Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Epic Love Story

One morning of Spring 2012, I got a phone call from my mother on the way into work. She had talked to my brother and he had some news. He had finally met "the one" and was going to get engaged and start working on a family ASAP. My mother was calling me to break the news before I spoke with my brother so that I might not be a giant jerk to him and to try to be a supportive sibling. I had a history in the past of scaring the crap out of my brother's girlfriends (trust me, they earned it).

June came and my brother got engaged. I was so happy for him and plans were made for his fiance to come meet the family. Around this time is when I found my lump. I had a trip to a good friend's wedding and their visit coming, so I put off having it checked (as well documented on this sight, it worked out).  By the time my brother and his fiance showed up in July I was anxious to meet her. After meeting her, we knew he had found the missing piece to our family. She understood him fully, called him out on the same things we did as a family and had a wicked sense of humor. To top it off, she was a sports fan. Although her taste in football teams leaves much to be desired, we were willing to over look it as she makes a great addition to our family.

Then came August 8, 2012 and my brother and his fiance despite living far away were part of my key support system. And while I was undergoing all of my own treatment, little did our family know what they two of them were going through. The focus was on me. In the Spring of 2012 my brother's fiance started doing hormonal treatments to see if they could help increase her fertility. She was already 40 by this time and with a history of endometriosis. By the time I finished treatment in February 2013 the multiple rounds of hormonal therapies hadn't worked. Then came directed sperm and other unglamorous procedures.  All were unsuccessful and the emotional toll was piling up for both my brother and his fiance. Their desire to have a child was palpable.

Then there was the pressure. My parents have always said "If it happens, we'd love to be grandparents, but if not we're ok.". We've always known that they were liars. I've had chemo. I take tamoxifen everyday. I get vaccinations that are teratogenic. This all boils down to one undeniable truth: I can't have children. Knowing this, the perceived family pressure seems to mount.

More treatments, injections and ungodly medications for my brother's fiance through Spring and Summer 2013. After  the decision was made to do IVF, fertilize the egg outside the body and then do implantation. After months of more hormones and injections, all through the fall, led up to very dramatic weeks in December. The egg harvest. They start with the retrieval; 18 eggs. Then comes the watching. There were multiple text messages sent to my mother and I to update on how the eggs were doing. Genetic testing was done. Then came the most glorious early Christmas present for everyone. There was one egg. One. One basket. One egg. It was good enough for all of us.

February 2014 and after a lot more hormones, blood work and tests came implantation. On a Wednesday. Then came very frequent blood tests. I have never watched  HcG levels so closely. Then came the confirmation and the overjoyed phone call from my brother. It worked! I found out that every Wednesday as they clicked off more weeks on the pregnancy my brother would drink a beer and share it with the dog. It seemed to be a good luck charm and his fiance's pregnancy kept progressing. We got a great text one day "It's a girl!". We were overjoyed as baby girls, if born early, do much better than their male counterparts. We got to see my brother and his fiance in May and witness the baby bump. His fiance had to continue with hormonal injections and suppositories, but everything looked great. Then came 28 weeks and a little celebration of viability (for those with advanced maternal age). By this point Auntie had blown her budget. There were onsies, strollers and and a stuffed octopus that keep socks that needed to be sent.

Then my brother's fiance had a vertigo attack and fell. She injured her back and didn't like how the pain medication decreased fetal movement. So she didn't take the meds and accepted being on bed rest. And by "accepted" I mean agreed to work from home and would run conference calls, return more e-mails a day than I get in a year. But, baby was fine and the end was getting near. The baby was breech and the c section was scheduled.

Cut to this week. Somehow, we finally got here. My brother was totally out of his mind waiting for the arrival of his daughter. He forgot which day I was flying in (we remedied it and he got me from the airport). He text me the wrong address. He just couldn't wait to meet her. His fiance was hanging in there. The amount of discomfort she was feeling was unfathomable. She would turn bright red and change position, but nary a complaint just encouragement for the little one to arrive. The amount of physical and mental toughness that she demonstrated through out the two year trial for a baby is admirable. If I ever own a football team I am drafting her to play. I threatened to posey (think a seatbelt that keeps you in bed) my brother's fiance when I got to spend two days with her before the delivery as she wasn't doing a very good job resting.  I didn't do the best job of distracting her, but thankfully a Law and Order SVU marathon helped 5 hours go by.

Then came Wednesday, October 22nd at 12:54 pm. The greatest day in O'Brien history. Baby Addison arrived. The joy is immeasurable. I will forever be grateful to my brother and his fiance for letting me be there the day she was born. They worked and wanted so hard to have this child and to be able to be there to see all the tests and treatments turn into her was beyond amazing. They haven't invented the word yet to represent that feeling.

 This tiny little human being is the manifestation of love, joy, strength, and perseverance.

To paraphrase Sally Brown (from Peanuts) Isn't she the cutest thing? She is so tiny and snuggly and she melts your heart the second she looks at you with her big blue eyes. You know your a lost cause when she she squirms why you hold her to work that arm out. I'm a goner. I cried all the way through take off on my flight home. I've never been more grateful to have an entire row of an airplane to myself.

Congratulations to my brother and his fiance. She will never doubt that she is loved.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Here's to Another Year.

Happy 33 years to me.

