Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Personal Perspective, Part 5

Each Tuesday in October, Katie is taking over my blog to talk about her experience with breast cancer. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here. This week, to finish out the month, Katie will be posting the final parts of her series on both Monday and Tuesday.

 It's been almost six months since my reconstruction surgery.  When I was going through treatment, I kept thinking, "I can't wait until there is a day that cancer doesn't cross my mind." And now, I frequently have those days and when I do think about cancer, it's from a different view. I do know that I was lucky, but I'm also less afraid - I had something really terrible thrown at me and I was able to cope. The biggest fear that I do have is that my cancer would become metastatic, because there is no cure for that, and it would mean that I would have to undergo treatment for the rest of my life. 30% of early stage cancers do, at some point, become metastatic, and there are many women out there living that reality.

I want to use the rest of this post to talk about some final things from my experience with breast cancer.

For as much as I learned about my body and physical health during this experience, I learned even more about taking care of my mental and emotional health. I think trying to keep a positive attitude throughout treatment definitely helped me, but like anything else, it was a balancing act in learning to be kind to myself. Not every moment was going to be pink ribbons and survivor slogans. Talking to a therapist throughout my treatment played a big role in how I handled everything being thrown at me.

I also want to talk about doing self breast exams. I read that 80% of women find their own breast cancer, and with mammograms not being covered by insurance until the age of 40, that means the vast majority of young patients have no screening options other than themselves and their annual gynecologist visit. It would have been so much worse for me if I had not found my lump during a self exam.

Writing these posts has been a great way for me to look back and reflect on my breast cancer experience, now that my treatment is over and I'm less fearful. I hope that they've been helpful to you in understanding the actual reality of living with breast cancer a little bit better. I also hope that when life throws you your own unexpected curve balls, you will know that you are strong enough to get through it, and to always focus on living a life that is as happy and healthy as it can possibly be.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Personal Perspective, Part 4

Each Tuesday in October, Katie is taking over my blog to talk about her experience with breast cancer. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here. This week, to finish out the month, Katie will be posting the final parts of her series on both Monday and Tuesday.

I did my last chemotherapy November 30, but my surgery wasn't scheduled until December 30 - I wanted to finish out the year cancer-free. I had to wait for my blood cell counts to rebound a little bit, and two weeks before I had to drink whey protein shakes and avoid things like green tea and any medications that could thin my blood.

I knew early on that I wanted to go with a double mastectomy, not a lumpectomy or single mastectomy. I wanted to eliminate as much recurrence risk as possible, and I also wanted to look symmetric! I did struggle with this decision, but knew in my gut that it was the right choice for me - but that doesn't mean it's the right choice for everyone with breast cancer. I did a lot of research and even got a second opinion from my plastic surgeon to make sure I was comfortable and confident in my choice. Even with the decision to have a double mastectomy, there are so many different reconstruction options that it was a lot to wrap my head around.

I knew going in that the surgery would take about four hours, and the surgical oncologist would remove as much breast tissue as she could, as well as three lymph nodes from my right (cancerous) side. I also knew that I'd have to wait several days to find out what cancer was left and to be completely certain that my lymph nodes were cancer-free - meaning that the cancer had not spread. The plastic surgeon placed tissue expanders in each side, to start to reconstruction process. These expanders are a temporary implant that are filled multiple times with saline, over several months, to stretch and expand your tissue/skin/muscles and prepare your body for the permanent implant.

I was home from the hospital by New Years Eve, so I was only in the hospital for about 36 hours. I had excercises that I had to do to stretch things out - these actually really helped my pain. I felt better than I thought I would, but still needed help doing things that required a lot of pulling, like opening doors, and sitting up was really hard! The most annoying part of recovery was the drains that were on each side of my body to collect excess fluid as I healed. They were in for a few weeks, and made showering really, really difficult. I was very happy to see them go. I had to wear a surgical bra while the drains were in, and I had to wear only button-down shirts, since I couldn't really use my arms.

 Before I even had the surgery, I really struggled emotionally know that I was going to be losing part of my body. I knew that as my body healed, I'd be going through a grieving process for my breasts, as silly as that may sound. I knew that it would take a while to get to a place where I was content with the way my body looked and felt. It was really hard not having hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, or boobs - it was a definite emotional low for me.

The expansion process was actually kind of fun, because with each fill, it was like a small improvement. Each expansion was really quick - they used a magnet to find the port, and slowly pushed the saline in to expand. I was afraid that it was going to hurt, but really, it was just some muscle soreness for a day. I had a minor setback when my incision wasn't healing as well as it should have been, and we actually had to remove some saline during an appointment rather than add any, but that was the only real problem I ran into. My expanders were in for about 4 months - we stopped filling them when I decided that I liked the size - it's a totally personal decision.

For reconstruction, I had to decide what kind of implant I wanted - there are different shapes and fillings (saline vs. silicone). There were so many different shapes and sizes - I was really shocked. The actual reconstruction surgery only took an hour and a half, was outpatient (so I went home that day), and by the next day, I felt great. It's definitely a much easier surgery than the mastectomy! I was really excited to have the implants, and to feel like I looked more normal. That, to me, was the finish line.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Join the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Young Professionals Club

I'm taking a break from my regularly scheduled programming to talk about a new organization being formed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra - the Young Professionals Club.

It should be clear from my posts that I love live music, but I don't think I've ever posted about going to the symphony before. I've been going to the symphony ever since I was a little girl - my sister used to sing in a choir that would sometimes perform with the symphony, and we both also took piano lessons. I know that some people think of classical music as old and boring, but I think you really just have to find your niche. It's certainly different than going to a pop concert, but the music is beautiful and it's incredible how all the different instrument sections come together to create such an amazing performance. Pittsburgh, in particular, has such a fantastic symphony - the musicians are all so passionate, and it really shows.

