Am I tough enough for Tough Mudder?

One of the best things in life is surprising yourself. I remember being shocked when I was going through breast cancer at how "relatively OK" I was during treatment. People would say "wow, you are really handling this with courage and grace" and I thought, yeah, I kind of am, thanks! I would never in a million years have thought that I would be that type - I thought for sure I would be the crumbling, sobbing, wreck of a girl. But when it actually happened to me, I learned that I really do have a kind of inner spirit that I am proud of - it's a major life lesson that I thank the universe for giving me. Cool to know about yourself that you are stronger than you thought you were.

A friend had asked me to join her team for the Tough Mudder race in Beaver Creek. My first thought was "no way am I that tough!" First of all, it's a 12-mile trail race at altitude - then throw in 25 military style obstacles like crawling through tunnels, scaling 12-foot walls and climbing mountains of ice. Yeah, no thanks. I might be in decent shape, but I'm not that bad ass... Not really my style, too many unknowns, too mental. Thanks for thinking of me though. Well anyone who really knows me knows that I live for physical challenges that make me feel like a bad ass, so it wasn't long before I reconsidered and threw myself head first into training for Tough Mudder. I was bound and determined to kick this thing's butt, and was pretty confident I could do so... until a few days before the race. The doubts started creeping into my mind - would I be too slow to keep up with the team? Would I freak out in the ice cold water? Would I embarrass myself? Did I really have what it took mentally and physically to get through the grueling course? To be honest, I was worried about both the physical and mental aspects of the 3-4 hour race course, and wasn't totally sure I could hang.

But on race morning, I woke up, excited (though nervous) about what the day would entail. A buddy texted me that his friend had broken his nose on the last obstacle of the course (electrical wires that shock you when you run through them - the legendary Tough Mudder obstacle) and I swore that I would not break anything that day!

I met up with my team, which consisted of three other gals and 10 guys, and we pumped each other up for the race. We are all super psyched and ready to go! I reminded myself about the goal of the day - tackle every obstacle and make it through til the end with no broken bones.

We headed out as a team, intending to stay together the whole race. We quickly realized that it would be pretty hard for 14 people to stay together the whole time; I stayed with most of the group for about half the race, then finished with an awesome gal named Misty - she is a total rock star and if it weren't for her, I most likely would not have completed the obstacle that gave me the most mental trouble - kiss of mud. On a regular Tough Mudder course, this obstacle involves army crawling under dangling electrical wires, which of course shock you on the shoulders, arms and butt when you crawl under them. But since this is Beaver Creek, you are crawling over snow/ice instead of mud. I had already army crawled through one electrical shock obstacle, and knew there was a third one coming at the very end of the course, so I stood in front of Kiss of Mud telling Misty "I don't know if I can do this, girl. I don't want to walk around, but I think I might have to." She was super patient, and told me that I would hate myself if I didn't do it (totally true!) so eventually, I summoned my courage and forced myself to get through it. I was (and still am) so damn proud of myself for looking my fear in the face and telling it to f off! It was only after the race that I realized that my forearms were completely shredded from this obstacle - really, my only "battle wound" from the race! Painful, yes, but a very tangible reminder of how amazing it feels to conquer a gigantic mental and physical challenge.

Yes, I was disappointed that my upper body training did not come through for me on the Hangin' Tough and Funky Monkey obstacles - I fell into the icy water along with 78% of the other Tough Mudders. I so desperately wanted to be the bad ass girl that made it across those ones. But honestly, the pride I feel for having completed the course, tackled all obstacles head on despite being nearly hypothermic, at times terrified, and often times with no one but myself and people that had been strangers to me just a few hours prior, so far overshadows the disappointment from "failing" those obstacles.

Will I do the race again? I'm honestly not sure. It was tough, really tough - more so mentally than physically actually, although I'm not gonna lie, the physical part was no walk in the park either. A lot of guys who did the race last year and this year said that this year was much harder than last year - sweet! As I predicted, Brian is super excited to do Tough Mudder next year, and I think it would be amazing to do it with him. I saw several couples out there on the course, supporting and helping each other out physically and mentally, and I think it would be awesome (not to mention super HOT!) to watch Brian tackle those obstacles by my side. Maybe we'll see how the Spartan Race goes next May - we're already signed up for that, and I'm of course already super pumped for a fun new challenge... :) Doing 30 burpees after every failed obstacle might incent me to work even harder on my upper body strength to make it across the monkey bars without falling...

I challenge you to face a fear - whether it be physical, mental or both. You'll never know what you're made of until you do, and you just might be surprised at how tough you really are...


Valentine's Day 2012 - Giving back

There's nothing better than being able to give back.

I recently heard about a local initiative called Project Valentine. Founded to "make Valentine's Day a little sweeter for cancer patients," Project Valentine volunteers put together "goody bags" to distribute to those going through cancer treatment on Valentine's Day. When I received an email about the project, I immediately thought "I have several Stella & Dot samples that I could donate - how amazing would it be for someone going through chemo to open up a gorgeous necklace?" My next thought of course was "and maybe other Colorado stylists would want to donate samples too - we could really make a difference!" I sent out an email to area stylists, letting them know about the project, and immediately, gals wanted to help. Donations came from all around Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, even Canada! Tears came to my eyes each time I opened up my mailbox to find yet another donation, sent with a sweet card and all the loving intentions in the world.

As I sat looking at all the sweet little boxes on my dining room table, and imagined the 65 cancer survivors who will open up a box (inscribed with the words "Hello Gorgeous") on Valentine's Day to find a piece of jewelry that will brighten their day and make them feel beautiful again, I started tearing up again. I thought back to when I first started my journey with Stella & Dot. 10 months post-chemo, with my hair only inches long, and super curly, I was not loving the "clown look", but noticed that when I wore my gorgeous Stella & Dot necklaces, people would compliment me on my jewelry, and (so I thought) not pay attention to my silly hair.

I had no idea that a year later, Stella & Dot would be so much more than a fun part-time job and a way to forget about my crazy clown hair; it would be a sisterhood like I had never known before. I would meet other amazing survivors, I would meet mentors and entrepreneurs, I would meet life-long friends. I was not prepared to meet such an amazing, talented group of women, but am so grateful to have them in my life, to call them friends, colleagues, Stella & Dot sisters, generous women.

You have all made a difference in my life, and in the lives of 65 women battling this terrible disease, and for that, I thank you and am so proud of what we accomplish together.

2 years - reflecting

August is always a big month for me - on August 11, 2001, I married my best friend. 8 years later, and so many happy memories later, we gave birth to our second son, Ty, on August 17, 2009. It's also a month I give thanks for all the amazing people and gifts in my life, as every year at this time I think back to July 31, '09, the day before August, '09, when I was told my life would always be affected by breast cancer.

This August is a biggie - Brian and I are celebrating 10 years of incredible marriage; Ty turns 2; Drew started Kindergarten and I had decided I would cap off an already phenomenal month by taking on my first half-ironman triathlon.

So, the night before the half, I go to bed at 8 pm like a good triathlete, thinking I'll just nod off and enjoy a happy 8 hours of sleep before my alarm goes off at 3:45 am. Yeah, not so much. Instead, I lay there thinking about anything and everything, including, of course, making it to the "2-year cancerversary". I pondered this for a while, thinking about how, when I was diagnosed, I was terrified I would miss milestones like seeing my kids go to Kindergarten, and that I would never again be able to take on the athletic adventures that I had grown to love so much. And here I was, on the eve of voluntarily swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles and running 13.1 miles, after walking my son to his first day of school last week. I then thought about what could have happened if I never told anyone about the lump I found that day. Would I be here today at all? Would I be going through something far more terrible than the treatment I endured? Would I be faced with living with cancer on a daily basis instead of just thinking about it every 6 months when I have a scan or meeting with my doctor? Honestly, I don't know. But it did make me incredibly thankful that I DID say something, that my doctors trusted that gut feeling, that I had incredible doctors to help me heal and make me whole again, and that I now get to spend every day with my incredible husband and two wonderful boys, enjoying watching them grow and being a part of their lives. I am so lucky.

