Let Perseverance Be Your Engine And Hope Your Fuel

Let Perseverance Be Your Engine And Hope Your Fuel

Posted by Hallie S. on Oct 2nd 2018

B.A.A. 10K June 2018

Give 'em hell, turn their heads

Hello gorgeous October! It wasn’t until I moved out to New England that I really understood how incredibly breathtaking the fall could be and October is really the shining star. Not only the beauty of the leaves but throw in the cooler temps at night and dry warm-ish days, the smell of everything pumpkin, apples and sweaters and tall boots (my Rob’s personal favorite)! Fall really puts us on sensory awareness and this girl, she loves it!

October is also significant of something else. It is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Stores are filled with varying degrees of pink attire from ribbons to football socks to gloves and scarves and more. Fun runs, fundraisers, annual events and more come together and sport their pink in order to increase awareness for the disease and to raise funds to further research the cause, prevention, treatment and cure for breast cancer.

Gonna live life til we're dead

So in honor of October and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am thinking pink. I reached out over social media to ask if there was anyone that would like to share their story and was touched by the response. And this story - let’s just say it is one that every woman needs to hear. Was a story that I needed to hear. And it’s my hope, and I believe hers too, that after reading this - one woman’s life will be impacted, that one woman that is going through the ‘process’ will feel not so alone. And it’s my hope, and I know hers as well, that this will heal her a little bit, take some of the burden of what she’s been carrying off of her shoulders by sharing it with all of us. Here’s Meghan’s story.

How It Started

Meghan is a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mom, an active participant in her life just like many of us. 43 years old, two children, an avid runner, physical education teacher and spin instructor. No history of breast cancer in her family. She had gone in for a routine mammogram in July 2013 and they saw some calcifications in her breast tissue and biopsied the area. All came back clear, and for three years, she went in for a mammogram every six months to make sure that nothing was brewing and was finally given the okay in July of 2016 to stretch out her next appointment to July of 2017.

In January of 2017, while doing a routine self breast exam, Meghan found a lump. Mind you, this was six months after having a mammogram and having been given a clean bill of health. Meghan waited it out for a month, not wanting to jump the gun as sometimes given cycles and what not, breast tissue can change. A month later, the lump was still there. She went in for a mammogram in the middle of February of 2017, quickly followed by an ultrasound and biopsy. The tumor that she found through a self-exam proved to be of the highest grade tumor possible and that the cancer was already starting to move and spread within the breast. She was officially diagnosed on March 7, 2017 and in Dana Farber on March 17, 2017. The doctor told her to go home and tell her daughter that Meghan just saved her own life.

Give me scars, give me pain

Once diagnosed, they completed a series of genetic testing for 27 different types of cancer. They found she did NOT have a mutation on the BRCA gene. Most inherited breast cancer is associated with some sort of mutation on the BRCA1 and/or the BRCA2 gene. That was the good news. However, she did have mutation of BRIP1 gene. Meaning she was at an increased risk for ovarian cancer. And there is nothing good about that news.

Because the cancer was centric to just one breast, Meghan made the decision to have a unilateral mastectomy. What this means is she only had the affected breast removed, not both. I asked her why not both and she said that she just wanted the cancer out. She trusted her doctors. She just wanted to get back to living her life and there was a longer recovery with removing both. As a person whom is what I would consider highly active and the manager of my family, I can understand wanting to get back to life as I know it, get back to just being ‘me’. Understand that that is so much of how Meghan identifies herself, a vital part of whom she is. Losing that, putting it on hold so to speak - well it was not life changing for her. It was life altering.

Survival Mode

Meghan underwent the surgery for the unilateral mastectomy on April 26, 2017. All the breast tissue and three lymph nodes were removed. On April 29, 2017, Meghan was feeling a burn across her body. They blasted her with steroids to stop the reaction but it continued to spread up her body and towards her throat, causing an anaphylactic reaction. They didn’t know what she was having an allergic reaction to and the doctors had to try to rule everything out. Because until they figured out what EXACTLY she was allergic to, she wouldn’t be able to have any more procedures or surgeries as they said the next reaction would be so much worse.

