I am an Occupational Therapist

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I’m an Occupational therapist. After 5 years of college and earning a Masters degree, I’ve worked the past 3 years in acute care hospitals on many different levels from trauma and ICU, orthopedics, med surgical, pediatrics, cardiology, and oncology! When I think about what can an OT do for me now that I have cancer… My first reaction is nothing. I typically see the sickest of the sick once their admitted to the hospital, but quite frankly, If an OT was sent to me, i’d tell them to leave. (Bye Felicia)

Or do I really need an OT in my life? Is my inner OT becoming jealous? What is the role of OT in oncology?

From morning aches that make my body feel like it were hit by a Mack truck, days of non stop nausea, and nights of sleepless nonsense running through my head, where has my perfectly “aligned” life gone. I am a huge fan of a model I learned in OT school known as the PEO (person, environment, occupation) Model. This model in a snip it takes a person, their environment in which they live or are surrounded, and the “occupations” or things that make a person who they are… Like interests or hobbies. It then draws the circles that interlap… When something is knocked off balance ie: by cancer, their “PEO fit” or the area where all three circles align is thrown off, thus “occupational dysfunction” occurs.

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Okay, I’m not going to bring you back to my college days… But I think I’m on to something here! I, Meghan Franz am currently dysfunctional! OMG!

OT friends help me out here as I explain.

  1. Exhaustion- they told me I’d be more tired… Well you can say that again! I never ever ever thought I could possibly sleep for 22 hours in 1 day! Oh ya, that happened! That is far too much sleep for one human being. I know my body is tired and fighting a whole lot. It’s like having its own war! However, Mulan and the Huns did indeed rest in between battles even aside from the random avalanches (Disney reference). All I’m saying is rest is good to a point! I need to bring out my good ole activity configuration… I need a schedule, please find me an OT and quick!!!
  1. Fatigue- the first time I noticed my energy decreasing was when I was vacuuming my couch. Many of you may know I have a 7-month-old yellow lab, whom sheds like a bear! I being the neat freak I am, vacuums almost daily! I was vacuuming one day and needed to take breaks because I was getting over heated and my arms were tired. Wow! I actually had to pace my self, rest and use energy conservation! Say what!!!! I never ever thought people actually listened when I educated about seated rests! I even use a stool when I do dishes. Question is… Was it instinct? Or is my brain just oozing with OT tricks of the trade that I instinctively knew to use those techniques? Hmnnn….
  1. ADLs- what the heck is that? A new chemo medication? NO. A diet? NO! Just those daily things we OTs like to call Activities of Daily Living. The bathing, dressing, brushing your teeth or grooming type things. I won’t get all technical by introducing IADLs or instrumental activities of daily living like cooking, cleaning, or having sex! But… Let me tell you! I’ve become a lazy bum! Chemo kicks butt, but… It also makes you exhausted therefore getting dressed or putting on makeup is even exhausting! I’m convinced God makes you lose your hair through chemo because if I had my hair it would be one more thing to do and I just wouldn’t have the energy. I hate to admit this but there’s been weeks I’ve worn the same PJs for days— ew! Or days I’ve thrown a beanie on and no makeup (OMG just no!) this is chemo reality. And i go out like that… Don’t judge me👊🏻. My family comes over and begs to help with the cleaning and stuff around the house… It just kills me to accept the help truthfully. (I’m also a brat and like things done a certain way). It is encouraging that there are services for breast cancer patients to help with these things because literally just by putting a load of laundry in I need a nap! I feel like this is such a huge area that we OTs can make an impact in for on oncology patients…any OT friends need some per diem;)
  1. Cognition- okay this is very hard for me to admit. When I first started chemo the nurses warned me of ” chemo brain” sounded contagious but come on, really what else could I contract?! Oh, that’s just it! Chemo Brain! It comes when you least expect it… But if you thought I was ditzy before… Spend a day with me now! Okay so they say this is all reversible and OT friends if you try to MOCA or ACL me, I’ve been practicing for this specific reason;) It’s crazy though. For thanksgiving i was baking with johns cousin and simply wanted to double a recipe. I couldn’t figure it out. I started crying but my brain wasn’t making the connections. I cannot keep track my medications for the life of me, and i get lost driving very easily. They call it chemo brain:( any cognitive strategies for these above issues aside from med lists and memory games message me please! 😉
  1. Coping skills- if anyone has every said that having any kind of cancer is easier over another, they were a big fat LIAR! Its not that HAVING cancer that is the hard part, because frankly before you’re diagnosed who knows how long the “cancer” has actually been in your body. It’s the God-awful treatments and physical changes that a patient goes through that is that hardest part. My sisters, dad and I went to Olive Garden for lunch one visit and I was having really bad hot flashes so I went bald. As we were walking out of the restaurant my sister asks me, “do people stare at you like that all the time”, truth is YES! Without a wig or hat people are constantly judging or at least wondering about my baldness, and it sucks! When I go to the mall and people ask me if they can pray for me, that’s kind but please stop putting hands on me right then and there… Like that is embarrassing! Kind gesture for sure, but come on people. I am neither the first nor the last bald girl to walk the planet! For me, my blog has become a positive coping mechanism. I am able to write what I feel and help other people in a similar position as me! So, journaling aside… I just chose to make mine public;)
  1. Work balance- The day I got an appointment with my PCP and asked my boss to leave work early because I found a lump in my breast and just wanted to get it looked at all the way back in October was the last day I was able to work. It kills me because I love my job, I love my patients, and i love the team I work with! From gazillion appointments to the effects of treatment, it is near impossible right now for me to have the energy to treat people that are sick when I am sick myself! We aren’t talking going to work with a cold here… Literally me working in a hospital whether I be on the orthopedic floor, general medical surgical, cardiac, or oncology unit, right now it can be detrimental to my entire recovery. My white blood cells are affected by the chemo, if I work in a hospital and pick up the tiniest of bugs… I can find myself in the hospital. At 26 years young, this is extremely hard to wrap my brain around. I’ve caught myself saying “my education is a waste”, “ill never work again”… Truth is, I will… I just have to have patience and realize this is TEMPORARY!

