When Life Gives You Lemons… Find Some Tequila

To be honest, I’m more of a craft beer girl myself but I think we can all relate to this. Studies continue to demonstrate that thinking about negative events and putting a positive spin on them is better for overall mental health… and let’s not forget, sometimes if you act on that you may be able to change the future. As you know, cancer and I have a bit of a history, so I feel pretty strongly about finding ways to positively spin my cancer experiences and create change whenever possible.

In the midst of my scuffle with breast cancer this year, I took my GMATs and applied to business schools. It was tricky to coordinate campus visits and interviews around surgery and recovery, especially when I wasn’t supposed to be moving my arms (“How in the world to I shake that person’s hand with my T-Rex arms!?!). However, I am so excited to share that I was accepted to a couple of schools and I will be calling myself a Boston University Terrier come August (although, obviously, I will remain a Nittany Lion in the event of a hockey game between the two)!

As most of you know, I have dedicated the last 5 years to clinical research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I started out on the adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Team and spent the past 3.5 years as a member of the Pediatric Oncology family. It goes without saying, I am sad to leave but excited to embark on this new chapter.

Fighting Cancer Better
In 1900 William James said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” As a parent, I expect that raising my kiddos will fulfill this in some fashion and hopefully in a good way…  although as of yesterday Augustus still wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up.

When he dressed as an executive dinosaur in 2012 for dress-up day…

Since I spent 13 of the past 19 years believing that offspring were not in my future thanks to the side effects of chemo, my goal from a young age was to contribute to future generations by fighting cancer. I’ve worked in clinical oncology research and I have driven my friends and family crazy with fundraisers. However, I still feel as though I can and must contribute more. Since the world is run by business (yes, especially the health sector), I have decided to pursue an MBA at the Questrom School of Business at Boston University. I plan to have a concentration in health sector management and entrepreneurship in hopes of find better ways to fight cancer for both patients and survivors.

Since an important component of an MBA is the quality of your classmates, I was excited to have the opportunity to meet and bond a little with a group of them this weekend. Hands-down, they are total rock stars and I can’t wait to stress out over finance with them (or at least grab drinks with them after finance is over).

Hanging out at Fenway with other BU MBA people. Not a bad view…

Throwback Thursday: 19 years and counting…

It’s Thursday, April 9th, so naturally, my Facebook and Instagram are filled with incriminating and adorable #TBT photos of friends and family. For the past 4 years, I have spent this day sharing the same photo of me and requesting your help to fund groundbreaking research as I hit the fundaising homestretch before the Boston Marathon. April 9th in the past has been a day of unquestionable celebration as it marked the anniversary of my life-saving bone marrow transplant, which helped destroy the AML (acute leukemia) I battled 19 years ago. Every April 9th marked another cancer-free year. But this year is different…

Cancer after Cancer
This year has proven to be more challenging than the prior 19 years (yes, even if you include the hours upon hours of marathon training!). Each year, I have a battery of tests around the anniversary of my transplant. Sometimes these tests would produce scary results but even after thyroid, skin, and breast biopsies, I could always breathe a huge sigh of relief and go on enjoying my life POST cancer. It wasn’t until my series of tests in 2014 that I had to revisit HAVING cancer. Cancer wasn’t in the past anymore. I was no longer cancer-free. I was not a survivor – I was a fighter.

It wasn’t that my prognosis was particularly scary, in fact, it was great. After having a bilateral mastectomy, my physicians told me that “breast cancer certainly isn’t your biggest concern.” It was the reality of the situation or rather, what the breast cancer represented, that made this diagnosis hard to swallow. It represented the permanent damage that chemo and radiation had on my body…. still… 19 years later.

Collateral Damage
Most people assume that I’m not running the marathon this year because of the breast cancer but this is not true. I absolutely would have dragged myself across the finish line (with my new tatas) if that was the only hurdle. Unfortunately, the chemo and radiation left more collateral damage.

In the past, my oncologists seemed to think that if I could run the marathon, even with my sub-par heart and lungs, then I should go for it. However, over the past two years, there has been a change of heart (pardon the pun). I was one of the earliest pediatric transplant patients for AML so you could say I’m a bit of a trailblazer (or guinea pig but I prefer trailblazer). Inevitably, this means that we understand only some of what goes on in my body.

We’ve learned that my insanely high heart rate while exercising (approximately 190 bpm for hours) is due to the radiation (a mini bio lesson to come soon!). This information coupled with new case studies and data don’t seem to support my marathon running. Thus, this year most of my physicians asked me to stop marathon running… permanently. This was not easy news to stomach, especially when you live in Boston where people get excited about lobster running shoes! (OK, they are pretty cool.)

The good news, is that I am supposed to run daily-just not too far. This means that once I hit the pavement again on May 1st (when my plastic surgeon gives me the all-clear), I will be running with even more motivation and yes, heart.

So, here’s to another year of overcoming obstacles, finding the joy in the journey, and happy runs! …and of course, to destroying cancer!