Well I guess it’s time for me to share Happy First’s again! For those of you that are new to my email list or blog, I used to send a Happy First message on the first of every month (and also some other “first” days). It was something I have said for years to family and friends, for example, Happy December 1st! I founded Happy First in 2007 to celebrate new beginnings (my egg logo has many meanings- new beginnings, breaking out of your shell, whatever it represents to you!). Some of you may know I am a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor– I shared my story years ago on my blog and through that blog post I have met some wonderful survivors and connections were made between people. Feel free to share it with anyone that may need an uplift.
Thank you all for your emails and comments after I posted my grief story. I was overwhelmed by the responses-didn’t expect the personal stories and words of encouragement some of you have sent me. And I want to answer each one of you back personally, it is just taking me a while! But thank you.
One of the first emails I received really struck me and is the reason you are getting this Happy First Day of Winter picture today-this is from Ashley, someone I don’t even know-she made me realize I must get out there and share happiness, even if on some days it is really hard-
“I am so very sorry for your loss. I know that there are no words that can be said to make things better, I wish there were. I just want you to know that I somehow stumbled upon Happy First during a particularly sad and low time in my life, and your words and ecards always brought light and happiness into my life. I would always look forward to your emails on the first of the month and would send your cards to family and friends. Thank you for that. I’m sure I’m not the only person you have never met who’s life you made better. Just wanted you to know 🙂 sending lots of love and light your way. ”
And another response I wanted to share is from a dear friend, Cyndy, who lost her son to suicide 7 years ago. I got permission from her to share this, hoping it will help others. She truly uplifts and inspires me.
“Thank you for sharing your journey of using art to heal. I do the same and know that it can be very therapeutic to “lose yourself” in creativity. I’m glad to hear that you are learning to get through the days of grief. The “why?” questions are so difficult and I’ve realized that it is the “how?” questions that move us forward. How do I live this day through the pain?, How do I move forward from this day?, or How do I help others by what I have been through? “Why” questions take us back to a place that cannot be changed, but “How” questions take us to wherever God is leading for the future. I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis.”
Today I just felt the need to share and uplift-the Holidays can be a really tough time for a lot of people.
Please pass this post on to those who may need it and feel free to comment.
Oh and now some fun stuff-you can get my snowman on notecards and notepads. Right now they are available on my Etsy shop, and eventually will be on my site too! And the Happy Flowers Coloring Book is available both on Amazon and Etsy.
Here’s some fun pics! Sorry about the placement, having some technical difficulties! Anyway, Happy First!
Happy March 1st! As many of you know, I celebrate the first day of the month to remind those that every month, every day is a new beginning! If you are on my email list, you have been receiving an email on the first of every month as a happy reminder. Happy First started out in 2007 as a movement, a philosophy, to inspire others to “find your passion and pursue it”. The egg logo represents the limitless potential for growth living inside each one of us. I believe everyone has creativity inside just waiting to burst out of it’s shell.
Happy First’s product line started with women’s tees, then baby and kids clothing, then yoga wear for people “to wear happiness on their sleeve”. I started a blog to reach out to others and share my optimistic philosophy. I envision it as a community of ideas and people encouraging each other. I wanted to share my cancer story-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma-to give hope to others and connect with each other. I didn’t want cancer to define me or Happy First, that’s just what I went through to get to my new beginning. Everyone goes through something and the Happy First philosophy is about starting over and realizing your potential.
Back to the clothing- I got busy selling on my site and to stores and doing shows. Somehow over the years my creativity has been suppressed and put on the back burner. I started getting busy with the business of selling clothing and promoting. My business was pulled in different directions, due to me listening to others instead of myself. I didn’t know what my passion was! I was getting burned out. I wasn’t “Happy First”!
So for the last 2 years I have been “incubating” on a creative journey. I have many mentors that have guided me to find my creative self. I will tell you what they told me in upcoming blog posts. I am learning to let go of some things and and streamline and declutter to make time and make way for what I truly want to do. I have found that I love to draw, draw, draw. I get in the creative zone and get lost. The hardest part has and still is making time to get creative. I have immersed myself in books and videos. I am taking classes both online and in person on Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, drawing, art journaling, printmaking, even knitting! I love learning-always loved school and I have loved to do all things creative ever since I was little. It makes me so happy!
I have created time and space to just be and let go and the weird thing is that that’s when things started happening! I started designing notecards and notepads this past fall and friends and stores just started to order without me really trying to get orders. I am now also designing logos for people and loving it. Another exciting thing coming up is my illustration will be the cover of my author friend Kayce Hughlett’s new book “Blue”coming out this fall. Kayce has been instrumental in me finding my artist self.
