I have had quite a remarkable past 12 months. It’s coming up on one year since I heard the words, “you have invasive breast Cancer…and it’s an aggressive form”. Since then, I have gone through seven months of treatments, lost my hair and then much to my surprise found out everyone thinks I look better without hair anyway!(or very little hair).
Once my treatments finished things started to look up. In January of this year I was invited (thanks to the most awesome Veronika Miller) to participate in BlogTourVegas with Modenus. It was a transformative trip for me and one I still keep close to my heart. Then in March I attended my first ever Design Blogger’s Conference which changed everything about how I approach blogging. Then to top it all off, I was chosen to be an official High Point Design Blogger.
In between all these wonderful happy events, my husband was told he was being relocated to North Carolina for work, then three weeks later, that he was not being relocated, he was being laid off. (He has since started a new job but the stress during that time was intense).
As I look back over the past 12 months I have experienced some of my lowest lows and my highest highs. Tonight however will be a high as I will be pulling up by water taxi to this Marriott Hotel in Venice Italy and that in itself is another crazy, unplanned and unexpected life happening.
You see while I was at the Design Bloggers Conference there was an auction for a trip to Italy to benefit the charity Dwell With Dignity. Before the bidding opened Adam Japko of Esteem Media (the organizer of the trip) showed a video of a homeless family moving into their new home. I was in tears by the end of the video and so moved that I was compelled to place an opening bid simply to “get the bidding started”. I quickly was outbid and honestly never gave it another thought….then something “cosmic” happened.
The morning Adam was to announce the winner, my roommate Amanda Gates told me it was a lunar eclipse and that something life changing could happen to me. I couldn’t imagine anything life changing happening while seated in a function room all day listening to speakers. Well low and behold the lunar eclipse must have played a role because something life changing did happen (all arranged by the wizard himself, aka Adam Japko). All three bidders for the trip to Italy ended up “winning” the auction. I was completely stunned and speechless. I had never been to Italy and now a first class Design and Wine trip to Italy that wasn’t even a thought in my head 48 hours earlier was now going to be happening in my near future.
So, off I go today for a trip of a life time with the knowledge that life can change in an instant. My newly gained wisdom from the past year is to enjoy the highs, ride out the lows and just be grateful for every single day.
So Arrivederci!!! (for a week). I will do my best not to flood my social media with touristy photos but no promises!
I have always loved the start of the New Year. The thought of a clean slate, a new year to achieve ambitious goals and the belief that this is the year I really will loose those 20 lbs. Since my treatments for breast Cancer concluded near the end of 2015, this New Year takes on even more significance as it really is a fresh start for me, a redo of 2015 so to speak.
I had originally planned to publish this post last week and in all honesty, I have written it, and rewritten it at least a dozen times. I wanted to write a final post about my year fighting cancer. I wanted and needed closure and since so many of you have followed me on my journey I wanted to neatly wrap everything up. I find myself though with so many mixed emotions that I have been struggling to put my thoughts it into words.
At first I thought I would write about the importance of pursuing big goals. Many of the designers and business coaches I look up to and admire have been posting about “reaching for the stars” and “stepping out of your comfort zone” in 2016.
The thing is, I did that at the start of 2015. I wrote down big lofty goals for both my business and my personal life. A few weeks ago though when I looked over my “reach for the stars” goals for 2015, nowhere did I see “get Breast Cancer”on the list. Nope, loose half a breast, have chemo and endure painful, unconventional radiation treatments wasn’t on there either. Sometimes, just getting through a single day became my goal for much of 2015.
Then I thought I would write about how life is short and how important it is to cease the day and all that. Don’t postpone doing things on your bucket list until tomorrow because tomorrow might never come. This too, seemed good in theory or while I was sitting in the chemo chair looking at Instagram photos of someone I follow who was trekking across the Far East. The reality is, it takes money, planning, support at home and time to do something big like this. It is certainly possible but as the saying goes, “easier said than done”.
So, what I do want to share is something much simpler and it the gifts of Cancer.
The first time I met with my Oncologist she told me that after recovery, most of her Cancer patients tell her that Cancer was the best gift they ever received. At that moment, sitting in her office crying, I couldn’t imagine how missing almost a year of my life, enduring torturous treatments and worrying my family and friends as I did could ever be thought of as a “gift”.
Now that it is all behind me though I “get it”. If you open yourself up to the lessons of Cancer it really does come with gifts.
Here are my three biggest gifts from Cancer and my single goal for 2016 is to hold on to each and every one of them.
