A love story and a blog book tour

When I first got my copy of Chad Moutray’s book “My Life with Laura: A Love Story,” I looked at the photo on the front cover, then the photos on the back cover, then I realized there are photos scattered throughout. I studied these photos, looking deeply at the shots of Chad, Laura, their little girl Charlotte. I tried to put myself in their shoes, because I kind of was in Laura’s shoes, and I imagined what it must be like to be them. In some ways, I know what it’s like. Like Laura, I had breast cancer. Breast cancer and a husband. And kids. And family and friends who care so deeply. I had doctors visits, and surgery, and a bald head. Just like Laura did.

But Laura’s path and my path are different too. One year ago, she passed away. And four years after my diagnosis, I’m still living. And so I don’t fit entirely in Laura’s shoes. I have this book, though, sent to me by the love of Laura’s life, and I am about to dive into each page so I can fully appreciate the life belonging to this beautiful young woman. And I’m going to tell you all about my new book on January 14, 2009.

Chad Moutray has invited me to join his Blog Book Tour. In addition to many others who will write about his work on blogs across the country, I will feature this man and his story right here on my blog. Maybe I’ll publish a review, maybe I’ll interview Chad, maybe I’ll do something else. In some way, though, I will present to you the inspiring story of one man, one woman, and one little girl whose lives will be forever touched by a disease so many of us are fiercely trying to outrun.

January 14. See you then.

More about the book tour here.

More about the book here (you can download the book here for just $5 or buy a paperback for $24.99).

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Last night while John was reading the boys’ favorite Goosebumps book, 5-year-old Danny curled up in my lap (I love that), tugged at my shirt and asked, “Where’s that thing, where you had that bump?” I knew just what he meant. He wondered where to find the area where a port once poked up from underneath my skin. (My port lived near my collarbone for almost two years so that chemotherapy drugs had easy access to my veins.) I pointed to the area, now marked by a very faint scar about two inches long.

“Oh,” he said, and then returned his attention to the story about a boy who became a wax figure in a museum.

Danny doesn’t have much memory of breast cancer. A “thing” and a “bump” pretty much sum up his recollection of a disease that entered his life when he was just 18 months old. It seemed sad way back then to have a baby and cancer at the same time. Now, it seems a blessing. He doesn’t have a clue really. And that’s just how I think it should be.

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Saving Second Base

Of all the cutesy cancer slogans out there, this is my favorite: Save Second Base. I like it because that’s what I’m doing, saving my own personal second base with every self-exam, clinical exam, mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, morsel of healthy food that passes through my lips and with every mile I run.

Check out these clever quips I’m borrowing from the spunky survivor over at Melon Wars. Go visit and see her whole list. These are a just a few of my faves.

  • Eyebrows Are So Last Year
  • Bald is the New Black
  • I Have Cancer – Cancer Doesn’t Have Me
  • Chemo – Breakfast of Champions
  • Nice Try Cancer, But I’m Still Here
  • Does This Shirt Make My Head Look Bald?
  • Bald Chicks Rule
  • I’m Confused. Wait Maybe I’m Not.
  • I Pay My Oncologist Big Bucks for This Hair Style
  • Friends Don’t Let Friends Fight Cancer Alone
  • Fight Like A Girl
  • Unbeknownst to the Mosquito, I Just Had Chemo
  • One Day Pink Will Just Be for Princesses. Let’s Find A Cure.
  • Breast Cancer Isn’t for Sissies
  • Fighting Cancer and Still Fabulous

Got any you’d like to share? Please do.

Like that Santa Baby bra pictured above. It came from this blog right here.

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Thanks for the visit — now leave me a comment

My husband just checked my blog stats and told me I’m getting about 750 unique visits per day. Wow. It makes me happy, of course, to know that so many people are stopping by. It’s just hard to wrap my head around that number. It’s so quiet around here. Who knew?

