Anngi - The Moms Project

Anngi Sieger Strick, Jewelry Designer

On the very stressful, painful, and joyous week of a dear friend’s healing from a double mastectomy (thankfully, her test came back and her nodes are negative!), I wanted to share the amazing story of another close friend and client Anngi Sieger Strick who 3 years ago was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. Anngi… a mother, a wife, a jewelry designer, an artist,a traveler, a health fanatic, friend, a happy and blessed woman, AND a survivor… chronicles the journey of her diagnosis and her uphill battle back as a survivor. When I read Anngi’s story, I was in tears. Her words filled me with horror, hope, inspiration, sadness, and love. It is unthinkable and unimaginable to picture oneself in Anngi’s situation and shoes, and yet, 1 out of 8 women will be touched in some way by cancer at some time in their life. Thankfully, we have beautiful and courageous SUPER-women like Anngi to share their experiences and pass on their stories so we can hold on to them. This is Anngi’s story…Anngi…“I am sorry….but it’s cancer.” Anyone who has ever heard that 6-letter word spoken to them will remember the exact day, time, and place. Confusion, fear and shock poured into my soul. I couldn’t feel my body anymore and my head weighed 50 pounds. Within a second my world as I knew it, changed. Changed forever. I would never, ever be the same person after September 17, 2010. Everything the doctor said to me after the “C” word sounded like the teachers on the Peanuts cartoons, “WA WA WA WA WAAAA….” I couldn’t hear words anymore—only noise.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms ProjectAnngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms ProjectAnngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
My life up until this point was pretty blessed and fortunate. At 38, I had a lot to be thankful for: I had a loving husband, a sweet precious 1 year old son, my own jewelry business, exotic travels under my belt, fun-loving family friends, a lively social calendar, fabulous girlfriends—too many to keep up with and never enough time. I cherished my supportive parents, brother, sister and her family. I adored my in-laws and my husband’s siblings too. We were all one big happy family. We were trying to get pregnant with a second child but I was having “stomach issues” for about a year that increasingly got worse. Bloating, cramps and now there was abnominal pain. Things were just “not right.” My OB wanted me to figure it out before we tried to get pregnant. It took close to a year for the doctors to diagnose me because I was not a risk factor for anything serious. “It’s probably just IBS,” they kept telling me. I thought maybe I am just getting older; I can’t eat all the spicy foods I want anymore. After dozens of answerless blood tests and exams, I was ready to chalk it up as a “fickle stomach” and just deal with it. But my husband, thank God, pushed me to challenge the doctors for more tests and exams. I credit my husband for being a large part in saving my life. This was also a lesson to truly listen to what your body is telling you, and don’t let anyone persuade you differently.
Anngi Sieger Strick - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Finally, and long overdue, a CT scan was ordered. This scan not only showed an ovarian cyst the size of an orange (which explained the pain) but also showed a large inflamed section in my colon. “You need to do the colon prep tomorrow and have a colonoscopy the next day,” a concerned voice told me over the phone. “What could it be?” I asked carefully. The seconds of silence dragged on before he quietly said, “Well, it could be a tumor.”  “A TUMOR?” I exclaimed. But I was not even 40, I workout 5 times a week,I don’t eat red meat, I eat a lot of salads and I don’t smoke. I kept on rambling to the doctor. I don’t have any history of ANY TYPE OF CANCER on EITHER SIDE of my family! I could think of a hundred reasons why I should not have cancer. I eventually learned that I fall into the 1% random chance of getting colon cancer as a female under 50 with no family history of cancer. It was just a random cell mutation that went amuck. Great, pass the tequila shots. What amuck luck.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
It was a whirlwind of events after my diagnosis of colon cancer. Within weeks I had surgery to remove the tumor. I had such an intelligent and talented team at Stanford Hospital and Clinics from surgery through oncology. We are lucky to live in the Bay area with world-class doctors and cutting edge treatment at our fingertips. After my surgery there was a long and anxiety ridden week of waiting for my pathology results. Like most things in life, being in limbo and not knowing where you stand is more frightening than knowing the path ahead of you—even if that path is dark, scary and difficult to climb. You just want to know where you are going, even if you need a flashlight. Finally the surgeon called. The good news was he believed he removed the entire tumor, which he considered quite large. “Large tumor” mentioned in any sentence didn’t sound like good news to me but he noted that from my CT scan and my surgery it looked like the tumor did not spread to any other organs. The bad news was a few of my lymph nodes around the tumor did test positive for cancer. I was told I needed 6 months of chemo—as an extra “insurance”, he said. The idea was to make sure we’re wiping out any leftover undetectable cancer cells.So the wait was over and I had my answer: I had Stage III colon cancer. I was told that I had somewhere in the 60s percent range of beating this. Yikes. I know that’s not the worst diagnosis but it certainly wasn’t the best. The 60s range is a little too close to 50% and 50% is a little too close to the feeling of flipping a coin. I was petrified and all I could think about was the possibility of not being here for my son and family.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick - The Moms Project
