Recent Story on Local TV

A local station did a nice update piece on my story this week:


Thankful for so much: Graduation, turning 30 and reaching 9 years of no sign of cancer are all coming up in the next few months amongst other things.




Mandala Fall 2011
It's been a very busy and exciting year...grateful for so many amazing opportunities and the privilege to meet so many inspiring people!

Year in Review...

Various jobs this year:

* Speaking
* Nannying
* Commissioned art


* Passed the 7 year mark of No Evidence of Cancer Anniversary on May 19th, 10 years since my stem cell transplant and 13 years since diagnosis!
* Had a clear brain MRI following numbness and twitching in my face along with neck pain...and a clear chest ultrasound (have to watch for other types of cancer because of the major radiation in that area!)
* No other major new complaints...just the usual pain, fatigue and occasional numbness, etc. but status quo.


* Am officially halfway through my Masters in Counseling and Art Therapy program...woohoo!
* Practicums:  Head Start in the spring, a treatment facility for people with eating disorders this summer and spring (fantastic supervision and experience)!

Some of the Speaking, Teaching, Volunteer and Other Opportunities:

* Awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from my grade school :)
* Spoke twice at my old grade school to the students
* Spoke on Long Island, NY to a couple of high schools and a grade school
* Spoke at a local junior high/high school
* Spoke in Washington, D.C. at the American Art Therapy Association Annual Conference (amazing experience!)
* Spoke in Indianapolis for an event for the Matthew Debono Scholarship Fund
* Spoke in Madrid, Spain during the World Youth Day activities
* Spoke at an American Public Works Association event
* Spoke with Mitch Albom (author of Tuesdays with Morrie, etc.) at a Young Presidents' Organization event (Awesome!)
* Taught an art class to children at the hospital where I was treated
* Various work with the American Pain Foundation as a PCAC member (did not renew my position after my 3-year term was up this fall)

There was a new nephew/Godson in the family and my brother got engaged and officially became a pharmacist (congrats!!).  I was fortunate to get a new car (after driving the other one for 11 years!).  A couple cousins and a couple friends got married...good times!  The company that my husband co-founded, Lockerdome, is doing really well and I'm so proud of him and his hard work!

Trips: Columbia, MO; Long Island, NY; Washington, D. C.; Indianapolis, IN; Paris, Bordeaux, Perigueux, Lourdes, France; Zaragoza, Madrid, El Escorial, Toledo, Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Fatima, Lisbon, Portugal

Thankful for: the love and support of friends, family and God and endless blessings.

Looking forward to all the exciting things that are brewing for 2012...
Upcoming Speaking/Events for 2012:
-January 4th: Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory-Hollywood, FL
-January 4th: Nativity Catholic Church- Hollywood, FL
-January 27th: Jefferson Elementary School
-January 30th: Holy Spirit Church- 250 8th graders from 12 schools
-February 10th: Leading art therapy workshop at Cancer Support Community


13 years ago today...

After emergency surgery with Carrie
I was told that there was an egg-sized tumor wrapped around T3 and T4 of my spinal cord.  It was causing numbness in my legs and chest and shutting my body and breathing down by the hour.  I was told I would go through various tests and have emergency surgery to remove as much of it as I could.  They hoped that I would regain feeling in my extremities and not be permanently paralyzed or worse-die.  My surgeon was kind enough to tell me (in his South African accent) that he was going to "talk to my like an adult" and told my 15 year old self what the outcomes could be.  While it was hard to hear, I appreciated his honesty.  That night we also met my amazing oncologist, who I cannot thank enough for everything he has done to help save my life.

It's always hard to believe how much time has passed and how much has happened in my life-for good and for bad.    That day I accepted the personal motto, "I will just do what I have to in order to get better".  I was so naive-who knew what was to come...I also somewhere along that path adopted optimism and hope.  I'm not sure where it came from exactly, but I do know that God, amazing doctors, family and friends helped a lot in my journey.

Today, I am thankful for so much it's hard to describe it all...keep taking it one day at a time!  Thank you to God, my doctors and medical team, family, friends, etc.