Last year, I joined the New Leadership Council, which is a group of people who are passionate about helping the symphony continue to grow and succeed. This year, we're helping the symphony start the Young Professionals Club - a group of people who are 21-35 years old who enjoy classical music and the Pittsburgh Symphony! It costs $35 a year, and members get discounts on tickets, invitations to happy hours and other social events, and access to special behind-the-scenes activities.

To kick off the YPC, we're throwing a happy hour downtown at Pork & Beans. I'll be there, and anyone who is interested in learning more about the YPC should definitely join! Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me with any questions.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

My Travel Tips

I have talked about what it's like for me to travel before (here - for my SMA Awareness Month Series), but that post focused on the amount of medical equipment that I have to take with me when I travel. I got back from a trip to DC earlier this week, so I want to talk about other, non-medical travel essentials - things that I make sure to take on every trip, but aren't related to me having SMA. I'm not going to write a full travel list, but I'm going to talk about the things that are necessary but sometimes forgotten!

  • Extra contact lenses
    There's actually a story about this one. On a trip to New York a few years ago, I put in what I thought were my contacts, and thought they were old and looked blurry. So I took them out, threw them away, and put in the new pair I had brought. Well, the reason they looked blurry was that they weren't mine - they were my sister's, and she didn't have an extra pair with her! Now, I double and triple check to make sure that I have another pair packed.
  • Glasses
    I almost never wear my glasses, so it's hard for me to remember to pack them! But you never know what will happen, and I definitely don't want to be basically blind while I'm on a trip.
  • Extra iPhone cords
    I have an iPhone, an iPad, and the Apple EarPods, and they all use the same (easily broken) cord to charge. It never hurts to bring a few extra chargers to make sure that all of your devices are fully operational.
  • A comfy blanket/sweatshirt
    Hotel room thermostats can be really finicky - it's either freezing, or way too hot and stuffy. The sweatshirt or sweater is a must for the hotel room, to throw on over your pajamas in the room, or while running to the lobby for coffee. And I just love having my own blanket to sleep with! Depending on the hotel, there's a good chance I don't want to use the comforter from the room, and sometimes I need something more than a sheet.
  • Ibuprofen, allergy pills, and decongestants
    I'm not one that gets a headache often, but weather and temperature changes, plus the really dry hotel air, can really do a number on you! Being prepared can save you from a 10 p.m. run to CVS when there are other things you'd rather be doing.
I'm always trying to be a better packer - let me know what your must-haves are when traveling!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

My Favorite Eyeshadows

I've talked about my makeup routine here before - it's nothing exciting, but I'm not super adventurous with my makeup so I don't stray from my routine often! Sometimes, though, my basic routine just doesn't cut it, and I want a little extra, so I add some eye shadow.

I'm not great at doing a fancy, smoky eye, so I need something that goes on easily, but can stay put on my oily eyelids and still look nice a few hours later. I've found that the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Cream Shadow Stick fits all of my requirements! It couldn't be easier to apply - you can just put it on directly from the stick - and once it sets, it stays put for hours without smudging. There is a great mix of basic matte colors and fun shimmer shades, and they also make a great base if you want to add any other eye shadow on top.

When I'm feeling really fancy or festive, I'll go all out and add some of the Stila Magnificent Metals Glitter & Glow liquid shadows. These pack a real punch, so you may want to apply it sparingly. I've found that spreading it across my eye gives a bit more of a subtle look, whereas if I press/dab it on my eye, it's definitely a lot more of a sparkly, disco ball type look. Sephora is selling a few great sets with smaller versions of the shadows - I picked up "Written In The Stars" and love the colors. Since a little goes a long way, the mini versions are the perfect way to try out different colors!

(This post uses affiliate links,

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Personal Perspective, Part 3

Each Tuesday in October, Katie is taking over my blog to talk about her experience with breast cancer. You can read week one here and week two here.

Once fertility preservation treatments were over, the real fun could begin - chemotherapy. I was very worried about chemotherapy in general until my oncologist told me that chemotherapy of 2016 is very different than chemotherapy of 20 years ago - there are a lot more medications now to counteract side effects. There would still be side effects, but I wouldn't be vomiting constantly. Still, that's not to say it was a fun experience.

I found out very early that I'd be receiving 16 chemotherapy treatments, starting with a heavy-hitter called the "red devil" that I'd get every other week, four times total. I went into Day 1 of chemotherapy very  apprehensive - there's the nickname, for starters, and the fact that I had to get an EKG beforehand to have a baseline because the drug can cause heart damage. I was nervous about how I'd really feel, and what the side effects would be, and how it would affect my everyday life. I was the first patient of the day, at 8 AM, and chose a chair by the window (that turned out to be my bad luck chair!). I had a wonderful nurse who sat down and explained what drugs I would be receiving, and in what order, and that they would take things slow to see how my body reacted. I was there for about eight hours, In later treatments, I would spend my time in treatment watching a lot of TV with my husband Terry or coloring, but the first day, I was too nervous to do any of that, and just sat there talking to Terry or my mom and dad, who came to visit. After the first treatment, I was really nauseous (a side effect of the estrogen medication I was still on from my fertility treatments), but that was really the only time that happened. Afterwards, I took a little walk to get some fresh air, but mostly spent my night exhausted, laying on the couch.

