What A Difference A Year Makes?!

It’s been a while folks, so let me first apologize for the long gap between posts.  I’ve had quite a bit going on these last few months, not the least of which is the complete upheaval of my life as I knew it.  Many of you may (or may not) know that 3 months ago I took the big step of relocating to South Florida. The transition while welcomed has not been without its challenges but all in all I have absolutely no regrets.  Some days I still have to pinch myself.  One year ago if you had told me that this is how things would end up, I would never have believed it.

You see today marks the one year anniversary of the start of my cancer treatment journey, the day I had my mastectomy.  On December 12, 2017 at 8:30 am with the support of my sister and closest girlfriends, I was wheeled into the operating room at the Tony Thwaites Wing of University Hospital of the West Indies for what would be the most overwhelming experience of my life to date.

Tina Post Op

One year ago today, post op reading messages of encouragement from family & friends

Seems petty now but I remember before heading to the hospital how I stood in front of the mirror for 30 minutes just staring at my two breasts thinking “this is the last time I’m going to see myself like this for a while”.  And yes…I took pictures of myself.  Funny I hadn’t looked at them at all until just last week and I have to admit I didn’t recognize the person in those pictures.  So much has changed.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating.  Cancer is the wake up call I needed to make a much needed shift in my life.  Personally and professionally.  For years I’d lived in the shadows of others around me, fulfilling other people’s dreams and deferring my own. But God has a way of showing you that he is the one in the driver’s seat, all you have to do is trust and believe.  The truth though is that while I was going through chemo I felt very alone.  I had the support of friends but I still had to deal with its ravages by myself for the most part.  Another ugly truth that I have to live with for the rest of my life is that cancer could come back.  I pray that it doesn’t but I have to be prepared nonetheless.  With most of my immediate family living in the United States I came to the realization during my chemo journey that if cancer were to come back, I didn’t want to be on my own again.  At the time I had no idea of what was to come but I surrendered it all to the Almighty and simply prayed for a good outcome.

In August, after months of feeling like I was floundering, deliverance came in the form of the job offer of a lifetime.  Your girl is the new Events Director of Irie Weekend Management Company, part of a group of companies owned by celebrity DJ and Mr. Miami himself DJ Irie (If you don’t know who that is, I suggest you google him…no joke).

Tina & Irie

With ‘boss man’ Irie on the day I got the job offer

The offer required that I relocate back to the US, bringing me closer to my family, exactly what I prayed for (even though at the time I had no idea what I was praying for would look like).  I’m now 3 months in, my first production on the books (a country music festival, go figure) and now in the throws of planning the 15th Anniversary of Irie Weekend slated for late June 2019.

Seriously, what a difference a year makes?!




The Ugly Truth

Its been almost 2 months since my final chemotherapy session and by all accounts it appears I’ve beaten the Big C, notwithstanding that I’m still awaiting that absolute CANCER FREE designation from my doctors.  You would think all would be wonderful but alas no.  I’d been surrounded by family and extended family just one week after my last chemo during a cousin’s wedding.  By the 3 week mark, my taste buds were coming back and my oncologist had given me the all clear to resume eating raw vegetables.

The ugly truth is I’ve been a ball of emotions, exhausted and I dare say experiencing depression.  I’ve gotten mad at myself for feeling this way, after all I ought to be happy to be on this side of treatment.  I’ve wanted to blog but felt paralyzed, unable to put my thoughts down in any sensible way.  Hot flashes have become the bane of my existence.  It’s as if I’m now just mourning, just able to process what I’ve been through over the past 7 months.

I learned about my cancer diagnosis while in the throws of working on a concert production late last year.  So ‘Breast Cancer’ simply became another heading on my checklist, according to my BFF I went into full show production mode with it.  I planned everything meticulously and was in surgery just 10 days after the concert took place.  My sister calls it ‘warrior mode’, which is I suppose, exactly what I needed to be to get through surgery and chemo.  But now that its all done I’m sad, in a way mourning the loss of the person I was before all this.  In many ways I’m a much better person now, certainly healthier, but I still miss the old me, my old body.  And yes, I miss my breast. And I hate dislike the prosthesis.  It’s heavy and uncomfortable and makes me feel self conscious.

