Pink Ribbon Chronicles - Part 4

Hello again!

Well folks, it's time for the real party to begin. We're adjusting to, and loving life with a newborn and 4-yr old and are now ready to embark on the next step of the journey that will ensure that we have many, many years of being a family together.

Tomorrow, August 28, I will undergo a bilateral mastectomy at Sky Ridge Hospital at 2:30 p.m. We will be admitted at 9:30 a.m. for pre-surgery procedures, so will be spending the whole day preparing mentally and physically. Brian and I met with the plastic surgeon this morning for a final consult and "marking," and I now look like a warrior painted for battle with red, green and black markings all over my chest - ROCK ON Indian Princess Warrior! I think it's highly appropriate that the cancer knows I am on a warpath to kick its ass - watch out Big C! Having never been in a hospital aside from having babies (I've never had any anesthesia or previous surgeries) I am a little freaked out... OK I'm terrified. I would love any prayers, thoughts, positive energy, etc. you can send my way tomorrow afternoon. Apparently the surgery will take 4-5 hours, and I will stay at the hospital only one night. Gulp. Brian will send out an e-mail after the surgery letting everyone know how it went and include any other news (i.e. lymph node involvement). I am ready to have the cancer gone from my body, hopefully to never return, but am understandably anxious and nervous about tomorrow and the weeks of recovery following. I'm crossing my fingers, hoping for the best, and taking a giant leap...

In other BC-related news, I did receive word that I tested negative for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes. Basically, this test is used to determine whether I am genetically pre-disposed to breast and ovarian cancer. Testing negative was a huge relief, as it means I am no more likely to develop ovarian cancer than the "average" woman. Had I tested positive, I would have had a huge chance of developing ovarian cancer in the future, so it probably would have meant facing surgery to remove ovaries and enduring the menopause that would have gone along with that. Insert huge sigh of relief here.

Also, the PET scan I had on Friday has indicated that there is no other metastatic cancer in my body - AKA the cancer has not spread to my liver, brain, etc. We are obviously glad to hear that news; however, since the PET scan can only detect huge masses of cancer cells (as opposed to one single cell that might multiply and result in a huge mass) chemo will still be necessary to kill any microscopic cells that would go undetected by a PET scan.

OK, now for the fun part! Seriously, this part really is fun. My good friend Nicole Rosener has offered to organize a team to participate in the upcoming Race for the Cure on October 4. I think it will be an awesome celebration of survivorhood (and with the head shaving party being two nights prior) a nice opportunity to debut my new wigs and/or bald head (depends on how crazy I'm feeling). I am thinking the 1-mile walk will be about my speed 5 weeks post surgery (and 6 weeks post-baby), although you all know that I sometimes get a wild hair or two, so don't be surprised if I decide to go all out and walk or run the 5K just to prove a point! :) If you are interested in joining us, please e-mail Nicole at The walk is at 9:00, and I promise to have everyone home in time to watch football that day - trust me on this; we're still trying to figure out why in the world race directors plan races for Sundays during football season! Nic will have additional info, but FYI, here's the website with more details.

Thank you again for all your e-mails, texts, phone messages, cards, etc. - your words of positive encouragement and support have been, and continue to be, invaluable to Brian and me. We apologize for not responding in a timely manner - we have to admit, it is difficult to give our boys the attention they deserve and try to maintain a "normal" life, all while preparing for surgery, etc. Know that we appreciate your gifts and thoughts more than you know, and someday we promise you will receive a thank-you note! It just might not be soon!

Love to you all...
Amy and Brian

The Pink Ribbon Chronicles special edition - Ty's birth!!


We are happy to announce that we have completed "Round 1" of our journey - the birth of our second son, Tyler (Ty) William McDowell! We are glad to be home with a happy, healthy baby - by far, the best, and most important, part of our adventure. Here are some pictures of the little guy and his very proud parents.

As Brian mentioned in his e-mail announcing Ty's arrival, we successfully delivered Ty with no pain meds (as we did with Drew). Many people ask me why this is important to me. The answer is several fold - yes, I do believe that it is in the mama's and baby's best interests to go drug-free - despite what doctors will tell you, there are simply too many risks to the mommy and baby to be completely sure it will not affect either negatively. But the real reason that I love giving birth naturally is the empowerment I feel afterwards - the feeling that because my husband and I have taken on this immense challenge together and succeeded, that I, and we, can take on anything life dishes out at us. Obviously this feeling of empowerment was especially important to me as we take on Round 2 and beyond of our journey. I am honored and blessed to have such an incredible life partner that stands by me, helps me achieve my wildest dreams, and sticks by my side through all of life's challenges - I love you so much honey.