I have learned to BE ME. Embrace the way I draw and create, and not worry about what people think!
I have been wanting to tell you all for some time but haven’t taken the time to sit down and write. I still don’t have it all figured out. Happy First will be changing but the philosophy is stronger than ever. I am actually living my dream of being an artist and illustrator and being “Happy First”. I am truly finding my passion and pursuing it. I want you all to come along with me! Everyone is good at something and has potential; it is just taking the time to reflect and figure it out. Then taking action, even if small at first!
I am still decluttering and streamlining. I need to clear space both physically and mentally to create NEW. I am having a huge sale on my site, check it out! Great time to stock up on tees and baby gifts and to get some fun things for spring break.
I have so much more to share with you but don’t want this to be a super long blog post, so just keep watching (join my blog feed and join my email list) for the next post.
Celebrate a new month and find your next adventure and find yourself!
It’s National Blood Cancer Awareness month, so I have been gathering some inspiring survivor stories for you all and we are also putting all Survivor Chick tees on sale this month.
I am so honored to share Kyla’s story with you. We became instant friends when she found my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Story and have been emailing each other ever since. We have some similarities too (except I am not a beautiful blonde!) – she was around the same age as me when she was diagnosed and her little boys were the same ages as mine. And she works for the same accounting firm I used to work for. And my dad went through a blood cancer too, as hers did.
Kyla is so wonderful, such a light to others. I cannot wait for your to read this. You may need a tissue….
Cancer – the word was something I would read or watch in a movie and feel fear but quickly pass over it as it did not directly affect me.
My best friend’s mother had passed away when we were in Standard 1 from Leukemia and my mother’s cousin, Erica, also passed away due to breast cancer 8 years before. It was sad, but a fact of life and so I would carry on with “life”.
All the stories, all the movies, all the articles could not prepare me for what would happen next. In 2010 my rock, my best friend, my amazing intelligent and brilliant father went for a check up and they phoned him back telling him his white blood cell count was too high and he would need further tests. Neutrophilic Leukemia was the diagnosis. Very rare, no major information available as the 100 or so people that had had it, never lived or did not live long enough for them to do extensive testing.
We were all afraid but hopeful. My father went on a wonderful chemotherapy called Vidaza and he injected himself in his stomach for 7 days and only had to repeat the chemo the next month – again for 7 days.
He did not lose weight or his hair and carried on working the whole time. He loved us, laughed with us and celebrated welcoming my 2nd baby boy on the 3rd August 2011. Keagan, my first son and Declan and their cousin Seve were the light that shone the way for my dad. He lived and breathed and fought for them. He was unbelievable in his battle with cancer and he never complained and would never feel sorry for himself.
Our time was spent with family, laughing and talking and sharing moments. That is all we have in the end, memories. We made so many great memories.
In 2011, 4 months after my son was born, I noticed my neck was swollen and went for a CAT scan. The results were not good. I had cancer. The doctors looked worried and tried to make me understand that this could mean death. I knew that, they didn’t have to tell me. My husband, Riaan, tried to keep his composure but he struggled and everyone just kept saying that it would be alright.
My father and I knew different. We were in this battle together now and he stood by me with all my appointments and surgeries and held my hand and told me to take it one day at a time.
I had a biopsy on the 28th December 2011 and was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma Nodular Schlerosis Stage 2B. Everyone told me if that if you are going to get cancer, that was the cancer you wanted. I didn’t want any cancer but then again, there is no choice involved with these things?
I would start chemo on the 15 January 2012. My mother took me to all my chemotherapy sessions, she cried with me, she held my hand and she promised me that if anything happened she would be with me at the end.
We climbed Mt Everest together, my mom and I. We started at base camp and half way up, I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. She just told me to carry on for my kids. Keagan my 3 year old became quieter during the process and I basically handed my 6 month old baby boy to his nanny, as I could not care for him the way a new mother could.
My long blonde hair started falling out in chunks and so to make the process easier for my son, I told him he could cut mommies hair. He was so happy and so I gave him the kitchen scissor and he went bananas! Then my husband came home and shaved it all off. Keagan was not happy and asked me to please put my hair back. It was a very sad time for me.
