Sunday, April 11, 2010

Living Proof

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and KFC.


Debbie looked away as the nurse pressed gently just above her collarbone. She was nervous, and it unnerved me to see my mother-in-law—a middle school teacher used to handling stressful situations—looking so ill at ease. I had witnessed this woman wrangle thirty sixth-graders at a theme park like Calamity Jane on a cattle drive. If she couldn't handle this, well...the situation was dire.

“Can you see the little triangle?” Debbie asked April, her nurse for the day.

“I sure can,” April replied.

I watched as April located the portacath in Debbie's chest and inserted the needle into a triangular opening only visible as a vague impression, at least to me. A strangely edged lump pushing outward from beneath Debbie's skin.

“Is it in?” Debbie asked with a sidelong squint.

“Yep.”

She smiled at the nurse and whispered, “That didn't hurt at all.”

*     *     *

Nineteen years ago, almost to the week, Debbie was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Noah, her middle son and my husband, was just 8 years old. When she talks about that experience, what it did to her three boys typically takes precedence over what she went through, which was considerable: She had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation that left permanent scarring on her chest. It's what Noah said to her when she came home from the hospital, though, that she returns to again and again. 

“I need to see what they did to you,” Noah demanded. So she showed him her scars beneath the bandages, the incisions leaving the last bit of evidence that there had been breasts there once. 

By the time I met Debbie, she had been cancer-free for ten years. Not long after her fifteen-year remission anniversary, she underwent a second breast reconstruction. The original implants disintegrated, leaving her with constant pain and discomfort. 

The second time around, she saw a specialist in New Orleans who, using fat from Debbie's own body, would construct breasts of living tissue. The procedure was broken into several painful surgeries over the course of a few months. Finally, she was well.

That's why we were stunned when in January her doctor in New Orleans called with the results of the pathology done on some scar tissue he removed from her right breast. She had cancer again.

*    *    *

After dispensing an anti-nausea drug and benadryl, April hooked a bag of chemotherapy drugs into Debbie's IV. It was her first chemotherapy session in almost two decades. Before, she had been stuck so many times her veins kept collapsing. This time, the portacath took care of that. The pain of ice-cold toxins flowing directly into an arm vein was happily a faint memory. 

The side-effects would unfortunately remain the same: flu-like symptoms, nausea, mouth sores, hair loss.
“There went the hair-taker,” Debbie told me after the first bag of chemo triggered a series of beeps indicating it was empty. “Next comes Herceptin.” At that, we looked at each other and smiled.

Debbie's cancer is HER2-positive, meaning it's particularly aggressive. Her team of doctors discovered the original cancer was HER2-positive as well after testing a tumor sample. (Apparently they keep these things in storage, which to me sounds a little Area 51ish. Then again, I'm a confirmed pansy.)

In 1990, women with HER2-positive cancer had no recourse. They endured harsh levels of treatment and survived on prayers and luck. Debbie was one of the lucky ones.

Although this cancer is an invasive scoundrel, we have Herceptin to give us hope. Debbie loaned us her rented copy of Living Proof, a Lifetime movie that documented the history of Herceptin including how so many times the research was nearly quashed. The belief and perseverance of just a few individuals made this drug a reality for thousands of patients who might otherwise have been terminal. Right on cue, Noah and I cried several times. Genuine tears! The thing is, it's a miracle drug for women like Debbie.

As Nurse April adjusted the dose rate, Debbie and I talked with a young woman in the treatment chair across from us. Her name was Laura, and she was just 28. Not two years older than me. Double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation. Before she cuddled up with her blanket and portable DVD player, I noticed the slogan on Laura's shirt: Fight Like A Girl.

April finished fiddling with the machine and told us she'd be back soon to check the progress. Debbie leaned back and closed her eyes. As the clear liquid began its slow drip, I looked at her and knew. 

Everything's going to be all right.

*     *     *

I wrote this post for the BlogHer.com/KFC Shared Story Program. My post, as well as the posts of all the other participants, can also be viewed at the BlogHer.com special offers page.

