Cancer Survivor

The Edge

I have been slightly on edge recently.  I was not sure what the cause of my edginess was and my family accused me of being “hangry” and needing to eat more. No.  It was not quite that feeling.  Sure, I have a lot going on but nothing that is out of the ordinary.  I racked my brain for what could possibly be making me uneasy.

My thoughts have been in overdrive again.  Was this my typical drive to push myself to achieve my current list of goals?  Was this all that has been going on at work?  Was this my need to get the kids situated and back into the fall and school swing of things?  No.  The uncertainty was different than my usual behavior patterns.

Then it hit me.  Smack dab in the face.

August 31st.

August 31st, you say?  What is the big deal about that date?  Labor Day weekend.  Yes, usually fun and full of the last of summer events.  There it sits, like a lead weight or a heavy matzo ball in the bottom of my stomach.  The discomfort and uneasiness has me seeking for relief.  Where is the bottle of Tums to coat the emotional distress?

August 31st, 2007 was my own personal “D-Day” and for some reason, the last two D-Days of mine have been a negative memory that has caused the aforementioned uncertainty.  Ten years ago, was the day I heard the horrific words, “You have cancer.”  Ten years ago, I locked myself in my master bath with my husband as the recognizable hospital number rang on my cell phone and I knew….I just knew.  The memories of August 31st are so profound, the details so concise and clear, it is as if the day happened yesterday.  A portion of my brain is set on a loop, replaying the events of that day in a way that the Harry Potter marathon plays on the FreeForm channel on TV.

The funny thing is I never thought about my diagnosis date much until the last couple of years.  I have yet to pinpoint what triggered this sudden change or recollection of this date.  My focus has always been on my “chemoversary” or the date that my medical oncologist used as my “survivorship” date, the date in which I finished the last of my chemotherapy treatments.  Despite still needing radiation and more surgery after my chemo was finished, the date that is etched firmly in my brain – much like the birthdates of each of my children, is my chemoversary.  It is a much more positive date for me to cling to, so why the sudden clawback to my diagnosis date.  I still do not know.

It was a Friday night at 7:00 pm approximately when my phone rang.  I can still hear Dr. Quinlan’s soft voice on the other end of the phone.  My immediate reaction was why was he calling me at 7:00 pm on a Friday on Labor Day weekend; but I knew.  I just knew.

The day before I had a core needle biopsy, the same of which I also remember vividly and with angst.  Have you ever seen how they harpoon Moby Dick?  Yes.  The core needle biopsy was like being harpooned over and over again with a very large gauge weird looking instrument.  This procedure is ultrasound guided, so you are forced to look at the screen while the radiologist shoots this weapon into your breast to pull out pieces of your tissue that resemble small worms.  Yes, like small earth worms that wiggle across the pavement after a spring storm.

I recall being equal parts intrigued and disgusted as this procedure went on.  Science, it is fascinating.  But wait, this man is pulling out long, wormy sections of my left boob.  I felt sick.  I felt hot.  I felt cold.  The radiologist asked me questions about my pregnancy.  Right.  Yes.  I was 14 weeks pregnant with my third child.  Weird that they have the ultrasound on my boob and not on my belly so I could see the little fluttering baby.  What alternate universe was I in?

The radiologist was talking incessantly and I interrupted him.  Cut the medical talk for a minute, please and in layman’s terms, tell me what you see.  Please.  The doctor squirmed uncomfortably so for what seemed an unusually long time but was likely seconds.  He simply and calmly told us that he had put a rush on my results and good luck with everything.  I remember saying to him that means it does not look good.  I know you see this stuff all the time, so you know it is not good news.  He simply responded to call your oncology office tomorrow after 2:00 pm if you have not heard before then and again he said good luck with everything before leaving the room.

The walk to the car was a daze.  Foggy.  As if my vision had been clouded over and my mind was honing in on one thought.  I looked at my husband as he started the car and I told him, “I have cancer.”  His response through clenched teeth was, “It sounds that way, doesn’t it?”  The drive home is clear until a certain point and the thought that canvased my brain was “what on EARTH did you do to end up with cancer while pregnant?  Did you murder a Pope in a former life?” (Note:  I am not even Catholic).

Friday, August 31st was D-Day.  How does one sit around and wait for that call?  Little chores and tasks did not prove to be a distraction.  Tick, tock, tick, tock the clock inside my head went.  After what seemed to be the longest day of my life, I called oncology at 2:10 pm to see what was going on since the radiologist told me to call after 2:00 pm.  The nurse told me my results were not yet it.  Exasperated, I begged her.  How could my results not be in yet?  I…..*need* to know.  She reassured me in her most calming voice that the doctor would call me as soon as he had them.  I reminded her it was a holiday weekend and I could *not* wait until Tuesday to know.  I reminded her I was pregnant.  She promised me the doctor would call me.  Tick, tock, tick, tock……..