2 weeks after surgery, with two drains in her body and in a room full of seven strangers, Meghan had to stand there with nothing on her body but her skin as they began testing her with over 170 different specimens both related and non-related to the surgery. Doctors writing all over her skin, standing there for hours, covering each specimen with tape. And as it turned out, not only was she allergic to the tape that they used to cover the specimens, she was allergic to almost EVERYTHING used for the surgery. They called it the “perfect storm” for the reaction.

There was no cancer in the lymph nodes they removed which was great news. The doctors were split on her having chemotherapy. They decided not to go with the chemo. Chemo attacks the lymph nodes to not only prevent the cancer from spreading but also decreases the chance for the cancer recurring. Her oncologist felt with all the data, they couldn’t get that percentage down enough to justify chemo.

Reconstructing Life

Breast reconstruction is a very personal decision. And Meghan made the decision to get that part of her back. Doctors removed all the breast tissue, leaving the pectoral muscle and put an expander in the breast cavity. The expander is then filled with fluid every two weeks. In November 2017, they removed the expander and inserted the actual implant. What this means is she can’t do anything that engages the pec muscle as it increases the risk of damaging the implant. There is no breast tissue protecting the implant. For a woman that defined much of her life with high impact activity, again - this was not life changing but life altering. Meghan told me everything became pieces of a jigsaw puzzle all scattered everywhere - all she wanted was to find a piece of herself and hold onto it as tightly as she could.

Then just say to me, say to me, say to me

Meghan said she crashed in October of 2017. Months of going through the motions, dialing in to survival mode, a daughter moving to college, back to teaching and spin classes. Life was A LOT. She was still struggling to find that piece of herself and the complications continued. As her activity level began to increase, fluid began to increase in her back because of scar tissue and the lymph nodes being removed. She goes regularly to the lymphedema specialist to have the fluid moved and to try to teach the fluid to find a different pathway. Mind you the fluid is like toxins and makes her feel like junk, nauseous, just all around lousy. But it’s a necessary evil that yet again she endures. Atlas.

Meghan’s Village

It was clear to me that Meghan’s village has been a driving force, pushing her to persevere through the nightmare that she now calls ‘normal’. Meghan told me she has an amazing group of friends. She will never in her life have enough ‘thank you’s’ for the support, the tears, the dark days they shared with her.

She is the youngest of four children and when you go through a cancer journey, it is not personal to just you - the tentacles reach out to family as well, have a significant impact on that family unit.  Her entire family has served as a support system like no other - from the dreadful phone calls telling them of her diagnosis, going with her to Boston, the constant checking-in, the endless 'being there' when she needed them.  At Thanksgiving in 2017 she was just coming off a second surgery and was not sure she was going to be able to be at dinner with her family. She was greeted by her dad and, as with most daddy’s, they both cried as she was in her dad’s arms. Her brother gave a toast and honored her perseverance over the past six months and spoke of the gratitude they had as a family for Meghan being there and being able to share the holiday with them.

There goes a fighter

About four weeks after her surgery, Worcester Fitness and the community had a benefit for Meghan and another woman. So many people came out to show their support and the generosity was unprecedented. So Meghan decided she wants to give back. Three months after her surgery, Meghan went to both gyms that she was an instructor at and spoke with the owners about the possibility of doing a fundraiser to raise money for Breast Cancer research at Dana Farber. She was passionate about giving back as so many had given to her. “80’s or Bust” and “Knockout 90” were developed and both will be held again this October of 2018.

There goes a fighter

And her children. Without question, her children are her entire world and what made her fight. The days that she wanted to stay in the dark, she pushed through for her children. Her daughter, whom was a senior in high school when Meghan was diagnosed, cried with Meghan, laid in bed with Meghan. As a mother all you want is to teach your children strength and compassion, to be there for others. To have that strength and compassion returned to you from your child on your darkest days, you are not only proud but so very grateful. This past summer of 2018, for the first time since she was diagnosed, Meghan went 2 weeks with no doctors, no appointments, no hospitals and was able to enjoy a part of the summer on the Cape with her family. And those two weeks were vital to her continued recovery.