I want to do a little experiment now that I know so many of you are reading what I write. I want you—everyone one of you who reads this post—to leave me a comment today so I know you were here. Just write something—anything (make it tasteful, please)—and tell me where you live. By the end of the day, I hope to read bunches of comments from all over the country (or world, maybe, who knows).

OK. Ready. Set. Go.

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Women Transcend

This is just so perfect, this video clip, and all the words spoken by Kelly Corrigan, a wife, mom, breast cancer survivor and author of The Middle Place. She talks about how women transcend everything that’s thrown at them. It made me laugh. And cry. And want to share it with you.


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Happy Holidays 2008

Just before Joey turned one, we snapped our very first holiday photo and mailed it off to family and friends. That was, gosh, seven years ago. Six photos followed, and now we have a collection of shots that capture our boys, and sometimes all four of us, at very specific moments in time.

Above is this year’s photo, taken on a whim at Lake Alice on The University of Florida campus. Below, two of my favorites from years past.

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Lucky Laura wins a prize

It’s an emotional time for reader Laura. She’s just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer and will soon head for a mastectomy and reconstruction. A perfect time for a shiny, new necklace, don’t you think?

Lucky Laura. She won the hand-crafted breast cancer awareness necklace that my blogger friend Christine made and offered for my recent giveaway.

“I look so forward to wearing it,” Laura tells me. “I feel honored!”

Ditto. I feel honored to know these women, both of whom have their very own blogs. Visit Christine at Color Me Pink. And stop and see Laura here.

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Classic Christmas

What would the holiday season be without a screaming baby on the lap of Santa? Here, cousin Tori refuses to tell the big guy what she wants for Christmas. Classic.

I love this one too: Danny feeding a happier Tori some of his flavored shaved ice. “She’s had like 11 bites,” he declared, after announcing he was done serving her.

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Been through a lot worse

This morning, I had my eyes dilated during an eye exam. I hate that. So much so that last year, I refused to let my very nice doctor place those evil drops in my nearly-blind eyes. You need them, she told me, and I told her I’d come back in a few months. I never did. One year later, today, I complied. I permitted the dilation, and I’ve been suffering all day.

Those drops, given after the also-hated glaucoma drops that numb my eyelids, make my vision blurry and prevent me from seeing anything up close. They make light much brighter than it should be, and they give me a killer headache. Have I used the word hate yet?

“Gosh, your pupils are so dilated,” my doctor told me as I was paying for this torture. “I know, I hate it,” I told her. Her wise response: “You’ve been through a lot worse.”

She’s right. I have been through a lot worse. A growing tumor or yucky eye drops? I’ll take the eye drops. Chemotherapy or blurry vision? Blurry is better. Radiation or a day-long headache? OK, so the headache isn’t so bad.

Geez, I’m such a whiner. The funny thing is, I really only whine about the little things, like dilated eyes. Somehow, I rise to the occasion for the big stuff. Cancer scared me. But I didn’t whine about it. Same with childbirth. Big, painful stuff. No whining at all. What’s wrong with me? Nothing, actually. My eyes checked out just fine. And I don’t have cancer anymore. I have absolutely nothing to whine about. Well, until next year’s eye exam.

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Giving away some breast cancer awareness

My new blogger friend Christine over at Color Me Pink is offering this beautiful breast cancer necklace for one lucky reader. Yep, it’s another giveaway, and you could be the one who scores this made-by-Christine treasure. Here’s what you must do to enter to win:

Head on over to Color Me Pink, browse around a bit and tell me in a comment one thing you learned from your trip to Christine’s blog. I’m giving you one week from today to make this happen. On Wednesday, December 10 at 5 PM, I’ll randomly draw a name. Then, Christine will mail off this pretty prize, which happens to feature a chunky pink faceted pendant, with sterling awareness ribbon and sterling star charm. Strung on a sterling fine chain with lobster claw clasp. Valued at: $25.00.

Consider this your chance to pick up a free holiday gift, for you or for someone you know. Now, get on over to my favorite new pink site and tell me something that captivated you.

