Lindsay Ruland: A Very Happy New Year

Today the C4YW Blog welcomes back, Lindsay Ruland, for the second installment of her monthly series! Check back often to read more into her journey. Here, Lindsay shares with us her feelings about living with breast cancer and celebrating the New Year. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

2012 was supposed to be my year. I had put my life on hold for years, previously, to focus on establishing my career and completing my bachelor’s degree. I never really felt as though I was able to enjoy my youth due to the numerous “adult” commitments to which I had already devoted my time. While everyone was out dancing or partying or going on fabulous vacations around the world, I was working two jobs, going to night school, and doing my best to hold down a mortgage. This year, I was looking forward to my college graduation as well as a promotion in the laboratory that would allow me more flexibility financially and personally. In April, however, my life hit a standstill, once again, when I was diagnosed with stage III invasive ductal carcinoma at the age of 26.

While my best friend was travelling to Germany, a dream we had weaved together for years, I was going through chemotherapy. While everyone I knew from high school was getting married or having babies, I was questioning whether or not anyone would ever love me enough after a mastectomy to marry me, and if I would even be capable of having a baby after chemo had potentially robbed me of my fertility. There would be no fabulous vacations abroad, new cars, wedding bells, or baby bottles for me this year.

While others seemed to be living fully, I felt isolated, alone, and trapped, sinking deeper and deeper into the throes of cancer treatment. I was angry – this was supposed to be my year, after all! Why did I have to endure yet another roadblock before I could be free to fully live my life? I found myself incredibly bitter and envious of others who were so careless and reckless with their lives, and didn’t appreciate their bodies or treat them with the proper respect. After all, they didn’t have cancer. I’d walked a very narrow and cautious line my entire life to avoid things of this nature, and somehow, it had happened to me anyway. After much reflection, I found myself growing and shaping into something much more than fabulous vacations, new cars, wedding bells, and baby bottles. Life had now presented to me a much grander opportunity to live more fully than any of those things could.

Lindsay Ruland

I learned more about myself than some could possibly learn in a lifetime in a matter of months. I came to love and respect myself more than I ever had previously, to allow myself to make mistakes and to give myself a break every now and then, instead of being such an up-and-at-‘em perfectionist. I found the good in the simplest gifts that each day brought, and was grateful for every morning that I woke up, kicked my legs over the side of the bed, and planted my feet into the floor. Despite all of the difficult things I have had to endure, I have never been more grateful for or happier with my life. Each day is a gift, and even though there may have been rough patches, I am happy to be alive every day. I don’t think I would have ever said that in the past, when I was too busy getting hung up on the go-go-go and the now-now-now of average everyday life. This cancer has changed me in many ways, and for much of it, I am grateful, as odd it may sound. You grow into a fuller human being with deeper realizations about the world and about life. So, while my peers were growing their careers or their families, I was growing myself.

In a way, 2012 was my year. It was not so much about achieving milestones in life as it was about simply living. When you are face-to-face with your own mortality, something many of us may not even put much thought into as younger adults, something changes inside of you. And while I have lost my breast, my hair, and possibly my fertility, what I have gained from this experience is far greater than any of those things. I am stronger. I am unstoppable.

My radiation treatments will come to an end on December 31, 2012, which marks the end of this very grueling year and my very grueling treatment. Despite all of the chaos, I managed to graduate college with magna cum laude honors, work full time throughout the entirety of my treatment, complete a new certification, get a promotion, and show breast cancer who is really in charge of this life. The fabulous vacations and new motorcycle are on their way. Now, I’ve just got to work out the wedding bells and babies. 2013 will be my very happy new year, and my very happy new me.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND

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Mary Craige: Call it a Woman’s Intuition

This month, the C4YW Blog welcomes Mary Craige as one of our newest recurring writers. Be sure to  check back each month, as Mary has bravely decided to keep us up-to-date on her fertility planning and treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34.  Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

I always knew I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. Call it a woman’s intuition. Call it an insane hunch, but I always knew it was my fate. My mother was diagnosed at age 51 and my paternal grandmother lost her battle with the disease in her 70’s. But I never imagined I would be diagnosed with the disease at age 34, when my son was seven months old.