My children, then nine and six years old were a better distraction.  They both knew something was up as their routine had been altered in a couple of weeks prior as their Momma needed some additional doctors’ appointments.  My oldest honed in on me with this uncanny ability that she has and she repeatedly asked me if I were okay.  I assured her I was okay and that the doctors just needed to check some things out for Mommy.  Her eyes gave her away, it was as if she also had this sense of what lay ahead.

The phone rang and my heart skipped a beat.  I ran to the bathroom and had my husband join me behind the locked door.  We mentioned to the kids we were expecting an important phone call and needed privacy.  Of course, that warning did not stop them from knocking and asking what we were doing mid-conversation.  Remember how I “knew”?  I knew, but there was a part of me that still remained hopeful, maybe even optimistic that the doctor would say there was no concern and the lump in my breast was still just a benign fibroid that would be dealt with after the baby was born.

“Your results are positive.”

The blood drained from my face and plummeted through my body into my feet.  I sat on the toilet.  Holy shit.  My worst nightmare is true.  I have cancer.  Like cancer-cancer.  Somehow, through my marbled thoughts and burning ears, I asked the Chief of Surgical Oncology what stage cancer and what type.  I half-listened as he mentioned it looking like Stage Two because my tumor was well over four centimeters in size.  I vaguely remember him saying we need more testing to obtain the sub-type of breast cancer that it was.  Dr. Q told me he had taken the liberty to schedule me for an all-day meeting with the entire team the following Wednesday. I should be prepared to spend the day at the hospital to make the plan of action.

Quietly, I asked him what my prognosis looked like.  Expertly, he explained it depended upon the sub-type but overall the prognosis was good.  He further stated that I would likely have to start treatment sooner versus later and that we would work the pregnancy in.

“Oh, crap.  I have a baby in me.  This changes EVERYTHING.”  These were my thoughts as I realized again that I had cancer.  I did not know if I were going to live or die.  I had young kids.  How could I have cancer?  What the fuck?  My life had had more than its fair share of challenges and hurdles to date, but now I have to add a potential death sentence?

We hung up the phone after thanking Dr. Q for calling us so late on the holiday weekend.  My husband was scared shitless.  He just stood there with his eyes brimming with tears.  His personality makes him go to worst case scenario immediately before working his way backward.  He already had me dead.

I begged him to put on his game face as the kids were getting squirrely and begging us to come out of the locked bathroom.  We hugged.  I told him I would be okay and put my own game face on.  The entire night I pondered how I would have to tell everyone that I now have cancer.  I was immediately uncomfortable because I am not one for sympathy or help.  I am tough.  I am resilient.  I will do this.

The next morning, we canceled all of our weekend plans.  How does one normally process the news that they have cancer?  Oh, right, there’s absolutely nothing normal about having cancer.  We started slowly sharing the news with family members and close friends.  The agony and despair on their faces were nearly as grim as the receipt of the news over and over and over again. I became a walking, living, pity party able to provoke tears or sadness by simply entering the room.

Simply days later, I had meeting after meeting after meeting with a tribe of medical professionals:  surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, nurse after nurse, mental health social worker, and more.  I had made my decision that I was going to wait until my baby was born to do anything.  My surgical oncologist begged me to reconsider.  He thoroughly explained over and over again how it would not hurt the baby.  He displayed twenty-five-year-old studies showing the effects on pregnancy were minimal, albeit real.   It was not until I met with the high-risk OB/GYN doctor when I was still being adamant about waiting six more months until my baby was born that I got my wake-up call.  The obstetrician grabbed me by the arms, she looked me in the eyes and stated firmly, “Chemo will NOT hurt your baby!  You have TWO other children that also need their mother.”  Internally, I collapsed.  If this doctor was willing to assure me that chemo would NOT hurt my baby……well, I had to place my trust in her at this moment because she was right.  I had two older children who did, in fact, need their momma.  Ugh, how did I get to this point?  Where did I go wrong in my life?

Within a week of my all day pow wow with every doctor under the sun, I was scheduled for my sentinel node surgery the following week.  I had been sub-typed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC).  It is more commonly found in women of African-American descent, so why did I have it?  Who knows.  We needed to start treatment immediately.

My very first chemotherapy treatment consisted of two drugs:   Adriamycin (the red devil) and Cytoxan the week after.  The regiment of drugs at the time for TNBC was to include a third chemotherapy called Taxol, but they refused to give it to me while I was pregnant.  I had also begged for a mastectomy, get these boobs off of me but my surgeon felt it was too risky while pregnant, plus because I was so young he was of the breast conservation decision.  I disagreed but he showed statistics that mastectomy would not improve my survival rate.  My baby was more important than a risky infection.  By September 14th, just barely two weeks after my diagnosis, I had already had surgery and started my first of many chemotherapy treatments.

prego scarf nov 07
“Camp Mojito” night to support spreading the word as I geared up for my lumpectomy at 7 months pregnant. First two chemos just completed.

