Happy Monday! Let’s Talk Depression

Happy Monday! Let’s talk about depression.

A little back story, if you will. In 2008 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my oncologist prescribed Effexor XR to help alleviate the hot flashes I was having caused by chemotherapy. Effexor is an anti-depressant medication and often used off label to treat hot flashes. I took it for several years post treatment because I simply couldn’t wean off the drug. Effexor withdrawal causes incredibly debilitating side effects and I thought I was bound to be on it for life until I found a doctor who prescribed Prozac. You can read about that process of Prozac bridging here.

While I was taking Effexor for hot flashes, I was also prescribed Wellbutrin XL for a mild case of post cancer depression. You would think the Effexor would have helped with the depression too but it wasn’t. It was enough to manage the hot flashes but not enough to alleviate the depression. My GP suggested adding Wellbutrin XL. So, I took two anti-depressants for a good length of time.

When I was finally able to wean from Effexor, I felt ready to break up with Wellbutrin, too. I was just done being on all these meds that made me feel tethered. I was finally med free and felt normal and healthy and ready to move on.


Fast forward to summer 2015. It had been nearly three years since taking any anti-depressant. I started to recognize changes in me that I knew weren’t normal. Mornings felt like Groundhog’s Day, my body felt like grinding gears, tasks looked like hurdles, social activities felt like obligations. I was bitchy, moody and mean. I was impatient with everything and everybody. I was completely self-loating, I didn’t care about my friendships, and my marriage was suffering. Everything that I had ever liked doing was no longer of any interest to me.

Yet, I pretended like there was nothing wrong.

To the faces at my daughter’s school, my friends, the people on Facebook, I would just put on a smile and act like everything was fine. I remember coming home and feeling exhausted because it would take so much effort to pretend like everything was OK. Existing in the world with a busy schedule and obligations and making small talk all the while just wanting to be left alone is really hard to bear.

I can’t pinpoint my breaking point. I knew things weren’t right when the one thing I really loved to do – make videos with Megan for Long Story Short – had started to lose its luster. It used to be a high that would sustain me for days but it was turning into an opportunity to self hate. We also went on a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation and it was all very blah to me. I found myself fixated on other families who were having fun while I was trying to figure out how to do the same.

I finally called my GP and a therapist.

The conversation with the GP started out as me telling her I didn’t feel good. I talked around the likelihood that I might be depressed. I suggested the lack of diet and exercise might being the culprit to my moodiness. I was embarrassed to ask about depression and afraid to jump into another anti-depressant after feeling like I didn’t need them anymore. I eventually agreed to trying out a new prescription.

Meeting with the therapist was much less anxiety ridden. I reached out to a therapist I had seen while undergoing treatment for cancer. I sat down and within 15 minutes had explained why I thought I was depressed. It was her professional opinion that I was indeed dealing with major depressive disorder and had agreed medication and therapy was my best course of action.

All the kinks haven’t been totally worked out yet. We’re still fine tuning the dosage of the new medication I’m taking. But, therapy has been wonderful. It’s been a soft place to land while I figure out the self-loathing and how to repair broken relationships. I feel lighter and interested in things and people again. Life doesn’t feel like a hurdle everyday anymore.

When I smile now, I’m not faking it.

Superstitious After All

I finally made good on a request a friend asked of me. She needed a photo of me holding a sign that read the number of years I have been a cancer survivor. She’s making a video.


I paused as soon as I drew the heart on the exclamation point. Seven years. I wondered if I should actually write seven years. It won’t technically be lucky number seven until October 23rd. Rationalizing that I couldn’t write 6 years, 11 months and 7 days, I drew the number, snapped the picture and buried the sign in a stack of papers.

I wouldn’t consider myself superstitious, though.

I make wishes for safe travels before boarding an airplane and always count an even number of seats from the aisle to where we sit in a movie theater but I think these things are acts of being anxious, not superstitious.

So what’s with being superstitious over 16 days?