Unfortunately, some women hear the words, “you have breast cancer” and immediately think it’s a death sentence. When my surgeon delivered the news, my first thoughts and words were not the typical response. My reply was simply, “I can’t have breast cancer; I want to have another baby!” My surgeon, taken back by my reaction, immediately began talking about five years of Tamoxifen, chemotherapy and additional ‘options’, ignoring my response. I chalked that up to his inability to grasp where I was in life. I was a new mom with an infant at home. I had just returned to work from my maternity leave.  My son had just started sitting up. How could I have cancer?!  Driving home, I was still stuck on the notion of having another baby. This desire was a catalyst for many of the decisions I made over the next two months.

My husband and I immediately began researching our options to preserve our chances of having another baby. My medical oncologist told me that at my age and with my pathology, we needed to throw the ‘big guns’ at my cancer: six rounds of Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxin (TAC), 34 rounds of radiation and five years of Tamoxifen. Chemotherapy gave me a 50/50 chance of becoming permanently infertile. This statistic scared me. As an only child, I always dreamed of having a big family and I didn’t want cancer to put an end to that dream. We decided to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist prior to beginning treatment to determine what our options were for fertility preservation.

My medical oncologist and reproductive endocrinology became a team and worked to determine a plan that would not jeopardize my health or treatment plan. We talked through options and decided to try and create as many embryos as possible, in only one cycle. We were very lucky; our medical team created multiple, viable embryos through one cycle of IVF. This limited my exposure to additional hormones and allowed me to start chemotherapy on schedule.

Two days after the egg retrieval procedure, I had my port placement surgery.  Three days after surgery, I had my first chemotherapy infusion. Life was moving too fast for me to fully appreciate the risks and dangers associated with a future pregnancy. At that point, my focus was on beating cancer and moving on with my life.

Almost three years later, I am ready to revisit my options for carrying another pregnancy. This decision is scary, exciting and risky. My cancer was estrogen receptor positive, had a high Nottingham score and a high Ki67 score. Layman’s speak for this pathology:  my cancer grew quickly and was trying to move beyond the breast. So while my desire for another child is still strong, my fear or recurrence and metastasis are always there, influencing my decisions.

For many, January is the month for ringing in the new and getting rid of the old. For me, it’s the month for my annual mammogram, blood work and breast MRI. But this time, I will also have a consultation with my reproductive endocrinologist to determine my fertility status and what my options are for another pregnancy. The anticipation of the annual scans and tests are always accompanied by a great deal of anxiety and stress. This year, I am strangely calm and at ease with this obligation. My anxiety now is due to what lies ahead, and what may or may not be possible.

Mary Craige

Mary Craige is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010 when her son was seven months old, Mary found blogging to be an outlet for her feelings about treatment, fertility challenges and survivorship. Since finishing treatment in 2010, she rode in two 200 mile Tour de Pink West Coast rides. The Tour de Pink helped her take her body back after treatment and proved that she could thrive after cancer. Mary currently works as a Content Marketing Manager for a large data company. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Mary, and head over to the C4YW site to check out the wonderful programming for this year’s event, as well as the great deals we’ve put together for airfare and hotel prices.

The Real Housewives of Chemotherapy

First introduced to us through the New York Times Health/Science: Well Blog in an article titled, “Life, Interrupted: Real Housewives of Chemotherapy,” today the C4YW blogisphere wants to share this awesome video! These Two young women diagnosed with cancer (Leukemia and Lymphoma) discuss the importance of camaraderie and friendship while in treatment. They smile, laugh and talk candidly together. They let us know what a blessing it was to have found each other. They share what it means to have someone their own age along for the ride.

Meet the “Real Housewives of Chemotherapy.”

If you’re looking to meet hundreds of strong, amazing, young women who want to laugh, chat and relate to you, be sure to register for C4YW now!