I met my best friend and soul mate sister in the chemotherapy room. Danika had a 2 year old little boy and also had Hodgkins Lymphoma Nodular Schlerosis Stage 4 B. Her mother had had it 15 years prior so this was a shock and a very sad time for her family. Her mother had survived after years of treatment and so we just kept on hoping we would be like her and it was inspiring hearing her story.
We also met a lovely mommy of 2 boys, Michaela (you can read her blog at http://youmeandthebigc.blogspot.com) who had Hodgkins lymphoma and no medical aid. She was going for a stem cell transplant as her first course of chemotherapy had not been successful and was fund raising to save her life. Can you imagine? We became the 3 musketeers fighting an enemy we could not see, but one that literally ripped our lives from out of our hands. All mommies with small boys, under 5years of age.
My father was in remission and I believed that it was a sign from God that I would go into remission and that we would carry on with our lives, as before. Cancer would not win. We would laugh about this looking back and realize that it was just a bump in the road. A big bump, but just a bump.
On my second PET scan I was cancer free – after only 2 rounds of the chemotherapy drug BEACOPP. That is the German standard for fighting Hodgkins Lymphoma here in South Africa, whereas the Americans use ABVD as their standard.
I would still need 4 more treatments (instead of 8 as originally thought) but the prognosis was looking very good. I would also have no radiation after. They also downgraded my chemotherapy from Intermediate BEACOPP to Standard BEACOPP. This is why they do a PET scan after your 2nd round of chemotherapy.
I worked half day from home and tried to live a “semi normal” life. But the thoughts and fears would get to me. The what if’s and the but’s. They haunt you and never leave your side. You try to make peace with what may come, but it is still not normal to live with these thoughts.
My time was spent sleeping and trying to be a mommy. Keagan would ask me why I was always sleeping and I would just tell him that mommy was tired. Declan was flourishing under his nanny and my mom and dad’s care, but I felt cheated and guilty at the same time.
On the 9 May I went for my last Chemotherapy. My angel friend Danika had cupcakes made for me and I felt great. Things were finally working out the way I had thought they would. My mom and dad and I had made it to the summit. She had carried me most of the way!
50 days later my father passed away. His Leukemia came back with a vengeance and nothing could stop it. Thursday afternoon he went home early feeling a bit ill and by the next Wednesday – 28 June 2012 my hero, mentor, friend and daddy passed away. Cruel as I felt the hand I had been dealt was, I also felt that there was a silver lining. God had spared my father, so that he could carry me through my cancer journey, and just when I had been cleared and told I was cancer free, his body relaxed and his cancer returned and he went home to be with the Lord.
I cannot explain to anyone what it feels like. There are no words I could write or ways I could tell anyone what cancer had robbed me of, of my femininity, my right to be a mother, my ability to be a great worker, the chance to be a friend, the many many moments I could not take part in, the moments I could not be there for my sons, for my husband. It is so hard to digest exactly what it took from me, to weight up the enormity of the emotional toll it took on me and those around me.
But one thing it did not take from me, my belief and faith that the Lord is always good. He was with me through it all. He sent many many angels to comfort me and give that little bit of strength I needed when I was not going to make it. Debbie from Happy First who became my friend after I wrote to her. Her story gave me hope!
The parking attendant at the hospital who started singing a hymn while I was lying on the back seat of my mom’s car after chemotherapy because she knew I was sick. The service attendant who gave me flowers at the garage where I would stop with my mom to get juice and water after my treatments. What unspeakable kindness he showed me during a time where kindness is not readily available. He ran out with flowers for me. Someone he didn’t know and didn’t have to be nice to.
The nurses who took care of us in the chemo room, smiling with us and doing everything possible to make us comfortable. Sister Stephanie, a chemotherapy nurse, who passed away from ovarian cancer right in the middle of my treatments, because she did not even know she had it. She was always the life of the chemo room and I miss her dearly.
Sister Linda who showed me her port and told me not to be afraid as a port is a wonderful thing. She had colon cancer 5 years before and had survived! Sister Elria who always welcomed me with a smile and a hug and was a mommy to us all in the chemo room. The smiling faces in the theatres. The two lovely theatre nurses who prayed with me before I had my port put in because I was scared and was crying.
I have a blood clotting disorder and have had for many years, so surgery and chemotherapy just complicated it and I could of clotted at any time. But because of my daily injection of Clexane we kept it under control, but the fear of a blood clot added to my stress.
I sit at work writing this. It has been 1 year and 4 months since my last chemotherapy session. I have had another 2 more PET scans in the interim which shows no residual cancer.
