The Haunting of Reocurrence

Emotions play a huge role in the life of a cancer patient. From the moment you are diagnosed, fear sets in. So much to fear…surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. These were all unknowns when I set off on my cancer journey. Fear had set in. The unknown is always scary. Perhaps my greatest fear was not being a part of my children’s lives as they reached pinnacle milestones. You know, the graduations, marriages and children. When I thought about them in the future, I continually would see images of them going on with their lives and these milestones with my husband, but I wasn’t in any of these images. Fear and continual worry set in.

Each time I would see my oncologist I would always ask, “Are you sure it’s working?” I wanted to make sure I was going to be around for all those milestones I had hoped and dreamed for my children. I’m pretty sure that I drove him crazy because have had the exact same conversation 29 times (I’ve seen him 29 times since that first meeting). He always assured me that my treatments were indeed working. Since my diagnosis, I have not had any scans that would justify that the treatments were indeed working. So every ache and pain would lead me to the worst case scenario…Fear of Reoccurrence.

The fear of reoccurrence haunts me daily. This fear is BIG and oh so very REAL! A fear that so many cancer survivors face. But, if you remember my post about silver linings several months ago, I do have a silver lining that has come out of all this fear. When my fears would creep back into my mind, I learned that I couldn’t ignore them or bury the reality of reoccurrence. Fear doesn’t let you live your life. It simply weighs you down. So I learned to face my fears and go have fun. CHERISH EACH PRECIOUS DAY!

I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have learned to turn my fears in challenges had it not been for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. This incredible organization helped me challenge myself mentally and physically. Their love, support and encouragement has been paramount in defining my “new normal”. Pre-diagnosis I would have never imagined I would voluntarily challenge the limits of my body with road races, IronGirl triathlons and biking from Baltimore to Key West. As I look back now, I wish it hadn’t taken a cancer diagnosis to teach me how to cherish each precious day and deal with fears in my life.

IronGirl 2013

IronGirl 2013


Cancer to 5K goal race: Purple Stride in Washington, DC with Coach Meg and Dane










Now don’t get me wrong, I still fear reoccurrence. In fact, today I will meet with my oncologist for the 30th time since diagnosis. And yes, I will most likely have the same exact conversation I have had the 29 previous times. I am hoping he will send me away with reassurance that all is well. But channeling my fears into a challenge has proven to be incredibly helpful in the past. These challenges have been life changers for me. I wonder what my next challenge will be? Perhaps summiting a mountain.


Me with my husband, John and my 4 kids, Jack (12), Brady (10), Kate (8) and Maggie Mae (4) celebrating our finish of the HalfFull Triathlon.

Key to Keys 2014: Charleston, SC

Key to Keys 2014: Charleston, SC


You’ve Got A Friend…

After hearing the shocking words, “You have Cancer,” John and I sat there that evening and thought about how lucky I was to have such great friends and family who were going to help see us through these choppy waters. I knew my mom and dad (who happened to be battling his own cancer battle) would be there every step of the way. They stepped right in to help out with my then 6-month old daughter, Maggie Mae, watching her all day and every night while i recovered from surgery. My brothers and sisters rallied, each in their own special ways. My sisters, Molly and Paige, who were in Paris when I was diagnosed, would Skype with me daily to get updates and added levity as we talked about how my “new girls” were going to look great. My brother, Ben and his wife Jennifer, helped us with daily lunches for my boys until the school year was finished and helped shuttle all of my kids to and from school. My brother, Tim, would text me daily to check in on me. I knew my family was going to be our rock!

I also knew my friends were going to be there for me as well. My dear neighbor, Erin, immediately set up a meal schedule and also pitched in taking care of Maggie Mae. Paula, a dear friend, accompanied me to many of the first appointments to help me navigate the medical language. I was so lucky to have a close friend who was a doctor. My neighborhood community set up prayer groups to pray for my swift recovery. The parents at both of my kids schools helped with meals and carpools. I had so much food left at my door/frig, I could have fed an entire army. I guess with four kids, John and I were feeding an army. Many of these meals were delivered by neighbors or parents I barely knew, yet they were moved to make our lives a bit easier, even if it was only by delivering paper plates and napkins so we didn’t have to do dishes. Even my sorority sisters, who had recently reconnected through Facebook, collected money so that Donna could shop for staple items our crew went through monthly (snacks, diapers, baby food, cereal, paper products, laundry detergent, etc.) for six months. Sisterhood is an amazing thing!