Trees of Hope

Trees of Hope- donated to Scrabble at the Sheldon to benefit Our Lady of Perpetual Help

"...I got to witness a miracle.  How many people can say that to St. Peter when they reach the pearly gates?  Huh?  You're a complete flatline.  Nothing and then..."  

"You must think about why..."  

"Why what?"
"Why you?  Why did you get a second chance.  God just doesn't show off-there's got to be a reason.  God gave you a second chance.  Don't squander this gift you've been given...[The scars] saved your life...they're beautiful."

-Charlie St. Cloud (30 min. mark and 57 min. mark)

I found this quote floating around in some papers when I was cleaning the other day...I am gearing up for my speech with Mitch Albom on Thursday and Thanksgiving/fall break from school.  Can't wait! 

Today, I am thankful for: family, friends, each day, good and not so fun experiences, miracles and God.



West Newsmagazine Article

Mom and I enjoying dinner in Madrid
Since I did not get a chance to write about my trip, I wanted to share this great cover story that does a nice job explaining about the trip:

West Newsmagazine article  (click on the cover page and then go to pg. 44-45)

I jumped into school just hours from returning from Europe and have been going ever since with classes, practicum and lots of activities...

Next up on speaking:  Opening for Mitch Albom (author of Tuesdays with Morrie) in November!  Can't wait!

Today, I am grateful for life experiences, blessings, learning and challenges, and most of all: family, friends and God.



Hello, August and Traveling!

LinkAs my mother says, 'You give back, you don’t give up.' You can always choose to help others. If you do, it will change you. —Susan Ford
As always, time is flying by, and where did the summer go? This summer has been AMAZING and is definitely not even close to being over.

  • PRACTICUM: with eating disorders has been fascinating. The community of patients and professionals has been very welcoming and supportive. I'm learning a lot and look forward to continuing there through December.
  • MEDICAL ART THERAPY CLASS: It was great to learn new things about the type of art therapy I am most aware of and help explain things to other classmates.
  • AMERICAN ART THERAPY ASSOCIATION: The national annual conference was in Washington, D.C. I was honored to speak at a morning plenary session about my experiences with art therapy as a patient and now as a graduate student. It was wonderful to meet many other art therapists, including a few famous names. There was a lot of great inspiration! I also had a nice time visiting with my aunt, an artist, who lives there.
  • BROTHER: He graduated with his Doctorate in Pharmacy and has passed all the tests! So proud of him!
  • BAPTISM & WEDDINGS: Our adorable Godson, Isaac, was baptized. We have had a friend wedding and a cousin wedding, with a couple more to go this year! Definitely fun to celebrate!
  • FRIENDS: Lots of fun dinners, lunches, etc. and catching up!
  • INDIANAPOLIS: Tomorrow I am speaking in Indianapolis and look forward to meeting people from the Matthew Debono Scholarship Fund (who helped pay for my summer classes and practicum).
  • FRANCE, SPAIN and PORTUGAL: I will be going on my pilgrimage soon. I can't wait and hope to share upon return!

More excitement on the horizon and it'll be fun to share as it happens...

Today, I am grateful for: life, opportunities, the generosity of others, health, family, friends and God.



Ha, it's been Awhile!

Not sure who is reading this much these days but I had a really great experience tonight...I went to the book signing/reading for Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Matt Logelin. It's the middle of finals week and I'm pretty tired and worn out. I finished one exam (and have another in the morning) and rushed back to St. Louis and got to the reading at the exact time that Matt got up to speak. Matt's wife died suddenly when their daughter, Maddy, was born. I have read his blog for years and it was great to meet him and hear him speak. It put things in perspective...people going through their challenges in life-some much bigger than others. I look forward to reading the book!

Since I last wrote, I have done a lot of reading for school, a lot of projects, papers and presentations...a lot of babysitting...I have also done a fair amount of speeches including a couple in NY. I finished my practicum at Head Start on Monday and will start one with eating disorders this summer. I will be speaking in DC and Indianapolis and travel to Europe this summer...can't wait!