Although I’ve approached my diagnosis with general optimism, right now I feel heavy.  Cancer has laid bare things I wasn’t ready to face, my vulnerability, the sheer uncertainty of life.  And while it’s likely that I’m cancer free, cancer is always going to be there, as if it’s waiting in the wings or perched on my shoulder like an annoying fly.  It was easy to write about cancer, writing about depression, not so much.  Cancer you can explain, how on earth do I explain these feelings of melancholy.

Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  I truly believe in the power of community and sharing.  Last week I reluctantly made the trek to my monthly cooking club session, I was not feeling myself at all.  Thanks to the moderator and my sister for pushing me to go.  These folks, the majority of whom I just met in January allowed me to cry and be vulnerable, and had no judgement when I pulled off the prosthesis and shoved it in my handbag.

Cooking Club Family

Pictured with my cooking club family at Stush in the Bush

So while right now I feel like I’m in a bit of a fog, seeing things in varying shades of grey, hope springs eternal that the color will come back.  Soon.

Living Through Chemo

Chemotherapy has been a delicate dance of managing symptom after symptom after symptom.  With every cycle comes something new.  As much as I thought I knew beforehand, seen my mother go through, heard from survivors, been warned by my doctors, I still had this crazy (stupid) notion that the symptoms would hit me all right from the start.  Makes no sense I know.  Instead they came one after the other, gradually, slowly, almost deliberately, never really overpowering me.  Except maybe the hairloss.  That one hit hard. After all I have a whole blog post dedicated to it.

If you’re still here reading, you’re clearly interested so let me break down how its gone cycle by cycle so far:

Cycle 1

Day 1 I felt fine but to be on the safe side I stayed home, leaving home only to get a blood count booster shot in the evening.  My first symptom was a sore throat which came on in the evening of Day 2.  Day 3 of Cycle 1 is probably the worst I’ve felt throughout this whole process.  My stomach was upset all day, I was nauseous, and spent a great deal of time sitting on the throne if you get me.  Actually I must admit that I napped on the floor next to the toilet.  Don’t judge me, it was easier than doing the back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom.  Pains in my hands and feet started on Day 3, throbbing and soreness really.  I’d been warned that I would feel tingling or pins and needles but that’s not what I felt, not yet anyway.  The foot pains were so intense I couldn’t sleep.  That day the 2 things that got me through was smoking ganja for the nausea and injesting THC oil (the only thing seemed to numb the pain and knock me out, allowing me to get the rest my body needed).  Other symptoms included pains under my right arm and in the chest area (around the area of my mastectomy scar) and some coughing.

I can confess it now but by Day 4, I was back at work.  Sounds bad I know but I had to do it.  The restaurant had been closed for 2 months, I admit my timing may have been off but as it turned out that was the week we had to reopen.  I wore a mask around other folks and when I felt low or tired, I went into my car to take a rest.  When I look back on the turn of events that week, I have no regrets but I fully get that it may not have been the wisest thing to jump back into work so soon after chemo.  The hairloss began two weeks after Cycle 1 was administered and one week after that right at the the start of Cycle 2 I was bald.

Cycle 2

Just as with the first cycle, Day 1 and most of Day 2 were uneventful.  The coughing and sore throat began in the late evening of Day 2.  By Day 3 I started to feel what I can only describe as a dull pain everywhere, my head, my joints, even my teeth. I thought about popping a couple of the Panadene I had left over from my hospital stay but held off thinking “I’ve got over 8 drugs in my system right now, don’t need anymore”.  Thank goodness for a surprise call from a cancer survivor on Day 4. She shared with me that she had the same experience and helped me to see there was nothing wrong with taking a little help for the pain.  The soreness and throbbing in my feet returned, but not in my hands.  It was a real challenge to walk from my bedroom to the kitchen.  The nausea wasn’t too bad but diarrhea came back with a vengeance.  This time around I made sure to stay home on Days 4 and 5 and by Day 6 I was feeling more like myself and able to return to a full day of work.  The following week I noticed that the skin around my finger tips was stripping, within a few days of that my hands were full-on peeling.  I quickly had to halt my newfound love of bread baking.  I couldn’t have folks eating my skin now could I ….uggghh gross!  Peeling hands 2

