It’s Easter

To me, first and foremost, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus. I get it. But, also for me, there is a lot of other things to celebrate on this day too. There has been so much rebirth everywhere. From the minute details of the daffodils blooming to the emergence of myself and my husband from illness to the rejuvenation of old relationships: there is a sense of fresh start everywhere.

Second chances are everywhere, if we take advantage of them. I think this applies not only to religion, but to life in general. I have to admit, there has been so much change to take in that sometimes it’s overwhelming as well as wonderful. I am sometimes not sure how to process it all. I make sure to never let it overwhelm my sense of gratitude, but I am noticing that there is still an underlying sense of anxiety and “waiting for the other shoe to drop” again in my every day life. It seems to be affecting my whole family as well. I think it’s just normal with everything we have been through lately.

I realize that I need to make a conscious effort to keep moving forward, and to help my family move forward with me. We need to make the absolute most of and learn from these second chances. We need to focus on what gives us joy, even if it is something as small as watching my grandchildren hunt for Easter eggs or as monumental as hearing that my latest scans are clear.

So, as you gather with family and friends today to celebrate our Lord, also take time to celebrate each other and life in general. Take nothing for granted. Embrace every opportunity. Learn from each other and your own mistakes. Savor every moment.

Have a happy and blessed Easter.

Dr. Katz

There is so much to say

Buddha Quotes positive attitude

Hello there! Long time no write. It has been an interesting month to say the least. My head has been spinning with a little bit of everything lately, to the point that I didn’t really know how to put into words that would make any sense. I am going to give it a shot now.

First and foremost, I feel so grateful just to be alive. I remind myself to take note of this every day. It was not guaranteed by any means. 2021 was just a shit show of one inevitable thing after another, not to mention trying to be vanquished by lymphoma. Well! I showed that stupid cancer who’s boss! But, almost a year later, I am still not quite me yet. There have been so many side effects and setbacks and I just had to sign a different consent form that added about 6 new pages of warnings and potential complications for chemo that I already had. But, I just keep on taking the hits like a prize fighter and keep on plugging.

Second, I am so grateful that my husband is alive. I was barely a couple feet in the rearview from chemo when he tried to croak and had multi vessel open heart surgery, without having any high cholesterol or anything! Talk about terrifying and out of the blue! Helping him rebuild both mentally and physically has been one of the greatest challenges of our lives. If we allow it, the what ifs could easily overwhelm us. I just keep saying no!

Third, I am grateful that my kids are healthy, at least physically. Let’s face it. Almost losing both parents in one calendar year hit them like a ton of bricks, even though they tried not to show it. They wanted to spare our feelings and not have us worry or feel guilty. Too late for that. I watched their struggle to process and still give themselves permission to carry on with their lives. There is no more hopeless feeling than knowing your kids are fighting a battle that you just can’t help with or fight for them, but that is partially caused by you. I get it. Feeling guilty does not solve or remedy anything. I just can’t help it.

Fourth, the ongoing business struggles between the pandemic and the after effects of me working less during my cancer treatment and trying to help when my husband was ill are still catching up with me. Not a whole lot I can do about that besides keep working my ass off. On the other hand, I feel very fortunate to still have and own my business after everything that has happened. I’ve always said that I am not in it for the money anyway…lol

Last but not least, there IS something that really keeps me going lately in a good way. Want to know what it is? It is my positivity. What do I mean by that? Well, I DON’T mean that I wear rose-colored glasses and have unrealistic expectations that set me up for failure. I DON’T mean that I skip around singing like Snow White all day. I mean that I am still able to help people every day, no matter what has happened. I truly believe that my positivity has impacted people all over, even in some of the toughest, most defeatist cases. I feel like it is really working and spreading to everyone around me. I truly believe that I have been able to be the metaphorical flashlight that I was aiming for to lead other people through dark times. I realize that I haven’t been able to get to everybody, but I will never stop trying. I think the key thing for me to remember is that I am keeping positive and advocating and pushing because I want to, not from some sense of duty or obligation.