I finally got to sleep that night, and did enjoy a blissful 6 hours of sleep before the race. I woke the next morning excited to push my limits and see what this half-ironman racing was all about. After all, I do plan to celebrate my next big "cancerversary" - 5 years - doing an Ironman, so better see if I like long-distance racing at all...

It turns out that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. The race taught me to respect the distance, and that my body can (just barely!) handle it.

I swam my little heart out, keeping a calm, steady pace, as I really had no idea what racing nearly 7 hours might feel like. I told myself that I would be psyched to see anything under 50 minutes exiting the water, so when I saw 45 minutes on my watch, I was absolutely overjoyed. One down, two to go. Off on the bike, taking my sweet time in transition, something I NEVER do.

Off on the bike, and 2 miles into it, my friend Sonja (the same one who shaved her head with me 2 years ago and then won Race for the Cure bald) passes me with a "nice job, Aim!" A goal of mine was to not let her pass me in the swim (she started 20 minutes behind me, so I had a 20 minute head start!) so seeing her on the bike was not only awesome because it would be the only time I would see her during the race, but it meant that I had achieved a major goal! Yippee for me! Sonja would end up winning her age group in the race, and taking second place overall amateur female - what a rock star. That's her in the white sunglasses hugging me in the "post-race" picture. I was rocking the bike (for me), sticking with my plan of alternating water/Heed every 5 miles and eating a PowerBar Gel Blast or bite of Honey Stinger waffle along with it, but around 30 miles, I was not loving the bike anymore. Right around this point, my friend Gaye passed me, and I got pretty frustrated. She's an awesome cyclist, so I vowed I would stick with her and she would help me power through the bike. That worked for a while, but around mile 45 she just got too fast for me, and I helplessly watched her get further and further in the distance. I knew I had a lot of work to do on the bike, but it was downright depressing to see just how much work I have ahead of me. At mile 50 I was just done. A lady passed me and said "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the bike to be over". I said "Amen, sister! Get me (the @!*) OFF this bike!" Really, in any triathlon I've done, towards the end of each event I am ready to be done with that discipline and onto the next, but especially so in this longer race. Little did I know that this would REALLY be true on the run!

As I pulled into transition, all I could think about (besides the fact that I never wanted to see my bike again) was how glad I was that I didn't get a flat out on the course. After blowing a tire a few weeks ago, I was terrified I would get a flat during the race and waste even more time on the course. Please, I'm slow enough without any technical difficulties, thank you very much! I intentionally took a good long time again in transition, putting on another layer of sunscreen and lip balm (not that it helped - I still got fried shoulders and lips), talking with other racers, downing a honey stinger gel and even putting the wrapper in the trash can. Again, knowing it was a long race, and I had 2 - 2.5 hours of running ahead of me, I was in no hurry to get out of transition. Thank goodness there wasn't a tent over transition or I never would have made it out of there! I felt really good going out on the run - glanced at my Garmin at one point and saw 9:44 pace - eeek, that might be a little fast for a half-marathon after 4 hours of working out already! Slow down, McDowell, take it easy. I have to say that, with the exception of the last 2 miles, I really did feel pretty good the whole run. Again, I stuck with my plan of running the whole race (no matter how slow my shuffle), walking through each one of the 12 aid stations, drinking water and dumping it over me. The wet sponges soaked in ice water became my "lovey" and lifesaver for the day. I can honestly say that I didn't really get that hot out there - I might have been delirious though, because the temperature gauge on Brian's car leaving the park said 96+! I took one more honey stinger gel at mile 5, which was a bit hard to get down, but I knew I needed it. I was glad 6 miles later that I had, because I really started to hurt around mile 11. I hadn't been able to see Brian and Drew going into the second loop, as they had gotten stuck in Rez traffic and missed seeing me. I was pretty bummed about this, and started thinking maybe they couldn't make it up at all. I just wanted to be done, for Brian and Drew to give me a huge hug and take care of me. I literally chanted in my head "keep running, just keep running". I am sooo proud that I did run the whole time - I passed a TON of walkers out there, including lots of men, and know that the mental game is huge out there and if you start walking it can be a dangerous worm hole. I wanted to know in my mind that I had the mental courage and determination to not walk when the going got tough - and get tough it did. I finally saw Brian and Drew, and started crying, I was just so tired. I quickly realized crying meant spending energy I didn't have, so just focused on powering through the last .1 mile (which seemed like forever) and crossed the finish line - "Amy McDowell, from Highlands Ranch, CO"!

I am proud of myself for achieving all the goals I set forth for the day - the big ones (finish, enjoy all three sports, be proud of my finishing time, whatever it is) and the little ones (don't let Son pass me in the swim, run the whole run, stick to my race nutrition plan) - and for accomplishing my first half-ironman. As for IM, I realize now that it will be an even bigger deal as far as training and racing than I originally thought. I still have it in my sights someday, but am glad it won't be next year. :)

I know I don't always do the best job of it, but I am trying to enjoy every moment and every person in my life - from the frustrating moments with my two-year-old (and there are many) to the simple joys my 6-yr old shares with me every day to the incredible love and support my husband shows me on a daily basis. I love you all so much and feel so blessed that I have been able to share these past two years with you. I am so glad that I DID say something 2 years ago, so that we can look forward to many many years together, and not regret what might have happened.

Much love and gratitude, Amy

My 15 minutes of fame

Last year around this time, I heard about an opportunity for breast cancer survivors to take part in an on-field tribute during halftime of the Broncos game. Now, we all know that, while I was a Bronco fan for many years growing up, my NFL allegiance these days lies with the Colts. However, I love football regardless of the team playing, so was excited about the chance to be part of the festivities! However, a crowded football stadium was the last place my doctor wanted me at while undergoing chemo last year - it's very important to stay on schedule for chemo sessions, and if you're sick, they won't let you do chemo - so the halftime show came and went without me.

This year, I was on it the second the e-mail came out! I must have been among the first to request a ticket, and was thrilled when I was notified that I would be taking part in the halftime show this year! I was told that the show would involve 100 survivors, but not any other details. Who cared? I was going to be on the field raising awareness for breast cancer! When we put in our request for tickets, we were asked to submit our breast cancer "story", and were told that some stories would be selected to be featured at the game. When I didn't hear back prior to the game that my story had been selected, I figured too bad, interesting story, especially since I would be running the Denver half marathon the morning of the game - thought it could be a cool "overcoming obstacles" story. Oh well, their loss.

We were asked to attend a rehearsal the morning of the game, which I had to miss because of running the half marathon. My friend Gina did attend, so I texted her on my way over to the game asking if I missed anything at the rehearsal. She texted back "so cool your story is going to be featured at halftime!" Ummm, what? I started getting excited and a bit nervous!

At halftime, Gina, Lindsay, our new friend Karen and 80 other breast cancer survivors were escorted down to the field to form a pink ribbon the field. I don't care if you're a Broncos fan or not, being on the field is pretty darn cool! 10 feet from the cheerleaders, 25 feet from the players, and then walking on to the field, knowing that you're in front of several thousand screaming fans is just awesome. Seven survivors' stories were chosen to be "featured", which included the announcer reading the story we had submitted and us standing in front of the "ribbon", waving to the crowd when our story was read, which was shown on the jumbotron!!! Even cooler than the experience of standing on the field was all the texts and phone calls Brian and I got from friends telling us that they had seen me on the big screen, and how meaningful it was to see from the stadium.

