My friend Erin has been on my mind a lot lately.
Hearing the news that Giuliana Rancic has Breast Cancer stirred up a reaction that I had felt before when I heard a similar diagnosis from Erin:
shock, disbelief, anger, sadness.
Wednesday night, I couldn't get Erin out of my thoughts and started an email to see how treatments were going.
I never got to finish that email.
Thursday morning I found out that she had lost her battle with Breast Cancer.
She was 34. fiercely strong, upbeat, and hopeful.
We find ourselves in the midst of October, Breast Cancer awareness month
I can't help but think that Erin was determined to leave us all with one final lesson.
Erin wrote this in September 2009 for I'm Still Beautiful, here is her story in her own words.
On Tuesday, November 11, 2008, I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” This is after I had been to different doctors countless times always being dismissed. I was 31 years old and always very healthy. I had low cholesterol! I had never smoked a cigarette! I exercised five days a week! My doctor once said he had never seen better blood work on a human being. My blood work still has no tumor markers for breast cancer. The doctors played the odds game on me and lost.
And with that, my story begins the second week of June 2008. Like many women before me, I found a small lump in my breast. I had my annual exam scheduled and of course, told my obgyn. “Perfectly normal, women who are right handed have lumpier breasts on their right sides,” she said. I had no idea doctors’ didn’t know what cancer feels like. I was really naive. I went away feeling relieved and proceeded to go on a much needed vacation. While on vacation I began suffering from severe stomach discomfort. After a horrible week in the hospital I was diagnosed with a pancreatic lymphangioma. I had a very rare grapefruit sized benign tumor strategically placed between my pancreas and my small intestine. Of course it wasn’t cancer. People in my family don’t get cancer. We are immune. Only, I did have cancer and no one could tell. Months of healing passed and I still was feeling strange. I visited my family doctor and told her about my symptoms and the lump in my right breast, which was still prominent. She too, told me not to worry and that I was feeling ill because of my major abdominal surgery.
At this point the story takes another turn. I decided to go back to my obgyn to again show her the lump in my right breast. It had gotten worse and was painful to the touch. As I left she said the words, “Don’t worry, I still don’t think it is cancer.”
Two years earlier I was a girl who had just gone through a painful divorce. After that time the only thing on my mind was to become a mother. Before this mammogram I was the happiest I had ever been in my life. I met the love of my life Adam, and felt, finally things were looking up. In October 2008 we decided to try to get pregnant. I thought it would take a long time! Since I was going in for a mammogram, just in case, I should take a pregnancy test. Four tests later, they were all positive.
How do I get a mammogram if I am pregnant? I called radiology and asked that question. They told me to re-schedule. I didn’t. I insisted on at least getting an ultra-sound to rule out any malignancies. After the ultra-sound I was sitting in a waiting room in a pink paper half shirt barely covering my breasts, with women double my age. The nurse announces my name asking if I would see the doctor. At this point, the doctor proceeds to tell me that he doesn’t care if I could be pregnant. “Sign here and here and we are not responsible for what happens,” he said. What a lonely time. I assumed that medical professionals who work as cancer detectors are prepared to inform someone they may have cancer. What a wrong assumption! I didn’t get that courtesy. I had to assume the worst, based on how they were acting. I had to assume the worst alone. After the mammogram, I went back to the waiting room. A half an hour later the nurse came in and told me to leave and follow up with my doctor. This was a Friday afternoon. They wanted me to wait the entire weekend? I had just seen many women come in, get dressed looking relieved. They got their results. At this office they apparently only give good news.
On Monday morning, without an appointment Adam and I drove to the doctor’s office and waited for the door to open at 8am. We were asked to return at 9am and once we arrived back through the doors we were quickly escorted to the doctor’s private office. My mammogram was suspicious of a malignancy and a biopsy was scheduled for the next day. The waiting game continued. On Wednesday I had an appointment with a surgeon to discuss my biopsy results. Wednesday came in a blur and Adam and I soon found ourselves waiting in the examination room at the surgeon’s office. We waited in the room for one hour. This is a room with no windows and one door, waiting for what seemed like an eternity. It was the longest hour of my life. When the surgeon finally appeared, he was shocked that I had not already heard my results. He too, didn’t want to say the words, “You have cancer.” Believe me, I guessed, it was still a shock but not a surprise. At that point, I wanted to know the truth and a plan. Since I was pregnant it definitely made treatment much more difficult. The first step was to try and stage my cancer. Since my tumor was 2cm, the doctors’ seemed confident that I might be able to continue with my pregnancy. An appointment was made to visit an oncologist a high risk pregnancy doctor and scans were scheduled to verify that the cancer had not spread.
The meeting with the high risk pregnancy doctor was scheduled before the results of my scans had been given to my oncologist. The meeting went very well and I was optimistic that we could do it. That was until she opened my file that was shared between hospitals. “Brain fine, CAT scan clear, wait, there is something in the spine”, she said. I heard I had stage 4 cancer from a high risk pregnancy doctor. Everything we had just discussed, all of my hopes and dreams, went out the window with one look at the computer screen. Immediate chemotherapy was required. We directly met with the oncologist and tried to wrap our heads around what the next few months would entail. Keeping the pregnancy would risk my life severely and because I was pregnant I could not harvest eggs to create an embryo. The high dose chemo would certainly put me in early menopause and could damage the remaining eggs. It was the worst case fertility nightmare. All of this happened in the span of five hours. The oncologist thought it would be wise if I spoke to a counselor.
When the counselor came in the room and started asking me questions. She was shocked that I wasn’t hysterical. She said if I didn’t have a severe breakdown in a week, she would be worried. It was at that moment I decided to get on a plane and go to a different hospital. I don’t need emotional breakdowns to be ok. I wasn’t going to be ok with or without a breakdown and I definitely didn’t need a random person who had never been given a diagnosis telling me how I should act and feel. Luckily, because of that move I was able to have a new procedure where they freeze your ovarian tissue with the hopes of putting it back at a time when you are off chemo treatments. This procedure gave me hope at a time when hope was pretty much non-existent.
My day to day life focuses on healing. What can I do to give myself the best change of getting well? Luckily, I am not working. Once a week on Friday Adam and I travel an hour for my chemo treatments, during the week I juice, and do yoga everyday.
I am so lucky to have a wonderful man to stand by my side as I go through the hardest time of my life. I am so thankful, especially after hearing stores of so many survivors who have their lives, but lost their loves during their struggle. We march on!
Fast forward to August 2009! I just have received my first set of good scans. My journey is far from over. But along with my daily cancer fight I am going to Italy and planning a wedding in Spain. I am still living my wonderful life everyday and I am definitely still beautiful!
Erin's beautiful spirit was captured on the TLC show "Say Yes to the Dress",
as she prepared for her May wedding in Gandia, Spain
You will be missed dearly, sweet friend.