I hate tumors

There’s nothing fair about the way it happened, the way Amy died just 15 months after a breast cancer diagnosis seemingly similar to mine. She heard the same string of chilling words—you have cancer—as I did, just months after a doctor hurled them at me, over the phone, a day before Thanksgiving. Both in our early 30s with husbands and small children, Amy and I felt like two peas in a pod, situated in what we believed were almost identical positions. We were both young, both with early stage breast cancer. We both knew our cancers, while caught early, were considered aggressive because of our age—young women tend to have aggressive forms of the disease—but we also knew we had a high likelihood of survival, about 93% for at least five years.

Amy and I had common hopes, fears, and worries, and on several occasions we cried tears we were sure flowed from the same well. We also shared an instant urge to reach others with our breast cancer stories. Amy welcomed local newspaper reporters into her world and allowed them to capture through words and photographs her most intimate cancer moments. I began authoring my own breast cancer blog and then ventured into the world of freelance writing. We both wanted to make our experiences matter. And judging by the flood of reaction we received from our combined efforts, it’s clear we did.

Amy and I shared victories—we both managed to escape the threat of lymph node involvement—and we shared cards and e-mails. Thank you for holding my hand through this journey—it would have been pretty lonely without you, Amy wrote in one e-mail.

Amy and I also shared care packages, family photos, even hats. If misery loves company, then Amy and I were in love. And in celebration of our love, we basked in the glory of our most important similarity—our cancers had not spread. This was key to our survival. Or so we thought.

A mutual friend—her high school buddy and my college roommate—matched Amy and me. Ericha was one of a few close friends who after my diagnosis offered to hop on a plane and come to my rescue in Florida. I never accepted her offer—I was sure I could handle cancer all on my own—and so she stayed in Ohio where Amy, also an Ohio girl, welcomed her assistance. It worked out well this way.

Ericha helped Amy as she recovered from surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy, and countless physical and emotional twists. She watched Amy’s kids—ages four and one at the time—and cleaned her house and drove her to appointments and selflessly assumed some of the burden drowning this young wife and mother who continued working as a nurse while managing a life with cancer.

“I quit my job,” Amy told me just after she announced her cancer had returned. She said she should have quit after her first diagnosis. She should have taken better care of herself. She should have played with her children, spent time with her husband, given up the chore of work. She would do it right this time, she said. She would crush cancer. She was sure if it.

I wrote and published a post about Amy on The Cancer Blog just after she told me how cancer had shown up in her brain and lungs, just five months after her chemotherapy for breast cancer ended. I wrote about my shattered hope, my fear this would happen to me, my complete and total sadness. And then Amy left a comment on my post. She wrote:

Jacki, I am not giving up. I will beat this again. Don’t you give up yet. I have Luke and Ella and they alone are worth fighting for. Just everyone send me your prayers and positive vibes. Quoting the cancer crusade couple, “Setbacks are a chance to pause and review the lesson of life.”

Amy, the one staring down death—doctors said she had two to 12 months to live—was comforting me. Amy, with her spunk and spirit, convinced me she would annihilate this evil disease. I believed her.

Amy lived for only five weeks after she wrote these words. Ericha called me with the news of her death just as I was leaving my house one Saturday morning to run in a race. I stopped in my tracks when Ericha told me—Amy passed yesterday—and I felt nothing but shock and sorrow for the duration of the run I struggled to finish. I finished for Amy, though. If she could fight cancer—twice—then I could surely pound out a few miles in honor of a friend whose face I never did see.

Amy and I talked about meeting at the beach with our families one day after we’d survived cancer for a few years. We dreamed of going on the Oprah show and proudly announcing our survivorship. We talked about a lot in our short 15-month friendship. What we didn’t talk about was that our situations really were very different. Perhaps we weren’t aware of it at the time. Perhaps we subconsciously chose to find common ground in the midst of our harrowing journeys, to ignore the fact that we were not traveling the same path at all.

Amy had a family history of breast cancer. I did not. Just after Amy completed her chemotherapy, her mother was diagnosed with the same disease that now has affected four generations in her family. Additionally, Amy’s tumor was slightly larger than mine, she received a different chemotherapy protocol than I received, she was not eligible for a year-long drug treatment I accepted to keep cancer at bay and because she had chosen the radical route of removing both of her breasts—I had a lumpectomy—Amy was not a top candidate for the radiation therapy that zapped me five days per week for seven weeks. She wondered if she should have demanded this treatment. She wondered if it would have made a difference in her survival.

