“Death commences too early-almost before you’re half-acquainted with life-you meet the other.” Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
“If you have been brutally broken, but still have the courage to be gentle to others then you deserve a love deeper than the ocean itself.” Nikita Gill
This blog was originally going to be a very lengthy read and still may be, actually it will be, considering the amount of time that has passed and the events. This is my first blog since August 2017 and I apologize for that to you and to myself. As pages and pages and new titles were written over the months, I decided to trash it all. I may be a little all over the place but stick with me, there is so much to talk about. Since I have last posted, there has been a relentless attack on the labyrinth of my brain. I ended the already extremely difficult year with brain surgery #2 and the loss of someone dear to me. It was a loss that shook me to my core and still does some days. The stability of my disease last year is far-gone and I’m on another new clinical trial drug that began the first week of January. It’s called, Pembrolizumab (aka Keytruda) and it’s an immunotherapy drug.
In order to be eligible for this new trial the neurosurgeon had to leave one tumor behind during surgery at the end of November. In one month of being off treatment after the surgery and radiation in November-December, I grew 12 more tumors in my brain. Yep, 12. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be so ‘well’, so ‘high functioning’, considering. We will see what happens with this new drug. I have zero expectations. I learned the harsh lesson last year when one week I was stable and the next I’m being kicked off a clinical trial for several reasons and having my brain cut open again. One-week pneumonia, next week brain surgery. Nbd.
To be honest, I’ve been in a funk for about 6 months and have been unable to travel like I had hoped for last year. Cancer is taking my passions from me slowly. Cancer keeps taking little pieces of me, my mother says, picking me apart piece by piece. I was having a difficult time maintaining my positivity, optimism, and perspective (notice the past tense J). I re read my last blog recently after my last Kauai trip in the summer of 2017 and wow what a high I was on. I was approaching the ‘hilltop hour’ at full speed but had no idea what was to come, medically and personally. Soon after returning home it was clear that my lifelong connection to Kauai, the island of displaced misfits (I’ve heard it was called), was over. I know when it’s my time to move on from a situation or place or person. I learned all I could learn there.
Last summer I was feeling really good and that I was living a cancerful life of purpose with this blog, my photography and the people I was surrounded by. In the last six months I’ve had trouble with what my purpose is and feeling sometimes like, “Why am I here?” I’ve been trying to figure out some heavy stuff and the tone of happiness and peace was lost for a while. I’m working really hard to get my spirit back. I don’t want to lose the desire for all the things I’ve loved about my life. Due to the lack of consistent content here, because of this gap in time, I considered just letting this blog go, deleting it and then I started writing again.
Here is a list of all the blog titles I’ve had since last September:
Another Day Another Struggle
I do not like cancer here or there I do not like cancer anywhere
Cocktails, Clone Wars & Cancerjail
Clarice’s Christmas Crap
F U Quints
Cancer made me broke
Cancer made me fat
The Hilltop Hour
No one is perfect
“Enough about me, what do you think about me?”
Worst. Year. Ever.
Hair? Are you there? It’s me Angela…
Then I got pneumonia
Red man syndrome
The pain ain’t cheap
War of my life
Brain surgery #2
Blinded by the light
World meet Dema – demogorgon
‘Ain’t that a kick in the head’?
Endoscopies, colonoscopies, endometrial biopsies & fu oscopies
Back in the Saddle Again
There’s been more cancer than traveling this last year. Even bigger than both of those things was the loss of one of my pillars, my people. He was a bright and shiny light who was an incredibly special person to me. Cancer took him from us. He was my cancer mentor, my kindred spirit, and he fought harder than anyone I know. Everything else I’d been writing about before his passing seemed so insignificant all the sudden. This blog should be a dedication to him and the life we shared and all of the things I’m so proud of him for.
