About Me...

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In a nut shell : I'm a wife, a full time working mom, a teacher, a Star Wars geek, comic book nerd, Disney enthusiast, hockey Mom, a decade long breast cancer survivor, and oh let's not forget such a happy, sassy, southern mess!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Come Stand Under My Umbrella

As we bring this month to a close I just want to share some of my thoughts with you. First I am both humbled and inspired by each one of your stories. This month was not about me, or my own story instead it was about sharing, caring and yes, inspiring others with your individual journeys. I hope to bring more stories of inspiration to you from time to time through out the rest of the year in a continued spirit of sharing and caring.

I sit here right now looking back through the many stories we have shared this month. I see the common threads binding us and weaving us together as a community of survivors. Our stories have each been different and yes we have taken different paths and diverse journeys. But the one thing binding us is our compassion and our desire to share our own trials in order to reach out to all those following behind us.

Each one of us has felt the sting of pain, had fear grip our hearts, stepped into the darkness. Still we have kept moving toward the sun, into the light. Grace has lead us, touched us building our souls into strong towers. Even life has been hard turning our backs on our faith has not been an option. In spite of our difficulties we have embraced joy and taken refuge in the grace our suffering has brought each one of us.

We are survivors, each and every one of us. We stand together, under this wide umbrella resting our weary spirits for just a bit. We are each covered by invisible hands even while the rain falls. We stand ,together, sometimes even sitting under this umbrella hand and hand.

We are not alone in this fight. We come here, gathering under this umbrella holding each other up. There may come days when the rain will seem to never stop, slamming hard against the top of this big umbrella. We may become weary, distraught and sick but under this covering we have hope and camaraderie even when we feel broken and frail.

We understand each day is a gift and so we grab hold and run with it. We kiss our babies, hold them close and let our loved ones know how deeply we love them. We don't allow a moment to pass without embracing the beauty of it's tenderness. Our hearts sing releasing all our fears, and chains. Our hopes lay in the precious mercy carrying us toward grace every step of this journey. We may be walking blindly, but hope sees clearly and guides us. Grace falls softly, embracing each and every one of us, all we need to do is believe.

Fear may come and yes it may try to strangle us. We may fall, bruising our knees upon the rocks below us and we may cry out in the darkness for help. Look up, and grab hold of the hand reaching down to you. None of us walk this path alone, no, we walk together. Life may hit us hard, pain may knock at our door, but there is always hope and strength knowing we are all in this together. We are surrounded by love, embraced by the light of our souls. There is no call we would not answer.

We are steady in heart in spite of the approaching enemy . We have cried out, beat against our chests while receiving the mark of death. Our eyes have been open to the risks, we understand what is before us. Together we have chosen to live and to fight back against the beast. We leave no stone unturned and take the path less traveled while we press forward. Victory is within reach we need only to move across the battlefield together. Our souls have been targeted by the beast, but we are strong, awakened by the desire to overcome.

Let the rain come, let the winds blow ... our strength comes in our numbers. We can fight this beast, even with her many diverse names and far reaching claws. Let the pain go and cease this moment. Take up your armor and your sword let us gather together, drawing our strength from one another. Let nothing stand in our way for the time is coming for us to charge the battlefield.

So drop the rain coat, and step under this big umbrella. Let the rain fall and draw your strength in the hope we all carry. We are always here, holding onto the handle of this mighty umbrella. Let the rain pour and just for a while take refuge here with us before charging back onto the battlefield my friend. Miracles do happen... they just may come in the form of an umbrella.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Gloria's Story Through the Eyes of Larry and Angie

Our family's My Journey with cancer and death began on March 30, where my wife Gloria would go to the doctor that day for what she called a "droop" eyelid. She was afraid she was having min-strokes as she had in the past. When she went to the doctor to have them check out her left eyelid that was drooping, she also discovered Gloria was running a temperature of 104, so she was admitted into the hospital for complete testing. Testing started with CT scans on the brain, MRI,ultrasounds and blood work.--- Larry

As mom and dad waited for the results the emotions were in a whirlwind. Then the day came, APRIL 4TH 2007 her doctor came into our room and said she had bad news.--- Angie

She told us my Gloria had lung cancer Stage 4 and it had metastasised to her brain. I will never forget those words "all you can do is comfort her". Gloria did not accept that as an option and started to seek treatment from MD Anderson but we had no idea the legalities that we had to go thru just to become a patient. ---Larry

While waiting to be accepted into MD Anderson, she became sicker and very weak. The cancer began to take its journey throughout her body. The day she had her first doctor appointment she was hospitalized due to her condition at the time we saw the Lung Specialist. Mom was in and out that evening as they continued to run more tests to confirm what the exact type of cancer was. I remember her being so full of life when she would see Chase and promised that things would be okay. That promise, as I look back was her promise not to suffer and when it was time she would let us know. -- Angie

Gloria was released one week after being admitted with discharge orders to start radiation of the brain and lung. It was those two weeks of radiation that I will never forget. After the first 2 days, she instantly became weak.--- Larry

Mom lost complete appetite and by the end of the first week developed a thrush in her mouth. Then she started to withdraw from us. She would often not respond if we would talk to her, and it started to get to the point where she was unable to even go to the bathroom by herself. Then her hair started to fall out just after 5 days of treatment. As her daughter, this was again another jab at my heart to have to shave my mom's hair. I cried the entire night. On the day of her last treatment of radiation, she collapsed in our kitchen. We called 911 and she was taken to Herman Memorial of Katy on Memorial Day. --- Angie

This would begin the final chapter of her life. An examination of her back show severe radiation burns Mom was getting so sick and Dad knew God would take her soon. She asked to see her grandson and the hospital allowed him to go to into the room even though it was an ICU unit. On the 6th of June the same day she saw her grandson, she was nearing death with all her family and friends at her bedside. We began to say a the Lords Prayer all joining hands with each other, as she slowly passed away. She went home to our Lord peacefully and soundly. She passed away only after 9 weeks of being diagnosed. It all happened so fast we didn't have a lot of time to even understand what was really happening before she was gone. ---Angie

Everyday is a tough challenge for the entire family. I often look at Chase and think "I wish mom would see this" and then realize that she is watching over us. She is truly my son's guardian angel. As for dad, it is very hard for him, they were married for 38 years. A lifelong companion and best friend who lives on thru our Lord. It is still tough for my brother also. He was a mommas boy and I see it in his eyes all the time, the pain we all endure together. -- Angie

Mom was always so full of life and still inspires me even in death. I know she would be proud I have become a non smoker as smoking took her life at 57 years old. As I always say, "CANCER SUCKS" and I wear Pearl in memory of mom... Angie

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mary's Journey...

Twenty-three years ago I had breast cancer. I was given 6 to 18 months to live. I have stage 3, 2.something cm. Only by the Grace of God , my family's prayers and learning to pray over myself the scriptures on healing am I here today.

I opted not to take chemo. I did have radiation and a mastectomy. I did change some of my eating habits for a year., cut out red meat, juiced more vegetables and did Dr. Gursom's therapy of wheat grass juice, coffee enema's which detoxifies ones body. It is not an easy process. If you choose to take Chemo or if you choose other means. One should always make sure that God and you are in a close relationship not only for a cure for here and now but for ones eternity. Nothing like the "Big C" to give one a wake-up call.

A friend in Christ,
Mary Barnes

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Megan's Story...

I was devastated when I heard what was going on with Christina. I kept thinking to myself, "this does not happen to my family; my friends" I hoped and prayed that something was incorrect in the tests and this was all just a mistake. Unfortunately, it was not, but the Christina that I grew up knowing is still there and is still as loving as ever. I am doing this for Christina because she asked me to share my story.

I am 28 years old and when I was 26, I had a complete hysterectomy. From the time I was 15, I continually had abnormal pap smears. My Dr's always told me that it was okay because there were no real changes that were cause for concern. Okay I said. Then when I was 16, the ovarian cysts started. They became more and more painful every month and it finally got to the point where I had my first surgery done in 1999. There were 14 cysts on one ovary and 12 on the other. Once they were done taking them all out and I was in recovery, I heard the Dr tell my mother that I would probably never be able to have children due to the damage that the continually rupturing cysts had caused to my ovaries. I tried to pretend that I was not listening… I was only 18!! I did not want to hear this.

After three more surgeries, I was successful in having my son Ian. He is a wonderful gift from God and I thank and bless everyday that he is in my life. Six more surgeries and four more failed pregnancies, and another trip to the Dr revealed that this time, the PAP was going to be different. OH BOY!!! It sure was different. There were rapid changing cells in my cervix and my uterus and it all resembled cancer. The BRAC Analysis and the Gardisil was not going to help me.. .my HPV had already spread like wildfire and has damaged all of my reproductive organs. So there I am, 26 and being told that I have no choice. I have to have this all taken out, or just get sicker and not be able to take care of my son. I did what I had to do to get rid of the beast. I thought that it was going to work and I would be fine. I found out October 2008, that the HPV had spread and was now in my intestines. We have caught it early enough this time and hopefully with good treatment and staying on top of it, this will not have a chance to damage me more that it already has.

