Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I Relay By: Nikki Schaefer

Mrs. Nikki Schaefer is the first guest writer on the blog.  She is my neighbor and participated in relay with us for the first time last year.  It was a blast!

I am truly the luckiest person to have such awesome friends.  I don't know what I would do without them!

 I knew this girl in high school……we didn’t run in the same crowd, nor were we the same age. I only knew her through a mutual friend….she was a cheerleader, a nice and friendly girl - I didn’t know much else other than her name, Eliza Mondy. Of course, I graduated and moved on about my life and didn’t see her again. My sister went to high school a few years later and was a cheerleader - guess who was her coach?? The same girl from high school that I knew, or lack there-of would be a better phrase. Once again, I didn’t get to know her much at all…just the occasional hello at games and parades, etc.

One day several years ago I saw a girl outside her house, down the street from mine, guess who it was - that beautiful, blond, cheerleader from high school. I saw that she had three small children about the same age as my own. Why the heck didn’t I go down and say hello?? Fear, embarrassment, judgment, I honestly have no idea what was stopping me. Let me just say, I soon became regretful that I didn’t go down and say hello. I often saw them outside and never stopped. One day I noticed she had shaved all of her long blond hair. I immediately knew why she had done that….I was sick to my stomach. I had heard from another neighbor that she had breast cancer. She had three small children and was too young to have breast cancer, right? At this point I felt like it was the worst possible time to stop by and say hello. “Would she think I was being nosy? Would she be mad at me for not coming over before? Would it be too awkward for both of us? What would I say?” Maybe I was ashamed for not greeting my neighbor in the beginning, maybe I was embarrassed for not being a mature adult, or maybe I didn’t know what to say. Every day that I would see her outside I felt terrible. It was only when my daughter noticed a girl down the street that she could play with one summer day. I said ok….and I let her take me down there…pathetic, right, letting my daughter introduce me to her new friend. I had so many questions for Eliza, but knew it wasn’t the right time to ask them. Instead we caught up on the past years and talked about our kids and families. I knew it would all work out one day – and it sure did!

Eliza has quickly become one of my closest friends and I love her with all my heart. Our daughters are best friends and our husbands have so much in common….it just works. I often regret that I didn’t go visit my neighbor sooner….I would have loved to be a part of her life and vice versa a LONG time ago. I feel badly, like what kind of “friend” I was not being….I wish I was able to help her during her fight with breast cancer. Enough with the depressing - woulda, shoulda and coulda… forward!! I look forward to so many more awesome memories with the Brock family!! Relay is just one of the wonderful things I can do to help celebrate the journey that Eliza has taken. Every time that I read her blog I tear up, just thinking how much courage she has makes me so proud to call her my friend. What an inspirational woman she is, an amazing friend, wife and mother! She does so much for everybody in her life and gives so much of herself….selflessly. Eliza is truly an amazing individual….and that is why I relay! To celebrate the survivors, honor those we have lost and help prevent the loss of other lives to cancer.

To read more about why Nikki does Relay and to donate to Nikki's Relay for Life Efforts Please click here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Because telling your kids the reality of life sucks...big time

This post's about this kid...

This post was taken from my personal blog from last October...

Last week I almost had a panic attack when talking to Alex. For those of you that don't know Alex, she is a talker. She will talk you head off with the most random questions. She reminds me of this kid in Home Alone, Mitch, the neighbor. Remember this part?

Mitch Murphy: Hi, I'm Mitch Murphy. I live across the street. You guys going out of town? We're going to Orlando, Florida. Well, actually, first we're going to Missouri to pick up my grandma. Did you know the McCallisters are going to France? Do you know if it's cold there? Do these vans get good gas mileage?
Airport Driver: Gee, kid, I don't know. Hit the road.
Mitch Murphy: [about the taxi-van] How fast does this thing go? Does it have automatic transmission? Does it have four-wheel drive?
Airport Driver: Look, I told you before, kid. Don't bother me. Now beat it.

Well that's my girl. Not satisfied with a one word answer and doesn't back down until she gets what she's looking for. Miss Alex has always been curious about my mastectomy scar on my chest. Asking questions about how I got it and where it came from. I have always tried to explain things to her in a way she could understand but not freak her out. So a few nights ago I was making dinner and....