I'm excited to announce that for every Pink Bucket, KFC makes a 50 cent contribution to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The Pink buckets will be available in KFC restaurants through May 23rd. Even better, BlogHer will donate $1 for every comment left on the blog posts and across the other posts from the Exclusive Offer page at BlogHer.com, up to a total of $1,000 for the entire program. For more information on this program, go to the KFC website.

Programs like these help fund invaluable breast cancer research. Research for treatments like Herceptin, which give hope to people who previously had little. People like us.

By simply leaving a comment on this post, you are contributing to a life-saving cause. So let me ask, What do you do to make a difference in the lives of others?

96 comments:

Sister Copinherhair said...

This is a beautiful story that I know will have a very happy ending. We are all praying for Debbie. I will keep her in my thoughts as I run in the Race for the Cure. And I'll go buy chicken on May 23. :)

Bethany said...

I've been praying for her!

I teach. My husband teaches. We work second jobs to make teaching possible. It's that important.

Kerry and Dave said...

Loved the story. Makes you want to run home and hug your loved ones that much tighter and learn to never take for granted lifes precious moments. We are praying for Debbie and hope for a speedy recovery!

TGray said...

Thank you for sharing this story of strength and perseverance. My heart breaks but my spirit is lifted. God bless all of you.

s said...

Erin, as tears run down my face, I am so thankful that Debbie has you there, AND that we have your talent as a translator of life experience so that we may be with her as well....in spirit. We love you all......

The Bug said...

Thanks for the update. I've been praying for her every night.

Melanie L said...

Many blessings on your family! Debbie sounds like an amazing woman.

Dan said...

Is this a comment?

Leigh said...

I just found out a girl who I went to High School with has breast cancer and about to have a double mastectomy. I will be praying for Debbie too now!

Sharon said...

What a powerful story... I'll be thinking of your family and Debbie. It's great to see that you have such hope!

S

stephanie said...

thank you for posting this - your family will be in my thoughts & prayers erin.

Sterly said...

I really hope your mother-in-law is doing well with her treatments. I think about you all often.

Costume Diva said...

Ok, that made me teary. All my love to Debbie, you, Noah and the entire family.

Idaho Dad said...

Glad to contribute through my comment! Glad to get anything done today, actually.

I'm going to borrow this concept for a little fundraising of my own.

Maureen said...

Thank you for sharing this story. My fiance's mother passed from cancer before I was able to meet her. You are truly blessed that she survived this and that your husband and your children got to know their mother/grandmother. Thanks for sharing, I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers!

Mindy said...

Thank you for what you are doing!!!

Dawning Colour said...

We're praying for all of y'all. Debbie's strength is truly inspirational. She's one of the amazing women I'll be thinking of during the half marathon!

Kate@AndThenIWasaMom.com said...

Truly a wonderful post. Thanks, and I'll be thinking of Debbie often.

thewarriorpoets said...

While I don't know anyone personally with breast cancer, this post makes the cause even more personal and meaningful.

Sara is training for the Avon Breast Cancer Walk in June. I'm her official cheerleader.

Anonymous said...

What a lucky man I am to have two such awesome women in my life! I appreciate your perspectives, Erin, and the hope they represent. I am inspired by Debbie every day. Maybe I won't need to borrow Noah's "courage" to get thru this. I love you, kiddo.

Edna Shurden Langley said...

I've never met Debbie; but, I have known & loved Dickie Etheridge since high school in Greenville, MS. Knowing Dickie, I know Debbie and your family is a group of wonderful people. I pray for courage and strength for Debbie and all of you as you live through this latest difficulty.

Jen said...

Thank you for sharing this story! My husband is a KFC franchisee and we are so proud to be offering these pink buckets to support your cause. THANK YOU!!!

Anonymous said...

Debbie is a strong and beautiful woman, a wonderful mother-in-love to our daughter Erin, a fabulous mimi to our grandson Ethan and a great friend. We love you Debbie and continue to pray for your full recovery.
Sharon

Jen said...

