I'm alive!!

Hooray! I'm happy to say that I have survived another round of chemo! Only 4 more to go! And I'm even happier that this round was at least 100 times "easier" - although anyone who has been through chemo knows that "easy" is code word for the worst weeks of your life. By easier I mean that this round was livable - certainly not a walk in the park, but compared to last time, it really couldn't have gotten worse. This time I thankfully did not have the shaking vision and/or absolutely excrutiating pain. I could actually make it through the days with just non-stop Aleve, extra strength Tylenol, lots of heating pads and the mental knowledge that however bad it got, it would be over in a few days. This time, I wasn't in so much pain that I couldn't function; I could actually watch TV (FOOTBALL!!!) and get away from the pain instead of focusing in on it coursing through my body. Whether it was the extra IV fluids my dr. had me take (probably not), taking more Claritin to help with the back, neck and my favorite, the mastectomy pain (debatable - something about the histamine reaction?) or just staying on top of the OTC meds (this combined with having higher hemoglobin levels and overall blood volume is what I'm guessing made the difference), I didn't even have to think about filling the Percocet prescription my dr. finally gave me!! Huge thanks to my parents and my in-laws, who watched the kids this weekend and into the week so that I could focus on my physical and mental recovery, and as always, to my incredible husband for helping pull me through another round. And to you all, for your wonderful thoughts, prayers, texts, e-mails, food, etc. - I really couldn't do this without you all - apparently it takes a village to kick cancer's ass! I know how lucky I am to have this phenomenal support; I love you all so much!

So now I get to enjoy two more weeks of "happy Amy" before "chemo Amy" rears her ugly head again on Nov 5. But troop on I must, so I will.

When I learned I would be losing my hair due to chemo, my biggest fear was how Drew (4 years old) would handle having a mommy with no hair. As I've stated in a previous post, I knew I would probably wear wigs in "public" but thought I would probably go wig-less at home, for comfort reasons. I've been surprised and elated to see his reaction - or lack thereof! I have to share a hilarious story about the innocence of kids, and how not a big deal it is to them. Drew and his best buddy, a girl we'll call A, (who has gorgeous, long hair that she is growing out to give to Locks of Love!) were sitting in the back of A's mom's car, on their way to A's house for a playdate. Drew started talking about how much he liked his hair being so short, and said "A, it's so funny - my daddy shaved his head, I shaved my head, and my mommy shaved her head, and Ty has no hair, so now we all don't have hair!" She giggled, agreed that it was cool, and said "your mommy has such beautiful hair! (referring to Fancy Nancy)". Drew said "yeah, it's super cool - she can put it on and then she has hair, and when she takes it off, she doesn't!" They both giggled again, then started talking about something else. It warms my heart to know that Drew loves his mommy, hair or no hair, no matter what. It doesn't freak him out that sometimes I have hair and sometimes I don't - he knows that as long as I'm there for him to shower him with love, support and kisses, it doesn't really matter. And for me, when I'm laying in bed with him at bedtime, just knowing that all I have to be is the best mommy I can be, hair or no hair, he'll love me regardless, is the best gift in the world. Drewman, you rock...

Before I sign off, a quick shout out to my girl Brooke, my inspiration and friend, who completed her BC treatment this morning!! You are a true rock star, my friend, I love you and am so happy to have you to lead me through this crazy journey. Here's to you, and me following in your footsteps!! And here's to everyone who has kicked the crap out this disease with their love, strength and courage - a journey few would choose, but those who are chosen are stronger and happier in the end...


Round two, here we come!

So tomorrow I go in to battle the chemo dragon again. The good news is that I met with my oncologist yesterday to figure out a plan so that hopefully I won't experience as much pain this time around, the bad news is that I have to do it again... and four more times after that... I keep trying to convince my Dr. that 4 rounds would certainly be sufficient, but she isn't buying it. Bummer. So I'm taking a deep breath, hoping and praying that this time will be slightly easier and possibly even won't take me out of commission for a full 7 days, maybe 5 or 6 this time? And trying not to be scared. For me that's the hard part - being scared and feeling helpless. For those of you that know me, you know that scared and helpless are NOT my usual M.O. - I HATE feeling this way.

