So I Fight… 

You may have to fight the battle more than once to win it

  
March 30, 2016 will mark 1 year since my esophagectomy surgery. 1 year since my Angel surgeon, Dr. Compeau, saved my life. And in this year, I have endured a lot and celebrated a lot. I’ve lost nearly 100lbs (thank goodness I was always…ummm…let’s say “pleasantly plump”) and had to put up with a lot of medical issues, but it’s been balanced with the some of the best moments of my life (like getting married!). The moments that remind me of what I’m fighting for. 

You see, when a person lives through such a major, life-threatening event, it becomes almost instinctual to block it from our memory; to make that moment less traumatic. I don’t remember any of the pain I was in post-surgery in ICU. I remember being in pain I just can’t remember what it felt like. Just like this last visit to ICU. I actually don’t remember a full 12 days of my life that I was in the hospital. My guess is that the mind can do amazing things like protecting a person from recalling pain.

It’s because of this that I’ve been able to stay positive throughout this journey. I don’t think I ever really fully understood the severity of what I’ve been through: The pain and trauma my body has endured, the psychological pressure this journey has put me under, the attempt to balance fear and hope and deal with all the emotional distress that comes with having Cancer. When I think about it (in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep) it becomes a bit overwhelming for me. It’s like this heavy weight sitting on my chest that I have to pick away at piece-by-piece as I find my way back from that place – where I am just plain Rosie, who has fears and feels helpless, to a place where I am positive and motivated and feel invincible again – where I’m RosieStrong.

This last incident that I went through (from which I continue to recover at what feels like the slowest pace ever) really put everything into perspective for me. I understand now how severe my situation is, how I can go from feeling great to landing myself in emergency a second later. I understand that my life is dependent right now on how hard I fight. It’s become blatantly obvious that If I give up mentally, my body will give up physically. 

So I fight.

I’ve been pushing myself and fighting mentally and physically everyday for the last 16 months without any break, without a moment when I haven’t thought “keep fighting Ro, don’t give up”, without a second where I get to just be worry-free, and with the exception of my wedding day, I haven’t gone a day where I feel like me. Like good ol’ Rosie. 

But, 1 year ago, on March 30, 2015  I was given a second chance at life and even though I have to fight cancer for a second time now, I can’t possibly waste this new opportunity at life. 

So I fight. 

And now, with this newly-discovered understanding of my situation, I feel even stronger and more empowered and I will endure and fight whatever comes my way, knowing that my mind will dictate how my body behaves; how my body survives. 

And it will survive. 

  

Until I Thrive…

  It’s been a scary few weeks for me. I ended up in emergency with a high fever, kidney failure, blood clots in my lungs, and basically, my body shutting down on me. I went through 4 blood transfusions and a series of tests and poking and prodding. A dangerous and scary side effect of the chemo treatment I’m currently undergoing. 

  
It’s been a long road to recovery and although I’m home now recovering well, it was a long 10 days in ICU and hospital. I’m weak and can’t really get my muscles to work properly just yet – but every day gets better, every day I get a little stronger, my legs are finally able to make it up the stairs – slowly and painfully but I get there with Mark or whoever is here to hold me up and help me. Eventually, I’ll be able to walk and get around normally again, but it will take a few weeks yet. 

This whole experience is enough to break my spirit. It’s enough for me to want to just scream “ENOUGH!” I’m so tired, I’m worn out. I just want to be healthy and strong and normal again. I don’t want my life, Mark’s life to be riddled with worry all the time. I need something great to happen. So I pray and I continue to fight and I do this more for Mark and our families than I do even for myself. I can’t wait to see all my nieces and nephews grow up to become accomplished adults, I can’t wait to see Mark continue to have amazing success at work and in life – he works so hard to take care of me that it breaks my heart to not be well enough to relieve him of that worry. 

I want to see my mom not look at me with worry written all over her face, take time off work to care for me, and be able to have a great life as she approaches retirement in a few years. I want my Dad to go through his day without having to ask me if I’m ok. I want my brothers and sisters and mother-in-law and cousins and aunts & uncles to not even have to think about my health or well being.