Kindred Spirits are defined as two people that make a special connection by sharing a bond that has joined them on a higher level of consciousness. His name was Charles (Chad) Phillip Peacock Jr. and this is how he came into my life. February 23, 2015, a newbie cancerful and about to walk through the door of a mountain house in Ouray, Colorado for a trip that would change my life forever. Behind that door would be 10 other Cancerfuls, personal chefs, mountain guides and medical staff all waiting to give us the ice climbing adventure of a lifetime!
The organization, that I know I’ve talked a lot about before and heard about through one of my pillars, is called First Descents. This organization is “a recognized leader in outdoor experiential programming. Through outdoor adventures, skills development, and local adventure communities, FD improves the long-term survivorship of young adults impacted by cancer. Our participants experience free outdoor adventure programs that empower them to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same.” Let me also state that I applied for the surfing trip but was placed in the ice climbing program. The founder of this organization, Brad Ludden was CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2016.
On our first night there we were fitted for gear, helmets, crampons and everything else we were going to need for the week. I fell asleep pretty terrified and intimidated about the prospect of climbing up a gigantic, freezing cold piece of ice with axes. I was also panicking that I wouldn’t connect with anyone. In the morning as we were preparing for our adventure I sat back in a big comfy recliner looking out at the snow covered mountains, while everyone was eating breakfast. There was an empty seat next to mine and as I relaxed there, writing, Chad came and sat down. He didn’t talk to me; he just sat there writing like me.
Eventually, we spoke and the conversation quickly lead to introductions that led to him finding out my last name. AMOROSO! Anyone from the Philadelphia area knows this name and what it’s associated with…BREAD. Not just any bread but the bread used all over PA and NJ for the famous Philly cheesesteaks. His eyes lit up like it was Christmas but I disappointed him, telling him unfortunately I’m not part of ‘that’ family.
Over the course of the week, our conversations grew longer. At first, I said to my roommate who’s that guy that’s kind of arrogant? Ultimately he became my closest person there and man did he make me laugh about Cancer. Finally, I felt so relieved to be in this tribe of people my age who were like me! The vibe of arrogance I had at first wasn’t arrogance but knowledge and strength in his character and in his relationship with his own disease. He knew how to live with Cancer and succeed in life and still find joy everywhere despite going on 6 years of being an ‘Incurable’. He taught me how to cure a moment or a day. That was what he tried to do everyday in his own life and he wanted to show others how to do it also.
We spent the week at camp talking with everyone, laughing non-stop and pairing off as others did during the week. We may not all keep in touch as much as we would like to but during that week we became a family. Chad and I were the two who snuck off and hid some wine and an electric cigarette and giggled at cancer jokes. Recently a cancer camp miracle happened when two campers fell in love and married which makes my heart explode with happiness.
At the end of the week we had a ceremony under the stars in candle lit snow. All of our guides, medical staff and volunteers gathered with us that last night, leading us through a cancer camp parting ritual. We each held a candle and placed them in the water before us while we dedicated that moment to anyone we had lost from this disease. Friends and family were honored. We honored each other. We were each given a piece of string by our guides and directed to tie it around someone else’s wrist from camp. Chad and I turned towards each other and tied the knots. I wore that string bracelet for over a year and when it broke I kept the knot and keep it in a special place.
Later, as our last night wound down, we all stayed up and talked about our life, our struggles, our blessings and our curses. We laughed, cried, promised to stay in touch and the next day we said goodbye as everyone made their way home. I hugged Chad and he whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry I have brain cancer.” I replied, “I’m sorry I have breast cancer.” I watched him fly west and I flew east knowing my life would be forever changed, because of this beautiful soul and because of this whole inspiring experience. I had no idea that for the next years we would cure so many moments.
When the cancer spread to my brain a couple years later, there was almost this sense of relief that we were finally both part of the ‘incurable club’. There began a game of one-upping each other in brain cancer land. He was jealous when I had gamma knife surgery because he hadn’t yet. I was jealous when he had brain laser surgery instead of a full craniotomy. I mean who wants 20+ staples in their head?