As always, thank you for your thoughts, prayers, cards, e-mails, texts, Facebook messages, etc. I truly believe that your prayers and thoughts carried us through the challenges we faced during and after delivery, and I truly thank you for the strength your positive energy brought us.

I received a card today that had an incredible quote that I adored: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I think it is such an awesome quote, and will use it to draw on in the weeks and months that lie ahead, so thank you Susie and Sara for providing me with such inspiration! But first I will be finishing my second glass of wine and enjoying every single second with my precious, perfect, HEALTHY baby - what a gift he is to our family right now.

Next step: enjoy being a family of four and the incredible gifts we have been given!! After that: Round 2 begins on Aug 28....

All our love, Amy, Btian, Drew and TY!!!!

Pink Ribbon Chronicles - Part 3


Well, the fun is just about to begin!

At least we get to start with the good part, the birth of our son Ty! We would LOVE for him to come on his own tonight (please send all your positive vibes for a spontaneous, fast labor and easy delivery!) but if he doesn't, we will be induced at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow morning at Littleton Hospital. While we would prefer not to have to induce, we are totally OK with the induction should it happen. We are familiar with Pitocin, the drug often used for induction, having been through it with Drew (and still achieved our dream of a drug-free birth), so are ready and excited for this journey! Please send strong, happy vibes our way - we appreciate all your love and energy. We'll let you know just as soon as Ty has made his grand entrance into the world!

We have scheduled a date for the bilateral mastectomy at Sky Ridge Medical Center for Friday, August 28 (2:30 p.m.). I will be in the hospital for one night. The surgeon was not comfortable waiting any longer to do the surgery, so unfortunately I will have less than 2 weeks to breastfeed. However, I am SO lucky that I have seven angels that have selflessly agreed to pump their milk and share it with Ty. I feel so blessed that I will be receiving this amazing gift from them - truly incredible. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you know of anyone else who would like to contribute, let me know! We are eternally grateful!

We are told that 3-4 weeks after surgery I will be recovered and ready to start chemo - somewhere around Sept. 18 or 25. So, we are tentatively planning the head-shaving party for Friday, Oct. 2 or possibly Sat, Oct. 3 at our house. Time TBD - but be assured that alcohol will be in abundance and it will be a FUN evening that you won't want to miss! :)

Some of you have been asking how I found the lump. I'm not trying to scare anyone, but it was not found through a doctor, mammogram or other technology. It was ME that found it, putting on a sports bra to work out two weeks ago. In reaching out to other survivors in the community and on the web, I have found the sheer number of young (29-35 yrs old) women diagnosed with breast cancer to be absolutely shocking. Most insurance companies will not cover yearly mammograms until at least age 35 - many will not until age 40. And even yearly exams by your doctor are not enough to catch a rapidly growing tumor before it has possibly done some serious damage (i.e. spread) to your body. Depending on the aggressiveness of the tumor, it might be the size of a pea one year and the size of a walnut or bigger the next year. Friends, PLEASE do monthly self-exams in order to know what is normal for you, and more importantly, PLEASE report any oddness to your doctor and INSIST they have it checked out via mammogram and/or ultrasound (I had both, in addition to a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis). I initially wished I just wouldn't have said anything, ridiculously thinking that if I hadn't, it might have gone away on its own. HA! I know, it is scary - but 80% of lumps do turn out to be non-cancerous, so you're probably just fine. Keep in mind that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer sometime in their lives, though - and with the number of young women diagnosed on the rise, it is imperative that you be pro-active about it.

OK, I'll get off my soap box now, but I need you to know how important this is - as horrible as it has been to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis while pregnant, I am thankful every day that I WAS pregnant. I found the lump on a Monday, had my weekly appt. with my dr. two days later (because I was pregnant) and had an ultrasound two days after that. Had I not been pregnant, I probably would have waited until my next yearly appointment (usually in January) to tell my Dr. about the lump and who knows what could have happened by then. My tumor was small when I found it (1.7 cm - a little bigger than a pea) but given its aggressive "markers" (hence the need for chemo, herceptin, etc.) who knows how large it could have gotten by January, and how far it could have spread.

