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Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are You Aware?

I have felt an obligation to write a blog since it is October and breast cancer awareness month but to tell you the truth I'm not a big fan of October or the color pink. I guess I'm already "aware" and these only serve to as a cruel reminder in a long month of reminders. Like pink Campbell’s soup cans, pink ribbons on their NFL referees shirts, or pink ribbons on rear windows of cars in front of me. It was a favorite time for Andrea and her friend Lisa. They would always shop for the Brighton breast cancer bracelet, or other breast cancer commemorative items like shirts etc... Each with the words faith, hope, believe, or courage on them. Andrea had quite a collection of bracelets and after she passed away I was able to give one to each of the "Chemo Girls" and her Mom sister and niece and one for myself. I thought that is exactly who Andrea would have wanted to have them. It was those woman who stood by Andrea and supported her. I think of them wearing the bracelets and seeing the words faith, hope, or strength and thinking of Andrea because she was all of those.

Don't get me wrong I'm thankful so many companies and individuals take the time to raise money for breast cancer research because that is what it is going to take if a cure is ever to be found. Andrea did all she could to help research, she volunteered for every trial she could. Her first treatment in Alaska was a protocol for a new drug called Herceptin, which is now the standard for treatment for woman with Andrea's type of cancer. When we moved to DC Andrea entered a vaccine trial and a trial for new types of detection techniques. When we went to North Carolina Andrea's Doctor was on the cutting edge of treatment. I think at one point the 3 out of 4 drugs he was using on Andrea on drugs Andrea were not even developed or used for breast cancer when Andrea was diagnosed two years early. And at the same time Andrea entered a trial at Duke for a new drug. Andrea also volunteered to do a TV interview with her doctor stressing the need for people to enter trials. Most of the women who enter a trial will never benefit from the drug they are testing; it is those after them that reap the benefit of those before. As I know many will from the data collected from Andrea's treatment. Drug development and testing is a fast moving game and it amazed me how fast new drugs were being introduced.

I will tell you finding a "Cure" is a very complicated endeavor. There are many different kinds of breast cancer, and many more triggers that cause the cancer to grow or spread. Although cancer is very widespread there is not one size fits all treatment or cure for that matter. It can seem overwhelming when you think about the odds of finding a cure but every pink ribbon or wrist band helps to provide the funds necessary to one day beat this disease. My hope is Bella, Aspen and Annalise grow up in a world where breast cancer is like polio is to me, a think of the past. I will tell you that was Andrea's dream as well, of course she hoped to find a cure in her lifetime but she also wanted to help those who followed in her footsteps.

Here are facts of breast cancer: Nearly 200,000 new cases are found each year and just over 40,000 women will die from breast cancer each year. You have a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in your lifetime. The overall survival rates are 89% at 5 years.

I will tell you statistics are nothing but historical facts based on groups, they are not reflective of an individual or really predictive of someone’s specific case. Because treatments are developing so fast what happened to people 5 or more years ago does not totally apply. Plus every cancer is unique and odds are just that, odds not facts. For that reason Andrea never asked and thankfully her doctor never told her how long she had to live. Andrea would say every cancer has been beaten, even if the odds are 1 in a million, "Why can't I be that one?" How someone handles cancer and their odds is each person’s own decision, there is no right or wrong. But I'm thankful we lived everyday as if it were NOT our last day. Sure in a way I wish I would have Andrea write a letter to the boys or video her testimony but in doing so we would have totally changed our outlook and the "normalcy" of our last days together. Plus it happened so fast, in fact Ginger commented today that Andrea and I had lived in San Antonio for 5 months when Andrea went into the ICU that is the same amount of time we have been married. Hard to believe it all happened so fast. When we moved in July she was strong and seemed to be getting better, and in 5 months she was in the ICU.

So for the ladies out there, remember to do your monthly self exams, get your annual checkups/mammogram. Hiding or not knowing will not make cancer go away. If God forbid you are the 1 in 8, finding out early will give you more options and a better chance to live to see your grand kids.

So even though I cringe at the sight of pink ribbons I know that one day the money raised from that ribbon may keep one of you from suffering as Andrea did or allow our children to escape the horrors of seeing Ginger sick. And nothing would make Andrea happier than that.

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