During his Cancerful years he endured and triumphed through 6 brain surgeries and trial after trial. He not only had brain cancer, but GLIOBLASTOMA. He was fascinated with medicine, the brain itself and any and all clinical trials he could get into. I think the best trial was the one with magnets. He was supplied with magnets that would attach to his head with a battery backup carried in a backpack. When he sent me a picture of his head with the magnets I was shocked. He had this huge grin on his face. What made that trial more manageable for him was actually giving the device a name, Toby. Toby was temperamental sometimes. Toby didn’t like the heat and would sound alarm if he got too hot. Chad was religious about wearing Toby. That was one of the coolest trials for him! After talking with his doctors about why he kept referring to ‘the device’ as ‘Toby’ the company holding the trial considered implementing that into the protocol (naming the device).
Chad passed away unexpectedly due to complications from a seizure and resulting surgery. They did surgery and he never woke. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I knew something was wrong. It has taken me quite awhile to make any sort of peace with his passing and him being gone. I’m starting to cry less and see the signs he is giving others and me and that makes me happy. He’s ok and as a recent psychic medium said to me during a reading, he wanted me to know that, “I’ve got a lot of power up here now.” Without question, that was him and his family agreed. During one of his services on the East coast, we sat for a traditional Quaker service. People stood to tell stories, read poems, laugh about something he did in the past. It was more personal than our typical ritual funerals. There were times of complete silence. His passing brings up a lot for my mom and I and the feelings of sadness overwhelm us sitting there. This was his favorite poem, which he read at his Grandfather’s funeral and was read at his as well:
Funeral Blues by WH Auden.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and the muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policeman wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
In one of his last blog entries, I had a weird feeling that something was different. I think he recognized the progression of his disease and he wrote this:
“ Oh, you got a new Hyundai? Well guess what, I had deadly tumor cells removed from my brain…With LASERS! And before breakfast!” I am particularly eager to brag about this with my dear Cancerful friend who recently had the one super cool brain cancer procedure that I have not yet done, called Cyber Knife (which uses radiation beams— pretty cool, but not as cool as LASERS!!) This particular friend also writes a blog about her Cancerful experiences, and it is extraordinarily beautiful, just like her. I highly recommend you check it out, since if you’re reading this you obviously have a taste for cancer blogs. And hers is a really good one. Hers also has extremely beautiful photography, which mine lacks. But Mine has more jokes. And I am having LASER brain surgery 😉 Here is the link to her blog, I hope you’ll check it out:http://beautyandthedark.com
I was so honored and surprised by this. I looked up to him in so many ways. From the way he lived his life to his writing. I remember reading his blog one day and he was talking about feeling alone with cancer. He was explaining this, saying that even if you were lying in bed with the love of your life, you’d still be alone with your cancer, unless the love of your life has cancer too. This touched my soul, because it’s true. Not only was he a writer and a screenwriter but also founded the organization called The Cancerful Foundation and he had a blog for many years at https://thebrainchancery.com.He wrote a screenplay for a movie that was in the works when he passed called, Cancer! (The Musical!). I hope to see this completed someday.
Here are a few photos of our adventures over the years!
He said, “Since there is no cure for what I have, I have learned to cure myself— to give myself moments where having cancer doesn’t matter. By laughing, by jogging through a National Park, by smelling ridiculous amounts of roses, I have learned to make my moments and my days not just about dying of cancer, but about being alive, and happy. And I’m succeeding.That is what this movie is about. It is about having cancer, but more so it is about LIVING with cancer. Just writing this movie cured me in unbelievable ways, and I know in my heart that it can and will cure a lot more Cancerful people.”
In a text exchange with him from last fall he said, “I’m gonna just keep rocking it as hard as I can! Which today means organizing my pill bottles.” My anger since his passing and how I make peace with it and still remain positive about my own future is a tough place to be in. I’m doing this new trial because of him, because he would have told me to. This disease can bring people together in a magical way and rip them apart at the same time. Some days I am exhausted from the constant loss and a disease that always seems to win.
“Cancer isn’t for light weights.” Mom says recently.