 I feel as though I’ve become this enormous burden. Cancer has taken its toll in a way that just feels like a hole that I keep falling into. A hole that I can’t quite seem to crawl my way out of. 

Despite all this, I continue to be surrounded by so much love and faith and hope and prayers that it makes my days a little brighter, and continues to provide me with the inner strength and faith to fight my way back to total health. I can’t give up. I’m reminded of this every time I have to take a step and it hurts like hell and my body is screaming at me to sit down but I push myself. I’m reminded of this every night when my whole body aches and I want to cry but just lie still and breathe in and out slowly until the pain subsides. 

It’s been a rough ride but I’m here and with the help of Mark & my mom and mother-in-law and all the support I get from so many people that I love, I will survive this and I will get better and I will be Rosie again. I will get there. I have to just keep fighting, even if I’m black and blue and poked all over, I will fight until the Universe finally says “She’s got this, she’s Rosiestrong through and through. She won” 

And then I will grab life by the horns and THRIVE.  

 

The Good Plan

Today marks exactly 1 month since Mark & I exchanged vows and danced our first dance as husband & wife to Mark’s favourite song of all time, “Tiamo” – It’s an old Italian song that literally means “I love you” and it definitely captures us as a couple quite perfectly. 

Our life as newlyweds although amazing and fun and everything I knew it would be, is unconventional to say the least. 

I don’t know of many couples who start their married life in hospital. Who go from walking down an aisle to walking the halls of Princess Margaret. We had to face our new reality very quickly. A reality that is swarming with uncertainty and worry. In many ways, I feel like we’ve been robbed of the “honeymoon phase” of our marriage. We didn’t get the chance to let it all soak in, to enjoy eachother’s company in complete bliss. We got thrown right back into the fire of appointments and chemo and side-effects. The whole nine yards. It all came rushing back at us like a bad dream – a blatant reminder that for the foreseeable future, we’re not gonna be a normal couple with a normal life. We still do all the things couples do, we often entertain company, go out for dinner, catch a movie, visit friends and family. We laugh a lot, we rarely argue, we do all the regular household chores, we cook dinner and cozy up on the couch, watching our favourite shows to unwind at the end of the day. It’s just that these things are interrupted by doctor’s visits and medical treatments and my “bad days”. The “normal” stuff sometimes gets over-shadowed by the cancer stuff. And it sucks. 

So, I could see how our situation looks like a sad one to people that don’t know us all too well. I could see how people must think, “this poor couple, look at what they have to go through” – I see it on the faces of everyone who first hears about our story, and even on some familiar faces. When you have cancer, you become highly attune to the reactions of people around you. You can read their expressions, you can even almost read their thoughts. So, I’ve become very used to the “I’m so sorry for your situation” look. 

I don’t see our situation as sad. Mark doesn’t see our situation as sad. It may not be what “ordinary” life is to others, but that’s ok – it just means that our life together happens to be extraordinary

The truth is, Cancer is really the only crappy thing in our life. Everything else is a complete blessing, and even my diagnosis has its blessings. Our situation has enabled us to love eachother to a depth that many people will never understand. 

To love someone so much that you would take on their pain if it meant they would be ok, that you would sacrifice everything and anything if it brought happiness to that other person. To love someone who’s pain and joy become your own. We have that. Amazing, right? 

Mark tells me that he wishes he could take this from me. So that I could be healthy and he would be the one who has to fight. And my response is always that I would never let that happen, even if it was possible, I would never. 

Our life, however imperfect is really pretty awesome. We share a bond that I didn’t know existed and we have so much fun together! If you knew Mark, you would understand how adventurous and entertaining he makes our life. He’s a firecracker – the kind that lights up the sky, and he makes me forget that I have cancer at all. He doesn’t treat me as frail or sick,  but he’s right there by my side on days when my head is spinning, and I’m heaving into plastic bags. He’s the one that holds my body together through the night, when it hurts all over, sacrificing all feeling in his arms to help ease my pain. 