I am now 28 and live my life to the fullest when I am feeling well enough and when I am not, I think of what I am going to do on the next good day. I love life, my family, my friends and my God and I thank everyone in my life for the support that they have given me through this journey that I have been on. I am also thankful that Christina has given me hope for the future and a positive outlook that I CAN BEAT THIS!!!!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

When shock hits...

It was 2004 and I was 27 years old when my "woman" surgeries started. I'd had problems long before then, but thought that this was just part of "the curse", and our penance to bear. Imagine the surprise when I was diagnosed with endometreosis along with a couple of other terms I have no idea how to spell, but it boils down to period problems. I had a laporoscopy, hyteroscopy, and a D&C. It helped for about 6 months, but then the pains came back. My doctor warned me that this might happened and that the next step would be a hysterectomy. Well, that's just unacceptable. I'm 27, there's NO way you are taking away that which makes me a woman. Not to mention all the horror stories I've heard about what women go through afterward. My mom had had one when she was my age, and when she forgot to take her "witch pill" (our nickname for hormones) WATCH OUT!!!

I was also raised in a strong catholic family, and having kids is just what you do. I myself am one of 8 girls. I only had 2--a boy and a girl. I of course got a second opinion, but to my shock, I was going to lose my cervix and uterus. I had ended up in the hospital for excessive bleeding, and the endo. was back in full force. So, I tried to see the good in it...NO MORE PERIODS--NO MORE PAIN--GOOD SEX that doesn't make me cringe in pain. Sometimes this worked, but for the most part, I was just plain depressed.

Then I found a website that was amazing. There were women that was actually going through the same thing I was!!! Hystersisters.com was a life saver!! Any question I came up with was answered. I wasn't alone, and with the jerk of a doctor I had, that was a good thing. My doctor was from the old school. See the patient, give them the bad news, then move on to the next. Any questions I had were not warranted. He just said don't worry. Thankfully, his nurse was AMAZING and answered every one of my questions. Now one question I had was what happens if my ovaries shut down after the surgery. It had happened to a friend of mine, and I was very concerned. I have epilepsy, so lack of hormones is not a good thing, plus I was already not a nice person because of my hormones being out of whack. I couldn't imagine what I'd be like with none at all. I'd actually almost broke my husband's nose!!! He made me so mad, and I'd just taken a self-defense class. Ladies, if your hormones are crazy, I don't recommend taking that class!!! Please wait until you are normal again.

Anyway, the doctor told me not to worry, that won't happen to me. Have I mentioned my doctor is old school, and I did NOT like him? But he was already invested in my case, so...Well, I had my hysterectomy, and guess what-the ovaries shut down. I was crying all the time, suicide wasn't far from my thoughts I didn't know what was going on. I go to the doctor and he tells me the one thing that he said wouldn't happened, but this time he tells me it's common!! What a jerk!!! Well, I get put on some "happy pills" and hormone therapy and I'm good to go for a couple of years. Except that I was having some MAJOR pain on my left side. My wonderful doctor told me it was gas and puts me on gas meds.

In June of '07 exactly 2 years from the time I had my hysterectomy, I ended up in the ER. My family and I were planning on having a "family day" and going to the movies. I'd woken up that morning with horrific pain, but I took one of my gas pills and the pain went from about a 9 to a 7. I really wanted to go to the movies! While at the movies the pain just got worse and I told my husband that I think I needed to go to the hospital. We thought it was my appendix. The ER doctor runs the tests thinking the same thing. About 6 hours later we find out that I have a 6 inch cyst on my left ovary and it's wrapped around my colon. SHOCK!!! Surely he meant to say 6 cm, but no INCHES. They thought cancer immediately AND colostomy bag. Yea me! (As Christina knows, I have a very sarcastic sense of humor!)

First, my jerk of a doctor takes my uterus and treats me for gas, now I find out that I'm going to not only lose at least one ovary, but end up crapping in a bag as well. I had gone to him several times for pain and each time it was gas. Well, when the ER doctor told me they needed to contact my gynecologist immediately, I told him find me another one. After telling him my story, he completely agreed. He told me about a doctor who was very good and would treat me well. He would call him for me. Now keep in mind it's about midnight at this point and this gynecologist is NOT on call. After my experience with doctors, I just knew he wasn't going to show up until 8:00 the next morning. This man comes to my bedside at one o'clock in the morning and examines me, then sits there like he's got all the time in the world and explains what's going on and what needs to be done. I have NEVER been more at ease before a surgery in my life!!If it turns out that I have cancer, I knew that I was in good hands. I'd JUST met this man!! I was in surgery for about 6 hours, and when I came to, my first question was do I still have my right ovary, and do I have a bag?

Thankfully, the answers were yes and no. I had two AWESOME surgeons working on me!! A little while later after I'm just a little bit more coherent, my doctor tells me I do NOT have cancer!!! I felt so blessed!!! I'd put my family through so much already, the LAST thing they needed was this. I'd seen a little bit of what Christina had been through, heard some stories, and that woman is my hero! I know I couldn't have handled HALF of what she has been through. Christina, let me just say that you are a strong, beautiful woman, and I fill privileged to be a part of this and a part of your life.

It's been a year and a half since losing my ovary and thankful I've only had one scare since then. While at work, I had a cyst rupture on my right ovary, but thankfully no continued complications. I do still have some pain on my left side, and I go after Easter to have a colonoscopy to see what's going on. Thankfully, my ONE ovary is working just fine. Please keep me in your prayers that everything comes out OK, no pun intended :). I will continue to pray for each and every one of you...your stories have helped me so much, and knowing that I'm not alone in this world, well I'm sure you understand!!

God Bless you all and good luck in everything you do!


Monday, March 23, 2009

Stephanie's List

  • 1. Don’t stop talking to God – even if it means standing in the middle of a field screaming at him. Better to scream at Him than ignore Him.

  • 2. Don’t forget that He will always hear you – He hears you just as well when you’re on your knees, barely able to whisper His name through the tears as when you are in the field screaming at Him.

  • 3. Don’t forget God’s promises are true. He will never fail, even when we are going through a valley and can’t see the light at the end, or when we do see a light but it turns out to be a freight train.

  • 4. Don’t forget that some of God’s promises are conditional – if you don’t do your part, He’s not obligated to do His.

  • 5. Hang onto your true friends – you’ll know who they are. They are the ones who still want to be around you when you’re in your darkest hour. They are the ones that don’t seem to disappear when life gets rough – in fact, they start appearing more than usual.

  • 6. Don’t forget that your true friends are human – they have limits and make mistakes. You shouldn’t be looking to them to fill all your needs – God may use them to meet some needs, but don’t become dependent on them for that.

  • 7. Don’t forget who meets your needs – God. God can use people, circumstances, supernatural events, or even "coincidences" to meet your needs. Your focus should stay on Him no matter what method He chooses to meet your needs.

  • 8. Don’t forget your place. You are a minute speck in the universe, infinitesimally small in comparison to the vastness of creation. You are a tiny little dot, one of 6 billion tiny little dots scurrying about our short little lives on a tiny planet in the middle of an incredibly huge universe.

  • 9. Don’t forget your place. You are loved and known by the God who created this incredibly huge universe. You are not just a number, one of 6 billion on this tiny planet, you are important enough that if you were the only person on earth, God would still have sent Jesus to die for you. God knows you so well that every cell in your body, every hair on your head, is accounted for.

  • 10. Don’t forget that no matter how much you are suffering, there is One that has suffered more than you. Your suffering is like a walk in the park compared to His. And while that may not make you feel better, remember that He understands how you feel, and wants to help you on your journey. And His grace and mercy can and will bring you through.

--- Stephanie

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Celebrate Life... Lynnetta's Story.

Cancer has taken such a toll on my family. My uncle and step-father, both developed brain tumors and were gone within a year. Last week my cousin’s beautiful four year old daughter , lost her fight that started at nine months old when they found a tumor on the base of her brain stem. And then my grandmother and mother who both fought breast cancer and seemingly won until the cancer metastasized to other parts of their bodies.

Christina asked me to share my story and I have been struggling with what angle to approach it from. I guess I will just start from the beginning and try not to ramble. When I was 17 years old my mom developed breast cancer. It was caught early and she had the lumps removed, had reconstructive surgery and started chemo and radiation. My mother’s treatment was complicated by the fact that she was a type 1 diabetic. As many of you know, chemo and diabetes don’t mix well. You take insulin to keep your blood sugars level in check, but you have to eat to balance the insulin out. You take chemo and you can’t hold food down. Your blood sugars drop. When your blood sugars drop you often start to go into insulin shock. This was the case with my mother.