I took a week off after the first round of chemotherapy and went to Hilton Head with my family. I knew from my research that I'd likely lost my hair about two weeks after my first treatment, so we packed hair clippers since we knew it would probably happen while we were away. It started to fall out more and more, and by the end of my time in Hilton Head, my scalp was starting to hurt, almost like it was sunburnt, so I decided to buzz it all off. Terry did the work, and we tried to make it fun - he shaved some designs into my head - and I was fine until Terry and my mom left the bathroom so I could shower. Looking myself in the mirror for the first time was really hard. On the way home, we stopped in North Carolina for an art show, and headed back home to Pittsburgh a little more well rested, but with a little less hair.

The rest of "red devil" treatments were fairly uneventful, but I did have trouble with my port a few times. They were always able to get it working, but it made things take a lot longer - the first time there was an issue, I had to get an x-ray, to make sure the port was positioned correctly. Mostly, I was just super tired. I did manage to run a local Fourth of July 5K with Terry four days after a chemotherapy treatment, but it was hard and I slept for the next four hours after I finished.

After the "red devil" was over, but before the new chemotherapy drug could start, I got bronchitis. Because I didn't have much of an immune system left, the nurses started to panic when they heard me cough when they were starting to get me ready for treatment. They did a chest xray to confirm that it wasn't pneumonia, but found that my white blood cell count was elevated, so they delayed treatment. I went home, had a fever for the next five days, and finally was sent to the Emergency Room. They did blood cultures and a CT scan to make sure I didn't have a blood clot in my lungs, gave me fluids, and wanted to admit me, but I fought them and went home, since there wasn't really anything else they could do. It was a scary thing to know that my body couldn't fight off whatever was causing my fever, and I was disappointed that the treatment delay meant I wouldn't be done with chemotherapy before Thanksgiving like I had hoped.

I did start feeling better, though, and the doctor cleared me to resume chemotherapy, now weekly instead of every other week. The next drug was a lot easier for me - it didn't wipe me out as much as the first had. I did have some neuropathy - numbness and tingling in my hands and feet - and some nail separation, but considering how much more normal I felt, I was ok with that. I was even to go to Greece during this time, where Terry was presenting at an academic conference. The nurses were more nervous than I was about me traveling while in the middle of chemotherapy. I had Lysol wipes on the plane, and I was under strict instructions to get up and move around every hour while on the plane, and even then, my legs did swell up when we landed, which alarmed me a little bit. Luckily, nothing major went wrong, and I loved my time in Greece and want to go back!

I finished chemotherapy on November 30, and was so relieved it was over. Because the second drug was milder, my hair was already starting to grow back a little, which was super exciting and brought me hope. The next step was surgery, scheduled for a month later, and the topic of next week's post!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Dealing with the Unexpected

Sometimes, life throws you curveballs. I had to get my wheelchair batteries replaced early last week in preparation for my trip to DC. When wheelchair batteries start to go bad, they start draining really quickly, and mine were barely getting through a normal work day. I was nervous about going to DC with bad batteries, so they squeezed me in to get them replaced before I left. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems! To replace the batteries, the wheelchair has to be taken apart a bit, and in doing that, another, more serious problem arose. Every time I tried to drive my chair, I got a flashing error message, and the chair wouldn't actually drive.

The service technician was able to rig it to drive well enough so that I could get home, and another technician was able to come to my house the next day, and he was able to diagnose and fix the problem. And then ANOTHER technician came out to my office the next day when another problem with my wheelchair made it stop working when I got into the elevator at my office! So, I didn't have to cancel my trip, and I'm very grateful that the technicians were able to make time for me and that the issue was fixable!

What people may not realize, though, is that when my wheelchair is broken, my life basically stops. I had to stay home from work, missed class, and had to miss a session of my fellowship. Everyone was very understanding and accommodating, but it's still frustrating to feel so little control over your life. Without my chair working, I am stuck. There is no backup - my wheelchair is so custom-fit to provide the support I need that there isn't really a viable loaner chair. I can't rent a chair to use like you can rent a car when it's being repaired.

It can be hard to deal with problems like these, that pop up so quickly. I definitely get annoyed and frustrated in the moment, but after the initial moments of frustration, I try hard to focus more on the positives. I knew I had a busy trip to DC coming up, so the forced time at home came, at least, at a good time! And I was glad that my chair broke before I went to DC, rather than while I was there. There's always some sort of silver lining, and focusing on that, rather than the negative, will make life a whole lot less miserable.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Currently Reading, 10/20/2017

I wanted to share an article I found today that has a bit of a tie-in to my post yesterday. I talk a lot about having a disability as an adult, but this article from Refinery 29 shows what it's like for kids with a disability, and what their lives - and their families lives - are like.

The article discusses a new photography book by the photographer Karen Haberberg, who took pictures of children with disabilities or other chronic, complex illnesses. I really recommend you click through and read about her inspiration, and check out the selection of photographs and stories that they shared.

There were a few things that really struck me about this book - the first was the title, An Ordinary Day. I think it really puts things into perspective - it shows people how much extra is involved in an ordinary day for a family affected by a disability, but it also tells readers that for those families, this is just their normal.

The other thing is this quote - the interviewer is in bold, and the photographers response follows:

There's so much stigma attached to sick children — it's hard to know how to talk to them or about them, especially with the people who love them the most. Do you have any advice for being there for parents with a sick child?
"What upsets these families the most was feeling stared at or judged. So many of them told me that they'd rather just be asked an honest question about their child than be singled out."

