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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Five Year Inspiration

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I have read a lot of positives and negatives about this month.  From the advocates that shower everything in pink, to the naysayers, that say, "I'm not pinking anything...."  Certainly, commercialism has become a big part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but if we used that as a measure for celebrating, that would probably remove all of our major holidays, as well as birthdays, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Sweetest Day, etc. from every being celebrated.

Therefore, I feel that as a breast cancer survivor, I can shout it from the rooftops: I LOVE PINK.

I love what it stands for.  I love how I feel when I see someone wearing a pink ribbon.  I love the way one symbol can bind together people from all races, genders, backgrounds and histories.  I love the inspiring stories.  I love the men and women that OVERCOME.

I also understand that many feel that we are aware "enough" of breast cancer.  Yes, we know it exists.  Yes, we get that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime.  Yes, we need to focus on prevention.

But if we hadn't created the awareness, we wouldn't be prolonging lives.  We wouldn't be celebrating more survivors living past the five-year remission mark.  We wouldn't understand that breast cancer seems less and less discriminating and people of all backgrounds are fighting against this.

I didn't think it COULD happen to me.  I still don't have any of the high risk factors.  I'm not a smoker. I'm not obese.  I don't have a breast cancer history in my family. I'm not old (about 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45; about 2 out of 3 are found in women age 55 and older).  I don't have the BRCA gene.

But it happened.  And now it means that my friends and family know someone in their circle that was diagnosed, against the odds, with cancer at age 29.

So, in my small circle, at least, we are more aware than we were 2 years ago.

And it's our job, since we have all been touched by this, to make sure that others are aware it can happen to them too.

I've written a lot about the struggle of cancer.  I've written about the recurrence of cancer.  I've written about the fears and anxiety and life-change it causes.

But I haven't written about the inspiration of cancer.  Or the faces of BEATING cancer.  And it exists.

This is Lori.

Lori and her husband, Joe - Fall 2013

Lori was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in October 2008 at age 32.  She went through the shock and disbelief the way that all newly-diagnosed cancer patients do.

But from Day 1, Lori didn't miss a beat.  She took control of her cancer and OWNED the disease.

Lori took charge of her hair before chemo took charge of her hair.
Lori and Joe - December 2008

Lori continued to work, full-time, through chemotherapy and bilateral mastectomies.

And Lori also took control of her reproductive system and opted to have a full hysterectomy after learning she carried the BRCA-1 gene.

Race for the Cure - 2011
I met Lori at a volunteer meeting for Susan G. Komen in 2011.  I first noticed her sassy blonde hair and then immediately loved the sassy sweet attitude that came with it.  It wasn't until several meetings later that I learned Lori was a breast cancer survivor.  She didn't look like she had breast cancer.  And she didn't act like she had breast cancer.  The only physical sign that Lori displayed is a sleeve on her arm that she wears because she suffers from lymphedema.  And it was SEVERAL months before I learned why Lori wore the sleeve, since she doesn't really bring that up either.

Lori is an inspiration to me.  She is the first Young Survivor I know that is celebrating the FIVE YEAR mark.  This is such a major celebration since women with this type of diagnosis didn't have this luxury 20-years ago.  We have come so far.

Lori is an activist in the community.  She co-founded the Young Survivor Group of West Michigan, providing support to Young Survivors in the area and educating many different groups on the different fears and challenges Young Survivors face.

Lori, with Lindsay Pavey, the co-founders of Young Survivors

She is a member of the West Michigan Coalition for Breast Health, a collaboration between several non-profits and medical groups in West Michigan, that work together to further education on breast cancer prevention.

Lori and Lindsay at an event for Mercy Health with Dr. Jamie Caughran, Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center. (And Lindsay's husband, Carter)

She is a volunteer for Susan G. Komen, running in the past five Races for the Cure, and several half-marathons.