Recalling this time in my life is crystal clear.  One would think that ten years later, the memories would start to diminish.  Isn’t there a cliché about time healing wounds?  I am healed in many ways, but August 31st and the days shortly thereafter are meshed into my being and forever a part of who I am now.  I am blessed to still be here with these vivid recollections because so many of the wonderful women I met along the cancerland highway are not.  My hope is that someone will read this that may be newly diagnosed and have a little hope that ten years down the line, they will recant their story for someone else.  Maybe someone else further out like me will feel validated and resonate with their own memories, “Yes!  I can recall my diagnosis this clearly too!”

Ten years.  Here’s some perspective:  My older two were nine and six on August 31, 2007.  My older two are now nineteen and sixteen on August 31, 2017.  From fourth grade to a sophomore in college for my oldest!  From kindergarten to junior year in high school for my middle.  From in utero to fourth grade for my miracle chemo baby.

Ten years.  Ten glorious years of living life after cancer.  The gift of life a second time over is glorious.  I am looking forward to my next ten years as there’s a whole lot more living to be had.

Repost from “Confessions  Of A Curvy Girl” on October 3, 2013

I do not hate pink. In fact, I find it to be a flattering color for me and the several shades of pink represent so much more for me in my life post-cancer.

I do hate the way pink is used. Pinkwashing. Have you heard of it? Tell me you have not walked into any box store in the month of October and you have not been drowned in pink as it is everywhere. Pink has been branded into a commercial enterprise of its own; namely for many corporations to jump on the breast cancer “awareness” bandwagon and ultimately, reap the benefits of its bottom line profit margin.
nfl pink

Debates abound with some die-harders telling me that a pink ribbon on their bucket of fried chicken does make them stop and think about their breast health for a moment.

kfc pink

Come on! <Insert my most dramatic, sarcastic eye-roll right here!>

Seriously, is it not infuriating that the pink ribbon – a symbol of a horrendous disease and a cause to “cure” the same – is somewhat misplaced on a bucket of obesity inducing fried chicken? How does that pink ribbon on a bag of cat food or cat litter help women with their breast health? Personally, I have seen the ribbon on everything from toilet paper, bubble wrap, Italian sausages, yogurts, duct tape, and countless other items of merchandise for sale.

We KNOW, we KNOW, we KNOW breast cancer exists.  Can we all safely say we are very AWARE that breast cancer is a profound problem currently today?  Um, yes.  Do not even get me started on “the cure”…..that is another blog post in and of itself.

Have you read the label to see how much of your “donation” by purchase of said item actually goes to the purported cause? Maybe ten percent, or maybe ten cents or maybe the disclaimer is as vague as “a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of this product goes to a breast cancer charity (or to breast cancer research).” Wait, what?

Where is YOUR money going?

Buying pink does not necessarily do anything for the hundreds of thousands battling breast cancer each year. In fact, many of the so-called pink items actually contain ingredients that may CAUSE cancer. Yay for a cure!

Come on! <Insert my most dramatic, sarcastic eye-roll right here!>

We CAN do better than this! We can, we can, we can!!!!

Let me tell you a little about breast cancer. Your brain will permanently etch the sound waves of your surgical oncologist calling you to tell you that you have cancer. You will hear that voice in your head for the remainder of your life. You will never, ever forget the dread, the fear, and the pit in the bottom of your innermost core knowing you have a disease that may possibly take your life.

Your eyes will never erase the image of a nurse donning all but a HazMat suit to come administer the insanely toxic and potent poison right….into…your veins. The fear of watching the gelatinous “Red Devil” (aka Adriamycin) arriving in the largest syringe you have ever laid eyes on (bigger than a turkey baster, people) being slowing pushed into the IV port and the feeling of the cool toxic substance surge into your body is similar to what you envision being tortured may be like. You will also panic at the sight of a technician coming in with a metal lockbox containing the radioactive isotopes they inject INTO YOU. Anything that must be under lock and key in a protective safe and deemed *radioactive* (I think Chernobyl if you will), must not be thrust into your bloodstream. Oh, yes, it does.

Despite drinking gallons of liquids to counter the effects of the noxious chemicals soaring through your system, you will not forget the feeling of not being able to poop. That is right. You insist to yourself that what goes in MUST come out. However, trying to poop on chemotherapy is nearly impossible. You actually consider an emergency room visit because it….just…..will…..not……come…..out. You cry.

Your breasts will never be the same. Ever. Not only will you show hundreds of different people your boobies on a daily basis, you will not be able to pull off the name Misty Rain and get tips in your thong for displaying these beautiful mounds. Oh, did I mention that about ninety-five percent of these people who gawk at your boobs will also touch them. Yup. Men and women. Young, middle-aged, and old. You cannot help but wonder how many boobs they touch every day in their professional lives. Seriously, your mind goes there.

Your armpit will be scarred and lymph nodes taken for good. Your breasts may be one or all of the following: scarred, misshapen, lopsided, tattooed, puckered, dimply, discolored, numb, plastic, radiation-induced firm, mis-matched nippled, lumpy, filled with scar tissue or fatty necrosis or even reconstructed from tissue from somewhere else on your body. Your emotional outlook on how your feminine breasts are now far from how you were made naturally may take a huge hit causing you to hide your breasts from your husband or not want to date for fear of disgusting them.