Cycle 3

Again things started the same, pretty easy Day 1 and most of Day 2.  Diarrhea by day 3, slight dull pains in my head, joints and teeth again but not as bad as during Cycle 2. The pains in my feet returned along with my hands.  This time I got the tingling/pins and needles in both hands and feet.  More than anything though I felt absolutely exhausted.  The tiredness lasted well into the following week.  I was constantly yawning and had to take daily naps.  Perhaps that was the cumulative effect of all the chemo cycles.  Heading into Cycle 3, I noticed that a few of my finger nails looked like they were starting to lift.  Please God, don’t let me lose my nails.  Two weeks after cycle 3 was administered my nails started to show signs of darkening/discoloration.  My oncologist had prepped me for this but again I got lulled into thinking it wasn’t going to happen to me since it didn’t occur right away.  So much for that huh. Darkening Nail 2

Today I head into my 4th and hopefully final chemo session.  Hallelujah 🙌🏾🙌🏾. And guess what??  Life did not come to a grinding halt.  Through it all I’ve still had find a way to get work done between sessions, I’ve had to figure out a way to keep the wheels grinding at the restaurant (including on the chemo weekends), still had to keep it moving.  There has however been one other symptom I wasn’t quite ready for…..HOT FLASHES.  They started about 3 weeks ago and have ramped up fiercely this week.  I swear yesterday was one 24-hr hot flash, and don’t tell me summer’s coming and it’s starting to get hot.  As I type this, I’m sitting in front of the fan sweating bullets, they come fast and furious even when I’m in full-blown A/C, they come on in my sleep, anytime, anywhere. I had been told that my menstrual cycle may be affected by chemotherapy and that the medication slated to start after the chemo is over would throw me into menopause but Lord knows I wasn’t ready for this part just yet.  It’s a good thing I’m not into wigs cause there is no way I could wear one right now, I’ve had to even park my brand new headwraps due to these confounded hot flashes.  The struggle is real.

Oh yes…there has been one other symptom, one that’s pretty much persisted right from the start of Cycle 1 and all throughout this process: a metal taste in my mouth.  It distorts the taste of every striking thing, the only thing I can really detect is hot pepper.  It’s been terribly frustrating, especially since I’m operating a food business and even more so because I love to eat!  Counting down and hoping that in another month or so my taste buds will be back to normal.  Ready to get my grub on if you know what I mean.

Anyhoo….I really am just super thankful that chemo hasn’t completely mashed me up and keeping my fingers and toes crossed that I will get through this last round relatively unscathed.

#tbt Perspective

Perspective (and time) is a hell of a thing.  When I posted this photo on my social media pages on December 30, 2017 I must admit I never really took it in.  At the time of posting my caption read:  Ready to see the back of this year but here goes my #2017bestnine #2018willbebetter.

best nine

Just 2 1/2 weeks into my recovery from surgery, I was reeling, smiling on the outside, trying to be strong, but inside I was a mess.  I had just learned of questionable actions at the restaurant, forcing its temporary closure right at Christmas.  Although I was myself surrounded by the overwhelming love and support of friends and family, I was feeling an immense amount of guilt that my staff, although not without fault, were out of work during the holidays.  I felt FEAR.  What if I couldn’t reopen? What was I going to do?  Those were the things going through my head when I posted this collage.

Fast forward to now.   Today I have a chemotherapy session, after this one more to go. Praise God!!  Chemo although challenging has been manageable.  It took two months but Martha’s Kitchen finally reopened on February 27th, exactly 5 days after chemo began and with new staff I might add.  The restaurant is still not where I want it to be but its been steady and holding its own in this first month back.  Between cycles I’m still not able to work a full week yet, the whole heap of blood tests and as we say in Jamaica general ‘body come down’ (translation: exhaustion, feeling of weakness) have me a way star.  My new kitchen staff and extended family at Martha Brae have been champions at holding it down when I’m not around and for that I am eternally grateful.