The final and perhaps most significant difference in our diseases is that while Amy’s cancer, like mine, had not spread to her lymph nodes, it had found a way to penetrate her bloodstream and was spreading in a secret, silent, and deadly fashion. My oncologist, who dried my tears when I sobbed about the unfairness of Amy’s death, said some young women have a very aggressive disease right away. Amy was one of these women. I, apparently, am not.

There’s nothing fair about the way it happened, how Amy died just 15 months after a breast cancer diagnosis I have now survived for almost four years, how Amy died so quickly and I didn’t, how there is no cure for this mysterious disease that strikes far too many women and some men too.

Amy’s husband sent me an e-mail just after she died. He wrote:

You were a great inspiration to Amy. Your quote ” Fight the Good Fight” was front and center on our fridge. Please don’t let this news get you down, Amy would want your chin up, would want you to keep fighting. Thanks for all your support.

My chin is up. I am fighting. And Amy—thank you for your support.

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

Yesterday, I ran a few miles, turned over a couple thousand dollars, and made some strides against breast cancer. My sincere thanks to those who contributed to my cause and came along with me on my run—see your name on my body? It’s there, somewhere.

Special thanks go to my three guys and my mom who keep life happy; Tracy, my sister, best friend, and running partner; Jack, my other best friend and photographer; Miriam, my friend and neighbor who joined us today, sporting a pink ribbon on her face and pink braces on her teeth; and Ms. Griffith, Joey’s teacher who walked and ran for me too.

t-shirt for the cure

Each year the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) names one celebrity the ambassador to Saks Fifth Avenue’s Key to the Cure campaign—a women’s cancer initiative—and unveils one t-shirt designed exclusively for Saks. This year, Academy-award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow is the celebrity. The t-shirt she wears in this photo is the shirt (by Karl Lagerfeld). It debuted on October 1. For $40, it can be yours—$35 will go to charity.

Others stars who have rocked a cancer shirt include Renee Zellweger, Glenn Close, Hilary Swank, and Charlize Theron. If you like celebs, you might like to know that those involved in EIF’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) include folks like Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks, Kate Capshaw, and Steven Spielberg.

Want to know more about the WCRF? Come on over here. Interested in the EIF? Click here.

“C” is not for cookie

Cookie Monster may say “C” is for cookie—although I hear a new, more health-conscious Monster may be cutting back on the sweet treats—but blogger Stephanie says “C” is for cancer.

Stephanie is 35 years old and has breast cancer. She has good news too—her recent lumpectomy went well, and she has reason to believe her cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes. She’s hoping her disease will be named Stage I and that her survival rate will number in the 90% range. Her pathology report is coming soon.

Go see my new friend when you can. Click here. You’ll like her way with words. And you just might learn something too.

Something, every day

Bookmark me! And come back every day during this fine month of October, ripe with pumpkins and breast cancer awareness. I promise to post something educational or inspirational on each of the following 30 days. For today, here’s what I’ve got:

In three days, I will embark on my fourth Making Strides Against Breast Cancer adventure. Translation: I will run a 5K (that sounds so much more impressive to me than 3.2 miles), with one MP3 player strapped to my arm and a bunch of names written all over my body, names of those who have so generously donated to my cause. Would love to brand your name on a body part too. If you can contribute, click here. If not, I understand, bad economy and all.

Here’s to making strides in the battle against breast cancer, and to my finishing the race without a glitch.


Growing old

This boy was three years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 34. Now, he is seven. I am 38. What a pleasure it is to grow old with this guy, who often recalls my cancer moments.

“Did you almost die from cancer?” Joey asks periodically.

“No, I did not,” I always tell him.

“Remember when you didn’t have any hair?” he’ll sometimes say.

“How could I forget,” I tell him, just before we reminisce about how he helped shave my head, how I cried, how he told me it was just a haircut.

Three years old, he was. And he remembers. So do I.

