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What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Cancer

By Heather Caro Armed with an overconfidence only youth can supply,  I entered into motherhood the way most newbies do - under the false pretense of knowing what the heck I was getting into. In hindsight, there was probably no way to prepare for the experience of having one’s heart take up residence in the bodies of tiny people intent on running amok. Though, we certainly tried our best to prepare. Before each pregnancy I dutifully checked off each "mandatory" item on the infant layette, though the most helpful prep would have been to purchase a new French press. Over the years, my husband and I have muddled through parenting the old fashioned way - by making mistakes and realizing that even the most trying times can often be endured through tincture of love, humor, and very strong coffee. HeatherCaroBut even still, there are times that humble us. Before I became a mother, I could certainly never have fathomed the grief I would feel nearly ten years later when I received a diagnosis that changed the course of our lives. This grief would threaten to swallow me whole as I struggled to explain to my young children that their mommy had breast cancer. In those first broken-hearted days before invasive treatments would shake our family to the core, I struggled in vain to hold back tears as I answered the questions that bubbled up from beneath the fragile innocence of their childhood. If my job was to protect my children against the dark fears of the world - I felt I had failed. There is no "What to Expect When You're Expecting Cancer" parenting handbook - at least none that I've ever found. Probably because few people truly expect something like this will happen to them. I certainly didn't see it coming. At 32, with no family history or significant risk factors, I was woefully unprepared for a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. And though, as a nurse, medical lingo held few mysteries and I understood the implications of an aggressive tumor laced through my lymph nodes - I could never have predicted the ripple effect this diagnosis would have on my friends, family, and life as I knew it. Let alone the effects cancer treatment would have on my children and my confidence as a parent. Several months ago, just two years after my own diagnosis, my confidence was further shaken when my mother received a call from her physician after a routine mammogram. Before you could say "genetics counseling" my own sweet momma had joined the club nobody wants to join and our family was thrust back into Cancerland.  But, like more than 70% of all breast cancers, there is no genetic link found that would explain a familial predisposition toward developing this disease. We don't know why, but regardless of the genetics report’s fine print, our family tree has become a much more ominous presence in our day-to-day lives. Blighted tendrils seem to lurk in the shadows of each branch. The truth is, there is no "fair" in cancer. Breast cancer does not care that I have stories to write, children to raise, and a mother to love. It is not concerned that caustic treatments left my once strong body broken and scarred or my finances in ruin. Cancer does not care. But thankfully, others do. Thanks to organizations such as Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation and its Army of Women, meaningful research is taking place every day which may lead to breakthroughs of tomorrow. This is important because for the sake of our mothers, our daughters, and ourselves, science must stay one step ahead of this disease. Being able to watch my children grow up is one side effect of cancer treatment I am happy to take on. And thanks to Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, I believe we are well on our way towards moving beyond a cure and eradicating this disease. But because a task this formidable will require all hands on deck, here are a few ideas to help you get started playing a role in ending breast cancer. Money Talks Money may not buy happiness, but it can pay for research studies - which is almost the same thing.  If your couch cushions are all tapped out these days, you may want to take a tip from the elementary school crowd and host your own fundraiser. From car washes, yard sales, or even a good old-fashioned mother-daughter bake sale - you may be surprised by the funds that can be raised in a weekend by just some elbow grease and a little good will. Donations to Dr. Susan Love Foundation will allow them to invest in the research that will ultimately take us beyond a cure to end this disease. Walk with Love This spring, you have the opportunity to join the good doctor and more than 1,000 of her closest friends on the journey to end breast cancer at the annual Walk with Love. Last year, the event raised more than $248,000 with all proceeds benefiting breast cancer research at Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Movers and shakers not local to Pacific Palisades need not feel left out - there are virtual options for the event as well.  Sign up today or read more information at http://dslrf.org Donate to Science - Literally It's no secret women are underrepresented in clinical trials. But instead of shrugging shoulders at the obvious gender disparity in research, Dr. Susan Love decided to do something about it. Namely, she found a way to connect women to oncology research trials across the country through a novel program called the Army of Women®. Here's how it works:  1. Determine that you are, in fact, a woman.  2. Go to http://www.armyofwomen.org and fill out a short questionnaire.  3.  Wait for emails from the Army of Women with information about research trials you may be a candidate for. Boom. Science - it's that easy. Some of these trials require a history or family history of cancer. Others do not.  Some require a saliva sample that you can send in from home; others require some sort of tissue or blood sample which can be drawn at the doctor's office and shipped to the corresponding research lab to evaluate for genetic markers. (There is a particularly fascinating trial going on right now with pregnant women with no history of cancer that will evaluate potentially protective biomarkers found in breast milk.) Participation in any of these trials is the most effective way to "donate to research". In the process, your contribution will also help to end gender disparity in medicine and may even help lead to the scientific breakthroughs of the future. Not a bad way to spend the morning, if I do say so myself. Heather Caro, RN www.mylifedistilled.blogspot.com