One night my father woke me up at 2am and asked me to come upstairs and try to help him get my mom dressed and into the car, he was taking her to the emergency room. Mom was combative and kept saying she could not leave until the next nurse came. She thought she was already at the emergency room, as a nurse, not a patient. Eventually we did get her into the car and my dad got her to the emergency room where she worked. After a couple of episodes like this her doctor thought it best to discontinue treatment. He felt like they had accomplished what they needed to for follow up treatment. It seemed to be okay for years, as she went for her check ups and was fine.

Flash forward 11 years. My mom was at the tanning bed one day. When she was finished getting dressed she bent over to tie her shoe. As she started to straighten up she felt what she described as a pop. After a few days of living with the pain she went to see her family doctor to see if she had possibly broken her tail bone. The doctor suggested an x-ray to see if there was a break. What came back on the x-ray was a dark spot. As soon as they saw it, mom and the doctor both knew what it was, but to be sure he ordered an MRI. When the results came back they were conclusive. The breast cancer that she had fought so many years before had metastasized to her bones. To be specific, it had moved to her lower lumbar. This would cause here immense pain in her back and arms.

As I mentioned before, my mom was a nurse. She knew what was to come. She knew so well, in fact, that she immediately made an appointment with a family friend who was the funeral director we had used for my father and step-father. She planned and paid for her own funeral. It might sound a little morbid, but I believe that it was her way of trying to control what was out of her control.

She also started weekly chemo treatments. It was like reliving the past. The chemo, though improved from 12 years prior, still made her extremely sick. She didn’t loose her this time around but the other physical results were the same. Chemo still reeked havoc on her blood sugar levels. Dropping dangerously low , into the 40’s and spiking ridiculously high into the 800’s. It would cause her to retain fluids so drastically that on one occasion she gained nearly 40lbs of fluids over a couple of days. It put such a strain on her heart that she had to have two units of blood infused. Such would be our lives for the next 4 years. Costly treatments that would make her so very sick. Pain medications that ranged from oxycodone to morphine.

My once strong mother, who had buried two husbands and raised 3 girls, became so week. She went from being the caregiver to being the one cared for. The doctor finally said that she could no longer live alone. At that point my sister and brother-in-law moved in with her. Progressively her condition worsened. It got to the point that she could not be left alone at all. Sadly, my mother who had long since been forced to stop working and COBRA’ed her insurance as long as she could, but had run out, was forced to go on Medicare. Most people aren’t aware that Medicare only covers 80 percent of treatment and you are still responsible for the other 20 percent. It doesn’t cover any prescriptions for narcotic pain medications. She had to use up nearly all of her savings and not only lived in fear of death but of loosing her home and all of her money.

There was very little help taking care of her. We could not afford to hire anyone to help us care for her. I started working four 10 hour shifts, Monday thru Thursday. This freed me up to stay with her Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Megan, Jason and mom’s boyfriend Russ would split the other four days. Life as we had once known it ceased to exist. We couldn’t go far because she was so uncomfortable most of the time. We rarely could go out as a family. We spent a lot of time at home.

As the end got closer, her condition worsened. She finally ended up in long term care at the hospital. We would go there daily to help her and keep her company, help her bathe, and try to keep her in her bed, chair or at least her hospital room. She was so agitated most of the time. I’m not sure how much was pain and how much was fear. Pain meds eventually didn’t work and sedatives rarely worked. She was there about three weeks before she slipped into unconsciousness. She stayed that way for a week.

Between respiratory therapy coming to suction the fluid from her lungs, we would file and paint her nails, watch Law & Order (cause that’s what we had done for four years) and just lay in bed with her so we could be close to her. However, she was completely unresponsive. We finally reached a decision to remove her fluids. It was clear that they were the only thing keeping her alive.

October the 4th I got the phone call I had long anticipated. The hospital called me and asked me to come immediately. I had an hour drive from work to the hospital. My cousin and I talked on the phone the whole way. I have a feeling it’s the only reason I made it there in one piece. I got there and we spent the last 24 hours of my mother’s life with her, holding here hand and waiting. On October 5, 2005 my mom lost her battle.

Though those four years were difficult and painful, I would not trade one minute of the time that I spent with my mother. Those times really changed my family. We are stronger, closer and more loving as a result of what we have been through. We also learned a lot about caring for others. When you have a chance to help, whether emotionally, financially or lending a helping hand to a family dealing with this nasty disease, please take it. You have no idea how much it will be appreciated. And the most important thing my family learned its not to mourn death but to celebrate life.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Victoria's Story....

My story begins November 2006, when after being the victim in an armed robbery, I had what was described as a nervous breakdown where I lost a lot of weight, it was this weight loss that led me to discover a small lump in my right breast.after a few weeks of trying to ignore it, I visited my doctor who referred me to the local hospital where I was diagnosed with a 2cm grade 3 with 1 lymph node involved.

I don't think any words or actions can prepare you for that word "cancer", cancer happens to other people, I just went into complete shock, I think I have never really accepted the fact that I was seriously ill, even to this day, the hardest part for me was trying to explain to my children, my son who was 5 at the time never really understood the situation, which in a way was good, but my daughter who was 14 knew exactly what it meant, and knew what cancer could do having watched my friend die previously of the dreaded beast.

In February 2007 I had a lumpectomy with lymph node clearance followed by 6 chemotherapy sessions and 15 radiotherapy sessions, it was tough, but I managed to keep things as normal as possible throughout my treatment, I continued to go to work and kept things at home on an even keel, I made the most of "good days" when the chemo effects were wearing off, we had family days out, and most important we had fun.

My cancer was hormone receptive, which means I am taking tamoxifen for 5 years and I have a monthly zoladex implant which stops my ovaries working, the plus side being I do not get periods anymore, but the downside being I get horrible menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and restless legs which drive me nuts!it is a small price to pay though, I am still here I am still alive, and fingers crossed I will still be here for a long time yet.

I don't see cancer as my enemy anymore, I see the positive in my experience with the evil beast, I have come out of my fight stronger, I take nothing for granted now, and I try to fit in as much as possible, I don't want to miss a thing in life, cancer has introduced me to the nicest people I have ever come across, and for that I am thankful.

My advice to anyone going through this awful illness is to never give up, even when the odds are stacked against you, fight, fight with all you have in you as you are a heck of a long time dead .


Thursday, March 19, 2009

My life…my life’s experiences, Kelly's Story

As I sit and read some of the other stories…my eyes filled with tears.... In disbelief and in sadness of what others have gone through in their lives.My life’s experiences are not so deep . I’m not saying that I have lived a charmed life. But I can honestly say that I do believe I have lived a blessed life. We all have demons that we have fought in our lives...we all have cobwebs buried deep down in our mind… however some thicker than others. I choose to keep my cobwebs buried. I have learned to deal with what has gone on in my past… and choose not to dwell… with only knowing that there is now nothing I can do to change it. My life now has taken on a whole different way of living…we all at times have been forced to travel down roads we do not wish to travel down..These are life’s lessons.. . how we choose to ride it out is totally up to us… as for my experiences… cancer is the one that has challenged our family the most…

Cancer has stricken my family three times.. I have lost an Aunt , my Uncle and now my sister… I lost my father at the age of 17, not to cancer though…but to complications of the way he lived his life…he was 41 when he passed away…he too died so young and still had so much to live for.. Although, I was devastated of the loss of my father nothing could compare to how I felt when I lost my sister to cancer… I felt a part of my life had also died along with her..

As we grew in to adults, we learned to appreciate what we had with each other. We still had our disagreements and our fights… but we also knew that we would always have each other to turn to…and that we would always be there for one another when needed. When she was first diagnosed …we were all in shock and thought that there was no way that God could be doing this again to our family… at least that was what I was hoping for.

At first we thought she could beat this… we had heard of so many success stories about Breast Cancer and didn’t see any reason not to believe that she couldn’t over come this. But as the months passed and she became sicker and sicker we knew that it would eventually take her life. I will be honest in telling you that before all of this hit our family I did not pay too much attention to any of the sites that offered support or asked for donations because it did not at that time affect my life. I know it was a selfish thing.. I could see it was all around me .. I would hear of someone who had passed from cancer I would stop and pause for a moment say “oh how sad” and then continue on in my life. Now I have a whole different attitude and have hit a higher level of respect for those who have taken the time out of their lives and who have struggled with this disease and chose not to be selfish, but to open their hearts and their lives to help others to raise awareness of this devastating disease. I admire both their strength and their courage. I am so thankful to those who are pushing forward to help make a difference and to give all those who have lost their lives a voice… to give hope to others…that someday we will all be able to live a life cancer free. Your selfishness, and your kindness shine through…and I personally thank you from the bottom of my heart. Cancer has most definitely changed our lives… and now I have to realize that the life I once lived is gone… and would now have to learn to live my life without my sister… a couple of months ago….

