Live Like There’s No Tomorrow

23 05 2011

I often act like there’s no tomorrow. And rightfully so, I suppose, since I have a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis.

But I’ve learned a lot in the four months since my diagnosis.

For one, I’m still here. And I’m doing well. Very well.

For another, I need to behave like that which I expect to become: A long-term Stage 4 breast cancer survivor

Of course, it’s terrifying. Of course anyone in my shoes would have the right to feel like “this is it” – and then act accordingly. That’s why, for example, I insisted on two Easter Egg hunts this year, instead of just one. Why I’m thrilled that it’s almost summer – and I’m still here.

There’s nothing wrong with living life to its fullest and seizing the day…unless you’re pushing yourself to the point where you’re going backwards – and enjoyment has turned into obsession. Obsessed with squeezing every moment out of life… just in case. I was teetering on that edge.

This is an excerpt from my blog for The Pink Fund for this week. To read the post in its entirety, go to The Pink Fund.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson


Lighting the Pathway of Hope

23 05 2011

The luminary created in my honor by Lori McGuire for the Relay for Life, Garden City. Photo courtesy of Mollie Finch.

Saturday was a busy day. Not only was there the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in the early morning hours, but the Relay for Life was going on in various locations Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

My loving friends found a way to make sure I was able to be in two places — Garden City and Farmington (my hometown) — at once over the weekend. Heck, if I could figure out how they did it, I could patent the process!

Luminaries in my honor shone brightly at both Relays for Life going on in those cities. In Garden City, Mollie Finch — Team Captain of Amy’s Walking Angels — her Mom, Lori McGuire, immediate and extended family participated for the second year in a row.

“It is a very emotional event,” Mollie said. “All the cancer survivors lead and everyone walks a special lap around the track in memory of those who have lost their battle to cancer and in honor of those who have won the battle. I am so honored to be a part of such a wonderful cause and will do it for many years to come.” (To catch a glimpse of the event, click on the Garden City link above.)

Next year, I hope to join Mollie and her crew on that lap, as a survivor in remission.

Team Amy’s Monica Lesnau not only completed the entire 5k at the Race for the Cure with her family, but then was off and running to the Relay for Life.

“I’ve been involved in the Relay for Life for a number of years,” Monica says. “We started one in Walled Lake years ago, while I was on the Council. It’s grown. We Lesnaus were in Farmington this year, participating with the kids’ school. There were 31 teams, raising more than 53,000 dollars.

“To honor you, a luminaria must be imbued with all the lively colors of the rainbow. It was a intended as a celebration – a celebration of friends and family, wellness and hope, talent and tree frogs. Very happy. Very Amy!

“Small luminaria. Big impact! It took its job very seriously, inviting passersby to visit http://www.itsinthe – for that seems like the best way to honor you.”

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

Race for the Cure 2011

21 05 2011

Amy's Walking Angels 2011. Photo by Emily P. Sybert.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.

A couple dozen of us made our way through the crowd of thousands as Pink Fund Founder Molly MacDonald shot the pistol to start the 5k Run. Teams walking the 5k or the One Mile fell in step behind the runners.

For once, I took my sister Julie’s advice. I turned around at the One Mile Marker. I suppose a mile isn’t too shabby for a girl who had chemo twice this week and two Neupogen shots to boot. “Do the One Mile and you’ll still get the whole experience,” she told me last night after I got home from chemo.

I wasn’t convinced at first. I wanted to do the whole 5k. I’ve always done the whole 5k, even in 2006, after I had undergone a double mastectomy and Round 1 of chemo.

But when I hit the One Mile Marker, I knew. To keep going, well, that would have been foolish. There will be other years. My body needs all of the reserves it can muster.

Julie was right. I got to do the important part — be there in front of Comerica Park, surrounded by thousands of people on a mission to End It — alongside my friends and family. Shades of pink stretched as far as the eye could see under the bright blue canopy of a brilliant Spring morning.

As we made our way back to the parking deck, I heard a group rapping on one of the many stages. “Survivors. You are Survivors. Survivors. Never forget. You are Survivors.”

I let those words and that beat stay with me the rest of the day.

Special thanks to Team Captain Mollie Finch — who has organized Amy’s Walking Angels since my first diagnosis in 2006.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

Fox 2 News: Success!

20 05 2011

Left to right: Rania from the Cancer Care Associates staff, me and Amy Lange from Fox 2 News. Photo by Don Neilson.

All went well with the Fox 2 news taping today. Reporter Amy Lange and cameraman Larry stopped first at Theo’s school to get some playground footage and some shots of Theo with his Mommy, then continued on to my chemotherapy appointment at the Royal Oak Beaumont Cancer Center.

