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!