So, let me bottom line it for you. There is a lot of crap still going on, but I am staying positive! Join me will ya?

Dr. Katz

I pinky swear I haven’t forgotten how to be grateful. I’m just not taking things as well.

See the source image

The last couple of years have been really hard. My children were sick. We have all been “living” with a pandemic raging around us. I battled cancer. My husband tried to die from a heart attack. The list goes on. I know I know. You all know this already. Despite all this, I have continued to make it my mission to be a beacon of positivity unlike the planet has ever known. I am constantly in search of the bright side or the retrieval of the positive, no matter how small a portion it is. I get signs from the universe all the time that this is what I am supposed to do. I have had complete strangers reach out to me for help and guidance, which I love and I am happy to give. That is truly me in my element: helping people. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

So, I have spent all this time being tough and positive…still am. However, I find myself struggling a bit lately. It’s all fun and games when everything is going my way, so to speak. But, I have noticed sometimes, that when something doesn’t, it kind of crushes me for a hot minute before I can get a hold of myself. I start resenting and complaining, or freaking out all together. This kind of reaction is somewhat foreign to me and I find myself saying “Whoa Katz. Get a grip why don’t ya? You have been through way worse shit than this for chrissake!” ” You are alive! Does anything else really matter?” Most of the time that works, but I find myself having to do it more and more often lately and that bothers me.

Part of me realizes that there is an element of PTSD circulating around my brain with my serotonin, trying to convince me that there is only a matter of time before another shoe drops. It insidiously permeates my life still, forcing unreasonable reactions and fears. It is pretty par for the course after what I have been through. I think that my goal for now is to stop trying to push it away and acknowledge it and deal with it. I think that by trying to suppress it, I am actually giving the PTSD more power than it already has. I assure you that I have been taking all the outward steps: showing up to counselling, reading about it, talking to myself like I said, nodding when my therapist explains it to me. But, I really haven’t been doing the internal work. I have been so busy pushing forward toward my happiness mission that I haven’t really allowed myself time to recover or react.

This really smacked me in the face last Friday. I went for my routine mammogram. Some of the same techs were there that were with me last year when all my cancer stuff was ramping up. I got my mammogram done and those 45 angle views really pulled at my lymphedema on the side of my neck and it started to throb and hurt. Everybody did everything right..and I should have expected this to happen and prepared, but I didn’t. Instead, I laughed it off at the moment and went upstairs to my office, only to start bawling my head off in a flood of cancer memories the moment my MA asked me if I was alright. I just couldn’t stop. One memory/flashback after another started just flooding me over and over. I actually had to leave the office and felt really guilty doing it on top of it. I knew I just couldn’t be my best self for patients though. I literally cried half the day as I reexperienced everything from the whole last year all over again. Sheesh.

My point is, that I really have missed the boat on recovery and reaction somewhat. The strategy I thought was helping me “not to wallow” was actually preventing me from processing what was going on with me. I pushed it down and just kept pushing forward instead. By not allowing myself the time to really go through things…..while I was going through things…..I didn’t really do myself any good. Sure, I got through my cancer experience and survived. That is definitely a win. But, I bottled so much stuff up that now it bubbles over when I don’t expect it. That’s no good either.

The bottom line is that I am very grateful to be a survivor and I love helping others survive whatever they are going through, life-threatening or not. But, in order to truly survive and thrive on top of that, I have to allow myself to process and react to experiences when I have them. I need to not punish myself or second guess reactions and just….have them. I have to realize that, no matter how tough I am, I am still human. I need to give myself the same consideration and time that I give to everyone else. I promise that I’ll work on it.

Dr. Katz

My colonoscopy experience was awesome!