The bone pain from the other poison, called Taxol, will make you contemplate suicide. Take the pain of childbirth and delivery but maximize that by 1000% and pretend you are getting run over by a gigantic Mack truck crushing all of your bones slowly. You will ponder if death is a more palatable alternative.

You will have countless side effects long after the treatment has commenced and your support teams have dispersed. The emotions shift daily and as if on a roller coaster in the Marianas Trench. The residual bone and joint pain makes you shuffle like a ninety year old. The phantom striking pains in all of your surgical sites. The fog brain. Yes, you will not remember anything like you used to. Words you know will be stuck…..somewhere… you try to complete your sentences.

Welcome, my friends, this….is……PINK.

In an effort, myself, to do better about the world of pink and to make the lives of my fellow cancer counterparts more comfortable, I had to find a way to ensure that change was being made. I could not ask people for donations to support pink and not be able to tell them where their money was truly going. With a passionate cancer advocate who has bulldozed change herself, we founded PINK Revolution Breast Cancer Alliance. Our mission was to ensure that monies that come into our pink world actually go right back out in its entirety (yes, 100% of those monies – no skimmed fat executive salaries of these so-called NON-PROFITS; no operating expenses to cover extravagant five star hotel functions to “rally the troops”; no cents of the dollars actually coming back to the ultimate cause) to help patients you may very well know yourself.

How can a woman try to fight for her life when she has no disability insurance and cannot work because of the aforementioned “side-effects” of chemotherapy and surgeries; and the assistance she is given through our local social programs is $27/month in food stamps? Oh sure, what little she will try to eat given the projectile vomiting and constant nausea may amount to $27/month.

Come on! <Insert my most dramatic, sarcastic eye-roll right here!>

Our world has become a fast and furiously paced place to live. However, we are all humans and we all have the capacity to love one another and to help one another. Let us bring back the human touch. Let us take a moment from our busy lives to care for each other. It truly does take a village, so let us bring that back.

Donations are immensely helpful and help PINK Revolution fund a number of necessities – from local research at UMass Memorial Medical School Research, to leading edge technology (one of five in the world sophisticated tomosynthesis (3D) machines for betting diagnostic imaging) at UMass Memorial Comprehensive Breast Center, (yes, that’s me on their page),  to improved patient care and funding for items such as wigs, lymphedema sleeves, prosthetics and so much more.

Make your pink dollars count. Know with confidence that your donation is making a huge difference in the life of a very real breast cancer warrior. If you cannot make a donation, there are endless other ways to pay it forward: make a meal for a family going through cancer treatment, give a patient a ride to their chemotherapy, mow their lawn, rake their leaves, watch their young children, clean their house and set the ripple of pervasive change in place for our future generations.  If all else fails, ask me – I will certainly help align you in an opportunity that will allow you to feel even better than buying that pink yogurt.

Let us all be passionately pink.

Let us all be the start of pervasive change.

Recently, I became so frustrated with the amount of money flying out my front door that I decided change must occur in our household. With children in multiple activities that cost nearly an arm and a leg, we have to start making some other sacrifices because I do not want to live in a yurt when I am 65 (unless that is the choice I make, not the only option I have because of a non-existent retirement account).

The first place I looked was our “Triple Play” statement. Are you kidding me? Are you #*&$@ kidding me? Every month we pay for a home phone that we NEVER use (because we are NEVER home). Every month we pay for a cable package that does not include the premium channels, but has 652 other channels – yet, constant complaints about how nothing is on are daily mantras from the creatures that reside in our dwelling. Every month we pay for internet speed which drives nearly every form of technology; namely technology that household members are ON while complaining that there is nothing on the television.

Enough. I called our provider and said to nix the home phone (911 will be fine from our cell phones and THAT hefty bill we have been paying for the past three years while in this home). I asked our provider to nix the cable, with the exception of the basic news channels for a much more comfortable $10/month. I asked the provider to please leave the internet alone (and promptly signed up for Netflix for yet another comfortable $10/month). We are saving over $115/month! Yes, that went out the door for another new bill almost as soon as I told the provider to cancel those aforementioned services (damn kids)!

With that, we started watching the series, “Breaking Bad” as we had heard so much about it and I am a fan of Bryan Cranston since his “Malcolm in the Middle” days. Honestly, I had no idea or any expectations of the AMC drama – as I knew it involved Bryan’s character, Walt White, making and selling meth. I had no idea that Walt would be making and selling meth because he has lung cancer. Nor did I have any idea the flooding emotions that would overcome me with many of the passing episodes.

“Breaking Bad” is one of those shows that sucks you in with a magical force; a deep drawing breath pulling you closer and closer – not unlike that of a Dementor pulling the life out of Harry Potter. You cannot get enough and you are conflicted: making and selling drugs is bad, but Walter White wants to provide for his family before he succumbs to what appears to be a terminal case of lung cancer. You find yourself shaking your head in disgust because of the process and community involved with methamphetamine; but you find yourself rooting for the family as their dad sacrifices to ensure their future without him in it to provide.

