|Right around mile 36, coming into the home stretch!|
Would it make sense to you if you heard me say that my cancer diagnosis was a positive event in my life? How can something so devastatingly scary be positive? I think of it as positive because no other event (other than becoming a mom) has made me understand who I am, what I believe, and what it means to be a survivor.
When I was diagnosed at age 34, cancer meant fear. Fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear for my children. Growing up, in the 70's, you didn't hear of too many people who survived "cancer." So when I was diagnosed, naturally I thought of the worst. But thankfully, we caught it early. I underwent surgery and daily radiation. And I made it! I celebrated life and every year that went by. They told me that if I made it to my 5th year without recurrence, then I could consider myself "cured." And that 5th year was my goal. That was back in 1998. I heard about the first Avon Walk...it was a 3-day walk back then. 60 miles from Santa Barbara to Malibu. And it coincided with my 5 year cancer anniversary. I remember that first walk. Everything seemed so special. I walked on my own, but all along the way I met so many amazing people...some were survivors just like me. We were all walking together, all of us with different stories, yet all of us touched by cancer. I remember that last day, walking single file along PCH into Malibu. One foot in front of the other. Calling up every last bit of strength from inside me. Thinking about my grandmothers (who were both genocide survivors and powerful women of faith)...and thinking, I am their granddaughter. I can do this. I am a survivor! Just believe! And I thought of my fear of cancer, and I came to the realization that I had overcome that fear. When I saw my children at the finish line cheering me on, with their smiles and flowers, something inside me changed. I felt powerful! I had survived!
Life went on the years went by. I kept up with my check ups and my mammograms. My children grew up. And I kept walking. When my daughter got old enough, she signed up to walk with me. And then 2011 came and hit me with a double whammy. You know that colonoscopy you keep putting off? Well, don't do that! In February of 2011, I went for my first ever colonoscopy. Routine. No symptoms. Nothing. And then wham, I was diagnosed with colon cancer after the mass they found tested positive. Thankfully, it too was caught early. I underwent surgery. And during my six week recovery, I went for my annual mammogram. I remember the day after I returned to work I got a call. They saw "something" in my mammogram and wanted me to come in for a biopsy. I went in the very next day, and by the following day I received the call. I had breast cancer again. 18 years later. Because I had radiation the first time around that was no longer an option. I had to undergo a mastectomy and opted for reconstructive surgery at the same time. So there was a lot of coordinating and scheduling going on...and at the same time, my daughter was getting ready to graduate nursing school. This time the feeling wasn't fear, but determination. I was going to get through this...and I was determined to make it to graduation. I think each and every one of my medical team and hospital staff knew about my daughter's graduation. I heard more than one scheduler or nurse say, "This mama's got to make it to her baby's graduation....we need to get her there!" That became my goal. To make it to her graduation. And it happened. I had my surgery and despite the bandages, the incisions and the drains, and was well enough to make it to graduation and hear my baby girl deliver her commencement address!
That September, just 3 months after my surgery...my daughter and I walked in the Avon Walk Santa Barbara. We held hands as we approached the finish line. Our family was there (as they always have been) and then looking beyond, I saw so many of my friends! 15 of my friends had rented a van and surprised us. They had come all the way from Glendale to Santa Barbara to support us as we crossed the finish line. It was amazing. Not only that, but they had cooredinated this huge potluck ...and they all stayed for the closing ceremony. By the end of the closing ceremony, my brother, sisters and 7 of my friend had signed up to walk in 2012 as Team In Her Shoes so inspired by the amazing stories they heard. Our team grew to 18 walkers last year. And between 18 of us, we raised $35,000!
When I think about why I walk, the reason is because I can't not walk. I walk to thank those who walked before me. I am alive because of breast cancer research. I walk to raise funds so the research can continue, so that someday we won't have cancer. I walk to remember those who are survivors of this disease, for those who are fighting cancer now, and in memory of those who have lost the battle And I carry their names with me on my 39.3 mile journey. And I also walk to offer hope and support to others just like those that walked with me those first years of my Avon walk experience.
Finally, I know I have changed a lot from 20 years ago and my first diagnosis. Cancer doesn't mean fear to me anymore. Cancer has become so much more -- but in a good way. Cancer means hope for recovery. Cancer means love and support from friends and family. Cancer means beauty in seeing the most ordinary of life happening around you and appreciating it for what it is - beautiful and miraculous. Cancer means faith, prayer, and believing in your wellness and knowing that those prayers are being answered. And cancer means action - being proactive and aggressive when it comes to our wellness. We have the power to make amazing changes that are happening in our lifetime. It all starts with the first step. I am so looking forward to taking that next step with all of you this September!
If you would like to donate to the Avon Walk and have us walk in memory or honor of your loved one, you can follow the link to donate. Each walker has to raise a total of $1800. I have met my goal, but I ask that you donate to Father Vazken's goal. You can access his donation page at: http://info.avonfoundation.org/site/TR/Walk/LosAngeles?px=2509651&pg=personal&fr_id=2240
You can hear this post read on this week's podcast (May 9, 2013) of The Next Step with Fr. Vazken on epostle.net