It feels like a lifetime ago. It almost feels like this happened to someone else, but then the sadness I feel every day that my dad is not with me reminds me of my dad’s passing, the nagging if’s and but’s in the corner of my mind remind me that it could come back and then the fear, which I have to push back. I have faith that it won’t but then I am not God and He has His plan for our lives. I do not question I just feel the feelings any human would faced with what I have gone through and then give it to Him.
I hold onto His hand. He guides me. He holds me. He strengthens me. He quietens my spirit and gives me joy. I also have hope, a hope for a future, for health and happiness. His mercy has given me a new life, and I live each moment to the best of my ability.
I love my life and the cancer has changed me, left it’s scar but it has started healing. I do not look at things the way I did before. I have a different set of eyes. My heart song has changed and when I feel cheated I just remind myself that my story has a happy ending, no matter how it ends.
There is nothing but peace when I put my hand in His hand.
Happy September 1st my friends! I hope everyone is enjoying Labor Day Weekend! I love to celebrate a new month and a new season, yay!
Lots of exciting things coming this month and some great guest posts coming since this is both National Blood Cancer Awareness Month and National Yoga Month! What a great combination when you think about it, wish I had known about Yoga when I was going through treatment 18 years ago.
Anyway, more to come, follow us via Bloglovin or RSS feed to get our posts!
Wow, I can’t believe all the craziness that is happening in our world today. And today is also the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. I will never forget that day, as we lived in Tulsa and had friends in OKC that were there when it happened. I have several friends running in the Oklahoma City Marathon on April 28. One of them is Pam Dominisse (our original Strong Chick) and a few days ago she asked me if we could design a tee to wear in the upcoming marathon to remember the Boston runners.
So we jumped into action-one of my best friends, Linda Waters, owner of Beads for a Cause, lives in Boston and she loved the idea and told me that everyone in Boston is pulling together and the mantra is “Boston Strong”. We thought this phrase would blend perfectly with our “Strong Chick” line. And I have had runners asking me for a running tee, so I found one! It is a tech tee, 100% polyester, anti-bacterial and has UV protection.
So together with Beads for a Cause and the 26.2 Foundation (a 501c3 charity) we will be giving the profits from the sale of each tee to the One Fund Boston. Also, check out Linda’s 26.2 bead, a percentage of sales of this bead goes to the 26.2 Foundation. (and as a Hodgkin’s Survivor and Team in Training alum I love that a % goes to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society too!)
Also available are Boston Strong Chick Baseball caps-available immediately in Blue caps with yellow text or white caps with royal blue text, but you can customize your colors if you want.
So here is a way to show your support and honor the victims of the Boston Marathon during your next race or even a run through your local park. Click on the Boston Strong Chick tee here to order!
Please join us in spreading the word!
My vision for Happy First is to be a place where people can come and connect with each other and be inspired. Through one of my blog posts in particular- My Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor Story I have seen people encourage and help one another in going through cancer. I am so thrilled that Cameron and Heather Von St. James found Happy First and asked to share their story with you all. The perspective from a caregiver is often overlooked. Here is their story; I know it will touch and encourage others and also create awareness.
Being a Cancer Caregiver is Hard: How I Coped With My Wife’s Diagnosis
My wife has said more than once that she has no idea what I went through when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Despite talking about it once, it’s a difficult thing to understand when you experience a struggle like this from different perspectives. Neither one of us had any idea that three months after our daughter was born we would be dealing with cancer. We had no idea that our joy would end and anger and confusion and fear would replace it. I watched tears run down Heather’s cheeks when her doctor told her she had cancer. All I could do was wonder how we would get through this. The anger is something I remember vividly. I used a lot of profanity for a while. I finally got my act together and made sure I was strong for my wife. I needed to be her rock. I made it happen, but it wasn’t easy. I had a long list of things to do that I didn’t think I could handle. Aside from the regular things I had to do such as work and caring for my wife and daughter, I had travel arrangements to make, treatment decisions, and doctor’s appointments to deal with. It didn’t take long before I started accepting all the generous offers of help that our friends and family approached me with. We were so very lucky to have that help and support during this difficult time. It helped me to prioritize our lives. I was still overwhelmed, but much less so. The most difficult time in all of this was immediately following Heather’s surgery in Boston. She needed time to recover before she began her next phase of mesothelioma treatment: chemotherapy and radiation. Fortunately, her parents were already watching Lily for us in South Dakota, so Heather hopped on a flight and spent the next two months with them recovering. Because I had to stay behind to work, I was only able to see my family once in those two months. I missed Heather and Lily so much.
