Dear Cancer: Saturday, October 23, 2010

Victory! Take that, stupid Cancer! This photo was taken after all members of Team TRIumph crossed the finish line out in San Diego last weekend. After a year filled with one six-month cancer treatment, the birth of three babies, and one divorce, we all crossed the finish line in less than two hours (our goal) and managed to raise nearly $15,000 for the fight against ovarian cancer. From left to right: Melissa Sigler, Jori Tulkki, me, Jill Rowlison, Krista Drescher, and Kristin Whitman. Thanks so much, ladies!

Dear Cancer,

Well, we've come to the end of the road. I'm writing this final post from my beloved South Carolina Low Country, which was where I came so often during treatment to escape the craziness you caused. It's been a gorgeous weekend down here - one that has been filled with much laughter (my mom, Aunt Kathy (remember her? Kathie Lee meets Sex in the City's Samantha?), and my dear friend, Alison, are all down here), exercise (love my bridge walk!), good food (ate at my favorite F.I.G. last night), shopping (I have the best design karma down here and find the best things!) and reflection on the beautiful beaches of Sullivan's Island.

Thirteen months ago today, I finished my treatment to get rid of you for good. In between that day and today, I have experienced some amazing highs and some scary lows. While doctors know very well how to try and get rid of you, they aren't quite as knowledgeable as to how to deal with the aftermath of you. Particularly you, my Stage IIIa ovarian and Stage I uterine Cancers (otherwise known as synchronous primaries), because in order to get rid of you, I had to bid farewell to so many important things that most 32-year old women are lucky enough to take for granted. Things like my fertility, my mental health (for two brief periods during and post-treatment), and many other more minor things.

However, what I do know for sure today, Cancer, is that like most others thing in life, if you don't kill someone, you make them stronger...and smarter...and braver...and perhaps, a tad more creative? And you do this for cancer caregivers too. It's funny but while I'm now minus a uterus, cervix, ovaries, omentum, appendix, and a tiny bit of colon, I've emerged from my battle with you a more hole person. So, you might wonder, Cancer, what is my overwhelming emotion towards you on this day? The truth is, while I resented the heck out of you in the beginning, today I'm grateful beyond words to you for some many really wonderful reasons:

Thank you, Cancer, for helping me know more than I ever would have otherwise just how much I'm loved by my family and friends, who are all truly the family I chose so well for myself.

Thank you for making me learn about the benefits of the anti-cancer lifestyle (even if I don't observe all of them on a daily basis anymore...), including eating more locally grown, (mostly) organic fruits and vegetables, less meat/dairy/alcohol/refined carbohydrates, continuing my daily exercise, and eliminating harsh chemicals (bye, bye bleach...I'll miss you!).

At 10 + years into my health care communications and marketing career, thank you (and Deloitte) for giving me the opportunity to take a much needed six-month sabbatical, which not only allowed me to fight you with all of my physical and emotional energy but also nurtured my creativity. Writing this blog was so therapeutic during treatment and the time off allowed me to also enhance my interior and event design skills (when I was feeling up to it). As a result of the events of the past 18 months, I'm finally ready to launch my side design business, HOME COMING (check back for hyperlink later), and I couldn't be happier about that.

Thank you for helping me realize that my legacy was not meant to be the lives I would create (although, I still very much want to meet my half-orange and raise a couple of great kids -- whether they be step-children, adopted children, or reproductively engineered children) but rather, the women's lives I will help save. It is true that I finally found my purpose and passion as a result of you, Cancer, and I'm so grateful for that as well. To date, I've raised nearly $20,000 toward the fight against gynecological cancers and have told my story in a variety of ways -- whether on this blog, through the CDC's Inside Knowledge PSA campaign I'm "starring" in, the congressional briefing I participated in, or in "Dancing with N.E.D," which I hope to help produce and launch within the next eighteen months. You picked the wrong gal to mess with, Cancer, because I'm considered the Mouth-of-the-South by some, and my new mission in life is to tell every woman who will listen about the symptoms of your invasion. If I can help save one woman's life or fertility, for that matter, I will have fulfilled my purpose in life. And I think I'm well on my way to doing that.