In my own cancer battle, I recall wanting to make the best decisions for my family and not necessarily me. I knew I had to stay alive at any cost because I had two young children and another on the way. Every single sacrifice had to be made in order to ensure my children did not lose their mother prematurely; that was my driving factor and I did not feel there was any other choice. Perhaps when Walt was being pressured by his family to make that same decision that I had to (saving yourself regardless), my tears flowed heavily because now, six years post-treatment, I understand that a choice of treatment plan is precisely that – a choice, a decision that ultimately needs to be made by the person diagnosed with cancer themselves. Every situation is different; every family is unique and will do whatever they need to do in order to keep a loved one alive. However, at the end of the day, the decision on what poisons, or surgical procedures, or costs to incur is up to the body the cancer resides within. I learned this the hard way when a friend of mine battling stage four breast cancer met with me to tell me she was done. My own brain could not fathom the selection of words she was conveying to me; the side effects and quality of life were not worthy enough to warrant another year or so on this planet. But your kids! She quickly and firmly retorted with a resounding explanation of how she did not want her kids to remember her last weeks/months/years as a supremely sick being. That night, in our local restaurant, my friend gave me a priceless gift of a different perspective, an empathy if you will, but also an empowerment in realizing how important it is for each of us to have the choice in what we do for our bodies; particularly when given a cancer diagnosis.

breaking bad chemo

I cried for Walter White; a fictional character on a television series because his family was not giving him the right of a choice of what was best for him.

Every time Walt vomits, my eyes well up as my own vivid recollections of spasmodic, wrenching, chemotherapy induced projectile vomit rifled through in lighting speed to the front of my memory banks. My oldest is exceptionally compassionate to the scenes because she remembers her mom clinging onto the kitchen sink calling her father for help in between the heaving.

breaking bad walt vomit
Photo courtesy of AMC

As Walt gears up for surgery and acts loopy from the pre-surgery drugs, I laugh with him in recalling my own silly pre-surgery moments; such as when I was in for my wire localization lumpectomy. I laid nervously on the table in radiology waiting to be wheeled into surgery with a very thin, long wire standing up approximately five inches or so out of my left breast. Since it was early December, I joked about how I looked like a remote control car my young son would be getting for Christmas. Or the time the Chief of Radiology wrote a very large signatory initials on my left shoulder to document the proper side for my sentinel node surgery and I clumsily teased him if he autographed all of his art work (he did not find it funny, but I laughed from a drug induced stupor as if I were suddenly on the same caliber of comedy as Lily Tomlin).

I feel every ounce of Walt’s anxiety as he nervously awaits dreaded diagnostic test results, such as an MRI. Ask any cancer survivor and they will tell you, the waiting game is nearly enough to derail you and force you into the fetal position until THAT call comes in or you drag your feet into your oncologist’s office. Even my husband comments on the scenes waiting for the doctor to convey the news, with a repulsive feeling of the dread that accompanies the inevitable words outlining the good or the not so good.

My emotions bubbled up when Walt first held his newborn baby; because I knew, I knew what was going through his head.  After all, I lived it by birthing my own baby smack dab in the middle of my cancer treatment.  The first thought you have is, “Will I live to see this child grow up?”  Yes, I was relating to a fictional character who makes meth!

breaking bad new baby
Photo courtesy of AMC

Watching the show regularly (one plus of streaming your television is instant gratification and not waiting another WHOLE week before the next episode), I question why I suddenly have such strong cancer emotions six years after I finished my treatment. With each passing year of good health, one would assume that I am well on my way to putting the cancer behind me. If it were only that easy!

Not only did I focus so much on getting the cancer OUT OF ME, I neglected to let myself feel the emotions that come with the territory. I shoved those ugly feelings wayyyyy down deep within. Yes, I did. However, the real lesson here is that you may never assume anything in the cancer world. You cannot control what you feel and when you feel it. Six years later, I am still sorting through unexpected emotions just as my body still struggles with the “Collateral Damage”. More so, now being in a position to support my childhood best friend through her cancer battle allows me to process some of the emotions I buried. For what I did not feel for myself, I feel for her… eyes well up at the injustice of it all – the cancer world pounds the crap out of you and stays with you for the remainder of your life.

As we pore through Season Three, my heart breaks for Walter White and his “Breaking Bad” family because the pain they portray is very real. The writers and the actors have done a supreme job at conveying the realistic and compromising world of cancer, the unexpected and often times inappropriate reactions as well as the assumed responses from those affected.