Being a jewelry designer (her beautiful jewels can be found at anngi alyn) and having a passion for wearing jewelry, I didn’t opt for the lower maintenance and more popular port to receive my chemotherapy treatment because it was surgically placed around your collarbone. I still wanted to wear my big chunky necklaces and try to salvage some of “me” and my identity so I opted for a PICC line–a permanent IV surgically placed in your upper arm to receive intravenous chemo treatment. It was easy to cover with baggy shirts and I could still wear all of my jewelry. It sounds silly, to be concerned about wearing jewelry, but during times like this, I grasped at anything that involved maintaining my feminine identity; to keep some sense of normalcy. I didn’t want chemo to change what I usually wear or look like. It was already taking enough of my spirit and energy. But the PICC line ended up being very high maintenance and clunky—it couldn’t get wet and needed weekly upkeep and cleaning. Still, I am happy I did it. I was able to dress like “me.” I looked like the Bionic Woman with the awkward wiring and bulky IV contraption in my tricep. Now if only I could channel her superpowers….
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
With colon cancer chemo, you typically don’t lose your hair. As a woman, I was so grateful for this.It’s a frivolous concern when battling cancer, but a cruel effect of the medicine that is trying to help us get better. As women, our hair is a feminine extension of our identity and expression of our style. Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with this emotional and physical loss. Acknowledging this small act of victory, and trying to feel even more feminine, I didn’t cut my hair that year and let it grow past the middle of my back.They say it “takes a village” to help during times like this. My primary roles as a mother and wife were severely compromised. I had to relinquish control to my village for help with my life and my family. I often felt like vapor slipping through the halls of my house—barely existing; floating. Thank God for my village: my husband, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, family and friends who helped with our son, brought home cooked meals, tidied the house, did laundry, visited me at home, took me to the hospital, and stayed with me during my treatments. Thank God for my son who brought me giggles and hugs. My husband worked miracles as he picked up so many shattered pieces of our life. Partners unfairly never get much attention or sympathy during a time like this. I was in my own little cancer world but didn’t realize that those closest to me are sitting right there, riding shotgun, on this emotional rollercoaster too.My village also consisted of our overzealous puggle and neurotic cat. Their unconditional, quiet love was a strong force in my healing.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
The nurses at the hospital who administered my chemo—bless their souls—were caring, heartfelt people. How they do their job day in and day out I will never understand. They must be angels from above. After the first few anxiety ridden chemo treatments the routine became more familiar and I was able to relax a bit more. I got to know the nurses and they helped make my long days a little brighter. I often wore my black motorcycle boots to these sessions. At the time, I felt like wearing them would toughen me up, give me some attitude and help kick some cancer butt. I still have them and wear them on days where I don’t feel like a strong woman and need a little reminder of where my boots have walked.I tried so many things to support my cancer treatment and recovery. I wanted my village to grow and be as well rounded and strong as possible. I consistently consulted with a renowned traditional Chinese practitioner who specialized in cancer treatment. I took dozens of daily bizarre Chinese medicine supplements and strange herbs. I had weekly acupuncture sessions. I hired a nutritionist who specializes in cancer treatment and became vegan. I chugged gallons of wheatgrass and kale juice. I learned about all the “anti-cancer” foods like broccoli and celery and garlic. Educating myself about nutrition and maintaining an alkaline body, I became an expert on veggie smoothies and healing foods. Somehow all of this helped me feel a little more in control in a very uncertain world. I am proud to say most of my uber healthy eating habits still exist today (OK, aside from my vice of Chardonnay and the occasional slice of Wisconsin cheese). Our entire extended family is more intelligent, healthier, and wiser about food choices, which is one very positive outcome from all of this. The mind/body connection is a powerful force. It’s important to pay attention to emotional health during cancer. I decided I needed some help in this department and sought a therapist to add to my village. She reminded me that I am not defined by this cancer and told me to write down all of the positive things I am. As a woman, I own many roles and cancer patient is only one very small—and hopefully temporary —part.Days drag by when you are in treatment, always looking at the calendar and inching toward the (hopeful) last treatment finish line. I learned to enjoy the simple things since I didn’t feel well or have much energy for much else: visits from my family, my husband’s arms holding me tight or the giggles and kisses from our son who was just over one year’s old. Thankfully, he didn’t understand what was going on. He thought there was a constant party at the house because there were so many people coming, going, visiting and dropping off food. Not feeling well, I could easily sit on the carpet and just listen to my son’s innocent giggle and watch him play with his toys. There was nowhere to be and I had many, many moments when time was slooooow and we just sat there playing. I will cherish that time always. Being his mother, watching him grow, praising his learning, and having time to absorb his joy gave me so much joy. He reminded me how fast and precious life is and how something as simple as your child’s giggle can make you smile. Laughing with him and spending so much slow time with him helped me find my sense of humor again; helped me get through some very dark days. Laughter with your child is truly the best medicine.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