Out of this diagnosis, there were a few developments in my friendships that I never anticipated. The first was that so many people who I had lost touch with since high school graduation would rally the moment I posted about my diagnosis on Facebook. One friend from high school, who I happened to friend the week before I was diagnosed, immediately reached out to me to let me know she was an oncologist in New Jersey and could help me out with whatever I needed in making decisions about my treatments. It turns out that Sarada and I hadn’t spoken since graduation, if we even spoke that day since we ran in different friend circles and she was brilliant (hence becoming a doctor), and yet she had been in residency in Boston with my friend Paula. Very small world or Smalltimore we tend to call it here in Baltimore. Never underestimate the power of that “Friends You Might Know” box on Facebook. Friending a long lost friend or even acquaintance just might become very useful in the future.

The other development in my friendships was one that I never anticipated. The friends who I had known for so many years, who I had imagined in those first dark days to be my “go to” friends, I barely heard from. I know that life is busy and some people have a tough time dealing with the cancer word. I’m not really sure what each of their reasons for essentially abandoning me as my toughest challenged awaited me. To this day, I still try to sort out in my mind why they weren’t there for me. I will probably never know. But in a strange way they taught me about what friendship is and how much it means to someone going through a difficult time in their lives. I know that I will be the mother, the sister, the Paula, Erin, or Sarada (well maybe not a doctor), for any of my friends (even those who haven’t been there for me) or family! Friendships are cherished treasures and sometimes hard to come by. Just remember to be “that friend” you always hope to have in tough times. Friendship goes a long way. Perhaps Bruno Mars sang it best…Count On Me!

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Three years ago today I was sitting on my sister-in-law’s patio waiting to pick my kids up from carpool when “IT” started to happen. Just an hour earlier, I had brushed my fingers through my hair anticipating that moment but it hadn’t started. Now as I sat there on the patio on a beautiful May afternoon, I looked at Jennifer and said, ” Oh no! It’s happening.”  I showed her many strands of hair that I had just pulled out with a soft stroke to push my hair behind my ear. Just two weeks earlier I had received my first dose of chemo. With every stroke through my hair more and more strands began to fall out. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I had cut my shoulder length hair to a short bob cut the week before I started chemo in anticipation of this moment. I had never had short hair since I was a child so cutting it to a short bob was quite a change. Yet losing all of my hair was going to be so dramatic. Looking back, would I have changed my decision to have chemo in order to keep my hair? Of course not. My four children and husband were too important to leave behind. I still had a lot of memories to make with them. Did losing my hair teach me something about myself? No doubt! I might even say it was a blessing. There were so many bright moments.

So many people advised that I should shave it off as soon as it starts falling out. I went for a different approach. One that I knew would be best for me and my children. Over the next few weeks, my hair began to fall out in bigger and bigger clumps. We decided to have fun with it. I would sit with my 4 children, ages 8, 6, 4 and 8 months around me and let them pull it out to see who could pull out the most hair. They were enthralled with the fact that they could yank on it and it didn’t hurt me. Silver Lining: My children weren’t traumatized. It was kind of cool for them!

Excited to pull out a clump of my hair.

Excited to pull out a clump of my hair.

We even decided to play a joke on my sister. She knew that my hair had started to fall out but hadn’t seen me. One day, while over at my parents’ house we pulled out clumps of hair and laid them on the sidewalk leading up to the door. When my sister pulled up with her friend and got out of the car she noticed the hair and commented to her friend as they walked in, “Do you think Julie knows that this is happening?” We got a good laugh. Did she really think that I didn’t know this was happening? As if my hair would just fall out in clumps evenly spaced. Silver Lining: There is comedy even in your darkest moments.


Clumps of hair lining the sidewalk into my    parents’ house.

During the process of my hair falling out, I found that adding a little levity made the experience not only easy for my children to adjust to the change but really helped me adjust to the change too. After a week of having my hair fall out, I decided to have it shaved off. I made an appointment at the place I had gone to order my wig. My mom and my sister-in-law joined me, along with Maggie and Kate. That first buzz of the clippers through my hair was actually quite liberating. I was feeling incredible, like a weight had been lifted. Silver Lining: Being bald was liberating!

The first buzz!

The first buzz!