The gift of Joy: I felt more joy during my Cancer year than I could ever have imagined. The offer of a warm blanket during chemo or an unexpected card, text or visit from a friend sparked more joy than if I had landed the biggest client of my life. Believing that I would be cured and knowing that a mammogram that I had originally planned on cancelling saved my life gave me a new appreciation for the life I currently had. Things that once bothered me, like a long line at Starbucks, seemed so silly now. In fact, I actually felt joy waiting in line because I took in my surroundings and the people in line with renewed interest. I studied the colors on the walls and took note of the smells and sounds and watched the baristas work. I became 100% present in my daily life more so than I think I ever have before. Cancer caused me to truly stop and “smell the roses”. I was alive standing in that line and that in itself brought me pure joy.
The gift of Focus: When I was first told I had a very aggressive form of Cancer what truly mattered in my life came into sharp focus. Things that I spent so much energy thinking about before my diagnosis became insignificant. Sitting there in the chemo chair or while laying face down on the radiation table, I never once thought about my marketing strategy, my blog stats or our out dated kitchen. What I did think about was my family, my friends, my love of nature, my passion for photography and art and my love of travel. These are the things I plan to focus on in 2016. They may not be big lofty goals but these are the things that bring me joy and that in the end these are the things I want to look back on.
The gift of Self Confidence: When I was finished with all my treatments and declared Cancer free, I felt like Superwoman for what I had gone through. My tolerance for self doubt and my perceived short comings such as my appearance, my age, my design schooling (or lack of) is close to zero. Things that used to frighten me like public speaking or truly putting myself out there now seem like a piece of cake.
Since childhood I have strongly disliked attention of any kind. Posting images of my photography or my decorating work was scary and extremely uncomfortable for me and I had to force myself to do it. Surviving Cancer has put things in a new perspective and banished a lot of this fear. It gave me the courage to participate in and actually enjoy doing the One Room Challenge. Not only did I expose myself with my decorating but it was my own home which for me was even more intimidating.
Today I am Cancer free. 2016 is fresh start and my possibilities are limitless. The one thing I don’t want is to allow Cancer to define me. Like it or not, I will always be referred to as a “survivor” and every survivor is impacted in a different way. Some end up dedicating their lives to Cancer awareness and “the cause” and that is admirable for them. I on the other hand choose not to dwell on the past. Worries about whether it will come back or what might have caused my Cancer will always be in the back of mind but I have accepted it happened, it’s over and now I want to move on and put it all behind me.
I do not want to be known as the decorator/blogger who had cancer. Instead, what I strive for going forward is to be the decorator/blogger who is filled with Joy, Focus, and Self Confidence.
Happy New Year my friends and may 2016 be our best year yet! I know without a doubt I am going to make it so. Who’s with me?
Today’s Friday photo expresses how I feel as I had my very last round of Chemo this past Wednesday. I know I have 6-8 rough days ahead but who cares…chemo is done!!!!!
Grand canyon trek Summer 2014
After a few weeks to recover from chemo I will start seven weeks of daily radiation. Other than the long daily drive for a ten minute treatment, I am not anticipating the side effects to be nearly as challenging as chemo. Upwards and onward toward perfect health.
Since being diagnosed with Cancer I have felt gratitude every day. I am grateful for good medical care, access to healthy food and a supportive family. Most of all though I am grateful for friends.
I am grateful for all the emails, cards, gifts, and inspirational FB postings. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t wake up to either an email, text or FB message just checking in asking how I am doing. I read and re-read them on days I am feeling down and they lift my spirits. I am grateful for Facebook friends who have gone through chemo and have shared remedies and tips for coping with the unpleasant side effects.
I honestly believe it is all this support that is helping me get through this without too much difficulty.
Lastly, I am beyond grateful for these lovely ladies. Not only did they willingly give up their Saturday to come and help me shave my head (before it fell out in clumps) but they arrived with a bucket of champagne, food, party hats and my very own tiara. They turned what would have been a traumatic experience into a day of fun.
I don’t think there is anyone on the planet that has more to be grateful more than me.
Have a great weekend everyone and take time to be grateful!
Fair warning: This post is long, completely personal and has absolutely nothing to do with design, decorating, color or trends.
Life as we all know is a cycle of both good times and not so good times. Just recently I was thinking about how at the moment I was in one of the good times. Everything is going so well both with my business and my personal life. My kids are “launched”, busy creating a business of their own, living in Boston and supporting themselves. My husband is employed at a job he likes and has the flexibility to work at home. I have what I consider the world’s best friends and I could not ask for better clients. I have the amount of design projects that feels just right and I was invited on two different BlogTours with Modenus and the awesome Veronika Miller. I had the time of my life on both trips and met some of the most inspiring creative people who I am blessed to say are now my friends. Yup, everything was more or less perfect.