For me, it’s about due course. Holding off on celebrating allows me some sense of control that I don’t fully understand.

Though I read an interesting article from the Journal of Clinical Oncology that explains my reluctance to turn the calendar page. It says “superstitions provide people with the sense that they have done one more thing to try to ensure the outcome for which they are looking and may actually result in a placebo effect, relieving anxiety and promoting positive thoughts.”

So I wait for the 23rd and hope the heavens above recognize that I haven’t been boastful or overconfident this year and grant me an eighth.

Maybe I am superstitious after all.

I Won’t Try That Again

Last fall I was in my doctor’s office with a list of problems only a hypochondriac could appreciate. Topping that list was my chronic fatigue, brain fog and my inability to lose any weight. My most bothersome symptoms raised enough red flags for her to explore more. She ordered a battery of blood tests, including thyroid, A1C, B-12, and vitamin D.

The results from the blood tests were fairly unremarkable. My thyroid was normal, my A1c was sort of within range, my B-12 and vitamin D levels were both low (as they have been historically).

To address the lack of weight loss, she advised I visit a nutritionist and recommended the book The New Sugar Busters: Cut Sugar to Trim Fat. I was already familiar with the book. In fact, I read an older version years ago at the height of the no-carb craze. She also mentioned a new weight loss drug called Contrave and asked if I was interested.

Feeling desperate – and if I’m being honest, also depressed – I was definitely interested.

She explained that Contrave worked differently than previous weight loss drugs that had once been FDA approved. Contrave was made up of bupropion and naltrexone which affected the brain chemistry and not the heart. She even thought that the naltrexone would even help give me a boost in energy.

I picked up the prescription and put it away in my medicine cupboard. I wanted to read the pamphlet and research the internet to see if anyone had any early experience with the drug. Admittedly, I was worried about taking bupropion again. Bupropion is an anti-depressant and while I didn’t have nearly the problems weaning from Bupropion XL as I had from Effexor XR, I was still apprehensive in messing with anti-depressants again.


But, I woke up Thanksgiving morning and decided that it was time to start the Contrave. I had just received the blood test results and that A1C level really bothered me. But that’s for another blog post.

I took one pill as advised and set forth on our day. The plans for Thanksgiving were a lazy morning, a long family walk, small lunch and early dinner with family.

I felt great at first. I don’t remember eating breakfast that morning but guzzled a coffee while out on our walk. By lunch, I was hangry and a little bit nauseous. I chalked it up to not eating anything. An early Thanksgiving dinner ended up being later than expected and I felt downright miserable. Even after eating, I remember feeling just plain awful. I suffered silently the whole car ride home and just wanted to get in bed. Nauseous and dizzy. I lay in bed that night telling myself that I would feel better by morning knowing that what I felt was not normal.

That experience made me feel awful enough not to take Contrave again. Until last weekend.

Like childbirth, we are able to forget horrible feelings. I knew that my first experience with Contrave wasn’t a great one but maybe I did something wrong. Like, not eating breakfast. Drinking too much coffee. Or waiting too long to eat dinner. I definitely knew I would try again but wanted to make sure it was a day that I didn’t have commitments, in case it made me feel yucky again.

Last Sunday morning, I decided it was the day to try it again. Desperation and depression continue to be really great motivators for me.

I ate a good breakfast and popped one pill. I didn’t drink any coffee that morning. I felt tons of energy at first, did a bunch of house chores and then sat down to work on the computer. After about two hours, I started to feel a little bit shaky. I noticed it was close to lunch. I wasn’t feeling hungry but knew I’d better eat something considering my last experience.

Well, lunch came and went, if you know what I mean. I was dizzy, sweaty, and horribly nauseous. I was so sick the entire rest of the day. There I was again, laying in bed, vowing to never take Contrave again.

There is something about my chemistry and this drug that just do not work together. The Contrave site does list the side effects with nausea, headache, dizziness and vomiting being the most common.