Appreciating having another year to fully live my life. I've been celebrating for a little over a week. The ladies at work made a couple of days of delicious baked goods, I had brunch with good friends and my parents have taken me out for a lobster dinner. And I also took the time off from work.  This meant that I could sleep for 10 hours last night, get up and run 7 miles and then have pie for breakfast. A la mode of course. While out for my run I was laughing to myself as I now go for 7 miles. I used to only run 7 miles in a whole week. But, my legs feel better with long slow stuff. And for a little birthday magic I completed the 7 miles for the first time under an hour. It was great weather and many of the leaves have changed to bright colors. It was a great run and I appreciated being able to continue to do it.

I'm on vacation for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks. Never in my life have taken this much time off all together, but there are people to be seen, places to visit and new family members to meet. My boss had encouraged me to take three weeks off. I explained to her that recurrence of breast cancer happens in a higher rate in the first two years, as a young cancer survivor I'm at higher risk of developing a secondary cancer and that I keep those thoughts in a lock box, but always feel that I need to keep ~2 weeks of earned time in my bank just in case. It's the reality of my world.

But, today is not for opening the lock box; it is for eating treats and returning text messages, phone calls, cards and emails wishing me a happy day. And maybe a little boogeying in the kitchen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Boston

My Mother and I were invited to join team Mary Sue's Spirit in memory of my mother's cousin who passed away after a brief but ferocious battle with breast cancer.  We decided to participate in this year's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Boston, and boy and am I glad we did. The event was amazing, and they really celebrate survivors.

Mom and I arrived before some of the people we were walking with to check out the event and I had noted online they have a survivor tent. Well, as I registered as a survivor you check in with the tent. They give you a sash to wear at the walk that says "Survivor" on it and they ask you "how long" I said 1.5 years (the math was easier) and they give you a sticker to wear with your sash. There was a gentleman in front of me who noted that he was a 8 year survivor. He was also rocking a pink mowhawk wig. It was great. In the survivor tent they also have stickers and gifts for the caregivers. After putting the sash on, the volunteer asked me if my mom was my caregiver. "That's my mom. Absolutely she is my caregiver.". Mom happily wore her caregiver sticker all day.

Here we are after we got our swag taking a photo. They had signs you could use. I was very partial to this one:
 We met up with our group and picked up our tshirts. We were walking with a friend whose mother is a 12 year breast cancer survivor and she had many stickers for those who she knew who lost their battle. Everywhere were peoples names for those who were fighting, surviving and those who lost their battle. Early in the event mom and I came across a group of young people who all had matching shirts for Team Irene. Then we looked at the dates on the shirts. She was 20 when she lost her battle in May. 20 years old. Motivation to walk was everywhere.

The back of the team Mary Sue's Spirit shirts read "With Brave Wings She Flies"
Walking around with a survivor sash was amazing. One fellow survivor we found was just yelling "12 years" everytime someone pointed her out as a survivor. 12 years. Sounds good. At one point mom and I fell into walking pace with another survivor. She has been cancer free for 7 years and today was her birthday. She carried a cowbell with her. She said she felt compelled to continue to do the walk every year because when she was in treatment so many people walked for her and that she feels there are so many people for her to continue to walk for. She also pointed out what many others did today. "You are so young." My only response is "Yes I am". We also talked about surviving for more birthdays and compared notes about MRI dye vs CT scans. New friend in 30 seconds or less and already bonding over follow up scans. Love it.

It was perfect weather. Blue sky, zero clouds and in the 50's. I convinced (or shamed) my mother into walking the 5.7 mile route. It was too much fun to be surrounded by so much pink, hope and celebration.

On our walk home I kept my sash on, I earned it. When we were crossing the street a woman in her car stopped at the light gave me a big thumbs up. Another person on the sidewalk read the sash and gave a great big smile. The best though, while waiting at another cross walk a woman who had a green light started beeping her horn to get our attention and was fist pumping to celebrate. I think I shall wear my sash at all times.

A celebration of breast cancer survivors while raising money for research, treatment and support. How could it not be great? It was fantastic to see so many survivors out there. They are all superheros.

And if you haven't seen this video Truly Brave for the tiny superheros, totally worth the watch.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Another Boobtober

I walked into the office yesterday and welcomed everyone to boobtober. Pink is everywhere and the newspaper is running articles on awareness and kick ass survivors.

Today I celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness month with a follow up appointment with my radiation oncologist. I started with a nurse I had not met before. She was great. We chatted about lymphadema when she asked which arm I needed to have my blood pressure checked in. She wanted to make sure that I knew that it meant no blood draws, no flu shots, no IV's, no blood pressure checks in my right arm for, well, forever. She also made sure to remind me that if I ever needed to be hospitalized I would need a sign on my bed. I assured her that I have been hospitalized (a little over a year ago) and they made sure to hang the sign for me.  She also cracked a couple of jokes and we talked about how important a sense of humor was. She told me how she would go with her to her friends infusions and they would just giggle and the appointments always lasted half the time than when her stern husband went with her friend.

Then she handed me my johnie. And guess what? It wasn't pink or long! They got new johnies and for us breast cancer folk they are short (only go to the waist) and they were a nice teal color. I cannot tell you how being in a pink johnie gives me a little shot of anxiety and these new johnies made me skip right out of my appointment. It's a little item, but this update made me feel like I was really putting some distance between me and cancer.

My appointment with my Radiation Oncologist was great. She said to her everything looks great. She loves how I am wearing my hair and she will follow up with me in a YEAR. No longer every six months. She also looked at me and said "I can't believe it's been 1 year and 7 months since you finished. Amazing". You're telling me doc.