Thank you all again for your kindness, love and generosity. Monday will be "round one" of our journey, and from there Brian and I will take one day at a time. We are trying hard not to be afraid of what lies ahead, and know that we will get through it with your help and love. Huge apologies again for not being able to return all your messages, e-mails and cards. We appreciate every single one of them, and think of you all daily. We are so thankful that all of you are in our lives - we're just a tad overwhelmed, and know things will just get crazier from here on out! Please know that we are thinking of all of you often and can feel your love and support.

Stay tuned for pictures of our new Baby Ty soon!!! And don't forget to keep those good vibes coming for a fast, easy delivery and healthy baby and mama! :)

Love, Amy and Brian

Pink Ribbon Chronicles - Part 2


Well, it's been quite a week. In one short week, Brian and I have learned so much more than we ever wanted to know about breast cancer through talking and/or meeting with with plastic surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, ultrasound techs, etc. - you name it, we've covered it this week if it has to do with breast cancer. In addition, we've also had our regular baby ultrasound and meetings with our OB to discuss baby Ty's arrival. However, after an exhausting, overwhelming week, we are totally at peace with the decisions we have made and feel incredibly lucky to have such an incredible, talented group of doctors working together to help us conquer this.

I personally have had the opportunity to talk and/or e-mail with 10+ women aged 29-47 (at diagnosis) who have supported me, encouraged me, inspired me and given me the knowledge that I am far from alone in this, and that I will emerge from it all a stronger, more confident woman. For this, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I already know that lifelong friendships have begun to form, and while I would not wish this on my worst enemy, I feel lucky to know these women and have them in my life forever.

I also feel truly lucky to have my incredible husband by my side. He has truly been my rock throughout this, and I feel so incredibly lucky knowing that he will stand by my side and love me no matter what - hair or no hair, breasts or no breasts. I do believe I am a strong woman, but there is no way I could get through this without him. I love you so much, your love will never cease to amaze me.

So - on to the fun stuff. On Monday, before meeting with the doctors and learning about all the fun goodies that are in store for me, Drew and I were out for a walk and happened to come across this saying carved into a stone wall:

"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." -Eleanor Roosevelt

It immediately caught me in my tracks, and I had to stop and grab a pen to write it down, just knowing in my heart that it would become an important quote for me to focus on during my journey.

As the week progressed, I realized that indeed this quote would be an important one for me - one that will keep me going through the tough times. At the end of the week, I was faced with, and dealt with, fears I would never have been able to handle on Monday. Through conversations with some incredible people and realizations of what it will take to make my body healthy and whole again, and again, with the support and love of Brian, here is what our journey will hold for us over the next year:

1) Ty will be induced on Monday, Aug 17. Please hold good thoughts for a safe, natural delivery and healthy baby. I am assured by my Dr. that a 38-week induction poses no problems to the baby, but positive thoughts are greatly appreciated anyway!

2) For various reasons, namely that I never want this horrible disease to bother me or my family again, Brian and I have chosen for me to undergo a double mastectomy. This will happen at Sky Ridge within 2 weeks of delivery - date TBD.

3) Because of the "markers" on the cancer cells (for those who really like a lot of information - Estrogen negative, Progesterone positive, Her2Neu postive) I will have to undergo additional treatment post-surgery to ensure no cancer cells are left that might attack other parts of my body. Unfortunately, this does involve chemo - beginning 3-4 weeks after surgery, I will go in once every three weeks for a total of 6 sessions (roughly 4 1/2 months) for 3-4 hours while they pump me full of chemicals that will kill the cancer cells. Luckily, there are lots of drugs out there that supposedly really help with the nauseau that used to be common with chemo, but unluckily, no one has discovered an anti-hair loss drug yet. (Come on, people, get on that - that's MUCH more important than a little vomiting, for God's sake! :)) So yes, my hair will fall out, but don't worry, I am already planning a ceremonial head-shaving party that will involve lots of alcohol and friends, friends' husbands, friends' kids, anyone who has always wanted to shave their head. Brian and I will definitely be participating; just let me know if you have an inkling to shave your head - if you come, at least one person in your party is obligated to shave their head. More info on that later.

4) In addition to the chemo, because my cancer is Her2Neu positive, after chemo is over I will still have to go in every 3 weeks for another 7 1/2 months for 45-minute treatments to directly fight that particular part of the cancer. Since this is not a true chemo drug, however, my hair will start to come back, and this is supposedly a pretty "easy" drug, just a pain to go in all the time for treatments.

