Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My story...condensed

Me today, happy healthy and strong.

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I was a survivor.
On October 1st, 2007, we joyously welcomed our third daughter, Clara Elizabeth, into our family.  The C-section went smoothly and we were looking forward to a speedy recovery.  Things did not go as planned.  Sixty hours after her birth, barely alive, I was rushed into surgery to evacuate a massive retroperitoneal hemorrhage, so large it had displaced my kidneys and bladder and had even caused my lungs to collapse. 

Barely alive after multiple blood transfusions.  At least I'm off the ventilator!
I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator, 57 staples running from my chest all the way down, minus a uterus, and a long way from recovery.  My baby, along with my dreams of a large family went home two weeks before I did.  It took an amazing nurse, many generous blood donors, extremely supportive friends and family, and a lot of inner strength to begin healing.

This was the end of a long journey for my husband and me.  Our first daughter was born blind (our Amazing Grace who can now see), our second daughter was born asleep; we were blessed with Ella in our third pregnancy, but lost another daughter on our fourth try.  We were physically and mentally exhausted.

When Clara was 7 months old I decided it was time to get a physical, with a family history of breast cancer this always included a mammogram even though I was only 36. 
Obviously I would not be writing this essay if the results had come back clean and clear.  After 7 months of constant medical appointments dealing with the aftermath of a horrific birth experience I was about to fight for my life one more time and I was not sure I was prepared for battle.
In life it is so amazing how quickly our perspective can change. 

As I went through the normal battery of diagnostic testing we were thrilled at how BLESSED I was to have DCIS.  Since both of my breasts were scattered with DCIS coming to terms with a double mastectomy proved to be very difficult for me.  My breasts were how I fed and comforted my babies.  Clara was only 7 months old and I had just lost my uterus, could I really stand to lose all my female parts in under a year?  Would I ever feel like a woman again?  Would a love of shoes be all that separated me from the boys? 

Again, after almost dying in child birth and then getting a double mastectomy less than a year later I found myself proclaiming how BLESSED I was, negative nodes!!!!  Perspective is an amazing thing.

As I began to heal from yet another major surgery I started walking daily. Clara took her morning and afternoon naps in the stroller as I pushed my way back to health.  After several months I began jogging between mailboxes….this was a MIRACLE!  Having developed large breasts in the 6th grade I had literally never been able to run, I could teach step aerobics and spinning all day long, but the repetitive motion of running was too hard on my breasts and back. 

As my body regained its muscular strength, I was regaining my inner strength.  I am a longtime group fitness instructor and have had the opportunity to help so many women as they heal from breast cancer treatments.  I am able to listen and relate to their struggles as I teach them to exercise slowly and safely.  Each time I get another survivor physically ready to return to their normal lives I feel like I have beaten cancer one more time.  Our minds heal so much more quickly when we are moving.

Our bodies can overcome so much and with enough work, passion and dedication it is possible to come back and be as strong as or even stronger than before.  We are often surrounded by people with excuses or an “I can’t” attitude, being a warrior against breast cancer shows us that obstacles are meant to hurdled, cleared or completely obliterated! 

Having never run before cancer, I have now completed five marathons (even qualifying for the Boston Marathon by ten minutes), many 50Ks, and other (even longer) distance races.  I was the first place survivor at the 5K Komen Race for the Cure in Maryland last year...tears of joy streaming down my face as I crossed the finish line, completely decked out in a pink tutu! 
Life is good and I am happy to say how incredibly BLESSED I have been! 

My husband Mike and three daughters were at the finish line when I qualified for Boston, these are my true blessings.


  1. Don't worry, it's not just your love of shoes that separates you from the boys, it's also your lack of penis :P

    1. Yeah, but I still think I'm coordinated enough to use a urinal in a pinch :-)