In particular, the conflict of right versus wrong (is it okay to make/sell drugs to leave a legacy for your family because you think you are terminal) toys with the obscure reality of whether you may live or die when you are diagnosed with cancer. Would I do the same as Walt has chosen to do? Would you? Would I make different choices in my cancer battle now versus what I did back then? Would I choose to handle my emotions in an altered manner had I known then what I know now?

breaking bad bad good

There are no answers. I am now awake, however.  I choose to live in the now and experience, feel, cope with the emotions that may surface. I cry at the television when it strikes a chord with a relevant cancer scene. I get angry watching my friend going through six hundred and fifty three seemingly never-ending chemotherapy treatments. I am anxious when I plop my boobs on the cold tray as they are about to be squished and scanned for any sign of recurrent disease. I also feel the energy kick of the kale surging through my vein. I experience the strength of cut and weakened muscles as they pound through a WOD at Crossfit. I hug my friends who are struggling to get through their journeys. I laugh at the amount of money we are saving by reducing our spending; and know that even though my children have this new savings spent before I actually touch it that I do not need to sell any meth to buy more time with them. I have it, even if some of it is spent watching “Breaking Bad” together.

breaking bad I am awake

26.2 Examples of Inspiration

In my opinion, April 15, 2013 is similar to September 11, 2001. A regular day taken by cowards who sought to invoke extreme forces of evil on innocent people by bombing a sporting event; a world renown road race nonetheless. Fear was instilled on thousands as bombs went off and ripped apart bodies and lives. Immediately, however, the strength and determination that is not only the bond of the running community, but also of the Boston community, proved to be tantamount to the acts of stupidity carried out by two lost souls seeking to gain their moment of fame for an extremist view.


boston strong all

A year later, resilience and perseverance shine brightly as the families of those who were lost that tragic day last April find their ways to navigate a world without their own. The injured survivors remain in search of new patterns of *normal* with missing limbs, damaged hearing, and constant physical pain, all of which are daily reminders of how their lives were forever changed by simply being a part of a bond; an inspirational race which delivers its own form of resilience and perseverance.

After watching the horrific events unfold last year from afar and feeling the pain, the suffering, the anger, the disbelief, and the entire range of emotions that surged through my heart, I knew I had to be in Boston in 2014. The gravitational force, if you will, that pulled my heart strings back to Boston were intense.  I somehow had to find a way to not only be present in Boston in 2014, I had to make the 26.2 mile trek with purpose, with strength, with determination, with resilience and with perseverance.

Aside from being emotionally pulled by the lure of my home state, the signs were ever-present; symbols compelling me to face my fear and participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon. In less than two months after the bombings of last year, I reached a critical milestone in my breast cancer battle – five years with no evidence of disease. I would be cancer free, crossing what my oncologists deem most important finish line – the golden ticket for a form of breast cancer that statistically has the highest rate of recurrence.

In January 2014, I turned forty. Yes! Forty! My sister always told me her thirties stunk and that life truly started at forty. I was ready……a lot of garbage happened in my thirties and I was ready to close the chapter on that phase of my life. Forty! What better age, nearly twenty-four years after my first proclamation that I would someday do the Boston Marathon, that I seek to cross that finish line. Now or never, people.

boston strong all marathoners

My mother passed away suddenly, two days after the bombings last year. She and I had had a tumultuous few years since she and my father had lived with my family during some health crises they both had. As a result of her mental illness and her abusive behavior towards me, particularly during my breast cancer battle and pregnancy, we were somewhat estranged when she passed away. We had evolved to a cordial relationship post-breast cancer, simply so that my children would be able to have better memories of their grandmother than what had transpired during her residence with us. However, I kept my distance from her solely because it took me losing a few pieces of my heart to understand that just because she was the woman who birthed me, that fact alone did not give her the entitlement to treat me poorly. In any event, the emotions that surfaced with her unexpected passing caught me a bit by surprise, perhaps because I was already so emotional by what had transpired just a couple of days earlier in a race so near to me and on my home soil.

I am going to run from Hopkinton to Boston in less than a week, simply because I can. As much as running this race may be about me: all the emotions, all the signs compelling me to be there, all the adversity I have faced and conquered……this race is really not about me. Each mile will progressively get harder than the last and the pain will surface, causing me to question my ability to undertake such a monumental effort. After thirteen miles in or so, the mental game will kick into high gear and the self-doubt will try to shift into place.

boston strong run

There are so many reasons why………..and these reasons will carry me through. The factors that compel me to put one foot in front of the other are as follows:

Mile One:  Dedicated to my friend, Jacqueline Skinner LeBlanc. Jackie just recently lost her battle to her breast cancer. We became friends and bound by the ties that bind in the brutal world of fighting breast cancer. Our journeys were parallel; yet, for some reason our destinies were vastly different. I will start this race with the strength of Jackie to propel me forward for the long haul.

Mile Two: Dedicated to Cara LeBlanc Kelly. Cara was younger than I was in school, but I could never forget her beaming smile. Fast forward some years and this smile was present again as she taught my oldest daughter at her elementary school. Our paths crossed yet again as Cara was diagnosed and fought a tremendous cancer battle of her own. Despite the valiant battle Cara waged, she managed to give me her radiant smile with every meal that I delivered. We shared cancer war stories and again, our destinies were vastly different. My mind does not quite process the reason behind who gets to survive and who does not, but I do know that this early mile of my journey to Boston will be fueled by the energy of Cara’s smiles that I banked in my memory.