Being married has given me new purpose. I don’t want to get better just for me, I want to get better for Mark too. So that we can plan a future together without having to say “if all goes well…”. I don’t want him to have to take care of me forever – that’s not the life I imagined for him…for us. 

So, we have a plan. It’s a good one and we believe with everything in our hearts that it will come true. 

Our plan is that I will go into remission, and I’ll be taken off chemo. Then, I’ll eventually have a baby and for a very long time, Mark and I will live a normal, healthy, adventurous and extraordinary life together. 

I call this plan happily ever after.

Cheers to our first month!

Rosiestrong

Bride for a day…

WE DID IT!! On January 2nd, 2016, Mark & I made it to the altar…uhm…gazebo and after a BEAUTIFUL ceremony, were announced husband and wife!

    
   
I am Mrs.Rosie Colella for the rest of my life, but for one day, for the best day of my life, I was a bride. 

A bride and just a bride. I wasn’t sick-girl or cancer-girl or even Rosiestrong. I was just little ol’ me, dressed in the most beautiful gown, and when I looked at myself that morning in the mirror – it was Rosie who stared back at me – the girl that I remember from what seems like a lifetime ago. 

  
    
 
Happy and excited and feeling healthier than ever, I was a blissful bride and I had the most blissful wedding day marrying the most incredible man I have ever known. 

  
My handsome groom – I could barely wait to exchange vows with him, and as I walked down the aisle towards him, the most amazing sense of calm washed over me – he was perfect, my life for one day was perfect and it was all because I knew without a doubt that it was only the first day of a lifetime of perfect moments that will mark every milestone throughout our life together.  

The day started with the typical wedding day buzz – me and my bridesmaids & flower-girl getting hair & makeup done, taking photos and trying to keep calm while I felt like jumping out of my skin with excitement. 

I kept thinking of Mark who was getting ready in another room, filled with my handsome groomsmen, best man, ring-boy and uncles, swinging back the cognac and celebrating his last few minutes of singleness! The preparations were well worth it! He looked flawless in his custom made-to-measure suit, sharp shoes and the biggest smile I have ever seen adorning his face. As soon as I saw him, I felt like the blushing girl from our first date – butterflies fluttering around in my belly and my heart swelling with pride, I thought “oh I love this man”. As my father transferred my hand from his hand to Mark’s hand, I immediately knew that this was the hand I was destined to hold from that day forward. Perfection.    

    
    
    
    
    
 The ceremony was followed by a fun & lively cocktail hour, complete with a Mariachi band and the best margaritas ever! The dancing was in full swing and we were having a blast!   

 

  
Finally, we settled in to a candlelit reception with a delicious meal and music that had the dance floor packed all night!    

    
    
    
 The whole day was a great reminder that happiness exists even amongst dark clouds. 

I started this journey with a goal to beat cancer and make it down the aisle – I did that. Now, I’m equipped with the most supportive husband a girl can have and together, we will beat cancer again. 

My new goal is to beat cancer and start a family. We will do that. Sure, it’s tough to have to spend the first days as husband & wife in the hospital, but at least we’re together, we’re in good spirits, and positive about our future!

And when the days get painful, I will heal my soul by remembering the most beautiful, most perfect day of my life – the day that I was just a blissful bride. 

Stay tuned for video footage of our speeches, first dance and other fun moments! I will be posting them as soon as I can figure out how!

Love & Light to you all,

Mrs. Rosie Colella aka Rosiestrong 

The Girl I Used To Know and The Woman I Will Be…

My life the past few weeks has been so wonderfully hectic! Tying up loose ends for the wedding, spending time with my parents who are coming to terms with officially being empty nesters once I move out, packing up my belongings, Christmas shopping and final details on my wedding dress. It’s been the best kinda crazy I could ever imagine.

I’m so thankful now that I wasn’t able to do a second round of chemo before I leave for the wedding. It’s given me the opportunity to feel good enough to be able to enjoy the last few weeks I have in my childhood home with my parents, to enjoy a glass of wine on date nights with Mark and enjoy the company of friends and family who have been visiting and sending Mark & I well wishes before the wedding.