I was sound asleep and was awakened by something… … fear?…maybe…felt kind of eerie…someone’s presence other than my own? Almost a sense of someone being there with me in the room.. . the unknown ???I woke up dripping in a cold sweat…felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest… almost in a panic…came to the realization for the first time since my sister passed….that my sister is dead and was not coming back. So many emotions… what an empty feeling I had inside …my breathing so heavy … my heart never so empty… for the first time. I cried and cried hard … not for her kids, or for my mom…but for myself… never in my life had I been more scared, or had felt so alone in my life...uncertain....worried....and more so frightened. Scared of what the future would bring.... thinking to myself… do I want to Live In Fear Everyday… do I want to Defy Every Attempt To Heal…which oddly enough as you can see spell out Life and Death...

These are the thoughts that were going through my head…. I thought to myself… am I losing it… am I coming apart at the seams…am I crazy?? Come on now I am a 47 year old woman… why am I not able to get through this. I know death is a part of life… the two come hand in hand… you’re born… you live… and you die… why am I struggling with this? Why can't I accept that she is gone...and that I should be moving on in my life? But am having a hard time in doing this... again am I crazy??? Then I remember thinking...reality check...Life after death does go on... so what seemed like forever I finally stopped crying. Finally got myself calmed down… and thought… if I have to live everyday in fear… that’s OK.. Life is scary…I would much rather live in fear... than to die knowing I had never lived at all.

And as for the part of defying every attempt to heal… came to realize that I am not defying it at all… I am taking each day as it comes. I am living each moment as it passes by...I know in my heart that with each day it will get easier…and finally...know now that I am healing… and that she will always be in my heart. A sense of calmness came over me… and realized she came to me… in her own way...reassuring me...letting me know that everything will be OK....

Thank you Christina for letting me share a part of my life… you, Mary and Indigo, have inspired me in so many ways…and have helped me more than you’ll ever know…

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Patty's Story

It was Mother’s Day of May 2004 and I woke up feeling a bit weak. So my husband and I missed church services and slept in. Around 1:00 PM, Bobby asked if I was well enough to go out to eat. We had been transferred to West Virginia with his job and therefore were without the rest of our family.

After a nice lunch, we strolled out of the restaurant hand in hand and I began to feel some slight pain in my chest. By the time we were in the car, Bobby had become quite concerned and asked me if he should take me to the emergency room. I thought it was just gas, but in the back of my mind I was worried and so was Bobby. So he made the decision for me and took me immediately to the hospital.

Well, to make a long story short, I had quite a few tests over the next few days to include the one where they go up through the main artery of the leg to the heart. The results were shocking. I had six blockages and I was going to need surgery immediately. So, Friday the 14th of May, I went under the knife for a long and enduring surgery.

When I finally woke in recovery, all I can remember is the pain and the tubes in my chest that looked as big as water hoses.

By the time I was discharged, I was still having a problem with my left leg but I was looking forward to going home to our apartment and getting into my own bed, but it soon became obvious that wasn’t going to be possible. The good news, however, was that our daughter, Christina and our grandsons had flown in from Houston to stay for a few weeks. It was wonderful seeing them and just having them around. But I was, unfortunately, very miserable. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable and my leg was becoming more painful as each day passed. I wanted so much to get out and give our grandsons a good time, so I pushed myself to do just that. We began by going out to eat on the way home from the hospital. One night we even took them bowling. Of course, I wasn’t going to bowl, but I wanted to sit and watch them have a good time. Unfortunately, however, I had a problem. There had been a tube in my leg for draining and suddenly it opened up and began bleeding. Christina grabbed several rolls of toilet paper from the ladies room and my husband applied pressure for quite some time, but to no avail. It just wouldn’t stop bleeding. So after bowling, I ended up in the emergency room. And that was only the beginning. Before long, my leg grew huge. It felt like I was dragging a large boulder, and it was becoming more painful.

Both Christina and Bobby insisted that I go to the emergency room. So off we went and of course, I was admitted. My leg had become so infected and filled with liquid that I could barely move. I feared losing my leg at the time especially with my diabetes, but they worked round the clock treating me. An infectious disease doctor (my very own private vampire) visited me the following morning around 3:00 AM and drained my body of about ten vials of blood. This gave her a good idea of the specific antibiotics she needed to use in fighting this particular infection. I was also given strong fluid pills and I was surprised to wake up at one point and see that I was being given blood through one of my IV’s (Two pints to be exact).

When I went home, Bobby rented a hospital bed for me, which he set up at the foot of our bed. It was a real blessing and the boys slept at the foot of our bed. Each of them insisted on taking turns on being the one closest to me by my special bed so they could hold my hand during the night.

We spent the rest of their time with us taking them out to eat, going to the movies, playing laser tag and, of course, sightseeing. The mountains there were beautiful and they loved spending time along the Kanawha River where they would sit and watch the coal barges run up and down the river. And they were thrilled to see all the deer that wandered about up on the mountain where we lived. They also couldn’t get enough of fireflies (lightning bugs). And we took them to a place called Billy Bob’s, which was like going to Chucky Cheese.

Now maybe if I hadn’t been so insistent about entertaining my family after my heart surgery, I would have recovered more quickly and maybe I wouldn’t have had the complication with my leg, but I seriously doubt it. I personally think my leg was going to an issue either way. And, besides, the good times I shared with my wonderful husband, my beautiful daughter and my two precious grandsons made it all worthwhile.

The point is that I wouldn’t have changed anything I did during that time. It was meant to be and it all came about for a reason. You see, the night before Christina and the boys left, Bobby began having strange pains down his arm. Several days later, we found out he had two blockages and needed by-pass surgery. Who would have thought? Who would have known? So not quite two months after my by-pass surgery, my husband underwent his. And it was difficult because this time there was no family. I was all alone and still recuperating myself. The stress was overwhelming and I was scared, but God saw me through. A friend at Bobby’s work came to the hospital to sit with me during his surgery and he even accompanied me to the room where the surgeon talks with you about the outcome. It was odd, but definitely a blessing.

The most difficult part, however, was the moment I was allowed to see Bobby for the first time after the surgery. As I walked through the doors of ICU, I suddenly had to stop. The thought of seeing him in the condition I was in after my surgery pierced my heart and I almost passed out. A nurse came to my side immediately realizing something was wrong. She held me up and prayed with me while I silently cried at the very thought of the pain Bobby was in and what his condition would be. It was that nurse’s prayer that helped me face what I needed to do. Walk boldly and without fear directly into the room where my precious husband lay just having come out of recovery. And he was just as I had imagined him. He looked pitiful and he was in a great deal of pain. It hurt me very deeply, but I knew I would have to take this one day, one hour, one minute or even one second at a time. All I knew is that I wanted and needed to be there for Bobby just like he had been there for me.

Twenty-two days after Bobby’s surgery, we began rehabilitation together. It was the highlight of the class since we were a husband and wife team, which was very unusual to say the least. Now the funny thing about this was that most people knew that Bobby and I never did anything without each other. We were inseparable and except for the fact that he had to leave me when he went to work, we were always together. So the joke amongst most of our closest friends and our relatives was that we were carrying this ‘together thing’ just a bit too far.

--- Patty Dowling

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Day In the Life, Morgen's Story...

Sooooo, let me tell you what my "Day in the Life "is like....I am a 36 year old mom, two kids, boys..one is now 13, the other is 10....do I count the husband...sometimes that is debatable in counting him as a child...truly depends on his attitude of the day. So Monday through Friday (on a school day) I am up at 5:30...and up is also a debatable word as well. This all depends on how well I slept during the night as my husband will do his impression of a drowning buzz saw at times...and there are just nights that I can't sleep out of sheer exhaustion. So I am guessing the best way I should say this ...I drag my very not in shape butt out of bed , brush my teeth ,get dressed, go into the bathroom that my teenager will use for a shower and set the timer so that he will not use all the hot water in the house... and go downstairs to start the rest of the morning ritual...

The boys take turns feeding our dogs...everyone takes their medicine, when the 13 yr old is done eating, the 10 yr old is waking up. They pass each other on the stairs, which kinda reminds me of the Looney Toons cartoon of the sheep dog and the wolf...( Hi George...Hi Ralph... and then off they go to work try to out do each other). I drop off the 13 yr old at school at 6:50 am come home...watching my 10 yr get into the tub...he gets on the bus at 7:50. If I don't have tons to do with schools... and volunteering...or Band Booster....or Dr appointments....I take time for myself and try and catch up on me. RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!

