You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.
This past month I had one of the highest points in my blogging career. Vera Bradley asked me to be one of their "Guest Dressed" features for breast cancer awareness month and share my personal story. I was honored, overwhelmed and a little intimidated. Yesterday the post went live (see it here) and I was so relieved at how beautiful it turned out. Because of "spacing" a lot of my story and a few photos were cut, so I've decided to share the entire thing with you here today. Afterall, I'm always musing over pink...and a cure!
"Not many people get to witness true courage. I did, and it was in watching my mother’s battle with breast cancer that I realized both of our purposes in life; she died fearlessly and with dignity so that I would live bravely in honor of her and never give up hope.
The day before Thanksgiving in 2000 (my senior year of high school), my mother was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. She had gone in for her routine mammogram when they found two lumps, less than 1mm in size. We were hopeful; they caught it early. In December she received a lumpectomy on her right breast, and they removed sixteen lymph nodes from under her right armpit. The first chemo drug the doctors started her on was Adriamycin, AKA the red devil. It looks like fruit punch Kool-aid and at the time was one of the most intense intravenous chemo drugs out there. It made her so sick. Her chemo treatments lasted for six months through June 2001. Then she received six months of radiation, finishing in December of 2001. For the next three years all seemed well. She was back to herself; working out, traveling with my dad, coming down to The University of Florida to visit me for moms weekends, and enjoying life. We thought she was one of the lucky ones and we were so grateful. However, around Thanksgiving 2004 she began having pain in her left hip, which we naively assumed was from her exercising. Long story short, in January 2005 (my senior year of college) she was re-diagnosed with cancer; it had metastasized to her hip/femur, lungs, liver, ribs and spine. She went on fighting valiantly while taking several new chemo drugs and trying to maintain some small quality of life. In her final year of living, the doctors had her on five different chemo drugs; you name it, they tried it. The final straw though came in June of 2008 when her aortic port (the mechanism used for injecting her chemotherapy drugs) began to leak into her chest cavity causing intense burning/pain and a major reaction. At this point, she decided “what’s meant to be will be”, quit all treatment, and let God handle the rest. As I look back on that moment I’m overwhelmed by the strength & fearless bravery it took to make that decision. At the time I was so sad & selfishly wishing she would fight more…but can you imagine!? She “pulled the plug” on herself. She was sick of being sick, and wanted some semblance of normalcy and peace for however long she could get it. She finally called the shots and proudly planned her own funeral. Her final chemo treatment was on June 25, 2008...and she died January 4, 2009.
My mother fought for almost nine years, went through four surgeries, thirteen+ different chemo treatments, multiple rounds of radiation, and a "roller-coaster" quality of life. She knew she would never get to build that house on the lake that her and my father dreamed of. She knew she would miss my wedding and the birth of all but one of her grandchildren. BUT, she never complained! In fact, most people who knew her are probably shocked to learn her true medical history; to the world my mother always looked beautiful and was doing "just fine."
My mother is my eternal hero and I am so proud of everything she taught me during her life...bust most importantly I'm proud of what I am learning through her death. My mom was my best friend and I miss her every day. I miss her guidance. I miss her voice. I need her often and feel totally ost, but she left me with hope and I want to instill that in my children. As Martin Luther King said, “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lost infinite hope.” My son Wakeland is named after my mother...it was her maiden name. Both my hope and my mom’s hope lives in him. I may never know the real reason why my mom died, but I’m hoping it’s because she wanted me to take a proactive stance on my breast health; to do what she didn’t, to take advantage of all the advancing medicine and screenings. I don’t ever want my children to experience what my family experienced. I want to live and be apart of my family’s life for as long as possible. That is why on November 15, 2013 I began my own journey; over the past 2 years I’ve had two mammograms, two chest MRIs and taken the BRCA test. I have had clear scans and am negative across the board...but I will continue to fight and be proactive in honor of my mother and for the future of my family…and I encourage all women out there to do the same! My purpose in life is to make sure my mother’s death was not in vain. This is why I’ve run multiple breast cancer races in honor of my mother & to raise money for research, why I’ve been involved with multiple breast cancer research fundraisers AND most importantly, this is why I believe in Vera Bradley and am so proud to be supporting the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.
My mother introduced me to Vera Bradley in 1990 when she purchased her first purse in “black”, and I’ve been a loyal fan ever since. In 1997 I received the large travel duffel, hanging bag, and backpack purse in “Elizabeth” for my birthday AND I still have all those pieces in my closet today. Talk about a true testament of the product! And the story goes on and on. In 2004 Vera created the “New Hope” pattern as a way to raise money for breast cancer research (which I own) and every year since then Vera Bradley has created a pattern dedicated to raising funds for the foundation. Today, The Foundation’s mission is clearly “woven into the fabric of Vera Bradley and is part of the company culture.” In 2014, 89 cents of every dollar (89%) was donated to the Foundation went straight to breast cancer research. This is an amazing number and why I always have, and always will support Vera Bradley, especially their “Think Pink” designs. This year I especially fell in love with their Ella Tote & Katalina love scarf (complete with quotes from Romeo & Juliet). I love supporting a company that is so much more than it’s products, and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month and my mom, I will be rocking my pink Vera gear forever…or until next year’s stuff comes out ;-). Stop by Vera Bradley today to experience & take part in the love that is thinking pink! XOXO"
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Labels: Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Products, Breast Health, family, fashion, Guest Dressed, health, Mid Week Muse, Power of Pink, Think Pink, Vera Bradley