That quote really jumped out at me, because it references the staring that I talked about in yesterday's post. I'd love for this book to help open the dialogue - talking and asking questions is so much better than staring! I know I've mentioned staring a few times now, in different posts.... but it's because of how often it happens.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How to Interact with Someone in a Wheelchair

Today's post is a little tongue-in-cheek, but is also based on real-life experiences that I've had, many times. Even though I don't think that being in a wheelchair defines me, often it's the first - and only - think people say when they meet me for the first time, or even when they're passing me in the street. So today, I want to share some guidelines for how to interact with me, or with anyone else in a wheelchair!

  • Talk directly to me
    You might not think that I'd need to spell this one out, but believe me, I do. When my sister and I are anywhere together, the comments we are most likely to get include: "Aww, how sweet!" "Are they twins?" and weirdly "How old are they?" Never are these questions directed at us - they're usually directed at my mom, but people will ask our friend/cousin/whoever is there. Usually, I will answer so that people know I can, in fact, hear them, and can talk. But even if I couldn't - start by directly addressing me, not whoever I'm with. And while we're at it... you don't need to know how old I am! If you wouldn't make the comment to someone not in a wheelchair, don't make it to me.
  • It's okay to hold the door open for me
    I think automatic door buttons are great - they let me open doors! I'm in no way opposed to them. But if I'm heading towards a door, and you get there before me - it's really more than okay to open the door and hold it open for me. I promise that I will not be mad. I definitely feel awkward otherwise, while you stare at me, waiting for me to get to the button and press it to open the door. Which brings me to...
  • Stop staring at me
    Please stop staring at me! I can tell when you're doing it, and I will stare back until you realize what you're doing. If you want to actually engage with me and have a conversation - great! I am open to genuine curiosity. But don't just stare at me.
  • If I'm behind you on the sidewalk, you don't need to leap out of the way
    I have been driving a wheelchair since I was three years old. While there are certainly dented walls all over my house from my early years, I've had it down for a while now. If I'm behind you on the sidewalk, I'm not going to accidentally accelerate and run you down. If you want to politely move over a little so I can get past, thanks - I really appreciate it. But you don't need to jump to the side and leave me a five foot berth between us. Basically...
  • Treat me like a human being
    Extend me common courtesies like you would anyone else, but please try to still treat me like a person. I am a woman that uses a wheelchair, but I am still a woman! Remember that every person who uses a wheelchair is just a person.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    Major Sale at ASOS

    ASOS is one of my favorite places to shop online. Even though it's a UK-based brand, they ship incredibly quickly to the US, have free shipping over $40, and free returns. They also offer a great variety of styles - clothes for both work and weekend - in many different sizes.

    The best part about ASOS, for me, is their petite sizing. At some stores, even online, the petite section is considerable smaller than the non-petite. At ASOS, however, they have so many options in petite sizes! Since I am so small that I can wear kids sized clothing sometimes, this is a huge plus for me.

    You've definitely seen me is ASOS before - this dress below, for example, is from ASOS, and it definitely got a lot of wear this summer! I love it so much, I even bought it in multiple colors

    ASOS is having a great sale right now that ends today. They have items up to 70% off, plus an extra 10% off if you use the code "EXTRASALE". I'm not being paid to tell you any of this - but I got some great deals on things that I can wear into the fall, and was so excited that I wanted to share it with you, too! You can check out my favorites from the sale below, or you can find your own favorites on their website here!

    (This post uses affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission from clicks/purchases you make.)

    Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Personal Perspective, Part 2

    Each Tuesday in October, Katie is taking over my blog to talk about her experience with breast cancer. You can read week one here.

    When I first heard that I had breast cancer, there were 3 things that flashed through my mind. 1 - Was I going to survive this. 2 - I was going to lose my hair, my eyelashes, and my eyebrows. and 3 - Was I going to be able to have kids, and when would I be able to. Today's post is going to be about my third worry.

    When I told my oncologist that I didn't have kids yet and that I did want them, she said the first thing I'd have to do, before any treatment began, is reserve eggs or embryos. Because I was receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy - chemotherapy before therapy, as a lot of younger women do - I had to go through fertility preservation treatment first, or else the chemotherapy could attack my egg cells and might put me into early-onset menopause. And we had to start NOW, so that my chemotherapy could be started immediately after. Because she wanted it done so quickly, she sent me to Cleveland, as Pittsburgh was known to take longer.

    I was really relieved that my oncologist brought up fertility, and gave me hope that having kids would be possible in my future, but I was also devastated at the same time. I knew that we weren't ready for kids yet, but it was something that we were starting to talk about, and it kind of felt like the rug got pulled out from under us.

    Everything started to happen really fast. As it turned out, I had an art festival in the Cleveland area, and the doctor there was able to work with with my schedule and fit me in while I was there. It was a whirlwind - I had to decide right then and there if I wanted to freeze my eggs or embryos. Because embryos are usually more successfully frozen, my husband Terry and I chose to do that. Choosing embryos meant that Terry and I both had to send our bloodwork out to a lab for birth defect genetic testing - happily, I can report that the only thing I was a carrier for was a biotin deficiency! We also had to decide, legally, what would happen to the embryos if we got divorced, or if either of us died - it was surreal to make this decision in such a business-like way. Terry had to donate his sperm, so that the eggs I would be harvesting could be fertilized, and we talked through the egg harvesting process.