Lots to be grateful for,


Speaking 2011

Upcoming Speaking/Events for 2011:
-Jan. 30: 10:30 am Mass-Our Lady of the Pillar- Distinguished Alumni Award
-Feb. 9: 8 am- Our Lady of the Pillar- upper grades
-Feb. 9: 8:45 am- Our Lady of the Pillar- lower grades
-Feb. 24: 7 pm-Our Lady of the Pillar- Speech in the church and Questions afterwards-Open to Public
-March 10: 8:20 am-Chaminade High School, Long Island, NY
-March 10: 7:30 pm- Kellenberg Memorial High School Auditorium, Long Island, NY
-March 11: Morning presensentation to students of Kellenberg Memorial High School, Long Island, NY
-March 11: Afternoon presentation to students of St. Martin de Porres Marianist School, Long Island, NY
-May 6: Chaminade High School, St. Louis, MO following all-school mass
-July 6-10: American Art Therapy Association-Washington, DC
-August 25: American Public Works Association Luncheon

Today I am grateful for so much!



There Goes 2010...

Life Mapping #2, Donation to Scrabble Night fundraiser
for Our Lady of Perpetual Food Pantry (my husband was the chair)

Well, there goes another year! Wow!

Happy New Year!
My 2010 in review...

Various jobs this year:

* The usual inspirational speaking
* Babysitting here and there
* Worked at an upscale children's clothing boutique from January-August


* Passed the 6 year No Evidence of Cancer Anniversary on May 19th!
* Got my port removed after having it for 8 years!
* No other major new complaints...just the usual pain and fatigue, etc. but it's manageable!


*Graduated with my BA in Studio Art, Art Therapy and Minor in Psychology (only 8 years in the making...)...learned about printmaking, welding, papermaking, etc.
*Participated in the BA Final Show as part of graduation
*Was accepted and started grad school this fall for Counseling and Art Therapy and have been working with 3-5 year old children from the Head Start program as my first year practicum

Some of the Speaking, Teaching, Volunteer and Other Opportunities:

* Speech at St. John Vianney High School on Blessed Chaminade's Feast Day
* Speech at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's 2010 Celebration of Cancer Survivorship
* Documentation and testimonies were taken in St. Louis and sent to the Vatican for the possible canonization of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade in regards to my miraculous cancer recovery
* Designed and helped create a large mural in a tunnel at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital
* Taught an art class to children at hospital where I was treated
* Modeled in the Friends of Kids with Cancer fashion show as a survivor
* Various work with the American Pain Foundation as a PCAC member

There were 2 new nieces and 1 nephew and 2 new cousins' daughters born this year!

Trips: Columbia, MO; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; Princeton/Evansville, IN

Thankful for: the love and support of friends, family and God and endless blessings.

Looking forward to 2011...



8 Years

Monday marked 8 years that it's been since I learned I had weeks to live. I am truly grateful each day. I pinch myself when I think of where I've been and the people and experiences that have happened in my life. I truly feel blessed...

I stumbled upon this video below today and it definitely brought back a lot of memories-especially during the year and a half I lived with that tumor and never knew if it was my last day...I'm thinking of and praying for all the families who are going through these experiences these holidays...

Today, I am so grateful for so much.




“Because life is a living, breathing work of art, you are a painting as you go. Be a masterpiece. Drink in life. Laugh too loud. Compliment others constantly.”

—Nicole Johnson



Just checking to say that I am feeling grateful each day to be in graduate school for art therapy and counseling...it's been a long road but I'm finally here :).

I also was able to teach a children's art class at the hospital where I was treated to children in the hospital. It was a great group and I even got to see an old friend's family (even though it wasn't for a good reason).

I was asked to donate a couple of art pieces to an art therapy benefit and auction. It was a fabulous event and I was glad to be a part of it!

Another speaking engagement (locally) went well in August and I was just as inspired by the audience I met afterward!

Today, I am grateful for: God, new friends, old friends, family, hope, grad school, amazing people in my life that have helped me and continue to help me...and so much more!




This summer I have been working on designing and drawing an enormous mural with 2 of my close friends.

