Courage: Letting go of the “seen” for the “unseen”

Words to live by, for sure! I learned this in a very literal sense as the ground beneath me fell away and I was cast out into the “deep end” of a vast, vast ocean when I was diagnosed and given such slim odds.  I quickly realized that I was being called to find a way across to a new shore in order to make it.  In doing so, I learned a HUGE lesson (and not just how to “paddle” really, really fast). The lesson is this and it’s a universal life lesson we are all called to, at one point or another, in a myriad of situations when life calls us to be more than we ever though we could be. We must dare to leave the known and reeeeach for our dreams that live first in the “unseen” in order to pull them into the “seen”.  That’s what faith is all about. And you know what? Because I know this now, and the call it really is, to bring us to something more as we step through our fear. I now make a habit of jumping in a lot more often and a lot sooner, too!  I’ve actually gotten quite comfortable in the “deep end” of life and that’s where the “magic” happens.  So I don’t know about you, but I’ve jumped in and started paddling…

See you on the other side…of your dreams.

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Celebrating The Life Of A Mentor & Visionary: Dr. David Simon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the life and legacy of a brilliant man, a gentle soul and a mentor.

I worked with David while I was out at the Chopra Center following my aggressive (and successful treatments) while undergoing their unique Panchakarma detox program. A thought leader in mind-body medicine, a guru in the emotional link to healing what is then manifested in the body, a Sufi Master and a neurologist himself, I sought his help with great reverence. So when the man, the doctor of the stars and a legend in many circles, casually kicked his feet up onto the desk in his humble office and said, “Wow, so you’ve really been ‘through it’, huh?!” I couldn’t help but laugh. And we shared that laugh and what I was to later learn, his wonderful sense of humor.

Only a  year or so later, my heart skipped a beat when I heard the news that David himself was called to walk a similar path as he, the neurologist and author of “Return To Wholeness“, an integrative guide book for people facing cancer, diagnosed himself with a brain tumor.

With his passing, the world has lost a bright beacon of light and truly enlightened being, but the heavens gained a beautiful soul who will, no doubt, continue his journey of expanding love and healing. I pray for the mending of his family and friends’ hearts, including his “brother” & dear friend, Dr. Deepak Chopra.  I am forever grateful to them both for creating a place of deep healing where I, and countless others, rediscovered a lost piece of ourselves and become more whole thanks to their great work.

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A “Behind The Scenes” Look At My Photo Shoot For MORE Magazine (at one of my most favorite places…)!

A huge thanks to MORE magazine for including my story in their “Against All Odds” piece in the February issue that’s on stands now! 

When I was initially contacted about doing this piece for MORE magazine, I was, of course, elated since it would talk about one of my long-time favorite loves…running! But it became especially meaningful (and extremely humbling) since it would discuss my journey back from the “lowest of lows” into thriving health and in doing so give an amplified voice to the underlying message that I am so passionate about sharing with others: that we can be strong and whole again—stronger even—after going through something like this.

I’ve said for a long time over the years that running has kept me sane and although it’s usually just a cheeky comment on my part, if I’m honest, there’s a lot of truth to it, too.  Running has kept me from falling off more than one “ledge” in life. The first was a ledge of sadness following my younger sister Lauren’s sudden death while we were in college together. The migration of grief was sneaky—clearly present at first for obvious reasons but then there was a slow, almost imperceptible, yet steady slide downward as my fragmented heart came undone, piece by piece, as it struggled to patch the impossible hole in it. But then there was running. It became a touchstone of sorts, an anchor in the day and in myself, an escape from my heart’s constriction and a still point with the steady pounding of the earth that seemed to be the only thing that grounded me and kept me from sliding off an edge. And, slowly, running pulled me back until one day I was moving up the hill of life towards joy again.

And then there was my diagnosis, the impossible of impossibles, which thrust me to the brink of a different ledge as I was forced to confront my own mortally, swaying over a dark abyss. As many of you know, in the irony of all ironies, I had just run my best time in a half-marathon a few weeks before I was told I was in the latest stages of a rare cancer that had few, if any, “good outcomes” that we could find. The path forward was on blind, groping faith but I was running once again, both literally as I went through the initial chemos and figuratively as I sprinted for my life. Running was the only thing that wasn’t taken away. Everything else from my old life had been instantly obliterated—my job, my future, my whole perception of the world—gone in a moment. And then that was taken, too, as I proceeded with the two high-dose chemos and bone marrow transplants.

