Coach Heather’s Mom is One in a Million. She’s Also One in Eight.

18341774_10211397027432652_288704117220380159_n

As we approach Mother’s Day, we have a special guest post from Coach Heather, sharing her own family’s breast cancer story. This year, her mom will be celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time as a breast cancer survivor, and Coach Heather is sharing their journey together to remind us all the ways breast cancer can affect any one of us. We all think our moms are one in a million, but when they also become 1 in 8, everything changes.

 

Truly, never did I think that the 1 in 8 would be my mom. There has been zero history of breast cancer in our family. But sure enough, on the afternoon of February 18, 2019, she received the call with me by her side. I didn’t even have to ask…because I already knew. I could tell by the expression on her face. She had breast cancer.

The call came five days after her annual mammogram. In those five days she had two mammograms, an ultrasound, and a biopsy. They weren’t messing around…bam, bam, bam. This was all taking place in the hospital where she spent 37 years of her career and she had her “people” all around her.

Even after the call, we were in shock. Wait, what? Breast cancer? She had had no symptoms, no lumps, nothing that would ever concern her or lead her to believe she was at risk. She immediately started looking to blame this on something that she had done. Maybe she drank too much wine, maybe she consumed too much caffeine. She needed an explanation.

25550325_10213299846321935_5726556089702006051_n

Now, after some of the dust has settled, she is far more educated and realized that regardless of whether there were symptoms or not, she WAS at risk merely because she was aging, and because she was a woman. Sometimes, there is no explanation or logic.

The day after she heard her diagnosis, she left for a scheduled vacation. While I had the opportunity for the news to sink in and the chance to be angry, sad, and feel the roller coaster of emotions, she had to remain calm and cool because she didn’t want to put a damper on the vacation for those she was with. At least until she came home.

One week later we had a 3-hour appointment at the Cancer Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Macomb. We were so nervous, knowing that once this train left the station, it was rolling and there was no going back to life “before cancer.”

So, like we do in most situations, we walked through those doors optimistic, joking, and ready to tackle whatever came next. We met a wonderful surgeon who really laid it all out there. My mom had invasive ductile carcinoma, Stage 1, with a tumor smaller than a pea. A lumpectomy was discussed and the treatment plan that the surgeon, oncologist, and radiation oncologist laid out was far better than we originally thought.  The surgeon said “We caught this early. You are not going to die from breast cancer!”

Cue the BIG sigh of relief! But Mom still had so much ahead of her.

17992336_10211163014942486_8491549199954252411_n

The next week we walked back into Henry Ford for what Mom kept calling “three procedures.” We arrived at 8:30am for her 12:30pm lumpectomy. Prior to the actual lumpectomy, she had wires inserted to act as a roadmap for the surgeon, took a quick trip to nuclear medicine where she had dye injected into her nipple to further direct the surgeon to the location of the tumor, and then finally went into surgery. It went as well as it could go, and we were on our way back home by 3pm.  Mom felt great by 5:00pm, ready to eat Chinese food, and only needed two Aleve per day for the next few days. She was very lucky, and we knew that.

Outside of the breast cancer diagnosis, things have gone as well as they can for someone dealing with this life changing news and journey. About a week after the lumpectomy, Mom’s biopsy results came back with clean margins and no trace in the lymph nodes. Great news! Oncology testing results showed that chemo would not be necessary. So, a month of radiation and then five years of medication would be coming next.

heather

My mom is all about positivity but still knows that her life will never be the same. The days of reading breast cancer books, really “hearing” commercials related to breast cancer, checking labels for soy, and frowning on the red wine she used to love, are the new normal now. She doesn’t want to do anything to contribute to the development of another estrogen-induced tumor.

To say she is and was scared is an understatement. But much good has come of this as well. She is far more concerned about taking care of herself in regards what she consumes, her exercise regimen, and health in general from this point forward. She is also determined to share her story in hopes that her friends will understand the risks, re-evaluate their daily behavior, and (most importantly!) get their annual mammogram. As we always hear, and as Mom has learned, early detection is key.