Sunday Silly

On Sunday, we were silly. It was John’s idea. A family pyramid—yes, that’s what we’ll do, he decided. Not my favorite idea at first. I mean, it was nearly 90 degrees outside. I was freshly showered after a double workout—bike ride and run—and kneeling on the ground with one 75-pound boy and another 45-pound boy on my back didn’t emerge as my top-ranked activity (strolling the landscape and watching my guys run wild in the grass were my picks).

Call me a good sport, though. I complied with the pyramid idea. And here I am, with my three loves. And while the group arrangement was a tad painful at the time of dismount (see below), it was, yes, fun—especially now as I look back on what was captured on film.

On Sunday, we were silly. So glad we were.

A Great Gator and a Shining Star

Last week, Joey was crowned Greatest Gator in his second-grade class. One child gets this honor each week, a boy or girl who practices good behavior all week, works hard, and generally goes with the flow of all things school-related. Joey was this boy on September 19 and for the whole week following, he was the man. We made a photo collage he took to school and displayed for all to see. He wrote a page in the Greatest Gator journal, about how happy he was to have emerged victorious. He completed a special questionnaire, won the gift of a pencil and pencil gripper—pencil grippers are, like, all the rage in second grade—and was lucky enough to have a stuffed alligator sit on his desk for five whole days. Now, Joey’s reign is complete—his pal Lauryn is the new Greatest Gator.

Things are still exciting here in our household, though, because yesterday, Danny came home wearing a Shining Star construction paper hat. Second grade has Greatest Gators. Kindergarten has Shining Stars. And this week, Danny is it. He too was awarded a pencil—with a heart-shaped eraser, no gripper—and he brought home his own borrowed journal (he dictated and I wrote all about his family and what he likes to do). He gets to take in photos on Monday, which will be displayed for his week-long tenure, and he’s borrowing two books we’ll read at home and then return. He’s a proud boy. Yesterday, after I scolded him for doing something disruptive, he asked if I was still happy he’s a shining star. You bet I am.

I’m happy my guys are off to a good start this school year. I’m thankful they model their good behavior at school and save their bad choices for home. I’m proud, simply proud to be the momma of a Great Gator and a Shining Star.

Thankful for slow

Here’s how my typical day flows: Wake up at 6:15 AM and do everything it takes to get two little boys ready for school and out the door. Drive two little boys to school, walk them to their kindergarten and second-grade classrooms, depart school. Exercise. Shower. Dress. Eat big fruit salad. Write—for hours. Eat lunch. Head back to school, get boys, return home. Unpack backpacks and lunch boxes, manage homework and fights, sneak in more writing work, pack lunches, prep dinner, fold laundry, and whatever else comes my way—Wednesdays are library days, grocery stops are frequent, sometimes a movie, maybe a play date, a game of Sorry or Stratego here and there, a round of role playing with Danny (he’s loves to play toy store: He sells his toys; I buy them). We like to go outside too—and I suspect our outdoor adventures will ramp up a bit with this great cooler weather we’re having in Florida.

I am thankful for my schedule. Mornings are for me. They’re quiet—no they’re silent, and I love that. Afternoons are crazier, but it’s a nice balance. Overall, my schedule is slow. It’s not rushed. It’s not hectic. It’s not stressful. After yesterday, I realize how fortunate I am.

My yesterday started with at 5:15 AM workout because I knew a busy day faced me, and I just can’t miss my workout—it’s a mental health thing. Then I chaperoned Joey’s school field trip at Camp Crystal, where we hiked and marveled at nature, enjoyed a hayride, visited a museum, and ate lunch. Then we drove back, got Joey some more lunch—he didn’t touch the one provided at camp—and picked up Danny from school. Then home, where I changed into running gear, dumped the boys into John’s capable hands (he happened to be home from work yesterday, thank goodness) and all but raced out the door to meet a photographer at the University of Florida for a photo shoot—I’m going to be featured on the front page of UF’s website beginning October 1 (check out ufl.edu and you’ll see me as one of three spotlight people in the top banner). Photos took one hour, and then I met Tracy for a run on campus. Three miles and 30 minutes later, I was headed home. Arrival time: 5:15 PM—a whole 12 hours after I first starting doing lunges and squats in my garage. The night continued with the usual—showers, brush teeth, read book, lights out.

Pooped, I was, by the end of yesterday. So tired, I couldn’t even stop on the way home from campus to put gas in my car, a mistake I realized this morning while racing to do my school drop-off after waking much too late and starting the day off in a rush.

