Posts Tagged ‘Breast Cancer’

This One is for Bridget

Saturday, April 6, 2013
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As part of my normal blog routine and to clear my mind, I often scroll through Facebook posts before I begin writing. As I did this again today, I lingered on a Susan G. Komen post and stopped dead in my tracks.

Something I’d known was going to happen for several months has finally become a reality. It’s a very sad time for all breast cancer survivors, advocates and friends. Bridget Spence passed away.

Bridget was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer at age 21. In the past eight years, she fought the bravest fight anyone could. She enrolled in clinical trial after clinical trial; suffered through treatment after treatment and surgery upon surgery, just trying to beat the ugly, mean, unfair disease of breast cancer.

Bridget fought a very public fight. She was an avid blogger and a spokesperson for all young survivors. Her final endeavor was to partner with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to help educate the public about clinical trials. Through her eloquent words and heartfelt writing, she inspired many young women to keep fighting, including me.

Last October she wrote that she was once again humbled by her cancer. This time, the “sneaky beast had gotten right to the heart of the matter,” and had metastasized to her heart. She had more surgery and enrolled in another clinical trial, bravely fighting harder, and with more perseverance, than most could ever endure. To her credit, she never complained, and was always grateful for more time, the promise of health and unending hope.

Finally, in December, she wrote her last blog. She asked her faithful followers to let her go. She had only one request, “Please, don’t forget about me.”

Just this week, I formed my team, Amy G’s Besties for Breasties, for the WV Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure. Although I’m once again grateful and thankful that I’m healthy enough to walk, I must admit this event is always emotional. Seeing the hundreds of survivors, and those still going through treatment, is a painful reminder of my personal struggle.  I'll walk not just for Komen, but for Bridget too

This year will be different. Komen provided funding to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to study an emerging cancer pathway and form a clinical trial. Bridget was enrolled in in this trial. It bought her more time with her family and friends and allowed her to live longer than her doctors expected.

This year as I walk with my team, I’ll not only be walking for Komen, but also for Bridget. I’ll hold my head a little higher and walk faster. I’ll go the extra mile, so to speak, to raise more money for my fellow fighters and survivors.

Although I only “knew” Bridget through various media channels, like so many other young survivors, we were sisters in this fight against a horrible disease. Bridget was an inspiration to survivors of all ages, and I can say with absolute certainty, I will never forget her.

Springing Forward

Saturday, March 23, 2013
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Although the forecast on my Weather Channel app is calling for a “wintry mix” for three of the next five days, spring is here. Easter is next weekend, my lilies are bursting with yellow buds and the days are a little longer. Who cares if it’s cold outside? I’m putting away my sweaters and shopping for sandals.

It’s about this time every year that I feel the need to spring clean the dust off of everything. This includes not just my baseboards and corners, but off my exercise equipment, too. Everything is nudging me to move – greener grass, serenading bands of songbirds and, during my all-too-infrequent evening walks, the lingering sunshine.

Despite my best efforts, I’ve let myself get out of shape. “Baby” weight and “breast cancer” weight were pretty tough, and I can now include a third category – “winter of 2013” weight.  Long hours in the office, coupled with a hungry 3-year-old screaming for dinner the minute I walk through the door and then ready for bed as soon as the dishes are done, make it difficult to sneak in the extra time needed for exercise. This is a major issue for me and I need to find a solution. I just can’t bear to subject the world to my thighs for yet another summer.

A lack of motivation is not the problem; it’s finding the time. At a recent young survivor’s breast cancer conference, I learned that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are among the most important steps survivors can take to keep cancer from coming back.

My motivation…

So I’m asking you, my fellow mommies, how do you make time for exercise? I could use some advice.

Blume where you are planted

Monday, September 10, 2012
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As I sit here clicking away at my computer, I should be starting on my second book.  I was supposed to begin drafting it on September 1st, but I just couldn’t get going.  It feels strange to be writing another title when my current work — Kat Tales — is still a toddler, more or less.  The book was published in March, launched in May, and now it’s to a point that it can walk around by itself without too much assistance.  But I’m not quite ready to move on.

