Monday, March 10, 2014

My Three Year Cancer-versary

Today, March 11, marks my three-year cancer-versary.  This day, three years ago, is when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer while 6 months pregnant.  I didn't know then that I would beat cancer.  I didn't know that I would be able to juggle raising a new baby with chemotherapy, breast surgeries, and radiation.  I didn't know that I would enter into the wonderful world of menopause and begin enduring hot flashes, night sweats, achy joints and muscle pain.

But I also didn't know I would survive.

And that I could thrive.

So...this is what Year 3 of the journey held for me.

I ran a 10K for the first time in five years.  I did a 40 mile bike race in June. I followed that up by my first half-marathon in October.  And then I ran my second half-marathon in January.  I was able to juggle this while recovering from Reconstructive Surgery #3 and #4 in January 2013 and May 2013.
10K River Bank Run with Brian, Jori and Tim.  Running for Jori.
40 Mile Gran Fondo with a favorite survivor friend, Rita
Grand Rapids Half-Marathon - with my BFF Running Partner, Cara
Disney Half-Marathon with my running buddies - Ross and Cara.

But Year 3 also saw my several of my friends relapse.  I watched too many of my Young Survivor friends get the news that their cancer had returned in their their their their pancreas.  And it's not fair.  It's not fair that I am healthy and they are not.  It makes me sad to watch them have to continue to fight when they just deserve a chance to catch their breath.

Year 3 was the year that Brian and I officially got our groove back.  For two years, we were in and out of hospitals.  We spent a lot of time debating about treatments.  Brian had to pick up the slack for me and was exhausted.  I took a lot of frustrations out on him.  But, in Year 3, we found "us".  We made it through.
At Thomas the Train at Canterbury Village

Hiking through the mountains in New Mexico

Celebrating my birthday at a Josh Groban concert

In Chicago

Sporting sweet hats.

My Best Friend.

In Year 3, I became less afraid but more irritated.  I was irritated when blood work in August showed elevated level of CA-125 - an indicator that measures for ovarian cancer.  That led to an ultrasound to rule that out.  Negative for cancer, positive for cysts.

I was irritated when I found a lump in my breast in February 2014.  I had a mastectomy, but the lump was right by my scar and that is an area that is susceptible to recurrence.  The spot was biopsied.  Negative for cancer, positive for fat clumping, due to the fat grafting.

I am so grateful that these tests continue to come back negative and I feel well.  But I am irritated that this is my "new normal".  Every bump, scratch, pain is examined and tested to ensure it's NOT cancer.  Irritated.

However, when it comes to me, I am irritated.  When it comes to my family, I am just downright fearful.

I was terrified when I got a call in August that my mom had been taken to the hospital and spent the night in the ER for a suspected heart attack.  Crazy, right?  Except, she had one when she was as crazy as it is that my very healthy mom has heart issues, the doctors were right to monitor her.  I was so scared that Meghan and I had to act in role new to us - patient advocate.  Because during this time, my dad was in Japan...and wasn't present to make the medical decisions.  Of course, as soon as he found out about my mom, he got on the first plane home.  But that was a 24-hour process. And my mom needed to have a heart cath.  My dad and I talked on the phone about what our options were if the heart cath detected a blockage - authorize a surgery?  Wait until we could get her to a specialist?  But since he would be mid-air during the procedure, these were ultimately my decisions to make and I didn't want to get them wrong.

Facing my mom's health issues, in the waiting room of the cath lab, was terrifying.  What if something went wrong? What if it wasn't an easy procedure, as we were led to believe?  What if she wasn't okay?

I am so happy that Meghan was there with me.  I can't imagine getting through that on my own. And it was even better to be able to celebrate with Fro-Yo together, once we found out that all was well.  My mom didn't have a heart attack.  My mom's coronary arteries go into spasms, which cause heart-attack like symptoms.  She is being treated and is now being followed by Cleveland Clinic.
Hanging with Mom for the day.

Nana and Boompa with Evan.

I love this picture.  I love that Nana has Lovey propped in her pocket like a tool.

I was also fearful when Meghan had a suspicious test result.  She has annual mammograms, as a result of my history.  In November, a routine mammogram came back with suspicious results.  There were areas of concern.  They asked Meghan to come back in for a 3-D mammogram and ultrasound.  While I tried very hard to be strong for Meg, and encourage her, I was terrified.  What if it's cancer? How would we go through this again?  How could I stay positive when I know the tough road ahead of a cancer diagnosis?  It was stressful and exhausting to play out all of these options in my head.