    Every day, I had to inject multiple drugs into my body to boost egg production so that they could be sure to harvest just the right amount. The nurse demonstrated how to do the injections, had me practice, gave me the drugs that they had on hand, and gave me a prescription to take to the pharmacy for the rest. I had to have an ultrasound and bloodwork done every other day (back home in Pittsburgh) to look at the follicles of my ovaries and check my progress. I took a little bit longer than they expected, so I had to be sent additional medications - the Livestrong Foundation sent them to my house, on dry ice, and it looked like I lived in a mad scientist's lab! After about two weeks,  my eggs were ready to be harvested. I had to give myself one last trigger shot - triggering the release of the eggs - and had to take a pregnancy test to make sure that the triggering worked. The next day, I was back up in Cleveland to do the actual harvesting. It's a surgical procedure - they put me under, and the doctor aspirated my ovaries and got all of the eggs out, and then I went home!

    Initially, they told me that I had 12 eggs and eight embryos. Seven of those divided successfully and were healthy enough to be frozen. Those embryos are still in storage right now in Ohio. It may turn out that I don't need them, and I am able to conceive naturally, but they're waiting for us if that isn't the case. My oncologist told me right off the bat that I'd have to wait at least a year (preferably two, but I pushed her on it!) after finishing treatment to start trying to have kids. The recurrence risk is highest in the first two years, and if I were to try to conceive naturally, I'd need to wait because no one knows the effect that chemotherapy has on egg cells.

    I mentioned the Livestrong Foundation earlier. They were involved because these kinds of fertility treatments can be astronomically expensive. The Foundations helps cover the costs for young women with cancer, so that they have to pay much less for these treatments. I feel very fortunate that this Foundation was there to help make things easier for me in such a stressful time.

    Once the fertility treatment was finished, chemotherapy could begin, which I'll talk about in next week's post.

    Monday, October 16, 2017

    My Favorite Pajamas

    I have a busy weekend coming up with a trip to DC, and I just took a midterm exam in one of my classes, so I tried to take it easy this weekend. For me, taking it easy over the weekend means a lot of time spent in my pajamas. I'm one of those people who comes home from work and immediately changes into my PJs - it just makes me feel so much more relaxed!

    One: Here
    Two: Here
    Three: Here (my personal favorites!)
    Four: Here
    Five: Here

    I've clearly spent a lot of my time in pajamas, and I've definitely found some favorites. My absolute favorites are from Target. They're reasonably priced, and so, so soft and comfortable! Target's Gilligan & O'Malley brand makes lots of different pajama sets - I usually go with the tank top and shorts sets, but they also make button up shirt sets, tank top nightgowns, and long-sleeved nightgowns - so many different options!

    All of these pajamas are under $30, and feel like they cost a lot more than that. They look a little more put together than sleeping in an old t-shirt, and make me feel like a real adult for having actual pajama sets! Now that I started wearing them, I haven't gone back, and think they'd make a great addition to anyone's sleeping wardrobe.

    (This post uses affiliate links, which means I may make a commission on any clicks/purchases you make.)

    Friday, October 13, 2017

    Currently Watching, 10/13/17

    The temperatures have dropped a bit in Pittsburgh, and it actually feels like fall now. I'm not a big fan of summer ending, but I do love that fall means that all my favorite TV shows are coming back. I realize that I've been sharing a lot of TV on my Friday posts... but I really do love TV, and I love telling all of you about shows that I think are great. This week, two amazing shows came back that I want to share.

    The first is Riverdale. I used to love the CW (I watched way back when it was still the WB!) - I watched Smallville, I loved Gossip Girl, and I still am obsessed with Gilmore Girls. There was a while, though, where there wasn't anything on the CW that I was into. I had heard about Riverdale earlier, this year, but the previews didn't sell me, and the premise - that it was based on Archie comics characters - definitely didn't convince me, either. I say all of this so that you know I wasn't on board from the first day I heard about it, in case you feel the same way.

    But over the summer, I was looking for something new to watch on Netflix, and Riverdale was suggested. Since it was only on it's first season, it didn't seem like too big of an investment, and I gave it a try. I watched one episode and was hooked! It's such a fun, high school drama, evening soap opera show, and actually reminds me of Gossip Girl a little bit. Plus, it has bonus Luke Perry, aka Dylan McKay from the original Beverly Hills, 90210 - never a bad thing. Check out one of the season 2 trailers below:

    The other show I've been anxiously awaiting the return of is also on the CW - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The name is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, just like the rest of the show. It's a musical show, but not like Glee was - the songs are all part of the narrative of the show, not just side performances. The show is hilarious, and witty, and sarcastic, and smart.

    The best part is the songs - they're not the standard songs you'd expect about love and heartbreak. They have song titles like "Friendtopia," "I'm So Good at Yoga," and the classic "The Sexy Getting Ready Song." The lyrics are so clever, and all of the performers are fantastic. Listen to "The Sexy Getting Ready Song" below, and then start with Season 1 and watch the show from the beginning; I think it's one of the best shows currently on the air!

    What shows are you most excited about?

    Thursday, October 12, 2017

    Formal Fashion

    I'm traveling to DC later this month for a friend's Knights of Malta event, and as part of that, I'll be attending a ball. This meant I needed a formal gown, plus all of the accessories - bag, jewelry, the works! I've been spending a lot of time online shopping to find options, and I've found some really cute things I wanted to share!

    First up are the dresses. I'm always drawn to sparkles, beads, or sequins on dresses - I love fun embellishment. Or, I tend to go in the complete opposite direction, with simple, classic styles and silhouettes. Every so often, though, there will be a pattern or two that catches my eye. I tried to pick a good variety of those to share with you - check out what I like below!

    Having some sort of purse/clutch/evening bag is so important, but it's not something that tends to get a lot of use, outside of formal events. Because of this, I try not to spend too much on a clutch - I know it'll only get used occasionally. Luckily, there are lots of cute options that are budget friendly! You can see what I found here.