One of the troubles with being a humorist (even that brings a laugh — I AM?) is feeling the pressure to be in a good mood for people, because I’ve branded myself as the girl who can find laughter in every situation.  We’ll see if I can by the end of these 750 words.

But lately, I’ve been witnessing so much sadness in my immediate circle.  My aunt (the one who lives next door to me) nearly died over the summer from dehydration related to advanced stages of kidney disease.  We came home from the beach to find her down to 82 pounds and unable to walk.  My other aunt was diagnosed with a cataract, and after letting it go for a while, the condition was changed to that of a brain tumor.  Big difference.  Right now, she’s in surgery having a craniotomy.  You better believe I’m getting a second opinion on my own cataract.  No, I haven’t done anything about that.  I’ve been ignoring it for 16 months.

Finally, and this is more than enough, a dear friend was recently told that she has lymphoma.  She is in her early 40s and she has a young son.  Today is her first day of chemotherapy through a port that was surgically implanted last week.

Mike, Ava, Maryn and I are doing fine with the exception of seasonal allergies. We can’t complain. But I am on edge…there’s no doubt about it. Are we next? My next-door aunt warns me to stop borrowing trouble.  I’ve even passed on a couple of freelance projects because I feel so distracted. I want to be with my girls and I want to focus on my home life.  If I were pregnant, this would be called “nesting”.  Whatever the definition, I’ll regret this behavior next month when I’m putting the Christmas budget together.

When bad things happen to people close to me, I turn into a turtle.  I pull my head inside my shell and wait for adversity to pass. Hunker down. But during that time, I rely on books to help me figure things out.  When I was younger, I turned to author Judy Blume for support.  I learned more about growing up from Judy than my own mother.  Aside from knowing what was going on inside the body of a pre-teen girl, Judy seemed to understand what was forming in her head, too.

Let’s see…there was Blubber, the story of a a fifth-grade girl who was bullied; classmate against classmate.  Then, there was Deenie, a girl who struggled to feel beautiful because of physical challenges.  Of course, we all read It’s Not the End of the World, because we listened to our parents argue and worried they’d end up divorced like Karen’s mom and dad.  And then…the book that librarians hid in their desk drawers until girls reached the sixth grade.  Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. 

My daughter has been reading Judy Blume’s books for a few years now — mainly Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and the Fudge series. Since 9-year-old kids are going on 12, I decided to re-read some of her coming of age books to see if they had been updated in any way.  I Google’d Judy’s name and discovered that she maintains a blog as well as a personal website.  At one time, she was a pretend parent.  Now, she feels like a peer.

Wednesday, September 5th’s post is called “!@#$% Happens“.  Judy had planned to spend the summer writing a new book (yes, please!), but instead, she had a mastectomy.  Twenty years of mammograms and self exams, 20 years of doctor appointments and tests…and nothing looked abnormal.  Had it not been for a just-to-be-sure sonogram, doctors — and Judy — would have missed the lump.  As with her stories, she appears to be writing a happy ending.

Speaking of writing, Judy’s book had to be postponed while she went through cancer procedures and treatments.  However, she promised her fans that she’d start working again right after Labor Day.  I need to follow her lead. It’s time to return to what I do best.

But before I begin typing page one of chapter one, I think I’m going to send a short note to someone who knows I’m out of sorts. Someone who knows I’m in need of a little encouragement.

Are you there, God? It’s me…Kathryn.

 

Crossing the Finish Line

Saturday, May 5, 2012
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I had the honor today of walking in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Even with rainy weather and wet socks, my team’s happy mood and gratefulness for health could not be dampened.  I walked with an entourage of family and friends, many of whom drove in the wee hours of the morning, to provide support and camaraderie to me.