I didn’t like yesterday. I mean, I liked the individual events of the day, I just didn’t like the rush of it all, which makes me so thankful for today.





Just how I like it.

Photo courtesy of antkris on flickr

Crush cancer with these 5

Want cancer? Not me. Once is enough.

If you’re with me, you ought to practice a few steps for cleaning up your diet.

Take a peek at this post I wrote for That’s Fit and see if you can wrap your head around these five tips—all believed to help prevent cancer and a whole host of other health issues.

To have hair

It was a shot in the dark when I asked my two little boys last night on they way home from our dinner out: “Who wants to do mommy’s hair when we get home?” Who knew both boys would shoot a hand in the air, like they eagerly wanted to answer a teacher’s question at school, and simultaneously repeat, “Me,” “Me,” “Me,” Me,” until I happily informed them they both could do my hair.

I love to have my hair done. And since I’m not sure my growing boys will want to play beauty shop for much longer, I’m capitalizing on this game while I can. I’m all-willing to let them do as they please, too. Spray bottles full of water? Sure. Yanking and pulling as they fumble a rubber band around clumps of my hair? Yep. A delayed bedtime so they can turn my hair into a tangle of knots? Of course.

“Mommy, your hair is so long,” Joey told me as his bedtime hour slipped away and he soaked my hair with blasts of water—it’s easier to brush this way, he tells me. “I remember when it was, like, one inch long,” he continued.

“Yeah, me too,” I told him, realizing I like this hair playtime for many reasons. One, it’s relaxing. Two, it gives me time with my boys. Three, it gives them time with me. Four: It means I have hair.

Gosh, is it nice to have hair—to have someone tear a brush through it and twist it into all sorts of unrecognizable styles, to pull it back into a ponytail, to have the pleasure of complaining about what this crappy Florida humidity does to my chemotherapy-acquired waves, to have an appointment on Thursday to get it cut because it’s too long.

Yes, my hair is long. Too long even.

Gosh, is it nice to have hair.

A Yummm–eee announcement

“The Lo-Carb Banana wins out for me! Yummm–eee!” wrote reader Elizabeth M. when asked to leave a comment describing her favorite Smoothie King treat as part of the recent Smoothie King giveaway.

Smoothie King: Get that Lo-Carb Banana smoothie ready, because Elizabeth’s name was picked in a random drawing and now she’s got $25 to spend on all sorts of Yummm–eee stuff.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

And thanks to Leah and her Smoothie King partners for offering such a generous donation.

Stay tuned for more smooth deals—another Smoothie King giveaway is coming soon.

Lumps and boobies

My friend, the one who had the lump, then had it removed, then waited three days to learn about the lump, now knows something about her lump: It’s not cancer. Eighty to 85% of breast lumps aren’t, especially in women younger than 40, so my friend’s outcome is not too surprising. What is surprising is when a young woman does develop breast cancer, since her chances of turning up a malignant tumor are only 15 to 20%. Yet young women, like me, do get this disease and so it’s wise to pay attention to anything suspicious found in breast tissue. My friend paid attention to her something-suspicious, which is no longer suspicious, which makes me so relieved.

If you are a young woman, like me and like my friend, you must examine your breast tissue every month. And a doctor must examine your breasts regularly. And when you turn 40, you must get a mammogram every year (ask about ultrasound and MRI if you have any family history). And when you feel something not so right, you must pursue it. It might be nothing. But it could be something. And the earlier you hop on it, the better you’ll survive.

For more on the breast self-exam and how to locate your breasts’ neighborhoods—yes, neighborhoodsclick here. More inspiration on the boobie front can be found here, at feelyourboobies.com.

For more on clinical breast exams—the exam your doctor ought to be doing—click here.

For more on mammograms—yes, they are uncomfortable but they hurt a whole lot less than breast cancer does—click here.

Dr. Fitness, The Fat Guy, and me

I’ve listened to this a few times, determined it’s not so bad—I didn’t say anything embarrassing and didn’t utter as many “uumms” as I thought I’d might—and so now, I am sharing it with you.

