Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Please support me as I walk 60 miles to end breast cancer!

Dear friends and family,

In just over a month, I'll be participating in my 8th Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure event. This year, I will walk 60 miles in 3 days on the Twin Cities event.

After so many years of asking for your support with my fundraising efforts, you might think that writing this letter would be easy for me. Yet, somehow, it seems more difficult each year. As I've considered what to write, I've realized it's harder because each year I'm given more reasons to walk. In fact, this year has been the most significant in my fight to end breast cancer.

Becky & Taylor at the 3-Day Closing Ceremony
Since I began working for the 3-Day in 20007, I've met so many wonderful participants and have been touched by their stories. But in February, for the first time, I attended the funeral of one of my Twin Cities walkers. Becky Hewitt was only 36 when she lost her life to breast cancer. She had been fighting stage four breast cancer for five years. She left behind a husband and two daughters, Kalley, age 14 and Taylor, age 7.

Two months after Becky's funeral, I got a phone call from my mom that I hoped would never come. As most of you know, my mom is a 14-year breast cancer survivor. She called to tell me she had found a new lump in her right breast. Despite numerous tests, the doctors weren't certain if the lump was cancerous, but thought it was pretty likely. On May 13th, she underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. She has experienced numerous complications including hyponatremia, a major asthma flare-up and pancreatitis. Her surgery and recovery have been so much more difficult than anyone expected. Yet, there is a silver lining. The pathology on the lump and all breast tissue came negative. She was officially declared cancer free!
As much as I would like to have that be my last breast cancer story of the year, sadly it's not. Just three weeks ago, one of my high school classmates, and a fellow 3-Day walker, died of metastatic breast cancer. Jeanette (Schmitz) Lehnert was only 35. Her daughter Sydney is only 6 years old.

Jeanette making the victory walk with her fellow survivors
Back in 2008, Jeanette found me on the Chicago event after seeing me taking photos along the route. After not seeing her for 14 years, I couldn't believe that she even recognized me, much less took the time to track me down at camp. At the time, I thought it was such a random coincidence. Of course, I should've known better - those experiences on the 3-Day are no accident. I'm so thankful that we were able to connect that day.

As I reflect on these past few months, I keep coming back to one specific moment. It happened when the doctor came in to my mom's hospital room and told us that there was no cancer. I cannot begin to describe the sense of awe and relief that I felt hearing that news. But almost immediately, I thought of Becky's daughter, Taylor. I remembered her leaning forward to gently take a flower from her mommy's casket at the cemetery. My heart broke as I was again reminded of just how unfair this disease is...and how fortunate I am to still have my mom.

On August 19-21, I will walk in memory of Becky and Jeanette. I will walk in celebration of my mom. I will again carry the names of all of my angels and survivors, and your angels and survivors, on the ribbon-filled tutu that I wear as I walk. I will walk for all the kids in my life, so that they may live in a world without breast cancer.

I will walk because I cannot walk away.

My goal is to raise $5,000 by Aug 5th. Please make a donation now to support my fundraising efforts and this important cause. Then consider making that donation every month for the next four months, using the payment plan option available when you donate online at Many companies have matching gifts programs, so please ask your employer if they will double your donation with a matching gift.

To make a donation, go to If you don’t want to donate online, you can download and print a donation form from that page that you can mail to me with your donation.

Thank you for all of your love, encouragement and support. I truly could not be a part of this amazing event without you!

With gratitude,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The only thing better than her cookies is her friendship!

Melanie & Patty - Two Smart Cookies!
One of the best parts about my work with the Komen 3-Day for the Cure is meeting so many amazing people. I often look back over the past few years and wonder how I ever lived my life without these wonderful women! Some of them I feel like I've known my whole life. One of those special friends is Patty Mathews. Many of you know her as "Cookie Patty" since she and her friend, Melanie, run Two Smart Cookies - a cookie shop in St. Paul. (Next time you're in that area be sure to visit or go to their website to order the yummiest treats ever!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Two Newest Reasons to Walk

When I walk in the 3-Day for the Cure, there are three groups of people for whom I am walking. The first two groups are more obvious. I walk in celebration of those who have won their battle against breast cancer. I also walk in memory of those who fought bravely but lost their battles.