Then in an instant my life was completely derailed. Three weeks ago I was blindsided with a diagnosis of invasive breast Cancer….wait what??? I’ve always been the healthy one. I have been eating “clean” since before it was even a thing. I exercise (at least I try to), I’ve never smoked and I do my best to keep stress to a minimum. I feel great so this must be a mistake, besides, I’m way too busy to deal with Cancer. My mind flashes to two friends, both who died in their 30’s from breast cancer, both leaving toddlers without a mom. I think of my friend Christine who is currently fighting metastatic breast cancer. I think of my Dad who died a slow painful death from lung Cancer exactly 25 years agothis week at the young age of 62, and my Mom who died 17 years later from an equally terrible struggle with brain Cancer. I think, am I going to die? This will destroy my family. I feel like I can’t breath, I feel sick, I cry.
On the drive home I think about all the things I still want to do. I have never been to Italy, I want to attend Maison and Objet in Paris and swim in Caribbean waters again. I want to visit London and I want to tour the wineries in Sonoma. I want to go back to High Point with my friends Kim, Kelly, Casey and Jeffery and see all my long distance designer friends. I think of my kids. I want to see them get married and maybe one day have a grand daughter that I can take to the Ritz for tea, and the ballet. Silly things too, like I need to paint the front door and I still haven’t ordered a new sofa for the family room.
I tell my husband, I tell my boys, I tell my close friends.
We meet with the surgeon a few days later. She is calming and very reassuring. She stresses that my Cancer is small and that I am extremely lucky it was caught early. My Cancer is stage 1 (on a scale of 1-4). The initially pathology report from the needle biopsy shows it is a type 2 Cancer (on a scale of 1-3). Not great, but thank God it is not a 3. As long as my margins and lymph nodes are clear I will not need chemotherapy, only radiation.
I try and stay as busy and distracted as possible waiting for the surgery but the word Cancer, becomes an all present loud voice in my head. I am checking out at Whole Foods and the perky 20 something cashier smiles and asks “how are you today”? I smile back just as perky and say “fine thanks”… the voice inside my head screams “I HAVE CANCER!”. I am at the bank making a deposit and the teller asks, “Anything else I can do for you today?” I smile back, “Nope, all set”. The voice screams “YEAH, CAN YOU CURE MY CANCER?”
I had the surgery two weeks ago and the news was the best it could be. Both the margins and the lymph nodes were clear. No chemo needed!!! I tell EVERYONE the good news. My husband brings home champagne, the boys come with my son’s girlfriend. We all celebrate. I feel like I have dodged a bullet. I don’t need to go public with the news because I know radiation won’t be fun but it will have minimal impact on my life and business. I have four days of bliss thinking I am in the clear.
Then we meet with the Oncologist. She is very sorry to have to tell me some unexpected bad news. The final pathology report comes back and the Cancer I have (had) is clearly type 3 (fast growing highly aggressive form). I need chemo, I will go bald, I will be tired, I will be sick, I will be a Cancer patient. For the second time in just two and a half weeks I feel completely blindsided. I can’t breath, I feel sick, I cry. This time the news seems even more devastating because I had already told EVERYONE the good news. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone the new bad news. I slowly tell people, everyone is shocked and sad.
In ten days I have Pre-Chemo “class” (I find this quit humorous because I always describe myself as a life long learner). I start treatment a few days after that. It seems somewhat surreal because I feel so healthy yet in just a couple weeks I will be bald, tired and sick. After twelve weeks of Chemo I will then have 6 weeks of daily radiation treatments. It will be almost the holidays until I’m done. I have no idea how I will feel since everyone reacts differently to chemo. My Oncologist says she has patients in their 30’s that can barely get off the couch and patients in their 70’s who hardly miss a beat.
My intention is to stay positive and work as much as possible. My friends, family, and clients have been and are, incredibly supportive. I cut my hair short(er) in preparation of what is to come. I am working like a fiend getting some painting, cleaning and house projects finished before chemo begins. I’m already scheming about how I can turn chemo treatments into a design related blog post. It will be interesting to see what colors they use in the treatment room, hopefully they are uplifting.
So my friends, my next step is a trip with my good friend and wardrobe stylist Susan kanoff to pick out a wig. I’m thinking “short and sassy” might be a good look for me.
But then again…life is short!
Enjoy the little things my friends and whatever you do, don’t put off those yearly screening tests!
Although this post is a departure from my usual, I have been wanting to share this very personal holiday story for awhile now. It’s about a woman named Gail Cronin and her holiday cranberry squares. This story actually began over thirty years ago, when I was a newlywed. My husband and I, for a reason I no longer remember, decided to give up our cute but very noisy apartment in Harvard Square and move to an idyllic little coastal town North of Boston called Ipswich.