5) The one unknown in the post-op treatment until after the surgery is whether or not radiation will have to be tacked on to all of this. The way this will be determined is if they find that the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes - this can only be tested after surgery. Again, please think positive thoughts on this.

We so appreciate all your thoughts, prayers and offers to help - believe me, we will be taking you up on them! We apologize that we have not been as responsive as we would like to be, but know you understand that trying to process diagnosis, make these tough decisions and make sure Drew is as unaffected as possible throughout it all - all while trying to prepare for the arrival of a newborn - has been a rather challenging endeavor. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts - we love you all.

Love, Amy and Brian

Pink Ribbon Chronicles - Part 1

Hello Friends,

I would love to say that this e-mail is to announce the arrival of Baby Ty... but unfortunately, its purpose is to convey some bad news we received last week.

I have been diagnosed with breast cancer, which means that we will need to deliver Ty around Aug 17 (38 weeks) and undergo surgery/other treatments shortly after Ty's birth to get rid of the cancer.

After some initial tough days, we were fortunate to have a very informative meeting on Friday with a breast surgeon, who I personally grew to love over the course of an hour and a half (as much as you can love the person who will be removing all or part of your breast) :) During the course of the meeting, we learned much more than we ever wanted to know about breast cancer (we'll spare you most of the details) but the key things we learned about my cancer are these:

1) The kind of cancer that I have is ductal in nature (as opposed to lobular), which is important b/c it means that there is only a 5% chance that it is in the other breast. We will find that out for sure next week via mammogram/ultrasound.

2) It is a grade 2 cancer (which addresses how quickly it's growing) - as opposed to grade 1, which is very slow growing, or grade 3, which is very quickly growing. Note - this does NOT have to do with what "stage" the cancer is in - we won't know that for sure until after post-baby surgery. The stage your cancer is in will determine if chemo is necessary, so again, we don't have that answer, but are hoping to avoid it obviously.

3) In addition to the lump, which definitely needs to be removed via surgery, there are other "suspicious" calcifications within the breast. There is no real way to tell if these are cancerous at this point, as the test to determine that is not feasible during pregnancy. However, both the radiologist and breast surgeon seemed to think that they are a problem. Thus, we are most likely talking mastectomy vs. lumpectomy. A major benefit of mastectomy is there would be no radiation involved, plus the recurrence is just 1-2%. With a lumpectomy, there would definitely be radiation involved, and the recurrence rate is 10-15%. And that's all assuming that the calcifications turned out to be benign, which again, no one really thinks that they are.

So - our next steps are to talk to a medical oncologist (who will apparently explain what other types of drugs, chemo, etc. that might be necessary, based on future tests), a plastic surgeon (who will obviously help should we choose mastectomy) and our OB-Gyn (who will set a date for Ty's induction).

But the basic plan is that we will induce Ty's birth around Aug 17 (38 weeks), then plan to have the rest of the testing within that week, and surgery (probably mastectomy/reconstruction) within 1-2 weeks. The good news for me is that I will at least get to breastfeed Ty for 1-2 weeks, and the breast surgeon is very optimistic that I will be able to continue to breastfeed for as long as I want to on the "good" breast, two things that are very important to me.

I know this might not sound like great news - losing a breast was certainly not on my life "to-do" list. However, if it means that my chances of ever getting breast cancer again are vastly reduced, I get to skip radiation, and I get to enjoy my family and friends for many more years to come, it's totally worth it. For now, we're just praying that the cancer is limited to the left side, and that I have a chance of avoiding chemo. I'd love to avoid hormone (drug) therapy too, but for now, we don't have that answer either.

OK, so we didn't manage to spare you ALL the details, but you should all know by now that I am not a short-winded kind of gal.

Brian and I are assured that I will be around for years to come, and that a year from now, we will have a happy, healthy 1- and 5-year old that we will get to enjoy many memories with, and a happy, healthy mama too! In the end, that's all that matters. Thank you again for your love and support. We'll keep you updated as dates get set for surgery, etc. We know that trying to recover from breast surgery while getting used to life with a newborn and 4-year old will not be easy, and probably not too fun, but we know we'll get through it, as well as any additional treatments that may be coming in the months to come.

Please send all your positive thoughts and energy for a healthy baby and optimistic treatment outcome.

We love all of you!
Amy and Brian