Here is the story that I submitted, which was read by the announcer: (it was edited, but this is the basic idea)

At 32 years old and 8 months pregnant with my second child, I was on top of the world - with a wonderful husband, sweet 4 yr-old and baby brother on the way, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect life. One day, while putting on a sports bra to go for a walk, I noticed a lump in my left breast. I mentioned it to my OB/Gyn at my next pregnancy appointment, which happened to be just a few days later, and he assured me that it was probably nothing, but that we should check it out, just in case. I never imagined that a week later, a biopsy would confirm a mother's worst nightmare - I had breast cancer.
In the next year of my life, I gave birth to a healthy, happy baby boy, 11 days later underwent a bilateral mastectomy, and 3 weeks after that, started 5 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. At a time most mothers were enjoying their newborns, I was recovering from major surgery and facing several months of intense chemo that would make my hair fall out and leave me too tired to take care of my two children.
Fast forward a year later - it's been a crazy year, but thanks to my incredible husband and amazing support of friends and family, I made it through treatment and am living a healthy life. 6 months after chemo, I was back to training for and participating in triathlons, and am now training to run the Denver half marathon just 7 weeks after reconstructive surgery to give me back the breasts that cancer stole from me. Thanks to breast cancer, I have realized that I am stronger than I ever thought possible, and now appreciate every moment of life, rather than just plodding through each day. I hold my kids tighter than ever, tell my husband I love him more than ever, and try to enjoy every single moment of this life, one that can be so fragile. I encourage everyone to live their lives this way too - you never know when life will deal you a crazy hand and you have to make sure you take advantage of every moment here on this beautiful earth!

From beating my previous half marathon time by 2 minutes that morning, to an exhilarating on-field experience in the afternoon, October 17, 2010 will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life. One year ago, round 2 of chemo, lying in bed recovering, bald head and all, too exhausted to take care of my kids, heating pads all over my body to help with the chemo-induced pain, and now today, in the best physical shape of my life, surrounded by people who love me, loving every moment of life.


The new gals are here... and they're fabulous!!

It's now been almost three weeks since my "exchange" surgery to replace the tissue expanders with the permanent silicone implants. Having had a similar surgery in April. (replacing faulty tissue expanders with ones that worked - yay) I knew what to expect surgery and recovery-wise. But I was in for a nice surprise this time - recovery was SUPER easy, in fact, the hardest part was not being able to lift Ty because I felt so great that it was tough not to forget I wasn't supposed to pick him up! I was out walking 2-5 miles a day 24 hours after surgery, which was so nice, especially with the gorgeous fall weather! Drew started his second year of preschool the week after surgery, so it was really awesome to feel great so I could enjoy the back-to-school excitement, take him to school on the first day, etc.

And besides feeling great, I really have to say - I love the new gals!! I have an extremely talented plastic surgeon who is a perfectionist that really cares about his patients and their results. I am so blessed that there are surgeons in this world that specialize in reconstruction; especially for women diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age, it's so important to be able to look and feel normal again... and you never realize how "normal" it is to have breasts in society today. Despite the fact that the new gals are missing nipples (I'll have surgery and tattooing to add faux nipples/aereolas early next year) they look absolutely amazing, perfect perky 36 C boobs, just what I wanted!! Cheers to Dr. C, who gave me my breasts back after cancer stole them from me. I may not have long hair anytime soon, but dammit, my boobs look good!!

Yesterday, Brian and I signed up to run the Denver half marathon on October 17 (4 1/2 weeks away). For Brian, it will be a fun new challenge - despite being a cross-country star in High School, he has never run a half marathon before. He is aiming for an ambitious time goal, and if I know my hubby, he will achieve it! Me, I'm just shooting to finish, to prove a point - even 7 weeks post-surgery, breast cancer can't tell me what to do, if I want to run a half marathon, I can and will!! You all should know me well enough by this point to know that this is right up my alley - I thrive on anything that makes me feel like I'm giving the finger to breast cancer. Brian and I will be donning our pink ribbon gear during the race, and would love to see all you half- and full-marathon runners (and spectators!) wearing pink as well, to raise awareness that young people - athletic young people - can get this disease, but also that they can overcome it and go on to do anything they want. Half marathons, Ironmans, you name it. I have several friends running the race, and am looking forward to seeing everyone out there and sharing in a fun race (and pre- and post-race!) experience with them. I may not be the fastest girl out there (wouldn't have been pre-cancer and won't have too much time to ramp up my speed again after being benched for 3 weeks due to surgery) but I promise you this: I will try my best and finish with grace and style. And I will feel like a million dollars when I cross that finish line, with the love of my life waiting for me with a huge grin on his face, big beer in his hand and giant kiss for me!

Lately, I've been given the huge compliment of being called an inspiration to many. I am always humbled and honored to hear this; but I really do believe that you never know how you're going to react to a given situation, I never in a million years would have predicted that I would have such a positive attitude and be this strong. I've truly found an inner strength that I never knew I had, which has been a gift of this crazy battle. It also makes me want to remind people that you truly can do anything, from beating cancer to achieving athletic dreams to getting down to a size that you never thought you could be. Life is wide open, people, go out and run down those dreams you have - do it now, do it today - I promise that you won't be sorry you did. You'll be a better, stronger, more confident and above all, happier, person. And isn't that really what life is all about?

All my love... Amy (and Brian, Drew and Ty!)

Almost there... and Amy's top ten list

Life has resumed back to normal at the McDowell house, happily. We have had an awesome summer, and are in shock that it's almost time to go back to (pre)school and get ready for football season!!

My funky short hair has drawn lots of compliments from strangers; I am always amused to hear them comment on how cute it is and think to myself "wow, they don't know that I would never in a million years have done this on PURPOSE!"! But I do have to admit, more often than not, I do actually enjoy having super short hair - there really is something to be said for not having to blow-dry your hair every morning, especially in the summertime, and especially with a one-year old. And I have on occasion, when I got frustrated/sad to not have long hair anymore, pulled out "Fancy Nancy" and had a blast sporting a sexy long 'do while the world has no clue that it's not my real hair! Sometimes you just gotta make the best of what life gives ya!

We celebrated Ty's 1st birthday this week, with a small family gathering as well as a party for some close friends. It's hard to believe he has grown so much, and that we have made it through the past year with smiles on our faces most times and lots of fond memories to balance the not-so-good ones. Ty took his first few steps at his party, which was a fun surprise, and loved every second of devouring his cake, shoving handfuls of decadent buttercream, white cake and bavarian creme filling into his little mouth! We had a perfect celebration with those who have surrounded us with their love over the past year, and helped pull us through over the past year when we needed a hand. Cancer does teach you some valuable lessons, and for us, one of the most important lessons we learned was the depth of love and kindness we have in our support network. We love you guys - thank you for being there.

