Race for the Cure!

I woke this morning to the sound of my dogs running back and forth through the house.  They weren’t barking – just running.

The sound also woke Felix who is quicker in the mornings than I am.

“Weren’t you supposed to be up at 6?”

Gulp.  Sure was.  And that was my Mom at the door waiting to take Meghan and I to the Race for the Cure in Central Park.

As I quickly washed, my face, and changed my clothes.  I let Felix see to Meghan.  I was annoyed at myself for oversleeping.  I purposely set the alarm on my cell phone so I would have to undo the lock screen to shut it down.  Apparently I was THAT tired.

We have been going to this race for at least 15 years.  Some of the participants have come and gone, but Mom and I have been there together… well except for 2003 when Meghan was just about a month old.

RFTC 2013c

And, for the better part of the last 10 years Meghan has joined us.  She was always so eager to support Grandma, that once I had the title of “Survivor” too she was determined to support us both.

Except last year.  When she was sidelined.  Sick with a fever early in the school year.  As devastated as she was I convinced her this was the year that mattered.  This was the year I could say I was a FULL year without my breast cancer.

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Dates matter.

When Mom was first diagnosed in 1997, I wasn’t sure she would be ok.  Although she battled through 2 mastectomies, and chemo, and 5 years of tamoxifen like a champ, it became important to celebrate the victories.  The milestones.  So Meghan has grown up watching me acknowledge Grandma’s “Pink Ribbon Anniversaries” three times a year. (First surgery, second surgery, end of chemo)  And while the acknowledgements are small they are an understanding between us that we remember.  We are grateful.

The race every September in Central Park was a natural outgrowth of that.  A desire to celebrate.  To be thankful.  To remember.

RFTC 2013B

Of course for me things feel a bit different sometimes.  Last night I told my husband I sometimes feel guilty wearing the pink “Survivor” T shirt.  He was perplexed.  I explained that I didn’t feel like I “survived” chemo, or radiation, or any of the things most women go through.  To which his sassy reply was, “You were tired of the old boobs? That’s why you had them cut off?”

See I wonder sometimes if would have been different if there was no cancer.  If the mastectomy had indeed been prophylactic would that change the fact that a genetic predisposition – AKA Cowden’s Syndrome (in ADDITION to having a first degree relative with breast cancer,) had pretty much predetermined the fate of my breasts?

I have “met” in this virtual world, and now in my real life, quite a few “previvors” who have taken an empowered approach to their genetic predisposition and had a mastectomy, and/or a hysterectomy.

I would say they are as much “survivors” as anyone.  Bravery, coupled with a desire to be there for your children and your family motivates these women to endure major surgery(ies.)

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/survivor  The Free Dictionary.com has the following definition of Survivor…

sur·vive  (sr-vv)

v. sur·vived, sur·viv·ing, sur·vives
v.intr.

1. To remain alive or in existence.
2. To carry on despite hardships or trauma; persevere: families that were surviving in tents after the flood.
3. To remain functional or usable: I dropped the radio, but it survived.
v.tr.

1. To live longer than; outlive: She survived her husband by five years.
2. To live, persist, or remain usable through: plants that can survive frosts; a clock that survived a fall.
3. To cope with (a trauma or setback); persevere after: survived child abuse.
So I put on my pink shirt, and we got out the door (t+Chai in hand) in just a few minutes.  We blew into Manhattan and found a spot on the street close to the park.
We walked through the “Expo” which was a little thinner than most years, took a few pictures, and then it was time to walk.
Although the weather was beautiful, Mom’s pinched nerve is not cooperating the way she would like, so she took a shorter route as Meghan and I headed to the starting line.
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For 3,2 miles, I pushed Meghan in her push chair.  She made friends along the way.  She met a police dog, and lots of nice ladies to whom she gave her “Cowden’s Card.”  And every time she gave it out I thought – Cowden’s Syndrome is more rare than BRCA, but just as lethal, even more so in some ways.  People should know.  I reminded her how glad I was – to have her
there.
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Just before the 3 mile mark we were joined by Grandma, and the three of us crossed the finish line together.
And as we walked under the pink balloon arch and turned towards the car I forced from my head the reality that we were now 2/3 pink.  I looked at my little girl in her white shirt, about to start 5th grade tomorrow.  I prayed for lots and lots of years for her to not have to worry about any of this.  I thought about how much better she looks in white than pink.  I searched my heart praying for a cure.
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And in the depths of my soul I don’t go a day without considering her 85% lifetime breast cancer risk.
Dates are important.
Now March 5, 2012 gets added to our celebration list.
Life is uncertain.  Celebrate the little victories together.  They are what matters most.

This one’s for you Mom – HAPPY SWEET 16!

celebrateThis one’s for you Mom.

My Mom doesn’t have Cowden’s Syndrome.  The tests confirmed that.

What she does have is strength, stamina, and courage unrivaled by most.  She is a tough cookie.  An inspiration with her determination.  Not once throughout her life have I ever known her to give up.

Mom is a survivor.

Long before she was a breast cancer survivor, she was a survivor of life.

She survived a divorce, two jobs, and raising 2 kids alone – with the help of my grandparents.

She survived sleepless nights, and worry.

She battled for her kids- fought doctors, insurance companies and the like. And, she even battled  with us on occasion… If you can imagine that!

Long before she was a breast cancer survivor, she was my Mom.  And she taught some valuable lessons I still use today.