Speaking of half-oranges, thank you also for making me slow down for a bit, Cancer, and giving me the time to really start to think about what I want and deserve in a romantic relationship. As a result of you, I have a much clearer picture today of the kind of relationship I want to have - not the man who might look good on paper - but rather the feeling I want to have when I'm in a loving relationship. Today, I'm as optimistic as ever that I will find someone who wants to build the same kind of life with me as I do with him. It's a life filled with good friends, wonderful travel adventures, great food, working out together, a couple (just two!) beautiful kids who we raise to be thoughtful and caring people (not little brats...), DANCING (my friends and I have decided that, as ridiculous as it may seem, not dancing is a deal-breaker for me), and a whole host of other wonderful things.

And thank you so much for the AMAZING people you helped introduce me to, including in no particular order: Dr. John C. Elkas and his staff of the most amazing chemo nurses in the world (Darlene, Marianne, Rosemary, Thuy, and the list goes on...); Dr. Alkhas, who was the cute Fellow who I crushed on during treatment; my genetic counselor, Grace, at INOVA Fairfax, who helped me figure out why the heck you invaded me; Sage Bolte with Life with Cancer, who is a rock star of an oncology counselor; all of the "ists" in my life, including great massage therapists, my acupuncturist, and Richard; and finally, and most importantly, to all of the amazing cancer survivors along my journey - from Kris Carr to Johnny Imerman to all the ladies in the chemo room at Mid-Atlantic Pelvic Surgery Associates, who are all so wonderful to be around during treatment.

But most of all, Cancer, thank you for retreating quickly in battle. From the blood results from my first chemo treatment when my CA 125 went from 88 to 26 to the fact that by the time right ovary was removed during my total hysterectomy and was found to be cancer-free at that time, you didn't have much fight in you and I'm so thankful to you for that. I am well aware of the fact that this could have all ended much differently and am more thankful than anyone knows (well, at least anyone who hasn't battled cancer) that you've allowed me to live.

So, that's it. That's how I feel about you 13 months out of treatment. In case you're wondering, I'm going to see Dr. E every three months for another year to make sure you haven't returned and then after that, we'll catch up every six months until I reach my five-year CURE on September 23, 2014. Hopefully, by then I will have improved my sprint triathlon time significantly from the 1:42 minutes it took me to do the race in San Diego last weekend. And hopefully, I will have also found my half-orange and be well on my way to becoming a mother. Oh, and maybe by then I will have published my funny yet poignant cancer memoir, tentatively entitled, "The Change."

I've got big hopes for my future, Cancer, and my only ask of you today is that you allow me to realize them.


Hitting My Stride: Friday, October 15, 2010

Well, we've almost reached the end of this road. I'm not even going to bother apologizing for the lack of posts over the past several weeks because those of you regular (or, formerly regular) readers are probably tired of hearing them by now.

So, here I am in San Diego. I'm writing in my hotel room and one of best friends, Jori, is relaxing in the room with me. My parents are here in their room as well. The rest of the triathlon crew are in town and headed to the hotel. We're all going to have dinner at Nobu (yum!) in an hour or so.

I feel as though I've finally hit my stride in many ways over the past several weeks: First and foremost, I had a FANTASTIC one-year check-up with Dr. E two weeks ago. My CA 125 had actually dropped three points to 11.5 and Dr. E found nothing suspicious during the physical exam so it was a great appointment. I've got one year of cancer-free under my belt now and four more to go to get the cure I'm striving for!

Next, I am finally ready to compete in this triathlon. I did a practice sprint triathlon with some of my teammates last weekend and survived it. Granted, it wasn't quite as intense as the real thing because there was a fairly long break between the swim and bike portion but regardless, I did fine and it felt good. Also, earlier this week I did a final swim with my unofficial training coach, Al, who grew up a competitive swimmer, and he proclaimed me ready for the race after our swim. In fact, he later admitted that he had tried to engage me in coversation between some of our laps because he needed to catch his breath in order to keep up with me. Woohoo!

Finally, I recently got a promotion and raise at work when I started a new position in mid-September. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying my new role. It's like I've been asleep professionally for several years and suddenly I'm awake. The position is right up my alley as it involves external stakeholder relationship management, event planning, business development for smaller accounts, and some media and community relations. It's fantastic and I'm just so excited to enjoy my work once again.

There are other things, too. But for now, all you need to know is that just over one year following treatment, and after a pretty rough patch this past winter, things are looking up for J-Woww. And I couldn't be more grateful for all of it.

So, that's the update at T-minus 36 hours before my first sprint triathlon. More soon. For real.