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A blue minivan and a pink blog

We bought a lovely, brand new 2008 Honda Odyssey minivan today. Who knew when we took our beater 2001 Odyssey in for service last week that we’d never drive it again, that we’d become the proud owners of a shiny, new, navy blue thing. We certainly had no idea our transmission was shot and required a major and expensive fix. But it did. And we didn’t want to sink loads of funds into an 8-year-old jalopy. So we bit the bullet and re-entered the world or car payments after a two-year reprieve. But that’s not the point of my story. The point is this: We met a lovely business manager man, who shared with us that his lovely wife authors her very own lovely blog. Armed with her business card and two wild little boys primed for wearing out their automatic window buttons, I headed home in my fancy van and paid this lovely wife a visit. You should visit her too.

Color Me Pink is stocked with all kinds of goodies, like recipes for clever meal creations (I am so not clever in the kitchen and am impressed with anyone who can throw together a fancy, healthy meal: Check out this one for Super Easy Tuna Packet with Veggies and Rice) and thoughts on Thanksgiving and musings on vegetarian kids. Need some direction for locating great sites around the Internet? This is your place. All Around the Internet posts will steer you toward great finds. There’s also a Homeschooling component to this blogger’s world. And a jewelry shop too (look at this perfect breast cancer necklace).

All of this I found during my very first visit to this lovely blog. I can’t wait to go back. Join me, and see what you can find.

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Thanksgiving weekend – survived it, plus three more

Four years ago, I wrote these words:

Somehow, I made it though the Thanksgiving weekend, with my thoughts jumping from the hope that this would turn out OK to the fear that I would not see my boys grow up. My mind wandered and worried about surgery and what treatments I would have. I wondered if I could have more kids and whether or not I would lose my hair. I cried and lost sleep and was hopeful too. I learned a lot from reading my new book. I learned that many women do go on to have kids after cancer, but I also learned that chemotherapy in young women can cause early menopause. I learned that I have an 85% survival rate and also that I will get tiny little tattoos surrounding my breast to aid in the proper delivery of radiation. These permanent tattoos will also alert any future doctors that my breast has had radiation because I can never have it again in that same area. The book helped me feel positive about this journey but it also helped me face reality.

And here’s how reality has panned out: I had a lumpectomy to remove the 1.1 cm tumor lodged firmly in my left breast. My cancer had not spread to lymph nodes, my margins were clear, but my disease was an aggressive one that deserved harsh treatment. I received four doses of chemotherapy (given once every two weeks), then six weeks of radiation (given every week day), then one year’s worth of the targeted drug Herceptin (given one time every three weeks). I did lose my hair. I never did have any more kids (not because I can’t, just because I decided I don’t want more). My survival rate is even better than I thought four years ago—it’s in the 90% range, really. And I am busy watching my little boys grow up.

This Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for my life. I can’t predict the future and therefore have no way to tell if cancer’s coming back my way, but I plan to plug along as if it’s not. And I’ll celebrate when each November rolls around because this month, more than any other, is a sign—a sign that I’ve survived one more year. And that’s quite a gift.

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Remembering Danny

I wrote this story about a year ago for a local parenting magazine. It’s all about Danny, my now 5-year-old. He is nothing like I describe him in the words that follow—well, except for the whining. Amazing how time changes little people so profoundly. I miss this Danny. And I love the one who sits next to me playing computer games at this very moment.

I never realized until my husband took Joey away for the weekend just how much Danny talks. We spent two whole days together, my 4-year-old and me, and except for the hours when Danny was asleep, we experienced not one minute of silence.

Danny talks while playing, while eating, while splashing in the tub, and while riding in the car. He talks himself to sleep, begins talking the instant his eyes open in the morning and when his brother isn’t home to engage with him, talks at my bedside until I emerge from my slumber. And while much of his verbal discourse is of the story-telling nature, he’s got quite a knack for asking questions—which requires my full presence, my undivided attention, and all sorts of meaningful responses.

