When I put the word out to our Little Black Book vendors that we would be doing a week of breast cancer awareness posts, I immediately started receiving little notes from vendors filled with stories as to how breast cancer has touched their lives. But it was this next story that really blew me away.
Kristen, of the FABULOUS Greenbean Designs, was forced to face the big "C" at an age where most of us are just learning who we are as women. And to be honest, she has come out of the ordeal with so much more grace and beauty than I think I ever could. There really are no words of introduction, I am just going to let Kristen tell her story...
It was a Friday night in November of 2005; my husband, Michael, and I were at home watching a movie (Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx...I won't soon forget that movie). And, in classic form, I was multi-tasking away... watching the movie and wrapping a birthday gift for a very dear friend of mine (so pleased that I found the most perfect gift weeks ahead instead of the night before). I had a little itch under my arm. Honestly... it was a little itch. Not supposed to be a significant itch… but this little itch scared me silly. I instinctually raised my arm to relieve this little nuisance and go back to wrapping the gift when I felt something. Not a “lump” (as if I knew what a "lump" truly felt like), rather my entire underarm and breast felt dense, almost rock-like. I never noticed this before. How long had this been here? Immediately, my mind raced to negative-town. I had just turned 30 years old. NOT POSSIBLE!!! I tried to convince, control and calm myself and mentally dismissed it as a fluke thing.
But, each day...my concern grew, as did the itchiness, radiating heat and rash. So, I made an OB/GYN appointment. That's where it all REALLY began, just after the holidays...
January 9th, 2006 I found myself sitting in my breast surgeon's office waiting for the news. Good or bad? "Oh God, please let it be good. Let it be an infection or a cyst. Amoxicillin will fix everything, right?" I repeated this over and over in my head believing that the news would be fine. However, my heart knew it was something else... Starting with a whirlwind doctor office tour just days before... first at the gynecologist office leading to a same-day office visit with a radiologist for a mammogram; which, by the way, the mammogram yielded no result because mammograms are less effective for women under 40 years of age, to a sonogram (showing a large mass in my right breast) to a biopsy with the breast surgeon... And, here I was! I waited out what felt like a very long weekend and at the same time, a weekend I never wanted to end, in fear of bad news at the end of it. But, here it was, the day of the results... anxiously wringing my hands, holding on to the arms of the office chair (sure that I have left some fingerprints ingrained in the wood). All I was hoping to hear were the words "It's nothing". After all, there was no family history.
The results came back. It was Stage 3 breast cancer. Her2 triple negative. The rest of the news sounded like that of the Peanuts cartoon teacher lecturing her students. I heard nothing except my own repetitive thought.... "Am I going to die? What now? Am I going to lose my hair? What about work? Am I going to die? How are we going to tell family? Am I going to die? God, is anyone else sweating in here? I think I am either going to pass out. Maybe if I pinch myself, I will wake up from this nightmare." I pinched, and blinked and refocused and there was the surgeon continuing to speak in what I thought was tongues to my husband who listened intently but with despondency in his eyes. Our lives had forever changed after those words... "It's cancer"
I had my first surgery (and first one ever in my life) to have a port put in and off I went… I began chemotherapy immediately to stop and reverse the growth of the tumor. For 5 months (every 3 weeks to be exact) I sat in a chair in a room that had a longer waiting line than the deli counter on a Saturday morning. Except, rather than everyone in a hurry to accomplish their Saturday shopping, this group (aged from teen to twilight) was ready to settle in for 3-5 hours of what we called "cocktails". Only this hangover made the morning after a few glasses of wine feel like a walk in the park.
I found so much strength in these other patients. Each surviving and, most importantly, LIVING through this disease. Some newly diagnosed, some “LIVING” with the disease after 10 years. Who would have thought you could laugh so hard in the face of cancer? The oncology doctors, nurses, and volunteers (who by the way passed out sinfully delicious cookies on an almost 5 minute rotation schedule) made the hours spent there like a group, comedy therapy session!
So, of course my hair fell, but on the upside, I saved a fortune in hair care products, not to mention lots of time in styling each morning. My chemo completed, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy, radiation and finally, multiple reconstruction surgeries. It has been almost 3 years (this January) and 3 major surgeries (not to mention countless little surgeries).
Like so many women that have lived through this disease or have been great heroes and lost their lives in the battle, we must find a cure. I believe it is so important to educate all young women to do self-exams. Cancer has no boundaries, but early detection is critical. Please, please visit your doctor.
My greatest life lessons: Always listen to what your own body & mind are telling you. Do what you love and LIVE everyday. Tell that special someone that you love him or her as often as possible. Hold the door for the person behind you (you never know what their personal struggles may be, it may just make their day) and take that puppy for a long walk, don’t put it off till tomorrow!
I will always hope and pray that the cancer does not return, but in the meantime, I have a lot of living to do! And many beautiful wedding invitations to design!
And in the spirit of positivity and paying it forward, I am designing a new edition to the Greenbean Design that will truly inspire and hearten our always fashionable and socially responsible brides-to-be! The new website is coming soon and it will be worth the wait!
Thank you so much, to Kristen, for all of her loveliness. You are an inspiration to us in so many way...you've reminded us to love with every inch of our hearts, to let our creativity thrive and most importantly...to take care of the one body that we have no matter how busy our lives may be.
And, if you haven't visited Greenbean Designs...you are in for SUCH a treat!