The relief that I felt when she got "negative" test results on everything was overwhelming.  My mom and I were in my kitchen, both of us teary-eyed.  Even though I am so happy with my prognosis, I was truly scared of having to watch Meg go through that.

Meg and Michael at Meg's 29th birthday dinner

Meg and me.  

Year 3 continued to test me as a parent.  And step-parent.  We have always tried hard to protect the boys from the collateral effects of cancer.  But Year 3 started with two surgeries within six months of each other.  And that causes angst.

Who am I kidding?  We are parenting three boys.  Three very busy, very active boys.  Three boys that don't slow down just because I want to.  It can be tough to meet their expectations and demands of constantly playing, entertaining and negotiating...but this isn't cancer-specific.  This is parent-specific.  And it's tough sometimes.

But Year 3 also brought my first "I love you", totally unprompted, from Evan.  And we have regular story-time every night.  I get to see the three boys develop their relationships with each other.  We had first basketball games, first baseball games and first track meets.  And because I'm healthy, I was able to be there for all of it.

Gavin's 10th Birthday

Brother snuggles

More brother snuggles

Cohen's basketball medal.

Goofing around at the pumpkin patch

Brian and the boys.  #outnumbered

Apparently, since things had calmed down health wise, we also decided to embark on another new endeavor in Year 3.  A puppy.


Naughty Sasha on the furniture.

Sasha posing for our family photo...since she has to be involved IN EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY.

I love Sasha more than I ever though I could...but seriously, this puppy is a lot of work.  Goodness gracious.

Year 3 brought me some amazing new friendships.  I can't believe how blessed and full my life is.  And cancer brought a lot of these friendships to me.  I can't imagine my life without my Young Survivors...they are all that is strong and courageous in the world.  And these women, even when they are fighting and struggling, provide amazing levels of support to one another.  There is no one better to discuss "zombie skin", "Chillows" or lymphe-diva sleeves with.

My friendships have become so very important.  I realize that true friends are willing to see you through the bad and the ugly.  I knew I loved my girlfriends before..but in Year 3, spending time with them provided some of my most favorite moments.

Young Survivor Christmas Party

Amazing women that have captured my heart.

Our jobs have changed but our friendships are enduring.

Friends since we were 12.  Couldn't love her more.
P.S.  Katie and Lacey - I have no recent pictures of us.  Let's fix that ASAP.

Year 3 saw some amazing women lose their battles with cancer.

Bridget Spence
Jan Pickell
Delores Martin

Year 3.  3 years living with cancer.  Spent my 30th birthday in the chemo chair.  Delivered Evan with no hair on my head and had to be induced so I had the baby on an off-chemo week so I would have enough energy to get through labor.  My body is a mass of scars...war wounds.

Year 3. Hair is back.  Skin is recovered.  Scars are healing.

Year 3.  Emotions are regulating.  I laugh MUCH more than I cry.  I have hope for the future.  I know I will see Evan graduate from high school and get married and raise his own kids.  I will keep running.  I will make dinners and send cards to those that are still fighting. I will share my experience with the intention of helping others.

Year 3.  Happy Cancer-versary to Me.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

13 Dedicated Miles

Tomorrow, October 20, 2013, marks my first half-marathon.  13.1 miles.  Five years ago, at my healthiest self, I never would have thought this was possible.  But I have had two very challenging years and I am so proud of where I am today.

I certainly wouldn't be here, in this great place, if it weren't for the love and support I have received along the way.

So, tomorrow, I am dedicating my run to these amazing people.  And more importantly, I am dedicating  a mile to them.  I know that my run will be difficult and really push me. But when I start to doubt my abilities and my training, I am going to invest in these people to carry me through, the way they so selflessly have during my difficult times.