Now when I look at this image, I see it through such different eyes.  I’m finally able to appreciate how really wicked this best nine of 2017 was.  Notwithstanding my breast cancer diagnosis 2017 wasn’t so bad after all.  Making the cut are three of my favorite women – my mother, my sister and my best friend.  Then a throwback photo of my first time working with Chronixx at Reggae Sumfest 2013 and the drone shot of our amazing show in Montego Bay a few months ago.  A little known fact to many was that show was just 10 days before my surgery and the best thing that could have happened at the time.  It gave me something to keep my mind off what was to come.  Me with cutey pie Genuwine after his BritJam 2017 performance. What more needs to be said? After all it’s Genuwine and he’s foine!  Me goofing off on a raft at my office…not a bad office eh?!  Rounding it out are two selfies.  The one in the middle was taken at the wedding of my brother’s brother back in late July.  Yeah we got that blended family too.  I remember how happy that time was.  It was the first time in years my father had his 3 children together, difficult to orchestrate often with one living in England, one in Virginia and me in Montego Bay.  Daddy had gone out of his way to pull off the trip.  My brother was in his ackee, as we say in Jamaica.  It was the first time he had his mother and father, his two brothers and two sisters all together under the same roof and he was like a kid in a candy store.  That selfie of me in the pink was taken and posted in October for breast cancer awareness.  I was still awaiting my biopsy results but pretty much already knew it was cancer from consultations with folks in the radiology world.  Funny enough, that smile wasn’t fake (not that I’m into fake smiling), I was on my way to getting healthy and felt ready to deal with whatever came my way.

So now, 3 months after posting, I’m happy to report that I’m finally able to appreciate this Best Nine of 2017.  Go figure…

Turns Out I Wasn’t Ready

I thought I had things under control.  And then came hair loss.

It’s widely known that one of the side effects of chemotherapy is the loss of hair.  No big deal…it will grow back.  After all, I had watched my mother deal with losing her hair not once but twice as she tackled the ‘Big C’.  I had fooled myself into thinking that the hair loss was the least of my worries.

My first chemo cycle was not as rough as I had expected, yes I had some slight nausea, pains in my feet and hands but overall I just felt weak and fatigued.  Nothing too unbearable.  When there was no hair loss in the immediate days after that first cycle, I was like…”Maybe I’ll be lucky and not lose my hair”.  And then a week and half later it began.  At first it looked like normal shedding, but then it got progressively worse.  Next thing I knew there was hair everywhere, on my pillow when I woke up, in the bathroom sink, on the floor….just everywhere.

Exactly 2 weeks after my first chemo treatment, I headed to the hairdresser to do a big chop.  Again, no big deal right, especially since I’ve worn my hair in a ‘teenie-weenie afro’ many times over the years.  Once I had cut it I remembered how much I loved wearing my hair short….yeah I could do this again. Teenie Weenie Afro

Except I was still losing hair.  If I so much as brushed my hand across the top of my head, hair came out.  Pretty soon, I had resorted to only touching my hair once for the day in the morning.  Less than a week after cutting it while market shopping, a friend hinted that I might need to start wearing a scarf.  A bald patch had now appeared in the back of my head.

The next morning (last Thursday in fact) on the dreaded chemo day, as I massaged hair product in, the hair loss was more profound than before.  Literally the side of my head had peeled out.  I sent this picture to my sister who joked that I looked like a little birdie.  My response to her…. “more like a peel head jankro”.

Peel Out

It threw me into a tailspin.  For the first time since this whole experience began, I felt real depression.  I had planned to go into work for a few hours that day before chemo at 5pm but I simply couldn’t move.  Over the course of the day  depression turned to guilt, guilt because it felt like I was being vain to put so much stock in my hair of all things.  Turns out losing my hair was actually harder than losing my breast.  It hit me like a ton of bricks that no matter what I did, I had no control.  No matter how much I cut my hair, it was still coming out.

Later while scrolling through Instagram, I came across this post from The Laurus Project (@thelaurusproject), a non-profit organization focused on helping breast cancer survivors thrive.

The Laurus Project

The image and caption was just what I needed in that moment.  Better to take control and just shave it off.  So on the way to chemo, I made a quick stop at the barbershop.