DSC_0372 When I left the salon, I donned my new wig. Yet, it just wasn’t me. Here I spent a fair amount of money on a wig made of real hair and I wore it all of two times. It was hot, itchy and I felt like I was trying to be someone else. You can see from the group photo below that even my 8 month old, Maggie Mae, thought I  looked like someone else. It was then that I decided I would stick to hats and head wraps. Silver Lining: Less is more!


The new me? Not so convinced.

DSC_0382So I stuck to head wraps. If I had to run errands or carpool, on went a head wrap. Usually around the house I didn’t wear anything. I rocked the bald head. It was so easy. No bad hair days. A fraction of the time to get ready in the morning. It was those small silver linings that I was discovering. Then one morning as I was rushing to get the kids to school on time, I jumped in the car and started to back out of the driveway. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t wearing a head wrap and I needed to walk into school to talk to one of the teachers. So I pulled back in so I could run in to grab a wrap. My kids were less than thrilled. They were going to be late. As I explained to them that I didn’t have a head wrap and needed to walk into school, they responded in unison, “SO! Who’s going to care?” It was then that I realized that my kids were proud of me being bald. I threw that car into reverse and onto school I went, proud and bald! Silver Lining: My kids helped me take control. I wasn’t going to let cancer dictate how I should look when I was out in public.


Getting some bald love from Brady.

Now don’t get me wrong, their were moments when I got really irritated at the fact that I was bald. One afternoon while waiting in the pharmacy line with my kids to pick up my nausea medicines to help me with the chemo, the lady standing behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me, “what inspired you to shave your head?” Um, did she really just ask me that? I responded, rather irritated, “I was inspired by the chemotherapy I receive every 3 weeks that makes me feel like crap.” My son, Brady, responded in a just as irritated voice, “Yeah, she has cancer!” Let’s just say that lady felt like an idiot. Silver Lining = Brady was proud of the fight I was putting on and he wasn’t going to let anyone get away with such a ridiculous comment.

Yes, I was bald and I was proud of it! It was almost like a badge of honor. If I had to sacrifice my hair so that I could have more time with my family, and it was so worth it! For me it was a constant reminder that the toxic medicines I was putting in my body were working. I was beating my cancer! I encourage you to embrace being bald. It’s only temporary. Before you know it, your hair will be back! Have fun with the process. Life’s too short. No need to stress over not having hair. Live your life. It’s all about discovering the silver linings. Silver Lining: Bald IS beautiful! Bald IS handsome!

I AM bald! I AM beautiful! I AM a survivor!

I AM bald! I AM beautiful! I AM a survivor!

Day 5: Savannah, GA to Jacksonville, FL

Today, I had an amazing day. I was part of Team 4. On my team were Kevin Spurrier, Keely Ireland, Jason Horn and Kathy Evans. We started our morning off at a small cancer center called the South East Georgia Health System Brunswick Campus in Georgia. While we were there we got a tour of their facility. They do one of the cutting edge treatments for many types of cancers called cyberknife radiation. This may sound scary, but it actually doesn’t involve a knife at all. So what is cyberknife radiation?

Using image guided technology and advanced robotics, CyberKnife uses sub-millimeter accuracy to target radiation beams and destroy abnormal cells within the body, while sparing healthy cells.

CyberKnife can be used to treat tumors throughout the body due to its frameless technology that spots the exact shape and location of a tumor while delivering highly concentrated beams of radiation from multiple positions and angles.

CyberKnife is painless. In fact, patients go home the same day and usually go about their normal routine.

CyberKnife Radiation room

CyberKnife Radiation room


Presenting one of our signed jerseys to the Enzo, the Director of Cancer Care Centers.

After this very informative visit we headed out to the parking lot to get on our bikes and head out to Jacksonville. We were loving that the sun was shining and that it was so warm. Today called for lots of sunscreen!


Goodbye, Georgia!

One of our first big challenges was the bridge in Brunswick. I had a long steady climb to the top of the bridge. Normally, I would be a bit worried, but today was very different. As I started on our ride, I felt very different. I felt STRONG and very comfortable on my bike. I knew that I wasn’t going to let big bridge intimidate me. So onward we went. Luckily we arrived at the bridge fairly early on with fresh legs to get us over the hill. And you know what?…I slated that bridge. For the first time I was the first one to the top of the bridge. And boy was that a great feeling!



The rest of our right our team had fun. We stopped for a few pictures and chatted along the way. It was a fabulous day. Here are some the interesting, funny and strange things we saw along the way.