Alex: How's the cut on your chest today mom?
Me: Fine honey, it doesn't hurt.
Alex: But that's from cancer. Right mom?
Me: Yeah it is.
Alex: I hope that I don't get cancer because that hurts, huh?
Me: Not anymore, I hope you don't get cancer either.
Alex: Yeah, because people die when they get cancer don't they?
Me: Sometimes people do, but I was lucky.
Alex: But kids can't get cancer, can they?
Me: Uh.... (obviously I had not prepared myself for the conversation veering off the road in this direction) Well....some kids do get cancer honey, but not breast cancer like mommy.
Alex: Kids get cancer?!? (um, she hadn't thought she'd get this answer either) Kids die from cancer? Will I get cancer?
Me: Uh.... Well.....(here's where I am panicking. I didn't want to lie to her but didn't really want to divulge the horrible truth of the matter to my 5 year old) Well.....Honey! Can you help Alex with her question.
(enter Jon aka the hero)
Jon: Well Alex some kids do get cancer and some kids do die from cancer, but you won't get cancer honey.

And that was that.  She actually dropped it. I couldn't believe it. Maybe she saw the crazy, freaked out face I was wearing. The reality is that people, even kids, do get cancer and do die from it. This conversation has followed me through the last few days and I hope she doesn't revisit this subject for a long while. I don't like explaining to my children the horrible reality of this disease. I am positive that I will continue to try and raise money and advocate for cancer awareness forever.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
 give a little, to what has taken a lot

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To how it used to be

In the midst of being sick, I didn't realize it but I was missing it.  I wasn't working, just focusing on me, but that meant I wasn't focusing on my kids.  They were still practically babies at the time.  I was diagnosed on the twins 2nd birthday, and Olivia was 4.  Looking back, cancer took my focus on my kids away.  I feel as though I missed out on a year of their lives.  I wasn't able to focus on them or enjoy them.  Just me.  Just keep me healthy and getting through my challenges day by day.  I often thought through my treatments that I wanted my old life back.  The life where I was able to run around with my kids, to participate with them in play dates and other various activities.  Things I wasn't able to do with them because of the cancer.  I have very minimal energy and felt sick most of the time.  If it wasn't one side effect it was another.  But those nasty drugs and horrible side effects kept me alive and allowed me to enjoy today with them, even if I did miss out on a lot of yesterdays.  
After my cancer treatments and before I started the reconstructive surgery process my sister Toni had purchesed this awesome video software.  For one of her first projects she had found a collection of videos she had of my kids with Jon and I or with her and her husband.  They were all of the spring and summer before my diagnosis.  She sent it to me and I posted it on my blog in September of 2007.
I always felt that it was appropriate that it was set to Used, by Daughtry.  Here is Toni's magnificent creation.  She's so awesome!  Thanks Toner!

I relay because I think all of us as survivors would like to get things back to the way they were before cancer.

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
 to give a little, to what has taken a lot

Monday, April 26, 2010

Here's to You Mrs. Robinson!

Meet Mrs. Robinson.

She's a teacher so it is the P.C. title, right? I love that song, by the way, a true classic.
But back to her.... She recently celebrated her 3 years of being cancer free with normal blood work. We're going to be counting these for years to come together and it is going to be awesome! Shari's younger brother and I were in the same graduating class in high school and she coached cheerleading at our rival school Thompson Valley so I had known who Shari was for a long time, I didn't truly get to know her until she was diagnosed with breast cancer right after Christmas of 2006. I had been diagnosed the August before, and Olivia attended the same preschool as her daughter. We connected through our preschool.
Since then we have stayed in touch through our treatments, surgeries and support groups. Here is a group of us at one of our survivor dinners at PF Changs. All sporting the 'butch' hair cut. Yeah for hair!
Most recently we have been able to see each other every week with her being Olivia's cheer coach. She was also able to celebrate being a survivor by participating in the survivor fashion show at the Hope Lives! Gala this last October. You can read her story (and Jennifer's story from the previous post) from the October 2009 issue of Style here. I was able to attend that awesome event and here she is working the runway!

She had participated in relay for several years before she was diagnosed with school.  The first year I participated in relay she was the survivor chair and gave an amazing and inspirational speech.
I hate what cancer has put me through, but without that experience I would not be the person I am today.  I would not have been part of the cancer club, and would not have been able to experience these friendships. 

So, here's to you Mrs. Robinson and years more of celebrating our normal blood work! 

