Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Honoree Rachel

20 years and 9 months ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I was 24 years old. I spent most of 1989 undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment saved my life, and changed my life forever. Although Hodgkin's Lymphoma has fairly good survival statistics, as far as cancers go, the treatment 20 years ago was not without some nasty side-effects. I've lived to experience many of them, and am encouraged and extremely grateful to all of you participating in TNT! You are raising money to help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society support research that will find less toxic treatments and eventually find cures for blood cancers!

While I spent 6 months undergoing chemotherapy, and 1 month of daily radiation treatments, I didn't have a crystal ball to see my future - I only knew that I had to get through the day, get through the week and get through the treatment plan. Although I experienced the typical nausea, fatigue, hair loss from chemo, and "sunburn", metal-taste-mouth, and even pneumonia from the radiation, I didn't pay much attention to what these might do to me further down the road. I just continued going to my job every day, spending time with my friends and family, and trying to keep life as "normal" as possible while going through treatment. I put my blinders on and trudged through the yucky stuff. Cancer taught me that each day was a gift and time was precious!

Not long after my treatment was finished, my thyroid stopped working. My neck and chest had received a high dose of radiation, and the radiation had this side-effect, which was really no big deal because I could take medicine for it. 5 years after treatment, I had gotten married and wanted to start a family, and discovered that I could not get pregnant. Chemotherapy had knocked out my ovaries and put me into menopause before I was 30. (Eventually, I adopted my two beautiful daughters, so this turned out to be a blessing! ) 10 years after treatment I discovered white patches taking over my skin pigment. Turned out to be vitiligo, an auto-immune disease which I later learned was likely a long-term side-effect from radiation. Not life-threatening, but it sure does make for some interesting body art. 15 years after treatment, I developed a heart arrhythmia and some problems with a scary rapid heart rate, which also turned out to be a long-term side-effect from radiation. Medication and careful monitoring currently have this under control. 17 years after treatment, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, another long-term side effect from radiation. Fortunately, a mammogram caught it very early. The standard treatment for early stage breast cancer is a lumpectomy (where they remove the localized cancer and area around it) and radiation (to get any stray cells in the area). But, I was a special case! Since radiation had most likely caused my breast cancer, I couldn't (and didn't want to!) have any more. Instead I opted for a double mastectomy, even though the cancer showed up on only one breast. The other breast had been exposed too, and I didn't want to take any chances with cancer in the future. I also chose to have a relatively new type of breast reconstruction surgery, where tissue was transplanted from my legs to create new breasts. I was very determined to heal from the surgery so that I could ride my bike again.

20 years after treatment, I joined Team In Training and rode 100 miles around Lake Tahoe in America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride! I consider myself lucky to have had 20 amazing years post treatment! When I joined TNT, I wanted to challenge myself physically in a positive way and support the LLS in finding a cure for blood cancers.

Through my own cancer journey, I've made many friends who are in treatment or survivors of blood cancers. Most of us have benefited from support services and information provided by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Some have benefited from clinical trials that were funded by the LLS! But on June 7th this year, I dedicated my 100-mile ride to the family of my friend Vicki, who was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia at age 32 while she was 36 weeks pregnant. She went through heavy-duty chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant, while caring for her 5-year-old son and a new baby. Tragically, she lost her battle with cancer in March. Words can't describe the grief her friends and family are left with. But no doubt I felt her spirit the entire ride around Lake Tahoe, gently pushing me up the biggest hills!

So as you all train for your century ride, and raise money to help wipe out blood cancers, I just want to say THANK YOU! You are doing something AMAZING! When the training gets challenging, and you're huffing and puffing up those hills, know that you have my deepest gratitude and a big push in spirit up the hills!

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