“We can go anywhere you want”

That was my amazing husband, after a challenging 2012, as we discussed taking a vacation this Spring.

I’d finished 6 months of chemo in August.  Had both breasts removed and tissue expanders implanted September 28.  The last of 30 radiation treatments was January 4.   I was getting fills to stretch my skin every two weeks in February and March.

Our kids’ Spring Break fell in a sweet spot after my last expansion March 26, but before my exchange surgery scheduled for June.  As my Chase cousins like to say, Carpe Diem!

I chose Costa Rica.

Nature is therapeutic.  Being outside, surrounded by trees, helps clear my mind like nothing else.  And the benefits for children?  A wonderful book called “Last Child in the Woods” explains it far better than I can.

Anyway, my idea of the perfect vacation is being active outdoors, surrounded by green, far away from the physical and head space that we occupy day-to-day.  I’ve always known I’d love Costa Rica.

I was right.

I can’t possibly explain how restorative this trip was.  Or share enough photos to do this beautiful country justice.  I will share my gratitude to Joey for, well, everything, and to our children for being such joyful adventurers!  Also, Thomson Family Adventures and our local guides for making it all so easy.

As for these photos, they’re meant to show what I was physically capable of 3 months after finishing treatment.  I can’t help but add that our 7-and-8-year-old kids did everything we did, and usually first!

Nicole rappelling through waterfallRappelling into a canyon near Volcán Arenal

Family SUPSUP at Playa Danta in Guanacaste

Whitewater rafting down the Sarapiqui RiverWhitewater rafting on Rio Sarapiquí

Ziplining through the Costa Rican rainforestMy tissue expanders, defying gravity, while the rest of me (the 42-year-old parts)
hangs over the rainforest, trying to impress my kids.

Nicole jumping into Sarapiqui RiverJumping – not so gracefully – into Rio Sarapiquí

Pacific OceanTough work in the Pacific Ocean

Nicole and kids at FlamingoAnd at Flamingo Beach Resort in Guanacaste

Now, on to two really inspiring women.

While I was looking out for #1, Kim, a cancer survivor and (luckily for us) our children’s teacher, was busy planning a truly special event in her home to raise money for those with breast cancer who don’t have nearly the support that she and I have had.  Click here to read Kim’s story or here to make a donation to the Atlanta 2-Day Breast Cancer Walk on behalf of Team K.I.M. (“Kick It’s M’Ass”).

Another friend, Carri, ran 23.73 miles of the Boston Marathon on April 15.  Carri, who is safely back in Atlanta, has become a wonderful ambassador for the sport of running, the city of Boston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Check out her blog Run.Mom.Repeat. and be inspired to do something.

Thank you, Kim and Carri.

¡PURA VIDA!
Nicole

“I’m a student at Emory”

That’s what the resident working with our kids’ pediatrician told me and Sam this week, at our appointment to make sure Sam’s ear infection has cleared.

My 7-year-old’s eyebrows shot up:  “Emory?  My mom goes there…she had surgery for cancer…she was bald…she’s going to have another surgery…”  And on and on and on.

We are all doing great.  But the experience of the past year does always seem to be there, near the surface.

3 Months Post-Treatment
Yesterday, Joey and I saw Dr. Torres, my radiation oncologist, for the first time since I finished radiation.  For the next few years, I’ll see one of my doctors every 3 months.

No scans.  No bloodwork.  We’ve been told that a recurrence is usually discovered when a patient reports something unusual.  So, in addition to a physical exam, Dr. Torres asked a lot of questions.

I only have small complaints.  I’m fine during the day, but exhausted by 5pm.  My left arm fatigues quickly and it sometimes feels like it weighs 100lbs (going over the obstacles in the mud run a few weeks ago).  Despite my stretching and exercise, under my arm is actually getting tighter.

But mostly the thickening under my arm reminds me too much of swollen lymph nodes.  I want to feel normal, so that if anything is ever not normal again, I will notice it.

Dr. Torres said that I’m still feeling the effects of radiation.  There is new cording under my arm, for which she told me to return to physical therapy for lymphatic massage.  She could also feel a lot of scar tissue.  She prescribed the drug Trental, which has been shown to reduce “radiation-induced fibrosis” when taken with oral Vitamin E.  But, both pills have to be taken 3X a day, for 6 months, and many patients don’t keep up with it.

Most importantly, though, is what she didn’t feel – any kind of “roundish nodule.”  So, I’m clear until my next check-up, which will be July 15 with Dr. O’Regan.

Our Charmed Life
We’re going to celebrate with a grand family adventure to Costa Rica!Costa Rica 4/6-4/14Our jam-packed itinerary has been planned by Thomson Family Adventures.  We leave tomorrow and we’ll spend the 1st night in San José.

  • Sunday, we head toward the Sarapiqui region and stop at Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.  Monday, it’s whitewater rafting and La Tirimbina Chocolate Workshop.
  • Then, we’re off to Arenal for ziplining, the Hanging Bridges of Arenal and canyoning that includes rappelling and descending cliffs and waterfalls!  We’ll also visit the town of La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, and Eco Termales Hot Springs.
  • Thursday, we have a float trip along the Corobici River on our way to the Pacific North Coast.
  • We’ll spend our last 3 days at the Flamingo Beach Resort in Guanacaste.  Saturday, we visit a local school for a half-day service project.  The kids have written to pen pals there and may be able to meet them.
  • We fly home from Liberia on Sunday, 4/14.

Adiós,
Nicole

Easter party game – fitness, not candy!

This was a big hit during Zumba® Kids in the Spring.

Fill eggs with strips of paper, each with a different way of moving.  Place 2 baskets – one with eggs, one empty for eggs/paper already opened- at either end of gym/studio/yard/classroom.  Kids take turns opening the eggs and calling out what to do.  As a group, they do whatever the eggs says to get to the other basket.

I played the Bunny Hop jazz song while they played.