it a great year. Your determination, courage and drive to not let cancer control you is admirable and awe inspiring. Looking forward to an even better 2016 with you showing the way to live life!!



  8. Dana, so glad you had a great time in Puerto Vallarta. Good for you! Your reminder is so helpful. It’s so easy to get caught up in the silly slights, hurts, jealousies, etc and not notice the beauty, love and gifts around us. Thank you. You are strong! You will win.


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