Seeing the dedication of thousands of people who were also running and walking was awe inspiring. There were children cheering us on and kind-hearted individuals handing out water and few small snacks along the way. These people got up at the crack of dawn, stood in the rain for hours, and gave up a precious Saturday morning just to show how much they cared about supporting breast cancer survivors.

Prior to being diagnosed, I never realized how serious breast cancer is. Just typing these words makes me feel like a total idiot for being so naïve.  Survivors have raised so much publicity over the past decade that I wrongly assumed almost everyone survived.

While more women than ever are thriving after being diagnosed, the five year survival rate for stage 2 (early stage) is still only 74-81 percent (depending on various factors). Before my diagnosis, these would have seemed like pretty good odds. After fighting hard for almost two years, I just can’t believe the numbers aren’t higher.

The fear of recurrence is something survivors live with every day. In order to cure breast cancer, a lot of advances need to be made, particularly in the area of metastatic disease. Raising money for research and treatment is the only way to end it for good. Seeing so many people running or walking down Kanawha Boulevard made me realize my hope for a cure will eventually become a reality.

Crossing the finish line with my #1 reason to hope for a cure

 

Standing on the steps of our beautiful state capitol for the survivor’s picture was a very emotional experience. Being surrounded by women who have been tortured by chemo, faced painful surgery and radiation, and woken up with hair covering their pillow, gives me courage to keeping fighting for a healthy future. Crossing the finish line holding my son’s hand, with my husband, parents and friends on the other side, made me remember why I must never, ever give up my hope for a cure.

My New Breast Friends

Saturday, April 14, 2012
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Before I had my son, breasts were an insignificant part of
my life. No one was going to mistake me for Dolly Parton. Simply put, the
Victoria Secret miracle bra lived up to its name.

After giving birth, everything changed. I assumed I would
breastfeed, but I naively took for granted what a central part of life my
breasts would become. There were so many decisions to be made. Which pump was
best? What was the best nursing bra? Should I supplement with formula? What if
the baby became “nipple confused”?

Breast milk sustained my newborn for eight months. Initially,
every ounce of nutrition he received came from my body. I remember seeing the
first drop of colostrum immediately after he was born. I was in awe of what my body
could do.

Soon after weaning him, I discovered a small lump. Within
weeks I was diagnosed cancer. Suddenly there were mammograms, ultrasounds and
MRIs. I had visits with oncologists, surgeons and reconstructive physicians. Learning
about breast anatomy, mammary lymph nodes and various treatments left me
terrified, bewildered and wiping away a lot of tears.

This was a whole new level of consciousness. I had gone from
breast Zen, to hyperawareness and then suddenly to survival mode. A mastectomy
was the only surgical option. I was stunned. How could something that had been
so unassuming my whole life become tragic so quickly?

It is hard to define the womanly feeling that having breasts
provides until they are no longer there. The stark flatness of my mastectomy
chest was a huge barrier to wearing most clothing. Bathing suits or strappy dresses
were impossible. Without that soft, feminine silhouette, I felt awkward in my
clothes.

I tried various types of prosthesis and finally found one
that looked decent – but they were still heavy and hot. I spent months visiting
various reconstructive surgeons and searching for the right option. Then, three
weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge and began the reconstructive process.

This was my eighth surgery in two years. I spent more than eight
hours under anesthesia, undergoing a latissimus dorsi flap procedure and having
tissue expanders placed. When I woke up in the recovery room, I had breasts again.
Perhaps I was a little giddy from the pain medicine, but it was a great feeling.

The recovery period has been long and painful, but better
than the grueling process for which I tried to mentally prepare. Once again, I
had lots of family, friends and members of my church pitch in and help with
everyday things like cooking, cleaning and laundry.

Undergoing reconstruction has been very mentally and
physically challenging. So far, the benefits outweigh the cons, but I still
have a long road ahead. Throughout this process, I have noticed a familiar feeling.
But, this time it’s all about getting my normal body back and looking forward
to sun dresses and halter tops.