I relay for you Shari!
Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts
 give a little, to what has taken a lot

Thursday, April 22, 2010

She's a Star

One of my dear friends was made a star today on channel 2's Everyday show.
She is  
a phenomenal writer, 
a wife,  
a mother of 4 darling girls (one of which has the same name as me, which I LOVE), 
a fighter, 
a warrior, 
a survivor.
She was diagnosed in May 2008 with stage four breast cancer.  She had received my name and information from a few different people in the month after she was diagnosed and I had received a few calls about her at the same time.  Both of us young, mothers, and breast cancer patients.  I suppose it was fate that we were to meet, and I am so glad that we did.  Anytime you are around Heather you are guaranteed to have great conversation and most of the time a lot of laughs.  What an awesome combination.  Both of us being very busy mothers we aren't able to connect very often but when we do, it is always wonderful.  I love that she is so open and honest with things that she experiences and she isn't afraid to just put it out there.  She is the editor in chief of get born magazine, the uncensored voice of motherhood and "bore it all" on the cover of her spring issue.  

She was asked to be a guest on the Everyday show on channel 2 this morning and was a star!  Here is her interview from this morning.

She is amazing and I am blessed to know her and call her a friend.
I relay for you Heather.  

 Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cancer Stranger & Radiation

I was at the check out at King Soopers yesterday and looked over and saw the woman checking out next to me.  She was probably in her mid 30's.  She had a buzz cut and workout clothes on, and a tank top with a zip up sweater over top.  I could see the top corner of a red square that looked similar to a sun burn.  But with radiation burns it is a VERY defined line.  Just seeing this woman in the store, it was painfully obvious what she was currently dealing with and it took me right back to the time when I was dealing with that as well.  Ours eyes met for a brief few seconds and I offered her a warm smile and she smiled back.  I wanted to talk to her and tell her to keep fighting, but she was in an obvious hurry and rushed out of the store.    
I remember during my radiation treatment remembering when I used to tan and put a heart sticker on my tummy.  I would tan with the sticker on and then you could see how tan you got over several sessions because the area where the heart was, was still your normal white skin color rather than tan.  Much like that, the radiation area is a huge square area that covered me from my sternum to under my arm.  It eventually turned into a tan square that I had for a long time.  I want to say a little less than a year.    Overall, radiation was more of an inconvenience to me compared to what I had just been through with chemo and surgery but still not anything I would ever want to experience for a second time.  Going in 5 days a week at the same time for 6-ish weeks.  Every. Day. Bleh. 
The one thing that I do have to see that was a product of my radiation treatment was my radiation tattoos.  They permanently brand you with tats so that every treatment you do they can line up the radiation machine in the same spot, thus the perfect square radiation burn.  It's amazing how precise it is.  The first time you go in for radiation treatment they tattoo black dots on you.  I have 3.  Two that were on my sternum and one under my arm.  After all the reconstruction I have had done, the two that were in line with each other on my sternum at one point, are nowhere near each other.  Good thing for elasticity in the skin!  
I was the queen of loose fitting shirts.  Again, like a sunburn.  Don't touch, rub, look.... or for that matter even think about looking at my burn.  It hurts!
I never really took any pictures of my burns but I do remember that I had JUST finished my radiation treatment right before I participated in my first relay for life.  Here's a picture of me and Jennifer doing the survivor lap.  I hated my hair this length.  Still too short to even do anything with it, just look at those crazy cowlicks all over my head!
Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I've got friends in low places

Low places being the chemo room.  The very one where I felt like a 5 year old in a room full of 95 year olds.
Isn't if funny how you can find the good in even the worst situations?  
These are my chemo girls.  Karen and Laine
Breast cancer for all 3 of us.  We were all lucky enough to have treatment on the same day.  
The first "cycle" of chemo I did it required me to be on Benedryl while having the chemo drip.  This made me very sleepy so I napped for a lot of the time I was there.  The first couple of times I went to chemo I remembered hearing (through my medicated coma, ha!) a group of ladies that came in together that always seemed to be having fun and laughing.  Laine's mother came to quite a few of her treatments with her and those ladies both have a really bubbly and fun personality.  After the first few treatments I did a better job of staying awake and was able to get to know Laine and Karen.  I remember my first conversation with Lanie.  She told me that this was not her first, but instead her second battle with breast cancer.  I was floored.  She had cancer in one breast, and this time got it on the other side.  She had tested positive for the BRCA gene.  This is the hereditary breast cancer gene.  
During her first diagnosis she underwent a stem cell rescue.  Which if you have never heard of this, wow, it is quite the ordeal.  You can read about it here.  You are your own stem cell donor.  They give you high doses of chemo therapy and then transplant your stem cells.  I imagine that my mouth was on the floor during this whole conversation.  This lady has been through the ringer.  Despite everything she has been through she has a contagious positive attitude and always seems to lift others up that are around her.
It was always a good time when all 3 of us ended up there at the same time.  Here we are about 1/2 way through treatment.
  They both had some really fun wigs.  Laine had one that was pink that I loved!  
The 3 of us attended the Hope Lives! gala the following October after we were all growing our hair back and here we are all together again.
I am happy to report that all 3 of us are doing great.  Laine continues to amaze me with all the efforts she puts into volunteering at Hope Lives! and gave an amazing speech at this year's gala.  I wish I saw more of her these days.  I miss you woman!
These are truly some of the good things that have come out of this bad situation.
I relay for you Laine and Karen!

Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts

Monday, April 19, 2010

My First Survivor Friend

Meet Jennifer Entner...and husband, Jay.

This bombshell was at the front lines when I was diagnosed.  She was the first survivor I knew.  She was diagnosed when her daughter was only 10 months old. She took me to my first support group meeting.  She was there to answer all my questions from the stand point of someone who had experienced first hand what cancer can do to a person.  She listened to me cry when I lost my hair.  She gave me advice.  She wrote me encouraging letters and cards.  She became a wonderful friend.  This gem introduced me to relay because her family participates in it every year.  This picture was taken at the first relay I participated in 3 years ago at the survivor's dinner.  I am so thankful for the role she played in my cancer experience.  It was a blessing to have someone to talk to that could tell me how things were going to be and what to expect.  Jennifer just celebrated her 9 year mark.  I love you Jennifer!!  I relay for you! 
Please follow the link on the side bar to donate to my relay for life efforts

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Relay Team Captain Meeting

Last night I attended a relay for life team captain meeting. My friend Jenna had someone cancel on her so she asked me earlier in the day to share my survivor story at the meeting. They are trying to do that this year to bring a more personal touch to these meetings and have everyone remember why we all work so hard to make this a successful event.
Even though I have told my story lots and lots of times I am always nervous to get up in front of people to do it. There were probably about 40ish people or more there.  For anyone that knows me, you know I am a crier. I cry when I laugh too hard, cry when I am sad, cry when I am touched, I am even a sympathy crier. I was created this way, so I try to embrace it. It does make it difficult to get out what I want to when I have to compose myself every few sentences while up in front of a large group though. But I made it through and was proud of myself that I didn't just stand up and cry for 5 minuets.  

I told them that it had been almost 4 years since I got my cancer diagnosis and that I was 26 when I was diagnosed.
I didn't tell them that even though it has been almost 4 years I still think about that time in my life almost every day.  
I told them about how I discovered the lump while I was doing the dishes and reached across myself to turn on the garbage disposal and felt the lump with the inside of my arm.  That I made an appointment to see the doctor the next day and went in right away.
I didn't tell them how I laid awake in bed that night with a pit in my stomach feeling like I already knew I had cancer before I even went in.
I told them how the doctor said not to worry that it was probably just fibrosistic breasts and that lots of women have dense breast tissue that will get lumpy during certain times in their cycle.  That I should come back in a few weeks if the lump grew or changed shaped.
I didn't tell them how I still worried even though the doctor told me not to.
I told them how I went back in after the weeks passed and my tumor had grown and changed shape.  How they scheduled me for an ultra sound and mammogram the next day, which of course was a Friday.
I didn't tell them that my family had been planning a trip to water world with some friends for the previous few weeks that was supposed to be the next day.  That I made Jon take the kids anyway while my mom took me to the appointment.  That the radiologist there that read my films couldn't have been more cold and distant with me.  That she pointed out what a cancer tumor looks like on a picture on the wall and then showed me my own film.  My film looked identical to the picture on the wall, bright white with long tentacles spouting off in every direction.  That my mother and I help each other and cried while she informed us that I would have to wait until Monday to have my biopsy done and that the results could take a few days after that.  That we got in the car and I had a melt down sobbing and screaming.  That I had to take a 10 minute time out to stop hyper ventilating.  Then I could compose myself long enough to call my husband and tell him that he better be able to get his old job back (he just switched jobs the week prior and we didn't have group health insurance, in fact we had no insurance starting Sept 1st, it was Aug 26th) so we could have health insurance.
I told them that I had a biopsy done the following Monday.
I didn't tell them that it was, at that time, the most horrible thing I had ever experienced.  That the entire weekend I had thought that my husband would be able to go back and at least hold my hand during the "procedure" which they didn't allow to happen.  That I had to be poked over 15 times with the biopsy needle because they couldn't get their new spring loaded contraption to work so they repeatedly poked without getting a sample.  That my breast was black and blue for a week after what I was told would be "no big deal" and that people take and asprin and go back to work.  That I had to call my doc for pain pills after I got home that I was on for 2 days.  
 I told them that I was diagnosed 2 days later, on my twins 2nd birthday.
I didn't tell them that my lovely aunt Holly had dropped her schedule for that week to fly down and support my family and was with me at the house when I got the call from the doctor.  She was playing with the kids outside and I was in my room trying to nap.  The doctor told me that it was cancer and I needed to find a surgeon right away.  He was going to call and set up an appointment with a local office and call back.  That when I got off the phone with the doctor I curled up in a ball on my bed and sobbed, alone.  
I didn't tell them, but I am sure that they knew, that it was the worst day of my entire life.  That I felt I was handed a death sentence on a day that 2 years prior was one of the best in my life.  That cancer took that special day for me and ruined it.  That I thought I was going to die and I wondered if my babies would ever have a replacement mom.  I wondered if that person would ever be able to love them the way I loved them.  That I was angry at the people that kept calling to check on me and I didn't want to have to keep telling the callers the bad news.  That I wanted to run screaming through the streets, why me? 