I visited them one weekend, and spent 11 hours driving each way. I left on Friday after work, drove through a snowstorm, and did it all over again on Sunday so that I didn’t miss any work. It was a long, grueling trip from only a few precious hours of time with them, but it was worth it to see my family. This was such a difficult time for me, but I don’t regret the decision to stay home and work. I had to help our family the best way that I could. Since we were so fortunate to have her parents help with her recovery and with Lily, we were able to make this decision. It was difficult, but it was necessary. It was the best decision for our family at the time, which is the only reason I don’t regret it. That was six years ago. Heather is healthy and happy now, and I am wiser from all that I learned throughout her cancer experience. I learned that I have to accept help to get things done. I learned that we were lucky to have all that we did in that department. I hope that my experience can help even one person with their own experience with cancer.
A little about Cameron-
“Cameron is husband to Heather Von St. James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and father to Lily Rose. He, along with Heather and young Lily, had their worlds turned upside down when Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just 3 1/2 months after the birth of his only child. When faced with the very real possibility of raising Lily on his own, he fought alongside Heather in her battle with mesothelioma. It was his determination and refusal to compromise on doctors or treatments that led them to Boston to receive radical surgery from esteemed mesothelioma surgeon, David Sugarbaker. Heather continues to thrive 6 years later.
Through out the next few years, while being a caregiver to Heather and dad to Lily, Cameron returned to school full time to finish his degree. He worked full time, went to school full time and graduated with high honors at the top of his class in June of 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology. He was soon offered a position at US Bank as Network Analyst and continues to pursue his career.
Like Heather, Cameron is passionate about bringing awareness to mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure. It is his hope that sharing his story will help others those battling cancer and their caregivers who provide them care and guidance in their journey.”
If you would like to connect with Heather, check out her facebook page.
Happy October 1st my friends! The months just fly by-the first always sneaks up on me! And here I am late getting this out today, but I think it happened for a reason because of the comment that just appeared on the Military Wife Strong Chick (featuring Latife) blog post. I am just blown away. I cannot believe all the strong people I have been introduced to because of having Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and founding the Happy First clothing line. Also, I wanted to refer back to My Hodgkin’s story, because I want you all to see other people’s stories and if you know someone going through it, maybe my blog post and everyone’s comments can be an encouragement.
I was going to tell you about all the cute new stuff we have (and it is! check it out) but I thought sharing other’s stories are more important today!
So be Happy to be Here and remember this is a new month to make a difference in your life and others’!
We are still looking for some more Military Strong Chicks out there to tell their story as a part of an upcoming project, so please contact me either via my blog or site or facebook with your story.
Oh, one more thing, we are now on Pinterest, please follow us!
Ok, couldn’t resist, here is one cute new thing, go check out the rest…..
My newest tee is the Lucky Chick-I thought it would be fun for the Spring, my favorite season! It’s available in our popular long sleeve burnout and a short sleeve gradient lime tee. It’s designed with green in both tees so you won’t get pinched on St. Patrick’s Day, but I think you can be a Lucky Chick all year long! (Someone said they will be wearing it to the casino, didn’t think of that one-but that works!)
What is Lucky?
I looked up Luck in the dictionary and it said “success or failure brought by chance rather than one’s actions”. I am not really a believer in that kind of luck. Yea, you can be in the right place at the right time, but I agree with what my friend Kim Fuller said on my Happy First Facebook page-she’s a “make my own luck chick”! I love that! I believe that we all have the power to change our future based on our choices. And I know things happen in life, but it is the attitude we have and how we handle circumstances that creates our destiny.
I believe I am lucky because I am here! I went through Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 17 years ago and am happy to be here! (And have you seen that Happy to be Here tee?) I feel blessed with my family and friends and just all the opportunities and adventures that are all just waiting for me. I knew in my heart when I was going through treatment that something good was going to come out of my experience. Through creating Happy First I have met so many incredible people and am making a difference! I have met other entrepreneurs, survivors and patients. My newest friend is undergoing treatment from Hodgkin’s and she lives in South Africa. She found me through my blog. You never know where your experiences can take you. (By the way she is doing great!)
Find your Passion and Pursue it
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about finding your passion and pursuing it. It doesn’t mean you have to quit your current job or anything. Just figure out what you love to do and start doing it. You never know where it will lead you. Some of you know my story, I started out in college as a fashion design major and then switched to accounting because I was so good with numbers and thought I would make more money being a CPA. But I was miserable; I didn’t like it-it wasn’t my passion.