And through it all there was the hallowed ground where it all began. I fell in love with running during my junior year in high school when, for some reason, I decided to forego playing soccer that year to try something new. I still don’t know what possessed me to “jump ship” from what all my other friends were doing but, once I started, I fell hard and fast. Looking back I think it was the place as much as the “moving mediation” part of being alone in nature, mile after mile, that stole my heart. Kennesaw Mountain seemed a sanctuary, a “hidden garden”, a place where the outside world melted away and I got lost in the beauty of the sun filtering through the high leaves, a deer darting away close by in the woods and the acute focus required to jump over roots and rocks and fallen trees. It was a playground of sorts, rustic yet sacred, gritty yet pristine, tranquil yet teeming with life—alive in every sense. I felt infused after my runs there, addicted to the high of fresh air, a clear mind and a calm spirit.

Not long after I discovered the “magic” of running, my little sister Lauren fell in love with my newfound “passion” too and we would often hit the trails for runs together.   There I was, like a mama bird, protective of the idea of her in the woods alone and yet secretly thrilled she had followed in my footsteps and loved running as much as I did. Several years past and I logged many miles in many places as I moved away and went to college, but always I would return to the trails of Kennesaw Mountain for my fill of magic and grounding, along with a nice thin coat of dirt dusting my shoes and shins. And then Lauren died and I returned once again, broken and battered by sadness, tears streaming down my face as I ran, almost as if searching for her there, yet knowing there were not enough miles I could run to find her or mend the tear in my heart.  Yet with time, it was here where I found her again, trotting along beside me in the whistling of the birds, the fresh breeze on my face, the surge of life coursing through me as I ran. It was here that her spirit echoed still on a hallowed ground where many others had moved from this life to the next. The running trails of Kennesaw Mountain meander through the battlefields where one of the final sieges of the Civil War was fought and many young souls died. There are remnants of the earthworks (protective mounds made by hand with only small shovels, spoons, cups—anything they could dig with) along with the cannons they used in a desperate attempt to hold off the Union soldiers as long as they could as the North moved to take Atlanta.

For years I would pass these fields every morning on my way to school. A low point, a foggy mist would always be settled in as I drove by. I can’t explain it but it was almost as if I couldn’t help but look, my eyes being pulled to the fields and the mist. And even though I knew better, it was as if time had stopped and it felt as though the soldiers could march out of the woods onto the field, guns raised, advancing towards their enemy. It was haunting, but not in a scary way, a beautiful way somehow. I could almost smell the gun power, hear the click of metal as the guns were cocked, the crack of a shot fired. It was as if I could feel them still there. It was only years later, after Lauren’s death, that I understood why. Their spirits echoed still, an indelible imprint of their presence remained.

After my bone marrow transplants and almost a year of “house arrest” I was finally cleared to go outside again. (I had to get special permission and wear a mask because of the potential fungus in the woods…) Kennesaw Mountain was the first place I wanted to go back to—returning once again to my special, magical, healing place. Not cleared to drive again yet (super humbling) my mom and I headed to the trails for a walk.  Donning my mask and a Nike running cap to keep my bald head warm, it wasn’t long after we set out that a gentlemen came buzzing by. “Good for you,” he yelled out giving me a thumb’s up, “I have allergies too.”  I didn’t bother to correct him and just smiled and laughed, thinking to myself, Man, if you only knew…

Anyway, as we all know, there is a happy, happy ending to this story and a modern-day miracle by any account. So this is a story of love and loss, sickness and health and a place that stayed constant and firm through it all. I think we all need a “Kennesaw Mountain”, a place to go to whatever may come, the highs and the lows, a place to ground ourselves and sometimes search the trails and past—both inside and out—in order to find ourselves again. I never could have imaged what this wooded pocket of the world would come to mean to me, what this place would carry me through, or that I would come to know the depth of myself on it’s trails—through sweat and tears, sunshine and rain, dust and roots—and that I would find a trail back “home” when I needed it the most.

So, without further adieu, here are some photos of my very fun (and surreal) outing with photographer Ben Hoffmann and team all at my special place for the MORE magazine photo shoot. Amazing.

And, yes, that’s me doing a handstand… :)

 

 

Click here to see more photos—including the bags (and bags) of clothes MORE magazine sent to our house for the photo shoot, along with the adventure of changing in the great outdoors (I think I caught a deer sneaking a peek, but I couldn’t be sure…)

And click here to read the article (and also the other four (truly amazing) women who I’m so honored and humbled to be included with in the piece)!

Thanks MORE!!

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January Is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month—Ladies, time to take a look “under the hood”!