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With that all being said, whether it be the “cancer” or the treatments, it affects a person as a whole! The things that used to be just part of my normal routine are completely affected and the truth is, right now there isn’t much I can do about that. Change is all part of this whole recovery process. From the physical to emotional parts, a person is affected on all levels of everyday life. OT’s have the skills to see a patient with cancer as 1. An individual but also 2. A human being! Patients with cancer still have things that are so meaningful in our lives… We just have to alter the way we do things to enjoy life just the same as before! We aren’t just bald little aliens who were dealt an unlucky card! I am still Meghan, I am still 26 years old… And I am still an Occupational therapist!

Photography by:  Sasha Danielle Photography

XO Meg

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39 thoughts on “I am an Occupational Therapist

    • Hello, it was very nice reading your blog. I’m 24, also an OT and I had 2 brain operations. The second left me paralyzed on the right. I have made a wonderful(but slow) recovery since. I also realized how much you need an OT. The most important lesson I learned is that you don’t change. You are still you even if you can’t use your hand or can’t walk. And to never just treat an arm or a leg and miss the person. I am also not working (or driving) and the patience part is very hard for me. I saw an quote which I think is very appropriate: Be quick and learn to be patient. I hope all of the best for you.

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    • I join the OT’s with Cancer Club!! You will do well – I have been fighting cancer since I was 19 yr old, and have had 14 separate battles: cervical.ovarian (twice) breast (3 times) melanoma, thyroid, colon, skin and lymph…….plus been hit by a drunk driver (and now very bionic – interior prosthetic leg, TKR other leg, arms held up with fishing line and anchor bolts) back fused in 3 places, neck in 2 places, and then had a rare brain bleed that resulted in craniotomy and learning how to walk, talk and all ADL’s over again – the GOOD thing is: OT”S ROCK and know how important FUNCTION, FAMILY, FRIENDS, FAITH, FUN and so much more is………keep taking it one day @ time – who knows – you could get hit by a moose tomorrow!! Blessings from Alaksa!

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  1. I loved what you wrote..I guess it is like “physician heal thyself”…recognizing what kind of OT you need to practice on yourself will help you get through this. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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  2. I am an OT as well, and can relate to what you’re saying. I don’t have cancer, but I struggle with MS. And it’s a daily battle!! But we come out of it stronger. The Day you go back to work you realize you have a completly different way of connecting with youre patients!! Keep youre head high and keep going!! As you’ve allready byen told- things will be Better. FYI: This post reached all the way to Norway where I live and work 😊

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    • Oh my goodness Norway! Thats amazing!!! I never expected to reach so many people! I am so so blessed! Thank you for reading and commenting:)!

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  3. Meghan, you wrote the things I have experienced, as a P.T. with cancer. Even though I had treated oncology patients, actually having effects of chemo was more than I imagined it would be. And did I need a P.T. ? Yes….and an O.T !

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  4. Thanks for sharing, I can really feel your paint, thought and fight. It’s really hard time, to have cancer treatments – but hang in there!! You can do it!!

