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.