As the summer wound down, I made the decision to have my "exchange" surgery (swapping out the temporary tissue expanders for the final silicone implants) sooner rather than later. I was originally targeting late fall for the surgery, giving myself time to do a few more triathlons and running races, but decided that I would rather get this thing over with and race later (Denver half may still be in the plan... but just not as fast, as it will only be 7 weeks post-surgery) :) So I will go in on Thursday (Aug 26, a good friend's b-day for good luck!) for the surgery. Recovery will be similar to the surgery I had in April to replace the tissue expanders; a bit rough for the first week, than pretty good, other than not being able to lift over 10-pounds, which makes it hard to take care of Ty. Luckily, our families are kind enough to help us with the kiddos while I recover; and come mid-September, I'll be almost done (just some final ummm, cosmetic details to go) just in time to travel back to Indy/Cincinnati for my only nephew's 1st birthday party! Oh, and a Colts game too, since we'll be in the neighborhood. :) I'm looking forward to having breasts that feel somewhat real again (not like two tennis balls stuffed in my body) and to being done with this major step. I'll be sure to keep you updated on "the final product", but even with the tissue expanders (which are very round and incredibly porn-star-ish - see above photo!) I am pretty darn happy with them; I can honestly say that I do not miss my old girls at all. I've rocked bikinis, fitted tank tops/dresses and triathlon tops this summer and have not felt self-conscious whatsoever. Hopefully the final girls will be even better! Stay tuned... I know you're all dying to know. :)

Lastly, I am so sad to say that since I was diagnosed a year ago, I have heard about several more women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I also have a friend whose friend was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So, since this whole "cancer thing" has apparently become an epidemic, with more and more folks being diagnosed every day, unfortunately the chances are that many of you will know someone who will be diagnosed with breast cancer, or another kind of cancer, in your lifetime. And since I know you want to help provide support and love, but aren't sure what to do, I've created Amy's top ten list of how to help your favorite cancer rock star. I sincerely hope you don't have to use it, but if you find yourself in the position of how to be the best support person you can, here it is...

10) Buy them the fuzziest, softest blanket you can find. This is especially important if they are going to undergo any kind of surgery. Encourage them to take it with them to the hospital to remind them of you. It will also come in handy at chemo sessions, post-chemo laying on the couch or anytime they need to "pet" it to bring comfort.
9) Send them a care package. Include fuzzy PJ's, books, DVDs, magazines, stuffed animals, anything you can think of to make them feel loved. Enclose a card that they can read over and over again that reminds them how much you love them.
8) Go with them to get some exercise outdoors. While they might not feel like working out in the days immediately following chemo, getting out and getting exercise with a buddy will help speed their recovery and fresh air pretty much makes everything better.
7) Plan a party or something fun that they will enjoy and will make them feel loved. I will never forget my head shaving party as one of the highlights of my life. I am so thankful that my husband never once said "no way, Aim - what a crazy idea" but instead helped me figure out which food and drinks to serve and what order we should shave our heads in (him first). After everyone left that night, and we were basking in the fun and craziness that took place that night, we said to each other "man, that was a damn good party!". Celebrating is an essential part of the cancer process.
6) Text them in the days following chemo, or leave them a funny message. A good friend left me the most hilarious message recounting some of her crazy college puking stories. I must have listened to her message a hundred times, laughing until I cried. Texting is also a good way to communicate with your cancer friend - especially right after chemo, when your friend feels too sick and tired to call you, but still wants to stay connected and feel loved. I remember thinking several times as I lay in bed, feeling terrible but getting loving messages from my friends wondering how I was, and thinking "man, this is what texting was made for!"
5) Shave your head with them! This is one of the most selfless things you can do for someone - especially if you are a female! It's not easy being bald, and knowing that there are others walking around with bald heads too, just because they love you and want to show you that "it's just hair" (which it totally is) is a pretty damn cool feeling. I know, I know, you're not sure if you could ever in a million years voluntarily shave your head. Just consider it.
4) Don't say "let me know what I can do to help" - instead, just do something. Anything. One of the best "gifts" we got was from our back door neighbors, whose teenage sons (and their buddies on the wrestling team) mowed our lawn every week, knowing that it would be one less stress for Brian and our family. Some good friends of ours came to every chemo session, and every surgery, because they wanted us to be surrounded by love and happiness. Do something big. Do something small. Just do something.
3) Participate in an event in their honor. I'll never forget Race for the Cure, walking with so many people who loved and supported me. But there were also folks who golfed in my honor, walked in my honor, ran in my honor. It's cool to know that your energy and spirit are being celebrated near and far.
2) Laugh. Cry. Laugh some more. Remind them that someday life will be normal again, and until then, you're there to help them get through it.
1) And most importantly - remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Keep calling, e-mailing, texting, whatever, to remind them that you are always thinking about them. Call them the night before every chemo session to tell them how strong they are. Drop by with a little something halfway through treatments. Send cards every month that will make them smile. Countdown the days until the end of treatment, and by God, when it's all over, party like it's 1999!!! A bottle of good champagne (pink of course if your friend has kicked breast cancer's ass) is always appropriate.

So friends, raise your glasses in celebration of kicking ass and taking names, and to a cancer-free year (and lifetime) ahead. After my scan in November, we'll raise another glass (hey, always looking for an occasion!) and why not, let's raise one when the new girls are in town later this week too.

Much love,
Amy, Brian and the boys

Happy and Healthy

I can't believe it's been 6 weeks since surgery - so much has happened, time flies once summer hits!! My surgery on April 22 to replace faulty tissue expanders was a huge success. When I came out of surgery, I learned that the reasons the tissue expanders failed was twofold: the surgeon originally put in expanders that were far too big, due to the fact that I was not even two weeks post-partum (AKA 35 pounds heavier than I am now!) and, perhaps as a result of them being too large, they both flipped over, causing the "port" that they access to fill with saline over the course of time to be inward (AKA not accessible). Since no one knew that they had flipped, they just kept trying to fill them with saline, which of course was not working. I was ecstatic to emerge from surgery with functional expanders that, in the words of my surgeon "almost look like implants." I must admit, they really do look good - by early summer I will be "at capacity" and rockin perky, nicely sized gals for a few months before I swap them out for the final implants. That surgery will be in the fall, September or October, depending on fall vacation plans, and yes, triathlon and race plans. Two more minor surgical procedures later, I will be done with reconstruction, and will have sporty new fake boobs that will look pretty damn close to real.

Speaking of triathlon (I know, I always do!)... over the weekend, I did my first post-baby, post-cancer tri. I was super nervous the night before, but was excited to try out my new road bike (a gorgeous Specialized Ruby Expert named Stella) and just to be out there doing tris again - how lucky am I?! I awoke to a beautiful morning, got a little weepy on my way to the tri, and then pulled it together and just soaked it all in for the new few hours, loving every second. I did what I love to do - help and encourage first time triathletes (one of my favorite things about the HR Tune Up Tri is that it attracts first timers and seasoned triathletes both), cheer other triathletes on, and give it my all to accomplish my own personal best for the day. I was elated to see Brian, Drew and Ty on lap two of the bike course - I hadn't wanted to get my hopes up too high, as Drew had a T-ball game early that morning, and I knew getting the boys out the door to the game, let alone to cheer on mama, would be a huge feat - which brought tears to my eyes and made me so proud and happy. And then my rock star friend (and triathlete) Gaye and her son Tyler showed up to cheer me on at the end of the bike/start of the run, which was just awesome, especially since Brian, Drew and Ty couldn't be there at the end of the race. The tri gods were smiling on me that day - I had an absolutely incredible race, even if I hadn't been diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago, had a baby 9 months ago or had surgery 6 weeks ago (and been given clearance to train again just 3 weeks ago!), shaving 6 minutes off my bike time, and ALMOST going sub-30 min off the bike (run time was 30:09), a goal that I have strived for in every sprint tri I have ever done, but has alluded me every time. My fastest 5K run time (at the HR tri two years ago, so on the same course) was 30:35, so this was pretty huge for me. I felt like I was flying the whole run, and every time I thought about being tired, I reminded myself that if I can get through chemo, I can get through a damn 5K run!! I haven't been able to wipe the grin off my face yet - I think it may carry me through to my next triathlon, Boulder Peak (Olympic distance). I love this sport, love what it makes me feel like, and love the people in my life that support me, encourage me, and help me reach my goals. Thank you - you have no idea what it means to me.