On that note, I want to send a HUGE shout out to those of you that have contributed hugely to my mental health by making it possible (through donations of money, babysitting time and LOVE) for me to work out at the gym. I met with my personal trainer on Monday for the first time, and cannot recall being so incredibly happy to get my butt fully kicked. I seriously felt like I was on "The Biggest Loser" working out with Jillian, and just that feeling made me so happy!! The personal training and spin/weight lifting classes I am able to do with your generous help are helping me so much feel healthy, STRONG in mind and body and like a piece of me is still the same - all very important during this time for me. I can't tell you what a difference it has made in the last few weeks, being able to get back to my regular workout routine - the strength, physical and mental, that I am getting is so crucial to feeling whole and having "happy Amy" around. We all like her a lot better than the alternative! My kids and husband thank you too!! I've been able to start swimming, biking, running and lifting over the past few weeks, so I've been excitedly eyeing upcoming races like the Winter Distance Series 5K on Dec. 19, of course the Beaver Creek snowshoe series (especially the Susan G. Komen fundraiser!!) and am looking ahead to planning my tri schedule for 2010 - anyone want to join me for Tri for the Cure? That's a must, along with the Highlands Ranch sprint tri and definitely an Olympic distance this year... Just knowing that I can and will get back to racing makes me happy. I'm by far NOT the strongest or fastest triathlete out there, never have been and never will be - but again, triathlon makes me feel strong, whole and happy; everyone should find something that makes them feel like triathlons do for me.

I also want to again thank everyone who has helped our family out in other ways, with dinners, breakfasts, babysitting, playdates, heartfelt gifts (all so wonderful and appreciated, from pedicure gift certificates to race schwag to.... wait for it.... hand-knitted fake boobs - my FAVE and very well loved!!!!), advice, thoughts and LOVE. I know this is a marathon, not a sprint (well, OK, probably more like an Ironman) so your continued love and support is so important to us. After this, we'll have 4 more to go, so eye on the prize, looking to mid-January and SUPER excited for a very good friend's wedding in February, when I'll be done with treatments and ready to celebrate in style the union of two incredible people.

I'll leave you with this last thought, and then it's radio silence until late next week...

"Turn up the music, turn it up loud, take a few chances, let it all out, 'cuz you won't regret it, looking back from where you have been, 'cuz it's not who you knew, and it's not what you did, it's how you lived...." -Point of Grace, "How You Live" (look for it on iTunes - it's a MUST LISTEN!!!!)

OK, just kidding, one final thought: I'd love for you all to comment on my blog, and hope you haven't been having trouble! From my good friend Sonja, who set up this blog: "if you want to comment and you are having trouble, you can choose Name/URL in the comment drop down box, type your name, leave the URL blank, and then type your comment."

Love you all!
Amy, Brian, Drew and Ty

The Pink Ribbon Chronicles are going virtual, baby!

Since my diagnosis on July 30, I have been e-mailing updates to friends and family to communicate information and share my story. My "Pink Ribbon Chronicles" has been a great way to keep everyone informed and I've loved the responses I've gotten - they have often pulled me through when I needed it. A good friend of mine, Sonja (pictured here with me after she shaved her head with me on Friday night, then proceeded to WIN Race for the Cure on Sunday, racing for me!) suggested that I create a blog that would not only allow me to share information, but photos and other goodies as well, and I loved the idea but didn't know exactly how to go about it. Well, thanks to Sonja, (a blogger herself - check out www.gosonja.com) The Pink Ribbon Chronicles are going virtual!!

I will now be using this format instead of e-mail updates to communicate, which is very exciting. I'll be able to share information more efficiently, add tons of photos, and blog about things in a more casual way, all the while knowing that you all will still get the info you need!! I'm still getting the hang of this, but I'm pretty sure you can subscribe to my blog, so you can find out when I've updated it, or just check back as often as you'd like. I'll be figuring it out right along with you...

Thanks to Son for making me a "blogger" (yikes!) - I already know I'm going to get addicted! Stay tuned for more adventures...

Love, Amy

Fancy Nancy is in the house - watch out world!

