Wednesday, October 23, 2013

He Listens

I arrived at the medical center before 8 am for my radiation practice run. Medical students shuffled across the parking lot from the student housing, sharply dressed sales people wheeled cases of samples through the doors, and the female valet parked cars. I couldn't help but think that I should be any one of them instead of myself, preparing for 6 weeks of another potentially harmful treatment that while it may help rid my body of cancer cells, is not without damage to other currently healthy organs. I wore a pink ribbon baseball hat over my short hair and was in the cancer institute, so there was no mistaking my affliction. Many people that passed me said hi, the others stared a beat too long. I knew they were all thinking the same thing, that poor girl, she's so young. For some reason, this doesn't bother me as much as it did while I was going through chemotherapy. Maybe it's because I know that I'm about to reemerge as a new person, a hopefully cancer free person, who once again, looks healthy to the naked eye.

I will spare the details of the radiation simulation because they are boring. It was a bunch of laying, exposed breast pointing at the ceiling, techs calling out numbers, and X-rays being taken. A red marker draws a rather large outline of the radiation field and I am on my way, and told to return tomorrow for treatment # 1.

I went upstairs and found myself following my nose towards the Starbucks, and my heart, towards the chapel. I spent a lot of time in that chapel last summer, on my knees begging for my dad to get well. I wrote my prayer requests in the book specific to that days needs-end the fever, regain kidney function, wean the ventilator. On this day, I read over the prayer requests and felt the pain of every person who put that pen to paper. This time, I added one for myself. Afterwards I entered the worship area and took to my knees in the familiar spot. I asked God to give me strength to get through this next part of the battle with as much ease as He's allowed me so far. I prayed that I would be cancer free for the rest of my life, or at least long enough to meet my grandchild and dance at Harper's wedding. I asked that I be used for a purpose.

I felt moved to open the book of Psalms laying in front of me and read the first thing my eyes focused on. What do you know? The Lord may not have given me any answers yet, but He proved that He was listening. I read:

Jesus answered and said to him "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Found: Lost Thing

It's easy to say that life has been a nightmare since I was diagnosed on February 15th of this year. But if I really stop and think about it, I find that some of the best moments of my life have happened in the last 8 months since cancer rocked my world. Some of them even happened because of cancer.

A few weeks ago there was a post by the Young Survival Coalition-Northeast Region on Facebook. They were requesting a young survivor to speak to a girl's athletic team at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechancisburg, PA. Was this for real? They needed someone to talk to some female athletes at MY high school? As soon as I read it, I knew it was the soccer team, the same team I played on 16 years ago. I felt chills at how this opportunity felt perfect and like fate.

On Friday night I had my opportunity to speak to the JV and Varsity soccer girls from CV and Carlisle for the kick off of their annual Breast Cancer Awareness Game that benefits the Young Survival Coalition. They briefed me that no detail was off limits and the girls were not afraid to ask questions. I began by telling story from diagnosis through treatment and then opened it up to questions. The questions went on for about 40 minutes. These girls were phenomenal! They asked so many questions, like how do you know what a lump feels like, what foods were good for reducing breast cancer risk, how has my faith changed since diagnosis, when should they start getting screened for breast cancer, and questions about my wigs, my surgery and my reconstruction. I had the time of my life! I took my wig off for them and showed them my fuzzy head and how easy it was to put the wig on, which amazed them. Afterwards, a group of these fabulous girls surrounded me and asked some more questions and they got to meet Harper. I got a couple babysitting offers too! Michelle, who was in charge of the event presented me with a Alex and Ani Young & Strong bracelet that I absolutely adore. I can't believe they were thanking me for being there when it was completely my pleasure and an honor. There was something so energizing and healing in speaking about the last year. In the time that I was up there I got to educate, make jokes, laugh, bare my bald head, and yes, even cry a little. It was therapy that was benefiting not only myself but all those girls. The night couldn't have been more perfect for me and I hope that in some way, I helped those girls and have made enough of an impact so that they do their self exams each month.

When I first got up to the podium, I was nervous. I freaking hate speaking in public. I'm a drug rep and I speak to groups of people all the time about my medicines and disease states. Those people, the doctors, are much smarter than me and I hope that I make it through the conversation without them asking me something that I don't know so that I don't lose any credibility. I hope that I make it out of the conversation without screwing up and looking like an idiot. But I couldn't mess this up. It was my story and nobody knows my story better than I do. Nobody knows what my experience with cancer has been like better than me, and I couldn't answer a question about myself incorrectly. The longer I stayed up at the podium, the shaky voice subsided and I felt more comfortable and I never wanted to leave. I realized that this is what I want to do. I want to share my story through social media, speaking engagements, the mentoring of cancer patients, and volunteering and fundraising for the ACS. It is what I'm going to do.