You have such a way with words - praying for a quick treatment and long remission for Debbie.

Debbie said...

Thank you, Erin, for writing this beautiful article. I was truly touched. I love you very much and still mean what I said at your rehearsal dinner. (Do you remember? I said, "If I had been the one to chose Noah's wife, I would have chosen you, too.") It has meant so much to me to have you at my chemo treatments. And we will celebrate a happy ending!

Jennifer said...

Awesome. If I leave a ton of comments does each one count?

Emma said...

Thank you for this. MY wonderful mother has just been diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer. thankfully not nearly as agressive or life threatening as the cancer you mentioned here. Regardless, reading about other people dealing with their loved ones in turn dealing with cancer is really important to me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My mother is a 50 year survivor, so never give up hope Debbie! Our best wishes to all of you.

Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

I will pray for her and your family. Thanks to Blogher and KFC for helping to raise funds. Well written Erin!

Anonymous said...

What a great story, thanks for sharing Erin!

Anonymous said...

Praying for her and so many others!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your family's story.

SV said...

Thinking and praying and wishing and hoping that strength and love will get everyone through this difficult time.

This Eclectic Life said...

I hope your mother in law "fights like a girl." Best wishes to her. I won't be in any races for the cure, but I'll do what I can to support it.
Thank you for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow breast cancer survivor, please know your entire family is in my prayers. Keep the faith!

Jana said...

THANK YOU to all the women who have gone before me. I just started chemo last Monday (lumpectomy already and radiation to follow), including Herceptin because my cancer is also HER2-positive. Sharing your stories gives all of us strength and hope! Here's hoping this awful diseaes will be wiped out within the next 20 years!

Allison G said...

Thank you for sharing Debbie's story. My mom is a survivor of breast cancer.

texcinlulu said...

Will keep Debbie and your family in my thoughts and prayers.
My Mother is a 10 year breast cancer survivor.
We must keep fighting for a cure.
Will be buying chicken tonight!

lopsided blogger said...

Hooray for Herceptin! I'm Her2+ also, and I've heard it so many, many times--what was once a very bad diagnosis is now a great point of hope. Now let's get the cure--we need it NOW!

Jamie said...

A beautiful story about a brave woman. With a loving family to add to her strength, I hope for a successful outcome.

Emily said...

What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing her journey with us.

Bonggamom said...

Your MIL sounds like an amazing woman and an inspiration to women everywhere.

Bill Allen said...

Erin, thanks for using your wonderful gift to share this incredible story. You are all very special to your South Fork family. We will pray that God will bring healing and hope, and will bring other effective treatments and ultimately a cure.

priscilla said...

debbie sounds like such an amazing woman who has fought through so much. i just hate that breast cancer makes women of this caliber fight through so much. thank you for posting this and supporting the fight against breast cancer as you are. i know we will eventually stomp out this awful disease.

Cha Cha said...

Erin, thanks for sharing Debbie's amazing story. What an amazing woman. I wish all of you the very best as you fight this beast. (The cancer, not Debbie. The cancer is the beast. You know.)

Shannon said...

Wow, what an amazing story of a fighter! Cancer is one of the most concerning health possibilities to so many these days. It is great to hear stories of survivors which inspire anyone that has to face this fear, either directly or indirectly. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this story and raising awareness. Thoughts of strength and prayers are with you and your family.
Kynlee

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story - thank you for sharing!

Karen said...

Erin - thanks for sharing your mother-in-laws story. I will keep her and the family in my prayers. God bless you all.
Karen Watson - BTBL

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Your family is in my prayers.

-Angie M

Anonymous said...

Debbie is my SuperHero! She has been such an inspiration to me. She beat it once and she will beat it again. Then she will be my SuperDuperHero!! We are all praying for you my dear.

Kevin

Emilee Christine said...

Erin, I love you and your family so very much, though it has been too long since I have seen any of you. I am praying for Debbie and her recovery. She is a strong woman and I know that God has everything in control.