I should explain that my 13 year old is probably not the same as all kids. He is extremely brilliant...and I know all parents say this, but his IQ was tested at between 160 and 180...he also has some other things going on that make him different. He has OCD, Anxiety disorder, ADD and Asperger's syndrome. Now for those that do not know what Asperger's is, I will tell you the answer...he has a high functioning form of Autism. His brain works like a computer at times, he has to learn behavior...he suffers at times from sensory over stimulation, he will always have an issue with food. But he is doing better this year than ever...he excels at music, is calms him, thus being able to be part of honor band at his Junior high...finding true best friends for the first time since I don't know when. He loves history , anything electronic...and can read more than 4 books at a time...but....his life has been hard. Which means as parents our life is hard. We have actually been told how lucky we are that our 10 yr old is "normal"....is anyone "normal"...but I was very close to hitting the person, needless to say, I did not.

Last year, when he was in 6th grade, he almost had a nervous break down because he was bullied so severely and we could not get the help we needed from the school. I sometimes get on my soapbox about what needs to be done for kids like by child...more and more are coming out about Autism and Autism spectrum disorders, but not enough is happening to help them and the families . We go to 2 different therapists and one of them is not covered by insurance, because he could not get them to work with him.

We still don't know how are son, our beautiful son, was chosen to be different. We tell him that he will be a wonderful person when he grows up and will be able to do anything he wants to do...and you know what...WE BELIEVE IT!!!!!!!!

So life for us , its interesting, we do band, homework , football , golf, family, friends...wow...now doesn't that sound normal...

---Morgen Rose

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Father's Story....

When Christie asked me to write about how her breast cancer and my prostate cancer affected my life I was at a loss for words. Hearing your only daughter tell you "I have Breast Cancer" is devastating. I thought about Joshua and Micah, my precious grandsons, - how hard this was on them - scared of their Mommy dying.

Of course the good news about it was how God worked everything out for our return from West Virginia. I had planned to retire in July of 2006. However, I felt the need to return sooner. Patty and I decided to retire at the end of January 2006. We arrived home the night before Christie found out she had breast cancer. As I walked through this ordeal with Christie I realized how strong she was. Also, I found her faith in our Lord Jesus becoming stronger as well.

Again , I really don’t like to talk about my problems but I’ve been asked to share this by my daughter. It has been so hard having my baby with cancer but then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This was not what Christie or my beloved Patty needed at this time. But I drew strength from seeing my wife and my daughter walk beside me through this journey we were all sharing together.

Oh! It was hard on me –my whole life changed, both as a father and with my own diagnosis, my own life changed. I wanted to be both strong for my daughter, my grandsons and my wife. As an old Airborne Soldier "this cancer", my own beast, left me feeling like only half the man I used to be. Just as my own daughter was finishing her chemo for breast cancer I was undergoing surgery for my prostate cancer. Then just as we thought I was OK I was told I needed radiation. Hearing I needed radiation was a low blow. I needed to work so I was unable to take time off, especially since I had taken 4 weeks off following my surgery to recover. So I went five days a week for seven weeks of radiation treatments. I was so tired. It was really exhausting. I work 12/13 hours shifts so my body had a rough time getting back on track. I'm in remission now. I still take medication and I see my doctor very 3-4 months for blood work and a checkup. It was really hard on all of us. My pride was hurt I guess because I felt my manhood had been taken from me. However I think back at how many of my "Brothers in Arms" have had it so much worse then I have and those we left behind who never had the joy and blessing of being with their loved ones as I have.

I can't even begin to explain how this journey has changed me. I am blessed to have my family by my side but to be honest it has been painful to watch then endure so much pain. Each time I would drive by a playground and see the "rocking horse" I thought back (I have tears in my eyes as I write this) to our precious baby rocking away, laughing and just having such a good time. I remember her pretty little bald head and the bonnets my wife, Patty, tied around her head. My sweet baby had no hair until she was two years old. Patty even used to put Christie in wigs, again with a bonnet tied around her head. How could I have ever imagined then 32 years later I would be watching Christie tie bandanna's around her own bald head? How could we, at that time as we watched her rock on the playground horse, know the sad times we would have ahead of us?

There is also one thing that weighs very heavy on me. I feel responsible for Christie’s diabetes and her cancer. I have talked to other Vietnam Veterans affected from Agent Orange and their children who have the same health problems. This, of course, has hurt me because I never wanted to cause her any harm.

I do praise God for how strong she has become through all of this though. I am so proud of her. Bottom line is I love and respect Christie so very much for her courage, strength, determination and positive outlook on life.

Christie and Patty have handled both of our cancers so bravely, as have Joshua and Micah. I am blessed and praise God for their strength. Having cancer (X2) in the family is hard but it brings home what is really important. It is the strength of God and of family which makes us whole. If we have these, we have everything. After all, life is fleeting ; therefore, we need to take each day as a blessing. When I flew over the Golden Gate Bridge on my return from Vietnam,( The whole flight back to the states was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, but once we made it to the other side of the bridge our cheers were contagious. We were home. ) that is what I thought of ("each day from now on is a blessing") and it seems even so much more so today.

---- Bob Dowling

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Micah is the Reason I Celebrate Today...

I woke up today with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. Why you ask? Well it is Micah's birthday. His tenth to be exact.
Again you may ask why is this such an exciting day? Outside of the obvious? Hummm.... let me tell you.

Three years ago, in March of 2006, I was facing chemo. I had already made it through, a surgical breast biopsy, the loss of my breast, lymph node removal, and the beginning of breast cancer reconstruction. I was going faithfully twice a week to have saline pushed into my expander. It was painful enough having this strange foreign device stuck under what was left of my skin. But then the added bonus was the saline push to stretch my skin in order to accommodate my implant.

Just when I was feeling there may be an end to my nightmare, I was hit with chemo. No one thought it has actually made it into my nodes. So my reconstruction process came to a holt. I had just had my third surgery in three months and I was worried about how this was all affecting my children. There I stood, was looking at my newly turned seven year old and trying to explain how chemo was like the game of Pac man. "Sweetie this is going to be difficult but let''s think about it like one of your video games. The chemo is going to eat up as much of mommy's cancer as possible before the little ghosts ( cancer) can get me. Yes mommy's hair's going to fall out and I'm going to be really sick for a while. But in the end, when it was all done, mommy will have a second chance at life." I knew what lay ahead of me. This was not going to be an easy road but I needed to both offer and cling to hope... it was our only chance.

I knew that day as I greeted parents and served up cake at Micah's birthday party that our lives were never going to be the same. Facing the beast head on was my only chance. I had lymph node involvement and that meant this cancer of mine had already made it's way into my body's highway. The beast was speeding straight ahead and I needed to provide a road block!

Micah was just a little guy, such a sweet boy. He was not afraid he told me. He was and is such a courageous boy. Just as he did that day, he still tells me how beautiful I am. To my son, I was not an embarrassment, no I was his mommy, always and forever. He saw me through innocent eyes and held my hand proudly that day.

Now I look at my little man, three years later. He is growing up so quickly, yet he still holds many of those six year old ideals. Micah is a blessing, as is his brother Joshua. If not for their precious love maybe I would not have had the courage to walk onto the battle field. I fought for them, I still do.

So today I celebrate Micah and his joy and love. Today I am alive to hold him, hug him...kiss him. I can not say how long I will have this ability, but I do not dwell on this. I have today and today is magical and awe inspiring. Today is a day of love, hope and celebration. Today is Micah's day and I am Micah's greatest fan!


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brian's Letter...

This week I was blessed to receive the following letter from a dear friend. An old friend, but still as kind and as endearing as ever. Brian and I have known each other since we were both 17 years old and living in West Virginia. I have had the privilege of knowing and loving his family. Brian sent this letter to me in response to one of my notes, my thoughts. I was completely blown away by my shy friend's testimony and by his ability to be so open with his story. I was both moved and inspired so I asked Brian if I could share his sweet words of wisdom with all of you because I felt his words have the power to inspire and bring hope. With that said, here is Brian's story...

Brian's Letter :

I read your message tonight. I believe with all my soul that the Lord takes us down rough and difficult roads to better prepare us for whats to come. During the lowest points, we find out who we truly are. Not the person we want everyone to think we are, not the person we want ourselves to be, but the person we truly are. At this point the Lord reveals things to us that only in that state of being would we understand or appreciate.
While I was in the Army, times were tough. My wife and I were arguing all the time. We were so broke we would go without eating so my little one would have a good meal. During this time my heart began to turn black. I read an article about a few Army Rangers who died during training in Florida. At that moment I realized that that is what I wanted to become. I began to train 7 days a week. I would walk to work and back home. I would carry a 60lb ruck sack everywhere I went to build up my strength and endurance. After about 9 months of training i built myself up to a level that i was able to max the physical training tests with ease. I was able to run 6 miles with a 50lb ruck in under 58 min. The worst part is that i began to view others lives as nothing more than a target.