The theme: under the sea

The walls: very long (215 feet long to be exact), of a formally scary dark tunnel that connects 2 hospitals (SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and St. Louis University Hospital). Some kids go through the tunnel to do radiation and other procedures at SLU. It is also used by many employees and patients of both hospitals.

There was a group of volunteers that came to help us paint it since it was such a big project but we drew and designed everything on the walls beforehand.

Here are some pictures of our finished work:

Today, I am grateful for: life, happiness, good things, grad school starting soon, God, family and friends!



Miracle Story

This week has brought a lot of press concerning my miracle and my prayers to Blessed Chaminade and the Catholic Church.

I am grateful for the kind words from people and hope that this story can help others in some way.

I want to share my favorite story, reported by Maggie Crane from KMOV:


Today, I am grateful for so much it is overwhelming!




It's been a whirlwind of work, friends and family since we returned from our wonderful trip to Nashville. We felt very blessed to have been invited to such a terrific event. We met lots of amazing people and really enjoyed Nashville.

Tomorrow, I am reaching a milestone-for many cancer survivors, that is. Awhile ago I wrote a post about my port. Well, tomorrow is the big day that we will be parting ways. Even though I still go to the doctor every 3 months, I have decided after 7 years together, we are going to break up. You've been a good sport, Port.

Before the craziness of grad school starts, I figured I would have the time to rest after getting it out and can muster up the strength to get stuck in my arm every 3 months...

Pros of getting it out:
-No more plastic device in my body
-It's a step in healing
-I could (if I wanted to) play high impact sports
-Do not have to worry about it getting infected
-Forced rest

-I've had to stop one of my medicines for a few days and it has left me with horrible headaches and soreness...ugh.
-It's surgery with an incision, soreness and possible complications (low chance)
-I will have to get IVs in the arms again
-If I ever need to get a port again, my places to put a new one will be limited (I have had 2 external central lines and I think 3 internal ports over the years).

Today, I am thankful for a wonderful summer, hope, friends, family, and God.



2010 Celebration of Cancer Survivorship

Metamorphosis from the 2008
Lilly Oncology On Canvas™ Exhibit

If you are going to be in or around Nashville next weekend (June 6th), join me at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's 2010 Celebration of Cancer Survivorship . I will be keynoting the event and my husband will play a part too! There will also be artwork from the amazing Lilly Oncology On Canvas™ Exhibit.

For more information visit: http://www.vicc.org/2010/celebration/

This should be a spectacular event and I have been looking forward to it since last fall when I found out I would be speaking!

Today, I am grateful for a wonderful summer so far, family, friends, God and amazing opportunities to meet and touch others.



6 Years! Woohoo!

Crazy...it doesn't seem like 5 years was that long ago. Today marks 6 years since the cardiovascular thoracic surgeon cut through 3 major back muscles, stretched and cut ribs and moved other vital organs out of the way. All done to remove Spanky, the small Nerf football-sized tumor, that was nestled between my heart, lung, spine and pulmonary artery! And the biopsy days later showed the tumor had died miraculously with little treatment and my organs survived with manageable side effects.

Still hard to believe it all happened...but I am incredibly thankful to God and my medical team. They continue to get me through every day.



BA Show

As part of my graduation, I was in the Bachelor of Arts-Studio Art show. I wanted to share a few images from the show. I cannot believe graduation is so soon!

Ceramic piece: Facing My Back

This piece addresses the scars on my back that are from the extensive tumor removals and resections. The scars represent all of the healing and trauma that has gone on within my body-emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually-since being diagnosed for the first of three times.

Painting Title: Inside Grief
Acrylic on Wood

This piece is representative of the feelings that emerge sometimes about having had cancer three times and all that it entails. Usually, I am very positive but this shows the other side.

Sculpture piece: Tumor
Wire, fabric and LED lights

Hanging sculpture piece: To Mix, To Suspend, To Simplify

Clear Thread, Hot Glue and Fabric

Painting Title: Hope
Acrylic on Canvas

Dragonflies are my personal symbol of hope.