I told them that I did 6 months of chemo therapy, mastectomy surgery, 6 weeks of radiation, and a number of reconstructive surgeries.  
I didn't tell them that I had never felt so weak in my life. That I lost my hair and people starred at me when I was out in public.  That I had horrid reactions to my chemo treatments.  That I never knew I could be in as much pain as I was after reconstructive surgery.  
 I told them that the first year I did relay I was in the middle of doing radiation and it was an experience I will never forget.  I told them how I have enjoyed seeing relay grow over the last four years and that realy is something that I am very passionate about.  I thanked them for being supporters of relay and for their efforts towards this great cause.  I told them that someday because of these efforts I know that we will be able to keep this horrible disease from impacting the lives of our children. 

And, I truly beleive that we will.  I believe in relay and I AM passionate about this cause.  I feel so blessed to be here and be one of many of the survivors.  I am honored to be able to participate in relay.
 Please follow the link on the side bar to help support me in this great cause, because I know with your help we will be able to find a cure for this disease.  


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why I Relay for Life

As summer approaches our local Relay for Life season starts. The fundraiser planning is underway and I can't wait to once again participate in Relay for Life. I am very passionate about participating in this event as it benefits all types of cancer and is a wonderful cause. So many of us have had cancer impact our lives in one way or another. My hope is that one day we will no longer live in a world plagued by this awful disease.

This year to promote relay I decided to start a blog. On this blog I hope to write about why I relay, thoughts and feelings about cancer, people I relay for, and possibly some stories about why my fellow team members relay (if I can talk them into it!).

To start this off I wanted to share the video I created last year to try and explain and show others why I relay for life. Here are the words I wrote through the video:

I relay for life. For my life, for your life and every life touched by cancer.

I relay for those first diagnosed,
Who know not what’s ahead, but are ready to fight.

I relay for the survivor learning of recurrence,
Who already knows what awaits, but is still ready to fight.

I relay for the mother watching her child suffer through chemo
And the child enduring the suffering.

I relay for the husband afraid to lose his wife
And the wife afraid of being taken from her family.

I relay to fight the cancer that tried, but failed, to take my life,
And to bring hope to those who are fighting.

I relay to celebrate being a survivor
And to honor those who have not survived.

I relay for those who have the determination and the will to fight,
But surrender because they could not succeed.

I relay because I do not know why I won my battle and others lost,
But I believe that what I am doing will help more people win.

I relay for the friends I met through treatment,
To honor fights won and fights lost.

I relay to help calm my fears,
Because at times I am still afraid.

I relay for life. For my life, for your life and every life touched by cancer.

At the end of every post I will turn into a shameless beggar and ask you to reach into your wallet and make a donation to American Cancer Society through my relay for life page. Even a small donation will be much appreciated! There is a link on the side bar to make a donation. Thanks in advance to everyone who takes the time to read this blog and make a donation.