Ok. Ok. I know what you’re thinking. Eeew. How is that possible? There is nothing good about a colonoscopy. Am I right? Well, yes, you are right. A colonscopy is kind of shitty…pardon the pun. What I am really referring to is the experience and how I was treated. Let me explain.

I chose to have my colonoscopy NOT incognito, but at my local hospital Promedica Monroe Regional, where I go to work every day. Trust me, these people have seen the best and the worst of me for over 20 years now. They have saved my life multiple times, helped me in the OR, helped me deliver babies, etc. We have listened to each other. We have complained together and rejoiced together. Sometimes I see them more than my own family. But wait, they are part of my family! They are just not the family I live with. So, why not let them in on my health too?

From the moment I walked in, all crazy haired and no make up on,(yikes) they greeted me like family. We joked and laughed while they checked me in, while still making sure that all the proper protocols were followed. They managed to treat me like a patient, a doctor, and a family member all at the same time. Bravo! I almost cried…literally. Everybody stopped by to see me. They explained things as if I was fresh off the street with no medical knowledge. That might annoy some people/docs but I love it. We should explain everything to everybody. You never know if you might have a total brain fart about something you do every day….when it’s actually YOUR turn! As a matter of fact, I was stressing more about this stupid colonoscopy than I did about all my cancer stuff and chemo and procedures for the last year and a half. What the heck?! It was as if I just couldn’t handle the thought of maybe even one more thing being wrong. Thank God they treated me like family. It put me at ease right away. They went over and above. I have never considered myself on any sort of VIP terms because that’s just who I am. I even asked them why the special treatment? You know what they said?

Doc, you been through a lot and we all love you. We just want to take care of you like you take care of us. You are one of our own. I think my heart about burst out of my chest, in a good way, right at that moment. I realized then that they do see me. They see how much I care. They see how hard I try every single day, because I want to not because anyone tells me too. We have a mutual respect. I try to treat everyone well in the hopes that they treat me well. That’s what a team should be. It’s what I love about what I do. Well, I have to tell you, the ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital team was the best I’ve ever seen! See you at work Monday guys! I love you!

Dr. Katz

It’s Just a Little Tougher to Bounce Back Nowadays

Wow. I have to say that having cancer has brought about more change than I realized. I think I tried to partition the whole experience in my mind as a discrete entity with a finite beginning and end. It somehow made it easier to trudge through with a positive attitude when visualizing an actual light at the end of the tunnel.

After the end of chemo, I am slowly realizing that, while that visual was helpful, it was not necessarily realistic. My journey did not abruptly end when chemo did. As I have discussed before, there have been many after effects and pitfalls since and I am learning about new ones every day. Each one I try to embrace, while fighting the little chip on my shoulder that I have to deal with it in the first place.

Most recently, I got my first actual illness outside of chemo in the first two and a half years. Yes. It’s true. Now that I think about it, one little-publicized actual positive side effect of the pandemic has been that we all have had less of the regular sick season viruses, etc because we have been wearing our masks, not doing as much, washing our hands, trying to avoid sick people, and not touching our faces as often. Granted, some of these precautions (like hand washing) should not have been new additions to our routine. Nonetheless, they have all contributed to less routine sickness. Anyway, my point is, that I haven’t really been sick in over two years. So, when I got this crappy gi virus, it really through me for a loop. Number one, believe it or not, I wasn’t really used to being sick. ( I get it. That sounds ridiculous considering I just went through cancer and chemo.) Number two, I was that much more stressed out about the repercussions of missing work because the economic strain has been significant from all the previous missed work. Number 3, it hit me a lot harder than I remembered from previous illnesses. Number 3 is what got me the most. I am just not bouncing back as fast I think I should be. There are a lot of reasons why that could be true. One could be my loss of perspective on being sick outside of chemo. Another could be that chemo has left lasting side effects that keep my body from fighting off sickness as well. My kidneys are not working as well so I get dehydrated more easily. My thyroid is still dead so I get fatigued and my metabolism is altered. The list goes on. You get it though right? There are plenty of reasons for me to have trouble bouncing back from regular illness. So, I shouldn’t worry, obsess, and beat myself up about it. But, alas, I do. I get distracted and instead of doing things to help myself get better, I waste time feeling guilty about who I am letting down this time, as if I haven’t left enough people down with all the cancer stuff. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