Today, I am grateful for coming this far, family, friends, new opportunities and much more!



Interesting Read

As with most of the years, I enjoyed this year's winning essay from Glamour magazine's essay contest: I Chose to Live by Maia Morgan.

Check it out here.

My favorite quote was at the very end. It resonated with me:

But here's the thing: I don't think you move on, really, from the past. You do, but you don't. You carry it with you. You make it as light as you can. As light as feathers.

Today, I am grateful for so much. Life is good!



Graduate School

I had interviews this past weekend for graduate school...one day of group interviews and the next day was a 15 minute interview with the faculty and me. I thought it went well and was fun too.

I just found out I was one of the lucky 10 accepted into the Graduate Art Therapy Counseling Program for this fall!

I couldn't be more excited as this is one of my life's goals-to become an art therapist!

Today, I am grateful for this exciting news, the family, friend, God and experiences that have brought me to this point in my life!



James "Rhio" O'Connor Memorial Scholarship Essay Contest

Essay for the James "Rhio" O'Connor Memorial Scholarship Essay Contest

Rhio O’Connor’s story inspires me from different aspects. First, he inspires me because the only person I knew growing up that had cancer was my paternal grandfather. Not only did he have cancer but he had the same type that O’Connor did- mesothelioma. Mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium) is a disease in which cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide without control or order. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also metastasize (spread) from their original site to other parts of the body. Most cases of mesothelioma begin in the pleura or peritoneum. My grandfather’s case was caused by his lifetime of extensive work as a sheet metal worker around asbestos before they knew the dangerous effects of this substance. He was a fairly healthy man who was crippled by this cancer and died within a year of diagnosis at the age of 67. I was close to my grandfather and was even there when he passed away on Thanksgiving.

To my surprise, several years later at the age of 15, I was diagnosed with a very rare type of cancer- Askin’s Tumor. My cancer was also in my chest but my initial tumor pressed on the top of my spinal cord. After a couple of months and back pain, it eventually led to the beginning of my body shutting down before I had emergency surgery.

Then, chemotherapy began immediately. Being an artist, my bald head became a challenging canvas-if people were going to stare I might as well give them something to see! After a year, I was gladly done. I struggled with feeling older and that continues to be challenging, but I have learned to make it a positive.

In December 2000, cancer was discovered in my bone marrow. It was discouraging but I was not giving up. For the next 5 months, I was in the hospital. Randi, a fellow patient, was fading quickly from a courageous fight with cancer. In her last hours, she looked at me and told me, “Rachel, I will keep fighting in heaven and you must promise me that you will never stop fighting here.” I have never broken my promise.

I missed the second half of my senior year but graduated with my class. Then, for my bone marrow transplant, I had a very intense regimen of chemotherapy in order to kill my entire immune system and brought me close to death. A few days later frozen cells were put into my body to grow a healthy immune system. They discovered I had 2 extremely serious infections but once again surpassed all odds and pulled through. I learned to walk and eat again, enjoying each day and started doing more charity work.

Fall came and I started college for the first time. Once again my body was screaming that something was wrong. We learned a new tumor was growing between my heart, lung, and spine. We had exhausted our medical options and I had weeks to live but I believed there is always hope.

This was when my love for art, poetry and helping others really took off. Doing creative things became my way of leaving myself behind. My goal was to continually have something to look forward to. I despised the thought that if I died, I would become another statistic. Three months passed and I seemed alright and got on with my life!

In the fall, a whole year having passed, I was still alive. My doctors had scoured the globe for options. All the experts believed that I definitely would not be cured ever.

By May 2004, a surgeon came to my hospital and wanted to take the tumor out. Surgery went smoothly and he removed the tumor that was size of a small Nerf football.

The biopsy results showed the tumor had completely died inside me. In medical terms, it is a completely unexplainable. It has been 5.5 years since that surgery and I am the only known case to survive a relapse of Askin’s Tumor following a bone marrow transplant. I find great joy in seeing the positive sides of everything I have been through.