I am asked all the time what I learned from cancer. And that I dealt with the experience gracefully. First of all, let me say that my journey with colon cancer is not officially over. I am proud to say that I am going on over 2 years remission but anyone who knows the familiar knock of cancer knows all too well you are not “cured” until you hit the 5 year mark. I still do colonoscopies, blood work and CT scans. I feel optimistic and hopeful, but my journey is not over yet. My go to answer in response to people who ask how I am doing is “so far, so good” and I am at peace with that.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Second, it’s easy to walk gracefully if you have a village holding you up. Even so, I do not feel I handled this smoothly or any differently than anyone else. You just do the best you can do and some days are good and some days are bad. But that truth applies to any wife, mother or human being who has cancer or does not have cancer. There were many times that I just burst into tears in the grocery line or melted onto our cold hardwood floor. I had moments where I shouted, screamed and freaked out. I have a lot of energy and emotion and that can swing both ways. But remarkably, there was also a lot of laughter, gratitude and appreciation during this time because there was often someone in our home visiting, helping, cooking or cheering us up. There were many gifts,  blankets, stuffed animals, food, flowers, books, prayer cloths and care packages given as gifts of love and they helped bring a little smile to my face.One of my most inspiring gifts was from my mother-in-law’s friend who visited a chapel in New Mexico for her own health problems. She shared some holy dirt from El Santuario de Chimayo. It’s widely believed that the soil is blessed, and can bring miraculous results to ailing believers who brew and drink the dirt or rub it on diseased parts of their body. Before every chemo treatment I would rub this special dirt on my wrist, right on my pulse. It sounds crazy but what did I have to lose? It was a reminder to believe in miracles and have some faith.
Anngi Sieger Strick - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
There is one big silver lining that really shines through this journey. I learned how much I love—and am loved by– my husband, son, family, friends and caretakers. You think you know this, and assume it, but until you actually hear exact words spoken from someone or see the words written on paper, you don’t really know exactly what someone thinks of you and your relationship with them. During that fretful time, when I (and everyone else) was scared, anxious, and wondered if my cancer would stay away and if I would live through this, I got to tell everyone I care about how much I love them. And they got to tell me how much they love me—as a mother, as a friend, as a daughter, as a wife. I received dozens of wonderful words—or cards—to which this day I still keep in a big box on my dresser to remind me everyday of the love I have. What a gift: true communication and reciprocation of love. Some of the people I hadn’t heard from in years, but there they were, spilling their heart and appreciation for our relationship. Unlike our society’s world of text, email and Facebook, these were real and genuine face-to-face interactions and thoughtful letters.I am grateful and humbled to have so many wonderful, strong, loving people in my life. I am blessed that we had a chance to tell each other how we feel. We have all heard this before: you should never waste a moment to tell someone how you feel because you just never know what tomorrow may bring. Life happens quickly and tragedies occur. Be sure to tell your husband, child, family and friends how much you love them TODAY.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project
My last day of chemo was April 5, 2011. About a month later, I went to NYC on a little vacation with my sister-in-law. After a perfect day of strolling SOHO and brunching at Pastis, we passed the fabulous Christian Louboutin store—my favorite place to window shop in New York. We drooled over the shoes and I felt too guilty to buy a pair. But then a sparkly pair caught my eye—a 5-inch heel pump covered in rose glitter. They seemed to be whispering my name. They were the antithesis of my dark, tough motorcycle boots that I wore during my chemotherapy. They were too expensive but they were oh-so-delicate-and-pretty and as decadent as a double chocolate mousse cake. I couldn’t resist and bought them. They were my gift to myself and they shined like the sun that I would hopefully see more of in the days ahead. Those glittery heels remind me to stand tall, remain hopeful, and sparkle as I walk through each new day.
Anngi Sieger Strick  - The Moms Project  
And Anngi, your words and love of life…give us inspiration and appreciation for each day we have, how to live gracefully, and how to build, nurture, appreciate, and love our own “villages” each and every day that we are here to do so. Love you lady!  
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