One day I was watching TV and I was struck with a pain in my chest that was indescribable. After being balled up in the fetal position for 15min the pain went away. That following Monday I went to sick call. They sent me to the clinic to get some X-rays and the next thing I knew I was asked to sit in a wheel chair. When I laughed and said they had the wrong guy, and that I was here only for some X-Rays he repeated my name from the chart and asked me again to get in the chair. I was taken into the emergency room where I was informed that my lung had collapsed. They began to cut off my boots and my uniform. During this time all I was able to think about was if I was going to be able to attend Ranger school. When the doctor came and and explained to me what was going to happen I again asked him if I was going to be able to make Ranger school. He gave me this look and followed it with a "No, I'm sorry you will not". My heart sank. I trained so hard to get to that point and it was all gone.

I was then sent to Portsmouth Naval hospital. I was then put through the most painful experience of my life. I was given a new intern doctor who I was lucky enough to be the first patient he inserted a chest tube in. He did no give the medication time to set in before he began to cut and place this tube in my chest. He placed it in too far and as a result it was stabbing my on the inside. To make a long story short this same doctor had to place a total of 3 separate chest tubes in during a 3 week stay.During my stay at the Naval hospital i had a total of 3 separate room mates. Each of these roommates were Christians and a very good support for me. The problem was I was not ready to hear what God was telling me. I still thought I was tough enough to make it on my own. Even with these roommates talking to me and reading the Bible I was stubborn and did not give in. Finally when i was at my lowest. I was literally so sore, so broken that i just could no get the willpower to do anything. That night I told the Lord that I give up. I told him that he won. He was greater than I and that I understood that. I also told him that from that point on I would rely on him to get me through.The next day I received another Doctor. (I informed the previous doctor and medical staff that if he walked into the room again I would end his life). This new doctor was not an intern but the head Thoractic Surgeon of the hospital. Needless to say he corrected my lung issue and I was of there in 4 days. While I did have to go back a month later and have a section of my right lung removed, I was at least out of there for now.

Since that initial walk through the valley of darkness I have had a few more walks with the Lord; back surgery for back pain being one. Over the years I have endured a far amount of pain. It was to the point a year or so ago that if I was not in pain I thought something was wrong.

I believe the Lord has blessed us with these experiences to bless not only ourselves but others. Your story is a powerful one. One that will touch many people. I believe that our sacrifice and willing to endure these situations will bless someone who is going through trials of their own. The Lord will not give us more than we can endure. Each person goes through these trials alone. They may have friends and family willing to help, but at the end of the day it's just you and Jesus taking that walk.

We all stray during these trials. What counts is that we get back on the road and stand our ground. When the end comes any sacrifice we make will by no means be worthy of the gift Jesus has waiting for us.

I know I have rambled on and on. I only wanted to say stay strong. At times, we are reminded about the trials we have been through. This can be sad and very emotional. The good news is that we made it through those trials and came out a better, stronger child of Christ.

I don't regret what I have been through. The Lord saved my soul that day I was watching TV. I did not realize it then, but I realize it now. That too me is worth any price.

--- Brian

Friday, March 13, 2009

Moment of Truth, Brenda's Story

There are moments in people’s lives that they will remember forever. They can recall the who’s, the what’s, the when’s and the where’s. Even the clothes they wore, the smell of the air, the sounds around them or the words that were spoken. The moment can be a happy one. "I now pronounce you husband and wife." It can be a funny one, "Mom....Zack just shaved the cat." It can be a shocking one, "An airplane just flew into the Twin Towers." It can be a devastating one, "Mr. & Mrs. Fandino, there is no doubt at all that Jackson has autism." And in my moment, that tiny little second, I knew in the pit of my soul those words would change my life forever.

He has severe autism. He is stuck in his own world, will never know the true feelings of love, fear, sadness or happiness, will probably never speak. Potty training, ha! He will never do "normal" things. "No cure…no cure…no cure." My first reaction, the true Puerto Rican girl from Brooklyn that I am, wanted to just reach out and slap that man. That horrible man, who just confirmed my worst fear and who told me the words I did not want to hear out loud but thought of every day. That my darling two year old angel, my precious twin boy would have autism for the rest of his life. What would I do? I certainly did not have the patience or compassion it would take.

The drive home my husband and I fought back the tears, chocked back the words neither of us had, just sat staring into the traffic of I35 taking in deep breaths as the smell of the unknown hung in the dead air. It was so silent that it was actually deafening. I sat straining to hear anything else run through my brain. How could I begin to explain to my mother that her grandson would be less than perfect? To his older brother that he would never play basketball or football with him? To his twin sister, her built in playmate would never be interested in building blocks, coloring in books or even be able to say her name? How could God have done this to my perfect little family? Why did he choose me?

For the next 2 weeks there was nothing I could do but lots of crying and lose myself in self pity and despair. Then in the middle of the night I heard the soft words of "Mama, I can do it" in my ear. As I turned over and opened my eyes to see no-one there, I realized that this was just a nightmare because I would never hear any words coming from Jackson. And that is when it hit me. It hit hard like a ton of bricks that had fallen from the heavens above. I realized that the key phrase to his statement was "I can". Not you, us, or we, but I.

All this time I was worried about my losses. I would never hear his voice. I would never feel his love. I would never see him graduate. I would never see him get married. I would never have a grandchild from him, and I would always have to provide him with shelter, food, and clothing. And of course, what my family and friends would think of me having a "special needs kid." Me. Me. Me. How selfish I have been! That’s when I stopped and thought about Jackson. And that’s the "moment" things changed for him.

Jackson will not remember this moment as we all remember ours, but I am grateful for that nightmare that certainly turned into a dream. Once I was able to take myself out of the equation, things started to click into place. That’s when it became Jackson happens to have autism instead of autism has Jackson.

The past 8 years have slowly passed and as a family we have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. The good, that I do have the patience and compassion and this journey has brought us closer together, the bad, that people can be hurtful and ignorant and of course the ugly, that at times I find myself slipping back into self pity. But when those times come I stop to think of the triumphs Jackson has made. The day he was potty trained, the day he sat for a haircut without screaming, the day he learned to roller skate, rock climb, ride his bike, sleep over a friends, write his name, do math, read a book, the day he said "mama," the day he said "I love you" and knew he meant it. The day he asked for "Daddy?" when dad was late from work. These days are miracles and I am lucky enough to be there to witness them but even luckier to have such a sweet boy, who is healthy, who laughs and feels, and is truly happy.
Wherever this journey takes him, he will always have a loving, supportive family that will always be by his side to cheer his wins, brush off his losses and will certainly be present at all of his moments.

---Brenda Fandino

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Susan's Story...

All this month I have introduced you to many of my dear friends and today is no exception. For many the struggles of cancer of any type can be devastating. Yet many still find the blessing and humor of life even inside the pain and struggle of the beast. Susan is one of these woman. She is not one to draw attention to herself even in the midst of battle. Instead she chooses to gently encourage those of us around her to keep the good fight. Her strength is in her humility and in her grace. I have known Susan for a long while now, and though we are both Triple Negative Survivors, I have never heard her complete story until now. I am humbled by Susan's story. I hope you are just as moved as I am.....

Susan's Story...

On September 16,2001 my mother passed away from an 8 year battle with lung cancer. It was the saddest day of my life. My dad was trying to adjust and my sister decided that she her husband and 18 year old daughter would move down from California to be with my dad and help him through the transition. They moved down about 7 months after my moms passing and moved in with my dad while in the process of building their dream home in Sarasota.

My sister could sew like there was no tomorrow. She hand made all of the elaborate drapery in there home along with everything else. She was the Martha Stewart of our family. While staying with my dad she kept complaining of shoulder pain. She had been seeing her primary care doc in California and he told her that it was all muscle spasms so he put her on pain pills, physical therapy, and told her to see a chiropractor. NOT ONCE did they say to her get an x-ray or MRI.

I do work in the medical field and kept suggesting that she go see an orthopedic doc because she was in so much pain in her shoulder and now since she was living in Florida when she called her docs in California they were treating her as a "drug" seeker and refusing to fill her meds. So she finally she saw a doc in Florida. They scheduled an MRI to see where the pain was coming from. Two days later they called her in and told her it was cancer and sent her for more tests.

She had all the tests and it started out as lung cancer and spread to her shoulder. She went through so much. She did get her dream home built and moved in but after a 9 month battle with cancer, she also passed. MY POOR DAD!!! First my mom and now my sister. He got through it like a trooper. He is a rock. He still has his moments but he keeps on going.