In the end, I should have known better. I know that there isn’t a quick fix for weight loss. There isn’t a magic pill, even one prescribed by a doctor. It’s maybe time to visit that nutritionist and exercise regularly and stick to a plan.

Are You BRCA Aware?

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 8.34.30 PM I received $150 from AstraZeneca, and any opinions expressed by me are honest and reflect my actual experience. This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/AstraZeneca.

These days I can hardly remember what we did over the weekend or that I need to grab milk from the store. But, for some reason I can remember a day years ago when a college classmate spoke about the discovery of the BRCA genes. It was the first time I had learned that there was a genetic link between breast and ovarian cancer.

Honestly, I don’t remember much more about her presentation because I thought the subject matter didn’t pertain to me. In my mind, I thought about my family and we didn’t have a history of breast or ovarian cancer so I mentally checked out.

I’m asking you not to check out today.

What is BRCA?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes involved with cell growth, cell division, and cell repair. Although they are most commonly associated with BReast CAncer, approximately 15% of women with ovarian cancer also have BRCA gene mutations.

I was given the option to undergo genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Considering my young age, the doctors felt that genetic testing was necessary for answers. The process was relatively easy. It was only a few weeks after submitting a blood sample that we sat with the hospital’s genetic counselor who throughly went over the results. I had tested negative for both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.

I have learned a lot about the BRCA genes over the last several years. I still kick myself for not paying more attention in class that day and for assuming that since I didn’t have a family history of cancer that I was off the hook.

As a former cancer patient, it is not uncommon to share your BRCA status. I think because we’re all very interested in understanding this complicated disease. Several of my survivor friends are BRCA positive while some are not. I even have two friends who are BRCA positive but have NOT had cancer and luckily with that knowledge they are able to better manage their health.

Very simply, being aware of your BRCA status can empower you in making choices for your health and preventative breast and ovarian care.

Facts About BRCA:

– Women with BRCA gene mutations have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
– In the general population, 1.4 percent4 of women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, while up to 40 percent of women with BRCA 1/2 mutations will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
– An estimated 15% of ovarian cancers are linked to BRCA mutations.
– BRCA gene mutations can play a key role in serous ovarian cancer, the most common form of ovarian cancer.
– Nearly one half of women with ovarian cancer who are BRCA-positive have no significant family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Thanks for not mentally checking out. Learn more about BRCA and the risks for ovarian cancer at My OC Journey. While my experience was specifically with breast cancer, the link between BRCA and breast and ovarian cancers is very important to the overall health of women. Educate yourself, share with your friends and family, and #beBRCAware.

Are you considering the BRCA genetic test? Read my experience and get more info about BRCA and why it is important to be aware.

Favorite Netflix Shows to Watch During Chemo

I am so stoked to be part of the Netflix #StreamTeam! I learned last month that I was hand selected to join their exclusive blogger network to help share the awesomeness that is Netflix. Disclosure: Netflix provided me with a device and a year long subscription to stream content. All opinions are 100% my own.

This month on the blog we’ve talked a lot about breast cancer and it’s been an awesome month of takeaways despite the heavy subject matter. While October has historically been a difficult month for me because it marks the anniversary of my own cancer diagnosis, I do rejoice in the milestones it brings. On October 23, I checked off another year of being disease free and I am feeling extremely grateful for my health!

So to keep with the theme of my 2014 October breast cancer series (best tips and advice from survivors), I asked my friends in the cancer community (and those who just really like great television, too!) to tell me the absolute best television series to stream during those long hours receiving chemotherapy.

Need some suggestions on what to watch during those long hours of chemotherapy? Check out this list of my favorite series available to stream on Netflix.

Back in 2008, my oncologist’s office didn’t have wifi so I was streaming zero things. I read magazines and listened to music until I dozed off from the Benadryl. But there is something great about falling asleep to the lull of conversation and banter, don’t you think?