    The dress I picked for my event in DC is beaded, so I didn't want to go overboard with jewelry. A necklace would be too much and would compete with the dress, but a pair of sparkly, statement earrings was just enough shine and glam. There are so many beautiful statement earrings out right now - I had trouble narrowing this down to six! Even if you don't have a formal event coming up, any of these would make a great addition to your jewelry collection.

    (This post uses affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission for any clicks/purchases you make.)

    Wednesday, October 11, 2017


    These past few months have been forcing me to think a lot about balance. I've been thinking about balance because my calendar has really been filling up. I mentioned in this post what I have going on, and while they're all things I'm excited about, and happy to be a part of, they're also commitments that take time! Plus, I started my semester with a trip to NYC, and have a trip to DC coming up... and I know when I get back from that, there will be school deadlines looming, and then the holidays. I don't want to get overwhelmed thinking about and planning out my schedule, but I still have to make sure I'm staying on top of everything.

    So to stay sane, I'm trying to think of balance in fluid terms. Not splitting my time evenly between work and fun every day - some days are going to be busier than others. I don't think anyone's life is ever perfectly balanced - that's not achievable, and not what I'm trying to strive for! But I want to make sure I'm not totally neglecting one part of my life, whether it's work, school, my social life, or this blog.

    The first step to making sure I stay relatively balanced is making sure I'm on top of my calendar. It really helps me feel calmer and more relaxed when I know what I have going on, and any deadlines or events that are coming up. That way, when I want to add something to my calendar, I know whether or not I should say yes!

    I'm also trying to be better about getting the sleep I know I need each night. As much as I love sleep, it's so easy to spend 30 more minutes each night finishing up a blog post, or finishing up a TV show, or working on an assignment. But I know, personally, that getting more sleep helps me feel happier and more productive. So I'm trying hard not to let sleep be the first thing I let go when I'm trying to find my balance!

    I also am trying to remember that I need "me time." I really need 30 minutes before sleep every night not doing anything, just relaxing and winding down. I also need some weekends without plans! I've been hearing about so many fun events, and love sharing them here - but I also really love weekends without plans, so that I can relax and enjoy my time off.

     Clearly, this is still a work in progress for me, but I think it's something a lot of people struggle with, so I wanted to share my thoughts and would love to hear yours!

    Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Personal Perspective, Part 1

    October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and just like I did with my SMA series in August (which you can read here, here, here, here, and here), I wanted to share the story of someone who has been personally affected by breast cancer. So every Tuesday from now until the end of October, I'm going to turn this space over to one of my best friends, Katie (whose art you have seen here before!), so that she can tell her story.

    For years, I have done breast self exams out of habit. I didn't necessarily remember every single month, but I did try to make a habit of it. Last year, in April, I thought I felt something different. I remembered my gynecologist saying that your breast tissue changed during your period, so I waited about a month, but honestly I checked it pretty obsessively during that time. And a month later, it felt harder, seemed like it had grown a little bit, and was starting to become painful. I called my gynecologist on a Friday, who, after hearing why I wanted to make an appointment, fit me in on Monday.

    She did feel the same lump that I did, but told me it was probably a fibroadenoma - a very common, benign tumor that a lot of younger women have. She did send me for an ultrasound just to be sure, which was scheduled for the following week. While she tried her best to reassure me, and told me not to worry about it, I instead obsessively Googled pictures of fibroadenomas and cancerous tumors and compared them, trying to figure out ahead of time what the ultrasound might show.

    I went in for the ultrasound, which was a very short appointment. The tech barely said two words to me, which only made me panic more, and the radiologist came in at the end of appointment and told me that my tumor did not fit all the characteristics of a benign adenoma - which I already knew, thanks to my Googling. The next step was a biopsy, which the radiologist told me she would doing herself. I left the office in tears.

    There was about a week between the ultrasound and the biopsy. I went to Jefferson Hospital's "Breast Center" for the biopsy, and was greeted there by a Nurse Navigator, who explained to me what the process would be. First, they would insert a needle and numb the tissue, and then the radiologist would capture some breast tissue in another hollow needle that would be inserted - five to seven different times. They'd then insert a tiny metal clip to mark where they took the samples, so that it would show up on future ultrasounds and mammograms. Even though she told me it would be numb, they can only numb some of the tumor, not the whole thing - and I definitely felt it. I could not have imagined how badly it would hurt - and then immediately after the biopsy, they did a mammogram, which did not make the pain any better. I went home, and because it was right before Memorial Day weekend, they weren't exactly sure what day the results would be available.

    I tried to live normally over the holiday weekend, but I couldn't really stop thinking about the biopsy and spent a lot of time early in the week checking my phone, waiting for the call with my results. When the call did come, both the radiologist and the Nurse Navigator were on the call, and I knew immediately that it was bad news. They told me that my results were positive for breast cancer, and they were both shocked. I was a healthy, 28 year old woman, with no family history of breast cancer. I also learned it was Stage I Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, and that I would need both chemotherapy and surgery, and they gave me what was essentially "Breast Cancer 101." We set my first appointment with my new oncologist. 

    Honestly, my oncologist made this whole experience bearable. One of the first things she told me was that we were going to fit cancer into my life, and not make my life revolve around cancer. Since I had a busy summer planned, full of art festivals all over the Eastern US, this was so important for me to hear. She really treated me like a person, and not just another case of breast cancer. She also asked if I had kids, and if I wanted them, because there were a lot of fertility concerns to discuss, which I'll talk about in next week's post. 