MILE 1: My mom.
I couldn't ask for a more selfless person to care for me during my journey the past two years.  My mom has always provided love and support, but she also had encouraged me, cried with me and motivated me, when I didn't think I could do it anymore.  She puts me and my family before her needs, without even asking.  She rubbed cold washcloths on my face when I had fevers, she woke up with Evan for all of his nighttime feedings and provided Brian with critical emotional support during tough times.  And now, she is dealing with her own health challenges.  We had quite a scare in August when we thought she was having a heart attack; the great news is that her arteries are clear.  The bad news is that her coronary arteries go into spasm, which cause heart-attack like symptoms.  She is being treated medically but it's something that needs ongoing monitoring to ensure that the spasms stop happening. But my mom isn't letting this stop her; she is still walking, eating healthy, and spending time being the Best Nana ever.

MILE 2: My running friends, Cara and Ross! (and Lori, when she joins us!)
There is no way I would have gotten this far if Cara Ontiveros and Ross Rivard hadn't come up with the harebrained idea last Spring to run a half-marathon in January.  I really just wanted to go on the Florida getaway, and if I had to run to do that, I was willing to do that. I started small - the 53 Riverbank Run 10K in May.  And then I trained in the summer for the CRIM - a 10 mile race in Flint.  The furthest I had run before that run was 7.5 miles; and then I did 10!  Then Cara and Ross asked me to run the Bridge Run in GR in September - another 10 mile race.  I missed the Half-Marathon they ran in September because I was in New Mexico, but signed up for the GR Half because Cara did.  I've never done this before!  I just keep jumping on their running bandwagon...and as much as it terrifies me and makes me nervous to push myself, I love it.  And I love them.  I love the encouragement.  I love that we are doing it all together.

September 2013 - With Ross and Cara, post Bridge Run

MILE 3: Amelia Peterson
In a perfect world, Amelia would be running beside me.  She was training for a half-marathon all summer when she got the news that her cancer had metastasized to her bones and her brain. Obviously, she had to put the training aside while she focused on life-saving treatment.  But I know that it is a goal of hers and when she is healthy and ready to go, I would love to join her on her first half-marathon, wherever she wants to go.
My friend, the fighter: Amelia

MILE 4: Jori Phillips
I would like to think that Jori and her husband, Tim, would have found Brian and I and eventually become best friends, without a cancer journey to tie us together.  I just think we are "meant to be".  When we are together, we finish each other's sentences, we share the same fears and we are raw and real with each other.  Jori is also a cancer-fighter, now facing many decisions to deal with the recent metastasis to her brain. In addition to being a doting mother, fierce fighter and superior nurse, she is also a runner and understands the accomplishment and euphoria that comes with finishing a hard race.

With Jori and Tim

MILE 5: The Pioneers
These are my friends and family I will be thinking about that have done this before.  My dad, obviously, inspired me to start running many years ago.  I never thought I would go far and knew I wouldn't be fast, but he is just proud that I'm out there. My Uncle Rick has run the CRIM over ten times and tackled a few marathons himself.  In my post this week, I mentioned my survivor friend, Lori, has run several half-marathons.  Lacey and Ben completed their first full marathons within the past two years.  Michael, Meghan's BF, ran the Detroit Half-Marathon last year. I'm in awe of these people.  It takes so much time and dedication to train and be a consistent runner, but they inspire me to keep going and be better.

Uncle Rick, my mom and me after the CRIM

My dad, finishing the GR Marathon in 2010

I've written about Lindsay and her amazingness on my blog before; she is still fighting against her Stage 4 Breast Cancer metastasis.  The chemo cocktail she did over the summer shrank some of the tumors but didn't touch other tumors, so now the cocktail has been mixed up and she is trying something new.  If you met Lindsay, you wouldn't know that she is FIGHTING FOR HER LIFE everyday.  She just started at a new job and most of her co-workers don't even know.  But she is.  And she's amazing.  And she inspires me.
Lindsay and Carter

Ingrid is also fighting her triple negative recurrence with all she has.  Unfortunately, this type of cancer isn't as easy to treat, so they are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Ingrid.  My favorite drug she is on is call 5FU.  That's right, cancer.  FU.  Ingrid also has severe allergic reactions to a lot of the medicines so her infusions take much longer than normal.  But she fights on...and she leads a Cancer Warriors Group at Grand Valley so other survivors and patients know they aren't alone.
Ingrid and Neve.