Favorite Series To Stream on Netflix During Chemotherapy

Once Upon a Time
Arrested Development
Sons of Anarchy
The Tudors
The West Wing
Call the Midwife
The Office

Need some suggestions on what to watch during those long hours of chemotherapy? Check out this list of my favorite series available to stream on Netflix.
30 Rock
Parks and Recreation

Need some suggestions on what to watch during those long hours of chemotherapy? Check out this list of my favorite series available to stream on Netflix.
Pretty Little Liars
One Tree Hill
Gilmore Girls
Freaks and Geeks
CSI: Miami and New York
Criminal Minds

The following list of shows contain cancer story lines which always isn’t the best idea when you’re trying to escape reality. However, these series are excellent!

Brothers and Sisters

Need some suggestions on what to watch during those long hours of chemotherapy? Check out this list of my favorite series available to stream on Netflix.
Breaking Bad
Desperate Housewives
Sex and the City

Several of these series have multiple seasons so there are plenty of episodes to watch during those long chemo sessions.

So tell me, what’s missing from this list? More comedy? More mystery or thrills? How about shows like House Hunters? I personally like something suspenseful with a cliffhanger that will make me want to watch the next ep, like, immediately. My top choice from the list above? Pretty Little Liars. Trust me.

Speak in Whispers: Linda Lancaster Carey

Linda Lancaster Carey of The Tutu Project shares her best advice on how gratitude will get you through a breast cancer diagnosis.

Linda Lancaster Carey says that she’s been on this planet for 53 years, although her husband would argue that it’s actually 54. She is adamant that she’s not 54 until she’s 54, which will be in November. She keeps busy with several jobs. She and her husband have a commercial photography business, and The Tutu Project falls under this umbrella. She also runs a non-profit that supports women and men living with breast cancer. They have no children but have a lovely, lovely dog named Sofie. Linda’s home is in a small town in New Jersey but her heart is still in New York! Art is a great love and one that she doesn’t make enough time for. She likes to write, hike, bike, go to movies, travel, and spending time with family and friends. Learning – she likes this, too. At the top of the list and in some way covers all the rest, she LOVES living. Not to be confused with being alive.


Linda Lancaster Carey


I was diagnosed on December 29th, 2003 with Her2+ breast cancer. The cancer metastasized to my liver in December 2006. I don’t remember the exact date but I know just where I was standing. It was late afternoon, I had just delivered a project to a client when I received the call from my nurse specialist. The lobby of the building was cold marble and a cavernous space, at that moment I was glad that New Yorkers ignore so much as I was sobbing in the corner. 


In the shower when I did my monthly breast exam. It caught my breath (can a lump really do this?) and told no one for three days. Perhaps somewhere in my freaked out brain I thought that if I didn’t say anything it wouldn’t be anything. Having had a cyst removed several years back, I knew in my heart that this lump was different. I’ve never told anyone this. 


Freaked out, cried, moved into shock and then pulled out my notebook and started making a plan with the tremendous support of my family and friends. I thought about death in the dark of the night. I wrote in my journal often asking myself if this meant I was going to die. When the sun rose in the sky I focused on living, learning the language of cancer and prepared myself, as much as I could, to the idea of having one breast. 


It began as a mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy followed by one year of a clinical trial and somewhere in there, 33 treatments of radiation. 


I went into early menopause, no crying on my part although I probably scared my husband a time or two. Loss of libido, weight gain-no fun. The second time around the chemo destroyed my feet, not so good for someone living in Brooklyn.


Because I’ve been so open with my journey, I need to say – I hate that question. In the beginning of this mess I was asked by so many people “now that you have cancer what are you going to do with your life?'”. This was asked in the context of the conversation that I should be planning on saving the world or something along those lines. A slight exaggeration, but this is how I heard it. That’s a LOT of pressure for someone that just had a breast removed, was blasted with toxins and probably still glowed from the radiation. After I settled down I knew that I’d probably want to do something and kept the question alive hoping that I’d recognize the answer when it came walking by. It did – in the form of The Tutu Project. This has opened my life and has given me a platform to share hope and hopefully inspire a few women or men that there is living after and with cancer.