Kari said...

Thank you for sharing your family’s story. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 – also about 19 years ago. She too had a double mastectomy, her left lymph node removed and; later, reconstructive surgery using her own skin. She lived the next 4 1/2 years with a carefree love for life I had not recalled seeing as a child. She had put others before herself, always. That is the example I grew up with. At 60 years old, she had her hair professionally done, her ears pierced, and bought new clothes - for herself! She glowed.

Just before the 5-year window that would consider her cancer free, it came back. She battled with all she had until she was finally able to rest in peace and no more pain, her family at her side, August 19, 1999. She was 66 years young. She knew she probably was not going to win the battle - she too had a very aggressive cancer. She dedicated the last 18 months of her life to trying every treatment available… Tamoxifen and Herceptin, now familiar names, were new and promising treatments. She wanted to do anything she could do - so that science/doctors would learn something and others may not have to go through what she had endured - including her 3 daughters. She stayed true to who she was - selfless, a constant quiet strength, putting others first…

jeff said...

Thanks Erin for painting a beautiful story out of life's unlovely events. Our prayers are with Debbie and the entire family.

Over here, it's me said...

Erin, thank you for the beautiful way you have honored Debbie with your blog. She, and the entire family have endured a years long struggle that have captured for a moment. I pray that once again Debbie overcomes her cancer. Her bravery and strength are an inspiration to everyone.

Joe Howell

TheParrishes said...

We are praying for you Debbie and your whole family. May God continue to bless you all during this very difficult time. We will be thinking of you as we do the Susan K this year! Lots of love,
Lisa and Michael

Kiera said...

We are praying for your family!!

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful story. My family will be praying for yours.

JoniDH said...

Thanks for this post, Erin. I remember Debbie initial fight with cancer and was inspired by her fight then as I am now as she faces this again. My prayers are with Debbie and the whole family!

Joni Howell

Anonymous said...

You did such a good job writing your mother-in-law's story.
We are praying for her! Goyo and Sarah : )

Beth said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I have a friend Debbi going through this now too.

Goyo said...

Thanks you for this amazing story of faith and resilience. My prayers are with Debbie and your family!!!

"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" Phil 4:13

Anonymous said...

It is stories like this that make me gald I help every year to raise money for Race for the Cure.

Lori said...

Beautifully written tribute to your mother-in-law and all women fighting this terrible disease. I pray for her full recovery.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Erin for Debbie's story.
God bless you and Debbie.......hope and prayers that all goes well and there is a speedy recovery.

ts said...

hope our contributions help in this worthy cause.

Anonymous said...

Keeping fingers crossed!!
Laura

Scott & Sue Ann said...

We remember the grace with which Debbie handled her first round of treatments and surgery. What a great example of faith, toughness, and hope! 20 years later we know that these qualities will be shored up by support from her great children and husband!

Jac said...

Thank you so much for sharing Debbie's story.

Katie K. said...

Erin, Thanks for sharing the story of your MIL. I will say a prayer for her and your family as you all continue the fight against cancer!

ksamuels said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I will keep your mother-in-law, and all the other strong, brave women who are fighting breast cancer in my thoughts and prayers.

Paula said...

Thank you for sharing your mother-in-law's story. I am so sorry to hear her breast cancer returned. However, I am glad that drugs such as Herceptin are available now. I will keep Debbie in my prayers. Blessings to you and Noah.

Anonymous said...

Prayers for all fighting breast cancer and prayers for a cure......... what a touching story!

Yvonne said...

I know Debbie has great faith as well as her family and she is in the hands of God. The best hands to be in! Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her wonderful family and all to doctors attending to all that are dealing with cancer!

Anonymous said...

Erin thank you for sharing in such a beautiful way not only the return of Debbie's struggle so that we might share our love and prayers, but the love and support of a very special daughter-in-law for her mother-in-law. (I'm reminded of Ruth and Naomi.) I too, as many others, remember Debbie's first battle with breast cancer. She was courageous then and I'm sure God will give her the courage to face this new battle. Our prayer will be for healing and the peace which passes all understanding. Debbie and Richard, we love you and all of your family so much.