So, here’s the thing. What do I do about it? The fact of the matter is I am the only one that can do something about it. NO one is making me feel this way but me. The guilt is all mine. I have to make the decision to accept this one more thing about surviving cancer. There will be changes that last long after the cancer is gone. They are not my fault. They are not my punishment for things done wrong. They just are. I can chose to move forward…or I can chose to be held back by things that I cannot control. I say forward it is. Otherwise, my recent win was all for nothing.

Dr. Katz

Chemo is done and the party still hasn’t started

My last day of chemo was June 9th, 2021. It was a day I looked forward to for a long time. I thought for sure that it would be the beginning of everything being all right again. I thought I would feel different. I thought the sun would immediately shine brighter and the birds would sing louder and all would be right with the world. I even thought that somehow the last chemo session would be easier, just by knowing that it was the last one for awhile.

To tell you the truth, I could not have been more wrong. For one, the last chemo was no less intense and grueling than all the others. In fact, it was worse than the others because the cumulative side effects somehow intensified and lasted longer. I didn’t feel better immediately either. Surprise surprise. I was still tired all the time. I still had fatigue. I was still swollen. My gi tract still didn’t work and I bloated like a nine month pregnant woman every time I ate to the point that I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t push a grocery cart by myself without getting so winded that I had to stop and rest. I had ptsd every time I had the slightest twinge, wondering if this time the symptoms meant something like they did last time. The sympathetic head tilt looks didn’t instantly stop after chemo was done because I was still bald, which was a visual hallmark of continued illness. I had multiple organs try to fail, some still are trying, from chemo side effects, which brought on many more complications. On top of all that, I was struggling, and still am, to rescue my business from everything that had happened during the pandemic and when I was actively sick. It was all crushingly disappointing.

I think the biggest problem is that I wasn’t mentally prepared for any of this. I just wasn’t expecting it. My logical self should have assumed that it was impossible for everything to right itself immediately. However, my chemo patient self was ready for any cheerful fantasy to be true instead. I had a lot of help with this misconception. At my last chemo appointment and doctor’s visit, everyone acted like a huge celebratory gong was to be rung and that it would be all smooth sailing from there. Congratulations flowed all around, uplifting my mood. I can remember stumbling to my car and suddenly breaking down into tears of joy as We Are The Champions came on the radio. I understand the focus of that final visit was to rejoice, but I think it would have been helpful to have a small dose of realism injected in at the same time. I am not talking about not celebrating. I am just talking about balancing the good end of treatment news with some tips about potential complications, what to expect, and how to realistically move forward. I think it would have saved me a lot of frustration and disappointment. I understand so much better now from experience and I have definitely had success in making my way post chemo and I am very grateful for how I am doing now, but I feel like the journey could have been a little less scary with some prior warning.

Dr. Katz

Brace yourself, but I really think that my positive attitude had just as much to do with beating cancer as the chemo did.

I have just started reading Kelly A. Turner’s book Radical Remission Surviving Camcer Against All Odds and it is a real thought-provoking, potential life changer. I admit, at first I only picked it up because it kept beating me out on the Amazon rankings…lol. But honestly, now I can’t put it down.

First of all, what the heck is radical remission? Radical remission is defined as any cancer remission that is statistically unexpected. That usually happens in one of three ways: 1) the cancer goes away without any conventional medicine 2) the patient tries conventional medicine, does not achieve remission and switches to alternative methods which do achieve remission 3) the patient uses conventional and alternative methods at the same time and outlives a particular dire prognosis( any cancer with less than 25 percent 5 year survival.