When you decide on a path, it is like things and people just start appearing and falling into place. “Leap and the net will appear”. A word that keeps popping up with me recently is synchronicity. That word showed up in 2 different studies (below) I was doing on the same day! The dictionary defines synchronicity as – the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection .
Some would say it is coincidence, but I like to think that things are not really coincidences. I have really been delving this year (my word for 2012 is delve-check it out). In January I signed up for both the Baron Baptist 40 days to Personal Revolution and started reading a book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. That book has been sitting on my shelf for years-I don’t even remember who told me to buy it. I started these studies on the same day and it is weird (or synchronous) how these two go hand in hand. I am going to to tell you more about both in another post-what a creative journey!
Anyway Baron Baptiste talks about having a vision shift -he said “our greatest power to change ourselves is found in our ability to see beyond the veil, to see with an enlightened vision. He said a vision shift calls for attention, intention and faith. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson- “Once you make a decision , the universe conspires to make it happen”. He mentioned the word synchronicity.
in her book Julia Cameron said “Take a small step in the direction of a dream and watch the synchronous doors flying open”. Another quote she included was by Goethe “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do , begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”
I’m not trying to be weird or voodoo here, I am just saying, once you decide and commit to a path, things fall into place.
I feel like I experience synchronicity almost every day. People are just coming into my path. A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with Judi Groves, founder of Breast Impressions and Turn Tulsa Pink. I thought we were meeting really quickly so I could give her her Super Chick tee. Anyway, 2 hours later we were still talking! She is contagious. She loves life and helping others and has a huge vision. Then last week I went to a friend’s party and met Kayce Hughlett. Kayce wrote a book that I bought on the spot that night-As I lay Pondering Daily Invitations to Live a Transformed Life. We immediately clicked – we are kindred spirits. She just included me in her blog-Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds– I am honored!
Both of these women and I talked about how you are never to old to start pursuing your passion. All your experiences and circumstances are leading you up to what you are supposed to do now.
I want you to realize that YOU too are created for greatness. I want you to find your passion and pursue it! I truly believe that every one of us is supposed to do something with our talents.
What is your passion? Remember, each one of us can be a “Lucky Chick!”
We lost a close family friend this June. I have been wanting to write about all of this since then, I just haven’t been able to sort my thoughts. I am now ready to tell you the story of Anna Basso and her incredible family. It is about how one person’s precious life has affected so many people.
Anna Basso’s family lives in Dallas next door to my sister Susan and her husband, Mark, and their 3 kids. Over the past 6 years I have been going to Dallas a lot more often than I had, beginning with my dad’s diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma — cancer of the plasma cells (in the leukemia and lymphoma family). I would run down there whenever my sister called. My dad passed away in September of 2007. Over that period I really got to know Dave and Carol Basso. They are 2 of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know. When I was in town often we would end up at their home for dinner. They always opened up their home to others. When my dad passed away, my sister’s house was full of relatives, so I spent a couple of nights at Carol’s. She was so thoughtful in preparing their guest room for me, I felt like I was at a nice cozy hotel. My mom lives about a block away and has had a rough time with my dad passing away. The Bassos would always include my mom on gatherings and Carol would dutifully deliver the USA weekend paper to my mom every Friday. She would also take meals over to my mom’s house regularly.
My sister and Mark tried to sell their home in the spring of 2009 to buy a different home about a mile away. Their home just wouldn’t sell. It was on the market for 6 months. I think they weren’t supposed to move away from Dave and Carol. They ended up staying and remodeling. Dave and Carol had 2 daughters, Patrice and Anna. In November 2009 their youngest, Anna, 16, a junior in high school, was having pain around her pelvis. Carol took her in to the doctor. At first they had trouble diagnosing it. I was hoping if it had to be cancer, it would be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, like I had, which is usually curable. It wasn’t — it was Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer of the soft tissue and bone.
The Bassos were going to fight this thing. They set up a journal on Caring Bridge so everyone could keep up with what was happening with Anna. My brother-in-law, Mark, came up with the idea of creating a site, www.1millionprayers.com. He owns an ad agency, Firehouse (by the way, he was instrumental in creating Happy First). Mark and his creative team went to work. They wanted to get 1 million prayers for Anna. This site reached people all across the world. The verse they chose was Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” and they wanted people to pray for Anna every day at 12:12 pm.