Mile Three: Dedicated to the remaining cancer warriors that fought their own valiant battles and little do they know, they continue to give me strength when I am looking for it the most:  Dad Dickinson, Tony Menendez Aponte, Donna Fontaine, Patti Brown, “Robie”, Ruthie Tumenas, “Ro” Boissoneau, and Rhonda Richards.

Mile Four: Dedicated to Roseann Sdoia, one of the first survivor stories that captured my heart as I drove up I-95 last year to return to Massachusetts from a week away. For some reason, Roseann could have been me and I latched on to her story of recovery shortly after my donation to her GoFundMe account.  My decision to follow her thereafter resulted in a continuance of inspiration and perseverance as she began life anew and with a new leg. Roseann was at the finish line to watch friends come by, an annual tradition. Read more about her here:

Miles Five, Six and Seven: Dedicated to Jaqui Webb, JP Norden, and Paul Norden, who were all watching the 2013 Boston Marathon from the sidelines waiting for a friend to pass the finish line when they were impacted by the second of the bombings to go off. Both JP and Paul, brothers, lost a leg in the explosion whereas Jaqui was significantly injured and required several surgeries. Today, on this one year anniversary, the Norden brothers are walking the marathon route – on their prosthetics because they can. Follow them here:

Mile Eight: Dedicated to Martin Richard who was 8 at the time he lost his life in the explosion on Boylston Street last year. My heart breaks still for the Richard family of Dorchester. How do you ever move forward with the loss of your young son? How do you not harbor extreme hatred towards those cowards who carried out this disgusting and inexplicable crime? How do you pick up the pieces of your shattered hearts and help Martin’s siblings enjoy their lives, now also riddled with reminders of that day as young Jane demonstrates her new prosthetic leg? You just do. Support them here:

Mile Nine and Ten: Dedicated to my breast cancer while pregnant girls, Rebecca Byrne and Adrienne Toth. When diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at fourteen weeks pregnant, I thought to myself briefly – boy, what did I do wrong to deserve this? Are there any others out there that would have the misfortune of having to battle cancer while pregnant? Of course there are! Statistics show that it can be as common as 1 in 3,000! I recall when my littlest was two, a woman from Framingham reached out to me and wanted to chat because she was newly pregnant and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was adamant that we meet; not because I wanted her to see how well I was doing, but that I wanted her to see my little miracle and have that reassurance that her miracle would be okay, too! Rebecca’s little peanut is beautiful and Rebecca is doing rather well, herself. A high school classmate of mine made the connection via Facebook for another young woman who was also battling while pregnant. We chatted and I wanted to give her hope, give her inspiration, and make sure she knew it would all be okay! Her little miracle boy is quite possibly the cutest baby I have ever seen! Unfortunately, Adrienne’s cancer has recently returned – simultaneously with her boy turning one. My heart hurts for her, but I have no doubt that she has the strength, determination and perseverance to prevail. ❤

Mile Eleven: Dedicated to cancer survivor, Danielle Russo. Danielle beat stage 3 melanoma last year but has remained riddled with the “collateral damage” that cancer survivors deal with after their treatment has ended. A form of post-traumatic stress disorder, if you will, “collateral damage” is the pain that continues physically and emotionally once the chemotherapy stops coursing through your veins. “Collateral damage” is the new “normal” one must persevere through as their body, once taken for granted, no longer acts or moves the way it used to before that dark day when you were told you had cancer. Beating cancer is not a sprint, but in fact, a marathon – a race for your life, in which the best way to put one foot in front of the other is by taking it day by day. Danielle is inspiration for learning how to cope and by putting that best foot forward day after day.

Mile Twelve: Jeff Bauman, a hero in so many ways but namely for helping to identify the scum that targeted our city, April 15th, 2013. I will never erase from my brain, the post-bombing images I first saw of Jeff. However, this says it all:  And to Carlos Arrendondo, for showing the word how to embrace humanity and care for one another, just simply as we humans should.

Mile Thirteen: Dedicated to my little buddy, Tommy Joffrion and his family; particularly his doting momma, Maria. Tommy is battling neurofibromatosis and chronic myelogenous leukemia. He’s seven. Whenever I think back on my arduous cancer experience, the chemotherapies, the surgeries, the endless testing and needles, my heart just breaks for Tommy and his family. My cancer appears cured; whereas, Tommy’s will be an unrelenting battle. I am an adult, whereas, Tommy has known this cancer world for nearly half of his life. Mile thirteen will be a pivotal spot in my race, where I know I am halfway through and I will think of Tommy, his precious smile and his determined momma, Maria, as I push through to persevere myself.   Read more and help them out here:  Help generate funds for pediatric cancer research here, by supporting my friend, Candace – who is shaving her head as part of the St. Baldrick’s efforts to CURE childhood cancers:

Mile Fourteen: Dedicated to Adrianne Haslet, a bombing survivor who’s demonstration of strength, determination and perseverance in the face of adversity has been on display by her refusal to let adversity stop her. Adrianne, a dancer, recently danced again for the first time after losing her leg on Boylston Street last year. Her inspirational message is fuel for those of us who know what it is like to be knocked down, but the only option is to get back up and rise again.