I was in the habit of using loofah sponges so I wasn't that familiar with my body. It was time to replace the loofah so I had to wash my body by hand and I felt a lump under my arm. It seemed like an ingrown hair and I wasn't to concerned. Two months later it did not go down and seemed to be getting bigger so I had the doc I work for check it out and he said see your GYN. He did a breast exam and sent me right over for a mamo then was sent to get an ultrasound.

When my GYNS office called me they said they needed to take a closer look and to go see a surgeon. Needless to say I was getting worried. My surgeon was the first one to be honest and tell me like it was. He said it was something it was just a matter of what and where it has gone. So he scheduled a lymph node dissection. When I finished and was in the recovery room everyone from my family was there all teary eyed and trying to be positive. I didn't even stay for the results. I was still in denial.

I went for my followup and was diagnosed with poorly differentiated Metastatic Anaplastic Carcinoma with lymph node involvement. Stage IIB high grade breast cancer that was triple negative. So on July 3rd my first of 8 rounds of dose dense chemo every two weeks started .When that was finished I was to have a right mastectomy. In October I went for my right mastectomy and after all the chemo and mastectomy they still found 2 out of nine lymph nodes positive for Breast cancer.

So now no reconstruction it was off to radiation. Sixty-six rounds. After all of this I was pretty much done. I was OK with one breast for awhile. I just wanted some time to absorb my new self and start looking for my hair.

When I started feeling better I wanted to start exercising more and doing more out door activities. Needless to say - wearing a tank top, sports bra, or a bathing suit was not the most comfortable thing with something stuffed into one side. So my husband and I talked about it and I wanted to have reconstruction. Because of the radiation my skin was to thin to put expander's in so I had to go to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and have a Latismus dorsi flap procedure which consists of taking part of my skin from my back and moving it to my breast, pulling some of the muscle from my shoulder and pulling it around the front, inserting an expander and start from there. TALK ABOUT PAIN!!

After about 6 weeks I got to get my expander filled once a week for 6 weeks then I got my real "fake" breast implant. LOL Then it was just a matter of time to have the nipple put on. That consists of taking skin from my groin area. Soooooooo after all that and 9 surgeries later I have what I consider a pretty nice pair. And my dad was with me the whole way and I proved to him that we can beat this thing. So if anyone out there is going through this I am here to answer any questions you may have. I would also like to say that I had a wonderful support system. My husband went to EVERY Dr's appointment, x-ray, MRI, surgery chemo treatment and always gave me the push I needed to get me through it.

My best friend Nickie was with me when I got the diagnosis and she cried more than I did....LOL and she held my hand through it all. My family and my work were so understanding and my co workers were wonderful. They all pitched in and worked together and became a team when I needed it most. They are also my family. To anyone who has been touched by this horrible disease............God bless.

--- Susan

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chad's Story

I have long been a planner. When I was younger, my strategic thinking was always long-term, pondering what I might be doing when I got older. Now that I am older, of course, it is harder to think much beyond the next few months to maybe a year. I try to assess what life will be like in 2010, 2011, or beyond, but life is simply more complex than it used to be.

No where was this more true than in my life with my late wife Laura. (You can read more about this in my self-published memoir, My Life with Laura: A Love Story.) In every way, we did things the right way. Both Laura and I waited until our 30s to settle down, with each of us focusing on our careers before marriage. Shortly after our wedding, Laura became pregnant with our daughter Charlotte, and it seemed that we were well on our way to starting a family. From that point on, Laura could not stop thinking about having another child, and perhaps another one.

But, life threw us a curve. In May 2006, Laura was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, and we would spend the next 1½ years focused entirely on her cancer. She had multiple surgeries, countless doctors’ visits, and several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. It was a tough time. Throughout it all, Laura had a positive spirit that uplifted everyone around her. I do not know how many people I spoke to that said that they stopped by to cheer up Laura, and instead, she inspired them. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, though, Laura passed away on November 13, 2007. She was 36 years old.

This month, our daughter Charlotte will turn four years old. I could never have predicted that I would be forty years old, a single father, and a widower. Laura and my "happily ever after" did not turn out as we had hoped. And yet, I am happy to have known Laura, even for such a brief period in time. Like many others, she inspired me, too. I am often reminded of her (especially since Charlotte looks just like her), and our bout with cancer forced me to re-evaluate my faith. Today, I feel that I am a better and much stronger Christian because of what we went through. In January, I was ordained a deacon in part because I wanted to give back to the church that provided so much support to us when we needed them.

In writing my book, I originally planned to tell the story of my time with Laura so that Charlotte would better know her mother. Charlotte was only two when Laura died, and unfortunately, her memories of her mother are limited. But, as more people learned about my book, I was inundated with requests to read it once it was finished. I made the memoir available to the public. I have been happy with the response, both from those who knew Laura and those who did not. Through this process, I also got to meet some wonderful people, such as Christina Olachia, who participated in my recent blog book tour. It is nice to see so many people who have been inspired by her cancer and faith story, even after her death.

It will be interesting to see where life takes Charlotte and me next. I can only imagine, knowing that God might have other things in store for us that I would not think of.

- Chad Moutray

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Johnny's Story...Waiting For the World to Fall. A Story of Hope and Redemption.

"When I say, "I love you," it's not because I want you or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman."
---Spike to Buffy

Johnny's Story....

When Christina first asked me to do this I wanted nothing to do with it. I hate sharing my feeling or emotions, after all as Christina says, I am the strong silent type. You know, the kind of guy who likes to keep it all inside and not let anyone in? But I knew this was really important to her. Even if I don't say it out loud a lot I am really proud of Christina and all she does here on the Uniboob Club and the articles she writes over at http://www.fightpink.org/ . She is always chatting me up about this and that. I know there are many times she doesn't think I am listening, but the truth is I really do hear every word she says. That brings us back to my guarded emotions and writing them down for all the world to see. Not my cup of tea, but I both love and trust my wife. So here, on the world wide web are my emotions for all to see. I am not the best with words so I when I decided I would do this my only request was Christina help me write this entry this time around. So here it is... this is my story...

When I first heard the word cancer...breast cancer no less, I went into a mental and emotional shock. I basically shut down. How could this be happening to my family? Why God? I seriously wanted Him to answer me. Why would He allow this cancer to devastate my life, my wife and my boys like this? I could not wrap my mind around the why. I was not happy with the world or with God for that matter. I was shocked, angry and scared. Our world was falling apart. The sky was falling. Like chicken little I was afraid and so I began running around in circles within my own head.

Why was I afraid? I knew I was not as strong as I needed to be to deal with cancer and all it's punches. The only thing I really knew about cancer was it brought death. Not only had they confirmed she had cancer and removed her breast but they wanted to put her through 6 months of chemo! Now, she was a stage 2b and they were telling me this thing was moving into the rest of her body through her lymph nodes! I had already buried someone I loved once, I was not willing to do so with my wife! Honestly at the time I just wanted to slip away into my own world and hide from everyone. So over the next few weeks I spent a lot of time inside my own mind, pushing away from everyone I knew and loved.

I saw the storm brewing and the dark clouds forming above me. I didn't want the rain to come, no how no way. I didn't want to see my wife sick or weak either. I was afraid to see the pain and fear in my boys' eyes. I was afraid to lose Christina. After all if I just hid, I wouldn't have to affirm it all in my mind. (See no evil, hear no evil, kind of thing). I felt as if we were all caught up in the storm of breast cancer. It felt like I was in the middle of a hurricane with no shelter. I could feel the waters rising and see my family drowning. Yet I felt helpless to save them. I didn't want to stand there in a sinking boat while my wife and boys slipped under the waves. But for a while that's exactly what I did. I could not imagine what was about to befall her and how it would impact all our lives.

Every night my sleep was restless and my mind carried me to the same place. I was trying desperately to block out the pain of my wife's cancer. I felt as if I were surrounded by fog, living in a type of dream world for while. Then reality walked up and without an introduction punched me in the gut. Suddenly my dream world turned into a nightmare. In the state I was living in I could hear a voice calling to me, begging me to wake up, to open my eyes, grab my children and push towards the shore. I felt a hand tugging on my sleeve and then suddenly I was aware... if I didn't respond in that moment I was going to lose all that was precious to me. My eyes opened and right there in front of me was Christina sad, weak but still strong enough to hold onto the boat with one arm and both our boys in the other. She was pleading with me to pull them in, to rescue them. Right then and there I had to make a decision... allow us all to go down into the depths or rise up and be the man I needed to be. Suddenly my heart and my mind were awake. I could see her crying out for me to be the husband and the father our boys desperately needed in those moments. And so I tried my best.