    35 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer and today about 1 1/2 years after finishing treatment – I am able to work 4 days a week. Even thou I still makes progress, I can feel my body struggling each and every day…. My energy is low, my brain is slow….but I’m getting forward. Slowly. And I’m full of happiness about my life, family, friends, co-workers and….yes about all of my life. I’m so Grateful!

    Continue to stay positive, and do your best every day!

    Love, from Hege a Norwegian OT

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  5. I have lived your exact same story and now at 40 I am 13 years and 9 years post active treatment. We OTs have a ton to offer. Your mind will be blown when you start to navigate survivorship and the amount of time it takes to rebuild. I am now a lymph edema therapist and work with breast cancer rehab. Amazing how much my own diagnosis taught me!

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  6. OMG! It was such a relief to read your post. I am a COTA who six months ago was ordered to stop working because I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I can fully relate to everything that you said in this blog post! I have more than 10 years experience in the field of occupational therapy… But just like you, I started wondering if all of the OT stuff kicking in was my instinct or is it just all of my training? It truly is a difficult battle when you know what to expect and you remember telling your own patients how to deal, and then yet you find yourself struggling and coming to terms with everything that you never expected to face. I to have created a blog and you are certainly welcome to check mine out as well. I wish you the best of luck in your battle with cancer and I hope that you overcome it. I too also understand the feeling of wasted education… But, as we tend to tell our patients, life changes and along with these changes, our life roles change. We are adaptable creatures and we just have to remember that despite our illnesses / disabilities we are still alive and fighting our fight. My blog is called “Broken Butterfly : A Life Modified”

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  7. Wow, awesome article. Thanks for sharing your life with us Meghan and all the best to you. I’m an OT as well and love how well you marketed our valuable role. #OTlove

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    • Your words were soooo touching to me today! This is a long curvy road but one day I know it will straighten out again! We are young… And i think thats why we were put into this situation, to share our experience and help others understand, personally and professionally because that helps the world to be better place! we all have our quirks, and if we can admit them… That makes them not so awkward! Its the point of being himan right;) out of my journey, my greatest goal is to help others! I hope that happens with my blog… And when i return to being a professional oT… We shall see! Thank you for your kind words! Sparkle on*

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  8. I too, am an OT, as well as a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed when I was still in undergrad, and that is partly what opened my eyes to OT. I didnt have a therapist, other than a lymphedema therapist, but I had the opportunity to shaddow one, and fell in love with the profession. I guess I wish I knew then, what I know now. I sure could have used some energy conservation techniques and memory strategies 😉

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  9. Hello Meghan! I just read your article and honestly, I have a huge amount of respect for your bravery by putting out your situation in public for people to see and learn how breast cancer can affect a person and their life. I actually have a few tips/tactics in regards to your cognitive issues that may help you. I am an Athletic Therapy student by trade and I suffered my own fair share of concussions. That being said, my brain was always in fuzz mode and everything around me was a constant blur. So here are things that I did to help me focus and get my brain back to doing what it does best. Being brainy!

    1. Listening to podcasts: I always had trouble understanding when people spoke to me because I was easily distracted by the way their mouths moved or how their eyes widened when they talked. It can be extremely boring if its a topic you do not enjoy or if the person on the other side is extremely monotone so I suggest you choose a topic you have an interest in. Listen for about 10 minutes a time (or less if you cannot tolerate 10 minutes). And then paraphrase to yourself what the speaker was saying. If you can tolerate more, then feel free to progress to another 10 minutes. Just be careful not to overload your brain and to respect your limits. Obviously, you know this, because we tell our patients this ALL the time! 😛

    2. Reading with music: I always found listening to classical/chillstep/non-lyrical music while reading was a blessing. My brain was able to focus and block out other background noise when I read with music. Having my pair of Urban Ears noise-cancelling headphones was a gift from heaven when it came to recovering from my concussion. And follow the same parameters as tip #1.

    3. Meditation: Ahh, the good ol’ meditation. Honestly, I don’t do the other 2 anymore, but meditation I have still continued to this day. I do roughly 5 minutes in the morning everyday right after breakfast. (A man’s gotta eat! :P) It allows me not only to remain focus and block out every single distressing thought out there, but I focus on my fine postural muscles, the quality of my breathing, the muscular contractions of my abdominals and chest as I breathe in, the strong contraction of my heart as it steadily beats powerfully from my core. My thoughts revolve around the present moment of my body and how I fully appreciate each and every mechanism of my body. I do my meditation with Hans Zimmer’s “Time” from the movie Inception. It allows me to fall into a trance-like state. I realized I have been a lot more mellow and less anxious as a person since I started meditating regularly, to the point where anxious people become calm when I am around. I tend to give off a certain aura of calmness, I guess, lol.

