A Denver Mom’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis and The Race for Her Cure
I felt a little guilty waking the kids up so early on a Sunday. But Denver’s Race for the Cure started at 7:30 a.m. and I figured, if we were all going to do this, then we might as well participate in as much of it as we can. I’d never done a Race for the Cure before, but thought that this was a good year to try it given my diagnosis back in May.
The lump was found by my gynecologist during an annual exam. Lying there on the table after he pointed it out to me and I felt it for myself, I thought, “Duh, how could I have missed this?” The lump was so obvious and superficial; it was clearly something that needed to be looked at by a doctor. I just never did the self exams before so I never felt it. I even had my first mammogram six months earlier and it wasn’t picked up.
We arrived in downtown Denver for the Race and I was blown away by the amount of people that were there. I knew it would be crowded but there were thousands upon thousands of people flooding the streets; women, men, kids, teams and groups of participants. There were lots of people participating dressed in costumes and homemade shirts and uniforms. We were wearing our white, free-with-registration Race T-shirts, although my T-shirt was dark pink with the words Survivor scrolled down the front. I was being optimistic when I signed up for the survivor shirt because I’m technically still working my way towards survivor status.
I had a bilateral mastectomy in July, and another surgery a week later to remove infected lymph nodes from my armpit. One thing I was surprised to learn throughout the whole process, and it’s probably thanks to the support from fund raisers like the Race, is the number of choices I had for how to deal with the cancer. Today, most women can dictate their plan of action in terms of what type of surgery to have, whether or not to reconstruct, and which course of treatment is best for them.
It was a beautiful day for the Race. As we started moving with the crowd, my six-year-old couldn’t understand why we were walking when it was a race. My four-year-old was up on her dad’s shoulders and I was walking along taking it all in. Mostly I was memorized by the signs. Each registration pack came with pink, square, paper signs that can be pinned on a shirt. The signs say Racing in Memory of,
or Racing in Celebration of, and you can write in the names of anyone specific you’re supporting. The impact is intense when you see people with specific names written in like; my mom, Linda, Grandma Carey, etc. I saw one sign that had six or seven names on it and wondered how far that person was going to walk. Seeing the names makes it real. Some folks didn’t use the little pink paper signs but instead carried big posters.
Some say bald is beautiful but I say bald is cold. I did the Race with a pink breast cancer hat on but it was still obvious that I’ve lost my hair. A month after surgery I started chemotherapy. My treatment calls for six rounds of chemo, a year of Avastin and five years of Tamoxifen. As of Race day, I was halfway through chemo treatments. My hair started to fall out 14 days exactly after I started chemotherapy. During the Race, strangers would come up to me and make nice comments. They’d put their hand on my shoulder and say “hope you are doing ok” or “hang in there, I’m a seven year survivor”. Everyone had a story of how the disease has touched them. Doing the Race as a survivor, I felt like I was part of a sorority or cast member that shared a bond with these strangers in the pink T-shirts.
I had prepped my kids that they would probably see other mommies and women without any hair at the Race. From the beginning we’ve been very upfront with them about everything. We use the real words such as tumor, cancer, breast, and chemotherapy. The six-year-old was concerned about how many people saw me naked during my operation. The four-year-old doesn’t like me being bald but at the same time, can’t stop touching my head.
Overall, the Race was nice. It was both eye opening and exhausting. It was energizing and emotionally draining. I’m glad I did the Race and, just like with the breast cancer path I’m following now, I’m glad I had the support of my family.
Jennifer Rudolph is a mama of two and the Communications Director at Colorado Ski Country USA.