my mother is my hero

Each year, months are designated to support different types of cancer to raise awareness and funding for research.

My two favorites are September and October.

September focuses on Childhood Cancers, some of the most underfunded cancers that need more attention and financial support. October focuses on Breast Cancer awareness, which receives a ton of attention and millions and billions of dollars in funding. It hasn’t always been that way and I’m hoping that with the increased attention that Childhood Cancer has been getting in recent years that one day we can say that Childhood Cancer and Breast Cancer BOTH receive millions and billions of dollars in funding each year.

Until then I’ll keep promoting both.

It’s Personal.

What I CAN say is that Breast Cancer is a personal issue for me…really for my mother.

I will never forget getting the phone call from my dad to tell me that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn’t something readily discussed 17 years ago so it was not only a shock to my emotions but also to my brain. What was this? What caused this? What will this mean for my mom? For my parents? Will she live? How are the different stages defined? What kind of breast cancer is this? What will my mom go through? What will my dad go through? Will my sister and I get this too? There’s how many types of breast cancer??

A lot to digest. A lot to understand. But I wasn’t the one that went through this. My mother was. She was the one that had to fight this disease and beat it.

When I heard.

I had just turned 20. I had just moved out and was living in my first apartment. Life was fun and carefree…life didn’t have speedbumps…but my mom’s life was getting ready to. My dad, my sister and my mom lived this every day and I have struggled with a touch of guilt for not being there for my parents and my sister every day like I would have been if I had been living at home. I know though, that there’s nothing that I could have done differently had I been living at home as well.

It was my mom’s battle to fight. Not mine. Not my dad’s. Not my sister’s. And I know we would have each taken it on so that she wouldn’t have to fight it, but we couldn’t. We could be there for her to make her laugh or show her that we needed her to hang around a lot longer or to show her that life keeps moving and she had to be the referee for the rest of her life, between my sister and I (politics + family + different views = mom’s refereeing). We couldn’t take the pain away and as much as we wanted to help, we didn’t have a clue what she was going through.

The fact that my mom can’t eat red jello to this day just shows how powerful a memory can be. The red in the chemo pumped into her each month took away something as small, yet as normal as being able to eat what she wanted, when she wanted. And it’s not that she loved red jello…or red koolaid…or red anything…it’s just that this disease that she didn’t invite into her body by recklessly smoking or drinking or anything else, caused her to reject even simple things, red things, reminders of the taste that the chemo leaves in your mouth or the weakness that it causes.

She was robbed of the small things and the big things.

Things like feeling like a woman, a wife, a mom. Things like her hair…and in case you ever wanted to know (lol), Dennis women have fabulous hair and skin. We don’t even have to really take care of it much more than the once a day wash and rinse and it turns out fabulous…because of my mother’s (and grandmother’s) gene’s.

Yet, my mother had to face the fact that she had to shave her head. She had to lose her hair. But thankfully, her loving husband, my father, was there with her when she discovered that it was coming out, on vacation, and he shaved it for her so that she could wear some amazing wigs that she searched for, researched about, paid top dollar for, and had cut similar to her hair style.

One of my favorite memories of my mom at that time, is that one day she informed us that she had been told that many times when hair grows back after falling out from chemo, it will come back in completely different than before.

And so the prophecy was fulfilled. Her hair came back in kinky curly…the same hair that she had wanted my sister and I to have for our entire childhood (and the perms that just went bad…really bad), she received. I was kind of excited that what she had always wanted for us, she received (and not for payback, I promise :)).

And as always, she made the best of every situation…she was super excited about the curly hair and she swore that she was going to go ‘au naturale’ and not ever dye her hair again.

Six weeks later (and she’ll probably tell me I’m wrong on the length of time), she died her hair back to her ‘natural color’ (aka – the color she really liked at the time). And it was fabulous because I saw a spark in her again because she, then, really felt like she was ‘herself’ again.

Fast forward six months…just six months…and she found out that she had another form of cancer that had been caused by the follow up drugs used to help keep her breast cancer at bay. How hypocritical is that?? We’ll treat your chemo and keep it away by giving you drugs that may cause more cancer in a different part of your body??

So more surgery but luckily no more chemo.

Then regular visits to her doctors to see if everything was gone. Every six months, she kept her Dr. appointments and would sit with baited breath to make sure that the cancer was still absent from her body.

And it stayed like that for a long time!!

Strength.

Fast forward years, and years, and breast cancer walks, and more breast cancer walks and fundraisers, and then more years…and then they found more in the other breast.