I’ve been particularly concentrated on packing up for my move into my new home with Mark. Of course, I don’t have the strength and energy to do it all alone, so my mom has been doing the heavy lifting for me. Bless her soul! It’s exciting and weird all at the same time for me. I can’t wait to start my life with Mark as husband and wife but it’s also weird to think that I will have a completely different life when I return from my wedding. In any case, it’s a wonderful time and my home is filled with the happy little buzz of wedding bliss.

Yesterday, during my pack-up party, my mom pulled down a heavy box tucked away on the top shelf of my closet. In it, I found a bunch of old photos. Photos of me as a child, photos from my teenage years, from my university years and photos of family moments throughout the decades.

I don’t recognize the girl in those pictures anymore. That healthy, carefree girl who had no worries and who smiled from her soul because she truly had no reason to be anything but perfectly happy.

I miss that girl. My friends and family misses that girl too.

It brought to light how much has changed in my life in such a short span of time and makes this entire journey seem surreal and just crazy! How did I go from being happy, healthy, smiling Rosie who had big dreams for her career, for a family, for a life that seemed never-ending to this girl – who smiles, but not the same way, who is happy, but whose mind is always fighting the urge to worry, whose dreams were interrupted by cancer in a fierce way.

It made me yearn for a normalcy that feels so far away, so out of reach, that it hurts my heart to think about it.

I knew I needed to change my frame of mind. I don’t like feeling somber, especially while I’m doing something that represents happiness to me, like getting married!

I had to find something happy and light to replace the heaviness I was feeling. I always look for the light in any situation, and I did just that again. I baked a cake, talked to my mom about the wedding and being a wife, and I picked up my phone and went through all my photos from the past year. Photos of bald rosie, photos of me in the hospital while I was recovering from my surgery, photos of mine and Mark’s families and friends who love us sooo much. Photos of me & Mark in which, despite what we’re dealing with, we are smiling – from our souls. In every picture with him, my eyes smile along with my lips. He makes me feel like that happy, healthy, carefree girl again.

I’ve come to the conclusion, based on all of this, that the secret to soul-fulfilling happiness is love. Whether it comes from your family, your friends, or your life partner, there is no mistaking the happiness that comes from knowing you are loved in a way that is incomprehensible. In a way that is completely pure and good and unconditional.

Although my family has always provided that kind of love to me, Mark’s love gives me something that no one else can – he gives me that spark that I thought I lost when I was diagnosed so many months ago and the butterflies that get stronger every day. The proof is in the photos – his love is why I continue to smile – even though my smile has changed, its still pure and genuine. It’s why I can continue to stay upbeat and positive, even though I barely recognize myself anymore. Love is the reason I continue to fight every single day, and why I continue to believe I have a bright future ahead of me. It’s been the greatest healer of my soul.

On my wedding day, I know that I will face myself in the mirror and I will recognize the person staring back at me. I will be a woman that despite the whirlwind my life has become, will have a heart that beats steadily. Mark does that for me too….he steadies my heart. On January 2, 2016, I will be Rosie – the woman whose life has been a collage of happy moments and memories, who laughs loudly and smiles uncontrollably, and I will get ready to make more of those memories with a happiness in my heart that I almost forgot I could feel.

I will marry the man that has enveloped me with love in exactly 22 days and I know, without a doubt, that every photo I take that day will be of me as a woman whose smile is reminiscent of that girl I used to know – the girl who smiles from her soul because she truly has no reason to be anything but perfectly happy.

I’m so excited to meet that woman. She will follow me throughout married life because I will be loved, and I will love in the purest, most unconditional way.

See you at the altar!

