Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Aunt, An Inspiration, a Heavenly Woman

When Michele and I decided to venture on this life-changing 3-day journey, one of the first people we thought about, besides mom ;) , is our sweet, loving, thoughtful Aunt Marian. Aunt Marian is our dad's sister. Growing up no one ever hid the fact that Aunt Marian or Grandma had cancer, but I never remember it being discussed either. So when we decided to take this journey, I  contacted Aunt Marian to find out "her story."

Last week when Michele and I received "My Journey with Cancer" by Aunt Marian, we had to discuss how more in awe of her we are now than we were before, and let me tell you Aunt Marian has been high on the list of heavenly women list, not to mention, my favorite place to sit growing up was on her lap. Matter of fact, the last time I saw her, I had to see if was still true since my sitter was a little - okay a lot - wider than it used to be.

In "her story," Aunt Marian explained how her gynecologist told Marian to "go home and forget about the lump in her left breast"-the doctor told her it was in her head. UGH!  Gratefully, Marian didn't dismiss it and went to see the family doctor, who was very disturbed that the gynecologist brushed her off the way he had.

On Wednesday, March 3, 1965, she went to hospital to have a biopsy, and when the report came back they were 99% sure it wasn't cancer. On Friday, they sent her home to spend the weekend with her husband and 3 sons, ages 12, 11 and 8. She wondered why are they so sweet to send me home to spend time with her family?

On Monday, back at the hospital they told her she should have a radical mastectomy. This is where my amazement of an amazing woman grows. Aunt Marian said she resigned herself to the fact, "It's all in God's Plan for me. I must submit the agony of it all for the love of my husband and 3 sons. Truthfully, I feel everyone else felt sorrier for me than I did for myself. I though of how it could have been, but I knew somebody bigger than you and I had his hand in on it and he would be with me along the way. I had a good husband and 3 precious sons and supporting relatives and friends to give me love and support. I will be forever grateful for that."

Excuse me while I get a tissue-a box that is. I warned you she is heavenly!

Aunt Marian went on to discuss how it took a lot of adjustment to see the outcome of the radical mastectomy, drain tubes, etc. She then states, "But what the heck?, I am here and hopefully, longingly, and prayerfully I would be here to raise our 3 sons."

A week went by, and Aunt Marian tried to wait patiently for the final test report results. A wonderful nurse sensed her anxiousness, and told her "there was no cancer in the lymph nodes." In Aunt Marian style, she replied "HOT DERN! and HALLELUJAH!". The doctor gave her a good report two days, and again Aunt Marian's good nature comes out when she says she realized the doctor's hesitancy even though the nurse had told her two days earlier-her doctor was thorough, kind, and loved what he did. Aunt Marian will, however, always love and  be grateful for that nurse.

Aunt Marian goes on to describe her recovery both physically and mentally. She says one of her biggest nuisances was her doctor had her sleep with her arm elevated, so she wouldn't get lymphodema. Aunt Marian creative spirit comes out when she describes how she used "a pole lamp and pinned material to each finger of a glove and secured it in that fashion." She did this for 8 weeks with multiple visits to the doctor to empty her drain. She has complete mobility of her left arm, and again in her heavenly style she states, "Thanks Be To God, for a Wonderful Loving Family and Health Team to make all this possible."

This, however, wasn't Aunt Marian only battle with cancer. In 1998, a mammogram showed calcification in the right breast, and she had two choices: 1) a simple mastectomy or 2) remove the calcification and 6 weeks of radiation. She opted for choice 2 and the only complaint was the radiation made her tired. Again in her heavenly style Aunt Marian gives to the Heavenly Father, the doctors, nurses-both male and female, and all the technicians. She states, "They have touched my life in a very unique way which will never be forgotten. Do sincerely hope I have done likewise and have been very kind appreciative."

When I got this letter, I was surprised to find out Aunt Marian was diagnosed with cancer 33 years after her first diagnoses. I guess I was busy with my own life's journey. Aunt Marian's story was a good life lesson on how not to get so involved in your own life that you don't realize what others may be going through around you. Isn't it amazing how no matter what she may have been going through she always thinks of others. She is truly an inspiration, and a heavenly woman.  I just hope that I can be as special to my nieces as my Aunt Marian is to me. I love you, Aunt Marian!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Savonda's Breast Cancer Story

Savonda is a coworker of mine at North Georgia Technical College. Savonda was an ambassador for the Atlanta Susan G. Komen 3-day for the Cure in October 2008. This is the talk she gave to the participants on one night of the 3-day journey. It speaks volumes about Savonda's incredible journey in her fight against breast cancer and also her great sense of humor.

My name is Savonda. I live in Clarkesville, Georgia and this is my second Susan G. Komen 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk. My first walk was last year. It began in the Spring of 2007 when I decided to walk in honor of my mom who was approaching her 8 year anniversary of being cancer free. What started out as a hope to play a small part in the fight against breast cancer and honor my mom took on new dimensions and became even more personal during the training period.