    Anyways, I hope this helps. Best of luck with your recovery. And remember, this too shall pass..

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  10. This was a great read and I wish you well on your journey to recovery! I’m an OT in Sydney Australia, currently working in a med onc and neuro rotation. In regards to cognition there are a few memory/reminder apps available (not games) and even some that will buzz if you’re near a particular place. E.g. you need to remember to buy milk on your way home, you enter it in the app, and the location you’re planning to purchase and before you can drive or walk past it will buzz and remind you!
    Diaries are also good, and reminder notes around the house or on the main door. With doubling a recipe the only thing I can think of is a calculator is your best friend. And if you cook a lot perhaps a sign on one of your cupboards saying “to double times by 2” etc as reminders of what to input in those moments that chemo brain is worst. The sign could work to add several different reminders for you around the kitchen!
    Last year I was in a minor car accident, and although I didn’t present to hospital (hahaha i didnt want to go to work!) I suffered a back injury. For months on end I just kept pushing on and getting by and without realising it I was “OT-ing” myself! Stool in the kitchen, seated rest breaks, adapting and changing the way I completed my daily tasks. It wasn’t until the my sciatic pain got worse and constant (numb sandy feet right down to every single toe) that my mum begged me to see our family doctor. I kind of let it get out of hand because I was being my own therapist. Am now on the right track to recovery and sciatic pain only on a bad day! Still OT-ing myself and my ADLs but now onto weekly PT and soon exercise physiologist for a strengthening program. I feel like OT-ing myself just came naturally!

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    • See that! We (ots) do sorta know what were talking about. I love love love ur recommendations! I OT myself and everything around me, its just who I am:) i love having a job like that!

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  11. I am an OT who works in oncology. OT can make a huge difference in QOL for cancer pts. We start where the person is at , and help them reach their goals. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. Keep plugging away, and do things that help you physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Have you ever tried Pilates? We have written a book entitled Pilates for Breast Cancer Survivors:: A Guide to Recovery, Healing and Wellness. Start with the breath. Thank you for your perspective.
    Naomi

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  12. Meghan-
    First of all, I want to say you’re awesome. This takes courage to post for the world to see. And it means the world to read this and be able to relate to it on so many levels.
    I am 22 years old and in my masters program to become an occupational therapist. My freshman year of college I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive tumor on my jaw. Denial played a huge role in my life and I stayed in school while completing my chemo treatments. I am about to do my level 2 fieldwork at large cancer center. I found myself relating to a lot of your post. Journaling was the most amazing thing for me, and helped me through a lot. Fatigue, social participation, and hair loss were the things that devastated me. But something I’ve learned 3 years post chemo is that my experience is going to help me as an OT relate on a deeper level to my future patients.
    Energy conservation is key, letting people in to help you is the hardest thing in the world (but something we (will) tell our patients to do, and have to do during these hard times). I can tell you are kind and deserving of love and happiness simply by the field you’re in. No one deserves the word cancer or chemo, and it saddens me that you’re unable to be doing what you love. I wish you the absolute best on your road to recovery. And I am excited for you to reach the day you can go back to work. I love that you’re acknowledging that his is temporary because my favorite quote throughout chemo was ” this too shall pass.”
    Sending lots of love your way.

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    • Im not sure why i didnt see this comment sooner, but wow! Girl you are the amazing one! I am happy to say I am back to fulltime work as an OT! Although i have changed settings, i have my dream job, life is so so good!

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  13. Hi Meghan,
    I’m feeling great empathy for your feelings right now. I was diagnosed with an under-active thyroid whilst completing my final year of an OT BSc (UK) last year. I have the symptoms of extreme tiredness, aches and pains and cognitive problems. I take a synthetic hormone which helps me manage these.
    I test myself, through out the day. Can I do my times tables? Can I remember the mental ‘to do’ list rehearsed the night before? This is a good mental exercise in itself. Checking if I can remember what I had for breakfast can stimulate my long term memory and I find I don’t struggle so much.
    If I spot any problems I reassess my to do list and factor these in. I prioritise and now able to defer and to delegate tasks which helps. Delegating is a positive for me, one time I would have felt I’d been defeated by not being able to do the task. Now, knowing a task will be completed is good and is crossed off my list.
    When I am too tired to be physically active I do puzzles like find a word and crosswords (using a dictionary when needed). When I cannot concentrate for long enough I rest and set my mind to take the long term outlook and think positive thoughts.
    Supplementing my diet with essential fatty acids, B12, Vit D and iron helps too.
    Wishing you well for your complete recovery.
    Luv & peas,
    Miriam, x x x.