A Thankful November

Saturday, November 5, 2011
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As October ends and November begins, I am mindful that I didn’t write a blog about breast cancer awareness month, or acknowledge my struggle with the disease. Breast cancer impacts one in eight women, so even though we are now a full week into November, I thought I’d touch on something very personal – my survivorship.

As many of you are aware, I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 33. My now big boy toddler, was just a baby (only 10 months old) when I was diagnosed. I thought I had a clogged milk duct as I had recently stopped nursing. The initial shock, and the following 16 months of treatment, was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever been through. When I was diagnosed with HER-2 positive cancer in April, I wondered if I’d be alive at Christmas. As we opened our presents on Christmas morning, I was thankful to be here, but wondered if God had given me snow as a gift for the last Christmas that I’d be alive. As the months have passed and I am now seemingly well, and I realize that although these thoughts sound unbearable, they are totally normal for cancer survivors – they work as a sort of coping mechanism.

If you’re at all like me, you’re probably thinking – how did it happen? Why did I get cancer at the age of 33? Was it genetic? Was it because I breathe the air in the chemical valley every day? Was I particularly unhealthy?  I wish I knew. I find that anytime something really bad happens to someone, I always look for a reason to rationalize it. Why do children get cancer and people die in car accidents? Was the child exposed to some horrible toxin? Was the person driving too fast?  I think perhaps it helps me feel some sort of control over the uncontrollable. Maybe I can prevent that sort of thing from happening to me or my family if I can just find the reason why. But, in reality, I guess we’ll never have the answers to these questions, at least during our time on earth because often, the rational reason is not there.

During the time of my treatment it seemed impossible, but life went on.  Baby Henry grew from an infant to a toddler, and he’s now halfway to a preschooler! He’s healthy and strong and beautiful and rotten. I now notice the little things he does more than I believe I would have before the cancer. Every parent can understand how easily toddlers wear you down. He now has a permanent case of the “grabbies” – a particularly maddening form of torment. He grabs everything out of closets and off shelves as I try to get out the door to go anywhere. He is especially good at this when I am running late. But, frustrated or not, at least I’m here to witness it.

I am the first to say that the past year and half have been very hard, but this ordeal continues to bring me appreciation for things I never recognized before. I am trying harder to not take the small things in life for granted and to remember that no one is promised tomorrow. The kindness and friendship that I was shown during my treatment was immeasurable. Strangers sent me cards; my friends cooked us dinner each day for over a month; people drove with me and sat with me and cooked for me for each of my 16 chemo treatments. People offered to do my laundry and clean my house and mow my yard. Colleagues donated countless hours of sick leave so I wouldn’t lose my benefits or go off payroll. I had lots of pajama Saturdays with my friend, Amy, and I called every single one of my nurse friends over every medical issue under the sun. I will never be able to repay all of that kindness, but in the month of November, it seems fitting that I acknowledge how thankful I am for it.

Fall is my favorite season and the time between Halloween and Christmas is so much fun. And even though it is always quite hectic with parties, presents, and dinners galore, I plan to take a few moments each day to be mindful of how blessed I am and give thanks for my gifts. I recently purchased a thankful tree, which I have hung on my kitchen door. Every day Henry and I tuck a little note in that day’s pocket to say “thank you” for our blessings – both big and small. I hope that next year when we hang the calendar and we read each note, we’ll be able to remember all of the little things that brought us joy during November 2011. This month is a big milestone for me. It marks the one year end to my chemo treatments. Last year this month, my hair was a little more than peach fuzz and my daily radiation began. This is a time I’ll never forget, but I will always be thankful for it, because it has given me a new gift in life- the promise of peace and friendship and faith and family. As I am mindful and thankful for a healthy tomorrow, I hope that you take a few minutes each day and consider your blessings too.

Pressed for Time

Monday, October 24, 2011
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Flat Stanley is the tale of a young boy who is accidentally squished “as flat as a pancake” when a bulletin board falls on him. Stanley is very, very flat but otherwise fine. A collection of stories go on to tell how Stanley discovers some real advantages to being flat.

