Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Noreen: A Fighter!!

One recent weekday evening our 6 ½ year old son Ben was in his usual rambunctious mode right before bedtime. Ben said, “Mommy, c’mon let’s wrestle!” Never without a quick-witted response, Noreen immediately informed Ben, “Mommy’s a lover not a fighter.” Without hesitation Ben then replied, “But mom you ARE a fighter, you fight cancer every day!”
This is the story of this week’s inspiration, my wife Noreen. In April 2006, our lives were turned upside down with her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis at age 35. With no family history and no apparent risk factors, the diagnosis was truly a lightning strike. However, from Day One Noreen has exemplified a true fighter attitude. Always staying positive, willing to take the most aggressive treatment options presented to her and always keeping her wonderful sense of humor throughout it all. After many rounds of chemo, mastectomy, radiation, surgeries and more chemo over the next couple of years, we thought she had beaten the disease until a small nodule in her lung was detected in 2008 and determined to be metastatic breast cancer. We then decided to engage a new team at Northwestern to help us determine the best course of action and treatment. They recommended a new combination of chemo drugs which proved successful and after an additional several months of chemo, Noreen went into remission for nearly two years.
Then, lightning struck again with a diagnosis last year of metastatic breast cancer that had reappeared in her lungs, as well has her spine and thyroid. Even though the newly detected nodules were small, it was still disheartening to learn of yet a third diagnosis. So the fight continues and Noreen is back into battle enduring weekly rounds of chemo and the gut-wrenching anxiety over periodic scans and subsequent results. Fortunately, we are blessed to have an incredible network of friends in the community that help us in so many ways as well as loving and caring family support. In Ben’s words, Noreen continues to fight cancer every day and we all remain hopeful she will overcome this disease yet again.
We look forward to participating in this year’s FAB 5K and applaud the efforts of all the organizers, contributors and participants. We will also dedicate the race to two very special fighters. My mother Joan who was diagnosed the same year as Noreen and endured a lumpectomy and many radiation treatments and is thankfully doing very well now. She is the primary caregiver of my father who has battled Parkinson’s disease for over two decades. Also, our dear friend Sarah, a FAB 5K Inspiration who lost her battle in December but deeply touched us with her incredible grace and dignity throughout her fight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spreading the Optimism

Who is your hero? When asked this question, I’m willing to bet that everyone can think of at least one person whom they can call a hero. Maybe your hero is someone you look up to, or someone who is courageous, someone who you go to for advice, or guidance, or someone who is an inspiration to you. Sandy Parr is who I go to for all of the above: courage, advice, guidance, and most of all, an inspiration as she fought and overcame her struggle with breast cancer. For all of this, Sandy (or Mom to me) is my hero.

After her annual mammogram check-up in October 2009, doctors reported an abnormally large lump in her left breast. However even so, the doctors reassured Mom it was “probably fine” due to the preexisting, benign lumps already in her breasts. The saying “Mom knows best” proved to be true when she did not take “probably fine” for a final answer. After weeks of back and forths with doctors and the insurance companies, Mom was finally, officially diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer- the most aggressive of the forms. It was disbelief after disbelief as Mom calmly announced that she would need to remove her left breast and undergo eight rounds of chemotherapy.

However hard the news was, throughout every stage of her battle with cancer, Mom showed her strength, determination, and her inner fighter. She wasted no time as she became proactive about how to overcome cancer in any way that she could. She began reading anything and everything, and implemented the best changes she could in her diet and lifestyle. Now, over a year later from her diagnosis, Mom has finished her treatments and has recovered fully. At times it is scary to me of the cancer’s potential to come back, but this never even seems to be a thought with Mom who maintains her optimism about conquering it.

For now, it is all we can do to keep spreading the optimism in every way we can so that more people will be able to fight and overcome as Mom did. Sandy was an active walker in last year’s F.A.B. 5 K and both her and I are eagerly awaiting June when we can unite with fellow friends, neighbors, and community to remind us of who our real heroes are in the face of cancer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Her Smile

After 20 years together, we knew each other so well that sometimes one shared smile could contain a whole conversation. But last December, breast cancer took Sarah where I couldn't follow. How do I face a loss so deep? Honestly, my heart aches to see her smile again, and to be able to smile back. but the memory of those shared moments is also a blessing - it's how we faced fear and uncertainty together throughout the course of Sarah's battle with cancer. Sarah was faced with the same choice every day: focus on the past and what you've lost, or focus on living today and hoping for the future. I'm still amazed by her courage to keep looking forward. Even last December when our eyes were often blurry with tears, Sarah refused to give in to fear. Each smile from her felt so precious, like a gift. Now it's my turn to give back and honor the memory of her courage. Despite all the fear and grief surrounding breast cancer, we can focus on taking action today and hoping for the future. I hope you'll join us this year and run the F.A.B. 5k on Sarah's birthday. Together, we can make a difference! Each fund raising event gets us a little closer to that future when breast cancer can't take away our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters anymore.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Julie is Good To Go! An Inspiration!

Survivor: one who copes well with difficulties in their lives; one who survives an event after others have died. These definitions describe my sister Julie today. Almost 3 years ago Julie was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Shocked is an understatement for what rippled through our family. After dealing for so many years with my oldest sister, Charmaine’s cancer, we found ourselves once again starting a new battle with the “beast.”

Julie had always been “the caregiver” for Charmaine. They were closer than two sisters, they were best friends. Julie went with Charmaine to the doctor took notes and listened when maybe Charmaine would not. As the dynamic duo they were, Charmaine & Julie endured their chemotherapy & radiation together. They were their own support group, their own angels. Through her own battles she continued to be an advocate for my sister Charmaine.

March 8th of last year, Charmaine’s battle ended but Julie’s forged on. She began her reconstructive process and last FAB 5k found her recovering from the final stages of reconstructive surgery. My sister Julie is stronger than she knows and a force to be reckoned with and she has proven to be the “Superhero” we all knew she could be. I am inspired by Julie’s strength, tenacity and unwavering loyalty. My sister has taken her experience with breast cancer and gained a new sense of self. She is challenging herself in small and big ways. Julie, her three boys and her husband will join us on race day to Fight Against Breast cancer (F.A.B.) As Charmaine always said, Julie is getting ready to be GOOD TO GO! Are you?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The true meaning of generosity.....

We are awe struck from the amount of generosity we have received throughout this F.A.B. 5K experience. I always knew people were generous, just not to this extent. These people are not just our wonderful friends and families, but strangers as well. This race holds a special place in all of our hearts in so many ways it's hard to put into words. My Mom would have been amazed by what this race has been able to accomplish and the support it has received. She was the most generous person I know; her generosity was about giving her time and herself. She would have helped anyone who needed it, even if it was a stranger. I think generosity comes is so many forms, it's monumental, it's time selflessness, and much more. Not only has my Mom taught me this, but all of the people who helped us through this race, YOU have reminded us of the meaning of generosity. Thank you so much for a great life lesson that we will always treasure!