“How old are you? What’s your name? What did you look like when you were a baby? How old were you when you were a baby? Are you bigger than Daddy? Is Daddy bigger than you? Are you going the speed limit?”

Boy, can that kid talk.

Danny has just a few jobs at his young age—he’s expected to dress himself, brush his teeth, practice good manners, share, recognize his letters, and minimize his propensity for whining. His biggest job, however, is to talk. It’s his best chance at understanding the world around him. Danny’s incessant questions lead to spirited information gathering and when I’m not too exhausted by his constant chattering, I realize how fun it is to inform someone who so enthusiastically wishes to be informed.

It all came down to me that weekend Danny and I spent together. I was on a solo mission, responsible for the accurate dispensing of facts and figures. What I told Danny may have helped shape his perspective on life. What a job. What an honor.

Danny wasn’t the only one rattling of questions during our one-on-one session. I asked my fair share too—I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bond with my youngest guy.

“What did you look like when you were a baby?” I asked Danny. “Like a baby,” he replied. “Tell me more,” I said. “My hair was blond,” he told me. “My eyes were green. I liked to play in the bath. I always liked to play with my toys. I loved my mommy, and I loved to talk.”

Yes, Danny likes to talk. And because I suspect the day will come when I won’t be able to lure more than a few words out of him, I’m going to soak up every syllable that flows from his sweet mouth. I’m going to savor every sound he makes with his raspy little voice, and I’m going to never forget that at this moment in time, I am Danny’s most trusted source of knowledge. I may never again appear so important in his eyes—which, incidentally, are blue—but for now, I’m his go-to girl. And there’s no way I’m letting go of this title.

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The day before Thanksgiving

Four years ago, I wrote these words:

The day before Thanksgiving, my phone rang at 10:00 AM. The doctor who did the biopsy said the pathology report was back already. He said that unfortunately, cancer cells were found. He said I would need a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the lump), radiation, and possibly chemotherapy. He told me to buy a book called Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. I got the book that day.

Stay tuned for another stroll down memory lane in a few days.

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My friend, with cancer again

My friend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just after me, who had surgery just like me, and chemotherapy just like me, and radiation just like me, and Herceptin just like me, has just learned that her cancer has returned. She is understandably angry and worried and convinced she will never see her young children graduate from high school. My gut tells me otherwise. I believe she’ll crush cancer once and for all with her double mastectomy and whatever treatment follows. She’s tough. And she knows it. She just needs to remember it. And then she’ll be fine.

All my love and happy wishes are with you, my survivor friend.

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4 years ago, I found a lump

Four years ago, I wrote these words:

On November 16, 2004, I felt a lump in my left breast while taking a shower. I have always been aware of what my breasts feel like. I have a lot of dense tissue, so dense that the surgeon who performed my breast reduction in 1996 had trouble separating the tissue to take some out and leave some in. My breasts always seem lumpy to me, and I never knew if I’d be able to tell the difference between normal and abnormal tissue. Four years ago, I had a mammogram because of something I felt. It all turned out fine. It was just the dense tissue. All of my annual GYN visits have revealed nothing abnormal. But I’ve always been aware and curious which is why I found something in the shower. I knew it was not normal. It was hard and felt like a small green pea. It moved around and for the first few days, I had a hard time locating it. Once I became obsessed with it, I could find it immediately.

I went to my OB/GYN on November 18. My doctor felt the lump, but was confident it was nothing to worry about. It moved around easily, there was no discharge from my nipple, I did not feel any pain: all signs that it was benign. But it’s routine to get a mammogram for any mass, so I got one the next day.

I was the youngest person waiting to get my mammogram, another sign that this lump was nothing serious. It’s common for young women to have breast cancer. Mammograms are not even recommended for women under the age of 40. I am 34.