The symbol designated to cervical cancer is the teal ribbon but I'm just not a "bow" type of girl. So here's my artsy fartsy take on paying homage to the month & movement.

That’s right, January not only marks the beginning of the new year but National Cervical Cancer/Health Awareness Month too! Ladies, it’s a good reminder to get your “stuff” checked (and make sure your mother, sister, daughters and besties do too)! I know it’s not fun, but it’s necessary. Having a Pap Smear is still the “gold standard” in early detection and well worth the look “under the hood” every year. I don’t care if the recommendations say you can go longer—go anyway.  We make time to get our hair and nails done on a regular basis and those can’t save our live, this can.

Also, PLEASE HEAR ME ON THIS. If you have any abnormal symptoms “down there”, a feeling that something just isn’t “right”—GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR. Do not press Go, do not collect two hundred dollars…GO and get checked. If I hadn’t done that, trusted my gut and acted fast there is no doubt that I would not be here today. And even though the type I was diagnosed with was super rare (large cell cervical neuroendocrine & a new stat says less than 65 cases ever documented worldwide…crazy), the point is I NEVER could have imagined it would be anything other than a routine (although annoying) bacterial infection. Instead, I was in Stage IVB of a rare, non-HPV cervical cancer with multiple metastases in my liver at my first symptom and the primary cervical tumor quadrupled in size in six days.  But I didn’t know any of this when I first picked up the phone to call my Gyn saying “something isn’t right”. Acting fast saved my life and it can save others too. You never think it’s going to be you. I know I didn’t. And it probably won’t—I pray that it’s not—but if it is (or someone you love), time is your most precious asset and you can’t get it back once it’s gone. Get checked. Please.

Also, consider looking into the HPV vaccine for yourself and/or your daughters if it’s appropriate. Do what feels right, but you owe it to yourself to at least “kick the tires” & educate yourself.

With love (and hoping I didn’t scare you too much other than to get your derriere in to see your doc…),

Alyssa

Here are the top symptoms of cervical cancer according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
  • Watery or bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

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Happy New Year: Top 12 High-Potency Antioxidant Foods That Are Good For Your Health & Your Waistline Too!

First of all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Second of all, do you know about the ORAC scale?? “Huh?” OK, then let me explain because this is a super important and an EASY way to help you chose the most optimal (and waist-friendly) options when shopping and eating. So here we go. The ORAC scale (Oxygen Radical Absorbent Capacity) broken down into english is basically the antioxidant potency of fruits and vegetables.  Antioxidants are good, right?  Right. So we need to eat more of them, right? Right. Great. Now that we’re all on the same page, you should know that the average American consumes only 1,800 ORAC units per day but that the healthy low end dose should be around 6,500 units.  Needless to say, based on those numbers, most of us are “not quite there” in this department. But the good news is there are some SUPER EASY ways to up that number when you know which foods have the highest values.  And some of them are quite surprising! Take a look at the list below and try incorporating them into what you’re already doing. In no time you’ll be well on your way to your 6,500+ ORAC units a day goal, a happier bod and trimmer waistline!

Here are the Top 12 and their ORAC values:

1. Blueberries  1 cup = 3,240

2. Cinnamon, ground  1/4 tsp = 2,675

3. Pomegranate juice  4-6 ounces = 2,490

4. Figs  1/2 cup = 2,124

5. Oregano leaf, dried  1/4 tsp = 2,001

6. Prunes  4 pitted prunes = 1,848

7. Pomegranate  1/2 pomegranate = 1,654

8. Tumeric  1/4 tsp = 1,592

9. Raspberries  1 cup = 1,510

10. Blackberries  1/2 cup = 1,466

11. Brussels Sprouts  6 Sprouts = 1,236

12. Green Tea  1 tea bag, steeped = 1,200

See why I add a hefty “sprinkle” of cinnamon on my morning oatmeal every day?? By the stats, that’s more than 1,000 ORAC units more than the average person gets in a whole day! And the best part? I hardly notice other than the increased yumminess in my oats. :)

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Officially Three Years Since My Last Bone Marrow Transplant—TODAY!

Now

Then

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crazy, huh? Seems like another lifetime ago in many ways and yet the intensity of my gratitude today is unchanged, if not stronger, than it was then for our miracle and all those that helped make it happen. Although we each must be the ones who walk the paths of our lives—challenges & tragedies included—none of us get there alone. Today I’d like to pause and recognize several of the key people, including my “dream team” at Northside Hospital and The Blood & Marrow Transplant Group of Georgia, and “The Mom’s” (as they became known for swapping turns for the 6-8 hrs daily shifts accompany me to the clinic), who helped me along mine.