I've had some encounters lately that made me realize how others might view me in this post-cancer world. In my mind, I'm done with chemo, done with major surgeries for the time being, and done with cancer - I'm stronger physically and mentally, not to mention fitter, eating healthier and skinnier than I've ever been in my life, I feel awesome and very positive about my near- and long-term future. I have goals that include not only half- and full-Iron distance tris in the next 5 years, but continuing to raise boys that I am proud of, supporting my husband in his own goals, and living my life to the absolute fullest every day. In my mind, I've kicked cancer's ass and am living each day as if I have nothing to fear. Yes, cancer has changed my life in so many ways, but I can't live in fear that it will return - ask any cancer survivor, it's not a way to live. So sometimes I'm caught off guard when people say "So, how are you feeling? Are you in remission?" I guess they are doing it to be polite, maybe they don't know what else to say, or they want to know what next steps are? But it comes off very cancer-ish, and makes me shudder to understand that I will always be "cancer girl", people will always look at me and know that I had "the c-word", and that makes me different. What I want them to know is that, yes, it was (and is still) hard at times, but that I'm done now, back to being the happy, fun Amy that loves to enjoy wine on the patio, travel with my husband, hard workouts, etc. and I plan to live life to the fullest for however long I can... hopefully for a long long time. I'm not really sure when/if I can officially say I'm in remission - I have yearly PET scans starting in November, and regular blood work as well, but although a clean PET scan will definitely ease my mind, I can't be resigned to living my life in fear of that test result. Who knows? I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (as could anyone reading this) and this could be my last day on earth. So I might as well live like it, as should all of you. There's no time like the present to "live in the moment" (trite but true) and enjoy every second you have here - it's a gift.

I've had so many people say "wow, you are an inspiration" - while I do appreciate it, and am honored that I can inspire people to live their dreams, I am just a girl trying to deal with the cards I've been dealt. And the reality is that I've been dealt a pretty damn good hand in this life - I have everything I've ever wanted, and as I've said from the beginning, if breast cancer has to be my "thing", it's worth it because the rest of my life rocks - from a phenomenal husband to the best kids to great friends to living an incredible life.

Here's to living fully and appreciating every moment!! Now get out there and enjoy the sunset on your deck with the ones you love (and a glass of pinot and some cheese and crackers!)

Love Amy

Accept and move on

I wish I was sitting here typing to let you know that I was having surgery next Thursday to get my final, perky new gals, and that I, and they, would be bikini-ready in a few weeks. However, sadly, this is not the case. When I went in last week to see my plastic surgeon for a routine visit, he and the nurse agreed that, for whatever reason, the tissue expanders they placed at the time of the mastectomy (designed to be filled with saline over a period of a few months to stretch the skin and accommodate the final silicone implants) are not filling correctly, and must be replaced with new ones in order to complete the expansion phase. So unfortunately, I will be going in for surgery in five days - April 22 - not to get fun new gals, but to get what I already have... but ones that work (hopefully!) After a few days of heartbreak and tears, with the help of my hubby and good friends, I have finally been able to accept and move on, something that was very difficult, but very necessary.

So - deep breath - here we go. Back to surgery I go, no lifting more than 10 pounds for 10 days to 3 weeks (ummm, yeah, my 8-month old weighs 18 pounds), no running, biking, swimming, lifting weights, etc. for 10 days to 3 weeks (ummm, really? sadly, this is truly a form of major torture for me), seeing a lot of walking/hiking/recumbent biking???/cuddling/movie watching/reading in my near future. Thank you in advance to my family, in-laws and friends who are pitching in to help Brian and me through the next few weeks. We know it will not be the most fun time, but one that is necessary to get where we want to be - to the next surgery in September to finally get the real gals to be bikini-ready for a cruise to celebrate how far we've come!

...which brings me to my very happy news: my doctor likes to order bloodwork around this time to check for "tumor markers" - a test that is somewhat controversial due to inaccuracies that often happen (i.e. the tumor markers show up higher than normal, indicating a recurrence, when in fact none exists). I received a call on Friday to let me know that my bloodwork came back "excellent" - so controversial or not, I'll take it!! I'll have a PET scan in August (and yearly after that) to detect any further recurrence and/or metastases, but for now, all seems to be well, which of course I am ecstatic about.

So for now, I'll take the good with the bad, keep on putting one foot in front of the other, and remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that "you gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."

We're accepting all good thoughts for a speedy recovery and successful expanders this time. :) Here's to accepting and moving on...

Amy (and Brian, Drew and Ty)

Let's see how far we've come!!

Wow. I can't believe it's been over two months since my last blog entry!! Yikes! Guess that's what being a busy mom of two will do to ya! I am so happy to say it's been a phenomenal two months. I got to watch my team go to the Super Bowl (sad that they didn't actually WIN, but exciting nonetheless!), witness my two little boys continue to grow into incredible young men, spend lots of time loving my big boy (AKA hubby), attend an absolutely phenomenal wedding of two people I love so much, party a little too hard at said wedding :), continue to build my training base and watch my strength and distance grow - up to 5 miles on long runs, 3 days a week of ab ripper X, increased strength/endurance in the gym, etc., lose 10 more pounds for a total of 20 pounds since January, fit into a size I never in a million years imagined I'd be in, and even get complimented by my plastic surgeon on my "hot stomach"! Woooo-hoooo! What a ride! I've been loving every minute of life; realizing how lucky I am that I am able to do all these things, and having a blast doing things I never thought I could do - like I've always wanted to be skinny, and having decided that I am willing to make the sacrifices it takes to get there (finally!) am super psyched that I am making this dream come true!! How fun. In other news from the exciting category, I am starting to grow hair!! For the first time in 6 months, my hair is almost longer than my husband's!! Any of you that know my husband know how hilarious this is - he buzzes his hair at pretty much a 1, so very short!! But still, it's coming. I'm hoping that by summertime I'll be ready for some color on my very short hair, followed by a public debut just in time for summer tri/racing season! I'm also making progress in the reconstruction department - after a meeting with my plastic surgeon yesterday, there is some debate as to whether I will need to have one or two more surgeries this spring/summer; there may be a problem with the tissue expanders I have in right now which may force us to do another surgery prior to the "exchange" surgery when I get the permanent new girls. But the good news is that the plastic surgeon thinks I have a great chance for an "awesome result" which of course is what I'm looking for long term, so I will do what it takes to get his best work. Brian and I are both looking forward to the public debut of the new girls, and new, much improved stomach (thank you P90X) in a bikini!