I struggled with the stupid things that people say. I knew that it generally stemmed from not knowing what to say but some days I didn’t want to give them that out. I went into therapy, this helped. I also joined a writing group at the cancer center. One of my pieces was used, along with one other woman, and became a short play that performed several times for nurses, physicians and med students. The goal of this was to teach them how to speak to people diagnosed with cancer. 


Each day put your feet on the floor. When the left foot hits the floor whisper “thank” and when your right foot hits the floor, whisper “you.”

You can find more from Linda at The Tutu Project, The Carey Foundation and Twitter.

Linda Lancaster Carey of The Tutu Project shares her best advice on how gratitude will get you through a breast cancer diagnosis. 

Photo source:

“This Is My Gift To You” by Hamed Saber is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Text added to original

Personal photo courtesy of  Linda Lancaster Carey

Alternative Therapies: Lisa Marie Ives

Lisa Marie Ives gives her best tips for alternative therapies and supplements to help during breast cancer treatment.

Lisa Marie Ives is 42 from Virginia Beach, Virginia. She’s a SAHM to one 3 year old boy. She enjoys being his mom and her version of pre home schooling. She loves fine dining and wine but no longer a connoisseur. She gets lucky with her own madness infrequently in the kitchen and any bottle under $8 does just fine.


Lisa Marie Ives


Diagnosed 10 months ago (1 month after my birthday…gonna be 42 AGAIN)


3D mammo and a call back. 1, 2 and 3 biopsies (2&3 with an MRI).


I always knew it would happen subconsciously as it is rampant paternally…the realization hurt.


Chemo sucked canal water. I chose pre-op treatment hoping to avoid surgery…well…going under this Monday (late September) anyway, even though the tumors discipated…mastectomy right side.


One kid and done fortunately. Sex…phhh what!? I am gaining weight from my Herceptin treatment, which is driving me bat shit crazier than a womanly cycle ever has. 


Live! I always have…and sometimes large…but I have a little man that I am responsible for and for a very long time!

I hope to prevent anyone else from suffering with what cancer is responsible for in so many ways, if possible.


The limitations I had through chemo and the life it stole from me with my child is my biggest complaint. Chemo was a hurtful hell. My sanity is on edge with my upcoming surgery I was led to believe wouldn’t happen.


Essential oils and magnesium for personal help and a tad bit of well being…I swear! I found that essential peppermint oil aides better in the relief of headaches. nausea and spirit.  Lemon oil detoxes the liver (what a relief that is after the abuse of chemotherapy and this week alone with industrial strength pain killers!) Lavender oil truly does relax the mind.  Cypress oil is a miracle for circulation in ached joints (in my case, due to chemotherapy damage) Clove oil for the mouth pain chemo causes, as well as better dental hygiene. 

Lisa Marie Ives gives her best tips for alternative therapies and supplements to help during breast cancer treatment.

Photo source:

“Eucalyptus Oil” by Adam is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Text added to original

Personal photo courtesy of Lisa Marie Ives

Hot Mama: Dyanne Dillon

Dyanne Dillon shares her best tips for dealing with hot flashes after breast cancer and Zoladex injections.

Dyanne Dillon says she feels like an eleven year old living in a 50-something body. She is a wife, mom, Pre-K teacher and a self-proclaimed Pollyanna. She blogs about her breast cancer experience and life thereafter at I Want Backsies, a name inspired by the children’s book A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban.


Dyanne Dillon

Read Dyanne’s 2013 submission here.


I had a bone density scan in May of this year after two years of monthly Zoladex injections and taking Arimidex daily, along with calcium and vitamin D supplements daily, and the results showed a 13% loss of bone density. I am now taking Fosamax once a week, with a whole new set of side effects, including bone pain in my legs and charlie horses, especially at night, in my legs and feet. The hip pain I have had from the Zoladex and Arimidex (more discomfort than pain, actually) has worsened since adding the Fosamax, especially after I sit for awhile. Once I walk around a bit and warm up my hips, I’m pretty good, but until that happens, I walk like my mother, meaning I walk like an 80 year old woman.