The book describes nine key factors that can make a real difference in healing. They are as follows:

Radically changing your diet

Taking control of your health

Following your intuition

Using herbs and supplements

Releasing suppressed emotions

Increasing Poaitive emotions

Embracing social support

Deepening your spiritual connection

Having strong reasons for living

I know. You are looking at this list going sure, whatever right? I did too, but then I kept on reading. This list did not come out of nowhere. Dr Turner spents ten months researching cases of radical remission all over the world and got their stories. She spoke to alternative healers and got their prospective on cancer. These were the nine key factors that played a role in all of their stories. I found myself thinking, this all sounds good, but how often does this really happen? Believe it or not, it happens more often than you think. There are a ton of cases just in her book alone. I think that we just don’t hear about them because a lot of physicians don’t want to raise false hope in their patients. I think this is the absolutely wrong approach and I also think that false hope is the wrong term amd not applicable here. The term false hope implies getting someone excited about something that is not possible and thus wasting their energies that could be directed elsewhere. Well hello! Radical remission is possible!

Of course, the book goes on to explain each factor in detail with examples. These are particularly fascinating as well, but beyond the scope of this blog. You jist need to get the book and check it out to be honest.

The element that impacted me the most was the common theme of being an active participant in directing your own health and paying attention to your body. You know the phrase ” gut feeling” or ” gut intuition?” There is really something to that.. Did you know that your gut/intestinal tract has its own nervous system that can respond to stimuli independently of the rest of your body? So when someone says that they have a feeling in the pit of their stomach, it’s a real thing! Listen to it! This is a concept that I have been emphasizing to patients for years. I am always encouraging patients to take control of their health and find ways to be positive and listen to their bodies. This is not me saying to fly in the face of anything your doctor tells you. I’m saying to find a balance between listening to your body, your physicians and your healers. I truly think that’s how I helped find my cancer and beat it. I not sure that I would have been brave/ foolish( I don’t know which is correct) to abandon all conventional therapy and attempt to heal myself like a lot of the patients in the book, but it is nonetheless empowering to hear that it is possible.

Dr. Katz

It’s Not Over Just Because Chemo is Over

Wow! There are so many things they don’t tell you about being a cancer patient! When I say “they” I am referring to a proverbial all-inclusive group of people that includes everyone that is in charge of your care and even other patients who are unable or unwilling to share their experiences. I am learning a lot as I go and I am convinced more than ever that it is my mission to pass on what I know or have experienced to all of you. I am still determined to be the flashlight that helps guide patients through both their cancer experience and what comes after.

So, here is what I have realized. It is not really over until it’s over. What the heck do I mean? Let me explain. Most of us logically assume that when the last drop of chemo has coursed it’s way through our blood stream and the most recent scan confirmed that we are cancer free, at the moment, that we are, in fact, done! Yay! Hooray! Whooo! It is time to party, right? That’s what I thought. I really truly thought, or at least hoped, that the moment I got that final good news that this warm and fuzzy feeling of overall cleansing and good health was going to wash over me, my energy and health would be renewed and I would be ready for anything that came my way! Nothing could have been further from the truth. Now I am not blaming anybody. Nobody told me that that was going to happen. I am solely responsible for my own rose-colored glasses personal patient vision. However, nobody counselled me to the contrary either. I was just kind of left to figure it out after my perfunctory but heart felt congratulation speech from my health care team.

Here is what really happened. I got my good news. I was elated at the moment and kind of skipped out to my car( and then got short of breath from skipping..lol). Then I got into my car and, ironically, We are the Champions by Queen came blasting on the radio. I then proceeded to sob hysterically for about 20 min before driving home. I want to believe that the tears were all happy, but now I am not so sure. My mind started racing with all kinds of different thoughts ranging from yeah, I’m free to omg what do I do now and who is going to look out for me? My head was completely spinning. I had to take a minute before my head was clear enough to drive home. I started to realize that this was not really over. I had the next five years of my life mapped out with repeat scans and follow ups. Was it going to really be over then? What if I got some weird symptoms or twinge in the wrong place? Should I ignore it or should I worry because something else might be wrong?