This is strength. She defined strength in this moment.

She barely told a soul. She accepted it quickly and quietly and made decisions swiftly and with a confidence that I hadn’t seen the first time. She went in, had the other breast removed; had reconstruction done; recovered; worked through her recovery; held my daughter through her recovery…and showed me what strength is. Showed her granddaughter what strength is. Showed everyone how tough and amazing she really is.

Doing what you need to do, to get things done that you want to get done, for the people that you live for…that’s strength…that’s my mom…a Breast Cancer fighter and survivor.

She gives me strength like no other woman ever could. I hope to set the same kind of example for my daughter one day (except I’ll pray to skip the cancer part :)).

Love you Mom!

Donate to something today…My favorites are:

Chicago Marathon Fundraiser for Camp Sunshine – Rachel N. Jones

Camp Sunshine – Benefitting Family with children with life threatening diseases

Breast Cancer Fundraising – Susan G. Komen

Please note that this post and most of the posts on my website/blog may contain affiliate links. Should you decide to click on one of these ads and purchase something through this link, I will get a commission from it (the pricing is no different for you than going directly to their website)(I do not get commissions from sites where you donate money or things). Not all items recommended on this site are affiliate links. I only recommend items that I feel are amazing because I’ve used and tried them. Thank you for your trust and viewership!
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childhood cancer: what $5 can do

I’ve written this blog post a couple of times, each from different perspectives, but after this weekend, I have a whole new clarity about it. This past weekend, I faced something that I never had before…the potential to be swallowed alive by a massive hurricane all with the responsibility of having three children under my care, on my own, without a partner, without a husband.

It was really intimidating, but I’m so thankful for my family. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. We all stayed together and rode out the storm at their house and ate waaayyy too much, enjoyed a few games, laughed a lot and stressed some too. Hurricane Irma left all of Florida guessing what would happen and what strength it would bring. In the end, we’re all good. My home has power and little damage and my family’s home has little damage and never lost power.

Through all of it though, I had moments when I would have flashes to, what would I do if: “there was a tornado”, “there was flooding”, or “I had to protect the kids against …….”. It’s a little panicky to think that you have three kids lives in your hands and the choices that you, alone, make, may really affect their lives tremendously.

BUT…

This is nothing compared to what some parents have to deal with. Some parents are sitting by bedsides praying for one more year, one more month, one more day to hold their child. The pain that a parent feels when they are told that their child has cancer has got to be the most excruciating pain that anyone could go through. Forget my divorce…I would give that any day to make sure that my children will be healthy for the rest of their lives.

With that said, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. In case you were unaware here are a few facts about what families and loved ones are facing every day:

* Childhood cancer occurs regularly, randomly, and spares no ethnic group, socioeconomic class, or geographic region. ~Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/childhood

* Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the U.S. ~Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/childhood

* One in 285 children, in the U.S., will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are 20 years old. ~Source: Cancer Facts & Figures 2014, American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/cancerfactsfigures2014/

2015-childhod-cancer-facts-infographic

There are so many other facts, but the biggest is that this is an underfunded issue. Our future, our children, are being underfunded more than many other cancers out there. It’s a hard pill to swallow but it came full circle for me this weekend because the hurricane was a bleak reminder of how quickly life can flash before your eyes.

Being prepared for something (aka the hurricane) is similar (only slightly) in fashion to the importance in helping to fund childhood cancer initiatives and cures in advance…in advance to it affecting your child, your niece, your cousin, your friend. And I’m, by no means, trying to compare hurricane preparedness to preparing for childhood cancer…I’m just relating how it hit home for me this weekend.

If more people contributed to childhood cancer causes, right now…instead of waiting until it affected them, there may be no need for a parent to worry about when the last day, last breath, last I love you, may come from their child.

That is what is scary…not losing your furnishings, not losing your car, not losing your pool…losing your legacies – your children to something that you have no control over. That’s scary. That’s real. For hundreds of thousands of families in the U.S. every year.

My oldest fell in love with the Oregon Ducks football team years ago because they had impressive uniforms. I know, it sounds silly, but when a five year old loves football and loves neon yellow, cheering for the Oregon Ducks is an easy decision. This past weekend, during Hurricane Irma, we were at least able to watch a few football games, one of which was a ‘rivalry’ in our household – Oregon (my son’s team) vs. Nebraska (my father’s team).

And Oregon won…impressively.

But that wasn’t the coolest part for me. For me, the best part was that Oregon highlighted Childhood Cancer and raising money for a cure by working with Nike and the children affected by cancer.