The Bassos gave it their best. After a year of treatment, we all thought Anna was ok, but then they found more cancer cells. Treatment again. It was hard to see Anna and her family going through all of that. But she held her head up, was strong, positive and an unbelievable inspiration to others. She was surrounded by her family and friends. Anna loved the Dallas Mavericks, the color purple, music and butterflies. I didn’t know Anna really well: I knew her parents better, so this story is from a somewhat outside perspective. She went to a Catholic high school in Dallas that absolutely loved and embraced her. She was their homecoming queen. Her high school friends made a video “Dear Anna” for her when she was going though treatment that really touched me and makes me think of her every time I hear this song- Float On by Modest Mouse.
I have been back and forth to Dallas a lot this spring because my mom has had major health problems, so I have been at my sister’s a lot. Susan and Mark have had quite a hard time, being so close to Anna and her family, watching everyone suffer throughout her treatment. Since I have been going to Dallas so much, I have gotten to know Patrice better, Anna’s older sister. She will be a senior in college, studying journalism. I just love Patrice and think she is so talented-she is an excellent blogger. Her blog is www.patricesblog.com. It’s now as if Anna is with Patrice in Patrice’s writings.
Anna went to prom and looked absolutely beautiful. It is one of my favorite pictures of her. I know she really didn’t feel well at the time, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She then saved all of her strength for her graduation day Memorial Day weekend. She had lots of family come in for it. That night she wanted to go out with her friends to see her favorite band, Manchester Orchestra that was in town. Her mom didn’t think she would be able to have the strength, but she did. What Anna didn’t know was that her friends had arranged for Anna to be on stage. The band sang “I can feel your pain” to her. They gave her gifts and took pictures. Anna told her friends and family that it was the best night of her life. Then the website reached 1 million prayers on June 1, 2011 (the first of the month always has a special meaning to me-happy first) Sweet Anna died a week and a half later, on June 8, 2011.
I don’t know why she had to pass away. I know God has a plan, but sometimes it is hard to see. I know she is in a better place, but I am so sad for all of us, her friends and family. Everyone misses her intensely, dearly. I have friends that never even met her that were praying for her, following her story since day 1 of her diagnosis. Anna has touched so many lives. The Bassos have received letters from people around the world that have been affected by Anna.
In my next entry I will tell you about some things that happened that I don’t think were coincidences and also an idea to help someone else in Anna’s memory.
In January of 1995 I was 32 years old and had an almost 4 year old son and a new baby boy- just 6 weeks old. I felt a lump on my neck near my right collar bone. It was just the size of a pea. My sister in law, a nurse, said it was probably nothing, but I went ahead and asked my obgyn at my 6 week appointment. He also thought it was nothing but said to see a surgeon if it would make me feel better. I have always been proactive when it came to health so I booked an appointment with a surgeon. The surgeon also thought it was nothing and gave me antiobitics. A week went by. The lump still didn’t go away, so he said he would remove it and biopsy it, 99% chance it was nothing, just an infection. So I went into the little surgery not being worried about it. I had the surgery on a Friday and it took longer than expected. The surgeon told my husband he suspected something. My husband didn’t tell me that because he didn’t want me to worry all weekend. So finally on Tuesday the doctor’s office called me and over the phone said “You have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but it is one of the best kinds of cancer”. I was a bit freaked out. I immediately called my husband, who was at work and then rushed home. But first he called his sister, the nurse, to talk to me and calm me down.
Then I called my best friend Amy, whose dad is a doctor in Tulsa, to find out who was the best oncologist around. He called back and told her Dr. Alan Keller with Cancer Care Associates. It just so happened that Amy was going to a cocktail party that night and the CEO of Cancer Care was there. Amy talked to him about me. I got an appointment booked to see Dr. Keller. But before I saw Dr. Keller, I saw another oncologist first that my surgeon had recommended. He was from another country, and was really nice but I found him hard to understand. He said for me to be “cautiously optimistic” with my prognosis. The one thing I remember that I didn’t like was that his office was dark and dreary. It is amazing how little things like the doctor’s office atmosphere can affect someone.
I went in to see Dr. Keller and instantly knew I was at the right place. Their atmosphere was cheerful. Dr. Keller was incredible. He also was optimistic with my prognosis and made me feel like the treatment was just something I had to go through to get better. Hodgkin’s is usually very curable today. It wasn’t 40 years ago. In fact, my next door neighbor’s first wife had died from it after their first baby and she was just in her 20’s . Our next door neighbors were 30 years older than us and like our 3rd set of parents. They were very upset when they heard what I had.
