I was thrilled to be invited to the "Wings of Hope" gala; the second annual fundraiser in West Michigan. I like being in a room full of women that are EMPOWERING themselves instead of COWERING in fear. I like wine. And I like pink. And all of them were together.
A few weeks before the event, I received a phone call from an amazing woman, Denise Blunk. Denise shared her cancer journey with me. She is a 14-year survivor that was diagnosed when she was 25. I was inspired and encouraged to hear her story. In 2011, Komen honored Denise with the first-ever Denise Blunk Award. Denise was honored for living life, practicing self-love, being responsible for her own joy, living courageously and making God real to others.
I was shocked when Denise said that I would be receiving the 2012 Denise Blunk Award. To me, there were many times throughout the year that I didn't feel self-love or courageous. There were many days I felt like I was just hanging on to the edge by my fingertips. But, I was honored and felt it was important to live up to the values of the award.
I had three life-changing events happen within six months of each other; getting married to my best friend, getting cancer and getting EVAN. Some days, dealing with all of these changes seemed overwhelming. Not overwhelming like, "Aww, I need to take a nap and go shopping" (which happens to be my favorite kind of overwhelming. It was overwhelming like, "I am going to drive far far away and hide in my car and hope that I am never found".
But I PROSPERED. I learned how to be a wife (kind of). I am stumbling (hopefully gracefully) through motherhood. And I try really REALLY hard to be positive about cancer. I wanted to convey these thoughts when I had the chance to get up and tell the attendees of the gala all about my journey. I wanted Brian, Mom, Dad, Meghan, Ed and Cindy to be proud of me as they sat in the audience and remembered how far we have come.
Here are the comments I shared on November 8, 2012, at the Wings of Hope Gala.
· Thank you, Denise.
· I am honored and humbled to receive the Denise Blunk Young Survivor Award.
· 20 months ago, I had no idea that my life journey would lead me here; into this room of amazing survivors, co-survivors, caretakers, volunteers and community leaders.
· As breast cancer survivors, we all have our own story; it is about the triumphs and challenges that lead us to who we are now and how we overcome adversity and hardship.
· My journey started as many of yours did; unexpectedly. I was 29 years old. I was a newlywed. I was six months pregnant with my first child.
· I had to learn terminology like, “Triple positive.” “Lymph nodes.” “Double mastectomy”. “Chemotherapy”. “Radiation”.
· These are words that breast cancer patients incorporate into their daily vocabulary. They are matter of fact. Black and white.
· The words that were harder for me to grasp were, “Side effects”. “Extreme fatigue”. “Nausea”. “Insomnia”. “Patient”. “Survivor”.
· I won’t say that my journey was easy or that I always handled everyday gracefully. I was facing Stage 3 cancer with my unborn child onboard. Some days I cried. Some days I sulked. I never asked, “WHY ME” but I ALWAYS asked, “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?”
· Evan and I did three chemotherapy sessions together – the tough stuff – Adriomyacin and Cytoxan.
· My team of doctors and my husband and I made the decision to induce Evan a month early; I delivered my life-saving baby boy, two months after my diagnosis.
· As any new mother knows, there are amazing feelings of love, responsibility and attachment that are born with your new baby. I also had feelings of guilt and concern; did my life-saving treatment hurt by baby? Will Evan be okay? Will I be able to raise him? Will he know who I am, as I lay sick in bed exhausted from treatment?
· The medicine and treatment used is just one small step in our breast cancer journey.
· For me, the critical piece was the amazing support and love I received from many different outlets.
· My husband, Brian, had no easy task. He had to deal with the trauma of our diagnosis and watch me cope emotionally and physically. He was also the primary caretaker of Evan and my two step-children, Gavin and Cohen.
· For any spouses that have traveled on this journey, I must say, I think the role of the patient is easier than the role of the spouse.
· While I was physically fighting the battle, Brian was on the sidelines. He had to watch me fight. He watched me cry. He watched me struggle. And he was so strong for me everyday.
· My mom and dad, practically moved in with us after my diagnosis. They came to every major doctor’s appointment. They were by my side at my first chemotherapy. They hid their tears when they saw me without hair for the first time. My mom jumped back into the world of “babies” and got up, several times a night, with our newborn. She would bring Evan in my room and lay him next to me after my treatments; she would give him to me to hold during the “happy times” and tried to console him during the “fussy times”
· My sister provided updates to family and friends. She sent cards in the mail, daily. Meghan told me how beautiful I was, everyday, as my lack of hair and eyelashes and eyebrows made my face look like it was disappearing.
· My in-laws and brother provided daily comfort, concern and conversation. My friends provided dinners. My co-workers provided amazing coverage. My nurses and doctors were a team that provided me advice.
· But this still is a time, when many loved ones don’t know what to provide. They don’t know how to help. They don’t know what to say and how they show they care.
· The answer is easy. SPREAD AWARENESS.
· I want everyone to know my story.
· I want people to know breast cancer happens at 29 years old.
· I want women to understand self-exams. And Mammograms. And Knowing their own bodies. And How to raise concerns to their doctor.
· I want our community to know about the amazing work of Susan G. Komen. About how Komen provides for under-served women. About how our community donations STAY in West Michigan.
· And I want our family and friends and caregivers and volunteers to talk about how the money that goes to Susan G. Komen goes to research that provides LIFE SAVING TREATMENT.
· In August, I received word, that I am currently cancer-free.
· I understand now, how precious my time is. I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life watching Evan grow up and growing old with Brian.
· But I also understand, that in my precious time, I have a responsibility to spread awareness. I am grateful and honored to be accepting this year’s Young Survivor Award. I thank you so much for this amazing responsibility and opportunity.
What a way to re-cap an amazing year of growth, love and fight!