Monday, July 28, 2014

My Rainy Day “Work-In”

I did a “work-in” on a very rainy day and it was great! 

With the rain pelting down outside my windows the other morning morning, and an appointment with my fitness trainer, we made the decision to stay indoors and do a “work-in” in my living room. My muscles were actually screaming at me this morning, because I went to a really tough strength interval class yesterday. So the idea of doing some limbering and stretching sounded really great to me. 

I’m not always so good at agreeing to do “stretch” classes. I’m one of those who is a champ at stepping it up and going for the tougher workout class or the tougher path up the mountain, but when it comes to “taking it down a notch” and stretching, breathing, resting and meditating – that’s actually my challenge. It’s hard for me sometimes to slow down to the speed of life, but now that I am on this breast cancer journey, I have realized the importance of taking the time to “slow it down” and do something relaxing and restorative. 

After ten minutes of stretching movements, we made ourselves comfortable on the carpeted floor and did a breathing session along with some Reiki, some fascia release work, and some acupressure point release. (I’m am very fortunate that my fitness trainer is also a certified LifeBreath instructor and Reiki healer). 

If you have never done a breathing session, I recommend it, since most of us breathe incorrectly and end up holding a tremendous amount of stress due to improper breathing. Beth began by having me breath into my belly with an open-mouth wave-like breath. Have you ever watched a little baby breath? With each breath their tummy and chest expands, and as they exhale, their tummy goes back down. That is the proper way to breath. But most of us don’t breath like that by the time we are adults, in fact many people hold their breath more often than they would ever imagine! 

The concept is that this very pure form of breathing releases stress and old stagnant energy. While I was breathing, Beth performed Reiki over the top of my body to help with energy flow as well as the flow of my breathing. 

Beth then had me turn onto my belly since I had complained of tight hip muscles. She used a tennis ball and her fingers to release the tension in my hips, back and neck. Yes it does actually hurt when she hit some spots, but I feel much better now. 

While Beth worked on me, she explained that our “inhales” represent our ability to bring in all the “good stuff” in life into our bodies like peace, joy, love, light, and radiant health. And the “exhale” helps us to release the “old stuff” in our bodies; holding on to stress and holding onto negative thoughts. Balancing our breathing helps us stay healthier and happier on so many levels. 

It was a great session and I am so thankful that I have someone to make me slow down, stretch, and breath when I need it most!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I’m Waterlogged!

As soon as I made the announcement on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts that I had been diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer and had already began chemotherapy, I began receiving hundreds of emails and tweets from so many of you. You have given me many tips as to what helped you handle chemo and lots of advice for making this breast cancer journey. I so appreciate all of your well wishes and your advice.

One piece of advice I heard again and again, was to make sure to drinks A LOT of water and my doctors also told me that one of the secrets to handling chemotherapy is hydration.  OK, so I am going to be honest here – I never was good at getting in my eight glasses of water a day – even before my diagnosis. I’m just not a good water drinker, I find it torturous. So I thought to myself, “how will I ever be able to drink enough water that is necessary for surviving my chemotherapy?” 

I also know that when asked, “how many glasses of water did you consume today?” I always grossly over exaggerated! Not just because I was trying to pull one over on whomever was asking, but because I really thought I’d been better at it. 

But now that there is so much at stake, I have to get serious about this, and I have to have a way to really keep track of my liquid intake. 

Remember to stay hydrated by wearing water bracelets! 
To help me with this process, my fitness trainer, Beth Bielat, brought me some thin plastic wrist bracelets that she had ordered off of Oriental Trading. The package contained four different colors of the tiny flexible bracelets. Beth instructed me to put eight bracelets onto my right wrist and then each time I consumed another 8-ounce glass of water, I could move one of the bracelets to my left wrist. This way, at the end of the da…I really know if I’ve gotten the job done. It’s really an easy, simple and inexpensive way to track your water consumption.

Truth be told, most people don’t get enough water and it really is so important for good health. Why do we need so much water?
 Your body depends on water. Water makes up more than half of your body weight. Each and every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to function correctly and optimally. Water is essential for good health, period. Your body uses water to maintain its temperature, remove waist, lubricate your joints, make your skin glow, and keep your brain smart, among many uses. 