I have found that lately during this long swim back to the surface that I have very little patience for people who are not kind and I’m easily reactive. I have been slammed again and again by disappointment it seems this past year, not just by cancer but also by people. Some days what’s happening in our world is as heavy for me as this disease. I’ve also had a dramatic shift in my personal relationships. There is something to be said for “suffering in silence.” I have no more room for toxic people in my life. I have control over my own shit, therefore, “your presence has to feel better than my solitude”. Khalil Gibran said, “People ruin beautiful things.” They sure can.
After reading my last blog, one of my healers left this comment:
I was a sobbing mess when I read that because it’s true and I never would have been able to describe this shift I’m going through, like that. In one paragraph she summed up everything I’ve been trying to say in allll of these pages and it made total sense. My entire life I’ve been carrying around these stories and these events that never belonged to me. I have been carrying around words, memories and the constant flux of people in and out of my life. There’s been a lack of stability, of safety, of dependence, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing but it’s not a great way to learn life’s harsh lessons. I grew up too early and too fast. I was forced to become an adult entirely too early. Finally, at age 39 I am actually figuring it out. I have wanted this clarity my entire life. I believe this is part of the reason I’ve had a huge shift in my life in the last two months and part of the reason I’m so dedicated to evolving and growing in this particular life I’ve been given. Sitting still is a dangerous place for me to be.
I wonder sometimes, was illness my fate? Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But I’m not going to leave this earth without making it mean something to myself and to my pillars, something besides a cool extended travel story. When I talk about the failure of personal relationships so much it’s because as a decent human being I become very upset by someone who is not. I’ve had to accept that some relationships will never be more than a disappointment. There will be people in our lives that consistently lift us up and some that will consistently push us down, without us necessarily even knowing. There will always be negative people who pass us by. We just need to keep walking.
Even though we may desperately want those people to be the ones lifting us up, that might just not be their path in our lives. Cancer has kept people away. At the end of it all, I just believe it comes down to not just me being brave, but others as well and I have seen more cowardice in my life this year than any other. I have let people go which is not easy. Not only am I fighting for my life everyday, I’m also sometimes fighting to keep people in my life. Cryptic…everyone is different and everyone should be different and everyone should also be his or her authentic, original self. Sometimes those versions aren’t compatible with our selves anymore and that’s ok. A quote from one of my yoga teachers this week resonated with me and describes the last couple paragraphs, “Don’t fight battles that don’t lie between you and your destiny.” The fact of the matter is that it’s not my job or my responsibility to spend my time and energy trying to figure out their souls and their cracks that need healing.
A friend said to me recently, “Sometimes you gotta rip shit up to make room for new possibilities.” This makes complete sense. I might have burned it all down in a gigantic forest fire but the seeds for something new and different are there. The dust will settle and eventually the seeds will sprout. “Sometimes you just have to remove people without warning. We are getting too old to be explaining what they already know they’re doing wrong. ”
I read this next quote somewhere and wrote it down…”Never apologize to others for their misunderstanding of who you are. Never regret being a good person to the wrong person. Your behavior says everything about you, and their behavior says enough about them.”
“Man has the power to act as his own destroyer – and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.” Atlas Shrugged
As a side note about that quote actually, I thought I’d throw out this little bit of information I learned about the progress of breast cancer research. My mother, who is a nurse practitioner attended a conference over the winter for primary care and heard about this drug that has the potential to save thousands of lives. I’m losing my life everyday because this drug wasn’t available for me 4 years ago and it existed. Turns out, people have been talking about the use of this drug pre breast cancer surgery and lung cancer surgery for YEARS! This drug is given during pre op for breast cancer AND lung cancer and can provide an immediate reduction in recurrence in the first 2 years. Its name is Toradol (Ketorolac).