On one of our very first weekends there we happened to drop by a Christmas fair that was being held at the First Church of Ipswich. While looking over the offerings at the bake table we decided on some yummy looking cranberry squares. They were the best cranberry squares I had ever eaten (actually they were the first cranberry squares I had ever eaten). I asked the woman at the bake table if she knew who had made them and if it was possible to get the recipe. She took my number and said she would inquire. I really didn’t expect to ever hear anything back, but the very next day I received a call from a very sweet elderly lady named Gail Cronin. She not only said she would love to share the recipe but would like it even more if I would come for a visit and have some tea.
The following weekend I paid a visit to Gail. She was the nicest, kindest, woman imaginable. She was well into her eighties and what she told me I have never forgotten. She explained that she was an only child who never married. She had no family whatsoever and most of her friends had either passed on or were very ill and in nursing homes. She told me she was an “unremarkable woman” who had an “unremarkable life”. Her final words struck me profoundly when she said, “when I die, it will be like I never even existed”.
I just couldn’t shake off how sad I felt for her and how very alone she was. I promised to pay her another visit right after the holidays. Well not surprisingly my busy life at the time got in the way. The holidays came and went and I never did contact Gail. Months later, when I did finally reach out to her I learned she had passed away just a few weeks earlier. I barely knew this woman but in some weird way I felt like I had failed her since I broke my promise to visit her right after the holidays. Her final words of “when I die it will be like I never even existed” haunted me. I made a vow that I would never forget her and that I would keep her name and my memory of her alive. I can honestly say, I have done just that. For over thirty years I have been making her cranberry squares every Christmas. Originally my family thought it somewhat strange that I pay tribute to basically a stranger but they know it wouldn’t be Christmas without Gail’s Cronin’s cranberry squares.
Here is the original recipe card she gave me if you too would like to try them. It’s time worn and stained but it is in her handwriting which somehow makes me feel more connected to her.
Gail Cronin’s Cranberry Squares side one
Gail Cronin’s cranberry squares side 2
Within months of our move to Ipswich the novelty of living in a cute little town had worn off. The reality of a 3-4 hour daily commute most likely had something to do with it and we moved back closer to Boston. Now I am not a religious person at all but I am somewhat spiritual. In looking back, I don’t know why we ended up living in Ipswich for only a matter of months but I do know something, or someone guided me to Gail Cronin. I spent less than an hour with her over 30 years ago but she has been a part of our holiday ever since.
I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year and if you have any inclination, please say a little toast to the memory of “an unremarkable woman” who had an “unremarkable life” named Gail Cronin. I have never forgotten her, and I never will.
I am so excited! I feel like a little girl going to Disney for the first time because in just five days I will be flying out to attend what is simply referred to as “High Point” or “Market”. Held in High Point NC, this event is the largest industry trade show in the world. All the top furniture, accessory, and lighting companies introduce their newest products to the trade, while celebrity designers host parties, seminars and “meet and greets” throughout the thousands of show rooms.
Social media is all abuzz with which parties to attend and which vendors are “must see” however the number one question is “what are you wearing?“ Yes, crazy I know but hey, this is the design world equivalent to attending the Oscars and one must “dress”. Of course this whole wardrobe dilemma is complicated that by fact that the hotels are all far away (45 mins. drive) so once you leave in the morning there is no going back to change. This means, walking through show rooms for 6-10 hours a day, followed by evening cocktail parties. SOOO what’s a girl to do?
In my case, I made a call to my good friend and wardrobe stylist Susan Kanoff, the owner of A great New Look . Susan is down to earth, kind, and somehow makes what could be a very unpleasant experience for someone like myself (who is not confident in either my looks or body) actually feel good about clothes. I don’t know how she does it but she does.
Susan Kanoff of A Great New Look
Susan worked her magic last week and now all my stress about what to wear is completely gone. Before we met (in my closet) Susan had “pre-shopped” for me and sent me a number of online links to dresses, jackets and shoes that she thought would be good for the trip. I ordered most of them so we started out our session with me trying on everything and Susan either giving her approval or disapproval of fit and over all look. Luckily everything Susan had me order was free shipping and return so I ordered WAY more than I needed and we had plenty to choose from.
We spent the morning putting together all my outfits and Susan accessorized everything with shoes, bags and jewelry. So that I wouldn’t forget what goes with what, she photographed everything for a style book right on my cell phone. At High Point, all I have to do is scroll through my cell phone and choose an outfit. So easy!
These are a few possibilities Susan put together for me.
I loved how she made it so easy for me by accessorizing everything.
So in five days I will be there soaking it all in and sharing all my exciting new discoveries of trends and products with my clients and my readers. If you want to see a bit of High Point for yourself be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook where I will be posting photos and updates throughout the week.
How about you? have you heard of or been to Market at High Point?