I also raced in my first post-baby, post-cancer race - a 3K snowshoe race at the Romp to Stomp out Breast Cancer event in Frisco. To be honest, (and a little bit inappropriate, I know) I was a bit leary of the event at first - I tend to not enjoy the "weepy" environment of some breast cancer events. I'm a different kind of cancer girl, the kind that wears "don't mess with me, I kicked cancer's ass" T-shirts, not the kind that likes to sit around and get all nostalgic about it. So being the kind of girl that enjoys doing things that make me feel like a bad-ass (natural childbirth, getting a tattoo and belly button piercing by age 18, keeping the belly button piercing through two pregnancies, running, biking, swimming and lifting throughout chemo, I could keep going...) I decided the night prior to the Romp event to recruit my good friend Renee (with me in third photo) to run the race with me. Just to prove a point. Of course she wanted to race, being awesome Renee, and we had an absolute blast doing it. One of the best parts was crossing the finish line and hearing my friends screaming my name, knowing how proud of me they were, and how proud of myself I was. I felt like it was giving cancer the finger, saying you can't tell me what to do cancer, screw you. It did for me just what all races do - make me feel powerful, strong, in control of something awesome, like the bad-ass I like to pretend I am. :) My good friend Gina's (with me in second photo) husband took some great pictures at the race too - thanks Andy! I encourage you all to go out and do something that makes you feel alive - like a bad-ass - or just happy. You never know what's around every corner in your life, so take advantage of the time you have here, and do what you've always wanted to do - be a "skinny girl", run a race, volunteer your time, give to others, whatever makes you feel good. Because that's what it's all about...

Ending with two awesome quotes:

“The difference between great people and everyone else
is that great people create their lives actively,
while everyone else is created by their lives,
passively waiting to see where life takes them next.
The difference between the two
is the difference between living fully and just existing.”

Michael E. Gerber

"Crawling is acceptable. Falling is acceptable. Puking is acceptable. Tears are acceptable. Pain is acceptable. But quitting, well, quitting is entirely unacceptable."

My good friend Sonja's (of Race for the Cure/head shaving fame) coach, Chuckie

Love always, Amy

Exciting things in store for 2010!!

I can't believe it's been nearly a month since my last post! Yikes! Time flies when you're not doing chemo! Lots of life to live, memories to bask in, moments to celebrate...

So - since my last post in December, I have officially started my herceptin-only treatments, which will be every three weeks until September. Herceptin is a non-chemo drug that targets the "Her2Neu" expression of the kind of cancer I had. (LOVE being able to write "had"!!!!!!) Despite assurances from my doctor, nurses and even patients currently on Herceptin, I was terrified of what side effects Herceptin would have on my body. Flashbacks of the exhaustion, GI problems and nauseau kept running through my head as I sat in the doctor's office receiving my first Herceptin-only treatment. Taking just 30 minutes to run through my body (versus 3+ hours for chemo) it felt like a breeze, plus there was no need to go back the next day for a Neulasta shot and fluids like I did with chemo. Easy-peasy, as my 4-year-old would say. Then I waited for the side effects to kick in. And waited. And waited. And finally, when 5 days had passed with no apparent side effects other than some minor fatigue the first night, I just about threw a party! This I can handle for 7 more months! Unfortunately, the one side effect that can be pretty major is that Herceptin can occassionally cause decrease in heart function. Yeah, big side effect. Luckily, the kind of decrease it would cause is not like a heart attack or anything; just a potential (temporary) decrease in ejection fraction and I am monitored every three months to make sure it's not going down. The echo I did in January before starting Herceptin-only treatments showed no decrease in ejection fraction since starting Herceptin (along with chemo) in September, so for now, I'm in the clear. Will be keeping fingers crossed that it stays that way, especially now that I'm back to nice, hard workouts 6 days a week!! Yipppeeee!!!! Both my dr. and personal trainer think exercise is not only fine, but possibly the best thing in terms of keeping my heart healthy, which I was glad to hear, because I am LOVING the frequency and intensity of being able to work out hard core again!! Never felt so good or appreciated the ability to push my body several days a week.

And on that note, I am thrilled to announce that, since completing chemo, finally being able to work out hard again, and beginning a new, super heathly (OK, and very low-calorie) eating regimen, I have lost more than 10 pounds in 4 weeks! Allright, 7 of them were baby weight pounds, but still, I am so proud of myself, and have never been more excited about eating tons of fruits and veggies, severing my 20+ year relationship with Diet Coke to start a new love affair with sparkling water, and possibly the biggest personal feat - replacing white bread with whole wheat products. The difference has been dramatic, and addicting. I am writing down every calorie that goes into my mouth, yet allowing myself tiny treats now and then to keep me satisfied and motivated. And I'm looking forward to maintaining this lifestyle for years to come, and reaping the benefits of truly healthy eating - something I always thought I was doing, but wasn't entirely. With a goal of 5-15 more pounds to go, I am excited to have a rockin' body to match my new fake boobs!!!

Also since kissing chemo goodbye I got to board a plane for the first time in months, and, along with Brian, Drew and Ty, flew out to Indy to see my beloved Colts take on Baltimore last weekend. Words can't truly describe how happy I was to enjoy the pre-game festivities with friends and family, and I won't lie, I even cried when they started singing the national anthem. It's the little things, people. I felt so lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy the things, and people, I love, for years to come. When the opportunity presented itself to stay in Indy this week and attend the AFC Championship game vs. the Jets this weekend, well, it was no-brainer. We've had a really great time this week, enjoying each other and things we don't get to do all the time.

Love to all... and don't forget to root for the Colts this weekend!


The best Christmas gift ever!!

Yikes, was this round hard. Nauseau hit fast and hard this time, something very new to me in the chemo-experience. Not being able to eat is a major problem for me, as I do love to eat!! I timed my chemo this time so that I would feel decent (Day 1 and 2) to take Drew to visit Santa (no Santa for Ty this year - germs are too risky with his age and my chemo) and be able to see him sing in his preschool program - both precious moments that I did not want to feel too sick to get to experience. It was a delicate balancing act to perfectly time chemo so that I could squeeze those crucial things in, but leave enough time on the other end so that I would feel good again in time to celebrate Christmas!

Despite honestly thinking that I might never make it back from "crappy Chemo-land" and ever be able to eat or drink anything (let alone Christmas brunch, cookies, mimosas, etc.) again, I finally rejoined the land of the living yesterday, and shortly after, received my most coveted Christmas gift - THERE WILL BE NO MORE CHEMO FOR ME!!!!!!!!!!!

Unfortunately, the reason chemo #6 will not be in the future for this lucky lady is that I have been experiencing some, ummmm, unpleasant GI issues which have my doctor concerned that the chemo is doing irreversible damage to my ummm, GI parts. So I do get to go see a GI doc next week, and possibly get to experience some unpleasant tests, but hey, I would do just about anything to not have to do round #6! My doctor apparently thinks that the difference between doing 5 and 6 rounds is not worth the risk of doing further damage, so 5 rounds it will be.

Needless to say, Brian and I are ecstatic. In fact, I'm not sure who is happier! We are giddy to have the major treatments behind us (I'll still get infusions of herceptin every three weeks for 7 months, but since this is not a "chemo" drug, the side effects are apparently minimal, my hair can begin to grow back, I can start doing more intense workouts again, etc.) and excited to move forward with the process of reconstruction! I never thought I'd long for fake boobs, but am so ready to feel whole and "normal" again, and if that involves having perky, albeit silicon breasts, then so be it! We're so ready to put this chapter behind us and get back to somewhat normal life again. Yes, there will still be doctor visits and surgeries to complete the reconstruction, but we can say goodbye to the really bad stuff and start looking forward to good times ahead! We are psyched to celebrate this day, and every day after it - life and health are true gifts, ones that we appreciate more than ever before.

We hope that you all will have a wonderful holiday filled with so much love and happiness, and thank you again for all your love, encouragement and support. We know we will still need it in the journey ahead, but are so happy to have weathered the worst of the storm.

Hug your loved ones and celebrate every day as the gift that it is...


Round five - bring it on!

Well here we are - hard to believe, but three weeks have already gone by and it's time again tomorrow for my friendly meeting with the chemo dragon. This time is different, though - I know now that I can and will make it through two more treatments, and then can stick a fork in this part of the "journey!"