This drug has the potential to save 10,000 lives annually; maybe it could have saved mine! How have I not heard of this?! It’s only $5 million; in comparison to what is funded annually that’s not much! I read more about this drug and the discussion on this topic through Global Cures. Global Cures is a “non-profit medical research organization dedicated to curing patients with cancer and other diseases by rapidly promoting clinical research on scientifically promising, readily available and cost-effective treatments. Our strategy is to repurpose existing drugs, currently being overlooked for cancer use, due to lack of profitability. Global Cures is about affordable medical innovation.” They posted these statistics…a recent study found that in patients undergoing mastectomies for breast cancer receiving a pre-surgical dose of the drug Ketorolac, the recurrence rate in the first two years dropped from approximately 17% to 6%, a difference maintained over subsequent years. End rant.
It seems sort of inappropriate and insignificant in the grand scheme to talk shop about travel stuff like national park history etc. when I have just lost someone so important in my life and also 2 family members in the last month. I did a lot of research for these trips and for the blog but instead I’m just going to include some photos of where I have traveled to since last September.
YELLOWSTONE & THE GRAND TETONS
TURKS & CAICOS
ICE CASTLES, NH
Last summer after returning from Hawaii I started hiking again. It felt incredible. However, cancer caught up with me and so did pneumonia shortly after. There are 48 4,000+ footers in NH. I completed only 2 last year, during my short season, Mt. Pierce and Mt. Jackson. I succeeded though and I am going to keep working on that list this year. I gained so much self-confidence and peace out there on those mountains. 2 down 46 to go. Hopefully I can have this year off from brain surgery so that I can reach my goal of one 4,000 footer each month at least.
In her memoir, Climbing Free,Lynn Hill wrote:
“While resting at the belay, I looked across the valley at the face of Middle Cathedral. On its mottled wall I noticed a play of shadows for the shape of a heart. I have always noticed the symbols around me, and this heart on stone reminded me of the values that have always been most important in my life.” Traveling and being surrounded by beauty in nature and in culture makes me remember this passage Chad wrote:
“She’s a beautiful lady, Life. She’s gorgeous, in fact. With one of the most beautiful faces-and the biggest heart-I’ve ever seen. So caring, Life! She walks beside us day after day, holding our hand even when we don’t realize she’s doing it. Even if we tried to let go of her hand, we couldn’t. Because she holds onto us, Life. And it is only when SHE is ready to send us on our way that she finally releases her careful, caring grip. And there is no need to fear that moment, because Life will take every ounce of us with her-she will carry us with her! -as she goes along on her beautiful, merry way. We are an inextricable part of Her, and Her us, and it will always be that way.”
In the months ahead I have a lot of plans and I really really need to have a couple more stable scans to get it all done. If that doesn’t happen, then treatment will have to wait. This year is too important to me. I want to Triumph this year. I’ve recently been participating in a program through my yoga studio called 40 Days to Transformation a program designed by Baron Baptiste. I’ve been surprised how dedicated I’ve been to myself and to this class. In the last several weeks I’ve felt an amazing shift in my practice, in my relationships, my perspective and I’m the one who is making that happen.
Someone asked me recently what my plans are for the big 4-0. My response was to make it to the big 4-0. But before I even worry about the 4-0 I have some travel plans. Spain in June, Tahiti in July and Hawaii in October. Recently on the train to Brooklyn I started reading Across Siberia Aloneby Mrs. John Clarence Lee in 1913. It begins with this quote by Josephine Peabody and it made my heart beat a little faster.
“Out of your cage!
Come out of your cage
And take your soul
On a pilgrimage!”
I believe this is what I’m doing currently and it feels so good to finally feel good. I’m enjoying this newfound dedication to self and I feel stronger by the day physically and emotionally. I wish I could take a leave of absence from cancer but I can’t. So in the days moving forward I will fight for my life everyday, fight for self-peace, fight for joy, fight for kindness and fight for others. If you’ve reached the end thank you for staying with me and I hope to share some adventures with you soon. XO
A match is lit, Our life is struck.
And the way that flame twists
Is all we’ve got.
But the smoke that is generated,
Whisping away into air…
That will speak of us.
And the gleam that our light leaves
In the other’s eye, as they pass by,
So do we go to them.
And if, by chance, our flame might ignite another,
Then we alight, together.