I have my own theory.

Flat Stanley got squished in a mammogram machine.

See his leg? I know how that feels.

I am a firm (scratch that) staunch believer in this theory because last Thursday, I got stuck in one. Just call me Flat Katy.

A recent article about our new Mommyhood, WV blogger, Amy Gannon, caused me to turn my office upside down in search of a nearly year-old order for a mammogram.  I should have had it done immediately following my annual exam, but after being in full glory for 15 minutes, I wanted to be left alone.  So, I filed it in one of my many in-boxes and forgot about it. Then, I read Monica Orosz’s story about Amy’s breast cancer battle, and then I read about Hollywood reporter, Guiliana Rancic’s recent diagnosis, and then I started to panic.

And I should be worried.  My mother died of lung cancer, but it had spread to her breast.  She died four short weeks after receiving the news.  My aunt is a breast cancer survivor, having undergone a radical mastectomy in the late 1970s.  She was left with a scar that stretches from the front of her chest to her back.  Lymph nodes and muscle were taken, as was much of her health due to experimental chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  A few years ago, my father’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she only recently learned that she was free and clear of all signs of the disease.

Worry metastasized throughout my body.  I simply had to do this — because dammit — I’m a mother and my girls need me.

One of my best friends is the marketing director for Thomas and St. Francis hospitals, and she has put together a brilliant ad campaign to encourage women to think pink and “get ‘em checked.”  She and another dear friend went to Thomas’ Imaging Center for their scans, posting on Facebook that it wasn’t a big deal at all.

However, the threat of breast cancer is a big deal.  Walk-ins are welcome at the Imaging Center, so I decided that if I could find my doctor’s order then it was the sign I needed to get ‘em checked.  I located it, still folded neatly in the original envelope, waiting to be delivered to the appropriate party.

When I checked in, I presented my order, my driver’s license and my insurance card.  I verified my address, telephone number and date of birth.  A hospital ID bracelet was taped around my wrist, and I was sent back to the ladies’ waiting room.  Within ten minutes, I was given a warmed hospital gown and shown to a dressing area, where I was told to remove my deodorant because the formulas contain aluminum (this in and of itself probably causes cancer).

I stuck my arms through the gown turned backward, tying each string like I was trussing a turkey.  I returned to the waiting room until my name was called, which was before the first commercial break of Regis and Kelly.

Greeted by a friendly lady who would be “taking my pictures today”, I walked into a room that was outfitted with a mammography machine and laptop computers.  She was training a new mammogram technician on this particular morning (Great.  Just my luck!), but thankfully, I wasn’t her first customer.

However, this was my first time.

“Honey,” she began.  “You have to take your bra off.”

Oh. Right.  I knew that.

After fumbling with the knots that I had tied in my dressing gown, I finally got down to business.  With the exception of the first few moments of embarrassment – after all, these were strangers even if they were women — I tried to remind myself that they’ve seen ‘em all.  It really is no big deal.

“Hold your breath!”  the tech sang.

No problem! I gasped.  How can you breathe when you’re flatter than a ham and cheese Panini?  Was it painful? Well, not really…but shocking? YES.  A second or two passed until I could exhale and move on to the next angle and then the next side.

I’m still not sure the female body is supposed to be manipulated like that, but if this is all it takes to save my life, then Flat Katy it is.

I left the Imaging Center with a few complimentary pieces of chocolate, feeling relieved that the ordeal was behind me, yet a tad anxious about waiting for the results.  I sat in my car and texted my husband that the test was over and I was fine, to which he replied: “I’m glad you did it.  For yourself and for the girls.”

And in his own way, I knew that meant  he was glad I did it for him, too.

So now I wait for the  postman to deliver my good news letter, which I hope will be in the mailbox within the next few days.  Until then, my girls and I are going to start a new book… or perhaps I’ll just make up a story of my own:

How Flat Stanley (Really) Got His Name.