Brian and I met with a radiation oncologist last week to determine if we will be doing radiation, and, after much research and thought, we have decided to decline radiation treatments. The benefits of doing radiation on someone like me, who underwent a double mastectomy to remove 98 - 99% of breast tissue, including a small tumor and only one positive lymph node are not conclusive, and Brian and I have decided that the risks of radiation are not worth the possible benefits. As we understand it, I have an approximately 10% chance of a local recurrence (meaning in the skin and remaining breast tissue - radiation does NOT impact systemic recurrence, meaning lung, liver, etc. metastisis) (OK I have no idea how to spell that and I will not justify taking time to look up how to spell such a nasty word) with no radiation, and a 5% chance with radiation. We are at peace with our decision, and ready for the "treatment" phase to be over and the "reconstruction" phase to begin!

We are looking forward to being done with Round 5, and it's associated week-long "side effects" just in time to celebrate Christmas with my parents, Brian's parents, Brian's sister and her husband and their 3-month old baby Elijah who we will be meeting for the first time, and my aunt and cousin. It will be so wonderful to have everyone together and to enjoy Ty's and Elijah's first Christmases. Despite this crazy journey that we have been on for the past few months, we feel truly lucky to have so many blessings in our life. We hope you all are enjoying the holidays; hug your family and friends and tell them how glad you are that they are in your life!

Warm holiday wishes and love,

Tri-ing to make it to the finish line!

I'm back, people! Back to working out, back to being happy Amy, back to enjoying life to the fullest again until I get knocked down again on Dec. 16 (AKA Round 5). And boy oh boy am I psyched to only have 2 more treatments!! For some reason, 3 treatments seemed like soooo many, but 2 seems pretty do-able. So I couldn't be happier to have one more down, and only 2 to go! We're making progress! Sorry this post is delayed - I have actually been "back" for more than a week now, but since I've got to cram all my holiday card sending, gift shopping, and holiday celebrating (yes, cancer girls can still celebrate - in fact, it's a MUST!) into the 2 week chunks between chemo sessions, blogging has had to wait a while.

So - maybe it's because I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe it's because I've been talking to friends who are planning their 2010 tri seasons, maybe it's because I watched "The Biggest Loser - Where are they now" episode last week and was incredibly inspired by Season 1's Matt, who recently completed Ironman Kona, maybe it's because a friend told me about Nike's "Livestrong contest" where you submit your Livestrong story for a chance to watch a Livestrong triathlete compete, maybe it's because I couldn't race last year being pregnant with Ty, but whatever it is, I've got the tri bug bad!! I've been sorting out in my mind which tris to do this summer, from the Highlands Ranch Sprint tri (my first tri ever three seasons ago, and a fave of mine) to Loveland Lake to Lake or Boulder Peak Olympic distance, to even toying with the idea of doing a half Ironman next year!! The Rev3 series looks awesome, my good friend Sonja is doing Cedar Point, and so is Biggest Loser winner Tara Costa and Triathlon Pro/Livestrong team member Laurel Wassner, the first cancer survivor (Hodgkin's) ever to earn a USA Triathlon elite license. And it's in September, so I'd have plenty of time to train. It's a big dream, but you all know dreaming big is the only way to go! I'll be saving my Ironman dreams for a few years, but for now, Half Iron doesn't seem too insane, right? Of course, this is coming from a girl who can currently only run a few miles at a time - but one nevertheless that is still lifting, spinning, kickboxing, running, swimming, even doing P90X throughout chemo. So there might be hope... If not Rev3 this year, maybe Harvest Moon closer to home?

I am inspired by other female triathletes who have also battled cancer while pursuing their triathlon dreams. Nancy Reinisch, a Colorado triathlete, whose diagnosis and treatment were very similar to mine, who trained and competed throughout her "journey" in order to maintain her fitness and sanity (sound familiar?!), then wrote a book documenting her experiences. Karen Newman, a 47-year old elite triathlete, coach and mom of three, who raced - and placed in her age group! - during chemo, and allowed The Today Show to document her battle with breast cancer: Her message to those fighting cancer is "never lose hope, don't give up your dreams." And finally, Laurel Wassner, a triathlete for team Livestrong, who battled through cancer to become a pro triathlete and, in her words, "a better person, a better runner, someone who has gotten through 6 rounds of chemo, so can get through anything." I salute you all, ladies, you give me the confidence to know I can push on to the finish line, both in my journey with cancer and in triathlon. Your strength, courage and determination are an inspiration.

There's something about triathlon that has helped me, and these incredible women, push through this tough time, knowing that our dreams are waiting on the other side. I couldn't be more excited to push myself to new limits next year as a cancer survivor and give back to the sport that has pulled me through this crazy time. From racing alongside a good friend as she competes in her first even triathlon to shopping for a new road bike as a reward for making it through this epic journey to going distances I've never gone before, it will be a crazy adventure - and I can't wait!

Round four - am I done yet?

I keep hearing from friends and family - wow, you've been so strong and positive, how do you manage to keep such a great attitude? Well folks, the jig is up - today I lost it. If you want to keep thinking I'm this solid rock who doesn't ever cry or have a bad day, you might want to skip this post. Today was the day that I got mad that cancer invaded my life, today was the day that Safeway's incompetence resulted in my prescription for Emend (the drug I take to control nausea) not getting filled, today was the day that I felt sorry for myself that, while everyone else gets to cook their favorite foods on Thanksgiving (cooking the turkey is my THING - I've been brining my turkey for 7 years and following a special secret recipe, thanks Bev!, all the while drinking wine and loving the process - but this year I not only will feel like crap and probably barely feel like eating turkey at all, thank you chemo, but I can't even get near the oven with my wig even if I did feel like cooking!, and forget about drinking wine!, then sit back and enjoy their family, while I will be laying in bed wishing I could fast forward time several months, today was the day I got FED UP with this whole stupid cancer thing. Yes, ladies and gentleman, we've come to the point in the program where Amy proves that she isn't strong all the time. And while I know in my heart that it is normal and fine and acceptable, I don't want to feel like this. I want to feel strong - like after my ass kicking of a workout this morning (thanks, Lisa - who knew the bright spot of my day today was going to be three sets of burbees and running up and down the stairs until my quads were burning?!) not sad and angry.

But I know I'm human - not to mention an emotional person to begin with - so I should have seen it coming. I knew having chemo two days before Thanksgiving was going to be hard, I just didn't think it would hit me this hard this soon.

This blog is about being REAL, being AMY, so I thought it was important to share that I'm not all sunshine and roses (and pink ribbons!) all the time. I'm ready to be done, to not feel like crap for 7-9 days every three weeks, to be a good mom and wife again, to have cleavage again, for crying out loud! I'm ready for freedom to get on a plane, to eat sushi, to not have my killer workouts interrupted by 7 days of pathetic "chemo week workouts" where my "hard workouts" consist of slow walking for 30 minutes. I'm not even going to complain about not having hair - I'm actually still kind of enjoying the ease of wearing wigs, not having to shave my legs or armpits and being showered and ready to walk out the door in 20 minutes! - but I am really missing some basic parts of my "pre-cancer" life.

I'm going to apologize to the chemo Gods for ever thinking it would be a breeze - it's far from it. I'll head in tomorrow glad that Round 4 will be over, but not glad that two more rounds are in my future. I'm trying to be thankful that I only have 6 rounds - I talked to a friend the other day who had to go through 9 rounds, yikes! - but in the end, I know it may be a struggle to keep putting one foot in front of the other for the next month and a half. But I will do it, and you know what? Maybe it's OK to have some bad days, maybe it's OK to cry, scream, cry again.