The mammogram films looked OK, and the technician told me the doctor would talk to me but that she was not worried about anything. This was true, but she did an ultrasound anyway to look further at the lump. She determined it was not a cyst, which is fairly common, and nothing serious. It could be a fibroma (a common growth that can be removed or left in place without harm) or it could be cancer. She said she wanted me to have the lump removed. She wanted it out and in a jar, she said. I asked her if it could be cancer. She said it could be.

On November 23, I had a biopsy. A large needle was placed in my breast and a piece of the lump was pulled out. The surgeon had a hard time getting a piece, however, because it moved around so much. He said this was a good sign, the movement. He sent the tissue to pathology and told me to call his office the next afternoon for the results.

Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

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The kid never stops growing

My kid is a monster. I’m talking about the older one, although the younger one is no little peanut either. But Joey, my guy who will be 8 years old in January, this guy is just huge. As you may already know, he’s the whopper baby who came barreling out of my body the size of a two-month-old. He was 10 pounds, nine ounces, and he filled up his hospital nursery bassinet like no one’s business. And he’s been growing ever since. Now 83 pounds and taller by at least a whole head than most in his second-grade class, Joey wears my same shoe size and will undoubtedly tower over me before too long. I’m sure of it, especially in light of his recent growth spurt.

My boys got their teeth cleaned yesterday. Part of their visit always includes a check of weight and height, and our pediatric dentist has such fun reporting to me how Joey has grown in between his cleaning appointments. A year ago, she announced he’d grown three inches and gained three pounds in three months. Amazed, she was. I was too. Not nearly as amazed as I was this time, though. Yesterday’s report: Joey grew two inches and gained nine pounds in three months. Nine pounds. Holy monster kid. Little brother grew too—2.5 inches and six pounds over a six-month period—but my smaller guy looks generally like a five-year-old (which he is) and so I’m not as shocked by his upward climb. Still, he’s tall. Just not so tall.

Joey is so tall. And he’s not so sure he likes it. One day while grocery shopping, he said to me: “It’s not always great to be tall.” I asked him why it isn’t so great. His reply: “Because I can’t play in the mall playground.” Nope, he can’t. While most 7-year-old kids get to play in this public arena of chaos and germs, Joey is prohibited from entering, was even asked to leave once when we allowed him access. He’s taller than the height allowance, you see, so he must watch from afar. Which is OK, I told Joey, because mostly, being tall will be a good thing.

Joey’s pediatrician predicts he could be as tall as 6’6″. I know what you’re thinking: Get a ball in that kid’s hands. We hear it all the time and just as Joey thinks it’s not always so great to be tall, he thinks sports aren’t all that great either. He’s just a kid, after all, and he’s not sure he wants to be a basketball player, a football player, a swimmer (although he’s pretty darn good at anything he tries). There are a few things he is sure about. He’s sure he can ride a mean Ripstick (he can), he knows math is his best subject, and he’s convinced that if he gets a Wii for Christmas, he’ll rock that whole gaming system.

And here’s the one thing I’m sure of: My baby boy, that rock-heavy guy who was heaved onto my chest by a doctor who vacuumed him from my body, won’t stop growing. I know I can’t stop him but for goodness sake, does he have to do it so quickly? I mean, it’s likely I’ll be looking up at him by the fourth grade. And then before you know it, I’ll be cheering him on from the stands of some sports complex.

Or maybe not.

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For my mom

I am writing in honor of my mom, my most loyal reader, who can’t read what I’m writing today because she’s in the hospital.

It was unexpected, the pain in her belly on Thursday night. And it was unfair, how the ER staff made her wait four and a half hours before examining her. And it was lucky, that she had surgery when she did because had one more hour passed, the results could have been tragic.

My mom is recovering now, in a hospital room that is void of all things personal and warm, with a tube in her nose that makes talking and swallowing difficult, with an incision running up and down her midsection. All for a health scare no one saw coming, which has happily been fixed by the steady hands of a surgeon who deserves lots of praise for a job well done.

Today, I am writing in honor of my mom, who will hopefully be reading these very words before too long.

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