But the third group is a group who has never faced breast cancer. And, honestly, I'd like to keep it that way. I walk for the many children in my life. I walk with hope that I can help change their futures. That they never know what it's like to watch their mother fight breast cancer. That they never lose a grandma, an aunt or any loved one to this disease. That they never have to face their own diagnosis. That by the time they grow up, we have a cure.

In June, my friend MJ gave me two new reasons to walk. Many of you already know about MJ and her amazing baby growing skills. For those of you who don't know about MJ, here's what she's been up to lately.

In April 2009, she gave birth to a set of fraternal twin boys, Bennett & Ethan.
 Then, just 15 months later, she gave birth to a set of identical twin girls, Jocelyn & Aaliyah.
Yes, that's right. Two sets of twins! Four babies under the age of two! Yes, it was all natural. Yes, she is a little crazy (as if you needed any proof, she crewed the 3-Day with me in 2006). And, yes, she is amazing! You can learn more about MJ and her family at
But as much as I adore, MJ. This blog post is about Jocelyn & Aaliyah because they are my newest reasons for walking in the 3-Day for the Cure. I spent oodles of time with these girls before they were even born. While their Mommy was on bedrest, I was at their house often. We passed the time by playing with the boys, helping with shopping, organizing, watching Days of Our Lives and the Food Network while anxiously awaiting the girls' arrival.

When any new babies arrive (especially TWO new babies), a lot of things change. The world is suddenly filled with diaper changes, crying, feedings, laundry, baby swings, diaper changes, boppy pillows, bottles, pacifiers, exhausted parents, swadling blankets, more diaper changes. But all of that is worth it because when new babies arrive they bring other things, too. Sleepy smiles, delicate fingers and toes, cuddles and love, excitement. And, perhaps most importantly, newborns bring a fresh supply of joy and possibility.

I walk for Jocelyn & Aaliyah.
I am filled with hope for their futures.

Where have you been?

Well, I don't know that very many of you have noticed, but I haven't posted since late March. What the heck?!?! I was really planning to post at least once a week but I have failed miserably. It's not that I have a lack of material. I certainly have a long list of reasons why I walk - and many stories to share. I guess, as usual, what I'm running short on is time!

Since that last post, I've finished up the two pre-requisite courses I was taking for my Masters in OT program. We've hosted the Twin Cities 3-Day Preview Expo. I've started a new weekly volunteer position at Special Children's Center in Hudson, Wisconsin. I worked at a week-long summer camp for kids with sensory integration issues. And lots more, including training and (of course) fundraising for the 3-Day for the Cure.

Now that life has quieted down a little bit, I'm hoping to get back to blogging a little more regularly. It's hard to believe that three weeks from today, my mom and I will be celebrating the end of the Cleveland 3-Day for the Cure - where we will be driving one of the sweep vans. And six weeks from today will be done walking the Twin Cities 3-Day for the Cure. I have so much to look forward to!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The youngest survivor I know...

As you might guess, in my work as a Field Coordinator for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, I am lucky to meet so many amazing women and men who are breast cancer survivors. Many of them are the women you would expect. Women in their 50s and 60s - or even older. But some of them are the people you might least expect.

Many of my co-workers are young suvivors. One of them was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer when she was only 21 years old. Her story is shocking, heart-wrenching, inspiring and filled with hope.

Bridget faces breast cancer with more courage, grace, elegance, determination, and frankly more guts than anyone I have ever met. I am so thankful to know her. There is a link to her full blog on the right hand side of my page. I really encourage you to read it... but for now, here is Bridget's story in her own words.

Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 21 years old and had graduated from college just one week before. I had no family history of the disease. Because of my young age and low hereditary risk, no one took the growing lump in my left breast seriously. I was not sent for a mammogram for six months after initially finding my lump.