Race for the Cure - 2012

Race for the Cure - 2013, with fellow Young Survivors, Amy Buff, Ingrid Johnson and Dena Anderson

Grand Rapids Half-Marathon - 2011

But most importantly, Lori has an AMAZING attitude.  She laughs and jokes about our breast cancer experiences (hot flashes, side effects), but can cry and empathize in the next minute.  She welcomes people with open arms, regardless of their background and history.  Lori has taken her breast cancer experience and openly shares with anyone, if she feels like it will help them, even showing the "disturbing" sides of cancer in the forms of scars, swelling and pain.

On days that I am down, I always think of Lori.  I think of the "sunshine" she brings to every conversation and interaction.

I think about the many nicknames we have been able to give Lori - Tinkerbell, Little Pixie, Princess.  All fit perfectly, since she flutters around spreading good, warm feelings.

On October 27, 2013, Lori will celebrate her FIVE YEAR CANCER-VERSARY.  I am so proud of Lori for reaching this amazing accomplishment.  I aspire to celebrate like her in three years and I encourage others to look at Lori's life when they need a little "push".

Congratulations, my beautiful friend!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Southwest Travels

I just returned from my adventures to New Mexico.  Right now, my project at work covers a geography consisting of New Mexico, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.  I haven't spent much time in any of these states, so I was excited to explore and see what the "Land of Enchantment" had to offer.

But as always, before I embark on any work travels, I get homesick.  I don't want to leave.  I don't want to pack.  I don't want to wait in airports.  And, we had so much fun the weekend before I left that I was sure my family was going to spend their days crying missing me.

Evan's first trip to the Pumpkin Patch

Where's Cohen?

The non-hay ride hay ride!

Love these two.

Fun day out with Grandma and Grandpa

This was taken about .5 seconds before Evan threw that apple at my head.

Evan walks through the pumpkin patch saying, "A pumpkin.  Another pumpkin.  Another pumpkin!"

But, alas, time to leave.  Once I landed in Santa Fe, I had several hours to travel to get to my destination.  My rental car didn't have a GPS so I was forced to rely on my cell phone to get me from one place to another.   This is how that went:

No service.  No roads.  My car is the blue triangle, but you can tell that isn't providing much help.

I only ended up totally lost a handful of times.  There were not a lot of gas stations and not a lot of places to stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Skittles or Twizzlers.  But I made it.  And had a successful work vacation.

Then the fun started!  Brian flew out to join me for the weekend so we could hang out and explore New Mexico.  We spent time in Downtown Santa Fe, visiting St. Francis Cathedral, the oldest in the U.S., built in 1610.

This church had "Love Each Other Completely" on the front alter and in the back above the door. 

The view from our hotel room.  The sun hit the mountains so beautifully.

View from our hotel in Santa Fe.
On Saturday, we hiked through Bandelier Monument Park.  Brian researched the places to go near Santa Fe and chose Bandelier because of the caves that were created and lived in within the mountains hundreds of years ago.

Along the trail.

Selfie :)

Awesome picture of my thumb.  This was the mountain we hiked down...and then back up.

The paths that led to the kivas.


On our way and thirsty.
We had a great day and loved exploring these mountains and trails together.  The altitude makes my heart rate accelerate quite a bit, which already runs high due to my ejection fraction issues, but Brian was patient while I struggled up the hill.  I also tried to keep up with my running in New Mexico but my HR was just too high to go longer than three miles.  So, half-marathon training resumes this week, now that I am home.

Lunch at Cafe Pasqual's.

As you can see, Evan was really missing us while we were gone.

Hanging out at Robinette's Apple Orchard.

Enjoying cider and doughnuts.

Playing with bubbles at the Children's Festival.

Driving the fire truck.
We have been away from home a lot this month between Chicago and New Mexico.  We are so incredibly blessed to have grandparents that take such good care of our little man while we are away.

Captaining the ship with Boompa.

Visiting the Downtown Farmer's Market with Nana.  I love that his "lovey" is tucked into Nana's pocket.

Today marks the start of one of my favorite months...BREAST CANCER AWARENESS month.  I will be wrapping myself up in all things PINK over the next few weeks!