(My sister posted the other day that “Some days I open my mouth and my mother comes out!”)

These are her words coming out of me these days….

I-plan-God-laughs

god-is-good-logo

But God is good - all the time!
But God is good – all the time!

thankfulAnd….

I really think I am OK with this concept, but we all need a reminder sometimes!
I really think I am OK with this concept, but we all need a reminder sometimes!

When my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer I was 23.  I was scared.  She might have been scared, but she attacked it with her “matter of fact” attitude that I think is what has gotten her so far.

She went for her first mastectomy on February 24th of 1997.  She was just 48.  The second mastectomy followed in April when cancer was found in the other breast.  6 months of chemo followed.  5 years of Tamoxifen followed that.

And she just kept right on going.  Even though some days she felt like this…

several days at once

Truth be told, maybe we all did.  But I did what I could to help out with her, around the house, and with my little sister.  I was really just amazed by her drive.  But I think I still am.

Last year when I was scheduled for my mastectomy, the surgeon asked me who had been with my mother during hers.  I told her my dad and I had.  She said, “Well call mom and tell her its time to return the favor.”

I called her on the ride home and although I can’t imagine it was an easy call to take.  She never flinched.  She took the week off that I had the surgery (a HUGE compliment from someone who sparsely misses a day of work.)  My recovery went so smoothly.  And I had some of the best conversations of my life with Mom that week.

When my pathology returned DCIS, she was the first one I called.  Neither of us were surprised.  And, yet her reassuring words, that she knew I had “done the right thing,” gave me such peace.

Before Mom was diagnosed she dreaded turning 50.  After all she had been through she embraced 50 with grace and charm, and a few years ago gave 60 a great big hug.

Mom's 64th birthday - and 4 generations of tough ladies!
Mom’s 64th birthday – and 4 generations of tough ladies!

This is a picture from her 64th birthday a few weeks ago.

My mom may not be like everyone else’s.  She can be a tough lady.  She hasn’t had an easy life.  But she has a heart of gold.  And I love her for who she is.

As I grow I realize everyone does the best they can with what they have where they are.

I am thankful – so thankful – for these last 16 years with my Mom.  I am grateful she got to know my daughter.  I look forward to having her around for a long time.

A mother bonds with all her children, and she is close with my sisters – differently than how we are close.  That’s what makes each relationship special.

We share some things that can’t be put into words…

Just past the finish line.  Aren't we "Pretty in Pink?"   :-)
Just past the finish line. Aren’t we “Pretty in Pink?” 🙂

She will always be my friend.  I hope she knows just how much she is loved.

Happy Start to your 16th year - CANCER FREE!
Happy Start to your 16th year – CANCER FREE!

Whose pink shirt is that?

I guess that’s my pink shirt?

It was probably in 1998 when we attended our first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Central Park.  Mom had spent 1997 undergoing 2 separate mastectomies, and enduring chemo.  Just to top it all off she began a run on 5 years of Tamoxifen

By September of 1998 she was back to her feisty self, raring to go – so we went.  We have gone almost every year since then, save for maybe 2003 when I gave birth to Meghan in August.

A few years ago a dear friend, a new survivor joined us.  So one very early Sunday a year, we pile into my Mom’s car and head to Central Park.  We look through the stands that are set up.  We “shop” for some free goodies, and we pay for some too.  Then we head back to the car and drop it all off so we are ready to walk among 25,000 or so survivors and supporters.

We push Meghan in her chair, as  the 5K would be way too much for her, but she won’t do without cheering Grandma on.  She makes Grandma a banner to hang on her shirt – usually a picture of the two of them.  It is a morning of (exhausting) celebration.

Our walking group

So it was Meghan.  It is always Meghan it seems, who pointed out to me about a week after my diagnosis of DCIS, that I needed a pink shirt for the race this year.  When I asked her why she said, “because you had breast cancer too.”

I thought about that for a few minutes.  It was early in the game so the ramifications of what I had been through had not yet fully sunken in.  I guess technically she was right.  I had the pathology report in my hand.  It clearly said DCIS.  The breast surgeon clearly called it cancer, and reminded me that a few more months would have put me in a “fight for my life.”

But I had been to those races for many years.  I had looked at the resolve in the faces of the survivors.  The bald heads of the women still in treatment, and I had read the signs and tributes to those who had fought and lost.  I had watched my own Mom endure chemo and years of tamoxifen.  Surely I couldn’t put myself in the same class with these ladies?

I suffer I guess with a bit of “survivors guilt.”  Some people might chuckle at the thought that my road has been easy, but of course everything is relative, and it is all about perspective.

I did commit to a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy to reduce my imminent cancer risk.  That in and of itself is a pretty big deal.  Finding out I already had cancer, rocked my world.  Knowing that I had already done everything possible to prevent any spread or recurrence, gave me some much needed peace of mind.  Angels, especially two I love (one here on earth, and one in heaven) named Meghan, had already kept me from being hurt by Breast Cancer.

Am I a survivor?  You bet your ass.  No genetic mutation, not PTEN, no Cowden’s Syndrome will take me, or my girl. I am blessed with the knowledge to screen, and the benefits of early detection.

Do I deserve to be in the same ranks of these breast cancer survivors?  I am not so sure.

But, I have this pretty pink shirt.  And these fake boobs.  Maybe that in and of itself makes it OK. 

No matter what I will consider it an honor to walk among some of the strongest women I will ever know.

Race for the Cure Logo