By the time I was diagnosed on June 3, 2005, the cancer had left my breast and taken over my body. I had a 3 centimeter tumor in my liver. My doctors gave me a 16% chance of celebrating my 30th birthday.

At the time, I refused to believe those statistics, but I realize now what those doctors meant. For a year I went through chemo and lost my hair, I had surgery and radiation that left me forever scarred. I did what the doctor's told me and I did so expecting to beat the disease and give those doctors a big middle finger on my 30th birthday. But the past five years have changed me.

Since 2005, I have had 4 recurrences. The drugs and the surgeries will work for a time, and then one day the world of love and normalcy that I work so hard to create crashes around me. I get scared, my whole family gets scared, and I have to again face more tests, more needles, more surgery and scars.

Last year, just two weeks after I got engaged to the man who has stood behind me through everything, I was told my cancer had returned. I can not forget this cancer, even when the fairy tale says I should get a break. I had to schedule wedding dress fittings around surgery appointments. I planned my wedding from the chemo chair and I finished therapy just three weeks before walking down the aisle.

Then again the fairy tale refused to go as expected. After returning from my honeymoon and hoping for a few years of quiet wedded bliss, I was diagnosed again in October with another recurrence. I have spent the last few months having surgery and enrolling in clinical trials. The doctors have told me that even after extensive surgery and therapy, they expect the cancer to return. We just don't know when.

That is what it means to live in a world without a cure. The doctors do the best they can, and then we all hope and pray and wait and watch.

My husband and I are done with hoping and praying. We are taking action. I feel like I am just barely one step ahead of this cancer. I need to stay one step ahead.

From October 8-10th, 2010 Alex and I will be walking 60 miles to end breast cancer forever in the Komen Washington, DC 3-Day for the Cure. I can not tell you how much it will mean to cross the finish line in our Nation's Capital with Alex by my side.

I am taking this fight into my own hands. I may not be able to save my life, but I may be able to find a cure before one of my best friends develops this horrible disease.

I walk for my friend and co-worker, Bridget Spence!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

From her perspective

In yesterday's post, I shared my story of my mom's diagnosis of breast cancer. But now, I'd like to share that same story but in her own words.

Last year, my mom and I were on the sweep team crew for the Seattle 3-Day for the Cure. It was hard and fun and beyond memorable. She was honored to be a part of the Survivors Circle during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the event. A few weeks before we went to Seattle, my mom sent the following email to our fellow sweep team members. It was the first time I had ever heard her perspective of her diagnosis.

My Story:

I am a survivor.

Four simple words…yet, four words that say so much.

I had just turned 41, at a time when routine mammograms were not done until age 45. I thought there was no history of breast cancer in my family. I thought the hardness deep in my breast was just dense muscle. I thought breast cancer happened to other people, not me. I was wrong. A handful of days after my birthday I went in for a quick check to get my prescriptions renewed. When the doc said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I paused and thought, “It’s time. Just say the words.” So I did.

He checked the density in my breast and said in a nervous voice, “Let’s go down the hall and get the mammogram”. In a flurry of activity over the next hour, what remains so vivid in my memory was when they snapped the x-ray on the screen. No one needed to tell me what my own eyes saw. It was unmistakable. A child of five could have identified what looked like a snowball that had hit the x-ray, now hanging from the illuminated screen. No denials. No smiling faces. Sadness in the Radiologist’s eyes; and the color that had drained from the face of the young doctor, just out of med school. I knew. We all knew. Yet astonishingly, I told them it would be okay. I told them not to worry. I knew I would survive. I knew it, as well as I knew my own name. I don’t know how, but I did. I could hear it echoing deep inside by body… I would survive, I would survive.

Late Stage III Breast Cancer was no match for me. I would get through the surgeries, all the chemo, and all the radiation. And I did. It was a long haul, and there were times that I grew to doubt that what I first believed would come true. But it did…and I am forever grateful. The tumor was the size of a large lemon, deep within my chest and had been growing for approximately 10 years. I was told that I had a good chance for five years, but not a great chance for ten. I’ve continued to prove them wrong. I just celebrated the 12th anniversary of the start of my battle against this insidious disease. I plan to celebrate many, many more years!