So, basically, the breast cancer has not been a problem since the bilateral mastectomy nearly two and a half years ago. Blood work is always fine, breast exams clear. But the side effects? Yeah, those are what are going to get me!


I began taking Brisdelle (paroxetine 7.5 mg) this spring, as prescribed by the nurse practitioner in my ob/gyn’s office, to help with hot flashes. I THINK it helps, but I couldn’t swear to it. With a coupon card and insurance, the medication costs $38 a month. It’s a lot of money just to help with hot flashes, but after an experiment wherein I didn’t take it for over two weeks, I’ve decided that i just might be worth that $38 after all. My friends and family were on the verge of taking up a collection to pay the $38 just so I would quit asking, “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”


I was in a store recently where a store employee stood at a table inside the front door and asked people coming in if they would like to donate to breast cancer. I know she didn’t realize what she was saying, but I just laughed and said, “I’ve already donated to breast cancer by donating both of my breasts. Maybe what you mean to say is would you like to donate to breast cancer RESEARCH?”
Find the funny in things that may not be funny. It’s good medicine. 

Dyanne Dillon shares her best tips for dealing with hot flashes after breast cancer and Zoladex injections.


Photo Source: “My Lovely Girlfriend” by dr/ Text added to original

Personal photo courtesy of Dyanne Dillon

Anything Is Possible: Mina Greenfield

Breast cancer survivor, Mina Greenfield, shares her best tips and advice for keeping your lashes and brows during chemotherapy.

Mina was still in the thick of treatment last year when she shared her breast cancer experience. I’ll never forgot the quote we used for her post. It was “Entertain the maybes” and I believe that philosophy should be applied to everyone’s life – cancer or not. Read on for the advice she’s sharing this year.


Mina Greenfield

Read Mina’s 2013 submission here.


I completed chemo in November of 2013. I had a month “off” (I went to NYC with my unimpaired immune system!) and completed radiation on February 21, 2014 (my mother’s birthday!). I’m now on Tamoxifen, but back to my “normal” energy level with a full head of hair.  


Only one? Can I share two?
1. Acupuncture – it helped greatly with the side effects of chemo and radiation.
2. Brian Joseph’s Lash and Brow gel. It’s pricey, but it kept my eyebrows and eyelashes (hanging on by a thread) mostly intact until the end of chemo.  


I ran my first 5K two months after completing treatment.  

Mina writes at Cocktails and Chemo.

Breast cancer survivor, Mina Greenfield, shares her best tips and advice for keeping your lashes and brows during chemotherapy.


Photo Source: “I C U” by Walt Stoneburner is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Text added to original

Personal photo courtesy of Mina Greenfield.

Model of Courage: Tracie Benjamin


Tracie made a splash all over the internet and national TV last year after her boyfriend proposed on live television from the Susan G. Komen walk in Portland, Oregon. That video clip went viral and she and Ryan appeared on Portland’s local news, the front page of Yahoo! and The Rachel Ray Show. She updates us on her health and what project she’s been working on.


Tracie Benjamin

Read Tracie’s 2013 submission here.


I am now on Tamoxifen for 10 years! I finished chemo last October and began Tamoxifen last December.


Exercise daily! Even a 30 minute walk will make you feel better. Avoid hills as getting winded happens frequently! Not to mention, it will keep the weight off. Being so inactive with so many medications can make you gain weight and losing it after is not easy! Stay ahead of the game.


I was chosen to be a Model of Courage for Ford Warriors in Pink! Me and 19 others from all over the country, serve as spokesmodels for the Warriors in Pink program. By sharing our story and saving lives, we are able to give back and make an impact!

See Tracie in Ford’s Models of Courage campaign!


Photo Source: “I Tried This Once” by Tony Alter is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Text added to original