    We spent some time discussing the kind of cancer that I had, and what that meant specifically for treatment. She explained that there are three main factors in breast cancer biology - estrogen receptive, progesterone receptive, and HER-2 receptive. They test the receptors of the cancer cells from the tumor to see if those three factors affect the growth of the tumor. Breast cancer can be positive or negative for each of those factors, and each combination might require a different kind of treatment. I was triple-negative, which is more aggressive, but also more responsive to chemotherapy, so my treatment would focus on that. I also had genetic testing, where I found out I was BRCA negative, which was unexpected because of my triple-negative status. BRCA is the most "famous" genetic mutation, but that mutation is actually only responsible less than 10% of all breast cancer cases. Someone who is BRCA positive is exponentially more likely to develop both breast and ovarian cancers. 

    I also met with my surgeon. We talked about the chemotherapy port that I'd need to have surgically implanted, and about lumpectomy vs. mastectomy. While I could have been a candidate for lumpectomy because my tumor was relatively small, that would have meant radiation in addition to chemotherapy, which due to my age would have increased my risk for developing other cancers, so that was ruled out. We talked about my options for single or double mastectomy, as well as reconstruction, but nothing was decided yet.

     Before any treatment could begin, though, I had to go through fertility preservation treatments, which I'll talk about in next week's post.

    Monday, October 9, 2017

    A Night at Steel City Improv

    I love comedy, but before this weekend, I'd never been to a local comedy show - I'd only seen comics on tour who stopped in Pittsburgh. But my friend Katie (who you'll hear from more this month in a guest post series starting tomorrow!) was asked to be the featured artist at the Steel City Improv's new show called "Blank Canvas," and I couldn't pass up the chance to check it out.

    Steel City Improv was founded in 2010, and in addition to putting on weekly shows, they also offer a training program for aspiring comics. For "Blank Canvas," they brought Katie on stage and interviewed her for the first 15 or so minutes, asking her questions about her art and her life as an artist. Then they brought the performers out, who acted out (hilarious) skits based on the stories she told. I was so impressed by how quick and witty everyone was - I was laughing the whole time!

    Tickets to shows are only $10, and totally worth it. I'll definitely be going back to check out more shows!

    I also had the chance to check out a new-to-me restaurant in Shadyside before the show, The Urban Tap. Since it's a bar/restaurant, I wasn't sure how great the food would be, but everything was delicious! I ordered salmon and sweet pea risotto, and the flavors were incredible. It's more affordable than it's neighbor Casbah (which I do love!), and the food they offer feels like a step up from Mad Mex, which is also nearby.

    All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a Friday night after a long week at work and school!

    Friday, October 6, 2017

    Currently Watching, 10/6/2017

    I guess the more accurate title for this post would be "Just Watched," because I flew through this most recent series on Netflix in one day. The show is called Big Mouth, and it's animated - but think animated like Family Guy, not animated like Moana. It's a hilarious show about what it's like to go through puberty, with some of the plots being loosely based on things that actually happened to Nick Kroll when he was younger.

    The show definitely used crude humor, but it doesn't tackle puberty in a crude way at all - it's actually written sympathetically, and really drives home how universally embarrassing puberty can be. It's a much kinder show than you'd imagine it to be! I also want to note that they had a character in a wheelchair - not a plot point at all, but it's something I absolutely always notice and appreciate. There still aren't may characters in wheelchairs on TV, so I'm always excited to see one in a show I love.

    The cast is amazing - I love Nick Kroll and John Mulaney (as evidenced here) - and they have so many other great actors in the show, like Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, and (my personal favorite) Jason Mantzoukas.

    Nick Kroll and Stephen Colbert have been doing something on social media called #PuberMe - celebrities have been sharing pictures of themselves during puberty, and they're donating towards Puerto Rico relief for each picture posted. I'm certainly not a celebrity, but I thought it'd be fun to share my own throwback picture!

    The night before this school picture was taken, my mom cut my hair at home - she was not a hairdresser, and had a lot of difficulty cutting my hair in a straight line. The crimping I did only made the uneven haircut more obvious, so as I was waiting in line for my school picture to be taken, she had scissors with her and kept snipping at pieces of my hair, trying to fix the cut! Definitely a memorable haircut. But it was school picture day - I was willing to do whatever it took!

    Thursday, October 5, 2017

    Why You Should Get a Flu Shot

    I know that vaccination is a touchy subject, and I was hesitant to write this post, but it's something that I think is too important to ignore. I feel incredibly strongly about vaccinations, from both a professional/public health perspective, and from a personal perspective.

    Getting the flu shot will not give you (or your child) the flu, or autism. This isn't just my opinion - this is proven fact, backed up by many, many peer-reviewed research studies. That's not to say that nothing bad ever happens from a vaccine; some people have reactions to vaccines just like people have reactions to penicillin or latex or any other medication. But the chances of having a reaction to a vaccine are so small, and so much smaller than the risk of harm that can come from not being vaccinated.

    I think the most troubling aspect of the anti-vaccination craze is that it really highlights how selfish and fearful we've become as a society. Vaccines are considered one of the greatest public health achievements because of the lives that they have saved. Vaccines work so well because they don't only protect the person who gets the vaccine, they also protect the people who the vaccinated interact with. This is something called herd immunity - if it a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated (this percentage needed varies by disease), then the vaccinated people stop the spread of disease and protect even those who aren't vaccinated. Some people legitimately cannot be vaccinated - they may be too young, or they may have an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccination. These are the people who rely on herd immunity to be protected.