George and Tracy

Karina said...

What an amazing story

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being there for me yesterday, Erin.

Anonymous said...

Debbie's husband, Richard, pointed me toward this blog (and he wanted me to see "his Ethan" too. I appreciate the opportunity to join with others in prayer for Debbie and Richard and your whole family, as well as having a better understanding of the treatment and the issues. Beth Lovette

April Mattacchione said...

Erin thanks for the opportunity to pray for Debbie as she goes back to battle, may God be with you and all of your family.
Love,
April and Nick Mattacchione

Pam said...

Wow, what a story. I had no idea Debbie had been through all that. We will be praying for your whole family. Please come visit at SFCC sometime. I would love to meet your little boy.

Pam Stapp

Pam said...

I had been leaning toward running/walking in Race for the Cure May 1st in Winston-Salem next weekend. Reading Debbie's story has inspired me to sign up. Phil and I will by participating in honor of Debbie and in memory of my grandmother who died of breast cancer before I was born.

Pam Stapp

Maureen said...

I donate to a Relay for Life team in support of my nephew who is fighting brain cancer. And continue to pray for all who fight this fight.

Kimberly and Jerry Peterson said...

Went to KFC yesterday... Thanks for the story!

Apple Mama said...

What an incredible story. I teach Sunday school at our church and home school my 3 boys. I always try to smile when I'm out too, it may not be much to some, but I know there are days when a smile is all a person may need. :)

Joyce said...

Thank you for sharing your story Erin. Cancer is a terrible disease and touches so many lives in one way or another. My prayers are with Debbie and all your family - stay strong and keep the faith! Here's to finding a cure and end this nightmare once and for all...!

Joyce Allen

Anonymous said...

What a poignant story of a fight that I know Debbie will battle through and win once again. Thanks for sharing this story and may God Bless Debbie and watch over and keep her!

Sandy Lewis
Lewisville, NC

Anonymous said...

Debbie and her family are in my prayers. I will be walking for her and others battling breast cancer.

Sara Jo said...

It hurts to know that Debbie is enduring this again. Much love and many prayers from Nashville....

McCullough Family said...

Thinking of you and your family!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story.

Ellen Doss said...

This is such an amazing story and she has always been an inspiration to me and someone I will never ever forget. Miss you at school, and I am always praying for you and I know in my heart that God is taking care of you. Love you Mrs. E :) -Ellen

jewelknits said...

Thank you for sharing a lovely story. My prayers are with all of you. I try to do my own part by working for social justice and being a voice for those who feel they have no voice. I also volunteer at a neighborhood youth theater, at a local church, and at a local community center.

Deb said...

From one Debbie to another, sending support and prayers.

sarah said...

My grandmother was a breast cancer survivor. She'd be disgusted if she were alive today. The Komen Foundation PROMOTES breast cancer, NOT a cure.

If you really care about women, and about ending breast cancer, visit www.bucketsforthecause.com to find out what Komen is REALLY doing for women.

Anonymous said...

That last comment was really negative and suggests that somehow women with breast cancer have brought it on thmesleves by their eating habits (KFC) and lack of exercise.

I eat well and exercise--ride bikes, take spin classes 3-4 times per week, walk or jog daily, and participate in 5Ks. Yet, I am battling a breast cancer occurrence. I participate in the Women's Only 5K in Greensboro and the Komen Race for the Cure. I DO NOT beieve that Komen promotes breast cancer.

Anonymous said...

Erin:
I have known Richard through work for about 10 years. He had told me about the incredible battle Debbie and the family fought the first she had cancer. This time I hope they can hold on to the fact tha she "beat it" before. She'll do it again. From the moment Richard told me the hard news of cancer reoccurring I have been praying for her EVERYDAY. I won't stop.
Arelys Chevalier