By Erin Mullen
My six year old and my eight year old know what Mommy asks for each Mother’s Day. “A day to sleep in and have a quiet morning”, is my traditional answer when my kids or husband ask what I want. The previous number of years I have been able to sleep to 8 or maybe even 9 o’clock before they pounce offering breakfast, cards and balloons. 2011 was different.
It was a tough year to say the least. I was challenged with many difficult decisions and situations during the year. Saying goodbye to my beloved father after he battled ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), leaving a corporate position, coordinating my family’s cross country move, and settling in to a new town had left me a bit frazzled. I really wanted to sleep in… and not just on Mother’s Day.
Then, in October 2011, I felt a lump in my breast. It wasn’t lost on me that October is breast cancer awareness month. There is a history of breast cancer in my family so I started having mammograms at age 38 and I even had one in January 2011 that didn’t show anything abnormal. I’ve attended walks and races over the years and planned corporate events to benefit breast cancer research. Those pink ribbons seemed like they were everywhere I glanced – magazines, billboards, yogurt – as I made the appointments that I knew I should and waited to find out more. I prayed that this was going to be an easy thing to check off my to do list.
On October 26th the phone rang. I remember the exact spot in the kitchen where I was standing when I answered and heard the radiologist tell me that the biopsy was positive. Holy crap. I am a 41 year old with two amazing kids and an awesome husband. I am a strong girl. I am in good shape. I eat well. I played soccer. I’ve run marathons (granted it was before kids and over a decade ago). I can handle this. Well, maybe not the entire overwhelming, multi-decision, brain racking, huge ball of news… but I can handle today. I went for a run. And then I had to make some decisions.
I was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. Since then, I’ve had some tough days and I’ve had some great days. I’ve had two surgeries including a double mastectomy with reconstruction and will need at least two more surgeries later this year. I did six rounds of chemo and twelve infusions of Herceptin. I stayed strong and optimistic and smiled more than I expected to. Moms are tough… we have to be. I even joked and laughed as my husband and kids helped me shave my hair this past January. Losing my hair was one of my least favorite side effects from chemo treatments, but hair is something I would give up forever if I get to stay a little longer on this Earth.
I am thankful that I caught the cancer early. Talking to other cancer survivors (some older, many younger) going through similar cancer treatments really helped. Cancer Survivor Mentors Dixie, Missy, Gen, Tamara, Jeanette, Lori and Maryann shared their stories, calmed my fears, and helped answer my questions about treatment options. I found an awesome medical team in Wisconsin including: my Breast Surgeon, who is a triathlete and overachiever herself; a perfectionist Plastic Surgeon; a knowledgeable Oncologist; and a very skilled Physical Therapist.
I exercised as much as I could during treatment. Some days I ran, some days I went to spinning or did yoga, some days I walked at a snail’s pace down the street. Exercise has always been great therapy for me both physically and mentally. Luckily my medical team supported and encouraged my need to exercise. I like having goals and something to work toward besides doctor’s appointments and infusion rooms. A triathlon has always been something I have thought about but usually talked myself out of. Midway through treatment, I committed to train alongside other cancer survivors for my first triathlon this August. It’s a big goal considering the year I’ve had but I know I can do it. I am thrilled to be finishing up the chemo portion of my cancer treatment by Mother’s Day and can’t wait to cross the triathlon finish line come August. Cancer, take that!
This Mother’s Day, I am not sleeping in. This year I will be up early, before the kids, running, biking or swimming, happy to be cancer free and ready to be Super Mom again. This year I’ve learned to be more patient and to enjoy the little things. I am looking forward to the smell of bacon and their homemade cards. I will squeeze my family tighter this year and continue to be grateful to share the day with these wonderful people.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing Moms, including mine.
The entire Women You Should Know team would like to thank our friend Erin Mullen for choosing to share her deeply personal story here. She is a brave warrior, a survivor, a Super Mom, and an inspiring Woman You Should Know. We wish her the VERY BEST Mother’s Day and continued good health.