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    • I cannot imagine being in your situation. I just read a quote, “you only know how strong you are… When strong is the only choice you have”. Keep implementing your amazing OT skills… And sparkleon*

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  14. hi Meghan… your writing is heart touching. and the pictures- oh you look beautiful in them n im sure you are as beautiful even now 🙂
    im an occupational therapist in India and read your article through another Indian friend’s facebook share n you will be happy to know that from Norway to Virginia to India- you are becoming famous ! and being loved and blessed!!
    before i read your article, i used to think quite as u thought initially- how much role an occupational therapist can play in an oncology set up?? but now im convinced. it’s the same as for any other illness. occupational therapist helps out with the SMALLER DETAILS of life which sometimes make ALL the difference. from holding a spoon to energy conservation techniques, an OT is of good help. your education is never a waste, cause think of what life would have been for you without knowing those small tactics here and there which help you PERFORM as much as you do 🙂

    keep up with the positive spirit Meghan and you will be back to your ADLs as well as IADLs soon because You are You!!! and you are a “never-say-no” occupational therapist..!

    wish you a speedy recovery and may God bless you always 🙂

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    • You are so so absolutely correct!!! It is allll about the smaller things in life, hey they do most times mean the most right;) yay for an Indian fan;)!!!!! I am so so blessed for my story to reach around the world!

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  15. Bless you, Meghan.
    Cancer treatment sucks. I’m in it right now, diagnosed at 31, and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we use “cancer” in everyday speech- as something pernicious and invading that secretly permeates Everything. Of course, that’s true of the actual medical condition, but in my experience, as with yours, the treatment and general aura of cancer is what poisons everything- from my intestines to my bones to the lining of my mouth to work to my love of running to my closest relationship… and so on, as you well know.

    And yet, I’m still me. I’m still young and active and curious and interested in the world. I want a career, love, family, travel, stability; I want to make a positive difference, and I want to remember that I’m still very lucky in so many ways compared to so many people in the world.

    Your writing is refreshing in its honest, holistic view. You share honestly your physical complaints of treatment (and how devastated they can make you feel at times), you admit your quirks, and you finish with a resounding call to carry on with your life. You’re a complete, complicated person… as you should be! and As are we all! Your words help me to be confident that everything I’m experiencing is “normal” and that, really, deep down, I’m fine. We’ll get through this, gal!!

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  16. An OT for 30 years (half clinical, half as an academic fieldwork coordinator), I have had my own brush with cancer. PA has the highest rate of thyroid cancer in the country and I found out I was one of those statistics in 2010. 5 years later I am cancer free and considered healed. But as anyone with a chronic thyroid condition knows, it is more than just a simple or time-limited process. I have a new normal and it’s one of reduced energy. Periodically, the skin itchiness strikes. I have these random endocrine-related issues that impact my performance and endurance. Word-finding issues arise when I’m in the middle of a teachable moment with a student or my son. So yes, my skills (for both psychosocial and physical needs) as an OT have been invaluable during and after my cancer experience. OTs are more valuable to more patients than insurance companies would have us believe. So advocate for what you know and empower ALL your patients!

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    • Congratulations! Wow a 5 year battle… I cannot even imagine! But being an OT, im sure you are an incredibly special person and have passed all your experiences to help others! Thats the best part… And as Im living it, im figuring out that this could be a new road to travel both personally and professionally… We shall see where the road takes me! Thank you soooo much for commenting! Xo sparkleon*

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  17. Dear Meghan, I saw a recent news article on your efforts to share your experience with others, as you manage the process of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, and found it very moving. I am a 60-year old chiropractor, and two things in particular stood out for me; first, your beautiful smile, which I’m sure your new husband finds a great gift for him daily. The second thing that caught my attention is the fact that putting oneself out on the internet is, apparently, an invitation to all manner of responses, even the most ludicrous, insensitive, ignorant, or just plain stupid. I would hope that these foolish and unkind posts are overwhelmed by a majority of thoughtful, appreciative posts, from people who can take inspiration from your accomplishments and courage. The only recommendation that I would have for you would be to consider keeping the short hair style, as it really focusses attention on your gorgeous dimples, which I think may be one of your greatest assets. All the best to you and your newly created family. Cheers!

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    • Thank u soo much for reaching out to me! People will always have good and bad things to say especially when i am as open with my life as i am! I just ignore the haters because this journey gave me a purpose… And i believe its to help other women feel beautiful! When cancer began taking me of my outer beauty i learned that the hair the lashes the brows and my body isnt what makes me beautiful. It truly is my love for life… And sparkle of course:) thank you for reaching out to me!

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