See that icon on the right-hand rail, up top? The one right underneath Family Circle and That’s Fit, the one that reads Dr. Fitness and The Fat Guy? Click on it and you’ll hear my radio interview with healthy living guys Dr. Adam Shafran and Lee Kantor. They ask me about breast cancer, and I answer their questions. All in all, it’s pretty OK. See what you think.

You can also click here to listen.

Pretty good day

Did a radio show yesterday with Dr. Fitness and The Fat Guy, two guys in Atlanta who strive to make healthy living fun for everyone. We talked breast cancer—I told them how I found my lump, how I coped through treatment, how I started this blog, how I lost my hair. Check me out here. Don’t expect me to belt out any songs on this radio clip. That’s what Danny imagined I’d be doing when I told him the other day about my upcoming appearance.

“When are we going to hear your song?” 5-year-old Danny asked this morning on the way to school, just after I’d turned on some tunes.

“My song?” I asked.

“When are you going to sing on the radio?” he responded with impatience. Sensing my cluelessness, he declared: “You said you were going to be on the radio.”

“Oh, I was on the radio,” I explained. “But I just answered questions.”

“That’s all you did?” chimed in Joey. “About what?”

“About breast cancer,” I told both boys. “I talked about how Joey shaved my head and told me not to cry because it was only a haircut and I wouldn’t die.” I could see Joey smiling as I peeked at him through the mirror.

“You were right,” I told Joey. “It was just a haircut. My hair grew back, and I didn’t die.”

“And you look pretty,” Joey said. “And I like you’re hair better now.”

I told Joey he made my day.

“I thought your day was made by my goodness,” he said.

I asked for clarification.

“I thought your day was already made because I’m being so good,” said my 7-year-old guy.

OK, I get it. You see, Joey gets quite a lot of coaching in the mornings to stay on track and get out the door for school. This morning, he did well. So yes, he had essentially already made my day. And then he made it better.

Today, Joey was good. And he told me I’m pretty. And I don’t think I could have asked for anything more at 7:15 AM on a Friday morning.

A pretty good day, it is.

Not knowing

I have a friend. She had a lump. Then she had surgery. And now it’s gone. She doesn’t know whether the lump is benign or malignant. She’ll find out on Monday. I feel like I’m in her shoes. Except it’s four years ago. And the lump is mine. And I’m waiting to hear if it’s cancer.

The waiting is the hardest part. The finding out it’s cancer is pretty hard too. But the waiting is killer. Knowing means planning and plotting and strategizing. Or what I hope for my friend: Celebrating that it’s not in fact cancer. Not knowing means uncertainty, anxiety, an unsettled heart and head.

Three more days. Then she’ll know. And everything will be alright, no matter what she knows. Because, she’ll know.

Giveaway: Now this is one smooth deal

n18624175908_572416_9142.jpgFirst, let me tell you that Smoothie King is offering a freebie for all of you, whether you enter this giveaway or not. On September 18, during the hours of 7:30 and 10:30 AM, the king of all smoothies will give away one 20 oz. coffee smoothie to each customer who wants one. Check out SmoothieKing.com to find your nearest location. Click here for more information on the freebie event.

OK, now back to all things cancer.

Smoothie King supports the cancer crusade, even offers a smoothie tailored to chemotherapy patients struggling to eat healthfully and maintain weight throughout treatment. The Hulk, this smoothie is called and if you are so inclined, in the spirit of breast cancer awareness, you can get it in strawberry pink. Perfect.

There are so many other flavors at Smoothie King and if you win this giveaway, you can spend your winnings on a creation, well several creations, of your choice.

So, Smoothie King is offering one $25 gift card to the winner of this giveaway. Just check out this website, pick your favorite smoothie, and share in a comment what you declare as tops. One week from today, on Wednesday, September 17, a name will be chosen randomly, and then announced here, and then my Smoothie King friend Leah will send her gift to the winner.

Smooth deal, eh?

Thank you, Leah and Smoothie King.

Kim, you win

Congratulations, Kim—you are the lucky winner of my very first giveaway. Yay for you. One of Danielle’s clever, crafty, and charitable breast cancer picture frames will soon arrive at your Cincinnati palace where you’ll get to display a favorite photo for all to see. I say you make it one of me, just because you love me so, but hey, use it as you will and enjoy.

Come back soon, my faithful readers, because before you know it, another giveaway will begin. It’ll be a smooth one, I promise.