    Some of you might wonder why this matters so much - it's the flu! You get a fever, you ache for a few days, maybe you throw up, but after a few days, it's all over and you feel fine. Sure... that's how the flu affects someone who doesn't have a chronic illness. But for someone who already has other medical issues, the flu can be life-threatening.

    I've always gotten my flu shot, but flu shots aren't perfect - they protect you against the three strains of the flu that are predicted to be the most prevalent that year. Sometimes, the predicted strains don't match up with the actual strains seen, and you can get sick even if you got your yearly shot. That's what happened to me my freshman year of high school. But for me, getting the flu wasn't just a few days at home on the couch. I couldn't keep anything down, and I got so dehydrated that my body went into shock and I had to be taken to the ER by ambulance. I had to be intubated to help my lungs get a full breath, and there are a few days spent in the ICU that I have absolutely no memory of. For me, and for other people with chronic illnesses or people with weakened immune systems, the flu is something very serious, and even potentially fatal.

    This was a terrifying experience, and something that I never want to go through again. I'll do whatever I can to avoid this - but this relies on other people also doing whatever they can to avoid the flu, too. So please, take a few extra minutes out of your day to get the flu shot, and help keep yourself, and everyone around you, healthy.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2017

    How You Can Help

    "Look for the helpers." You may have seen this - it's been all over my social media - and it's part of this longer quote from Pittsburgher Fred Rogers that I wanted to share:

    "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

    The news has been filled with scary things lately, and I didn't want to let the week go by without addressing them. Today's post is going to be short - I just want to let you know about some ways you can be a helper.

    There are a number of organizations collecting funds for Puerto Rico - the island was devastated after Hurricane Maria, and so much will be needed to help the people rebuild their lives and replace everything that has been lost. You can donate at:
    The Las Vegas shooting is still fresh on everyone's mind, and the victims are also in need of help, both now and in the coming months. You can help by:
    And don't forget to contact your representatives! Tell them how you want them to vote on gun control, what you want them to do to help Puerto Rico, and anything else you're passionate about. You can read my post here to learn about using Resistbot to contact your representatives. Don't underestimate the impact you can have, and don't forget the importance of being a helper.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    How I Make Mornings a Little Easier

    I am not a morning person. I force myself to go to bed early during the week, because I know that I have to get up early for work, but my internal clock fights this every inch of the way. If I had it my way, I'd wake up around 10 a.m. every day. On the weekends, it's incredibly easy for me to slip back into my preferred routine, which is to stay up until midnight or 1 a.m., and then wake up at 11 a.m. (or later)! But then when Sunday night comes and I'm not at all tired, I know it's going to be an issue. So I've come up with a few things I do every morning to help make it a little bit easier.

    Less Snoozing
    The first thing I changed was really cutting down on snoozing. This is a continual struggle for me, because I really love snooze time. But I know that the more snoozing I do, the harder and harder it is for me to actually get up. Right now, I have it down to one snooze, which is about as good as I think I'll ever get.

    Buying a Wake-Up Light
    Going along with cutting down on snoozing, I bought this Philips Wake-Up Light. It's not cheap - it's definitely an investment - but it's worth it for me. It starts to slowly brighten 30 minutes before the alarm time that you set, just like a regular sunrise. It's way less jarring than suddenly turning on a bright light next to your face, and it also helps your body adjust and slowly start to wake up. I've been using it for more than a year now, and there have been a few times where I've forgotten to set my phone alarm, and I've actually woken up to just the light turning on, alone (I have the Philips alarm set to silent, since I can't reach it from my bed). This is huge for me, because it takes a lot for me wake up! I've also forgotten to turn it off some weekends, and it still wakes me up - which shows it's effective, but also really annoys me on a Saturday morning!

    Turn on More Lights
    Finally, when I am out of bed, I immediately turn on the rest of the lights in my bedroom, and start my morning with a cup of coffee. The coffee I need because I probably have a caffeine addiction, but turning on the rest of my lights helps keep my body from being lulled back to an early-morning sleepiness.

    These all sound like small things, and they are, but they've made a big difference in my mood in the morning, and help me start my day much happier.

    Monday, October 2, 2017

    Mischief Managed at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

    The museums and libraries in Pittsburgh have recently gotten into the late night/after hours trend - opening up after hours, with food, drink, live music, and other fun activities. On Friday, I went to a Harry Potter themed after hours at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, right in Oakland. I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, so it was a really fun night!

    They brought in an owl from the Pittsburgh Aviary for the first hour of the night, which I made a beeline for. Sadly, I wasn't allowed to touch the owl, but did get to get an up close and personal picture, and also learn a lot of owl fun facts.
    Dress: here

    They had trivia, drinks like Butterbeer and Polyjuice Potion, an Azkaban "wanted" poster you could pose behind, and a fun photo booth with lots of prop options to choose from - which of course, we took full advantage of!

    There was also a screen printing station, where could you get a tote or t-shirt screen printed. I always think the book is better than the movie - I'm not always the most fun to go to a movie adaptation with! - so I couldn't resist.

    I think these events are so fun because they seem like you're doing something off limits - eating, and drinking, and hearing live music in a library - those are all things that you normally aren't allowed to do!

    Also... I loved the blue polka-dotted J.Crew dress (from this post) so much, that I went back and got the white version, too! When I find something that fits me so well without and tailoring at all, I have to snap it up while I can - it doesn't happen very often! I don't follow the "no white after Labor Day" rule, so I'm looking forward to wearing this dress well into the winter and fall.

    (This post uses affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission from any clicks/purchases you make.)