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