Here comes a fighter

Lessons Learned

Meghan said one of the hardest things for her is not looking back. Here is a woman whom did everything right, healthy, active, regular check-ups. Two weeks before her diagnosis she signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon. Two weeks after her diagnosis, the envelope came in the mail. She didn’t open it. To this day, she hasn’t opened it.

She said getting back to running has been the most challenging piece of her puzzle to get back. She ran the B.A.A. 5K in April of 2018 and it was her slowest time ever. She was devastated by her results. She had to readjust her mental and emotional training from training to compete to training just to ‘do’, to recapture whatever small part of that part of herself that she can. Train to be an athlete and not a competitor. And for a true competitor, that is a dramatic shift in mindset.  Meghan then tackled the BAA 10k in June. All she wanted to do was finish and not stop. And that’s what she did. A little grit. A little perseverance.  And the smile above on her face says it all.

Meghan talked at length about her community and how her last spin class before her surgery, the room was decorated in pink, they brought pink champagne, breast cancer cookies, was incredible. She didn’t know when she would be back and Meghan told me she played her emotions through her songs and cried. She was so afraid she would lose all of that, that definitive piece of her life. But her community, they were waiting for her when she got back. And yes, they will be there for "80's or Bust" at the end of the month.

That's what they'll say to me

And she has learned a lesson in gratitude. So much happened 18 months ago but for Meghan, it feels like yesterday. You go about your life, living, doing your thing to now questioning everything. Not only is Meghan grateful for being a strong and independent woman, she has gratitude for her ability to persevere, to choose to get up and fight each day. For her family. For her children. For other women. For herself.

A New Normal

Meghan’s journey is far from over. She has two more surgeries coming in November. One is the last phase of the reconstruction and the second surgery they will be removing her ovaries. Her tumor was fed on estrogen and the medicine she’s been on, tamoxifen, is an estrogen blocker. And it’s brutal. And was the cause of why her body changed so much. She’s been on tamoxifen for a year and they needed to evaluate her on the meds before they could remove her ovaries. Once they remove her ovaries in November, her body is going to change yet again. They will keep her on tamoxifen for 6 more months and then switch her to another med. Yet she has no opportunity to fear the unknown because she has to be present in the here and now.

Meghan said when she was diagnosed, she didn’t ask “why me”. She believes that everything happens for a reason and that He is pushing her for some reason. She wishes she knew what that reason was at times - maybe so that she will believe in her own strength. Maybe so that she can help someone else find theirs. I tend to think it’s a little bit of both.

Say to me

When I tell you this was not an easy story for her to share, you could hear it in her voice as she talked. The raw emotion brought me to tears and I sit here crying as I write. But it is her hope, her prayers that maybe one person will read this and not feel so alone. Maybe one woman will take the time to do a self-exam. And if you can’t check for yourself - check for your niece, your cousin, aunt, grandmother, friend, mother. For your daughter. We are only given one life.

Author’s Note

Being asked to tell someone’s story is truly an honor. We often go through our days, our life, living in a vacuum because life is all encompassing. We have annoyances, challenges, little hiccups in our day that irritate us to no end. The car that cut us off, the milk spilled on the floor, the appointment running late. Stories like Meghan’s - it serves as a precious reminder of what a ‘challenge’ in life really is.

It’s funny how life let’s you know who is in charge. I had already decided to take part in “80 or Bust” a couple of weeks ago - knowing NONE of the history behind it. I just thought what a great cause! This blog wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen. Meghan isn’t on social media, I’ve never met Meghan, probably crossed paths in the gym but could I pick her out of a group of people - nope. But we connected through a mutual amazing woman and friend and I am so grateful that Meghan was so brave to openly and honestly share her journey with me, and in turn, share it with all of you.

Say to me

A common thread with Meghan was not feeling sorry for what she’s been through and the challenges that lie ahead. What I heard from her was how can I make a difference, how can I give back, how can I impact one woman, one daughter, one mother, one athlete? Isn’t it our responsibility to live each day as if it were a gift? Learn from this. Take care of your health. Be better, live kinder and when life hands you lemons, pull out the Titos and soda and make yourself a drink. And above all else - persevere. Let perseverance be your engine and hope be your fuel. Each and every day. Because you only get one go on this merry-go-round called life. So make it count.

And to Meghan…thank you.

This one's a fighter