This little guy is my inspiration in everything: fighting to be healthy, being the best mom I can, being a better person. I can't believe the journey we have been on together.  It is not a scientific fact that my chemo treatments caused a lot of Evan's health problems during the first year; but I believe it did.  Chemo stripped my immune system down to nothing and consequently, Evan caught every single thing during his first year.  Fifth Disease, roseola, pneumonia, bronchitis, pink eye, Hand Foot Mouth, ear infections, fevers, stomach flu, etc.  I am here to show my little man that he was worth fighting for and together, we will have our healthiest year yet.
Climbing at the park

Waiting for me to pick him up from school.

This is one tough group of ladies.  The amount of trauma that this group has overcome is indescribable. But let me try to enlighten you.  They raise their families and children.  They are wives.  They are caregivers.  They are daughters, sisters, and friends.  They are members of our community that have an unending amount of love for fellow patients and survivors.  They are athletes.  They raise money for breast cancer awareness and prevention.  They laugh at themselves.  They laugh at me.  They love me and all of my breast cancer dramas and I love them and all of theirs.  We are a motley crue with a lot of heart.
  • Erin Carpenter
  • Amy Buff
  • Diana Vandersteldt
  • Dena Anderson
  • Cathi Brechting
  • Lisa Bailey
  • Marcia Frobish
  • Rachel Holland
  • Samantha Johnson
  • Liz Koerner
  • Lori Ostreko
  • Kim Mark
  • Andrea Stagg
  • Lori Ostreko
  • Lindsay, Amelia, Jori and Ingrid
Rita is a RN that I have talked about many times before on my journey.  When I was confused about treatment options, Rita broke it down into small, digestible pieces. When I was debating whether or not to take  Tamoxifen, Rita had lunch with me and talked with me in a way no other medical professional had.  I am taking Tamoxifen because of the conversation I had with Rita.  A few weeks ago, I called Rita to talk to her about my elevated tumor markers.  She calmed me down and explained the entire process; from the tests, the possible outcomes, the ultrasound, etc.  I'm so lucky I have someone like Rita to call when I have questions.  Oh - and she is an incredible lady for other reasons too, but I'm most excited about the 300 Mile bike ride we are doing in July 2014.

These are two women that inspire me for a lot of reasons.  The first is that they both have an incredible faith that sees them through dark times in their lives.  The second is they both have had some unbelievable medical challenges this year.  Laura is getting stronger and stronger everyday and I am so proud of the accomplishments she has made. And Mrs. Pickell spent time reaching out to me, sending me e-mails and cards, while she was fighting her own difficult cancer battle. 

I could have beat cancer without my friends and family.  But I would have done it miserably.  And depressed.  And spent a lot more time crying and having pity parties for myself.  Instead, I was not alone. They kept me smiling and reminded me to keep LIVING.  They walked by my side during the entire journey.  

My sister - the best sister ever.  The support and loyalty she provides to me is unfailing.  Unconditional.   Never ending.  

My gorgeous mom and gorgeous sister.

My best friend beside me on my wedding day
My friends that have gotten me through this journey: Gwen, Katie, Lacey, Courtney, Stacey.
Beautiful friends.  Not so beautiful wig.  Really bad.

Celebrating Gwen on her wedding day.

Wine tasting with Stacey and Courtney

My brother.  He didn't live here physically but compensated by calling, texting and going to chemo whenever he was home.  And he made me a beautiful documentary of my journey, which is one of my most prized possessions.

And Brian's family....Cindy, Ed, Tricia and family and Alison...
With Alison in Colorado

With Ed and Cindy in Florida

And this elf is representing all of the Ross Family.

There are so many amazing aunts and uncles and cousins.  My friends that I work with, friends in my neighborhood and friends that live far away. I love all of the e-mails and texts and cards.  I am pretty sure I have the best support system.  EVER.  I should try to start renting them out because they are amazing. 

There is so much to say.  My soul mate.  My rock.  My everything.  There is no one else I want to spend more time with.  There is no one that has seen me at my worst as many times as he has, but is still there to help me be better. I trust him to take care of me and our family. I trust him to pick me up when I  am down (an even more so when I don't want to get up).  He makes me laugh everyday. He is my home.

Our amazing New York experience

Hiking in Colorado

Wedding Day

We've been through so much.

And he's been by my side every step of the way.

The last piece is for me.  To celebrate me.  I did it.  I did something I never thought I COULD do.  I can't wait to cross that finish line and rejoice and just be PROUD.  I overcame and I am accomplishing new dreams.  I can't wait to wear my medal to bed on Sunday night.

I will be even more excited at the end.