I always wondered what my "thing" was. What was I passionate about? A lot of people I know have a thing that sort of defines obsession over a sport, TV program, musical group, a specific craft they are good at, or even an expert level of knowledge in regards to certain parenting techniques. Sure, I like a lot of things but I never had a fanatical enthusiasm for anything except taking bubble baths, shopping at Pier 1 Imports, and consuming pumpkin flavored food and drink.  I've been searching for my thing for years and maybe it showed up in the form of a thing in my breast that stopped my heart that February morning. Since last Friday night, a flip has been switched inside of me and I feel a level of positivity that I haven't felt since the days before my cancer diagnosis when I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me. I found my thing. And it's more than just a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Thank God.

 Speaking to the Cumberland Valley and Carlisle JV and Varsity girls soccer teams on Friday, October 4th, 2013.
Being introduced on the field with the varsity team for their annual Breast Cancer Awareness Game benefiting the Young Survival Coalition.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I'm not sure what I feel about my favorite month of the year being hijacked by a pink haze that serves as a constant reminder of what I've been through and what will always be a part of me from here on. In the past October was the start of cool and crisp fall weather, that smoky smell in the air, gorgeous scenery, the excitement for my birthday and Halloween, and in recent years, the celebration of our wedding anniversary. Now it takes on a whole new meaning for me, as we are only at day 1 and I am unable to escape the pink.

I'm two and a half weeks out from chemotherapy. I still have 9 months of Herceptin to go, 6 weeks of radiation that has yet to start, and 10 years of Tamoxifen. Breast cancer is still a large chunk of my world, and as much as I hate to say it, but it's still my identity at this time.  Even so, on Saturday night we went to a preseason Hershey Bears hockey game and I was walking along the club level admiring the jerseys behind the glass. Every few jerseys would be one with a pink ribbon on it. And that moment, my moment of being a completely normal person looking at jerseys and not thinking about cancer, was interrupted by the reminder of the pink ribbon. And I thought about how last year I would have remarked at how pretty the pink ribbon jerseys were and this year looking at them, I saw scars, surgical drains, huge syringes of red liquid, a face in the mirror that I don't know, dark nights of despair, and mornings that were worse because it wasn't all a dream. That pretty pink ribbon took me out of my normal life and reminded me, made me aware, of the fact that life will be anything but normal for me for a while. But to someone who hasn't lived through this, or along side of this, it's just a pretty pink ribbon.

I'm not knocking Pinktober at all. I get it. Awareness is a good thing. If everything pink makes you feel your boobies for the first time or for the first time in a long time, then it worked. I like the idea that something I would normally buy, now donates a portion to breast cancer charities and research. I've even been known to, in the past, come home with a brand new pink tennis racket and pink tennis balls because 1.) They were cute and pink, duh and 2.) It went to a good cause. Did I play tennis? No. But I wanted to help end breast cancer! There is plenty of talk of "thinking before you pink" on the internet. I don't want to get into it in this blog, but make sure you know where your donation is going and make sure that it's going to research. Research will be what ends this disease. They've made amazing advances thanks to research. Awareness will not be the end of breast cancer.  Money doesn't need to be spent on awareness.  I'm sure any breast cancer survivor and we are a plenty (remember 1 in 8), will gladly make you aware for free. And I'm pretty sure that by talking to a breast cancer survivor and hearing their story, how they went from a completely normal healthy life to a life terrorized by cancer in the instant that their fingers brushed over that lump, or when the voice on the other end of the phone said something was seen on their annual mammogram...that will stick with you longer than seeing NFL football players wear pink cleats.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, breast cancer awareness already is my mission and I'll do it 12 months out of the year. I will talk to anyone about my story, and I won't leave out the gory details. Anyone who reads this blog or is friends with me on Facebook knows this about me. But believe it or not, there are times, maybe just a few minutes each day, where breast cancer is not on my mind. But this month, I won't be able to escape it and that's still hard. I long for the days when I thought I was healthy, when a pink ribbon was just a pink ribbon, and when I thought breast cancer was an old woman's disease. But now I'm aware and I've become aware in a difficult way. And I'm here to say this:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chemo Finale in Pictures

I can't find words to describe this day so I'd rather tell it with pictures. It was exciting, full of amazing surprises from amazing people, and very emotional.

The cupcakes I brought for the chemo nurses and my cheering section:

My neighbors surprised me in the biggest way: with a pink ribbon house!! I live in the greatest neighborhood!