You lose water through sweat, breathing, and urinating. The more you workout and sweat, the more water that needs to be replaced. Without the proper water levels in your body, the more dehydrated you become. There are lots of levels of dehydration, but to have optimal health, being hydrated is essential. 

You know you are dehydrated when you experience these symptoms: 
• Little or no urine, or urine that is darker than usual 
• Dry mouth 
• Sleepiness or fatigue 
• Extreme thirst 
• Headache 
• Confusion 
• Feeling dizzy or lightheaded 
• No tears when crying 

You can bet that you are hydrated if your urine is clear and, for the most part, colorless. For most people 8–12 eight-ounce glasses a day works wonders. During chemotherapy I am shooting for 10-12 glasses a day and now that I’m using my “bracelet counting” method, I can see where I stand at any point in the day. 

One tip - don’t let yourself get behind and then guzzle 6 glasses of water at 6 or 7 PM. I did this a few times and let’s just say I got up many, many times during the night. Bad plan, I now try to get most of my water earlier in the day. 

One person who wrote me said she always tries to get two 16-ounce glasses into her before she allows herself her morning coffee. I have not been able to achieve that much, but now every morning when I pour my coffee I also fill an 8-ounce glass full of water, a little ice and a little splash of OJ. And I nurse that first glass of the day at the same time as I drink my morning coffee. Then I make sure to get another glass in by the time I finish breakfast. This way I already have at least two bracelets on my left wrist by the time I finish breakfast. 

I highly recommend that everyone track their water, you can try this simple bracelet idea or any other method that works for you. It’s very easy to be fooled as to how much you drink. And remember that other forms of liquid like coffee, caffeinated teas, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks do not count; in fact, they may dehydrate you even further. Bummer, I know. Hope this helps as a reminder to you as to how important it is to hydrate and a fun way to track it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My Decision To Get A Port For Chemotherapy

I feel very lucky to say that I have been handling my chemotherapy treatments relatively well. I do have my days where I am greatly fatigued and I’ve had my moments of having what I’ve heard called “chemo headache/stomach ache” symptoms that are talked about so much. Fortunately though, it has been relatively mild thus far.

As I wrote about last week, the treatments themselves were creating a bit of anxiety for me since I am not great with needles, and of course the treatment is all about needles. I had a few “bad sticks” which left me with massive bruises – not to mention it REALLY hurts when that happens. For a “needle weenie,” that was a tough part for me.

I had a number of discussions with my doctors, as well as other women who had gone through this and many suggested to me that I HAVE a port iSURGICALLY implanted in MY CHEST, through which I would receive my chemo treatment. The idea of it kind of freaked me out at first so I of course Googled, “what is a port?” Here’s what I learned from

A port is inserted in your chest during a short outpatient surgery. A port is a small disc made of plastic or metal about the size of a quarter that sits just under the skin. A soft thin tube called a catheter connects the port to a large vein. Your chemotherapy medicines are given through a special needle that fits right into the port. You also can have blood drawn through the port. When all your cycles of chemotherapy are done, the port is removed during another short outpatient procedure.
After thinking about it and doing some research, last week I called my oncologist and told her that I had made my decision and wanted to go ahead and have the port put in. She agreed that it was a good decision for me. (Remember, everyone is different and has different needs, this was a decision that was right for me at the time) Going through months of having chemotherapy intravenously in your arms can be pretty rough on your veins. By getting a port, it could save my veins as well as save myself from the emotional anguish of inserting the IV into my ARMS each week.

I was a little nervous to have the procedure done, which they say is “outpatient” and they said I would be put under “conscious sedation.” It was the word CONSCIOUS that bothered me… really?! To me, if the procedure involves being rolled into surgery, having a surgeon open up my chest to put something in there…well her, just knock me out thank you very much and wake me up when the hairdresser arrives. Wow…that saying used to be a funny joke to me… when I had hair! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How a "Needle-Weenie" Handles Chemotherapy Treatment.

Passed my white blood cell test today, good to go for treatment!