Amy Lange interviewed Don and I at the hospital, and also was able to speak to my oncologist, Dr. Dana Zakalik — who is not only a marvelous doctor, but a woman on a mission to lick this disease. Her knowledge, insights, tireless work and drive to leave no stone unturned in the search for a cure for breast cancer are enough reason to tune in to this segment.

Fox 2 was also able to get some shots of me at my appointment. Amy and Larry were amazing — top-notch professionals.

The piece should air sometime next week. As soon as I know a date and time, I’ll pass it on to you.

In the meantime, I’m praying it will reach exactly the people who most need to hear it. All in God’s time and according to His plan.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

The Day I Wasn’t Supposed to Live to See

20 05 2011

Theo at his Kindergarten Graduation. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

On March 3, 2006, I underwent a lumpectomy to remove what my then-surgeon thought for sure was breast cancer. About that, he was right.

What he wasn’t right about was his dire prediction of my staging — or my future.

During that surgery, he sent a piece of the tumor to pathology. Based on those preliminary results — which were back by the time I was coming out of anesthesia, he told me my cancer was already likely a Stage 3 and a very aggressive cell type.

Later that day, he gave me this chilling prediction: “You won’t live to see Theo’s first day of Kindergarten.”

He was wrong.

Not only did I see Theo off to his first day of Kindergarten last fall, but I had the privilege of watching him sing his heart out at his school’s Spring Concert last night — and receive his diploma, handsomely clad in cap and gown.

I plan to be there at his next graduation ceremony, years from now, right next to the stage, snapping photos and cheering Theo on. Just like I was last night.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

What Do Miracle Cancer Survivors Have In Common?

19 05 2011

Image courtesy of The Pink Fund.

Since my Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis in January, lots of people have asked me if I know my odds of survival. Most don’t come right out and ask me directly, but come at it in a roundabout way. I know that most people who do ask me this question have likely already seen the statistics and know that they are grim.

Back in 2006, when I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, I knew my odds of long-term survival were 98 or 99 percent. Those are the kinds of odds that a cancer patient should be aware of, should focus on, as they serve to buoy the spirit when the going gets tough during treatment.

Then there are the odds at the other end of the spectrum — like those for Stage 4 breast cancer patients like myself. In the first two or three months after my January 2011 diagnosis, I purposely did not look at survival statistics. Instead, I asked my close friends and family to act as “filters.” If they found promising treatment information or any articles that offered hope, they were to send it on to me. But the dire statistics — I didn’t need to see them. What could possibly be gained?

Am I in a state of denial? Nope. I wouldn’t call it that at all. Rather, I’m on a mission that I’ll call “re-lial” — relying on myself and any positive sources and role models I can cull to show me how to increase my odds of long-term survival. To show me what I can do and what I can be. Here’s my theory — If I can be one of the 2-5 percent of women who can get breast cancer after her breasts have been removed, then I can also be among those who survive it.

As I’ve said before, I believe beating cancer requires a multi-faceted approach: diet, exercise, spiritual life, medicine, support from loving friends and family, positive attitude. So, when I came across this post this morning — written by a Stage 4 breast cancer survivor — that pulls together all of these ideas so beautifully and poignantly, I felt compelled to pass it on.

Check out this post by Pink Fund Blogger and Stage IV Cancer SurThrivor Tami Boehmer. It is a must-read and great advice for all of us. Trust me.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

Just Confirmed: Fox 2 News Will Film on Friday

18 05 2011

Courtesy of Fox 2 News Detroit.

Just spoke with Reporter Amy Lange and confirmed that Fox 2 News Detroit will be filming a piece on me and my family this Friday. Amy and a camera person will be following Don and I to my chemotherapy appointment Friday afternoon. This will be a piece that will not only promote breast cancer awareness overall, but will focus on the possibilty of a diagnosis post double-mastectomy — a possibility too many women are unaware of, as I was before my Stage 4 diagnosis in January.

Too many women mistakenly believe they are “home free” once they’ve gone through a double-mastectomy — and the number of women who are undergoing this procedure has skyrocketed in recent years with the growing availability and popularity of genetic testing. I believe that allowing the media to interview and film my family and tell our story can and will save lives. And that’s always, always the goal.

Though I’ve known this piece was coming, I didn’t know until tonight when it would be filmed. I don’t yet know when it will be aired, but as soon as I have a date and a time, I’ll post it on my blog. For those of you outside of the Fox 2 News Detroit viewing area, I will post a link to the piece on the Fox 2 News website if it’s available.

I’m grateful to Amy Lange and her team at Fox 2 News Detroit for their interest in this story and in educating their viewers.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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