The highlights of the uniform were:

* The gloves have the word ‘overcome’ written on the knuckles.
* The sleeves featured a duck ‘stomping’ on the word Cancer.
* The #StompOutCancer items are for sale with all proceeds going to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

What a grand way to highlight the needs of their youngest fans!

While my best friend may not have the national exposure that the Oregon Ducks have, she has worked her tail off (pun intended) to raise money for organizations that benefit kids, and more specifically children affected by cancer. She’s simply amazing.

She’s has been personally affected by childhood cancer in so many ways. It has affected her family, it has affected loved ones, it has affected those that have become family members because of Camp Sunshine, where she volunteers every.single.year.

This woman, my bff, my Rach, my kids Auntie Rachel, is now in training for her fourth or fifth or sixth (I can’t keep up anymore) marathon…all to raise money for Camp Sunshine to help benefit children whose lives, and their families’ lives, have been affected by life-threatening diseases, including cancer. These are the people that she pounds the feet to the pavement, for.

In October of 2014, I chased this woman around Chicago, and if you know me, you know that I get lost in my own hometown (where I’ve lived for almost 30 years) let alone a big city like Chicago…so needless to say it was a ‘fun’ adventure for me.

One of my favorite presents that I’ve ever received in my life is a cuff bracelet that she gave me that had the Chicago subway system engraved on the cuff…because…I got lost sooooo much. I was her do-or-die that weekend. And that’s defined as, I needed to beat her to where ever she was going to be so that I could do anything or bandage anything or give her what she needs. And I wanted to be that girl…because she was giving up a lot to raise a lot of money for her charity. I felt like if I let her down, I was letting A LOT of people down that pledged their money to support her.

So the pressure was on.

And pressure + Staci Beth = a stressed out mess.

Leading up to the marathon, we had soo much fun. We had lunch at a restaurant that fed my bff walnuts and she’s severely allergic to nuts (which we previously told them) and we ended up in a hospital (nothing like E.R. (the show) much to my disappointment), I discovered I’m not good in emergency situations (more about that another day), we had breakfast on the other side of one of the bridges in Chicago (over the river that they turn green on St. Patty’s Day), we had A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Chicago pizza, I got to experience a ‘real runners’ expo and it made me want to lace up my sneakers, and then had a girls night at an amazing local eatery. Literally, made my whole year complete.

Then the next day, I got to watch my best friend in action.

That is after a night of pain and ice and ibuprofen or whatever she used to alleviate the daily pain she was in just from the rigorous training that she had put her body through.

There is nothing like watching one of your loved ones cross the finish line of something that they have worked their whole lives for. I was able to virtually watch her the year prior when she ran the NY Marathon (months after the Boston bombing) and I don’t think I could have been more proud of her even if she were blood related to me. That cringe on her face made me even more proud of her for pushing past her limits…something that I had yet to do myself.

And yet, I knew she didn’t do it for the beer at the end of the race, or for me to say how proud I was of her, or for the recognition of her family and friends and Camp Sunshine…she did it because she loves every little heart that has to undergo cancer treatment…that has to hear that they have a life-threatening illness.

What she physically puts her body through every year, in order to run 26.2 miles, is excruciating. But she does it every year. Because of love. Because of her family. Because of her commitment to Camp Sunshine. Because she believes there should be a cure.

Believe with her.

Donate to her run. (Click on any of these links.)

Donate to Camp Sunshine.

Donate $5, or whatever you can, to make a child’s life a little more filled with hope than the day before. They deserve to love life like we do…for the next 90 years.

This weekend, I’ve focused on my kids and they say that where your mind wanders, that’s where your heart is. This weekend, I was consumed with my kids, with keeping them safe…and thoughtfully, so many of you reached out to me to worry with me and I’m so thankful!!

Now worry, with me, about those families that have to hear that their 11 year old has brain cancer or that their two year old has leukemia. Those are the things that we should really be ‘preparing’ for and funding. And start with donating to Rachel’s run that supports Camp Sunshine and those with life-threatening diseases.

Thanks in advance!

Please note that this post and most of the posts on my website/blog may contain affiliate links. Should you decide to click on one of these ads and purchase something through this link, I will get a commission from it (the pricing is no different for you than going directly to their website)(I do not get commissions from sites where you donate money or things). Not all items recommended on this site are affiliate links. I only recommend items that I feel are amazing because I’ve used and tried them. Thank you for your trust and viewership!