Last week my I had my third chemo treatment. Entering the cancer treatment center everyone was incredibly welcoming. You can tell they take the time to go out of their way to make patients feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances in which they are there. For this treatment, my daughter Jamie was with me which gives me added strength. But even with all the external strength around me, I have to admit that I am officially a needle weenie…

OK, so let's just cut to the chase – when it comes to needles, I'm terrified! So as I walk into each chemo session, that's pretty much all I'm thinking about as we make our way to the treatment room, exchanging hellos with all the nurses along the way. 

They have you sit in a recliner chair so you can put your feet up and be a relaxed as possible. Relaxed? A needle is about to be inserted into one of my veins and it will stay that way for several hours while the treatment is administered… how can I be relaxed?!

Well, unfortunately, the first attempt into the vein was a bust - and my heart dropped as I realize that the nurse would have to try again. My daughter coached me through some deep breathing to help alleviate the nerves.

Once the intravenous was in place they began by taking a few vials of blood to test, to make sure that my white blood cell count is ok. If not they would not be able to give me my treatment. That part takes about 20 minute… 20 LONG minutes to get the results. “Good news!” they told me, “your white blood cell count is normal and it appears as though you're handling the chemo treatment really well.” I was good to go. 

Once we were cleared to go, the nurse connected the tubes from the bags hanging above my chair into the IV. Now was the time where you just relax or read until you’re done. I brought my Kindle and started to read but promptly fell asleep, which is not the norm for me. Seems they also give you a good dose of Benadryl in those IV lines and I was in La La land! Before I knew it, I heard the nurse coming in to take out the IV. “Really?” I thought… "That wasn't so bad after all!” The nurse finished up disconnecting me and I was on my way. As always, wanting to turn lemons into lemonade, I headed off with my daughter for some quality mommy/daughter shopping time while we were in town, just the two of us. Every cloud has to have a silver lining, right?!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"You'll make your daddy proud"

Wow, what a whirlwind these past few weeks have been as I have had to take on one of the biggest challenges of my life. There are so many women in this country hearing those same words that I just recently heard: “You have breast cancer” and from that very moment, you are instantly thrust into a world you didn’t know anything about. A world full of new words: core biopsy, lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, and the list goes on. Breast cancer is complicated as there are many differing opinions as to how to best treat it.  

The weeks immediately following my breast cancer diagnosis went at meteoric speed and were overwhelming and confusing.  For me, while all of the medical conversations were going on, I was also thinking about how I would handle this diagnosis publicly. I will admit to you, my first thought was how to keep it a secret so none of you thought that I was a failure. I questioned whether I had in some way done something wrong in my efforts to keep myself fit and free of disease. Here I am a health advocate, constantly on the road speaking to women about staying in control of their health and now this happened to me.  Not only that, but I’m a parent of young children and I had this sense that I wanted to protect them from everything, and especially from worrying about mommy “having cancer.”  

The thought of going public was a scary one.  Would people look at me with sad eyes when I went into the grocery store in my wig?   Would I be able to go on national TV and spit the words out that I have cancer?  And when should I share this news?  It had only been about two weeks since I had been diagnosed, but that time had passed at warp speed – going from one expert to another trying to find out the best treatment for my kind of cancer. Every time I walked in and out of another hospital, another doctor’s office, I was a bundle of nerves, not ONLY because of what was going on, but because I didn’t know if someone would recognize me and “out” me with my cancer news.  I quickly felt the truth – I couldn’t and wouldn’t hide this.  I couldn’t possibly lie to friends when they asked the simple question: “how are you doing?”  Nor, could I hide this from the public. 

The next day I picked up the phone and called Robin Roberts.  She is someone in the industry who has always been a friend to me and she is one of the most lovely and compassionate people in the business… and of course, she had gone through this herself only a few years ago.  We discussed what had transpired since the initial diagnosis and our stories were amazingly similar.

It felt so reassuring to talk about what was going on, knowing that she had made it through.  “It’s no picnic Joni I’m not going to lie to you,” she told me, “but you will survive this.”  I told Robin that what I wanted most was to NOT be a victim, but rather use my journey to help motivate other women to get their check-ups every year because we were both examples of how you survive this kind of cancer if you catch it, and act on it early.  

I shared with Robin that the night before as I was going to sleep, I made a major turnaround in my attitude as I thought about my father who had been a cancer surgeon.  In fact he crashed in our small family plane and perished while returning home from speaking at a Cancer Convention.  I was only 14 years old at the time but I had always admired him and had always wanted to follow in his footsteps.  