Over the years, I found out that all the women in my mother’s family had died from breast cancer, or metastasized breast cancer. They had all died before the age of sixty-five, with the exception of my grandmother, but she too, had died from the spread of her breast cancer. So just because you don’t think it’s in your bloodline, you may want to dig deeper. Breast cancer wasn’t talked about in past generations. Ask the deeper questions to the older women in your family. You might be surprised, like I was.

So thank you, fellow teammates! Thank you for supporting this cause. It is because of you that someday a cure will be found. You make a difference and you are helping to save lives.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I walk for my mom, Connie Houston!

A while back, I had the opportunity to write the story of my connection to breast cancer. I shared that story with hundreds of potential and registered 3-Day for the Cure walkers in my Get Started meetings. Here is what I shared:

My entire life, everyone has told me how much I look like my mom - and it's true. Whether you see us in person - or especially when you compare photos of us where we are the same age - there is no denying it. I'm her spitting image.

Like many women, as I get older, I often find myself saying, "Wow! I am turning into my mother!" I sound like her. I make the same facial expressions and gestures.

Our lives really mirror one another's in so many ways. And for the most part, I find that to be really sweet and endearing. But honestly, sometimes it really frightens me to be so much like my mom. That's because 12 years ago my mom was diagnosed with Stage IIIB breast cancer.

At the time, I was away at school. I can still vividly remember the call when she broke the news to me. She was very matter-of-fact when she informed me of the diagnosis and that she was having a lumpectomy the next day. Then, in true "mom-fashion" she cheerfully added, "But honey, don't worry. Everything is going to be fine. You don't even need to come home."

Well, this is my mom, so of course, the next afternoon I drove home. I spent the time in the car just over-thinking every possible outcome. There were tears, prayers - basically a lot of fear and uncertainty.

When I arrived that evening after her surgery, I stood outside of the hospital room and remembered her telling me that it would all be fine. So I tried convincing myself that it wouldn't be that bad. I took a deep breath before entering the room. But as I walked in, it quickly became clear that things really weren't "fine." I smiled at her but I couldn't help but notice how pale and tired she looked. There were tubes, IVs, drains... and my mom there in the middle of all of that.

She tried to act like it was all no big deal. She talked with determination and confidence about facing the upcoming months. She was going to face an aggressive course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. There were a myriad of side effects and possible complications.

But I knew her so well. Remember, we are so much alike. So despite her best efforts to seem tough, I could still sense her fear. And as I stood at her bedside, I was scared too.

I felt so.... incredibly.... helpless.

And in that moment, I realized that my future could hold the same diagnosis. With everything else we had in common - that could be me.

I am proud to tell you that my mom is now a twelve year survivor. And that a cancer diagnosis is not one of the many things we share.

I am here to help eradicate breast cancer. To help raise the dollars that will find the cure. And through my involvement in the 3-Day for the Cure, I have been empowered to make a difference. I am no longer that scared girl at my mom's bedside. Through my participation as a walker, crew member and as a member of the 3-Day for the Cure staff, I know that my contributions are making an impact on this disease.

I walk for my mom, Connie Houston!

So, maybe I'm crazy.

I'm working full-time, going to school part-time, hoping to start a Master's program in the Fall. I'm trying to work out regularly, trying to eat better, trying to stay in touch with friends and family. I'm pretty sure my plate is damn near full. And yet, today I signed up to walk in the 2010 Twin Cities 3-Day for the Cure.

I have no idea how I am going to do this. I don't know how I will find the time to train. I don't know how I will ever reach my fundraising goal. I don't know how my poor knees will manage to survive this.

But I have a lot of ideas about why I am going to do this.

Over the next six months, I will use this blog to highlight many of those reasons. You'll hear about my connections to this cause, as well as the inspiring stories that are other people's connections. And along the way, I'll add in stories and photos from fundraising and training.

If you've got a story to share, please email me at You can also help me reach my $5,000 fundraising goal by donating at