In the spirit of admitting that it's OK to feel sad and beaten down, but still able to come through it strong on the other side, I'll make "Stand Back Up" Round 4's theme song... Thank you, Sugarland...

Stand Back Up

Go ahead and take your best shot,
Let 'er rip, give it all you've got,
I'm laid out on the floor, but I've been here before,
I may stumble, yeah I might fall,
Only human aren't we all?
I might lose my way, but hear me when I say,

I will stand back up,
You'll know just the moment when I've had enough,
Sometimes I'm afraid, and I don't feel that tough,
But I'll stand back up,

I've been beaten up and bruised,
I've been kicked right off my shoes,
Been down on my knees more times than you'd believe,
When the darkness tries to get me,
There's a light that just won't let me,
It might take my pride, and my tears may fill my eyes,
But I'll stand back up,

I've weathered all these storms,
But I just turn them into wind, so I can fly,
What don't kill you makes you stronger,
When I take my last breath,
That's when I'll just give up,

So, go ahead and take your best shot,
Let 'er rip, give it all you've got,
You might win this round but you can't keep me down,

'Cause I'll stand back up,
And you'll know just the moment when I've had enough,
Sometimes I'm afraid and I don't feel that tough,
But I'll stand back up,

You'll know just the moment when I've had enough,
Sometimes I'm afraid and I don't feel that tough,
But I'll stand back up.

See ya on the other side... Enjoy an extra glass of wine on Thanksgiving for me, please!

To all my angels...

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe firmly in the notion that people (angels) come into your life for a reason, and that few things are coincidence. I know in my heart that everything happens for a reason, and that I have been blessed with so many angels who have walked into my life. As I celebrate being halfway done with chemo (yipppeeee!!!!) I want to thank all my angels for helping me along on this crazy journey....

My baby angel - Ty, my amazing little baby - because of you, choosing to come into my life at the time you did, my breast cancer was caught at a very early stage and treated immediately. You are my life saver, and truly my angel. Your huge grin, easy going personality and delight in everyone around you are so precious to me during this time in my life. You and your angel-brother Drew are the light of my life, and the reason I long for "life beyond cancer."

My milk angels - When it became apparent that a bilateral mastectomy would be necessary, and I would not be able to breastfeed my newborn son (something that was extremely important to me), 11+ "milk angels" came to my rescue, pumping their own breastmilk to share with Ty so that he would receive the immunities and nutrients to grow strong and be protected from winter's cold and flu season. From best friends to acquaintances, not one milk angel hesitated for a second when I asked if they would be willing to share any extra milk, taking time and energy out of their schedules to give Ty this incredibly unique, selfless gift. Everyone we talk to - including our pediatrician - has been blown away by the amount and number of angels who were willing to share this gift with us. And Ty is thriving and flourishing because of your milk - at his 2-month appointment, he weighed in at a whopping 13 lbs, 11 oz, in the 90th percentile for weight and 75th for height!! With milk still stockpiled in our freezer, we are overwhelmed and so incredibly blessed by your generosity and love.

My traveling angels - Charlotte and Jess, two of my best friends, travelled from the midwest to take care of me and my family when I needed them desperately - a week after surgery and a week after my first chemo treatment. Seeing their faces and having their hugs, kisses and extra special care made some really tough weeks more bearable. I wish you both were so much closer, but am so blessed to have incredible friends that will drop everything to fly to my rescue!

My "BC angels" - On this journey, I have met some incredible women who have blazed the trail ahead of me, giving me strength that this can be conquered, and that I can do it with the grace and style that they have. Gina, Brooke, Nic, Molly, Andrea, Lori - you are my heros for being my cheerleaders, hand holders and cancer SURVIVORS!!! Elaine - my partner in crime, together kicking this thing's ass in style, counting down the days until our treatments are over, our hair is back and we can laugh about this blip in the road with a martini in hand. And to all the other BC angels who have touched my life with their e-mails, blogs, cards, notes and books describing their own battle with this crappy disease, providing constant encouragement and sisterhood - you have provided me strength and knowledge that I can get through this, and will be forever changed - and not in a bad way - from this experience.

My friend angels - How do you know what to do to help a friend who has been diagnosed with breast cancer? I never knew the answer prior to my diagnosis, but apparently someone informed my friends. They have known just what to do, everyone contributing in their own unique ways - coming with me to every chemo treatment, drinking champagne with me while I buzzed my hair off, shaving their own heads with me!!, popping back into my life and driving across town to shave 15 people's heads, helping me name my wigs, organizing 90 walkers to Race for the Cure, then making them all "chemosabe" headbands, sending me card after card and e-mail after e-mail to let me know they were thinking about me constantly, watching my kids as they would their own while I attend endless doctor visits, racing with my name on their backs, celebrating with me after each round of chemo, sending me care packages from across the US and world, buying me PJ's to make me feel cozy and loved on my worst post-surgery and post-chemo days, letting me talk about awkward things like which wig to wear while working out and how I long for cleavage again, calling me before every chemo treatment, coordinating the mowing of our lawn, organizing meal service and breastmilk delivery, taking care of cleaning my house, handmaking super special gifts and food to put a smile on my face, not telling me how crazy I am to be planning triathlons for 2010, but instead telling me how STRONG I am and reminding me that I shouldn't feel guilty for not being able to take care of my kids during chemo and above all, how I'm kicking cancer's ass like a champ.

My family angels - I would never be able to get through any of this without my parent and parent-in-law angels. They have made countless trips to Colorado to take care of my kids when I can't, taken time off work, coordinated schedules to allow life to go on as normal as possible for our family. When I'm rendered useless for days on end after surgery and chemo, they give my kids what I can't - constant love and attention. They take care of night feedings, daytime entertainment and everything in between. They keep my kids' lives together when I can't, and that is a special gift. I am honored to have been chosen to be your daughter and daughter-in-law.

My trainer angel - Having been addicted to exercise-induced endorphins for most of my life, I knew that this cancer battle was going to need to be fought on the gym floor. I hired my angel trainer, Lisa, for her unfailingly kick-ass attitude, fabulously enviable body and confidence in my athletic ability despite this silly cancer diagnosis. People ask me "does Lisa take it easy on you ?" My answer - a resounding HELL NO! And I would not want it any other way! She believes in me and pushes me to my limits so that I can walk away from each day at the gym feeling strong in body and mind. She turns my day from "blech, I'm feeling sorry for myself because I have to go through this icky stuff" to "hell yeah, I can take on the world... and cancer too!" With each training session, I feel stronger and stronger, mentally and physically... and luckier and luckier to have Lisa come into my life.

My husband angel!! Oh honey - you are and have always been my most important angel. The one I longed for all my life, but never thought I'd be lucky enough to deserve. The one to help me through what I used to think were hard things - job frustrations, co-worker friction, the stress of parenting. Through this biggest life challenge you have loved me, held me, and told me how beautiful, special and loved I am every day. You call me your hero, but you will always be mine. Not many people get to have a relationship like ours in their lifetime, and I will never know how I got so lucky as to have you by my side every day of my life. My soulmate, my best friend, my reason for fighting... I love you more than anything. I'm so excited to spend the next 50 years together; there are so many adventures I can't wait to have with you...

To all my angels - thank you for blessing my life with your presence, but above all, thank you for holding my hand through this journey. I haven't figured out yet exactly why I was chosen to travel this road, and probably never will. But I know that at least part of the reason was to fully understand the capacity of the human heart to love, to give and to help heal. I know that I will be forever changed by your kindness, generosity and love, and for that I will always be thankful...

Love always, Amy