In the past few months, I have been lucky enough to have several special women come into my life. While I am so sad that we have had to be diagnosed with breast cancer in order to meet, I feel truly blessed to have them in my life, and know that we will always be friends. One of these people is Brooke. She was a sorority sister of one of my good friends, and when I told this friend my news, she said "Amy, you have to talk to Brooke - she is awesome, you will love her, and she is going through what you're going through right now!" When Brooke and I connected, I felt like I had known her for years the first time we talked. I have talked about in previous posts how I had to be "led into" each stage of treatment in doses, rather than be hit with everything at the same time, so as not to break down into pieces. In talking with Brooke, in her sweet southern accent, she mentioned "oh sweetie, I don't mean to scare you, but I don't think you can be Estrogen negative and avoid chemo." And such was my introduction to losing my hair. Seconds after that bomb, Brooke said "but don't worry, there are great wigs!" and proceeded to e-mail me the picture of her incredible wig (see pic above right). "People don't even know - I get compliments all the time!" she proclaimed! From that moment on, I knew I HAD to find a wig that would make me feel like Brooke felt - self-confident and HAPPY. So, a week later, chemo diagnosis in hand, I went to Hana Designs, a wig shop I had never known about, just 10 minutes from my house, and picked out the sweetest wig I could find. Strawberry blonde, lots of layers, most of the way down my back, since I could never in a million years grow my own hair that long. I brought Brian and several of my girlfriends in to assess the wig, and everyone said "yeah, that looks incredible, Ame!" The day after my head shaving party, one of my best girlfriends and I went to Hana to have the wig fitted and cut, and then headed to the bar to "break in" my new accessory (see pic above left). Dubbing her "Fancy Nancy" we toasted to good times and kicking cancer's ass in style. Fast forward a week later - I was approached by a total stranger, who could not get over my hair, going on and on about how gorgeous and shiny it was. I resisted the urge to spill the beans about my little secret, preferring instead to later tell all my friends how hysterical it was that a stranger complimented my fake hair - in my entire life, I have not received one compliment on my real hair, yet here I was, 4 days into wearing my wig, and I was getting compliments on my fake hair! So without further ado, let me introduce the world to "Fancy Nancy" - my new BFF. Now, while "Fancy Nancy" is definitely called for on some occasions, there are times that call for a slightly less "fancy" do - enter "Jillian". Originally dubbed for her exercise functionality, she is to be worn under hats only, but I have decided that she is too fine of quality to be sweated on. So Jillian (a straight, slightly shorter, yet still gorgeous wig) will be worn with hats for everyday running the kids around, and "Bob," a curly, inexpensive wig, will be accompanying me when it's time to work out. As I have learned from my good friend Brooke (who has her "fancy hair, pool hair and exercise hair") it is very important to have different wigs for different facets of life. I'm grateful to Brooke for helping me get to the point where I am comfortable with losing my hair, knowing that I can still look good, be confident, and even astound strangers with how incredible my hair is. Like Brooke, I have never once cried over losing my hair, but instead embraced the fun I can have with wigs and feeling confident about myself during a process which can be very trying on self-esteem. I am glad to have Fancy Nancy, Jillian and Bob in my life to help me feel less like a cancer patient and more like a glamour girl.

Cheers to Brooke - an amazing mom, a beautiful and strong woman, an inspirational friend who always has time to talk and the right words for me to hear. I love you, Brooke, and am honored to call you my friend. And cheers to sweet, low maintenence hair!!


A Huge Thank You!!

Wow! I think it will take a while to fully recover from this past weekend!

The weekend started out on Friday with the Black Eyed Peas blaring "So tonight's gonna be a good good night" out of my iPod while I drank pink champagne and awaited the arrival of 50+ friends and family, 15 of whom would be shaving their own heads in support of me. It was an unforgettable evening, full of incredible people and lots of fun! Special thank yous go out to Gianna, who shaved 13 heads - that's a lot of hair, people! And Ben, Jen and others, who documented the whole thing with some great photos!! Here are some of my faves... What a night. Truly so special to me. Thank you to all for supporting my crazy idea and making it perfect with your presence, head shaving and just in general not acting like I was insane!!

Then, on Sunday, I had the incredible honor of participating in Race for the Cure, alongside more than 85 people, all of whom came out on a chilly morning to walk in my support. I am truly humbled and forever changed by the experience of seeing you all out there and feeling the enormity of how incredibly loved and supported I am (picture below blows my mind every time I look at it!). Together, we raised more than $8,000, which was among the top 15 teams for all fundraising. Incredible. A huge thank you to Nicole for organizing such a huge undertaking, making 50+ indian headdresses and being the team cheerleader and champion! Adding to the excitement of the morning, just prior to the family walk, my good friend Sonja (who had shaved her head on Friday with me - see picture below of Sonja and my good friend Chris, both shaved on Friday!) won the 5K race and told my story on 9News! We're still awaiting a link to the coverage, but had so many family and friends see the live feed - very cool. She was also asked to guest blog on Mile High Mamas, and that blog was picked up by Susan G. Komen. The PR is piling up folks! :)