But I was still left with questions. Where was my instinct to protect my family, especially our boys, Joshua and Micah? I am sad to say for a while they where the men of the house caring for their mother, hugging her, rubbing her bald head and responding every time she winced in pain.I watched them suffer right along side with her. There where many times I just could not involve myself in their inner circle. My boys, our boys where little men at the tender ages of six and nine. When I mentally woke up from my state of denial and saw my family clinging to each other begging me to embrace them I felt ashamed. Who was I becoming? What had I become? I loved and do love my family, my wife and our boys. I missed them terribly. I wanted to throw myself into their arms and back into their world. I saw my wife, beautiful, bald, ash white and I was terrified death was coming to claim her. But I knew she was a fighter, is still a fighter and determined to survive with or with out me by her side. Once my eyes were open the choice was simple... together, in sickness and in health... till death do us part.

OK let me tell you a bit about my wife Christina from my perspective as her husband... Christina and I met and married in six months time. Many thought we wouldn't make it because of this. But I've loved this woman for over 13 years now and I have no plans of going anywhere anytime soon. My wife is spunky, always has a smile and can find the silver lining in just about anything. Christina is passionate, funny, affectionate and stubborn as a mule. She laughs with a snort and sneezes with a squeak. Even though I know I disappoint her sometimes and I am not able to give her the affection she always wants or needs I love her and I never want to lose her. Christina is my wild flower, beautiful and surprising. She's not perfect. Believe me Christina has her moments when she is defensive and angry but I find her lovely even in her insecurities. She truly loves God and prays for me even when I turn a deaf ear. Christina absolutely wears her heart on her sleeve but truly this is the part of Christina I love the most. I love Christina for being my wife, for loving me, and for giving me our children, our boys...Joshua and Micah.

My children , well they are my life and my greatest joy. Have you heard the quote, "The laughter of a child is the light of a house?" Well those words describe my boys. Their laughter is contagious. No matter what is happening, if I hear them laughing anywhere in the house I have to join in with them. Our boys have always been a great source of joy in my life. With their births, they made me a dad, with their love they have made me a father. Joshua brings sensitivity and clarity into my life. He is my oldest, my first born and my fisherman. I love the fact the two of us can fish all night long, side by side. This is the time we have to listen without either of us saying a word to the other.

Micah, my youngest brings both humor and his mothers stubbornness into my world. There is nothing I can get away with when Micah is near. He will call me out if he feels I have wronged him or if he feels I have slighted his mother. The best part about Micah? Well is he will turn right around following the chaos and cuddle up with me afterwards. In all my life, the greatest joys I have ever experienced have been with my boys. I know to many people in the outside world I was a stone, hard , unmovable and uncaring, emotionless many times but the truth is I was falling apart inside. I was a sinking stone, scared and painfully aware I may be raising our children alone. I lived everyday with this fear. I went to bed every night wondering how I would live without my wife or how our boys would survive without their mother? I had moments as the worst of the chemo started to affect Christina's body when I knew I was going to lose her. I didn't want to think about burying my wife but I knew I had to come to terms with the possibility of her death, especially after so many ER and hospital visits. Just the thought of having to hold our boys hands through their mother's funeral was terrifying!

As a father, dealing with a wife with breast cancer, well it isn't the easiest thing to do. I tried and failed many times. But the one thing that never changes is my love for both my boys and their mother. Seeing both Joshua and Micah struggle with their mother's illness was painful. I wanted to cry with them and at the same time run away. I was hurt to see them growing up so quickly, having to endure the thought of living without their mother, without my Christina. It was heart wrenching. They became men in so many ways too early. I watched as they lost their smiles, concentration and gained more fear than children should have to endure. I saw them suffering, and in turn I suffered.

Our youngest, Micah was constantly bringing critters home, during that time, trying to surround himself with life. I cringed inside as one by one they died. It seemed as if death was reminding us she was near. As for Joshua? He was always wanting to go, go, go. I know he thought if he could keep his mom moving, life would simply go on. I know because I felt the same way. I tried to push her constantly, thinking our lives could be normal again if we could just pretend she was OK. But normal wasn't and isn't apart of our lives anymore. Sadly I have to admit my boys carried me through many of those times. Our whole world had come undone and it's still not all put back together again. There where times I knew they were just waiting for the world to fall and at the same time I knew I was holding it up for them. I was in new territory myself. I was learning just as they were learning how to navigate through this brave new world.

What I know now is this: Christina's breast cancer broke me as a man, a husband and a father. Her triple negative cancer, was a triple break in my life. Breast cancer shook me and what faith I had left to hold on to. Yet as I saw her struggling and as I watched our boys rise up from the ashes around them, I saw hope. I took in every moment I had with all three of them. In the process I found redemption.

I still keep those moments close to my heart. Yes, our world did come crashing down, but we survived it. I know there are still times I seem caught up in my work and I may not seem to be aware, but truly I don't take life for granted anymore. I know Christina's cancer may come back eventually. After all it made it's way into her lymph nodes, but we are ready now, prepared. Cancer may have changed our course forever, I have to say we're the stronger for it. We are a unit, strong and still here. Let me say it again...we are still here.

Before breast cancer death was a dismissive thought, now we live knowing our lives can change any day in a moments notice. Joshua, Micah and myself have come to understand one day we may be minus one at the table. We do not dwell on this fact, but we know it to be true. In many ways I am still afraid and reserved, but the one thing remaining the same is my love for my family.

As a man I am constantly trying to be strong. But one of the lessons this cancer has taught me is I am only human. Absolutely I still have days when I want to run away and hide my head under the sand as Christina puts it. I mess up, upset the good vibes in the home, but deep down I want to be here, cancer and all. I do not want to miss a moment with my family or a chance to spend time with Christina. I am proud of my family. I love my family. I'm still not sure where God and I stand. I have never been one for second chances. I know I have slipped away from His graces, yet I know I am still under His care. Kinda like Christina's love for me while I was running around (silently) screaming the sky was falling. Truth is I still question His motives, but I do know my families' love for me and through their love I know God's love. Bottom line: I am still a work in progress.

---Johnny Olachia

Monday, March 9, 2009

Michelle's Story

My Chiari Story...

After 10yrs of unexplained symptoms, migraines and neck pain with doctor's visits of uncertainty, a simple MRI of my neck in June 2005 changed my life forever. Everyone pretty much knows their own body and when things start not to feel right or our mind doesn't think as quickly as once before, that is pretty scary. It is a constant battle of analyzing our ourselves to get to the truth. Remembering things was my forte and I found myself a clean blank slate waiting for the writing to reappear in my short term memory. I felt myself slurring more. My friends or family members would ask me what I said because they couldn't understand me. I struggle to talk slower and get frustrated because I know what I am saying and pretty much could understand myself but others could not.

Finally with the right doctor, I was told in June of 2005 that I have a rare disorder called Arnold Chiari Malformation. Arnold Chiari Malformation is a rare brain disorder that causes crowding by the cerebellum at the brain stem/spinal cord. Basically everything I have been going through in the past years actually is ALL IN MY HEAD. How is that for real truth.? My brain (the cerebral tonsils) is basically too big for my skull and is falling downward and hitting my spine. It causes me to have daily migraines, dizziness, tremors in my body, brain fogs, severe neck pain, slurred speech, etc. I also lost my medical coverage that same month. What a devastating blow to finally find out what was ailing me all those years and then see it slip through my fingers due to the costly expense.

So after thinking, am going crazy or what is going on with my life? This diagnosis made me review my everyday life and realized it all made sense. It helped answer lost questions like, Why is taking a shower and washing my hair such a chore. Another good one is, when I start bending my head backwards to wash out the shampoo, my neck really hurts. And please let's not forget my best friend who likes to make me laugh so hard my head is about to explode from the pressure like a brain freeze, but non the less, it feels good to laugh. These are realistic, everyday battles of someone with Chiari Malformation. This is real for us. Just like other diseases, disorders or cancers, each day is unknown. This rare disorder presents not only physical difficulties but it also causes much mental anguish.

You go through the emotional roller coaster of what is wrong? It is difficult because to others I may look okay but don't feel okay. So that is another personal battle when friends or family members can't comprehend why one day I feel great and the next I am in bed. For me, my roller coaster ride has given me strength from finding other Chiarian's like myself. We may all have different symptoms or ranges of this disorder but we all finally have a name to this battle that is fought each day from the time we wake up until we lay our heads down at night. Each of us wondering and seeking or praying for strength of our own tomorrow.

The biggest advice I can have is , Never Give Up and Always Speak UP! Get different opinions until you find the answers. You are the only one that knows your body and how it works. You just need to find the right doctor that will listen. Without insurance it has been hard to know what path to turn. Research and support with prayer and faith , has helped me to keep my strength up.

For more information on Arnold Chiari Malformation, please contact me at achiaribabe@yahoo.com. The World Arnold Chiari Malformation Association is a wonderful place to start. http://www.pressenter.com/~wacma/ It is the first place I went to after my diagnosis. It has a great support group on yahoo that is vital to having the best support.


By Michelle Rock "achiaribabe"