At the top of the Brunswick Bridge with Keely and Jason

At the top of the Brunswick Bridge with Keely and Jason

Our entire team at the top of the bridge.

Our entire team at the top of the bridge.


Mad Maggie's

Mad Maggie’s


Selfie of Me and Jason

Hmmm...Very strange sign we came across.

Hmmm…Very strange sign we came across.

Old Post Office

Old Post Office

Kevin on Highway 17

Kevin on Highway 17

My Team following me

My Team following me


Spanish Moss

Taking a break

Taking a break



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Making my Key to Keys Mark at Capt'n Stan's This place was AWESOME!

Making my Key to Keys Mark at Capt’n Stan’s This place was AWESOME!


Day 3 Complete! 32 miles

So let’s answer a few great questions from Mrs. Horst’s 3rd grade class (Brady’s Class)

Where are you riding today?

On Thursday morning we will be riding from Jacksonville, FL to Vero Beach, FL.

How many hours a day are you riding?

We ride between 3 and 5 hours each day. Some groups ride longer because they have longer distances.

How many miles are you responsible for riding each day?

Each team has a different number of miles to cover each day. There are 5 teams and we finish the daily mileage as a rolling relay. The first day I rode 47 miles. The 2nd day I rode 57 miles. The past 3 days I have ridden around 37 miles each day.

Where do you sleep?

We sleep in hotels in each new city.

What do you do when you are riding your bike and you have to go to the bathroom?

This is a very good question. We usually stop and go. Here is a great picture from one of the teams.

Bathroom Break

Bathroom Break

Where and what have you been eating?

We eat breakfast each morning at the hotel. Lunch is usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Dinners are usually eaten as a team at the hotel or restaurant.

Can you send us some pictures of landforms in the areas you pass?

I will keep my eye out for some cool landforms.

Do you feel healthy after all of that exercise?

I am really starting to feel extremely strong. Biking is excellent exercise.

Do you miss Brady the most? (submitted by Brady)

I miss everyone! But I do miss Brady’s wonderful smile.


Day 4: Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA

Our Key to Keys team had an incredible time last night with our scholarship student, Lydia. Her mother shared two quotes that seem to define Lydia.

“Some people are like stained glass windows, they sparkle when the sun’s out. But, when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there’s a light from within. Lydia’s light from within shines and we believe will be what carries her through.”

“Into each life a little rain must fall. It’s not the sunny days that show you a person’s determination but how their spirit soars through the storms.”

As we pulled out of Charleston on Tuesday, the weather was rather wet and dreary. We headed over to the Hollings Cancer Center to get a tour of the facility, bring the nurses some breakfast and visit with some of the patients. The facility was beautiful. The nurses were very appreciative of their breakfast and we put a smile on so many faces.


The quote was on the walls as you walked into the Hollings Cancer Center. Beautiful.



After our visit at Hollings, we loaded up in our SUV’s and headed out to our start point. Today was going to be short day since we spent part of the morning at Hollings. The weather was not very wonderful. Rainy, rainy, rainy. No one was looking forward to the ride. A few of us were nervous about riding in the rain. A few had thoughts of maybe not riding due to the weather. However, cancer doesn’t take a break on rainy days so we weren’t going to take break either. For about the first 2 hours of the day it rained.


Adele, Joe, Kim, Julie, Jennie, Paul, Marti, Cindi & Patti

About an hour and a half into our ride, the weather improved and sun started shining. It made for much better ride. On our way, Joe came across a turtle in the middle of the road and helped him cross to the safety of the grass.


Day 4 complete: Paul, Julie, Joe & Adele

Day 3 ended on a good note. I got to ride with 3 new people. Hear 3 new inspiring stories and gain more perspective about this journey and how my life fits into. I’m feeling pretty incredible. Our Key to Keys group is changing lives. Proud to be a part of the team!



Day 3: Wilmington, NC to Charleston, SC

Woke up this morning to much more pleasant temperatures in Wilmington, NC. A balmy 63 degrees. Our dedication circle was a very emotional one for everyone. However, emotions are good and natural. Everyone needs to have a good cry every now and then and honestly it motivated everyone for today’s ride.