Prognosis and treatment of chemotherapy and radiation
Immediately Dr. Keller did a bone marrow biopsy on me to help with the staging. Wow, that was the most painful test in my hip but it lasted just a split second. Luckily, it had not spread to my bones. Then I had to have other scans and tests. I was staged as a 2A. 2 because it had spread from my neck to my chest (I had a mass in my chest). “A” means I had no symptoms. Some people experience fatigue, night sweats, and weight loss. I didn’t have any symptoms but the lump in my neck. Hodgkin’s disease is considered one of the most curable forms of cancer, especially if it is diagnosed and treated early. The cause is not known. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most common among people ages 15 – 35 and 50 – 70. Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus is thought to contribute to most cases. Another interesting thing I have heard is that many people who have had Hodgkin’s have had Mononucleuosis. I had mono in my 20’s. Unlike other cancers, Hodgkin’s disease is often very curable even in late stages.With the right treatment, more than 90% of people with stage I or II Hodgkin’s lymphoma survive for at least 10 years. If the disease has spread, the treatment is more intense but the percentage of people who survive 5 years is about 90%.
Dr. Keller advised 6 months of chemotherapy (every 2 weeks) followed by 6 weeks of radiation for me. He said if I had both, my chances of survival were 98%. He said most often, if it were to reoccur, it would come back within 2 years (glad that was 16 years ago!). They got started with my treatment very quickly after I was staged. I started treatment the day after my older son’s 4th birthday.
My friend Amy had another friend, Teresa who was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s at the same time as me. We met each other and kept each other posted of our treatment. She is now fine today too!
There was a silver lining to my cancer. My faith was really strengthened and I realized how many blessings I had in my life. Friends and family were making me meals, hiring a cleaning lady, helping in so many ways I almost felt guilty, but then I realized that it was a way they could feel better and contribute to what I was going through. My mother in law was incredible; every 2 weeks when I had chemo the boys and I would spend a night or two at her home and she took care of us. I kept telling myself that God had a plan for my life and I was going through this for a reason.
People were surprised at my positive attitude but I didn’t really see what other kind of attitude to have. My doctor was so positive and just looked at treatment as something I had to go through to get better. Who cared if I lost my hair? It was only temporary. Because my kids were so small I had to focus on them and couldn’t wallow in self pity. I didn’t have time.
One big thing I learned is how important it is to say only positive statements. People would say things to me like they were sad I might not be around or they knew someone who died from Hodgkin’s. That didn’t help me at all! I hated the look on some people’s faces when they found out I had cancer. It worried me. I chose to just listen to my doctor who was optimistic and knew the latest in medicine. I now am very careful to only tell positive and success stories to people that are going through something. You don’t realize how people can internalize little comments and how it can affect them. My husband was my rock-he shielded me from negative people and statements. My cancer strengthened our already strong marriage. We have now been married almost 27 years. He is my best friend. Ok, I digress!
I kept wondering what I was supposed to do with this experience. During my treatment one of my good friends came down with breast cancer. She had commented earlier she didn’t know how I was getting by and then weeks later she had a battle to face. I saw myself becoming an encourager. We started to have fun with it; me with my wig and she with her prosthesis (she too had just had a baby 2 weeks prior to her diagnosis and couldn’t have reconstruction for several months so had to have a prosthesis). Shortly after several other friends came down with cancer and I was there for them and hopefully an example. Happily, everyone is fine today.
The years went by raising little boys and for a while I just wanted to repress my experience and move on. I didn’t want my cancer to define me. I really wanted to forget it. I just wanted to get on with life. Over 10 years later, Happy First was born (more on how we got started later!).
While in the planning stages of Happy First, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. This is also in the Leukemia and Lymphoma family. This was confirmation to me that this was what I should be doing. Happy First gives a percentage of profits to leukemia and lymphoma research. I want to give back. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for cancer research. We launched Happy First in May of 2007. My dad passed away in September of 2007.
Now you know why I am so “happy to be here” (and that is the name of my latest tee, more on that later!) and why I celebrate each month by saying “happy first!”. I now know that I went through Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to encourage and inspire others. I am grateful I went through it, but hope to never go through that again! It is still scary going for checkups, it brings it all back.
Wow, it feels weird writing all of this down to tell you. I haven’t thought of the details in a long time.
I hope I have helped someone with this story! I would love to see your comments below. If you have an inspiring story, please email me at email@example.com and let me know if you want me to share it.
Have a happy day my friends, and be glad you are here!