I am part of a group of 9 women who have been friends since high school and in recent years, as we rapidly approach 50, I often wondered who would be the 1 in 8 to get breast cancer. Knowing the statistic that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, I was prepared that surely it would be at least 1 of us. I just never thought it would be my mom. But breast cancer can affect any and all of us. Now she’s not just one in a million. She’s also 1 in 8, and she is never going to quit.

A Daughter’s Love, A Doctor’s Support: Robin Elm’s 3-Day Story

Robin Eggert Elm has been walking the 3-Day since 2002, first with her mom and sister, and now with an ever-growing team. Since that time, she has lost family members, endured hardship, and found a new home in Greensboro, Georgia. She has also made a new friend in her neighbor, Dr. Radha Vemuri, an oncologist who has support her 3-Day journey and many other breast cancer charities and research projects for years. Recently, Dr. Vemuri was diagnosed with brain cancer, prompting Robin to reach out to share his story…and her own…with the 3-Day community.

She says that Dr. Vemuri, or Radha to her, has been a constant source of support for her and her family over the years.

“He’s supported me in my 3-Day walks and he’s shared his commitment with me. He was originally from Kalamazoo, which is about 40 minutes from my parents. In 2017, my mom went in for a chest x-ray as they thought she had pneumonia. Once they began talking about other cancers, I called Radha immediately.”

Robin and her mother (left)

Robin’s mother passed away from meslotheomia in July of that year, after inspiring “dozens of walkers including my sister and me, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, and friends” to join in the 3-Day with her. Robin still walks in her mother’s memory, and with the support of Dr. Vemuri. She shared the story of that journey with us…

And how has Dr. Vemuri supported you and the 3-Day’s mission?

He continually advocates and supports initiatives for breast cancer education.

He says that as a doctor, ‘It is deeply disturbing to me that, in Greene County, more than half the women in the African-American community who are diagnosed with breast cancer will die from breast cancer. The national average for breast cancer mortality is 1-in-5. Our rate is more than twice the national average. That is unacceptable. Through education, screening and getting more women into the healthcare system, we can do much better.’

Radha was also a godsend to our family throughout my mom’s cancer journey. From the early days before her diagnosis through hospice and death, he selflessly gave his time and supported our family.

Why is it so important that people continue to support the 3-Day?

Simply, because we can. I travel all over the country for business. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t have a breast cancer story. As one of my client’s told me, “I was impressed that you walk, but really didn’t understand it all until my daughter did the walk.” It’s not just writing a donation check. It’s making a commitment. It’s seeing, hearing and experiencing why we need to find a cure.

Tell us some of your fondest 3-Day memories with your family!

The memories are really those of a lifetime. It would be impossible to articulate what our support of Susan G. Komen has meant to our family. We receive so much more than we give. Our entire family, not just the walkers, share their Komen stories. My nieces couldn’t wait until they were old enough to do the walk. When my brother’s triplets were three, they had a lemonade stand “for the cure.” Then, years later when one of their hockey teammate’s mother was diagnosed, they told their story and got everyone to paint pink ribbons on their helmets. My niece started bedazzling bras for all the walkers.  Last year, all the guys also had bedazzled bras. My husband likes telling how his came in handy to hold snacks and a small water bottle. I love our family pictures after closing ceremony with a couple dozen family members in matching shirts who cheered us on.

Some other true highlights were:

  • At the 2014 Twin Cities walk, we walked for a while with a family. The grandmother, who had done many walks, was being pushed in a wheelchair by her 15-year old grandson, Austin. She had walked with her other grandchildren and wanted to live long enough to walk with him. […]  One month to the day later, I lost my own son, also named Austin.
  • In 2015 Atlanta, at lunch on Day 3, my mom started talking to a crew member who had dragonfly earrings as dragonflies are an important symbol to our family, representing the cycle of life and death. My mom told her about the loss of my son. Later at Closing Ceremonies, someone tapped my mom on the shoulder. It was the crew member and her husband. She told my mom that each year she finds ‘her person’ but “I hadn’t found my person on this walk until I met you. I want you to have my earrings.” We still have no idea how she found my mom among that massive crowd! My mom kept the earrings on her nightstand. They remained there until she died. Now, my cousin, a survivor, wears them.
  • Finally, at the San Diego 2017 Opening Ceremonies, we looked up and saw a rainbow and just knew my mom was with us.