Since my diagnosis, I have had several girlfriends request a mammogram/ultrasound from the OBs, telling them my story. I want to say how PROUD I am of you ladies for taking charge of your health. It's a scary thing to do, but well worth it to have the peace of mind. I encourage you all to share my story with your doctor, then make them "find a reason" for a mammogram and/or ultrasound. A good OB will do this for you - if they won't, I would personally find another doctor. I also want to say that, if you do have concerns about a suspicious lump, FORCE your doctor to do something about it, or change doctors. I have heard too many horror stories lately about doctors who dismissed patients' concerns as "too young and healthy" to have breast cancer. My friends, no one knows how quickly and aggressively cancer grows, especially in young people, and literally, waiting a few months can mean the difference between a much more difficult struggle... or worse. On the lightrail ride home from Race for the Cure, I spoke with a group of young people that lost their friend Tessa in June to breast cancer. Last year, Tessa, at 7 months pregnant, told her doctor about a lump she was concerned about. Her concerns were dismissed as "a clogged milk duct". However, days after her C-section to deliver her son Landon, doctors found that it was indeed cancer, and had spread to her bones, liver and lymph nodes, and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. (Mine was stage 2 - VERY curable thank goodness, whereas stage 4 not so much). Six months later, Tessa lost her battle with breast cancer, leaving behind her husband and six-month old baby boy. Oh by the way, she was 28 years old when she died. I'm not trying to scare you - but no one ever thinks it will happen to them. Please, do it today. It makes me happy to know that I have already influenced some of you to take charge of their health, and hopefully more to come!!

Thank you again for your presence in my life, and for supporting me and my family on this crazy journey. Stay tuned for more chemo adventures to come beginning next Thursday... Think good positive chemo-battling thoughts...

All our love and thanks,
Amy and Brian and family

Pink Ribbon Chronicles - Part 8

Love. Strength. Courage.

This has been my mantra over the past week, and boy, has it been a week.

As Brian alluded to in his update e-mail, I erroneously believed that after two drug-free deliveries and a double mastectomy, I had a pretty decent pain tolerance and had nothing to worry about with regards to chemo. Wow, was I wrong. Chemo was about 150 times harder than I ever thought it would be, physically and emotionally. From a "bad drug trip" kind of emotional experience to shaking vision to uncontrolled, unbearable neck, back and post-mastectomy pain and finally a blood transfusion; there were times when I thought I would never be pain-free again or have my personality and laughter back!

In that light (to my horror!) people were actually asking if the head-shaving party was cancelled - WHAT?!?! This is NOT the Amy we know and love!! As I lay on my couch struggling with how to cope with the pain, the thought that got me through was "chemo will NOT keep me from having a party!!!!" So, that question is answered. The party is ON, in a big way. One word of caution however - while I want every one of you here for the party, PLEASE do not come if you are currently or feel you are, getting sick. I'm told that my body is the most "immunocompromised" in the period 7-14 days following chemo - AKA today through next Thursday. Yeah, good time to have a huge party. Oh well, can't have chemo keeping me from living life - but can be smart about it. So please, love ya, but no sick people and also remember to wash your hands frequently and/or use hand sanitizer while at Casa de McDowell tomorrow evening. Also, if possible, please arrive promptly at 6 p.m. if you want to see the head-shaving festivities in full swing. We plan to keep all hair outside, and since it is getting dark/cold by 7:15 these days, we're hoping to get people shaved quickly! We'll move the shaving into the garage if necessary, but it will be more fun to do it on the patio... My incredible husband has volunteered to go first, followed by "the main event"!

Thank you all so much for your messages of strength, love and support. I am humbled by the fact that there will be nearly 50 people in attendance tomorrow at the party and more than 80 walking with us on Sunday who have raised a total of more than $4,500 that will help ensure that this disease will never haunt anyone else again. I feel so incredibly loved, and that is what gets me through when the pain and doubt take over. A special thank you also for your support of Brian through this process. The role of "breast cancer husband" is a truly crappy one to play - to watch the woman you love go through this is rough enough without having to shoulder the responsibility of staying positive, keeping the family running smoothly and working full-time, all while waking up every three hours throughout the night for feedings, thus doing it all on very little sleep. You continue to amaze and inspire, honey - you have always been and will always be my hero.

Two weeks from today, on Oct. 15, I will go back to battle the chemo dragon again (#2 out of 6). This time, I will be armed with knowledge of what is in store for me, coupled with some good pain meds (hopefully! my doctor seemed reluctant to give me pain meds despite the fact that I was begging for them - and for me that is a BIG deal!) and all your love and support. I know that next time will likely be just as hard, as will each time. I will continue to draw on your generous offers of help and love to carry our family through this journey safe and sound...

Love, Amy, Brian, Drew and Ty