RosieStrong

The Good Days…

Even on my worst day, I try to remember that life could be worse and I dig deep to find the positive energy I need to get through my day – Rosie Ienco

  photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo

I’ve had an interesting few weeks. I started chemo again, presented at my very first speaking engagement, celebrated a 1 year anniversary with Mark and missed my second cycle of chemo because of low white blood cells. Now, as I get ready to get my esophagus stretched open again, I realize that my life has become a roller coaster of appointments and procedures, getting poked with needle after needle, feeling sick then feeling well then feeling sick again, getting concerned looks from everyone because I’ve lost a drastic amount of weight, and having to remind everyone that I see that I can’t kiss or hug them because I have a really compromised immune system.

It kinda sucks, but I’m adapting and learning how to curb certain side-effects, and I continue to live my life with Mark and prepare for my wedding (which is coming up in less than a month!!!). I continue to see the good in every day. Because there truly is good in every day, regardless how bad a day it is.

So, as I mentioned, I started chemo again. It’s a completely different regiment and type of chemo than what I was on before. I used to do chemo once a week. Now, I get Cisplatin chemo administered once every 3 weeks via IV, along with another drug called Herceptin (It’s a drug that works with the chemo to help prevent a particular protein that I’ve been “blessed” with from spreading and turning healthy cells into cancer). Then, starting the day I get the IV, I begin taking Xeloda, which is chemo in a pill form. I take this every 12 hours for 14 days. I then get a week for my body and my blood cells to recover before this cycle starts all over. The side effects have been much more severe than the first time I took chemo. The nausea is constant, the fatigue is overwhelming. My appetite is completely suppressed and I look pretty pale. But, I’m pushing through and trying my best to stay strong and distract myself from what I’m feeling by filling my days with wedding planning, shopping for beach-wear (shout out to our cousin Erica who so very patiently helped me get in and out of bathing suits), buying wedding accessories and packing up my life for my pending move-in with Mark.

Despite the awful side effects, I’m actually having a great time! Mark and I put up our Christmas Tree even hosted our annual Christmas dinner with our friends, and it was a perfect night! I got back in the kitchen, cooked up a beautiful meal and made some new memories with our ever-growing group of amazing friends. I even had a glass of wine – I felt tipsy almost immediately, but it was good practice for the wedding 😉

We spent our 1 year anniversary at the Distillery District Christmas Market in Toronto – burning my tongue on hot apple cider (which I’m officially addicted to) and taking in all the sights, smells an sounds of Christmas. It was magical!

See – things have been good!

One of the best moments of the month was having had the opportunity to speak at an event for medical imaging and clerical staff at the University Health Network. It was an experience I won’t soon forget and one that I hope will open the door for me to have more and more speaking opportunities.

I contemplated posting my whole speech, but seeing as it was tailored to my audience, it would lose it’s context here, so it’s probably best to not share that particular message as a whole. I can tell you though that the reaction of the audience was completely unexpected and truly touched me. To have people come up to me and tell me that I’ve inspired them to deal with their own troubles in a more positive way, was all the validation I needed to know that sharing my story is making a difference. I heard from others who told me that they have family members and friends who also have or had cancer and that my blog has helped these warriors stay strong. It’s an overwhelming thought that my words can make a positive impact but as I was told after my speech, I truly believe that

In a gentle way, you can shake the world

This experience proved to me how accurate this quote is. Maybe I haven’t shook the world just yet, but, I have definitely helped others, and that is exactly what I want to do. I want this journey I’m on to have purpose. I don’t want to go through this if I can’t make something good of it. That’s why I continue to write, it’s why I continue to fight every day and why I choose to fill my life with positivity and block out any negative energy that tries to sneak in.

I wasn’t able to have chemo as planned this week because, as I mentioned, my white cell count was too low and chemo, would be dangerous at this point. It sucks for sure, as I sit here worried that I’m not getting the medication I need to fight this monster. But in another way, I guess it could be seen as a good sign that the chemo is doing what it’s supposed to do – kill cells. And, so if it’s killing my good cells, I imagine that it’s killing the bad ones too. So that’s kinda comforting to me. Next week, I will have blood work taken again and hopefully, my body will have healed enough and my cell counts will be up and I’ll be able to start round 2 of chemo. Then, I get to go on vacation and marry the love of my life!