As a long-time veteran, what are your top fundraising tips for the 3-Day?

Tell your story. I walk in honor of someone different each year and interview them for my fundraising letter. I try to find honorees who’ve been impacted differently.

One year, I walked for my mom’s friend’s daughter. She was 15 and lost her mom. She told me, “I grew up with breast cancer. I had no one to talk to. No one I knew had a mom with breast cancer.”

Another year, I walked for a local woman I never met. She had contacted a local charity for support.  When I interviewed her, she said, “I never thought this would be me. I work. When I got divorced, I was going through treatment and got dropped from my husband’s insurance. I couldn’t pay my medical expenses and my other bills. I want to fight this, so I can support others.”

In 2018, Robin walked in honor of Dr. Vemuri. She will continue to walk as long as she can, fighting for a cure.

Do you have a 3-Day story like Robin? Do you want to show support for someone who has helped you on your 3-Day journey? Share them with us here!

Honoring a Mother’s Legacy of Love: Meet Ryan D. of the Philadelphia 3-Day

ryan II

“I walk 60 miles so my wife, daughter, friends and those I don’t even know, don’t have to fear this disease. I walk so every grandchild can be spoiled by their grandmothers. I walk today so others will not have to walk tomorrow. I walk because everyone deserves a lifetime.”

Mother’s Day is a chance to honor the women who mean the most to us, whether they are able to celebrate with us or not. For Philadelphia 3-Dayer Ryan D., this means that on Sunday he will not only be celebrating his wife, the mother of his children, but also the mother he lost to breast cancer.

IMG_4519.PNG

“Mother’s Day is one of the days I do take time and specifically reflect on my mother and remember all of the great Mother’s Day we celebrated.”

He has been walking “For Mama Doc” since losing her in 2011, spreading her loving and giving spirit with every step he takes. On this holiday, and always, he wants to ensure that no one else loses a mother to breast cancer. The 3-Day, he says, is a new part of his family, and one that helps him remember his mother in the best ways.

“I really wish everyone who has been impacted by this terrible disease could experience a 3-Day at least once, and I can tell you for sure it wouldn’t be their last. It is even hard for me to verbalize what the experience is. There is just something to be said about walking when you are sore and both physically and emotionally spent, to then have a car honk their horn or have someone say, ‘Thank you for walking.’ […] The 3-Days have been some amazing moments of my life.”

ryan 6

In addition to his 3-Day family, he has been able to share his experience with his brother, who joined Ryan’s mission, and started walking in 2016. They were motivated, in part, to walk together because Philadelphia’s Closing Ceremony that year fell on what would have been their mother’s birthday. They walked all sixty miles together, and each crossed the finish line with their young daughters in their arms. Seeing the 3-Day anew from his brother’s eyes, Ryan says, brought them even closer.

“You can never truly appreciate what a 3-Day truly means until you participate in one. And I saw firsthand the awe on my brother’s face while he walked the first few miles and experienced these things that are so hard to explain.”

ryan

Other family members support them, with Ryan’s dad even walking next to him for a few miles of Ryan’s first ever walk in 2012. They also have helped Ryan raise nearly $25,000 for the 3-Day cause, a landmark he hopes to pass this year. He also looks forward to once again feeling the support of the 3-Day community this fall.

This support is one he especially appreciates given that it was so important to his own mother to support those battling breast cancer. Following her initial recovery from breast cancer in 2009, she mentored countless people suffering from cancer by offering comfort and advice. Though “through the path of recovery there is tremendous uncertainty, fear, pain and self-esteem issues,” Ryan saw his mother provide support, guidance and empathy. This is true to how she lived her whole life, and how Ryan hopes to live his to best honor her legacy.

mom

“During these last years, my Mom has missed many wonderful events, which include her youngest son’s wedding, witnessing the births of her two beautiful granddaughters and a grandson. I walk to help ensure that no other family misses these special moments with their mothers.”

Ryan walks, and will never quit, for mothers everywhere. Today, and always, hold your family close, and remember that you walk for a reason. You walk for Ryan, for “Mama Doc,” and for families all over the world. And you will never quit either, until we end breast cancer forever.

ryan III.png