Robin said, “let’s do this next week, and you just tell the audience, just like you told me, and believe me you will make your daddy proud.”  That’s what I needed to hear.   

The following Tuesday morning I walked onto the set of GMA, exchanging fond hellos with so many colleagues who I’d worked with over the years, but I tried to steer clear of any emotional exchanges.  I wanted to feel empowered and strong when I went on the air.  I wanted to show strength for all the women out there dealing with this and for every woman out there who hasn’t been screened, and for every woman who has felt a lump and didn’t go to the doctor because she was afraid of the answer.  My biggest fear was that I would get mushy and cry and I was afraid that if I got emotional, I wouldn’t be able to get that message across clearly. 

Robin introduced me and asked that first question: “Joan you are here because you heard those words that no woman wants to hear, you want to tell us?”   I think my voice broke a little when I began telling Robin and the viewers at home that I had heard those words, “You’ve got breast cancer.” 

After my announcement on Good Morning America, there was an unbelievable outpouring of love and support from not only friends and colleagues, but from so many of you.  I want you to know that I am so grateful for that support.  I didn’t know what kind of response I would get but what an amazing feeling to know that so many people out there care enough to send their strength and love.  I quickly felt in my heart of hearts that if this was the public response, then I was doing something right.  I need to be a part of this discussion, urging women to get checked and get treated, and hopefully I can act as a source of strength for someone, just as Robin and so many of you have been for me.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My breast cancer announcement on Good Morning America

Well, I can't pretend it was easy to say those words on national television, but I did it... and thank you to EVERYONE for the incredibly supportive response. I can't express how much it means to me to feel so much love and strength coming my way, I am so very grateful. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"I Have Breast Cancer"

This past weekend I had to sit my 9 and 11 year-old twins down to tell them that mommy has breast cancer. 

Two weeks ago I went for my annual mammogram as I do every year religiously, and thankfully it was all clear. That is always the moment where I feel I can breathe again. However for women who have dense fibrous breast tissue, as I do, often our doctors will recommend an ultrasound as well. My ultrasound that day revealed a tumor in my right breast. After a core biopsy was performed, I heard those words that every woman fears and that I never thought I’d hear: “you have breast cancer.” 

I sat there stunned – how could this be? I considered myself fit and healthy, I get checked faithfully every year and I didn’t have a history of breast cancer in my family. But of course after covering many stories about breast cancer over the years, I knew that none of us are exempt. I also knew that I had to jump into action quickly, put together a team, and find the best course of treatment for the kind of cancer that I have. 

In the first few days I thought about trying to keep it a secret, however I knew that did not ring true to who I am and how I have lived my life. 

I have decided to talk about my breast cancer because since the moment I took the job at Good Morning America I have lived my life sharing my joys and my disappointments with all of you: my pregnancies, my relationships, my career… I have shared my journey. So it certainly didn’t feel right keeping this part of my journey a secret. 

My father was a cancer surgeon and he died when I was a young girl on a flight home from speaking at a Cancer Conference. I so admired my father’s passion to save lives and work toward a cure for cancer. I thought about what he would say if he knew that I was going through this and that I had ultimately lived my life in front of an audience. I knew that he would want me to use this experience as an opportunity to spread the word about how important it is to get screened for all types of cancers and for women to do self-breast exams. Early detection is so crucial, I consider myself fortunate that I found this in the early stages and the prognosis is so promising. 

Breast cancer is not something to be ashamed of or something that we should feel is taboo to discuss. I’ll admit, even though I’ve shaped my career around health and wellness advocacy, speaking all over the country, and even running a women's wellness camp where I encourage others to share their stories… it took me some time to embrace the idea of coming forward with MY breast cancer journey. 

I have already begun my chemotherapy and I am blessed to have my husband Jeff and my three older daughters with me every step of the way. I am so thankful to have the support, wisdom, and guidance from all my doctors and the loving support of my family and my friends. I know I have a challenge ahead of me in this journey, however I have chosen to take it as an opportunity to fulfill my father’s legacy and try to inspire others to protect their health. 

With Love,