My efforts took me all the way to Denmark to help give global awareness and raise money towards sarcoma cancer. Another positive example out of many is my trip to Washington D.C. where I talked to Congressmen about cancer funding. I am now the only nominated young adult member of the American Pain Foundation’s Pain Community Advisory Council.

I try to balance the advocacy work with other things like college. I have accepted that cancer will never leave me. It is embedded in me-physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It makes me so grateful to be in such an amazing country with so many opportunities.

O’Connor’s story reminded me of the will to never give up on hope and how I felt that when I was facing horrible odds and then eventually a 0% chance of survival. With the help of my doctors, family and friends and God, we never gave up and tried every possible angle we could to try to extend my life expectancy. It was also important to do something each day that was enjoyable-no matter how small-because none of us really knows how long we have on this Earth.
Cancer is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. Because of it, I am driven to become an art therapist and continue helping others through my speaking, writing, art and volunteering. As Albert Einstein once said, “There are 2 ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I choose the latter. Miracles have allowed me to live and I am forever grateful.



There is a God

I really like this newer song, sung by Lee Ann Womack, There is a God.

The part that always gets me is, "Stop and think about what you don't understand/ Things like life and love and how the world began/ Hear the doctor say he can't explain it, but the cancer is gone/ Chorus: There is a God/ There is a God/ There is a God/ How much proof do you need?"


Try and put your arms around
a 100 year old tree
Climb up on a horse
and let it run full speed
Take a look down at the world from 30,000 feet
on your next flight

Watch a flock of birds
against the morning sun
Close your eyes and listen
to the river run
Catch a firefly in your hand
or a raindrop on your tongue
That's right

There is a God
There is a God
There is a God
How much proof do you need?

Plant a seed and see
what comes out of the ground
Find the heartbeat on your baby's ultrasound
In a few years hear it laughing,
and don't it sound like a song?

Stop and think about
what you don't understand
Things like life and love
and how the world began
Hear the doctor say he can't explain it,
but the cancer is gone

There is a God
There is a God
There is a God
How much proof do you need?

Science says it's all just circumstance
Like this whole worlds just an accident
But if you want to shoot that theory down,
Look around

Just look around

There is a God
There is a God
There is a God,
How much proof do you need?

Oh there is a God
There is a God
There is a God
How much proof do you need?

Today, I am grateful for God, friends, family, no sign of cancer and much more!



Update and Articles...

I've been doing some PR interviews lately and have enjoyed the experience.

One article is about the cost of cancer on MarketWatch.com: Poor prognosis on payments: You can survive cancer and still be laid low -- by the bills (my quote on pg. 2) and mention of the amazing organization the SAMFund!

The other article, about cancer and pain, appears on the front page of Pain Solutions Magazine's website: A Breakthrough in Understanding Cancer Pain: THE AMERICAN PAIN FOUNDATION’S NEW SURVEY REVEALS THE VAST PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND FINANCIAL TOLL OF BREAKTHROUGH CANCER PAIN

Finally, I received my letter from grad school. I am one of 30 candidates for the Art Therapy Counseling Program!! I have interviews in a couple weeks and then they will pick 10 of us as the final class. I am very excited about the process.

Today, I am grateful for peacefulness amongst the hectic, joy amongst pain, supportive family, amazing friends and God and things always working out some way or another!



A good friend...

“A good friend is a connection to life―a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.”

Lois Wyse

Thankful for all my friends-of all ages, from various parts of the world, of various relationships I have with them...everything :).



Grad School

I just got back from mailing my grad school application for an Art Therapy Counseling Program. I am so excited to be (hopefully) getting so close to starting on a life dream that I've had since high school: becoming an art therapist. Art therapy was something that was very pivotal and motivational for me throughout my bouts with cancer. It is something I still use to provide some relief from the chronic pain that my treatments have left me with.

It is something that I did in an apprenticeship setting this past summer and reaffirmed that this is something I want to do-for others. When I am helping others, I feel empowered and it, too, helps my pain levels and I do not think about them as much.

I am really hoping that I will be accepted into the competitive program.

Today, I am thankful for so much and the people around me who support me through everything.