I’m leaving in a few minutes to have a procedure done to stretch my esophagus again so that I can swallow food properly and be able to take my pills (they’re huge!) without choking. It’s a not-very-fun procedure, but I get to see some of my favourite nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital and I get to be treated again by my Angel-surgeon, Dr. Compeau. So, today will be a good day.

I hope you’re having a good day too.

Love and Light to you all,

RosieStrong

To My Friends & Family…In Case I Crumble…

Chemo, Round 1 began on Nov.6. I found myself back in Chemo Daycare at Princess Margaret Hospital, with my little beeper in hand, waiting to be assigned the room where I would spend the next 7 hours being injected with the poison that is saving me.

It was a long, hard day, but, I had a Charity event to attend in support of the wonderful children’s organization, Safe Haven, and so, I curbed the nausea with a couple cookies, took a shower, put on a cute little black dress and danced and schmoozed the night away with Mark and friends and family.

When I arrived at the fundraising gala, everyone approached me with so much concern in their eyes, gently asking how I was feeling. I knew immediately, that despite the nausea I felt creeping up into my throat, and the fatigue an dizziness I was experiencing, I had to smile and say that I felt good. The relief on their faces, followed by the smiles and hugs that followed was all I needed to actually feel good!. It’s amazing what being surrounded by love and light can do for a person’ s well-being.

Now, rewind a few days before that. I had just returned home from my pre-chemo appointment with my oncologist. I was overwhelmed with information on what my chemo plan would look like, what side-effects to expect and was again, faced with the news that there is no end date sight. I would have to take this day by day, waiting for CT Scans to determine next steps. It was an emotional day, which ultimately resulted in a melt-down moment . I guess you can say that it was a delayed reaction to all that has surfaced in these past few weeks.

Coming to terms with having to fight this disgusting disease again for an indefinite length of time is exhausting and frustrating and makes me want to jump out of my own skin and run away.

But I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m gonna see this through and be an even stronger me when I survive for a second time.

But, my melt-down, which unfortunately and unexpectedly happened in front of my sister Rachel & my Mother, was an acute reminder that it is my reaction to what is happening to me that will determine how everyone around me reacts.

Just like at the gala, as soon as everyone saw that I was feeling ok, they felt ok around me. If I am happy and enjoying the moment, they are happy with me, enjoying those moments. But on the flip side, if I am sad or frustrated or pained – they feel that. If I am crying, they try to stifle their own tears.

I am both the conduit and the receiver – the people that love me, will support me no matter what, but it’s a joint effort. I have to support myself. I have to stay strong for them so that they can stay strong for me in return.

The truth is, that it’s hard to be at someone’s pity-party all the time. Even if that pity-party is well warranted. It’s difficult to stay happy and positive around someone who can’t be there for themselves.

I saw the fear in my mother & sister’s eyes – as they watched RosieStrong crumble, scared that I was giving up. Petrified that I had lost hope.

I’m sorry. I will never lose hope. I will never give up.

So, I want to remind my loved ones that even in my darkest moments, I’m ok. It’s ok for me to cry. I will have days that I want to or need to just release whatever frustration or pain I am feeling. I need you to know though, that it is not me giving up. It’s not me doubting my survival instinct. I can have a melt-down or two or more and still stay Rosie Strong. Actually, it kinda helps me to stay on the positivity train. By expelling any negative tension from my body, whether it’s through crying or beating up a pillow, or laughing uncontrollably or having a karaoke party with Mark, it is all a goodthing!
It’s all part of my healing journey.

I have accepted my situation. Now, I’m learning to embrace it.

So, here’s my little reminder to you, my friends and family and Army of Angels…just in case I crumble:

Do not be afraid,
I may be crying, but I am brave
I may be tired, but I am strong
I may seem weathered but I fight on

Do not be afraid
I may look weak but I have faith
My strength, it burns inside me bright
My mind will not give up this fight

Do not be afraid
In case I crumble, I will not fade
Into the abyss of where fear resides
I will not cave, I will survive

Thank you for being brave for me,

Love & Light,

RosieStrong