As we wind down the hours of 2012 and look forward to the year ahead, I'm happy to share with you one of the highlights of my year as the founder of Pink Initiative, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to raising funds and awareness for breast cancer among wedding professionals. It's always a thrill to share where the board of directors has chosen to gift the monies we have raised as a group, be it for an action day, an organization or in the case this year, an individual.
More than a decade ago I had the pleasure of meeting and working with one of the most spirited, talented, loving reporters at USA Today, sweet Olivia. Tho my stint at that paper was short-lived, we have maintained a close friendship over the years and she has been instrumental in Pink Initiative's success as an advisor and inspiration given her recent battle with breast cancer.
During one of our visits last year when the prognosis for Olivia's cancer was not looking so good we talked about immediate goals, her darling little family, and how to maximize our time on this good Earth. Going to Disney World was something she dreamed of, yet wasn't sure how to make it happen. Having just returned from bringing my own family there, I completely understood her perspective as a mom and wanted to help.
After a slower year for Pink Initiative donations than usual, it was a no-brainer for me and the board to decide to gift the emilie inc. photography donation money (we donate a portion of each one of the wedding day creative fees we collect to this important cause- THANK YOU for your support!) to Olivia and her family, surprising them with a trip to meet Mickey in the spring of 2013. It makes my heart so happy to have the chance to do this for someone so special in my lifetime and I'm so glad for you to learn a little about Olivia's journey below.
Love you, Olivia! Keep fighting!!
On Dec. 29, 2010, I was mugged at the bus stop in my sleepy Pennsylvania town. I thought it was worst day of my life. And then January came.
On Jan. 22, 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 3b/c (nobody really knew for sure which) triple negative, BRCA 1-positive breast cancer. I had nearly two dozen positive lymph nodes, a 14-month-old son and a terrified husband.
So began my journey into cancerland: preoperative chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, radiation. My son, Henry, turned two days after I finished my last round of radiation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But my cancer was so severe, so aggressive that I bristled when anyone suggested I was “cured.” I knew better.
To wit: March came. And my cancer came back, into my left supraclavicular node and several masses in my left chest. I was now considered metastatic – stage 4. I returned to chemo, combining the traditional taxol treatment with an oral drug typically used for leukemia patients, and waited. After some months of stability, the cancer progressed into a mass under my left armpit.
I took the radical step of changing my medical team. My new doctor at Dana-Farber in Boston immediately put me on a trial involving an oral chemo so experimental it had only letters and numbers for a name. It had showed promise in women with triple-negative cancers. It didn’t work for me: My cancer progressed to the point where in early August I was found to have a blood clot on the left side of my neck.
I was put on an anticoagulant, and my doctor switched my course of care again, this time putting an old-school chemo – cisplatin – to novel use. Cisplatin has seldom been used to treat breast cancer, but recent evidence has shown its efficacy in helping women with BRCA 1-positive cancers. Nearly two years into my cancer journey, we had found something promising.
Today, my cancer has shrunk, but it has certainly not gone away and it likely never will. I will always live with it, but, despite losing my hair twice (one perk of cisplatin: you get to keep your hair) and changing my body shape forever, it will never define me. I remain a mom, a wife and a journalist – who happens to travel to Boston every three weeks for a few hours of very important medicine.
I feel strong. I am doing well for now, but I know the future will always be uncertain. That is why more than ever I’ve been living in the moment, enjoying my job, my friends and, most of all, my family. And that is why I am so grateful for this Disney World adventure. For me, there is no greater gift than bringing joy to my Mickey-obsessed son and a sense of normalcy to our little trio.
I wish you could see me smiling now. Thank you.
(picture courtesy of Olivia)