On July 31, 2007 I woke up and began to get ready for work. I switched on the television for the morning news and jumped in the shower, as was my morning routine. Before I left for work I sat down for breakfast and the first few minutes of Good Morning America. The next few minutes jolted me into action. Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts came on but their mood was more somber than usual. One of the things I enjoy about the show is the banter that happens between the morning team. This morning Robin had something to tell the audience. She had breast cancer. Her announcement took my breath. Robin Roberts, the picture of health, had breast cancer. And she is my age. I couldn’t wait for 9 am so I could call my gynecologist.

As I processed the announcement, I recalled that it had been 5 years since my last mammogram. I really had not meant to let it go so long but life had been busy and I had cancelled appointments and not rescheduled. When I arrived at work that morning I called my gynecologist and scheduled an appointment for August 11th. The appointment was the beginning of a whirlwind few months for me. My mammogram showed something suspicious so I was scheduled for more mammograms and an ultrasound with the Imaging Center. There was still nothing conclusive so I was referred to the Breast Care Specialist here in Atlanta. More mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs…

After the closing ceremony of last year’s 3-day Walk I remained in Atlanta with my daughter because I had an MRI biopsy scheduled on Monday. As I sat in the waiting room with Erin, my daughter, I scanned the room and saw mother’s there with their daughters, daughter’s bringing their mother’s, a sister with a sister, husbands with wives, a friend with a friend, and women alone. I was scared and trying not to be for Erin and from the look on some the faces in the waiting I was not the only one feeling anxious. We all shared the common thread of being women facing the possibility of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The ladies were young and older, quiet and bold ~ business women tapping away on Blackberries ~ moms scheduling rides to practices for their children ~ a grandmother talking about plans for Thanksgiving ~ just normal women doing life. The patients spanned socio-economic levels, ages, and stages of life but they shared the dread of the known and unknown of breast cancer.

On October 24th, one year ago yesterday, I received a call from Dr. Steinhaus with the results of my biopsy…I HAD BREAST CANCER. I was in shock but scheduled to meet Dr. Steinhaus the following week to discuss my options. I wasn’t ready for this.

By Thanksgiving, I’d had a double mastectomy, a second surgery for removing more lymph nodes, and began reconstruction. Yes Ladies, these are fake…my real ones tried to kill me. I can’t take credit for that thought…I saw it on a T-shirt. On December 14th, I began chemotherapy and completed chemo the first of this past April.

In less than two months, I went from walking 60 miles in three days to being unable to walk a mile. The toll on my body, my psyche, and my life was overwhelming. Breast cancer tested my faith, my family, my friends, and my physicians.

My mom having had breast cancer was enough to motivate me into action. And now I personally know what it can do to a life. I am inspired by the hope and vision of the Susan G. Komen foundation because in its efforts lie the hope that my daughter, my nieces, my sisters, and my friends may not have to face breast cancer or if they face it the treatments will be more effective and less destructive. I am prompted in to action by the faces in the waiting room. I am here to walk this year because I CAN walk and I want to celebrate that I don’t have breast cancer now.

I am Savonda and I walk because "everyone deserves a lifetime."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why I am walking ...

Each year nearly 200,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 40,000 will die. On October 29-31, I will be embarking on a life-changing journey with my sister, Michele Miller, to help do our part in the fight against breast cancer when we walk 60 miles over three days and camp out at night in tents for the Tampa Bay Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.

My mom, Rose, was diagnosed nearly twelve years ago. When I think back to her courageous and gratefully successful battle, I always think of a television commercial of a woman who says "I have cancer; cancer doesn't have me.” Although mom may have been hurting and scared in her fight, she never complained, even after surgery or the grueling 16 weeks of radiation that followed. I can assure you I will think of mom and her positive outlook when I want to complain when walking. I also plan on my sister giving me a piggyback ride like she did when we were younger. :)

In addition to my mom, I will be walking to honor survivors such as my Aunt Marian- a two-time survivor with 33 years between diagnoses, Ramie- two-time survivor, Savonda-coworker at NGTC and Atlanta Susan G. Komen Ambassador in 2008, Anita-dear friend and student at NGTC diagnosed in 2007, in memory of my grandmother, who lived a long life as a survivor, and sadly, in memory of Trudy-family friend’s sister, a single mom of four with two at home and a new grandmother who lost her battle January 10, 2010. I would also be privileged to walk in honor, memory, or support of someone special to you since it is truly the stories of the breast cancer fighters and the fact that "everybody deserves a lifetime” that make walking 60 miles in three days the easy part of this life-changing journey.

In order to participate, Michele and I EACH need to collect $2300 in tax-deductible donations, and collecting the donations is hard part of my journey, but with your help, I am confident that it will be a successful journey. Proceeds from the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure are invested in research and community-based breast health and education programs, which are responsible for allowing my mother to remain cancer free. Donations can be made online by visiting my personal 3-day page at or my sister Michele's at, by calling 800-996-3DAY, or by mail using a donation form that can be printed from my personal 3-day page or requesting by email.

Thank you for supporting me because without your generosity none of this would be possible. Please feel free to pass along this information.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Let the journey begin

I originally started this blog as a requirement for a class, and then when I made the decision to participate in the Tampa Bay Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk on October 29-31, I thought why not use my blog to update my progress and explain my reasons for walking. So let the journey begin....