Mile Fifteen: Dedicated to Marc Fucarile, also a survivor who was spectating at the 2013 Boston Marathon and has a trying year after losing one leg and now begging to lose the other. Marc is friends with the Norden brothers and has a long recovery ahead. Help him here:

Mile Sixteen: In memory of firefighter, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

Mile Seventeen: In memory of firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

boston strong there is

Mile Eighteen and Nineteen: Dedicated to Sydney and Celeste Corcoran. Sydney is now eighteen, a year later, after the explosion nearly almost cost her life as she bled from a severed femoral artery. Like Roseann above, I was drawn to both Sydney and Celeste – a daughter and mother duo that had come to watch a loved one run the race, like thousands of other spectators that fateful day. Celeste lost both of her legs. Images of bystanders applying their body weight pressure to a fallen Sydney on the sidewalk of Boylston Street in Boston remain vivid in my mind. How easily could that have been my oldest daughter, who is now sixteen, and I if we were there watching the historic race? Their story here:

Mile Twenty: Dedicated to Team Hoyt, Dick and Rick Hoyt, father and son duo who have been racing together since 1977. I will never forget lining up to run next to them in the Christopher’s Pub 10k in Leominster circa 1990 and thinking to myself that I would finish before them. Finish before them, I did not and I have been a fan of these two ever since. 2014 will be their final Boston Marathon and I am honored to be in the same race as these two inspirational men.

Mile Twenty-one: In memory of Sean Collier:

Mile Twenty-two: In memory of Krystle Campbell.

Mile Twenty-three: In memory of Lu Lingzi.

Mile Twenty-four: Dedicated to my family for putting up with my crazy ideas and for supporting me in such endeavors. My family makes me believe I can conquer the world, super hero style and make a movie out of it. Without them and without their patience as I spent hours of training for April 21, 2014, I would not be able to gear up and set out on my mission. I love them dearly.

Mile Twenty-five: Dedicated to all of you who helped me fundraise and make a difference for Massachusetts Eye & Ear Institute. While I am certainly crazy enough to run a marathon, I am certainly not within means to obtain a number by qualifying for the elite Massachusetts race. Thankfully, Team Eye & Ear had faith in me and offered me a coveted spot on their team! The fundraising amount seemed monumental, but I knew I would be successful. Thanks to the goodness of people out there, I not only exceeded my minimum due but I nearly doubled the amount required! Mass Eye & Ear continues to treat the bombing survivors, as well as make a difference in the lives of so many others. Perhaps, someday, Mass Eye & Ear will have an option for me to have better hearing myself. There are so many to name, but most importantly, a genuine note of appreciation goes to the ladies of Trinity Salon in Fitchburg, MA for their fundraiser which vetted over $2,100 for Mass Eye & Ear. As of today, we have raised in excess of $10,600! WICKED STRONG!

boston strong wrong city

Mile Twenty-Six: Dedicated to the girl who became my best bud at age thirteen, Karen Luchini. Karen *gets* me. What I was to running back in the day, Karen was to swimming. We spent years laughing, crying, farting, laughing some more and prevailing in our sports. Karen went to Northeastern University, so many years were spent shared on Boylston Street watching as the inspirational runners came across that famed finish line. Numerous times, both Karen and I were propped up against the metal barricade that kept us off the street but cheering for the participants; and each time, I remarked that *someday* I would be there….on that street, making my way to the finish line. Karen was one of my supporters during my darkest breast cancer days. She has dedicated part of her PMC Challenges to me in the past.  Ironically, Karen was diagnosed with a form of leukemia this past October and I have had to put my big girl panties on to be her biggest cheerleader as she battles for her life. I am honored to cross that finish line with her in mind as she wraps up her treatment for her cancer simultaneously. I am living proof that cancer can be beaten and life truly begins again. I will run 26.2 miles, but that last mile will be for Karen – so she knows that she’s approaching her own finish line in her toughest race yet; her race for her life and good health. The finish line is in sight for her and I know I will be by her side triumphantly as she crosses to the other side; just as I know she will be with me in my heart as I cross the blue and yellow finish of the 2014 Boston Marathon.


Mile Twenty-Six Point Two: Dedicated to me. The gift I am giving myself is the two-tenths of a mile down Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, amongst thousands of spectators rallying for me to get my feet across that finish line. My life has come full circle: from the loss of my hearing as a young child and the subsequent torment I experienced growing up; to the verbal and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of a mentally ill mother; to the horror and fear of fighting breast cancer while pregnant; to being knocked down again and again and again…..and rising to my feet once more.  We can fall seven times, but we must simply get up eight!

April 21, 2014 is for me, for you, for all of those that wish to take this journey. Adversity has nothing on us as long as we have the courage to dust ourselves off and try, try again. Boston and the running world were knocked down on April 15, 2013. We have dusted ourselves off, we have come together and we will run together stronger as we soar on Patriots Day.

Thank you for taking this run with me. ❤

boston strong darkness

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