My wonderful friend and former boss, Dr. Marisa Lawrence

 

My Gyn Oncologist, Dr. Gerald Feuer

 

 

My bone marrow transplant physician, Dr. Asad Bashey

My "Other Mother"/Mother-in-law, Anne Phillips

My Mom, Jeanne Allen

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Celebrating a life…

I just found out that a young woman who was diagnosed with the same rare type of cancer I had—Large Cell Cervical Neuroendocrine Cancer—died today…one day before her 34th birthday. Her’s was caught much earlier than mine yet her doctors didn’t know about the cutting-edge treatment I had and by the time I found her, it was too late. I’m working on changing that for others by working with my doctors to write up my case for the medical literature, but am saddened that her bight light has gone out so early as a wife & young mother of two. Yet I have to trust in the Divine plan of our lives that I’ve come to know so intimately along my journey and that she’s just beyond the thin veil that separates this life in the next. Praying for her family. Please use her passing as a reminder to live and to truly come alive in your life.

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Merry Christmas! Did you know that Jesus was actually born in a cave??

I know, who knew, right?! This seemed a rather timely historical tidbit, so I thought I’d share. When I went to Jerusalem this summer I was shocked to find this out and to also learn that the Sea of Galilee is actually a lake. These seemed rather important “details” that would have been nice to know (even if just from a historical perspective) after hearing about them all these years. All I could think was, “Why has no one ever mentioned this before??” Well, now I know and so do you! The photo here is of me in Bethlehem touching the spot in the cave, not the barn, where Jesus was born…pretty cool, huh? Click here to see more photos of the trip!

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Traveling this holiday? Even if it’s just to the mall, here are some tips & tricks to keep you healthy!

Probably just the Physician Assistant in me coming out… Here are my top three “go to” tips I use whenever I travel to stay healthy:

1. Squeeze a pea-size amount of Neosporin, Bacitracin or any other antibiotic ointment onto a Q-tip and circle the inside rim of each nostril before heading out the door. And, no, this won’t keep you from getting viruses (we all know that antibiotics only help with bacteria, right?)—that’s what the Flu Shot and #2 are for —but it will keep you for picking up other “nasties” along the way and, assuming you don’t go crazy or super creative with the Q-tip, it certainly can’t hurt!

2. After the plane ride, trip to the mall, office holiday party or your kids Christmas show, rinse your nose/sinuses with saline water via a neti pot to wash away any little germs that you may have been exposed to. Neti pots are sold in any regular drug store and come with directions. The key is warm water (boiled or distilled vs tap please) and about 1/2 tsp of salt (table salt is just fine) and puttin’ your big girl/boy pants on to give it a go. It feels kind of like when you get water up your nose in the pool but I assure you it’s much better than getting the flu! (This also come in handy in the Spring for those of you who suffer from allergies.)

3. And lastly, beyond the obvious gems of hand washing and drinking lots of water, the single most important thing you can do is SLEEP. I know this is super obvious and that everyone’s busy but there’s not a single thing you can do that is more important, and yet it gets missed. This use to be the one thing I thought I could skimp on in trying to get everything done, but I am much wiser now and know that it is not “optional” and is as important as breathing. There’s a lot more than just resting going on while we doze.  More on that later.

In the meantime, here’s to staying healthy as we all bustle around here and there so we can enjoy this wonderful season of family, love & joy!

Xoxo…

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And the winner is…

…ME! (Yippie!!!)

Hi Everyone! It’s official…ALL GOOD! My scan was beautifully clean and wonderfully “unremarkable”. I know it’s what we all expected, but I just never get tired of hearing it. :)

You know my sister asked me, “Alyss, were you worried about this one??” And I told her “No, but it’s weird. I know with every fiber of my being, deep down in my bones, that I’m fine and that I’ll always be fine, but it’s like…like my soul remembers.” It was the best way I could describe what I was having a hard time putting my finger on and when I said it aloud, it seemed to perfectly capture what it felt like on the inside. We all go through things, tough experiences or challenging seasons in our lives that alter us and our path. And we move on. But our souls remember.

Thank you all for your prayers, good vibes, happy thoughts, texts, messages and emails. They mean more than I could ever capture in words, but I hope you will each know my deep gratitude to and for you.

I truly am the luckiest girl in the world. And I thank God for all of it.

 

Me in my radiology friendly, metal-free clothing about to look "under the hood" & get my "glow on" this morning

 

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