I spent some quality time trying to talk myself down from the ceiling and rationalize the fact that I would need to give myself some time to be able to process information from my body normally again. That lasted all of a few minutes before I was on the phone to my therapist, making sure that I had regular appointments scheduled for the next several months. I was not going to be able to do this alone and I wasn’t allowed to restart my anti depressant for another month or so.

Ok, so now I had my therapy appointments in place. I rebooted my calm app on my phone. I reached out to my friends and fellow patients. I felt like I was doing everything right, or at least what I could do at the moment. Everything was going to be ok right? Nope! Then, the later complications of chemo started rolling in. My liver and kidneys took some hits and had to recover and my thyroid died completely. All the symptoms I was having that I was trying to assume were psychosomatic were actually real! Some of the stuff could have actually killed me! Thank goodness that we have modern medicine and options for all of them, but still scary nonetheless. There was no room for relaxing! There WAS still stuff to worry about! I knew it! My doctor said that some of these complications and side effects could be a factor for years afterward. Fantastic! I understood going in that there was going to be a risk trade off in exchange for curing my cancer, but on some level, I don’t think I fully understood just how significant the risks would be. I don’t think any patient does.

Here is where I think we need to do better for patients. We need to do better than handing someone a stack of papers several inches thick to read over and sign. We need more than just one chemo teaching session. We need to counsel patients that complications are real and that we need to have a reasonable level of vigilance after treatment is over. We need to recognize that PTSD is real and affects people that have experienced any kind of trauma, whether it is casualties of war or cancer. There needs to be a plan in place for those kind of things BEFORE they happen. We need to shape patient’s expectations for their treatment and for themselves BEFORE things happen. We need to give the a glimpse into what can happen and what they can expect and let them know that we have tools to address all of it. I have to believe that being proactive could potentially save a lot of suffering, both physical and mental, for patients. It has to be better than being behind the eight ball and struggling to deal with all of these issues when they are already full blown and both your mental and physical energy is already depleted.

Here is the bottom line. I am proposing a new plan. First, start with detailed one on one counselling before treatment starts for as many sessions as necessary with the key goal of shaping expectations and making preparations. Second, assign each patient a mentor who has actually gone through the process that can be a touch stone throughout treatment and beyond and who can offer encouragement, and more importantly, guidance and reassurance as things happen. Third, anticipate the possibility of PTSD, complications, and side effects after and during treatment and try to prepare the patient as best as possible. Set them up with therapy from the beginning. Start them on medications if possible during treatment. Be vigilant for side effects and try to catch them early. This all sounds like common sense but I am willing to bet that it is NOT common practice. I truly feel that implementing these few extra steps would have a tremendous positive return on patient recovery and outcomes that would far outweigh any additional healthcare costs incurred. I guess it boils down to what the true goal is : patient survival in terms of numbers versus patient survival in terms of whole health, mental and physical. Last time I checked, we are all more than just a number.

Dr. Katz

Seventh Inning Stretch

so close and yet so far

antsy even though I know it’s necessary

side effects more annoying

emotions pouring out all over, unchecked

confusing my caregivers

having trouble convincing then that it’s ok, I’m ok

I really do understand what’s going on

I’m not falling apart or anything

just a few crumbs breaking off here and there

just anxious to be whole again

Almost there!

it’s not over yet but we’re close

close enough to see the glimmer of light

far enough away that we can’t reach it

liquid weapons pummeling the invisible enemy

hit after hit

like a prize fighter I come back for more

willingly and begrudgingly at the same time

will to live is strong even though my body feels weak

the “good days” seem fewer and farther between

ultimately it doesn’t matter

have to keep going

have to show up

have to represent

no one else can do it for me