Carrie Blankenship, mom Jane and daughter Katie at the Making Strides for Breast
Cancer Awareness event in downtown Everett on Oct 2, 2010.
My cancer story isn’t really mine to tell. It isn’t my maternal grandfather’s, who passed away from lymphoma when my mom was six months old. It isn’t my paternal grandfather’s, who died after a cancerous brain tumor took all of his strength. And it isn’t even my paternal grandmother’s, whom I lost to cervical cancer.
You would think with such a strong family history of all types of cancer, I’d have a lot of stories to tell, a lot of awareness to spread. You’d think I would have been involved in every cancer-related event and fund raiser out there. Truth of the matter is, my cancer story didn’t become my story until it happened to my mom. My mom.
You might have seen my mom walking along Vernon Road recently, wearing a Making Strides for Breast Cancer shirt as she prepares for her first breast cancer event since her diagnosis. She might offer you a wave and a smile, but then again she‘d probably do that anyway, breast cancer or no breast cancer. She’s just that kind of person.
May 18, 2010, the day Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, also the day my world turned permanently upside down.
Having cancer in the family is one thing; it’s like having brown eyes or a sprinkling of freckles, nothing to be really afraid of. Having your own mom diagnosed with cancer is entirely different.
Immediately every pink ribbon, every bumper sticker, every ad I heard on the radio about some event or another raising awareness about any kind of cancer, spoke to me. Everything became relevant. Everything became clear.
The following weeks became a blur of doctor’s appointments, biopsies, education and most of all, hugs, for my mom.
We put together a team of twelve in just under two weeks to walk the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K in her honor.
We called ourselves Team Jane’s Jugs and braved the Seattle rain (what’s new?) as we proudly, tearfully and emotionally put one foot in front of the other.
I marveled at all the pink, smiled at the women wearing bright SURVIVOR T-shirts, which set them apart from everyone else, and when it came time for them to parade around the International Fountain, I completely lost my mind.
Big, heavy, wet tears streamed uncontrollably from my cheeks. It was hard to breathe. I got separated from my husband by the crowd and never felt more alone and helpless in my life as I stood there and wept for my mother. My mom.
I couldn’t go home and tell her what I felt. I had to be strong for her, had to tell her only the good things about the walk. I had to make her laugh and make her feel supported, even though I felt like a damp, soggy mess of a person inside. I couldn’t let her see that.
My mom is one of the lucky ones, if there is such a thing, when it comes to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Had it not been for early detection and digital mammography, we might be singing a different tune.
She was diagnosed with a Stage 1 Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS for short). It hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes, although her surgeon removed three of them during her lumpectomy procedure (a pretty standard thing to do).
Her cancer was HRT positive, meaning that it was hormonally reactive, or fed. She was an excellent candidate for taking the estrogen blocking medication post surgery in order to stop the growth of any undetected, microscopic cancer cells that might still be present.
Mom went through radiation (which was still pretty draining) and didn’t have to have chemotherapy like so many others do. She hardly took a day off during her treatment, although I kept willing her to lie in bed and accept my offers to watch chick flicks together and paint her toenails. She was a fighter the entire time.
The outlook is very positive for my mom. Early detection was the key to her survival. Having knowledgeable doctors and nurses was crucial in learning all she could about breast cancer.
I know she’s going to be okay, but there is no adequate way of stating that this experience has changed all of our lives forever, especially hers. After all, this is her story, not mine.
If ever I needed a reason to Relay, this is it. She is the reason I am alive. She is the reason I breathe. She is the reason I fight. She is the reason I celebrate. She is the reason I Relay.
Our community is holding its first annual Relay for Life this spring.
Before my mom’s diagnosis, I admit—I had never even paid much attention to Relay. I had heard of other communities doing it here and there, a college friend participated and I donated to his fund raising efforts but I really had no clue what it was all about.
“Oh, another cancer fund raiser,” I thought as I filled out my donor information, hit submit then wished my friend well on his journey to a cancer free life. End of story, or so I thought. Not quite…
When I participated in my first Relay this past summer in Marysville (North County Relay for Life), I was overwhelmed with the hope springing forth from the athletic field lined with tiny paper luminaria celebrating, grieving or fighting for someone who had cancer.
I saw several of our own community members there, participating, walking, and believing in themselves and this cause enough to take time out of their lives to take part in this event. I knew I’d be a part of Relay for Life forever, I had no choice.
She is the reason I Relay. What is yours?
Carrie Blankenship has lived in Lake Stevens since 1977. Her mother, Jane Molenkamp, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May, 2010, and recently finished the radiation phase of her treatment this September. Please join Carrie, Jane and the rest of the Relay for Life, Lake Stevens Team in celebrating our first ever Relay, May 14th – 15th, 2011, at Lake Stevens High School. Please visit our website www.relayforlife.org/lakestevenswa to register or join a team. You can also email questions, comments or offer to volunteer at email@example.com.