Today I was assigned to Leg #1. Our team consisted of some very seasoned cyclists. I was a bit worried when I learned that one of my teammates was an Olympic coaching coordinator for the cycling team. Cindi Hart is one very accomplished lady on a road bike. My other teammates, Chief Master Sergeant Patti Jackson,  a former Education and Training Career Field Manager for the Air Force, Dean Hallberg and Keely Ireland.


Day 3: Team 1 Leaving Wilmington, NC

Day 3: Team 1 Leaving Wilmington, NC

We got the go ahead from our support crew for the day, Nicole and Sean. We headed out of the hotel parking lot but the support vehicle wasn’t moving. What was going on…what was taking long. Dean rode back to check things out. He returned with the news. Nicole had mistakenly backed our support vehicle into another car. So our day got off to a rocky start. We were on a tight deadline to complete our miles because we had to make a ferry ride out of Carolina Beach. We weren’t going to let the slow start to the day keep us from getting our miles in. Leave it to our Olympic coaching coordinator to help us out with some fabulous tips about how to draft and be more efficient. So what is drafting…

According to Wikipedia: Drafting or slipstreaming is a technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall effect of drag due to exploiting the lead object’s slipstream. Especially when high speeds are involved, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline‘s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.

So I learned to trust the person in front of me and ride about a foot off the person in front of me. We made some excellent time. It was great to ride from Wilmington thru Cape Fear, Kure Beach and Carolina Beach. The beach houses were beautiful.

Beach Houses

Beach Houses

Soon after biking through Carolina Beach we ended at the ferry. We all had a blast riding the ferry across as we headed into Charleston, SC. We covered 32 miles.



Waiting for the ferry.

Survivor Girls! (Cindi, Me & Patti)

Survivor Girls! (Cindi, Me & Patti)

Riding the ferry.

Riding the ferry.

One the best parts of this trip and perhaps what I have been looking forward to the most was our night we arrived in Charleston, SC. Ulman Cancer Fund awards scholarships to young adults who have been affected by cancer. That evening the entire team gathered at the College of Charleston’s TD Basketball Arena. There we met the swim team and awarded one of their swimmers a college scholarship to help them out with tuition. Her name is Lydia Renn and she is an amazing young lady. We were able to surprise her with our presentation with the help of her mother and her swim coach. She was totally surprised when I read from her application and from a note her mother had written. Giving a $2500.00 check for the Satola Family Scholarship never felt better. Lydia is a true inspiration and we all knew we were going to draw that inspiration from her the next day when we set out on our bikes.

Brian Satola and I with  Lydia Renn - The Satola Family Scholarship Winner

Brian Satola and I with Lydia Renn – The Satola Family Scholarship Winner


Day 2: Virginia Beach to Wilmington, NC

Today started off very chilly. Being so close to the beach made for a very windy and cold day. At the start of each day we find out the people we will be riding with and which leg. Each day you ride with a different group of people and different support drivers. Today I was on Team 2 (Leg 2) with Brian Satola, Kim Rosborough, Keely Ireland, and Heather Gordan. Krissy Kraczkowsky and Meg Fitzgibbons were our support drivers today. After our ritual dedication circle, Team 1 set out on a century ride right out of the parking lot of the hotel. Yep…that would be 100 miles they were about to cover on this very windy day. They are a remarkable group of individuals.


Day 2, Team 2 Brian Satola, Heather Gordon, Julie Lanahan, Keely Ireland & Kim Roborough

Team 2 Packed up our bikes and gear and headed to our starting point, Columbia, NC. On our way we stopped at a Starbucks and also picked up some Virginia lottery scratch off tickets. Krissy and Kim won! Ok, so it was only $2 in winnings but it was fun. Once we reached Columbia, we realized it was going to be a tough day. It was cold and very windy! Our route was rather flat. One might think that would be a great thing, but actually we were craving a hill. With the whole route being flat and with it being windy that meant we needed to constantly pedal. No coasting down hills to give your legs a break. At one point we came across a bridge and we were all exciting to climb the hill to the top because that meant we could coast down the backside.

Lottery fun at Starbucks

Lottery fun at Starbucks

Lessons learned today…riding in windy conditions is extremely hard. I may never complain about riding up hills. At least your legs get a break when you get to the top. Riding straight flat roads seems great but is extremely tiring. Brain taught me how to stand up on my bike and pedal. Once I figured it out, it felt like I had just taken off my training wheels. You know…that “look at me, mom!” moment. It was awesome!


Day 2 Complete…57 miles in the middle of nowhere